Evolution Icon Evolution
Faith & Science Icon Faith & Science
Intelligent Design Icon Intelligent Design

God and Evolution: An Anti-Colonial View

David Klinghoffer


Evolutionary advocacy is colonialist, by which I mean it seeks dominion not only in a limited and appropriate sphere — scientific theory about origins — but pushes out into others: education, psychology, religion, and more. Whatever the field, status anxiety furnishes a useful tool in expanding Darwin’s empire. With folks who know little about the relevant science, winning praise for intellectual sophistication, while avoiding social opprobrium, can be a powerful motivator.

Colonizing religion is an especially high priority — in other words, spreading the idea that to resist evolutionary thinking is not only poor science but also makes you a deplorable in the context of your faith community.

I’m a Jew, not a Christian, but as an anti-colonialist I always feel cheered by pushback from Christian friends against the idea that being a good Christian demands being a good Darwinist. Thus here’s a new book by a Catholic writer, John Zmirak, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism, that includes a good discussion of his church in relationship to evolution, intelligent design, and science in general:

[F]or far too many moderns, science has become a new religion all its own, whose authority bubbles up and overflows the narrow channels of disciplined experiment and responsible speculation. As we know from reading his journals and other works published after his death, Charles Darwin himself was so troubled by the problem of evil that he wanted to disprove God’s existence. It was essential to him, for personal and not scientific reasons, that natural selection rule out entirely the possibility that some divine Design lay behind the process, or that man’s sudden eruption was part of God’s creative plan.

In other words, natural selection must connect every dot and leave no room at all for any divine Purpose behind the processes of biology. Of course, as many critics of Darwinism and proponents of “intelligent design” like to point out, there are by necessity great big gaping holes in every version of materialistic Darwinism. The events we are trying to reconstruct took place long before any man ever walked the earth, and we cannot experimentally try to replicate them — taking millions of years to sit back and see if intelligent life randomly pops up somewhere else. Even then, how could we “prove” the absence of divine design? Why then do so many who claim that they are merely defending “science” from “dogmatic” creationism insist that school textbooks (including kindergarten texts) explicitly assert what science cannot possibly know one way or the other: that evolution is a purely material process that happened randomly, with no guiding purpose or design? In other words, that we must choose between atheist materialism or a Christian version of The Flintstones?

Now it would be one thing if scientists wished to make sure that we didn’t lazily stop doing research into the origins of life — by sitting back and saying “God did it. Stop funding science.” But no one (outside, perhaps, the Islamic world) is advocating that. The ideologues who lean on evolutionary theory aren’t worried that Catholics and Baptists want to shutter M.I.T. Instead, they are committed to teaching another religion, materialism, and fighting to stomp out “heresy.”

I’ve also been catching up on reviews of a book by another Catholic friend, Father Michael Chaberek’s Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis. Georgetown University philosopher James V. Schall, S.J., writes in the Catholic World Report:

[T]his book is not antiquarian or by any means “fundamentalist”. It accepts forms of evolution as a fact in making accidental, though usually not permanent, changes in individuals of a species. If anything, Catholicism and Evolution is a plea to be more up-to-date than the modernist and liberal mind that bases its views uncritically on a popularized version of evolution as “scientific”. This book requires a very careful reading; it is tightly argued and carefully researched….

The researches and approach of the Discovery Institute in Seattle are present in this book. That is, there is a much-controverted argument within science itself that something very wrong is found in those evolutionary theories that assume, in its various versions that something by chance came from nothing. This position will mean, of course, that the validity of the argument of this book will itself depend largely not on theology but on science and its self-understanding. In other words, the Psalmist’s query “Can he who made the ear, not hear?” suggests a universe of intelligence and order. What intelligent designs adds is that there is no mathematical or scientific probability that such a relation could occur by chance or random selection. In itself, this position has nothing directly to do with revelation, though it does have much to do with reason.

This book then is not an “anti-scientific” book. It is just the opposite. Nor is it an “anti-theological” book. Rather it suggests that many Catholic prelates and theologians did not take a careful enough look at the facts of revelation because of a too facile acceptance of those Darwinian schools that were based on the notion that the world just happened by itself with no real guiding origin or following order. …

It is important to note that the scientific thesis of intrinsic design has room for evolutionary elements within the manifestations of order. In fact, chance is a definite factor in the universe and in every existing human life, but it is a chance that occurs when two purposeful actions cross each other. It is not just “chance” in the midst of nothingness. Thus, if it could be shown that the manifestations of intrinsic design that do exist in the universe and in the microcosmos that is man were products of chance, this book’s thesis would fall apart. But the evidence seems to show rather that order does exist. In this context, the real “liberals” — the ones really willing to accept “change” — are not the dogmatic evolutionists and their theological followers who show themselves as “conservative” if not “reactionary”, but those who are willing to face the implications of the evidence that order is manifest in the universe.

Wow, Father Schall is a major scholar and that is a great review. Read the rest.

Father Chaberek also receives a fine review from church historian Father John McCloskey in the National Catholic Register:

[M]any centuries before Charles Darwin set sail on The Beagle for the Galapagos Islands, great Catholic thinkers were already laying the intellectual groundwork for understanding just what theories about the origins of the Earth and all its creatures were consistent with the God of Scripture.

In the early centuries of the Church, Christian theologians confronted the Greek philosophers’ arguments that God could not have made the world out of nothing. By grappling with ideas about the nature of God and about where the universe came from, the Church developed a doctrine of creation. The doctrine that all nature once did not exist and was created by God had immense implications for the Christian civilization that gradually developed in Europe following the collapse of the Roman Empire. It led to an understanding of nature as intelligible, created good and real (as opposed to some Eastern conceptions that nature is an illusion projected by mind).

There are many other questions about creation and cosmology that the Church Fathers like St. Augustine and later medieval thinkers like St. Thomas Aquinas grappled with; their insights armed the Church with a set of first principles for engaging with the theory of evolution when it arose and determining which versions were problematic from the point of view of Catholic theology. (Whether evolution is or is not a true explanation is a separate question that the Church does not pronounce upon, any more than it feels called upon to pronounce on the truth or falsity of particle physics.)

In this book, Father Chaberek deftly and lucidly summarizes 2,000 years of thinking on creation and almost 200 years of evolutionary theory. In the century and a half since publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, there have been a number of papal statements on the subject. Among the key points that Pope Pius XII, for example, made in his 1950 encyclical Humani Generis are 1) the soul does not evolve, but is immediately created by God, and 2) human beings all descend from one set of parents whose sin was “actually committed by an original Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.”

There is much, much more to learn from this readable and extremely useful summary of Catholicism and evolution. Father Chaberek’s book is thoroughly accessible to the reader without a strong science (or theological) background. Read it, and you will be better prepared to share your faith with others in this year dedicated to mercy.

After all, instructing the ignorant is one of the spiritual works of mercy, and certainly many Catholics and non-Catholics could benefit from learning what the Church teaches about creation and evolution — and why.

Again, read the rest.

Does faith supply a reason for taking a second, critical look at evolution? Clearly, not everyone agrees that it does.

It seems to me there are three separate questions that each requires separate, critical, and humble evaluation. First, what does your faith tradition prompt you to expect from science? For instance, evidence of design in nature, or no evidence of design? Second, does science, subjected to your own independent investigation, deliver that evidence?

Third, if not, or if it does so only in part, what if anything can be done to honestly effect a reconciliation? For myself, I’ve learned to let certain tensions simply be, without demanding a hasty harmonization, or a false and damaging “peace.”

Photo: Pith helmet, Second French Colonial Empire, by Rama, [CeCILL or CC BY-SA 2.0 fr], via Wikimedia Commons.

I’m on Twitter. Follow me @d_klinghoffer.