A rather long article in Sunday's Chicago Tribune by Jeremy Manier discusses the relationship between evolution and faith from many angles. The article begins by telling the story of Howard Van Till, a physicist from Calvin College in Michigan who wrote a book in 1986 "in which he argued that the stories of the Bible and science's account of evolution could both be true." What he got for his trouble was persecution from the dogmatic faithful at his religious college:
For years after the book's release in 1986, Van Till reported to a monthly interrogation where he struggled to reassure college officials that his scientific teachings fit within their creed.Eventually, Van Till realized that it was necessary to re-evaluate his faith:
He rejected the idea of God as a supernatural being who took care to design every galaxy and blade of grass. The God he sought couldn't have designed everything at the outset, because the universe that science reveals is always unfolding, always changing. He began to think of God as a silent presence within nature, the source of the nameless awe he felt when studying the genesis of solar systems and the life of our endlessly fertile planet.Jeremy Manier described this as an "audacious suggestion", but in fact, what Van Till was advocating sounds to me quite similar to process theology. Manier, unfortunately, makes no explicit reference in his article to process theology, which in fact has offered important contributions to this debate, and I think this is a glaring omission.
"If your faith requires supernaturalism, or a God who wields overpowering control over nature, then yes, evolution will challenge that," says Van Till, who took early retirement from Calvin College in 1999."The key is to correct your portrait of God," he says.
Manier cites John Haught, a professor of theology whose ideas also seem to resemble in many ways those of process theology:
[Haught] says religious traditions have never absorbed the scope of the scientific story that emerged in the 20th Century through the refinement of evolutionary theory. That story can overturn believers' assumptions, but he believes it also leads to a richer form of faith.I am unfamiliar with Haught's work, but his book "God After Darwin" sounds interesting and worth checking out; it appears to me that at a minimum he shares at least some of the ideas of process theologians, although perhaps he disagrees with them on certain points. It is, of course, central to process theology that God's participatory creative activity is constantly with us, while at the same time the outcomes of evolutionary processes are never pre-determined. Manier correctly notes that those attempts at forging a doctrine of "theistic evolution", not to mention the scientifically untenable notion of Intelligent Design, involve God using authoritarian power to micromanage the process of biological development--and this poses a host of problems:
For Haught, evolution means that the chore of creation is going on all around us, all the time. Most important, the process does not follow a preordained path, because God loved the world enough to set it free.
The image of God as a micro-managing autocrat leads to some awkward paradoxes. For example, supporters of intelligent design often point to the flagellum, the complex molecular motor that allows bacteria to move, as an example of something that evolution could not have produced. Yet if God designed even the tiny flagellum, why stop there? Intelligent design implies that the creator's blueprint knows no limits. And if God designed every last element of life, that makes him minutely responsible for nature's cruelty and failures as well as its beauty.These problems are solved by conceiving of God, much as process theology does, as something other than an authoritarian micromanager. The article describes Haught's views this way:
"It gives you a God who cared enough to make the motors for bacteria, but wouldn't stop the motors of the planes on 9/11," Van Till says.
"Love persuades, it doesn't force," Haught says. "God doesn't compel the world to be a certain way, and that's because of how love works. God lets things be, and lets the weeds grow up with the wheat."...I especially like the statement that "creation is not divine pyrotechnics". I view creation as not a one-time event, and Divine creativity is not a magic show; rather, it is a continuous and co-participatory activity with uncertain outcomes. However, when Haught describes God as "letting things be" and as an infinite mystery "contracting itself", he seems to be suggesting that God voluntarily withholds autocratic power and thus chooses to stand by when things happen. I am not really comfortable with this expression of the concept; instead, I view Divine power as inherently a persuasive and creative lure--autocracy is not "voluntarily" renounced because autocracy is not built into God's character in the first place. As I see it, it is important to note that God is never just standing by and "letting" things happen, but is always urging creation forward in particular ways, and always cares about the outcomes of events. That being said, I think that both Haught and Van Till seem to have many interesting things to say.
"Creation itself is not divine pyrotechnics but the consequence of infinite mystery contracting itself, making itself small, so something other than God can come into the world," Haught says.