Why Kansas Catholics opposed the teaching of evolution
Time after time at the now famous Topeka hearings on Kansas state science standards, the so-called "science educators" would cite Pope John Paul II to support their evolutionary position. And time after time, nearly apoplectic, the Catholic representatives at the hearings would just about jump out of their chairs.
Willfully or otherwise, the science educators misconstrued the Pope's position. This disturbed the Catholics at Topeka to be sure, but it did not surprise them. What has surprised them, shocked them really, are the dismissive editorials by their fellow Catholics who understand the Pope's position only superficially and who understand the science educators' not at all.
For the record, Pope John Paul II and the U.S. Bishops have no objection to certain theories of evolution as long as they allow for God's creation of the world and the special creation of man. This is a shrewd posture on the part of the Pope as it allows for the Church to adapt to new scientific discoveries without a challenge to the faith.
Unfortunately, the Church's position does not wash with evolutionary biologists of any repute or ambition. They may avoid conflict with the Vatican by either ignoring or misquoting the Pope, but in fact, Catholic teaching is antithetical to their own, and they know it.
A little background here is in order. In 1859, Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species. This elegant and timely work made two basic claims: One is that living things experience what Darwin called "variations" or what we call "mutations"--genetic changes that occur randomly. The second is that a process he called "natural selection" preserves favorable variations and rejects harmful ones.
The best evidence Darwin could cite for this theory was the breeding of domestic animals. These obvious changes within a species--called microevolution--no one could deny then, and no one denies today, certainly not the Church, nor the much maligned Kansas Board of Education.
The question Darwin had to ask himself--the tough question--was whether this theory could account for macroevolution, the presumed bridge from one species to another and the mechanism he thought responsible for the vast diversity of life.
Darwin and his philosophical heirs answer an unequivocal "Yes." Richard Dawkins, today's most influential evolutionist, describes natural selection as "a blind, unconscious, automatic process" that is "the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life."
That's a quote. The explanation. All life. What room does that leave for, well, say, God? Not much.
"In the evolutionary pattern of thought," said Julian Huxley on the occasion of the Darwin Centennial in 1959, "there is no longer either need or room for the supernatural. The earth was not created. It evolved."
No need. No room. And Huxley's sentiment is the rule, not the exception. The renowned biologist Stephen Jay Gould praises Darwinism as "a rigidly materialistic and basically atheistic version of evolution." Darwin made it possible," boasts Richard Dawkins, "to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist."
These are their own words. As to the inescapable ramifications of Darwinism, distinguished Cornell University Professor Will Provine, evolutionary biologist and neo-Darwinian, happily cites the impossibility of either free will or life after death.
The larger philosophy is often called naturalism, nature is all that there is; or materialism, matter is all that there is. In its most extreme forms, scientific naturalism provided a rationale for the terror of Nazi eugenics and the tyranny of communism. Wrote Marx to Engels of Darwin's The Origin of Species, "This is the book which contains the basis in natural history for our view."
Pope John Paul II has preached often against materialism and specifically so in an evolutionary context. Aware of this, the Catholics at the Topeka hearings objected not only to the undeniable connection between today's science establishment and the eugenics movement, but also to the implicit materialism of the proposed science standards themselves.
For all its harsh consequences, materialism would present a real challenge to the faith only if its own particular creation myth, Darwinism, was irrefutable. But Darwinism is hardly that. There is, after all, no evidence of existing transitional species as Darwin presumed there ought to be. None. There's no hard evidence of the same in the fossil record. Most species haven't changed at all. The major animal groups did not emerge gradually as Darwin predicted, but they exploded on to the scene. Nor did they die out gradually as Darwin said they would. Those that vanished, vanished in a geological heartbeat.
It gets worse. In one of his bolder moments, Darwin said "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."
Darwin knew nothing of the electron microscope and cellular biology. His champion, Richard Dawkins, knows a lot. As Dawkins notes, the nucleus of each cell contains more information than all 30 volumes of the encyclopedia Brittanica put together, complex, specific and perfectly ordered.
Richard Dawkins imagines the cell as a Xerox machine, capable, he says, "of copying its own blueprints," but "not capable of springing spontaneously into existence." So picture Dawkins on the brink of infinity, pumping what Darwin called "secretions" from his barely evolved brain, trying desperately to figure how this this wonderfully complex machine came to be. His best guess? No joke: "sheer, unadulterated, miraculous luck." It must have slopped itself together, he surmises, from some imagined chemical soup.
Luck indeed, it's a task scientists have never been able to duplicate in the lab. Not to be outdone, Nobel laureate Frances Crick argues that these first primitive life forms might have come to earth, hang on, in a spaceship sent by a dying alien civilization.
In truth, neither Dawkins nor Crick have a clue where these first cells came from. Neither do their peers. Indeed, when biochemist Michael Behe searched the scientific journals looking for a Darwinian explanation, he found instead "an eerie and complete silence."
Said Darwin , "I would give nothing for the theory of natural selection if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent." One wonders how he would feel about utterly whimsical "additions" like spaceships or luck.
Still, America's public school teachers can present this goofiness in class as science but can not even address the rational possibility of a willful, intelligent creation of life. And the editorialists, even the Catholic ones, cheer on this kind of teaching, fearing to be cast among the anti-Darwinian few whom Dawkins calls the "ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked."
Ironically, the loud, spiteful resistance from the establishment bodes well for the future. It is a sign not of confidence but of confusion. It may even portend a genuine shift in the paradigm.
Richard Dawkins himself admits that "the beauty and elegance of biological design" gives us "the illusion of design and planning." But trapped by a lifetime of scornful pride and self-congratulation, he will abandon his weary materialism no more eagerly than the Soviets abandoned theirs.
The very Catholic (9 children) Michael Behe is not so trapped. "Over the past four decades," he writes in the ground breaking book, Darwin's Black Box, "modern biochemistry has uncovered the secrets of the cell." "The result," he adds, "is a loud, piercing cry of DESIGN." In Behe's opinion, this observation is "as momentous as the observation that the earth goes round the sun."
Try as they might, the science establishment and their friends in the media cannot suppress this kind of news forever.
[This piece originally appeared at http://www.errantskeptics.org/]
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