The Wars Over Evolution

1.

The development of evolutionary biology has induced two opposite reactions, both of which threaten its legitimacy as a natural scientific explana-tion. One, based on religious convictions, rejects the science of evolution in a fit of hostility, attempting to destroy it by challenging its sufficiency as the mechanism that explains the history of life in general and of the material nature of human beings in particular. One demand of those who hold such views is that their competing theories be taught in the schools.

The other reaction, from academics in search of a universal theory of human society and history, embraces Darwinism in a fit of enthusiasm, threatening its status as a natural science by forcing its explanatory scheme to account not simply for the shape of brains but for the shape of ideas. The Evolution–Creation Struggle is concerned with the first challenge, Not By Genes Alone with the second.

It is no surprise that Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has recently chosen the Op-Ed page of The New York Times to enunciate the doctrine on evolution of the new Benedictine papacy.1 Political and cultural struggle over the origin of life and of the human species in particular has been a characteristically American phenomenon for a century, providing Europeans (the French in particular) with yet another example of la folie des Anglo-Saxons. In his essay, Cardinal Schönborn accepts that human and other organisms have a common ancestry and, by implication, that the species on earth today have evolved over a long period from other species no longer extant. That is, he accepts the historical fact that life has evolved. He distinguishes this acceptable fact of evolution from what he characterizes as the unacceptable “neo-Darwinian” theory that, in the words of the offi-cial 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church of which he was an editor, evolution is “reducible to pure chance and necessity.” He rejects, as he must, the Newtonian notion of first cause, that at the beginning God only created a material mechanism with a few basic molecular laws and that the rest of history has simply been the consequence of this mechanism.

In the evolutionary process, he writes, there must have been “an internal finality,” the Divine plan. He calls attention to the fact that John Paul II, who endorsed the science of evolution in his 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, nevertheless insisted in his other writings that there must also be such a principle of finality and direction built into the material process. Such internal finality and direction cannot be omitted from the minimal Christian position. For if evolution is only the consequence of random mutations, none of which needs to have occurred, and if the subsequent fate of those mutations is subject only to the relative ability of their carriers to reproduce and to survive catastrophes of the environment that eliminate species and make room for new ones, then rational beings capable of moral choices might never have come into existence. But without such beings…


This is exclusive content for subscribers only – subscribe at this low introductory rate for immediate access!

Online Subscription

Unlock this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, by subscribing at the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue – that’s 10 issues online plus six months of full archive access for just $10.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account.