Book Review - The Wanderer

This review of the third edition of Origin of the Human Species appeared on p. 8B of the 9 October 2014 edition of The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly newspaper. Reprinted with permission.

Defending Divine Revelation Against Atheistic Evolution

By JAMES LIKOUDIS

Origin of the Human Species: Expanded Third Edition by Dennis Bonnette, Ph.D., Ave Maria, FL: Sapientia Press, 2014. Peter A. Redpath, Ph.D., editor. 266 pages; ISBN 13: 978-1-932589-68-9; $29.95.

I strongly recommend this new expanded third edition of Origin of the Human Species to anyone seeking a truly comprehensive understanding of the central issues involved in evolutionary theory as it impacts what Catholics believe about human origins. It belongs in every college and personal library as a standard reference work on this complex subject.  More specifically, Dr. Dennis Bonnette offers what is probably the most detailed and current explanation of how the Church doctrine of theological monogenism can be scientifically credible – an explanation that is rendered even more clear and convincing in the book’s first appendix, aptly entitled, “The Myth of the ‘Myth’ of Adam and Eve.”

Unfortunately, so-called “new atheists,” such as Daniel Dennett, Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, and the late Carl Sagan, have engaged in virulent attacks on God and Christianity, especially Catholicism, claiming that the success of neo-Darwinian evolution proves that science excludes any room for a Creator, much less the Christian God.

Many Christians, including Catholics, have sought to defend their religious beliefs by finding refuge in various forms of scientific creationism, especially young earth creationism (YEC). In Protestant circles, this perspective is prominently expressed by the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), while Catholics have their own YEC organization, the Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation. Some Catholic YEC groups claim that Catholic doctrine requires a strictly literal reading of the first three chapters of Genesis. Still, evolutionary theory remains the current cultural dogma, permeating our educational systems and media. Most leading natural scientists today, especially biologists and paleoanthropologists, embrace Darwinism – precisely understood as excluding any divine intervention in life’s origin and development.

Small wonder the appeal of young earth creationism to those who value their religious faith! And yet, the very dominance of Darwinism in the minds of so many persons today makes urgent the question of whether and how traditional Catholic doctrine might comport with evolutionary claims.

The Church should not be expected to endorse formally any specific scientific theory, since “scientific theories,” as such, do not belong to the Magisterium’s realm of faith and morals. Moreover, as St. Augustine says, the Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go. Still, the Magisterium will staunchly defend revealed truth whenever scientific claims challenge authentic doctrine. 

Bonnette’s book, Origin of the Human Species: Expanded Third Edition, written from the perspective of a Thomistic philosopher, addresses the central question of whether any form of evolutionary theory can comport with authentic divine revelation regarding the true origin of the human species. It offers a lucid explanation of how sound science does not necessarily oppose the traditional belief in a single mating pair of first true human beings from whom we are all descended, a literal Adam and Eve.

This book demonstrates, in far greater specificity and detail than previous attempts, exactly how this harmony of faith and reason can be accomplished. Published first in 2001, this work enters its third edition in 2014, expanded with two timely appendices designed to complement the original text.

The first half of the book deals with scientific and philosophical questions. Starting with a “fair and balanced” evaluation of the intellectual contest between Darwinian evolution and scientific creationism, the author then introduces the critical distinction between the highly-problematic biological species concept and the metaphysically-grounded concept of philosophical natural species.

In his book, The Species Problem (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1957, p. 17), evolutionist biologist Ernst Mayr admits the need to go beyond biological species concepts like “phenotypic, morphological, genetic, phylogenetic or biological” to get to the “underlying philosophical concepts” with respect to defining species. That is because there are many inherent ambiguities and discrepancies in biological definitions of species, whereas classical philosophers from Aristotle to St. Thomas and contemporary Thomists define natural species in terms of essential, not accidental, properties.  Origin of the Human Species: Expanded Third Edition makes an important contribution by clarifying this much misunderstood “species problem” – the explanation of which proves key to understanding much of the current confusion about evolutionary theory itself.

Talking Animals”

Bonnette then offers a technical analysis of the philosophical possibility of inter-specific evolution, which means testing whether natural processes alone can account for the appearance of new and higher forms of life. This speculative section is followed immediately by a fascinating and popular account of “talking animals,” as he examines the controversy over recent ape-language studies and their implications for presumed human essential superiority.

His deft defense of man’s difference in kind, not only degree, over brute animals stands as perhaps the most decisive weighing of the scientific and philosophical evidence about this question available to date.

To  buttress his conclusion that man still reigns over subhuman species, he then offers philosophical proofs for the human soul’s spiritual nature and divine origin. Shifting to another much-discussed topic, he refutes decisively the “conventional wisdom” that life, including intelligent life forms, must pervade the cosmos.

The second half of the book turns to the critical question of evolution’s impact on theology, centering on the rational credibility of belief in a single mating pair of first parents for the entire human race, Adam and Eve. Many others have suggested that, in principle, evolution can fit Catholic doctrine – but, in practice, most authors either do not examine the matter in much detail, or else, quickly abandon belief in a literal Adam and Eve (theological monogenism) in favor of the reigning evolutionary claims that mankind arose in relatively large populations, not from a single mating pair of first true humans with spiritual souls directly created by God.

The author then addresses the thorny issue of chronology: Is mankind only a few thousand years old, as many read Genesis to say, or is he possibly a hundred thousand to a million or more years old, as conventional scientific reasoning suggests? And how can we reconcile the famed patriarchical genealogies of Genesis with much longer scientific chronologies? Next is explored a very controversial alternative to Darwinian evolution, wherein he raises serious epistemic questions about conventional paleoanthropological claims in general.

A brief epilogue is followed by two added appendices in this third edition. The first appendix, “The Myth of the ‘Myth’ of Adam and Eve,” answers today’s frequent claim, most famously put forth by geneticist Francisco J. Ayala in a 1995 study in the journal, Science, that Adam and Eve are scientifically impossible -- citing alleged evidence that the population from which humans evolved was never as small as a single mating pair in the last several million years. This important essay shows that the studies on which such claims are made are not definitive and that good logic and good science must remain open to the traditional Christian belief in Adam and Eve.

The second appendix, “The Philosophical Impossibility of Darwinian Naturalistic Evolution,” addresses the question of whether Darwinian evolution, which claims that only natural forces are entailed in the production of higher species, is philosophically possible. In this fresh consideration of a topic addressed earlier in the book (chapter three), the author surprisingly reverses, at least in part, his own earlier stance by offering a technical, but powerful, philosophical proof that all changes from lower to higher natural species are completely impossible, save by special divine intervention – a new reason not to presume the existence of “E.T.’s” unless and until we actually encounter them!

Many books have been written about evolution and theology, but this one offers perhaps the most detailed attempt to answer critical questions which attend this controversial subject matter. It does so from a thoroughly philosophical perspective, steeped in the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas. While the book offers a representative sampling of scientific citations, it becomes evident soon enough that natural science alone cannot determine all the relevant issues in this rampantly interdisciplinary topic – and that the regulative role of philosophy is essential to making full sense of the interplay between scientific claims and revealed truths.

Dr. Dennis Bonnette’s Origin of the Human Species: Expanded Third Edition represents what may be the most comprehensive and illuminating philosophical evaluation of evolutionary theory and its interface with theological truth that is available in a single source today.



James Likoudis is author of three books and many articles dealing with Eastern Orthodoxy. See his website at www.jameslikoudispage.com.


© Copyright 2017 Dennis Bonnette, PhD