Wednesday, January 2, 2008
By Steve Paulson, salon.com
The atheist delusion
Theologian John Haught explains why science and God are not at odds, why Mike Huckabee worries him, and why Richard Dawkins and other "new atheists" are ignorant about religion.
By Steve Paulson
Dec. 19, 2007 | Evolution remains the thorniest issue in the ongoing debate over science and religion. But for all the yelling between creationists and scientists, there's one perspective that's largely absent from public discussions about evolution. We rarely hear from religious believers who accept the standard Darwinian account of evolution. It's a shame because there's an important question at stake: How can a person of faith reconcile the apparently random, meaningless process of evolution with belief in God?
The simplest response is to say that science and religion have nothing to do with each other -- to claim, as Stephen Jay Gould famously did, that they are "non-overlapping magisteria." But perhaps that response seems too easy, a politically expedient ploy to pacify both scientists and mainstream Christians. Maybe evolutionary theory, along with modern physics, does pose a serious challenge to religious belief. To put it another way, how can an intellectually responsible person of faith justify that faith -- and even belief in a personal God -- after Darwin and Einstein?
That's the question John Haught has set out to answer by proposing a "theology of evolution." Haught is a Roman Catholic theologian at Georgetown University and a prolific author. His books include "God After Darwin," "Is Nature Enough?" and the forthcoming "God and the New Atheism." He's steeped in evolutionary theory as well as Christian theology. Haught believes Darwin is "a gift to theology." He says evolutionary biology has forced modern theologians to clarify their thinking by rejecting outdated arguments about God as an intrusive designer. Haught reclaims the theology of his intellectual hero, Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who died more than half a century ago. Teilhard believed that we live in a universe evolving toward ever greater complexity and, ultimately, to consciousness.
Haught is an intriguing figure in the debate over evolution. He was the only theologian to testify as an expert witness in the landmark 2005 Dover trial that ruled against teaching intelligent design in public schools. Haught testified against intelligent design, arguing that it's both phony science and bad theology. But Haught is also a fierce critic of hardcore atheists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, who claim that evolution leads logically to atheism. He says both sides place too much faith in science. "Ironically," Haught writes, "ID advocates share with their ideological enemies, the evolutionary materialists, the assumption that science itself can provide ultimate explanations."
I talked with Haught about the new atheists, Albert Camus, and how evolutionary biology can be a complement to faith. We spoke about why Christian candidates like Mike Huckabee worry him and why science is ultimately not equipped to answer questions about love, consciousness and the Resurrection.