What kind of evolution does the Pope believe in?
|June 17, 2014||Posted by vjtorley under Intelligent Design|
Last Friday RealClearReligion.org, featured an article titled, The Pope Believes in Evolution (Aleteia, 13 June 2014) by M. Anthony Mills, a Ph.D. candidate in the history and philosophy of science at Notre Dame University. Mills’ article was written in response to an earlier article by George Dvorsky (io9.com, March 16, 2013), titled, Does the new Pope believe in evolution? In his article, Dvorsky argued that Catholicism and Darwinism don’t mix: you cannot accept both. Darwinian evolution, according to Dvorsky, is “a God killer,” “a stand alone system,” a “fully autonomous process that does not require any guiding ‘rationality’ ([Pope] Benedict’s term) to function.”
In his reply to Dvorsky, Anthony Mills makes several concessions that are quite remarkable, for a Catholic philosopher. First, Mills endorses the scientific rejection of teleology lock, stock and barrel: he tells his readers that final causes have now been banished completely from science (including biology). Mills appears to be unfamiliar with the work of Professor Karen Neander, a philosopher of science who contends that the teleological notion of a function is absolutely indispensable to biology. One example she cites is the statement that the function of the heart is to pump blood. There is simply no way to rephrase this statement in non-teleological language without robbing it of its meaning.
Mills’ second naive concession is his assertion that “Darwin proved” that “the complexity that appears to be the mark of a creator is in fact the end-result of random variations over a long period of time.” That would be news to geneticists like James Shapiro, whose recent best-seller, Evolution: A View from the 21st century trenchantly criticizes Darwinism for its inability to satisfactorily account for biological complexity. Shapiro proposes as an alternative his own theory of “natural genetic engineering,” but he openly acknowledges that much work needs to be done in testing his proposal.
Third, Mills blithely declares that “random genetic variations over time” are quite sufficient to answer the scientific question, “How and when did humans come onto the scene?” God, maintains Mills, was perfectly free to make us through a random process if He so wished; He creates things simply by keeping them in existence: “God gives rise to and sustains existence, suffusing it with meaning — whether or not man came from fish, ape, or stardust and whether or not the laws governing that evolution are probabilistic.” Hence, according to Mills, “Evolution doesn’t refute God any more than electromagnetism refutes moral conscience.” However, Mills’ analogy is a flawed one, for if the theory of electromagnetism could explain the workings of the neurons in the human brain in an entirely deterministic fashion, it would indeed render moral conscience redundant as an explanation of human actions. Likewise, the notion of God making us through a random process is an oxymoron: if the process in question is genuinely random, then whatever it generates cannot be the result of design. Of course, God might make us through a process that appears to be random, but that is entirely another matter.
Catholicism and Darwinism: What Dvorsky got right and what he didn’t
Before I explain why I, as a Catholic, reject Mills’ faulty reasoning regarding the role of God as Creator, I’d like to go back to the article by George Dvorsky, which Mills critiqued.
Dvorsky’s article correctly noted that “Catholics don’t believe in polygenism, the idea that humans are descended from a group of early humans” (for a discussion of the binding nature of this teaching, see here). That belief immediately puts them at odds with evolutionary biologists, who assert that the human population has never numbered less than 1,000 individuals (see also here). The recent attempt by the Catholic philosopher Kenneth Kemp to reconcile this scientific claim with Catholic teaching fails spectacularly: he supposes that Adam and Eve may have inter-bred with identical-looking hominids who had human bodies but lacked human souls. However, Professor Kemp’s proposal is at odds with the dogma proclaimed by the ecumenical council of Vienne in 1311, that the rational soul is essentially the form of the human body – making the notion of a being having a human body but lacking a human soul an oxymoron. Thus there is a real tension between Catholic teaching about human origins and the findings of science. Whereas scientific models of human populations in the past are naturalistic, in that they assume that the genes in the human population have never been manipulated by an Intelligent Agent, and that the size of the human population has never been influenced by any such agent, Catholicism is quite open to both forms of Divine intervention. Consequently Catholics are bound to reject conclusions regarding the size of the original human population which based entirely on population genetics.
Dvorsky was also correct when he pointed out that according to Catholic teaching, the human soul is “a creation of God and not the product of material forces. On this point, the Church will never waver.” Here, again, the tension between Catholic teaching and scientific findings is very real. Many psychologists have argued that recent experiments rule out the existence of free will, leaving no place for the human soul to influence our actions. (I should point out, however, that Benjamin Libet, who pioneered these experiments, took a different view, and that some neuroscientists continue to champion belief in free will.)
However, Dvorsky’s article also got a lot wrong – it claims, for instance, that the Catholic Church “openly rejects Intelligent Design and Young Earth Creationism saying that it ‘pretends to be science‘”, but the source it cited in support of this astonishing claim was not a Pope or bishop but a Jesuit priest, Fr. George Coyne, a former director of the Vatican Observatory who was, according to the Italian news agency ANSA, speaking informally at a conference in Florence when he made his off-the-cuff remark that intelligent design “isn’t science, even though it pretends to be.” I should note in passing that Fr. Coyne made the following assertion on the PBS “Faith and Reason” series in 2006: “The knowledge of God, the belief in God, is what I call an a-rational process. It’s not rational – it doesn’t proceed by scientific investigation – but it’s not irrational because it doesn’t contradict my reasoning process. It goes beyond it.” Fr. Coyne appears not to understand the teaching of his own Church, which has dogmatically declared that “God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason.” Although it does not describe this knowledge of God as scientific knowledge, the Church declares that “ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” In short: Fr. Coyne is hardly a credible source regarding the Catholic Church’s teaching on evolution.
Pope Benedict XVI wearing Cappello Romano during an open-air Mass in 2007. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
In his article, Dvorsky also cited the following statement by Pope Benedict XVI said about evolution at a meeting with the clergy of the dioceses of Belluno-Feltre and Treviso, at the Church of St Justin Martyr, Auronzo di Cadore, on Tuesday, 24 July 2007:
Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called “creationism” and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? I believe this is of the utmost importance. This is what I wanted to say in my lecture at Regensburg: that reason should be more open, that it should indeed perceive these facts but also realize that they are not enough to explain all of reality. They are insufficient. Our reason is broader and can also see that our reason is not basically something irrational, a product of irrationality, but that reason, creative reason, precedes everything and we are truly the reflection of creative reason. We were thought of and desired; thus, there is an idea that preceded me, a feeling that preceded me, that I must discover, that I must follow, because it will at last give meaning to my life. This seems to me to be the first point: to discover that my being is truly reasonable, it was thought of, it has meaning.
This is hardly a ringing endorsement of Darwinian evolution. Pope Benedict expressly declared that evolution could not explain the human capacity to reason: on this point, he is clearly siding with Alfred Russel Wallace, who famously invoked a higher power to explain the origin of human intelligence, and against Charles Darwin, who considered his theory of evolution to be an all-encompassing account of living things, including ourselves.
Human beings, according to Pope Benedict, were planned by God from the beginning – in his own words, “We were thought of and desired.” In a homily given in St. Peter’s square on 24 April 2005, the Pope went even further:
We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.
On this point, Pope Benedict’s are completely at odds with the views articulated in the Nobel Laureates Initiative, a joint declaration of 38 Nobel Laureates (most of them scientists) in a petition sent to the Kansas Board of Education on September 9, 2005, and organized by the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. The petition contained the following statement:
Logically derived from confirmable evidence, evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection.
Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne agrees, although he qualifies his remarks by adding that the evolutionary process lacks any purpose, as far as we can tell. In an article titles, What’s the problem with unguided evolution?, he writes (italics Coyne’s):
[E]volution is, as far as we can tell, purposeless and unguided. There seems to be no direction, mutations are random, and we haven’t detected a teleological force or agent that pushes it in one direction. And it’s important to realize this: the great importance of Darwin’s theory of natural selection is that an unguided, purposeless process can nevertheless produce animals and plants that are exquisitely adapted to their environment. That’s why it’s called natural selection, not supernatural selection or simply selection.
Theistic evolution, then, is supernaturalism, and admitting its possibility denies everything we know about how evolution works. It waters down science with superstition. It should be no crime — in fact, it should be required — for teachers to tell student that natural selection is apparently a purposeless and unguided process (I use the word “apparently” because we’re not 100% sure, but really, do we need to tell physics students that the decay of an atom is “apparently” purposeless?).
Anthony Mills is unfazed by this reasoning: he contends that God can make use of “random genetic variations over time” as a secondary cause by which to accomplish His purposes. On this model, God is rather like the designer of a poker machine, who makes the wheels spin randomly, knowing that eventually, the winning combination will come up. Unlike the poker machine designer, however, God actively maintains the cosmos in being, although He does not guide it towards this or that result. On Mills’ model, one might say that God envisaged our eventual emergence as a species via the evolutionary process, although even this is questionable: did God intend, for instance, that Homo sapiens, rather than the New Caledonian crow or the bottlenose dolphin, would become the first intelligent species in the history of life on Earth?
The evolution envisaged by former Pope Benedict, on the other hand, was very much a God-guided evolution. And on this point, Pope Francis (who is a very good friend of former Pope Benedict’s) would undoubtedly agree.
I’d now like to turn to Anthony Mills’ outlandish claim that the Catholic Church’s greatest theologians, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, would have been quite comfortable with Darwin’s theory of evolution.
What did St. Augustine really think about evolution?
Saint Augustine in His Study by Sandro Botticelli, 1480, Chiesa di Ognissanti, Florence, Italy. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
In his article, Anthony Mills writes that “the Church acknowledges the existence of an evolutionary process — in fact Saint Augustine suggested as much in the 5th century A.D.” Scholarly attempts to cite Saint Augustine as a proponent of evolutionary theory date back to 1871, when St. George Mivart published his work, The Genesis of the Species. Critics responded immediately; but in 1926, a Catholic priest, Fr. Michael J. McKeough, wrote a volume entitled The Meaning of Rationes Seminales in Saint Augustine, in which he argued that although Augustine did not hold that one species of living thing could develop into another, Augustine’s notion of “the gradual appearance of living things upon the earth through the operation of natural laws and secondary causes constitutes a satisfactory philosophical basis for evolution, and merits for him the title of Father of Evolution” (pp. 109-110).
Was St. Augustine a proto-evolutionist?
In his work, De Genesi Ad Litteram, St. Augustine theorized that at the beginning of time, God created all living things in the form of germinal seeds, or rationes seminales (also known as “seminal reasons”). To modern ears, this may sound like a proto-evolutionary theory. Was it? Since St. Augustine’s theory of rationes seminales sounds rather bizarre from a modern perspective, I shall cite an explanation from an unimpeachable source – namely, that given by Fr. Frederick Copleston S.J. in his monumental work, A History of Philosophy. Volume 2: Augustine to Scotus (Burns and Oates, Tunbridge Wells, 1950; paperback edition 1999, p. 77):
The rationes seminales are germs of things or invisible powers or potentialities, created by God in the beginning in the humid element and developing into the objects of various species by their temporal unfolding… Each species then, with all its future developments and particular members, was created at the beginning in the appropriate seminal reason.
Since St. Augustine believed that each species of plant and animal was created separately by God with its own ratio seminalis, it should be quite clear that his theory was not an evolutionary one. The only “development” Augustine envisaged was that of individuals from invisible germ seeds. The idea that species may have arisen in this fashion was utterly contrary to what he wrote on the subject of origins.
In his City of God (Book V, chapter 11), St. Augustine also taught that God personally planned the design of each and every living creature, and that His providence had not left “even the entrails of the smallest and most contemptible animal, or the feather of a bird, or the little flower of a plant, or the leaf of a tree, without an harmony, and, as it were, a mutual peace among all its parts.” It would be difficult to find a more anti-Darwinian view of Nature than the one articulated here by St. Augustine. For the theological motivation underlying Darwin’s Origin of Species was to show that no such Providence existed: God, if He exists, planned only the general laws of Nature, and not the details of creation, which are largely due to accident rather than design.
St. Augustine’s Biblical literalism
St. Augustine also maintained that the world was 6,000 years old (City of God, Book XII, chapter 12); that creatures of all kinds were created instantly at the beginning of time; he expressly taught that living creatures were created separately according to their kinds (De Genesi ad Litteram 3.12.18-20, 5.4.11, 5.6.19, 5.23.46); that Adam and Eve were historical persons; that Paradise was a literal place (City of God, Book XIII, chapter 21); that the patriarch Methusaleh actually lived to the age of 969 (City of God, Book XV, chapter 11); that there was a literal ark, which accommodated male and female land animals of every kind (City of God, Book XV, chapter 27); and that the Flood covered the whole earth (City of God, Book XV, chapter 27).
What’s more, St. Augustine vigorously defended these doctrines against philosophical opponents, who maintained that the human race was very old; that Paradise was a purely spiritual state and not a place; that none of the Biblical patriarchs lived past the age of 100; that the Ark wouldn’t have been big enough to accommodate all of the animals; and that no flood could ever have covered the whole earth. These intellectual adversaries of Augustine’s included pagans who were skeptical of the Genesis account as well as unnamed Christians who sought to downplay the literal meaning of Genesis in favor of a purely allegorical interpretation. Although St. Augustine had a great fondness for allegorical interpretations of Scripture, he also felt that he was bound to remain faithful to the literal sense of Scripture.
In his De Genesi ad Litteram, St. Augustine scoffed at unnamed Christians who were willing to accept the doctrine of the virginal conception of Jesus Christ, but who balked at the Genesis account of the creation of Eve from Adam, preferring to adopt an allegorical interpretation:
But for all that, we have not the slightest doubt that the only creator both of human beings and of trees is God, and we faithfully believe that the woman was made from the man independently of any sexual intercourse, even if the man’s rib may have been served up from the creator’s work by angels: in the same way we faithfully believe that a man was made from a woman independently of any sexual intercourse, when the seed of Abraham was disposed by angels in the hand of the mediator (Gal. 3:19). Both things are incredible to unbelievers; but why should believers find what happened in the case of Christ quite credible when taken in the literal, historical sense, and what is written about Eve only acceptable in its figurative signification?
(On Genesis: The Works of Saint Augustine (#13). Edited by John E. Rotelle. Translated by Edmund Hill. New City Press, New York. 2003. Book IX, 16.30, pp. 393-394.)
Would St. Augustine have been an evolutionist if he were alive today?
It may be objected that St. Augustine would have embraced Darwin’s theory of evolution, were he alive today, since he also taught that when there is a conflict between a proven truth about Nature and a particular reading of Scripture, an alternative reading of Scripture must be sought. The problem with this objection is that it overlooks the more fundamental question: what would St. Augustine have regarded as a “proven truth”? Professor Ernan McMullin addresses this issue in his essay, “Galileo on Science and Scripture,” in The Cambridge Companion to Galileo, ed. Peter Machamer (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 271-347). He writes:
Augustine’s emphasis is on the certainty that is needed for the claim to natural knowledge to count as a challenge to a Scripture reading. He uses phrases in this context like “the facts of experience,” “knowledge acquired by unassailable arguments or proved by the evidence of experience,” and “proofs that cannot be denied” (above). (1998, p. 294.)
The problem with this view for evolutionists is that the case for the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is not demonstrative in the sense intended by St. Augustine. It does not rest on “proofs that cannot be denied,” “unassailable arguments” or “the facts of experience.” Experience tells us only that some species can evolve (e.g. sticklebacks and cichlid fish). However, there is no direct evidence from scientific observations that microbe-to-man evolution is possible, as a result of purely natural processes.
In his essay, Ernan McMullin ascribes an exegetical principle to St. Augustine that makes him sound strikingly modern: the Principle of Limitation:
Since the primary concern of Scripture is with human salvation, texts of Scripture should not be taken to have a bearing on technical issues of natural science.
However, it is highly doubtful that St. Augustine himself ever advocated this principle, as Dr. Gregory Dawes has pointed out in an article titled, Could there be another Galileo case? Galileo, Augustine and Vatican II. In his De Genesi ad litteram 2.16.33-34, St. Augustine cited Scripture (“Star differs from star in brightness” – 1 Corinthians 15:41) on the technical scientific question of whether the sun and the stars are actually of equal intrinsic brightness (as some of his Christian contemporaries were suggesting). On Dr. Dawes’ view, what St. Augustine really maintained was that biblical texts can have a bearing on technical issues of natural science, even if they were not written for that purpose. Although the Scriptures were meant to teach us how to get to Heaven, what they say must be taken with the utmost seriousness, on those rare occasions when the Scriptures make direct reference to events in the physical world.
What about St. Thomas Aquinas?
St. Thomas Aquinas. Painting from an altarpiece in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, by Carlo Crivelli (15th century). Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
In his article, Anthony Mills also adduces the theological authority of St. Thomas Aquinas in support of his view that God may have fashioned us using a random process:
As Saint Thomas Aquinas emphasized long before the Scientific Revolution, natural science and theology are not competing bodies of knowledge; rather they are distinct and complementary forms of inquiry…
Darwin only showed that biology — as opposed, say, to metaphysics, theology, or ethics — should dispense with “final causes,” as physics did in Newton’s day…
The problem is not Darwin, but the modern notion that theology can only discuss what science fails to explain. Because at one time science failed to explain biological order, people began believing that biological order was safe from scientific advance. But if you profess your religion from within the gaps of scientific knowledge, you will inevitably get crushed as those gaps close.
Better to follow Aquinas, who made a distinction of kind between theological and natural-scientific questions.
It takes breath-taking chutzpah to write an article denying the need for final causes in science, and to then cite St. Thomas Aquinas (who stoutly affirmed their scientific reality, in his commentaries on Aristotle’s Physics) in support of one’s view!
St. Thomas Aquinas: miracles are the best possible evidence for the existence of God
There’s more. In his Summa Contra Gentiles Book III chapter 99 (paragraph 9) (That God Can Work Apart From The Order Implanted In Things, By Producing Effects Without Proximate Causes), Aquinas wrote:
…[D]ivine power can sometimes produce an effect, without prejudice to its providence, apart from the order implanted in natural things by God. In fact, He does this at times to manifest His power. For it can be manifested in no better way, that the whole of nature is subject to the divine will, than by the fact that sometimes He does something outside the order of nature. Indeed, this makes it evident that the order of things has proceeded from Him, not by natural necessity, but by free will.
For St. Thomas Aquinas, then, the production of an effect outside the order of Nature is the best possible proof of the existence of God. The question is: did Aquinas view the origin of new kinds of living things as an event that must have occurred outside the order of Nature?
Like his medieval contemporaries, St. Thomas believed in the popular theory of spontaneous generation, which stated that living things can sometimes arise from dead or decaying matter. However, St. Thomas was quite emphatic that spontaneous generation was impossible for the higher creatures, whom he referred to as perfect animals, on account of their complexity.
Aquinas’ Intelligent Design argument: the first complex animals could only have been created by God
For Aristotle, and for Aquinas, “perfect animals,” in the strict sense of that term, were distinguished by the following criteria:
(i) they require a male’s “seed” in order to reproduce. This means that they can only reproduce sexually, and that they always breed true to type – unlike the lower animals, which were then commonly believed to be generated spontaneously from dead matter, and which were incapable of breeding true to type, when reproducing sexually;
(ii) they give birth to live young, instead of laying eggs – in other words, they are viviparous;
(iii) they possess several different senses (unlike the lower animals, which possess only touch);
(iv) they have a greater range of mental capacities, including not only imagination, desire, pleasure and pain (which are found even in the lower animals), but also memory and a variety of passions with a strong cognitive component, including anger;
(v) they are capable of locomotion;
(vi) generally speaking, they live on the land;
(vii) they often hunt lower animals, which are less perfect than themselves; and
(viii) they have complex body parts, owing to their possession of multiple senses and their more active lifestyle (“perfect animals have the greatest diversity of organs” and “they have more distinct limbs”).
Aquinas mentions each of the eight conditions listed above at various places in his writings, notably in his Summa Contra Gentiles Book II chapter 72, paragraph 5, Summa Theologica I, q. 71 art. 1, and Summa Theologica I, q. 72 art. 1, Reply to Objection 1 (The Work of the Sixth Day).
It may come as a surprise to many readers (and to Mr. Mills) to learn that St. Thomas Aquinas actually put forward an Intelligent Design-style argument in his theological writings, based on the complexity of perfect animals. Because their bodies are more perfect, more conditions are required to produce them. According to Aquinas, the heavenly bodies (which were then believed to initiate all changes taking place on Earth) were capable of generating simple animals from properly disposed matter, but they were incapable of producing perfect animals, because too many conditions would need to be specified to produce such creatures by natural means. As Aquinas writes in his Summa Theologica I, q. 91 art. 2, Reply to Objection 2 (Whether The Human Body Was Immediately Produced By God?):
Reply to Objection 2. Perfect animals, produced from seed, cannot be made by the sole power of a heavenly body, as Avicenna imagined; although the power of a heavenly body may assist by co-operation in the work of natural generation, as the Philosopher says (Phys. ii, 26), “man and the sun beget man from matter.” For this reason, a place of moderate temperature is required for the production of man and other animals. But the power of heavenly bodies suffices for the production of some imperfect animals from properly disposed matter: for it is clear that more conditions are required to produce a perfect than an imperfect thing.
Why are more conditions required to produce perfect animals? As we have seen, Aquinas held that these animals have more complex body parts, partly due to their possession of several senses, but also because of the demands of their active lifestyle (they live on the land and often hunt other creatures). In other words, what Aquinas is doing here is sketching an Intelligent Design argument: the complexity of perfect animals’ body parts and the high degree of specificity required to produce them preclude them from having a non-biological origin. According to Aquinas, the only way they can be naturally generated is from “seed.” From this it follows that the first perfect animals must have been produced by God alone.
A Darwinist might object that the mere fact that an animal is generated only from “seed” does not mean that it couldn’t have evolved from some other kind of animal. What this objection overlooks is that according to Aquinas, the seed had to be seed of the right kind – i.e. from a parent of the same kind.
Aquinas explained the need for the right kind of “seed” when generating perfect animals, in his Summa Contra Gentiles Book III, chapter 102, paragraph 5 (That God Alone Can Work Miracles):
… [P]erfect animals are not generated by celestial power alone, but require a definite kind of semen; however, for the generation of certain imperfect animals, celestial power by itself is enough, without semen.
Additionally, in his Summa Theologica I, q. 72 a. 1, reply to obj. 3, Aquinas explicitly asserted that perfect animals were generated by a parent of the same kind:
Reply to Objection 3. In other animals, and in plants, mention is made of genus and species, to denote the generation of like from like.
Thus given St. Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of biology in his day, if it could be shown that “perfect animals” had not always existed on Earth, it would follow that only God could have generated these animals. They could not, in St. Thomas’ view, have arisen from other animals.
Aquinas clearly articulates this conclusion in his Summa Contra Gentiles Book II chapter 43, paragraph 6 (That The Distinction of Things Is Not Caused By Some Secondary Agent Introducing Diverse Forms Into Matter), where he argues that the action of the heavenly bodies – which were believed to cause changes occurring on Earth – would not have been sufficient to produce the forms of the first animals that are naturally “generated only from seed” (emphasis mine):
 … There are, however, many sensible forms which cannot be produced by the motion of the heaven except through the intermediate agency of certain determinate principles pre-supposed to their production; certain animals, for example, are generated only from seed. Therefore, the primary establishment of these forms, for producing which the motion of the heaven does not suffice without their pre-existence in the species, must of necessity proceed from the Creator alone.
Why, the reader might be wondering, did Aquinas not include this argument in his celebrated five proofs for the existence of God? The reason is that in his day, there was no scientific evidence that the universe, or even the Earth, had a beginning. Aristotle, for instance, maintained that man and the other animals had always existed. If that were the case, then there would have been no need for God to create the first “perfect animals.”
What would Aquinas make of the evidence for Intelligent Design today?
Today, the situation is completely different. Scientists now know that the Earth came into existence about 4.54 billion years ago, and that the universe itself has a finite age: 13.798 billion years. And despite strong circumstantial evidence for the common descent of living things, Professor James M. Tour, who is one of the ten most cited chemists in the world, has candidly declared that there’s no scientist alive today who understands macroevolution. Nobody has explained in detail how life, in all its complexity and diversity, could have arisen as a result of an unguided process.
Today, we know that the age of the universe is finite, and who also know that the chances of a living thing – let alone a “perfect animal” – arising spontaneously on the primordial Earth are so low that the evolutionary biologist Dr. Eugene Koonin has calculated that we would need to postulate a vast number of universes – a staggering 101,018 – in which all possible scenarios are played out, in order to make life’s emergence in our universe reasonably likely. By the way, the calculation can be found in a peer-reviewed article, “The Cosmological Model of Eternal Inflation and the Transition from Chance to Biological Evolution in the History of Life” (Biology Direct 2 (2007): 15, doi:10.1186/1745-6150-2-15). Dr. Koonin takes refuge in the multiverse, but as Dr. Robin Collins has argued in an influential essay titled, The Teleological Argument: An Exploration of the Fine-Tuning of the Universe (in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, edited by William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, 2009, Blackwell Publishing Ltd.), even a multiverse would still need to be exquisitely fine-tuned, in order to be able to churn out even one universe like ours. Thus invoking the multiverse merely shifts the fine-tuning problem up one level.
What do you think St. Thomas Aquinas would have to say to Christians who knew all these facts, but still tried to accommodate their faith to Darwinism? My guess is that he would be asking these Christians: “Why are you hiding your light under a bushel? Why aren’t you shouting this wonderful news from the house-tops? Have I not told you that miracles beyond the power of Nature to produce are the best possible proof of the existence of God?”
Aquinas: there are no bad designs in Nature
There is a final reason why Anthony Mills’ attempt to recruit Aquinas in support of Darwinism is doomed to failure. According to Aquinas, every kind of living thing God that produced in the natural world is perfectly designed for the biological ends that God intends it to realize.
“All of God’s works are perfect,” where the word “perfect” is defined in relation to each creature’s proper ends. “Perfect” does not mean “optimal,” but it does mean “free from flaws in its design.” For instance, the vertebrate eye, whose proper end is seeing, is perfect for that job, because God made it with unsurpassable wisdom and goodness. Hence according to Aquinas, there are no bad designs in nature.
In his Summa Theologica I, q. 91, a. 1, Aquinas addresses the question: Whether the Body of the First Man Was Made of the Slime of the Earth? His response begins as follows:
I answer that, As God is perfect in His works, He bestowed perfection on all of them according to their capacity: “God’s works are perfect” (Deut. 32:4).
In his Summa Theologica I, q. 91, art. 3, St. Thomas asks whether the body of (the first) man was given an apt disposition. After listing three objections to the design of the human body (which he would later refute), Aquinas responds as follows:
On the contrary, It is written (Ecclesiastes 7:30): “God made man right.”
I answer that, All natural things were produced by the Divine art, and so may be called God’s works of art. Now every artist intends to give to his work the best disposition; not absolutely the best, but the best as regards the proposed end; and even if this entails some defect, the artist cares not: thus, for instance, when man makes himself a saw for the purpose of cutting, he makes it of iron, which is suitable for the object in view; and he does not prefer to make it of glass, though this be a more beautiful material, because this very beauty would be an obstacle to the end he has in view. Therefore God gave to each natural being the best disposition; not absolutely so, but in the view of its proper end.
Aquinas cites the Biblical verse, “God’s works are perfect” (Deuteronomy 32:4) fifteen times in his Summa Theologica, and the Biblical verse, “God made man right” (Ecclesiastes 7:30) no less than four times.
The inadequacies of Mr. Mills’ grounds for theism
Anthony Mills writes that “if you profess your religion from within the gaps of scientific knowledge, you will inevitably get crushed as those gaps close.” But as we have just seen, the gaps are not shrinking, but growing: the impossibility of life’s spontaneous generation from inanimate matter would have been a complete surprise to Aquinas and Aristotle, as would the scientific evidence for the universe’s having had a beginning.
Mr. Mills is alarmed at the notion – which he mistakenly ascribes to Protestant fundamentalism – that the evidence for design in Nature could be falsified by science, and he rejects as utterly wrong-headed the view that scientific arguments for design can only succeed to the extent that scientific explanations fail. However, Intelligent Design theory does not claim that the high degree of specified complexity we find in living things constitutes the only evidence for design in Nature. Nor does Intelligent Design claim that an act of Divine intervention was required to produce the various life-forms we see on Earth today; indeed, there are ID proponents who propose that the initial conditions of the universe were fine-tuned by the Creator in order to generate life in all its diversity, without the need for any miracles – a view known as “front-loading.” In any case, it is surely true that scientific discoveries can strengthen the evidence for design in Nature. For instance, the evidence for cosmic fine-tuning was unknown 50 years ago. It would be difficult to deny that this discovery has boosted the argument that the cosmos was designed by an Intelligent Creator.
Mr. Mills prefers a different approach to theology, in which God sits outside the created order, and maintains it in being (emphasis mine):
Darwin only showed that biology — as opposed, say, to metaphysics, theology, or ethics — should dispense with “final causes,” as physics did in Newton’s day. This just frees biologists from the need to answer such purpose-questions, leaving the rest of us (non-scientists) free to wrestle with them, if we choose.…
God gives rise to and sustains existence, suffusing it with meaning — whether or not man came from fish, ape, or stardust and whether or not the laws governing that evolution are probabilistic.
Now, I may be reading Mills uncharitably here, but he appears to be saying that whether or not we believe in God, in the end, comes down to how we choose to view the world – which is quite different from the traditional Catholic view that “God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason.” On Mills’ account, we can choose to view the world as “charged with the grandeur of God,” in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, or we may see it as nothing more than “Nature red in tooth and claw,” in the memorable phrase of the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, a believer who continually wrestled with his own theological doubts.
If I am reading Mills aright, what he is saying is that in the end, the decision to see meaning in the world is an act of choice. We can see the world as suffused with meaning if we choose to. However, most contemporary scientists will proudly declare, with Laplace, “Sire, I have no need of that hypothesis.”
It is precisely in order to shake these scientists out of their complacency that the Intelligent Design movement exists. While it takes no official stand on the nature and identity of the Creator, the Intelligent Design movement will continue to fearlessly highlight the evidence for design in Nature, at both the cosmological and biological levels.