Arts and Culture

Truth, Freedom and Drama

Third in a series

To claim that the evolutionary process can be best understood as an ongoing drama is to claim that there is a discernable purpose to evolution. In his “Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life” (Westminster, John Knox Press, 2010. p. 163) John Haught presents a very persuasive argument that evolution has a direction to it. Haught’s vision, which I find not only persuasive but very exciting, calls us into the future and challenges us to place our hope in God who is inviting us to contribute to God’s creative activity.

American theologian and author John F. Haught, Distinguished Research Professor at Georgetown University. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Our awareness of our vocation as persons assumes a new importance. Haught’s vision can give us a sense of mission, which I think may be very important for many at this moment in history. Using insights from philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, Haught writes the following:

“Purpose means the actualizing of something good, important, or valuable, and beauty may be the most sublime of all values. Beauty, in its Whiteheadian definition, means the harmony of contrasts, or better, the ordering of novelty. Since ‘purpose’ can be defined as the actualizing of value, nature’s purpose consists, minimally, of its ageless urge to intensify forms of ordered novelty.

If so, then the meaning of our own lives within the larger drama of the universe and evolution may have something to do with our contributing in our own small but unique ways to the intensification of the world’s beauty.”(p.82)

He adds that the actualizing of beauty in the cosmic story: “gradually takes on the shape of heightening consciousness, self-awareness, freedom, moral sensitivity, aesthetic enjoyment, and the instinct to worship. A process that can bring about beings endowed with these traits is not trivial. Indeed it is literally mind-blowing. So there is no rational basis for arbitrarily asserting that evolution is aimless when in fact it has already accomplished something so wonderful.” (p. 82)

The view of reality that Haught presents does not minimize the importance of the human person but challenges us to play important, indeed crucially important roles in a movement that is literally cosmic. Reflecting on Haught’s vision, some great contemporary plays came to mind that dramatize brilliantly a view of the human person that depicts human persons as lost in the cosmos. Two classics that came into my mind were Eugene O’Neil’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night”  and Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story.”

In each play, characters are struggling to find some redeeming meaning to human existence. I think the materialistic interpretation of evolution contributes to this dark view of human nature. Haught’s view is telling us that we have an incredibly important role to play in a cosmic drama.

Reading Haught’s book I had a strange experience. For both philosophers and theologians, and indeed for everyone I have ever heard discuss or write about the topic, the mystery of why an all-loving God, indeed a God Who is Love, allows so much suffering seems to be too great a mystery for any human mind to comprehend completely.

I think we are going to have to wait for heaven to come to some completely satisfying insight into this mystery. Perhaps when we come face to face with God we will understand. However, commenting in a short paragraph about human suffering, Haught offers an insight that shed some light on the mystery for me.

“So it must be admitted in maximizing the aesthetic intensity of the cosmos, God opens up the universe to a transformative drama that is not immune to tragic outcomes and episodes. If you do not like such a universe — an entirely understandable first reaction — it may be illuminating to think out thoroughly what your own alternative might entail. Your proposal might be to have God create a finished and fully perfected universe from day one of creation.

But such a perfectly designed universe would have no room for life, freedom, and new being. An initially fixed and finished universe would have no future. It would be insentient and mindless. This is the kind of universe you will end up with if you are obsessed with design and indifferent to drama …

“If God had not opened up the universe to novelty and drama from the start, there would have been no suffering. But there would have been no increase in value (beauty), life, sentience, and consciousness either … A world devoid of evil and suffering may be a theoretically conceivable alternative to the one we have, but it would have been aesthetically trivial in comparison with the dramatically intense universe that is still coming into being and whose meaning remains obscure until the story is fully told.” (pp. 84-85)

With no mind and no freedom, there would be no sin but there also would be no love.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.

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