REVIEW PUBLISHED IN ITEST (INSTITUTE FOR THEOLOGICAL ENCOUNTER WITH SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY) BULLETIN WINTER 2003, Vol: 34, No. 1, p. 16. Reprinted with permission. Reviewer: Peter A. Pagan Aquiar, Department of Philosophy, Wheeling Jesuit University (review of first edition) Dr. Pagan is now a member of the Department of Philosophy, Aquinas College (Nashville, TN)
REVIEW OF ORIGIN OF THE HUMAN SPECIES
Origin of the Human Species. By Dennis Bonnette. Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 2001. xv + 202 pp. $38.00. (out-of-print edition) Second Edition: Sapientia Press: $16.95.
Last year PBS aired a mini-series titled Evolution. The first two-hour segment, “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea,” provides a sympathetic portrayal of the life and thought of Charles Darwin, who is often regarded (incorrectly) as the father of evolutionary theory, while the seventh and final segment, “What About God?” explores the apparent conflict between evolutionary science and the biblical doctrine of creation as understood by religious fundamentalists. Evolution was initially aired almost five years after Pope John Paul II’s 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on the question of evolution. Not a few viewed this pontifical address as a belated but inevitable recognition of the validity of Darwin’s theory.
Neither Evolution nor the preceding interpretation of the 1996 address would lead one to suspect that the question of human evolution is substantially more complicated than it appears to biblical fundamentalists or to the champions of philosophical naturalism. A careful reading of the Pope’s 1996 address reveals, among other things, that the Catholic Church’s magisterium does not endorse Darwinian evolutionary theory. Avoiding the rather common mistake of equating evolutionary theory with Darwinism broadly construed (e.g., Evolution), the Pope distinguishes between various theories of evolution and unequivocally rejects evolutionary theories based on philosophical materialism.
Given the availability of a veritable host of books and articles devoted to the history and ideas of Darwin and his followers, selecting a few essential texts in this growing field of inquiry is not a simple task. Those seeking a popular but judicious assessment of Darwin’s theory of evolution can hardly do better than to obtain George Sim Johnston’s Did Darwin Get It Right? Those interested in a more advanced philosophical treatment of evolutionary theory, especially as it touches on theological matters, will be delighted by Professor Dennis Bonnette’s Origin of the Human Species.
Employing the tools of logic, epistemology and metaphysics, Bonnette provides a systematic analysis of the delicate problem of inter-specific evolution, especially with respect to the advent of rational animals—mankind. In addition to a balanced critical summary of the debate between Darwinian evolutionists and scientific creationists, his analysis includes an illuminating examination of the different ways the term “species” is employed in scientific and philosophical discourse. One of the key strengths of this historically sensitive study is that it preserves the critical line of demarcation between empirical science and metaphysics, a line neglected too often by Darwinists and their creationist opponents. Lacking an adequate grasp of the important distinction between material being and being per se, Darwinists (e.g., Richard Dawkins) are prone to subordinate metaphysics to experimental science, to transform modern science into a metaphysical research programme as they strive to eliminate any reference to divine causality from every rational explanation of cosmic phenomena. A related temptation afflicts various creationists that strive to demonstrate the existence of an intelligent cosmic architect on the sole basis of natural science by extending science’s proper methodological boundaries. What both of the foregoing camps have in common is a misguided tendency to render to natural science more credit than it can properly claim. In such cases God is reduced, at best, to an extremely powerful but finite secondary cause. Bonnette’s approach, in contrast, steers clear of such deformed conceptions of the uncaused first cause.
Without detracting from the rational weight and authority of divine revelation, Bonnette’s interdisciplinary study affirms the invaluable contribution of experimental science in man’s quest for knowledge. Bonnette’s deep respect for the distinct methods and principles of experimental science and revealed theology enables him to reach some fascinating speculative conclusions, conclusions that challenge the convictions of those committed to simplistic biblical exegesis or to the narrow purview of scientism. For instance, one could point to his probing discussion of Adam and Eve’s origin and the question of monogenism vs. polygenism. There Bonnette defends the position that coherent evolutionary theory need not contradict a monogenetic conception of human origins if the deliverances of legitimate science and divine revelation are not misconstrued. And the nuanced reconciliation advanced by Bonnette, which avoids the anti-realist drawbacks of Stephen J. Gould’s proposed NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria) principle, does not violate the autonomy of either natural science or revealed theology. Bonnette’s study lends credible support to the claim that modern science poses no genuine threat to religious orthodoxy and that such orthodoxy promotes rather than inhibits rigorous and fruitful scientific exploration.
In sum, it would be no exaggeration to claim that Origin of the Human Species is an extraordinarily erudite addition to the scholarly literature on evolutionary theory vis-à-vis the mystery of human existence.