the truth on a theory

Thank you for your insightful and thought-provoking remarks concerning statements I made in my recent bulletin article.[1] I always welcome comments as it proves that what I have written has been read more than just superficially. When any reader takes issue with even a small part of what I have written it always speaks to my heart, informing me that the reader has given serious weight to the message I had intended to convey.  Whether there is complete agreement or disagreement or simply some concern or question, the mere receipt of a response speaks volumes and I thank you for taking the time and effort to communicate your thoughts. Consequently and without a doubt it forces both serious introspection and retrospection on my part to adequately respond.

The following is the email I received concerning a previous article/post.

Deacon Chuck,

I enjoy reading your weekly message in the Parish Bulletin and I appreciate your service. I practice the Catholic faith because of the opportunity to grow spiritually as well as philosophically. Your column helps me do this. It is for this reason that I must take issue with your assertion that evolution is a highly speculative theory.  It is quite the opposite. It is highly supported by actual scientific and physical evidence.  Some theories are good and some lack evidence.  The theory of evolution has mountains of reliable, valid evidence to support it.

It is very frustrating as a current and future Catholic to see my religion reduced to a set of rules.  The word catholic means universal. it does not mean dogmatic.  Our Faith has quite a history of scientific and philosophical thinkers who would not have viewed Darwin’s theory as you do.  From St. Albert and Gregor Mendal to St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine  Like you, they embraced the physical world as evidence that God exists.  It is highly doubtful though that they would have said God could not have created the universe and everything in it through the evolutionary process. In fact, human conciousness, human rationality, and morality are actual physical evidence that our brain has evolved in a highly developed manner. The desire to reproduce comes from a very primitive part of our conciousness.  That  is a pretty compelling arguement against your theory and in support of Darwins.  A CATSCAN can show you exactly where and how in the brain we  make those choices that separate us from other living creatures.

Those philosophers  would never have said that God is a man in a white suit who snaps his fingers to get things done.  They would have probably said that God is Love and everything that is uncreated by man.  That is one more thing that separates our religion from others in the so called christian faith.  As a Catholic it is my responsibility to include scientific, factual evidence as part of my spiritual self.  As a representative of our faith you share that responsibility.  If you are going to argue with Darwin’s evidence you might as well argue with Einstein and Newton while you are a it.  Arguements such as yours reduce a faith with great potential to something that looks rather foolish to critical thinkers.  I greatly want to spread my faith because I believe it is a beacon of hope  and a road to give everyone access to the words, thoughts and deeds of the holy trinity  It is my responsibiity to include reliable, valid scientific evidence as part of  my expression of faith.  I think St. Albert himself would agree with me.  Thanks for letting me share my thoughts. And continue to share our faith through your column.  You are a good writer.

A parishioner

 

As to the primary objection which you raised over my statement that “evolution remains a highly speculative theory with no empirical evidence or proof of its own validity” I will stand by my “assertion” as to the truth of it. First and foremost is the fact that Darwin’s theory has been and remains a theory, a type of abstract or generalizing thinking intended to provide a framework upon which hypotheses can be tested to prove or disprove such a theory. Evolution remains an unproven and speculative theory because it has yet to be proven. Although it is a theory which has yet been empirically proven as fact, it is a reasonable theory as to how such diversity of life may have been propagated. And despite popular myth it is not at all at odds with Catholic Christian doctrine or beliefs.

Darwin's Evolution Tree

Darwin’s Evolution Tree

To date, not one shred of direct observable evidence has been found to prove the evolutionary transformation of one species into another. Hypotheses abound but the smoking gun of positive observed proof remains hidden from our eyes. That is not to say that the theory has been disproven but simply that it remains a theory, a speculative set of hypotheses that should be given considered thought and inspection. You state that “The theory of evolution has mountains of reliable, valid evidence to support it” and I would agree that the preponderant evidence weighs heavily in its favor but a mountain of evidence does not make it any less a theory. Theories can and often do change upon the presentation of new evidence, that is why they are called theories.

Certainly I could have taken a slightly different approach by being more specific in stating that those who argue against the existence of and necessity for God are often “metaphysical Darwinists” but then I would have been unable to succinctly make my point (remember I am limited to just so much space.) To do so would have required me to distinguish and explain the differences between the empirical and metaphysical aspects of evolution. I am more than happy to do so here but I will confess to some degree of laziness on my part by extensively quoting from a book that I highly recommend:

The great strength of evolution as a scientific theory is that it makes sense of two huge facts about life. On the one hand, all living things from trees to cats to humans are formed from the same genetic material. Beyond this, it is evident that many groups of organisms show similar characteristics. So there is a unity to life. At the same time, living creatures exhibit incredible diversity. There are literally millions of living species with widely varying characteristics. Evolution accounts for both the similarities and the differences.It accounts for common characteristics by positing that the creatures possessing them descended from the same ancestor. It explains differences by suggesting that creatures evolved new traits over a long period of time under the pressures of survival.One of the strongest proofs for evolution is that the geological record, for all its imperfections, shows a single invariant trajectory. The oldest rocks contain only single-celled creatures. Later strata show the appearance of invertebrates. Then we see the first fishes, then amphibians, then reptiles, and finally mammals. Man appears latest on the scene. The fossils are found in exactly the places and at exactly the times that we would expect if Darwin’s theory is correct. Not a single fossil has ever been found in a place where it is not supposed to show up. If we ever discover the fossil of a single reptile in a rock so old that fishes had not arrived, or if we find human skeletons at the time when dinosaurs also lived, then Darwin’s theory will be proven false and biologists will have to come up with a new one.

…It is impossible to deny the theory’s explanatory power.

Still, evolution remains a theory with clear limits. When Dawkins subtitles one of his books “How the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design” he show no awareness of these limits. When Dennett invokes evolution as an all-purpose explanation in cosmology, psychology, culture, ethics, politics, and religion, he too goes way beyond the evidence. Here we must distinguish between the empirical and metaphysical aspects of evolution. Dawkins and Dennett are metaphysical Darwinists. Biologist Stephen Jay Gould once termed them “Darwinian fundamentalists.” He faulted them…for using a powerful but quite circumscribed theory to account for phenomena that falls entirely outside its biological reach. Consider three massive features of life that evolution cannot account for.

Evolution cannot explain the beginning of life. Darwin didn’t even try. He assumed the first living thing, and then he tried to show how one living thing could be transformed into another….

Nor can evolution explain consciousness, which illuminates the whole world for us. We know as human beings that we are conscious. … It does seem incredible that atoms of hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and so on can somehow produce our capacity to perceive and experience the world around us. So what is the evolutionary explanation for consciousness? What adaptive benefits did it confer? How did unconscious life transform itself into conscious life? Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker admits there is no explanation. In How the Mind Works, he writes, “Virtually nothing is known about the functioning microcircuitry  of the brain…. The existence of subjective first-person experience is not explainable by science.” So baffling is the problem that Daniel Dennett has “solved” it by declaring consciousness to be a cognitive illusion.

Finally, evolution cannot explain human rationality or morality. This was a point first made by Alfred Russel Wallace, who proposed simultaneously with Darwin a theory of evolution by natural selection. Here I don’t want to be misunderstood. Evolution can account for how brain size got larger and conferred survival benefits on creatures with larger brains. But rationality is something more than this. Rationality is the power to perceive something as true. We can include in rationality the unique human capacity for language, which is the ability to formulate and articulate ideas that comprehend the world around us. People in the most primitive cultures developed language as a means of rationality, while cats cannot utter a single sentence. Evolution provides an explanation for how creatures develop traits that are useful to their survival. As Steven Pinker puts it, “Our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth.” So where did we humans get this other capacity to figure out not only what helps our genes to make it into the next generation, but also to understand what is going on in the world?  To put it another way, what is the survival value of truth itself? Philosopher Michael Ruse, a noted Darwinist, confesses that “no one, certainly not the Darwinian as such, seems to have any answer to this.”

Humans have not only a rational but also a moral capacity. In his Descent of Man, Darwin admitted that “of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense or conscience is the most important. Morality speaks to us in a different voice: not what we do but what we ought to do. Frequently morality presses on us to act against our evident self-interest. It urges us not to tell lies even when they benefit us and to help people even when they are strangers to us. …

Do you see now why the arrogance of Darwinists like Dennett and Dawkins is entirely misplaced? These fellows seem to think they are armed with some master theory that provides a full explanation for the universe, and our place in it. Yet their cherished evolutionary theory cannot account for the origin of life, the origin of consciousness, or the origin of human rationality and morality….Evolution seems right as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far.[2]

While I respect your comments and the serious thought you have obviously put into them, I would suggest that you might exercise some caution and care in (as they say in courtroom dramas) “assuming facts not in evidence.”

Nowhere in my article do I write, imply, or infer in any way that Darwin’s theory (to be perfectly clear I am speaking of the empirical as opposed to the metaphysical) is wrong, invalid, or antithetical to the teachings of the Catholic Church for to do so would be an error of monumental proportions on my part. Neither do I admit to any personal animus or disbelief in its claims for I firmly believe it to be a reasonable yet unproven, speculative theory and will remain open to its possibilities until such time as it should be proven otherwise.

You may be correct in assuming that saints Albert Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and Augustine would support such a theory but then that is an assumption on your part (unless you are in possession of a time machine) and it could equally be assumed that they might not have supported it. We will never know, certainly not in our lifetime. No doubt they would agree as most Christian theologians that evolution could very well be an approach God chose in order to create and fill the earth with all living things (please note that only living things are subject to Darwin’s theory, which offers no hypotheses as to the existence of time itself and to the universe writ large.)

As to your contention that “human consciousness, human rationality and morality are actual physical evidence that our brain has evolved in a highly developed manner” I would simply ask you to reconsider or restate your conclusion. Consciousness, rationality, and morality are not physical manifestations as are arms, legs, eyes, and ears, therefore these insubstantial qualities of being cannot and do not prove any aspect of the theory of evolution.

Medical science has certainly advanced to the point where we can scan and observe different patterns and maps of the brain as it functions and studies have been conducted to perform comparative analysis between humans and other living creatures but as D’Souza points out, the theory of evolution cannot explain the origins of human consciousness, rationality, and morality, and to that I must wholeheartedly agree.

You lay claim that as a Catholic it is your responsibility to include scientific, factual evidence as part of your spiritual self and in that we are in complete agreement. We all share in that responsibility but we also have a duty and the responsibility to the truth. Theory is not proven scientific fact, it is not the truth; it merely offers a possible path to the truth; it is an assumption based on facts in evidence. As long as a theory does not deny or obfuscate the truth, as long as a theory is not misused beyond its inherent limitations or promoted as proven fact then it is perfectly acceptable to use its hypotheses for postulating possibilities. Until it is proven by the weight of empirical evidence to be no longer a theory but an established proven fact it must remain a theory and accepted as just and only that.

I hold no argument with any evidence validly and verifiably obtained by Darwin, Einstein, Newton or any other scientist or critical thinker. I hope you might now see that. I find your energy and enthusiasm for our faith and our God exciting and thrilling – I wish more people of faith would have such a desire to do so.

I will leave you with the words – I believe they should be the mantra for all scientific endeavors – found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.[3] I believe these words of our Lord and Savior are good words by which to live our faith and it is the living of it rather than any proselytizing that most faithfully spreads the Good News. As an author and someone who is regularly asked to preach on the Word of God, I am constantly reminded of a saying, often attributed to that marvelous Deacon of the Church, Saint Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel always and if necessary, use words.”

My mother was a journalist of some renown and for years I carried a dog-eared column she once wrote in my wallet. I carried it because it was an article about her first-born son (that would be me) and because it contained over a dozen “assumed” facts found in error. I carried it as a stark reminder that when you write you must never rely on assumptions, neither should you make them. I am occasionally guilty as much as anyone else in forgetting that rule and it never fails to come back to haunt me.

May the blessings of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit descend upon you and grant you the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord so that you may remain in his love forever and ever.

 


 

[1] Deacon Chuck Lanham, #182, The Epistemology Of Nothing: without purpose, without hope, St. Albert the Great Catholic Community Bulletin, May 31, 2015.
[2] Diness D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity, Regnery Publishing, Inc. 2007.
[3] Mt 7:7, Lk 11:9.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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