Review of “Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism: A Discussion for Those Who Believe”
December 22, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) - Evolutionary theory and its arguably massive negative impact on modern culture has come under closer scrutiny and greater criticism in recent decades. The following detailed, scholarly review of Thomas L. McFadden’s recently published book on the subject would hopefully interest readers in purchasing a copy of the 275-page book. This could help them to better comprehend many of the controversies covered in LifeSite reports. Although the title refers to Catholicism, non-Catholic Christians would also benefit from the book.
Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism: A Discussion for Those Who Believe, by Thomas L. McFadden, North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.
Reviewed by Dennis Q. McInerny, Phd, Professor of Philosophy at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Nebraska
Anyone who still would have the temerity to make the bold proclamation that evolution is a fact is clearly out of the swim of things, and innocently unaware of what’s really going on today in the world of science, biological science in particular.
Unfortunately, there is a very large discrepancy between the actual status of evolutionary theory, with the many serious problems by which it is beset, and what children and young people are being taught in our schools, very much including Catholic and many other Christian schools. Whether educators have simply not gotten the word regarding how evolution now actually stands (i.e., tottering), or they have gotten the word and refuse to accept it because of their firmly held ideological biases, the disconcerting fact of the matter is that they continue to teach evolutionary theory (in a necessarily carefully doctored way) as if it were a coherent system composed of rock solid scientific truths. It is anything but that, and educators are doing a deep disservice to their charges, and to society at large, by persistently promulgating as hard science what in truth is as soft as a gentle spring rain in the west of Ireland, and also like that rain, it might be added, it is all wet.
It is in response to this situation that Thomas L. McFadden has written Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism. In the Preface to the book the author explains that the work is addressed expressly to believing Catholics, and its purpose is to alert them to the negative effects the teaching of evolution over the past many decades has had on the faith of young Catholics who have been exposed to that teaching.
To the extent that Catholics are persuaded to accept evolution as it is commonly presented to them, as an indisputably sound scientific theory, they potentially put themselves in jeopardy to have their faith, especially insofar as it had been grounded in the revealed texts of the Bible, seriously shaken, even to the point where they will eventually lose their faith. In fact, it is the author’s contention that it is precisely the pervasive teaching of evolution in our schools which is a major explanatory factor in the actual loss of faith which we witness today among so many young Catholics.
Quite rightly, McFadden sees the promotion of evolution as a specific strategy employed by those who are committed to secular humanism, a movement which, functioning as an ersatz religion, can be identified as one of the principal factors behind the ongoing attempt to thoroughly secularize modern society. The systematic and dedicated propagation of evolutionism in our schools, then, represents a potent and, on the practical level, an extremely effective means of furthering the whole agenda of secular humanism
Loss of faith among young Catholics
In the first two chapters of the book we have the problem of the loss of faith among young Catholics spelled out for us in specific terms. The statistics that the author provides in doing so are quite disconcerting. There is reliable evidence, in the form of data gathered by the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project, that supports the general proposition that Catholics are, in appreciable numbers, losing a firm grip on foundation tenets of the faith into which they were baptized, tenets that bear a definite relation to evolutionary theory.
For example, the survey shows that 68% of white, non-Hispanic Catholics believe that humans evolved over time and just 26% that humans existed in their present form since the beginning.(9) In other words, if this data is to be believed, a clear majority of Catholics do not believe, as their faith teaches, that human beings exist because they were created directly by God. We are here, they presumably think, and enjoy the remarkable status which is ours as rational beings who can follow Euclid’s arguments, be transported by a Mozart concerto, bring relief to the poor and love our enemies, simply because we have evolved, though a series of myriads of happy accidents, from lower forms of life, a process that took millions upon millions of years.
Speculative cosmology and evolutionary theory
It is in Chapter 3 where the book’s wide-ranging and thoroughgoing critique of evolutionary theory begins in earnest, with the emphasis here being given to cosmology. So much of contemporary cosmological thinking is heavily laden, and driven, by theory, and highly speculative theory at that. There may be much flashy mathematics accompanying the theory, but too often it is not directly related to the objective order, but rather is offered as quantitative corroboration of conjectural, sometimes wildly conjectural, speculations about the objective order.
Subjectivism plays a significant part in contemporary cosmology. Certain theories can quickly gain general acceptance among the professionals, not because there is reliable, empirical evidence to support them, but because they are consonant with other theories, which are perhaps all under the umbrella of a single overriding and governing theory, but all theories may lack sound empirical backing. Thus legitimacy is established by relying too much upon the coherence, and not the correspondence, criterion for truth.
Too often we have operative what amounts to a circular mode of reasoning, whereby certain astronomical phenomena are accepted a priori as facts (e,g, dark energy, an ever rapidly expanding universe, even the Big Bang itself, the centerpiece of contemporary cosmology) because they are seen as required elements of a cosmic theory which is totally naturalistic in conception. A good deal of cosmological speculation today is driven by foundational presuppositions which are more philosophical than scientific in nature, though the speculators themselves would be more than a little reluctant to admit as much.
The distortions of scientism
What best explains the complacent tendency of the public at large, as well as of those majority of intellectuals who are not versed in scientific lore, to regard cosmological theorizing as worthy of uncritical acceptance is, at least in good part, so I believe, the still wide-spread presence of scientism, a phenomenon which saw its birth in the nineteenth century. Scientism is a peculiar attitude toward science, specifically empirical science (represented by fields like physics, chemistry, and biology), which sees it as the single source for mankind of the only truly reliable kind of knowledge we can ever hope to have. This is the attitude, very much a naïve attitude to be sure, which takes whatever follows science says to be the last and definitive word on anything that really counts. The only thing true about scientism is that it is a distortion of true science.
Crumbling evolutionary biology
Chapter 4 of the book is focused on evolutionary biology. It was in the field of biology, of course, where it all began. Here, as in the previous chapter, Mr. McFadden elaborates on a number of specific aspects relating to his guiding thesis; the cumulative effect of his case-building efforts in this instance is to show the present state of evolutionary biology to be one in which it is confronted with various and sundry difficulties of the most serious kind, so serious in fact, that it appears that orthodox Darwinian evolution is now a theory which may be likened to an edifice in a very precarious state, for the foundation upon which it rests is crumbling.
The two key principles of Darwinian evolution, the mainstays of the entire system, are natural selection and random mutation. It is no exaggeration to say that these two principles are cited as providing the root explanation of, in effect, virtually everything. The problem is that they simply cannot bear the enormous burden that is placed upon them. If evolution, as a scientific theory, is one day definitively falsified, a prospect which may be taken as a prediction, it will not principally be on account of onslaughts launched against it by theologians, or by philosophers, or by intelligent design theorists, or by militant Evangelical Christians. Like the Roman Empire, it will not fall to external forces, but like tragic figures in ancient Greek drama, it will fall because of its own inherent deficiencies.
Evolution is more a philosophy of life
In Chapter 6, in delving into some of the particulars relating to the difficulties with which evolutionary biology is plagued, the author takes on, among other problems, one of truly elephantine proportions, that having to do with the fossil record. It simply does not provide the kind of evidence Darwin had hoped it would provide. That, and other of the problems with the theory, should have the effect of reminding us of something we seem to have quite forgotten, that there is an alternative theory regarding the origins of the world and of mankind besides that proposed by evolution theory, and it is to be found in the in the pages of the Bible. We are told that the Bible is not a scientific text, and this can be readily granted, but its inestimable worth lies in the fact that it teaches truths that are antecedent to, and beyond the reach of, empirical science. The Bible teaches science how to be true to itself.
A disinterested but knowledgeable observer responding to the current state of affairs regarding evolutionary theory might be inclined, appealing to a different image, to compare it to a boxer hanging on the ropes, his knees buckling beneath him. But here is one of the more puzzling wonders of human nature. Even if evolutionary theory were to be knocked out of the ring tomorrow, it would still have its avid, true believing fans for whom the KO would have little affect on them; their deepest commitment is to a philosophy of life, an all-embracing world view, against which no amount of argument, no amount of hard evidence, would carry any weight. What is particularly remarkable about evolution is that, while in fact so little counts for it, almost nothing is ever accepted by its devotees as counting against it. For the dedicated evolutionist, it is always a win-win situation.
Evolutionists “deepest commitment is to a philosophy of life, an all-embracing world view, against which no amount of argument, no amount of hard evidence, would carry any weight.”
In other words, even if as a scientific theory evolution was shown to be a dead letter, we would still have to contend with the philosophy of evolution, for at the moment it is the latter, not the former, which is the more pervasive and powerful phenomenon. It is evolution thinking as applied to history, economics, sociology, cultural anthropology, psychology, and religion (and several other fields and endeavors as well) by which so many people are deeply influenced today. In the minds of those many, becoming has replaced being; all reality is to be taken as a continuous Heraclitean flux, not curbed or hampered by any finality.
There are countless people today who know little or nothing about the specifics of evolutionary science, and yet firmly believe in evolution, which is to say that they are committed to the vague, pan-explanatory notion that everything evolved; the cosmos and every jot and tittle of it just fell neatly into place in a wondrous display of order, thanks to the blind, purposeless and significantly serendipitous workings of purely natural causes.
It certainly makes for an intriguing narrative, but it belongs more in the realm of science fiction than that of science. Evolutionists of the strict observance want us to believe that the world was not created, nothing within the world owes its nature and existence to the creative act of an all-powerful Being. In sum, everything simply happened the way it did because it simply happened the way it did. Such is the essence of the philosophy of evolution, and, as philosophies go, it is not, given its intellectual shallowness, not particularly impressive.
Evolution, theology and the Teilhardian heresy
The book’s treatment of the relation between evolution and theology, which is the subject taken up in Chapter 7, is especially noteworthy for its discussion of the thought of Père Teilhard de Chardin. His not entirely felicitous influence, especially among Catholic intellectuals, has had the effect of leading them, many of whom were clearly unacquainted with the relevant scientific data, to see in the whole way of evolutionary thinking an intellectual hardiness, and a potential for beneficial wide-ranging applicability, which it simply doesn’t have.
It could be said that Père Teilhard was as much a poet and mystic as he was a scientist. It is no small thing to be a poet and a mystic (St. John of the Cross managed it impressively), but poetry and mysticism are not fit substitutes for empirical science. In any event, Sir Julian Huxley, in the Introduction he wrote for the English translation of The Phenomenon of Man, revealingly refers to Père Teilhard as a strong visualizer, and does not seem to have much to say about the strictly scientific aspects of the Jesuit’s thought.
A particularly perspicacious critique of Père Teilhard’s ideas appears as an appendix to Jacques Maritain’s The Peasant of Garonne; the French philosopher ends his short essay with this pointed sentence: “He was without a doubt a man of great imagination.” (269) The best book length study of Père Teilhard’s thought to date is Wolfgang Smith’s Theistic Evolution: The Teilhardian Heresy, which was published in 2012. Mr. McFadden weaves much pertinent information into this chapter, and in doing so builds a commanding case against evolution as a viable scientific theory.
Humani Generis and evolution
But for that matter the entire book is chock full of pertinent information regarding evolution and its many ramifications, specifically as affecting Catholic faith. I was particularly struck by the studied treatment the author gives to Pope Pius XII’s encyclical, Humani Generis, a document which is especially important for what it has to say about evolution. It is often read without proper care, unfortunately, with the result that the ways in which it is sometimes interpreted are not consonant with the text itself. Mr. McFadden sets the record straight in that respect, and thereby performs a valuable service. He is quite right in saying that in the encyclical the pope is by no means giving anything like a blanket endorsement of evolutionary theory. The larger concern of the encyclical, as Mr. McFadden points out, has to do with the problematic aspects which are to be found in modern philosophy as a whole. The pope discusses evolution as a particular instance of what is worrisome about much contemporary thought.
Decrease of belief in the Bible
In Chapter 9 the author discusses the uses and abuses of the Bible when it comes to pairing certain of its passages to evolutionary thought. The principal issue he wants to emphasize and explore in this chapter pertains to the impact that belief in evolution has had on the decrease in belief in the Bible. (122)
We have, then, as a result of this circumstance, a rather sorry state of affairs where uncritical belief in a severely hobbled scientific theory has gained the ascendency over belief in the revealed word of God. What has been lost in the confusing shuffle created by careless, not to say simply incompetent biblical exegesis as it relates to evolution is the idea of creation, which, in any serious reflection on the origins of the world, and specifically of the human race, should be the central and governing idea.
In Chapter 10, where the discussion initiated in the previous chapter continues, the author quotes the words of Father Brian Harrison in what he has to say about Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council document on Sacred Scripture. This learned theologian argues that the document has been seriously misinterpreted by certain exegetes, who erroneously claim that, while the Bible is to be read as the inspired word of God, this must be done selectively, rather than comprehensively.
In other words, we are to recognize that there are certain passages in the Bible which need not be regarded as divinely inspired, such as those, for example, which are to be found in the first chapter of Genesis. What is being advocated here is nothing less than a pick and choose Biblical exegesis. It is up to the sagacious reader to decide what is and what is not inspired. All very convenient.
The title of Chapter 11 takes the form of what is always a most pertinent question, “Does Truth Matter?” In this chapter, we have an exploration of various aspects of a conflict, ultimately irresolvable, which results from the approach adopted by many Catholic educators who attempt to reconcile what they take to be the settled scientific truths of evolution and the truths of the faith. The practical consequences of the conflict, which is irresolvable because it is based on an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable, is that the minds of the young people who sit at the feet of these educators are filled with the kind of confusion that can lead to the unsettling of their faith.
I have described evolution as a comprehensive philosophy, a world view, but it can also be rightly described, as does Mr. McFadden, as a religion. He discusses a disconcerting aspect of encounters between two camps, the pseudo-religion which is evolution, on the one hand, and the true religion of Christianity, having its complete expression in the Catholic Church, on the other.
What happens in too many cases is that the Catholic camp does not fare too well in these encounters; indeed, at times it is the subject of a veritable rout.
There are two reasons for this. First, Catholics themselves are often naively unaware that they are not, in their encounters with the scientific community, always dealing with people who are entirely unbiased, who in their thought and discussions are guided only by stern logic and unalloyed reason.
In many instances they are dealing with passionate “true believers” of the type memorably described by Eric Hoffer, people whose uncompromising commitment to evolution is founded on, and in great part explained by, their more basic commitment to a totally naturalistic/materialistic/atheistic view of reality. Professor Alan Lewontin of Harvard University, a leading advocate of evolution, frankly acknowledges that commitment when he writes: “that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine foot in the door.”(163)
The second reason Catholics often fare badly in their encounters with dedicated evolutionists is because the Catholic cause is hampered by the fact that there is a fifth column operating within its ranks.
The second reason Catholics often fare badly in their encounters with dedicated evolutionists is because the Catholic cause is hampered by the fact that there is a fifth column operating within its ranks. There are Catholics, including theologians, who have taken up the dubious cause of theistic evolution. They do so, either because they do not have a sufficient knowledge of science, a knowledge which would enable them to see the inherent flaws of that position, or, worse, because their advocacy of evolutionary thought in general is an indication of the tenuous nature of their faith.
Theistic evolution can prove to be especially seductive for “progressive” Catholics, in that it allows them to persuade themselves that they can at one and the same time be loyal to their religion while being cutting-edge modern by taking a positive view of evolution, a scientific theory which all the world takes to be the very quintessence of scientific wisdom. They do not want to be thought of as backward and behind the times. Anyone familiar with the salutary efforts to educate Catholics on the subject of theistic evolution carried on by Fr. David Becker through his magazine Watchmaker would readily see that this version of evolutionary theory is like wingless bird; it will never be able to get off the ground.
Intelligent design movement
It is not a little remarkable how some true believers in evolution have habituated themselves to peremptorily dismissing the intelligent design movement as if it were no more than a joke, not worthy to be taken seriously. And there are more energetic responses to the movement bland dismissal, such as that coming from Francisco Ayala, who regards intelligent design as a positively “blasphemous” assault against the Olympian status of evolutionary doctrine.
Most of these responses clearly show on the part of the people who make them an unconscionable ignorance of the object of their anathemas. If intelligent design is supposedly a joke, its advocates are anything but jokers, for they represent scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers of the first rank, whose professional credentials c9an easily match those of the advocates of evolution.
One of the criticisms frequently hurled at the intelligent design thesis by evolutionists is that it is not “scientific,” which only shows that the hurlers are hobbled in their thinking by a distortedly narrow understanding of science. There has come out of the intelligent design movement to date any number of book length studies which are impressively substantive in content, clearly articulated, and which put forward an array of cogent arguments for the position they advocate.
Almost all of the responses to intelligent design coming from the camp of the evolutionists are peremptorily dismissive of it, which, among other things, shows not a little intellectual irresponsibility on their part. I have yet to come across a book written by an evolutionist which takes intelligent design with the seriousness which it deserves, and in which its author, because he considers intelligent design to be woefully wrong-headed, therefore attempts to refute point by point the arguments which it advances.
In rational discourse, if you sincerely believe that your opponent is radically off base in his thinking regarding a subject which you take to be vitally important, then you would apparently immediately see that there are strong arguments that can be made against your opponent’s point of view, and you would presumably want to bring those arguments to the public forum.
The often shrill denunciations of intelligent design emanating from the evolutionist stronghold suggest an unsettling realization on the part of its defenders that the case being made by intelligent design advocates reflects some disturbing insights. One can imagine them being pestered by a recurring nightmare in which the advocates of intelligent design appear as sages possessed of especially penetrating visual powers, by which they are able to see evolution as a scientific emperor who is parading about in his birthday suit.
The First Cause
When scientists venture into the realm of metaphysics, as not a few of them are wont to do today, more often than not the results are, if not comical, considerably less than illuminating. In recent years we have been entertained by more than one scientist, say a physicist or a biologist, who has attempted in print to refute the classic philosophical proof for the existence of God, as the first cause of all being, and in doing so delivers what he fondly supposes to be a demolishing retort by posing the question, “Yes, but who caused God?”
One does not know whether to laugh or weep. The question shows, besides a general estrangement from the whole realm of metaphysical reasoning, a magnificently complete ignorance of the meaning of the concept of first cause (causa prima) and all it entails. Asking what caused the first cause is like asking, regarding the series of natural numbers, what comes before “one.” Answer: nothing, zero. “One” is where it all begins. Nothing comes before the First Cause.
Deep marks of the divine handiwork
In Chapter 12, Mr. McFadden discusses a number of issues which serve to bring home the fact that we have a situation today where there are avowed believers who have either deliberately distanced themselves from the revealed word of God, or who grossly misconstrue that word. Whatever might be the attitude with which they approach Biblical revelation, they do not pay to it anywhere near the attention it demands. But neither do they pay sufficient attention to the “revelation” which is manifested by the created universe, which is accessible to all, believer and unbeliever alike.
An empirical scientist who is truly open minded, who is, we may say, pure of heart and mind, would readily see in the world about him the deep marks of the divine handiwork, what St. Augustine poignantly referred to as the vestia Dei, “the footprints of God.” The renowned entomologist Henri Favre, who was a devout Catholic, once declared that he did not believe in God because he didn’t have to; he saw Him everywhere in nature. Caeli enarrant gloriam Dei, “the heavens proclaim the glory of God.” Indeed, if we have ears that are rightly attuned, we can hear the heavens fairly shouting out the glory of God.
The greater part of Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism is given over to providing the reader with a richly varied and pointedly detailed account of the nature of the problems which disable evolutionary theory, and in that the author has accomplished a commendable task, for what most people know about evolution today comes to them by listening to the propagandizing voice of the mainstream media. These people, most of whom are probably living the unexamined life, will end up believing evolution to be true, but their belief will be based on ignorance. Any book that sets out to dispel that ignorance is of signal value.
Call to action, refuting falsehood
Mr. McFadden is to be commended for calling his readers’ attention to the disturbing fact that evolution, despite its flaws as a scientific theory, is pervasively present in contemporary culture as a world view, a world view which, because it is being systematically promoted in our schools, is a principal explanation for why so many young people are drifting away from their Catholic faith. And because the dissemination of evolutionary thought is to be found within Catholic education in particular, we have in this situation too an instance of “the enemy within phenomenon.” However, Mr. McFadden does not simply lay out the problem; he provides, in the final chapters of his book, Chapters 13 through 17, a variety of solutions to the problem, all of which, I think, can be accurately summed up by a single word: truth.
What is called for, in the first place, is a vigorous defensive program, which takes the form of refuting falsehood. When that has been successfully done, an offensive program should be launched, which takes the form of proclaiming and promoting the truth.
Chapter 14 of this book needs special attention called to it, for the comprehensive and informative account it gives us of secular humanism, the origins of that movement, its nature, its aims. A particularly valuable aspect of that account is the detailed profile of the philosopher John Dewey it contains.
Professor Dewey, a dedicated atheist, was the man who, in the words of one of my high school teachers which still ring in my ears, “did more damage to American education than any other single individual.” To this day Dewey is revered as the father of American public education, and his thought continues to be disseminated. This tells us much.
Thomas McFadden ends his book with a call to action, and his is not an empty call. In his book he provides his readers with the intellectual wherewithal, the knowledge they need, to give form and direction to their action.
Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism can be taken as a practical handbook to accompany and guide those who, cognizant of the problem which it was the purpose of the book to address, embark upon the important and altogether needful project of rescuing Catholic education, in all its forms, from the deleterious influence of a scientific theory whose principal and fatal defect is that it simply does not measure up to the exacting standards of science itself.
Evolution is a tall tale whose incessant telling over the past one hundred and fifty years has so mesmerized an entire people that they have sadly come to the point where they mistake height for heft.
D. Q. McInerny