What do you find to be the leading historical and historiographical challenges regarding the ‘story of evolution’ among Catholic leadership and theology?
Immediately after Darwin presented his theory, the vast majority of Catholic scholars opposed Darwinian ideas. Today, those scholars who accept “some form of macroevolution” and think that this is theology’s way to go try to diminish that initial opposition. Moreover the private documents of the Church from that period remained virtually unknown until 1997 when the Archives of the Holy Office where opened to researchers.
What was learned?
We have only recently learned how explicit the initial opposition of the teaching office of the Church was to the scholars who attempted to “baptize Darwin” by claiming that God “guides” or “set up” the evolutionary process. Even those authors who exempted the human body from evolutionary origin (D. Leroy, R. Caverni) were ordered by the Congregation of the Index to withdraw their books and abandon theistic evolution.
Then, of course, around 1950, Darwin’s Catholics started playing the Church. From Chaberek:
When Darwin arrived with “The Descent of Man,” Catholic scholars did not argue whether the human body evolved or was formed from clay by immediate Divine action. The former was not even allowed as an option. Instead, theologians argued whether “sound doctrine” regarding the special creation of the human body is a solemn dogma or just an ordinary teaching (!). In theological terms a period of a few decades is a short time and such an “evolution” of Catholic teaching must surprise any scholar who sees the problem in a broader perspective. I think that the greatest challenge for the contemporary idea of “a hominid being endowed with a spiritual soul” is historical evidence – 1900 uninterrupted years of Church doctrinal teaching testifying to the special formation of the first human body.
This must have been a bit before we started celebrating the beer-and-pretzels mass, with truly awful music, whose only saving grace is the shrinking congregation.
But some Catholic scholars working ‘in’ the tradition have found peace with Darwinian evolution and their theological convictions.
In my opinion, Catholic scholars who speak about the non-contradiction between evolution and Genesis chapters 1-3 flounder in aporias and contradictions. In order to make the two compatible they need to deny the historical value of Genesis. But this is not enough, because the new interpretation of Genesis needs to be compatible also with enduring Church Tradition. So, either they need to reinterpret and invalidate the whole Tradition and a number of Church pronouncements – a step much harder than tinkering with Genesis alone – or they need to say that Genesis was wrongly understood throughout nearly the entirety of Church history, by the saints, the popes and the Holy Doctors. Each way is difficult and places theistic evolutionists on shaky ground.
How does your perspective differ from other books on the history of this debate?
Unlike the majority of the books on the topic, my goal was not to diminish the initial rejection of the Darwinian theory by the Church and then highlight its acceptance in contemporary theology, but to present the “true” history including both the initial resistance to theistic evolution and the current confusion in the Church on this issue.
The confusion might be reduced if we keep one thing in mind. The Catholic Church was one of the few organizations to consistently oppose eugenics, which was the inevitable sidecar to the spread of Darwinism. If we talk about the early opposition to Darwinism, don’t we have to talk about Darwinian eugenics? Darwinian racism? Attempts to revive Darwinian racism? Dark Enlightenment? That usually brings out total defensiveness in Darwin’s followers.
Better just to say that Thomas Aquinas would agree with Darwin about the human race’s fully natural origin, noting that God played an undefined role somehow. At least, it sure sounds like that is what they are saying.
Chaberek’s thoughts re the Thomas Aquinas chapter of the Darwin Promotion Society:
Some Thomists are honestly bothered by the fact that if Aquinas’ teachings were incompatible with biological macroevolution then either Thomas or evolution must be wrong. Because they believe in evolution and also do not want to challenge the theory reigning in science, they choose to reinterpret Aquinas’ doctrine and show how it is “compatible” or “leaves room” for Darwinian metaphysics.
Best put it like this: Aquinas better be compatible with Darwin because the Thomas Aquinas Chapter is not giving up Darwin, whatever else it gives up.
If you’re interested in history of theology, put this one on your I Wuz Nice list for Santa.
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