John Haught’s “Deeper than Darwin.”


What makes the confrontation between science and religion uncomfortable is the nihil ultra proclamation to the effect that there is really nothing beyond the world of matter and energy in the arena of space and time. This is not so much a finding of science as a tenet, a metaphysical conviction that is inspired by the abundant fruits accruing from it. It is not unlike the conviction that economics based on an international monetary system is the only way by which there can be trade because that mode has proved to be very efficient and effective.
Many have argued that all said and done, atoms and molecules make the physical world such as it is, genes cause all the variety and throbbing in the biological world, and neurons are ultimately at the root of love and laughter, altruism and even cognitions of God. But many are also inclined to think that a discernible link between molecules and mind will never be found. There is, in their view, more to truth and beauty than electronic transitions, more to justice and kindness than Darwinian adaptation.
However, when it comes to the core of what makes us conscious and reflecting beings with values and visions, it is not as well established that every aspect of the experienced world is an emergent consequence of interactions between quarks and leptons, or of gravitational and electromagnetic fields. The rejection of something beneath and beyond the matter-energy substratum is not an option for the theistically inclined, no matter how fabulous science and its accomplishments are. Some God-inclined biologists claim to have detected loopholes on the Darwin canvass, arguing that there are leaps in the deductive mode of tying chromosomes and mitochondria to organic fullness. Arguments have thus been put forward to the effect, much to the annoyance of die-hard evolutionists, that the world looks too much like the work of an Intelligent Designer, Who may even keep modifying the blueprint as the work progresses. Attempts to inject God into cyto-chemistry, however noble an effort, does not sit well with working scientists who shudder at the idea of incorporating theology into molecular bonds.
Now there is a third way in which the whole issue may be regarded. It says that the impression we get of the richness we witness and of which we are significant parts as conscious beings is to a large degree a matter of perspective. The same literary masterpiece may be read as a modestly endowed sophomore, as a very bright reader, or as a sophisticated thinker. Depending on the level of the reader, the same grand work may strike one as interesting, but no more, or as symbolic and elevating. So it is proposed in the book under review that “we can restore a sense of depth if we interpret our confusion about science and religion in general, and about religion and evolution in particular, as a ‘reading problem.’ ” One may add that this is true of music and of any work of art.
It is this third perspective that the book presents. Its author John Haught is a highly regarded professor, writer, thinker, and theologian. As a professor, he expounds the matter with crystal clarity: “Science and religion both take for granted that the universe is much deeper than it seems.” As a writer, he is elegant in his prose: “Science seems to have found only a spiritual void in those vast astral realms where countless people in the past, and even a considerable remnant of scientifically uneducated people today, have looked for a grounding significance.” And he is also incisive in his arguments: “What all these interpreters… agree upon is that with Darwin’s (and E. O. Wilson’s) help, we can now provide a deeper naturalistic explanation of our ageless and persistent longing for gods than ever before.” As a thinker, he is too sophisticated to accept Creationism literally: “Rather than seeking to understand life as an altogether deeper level than that of science, scientific creationists have decided – most ironically – to embrace scientism’s own cosmic literalism.” And he is too well-informed about science to be altogether sympathetic to agree fully with Intelligent Design Theory. And as an enlightened theologian, he is too sensitive to see only the letters of the alphabet in a sublime sonnet. “It is now of utmost importance, therefore, that religious thought reshape its ideas of nature, human existence and reality as a whole in a manner commensurate with the idea of a cosmos still emerging in the remarkable ways that science is recording.” And so Haught seeks to delve deeper into Nature than religious naturalism would permit, deeper than the deep-down elementary particles as the ultimate cause of our doom and despair as Dennet would claim, deeper than Dawkins would grant about what prompts us as beings. In the course of the book, Haught gives capsule accounts of what the various commentators on science and religion have recently been saying about life and evolution, about religion and God. He comments on their wisdom, but also on their insufficiency, and sometimes on their arrogance, explicit or implicit.
Several chapters of the book have appeared before as articles in various scholarly journals. This collection brings them together, and explores a level of understanding, or at least interpreting, life that is deeper than Darwin. In the process a deeper theology emerges that enables us to feel comfortable in the framework of religion even if and when extra-terrestrial intelligence comes within our ken.
One may expect to hear dissenting voices to Haught’s rejection of Darwinism as the final and complete word on how the splendor of life came to be. It is important to remember, however, that it is not Darwinian evolution that Haught rejects but the totalizing claim for it that some of its more enthusiastic champions make. Furthermore, he presents a persuasive perspective which adds meaning and enrichment to the scientific worldview, one that does not diminish the scientific significance of Darwinism. Whether or not one resonates with everything that Haught says in the book, Deeper than Darwin is certainly a delight to read, and it will instigate deeper reflection on the issues.

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About Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.
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