The Impossible Wonderland

November 2010By John Martin

John Martin is a veteran professional writer whose career includes stints as a Charlotte Observer bureau chief, a Business Week copy editor, and chief speechwriter for New York State Comptroller Ned Regan. His published books include the novel A Leopard at Maytime (Double­day), Roses, Fountains and Gold: The Virgin Mary in History, Art, and Apparition (Ignatius Press), and the sportive The Cat on the Catamaran (Zossima Press). His poems and essays have appeared in Chronicles, The Remnant, First Things, The Sewanee Review, The Christian Century, and The Chesterton Review. His produced plays include A Chosen Vessel: An Evening With St. Paul, which has been performed more than four hundred times here and abroad; The Troll Palace and Macdeath, both mystery thrillers; and the St. Francis musical Troubadour, for which he wrote book and lyrics.

“Our high school science teacher told us that matter was born of absolute chance and evolved by incalculable multiplications of accident to the formation of galaxies, planets, fish, mammals, minds, and high school science tests. This always seemed to me more fantastical than any of the creation myths science was here to supplant.” — Joel Agee, Harper’s, January 1989

It’s not exactly breaking news, but over the past century and a half the bold little doctrine of evolution, all but cakewalking where angels fear to tread, has been increasingly taking center stage away from the glory that is revelation and the grandeur that is spirit. It was bad enough in Darwin’s time, but today, with agnosticism in the ascendant and the naughty thumb of science blithely decanting human life into test tubes, evolution is riding higher than ever. More and more, the deep and ancient teachings of Holy Writ find themselves looking on from the wings while the Stephen Jay Goulds of this world prance across the footlights to make their pitch with the grinning assurance of Joel Grey in Cabaret: “So, life is disappointing? Forget it. And forget faith. With evolution, life is beautiful! We anthropoids are beautiful! Even the mutations are beautiful!”

And this is not, needless to say, a harmless state of affairs. Even with the help of divine grace, men have never found it easy to live virtuously. Set grace aside, replace worship with belief in a self-evolving universe with no ultimate authority to answer to, and suddenly such things as abortion, euthanasia, sexual anarchy, and brave-new-world genetics look very different. Evolution isn’t the only thing behind these dark realities, of course, but it’s definitely one of the pillars.

And make no mistake: it’s one tough customer. It walks, it talks, it dazzles, it deconstructs, it shapes minds and shakes souls, and it offers no apologies whatsoever for having evolved itself into that grander thing — evolutionism, the “ism” that speaks for the all. More phantom than fact it may be, but it has nonetheless become the sacred monster that explains and illuminates man and the universe — taught jealously in the schools, hammered home in PBS nature programs, and quoted with fierce certainty both at scientific conferences and in dinner-table conversations. It was even called “more than a hypothesis” by Pope John Paul II, but, praise be, when he was speaking ex tempore and not ex cathedra.

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A few distinctions are in order.

There are "evolutionists" who make it their mission to use the science of evolution to attack Christianity. They go well beyond the facts in their quest (as do Intelligent Design proponents.)

To not join in with ID, or to admit the facts of evolution as revealed by science does not place us necessarily in the company of those who attack Christianity.

Secondly, "unpredictability" does not mean "not ordered." The patterns of children running on a playground (are they still allowed to run?) is random and chaotic and unpredictable. But every child has a particular purpose. There is order, and meaning; it is simply not predictable.

So it is not to turn a deaf ear to creation, nor to the Creator, to pay attention to what science reveals. In fact, to many of us, the wonder is increases.

William Eberwein
Posted by: eberwein
November 08, 2010 02:23 PM EST
The Catholic Encyclopedia entry for Epicureanism contains the following passage:

"In [biology] Epicurus simply followed the view of Empedocles, that, first, all sorts of living things and animals, well or ill organized, were evolved from the earth and that those survived which were suited to preserve themselves and reproduce their kind."

Sounds like Empedocles beat Darwin to the punch by about 23 centuries.
Posted by: Tim Ross
November 10, 2010 03:51 PM EST
Are you the same John Martin who recently commented on David Armstrong's blog about heliocentrcism vs geocentricism? Posted by: juscot52
November 15, 2010 07:09 PM EST
Very nice article. Is it not the case that natural selection 'selects' , but what agency underlies the agency of the changes themselves and provides that order that is compatible and we see, ordered towards consciousness and complexity. Posted by: P Boire
December 10, 2010 01:33 AM EST
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