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Transcript

Note: This transcript has not been proofread, and therefore its accuracy is not guaranteed.

0:00:00.000

Wright: John Haught is professor of theology at Georgetown University and director of the Geogetown Centre for the Study of Science and Religion. He's the author of "What is Religion?" "Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution" and "God after Darwin." I interviewed him at Georgetown University. Well Jack, thanks for letting me come into your office here and talk to you today.

John Haught: It's a great pleasure.

Wright: I have to tell you I was I was reading your book "God after Darwin" on a train a couple of months ago and I looked I looked over and the man sitting immediately next to me was reading Nietzsche and I thought that's kind of an interesting juxtaposition because Nietzsche thought that you really couldn't take the concept of God seriously in the modern age. Certainly a premise of your book is that we can take the concept of God seriously in a modern age but you do argue that in light of Darwinian theory in light of the intellectual evolution that Darwin ushered in we may need the concept of God and in fact to some extent you kind of take other theologians to task for not reckoning sufficiently with Darwin and the Darwinian evolution what what can you summarize what your...

John Haught: Yes I think after Darwin but also after Galileo, Copernicus and Einstein we can't have exactly the same thoughts about God that we had before because our conception of what we consider to be God's creation is inevitably going to changed by scientific information and what I would argue especially in the case of Darwin is that theology has not yet generally speaking caught up with the revolution that Darwin brought about.

Wright: What's an example of a of a of a change you think needs to be made in in in the conception and we're taking particularly about Christian theologians here I guess...

John Haught: Well we have to remember that the whole idea of God and divine providence originated from what our perspective was a relatively small time and space a relatively small universe and that what Darwin did in effect was initiate a revolution which in combination with geology and now big bang physics has given us a 15 billion year old universe in which life appears gradually out of matter and mind appears gradually out of life and what that seems to have done is to have flattened the hierarchical view within which the concept of God came about in the first place.

0:02:52.000

Wright: By by hierarchical view you mean...

John Haught: The hierarchical view I mean the view in which reality consists of level of reality moving from less important to more important but with discontinuity between them you have the level of inanimate matter then plant life then animal life then human life and then God and whatever levels there are between us and God in that's a rather vertical hierarchical view of things. And what happens in the post-Darwinian period is that that whole hierarchy as it were gets pushed over on it's side and it's contents sort of spills out in the 15 billion year river of time which is dominated by what the hierarchical view had considered to be the least important the purely inanimate material realm and it seems that life just gradually life is in no hurry to come out of this material background and nor is mind in the sense of human intelligence in a great hurry to come out of life and so what happens is that we have a problem and I think this is one of the big problems in science and religion of how to map the new 15 billion year old horizontal type picture of nature onto the hierarchical view of nature and that's the great task of theology in our time and I don't think that we've really yet begun to do that as vigorously and as and as in a sophisticated way as we need to.

0:04:23.000

Wright: Ok. Now one an issue you you kind of touched on an issue there that that I I think is is central to our figuring out how you would integrate evolution into any theology which is how to what extent was the evolution of intelligent life kind of in the cards from the beginning and that's a that's a a subject you touch on a little in the book and it's a subject of great contention...

John Haught: Yes.

Wright: You seem you seem in what you just said to be kind of down playing the the the prospects for intelligent life a little, am I am I wrong about that?

John Haught: Well I I don't want to downplay them but I do think that we have to we have to make a distinction between the chronological place of intelligence and it's ontological place. And what we have to do from a theological point of view -- and I think it can be done -- is to salvage the ontological primacy of intelligence...

Wright: And can we have a quick definition of ontology for those of us who need it?

John Haught: Ontology is a Greek word that simply refers to being, what kind of being so when we term... when we use the term ontological we are referring to the kind of being that something has and I use the term ontological discontinuity to emphasize the distinctness between the kind of being you have at the level of matter and the kind of being you have at the level of life and the kind of being you have at the level of intelligence and the kind of being you have at the level of the divine. That's ontological discontinuity... different kinds of being that's what I'm talking about. So what what I think one of the great confusion of I think the modern age is that we've confused ontological primacy or ...certain the kind of being that we associate with with with matter we we confuse that with chronological primacy so that we we tend at least scientific skepticism tends to give ontological primacy to matter simply because it's chronological prior to life and mind and that logically does not necessarily follow it it can be the case that the more significant level of reality emerge later chronologically much later in the process so fact that that I say intelligent life come about very late and almost grudgingly from a chronological perspective in no way diminishes it's ontological primacy.

Wright: Does it diminish it's probability when you say intelligence life and intelligence appeared grudgingly do you mean it almost wasn't wasn't really kind of in the scheme of things it just happened and it might well not have happened?

John Haught: Well yes I mean the sort of scenario that prompts Bertrand Russell the great British skeptic to say that if if the point of the universe was to produce intelligence then why it lay there so long to produce so very little. And it's it's that that kind of of location of of intelligence as kind of a an afterthought a kind of a kind of cosmic flu that then arise if we look at things only from the criterion of chronological development but but what I'm saying we could make the case logically speaking anyway that what comes very late and with great fragility and precariousness onto the scene is perhaps the most significant thing that the cosmos has has ever produced and ... and so I think we have to make that distinction between ontological and chronological primacy.

0:08:08.000

Wright: Ok. The I guess the reason I ask is because I was when I read the book I was you know I'm not up on current theological trends especially and I was struck by how different a a conception of God there is in the book than the one I might naively associate with Christian thought for example the one that I was brought up with. And there the idea is basically you know guy up there...

John Haught: Right.

Wright: ... created everything...

John Haught: Right.

Wright: ... looking down...

John Haught: Yes.

Wright: Intervening... and and I think on all those points almost you differ in a certain sense. Is this is this just what contemporary Christian theology is or are you a radical or what? What's the story?

John Haught: No. In fact some scientific thinkers and others who've read the book think that I'm tailor the traditional notion of God to fit nicely consonantly with the picture of life that Darwin has given us. But my whole argument in "God After Darwin" is to say I stand within a tradition which has given me which has given shape to my sense of God independently of my ever having read Charles Darwin but I didn't really study science and religion until after I got my theological education and so the theological idea of God that I use as the basis as the framework for talking about God and evolution in that book came to me in my theological training before I even thought much about God and evolution and and so what what you in fact have pointed out is there is a great disparity within the religious world as to what exactly God means and even if you look within the Biblical text you'll find that there is certainly evolution in our understanding of God. What I start with as a Christian theologian is the understanding of God that's that's given in the picture of Jesus I'm as a Christian I'm instructed not to think about God without thinking about this man and picture of this man that's presented to us in the classic texts of my tradition is one of humble self-giving promising love if I could summarize it that way. So if the key to ultimate reality in Christianity, in Christian faith, in Christian theology and I'm certainly not alone in saying that this is the picture of Jesus as humble self-giving promising love then we talk about evolution God and evolution we should talk about evolution in terms of that God. not the God who is sometimes identified with the man up there or or with the supernaturalism as it's called where God is just a supernatural reality has no connection with the with life I'm talking about incarnate God a God who enters into ... become enfleshed and suffers. This is the God of Christianity so I think it's pointless to talk about nature if you don't come to that with with a picture of God as it's given in religious tradition. And so I I did not make this notion of God up it's the one that I think is central and certainly in contemporary Christian theological reflection.

0:11:39.000

Wright: When I was when I was reading your book I was I had just been to a an exhibit on Daoism in in at a museum in Chicago and I was reminded a number of times in the book of Daoist philosophy and then I came upon a passage where you actually referred to Daoism and and I'm I'm wondering what you know whether whether indeed you know am I imagining this or are there some real resonances between your thinking and Daoist philosophy?

John Haught: Well I'm talking about philosophical Daoism such as you find in the famous classic the Dao De Jing by the famous philosopher Laozi and according the philosophy of Daoism ultimate reality -- called the Dao -- is humble, is unobtrusive, is not prominent, doesn't stick out but precisely because of that humility of ultimate reality it allows the rest of nature the rest of nature to emerge and perhaps the best example give by the Dao De Jing is to imagine a circle a wheel with spokes converging from a center and that center geometrically speaking is essentially nothing but yet this nothingness generates a wheel. Or think of the emptiness of a window which allows light to come in. It's this insight the Daoist philosophy had that that which is mostly effective is also the most unobtrusive and they have the notion of the way which simply can be translated as effective non-interference so that which is most effective most foundational to reality is not going to be found among the object of ordinary experience and I correlate this with the Christian notion of the humility of God and that's one of the themes that perhaps you found perhaps a bit strange. It's not it's not one that you you might have grown up with and that many people have not grown up with in their religious experience but yet a case can be made and has been made by contemporary theology that this is the most characteristic feature of the God of Christianity and the classic text for this is St. Paul's letter to the Philippines in in which he puts an early Christian hymn which says Christ was in the form of God but did not want to cling to that status but emptied himself and took on the form of a slave and subsequent theological reflection has has taken that to mean that ultimate reality is self-emptying, self-humbling reality and that fits nicely the new understanding of of all the universe because a humble God would would not overwhelm the world would not stick out prominently as one object among others which religion often looks for and we're disappointed because we don't find that type of God we find very unavailable that kind of God but the unavailability of God is is a correlate of the fact that we find a universe which is constantly striving to become itself, that's how I understand from a religious point of view this is what evolution is is about even the expanding universe that we live in as Penberg pointed out can be interpreted theologically as consonant with the theme of a God who lets the world become itself. God wills the independence of the world. And this is kind of like the God of Daoism or the ultimate reality I don't want to use the word God to refer to the Dao but there's some sense that they what is ultimately in the Daoist position is exceedingly humble and unobtrusive and not available to scientific observation.

0:15:40.000

Wright: In your book you you talk about a number of scientific thinker, some in more flattering terms than others, let me just give you a series of names and and and...

John Haught: Yes. Sure, sure.

Wright: ... Daniel Dennett.

John Haught: Well Daniel Dennett I I think is is a is a is a good philosopher in a sense of very logical and very consistent I just don't think that he's fully aware of his fundamental assumption that that much of his philosophy is based upon a belief a belief system. He would probably not call it a belief system but that belief system is the view that essentially matter as he said has said in "Consciousness Explained" as well as in his book on Darwin that matter that that matter that reality is fundamentally reality that matter is fundamentally all that there really is and once you start with that then that means that you have to explain everything including consciousness and including life including evolution simply as the movements of lifeless matter according to invariant physical laws and that has a certain appeal to it, there's a certain clarity to the materialist scientific materialism that he has but it it's it's really when you come right down to it it's a belief about science and not science itself and I think what he tends to do is to present to the public as science or as scientific thought what is really a conflation of science with a particular metaphysics and that metaphysics is materialism.

Wright: So you are not a materialist? On the one hand not a...

John Haught: No.

Wright: ... thorough going material. On the other hand you you you subscribe to Darwinian theory more or less I mean you believe natural selection...

John Haught: Yes yes.

Wright: ... happened.

John Haught: Sure. I think when you do science you have to (()) from any other causes than what we normally call material causes and I have no objection to science abstracting that physical that phyiscal approach to things and and presenting that as as science. What I object to is the philosophical belief that after you've done that you've given us an adequate understanding of reality. I would be among those who would say science gives us only a very very small thin cross-section of the ultimate depths of the real.

0:18:14.000

Wright: So what is a Darwinian account of emergence of life missing? What is it not showing us?

John Haught: Well I don't want to say the Darwinian account is missing anything as far as science is concerned because I don't wamt to make room for a God of the gaps or anything like that...

Wright: And by and by God of the gaps you mean God as the source...

John Haught: God who comes in and who who theologians and religious people bring in to answer question that science has not yet dealt with.

Wright: Right, which is necessarily a God of shrinking significance and science...

John Haught: Right. And science...

Wright: ... marches on...

John Haught: Exactly.

Wright: Right.

John Haught: And I think I would I would emphasize we should push scientific explanation as far as we possibily can. What I would argue for is what I would call a hierarchy of explanations in which science and the various sciences themselves constist of a certain number of levels of explanation themselves but that that does not rule out what I would call an ultimate kind of explanation that is not given by science. If I can give you an example that John Polkinghorne gives if I can adapt it... suppose there is a pot of water boiling on the stove and somebody comes along and says why is that boiling? One very good answer is to say is it's because the molecules are moving excitedly around... a good physical explanation. But that does rule out another explanation somebody else might come along and say it's boiling because somebody turned the gas on. And that doesn't rule out a third explanation: it's boiling because I want tea. So what what we see in science is more like the first level of explanation but occasionally we have scientific thinkers and I think Dennett is one of these who would say this is enough, we don't to look at any other possible levels of explanation and that that contention that conviction that decision to see the world at that level of explanation is not logically speaking a scientific movement of the of the mind it's rather a belief. I believe that I can explain everything at this level. Now what I would like to say is I think we should push that kind of explanation as far as we possible can and not allow theological explanations in at that level, that causes enormous confusion and unfortunately that's what often happens but rather we should we should allow for that level of explanation but not rule out arbitrarily it seems to me the possibility that there are other levels of explanations such as I want tea.

0:20:54.000

Wright: Ok. Let me give you another another scientific name: Stephen J. Gould.

John Haught: Stephen J. Gould is one of my favorite writers and I've learned an enormous amount about evolution from Stephen J. Gould. I really have essentially one beef as far as Stephen J. Gould is concerned and that's that he he sees Darwinism as a mixture of scientific ideas and philosophical ideas and he's often said in his books that the reason people accept Darwin or don't want to digest the evolutionary science is not that the science is particularly difficult. The science is relatively simple. But he says that the Darwinian theory brings along with it what he calls a philosophical message and that philosophical message is that life is directionless and that the universe is purposeless and that matter is all there is. Now those three statements are metaphysical statements. I I don't think any scientist really seriously wants to mix beliefs in with science I mean the whole idea of science is to abstract as much as possible from beliefs but yet I don't think Stephen J, Gould can ideologically separate the science of evolution from that philosophical message and I don't agree with that I think you can contextualize the information that science is science scientists are gathering from the genetic code and the geological record and comparative embryology and anatomy and homology and so forth you can correlate that with what I would call a metaphysics of promise of of of the future just as easily and make just as much sense of it that way that you that we're not compelled to think of Darwinism as Michael Rosner has called it as an ineradicable materialist theory. I think I think scientists actually sabotage their own discipline by making statements like that because they are in affect telling people you can't separate science from this particular metaphysical system and in a culture that is dominantly theistic when you present evolution to the public as though it's eradicable materialistic. I think that that does not serve the cause of science education and I think it's unnecessary to to make Darwinism and materialism such happy bedfellows.

0:23:34.000

Wright: See I would quibble with you a little there because I think one of those propositions the issue of directionality in evolution is in some ways a scientific proposition I mean it's it's it's largely an argument about the facts about...

John Haught: It's a phenomenon that you can observe yes...

Wright: Yes yes and and and and there I think I think Gould is just wrong wrong on the facts.

John Haught: Oh, okay well that's right ... ok that's another aspect of Gould. I mean I would agree with you on that...

Wright: If I were going to accuse him of something it would be and I'd be willing to...

John Haught: Yes yes.

Wright: It would be... it would be having a philosophical bias as you described about wanting the universe to be purposeless...

John Haught: Yes.

Wright: ... and then reading that into the account of evolution and then being determined to to depict evolution as having been highly unlikely to create intelligent life, of course we're all susceptible to the accusation because whether however you come out on the directionality issue has these philosophical implications I mean I think a directional evolution is more likely to to suggest purpose so you know but I think that on the issue of direction I think you can argue in scientific terms and ...

John Haught: Yes I said I had one beef with with Gould I think I have two beefs and your second one is is entirely well taken and that's that that he has made too much of the directionessly of evolution but I think the reason for that is and I don't think it's peculiar to him alone but a lot of evolutionary biologists have focused in on the the the one chapter of the whole cosmic process that deals with with life and it's it's evolution and they've they've they haven't backed up and looked at the whole cosmic process and and that cosmic process clearly shows clear directionality...

Wright: Beginning with the big bang...

John Haught: Yes.

Wright: And so you think like Teilhard de Chardin...

John Haught: Yes.

Wright: ... that that that you can see everything since the big bang as a process of kind of complexification although it has moved...

John Haught: Generally speaking.

Wright: ... pretty darn slowly at times by our standards.

John Haught: Generally speaking right generally speaking there has been a trend toward increasing complexity and I think when Gould criticizes Teihard for Teilhard's directionalism I think often times Gould forgets that Teihard was one of the first scientific thinkers of the 20th Century to realize that the whole cosmos is in evolution. This is a really new idea relatively speaking and most of us haven't digested this and it it was that cosmic context that Teilhard had in mind when he talked about directionality not just the the branching bush that you see at times in in the biological realm.

0:26:20.000

Wright: Let me give you let me give you another scientific name to react to: Richard Dawkins.

John Haught: Well once again Richard Dawkins is someone from whom I learned quite a lot when I read his books I enjoy reading he's a very good writer very clever writer but he has decided in advance to understand God primarily as a designer and he's assisted in that by the fact that I think unfortunately some Christian thinkers define God primarily as a designer once you define God as a designer then you can say well look at this very very messy evolutionary process which is designed but the design can be explained in in purely naturalistic terms and therefore what need do we have of your designer God therefore there is no God therefore science has has ruled out the theology and theology should be extricated from the university context all together. And once again I think there are some certain assumptions there I mean he's saying let's play by these rules namely that God is a designer and then he'll say well I win and that that I think is something that I as a theologian simply don't start defining God in those terms or understanding God in those terms.

Wright: In "God After Darwin" you talked a little bit about the perennial philosophy... this is the name of a book I believe by Aldous Huxley...

John Haught: Aldous Huxley... yes.

Wright: And I I the the idea is that there are certain reoccurring themes in in the great religious...

John Haught: ...in the religions...

Wright: ... traditions around...

John Haught: ... and philosophies of the world traditionally.

Wright: What what do you make of that?

John Haught: Well the two themes are first of all that there's one ultimate reality which is main God, Brahma, Allah, whatever by different traditions but the second main feature of the perennial philosophy is the way in which it's organized the world into an hierarchy of levels moving from inanimate to animate to conscious to God and this is something that you do find cross-culturally and and so there is a kind of perennial quality to it. What I have problems with is the the there's a third assumption actually that the perennial philosophy has and that's that there was some primordial revelation of God and that what human history has been is the story deviation from the primal purity of that initial revelatory moment into various traditions and therefore what we should do with our lives is make our way back up stream to that primordial revelation. Huston Smith is an advocate of the perennial philosophy whose had a great deal of influence on people. My problem with it is that it just does not fit well the evolutionary understanding of of the universe that we have and as a matter of fact my perennial philosophers if not most have a very very difficult time appropriating evolutionary thought into their thinking.

Wright: Now and so in what way exactly does does evolution not fit in to the perennial philosophy?

John Haught: Well because evolution lets us that mind came very late gradually teased out of life which in turn was gradually given rise to by by the material elements so you have a kind of conflict between the horizontal picture that science gives us of life emerging out of matter and mind out of life and the vertical picture that you have in the perennial philosophy and I think the primary reason why the perennial philosophy has it's appeal is that it does provide a reason for saying for example that life is more valuable than inanimate stuff and that human life is more valuable than animal life and that God is ultimately valuable. It greys things and what I would want to do I don't want to deny there are different levels of value I think it would be sheer madness to deny that there is a certain hierarchy in our making of judgements. I think you can argue that the for a for a sort of if you want to say a 45 degree hierarchy in which the hierarchy is an emergent one in which more important levels do emerge later in the process and therefore you can preserve both the evolutionary picture of things and the hierarchical understanding of nature. That's what I'm trying to do that just give you a snippet of the argument that I would follow there.

0:31:10.000

Wright: On this issue of the perennial philosophy on this issue of in what sense might there be a future convergence of the world's religions, you certainly don't want to see them kind of homogenized...

John Haught: Right right.

Wright: ... on the other hand there needs to be a kind of working compatibility among them it seems to me I mean for kind of practical...

John Haught: Yes.

Wright: ... purposes of of keeping people living in harmony and things like that...

John Haught: Yes one of the really promising projects is one that's based upon themes like justice and ecological integrity, ethical issues like like that do more to get religions to sit down and talk to each other to one another then all the ecumenical sort of planning that we do and many of us in religion have found a remarkable convergence especially on the issue of ecology I teach a course on religion and ecology in which we don't deal just with Christianity but with native religion, with Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and the students all do reports on these and in the course of the semester they really learn to appreciate other traditions for the wisdom and insight that they have that other traditions don't have and so it's it's because of convergence on you're right convergence on specific concerns like that will will do more toward bringing about a convergence but again a convergence that does not reduce them all to some common denominator....

Wright: Right.

John Haught: ...but allows each to maintain it's distinctiveness within a world community in it's search for meaning and ethical responsibility.

Wright: Well in the realm of of more of theology and metaphysics do you think that when somebody like Aldous Huxley says fundamentally all the religions are taking about the same thing that he's reading his hope into it a little?

John Haught: I'm a little bit wary of statements like that that that all religions are ultimately saying the same thing and this is this comes out especially when we bring Buddhism into the conversation, Buddhism which does not have a concept of a transcendent deity but is yet in some sense very ethically oriented very deeply compassionate it shares in many ways the the the the sense of ultimately important with other religions the elimination of suffering the bringing about of happiness and meaning and so forth so I would not want to to to look forward to a time when Buddhists become theists necessarily. I don't know that that could ever happen.

0:34:02.000

Wright: Does so so if you believe that there really are some aspects of the theologies of the great religions or the metaphysics of the great religions that are not not logically compatible in a certain sense I mean either there is a transcendent god or there's not a transcendent god I mean...

John Haught: Yes right.

Wright: ... does this pose problems for you as a as a Christian...

John Haught: Sure.

Wright: ...I mean the question arises why would God reveal himself only to half of humankind the half that happens to inhabit a particular part of the world?

John Haught: I have no easy answers to those things but I think it helps to contextualize questions like this one within an evolutionary picture of the world after all there are many diverse forms of life but life burst forth probably in one single instance of life and so that that particular event was a privilege moment you know within the total scheme of things I don't know that we can logically rule out the possibility that a revealing God would first emerge most vividly within a particular historical tradition. I don't want to make a big deal of that but I don't think we can logically rule rule that out. My own my own belief is that revelation is actually something that's coextensive with the universe except the universe is the primary revelation of ultimate reality. As the universe unfolds each form of life reveals its ground its ultimate ground in a unique sort of way and then it becomes conscious and social this same revelatory reality discloses itself in a unique way in each religious tradition as as well so I don't think revelation in that broad and deep sense can be claimed as unique to only one of these traditions.

Wright: Yes although if if you I mean if you take certain traditional aspects of of Christianity seriously which you may or may not still be taken serious by a lot of theologians but the notion that you know you don't go to heaven if you don't believe the right thing. That's there certainly are a lot of practicing Christians who believe that.

John Haught: There are practicing Christians and historically there's been (()) there is no salvation outside the church and that that is is still something that some Christians believe but it's it's I think a good example of how religions themselves evolve how doctrinal development itself takes place to point out that for example in Catholic community today which I belong to that statement is is not taken literally. In fact those who take it literally are not considered to be up to date with their theology and with doctrine so you have to be very careful to place religion itself in an unfinished universe I think we have to expect that our religions are going to be unfinished also and that means they have a future and that doctrinal development is possible regardless of what some static thinkers say religion is is as much as an evolutionary phenomenon as anything else in the history of the universe.

Wright: So it's no longer a a a a belief of kind of mainstream Christian theology that non-believers go to hell...

John Haught: Yes exactly yes. There there are different ways theology finesses that point but the general exclusivism that that that characterized an earlier epic has been pretty much eliminated in contemporary mainline Christian theology...

Wright: That's a load off my mind. I'm glad I came here today.

0:38:03.000

Wright: Among the attempts to reconciled religion with science is pantheism which as I understand it means basically that everything we see ...

John Haught: Is God.

Wright: ... is God. God is the physical universe.

John Haught: The universe is the ultimate reality, there is nothing beyond the universe.

Wright: Right and and you're you're not a pantheist.

John Haught: I'm not a pantheist.

Wright: But but and and I guess my so maybe you're not the person to ask but it seems to me if if God is only the physical universe then in what sense is that God? I mean where's the value added?

John Haught: Right. Well Spinoza the great philosopher in the 17th Century essentially said the same thing (()) God nature call it what you will you know it's still there's still nothing beyond it as it were. It has an appeal to to people today especially people aware of the evolutionary epic and so forth who find that the anthropomorphic one planet deity of Christianity in Biblical religion is just too small for their enlarged cosmic horizons and so there are a number of of people who who are arguing for kind of evolutionary spirituality or cosmic kind of spirituality which in a sense logically speaking in my view does not really differ from pantheism in the sense that ultimately the ultimate context of their existence is the universe there's no need to posit the reality of anything that transcends the physical physical universe and that's that's really an interesting challenge to contemporary theology because often times we do fail to present our pictures of God as larger than the universe and if you don't present you picture of deity as as larger than the universe than that's not going to work religiously so people will go to the universe as the ultimately context of their religious reverence and surrender and so forth. But there's no in in in theological tradition God after all is called the infinite and so the the and the universe is finite no matter how large it is and after Einstein we know how large it is after Hubble we know how large the universe is, we have a better sense rather of how large it is, still by by my mathematics the finite just does not quite equal the infinite so there's no real theological basis for saying that God is smaller than the universe but psychologically I think both the God that's presented in the suburban pulpit is often times smaller than what's smart scientifically educated people are really looking for and that's largely I think the fault of our seminaries. I think our seminaries today are are just really failing to educate religious leaders and clergy in this large understanding of the universe that we have.

0:41:08.000

Wright: Do students ever come to you I mean this is a this is a university where religion is kind of a prominent...

John Haught: Yes we we...

Wright: ... part of life...

John Haught: ... require two courses in religious studies.

Wright: And do they ever come to you for something more in the way of guidance than...

John Haught: Sure.

Wright: ... you know ... I mean do students ever come to you and say to you I feel there's something missing in my life, I'm I don't have religious faith and and perhaps even further I I the kind of scientific world view that I'm imbibing here seems to make it only harder to to reach the kind of meaning I'm after.

John Haught: Exactly. This is one of the reasons why thirty years ago I invented a course on science and religion precisely because I realized that some students were taking science courses where they're bombarded with atoms and molecules and genes and so forth and at the end of the day they wonder what does this all have to do with with anything really really significant so what I try to do in my course is precisely to to give free complete freedom to scientific inquiry to push scientific inquiry as far as it possibly can go but at the same time offer to the students mostly through readings that I give to them I don't preach to them or anything like that to open up to them avenues of thought that will allow them to locate their scientific thinking including their evolutionary awareness within a framework that will allow it to make sense in the larger sense of the term... that's basically what what I do for a living here at at Georgetown.

Wright: And and they after discovering that science doesn't foreclose a religious possibility wind up as Daoists or Buddhists or Muslims are you about as happy as you would be if they wound up Christians?

John Haught: I don't I don't lose any sleep over the fact that most of them are not converted to a particular religious tradition I'm more concerned that they realize that their own life journey and their own questioning process is something that they share with many others and that they don't have to become anxious that they don't have or that they can't share the kind of doctrinal servitudes that religious traditions give them but as a matter of fact I talk to many of the students who come back years years after leaving here and and by that time in their lives many of them have settled down into a particular religious tradition often times they have at least nominally abandoned their Catholicism or their Christianity when they come to college and so forth but many of them look back at that so called atheistic moment as a very important development in their in their growth process in their spiritual journeys as it were and my experience has been most of these students who go through that period don't stay there stay in that agnostic or sometimes call themselves atheists period indefinitely but I'm very relaxed about letting them question and the reason for that is that religion and theology should never ever suppress the legitimate intellectual aspirations of people and sometimes it does and that's that's a tragic thing for for for religion and theology when that happens so I like to be more relaxed about their their questions.

0:44:53.000

Wright: And and when they say that that the atheistic phase is important is that related to the way you say that reckoning with science is ultimately an enriching experience even if it leads to doubt at first?

John Haught: Yes. Exactly. What what what that sometimes does is is allow them to appropriate ideas from science that they would be afraid to take seriously if they took too literally some of the preconceptions that they've had from their religious education in the past and it takes time for you know a new set of ideas is going to jostle and break down previous psychological and intellectual synthesis. This is a perfect example that I talk about how evolution is not just or or picture of reality that I have is not just order but order plus novelty and especially in the intellectual realm but novelty comes in and breaks down our previous preconceptions of of things and this happens not just intellectually but religiously and theologically and so on.

Wright: So so the on-going evolution of religious doctrine is analogous to the ongoing evolution of these students...

John Haught: ... of a person. Yes.

Wright: We await the next word then in evolution. I'll wait for your next book.

John Haught: It's indeterminate.

Wright: I'll wait for your next book to get the next word. Well thanks very much.

John Haught: Thanks thanks. I enjoyed our conversation. Thanks.

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