In his recent book, God After Darwin, theologian John Haught engages Darwin's theory of evolution in serious theological reflection. He begins by examining what he considers failed attempts by creationist, Philip Johnson, scientific materialists, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, and intelligent design theorist, Michael Behe, to address Darwin's theory adequately. He compares their approaches to the way evolutionary theology has come to terms with theological concepts such as creation, eschatology, divine love, and divine power. Then, rooted in his own Christian tradition, he skillfully weaves insights from Whitehead, Teilhard, Polanyi and Moltmann into a coherent synthesis of evolution and Christian belief. He concludes that, despite the struggles that await those who confront it, Darwin's theory is actually a gift to theology rather than the "dangerous idea" that Daniel Dennett makes of it. This is because evolution forces us to look squarely at the tragic nature of creation as well as at its design and bounty and to consider the source of creation's novelty.
Haught focuses on two ideas that might be considered potentially dangerous to theology. The first is the apparent blow that natural selection has dealt to our understanding of God's action in the world. Even though materialists view natural selection as a satisfactory explanation for the diversification of life forms, Haught does not consider it sufficient to account for the novelty in evolution. Instead, he finds that evolutionary novelty uncovers new aspects of the God of creation. Rather than a God of design, an evolutionary world reveals a God of humility, vulnerable and defenseless, continuously pouring the divine selfhood into the world in an act of unreserved self-abandonment. The God of evolution wills the independence of creation and therefore allows for the world's self-creation. Haught couples this kenotic view of the divinity to an eschatological view. God comes out of the future displaying divine power in a manner befitting a God of infinite love by luring creation ever onwards toward deeper coherence, greater novelty and more exquisite beauty. All creation is being drawn constantly toward this ultimate force of attraction, the divine source "up ahead," the goal of a world still in the making. For Haught, these two aspects of a loving God who is the source of potential and promise provide greater explanatory power for the world of our experience than does either a designer God or a purely materialist view of creation.
Evolution's second potentially dangerous idea to theology is its challenge to the ontological discontinuity between levels of the cosmic hierarchy. Evolution, with its stress on the continuity within creation seems to blur this hierarchy and thus the grounds for attributing lasting value to the physical universe. To counter this second idea, Haught explores the role of information in weaving the world into patterns, integrating particulars into coherent wholes. This buys him back the sense of hierarchy that allows for a world grounded in meaning.
Haught's theology also addresses the most perplexing aspects of creation, the problem of innocent suffering. Although this aspect is particularly difficult to pit against the notion of a loving God, Haught argues that, as the source of novelty and the ground of new possibilities, God allows instability and disorder since they are a necessary part of a changing and creative cosmos.
After exploring the consequences of his theology of evolution for the ecological and ethical problems of our day, Haught concludes his book by examining the nature of subjectivity. In these final chapters, the biblical notion of promise and an aesthetic cosmological principle feature prominently. Because an evolving creation is incomplete by definition, a sense of promise keeps us from worshiping nature and helps us to accept the limitations of an unfinished world. As an evolutionary ethic, the aesthetic cosmological principle compels us to contribute to the beauty of the universe. This translates into the promotion of diversity and inclusiveness at the sociocultural level.
God After Darwin is a valuable book for all those who are interested in grounding their sense of God in the present scientific understanding of an evolutionary cosmos. Believers who are weary of the creationist argument, those who are no longer convinced by the design argument and those who just want to allow the expansiveness of evolutionary thought to inform their theology will find much to reflect on here. And Haught's extremely thoughtful and clear presentation not only makes his theology of creation accessible to expert and non-expert alike but also provides "fresh openings to the mysterious sacred depths of reality previously unfathomed." (p. 10)