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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Darwinism vs. Catholicism on meaning and purpose of life

In case anyone is wondering whether Darwinism truly insists that there is no design, purpose, or creator, consider the following key thoughts by Darwinian thinkers:

The functional design of organisms and their features would seem to argue for the existence of a designer. It was Darwin’s greatest accomplishment to show that the directive organization of living beings can be explained as the result of a natural process, natural selection, without any need to resort to a Creator or other external agent. . . . Darwin’s theory encountered opposition in religious circles, not so much because he proposed the evolutionary origin of living things (which had been proposed many times before, even by Christian theologians) but because his mechanism, natural selection, excluded God as the explanation accounting for the obvious design.
Francisco Ayala, former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

The real core of Darwinism . . . is the theory of natural selection. This theory is so important for the Darwinian because it permits the explanation of adaptation, the design of the natural theologian, by natural means, instead of by divine intervention. (Mayr, E., "Foreword," in Ruse M., "Darwinism Defended: A Guide to the Evolution Controversies," [1982], Addison-Wesley: Reading MA, 1983, Third Printing, pp.xi-xii)

Ernst Mayr Ernst Mayr, evolutionary biologist

"Darwin's theory uses the same invisible hand, but formed into a fist as a battering ram to eliminate Paley's God from nature. The very features that Paley used to infer not only God's existence, but also his goodness, are, for Darwin, but spin-offs of the only real action in nature-the endless struggle among organisms for reproductive success, and the endless hecatombs of failure." (Gould S.J., "Darwin and Paley Meet the Invisible Hand," in "Eight Little Piggies: Reflections in Natural History," Jonathan Cape: London, 1993, pp.149-150)

Stephen Jay Gould, evolutionary biologist

Clearly, Darwinism means the opposite of what the Catholic Church teaches about whether or not there is any meaning or purpose in the origin and development of life. The intelligent design controversy has never been about how old the Earth is, but about whether there is detectible evidence of design in the universe and life forms.

The Darwinists may be right in what they say, but who knows? For many years, any other story than theirs has been banned from science classrooms. As the "Privileged Planet" controversy shows (see the Blog service note at the end of this page), that's not about evidence.

To his credit, one person who clearly understood the difference between the Roman Catholic Church's understanding of evolution and the typical Darwinist's is ultra-Darwinist Richard Dawkins. Here is an item I wrote last year on the subject, that may never have been published by the B.C. Catholic. So, for convenience, I am reproducing it here. You will find Dawkins's attack on John Paul II in the article below:

So the Pope supports “evolution”? — Check it out!

by Denyse O’Leary

For several years now, the Christian schools started by British car dealer Sir Peter Vardy in underprivileged parts of Britain have rankled the progressive education establishment. Sir Peter insists on a disciplined approach to learning. His students perform better than students in free-and-easy schools. Sir Peter’s sin (embarrassing the education establishment) had to be punished, but given that he was mostly popular with parents, the establishment was not sure how to punish him.

Finally, the establishment got something on Sir Peter: His schools allow students to question Darwinian evolution, the religion of Britain’s smart set.

Darwinian evolution (Darwinism) is a theory whose express purpose is to explain how the whole of life, including ourselves, can arise without any design whatsoever. As arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins puts it, “the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Dawkins is said to be Britain’s number one public intellectual, and he regularly attacks the Vardy schools.

In a Guardian article ridiculing the schools, journalist Tim Adams launched what he hoped would be a serious assault on their credibility: “Even the Pope,” he announced, “accepts Darwinian theory as truth.”

Now, if that were true, it would obviously be very bad news for the Catholic Church. But does the Pope really support Darwinian evolution?

Here’s what John Paul II actually said: In 1996, speaking to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, he acknowledged that the theory of evolution was “more than a hypothesis” and that there were significant arguments in its favour. So the media rushed to report that he supported Darwinism, the specific theory of evolution that Dawkins describes above (blind, pitiless indifference).

But in reality, John Paul II went on to note that there are materialist, reductionist, and spiritualist interpretations of evolution. The materialist interpretations were, he said,“incompatible with the truth about man” and not able to “ground the dignity of the person.”

Basically, that means he does not agree with Darwinian evolution, because the whole point of Darwinian evolution is to deny special significance to man by saying that material nature is all there is.

John Paul II has made a number of other statements that make clear that any evolutionary theory that does not understand human beings as having a spiritual nature as well as a physical nature is simply wrong.

If any further evidence were needed that the Pope is no friend of Darwin, note that Dawkins has described John Paul II’s views as “fundamentally” antievolutionary, and as “obscurantist, disingenuous doublethink.” Hardly what you’d expect if John Paul II were smoothing the path for Dawkins and other Darwinists.

The question is not whether life forms change over time or how old the Earth is. The Pope was content to leave those matters to specialists. The question is whether the processes are blind, purposeless, and unguided. That is what Darwinism teaches. It is entirely at odds with a Catholic view, which assumes that God guides the processes of life.

If you have children in a Catholic school system, you might want to find out what they are taught about evolution. Are the teachers instilling Darwinism while reassuring parents that “the Pope supports evolution”? They might be.

While researching By Design or by Chance?, an overview of the intelligent design controversy, I was struck by how much our popular culture simply accepts Darwinism in an unthinking way, even though it is under serious assault right now on factual grounds.

One Toronto teacher taught Darwinian evolution for about 24 years at a Catholic school before he read a book by Catholic biochemist Mike Behe, Darwin’s Black Box (Free Press, 1996), in which Behe explains why Darwinism just cannot be true and why intelligent design explains life better. The teacher then began to encourage his students to think critically about Darwinism. (Note: That teacher will be teaching a course at the University of Toronto on intelligent design theory in the spring of 2006. If you are interested and live within driving distance of Toronto, you may wish to consider signing up.)

Today, when so many ideas contend for a place in our lives, we must be clear what our faith is, and what it isn’t. What the Church means by evolution is not what Charles Darwin meant, and there is no such thing as Catholic Darwinism. If you are a Catholic, you can accept evolution as a process guided by God, but you cannot be a Darwinist, as many intellectuals today are.

In other words, you are not the result of an unguided process. Take heart, however crazy life seems, there is a reason for your existence and you were meant to be here.

Excerpts from what Pope John Paul II has said about evolution:

- If we analyze man in the depth of his being, we see that he differs more from the world of nature than he resembles it. Also anthropology and philosophy proceed in this direction, when they try to analyze and understand man's intelligence. freedom, conscience and spirituality. (1978)

- The evolution of living beings, of which science seeks to determine the stages and to discern the mechanism, presents an internal finality which arouses admiration. This finality which directs beings in a direction for which they are not responsible or in charge, obliges one to suppose a Mind which is its inventor, its creator. (1985)

- It is therefore clear that the truth of faith about creation is radically opposed to the theories of materialistic philosophy, which view the cosmos as the result of an evolution of matter reducible to pure chance and necessity. (1986)

- ... theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the mind as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person. (1996)

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