Anne Barbeau Gardiner, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, is Professor Emerita of English at John Jay College of the City University of New York. She has published on Dryden, Milton, and Swift, as well as on Catholics of the seventeenth century.
God and Evolution: Protestants, Catholics, and Jews Explore Darwin’s Challenge to Faith. Edited by Jay W. Richards. Discovery Institute Press (www.discoveryinstitutepress.com; 206-292-0401). 387 pages. $24.95.
God and Evolution contains fifteen timely and powerful essays on the topic of religion and evolution. The writers include John G. West and Stephen C. Meyer (whose books were reviewed in the Sept. 2008 and Oct. 2010 issues, respectively) and Jay W. Richards, who contributes several key essays on Catholics and evolution to this collection.
Here’s what we’re up against today: Two out of three college biology teachers call themselves atheists or agnostics, as do ninety-five percent of the biologists in the National Academy of Sciences. Of the leading scientists involved in evolution, eighty-seven percent deny the existence of God, and ninety percent reject any purpose in evolution. The reason is easy to find: Darwinian evolution, “the creation story” of atheists, now operates “as the normal stance of science.” In high-school and college textbooks, Darwinian evolution is taught as a blind, heartless, purposeless, unguided process that makes any spiritual explanation of life superfluous. This is our current tax-funded orthodoxy enforced by court orders. Worst of all, what is “almost universally taught in textbooks” is that man himself is the unintended byproduct of blind material forces. Is it any wonder that our culture is sinking into nihilism?
As Richards warns, no Catholic can accept this worldview. Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), declared dogmatically that, far from being a product of evolution, each human soul is created directly by God. He also stated that the Fall of Adam and Eve was a historical event and that all human beings descend from this first pair and are marked by original sin. These points are also found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Moreover, Pope Benedict XVI has for decades criticized the Darwinian view that nature and human life are the result of purposeless chance. In a published sermon, he asserted that the world reveals “a creating Intelligence” and that human beings are “willed” by God and are “the fruit of love.”
Richards urges Catholics to stand on the front lines in the struggle to “liberate science and culture from the grip of materialism,” instead of looking for “quasi-Catholic ways” to support the materialist status quo. There are Catholic scholars who defend Darwinism on the ground that science is by its very nature limited to naturalistic explanations. Richards warns that this is “a potentially fatal, and unnecessary capitulation to modernism.” There are “historical or origins sciences like cosmology, origin-of-life research, and evolutionary biology, that depend heavily on comparing competing hypotheses.” These sciences follow what is called “abduction” or “inference to the best explanation,” weighing rival hypotheses to see which has greater “causal adequacy.” Darwinian evolution is not a “testable” hypothesis, Richards says, but is “largely historical and abductive.” It is in competition with “teleological explanations” such as intelligent design (ID) theory, which is why Darwinists attack ID theorists with such vehemence. Both use abductive reasoning, yet Darwinists would have people believe they alone are “scientific,” while their rivals are philosophical or religious. Richard Dawkins admits that if Darwinism fails, then “design broadly construed is the alternative.”
Today, skepticism about the “all-encompassing claims” of Darwinism has become widespread among scientists themselves. Recently, eight hundred of them, some from MIT and Princeton, signed a statement expressing their doubt that the Darwinian mechanism is capable of explaining the complexity of life.
Most of the essays in God and Evolution deal with the theistic evolutionists who have compromised with Darwinism and given up fundamental Christian doctrines. These Catholic and Protestant scholars enjoy a high profile today because the Templeton Foundation has spent $20 million over fifteen years to promote their work, hoping to lure theologians and pastors into accepting evolutionary biology. Theistic evolutionists tend to redefine Christianity by using Darwinism as a new foundation. They teach that God “created” the world by setting up an “undirected process,” the outcome of which He could not foresee or foreordain. This thinking is all the rage today, with new theologians presenting God as utterly “constrained” by nature’s freedom. For example, former Vatican astronomer George Coyne claims that God did not know “with certainty” that human life would result from evolution, and Catholic Kenneth Miller remarks that even if God knew that undirected evolution would produce a creature able to praise Him, this creature could have been “a mollusk with exceptional mental abilities.”
In answer to Miller, David Klinghoffer warns that Darwinism makes the idea of God’s image in us incomprehensible, something that leads to “moral catastrophe.” Francisco Ayala, an ex-Dominican priest and an ex-Catholic, claims that Darwinism poses no challenge to religion because it frees God from responsibility for the cruelties that pervade the world. Then he warns that those who oppose Darwinism may be guilty of “blasphemy” by imputing the world’s “incompetent design” to God, instead of to unguided evolution.
The new theology has made inroads among evangelicals too. Karl Giberson calls the doctrine of creation “secondary” and the Fall “inconsequential for our need for salvation,” since Christ saves us from a flawed creation. Francis Collins, head of the BioLogos Foundation, claims that the biological world looks exactly like the product of Dar win’s “undirected process,” and that only through faith do we recognize this apparent lack of design as “deceiving.” On this point Collins is refuted by St. Paul in Romans 1:20: “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.”
Howard Van Till, who abandoned Christianity after retiring from Calvin College, makes an argument that is now practically universal among theistic evolutionists: He contends that on the grounds of a “theological aesthetic” it would be “distasteful” for God to act directly in nature after the initial creation. Richards counters that this view contradicts the Bible, which clearly shows that God makes covenants with men, performs miracles, and becomes incarnate. Another case revealing how corrosive Darwinism is to Christian faith is that of evangelical Denis Lamou reux, who embraces what he calls “evolutionary intelligent design”: He says God initially created an arrangement of matter that would “unfold deterministically” ever after, without any need for His guidance. He objects to intelligent design theory because it implies that God could have played a role in the history of the universe and mankind, something he ridicules as “interventionist design theory.” In reply to Van Till and Lamoureux, Ste phen Meyer points out that God acts freely and is “under no compulsion to act in a way that either appeals to, or affirms our aesthetic sensibilities.”
When we see theistic evolutionists denying that God played any role at all in natural or human history, we realize how right Avery Cardinal Dulles was when he warned that too much was being conceded to atheists. “Why should God be capable of creating the world from nothing,” he asked, “but incapable of acting within the world he has made?”
Communists used to call those who unwittingly advanced their cause in the free world “useful idiots.” One can’t help recalling this phrase when John West refers to theistic evolutionists as a small eddy in the “evolution defense lobby” whose leaders attack Christianity head-on. Some, like Chris Mooney, worry that if Darwinism is too plainly identified with atheism, “constitutional problems” might arise from the teaching of evolution in public schools, leading to a courtroom case harmful to public opinion. After all, a recent Zogby poll showed that most Americans don’t believe that natural selection and random change could create the intricate sequences of information found in DNA. This is why the evolution lobby needs temporary allies among Catholics and evangelicals — temporary, because the ultimate goal is to silence religion.
Richards observes that theistic evolutionists show a “remarkable naïveté” in their evaluation of the evidence for unguided evolution. They reinvent theology before even making sure that Darwinism is true, and some of them claim implausibly that their accommodation arises “not from biology but from theology.” For instance, Michael Tkacz says the Catholic doctrine of creation requires every organism to have an explanation within nature, and Van Till finds in the Church fathers the principle that “nature does its own creating.” Ste phen Barr misrepresents ID theory and hides the fact that it offers “arguments for design based on public evidence from cosmology to biology” and that it is “congenial” to religion.
Some theistic evolutionists, like Francis Collins, argue that science and religion speak entirely different languages without any overlap: “God’s domain is in the spiritual world, a realm not possible to explore with the tools and language of science.” This strict compartmentalization doesn’t work in the real world because Christianity makes “factual claims” about human nature and history, while Darwinism purports to answer questions about the origin of morality and religion. To his credit, Collins accepts that an intelligent cause is the best explanation for the Big Bang and the fine-tuned cosmos, and he “appeals to the moral law in the human heart as evidence of design” against the Darwinian view that our morality is derived from animal instincts. He even regards the outcome of evolution as “entirely specified by God” at the start, which amounts to saying it was intelligently designed. He insists, too, that God acted directly when man received “an immortal soul that evolution could not instill.” Even so, Collins has crusaded against intelligent design in biology, contending that “junk DNA” is proof that Darwinian evolution is “unquestionably correct” and that a “hit-and-miss designer” like the blind watchmaker “laid down the millions of pages of genetic information essential for life.”
Jonathan Witt refutes Collins (who, by the way, has doubts that human life begins at conception and defends embryonic stem-cell research) by showing that he contradicts himself when he invokes a meticulous Providence to explain the rise of humanity and claims at the same time that a random process caused junk DNA. Two other essays in this book refute Collins. Jonathan Wells points out that junk DNA is now understood to have important functions, like regulating the timing of DNA replication and transcription. Meyer draws a terrific analogy between DNA and the printed page: “Biochemistry and molecular biology make clear that law-like forces of attraction between the constituents in DNA…do not explain the sequence specificity of these large information-bearing bio-molecules. To say otherwise is like saying that the law-like forces of chemical attraction governing ink on this page are responsible for the sequential arrangement of the letters that give this chapter meaning.”
Meyer concludes that the “irreducibility” of genetic information to the chemistry of DNA is a big problem for those who are committed to a deterministic development from the Big Bang to the supposed self-organizing of life. On this point Richards makes an astute remark: “Information may be ‘in’ matter, but it is decidedly not matter, energy, particles, or laws. Information orients and transcends all these things.”
What is particularly troubling is that some modern Thomists misuse St. Thomas Aquinas on behalf of the evolution lobby, claiming that his teaching is compatible with undirected evolution. Logan Paul Gage refutes them, observing that Darwin’s theory abolishes “species or essences,” which for Thomas are the true objects of knowledge. Moreover, for Thomas the forms of creatures do not emerge from the material world by chance, but are “impressed” extrinsically from the exemplars or blueprints in God’s mind. It is not Thomism but Aristotelianism that under girds the myth that ID theory is contrary to Catholic belief. As Rich ards explains, instead of engaging the empirical evidence on which ID is based, some Thomists dismiss it as “departing from Aristotle.” Thomist Edward Feser dismisses ID theory by saying mistakenly that it accepts “the mechanistic view of nature” endorsed by materialists. Not so. ID arguments are “modest attempts to introduce purpose [and] intelligent agency.”
Denyse O’Leary notes that Ches terton long ago “scoffed at the claim that unguided natural selection could gradually build fundamentally new organisms via thousands of transitional forms.” He noted that a “million coincidences” would be needed for each creature and that numerous transitions would be incompatible with survival.
Many Catholics today are confused about what the Church teaches on Darwinism. They need to ponder what Benedict XVI said in his inaugural papal Mass on April 24, 2005: “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is necessary.” This statement stands in stark opposition to Darwinian evolution, which makes us the unintended byproduct of a blind material process.