Books on Evolution

The following article by Dr. Bonnette appeared on p. 9 of the 13 January 2005 edition of The Wanderer, a national Catholic newspaper. Reprinted with permission. The Wanderer phone: (651) 224-5733.

BOOKS ON EVOLUTION

By Dennis Bonnette, Ph.D.

Many Christians give little thought to speculative problems posed when one tries to fit contemporary evolutionary theory with the Genesis narrative about Adam and Eve. Others exhibit reactions ranging from mild puzzlement to raging skepticism. Many lose their faith entirely, while others outside the Christian fold refuse even to investigate a belief system they view as based on a fanciful fairy tale. Even professors of religious studies in allegedly Catholic colleges today tell students that the Genesis story is pure mythology. After all, how can a modern educated person take seriously this colorful depiction of two first parents miraculously created in the fabled Garden of Eden just six thousand years ago, when science tells us that we, Homo sapiens, originated through gradual evolution over millions of years from hairy primitive primates'

Concern over a clash of science with faith here arises because without a credible Genesis story Christianity becomes an oxymoron. Central to that narrative is the mystery of Original Sin. If Adam and Eve did not exist as historically actual human beings who sinned, thereby communicating their fallen human nature to all their descendants, what need would there be for redemption or a Redeemer? The entire theological realm is at stake in Adam and Eve.

In the broader social order, the last century and a half has witnessed militant atheism widely replace belief in God as Creator of man and nature. From this metaphysical revolution followed the historic tragedies of Communism, Fascism, and Nazism as well as a pernicious secular humanism which pervades and devastates Western liberal democracies today. These disastrous societal experiments, in turn, were inspired by Darwinist evolutionary claims that man is merely a highly developed animal, the end product of a purely naturalistic evolutionary process.

Thus two central questions confront the 21st century educated person: (1) Does continued religious belief in man’s special creation and afterlife make any sense if we are but highly evolved animals? (2) How can we take seriously social claims about the rights, dignity, freedom, and responsibility of each individual human person if mankind is simply one among large numbers of other animal species that evolved on Earth? These taunts arise from Darwinism’s logical undercutting of man’s special place in the world and from its implicit ridicule of the Genesis account of human origins.

Hundreds of books today deal with human origins and evolutionary theory, presenting diverse perspectives on how science in this area relates to Scripture. The classical Darwinist or neo-Darwinist position is exemplified in works such as Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker, which epitomizes the naturalistic case: Nature is simply a given, with no God to create it or direct its progress. Evolution is a completely blind, purely materialistic mechanism fully capable by itself of accounting for the emergence of Homo sapiens. Among the nearly endless list of prominent recent Neo-Darwinists would be Daniel C. Dennett, John Maynard Smith, Stephen J. Gould, and Carl Sagan. This blatantly atheistic naturalism disdains both Genesis and its Author. Still, metaphysical science, outstandingly represented in the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, refutes naturalism by demonstrating rationally that God exists and creates, sustains, and can directly intervene in, the natural order.

The Intelligent Design movement challenges classical Darwinist naturalism, while accepting conventional scientific explanations and an old-Earth chronology, but insisting that some intelligent agency must be behind all cosmic processes. ID theory is exemplified in works such as Michael J. Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box, which argues that careful analysis of the Lilliputian world of the cell reveals irreducible complexities manifesting deliberate design, not blind evolution. Other ID theorists, such as Michael Denton, William Dembski, and Phillip Johnson, attack Darwinist macro-evolutionary claims by insisting that some intelligence must underlie a cosmic complexity defying lesser explanations. Metaphysicians know well that an Intelligent Governor created and sustains the cosmos, as St. Thomas Aquinas demonstrates in his fifth way. What ID theorists attempt to show is that even natural science can discern unmistakable evidence of intelligent causal agency underlying the natural world. Still, ID theory’s inherent philosophical limitation from theism’s perspective is its lack of assurance that any designer or designers is actually the God of tradition and not some lesser, secondary agent(s). Unaided natural science inherently fails to draw the properly metaphysical conclusion.

Theistic evolution affirms God’s existence and postulates only His direction and sustenance of an overall evolutionary process, except for direct creation of human spiritual souls (and individual miraculous events entailed in historical revelation). It embraces conventional natural science and supports an old-Earth chronology, suggesting that Earth is some 4.6 billion years old and that the human body developed over millions of years before God infused the first spiritual soul. Theistic evolution maximizes creatures’ secondary causality by supposing that all scientifically problematic transitions, such as from non-life to life or the sudden appearance of major phyla, are overcome without direct divine intervention. Progressive creationism distinguishes itself from theistic evolution by maintaining that several acts of fiat creation mark Earth’s history. Progressive creationism remains open to such divine intervention, postulating that life’s history should reflect such discontinuities. Assuming such discontinuities as life’s first appearance or the Cambrian “explosion” must be overcome without direct divine intervention appears tantamount to embracing Darwinism’s naturalistic fallacy, which presumes that every scientifically problematic emergence must be explained by purely natural means, since there is no God to intervene. On the contrary, if God exists as theistic evolution concedes, His power can readily suffice to explain what science cannot. Still, new data might favor theistic evolution by offering adequate natural explanations for these presently inexplicable discontinuities.

Finally, creation science claims that sound natural science sustains belief that the universe is but some 6,000 to 10,000 years old and that God directly created the first true human beings, our first parents, Adam and Eve, some 6,000 years ago just as the popularized literal reading of Genesis appears to affirm. Gerard Keane’s Creation Rediscovered exemplifies such creation science. Seeking to defend what they perceive as Scriptural orthodoxy, many fundamentalist Christians and even a number of Catholics embrace this viewpoint. While most conventional scientists firmly reject their findings, creation scientists remain convinced that true science supports their very literal reading of Scripture.

Today hundreds of books deal with evolutionary theory and human origins. The vast majority fall into one of two categories: (1) those that offer conventional natural science, but embrace either atheistic naturalism (Darwinism) or a form of theistic evolution that sacrifices essential tenets of Christian theology, especially the historical reality of Adam and Eve and of Original Sin, or (2) those that defend Christian beliefs about Genesis, but endorse a young-Earth creationism whose scientific credentials are often disputed. Relatively few books, such as Fr. William Kramer’s excellent Evolution & Creation, accept conventional science and an old-Earth chronology while attempting to explain how all this conforms to an authentic reading of Genesis.

Sophisticated scientific arguments may exceed the competency even of well-educated laymen. Still, as Catholics, we are bound to hold certain truths touching on the content of Genesis. The 1909 Biblical Commission affirms these facts to include

“…the creation of all things which was accomplished by God at the beginning of time, the special creation of man, the formation of the first woman from man, the unity of the human race, the original happiness of our first parents in a state of justice, integrity, and immortality, the divine command laid upon man to prove his obedience, the transgression of that divine command at the instigation of the devil under the form of a serpent, the fall of our first parents from their primitive state of innocence, and the promise of a future Redeemer.” (Acta apostolis sedis, 1 (1909), pp. 567-569, as translated in Rome and the Study of Scripture, 7th edition (St. Meinrad, Ind.: Abbey Press Publishing Division, 1964), p. 123.)

Looking at these many conflicting works about evolution theory and its impact upon theological truth, I researched how philosophical analysis might illuminate this highly complex, radically interdisciplinary scientific theory. My book, Origin of the Human Species, was the final product of that enquiry.

Origin of the Human Species is not a book of natural science, but a philosophical work about the nature of the ongoing debate, which seeks to determine what conclusions might be drawn that would stand the test of time and likewise demonstrate the eternal harmony of faith and reason, science and revelation. Contrary to the expectations of both Darwinists and fundamentalist creationists, I found that, whether one accepts the conventional human evolution theory or not, a sound case could still be made for the historical reality of Adam and Eve as our first parents. While not assuming the conventional theory’s truth, my work seeks to explain in greater detail than previously attempted by others precisely how that theory can be reconciled with Genesis. This includes addressing each of the relevant facts affirmed by the 1909 Biblical Commission. Some will no doubt question the authentic Catholicity of a book which claims that evolution theory need not conflict with Catholic teaching. Still, the late, highly respected Jesuit theologian, Fr. John A. Hardon, wrote of my book, Origin of the Human Species, that it is “… a clear explanation of what every Christian believes – that humanity began with Adam and Eve, created by God as the parents of the human race.”

Origin of the Human Species departs from naturalistic evolutionism by showing that (1) God exists, (2) He continuously conserves all finite beings in existence, (3) human beings possess spiritual and immortal intellective souls, and (4) God immediately and directly creates each human soul. Naturalism presupposes there is no God to create, conserve, or providentially direct any evolutionary process. As every good Thomistic philosopher knows, God must be present (1) to sustain the very existence of the natural order at every instant, (2) to sustain the existence and nature of any possible evolutionary process, and (3) to create directly the first and every subsequent individual human spiritual soul. In these ways alone, sound philosophy strips from evolutionary atheism its strident claim that nature alone is all that is needed to explain the emergence of man.

Origin of the Human Species includes extensive analysis of contemporary ape-language studies, showing that claims of lower primate linguistic competence prove no danger to essential human superiority. The vast majority of animal psychologists and paleoanthropologists bring to their research evolutionary and materialistic presuppositions. For them to discern, much less expect, the real qualitative chasm between lower animals and true man is virtually impossible. For this reason, proper philosophical analysis of animal “intelligence” claims and demonstration of the essential, spiritual superiority of true man become critically important to a proper understanding of how evolutionary claims might fit with authentic theology. OHS offers such analysis and demonstration – a feature missing from most other works on evolution written by those whose expertise lies primarily in natural science. Moreover, establishing clearly the philosophical criteria for discerning true human activity is essential in determining which proposed hominid populations might exhibit authentic human nature.

Origin of the Human Species explores the epistemological limitations of natural science. Scientific claims frequently exceed their legitimate authority – so as to create conflicts with revelation where none exist. OHS removes the issue of human origins as an impediment to Catholic apologetics. It makes clear that natural science poses no legitimate threat either to the historicity of our first parents, Adam and Eve, or to human spiritual superiority over every other species on the planet. Once this is accomplished, revelation’s claims can then be tested by the much more recent evidence of the Christian era. When the science of apologetics employs that evidence to defend the rationality of belief in the truth of the Catholic Church and the fullness of her teaching, the historical reality of Adam and Eve becomes a fully credible element of that teaching. While the Catechism of the Catholic Church (390) affirms that Genesis 3 “uses figurative language,” it also “affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.”

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Sapientia Press of Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida now publishes Origin of the Human Species (second edition: 2003) with a new foreword by Dr. Michael J. Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box. $16.95 plus $5 shipping.

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(At the end of 2003, Dr. Dennis Bonnette retired as Full Professor of Philosophy at Niagara University in Lewiston, New York, where he was also Chairman of the Philosophy Department from 1992 to 2002. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 1970, and taught philosophy at the college level for more than 40 years. He has written a number of scholarly articles as well as two books, Aquinas' Proofs for God’s Existence and Origin of the Human Species.)

© Copyright 2017 Dennis Bonnette, PhD