that we can ask such a question at all suggests an affirmative answer. The
impassioned search for meaning, perhaps our species' most distinctive trait, is
not a longing that lifts us out of the universe, or that takes place outside of
nature. We are, after all, as much a part of nature as roaches and rivers. So
too is our thirst for meaning.
accept evolution, as indeed we must, our longing for meaning is nature–in the
same sense that birdsong and the howling of wolves are nature.
our minds are nothing more than the accidental outcome of a mindless
evolutionary process, why should we trust them at all? A Darwinian account of
the mind's critical capacities–explanatory though such a narrative might be–is
not enough to justify the confidence we spontaneously place in our cognitional
himself would agree. He agonized over whether the theory of natural selection,
taken by itself, might not undermine the actual trust we have in our mind's
capacity to understand and know reality. "With me the horrid doubt always
arises," he admitted to a friend, "whether the convictions of man's mind, which
has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at
all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if
there are any convictions in such a mind?"
Darwin had no good answer to this question, but
that does not mean it is unanswerable. We can embrace evolutionary science
without losing confidence in our minds. For it is not by looking back at what
our minds evolved from, I suggest, but only by looking forward at what our
minds are now anticipating that we can validate our cognitional confidence and
vindicate our trust in cosmic purpose.
what are our minds anticipating? What are they reaching for? If, along with me,
you are asking this question, you are already closing in on the answer. Your
mind is engaged at his very moment in nothing less than the search for truth.
And simply by reaching toward truth both you and your mind's natural root
system–the universe–are ennobled. As they are being taken captive by the most
undeniable of values, truth itself, they are already participating in its empowering
though always elusive presence. It is because this transcendent value has
already taken hold of you, and in you the whole universe, that you can have
faith in your critical intelligence and also trust that the universe has a
after all, means quite simply the bringing about of something undeniably and
permanently good. Is that what is going on in the cosmos?
as you are drawn toward truth, so also is the natural world that gave birth to
your mind. The two, after all, are inseparable. As long as the search for truth
persists, not only can you trust your mind, you can also trust the universe
that has germinated such an exquisite means of opening itself to what is
timelessly worth treasuring.
John F. Haught is Senior Fellow, Science & Religion, at the Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University.