Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Evolution vs. Creationism

Since Cardinal Schonborn's opinion piece on evolution and design appeared in the NY Times, there's been much discussion in the Catholic blogsphere about creationism, intelligent design, and evolution. One reader here asked if I would post the book review of Creation Rediscovered that I wrote for New Oxford Review some years back. It turns out, it's on their newly revised website.

Here is my review of Creation Rediscovered.

In the interests of fairness, here's the reaction it generated in the letters column (including one letter from the author -- scroll down a bit to find the letters).

I also wrote a review for them of Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology by William A. Dembski (half-way down the page), but it was neutered of most of my more severe criticisms of ID.

Growing up in a very science oriented family (my father is a planetarium director) which was also devoutly Catholic, the fear of evolution has always struck me as odd and misguided.

If you're interested on reading more about evolution and the "conflict" between science and religion I'd recommend Rocks of Ages by Stephen Jay Gould (an agnostic, but trying to be fair in establishing boundaries between science and religion) and Finding Darwin's God by Kenneth Miller (a Catholic, explaining how he reconciles his religion with his work as an evolutionary biologist).

For the record, I think what Cardinal Schonborn was doing (and could perhaps have done a little more clearly) was emphasizing that regardless of evolution's success in describing the common ancestry of life on earth, evolution cannot speak to the metaphysical questions of what life is and why life is. The fact that the biological process is "unguided" does not mean that life is itself "unguided". All creation relies on the active will of God for its very existence. To assert that because we now know more about the way in which life physically developed on Earth in now way allows us to say that God is in some sense "un-needed". I think that what Schonborn was primarily reacting to in "neo-Darwinism and the multiverse theory of cosmology" is the assertion that while there may be a God lurking somewhere out in the wings, there is no need for him because life must have developed this way regardless of any movement of providence. To that extent, I think Schonborn is completely correct. However, it's unfortunate that all sides of the evolution debate (secularists, creationists, intelligent design proponents) seem to be using this as an opportunity to say "See, the Church rejects evolution". Secularists would like this in order to discredit the Church. Creationists and ID proponents would like it in order to discredit evolution. But I think what we're seeing is in fact a great deal of smoke and very little fire.


Anonymous said...

Darwin, I had been wondering how you reconciled evolution and Catholicism. My disclaimer: I am largely ignorant of modern evolutionary thought.

So, here are some of my thoughts from your NOR articles. Brace yourself, these thoughts are not from the same strain of thought your NOR critics wrote. :-) While I appreciate much of what I have read in NOR, the publication tends toward the arrogant side of orthodoxy. Mind you, that's a flaw of mine, so I enjoy reading articles from them once in a while. However, the tone of your critics seem a bit reactionary, especially Mr. Keane. I find their arguments and defenses quite unconvincing.

One theory of mine centers around the fact that NOR used to be an Episcopal publication. In 1646, Anglican Bishop Ussher wrote 6000-year creationism into the Westminster Confession. Maybe this is a Protestant-type hold-over? Maybe, maybe not.

Another thing that came to mind while reading the review of the Keane book is his publisher TAN books. While I was in college, I was referred to several books published by them by a gentleman who was one of these SSPX or Sede Vacantist types. The line he fed me more than once was that the Novus Ordo Mass is invalid; the proof is in these books. So, I became rather weary of TAN's lineup outside of books dealing with the Saints. Some of the titles include:
The Great Sacrilege by Rev. James Wathen
The Problems With The New Mass by Rama P. Coomaraswamy, M.D.
The Problems With The Prayers of The Modern Mass by Rev. Anthony Cekada

Also interesting about TAN books is the current publication of the Catechism is missing. There are Baltimore Chatechisms and the Catechism of the Coucil of Trent.

I also read another review of Keane's book. Very interesting. Can be found here:


Darwin said...

Mr. Felderhoff,

Yeah, I tend to see publication by TAN as a strike against a book. I wasn't impressed by seeing they'd been the one's to publish Keane's book.

It's true that NOR has also become an almost impossibly shrill voice in the Catholic world. I confess I don't really have the patience to read them much any more, which is sad. They used to be one of the most thoughtful forums out there, similar in quality of analysis to First Things, though with a far less political bent. But over the last 4-7 years, they've become very, very shrill as they have ruled out one group after another as not orthodox enough.

Good review you linked to there.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous here. I've given myself a name now so that you don't get me confused with others named Anonymous..haha.
First off, since I haven't read Keane's book, I can't fairly judge your review. I still would like to hear your explanation for the lack of transitory fossils and I still doubt our current methods of dating. At this point, I see direct creation of man as more believable than evolution. I'm open to more evidence.
Also striking me as a bit arrogant is your putdown of TAN publishers. They have printed many books that are difficult to find elsewhere. I was recently looking for a copy of St.Francis de Sales "Introduction to the Devout Life" and I could only find 2 publishers printing it. One, a paperback, costing $32.95 and TAN, a paperback at $12.95. TAN has also printed affordable copies of St. Teresa's writings and has reprinted many of Mary Fabyan Windeatt's saint books for children, which my children have found to be very readable. Ignatius Press and TAN are the only ones I find who are printing these great saints' stories for children. They have also printed grade school and high school level history books from a Catholic perspective. Something else that is difficult to find. So I am thankful for their attempts at helping others in their quest for holiness.
As far as Pope Benedict's letter mentioned in this entry, I must agree that it sounds like he's thanking her for pointing out the problems with Harry Potter to me. I guess I don't feel this deep conviction to let my children read Harry Potter just because everybody else is and lots of people find it entertaining...there are too many excellent books out there to read without taking the chance of subtly poisoning their minds. Perhaps you don't mean to, but your entries are coming across to me as having an arrogant quality to them. I guess I would find it easier to reflect on what you're saying if you could perhaps write with a bit more charity. Many of the people you are criticizing have good intentions; they are trying to help people grow in holiness. There are alot more other people out there to worry about who are doing more damage than these people. That's why I laughed when you asked me last week if I wanted a mention...I saw it as a somewhat arrogant question. Besides, don't even know how to spell Cincinnati.
May God bless you and your family!

Darwin said...

I still would like to hear your explanation for the lack of transitory fossils and I still doubt our current methods of dating.

Transitional fossils (transitory fossils would be kind of wandering around, or something?) are a long complicated subject. There are many, but they tend to be classified either in with a known species or as a third species "in between" two known ones. Paleontologists don't look at something and say "You know, we're not sure where to put this, we'll just leave it as 'transitional.'"

Anyway, maybe sometime I'll get into it, but it's not necessarily a topic I want to spend pages on right now, and as you pointed out, much more important than how God put us here is the fact that he did.

That's why I laughed when you asked me last week if I wanted a mention...I saw it as a somewhat arrogant question. Besides, don't even know how to spell Cincinnati.

:-) I guess it's all in how you take it. My thought process was more "Sheesh, I really ought to be listing more good Catholic blogs. Maybe this person has one."

My spelling, however, is notorious. Though, believe it or not, it's got better over the years.

Anonymous said...

A putdown of TAN publishing or is it rather an exercise of caution. The only books I would consider purchasing from TAN would be those dealing with the Saints and their writings. The rest of their lineup is peppered with books that arouse my suspicions on whether or not this publisher is indeed remaining faithful to the Magisterium. See my previous comment with a few that deal with the Mass.

The sense I get from TAN is that Vatican II was a mistake, a line of thought that is seen in the SSPX and Sede Vacantists (Empty Seat in Latin). Coincidentally, TAN publishing came about 1967, "at a time when the problems in the Church were just getting into high gear," according to their website.

In defense of Darwin, "having good intentions" does not grant one immunity from criticism. If those with good intentions are wrong, the criticism is warranted. Take for instance TAN Publishing. I have no doubt that they intend to help their customers grow in holiness. However, the circumstantial evidence tells me that TAN is wrong about Vatican II and the post-conciliar Church.