The Nature of evil
I would like to share a couple of my own experiences that complement Maria Hsia Chang’s article “Perfect Possession” (May).
Early in my youth, around the age of 13, I started experimenting with the occult. In time I started to look toward diabolic powers, practicing a sort of Satanic worship. In a short period of time, I decided to enter into a pact with the Evil One, writing and sealing the foul agreement with my own blood. I was careful that the pact should not be found by members of my family and promptly hid it away in a secure location. Then I thought no more of it.
One day, a week or so later, as I was journeying toward the closest town to do some shopping with my mother, I was assaulted by an evil spirit. The diabolic entity came at me, pressuring me to fully accept the terms of the pact. When at first I resisted, it began to exert an actual crushing force upon my body (it felt as though I was submerged under a vast amount of water) as well as a terrifyingly powerful psychic assault. Unfortunately, I did not have the will or the spiritual tools from a true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and I was overthrown in short order. I was defeated; and for nearly twenty years considered my soul lost for all eternity. I indulged in my most base fancies, at the end of this period taking a human life, for which I now rightly will spend the remainder of my days in prison.
Then, when all seemed truly lost, a miracle happened in my life. As I sat in jail awaiting my fate, I came to know and love Jesus Christ. For years the Lord had repeatedly reached out to me, offering forgiveness and salvation, yet, as I mentioned, I was sure of my doom, so I did not accept His grace. This all changed through reading the Gospels, attending Mass, and of course with the intervention of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Michael the Archangel. I wept at the thought of the wasted, dissolute life I had led and the tragedy I had brought to all around me, and I repented of all my evil and turned my back on my former master, the Enemy.
However, the Evil One, having lost a pawn, made a vicious attempt to regain his slave. One night, after I made the firm resolution to be baptized into the Church, the Evil One again assaulted me. As I was lying in my cell bed, resting and near sleep, I again felt the presence of an evil spirit — this time though I felt two strong hands constricting my throat. I immediately opened my eyes but found nobody there, yet I was still being choked. All I could think to do was say, “In the name of the Lord, I rebuke thee.” And so, gaspingly, I called upon the name of the Lord and was delivered from the murderous spirit.
Since that night I have never turned back, and though I still require cleansing by the Holy Spirit, my general thrust has been toward becoming holy as my Lord God is holy. I have since been baptized and confirmed into the Church, and have relied most heavily on the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Michael the Archangel. I have witnessed true miracles, both great and small, and now, though I am confined from the world, I feel freer than I ever did before. Praise the Lord for He is good; His mercy endures forever.
Finally, if I may have recourse to any who might read this, I ask of you to pray for the soul of Amber Bartalino. She deserved so much more than what she received. If my life and tale serve no more purpose than to find as many people as I can to pray for her, then one day I shall die well, loving the Lord and accepting His just decree for my soul on Judgment Day.
(Name & Prison Location Withheld)
Sacred Heart Major Seminary
The articles by Maria Hsia Chang on the nature of evil (“Perfect Possession,” May; “Peering Into the Abyss,” Oct. 2008) are nerve-rending and unique to the NOR: I know of no other publication covering the subject. She warns against the spiritual and emotional danger of examining the subject at length, a danger she seems to have, with the help of God’s angels, provided against. Others, however, are not so protected: A Baptist minister who was putting out a newsletter on occultism ended up in a mental institution.
Chang has commended herself to St. Michael the Archangel, and I share the same devotion. My wife and I have just returned from a beautiful pilgrimage to the holy ground of the North American Martyrs Shrine in New York; I have asked them to protect us also.
Nashua, New Hampshire
In her article “Perfect Possession” (May), Maria Hsia Chang refers to the lack of empathy on the part of serial killers and other notorious murderers. Did these people have empathy for others who were not their victims? How would she categorize abortionists and those who support abortion? Surely they lack empathy for the unborn; but they presumably have empathy for some who are born, especially their own children. Would she say empathy is an option?
MARIA HSIA CHANG REPLIES:
Whether serial killers and other notorious murderers lack empathy for people who are not their victims is an interesting question. There is no definitive answer at this time due to a lack of data — we simply do not have the necessary information on the killers’ internal lives and intimate relationships.
Some serial killers are family men. Among them are “BTK killer” Dennis Rader who killed ten, “Green River killer” Gary Ridgway who admitted to having murdered 48 women, and contract killer “Iceman” Richard Kublinski who claimed to have murdered over 200. Each man had a wife and children who professed shock and ignorance upon learning the truth. Kublinski reportedly physically abused his wife but was an affectionate father who put his three children through Catholic school. Other serial killers are loners, among whom are Ted Bundy, Joseph Edward Duncan III, and John Wayne Gacy.
Whether family man or loner, they wear the mask of sanity like all psychopaths. Those who study serial killers say they are “incapable” of empathy but are skillful actors and do a good job pretending to be human by simulating empathy. This is why they can go undetected for years and so become serial killers. The bestselling crime novelist Ann Rule knew Bundy when they worked side by side in a suicide prevention call-in center in Seattle. Rule never had any inkling of his deviancy, his monstrosity. Rader was an elder in the Lutheran Church. Gacy befriended Chicago’s politicians and regularly gave block parties in which he dressed as a clown.
As for providers and supporters of abortion, it is not their psychopathology that accounts for their lack of empathy for the unborn. Serial killers are remorseless because they are grandiose and lack a moral conscience. Those who are pro-abortion do know right from wrong. Their lack of empathy for the unborn is enabled by the patina of legality — “what is lawful is also morally right” — and by a lamentable facility we human beings have to objectify or dehumanize others. When human beings are reduced to mere objects or things, civilization’s moral rules and strictures no longer apply, which frees us to do whatever we want toward those “others.” By refusing to recognize the unborn as human life, instead treating the “fetus” as mere tissue within a woman’s body, our present law objectifies the unborn. And so the unborn human infant is denied personhood and constitutional protection. In abortion we see the banality of evil.
Sadly, the tendency to dehumanize others is common and widespread. It is what enables and fuels wars, racism, and other varieties of bigotry. The antidote is Christ’s injunction to “love our neighbor as ourselves” and to see Him in even the least among us.
Surprised by Attacks
I would like to go on the record stating that I fully support the NOR. The attacks you’ve received (letters, May and June) for your New Oxford Note “Pope Benedict’s Tightrope Act” (Mar.) surprised me greatly. I do not have any eloquent words to defend you, but I want you to know that I came to your periodical because I saw that you rightfully critique both sides of the fence.
I was raised under the premise that you never criticize your bishops or priests, even when at a young age I saw terrible abuses in the Church, which confused me greatly. After I saw the NOR I was instantly drawn to it. I’ve been through both extremes in Catholicism: the feel-good-elitist-liberal side and the arrogant-elitist-traditionalist side. By the grace of God, neither caused me to abandon my faith, even though I came quite close. So here is my thank-you for providing me with a periodical that has consistently helped to keep me grounded in Catholicism.
A Failure to Perceive
In response to Lindy Morelli’s difficulty in finding a religious community that accommodates the blind (“A Vocation Disabled,” article, Apr.): Are religious vocations only for the physically healthy? Does a disability like blindness completely preclude a religious vocation?
There appears to be a lack of generosity — and a hint of elitism — among religious communities in accommodating someone like Lindy. How sad that the communities she applied to failed to see the good works she can accomplish and the blessings she can bring to their orders. Given that Lindy has singlehandedly started her own apostolate to help the poor, all those communities lost out on her potential, zeal, and gifts. Too bad they judged her by what they perceived to be her limitations.
It now appears that the secular world outdoes the Church in giving opportunities to people with disabilities. For shame!
I pray Lindy keeps the faith and keeps up the good work. May God bless all her loving efforts.
Lake Havasu City, Arizona
Congratulations to Deacon W. Patrick Cunningham (“The Myth of Pastoral Sensitivity,” article, May) for his concise and correct description of the need for pastors who teach what the Church teaches, instead of giving their people pastoral junk!
The Rev. Msgr. Thomas E. Crane
Tonawanda, New York
Deacon W. Patrick Cunningham tells of being labeled “pastorally insensitive” (article, May) for teaching an RCIA class about marriage from the heart of the Church. In John 6, Jesus tells His disciples and Apostles that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood or they will have no life in them. Verse 6:66 says many of His disciples walked away from Him for this and stopped following Him. Our Divine Pastor was Himself “pastorally insensitive.” Keep up the good work, Deacon Patrick!
Gary Yarbrough, M.D.
W. Patrick Cunningham, in his article “The Myth of Pastoral Sensitivity,” emphasizes that bishops should lead. I wonder if he is expecting the wrong thing from bishops. Bishops are “overseers,” not leaders. Thank God for St. Paul’s leadership, even before he was a bishop! And St. Peter’s “oversight” confirmed Paul’s leadership. Perhaps we will be waiting a long time if we expect bishops to lead.
Fr. Myron Effing
A Positive View of Phenomenology
I wish to offer a friendly amendment to Fr. Brian Thomas Becket Mullady’s excellent article, “Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body” (Mar). In the subsection titled “Not Strict Phenomenology,” Fr. Mullady makes the important point that John Paul II did not accept phenomenology as an alternative to Thomism. This is important because, as he notes, many people seem convinced that John Paul abandoned Thomism. The reason for this impression, of course, is the deeply flawed translation of his phenomenological work, The Acting Person, which essentially edited out of it all of his Thomistic terminology. Fr. Mullady is right: This impression is unfounded. The very movement with which Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II) was associated in Poland is called “Lublin Thomism.”
Fr. Mullady also suggests, however, that John Paul did not accept phenomenology at all, but rejected it in favor of an objective and realistic metaphysics, suggesting that phenomenology is essentially subjectivist and idealist and incompatible with traditional Thomism. This impression is reinforced by parts of Michael Waldstein’s otherwise fine Introduction to John Paul’s theology of the body, Man and Woman He Created Them, which Fr. Mullady cites. In particular, Waldstein quotes Wojtyla’s dissertation on Scheler, in which he says that “the Christian thinker…cannot be a Phenomenologist.”
My friendly amendment is simply this: that phenomenology need not be subjectivist or idealist or anti-metaphysical. Indeed, in the very same Introduction by Waldstein, one finds part of an address John Paul II gave to a delegation of the World Institute of Phenomenology (Mar. 22, 2003), in which he said, “Phenomenology is primarily a style of thought, a relationship of the mind with reality, whose essential constitutive features it aims to grasp, avoiding prejudice and schematisms. I mean that it is, as it were, an attitude of intellectual charity to the human being and the world, and for the believer, to God, the beginning and end of all things.”
This positive view of phenomenology is reflected in a fine work entitled Introduction to Phenomenology (1999), written by Msgr. Robert Sokolowski, a prince of Catholic orthodoxy, in which he explicitly ties in his own phenomenological approach to an objectivist and realist philosophy of being (metaphysics). In his view, “the transcendental reduction [a phenomenological strategy] should not be seen as an escape from the question of being or the study of being as being; quite the contrary. When we shift from the natural [everyday] attitude to the phenomenological, we raise the question of being….” Again, he writes, “I would claim that phenomenology breaks out of modernity and permits a restoration of the convictions that animated ancient and medieval philosophy. Like premodern philosophy, phenomenology understands reason as ordered toward truth.”
Msgr. Sokolowski is hardly an exception in holding such a view. The Encyclopedia of Phenomenology (2008), edited by Lester Embree, et al., has a substantial article devoted to “Realist Phenomenology,” a tradition of phenomenology to which such Catholic luminaries as Dietrich von Hildebrand, St. Edith Stein, and Karol Wojtyla belong, along with, I would argue, contemporary representatives such as John F. Crosby, Josef Seifert, and Msgr. Sokolowski (who, unlike most members of the realist school, rejects the notion of an “Idealist turn” in Husserl’s thought). Not all of these representatives may regard their own phenomenological approach as explicitly addressing metaphysical questions, as do Msgr. Sokolowski and Karol Wojtyla (e.g., in Person and Community, 1993); yet it goes without saying that each of them sees his own phenomenological approach as wholly compatible with the objectivist and realist commitments of traditional Catholic metaphysics.
How, then, do we reconcile this positive view of phenomenology with the negative opinion of it Wojtyla expresses in his first quote above? I think the answer is clear: Where John Paul is critical of phenomenology, he is specifically arguing against the defects he finds in Max Scheler’s phenomenological value theory, not against phenomenology as such.
Racism & Evolution
Not having read Ken Ham and A. Charles Ware’s book Darwin’s Plantation: Evolution’s Racist Roots, I cannot comment on its content. However, from Arthur C. Sippo’s review (May), I would speculate that he has picked an easy target to convince Catholics that macro-evolution (transformation of one species into another) is a scientifically verified truism. No one denies micro-evolution (variation within a species) is true. But, because this is so, it is not logically reasonable to then assume, as most evolutionists do, that macro-evolution is true.
Sippo seems upset that Catholics are investigating evolution. Why should they not investigate evolution, given that Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, and Hitchens, the so-called Four Horsemen of Atheism, use macro-evolution to justify their atheistic beliefs?
Some forms of modern racism can be directly traced to evolution. The eugenics movement, represented in the U.S. by Margaret Sanger and her cohorts, that wished to prevent the births of non-Caucasians, as well as the poor, was directly based on Darwin’s thought.
Richard Weikart’s book From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany is a thorough exposition of its title’s premise based on contemporary German newspaper and magazine articles and books.
Two major points made by Sippo are not supported by science and observation. He states, “When an environmental stress occurs, the genetic variation from neutral genetic drift creates a smorgasbord from which natural selection may choose those small advantages that fuel micro- and macro-evolution.” This is true for micro-evolution, but unproven in the case of macro-evolution. For 70 years evolutionists have bombarded tens of thousands of generations of fruit flies with every combination of chemicals, gases, and radiation they can think of — and all they have succeeded in producing is more fruit flies (some of them deformed and possessing non-functioning organs and wings). Similarly, they have done the same with 25,000+ generations of E. coli and have not succeeded in producing another strain of bacteria, much less any other type of micro-organism. This is certainly environmental stress in spades. Additionally, no one has observed a single example of macro-evolution.
Sippo also states that “new species and ‘kinds’ have evolved from other species and then gone extinct over the eons to be replaced by other species.” What he does not say is that all major evolutionists have admitted publicly and in print that all new species appear on earth fully functional with no known predecessor, go through a period of stasis of varying length, and then go extinct.
Macro-evolution requires an upward progression from the simple to the complex and an increase in genetic information in direct violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. There are no known violations of the Second Law. Evolutionists try to get around this by stating the required energy is supplied by the sun. Leaving any organism continuously exposed to sunlight will not cause it to mutate, but will result in its destruction, as simple observation will verify.
Dr. John Sanford, a highly qualified geneticist who is an expert in plant genetic engineering, and who was responsible for three significant scientific contributions — the biolistic (“gene gun”) process, pathogen-derived resistance, and genetic immunization — authored the book Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome. It is a brilliant exposé of evolution’s so-called Primary Axiom and every other major contention of the evolutionists. He shows that mutations consistently destroy genetic information and that the human genome has been deteriorating ever since its origin. He specifically refutes every major contention of the evolutionists — using their own data.
K. Higgins and M. Lynch in PNAS (98:2928-2933) make a strong case that the genomic degeneration resulting from mutations in all mammals eventually leads to their extinction even though, for long periods of time, they appear to be normal and healthy.
And then there is the fossil problem. For one species to evolve into another, there must have been several intervening versions of the species that were neither the original form of the species nor the form of the final target species. Thus, the sediment and strata should contain a plethora of intermediate fossils. No such intermediate fossils have ever been found. Darwin stated in his own writings that if they were not found, his theory is false. Evolutionists have not been able to construct a single instance of one species transforming into another supported by fossils or observation. If Sippo thinks that this is not true, I challenge him to show how the mammal of his choice evolved into the whale, as most evolutionists think, with actual fossils and not some fanciful drawings of how it might have happened or some mathematical sleight of hand manipulating mutational substitutions at the molecular level.
Instead of reading the books recommended by Sippo in his review, I suggest that those who are interested read Sanford’s book mentioned above; Not by Chance by Dr. Lee Spetner, who has a doctorate in physics from MIT and is an expert in information and communications, that shows convincingly that evolution cannot build information; and Evolution and Other Fairy Tales by Larry Azar, who has a doctorate in philosophy and undergraduate and graduate degrees in mathematics and physics, that provides a thoroughgoing critique of all aspects of evolution. I would also recommend the essay “Darwinian Fairytales” by the Australian philosopher David Stove, which can be found in a compilation of his essays by Roger Kimball in the book Against the Idols of the Age. Dr. Stove was an atheist; he cannot be accused of having had a theological predisposition in favor of creationism.
As an original believer in theistic evolution, I was surprised, upon thoroughly investigating evolution, how thin the evidence for macro-evolution really is. To slightly twist Dawkins’s now famous quote: “It’s almost certainly true that macro-evolution does not exist.”
Arthur C. Sippo, in his review of Darwin’s Plantation by Ken Ham and A. Charles Ware (May), exonerates Darwin and Darwinism from any taint of racism. Like the liberals who point to Vatican II as the justification for their views, Catholic defenders of Darwinism will point to papal remarks about evolution as their justification. But as Avery Cardinal Dulles observed in an article in First Things (Oct. 2007), “The pope was interpreted in some circles as having accepted the neo-Darwinian view that evolution is sufficiently explained by random mutations and natural selection (or ‘survival of the fittest’) without any kind of governing purpose or finality.” Dulles goes on to cite Pope John Paul II’s clarification of the issue at a general audience on July 19, 1985, in which “the pope said that to ascribe human evolution to sheer chance would be an abdication of human intelligence.” The problem, of course, is not with micro-evolution but with macro-evolution, which supposes massive chance interactions, leading to intermediary transitions between species, something that Darwin himself predicted. But as physicist-theologian Fr. Stanley L. Jaki observed, “Today with the number of known living and defunct species being of the order of six million, those [transitional, predicted by Darwin] links should have existed in the billions. None of them have yet turned up.” This and other problems in evolution led scientists Michael Denton, Charles Saxton, and others during the 1980s to question the soundness of the theory; this, in turn, led to the Intelligent Design movement, which includes many Catholics and is often mistakenly characterized as “creationism” or “fundamentalism.” The authors of Darwin’s Plantation, who are fundamentalist Christians, are coming from a very different direction than proponents of Intelligent Design, who are not “anti-evolution,” but have questions about the theory of natural selection.
The allegations of the authors about the connection between evolution and racism should not be dismissed tout court. Darwin, although not overtly a racist, certainly underwent some changes in his attitude toward the races. His half-cousin, Francis Galton, who (like Richard Dawkins more recently) looked upon the theory of natural selection as the key to becoming an intellectually fulfilled atheist, utilized Darwin’s theory to bolster the arguments of his book defending eugenics, Hereditary Genius. Darwin’s friend, T.H. Huxley, like Galton, also applied Darwin’s theory to the social sphere, suggesting that mankind go beyond “natural” selection to intentional eugenic selection. Darwin, responding to these interpretations favorably, gave the following clear opening to eugenics in his later work, The Descent of Man: “The weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.”
The possible eugenic implications of “natural selection” were utilized during the 19th century by Marx, Spencer, Spengler, and Nietzsche to support their differing views of the direction of social evolution. Spengler’s vision was for a world empire controlled by Germany. In the 20th century the eugenics movement spread in the U.S., giving rise not only to I.Q. tests, but also to Margaret Sanger’s birth-control agenda for reducing the number of mentally inferior persons, then to Planned Parenthood, and to the sterilization efforts in California and other states, which Nazi ideologists studied as models for developing their own plan for removing “defectives” from society.
In other words, the problem with Darwin was not specifically racism, but the frequently racist eugenics movement that emerged willy-nilly from interpretations of natural selection. The fact that there was a lot of racism prior to Darwinism does not imply that Darwinism had nothing to do with the furtherance of racism. Ken Ham on his website quotes evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould: “Biological arguments for racism may have been common before 1859, but they increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory.”
Do Ham and Ware give cogent arguments demonstrating what Gould calls an “increase by orders of magnitude” after evolution? Possibly they are bad arguments, but Sippo does not address them.
ARTHUR C. SIPPO REPLIES:
Carl Gethmann seems to have a problem accepting that evolution does not necessarily imply atheism. This is sad because every pope since Pius XII has affirmed the exact opposite. It is disingenuous to mention prominent atheist troublemakers who have nothing to do with the issue at hand. Simply put, the scientific case for evolution is solid and unassailable. This does not mean that we understand everything about the process, but when we look at astronomy, geology, paleontology, genetics, embryology, and comparative anatomy, there is no other viable hypothesis. Of course some religious people would still like to believe that there was some miraculous origin to all species, and, strictly speaking, we cannot prove or disprove such an idea. But it is so unlikely that the evolutionary scenario is far more probable.
There is a tremendous amount of disinformation and errors in Gethmann’s letter. I will point out just a few of them.
First of all, macro-evolution is very well established. There are a number of species, such as the dog and the horse, which have tremendous macro-evolutionary changes visible within the given species. All it takes for an irreversible speciation event is a chromosomal rearrangement or a particular micro-evolutionary change that makes breeding with the parent population difficult or impossible. The situation with horses and donkeys illustrates the point where some crosses are possible but few if any can reproduce successfully.
The claim that speciation events have not occurred among fruit flies that have been exposed to mutagenic stimuli is a misrepresentation of what those experiments were about. Speciation occurs when a particular subset of a species develops a series of characteristics that are adaptive to a lifestyle that sets them apart from the parent species. No attempt has been made to create such a free living species among fruit flies. The mere process of irradiating animals does not create a new species. Anyone who expects that has been reading too many comic books.
With regard to all kinds of bacteria — including E. coli — which have been used in experiments, they have changed over time and formed new strains that are different from their parent species in several ways. Since bacteria do not reproduce sexually and in fact share genetic material across what we would consider different species, the comparison of their genetics to those of higher animals is moot. The same thing is true of plants. Gethmann is comparing apples and oranges.
The old saw that evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics (2LT) is a blatant falsehood. Multicellular life actually is favored by 2LT. The individual cell living on its own must do everything for itself. In a multicellular organism, each cell needs to do only certain tasks. Such a cell has an easier lifestyle and can function more simply than a unicellular creature. To draw an analogy, if you were Robinson Crusoe, would you be able to build a two-story home, television, air conditioner, automobile, microwave, i-Pod, and stereo system for yourself? Of course not. But by doing a job particularly well you can afford to pay other people who specialize in making these things for you. That is the advantage of human society. The success of societies is dependent on different people having different skills that can each contribute to the benefit of all. All of this is favored by 2LT because the place of each person/cell in the corporate whole is less complex than if the individual goes out on his/its own.
With regard to the various books that Gethmann recommends, none of them is scientific literature. Rather, they are religious tracts written in defense of some form of “creationism” and published by religious publishing groups. This is like some anti-Catholic who attacks the Church and then references the writings of Ian Paisley as an objective source. It is very easy to deceive non-scientists with fancy jargon and out-of-context quotes. The merit of any scientific proposal comes not merely from the credentials of the proposer but from the quality of his proposal. That can only be evaluated in peer-reviewed discussions among experts, which is what scientific journals are for. There are reasons why some “scientists” can only get published by religiously biased sectarians and not in the scientific mainstream.
Gethmann does mention a paper in legitimate scientific literature by Kevin Higgins and Michael Lynch titled “Metapopulation Extinction Caused by Mutation Accumulation.” Unfortunately, he draws his own distorted conclusion from it. Here is the abstract of that paper (“stochasticity” means random fluctuation; “stochastic” means randomly fluctuating): “Theory suggests that the risk of extinction by mutation accumulation can be comparable to that by environmental stochasticity for an isolated population smaller than a few thousand individuals. Here we show that metapopulation structure, habitat loss or fragmentation, and environmental stochasticity can be expected to greatly accelerate the accumulation of mildly deleterious mutations, lowering the genetic effective size to such a degree that even large metapopulations may be at risk of extinction. Because of mutation accumulation, viable metapopulations may need to be far larger and better connected than would be required under just stochastic demography.”
What Higgins and Lynch are saying is that in an unstable environment where the conditions are varying randomly, natural selection is not able to function optimally and numerous mutations can accumulate which are favorable today but not tomorrow. With no consistent environmental conditions to reinforce natural selection, mutations in the population can multiply and eventually erode the survival potential of a species, leading to its extinction. This is a very specialized case and is not generally applicable to most areas in nature where conditions do not fluctuate randomly. In most habitats, the general conditions remain stable year after year over long periods of time.
Gethmann then plays the old “there are no transitional fossils” game. This is not true. There are excellent sets of transitional series for several higher taxa. Included among them are the reptile-to-mammal series, the horse series, the brontothere series, the mesonychid-to-whale series, and the hominid-to-man series. There are also key transitional forms in the fossil record for several other taxa that do not have enough examples to make a series, but which show key transitional points. This includes the transition from fish-to-amphibians and from dinosaurs-to-birds. The information on these series is widely available. An excellent resource is www.talkorigins.org, which lists them for you.
In short, Gethmann does not want to believe in evolution (which is his right), but in order to justify his unbelief, he presents claims that are either outdated, misrepresentations, poorly structured arguments, or blatantly prejudicial, pretending that there is a valid scientific case against evolution. If his objections are religiously based, he needs to admit it.
In contrast to Gethmann, I will not twist around a Dawkins quote; rather, I will properly quote the Book of Genesis: “And God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth.’ And it was so…. And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens.’ So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind…. And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.’ And it was so” (1:11, 20-21, 24).
It seems to me that the book of Genesis clearly states that the earth and the oceans brought forth life. This is exactly what the theory of evolution postulates. We as Catholics believe that this process was done under God’s superintendence, but the exact mechanism by which He accomplished it is not specified. Therefore I see no problem reconciling evolution with God’s Word.
Howard Kainz makes an excellent point that the analogy between natural selection and animal breeding was used in later years to justify eugenics and that, following Victorian prejudices, Darwin and several of his contemporaries believed that their northern European white race was superior mentally and morally to other people around the world. But this analogy merely reinforced what they tacitly had already come to believe.
It is true that good science can lead to bad social policies. That is because what may be true of natural populations is not necessarily applicable to humanity. There is always someone ready to misapply a good idea in a bad cause. Hitler comes to mind as someone who claimed to be motivated by Darwinian concerns but who was merely trying to justify his erroneous racial mythology with pseudoscientific language.
Ham and Ware want to claim that racism was caused by Darwinism. This is patently false, as I showed in my review. It is important to remember that both men have strong prejudices against evolution on religious grounds wholly separate from any concerns about racism. And they in fact seem to forget that religious people had their own grounds for racism from the story of Ham in Genesis. The book When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Causes of the Civil War by John Patrick Daly documents the religious connection between slavery in the U.S. and evangelical Protestantism. Daly shows that racism was alive and well in the antebellum south many decades before Darwin published his book and that it had a strong religious basis. We fought the Civil War not over a racism based on Darwinism but over one grounded in a religious view of slavery as a necessary “good” in a Christian society. Therefore, I have no sympathy for fundamentalists who want to whitewash their own sordid past by blaming slavery on evolutionary biology.
There are many radicals in the atheist camp who will tout Darwinism as fulfilling their need for an explanation of how man originated. They tout themselves as “superior” to the great unwashed masses who need a religion of some sort. But in the end they have no explanation for truth, beauty, morality, and rationality. And invariably they will be destroyed by their own drives and passions, for which they can discern no limits. Civilizations have risen and thrived based on the Ten Commandments. Those that rise on nothing but human willfulness are doomed before they start.
I have already addressed many of the arguments Kainz has raised in my response to Gethmann, so I will not repeat them.
Kainz seeks to undermine the tolerance of the popes to evolutionary theory by insinuating that John Paul II was an advocate of Intelligent Design (ID). There is no evidence to support this. As any good Catholic theologian would, Pope John Paul II insisted that humanity was made in the image of God and that He created us by providence, not by random chance. This is something that I, too, affirm. But the Pope never advocated the ID movement — and for good reason. It is just warmed over “creationist” dissembling with a new face.
I had had high hopes that the ID movement might make a viable philosophical and rational case for design in the universe based on St. Thomas’s Fifth Way, which has been improperly understood and deserves to be elaborated to the modern world. Instead, within two pages of any ID book, we are back to the alleged inadequacy of the fossil record, the claim that evolution violates 2LT, and the supposed impossibility of macro-evolution. Nothing has changed since Dwayne Gish and Henry Morris sallied forth in the 1970s misquoting, misrepresenting, and misdirecting in the name of “scientific creationism.”
Racism and eugenics were bad ideas based not on science but pseudoscience. Nowhere in the theory of natural selection does it call for genocide or sterilization of individuals determined by others to be unfit. Fitness is determined by reproductive success alone. The struggle to survive is directly with the environment and only indirectly with other individuals. So a true Darwinist should allow nature to take its course and allow reproductive success to determine the fittest. This does not preclude using medicine to prolong the life of the genetically diseased or allowing those with inherited defects to reproduce because, in the end, it is the success or failure of their offspring that will determine the fate of the human race. Not everyone who reproduces will do so successfully. Natural selection has no prejudice. It lets everyone try to succeed.
Those who have tried to impose breeding policies on the population were actually acting against natural selection. When Hitler decided to commit genocide against the Jews of Europe it was his loss. So many Jews who were successful in business, medicine, academia, the professions, and science were needlessly marginalized or killed, and many of them came to the U.S. to aid us in the war effort against the Nazis. Among them were Einstein, Teller, Szilard, and von Neumann, to name just a few. It is clear that the eugenics policies of the Third Reich were not scientific at all and were ultimately detrimental.
My objection to Darwin’s Plantation is that it is a bigoted tract that misrepresented the facts of history in service to an anti-evolutionary bias that was motivated by religious prejudices and not by a desire to tell the truth. The arguments in the book were poorly presented and ignored much larger questions about the social and religious roots of racism. Pretending that science was the cause of racism while religion was the cure is simply not true. It is much more complicated than that.
Anyone who does not want to believe in evolution for whatever reason is entitled to his beliefs. The popes have made it clear that believing in biological evolution does not contradict the Catholic faith as long as we affirm monogenism and the direct creation of the human soul by God. This means that Catholics can, with integrity, affirm the conclusions of modern science with regard to origins. Meanwhile, there will be some who prefer a more literal reading of Genesis, and they need to have their view respected as well. We must, as faithful Catholics, show tolerance toward each other over a wide range of views on this topic.
Have a Little Patience
As a former agnostic who was rescued two years ago by God’s stunning grace, I was disappointed to read Anne Barbeau Gardiner’s uncharitable treatment (May) of Michael Novak and the persons discussed in his book No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers. I understand how Gardiner has reached the point of exasperation, but we must remember that true faith is a gift and no one can come to Christ “unless it is granted him by the Father.” When one has faith (and the accompanying spirit of obedience), the truth and beauty of Catholic teaching become clear: whether the wisdom of Humanae Vitae, the existence of the natural law, or the witness of the early martyrs as sufficient data for the fact of the Resurrection. Lacking such faith, even the most humble, brilliant, and scrupulous of thinkers is easily led astray by the limitations of the human mind, the often hidden influence of modern mores, and the nimble efforts of demons (of which the poor thinker is unaware!). Though the Catholic faith is eminently reasonable, I know I never would have been able to think my way to the faith without the aid of the Holy Spirit.
Now, I am not interested in offering an apologia for Christopher Hitchens and his ilk. These “new atheists” lack the humility and the charity needed for first-rate academic work, and so are consequently viewed by their more serious colleagues as a bit nutty and sloppy. However, many other non-believing, first-rate academics are gentle souls who have taken upon themselves the lifelong task of staunchly defending the moral life and other similarly worthy commitments. Let us be patient with these good persons and pray that they will cooperate with God’s will when it is revealed to them. I certainly have hope.
Much More Gained
Regarding “Inverting Pascal’s Wager” (guest column, May): What James F. Csank omits is the very real fact that the God-believer, who lives according to God’s Law and Commandments, not only has gained the infinite, but also has the virtue-driven capacity, blessed by Christ Jesus, to enjoy the God-given pleasures which He and His creation bestow here on earth: beauty of sight and mind, of music, taste, and smell, and ennobled sexuality — and overall, love of God, which renders his yoke sweet and his burden light and gives meaning and transcendence to living.
The Rev. Gerard J. Guli
Rochester, New York
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