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Scholars Discuss the Compatibility of Evolution and a Personal God at Forum


John Haught, Ph.D., Distinguished Research Professor at Georgetown University, delivers a lecture on “After Darwin and Einstein: Is a Belief in a Personal God Still Possible?”
Photo by Ryan Brenizer

Despite common assertions to the contrary, it is possible for a person to respect the ironclad rules of science and believe in a personal God, John Haught, Ph.D., a Distinguished Research Professor at Georgetown University, told a standing-room-only audience in the Lincoln Center’s Pope Auditorium on Nov. 6.

“After Darwin, certainly it’s possible to believe in a personal God. But is it possible to do it honestly, with intellectual integrity, in an age of science?” he asked.

In a lecture titled, “After Darwin and Einstein: Is a Belief in a Personal God Still Possible?” Haught called upon the works of the Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and philosophers A.N. Whitehead and Michael Polanyi to address the seemingly contradictory notion that a universe governed by laws of science cannot include the kind of a personal god embraced by all major Western religions.

Einstein believed science ruled out the possibility of a higher being, but Haught proposed that Whitehead’s notion of beauty as the ultimate purpose for creation and de Chardin’s embrace of a noosphere, or “sphere of human thought” show how faith and religion compliment, rather than compete with, the cold, hard realities of science. “The universe looks impersonal only if we look back in time,” he said.

The talk, which was part of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture’s headline forum, was meant to bridge the gap between the scientific and religious communities, whose disagreements over the existence of a personal God were best expressed by Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin. Haught’s presentation was followed by comments by John Horgan, science writer and author of “The End of Science and Rational Mysticism: Dispatches from the Border between Science and Spirituality,” and Brian Davies, Professor of Philosophy, Fordham University and author of “The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil.” Peter Steinfels, co-director of the Center on Religion and Culture, presided over the panel.

The panelists largely agreed with Haught, including his observation that if one were to break the 13.7 billion year history of the universe into 30 books, each book would be 450-pages long, each page would represent 1 million years and the human race would not appear until the bottom of the final page of the last book. Thus, the existence of intelligible life would seem not to a natural byproduct, but a beautiful aberration that is still developing and changing and in the grand scheme of things, is getting better.

Morgan agreed that in many ways, reality seems awfully well designed and in some ways too good to be here through pure chance, and that science is very limited in its ability to disprove the existence of God. But he was skeptical of the notion of a one-on-one relationship with God.

“When you have a personal God with which you have a personal relationship, that God likes some people more than others,” he said. “The term ‘chosen people;’ every religion has that idea of some people being chosen and some not favored by God.”

Davies questioned the wisdom of looking at concrete examples such as evolution as proof of God’s existence.

“What God as creator accounts for is that the universe is there instead of nothing,” he said. “That the universe has the features it has is no special reason for believing that God is working in it and is behind it.”

Ultimately, Haught stressed that as a theologian looking to learn from scientists, his one non-negotiable belief is in a God that makes and keeps promises. He also scoffed at intelligent design, saying it can’t account for evil and suffering.

“Look at the ambiguity around us as something that follows necessarily from a universe that’s still becoming into being. If the universe is still unfinished, then it’s incomplete. If it’s incomplete, then it’s imperfect. If it’s imperfect, it has a dark side to it,” he said. “The alternative would be a universe that was created fully and completely once and for all in the beginning. But that sort of universe would allow for no further freedoms, it would be fixed, for us for all. And that would be a universe which I don’t think would allow for life as well.”


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