Letters to the Editor: December 2020
Pandora’s Rebellion Box
In “Sons of Liberty, Sons of Anarchy” (Cultural Counterpoint, Oct.), Jason M. Morgan puts his finger on an important but rarely recognized fact of American history: The United States was born in violence that was not restricted to the battlefield but also played out in streets and neighborhoods.
I appreciate Morgan’s reference to my book God against the Revolution: The Loyalist Clergy’s Case against the American Revolution, and he is quite right that the kind of mob violence it describes is somewhat akin to the mob violence being experienced today in America.
The noble-sounding Boston Tea Party was an act of delinquency committed by hooligans in which private property worth millions (in today’s currency) was destroyed in “protest” of a “tyranny” that consisted of a minuscule tax on tea that no one was forced to buy — tea that was actually less expensive than before.
Average people who were born and raised in America and who loved their country saw their businesses destroyed and themselves assaulted — sometimes brutally — simply because they were on the unpopular side in a political disagreement.
“Patriots” denied Loyalists basic freedoms and even imprisoned them without trial. Those with personal grudges targeted people for the mob. Those who coveted prime property denounced their neighbors to gain ownership of it once it was confiscated. Homes were ransacked; government officials were intimidated and beaten; and members of the press who objected were assaulted and intimidated and watched their presses be destroyed.
And, as Morgan rightly emphasizes, much of this wanton violence was spurred and directed by rabble-rousing troublemakers — “hellions,” to use Morgan’s term. But it is the other part of Morgan’s terminology that is the problem.
Morgan lays the fundamental blame on Puritanism. In his view, Puritanism “is the sufficient condition” for such violence and rebellion. The Sons of Liberty were “Puritan Hellions.” Puritanism has “always…held sway or threatened to.” Puritanism, “naturally coupled with Hellionism,” is “our national character.” Morgan essentially identifies the “Woke Mob of today” as Puritans. Whatever today’s woke crowd is, they are about as far away from being “Puritans” as is imaginable.
It is not always clear what Morgan means by his use of forms of the word Puritan. It may be that he means people who see themselves as right and everyone else as wrong, people who demand complete and untainted devotion to their cause — in other words, purity in principles. These people are willing and eager to force their righteous cause on everyone else — by violence, if necessary, or simply if preferred. If this is Morgan’s meaning, then I am more sympathetic to his argument but still object to his choice of words.
By capitalizing Puritan, however, Morgan appears to be referring to the religious founders of New England and their descendants. If that is his meaning, it is simply historically and philosophically incorrect. Popular history focuses on the geographical region in which the rebellion in America broke loose (Boston) and consequently categorizes the Patriots as Congregationalists and Presbyterians. Popular history declares the Loyalists to be aristocrats, English government officials, and high clergymen of the Church of England (Anglicans). Neither of these simplistic descriptions is true. Patriots and Loyalists came from all religious groups and every tier of society. Perhaps most relevant for Morgan and his argument, Catholics were predominantly Patriots. Some of the worst mob violence occurred in Southern colonies in which there were numerous Catholics and nary a Puritan to be found.
The Puritan ideal was nearly extinct by the time of the American Revolution. It had been devastated by a pandemic of rationalism and materialism. Interested persons should read my book The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders: Reason, Revelation, and Revolution. If by “Puritan” Morgan is lumping all Protestants together, then it is neither accurate nor helpful concerning the American Revolution — and it has no relevance to today’s largely Marxist-led mob violence.
So, if they were not Puritan hellions, what kind of hellions were they? If they were not motivated by Puritanism, what motivated them? One need look no further than: (a) human nature and (b) John Locke (and no, though he was Protestant, Locke was not Puritan).
Humans are fallen creatures with sin natures. They desire things and often decide simply to take them. They are regularly discontent and bristle against authority and attempts to exercise authority over them. When disappointed or corrected, they often throw tantrums to get their way.
Locke supplied the theoretical or philosophical ammunition for rebellions everywhere at all times — from the 1690s to the 2020s. Once one establishes the idea that people have a “right of resistance” (read right of rebellion) whenever they decide that an authority is acting “tyrannically,” one opens Pandora’s rebellion box.
Morgan is right that there is a connection between the mob violence at the founding of the United States and the mob violence in Minneapolis and Portland this summer. It is quite a stretch — too great a stretch — to suggest that either was or is motivated by Puritanism. Actual Puritans would be the first to be offended by such a suggestion.
I have tweaked some of my academic colleagues by suggesting that since they support the notion of a “right of resistance,” consistency requires that they must support the violence in America’s streets today as well as the Southerners’ in the Civil War. They need not agree with the cause, but they must support the methodology and the tactics. After all, when people decide that they are being tyrannized — and there are no established criteria or standards for making such a determination — they have a “right” to “resist” that tyranny with violence in the form of assault and the stealing and destruction of property. The non-Puritan majority of the Continental Congress and the non-Puritan majority who signed the Declaration of Independence said so.
Gregg L. Frazer
Professor of History & Political Studies, The Master’s University
Santa Clarita, California
Jason M. Morgan argues that Americans must admit we are a revolutionary people. He compares the recent violence in our streets by Antifa et al. with the violence that accompanied our separation from England. But something seems to be missing in the comparison. Are there any similarities between the grievances of 1776 (taxation without representation, quartering of troops among the population, interference with local legislatures, denial of trial by jury, closing of ports) and those being shouted from “the spittle-flecked lips of [current] American street throngers”?
Another consideration is what those rebels of 1776 built after the smoke cleared. Is there any chance that today’s rioters will produce something that improves upon the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution? What end do the disrupters see beyond the means?
Preston R. Simpson, M.D.
Jason M. Morgan states, “Revolution is how this country runs,” and he is correct. But that is like saying lumberjacks need water to survive. Revolution is how the cosmos runs.
God, the first Puritan, created our universe. His requirement for something revolutionary did not stop there. He fashioned living beings, and the first of these to develop a bad attitude was the Devil, who led other angels away from God. With the aid of the premier anarchist, God’s first humans decided they wanted to “move forward” and ate a forbidden fruit, sealing their descendants’ fates as off-and-on-again rabble rousers. One son, Cain, hoped for “change” and killed his brother.
Morgan writes, “If we are to celebrate Puritan Hellions running mean old British officials out of town on a rail and sending Loyalist businesses up in flames, as we have been taught to do by our history teachers, then we are going to have to celebrate Puritan Hellions burning down low-income housing developments in Minneapolis and setting fast-food joints ablaze in Atlanta.” I’m sorry that he was taught by possible louts. His premise need not be accepted. We can mourn our ancestors’ fall from grace or the faults of an attempt at “a more perfect union” and still argue that the mob’s destruction of cities is an astounding evil.
Morgan’s statement, “The American Left does not question the legitimacy of America’s history and institutions, as conservatives fear; the Left affirms American history with gusto,” is just wrong. To the followers of Chaos, history is a bastard fathered by old white men. Witness the destruction of statues of St. Junípero Serra or read what a woke congressperson stunningly said about St. Damien of Molokai. Conservatives believe in the idea of history and history itself — terrible sins and all. The Left does not believe there is a past, wrongly formulated or otherwise; it never has. The puritans who riot in response to a long-standing series of journalistic lies have no use for truth.
Morgan is a firebrand and good at it. His final Molotov cocktail hits the nation’s edifice with, “They are our very own homegrown hooligans, absolutely convinced, as Americans always are, of the purity of their own motives and the righteousness of their own histrionics.” Ironic. Is he criticizing himself? If he is referring to “Americans” as a multigenerational collective, then why does he think the dead and the living are not ashamed of slavery, wars of attrition against indigenous peoples, the ongoing eugenics debacle, the internment of Japanese, or millions of other travesties? If he is referring to individual Americans, then his grenade’s fuse also fizzles because every human being is programmed toward puritanism, for good and bad. To be self-righteous is how we often survive the travails of day-to-day living — our inheritance, as we exited the Garden.
Not everyone is a puritan, but to say America is doomed to failure because she has a Puritan pedigree has always been understood as a given. The Founders knew this. James Madison and Benjamin Franklin thought their experiment was not long for this world. As a representative republic, we may have already swallowed the cyanide. From America’s birth to her suicide would be but a flash in the epic interfamily struggle between the first Puritan and His wayward creations.
JASON M. MORGAN REPLIES:
I thank Gregg Frazer for his excellent historical work. I also thank him for this chance to clear up an important point. By “Puritan” I mean type, not denomination. A Puritan Hellion is a hell-raiser who is absolutely sure of his ideological purity. A Puritan Hellion doesn’t care a whit about religion, most of the time. Self-preening in the ideological mirror — the Pygmalionism of the thing — is the draw. George W. Bush, a Methodist, splendidly Puritanized Iraq. Woodrow Wilson, a Presbyterian, Puritanized the Rhineland. Lapsed Catholic William Tecumseh Sherman baptized Atlanta in Puritan fire. There has never been a better exemplar of the spirit of Puritan John Endecott than Weather Underground founder Bill Ayers. As I write this, the citizens of Philadelphia are sinners in the hands of an angry Mob. The media lauds the looters as though they were avenging angels. No one mentions John Winthrop, one of the Puritan founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but without him such self-righteousness is hardly thinkable. That is our American DNA, whether we like it or not.
Preston R. Simpson raises an important point about ends and means. The rioters of today work, at varying degrees of awareness, for the ends laid out in The New York Times’ 1619 Project — namely, the overthrow of the American government. This movement is virulently racialist and bent on exacting revenge for centuries of wrongs, actual or perceived. One can hardly imagine any grand documents emerging from such an impromptu gang of arsonists. Instead of The Federalist Papers, we get TikTok videos of looting.
But let’s step back and see the bigger picture. It is not a choice between revolution now and revolution then. We do not need to carry water for the Enlightenment. As Catholics, we don’t need to repeat the slogans of the Masonic conspiracy that took over most of North America. (Those who have not visited the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia, ought to see for themselves what our founding really was.) Prof. Frazer points out that Catholics were among the worst of the violent revolutionaries — my point precisely. We forget, too easily, to draw a clear line between our love for our country and what should be our horror at the organization of our government.
Craig McEwan’s lively letter raises many metaphysical questions that I will have to leave to others to debate. But he does ask, pointedly, whether I include myself among the star-crossed Americans. I do. I am the direct descendant of Capt. John Morgan, a slaveholding Virginian (later Tennessean) who served in the Revolutionary War. He was the descendant of other Morgans who came to North America long before that. I am a Southerner, and I love my homeland with all my heart. I feel about Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi the way I feel about my loved ones, my family. I have lived overseas for many years and am more American now than I ever was back home. It has devastated me to see what has happened to my country. And it has opened my eyes.
I was once a Puritan Hellion, but I never was violent, though I had the ideology down pat. I was a Bush Republican, and I cheered as the tanks rolled into Fallujah. I saw the destruction of a sovereign nation-state in the name of freedom and democracy and thought it was grand. “Sons of Liberty, Sons of Anarchy” is, therefore, a kind of exercise in public metanoia. I hope I have learned to love my country enough, now, never to wish revolution on it or on any of my countrymen. I wish for them all to give up Puritan Hellionism and come home to the Church, which is battling against Puritan Hellions of her own, who work in the service of the author of creation’s first and most cataclysmic revolution.
The Cadillac of Religions
“The Ancient Game of Guilt Abatement” by Frederick W. Marks (Sept.) is one of the finest articles in the NOR in the past ten years.
When I was in high school, where I was taught by Benedictine sisters, Catholicism was regarded as the Cadillac of religions. We attended Mass every morning before school. We had catechism on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and biblical history on Tuesdays and Thursdays. At least once a month we went to confession on Saturday night. By the time we graduated in 1949, my classmates and I knew exactly what was expected of us as Catholics.
Within 20 years, young people were refusing to go to Mass, and fornication was considered okay because “everybody was doing it.” By the time Vatican II closed, confusion and controversy reigned supreme. When Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae a few years later, dissent became institutionalized, and the exodus from the Church began in earnest.
Why is the Catholic Church in such a mess? Likely because we’ve had two generations of Catholics since then who were taught their religious beliefs in a moral vacuum.
Marks covers how we got here. Now we need to look at how to change our ways to make sure the Catholic Church survives.
Young people need to be taught once more that there is right and there is wrong and how to distinguish one from the other. If we continue to teach them that God loves them so much that they can do whatever they want and still go to Heaven, they will continue walking away from the Church, never to return.
Raymond J. Schmitz
Frederick W. Marks presents an extremely narrow way of understanding God, portraying Him only as a God of judgment. Under the guise of “truth-telling,” Marks defines God only in terms of His anger and wrath. The quotes Marks draws from Sacred Scripture point only to a God who demands justice, and he barely pays lip service to God’s love and mercy, which he relegates to God’s lesser attributes.
Fear of God is Marks’s central theme. He longs for the days of the Middle Ages and severe penances. He admires the stern half-truths used by the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux to instill the fear of God in their children.
Fr. Roch Kereszty, in his book Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology, wrote, “One can reconstruct from the Gospels only what the Church proclaimed about Jesus in its missionary preaching, catechesis, and liturgy, but not the real Jesus as he actually lived and acted. On the other hand, as some scholars argue, the faith of his disciples is precisely the impact the real Jesus made on history.”
St. John writes that God is love (cf. 1 Jn. 4:16). Such a statement reflects the true impact Jesus had on His Apostles: They saw Jesus as Love itself in the way He lived and acted.
At an Ignatian retreat in July 1974, Fr. John Hardon, S.J., made the point that filial fear (also known as fear of the Lord), not servile fear, is the gift we receive from the Holy Spirit. Servile fear, he said, is self-centered, based on personal loss (i.e., loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell). Filial fear is based on not offending the divine majesty; it is inspired by perfect charity and is inseparable from divine love. Filial fear of God, which we received at Confirmation, confirms the virtue of hope.
Servile fear might serve as an initiating factor for a sinner to turn away from sin, but its purpose ends there. From that moment onward, filial fear of God should be the driving force, providing the repentant sinner with a completely different image of God as a God of love and mercy.
Marks complains of a lack of balance in contemporary preaching between fear of God and God as love. Yet he himself violates the very lack of balance! Proclamations from the pulpits of the Church that God is love and mercy in no way do violence to God’s justice. As God is infinitely perfect; all His attributes exist in perfect harmony and do not in any way contradict or diminish one another.
Like our childhood, the past is something to which we can never return. To believe that God is going to return the Church to the pre-Vatican II era is like believing He is going to forsake the New Testament and return to the Old Covenant of animal sacrifice. It is not going to happen.
Mr. Marks, when Christ returns, it will be to fulfill your favorite attribute of His: judgment. Until that time, He remains a God of love and mercy.
Alphonse C. Bankard III
FREDERICK W. MARKS REPLIES:
Many thanks to Raymond J. Schmitz for his words of encouragement, along with his incisive review of what has happened since Vatican II. Thanks, as well, to Alphonse C. Bankard III for affording me an opportunity to clarify some of the points in my article.
It is hard for me to understand why Mr. Bankard thinks that judgment is my “favorite attribute” of God. I don’t say so, and it isn’t true. Like men everywhere, I am happy, indeed overjoyed, to hear about God’s mercy. I don’t portray the Almighty as a God of judgment “only,” as Bankard alleges, any more than I define Him “only” in terms of anger and wrath. What I object to is the kind of homiletic imbalance that leaves the man in the pew ill-informed. All of us need to be reminded from time to time that God punishes and that we will be called to account if we don’t keep His Commandments (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-10).
Bankard quotes Fr. Kereszty as holding that one cannot “reconstruct from the Gospels…the real Jesus as he actually lived and acted.” Such a theory defies common sense, even as it contravenes the teaching of every saint, Father, and Doctor of the Church who ever wrote on the subject. In my book Think and Believe, I devote an entire chapter to the case for scriptural reliability because the evidence in its favor is overwhelming.
When it comes to the difference between servile and filial fear, Bankard implies that Fr. Hardon differs from St. Ignatius. He doesn’t. Ignatius is quite clear that the lesser fear, which he calls “pious and very holy,” can be cast out by perfect love.
Bankard suggests that I am fond of the Middle Ages, and to this I plead guilty. Take a look at James J. Walsh’s book The Thirteenth, Greatest of Centuries if you think we have been on a progressive curve theologically or morally since the days of Dominic and Francis.
With regard to the parents of St. Thérèse, they were merely expressing Christian truth in language understandable to youngsters.
As regards the “God of the Old Testament” and the “God of the New,” there is no such thing. God is God! Anyone who looks carefully will find plenty of mercy under the Old Covenant, just as there is plenty of justice under the New.
Which brings me full circle to the central point of my article. Homiletic imbalance is a fact, and the effect that it has had, and continues to have, on faith formation is devastating.
That Was Then
David Mills criticizes Catholics who disagree with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s 2004 note that voting for a pro-choice candidate would be permissible (Last Things, Oct.). That may have been the case in 2004, but now the Democratic Party and its candidates constitute what has been widely called the “Abortion Party.” No pro-life candidate could receive official recognition from the Democratic Party.
Howard P. Kainz
DAVID MILLS REPLIES:
The cardinal’s teaching applies just as much now as it did then. He said a Catholic could vote for a pro-choice candidate if he didn’t vote that way to support abortion and he had a “proportionate” reason for doing so. A party’s commitments don’t affect these criteria.
A Catholic might still follow the Church’s teaching in accepting that he may vote for a pro-choice candidate and include the fact that the candidate’s party is thoroughly pro-choice as one of the reasons he shouldn’t. Cardinal Ratzinger’s teaching stated only that the candidate’s favoring legal abortion doesn’t by itself remove him from consideration. It doesn’t make abortion less important an issue.
Voices Crying on the Outside
What is grossly missing from the prisoners’ letters under the header “Voices Crying from the Inside” (Oct.) is any note of the tears shed by the correspondents for having caused fear, pain, and loss of honestly earned property (i.e., that part of human life spent on obtaining property: each theft is a “little murder”) in the lives of their victims. During my 34-year career with a state’s department of corrections, I interviewed many, many victims whose legal and natural-law rights were attacked by such criminals. To my mind, the victims are the most ill-treated persons within the criminal justice system.
I suggest that the NOR and all others show much more concern for these victims, which is not, as of now, the politically correct position.
West Allis, Wisconsin
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
A public forum such as a letters to the editor column in a magazine with an international circulation — or private correspondence to said magazine’s office requesting a free subscription — is no place for a confession of sin or for an admission of guilt in a legal case. Those should remain between the correspondent and his confessor or lawyer, respectively. It is enough for “the NOR and all others” to know that the Holy Spirit can move to conversion even those who have been accused — and are perhaps guilty — of causing fear, pain, and loss of property in the lives of their fellow man. For this we give thanks to God for His unfathomable mercy as we offer our assistance to the proselyte on the difficult path to reconciliation with God and with society, as the case may be.
Those like Mr. Pawlak who insist on admissions of guilt may refer to Alexander Clayton’s letter in our November issue, the last under the header “Racism & Violence in America.”
Darwinist Materialism & the Creator God
Nicholas J. Healy, in “Breaking the Iron Grip of the Reigning Scientific Orthodoxy” (Oct.), does an excellent job of summarizing the various Christian efforts to counteract the use of Darwinian evolution by atheistic scientists to mount an assault on the creator God. Unfortunately, Healy devotes most of his article to the self-styled intelligent design (ID) position, which is most popular with Protestants, and he makes only passing mention of theistic evolution as an alternative.
Readers of the NOR need to be apprised of two major philosophical defects in the ID position — defects to which theistic evolution is not subject. These defects have been described over the past generation by two Catholic intellectuals — Stephen Barr, nuclear physicist, and Edward Feser, philosopher — principally in the pages of First Things.
First, Catholics need have no fear of faith contradicting the proper use of man’s reason, whether in philosophy or science, because God is the author of both. On the one hand, because Catholics are comfortable with the valid use of philosophy in support of doctrine, they can easily dismiss the false positivist philosophy of scientific materialism and Darwinism, which fails to grasp that the presence of contingent things can only be explained by a God whose essence is existence itself. On the other hand, Catholics agree with St. Augustine on the proper interpretation of Genesis and are thus comfortable acknowledging God’s use of secondary causes in His creation, when it can be demonstrated by valid scientific investigation.
Protestantism, because of its intrinsic gnostic tendencies, is afflicted with a strong distrust of man’s rational nature and feels at sea both philosophically and scientifically. When Protestants use science, as does the ID movement, in an unnecessary attempt to refute Darwinian evolution’s scientific claims instead of its patently false philosophical ones, they do so naïvely. Healy quotes David Gelernter, a computer scientist, as having refuted Darwinian evolution because he calculates the likelihood of any useful new protein mutation being randomly generated as the unlikely event of one in 10 to the 77th power, which is close to one in 10 to the 10 to the second power using a different mathematical notation. However, Roger Penrose, Nobel laureate in physics, has irrefutably calculated the intrinsically designed information content of the universe at the time of the Big Bang to be so enormous that the above figure is dwarfed in comparison — i.e., God has fine-tuned the universe to a precision of one part in 10 to the 10 to the 123rd power, thereby providing more than enough information in the predesigned “seed” of the Big Bang for the universe to “flower” over some 14 billion years into the beautiful world visible today.
Catholics can easily embrace God’s use of evolution in creating the universe (i.e., theistic evolution) because they recognize that God imbues everything He creates with truth and goodness. Even the predesigned forces and subatomic particles within the material universe are filled with teleological meaning and generously gifted with purposeful agency to accomplish His acts of life-giving providence. Thus, theistic evolution bears Trinitarian witness to the visible teleology present in the advance in complexity of life forms over time, from bacteria to primates, that makes both individuals and species more existentially fit for self-survival, more cognitively self-aware of their environment, and more self-determined in their activities. Man, because he possesses more than material powers, must, of course, be a separate creation.
Protestantism, as a precursor to the Enlightenment, commits the same nominalist error as scientific materialism and Darwinism when it fails to see intrinsic meaning and purpose in the material world. For atheistic scientists like Darwin and his positivist followers, the intrinsically unintelligible material world must await the external imposition of any arbitrary meaning and purpose by the mind of the scientific investigator. For Protestants, the “lifeless” material of the universe, which they believe is devoid of intrinsic intelligibility and purposeful agency, must await the external imposition of any intelligible design by God Himself.
Douglas P. Miller, M.D.
Hickory, North Carolina
Nicholas J. Healy’s article stimulated memories of my time at Stanford University, where I had the pleasure of serving as Dr. Linus Pauling’s research assistant. The year 1970 was part of Dr. Pauling’s five-year tenure at Stanford after his retirement from Cal Tech. The work I was doing for him was related to his belief about megavitamin therapy, specifically asking if the vitamin niacin, given in high doses, would have an impact on the prospects for recovering from a molecular disease that is fatal to the very young. I was in correspondence with researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering at the time. During that study, I learned two important things: First, like most hypotheses, that one was totally incorrect because there was absolutely no enzyme activity in the patients. The molecular disease eliminated the enzyme from their cells. Second, you can learn as much from a failed hypothesis as from a successful one.
One of Pauling’s certainties was that the reason humans cannot manufacture ascorbic acid (his favorite Vitamin C) was that our evolutionary ancestors developed in a citrus-rich environment and so lost the ability because physiological systems tend to eliminate energy-consuming metabolic pathways that are not needed. I recall reading a few years ago that research showed this hypothesis was also not true.
At the time, I was convinced that Darwinian evolution was the origin of the multiple species of plant and animal life, but I did wonder how a biochemical system like the citrus-acid cycle of the mitochondria could have evolved, as it involves multiple enzymes producing multiple biochemical products, each of which would harm the cell if it were not eliminated by the next step. In 1970 I was sure that someone had worked that out.
Of course, I was in error. Reading Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box stood me on my ear. His subsequent work pointing out the existence of biochemical systems with such complexity that all the components could not have evolved simultaneously was convincing. Some systems had to be designed, because without that, they could not work as well as they do. I’ve been sharing that with my chemistry students every year since then. I now support the Discovery Institute and hope that the scientific establishment will rid itself of the current phlogiston-like prejudice against intelligent design that seriously impedes our science.
W. Patrick Cunningham
Research Scientist in Residence, St. Mary’s University of Texas
San Antonio, Texas
C’mon, guys. I like that you insert a little humor into the NOR, but I was surprised to find so much humor in a major article, “Breaking the Iron Grip of the Reigning Scientific Orthodoxy.”
Nicholas J. Healy asserts that there was a “Darwinist consensus” on the origin of life. Darwin excluded the origin of life from his work, so how could there be a Darwinist consensus? Ah, the consensus is not Darwin’s but the scientists’ who believe Darwin correct on the theory of evolution.
Healy suggests that Phillip Johnson, in his 1991 book Darwin on Trial, “effectively demolished the accepted theory” that “all life and all species, including mankind,” are “the product of mindless material forces.” That was more than a quarter century ago. I haven’t noticed any rejection or dismissal of Darwinism among scientists.
I have seen observations of species formation. I have seen sexual selection being emphasized, along with natural selection. And I have seen rejection of intelligent design (ID) because to include a non-materialistic designer is to change the definition of science (i.e., describing nature in materialistic terms — that is, without appeal to magic or to divine intervention), and no one has identified a better materialistic designer than Darwin’s. Those who bemoan the scientific community’s rejection of ID papers and research proposals should not be surprised: ID violates the very definition of science.
Healy reports that David Gelernter asks us to consider the number of ways a protein of 150 bases can be constructed with 20 different amino acids. He gets a whopping big number. But I don’t see the relevance: No scientist I know is positing that fully functioning DNA is required to start the evolution of living creatures, so why would Gelernter? He is right that Darwin had no answer for the Cambrian explosion. But help has come in the intervening years with traces of animals before the Cambrian that were found to support the possibility that animals in evolution were to seed the Cambrian with all the life forms found there.
Healy points to materialism as a replacement for God for some. This is sad but true. But rather than trying to recapture the ignorance of yore, when “God did it” was the answer to every question, we should admire and celebrate how He did make all living things — through a process Darwin called evolution, a process that keeps evolving, as science does, toward an accurate story.
John L. Dyer
We are indebted to Nicholas J. Healy for his treatise “Breaking the Iron Grip of the Reigning Scientific Orthodoxy,” for choosing Darwinian evolution as a prime example, and for reminding us that “by the early 20th century, the great bulk of scientists had adopted Darwin’s theory of evolution. The holdouts principally objected to it on religious grounds,” while, more recently, others have advanced “among other aspects of innovation in science, the consideration of intelligent design (ID) as an explanation for observable changes in life forms.”
St. John Henry Newman, writing about Darwin’s theory in 1868, anticipated ID: “I do not fear the theory…. It does not seem to me to follow that creation is denied because the Creator, millions of years ago, gave laws to matter. He first created matter and then He created laws for it — laws which should construct it into its present wonderful beauty, and accurate adjustment and harmony of parts gradually. We do not deny or circumscribe the Creator, because we hold…that He gave matter such laws as by their blind instrumentality moulded and constructed through innumerable ages the world as we see it. If Mr Darwin in this or that point of his theory comes into collision with revealed truth, that is another matter — but I do not see that the principle of development, or what I have called construction, does. As to the Divine Design, is it not an instance of incomprehensibly and infinitely marvelous Wisdom and Design to have given certain laws to matter millions of ages ago, which have surely and precisely worked out, in the long course of those ages, those effects which He from the first proposed. Mr Darwin’s theory need not then to be atheistical, be it true or not; it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of Divine Prescience and Skill…. I do not [see] that ‘the accidental evolution of organic beings’ is inconsistent with divine design — It is accidental to us, not to God.”
Thomas E. Williams, M.D.
Canyon Lake, Texas
Thanks to Nicholas J. Healy for his thoughtful and knowledgeable analysis of recent developments in mathematical genetics, which seem to undermine the apparently paradigmatic, and almost certainly dominant, materialist naturalism in the life and perhaps earth sciences. On the merely personal level, he has set part of my reading, and re-reading, for the next few weeks.
Let us suppose that the mindless materialism of the “scientific establishment” — procedural or substantive as it may be — is to be overthrown, on whatever grounds one chooses or evidence suggests. An omniscient, omnipotent (and, consequently, inscrutable) “mind,” then, has “designed” and provides maintenance for the universe, including all forms of “life.” This is not some Swiss watchmaker, as in William Paley and other earlier proponents of a natural theology, but an incomprehensibly electronically adept mathematician. What, then, for the believer, faced now with the Great Computer in the Sky?
John Courtney Murray’s The Problem of God, published almost 60 years ago, provides a reply. This
problem, as Murray puts it, seems to have been set for us not by scientists, whether they be biologists, geneticists, mathematicians, software engineers, or other post-Baconian types, but by God Himself. Murray posits a fourfold problem within the Judeo-Christian tradition: Whether God is here with us, what God is doing here for us, how we are to know the God-with-us, and how we are to name Him.
As Murray teases it out, the metaphysical part of the problem — can the existence of God be known, and what is His essence? — allows for some philosophical adjustment, as per Aquinas and the analogy of attribution. But, he continues, no man escapes the “moral problem,” which “utterly defeats philosophy.” As Murray argues, “If God is, and if he is what he is, not only the Creator but the Pantokrator, how can the world be what it is, a place of manifold evil, an arena of human misery?”
Neither the metaphysical nor the moral problem escaped Darwin’s attention, whatever “Darwinists” may have done with them. For the latter, two quotes of Darwin may suffice: “What a book a devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low and horribly cruel works of nature” (More Letters of Charles Darwin, ed. Francis Darwin, 1903). More specifically, a locus classicus for Darwin’s meditations on the moral problem lies in a letter to Asa Gray (1860): “There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed.”
So, if the theistic implications of recent developments in, for example, statistical genetics hold, then instead of chance and necessity providing for the scandal in the manifold world, the Great Computer in the Sky has designed it the way we see its morality worked out. Nature is still, as the poet Alfred Tennyson put it nine years before On the Origin of Species, “red in tooth and claw,” and with raving shrieks against man’s creed. Darwin had spent much effort to relieve God of the burden of being Creator and Pantocrator of the world, for there simply was too much nastiness in it to comport with divine goodness. Now some divinity lurks promiscuously in the metamathematical and, presumably, moral background.
NICHOLAS J. HEALY REPLIES:
I am grateful for the responses to my article. Most of them provide different but helpful perspectives on the fundamental issues.
Douglas P. Miller faults me for concentrating on intelligent design (ID) rather than on the more “Catholic” theistic evolution. I focused on ID because its proponents have done the heavy lifting in refuting Darwinism, using science rather than philosophy or theology. I believe this is a necessary first step. When it is accomplished, perhaps in just a few short years, the time will be ripe for considering the nature of design and how the Designer brought it about. In the meantime, I assure Dr. Miller that the ID movement is not limited to Protestants. One of the most prominent and oft-cited ID scientists is Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box and Darwin Devolves. He is a devout Catholic with a large family.
- Patrick Cunningham is a good example of a scientist with enough humility to recognize that his long-held beliefs might be in error. It was precisely Dr. Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box that persuaded him that Darwin’s thesis could not be true.
John L. Dyer’s letter reveals someone threatened by the ongoing collapse of the Darwinian theory. He hasn’t “noticed any rejection or dismissal of Darwinism among scientists.” I would commend him to the Discovery Institute’s bevy of top scientists. His real objection to ID is that it does not accept (on faith?) that nature is solely a product of irrational materialism; and materialism is the only proper subject of science. That would come as quite a surprise to Aristotle, Copernicus, Newton, Pasteur, and even Einstein. As David Gelernter perceptively noted, “Some I.D.-haters have shown themselves willing to use any argument — fair or not, true or not, ad hominem or not — to keep this dangerous idea locked in a box forever. They remind us of the extent to which Darwinism is no longer just a scientific theory but the basis of a worldview, and an emergency replacement religion for the many troubled souls who need one” (Claremont Review of Books, Spring 2019).
Thomas E. Williams provides a most interesting citation of St. John Henry Newman, suggesting that Darwin’s theory need not have developed the way it did. That may logically be true, but “Darwinism” today insists that all development of life is random, that there is no design of life and no Designer.
Finally, John Lyon brings out an implicit objection to ID: that the Designer must be cruel because of the misery and suffering throughout nature. Christianity has always traced human suffering to the fall of man in the Garden of Eden and has hinted that before man the rebellion and fall of Satan might account for the natural world’s disorder. C.S. Lewis addresses some of the issues in his book The Problem of Pain. Once again, I think a more propitious time to address these ultimate questions is when science is freed from the grip of Darwinist materialism.
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