Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I.D. Theory

“Catholics agree about everything. It is only everything else they disagree about.” —G.K. Chesterton

Ever since Expelled came out, I've wanted to throw in my $.02 on evolution/intelligent design/creationism, but am only getting around to it now.

Family obligations being what they are, and given my reluctance to spend money if I Don't Absolutely Have To, I haven't yet seen the movie. I'm sure I'd like it, and I hope to see it at some point, as I'm told there are are some priceless exchanges between Ben Stein and the humorless Richard Dawkins.

Regardless, what intrigues me about Expelled — and about ID theory generally — is that for growing numbers of Christians (conservative Evangelical Protestants especially, and Catholics, to a somewhat lesser extent, I would say), ID theory seems to be on the Non-Negotiables List.

It ought not be.

I'm no scientist, but I find it regrettable when Christians (of any stripe) wail and gnash their teeth at the very mention of the word "evolution", as if the very notion of evolution per se is necessarily inimical to belief.

It's not. (Cf. Pope Pius XII's Humani Generis and Pope John Paul II's 1996 Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences: on Evolution.)

What also intrigues me is that there are not a few orthodox Catholics who are very critical of intelligent design theory. Case in point, Gonzaga philosophy professor Michael Tkacz, a Thomist, who offers an instructive primer on Thomistic criticism of ID theory here [HT: Mark Shea].

Ultimately, as with most every issue on which Holy Mother Church allows her children a great degree of ideological latitude, I don't have a dog in this fight. But I continue to be fascinated by those much wiser than I who are duking it out on these most important questions.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Couple of things. First, from Humani Generis:

[inquiry into the subject of human origins] must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith.(emphasis mine)

It seems to me those waving the banner of evolution have no intention whatsoever of doing as the Holy Father commands here. In fact, their whole ethos seems to be that the Church better keep her grubby hand out of their scientific inquiry.

When was the last time a scientist asked the Holy Father what he thought of their research? Nooooo, it's always telling him what they've discovered to be fact. What a bunch of arrogant, rationalistic poppycock.

Scientists supporting evolutionary theory would get much further with me and others who believe the ancient testimony of the Scripture and the Fathers on this issue if they would display a demeanor of submission.

Again, from Humani Generis:

Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.

And yet ALL YOU HEAR from anyone who buys evolution is "It's established fact and how dare anyone question it!" Well, here's the vicar of Christ telling you you darn well better question it.

Not to put too fine a point on it, he decries as "transgressors of liberty" those who would presume evolutionary theory to be unquestioned fact as well as those who declare that Sacred Scripture has nothing to add to the debate.

And finally, once more from Humani Generis:

For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents.

My favorite line from the theistic evolutionists is the whole "Oh, it's such a beautiful progression how God teased every living thing out of other living things in this complicated multi-faceted process!"

Which then, every Catholic is bound to believe, ended with a profound break in that chain of events. Why would God use evolution all the way along only to break from it at the pinnacle?

Chesterton puts it better than I could hope to at the end of the first chapter of The Everlasting Man, but the essence is that you can go ahead and believe in evolution up to man, but man was created in an unequivocal miracle that shares nothing in common with the evolution that supposedly preceded it.

Humani Generis doesn't say "Believe whatever you want", it leaves us free to inquire into evolutionary theory but warns us strictly not to trust it, not to assume it, and to always submit our inquiry to the authority of the Church. Until I see an evolutionist doing that, I want nothing to do with it.

Sorry for the screed, John, I know you don't take sides, but I think the Holy Father's words on the subject are more wary of evolution than they get made out to be.