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Prolegomena to Any “Metaphysics of the Future”: A Critical Appraisal of John Haught's Evolutionary Theology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2019

Benjamin J. Hohman*
Boston College


This article examines John Haught's proposal for a “metaphysics of the future” within his program for an evolutionary theology. After offering an overview of Haught's metaphysics and its roots in process thought, it argues that Haught's account undermines his larger goal of dialogue between science and religion by making all knowledge of reality dependent on a prior and explicitly religious experience. This critique is brought into greater relief through a comparison with the thought of Bernard Lonergan, whose epistemology and metaphysics Haught has engaged numerous times throughout his career. The final section suggests one way of reframing Haught's project that avoids these serious issues without jettisoning his important core insights.

Horizons , Volume 46 , Issue 2 , December 2019 , pp. 270 - 295
Copyright © College Theology Society 2019

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1 Johnson, Elizabeth A., Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), 253Google Scholar.

2 Haught, John F., The New Cosmic Story: Inside Our Awakening Universe (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017), esp. 5864, 88, 163, and 199Google Scholar.

3 Haught, John F., God after Darwin: A Theology of Evolution, 2nd ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2008), ixGoogle Scholar.

5 Ibid., 27–47.

6 Ibid., 31.

7 Ibid., 31.

8 Ibid., 90.

9 Ibid., x.

10 The extension of this worldview to other world religions is not ruled out in God after Darwin, but it is not until the recent publication of The New Cosmic Story that his scope has more intentionally and explicitly included a focus on the multiple traditions that emerged during Karl Jaspers’ axial age. For Haught's own account of this, see especially The New Cosmic Story, pages 6–25.

11 Ibid., 45.

12 Ibid., 51.

13 Ibid., 52.

15 Ibid., 56.

16 Ibid., 90.

17 Ibid., 91.

19 Ibid., 58.

20 Ibid., 59.

21 Ibid., 74.

22 Ibid., 79.

23 Ibid., 80.

24 Ibid., 91.

25 Ibid., 92.

26 Ibid., 93.

27 Haught, John F., Is Nature Enough?: Meaning and Truth in the Age of Science (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 6063CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

28 Haught, God after Darwin, 127.

29 Ibid. Haught argues for this view of God's action breaking in from the future throughout the chapter, but in this paragraph, he cites the particular influence of Moltmann, Jürgen, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology, trans. Kohl, Margaret (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 259–95Google Scholar.

30 Ibid., 148. Haught provides a more nuanced account of this claim in Is Nature Enough?, pages 171–72: “It is entirely appropriate to keep telling the old stories about the origin and end of suffering, but that our religion and theology should not recite them any longer as though Darwin never lived and evolution never happened. Evolutionary biology clearly requires the widening of theological reflection so as to take into account the enormous breadth and depth of nonhuman pain and the unfinished character of the universe. Even if theology is a reasonable alternative to naturalism it must not be seen as an alternative to good science.”

31 Haught, God after Darwin, 149.

32 Ibid., 186.

33 Ibid., 190.

34 Ibid., 214.

35 See, for instance, Haught, John F., Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life, 1st ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 143Google Scholar; Haught, The New Cosmic Story, 58–64, 88, 163, 199.

36 Haught, John F., Religion and Self-Acceptance: A Study of the Relationship between Belief in God and the Desire to Know (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1980)Google Scholar.

37 Lonergan's account of metaphysics can be found in Lonergan, Bernard J. F., Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, 5th ed., Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, vol. 3 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992), esp. 411617Google Scholar.

38 The dissertation was later rewritten and released in serialized articles in Theological Studies; all of these articles and the original dissertation text have been published together in Lonergan, Bernard J. F., Grace and Freedom: Operative Grace in the Thought of St. Thomas Aquinas Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, vol. 1 (Toronto; University of Toronto Press, 2000)Google Scholar.

39 For Lonergan's account of positions and counterpositions, see Lonergan, Insight, 413: “[Any account of cognitional theory, epistemology, or metaphysics] will be a basic position (1) if the real is the concrete universe of being and not a subdivision of the ‘already out there now’; (2) if the subject becomes known when it affirms itself intelligently and reasonably and so is not known yet in any prior ‘existential’ state; and (3) if objectivity is conceived as a consequence of intelligent inquiry and critical reflection, and not as a property of vital anticipation, extroversion, and satisfaction. On the other hand, it will be a basic counterposition if it contradicts one or more of the basic positions.” Put more simply, a metaphysics—latent or explicated—may be deemed counterpositional if it ignores the link between a thing's being and its intelligibility or if it obscures the complementary and isomorphic relationship that obtains between human beings as knowers of reality and of reality as intelligible.

40 Ibid., 416.

41 Ibid., 415.

43 Ibid., 126–62.

44 Haught, God after Darwin, 95.

46 Ibid., 96.

47 Tracy, David, Blessed Rage for Order: The New Pluralism in Theology (New York: Seabury Press, 1975), 91119Google Scholar.

48 Haught, God after Darwin, 95.

49 This point is conveyed with startling clarity in Elizabeth Johnson, Ask the Beasts, 40–44, where she describes how Darwin's account of his scientific investigations reveal him to have been a “beholder” in relation to the beauty and intricacy of the created world in such a way that he serves as a model of ecological (and perhaps even sacramental) awareness for Christians.

50 Haught, God after Darwin, 99.

51 Ibid., 95.

52 For a critique of the model of capitulation in ecumenical dialogue, see Lindbeck, George A., The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, 1st ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984), 1617Google Scholar.

53 For Lonergan's argument for the reasonableness of God's existence, see chapter 19 of Insight, 657–708, especially 680–99.

54 See, for instance, Barron, Robert, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master, Crossroad Spiritual Legacy Series (New York: Crossroad, 1996), 296315Google Scholar; O'Rourke, Fran, Pseudo-Dionysius and the Metaphysics of Aquinas (University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), 2261CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Rocca, Gregory P., Speaking the Incomprehensible God: Thomas Aquinas on the Interplay of Positive and Negative Theology (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2004)Google Scholar.

55 Marion, Jean-Luc, “Thomas Aquinas and Onto-Theo-Logy,” in God without Being: Hors-Texte, 2nd ed., Religion and Postmodernism (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012), 199236CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

56 For one notable example, see Hayes, Zachary, The Gift of Being: A Theology of Creation, New Theology Studies, vol. 10 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2001)Google Scholar. See also the account of hylomorphism described in the chapter on Bonaventure's theology of creation in Delio, Ilia, Simply Bonaventure: An Introduction to His Life, Thought, and Writings, 2nd ed. (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2018), 5466, esp. 57–60Google Scholar.

57 See, for instance, Edwards, Denis, Jesus the Wisdom of God: An Ecological Theology, Ecology and Justice (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1995), 101–10Google Scholar; Delio, Ilia, “Bonaventure's Metaphysics of the Good,” Theological Studies 60 (1999), 228–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Osborne, Kenan, “Our Relational World Today: Exploring the Wisdom of St. Bonaventure,” Franciscan Studies 71 (2013): 511–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

58 Haught, The New Cosmic Story, 62.

59 The classical definition of this principle comes from the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215: between Creator and creature, there is always a greater difference than likeness” (DH 806), in Compendium of Creeds, Definitions, and Declarations on Matters of Faith and Morals, 43rd ed., ed. Hünermann, Peter et al. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012), 269Google Scholar.

60 Haught, God after Darwin, 91.

61 Haught, Is Nature Enough?, 189.

62 ST I, Q. 50–64, esp. 50, 62. Although Aquinas notes that angels still require grace to reach their supernatural end, the beatific contemplation of God, they are perfect according to their natures and, in this regard, unchanging.

63 This is the sort of being that Aquinas understands to be the only proper term of metaphysics, as explained in Aquinas, Thomas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, preface, trans. Rowan, John P. (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1961), 12Google Scholar.

64 Although religious conversion would also be relevant here, for reasons of space I focus on psychic conversion, which accords with Haught's emphasis on narrative and symbol in his work.

65 Doran, Robert M., Theology and the Dialectics of History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989), 46Google Scholar.

66 Ibid., 59.

67 Ibid., 53.

68 Ibid., 61.

69 Haught, Is Nature Enough?, 54.

70 Ibid., 211.

71 Haught, Making Sense of Evolution, 53.

72 Ibid., 78.

73 Ibid., 80.

74 Ibid., 100–03.

75 Haught, The New Cosmic Story, 3.

76 Ibid., 18.

77 Ibid., 32.

78 Ibid., 33.

79 Ibid., 34.

80 Ibid., 35.

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