Letters to the Editor: October 2019
A Disaster of Appalling Proportions
I was acutely disappointed by Terry Scambray’s brief review of two books on Donald Trump (June). Scambray obviously embraces Trump, who is, in my judgment, a national and international disaster of appalling proportions. Is it possible that you and the NOR embrace/endorse Scambray’s view of Trump? If you do, I would like to cancel my subscription at once.
Professor Emeritus of Political Science, San Francisco State University
San Francisco, California
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
To be clear: Due to our tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization, the NOR does not, and cannot, endorse (or dis-endorse) candidates for political office. Nor do we stump for politicians in office. That is not our mission. But we do occasionally feature items about politics and politicians, including the current president.
We cannot speak to Scambray’s view of President Trump. But to allay your concern that the NOR might “embrace” Trump, we direct your memory to a New Oxford Note titled “Pro-Lifers, You’ve Been Played” (Jan.-Feb. 2018), in which we chastised pro-lifers for willingly acting as Trump’s dupes by believing that he’d keep his pro-life campaign promises. Not an endorsement!
That New Oxford Note ignited a firestorm of angry letters in support of Trump, the first few of which appeared in our April 2018 issue. One correspondent called that Note “obnoxious” and “beneath contempt.” Another speculated that we’d been “pounding out random thoughts while buzzed.” More angry letters appeared in our June and September 2018 issues, in which a few correspondents announced that they were canceling their subscriptions because, said one, “to judge President Trump the way you did was not only un-Christ-like but terribly wrong,” and, said another, because we are “rigidly prejudiced and biased” and might even be “vicious maniacs.” All this because we dared to question Trump’s commitment to the pro-life cause and dared further to answer objections.
That episode, which dragged out over nine months, should be evidence enough that the NOR does not “embrace” Trump. Some of our writers might do so, and on occasion we might publish their thoughts, but that does not imply an endorsement.
We are not, to the consternation of many, either “for” or “against” Trump. But we do want him to do good (not necessarily well) and act in favor of the common good, as we do with all our political leaders. When they don’t — brace yourselves! — we might point it out, if we feel it’s necessary.
At this point, we should say that we’ve been impressed by Trump’s recent actions on behalf of the pro-life cause. His administration finalized a new rule that bars recipients of Title X funding, a federal family-planning program, from making abortion referrals. In response, Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, pulled out of the program, walking away from an estimated $60 million in annual federal grants.
According to the Left-leaning Atlantic, this was a “double victory” for Trump: “It serves as another barrier between federal funds and abortion services, and the president’s supporters believe it also shows that Planned Parenthood cares more about providing abortion services than serving the health needs of the greatest possible number of women…. The Trump administration is openly dedicated to kneecapping health-care providers that perform abortions, and Planned Parenthood is its biggest target. Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, would rather take a huge financial hit and wage a high-profile fight with the Trump administration than change its practices” (Aug. 20).
Trump may yet earn his pro-life bona fides. Stay tuned!
Family Members in Full
Christopher A. Decaen’s biblically rich meditation on the significance of adoption is inspiring to those of us blessed to have adopted children (“‘Good News, Son, You’re Adopted!’” Jul.-Aug.). In particular, I was struck by this: “The destiny of the child into the arms and home of the adoptive parents is not a patchwork quick-fix. Rather, from the beginning, it was part of the subtle but beautiful divine plan.” My wife and I always emphasized this with our two adopted sons: God always meant you to be full members of our family.
Andrew T. Seeley
Santa Paula, California
Thank you for the wonderful article by Christopher A. Decaen. It was a very timely gift from God as our adopted son passed away unexpectedly on July 22. Albert was a great blessing to us for 19 years. He taught me a great deal about God and about myself. He was also a great blessing and a challenge to our three birth children, who have always seen him as a full-fledged member of our family.
As Dr. Decaen so beautifully points out, we all need to be adopted, or “reborn,” in the Spirit. And now our son has died to this world in order to be reborn in God’s Kingdom.
Bill & Anne Waters
A Painter Saint?
In his Last Things column (June), David Mills laments what seems to be the lack of a canonized artist for whom art was his primary vocation. Here’s one possibility: Bl. Fra Angelico (1395-1455), an early Italian Renaissance painter. True, he is only “Blessed” (as of 1982), and not yet canonized, and he was also a Dominican friar. Thus, I can see why he might not have made Mr. Mills’s cut. There is good reason to believe, however, that painting was indeed his first vocation, even as a friar. He sought to glorify God in his work, and he reportedly said that one who seeks to illustrate Christ ought to be with Christ. It might be worth stretching Mills’s criteria to include this devout and gifted painter.
Grand Blanc, Michigan
A Comelier Creature?
Apropos Michael S. Rose’s Literature Matters column (June): Last year, I read Frankenstein for the third time, and the first time in many decades. Unless I missed something, Victor Frankenstein rejects his creature because the creature is hideous in appearance (“unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created”), and all the trouble in the novel springs from this. I cannot help but think that if the creature had come out looking like Cary Grant, or at least something other than hideous, all the trouble would have been avoided.
It is interesting to think what the novel would be like if Mary Shelley had Victor’s experiment succeed in aesthetic, or human, terms, and had him still learn, in some way, that it is wrong to try to play God.
San Francisco, California
Missionaries, Martyrs & Saints: The Sacred Sites of Quebec & New York
Richard Upsher Smith Jr.’s two-part series on the North American Jesuit martyrs and St. Kateri Tekakwitha (“Preludes & Points,” June and July-August) gives needed attention to the sites connected with the lives of these saints, who are special to both the U.S. and Canada. I appreciate Dr. Smith’s following their trail, and I hope it will encourage others to visit these sacred sites.
I’d like to add my own appreciation of a pilgrimage I made two summers ago to several shrines in Quebec, all along the St. Lawrence River — in particular, the Shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha at the St. Francis Xavier Mission in Kahnawake, on the south shore of the river opposite Montreal. It was to this community that Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) traveled from the Mohawk Valley of New York State, which must have been a severe trial for her, as her health and eyesight were poor. She sought protection from the persecution she endured after her baptism. The mission to which she fled, with a note that told of her devotion to God and identifying her as “Precious Kateri Tekakwitha” by the priest who baptized her, was then at La Prairie, Quebec. After her death there, the mission moved every ten years or so, until it settled at the present site in 1716.
It is quite obvious that Kateri was recognized as a saint by this Catholic community, as they took her remains with them to where they rest today, in the mission church in Kahnawake. This church is now surrounded by a slightly larger church; a sacristy that has its own chapel; the former rectory, which is now a museum; and — as this was also a French fort, under the protection of which these Christians lived — an officer’s mess, which is the present rectory. Today, the image of St. Kateri, which we saw during her canonization at St. Peter’s in Rome, is lifted above her tomb, and her banner flies over the entry to this charming old church.
I discovered a continuing religious history of 300 years at this shrine, which today has an active congregation, many of them of the Mohawk nation, who are engaged in many works of evangelization, especially to native people. You can follow their activities by subscribing to the magazine Kateri, which has been continuously published for 71 years.
Hanover, New Hampshire
Ed. Note: For information about Kateri magazine, visit www.katericenter.com, or write to Kateri Center, P.O. Box 70, Kahnawake, QC, J0L 1B0, Canada.
In his marvelous and beautifully written articles on the Jesuit martyrs of North America and St. Catherine Tekakwitha, Richard Upsher Smith Jr. offers an antidote to the current revisionist history that abounds in romantic depictions of indigenous peoples, on one hand, and caricatures of rapacious colonists on the other. Today, Christian missionaries are likely to be dismissed in popular and academic circles as heralds of cultural genocide rather than revered as saints bringing the Good News to peoples who eventually willingly embraced Jesus Christ, as did St. Catherine, the Lily of the Mohawks.
As an American transplant living in Ottawa, I recognize the terrain Smith describes: “Below Gatineau-Ottawa, the river valley is broad, flat and fertile, with the Laurentian Mountains lying picturesquely in the northeastern distance. The sky seems vast…. It seemed that the farther northwest I drove, the more coniferous the forest became. The terrain became hillier and marked with small, shallow glacial depressions and pools that slowly filled with mist as the day turned into dusk and then into night. It seemed like the unkind land of faery to me. The Jesuits might well have been stirred by the same apprehensions.” Now, imagine the terrain in winter!
Not only does Smith describe the Canadian landscape as more “red in tooth and claw” than the current, benign, and almost pantheistic view of Mother Earth; he realistically describes the people occupying it, regardless of their race or culture, with evidence of our fallen nature evenly distributed among them all. His travelogues weave seamlessly salient details about the first inhabitants the Jesuit martyrs encountered with what these men endured far from their homes in France.
Dr. Smith’s articles remind me of the first time I read The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents while on a train trip from Ottawa to Quebec City. It was March 2008, and so much snow had fallen in that month alone that roofs were collapsing in the province of Quebec. The Jesuit Relations compiles the letters sent back to France by various missionaries to New France in the 16th century. Needless to say, the language is not politically correct. However, these firsthand accounts are gripping and alive and more closely resemble real life than some of the identity-politics ideology masquerading as history and scholarship these days. Smith’s articles are fair in this regard too. He describes the culture of the Iroquoian peoples as “not a utopia, but neither was it a Hobbesian chaos.” He highlights the positive aspects of their social organization, agriculture, and openness to trade. “Their religion was ready, too, as some natives realized, for the incorporation of a new Lord,” he writes.
Canada, perhaps even more so than the U.S., is increasingly post-Christian and unmoored from her foundational roots. Evidence of those roots is being scrubbed from history. Thanks to Dr. Smith for reminding us of them.
The articles by Richard Upsher Smith Jr. resonated mightily with me. For many years now, the Catholic community in Syracuse, New York, known as Unity Kitchen Community of the Catholic Worker (inspired by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin), has championed the cause of the recognition of holy Iroquois and Huron martyrs slain in parts of Canada and Upstate New York in the 17th and 18th centuries. Stephen Tegananokoa, Huron Catholic Dorothee (last name unknown), Frances Gonannhatena, Margaret Garangouhas, and many others merit the veneration and charity we have bestowed on the Jesuit martyrs and St. Kateri.
Dr. Smith’s travels and writings remind us of the fire of faith that burned within many of that time. We can only hope that his efforts will bring not only recognition to these Onondaga and Huron martyrs but a reconciliation among the Iroquois, Huron, French, English, and American people.
RICHARD UPSHER SMITH JR. REPLIES:
I thank Rosemary Lunardini for mentioning the Shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha at the St. Francis Xavier Mission in Kahnawake across the St. Lawrence from Montreal. When I was researching my articles, I finished my work at the Jesuit Archives in Montreal on a Friday and visited the shrine in Kahnawake the next day, only to find that it was closed on Saturdays. I was disappointed, but not as disappointed as the two Native American women I met there, who were visiting Quebec from out west. Someday I hope to share Lunardini’s experience of a pilgrimage to the shrine. Meanwhile, I hope many readers will follow her advice and visit it, as well as the other holy shrines in Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec.
I am grateful to Deborah Gyapong for her appreciation of my articles. She is quite right that one of the effects of researching the peoples of 17th-century New France, if the researcher tries to see what is in front of him without prejudice, is to compel the recognition that both the aboriginal peoples and the European peoples were fallen human beings with a mixture of admirable qualities and deplorable characteristics. That recognition is the fundamental corrective to the romanticization of the native peoples in which some progressives indulge, as well as to the glorification of Counter-Reformation Catholicism that some traditionalists entertain.
It takes a tremendous effort of historical imagination to enter the minds and hearts of these people. For example, a slow, meditative reading of St. Ignatius’s Exercises and Constitutions, as well as Louis Lallemant’s Spiritual Doctrine, is a prerequisite for understanding the psychology of the French Jesuits who came to New France for love of souls. An equally slow, meditative pondering of native religion, village sites, and artifacts is necessary for comprehending the Huron and the Iroquois worldviews. But if you do the work, you begin to make contact with real people, and to know the truth of history.
To be sure, the Europeans had more effectively learned how to overcome nature’s exigencies and hazards through math and the sciences, had developed the fine arts and literature to a plastic profundity well beyond what they found in America, and were able to philosophize far better than the aboriginals. This amounted to a kind of superiority. However, aside from the fact that the Europeans had much to learn from the Native Americans about living in their new environment (not to mention that native rhetoric was the equal of European), their cultural superiority was a contingent thing and much vitiated by their own “sins, negligences, and ignorances.” The one truly superior thing they brought to the aboriginals was not really theirs at all: the worship of the One True God in His Holy Catholic Church. It goes without saying that French Catholicism had acquired many characteristics of French culture. Nevertheless, despite this (and partly because of it too), the Jesuits were able to find common ground with the Huron and the Iroquois for their preaching and to foster genuine conversions. The Jesuits brought reality and truth with them as missionaries, if not as Frenchmen, and many natives comprehended the message. That is the important thing.
Finally, I thank Timothy Gorman for bringing to my attention, and to that of those reading this, the Huron and Onondaga martyrs, named and unnamed, who gave their lives for Christ in what is now the Syracuse area. The members of the Unity Kitchen Community of the Catholic Worker discovered these martyrs by grace and accident in 1994 and have tried to stir up interest in them in the Church to little effect. Perhaps this pious work should be extended to all the aboriginal martyrs and confessors of this period in New York and Upper Canada, many of whose names have been preserved in the writings of the Jesuits. The investigation might have to be extended into Lower Canada and New England as well. The writings of the Recollets and the Ursulines might have to be read too. Who knows? The sheer number of martyred men, women, and children alone might force the Church to pay attention to their cause. Any volunteers?
I might add that William Baaki of Amsterdam, New York, has suggested to me that St. Catherine Tekakwitha should be seen as a great patroness of life. As she rebelled against what was clearly a culture of death, Mr. Baaki’s suggestion makes perfect sense to me. But couldn’t the same be said of all these aboriginal martyrs and confessors? Might they not, if beatified, become the Church’s great choir of intercessors for life?
The Final Frontier
Jason M. Morgan’s “Denizens of a Pale Blue Dust Mote” (Cultural Counterpoint, Jul.-Aug.) is a wonderfully poetic rumination on the irony of technological pride. But I cannot agree with Morgan’s suggestion that the major legacy of the space program has been a diminished view of mankind’s place in the universe and a justification for environmental pessimism.
That was certainly Carl Sagan’s legacy, but not the only one. After a 1989 NASA report to President George H.W. Bush found that any effort to sustain a colony on Mars would cost more than $450 billion, the idea of space colonization was temporarily shelved. But when subsequent satellite and rover studies of the planet’s surface uncovered enough resources for astronauts literally to “live off the land,” a very different idea began to emerge.
Settlers’ shelter, it turns out, does not have to be expensively lugged from Earth but can be manufactured from Martian soil. Neither is it necessary to bring fuel for generating equipment as methane is abundant. Water is plentiful at the Martian poles, and abundant oxygen is trapped everywhere on the surface as iron oxide (which accounts for the planet’s red color).
Research since has also shown that Mars is not the only habitable world. Our own moon, though currently lacking an atmosphere, has the distinct advantage of being close. Its surface has adequate supplies of iron, silicon, and aluminum, as well as traces of carbon, nitrogen, and other elements needed to sustain human settlements. Most importantly, its surface is saturated with helium-3, the only nuclear fuel that does not produce radioactive waste and is, therefore, a promising power source for virtually unlimited interplanetary travel.
Saturn’s moon Titan is also believed to have everything required to sustain a colony while, farther out, the closest star system to our own has at least one Earth-sized planet, Promixa b, which is warm enough for liquid water.
In the words of Olivier Guyon, a planet-hunter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and associate professor at the University of Arizona, this last fact is “a huge deal.” It “boosts the already existing, mounting body of evidence that such planets are near, and that several of them are probably sitting quite close to us.”
We might not be at the geographic center of the cosmos — indeed, we might not even be its only intelligent lifeform. But the deeper we push into space, the clearer it seems to both scientists and religious space buffs (of whom there are many) that the universe is astonishingly geared to, and even welcoming of, our presence — almost as if God had designed it with us in mind.
Lewis M. Andrews
Yankee Institute for Public Policy
Redding Ridge, Connecticut
JASON M. MORGAN REPLIES:
When I was younger, I subscribed to Ad Astra magazine, and to Omni, Astronomy, Popular Science, and Scientific American. I read them all cover to cover, and still do from time to time. If only there had been more people like Lewis M. Andrews in those pages. I eventually let my subscriptions lapse because what I found cheek by jowl with the undeniable technical prowess detailed in those publications was a smug refusal to think about man in any way other than by using the scientific method. I wanted to know all about the stars and planets and comets, all about the cosmological constant and anti-matter and black holes — but I also wanted to know about the scientists studying those things. The eye peering into the telescope or microscope is a window to a soul, after all. At least, that would seem to me to be the point of all the exploration. But so many scientists confidently assert that they have no need for that hypothesis.
It is a beautiful thing to explore our surroundings. Who has not seen images from the Hubble Space Telescope and shuddered, sobered with awe? I remember reverently turning the pages of the National Geographic issue that featured full-color photographs from the Mars Pathfinder mission. Today, I ask myself, is NASA really in the business of understanding the human person, or are all those wonderful rovers and landers and probes more about bureaucrats winning budgets and nation-states competing with one another? I sometimes think that the discarded Christian soul has been replaced with an internalized planetarium. The cavernous universe is grand, but it is not nearly enough. I want the Creator; NASA, I think, has its sights set only on creation, far too low.
When Elon Musk talks about colonizing Mars, does he plan to include a berth on the ship for a priest, à la the Portuguese explorers five centuries ago? If there will be a Mass on Olympus Mons, then the Red Planet will also be a place worthy of man.
Wrong & Unjust
I find myself in agreement and disagreement with “Father Figuring” by Pieter Vree (New Oxford Notebook, Jul.-Aug.). On one hand, it is easy to see the silliness of the archbishop of Wellington, New Zealand, who wonders why priests are called “father.” This is just another example of political correctness taken to an extreme. On the other hand, for Vree to tar homosexual priests with sexual predation is wrong and unjust. Many studies have shown that child abusers will abuse both male and female children equally. In our Church, altar servers were historically male, so predator priests had many more opportunities to abuse males. I think Vree is barking up the wrong tree here, and Pope Francis has it right: Clericalism allowed and enabled abuse.
I think the Church, in a way, created the problem. Due to the Church’s negative perception of sexuality, some people repressed their sexuality. In fact, the faithful were encouraged to suppress their sexuality and channel it into something more positive. This caused some people, who took this too seriously, never to mature as sexual beings. They got stuck in an immature stage of development. What makes me think this is correct is that there have been very few cases of younger priests, in recent decades, abusing children or adolescents. This is because candidates for the priesthood are much better screened today and many, I believe, have a healthier view of sexuality. Most of the abuse cases occurred years ago and were committed by priests ordained before or directly after Vatican II.
I know of two priests from my parish who turned out to be gay. One transferred to the Episcopal Church because he felt he could live a more honest existence there. The other was expelled from the diocese when it became known that he had been arrested in a vice sting. But he visited the sick and poor, especially widows, and gave very insightful homilies.
By contrast, my mother supported our parish her entire life. Although she was on the parish prayer list, not once in the last two years of her life did a priest call, visit, or inquire about her. When I called our parish priest to inquire about the Anointing of the Sick, all he did was explain the theology of the sacrament and offer a prayer over the phone.
I would take those two gay priests over any of the others, any day, because they lived the works of mercy. They were not predators. They visited the sick, consoled the grieving, celebrated the sacraments, prepared good homilies, and even brought food to those in need. Nothing was too much trouble for them when someone was in need. They were gay, and they were priests, and they were good priests. (They were not stationed here at the same time and were not a couple, in case you’re reading into this.)
Vree seems to have a personal dislike for gay people. I noticed this with his father, and I hoped the younger Vree would not be the same. I never liked the anti-gay tone of the NOR. I hope that one day Vree will come to a better appreciation of gay people.
Russell J. DePaula
PIETER VREE REPLIES:
Studies may or may not show that pedophiles abuse males and females equally, but studies of clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church have shown definitively that predator priests overwhelmingly abuse males. There’s simply no arguing against this fact. And I doubt that the preponderance of male-on-male priestly abuse is a matter of available victims, as Mr. DePaula suggests. Abusers don’t necessarily sit back and wait for victims to become available. “Oh look, here’s a boy. He keeps coming around. I think I’ll molest him.” No, they actively target and groom their victims, suggesting that the abuse is not merely opportunistic but premeditated, planned, and performed according to taste. And the fact that the abuse patterns involve male victims — the largest group of whom is post-pubescent teens — indicates that what the Church faces is a homosexual abuse problem.
I never bought the “stuck in an immature stage of development” theory of homosexual abuse. It implies that men (since we’re talking about priests here) are, by and large, homosexually inclined from a young age and generally grow out of their inherent homosexual orientation and into a “mature” heterosexual orientation. The Catechism calls homosexuality a “disorder,” not a fleeting expression of youthful immaturity.
And I’m not sure in what world you could call a cleric who gets arrested in a vice sting a “good priest.” I’ll take a lazy catechist and poor homilist over a pervert prowling the streets (or online chat rooms or whatever) every day of the week, no matter how often he chooses to chum it up with lonely widows. That’s just my personal preference — like father, like son. But if you want a good reason why, see Michael S. Rose’s exposition of “The Pardoner’s Tale” by Geoffrey Chaucer in this issue, and pay close attention to his description of the pardoner’s moral and religious hypocrisy.
When Is a Tree No Longer a Tree?
According to John Lyon’s review of Fr. Michael Chaberek’s book Aquinas and Evolution (June), St. Thomas’s philosophy is incompatible with the scientific theory of evolution, even theistic evolution, because the latter involves the change of one nature into another. The example Lyon gives is the change from a non-human hominid to a human being.
Is this not part of the larger problem of relating Aquinas to the natural world? I always thought there was some “substance” of a thing that made it that thing and not something else — for example, a “chair-ish-ness” that made something a chair and not a loveseat or a bench. But any time something is transformed into something else, there should be a change in its substance along with the visible changes. A tree is a tree, but when it is cut down and sawn up, it becomes wood, and then when the wood is fashioned into a chair, it becomes a chair. If the chair is burned, it becomes ashes.
This is a sufficiently wide-ranging problem that Aquinas and his successors — or predecessors — must have dealt with it.
John F. Fay
John Lyon does an excellent job of trying to be evenhanded in his review of Fr. Chaberek’s proposed thesis that Aquinas would never have endorsed theistic evolution because Thomistic philosophy, so he claims, denies the possible transformation of one species into another. Chaberek’s position is faulty because he misunderstands the protean nature of substantial change that is everywhere evident within chemical and nuclear processes, of which the transformation of species is simply a more complex example. Moreover, Chaberek misreads Aquinas, who never denied Aristotle’s teaching on substantial change. (Summa Theologiae, q. 65, art. 4, is not about corporeal change but a defense of the creative act, of which God alone is the author.)
It is true that Aquinas stressed the principle that like begets like — i.e., that horses beget horses and not some other animal. This principle of living substances is made possible by the normal stability of the genetic makeup of complex living organisms during reproduction. However, alterations or mutations in this genetic makeup do occur. If a certain species threatened by extinction could improve its survivability over time through fortuitous changes in the genetic makeup of some of its conceived offspring, then such individuals with sufficiently accumulated genetic changes could be progressing on the path of becoming a new species.
None of these individual genetic modifications intrinsically violate the metaphysical principles of substantial change, nor do such changes need to follow the pattern of like begetting like, as Aquinas himself admitted was possible (Summa, q. 45, art. 8, reply to objection 3). Although Aquinas misunderstood the scientific nature of the process, he clearly stated that celestial bodies (a colorful Aristotelian understanding of the reality of nature’s universal principles) can bring about changes through unlike causes. In fact, substantial changes in general result in unlike products through differing combinations of parts, in such a fashion that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Thus, salt is a result of the chemical combination of metallic sodium with gaseous chlorine. In fact, even to primitive Greek and Aristotelian thinking, all the variety of corporeal substances were various combinations of the “elements” of earth (solid), water (liquid), air (gas), and fire (plasma).
Such substantial changes can even appear to ascend in complexity over time through a process of “death and resurrection.” Early in the beginning of the universe, fundamental subatomic particles combined into elemental atoms, such as hydrogen and helium, much of which coalesced into galaxies of stars that, in the process of dying, produced even heavier elements, such as carbon, oxygen, and iron. Interstellar gas and dust from the ashes of these dead stars eventually formed later generations of stars such as our sun, now with solar systems containing “rocky” planets like Earth capable of evermore complex molecular chemistry, including that of biological compounds. This increase in complexity is more apparent than real because an effect cannot be greater than its cause. The complexity of biological life pales in comparison with the complexity of the design of the universe itself, which is so finely tuned that the slightest alteration in the mathematical structure of the laws of physics or their fundamental constants would make life impossible.
Thus, a latent effect can be “hidden” within a formal cause just as a conclusion can be “hidden” within a principle. In this way, the effects of new forms produced by substantial changes are actually hidden as final causes in the original corporeal matter. Such latent forms are the seminal seeds or virtues to which Augustine referred and Aquinas defended (q. 115, art. 2). Not only is the unlike form of a flowering oak tree present in the unassuming acorn, which it potentially contains, but Earth’s complex chemistry is present in latent form within the very natures of fundamental subatomic particles. So why couldn’t the “seed” of the universe at the time of the Big Bang, exquisitely designed by God with all the laws of physics, have been pregnant with the latent forms of life that have evolutionarily flowered over time?
Étienne Gilson alluded to this same conclusion when he summarized Augustine’s thinking: “Because of these hidden seeds which contain everything future ages are to see unfolded, the world created by God may be said to be pregnant with causes of beings still to come. In one sense, then, the world was created complete and perfect, since none of the things seen in it escaped the creative act, but in another sense, the universe was only created in an unfinished state because everything that was to appear in it later was created only in germ or seminal reason” (The Christian Philosophy of St. Augustine, part III, ch. II).
The more interesting question is why so many faithful Christians feel compelled to deny the possibility of theistic evolution. This attitude is partly fueled by the mistaken fear that the dignity of man as a separate creation cannot otherwise be defended. However, man, including his body, must have necessarily been a separate creation. Because of the ontological unity of a soul and the body to which it gives life and form, even God cannot design a purely natural material process that could anticipate the evolution of a body perfectly suited to be enformed by a spiritual soul capable of nonmaterial powers such as abstract thinking.
However, too often the Christian denial of theistic evolution is guilty of the same modern version of Gnostic thinking that, beginning with nominalism, produced the very atheistic scientific materialism that Christians are attacking. When Christians deny true agency to physical things and thereby the power and efficacy of all the secondary causes present in a beautifully predesigned natural evolutionary process, they are committing the same nominalist, Gnostic error that sees all of physicality as intrinsically unintelligible and meaningless. For the modern scientific materialist, it is the autonomous self who imposes meaning, purpose, and value on this so-called unintelligible physical world, according to the dictates of his own selfish will unrestrained by rational discovery. Similarly, to the Christian infected with this same Gnostic error, instead of God’s cooperatively sharing His intelligence and freedom with us as personal secondary causes, or His predesigning the physical world with purposeful natural causation, He must now forcefully impose His grace or His will in ad hoc fashion on an otherwise uncooperative humanity or meaningless materiality.
Douglas Miller, M.D.
Hickory, North Carolina
JOHN LYON REPLIES:
Thanks to Dr. Miller for his kind comment on my review and for his perceptive diagnosis of the situation presented by Fr. Chaberek’s work.
In response to Mr. Fay: It is Fr. Chaberek’s contention, which I only review, that Aquinas and theistic evolution are incompatible. As to Aquinas’s predecessors or successors dealing with this and related issues, Fay will have to consult a Thomist or an historian of philosophy — or read Aristotle’s Organon and then Francis Bacon’s New Organon — and then, perhaps, “retreat” to wonder, which is the source of philosophy. There is a world of words, and a world of things, and the bridge between them may be love. (My apologies to Thornton Wilder.) But initially here “love” is a word.
As is “species.” The most recent issue of The New Atlantis (Summer 2019) features an article by Brendan Foht, “The New Kinship Engineering,” about the present process of creating “three-parent babies” via mitochondrial DNA modification. Do such “productions” belong to our species? Presumably, but why?
Some 12 years ago, the British Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority sought legal status for a pending “Human Tissue and Embryo Bill” that would permit the production of “bovine men” — “cowboys” in a literal sense. Presumably, such production would only be “up to a point” and solely for the alleviation of man’s estate in the best Baconian perspective. British Catholic episcopal reaction, according to my limited sources, seemed to amount to a quantitative taxonomy. “Cow-persons” with a preponderance of human genetic material should be considered embryonic human beings. Should we go configure? Count our blessings?
I do not know the subsequent development of that “Human Tissue and Embryo Bill”; it is simply useful to illustrate the problem with genetic engineering. We already have as friends and neighbors “persons” conceived in petri dishes and gestated in rented wombs, or whose brains have been refigured by psychotropic drugs and personas shaped by interactive avatars. When, in our growing technical sophistication and endless experimentation, shall we produce some “thing” that will not be “human”? How could we tell? By what means? Quantitative analysis? What shall we call it? Prudence may suggest that we wait till we have produced such a “thing,” but how will we know that we have done so?
©2019 New Oxford Review. All Rights Reserved.
You May Also Enjoy
Fr. Neuhaus thinks the whole priest scandal thing can just be brushed off.
Confession is now available for Protestants, who can just type in their sins for public viewing on internet websites.
In casual conversation the word “nice” is often used as a synonym for “good,” as…