To mark his 209th birthday, the American Humanist Association has honored Charles Darwin by declaring today to be International Darwin Day. The group praises Darwin and his theory of evolution for “unclasping scientific progress from theological limitations and paving the way for a fuller understanding of our place in the universe.” While they mention “theological limitations,” one gets the sense that it is really any “limitations” to natural science, including those that are inherently part of its essence that humanists will not accept. Natural science is limited in that it is designed to look for material causes as explanation for certain effects. It can neither find nor detect non-material agents. It is a valuable and reliable field of knowledge for sure, but knowledge is not wisdom. As the name suggests, Homo sapiens (literally “wise person) as a species seek wisdom and therefore are necessarily philosophical. Humanists forget that physics is always at the service of metaphysics. What ends up happening is that physics becomes metaphysics and bad science follows. Only when natural science respects it limitations can it truly pave the way for “a fuller understanding of our place in the universe.”
If one reads Darwin’s Descent of Man then it becomes readily apparent that Darwin starts with the assumption that the mind was entirely material and that humans had an ape-like ancestor. In other words, he took the theory of evolution as he describes it in the Origin of Species and applied it to man without any scientific justification. In other words, he first made a metaphysical assumption and then simply asserted what that would look like scientifically. Of course, his metaphysics was not solid as I showed in a previous post.
But science also needs religion. In fact, it is certain Christian fundamental ideas that allowed the emergence of scientific thought to begin with. The study of science arose because of a belief in a transcendent Creator who endowed His creation with orderly physical laws. Any good scientist knows that what you study is not only observable, but that it follows some known order. No reasonable scientist would study what he truly believed to be random coin flips. Furthermore, man must be capable of recognizing this order so as to study it. In order to discover the order of the universe of which man is a part, he must also somehow transcend it. In other words, Humanists must recognize that to reject either of these truths, undermines any attempts that they make to gather knowledge about the world. In fact, the pioneers of modern science, such as Galileo, Kepler, Harvey, and Newton thought science was at the service of wonder so that it would give content to the praise of the Creator.
Historically speaking, religious faith and science thrived side by side until the start of the eighteenth century. For various reasons, some of which were valid such as wars within Christianity itself, many Enlightenment intellectuals became disillusioned with Christianity. In response to this, they proposed a “religion of reason” that would replace the dogmas of faith. This co-option of science by the Enlightenment was characterized by its claims that science must be “value free”.
It should be noted as well that Darwin was not the first to posit a theory of evolution. One of the questions that theology has long been trying to answer was where Adam’s body came from. Some posited that it came about instantly while other said it came through some stages of development. For example, St. Augustine in his commentary on Genesis (De Genesi ad Literam) thought that Adam came into the world in full maturity. But he left it open to the idea that his body could have come about through long process similar to embryonic development (or evolution of some sort).
So what does Divine Revelation have to say about the “Origin of Species?” First that God created the world ex nihilio. This does not preclude Him using something like the Big Bang as the mechanism, although this particular theory has some serious flaws scientifically that need to be worked out. When you are using a theoretical construct that cannot be measured like Dark Matter to explain 5/6 of the matter in the Universe, it is far from a complete explanation. Regardless of whether it is true or not, one still has to explain how the point of infinite density and temperature at time zero ever got there. In other words, scientists may be able to answer the question as to how things come about, but they will never be able to answer the question as to why there is something instead of nothing. That is a question for metaphysics and religion. To pretend natural science could answer that question or to pretend that is not the more important question is to delude yourself. Metaphysical questions are always the most important questions because we crave purpose and meaning and not mere explanation.
Regarding the “Descent of Man”, Pius XII in his Encyclical Humani Generis, offered three specific truths from Revelation that must be safeguarded. The first is that man, because of his spiritual soul, could not be a direct product of evolution. There is nothing contrary to Revelation to say that man’s body came through evolution, but the soul must be believed to have been directly infused into that body by God.
Second, we must hold that the first woman came directly from the first man. At first this seems unnecessary or even superfluous, but Pius XII was reaffirming that which had been taught as part of the Ordinary Magisterium going all the way back to Pope Pelagius I in 561 (“together with Adam himself and his wife, who were not born of other parents, but were created: one from the earth and the other from the side of the man”). The reason why this truth is of particular importance is because it affirms the essential equality (in dignity) of man and woman. An unchecked theory of evolution always leads to justifying inequality between people because one group is always somehow inferior to the more evolved one. It was Francis Galton, a cousin of Darwin’s who applied Darwin’s arguments for Natural Selection to improved breeding of human beings. He is the first to coin the term eugenics, to which the likes of Marx, Hitler and Margaret Sanger all devoted their time.
Finally, Pius XII said that Adam and Eve were two real people from which the entire human race has come (this is called monogenism). The Pontiff said that “When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now, it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the Church proposed with regard to original sin which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam in which through generation is passed onto all and is in everyone as his own” (Humani Generis 37).
This is why a wholesale adoption of evolution is problematic. Evolution without Revelation would require that in the transition from animal to man, there would necessarily be a multitude of men and not just two. What is at stake in this is Jesus and His Mission. If there is no Adam and no Original Sin as separation from God then there is no need for the Incarnation and Redemption. While we may not be immediately aware of the implications of this belief, humanists certainly are. In an article entitled, “The Meaning of Evolution,” the author says that, “[E]volution destroys utterly and finally the very reason for Jesus’ earthly life, which was supposedly made necessary, for if you destroy Adam and Eve and original sin, then you will find the sorry remains of the Son of God. Take away the meaning of his death, and if Jesus was not the redeemer who died for our sins, then Christianity is nothing.”
Ultimately, the battle between science and revelation has a direct bearing upon science itself. As Pius XII said, “truth cannot contradict truth” so that those places where modern science contradict revelation will ultimately lead to dead ends. No amount of faith in scientific fudge factors like dark matter, dark, energy, inflation, and missing links will ultimately lead to truth. It certainly is not at the service of reason to continue to create hypothetical constructs to fill in the gaps when Revelation has a perfectly reasonable answer—I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.