What Catholics didn’t like about Darwin – and still don’t
|February 5, 2012||Posted by O'Leary under Darwinism, Intelligent Design, News, Religion|
I have a chapter in God & Evolution on the popular Catholic popular authors (Chesterton, Belloc, Mivart) at the turn of the last century, who understood Darwinism quite well and opposed it. They sound both lively and contemporary. Here are some notes for a talk I gave at Biola University in 2010, which give the general idea:
G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936): He tried common sense, but common sense did not matter.
Chesterton tried to apply common sense in a world that increasingly denied it. In Everlasting Man, he made a number of cautionary points about Darwinist views of early man. For example:
– One must be cautious about concluding that modern people groups who live in a technically primitive way replicate Stone Age ancestors exactly, rather than merely adopting general patterns for survival outside organized civilizations. Some groups may simply shed technically advanced features, the way Europeans did for many centuries after the fall of Rome. Technically complex advances can be too difficult to maintain in a climate of growing disorder, so sometimes simplicity is the price paid for survival. It does not mean that people do not guess that things could be different, in principle.
Nothing much has changed in this area since Chesterton wrote Everlasting Man, about eighty years ago, except the huge growth in the “evolutionary psychology” literature and its ever-more-expansive attempts to explain everything away.
– Eighty years ago, Chesterton also noted the contradictory stances of what is now called “evolutionary psychology” Yet nothing much has changed in this area since Chesterton wrote Everlasting Man, about eighty years ago, except the huge growth in the “evolutionary psychology” literature and its ever-more-expansive attempts to explain everything away. The interesting point is the confidence Chesterton, like other older Catholic writers, had that Darwinism would die out in his lifetime.
Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953): The map was right but Belloc was in the wrong territory.
Chesterton’s French-born friend Hilaire Belloc tried, likewise, to stem the growing tide of popular Darwin nonsense. Reading Belloc’s penetrating insights on many such subjects in Survivals and New Arrivals is, it must be said, a depressing experience. Belloc got so much right— and so much wrong. He hoped for a revival of the Catholic Church in Europe, against the current of the times. He, like Chesterton, thought Darwinism would die—“dead as a doornail”—for lack of confirming evidence, evidence we still await, to be sure – but it doesn’t matter.
Darwinism didn’t die, and it couldn’t, because it does not actually require evidence, any more than astrology does.
Darwinism didn’t die, and it couldn’t, because it does not actually require evidence, any more than astrology does. Consider New York mayor Michael Bloomberg recently lauding the Ida fossil (supposedly the famed “missing link”), only months before it was retracted by science journals. The principal question is why Mr. Bloomberg—whose chain of office presumably suggests radically different responsibilities—thought he should even address the Ida fossil at all. He did so because Darwinism has become integral to our popular and elite culture. It shapes priorities, concerns, and values for growing numbers of people.
Like Chesterton, Belloc grossly underestimated the power of publicly funded beliefs hatched by tenured professors at universities, fronted in Sunday paper features and documentaries, and litigated by pressure groups. The thesis can tell us how anything from ample bosoms to gay lifestyles is somehow selected by Darwinian means. Lack of evidence is no barrier to belief.
St. George Jackson Mivart (1827–1900): Playing the middle against both ends got him excommunicated.
Mivart enthusiastically supported natural selection as a factor in evolution. But he thought that evolution involved many other factors as well, and that species vary only within a certain space, not randomly or indefinitely, as Darwin proposed. Put another way: nothing will cause your house cat’s progeny to become, within the lifetime of Earth, a catfish, nor the catfish’s progeny a cat. At a certain point, the door usually just closes on radical further variations. If we consider life since the Cambrian explosion, Mivart’s view is actually closer to the observed history than Darwin’s. But Mivart’s view was much less popular, because it placed limits on natural selection as a design-free explanatory principle.
If we consider life since the Cambrian explosion, Mivart’s view is actually closer to the observed history than Darwin’s.
Those limits had major social implications, of course. They meant that eugenics might not produce a better human, survival of the fittest was not a suitable social principle, and an image of merely glorified apes is not the best way to understand human beings.
All this got him dumped from Darwin’s circle pretty quick, but now, how did he get excommunicated?
The 1892 articles that landed Mivart in serious trouble with the Church argued in the highbrow Victorian periodical, Nineteenth Century,” for “Happiness in Hell.” He asserted that the traditional doctrine of hell caused loss of faith, and argued instead for
“evolution in hell and that the existence of the damned is one of progress and gradual amelioration—though never, of course, to the extent of raising the lost to supernatural beatitude, for the tenants of hell are its tenants eternally. ” Well, that is hardly Dante’s (“abandon hope, all ye who enter here”) Inferno.
Anyway, things went from bad to worse and he was excommunicated after an 1899 broadside of articles against the Church. He died shortly afterward.
… it is perhaps best to see Mivart as an early theistic evolutionist who rejected the overreaching of Darwinian explanation. He wanted the Church to accept a Darwinism of the body but not of the soul. He probably never considered that the battle could not possibly stop there—because Darwinists never intended it to. It was the soul they were after. So in the end, his interpretation was accepted neither by the materialist Darwinists nor by the Catholic Church.
But Mivart’s friends bailed him out (literally) post-mortem. They provided evidence that he was of unsound mind due to his final illness (diabetes) at the time he wrote the articles considered most objectionable. This evidence was accepted, and he was formally re-buried as a Catholic in 1904.
These Catholic intellectuals were all bucking a cultural tidal wave that, for over a century, has successfully reimagined the human being as just another animal.
Today, any mediocrity can be a Darwinist. In fact, any yay-hoo can be a Darwinist, as my mailbox attests.
The Darwinist message, as we have seen, was too welcome to modern life to require evidence, and contrary evidence is a form of blasphemy.
The intelligent design community and its sympathizers are their legitimate heirs today, as you will see if you read more on their work. However, a final note: The Vatican must be cautious extending much support in the current environment. Why? Basically, because they expect you to lose. They expect that:
– One hundred years from now, Catholic Darwinists will still have tenure, ID-friendly profs will still be persecuted, and there will still be no real evidence for massive changes in life forms based on Darwinism.
– Darwinism will continue to underpin the fabric of post-modern life, and explain why “evolution” determines whether you cheat on your spouse or don’t and why someone doubts a highly politicized science nostrum like second-hand smoke. Under Darwinism’s rule, that latter point will always be explained in terms of a brain function or glitch or genes or what supposedly helped cave ancestors survive. Real life explanations like: “I think claims about danger from second hand smoke are just a ploy to get kids away from smokes, and collect more fines from adults.” are not on the radar because Darwinism denies the reality of the mind.
You see,the fatal words are “I think.”
In conclusion, I think your main risk is being overwhelmed and drowned out rather than confuted.
One can believe and propagate anything at all if a Darwinian explanation can somehow be constructed. You support it all, including persecution of dissenters, through your taxes.
In conclusion, I think your main risk is being overwhelmed and drowned out rather than confuted. Darwinism is now a sea of nonsense and contradiction, and fighting the sea is not a day’s work. For the ID community, as for the Dutch, it is a long-term strategy.