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What Catholics didn’t like about Darwin – and still don’t

Year of the Arts - Spring 2012: Sanctuary and Sacred Space
If you are near Biola University ...

Jay Richards, editor of God & Evolution (Christian Research Institute, February 2, 2012), talks about the book here. And here’s Hank Hanegraff’s interview with him (audio) on “Deflating Darwinism.”

I have a chapter in God & Evolution on the popular Catholic popular authors (Chesterton, Belloc, Mivart) at the turn of the last century, who understood Darwinism quite well and opposed it. They sound both lively and contemporary. Here are some notes for a talk I gave  at Biola University in 2010, which give the general idea:

G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936): He tried common sense, but common sense did not matter.

Chesterton tried to apply common sense in a world that increasingly denied it. In Everlasting Man, he made a number of cautionary points about Darwinist views of early man. For example:

– One must be cautious about concluding that modern people groups who live in a technically primitive way replicate Stone Age ancestors exactly, rather than merely adopting  general patterns for survival outside organized civilizations. Some groups may simply shed technically advanced features, the way Europeans did for many centuries after the fall of Rome. Technically complex advances can be too difficult to maintain in a climate of growing disorder, so sometimes simplicity is the price paid for survival. It does not mean that people do not guess that things could be different, in principle.

Nothing much has changed in this area since Chesterton wrote Everlasting Man, about eighty years ago, except the huge growth in the “evolutionary psychology” literature and its ever-more-expansive attempts to explain everything away.

– Eighty years ago, Chesterton also noted the contradictory stances of what is now called “evolutionary psychology” Yet nothing much has changed in this area since Chesterton wrote Everlasting Man, about eighty years ago, except the huge growth in the “evolutionary psychology” literature and its ever-more-expansive attempts to explain everything away. The interesting point is the confidence Chesterton, like other older Catholic writers, had that Darwinism would die out in his lifetime.

Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953): The map was right but Belloc was in the wrong territory.

Chesterton’s French-born friend Hilaire Belloc tried, likewise, to stem the growing tide of popular Darwin nonsense. Reading Belloc’s penetrating insights on many such subjects in Survivals and New Arrivals is, it must be said, a depressing experience. Belloc got so much right— and so much wrong. He hoped for a revival of the Catholic Church in Europe, against the current of the times. He, like Chesterton, thought Darwinism would die—“dead as a doornail”—for lack of confirming evidence, evidence we still await, to be sure – but it doesn’t matter.

Darwinism didn’t die, and it couldn’t, because it does not actually require evidence, any more than astrology does.

Darwinism didn’t die, and it couldn’t, because it does not actually require evidence, any more than astrology does. Consider New York mayor Michael Bloomberg recently lauding the Ida fossil (supposedly the famed “missing link”), only months before it was retracted by science journals. The principal question is why Mr. Bloomberg—whose chain of office presumably suggests radically different responsibilities—thought he should even address the Ida fossil at all. He did so because Darwinism has become integral to our popular and elite culture. It shapes priorities, concerns, and values for growing numbers of people.

Like Chesterton, Belloc grossly underestimated the power of publicly funded beliefs hatched by tenured professors at universities, fronted in Sunday paper features and documentaries, and litigated by pressure groups. The thesis can tell us how anything from ample bosoms to gay lifestyles is somehow selected by Darwinian means. Lack of evidence is no barrier to belief.

St. George Jackson Mivart (1827–1900): Playing the middle against both ends got him excommunicated.

Mivart enthusiastically supported natural selection as a factor in evolution. But he thought that evolution involved many other factors as well, and that species vary only within a certain space, not randomly or indefinitely, as Darwin proposed. Put another way: nothing will cause your house cat’s progeny to become, within the lifetime of Earth, a catfish, nor the catfish’s progeny a cat. At a certain point, the door usually just closes on radical further variations. If we consider life since the Cambrian explosion, Mivart’s view is actually closer to the observed history than Darwin’s. But Mivart’s view was much less popular, because it placed limits on natural selection as a design-free explanatory principle.

If we consider life since the Cambrian explosion, Mivart’s view is actually closer to the observed history than Darwin’s.

Those limits had major social implications, of course. They meant that eugenics might not produce a better human, survival of the fittest was not a suitable social principle, and an image of merely glorified apes is not the best way to understand human beings.

All this got him dumped from Darwin’s circle pretty quick, but now, how did he get excommunicated?

The 1892 articles that landed Mivart in serious trouble with the Church argued in the highbrow Victorian periodical, Nineteenth Century,” for “Happiness in Hell.” He asserted that the traditional doctrine of hell caused loss of faith, and argued instead for

“evolution in hell and that the existence of the damned is one of progress and gradual amelioration—though never, of course, to the extent of raising the lost to supernatural beatitude, for the tenants of hell are its tenants eternally. ” Well, that is hardly Dante’s (“abandon hope, all ye who enter here”) Inferno.

Anyway, things went from bad to worse and he was excommunicated after an 1899 broadside of articles against the Church. He died shortly afterward.

… it is perhaps best to see Mivart as an early theistic evolutionist who rejected the overreaching of Darwinian explanation. He wanted the Church to accept a Darwinism of the body but not of the soul. He probably never considered that the battle could not possibly stop there—because Darwinists never intended it to. It was the soul they were after. So in the end, his interpretation was accepted neither by the materialist Darwinists nor by the Catholic Church.

But Mivart’s friends bailed him out (literally) post-mortem. They provided evidence that he was of unsound mind due to his final illness (diabetes) at the time he wrote the articles considered most objectionable. This evidence was accepted, and he was formally re-buried as a Catholic in 1904.

These Catholic intellectuals were all bucking a cultural tidal wave that, for over a century, has successfully reimagined the human being as just another animal.

Today, any mediocrity can be a Darwinist. In fact, any yay-hoo can be a Darwinist, as my mailbox attests.

The Darwinist message, as we have seen, was too welcome to modern life to require evidence, and contrary evidence is a form of blasphemy.

The intelligent design community and its sympathizers are their legitimate heirs today, as you will see if you read more on their work. However, a final note: The Vatican must be cautious extending much support in the current environment. Why? Basically, because they expect you to lose. They expect that:

– One hundred years from now, Catholic Darwinists will still have tenure, ID-friendly profs will still be persecuted, and there will still be no real evidence for massive changes in life forms based on Darwinism.

– Darwinism will continue to underpin the fabric of post-modern life, and explain why “evolution” determines whether you cheat on your spouse or don’t and why someone doubts a highly politicized science nostrum like second-hand smoke. Under Darwinism’s rule, that  latter point will always be explained in terms of a brain function or glitch or genes or what supposedly helped cave ancestors survive. Real life explanations like: “I think claims about danger from second hand smoke are just a ploy to get kids away from smokes, and collect more fines from adults.” are not on the radar because Darwinism denies the reality of the mind.

You see,the fatal words are “I think.”

In conclusion, I think your main risk is being overwhelmed and drowned out rather than confuted.

One can believe and propagate anything at all if a Darwinian explanation can somehow be constructed. You support it all, including persecution of dissenters, through your taxes.

In conclusion, I think your main risk is being overwhelmed and drowned out rather than confuted. Darwinism is now a sea of nonsense and contradiction, and fighting the sea is not a day’s work. For the ID community, as for the Dutch, it is a long-term strategy.

The Catholic Church has no problem with evolutionary theory, only to theological extrapolations that are not based on empirical evidence -- that God, his divine plan, and the human soul do not exist.
My predecessors Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II noted that there is no opposition between faith’s understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences. Philosophy in its early stages had proposed images to explain the origin of the cosmos on the basis of one or more elements of the material world. This genesis was not seen as a creation, but rather a mutation or transformation; it involved a somewhat horizontal interpretation of the origin of the world. A decisive advance in understanding the origin of the cosmos was the consideration of being qua being and the concern of metaphysics with the most basic question of the first or transcendent origin of participated being. In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being. It must be created, in other words, by the first Being who is such by essence. ...The distinction between a simple living being and a spiritual being that is capax Dei, points to the existence of the intellective soul of a free transcendent subject. Thus the Magisterium of the Church has constantly affirmed that “every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not ‘produced’ by the parents – and also that it is immortal” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 366). This points to the distinctiveness of anthropology, and invites exploration of it by modern thought. Address to members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences Pope Benedict XVI, October 31, 2008
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 favor 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. Meeting of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, July 24, 2007
In modern times the theory of evolution has raised a special difficulty against the revealed doctrine about the creation of man as a being composed of soul and body. With their own methods, many natural scientists study the problem of the origin of human life on earth. Some maintain, contrary to other colleagues of theirs, not only the existence of a link between man and the ensemble of nature, but also his derivation from the higher animal species. This problem has occupied scientists since the last century and involves vast layers of public opinion. The reply of the Magisterium was offered in the encyclical Humani Generis of Pius XII in 1950. In it we read: "The magisterium of the Church is not opposed to the theory of evolution being the object of investigation and discussion among experts. Here the theory of evolution is understood as an investigation of the origin of the human body from pre-existing living matter, for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold firmly that souls are created immediately by God..." (DS 3896). It can therefore be said that, from the viewpoint of the doctrine of the faith, there are no difficulties in explaining the origin of man in regard to the body, by means of the theory of evolution. But it must be added that this hypothesis proposes only a probability, not a scientific certainty. However, the doctrine of faith invariably affirms that man's spiritual soul is created directly by God. According to the hypothesis mentioned, it is possible that the human body, following the order impressed by the Creator on the energies of life, could have been gradually prepared in the forms of antecedent living beings. However, the human soul, on which man's humanity definitively depends, cannot emerge from matter, since the soul is of a spiritual nature. Man Is a Spiritual and Corporeal Being Pope John Paul II, April 16, 1986
Darwinism is now a sea of nonsense and contradiction, and fighting the sea is not a day’s work. For the ID community, as for the Dutch, it is a long-term strategy.
When an old idea is swept aside, it often apparently happens quite suddenly. For years or even many decades, the new idea is gathering force beneath the surface, but it appears that the old is as strong and impregnable as ever. Then suddenly, without warning, it seems to vanish overnight, replaced by the new. I predict this is what will happen with the neo-Darwinian synthesis. We will wake up one morning, five or ten or twenty years from now, and realize that no one except a few aging die-hards believe it any more. Instead, it will be obvious to all that life was in fact designed, and the realization will invigorate a new birth of spirituality on the planet. I also predict that the form that this spirituality takes will not be that of traditional religion, but will be reinvigorated in favor of "new" spiritual ideas, such as the Oneness of all Life, belief in a non-judgmental and unconditionally loving God, and an affirmation of the basic loving, wise, and joyful nature of all human beings. There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come. Bruce David
Nice quote-mining JP talked about "theories of evolution". As for the alleged Catholics who accept darwinism well they have to explain why they are following the Bible when it is obvioulsy wrong and they also have to explain exactly what their "god" did because it is obvious there isn't any difference between their "god" and no "god" at all. Joe
Denyse, for some reason you seem to think that evolutionary psychology or genetic determinism is the same thing as evolutionary theory. It isn't. We do know that genes are factor in behaviour and cognition, but we also know that they are far from the only factor, the most important factor being your own history of behaving and thinking. This is simply not in dispute. I just don't know why you keep suggesting that "Darwinists" think that our behaviour is a simple result of genetic programming. We know that it most is certainly not. There is also good statistical evidence that smoking is an important causal factor in a number of diseases, and that second-hand smoke, although presenting a much lower risk, nonetheless carries a significant odds ratio. What was your point? Elizabeth Liddle
DrREC, I'd like to see where JPII said evolution was an efficiently proven fact. That phrase comes from SJ Gould's book "Rock of Ages." You ended your quote from JPII too soon. As a careful philosopher, he then defined his terms. He went on to say: What is the significance of such a theory? To address this question is to enter the field of epistemology. A theory is a metascientific elaboration, distinct from the results of observation but consistent with them. By means of it a series of independent data and facts can be related and interpreted in a unified explanation. A theory's validity depends on whether or not it can be verified; it is constantly tested against the facts; wherever it can no longer explain the latter, it shows its limitations and unsuitability. It must then be rethought." As a theory, evolution is subject to verification. When it no longer fits the facts, it must be rethought. That is where we are now. caleb
When I went to Catholic School (K-12), evolution was taught. Pius XII: "The Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experiences in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. ' Humani Generis John Paul II called evolution an "efficiently proven fact." And.. "Today, almost half a century after publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a/one hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory." So is the answer to the title of the post "What Catholics didn’t like about Darwin – and still don’t" So do, some don't? Not a matter of doctrine? DrREC
So, what, in your view, is the part of the catechism relevant to evolutionary theory? Elizabeth Liddle
You are not contradicting anything I said. Science findings are not articles of faith. You are not required to accept science. But if you are a student in a Catholic school you are required to learn what is taught, and the curriculum will certainly be approved by the Vatican. All the Catholics I know were taught evolution. I went to a private high school in the 60s, and the word evolution does not appear in my high school biology textbook. Nor the word Darwin. Nor the concept of evolution. Petrushka
Petrushka, popes' opinions are not the teaching of the Church, but the Catechism is. Hence, the question: What does the Catechism say? If nothing, then nothing is required by way of assent to the teaching of the Church. News
I was just pondering recent writings by the Pope and recent writings published by the Vatican. I haven't studied this in detail, but it is my understanding that the only article of faith at issue is the ensoulment of humans. Not the history of life or the fact of evolution. Petrushka
That all depends on what you mean by "evolution". It also depends on what you eman by "scientific findings". Joe
Did I mention catechism? Scientific findings are not articles of faaith. What I am referring to is whether church leader, including the Pope, have addressed the issue of evolution. Whether they have condemned it or whether they have supported the findings and declared them compatible with faith. Petrushka
"Catholic Darwinists"-> now there is an oxymoron for ya! Joe
To which explicit teaching in the Catechism are you referring? News
Since you are discussing Catholics, wouldn't the teaching of the Church override the writings of laymen? Petrushka

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