John Haught is well known for his numerous books analyzing issues surrounding the relationship between theology and science and seeking rapprochement between the two. His latest, Making Sense of Evolution, focuses, as he has before, on issues raised by Darwin’s theory of evolution. The occasion for the book is the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth, which occurred in 2009.
Haught structures the book around 11 “D’s,” beginning with “Darwin.” This first chapter indicates a strong focus on Darwin himself, and his own religious struggles that came about partially due to his scientific discoveries. Haught looks at Darwin’s struggles sympathetically, but does not see them as the inevitable outcome of accepting evolutionary theory. Indeed, Haught offers a strong critique of scientific atheists such as Richard Dawkins who, be believes, “operate as cryptotheologians by insisting that natural selection is a substitute for the traditional theological accounts” (18).
Haught’s central argument is that the focus on design, both by anti-evolution intelligent design advocates and anti-religion scientists, has been a dead end for dialogue. He focuses instead on the drama of life that is possible exactly because the universe has not been exactly designed by God but instead allowed to play itself out through forces such as natural selection. The proper religious approach, then, is to look beyond design to the “infinite depth” at which divine causality operates, a depth that is “too expansive and too real to be gathered in by the finite human mind” (91).
The last part of the book raises some existential and ethical issues that arise as a result of reflection on evolution, among them the meaning of death, the reasons to live a moral life and the purpose of religious devotion. Here he is in dialogue, notably, with Paul Tillich, Alfred North Whitehead, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Here, overall, he is concerned to argue that it is the job of theology, not science, to seek answers to these thorny questions, to ask “whether the naturalistic point of view is intelligible” (101). Haught believes that death, and indeed life, make no sense except as a response to a divine call issued and heard on a deeper level than that of design or any kind of scientific inquiry. This last part of the book may raise some questions of its own, especially for those of a less Tillichian bent, but it does not detract from Haught’s overall argument. On the whole, Haught has offered a very readable and useful analysis that can be used effectively with undergraduates as an intelligently argued but introductory discussion of the dialogue between theology and evolution. Haught does well at going beyond apologetics for the possibility of religious faith in an age of science, offering additionally a strong argument for how faith and reason can collaborate in such on-the-ground areas as prayer and worship. This last aspect, combined with the welcome shift away from questions of design, marks the book’s greatest strength.