International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Is Nature Enough?: Meaning and Truth in the Age of Science

by John F. Haught

Introductory Essay by V. V. Raman

Cultures have imagined and thinkers have considered entities beyond Nature. They include supernatural elements and also entities like meaning, justice and truth. Since the rise of modern science, many have held that everything is Nature, including all emergences from the human brain. In this concise book, the eminent Catholic theologian John Haught challenges that position.

Haught contends that there are layers of explanation for any phenomenon and that science’s pronouncement that there is nothing beyond Nature sounds like a prison sentence to religious ears.

Truth is “the objective or goal of the pure desire to know” [37], and is embedded in an experience of the fullness of being. There are five fields of meaning through which one attains truth: affectivity, intersubjectivity, narrativity, beauty and theory. Analyzing these, Haught concludes that naturalism alone cannot lead us to a complete understanding of consciousness and the natural world. In one case, he discusses the paradoxes in the materialistic account of life’s origin and points out that a theological account, involving divine action, needn’t be in competition with the scientific. Haught questions the naturalist explanation of emergence by asking where the newness comes from. He contends that in the scientific quest one “deliberately disregards” the insidedness of our mental function. If we take this into account, we will get an altogether different picture of the world [88]. In his discussion on purpose, Haught argues that evolutionary naturalism must be rejected…” [116].

Haught emphasizes the important distinction between the theoretical knowing of science and “the primal ways of knowing that allow us to encounter dimensions of reality that the various sciences leave out” [126]. He gives succinct accounts of the key ideas of Henri Bergson, Michael Polanyi, Alfred North Whitehead, Bernard Lonergan and Teilhard de Chardin. In his chapter on the Cosmos, Haught says that in naturalistic writings there is “magic and alchemy everywhere.” Morality can be easily naturalized “if one looks at life solely in terms of evolutionary biology ” [147]. He notes that, “that logical inconsistency is not a deterrent to the persistent naturalist” [165].

In his theological vision, the key to suffering is to be found “not in natural selection alone, but even more fundamentally, (in) the universe and in life’s anticipation of a fullness of being up ahead that allows suffering to show up wherever and whenever perfection still remains out of reach” [188]. In the context of mortality, belief in an after-life is not irrational, and “religious hope proves itself to be more consistent with the mind’s anticipation of meaning and truth than naturalistic pessimism does” [205]. In the concluding chapter there is the insightful comment that “The widespread religious longing for the ultimate fulfillment and a destiny beyond death does not contradict, but arises simultaneously with, the unrestricted desire to know” [215].

All through the book, Haught is informed by, and is respectful of science. But, in his view, materialistic Naturalism which can see or know nothing beyond the substantial and the tangible, the rational and the logical, provides us with but a partial view of Truth, and for this reason, his answer to the question in the title is an emphatic No.