Evolution in the Key of D: Direction

We have taken something of a detour the last several weeks, but I would like to get back to John F. Haught’s book  Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life.  One of the common complaints about evolution from the point of view of faith is its purported rambling waste and its meaningless wander. One of the aspects stressed by evolutionary materialists is its purposelessness and contingency. Haught suggests that both of these are off the mark and miss the beauty of God’s creative vision and power.

There is, Haught suggests, a direction and a purpose to creation, but we will not see the intent and direction at the level of chemistry and physics any more than we see the intent in  To Kill a Mockingbird at the level of grammar and spelling. Even less will we see the meaning at the level of the chemistry of paper and dyes, the engineering of the printing press, or the materials chemistry behind the electronic ink or electronic paper of a Kindle or Nook or other e-reader.

If God is involved in evolution, in any case, this involvement can be expressed only in the language of analogy, symbol, myth, and metaphor. The nature and depth of God’s relationship to evolution, I suggest, is as inaccessible to the science of biology as the meaning on this page is to the equations of chemistry. … Understanding chemistry is helpful, …, but chemical expertise can tell you nothing about what the author is trying to say here. (p. 70)

The naturalist who insists that the be all and end all to life is found within the laws of chemistry and physics and the outcome of undirected natural selection is an expert in grammar who misses the plot and direction. Haught says it well:

Evolutionary biology and theology, analogously, may be looked upon as distinct levels of reading the drama of life. They are not rivals competing for your allegiance. Knowing that life is shaped by natural selection is one level, comparable to that of discovering the rules of grammar. Trying to understand what the story of life is about is another. And just as the meaning expressed on this page does not show up on a grammatical analysis, so any theologically interesting meaning the life-story might have cannot manifest itself in the formal concepts of Darwinian biology. Discerning any deeper meaning in the struggle, striving, success, and failures in life requires another kind of interpretative skill than that of expertise in scientific method. (p. 72)

What is the plot and direction of life? Is the concept of plot and direction even meaningful?

I think that Haught hits on an important point here. I am not a theist because I find gaps in the grammar and spelling that require direct action of God – I am a theist because I believe in a plot, purpose, and direction that transcends the nuts and bolts of the grammar and spelling. There is more to life than the laws of chemistry and physics.

From the Christian side. But if the evolutionary naturalist misses the boat by assuming that spelling and grammar are sufficient to describe the plot of life – where do Christians often miss the boat?

Christians, Haught suggests, also miss the boat by overlooking the importance of plot and progress. The story as it is generally told commences with the fall, without the fall there is nothing – no plot, no story. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the reading of Genesis 1-2.  But we live in a world and a universe with potential in the process of becoming.  The story of of Genesis 1-2 is the story of humans created with a purpose and a job, as part of God’s mission. Humans are to rule over and “subdue” creation, to cultivate the land, to be fruitful and multiply, to live in relationship. Humans were not placed in a static, perfect place to exist and to worship. Human freedom and creativity requires the power to become
and transform. Without this we cannot be created “in the image of God.”

Theology including evolution. Because of the plot and drift to life a theology that includes evidence of evolution can be constructed. Haught’s book tries to do this.

According to Haught a theology of evolution will note (p. 73):

(1) [T]he general drift of life has been in the direction of increasing complexity, consiousness, and freedom.

(2) [T]heology may attest that in its overall advance, that what this drama is about is the liberation of nature from an endless imprisonment in lifeless and mindless determinism.

(3) [S]ince the God of boundless love revealed in Jesus  influences nature by way of attraction rather than force, a Christian theology of evolution may assume that God enlivens and gives meaning to the world not by pushing it forward from the past, but by calling it into the freshness of an always new future.

(4) [T]he “purpose” of the evolutionary drama consists, at the very minimum, of the intensification of creation’s beauty, a beauty that, to the Christian faith, is everlastingly sustained and patterned anew within the life of God.

The final meaning to the drama and unraveling of the story of life is, as yet, unknown. We  have only hints and glimpses. It is not retreat to some perfect static Garden, but greater and more profound. Haught suggests that beauty and aesthetic transformation is part of the direction. The hope for the future allows us to participate fully in the drama of life.

A final thought. Now this discussion (and no doubt the whole of Haught’s book) won’t answer all of the questions about a theology that embraces evolutionary creation, but it provides a start and a number of interesting ideas. I don’t think that there is anything in the biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation that should lead us to envision a “perfect” initial creation. Perfection has no future, no becoming, no direction. Genesis 1-2 presents us, from the very beginning, so it seems to me, with a vision of creation with a future. Haught’s view of God in this process seems a bit impersonal. I think a theology of creation should put more emphasis on a personal God and on the incarnation. Perhaps Haught will get to this later in the book.

What do you think is the purpose and direction of creation in Genesis 1-2?

How does this influence your understanding of the Biblical story and your view of evolution as consistent or inconsistent with Christian faith?

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