Philosophy of Evolution: Belief Problem


Philosophy of Evolution
by John Edward Mulvihill,
S.T.D., D.Min., Ph.D.
Ideology affects science, philosophy, and theology.  This becomes serious problem in the case of evolution.

The Problem with Belief

Why is there no agreement about the scientific fact of evolution? Possenti seems to have the correct answer when he says that there does not seem to be crucial experiment to prove evolution to be a fact.1 This leaves evolution to be a matter of dispute among scientists.2

More difficulty arises if opinion begins to move into philosophy. Both the prehistoric sciences and the historical sciences should seek to report the past and interpret the past. Historians and pre-historians should not move into the area of philosophy. The validity of the philosophic conclusions depends on the value of the empirical basis and the quality of the philosophy adopted.3

Yancey explicitly treats the controversies concerning evolution. There was significant controversy aroused by the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species. The opposition to the theory of evolution was not limited to Catholics. However, since Darwin was an Englishman and not a Catholic, the theory of evolution somehow came to be look on as anti-Catholic. Some clergy may have moved easily from this bias to a distrust and even a fear that science itself was dangerous to faith and morals. The truth of the matter is, that long before Darwin, the Catholic Lamarck had proposed evolution to account for our present-day species of plants and animals. It is interesting to note that the chief opponent of Darwin was not a Catholic, but the Protestant scientist, Cuvier. The problem of contention between faith and science expanded when some of the followers of Darwin, notably Huxley and Spencer in England and Hackel in Germany, made unwarranted extensions of the theory into fields of philosophy and ethics. So evolution, only a modest scientific theory, itself became a philosophy, almost a creed.4

On the other hand, Neo-Scholastic philosophers did apply serious opposing reasons to the assertions favoring evolution.5 First, if man can breed animals, evolutionary nature can also. Calcagno replies that nature cannot build St. Peter’s Basilica; and also that pigeon variations are not different species. Second, fossils show developmental evolution. Calcagno replies this "assumes" the latter is "caused" by the former (Error: Post hoc, ergo propter hoc). Third, intermediate fossils are found. Calcagno distinguishes: He concedes fixed species, but denies intermediate transitional species. Fourth, rudimentary organs prove evolution, for example man’s muscles to move his ears. Calcagno replies this is a small modification, not species; perhaps these muscles are not relics; perhaps there is an unknown use. Fifth, evolutionary ontogenesis of embryos follows phylogenesis. Calcagno denies the parity, and assigns the cause to the seed of the parents; and negates the antecedent, supported by embryologists Von Baer, Hertwig, His, Pujiula, and Carazzi. Sixth, evolution is reasonable if conjoined with the special intervention of Divine Providence. Calcagno distinguishes intervention as miraculous, or proportionate to the nature of the thing. If miraculous, evolution would be naturally impossible. If proportionate to the nature of the thing, divine intervention would destroy the old nature (for a new species), this would not be proportionate to the nature of the thing which strives for the preservation of the species.

Given the real problems, arguments, and re-formulations of the theory of evolution over the last 150 years that have either prevented the attainment of certitude by syllogistic reasoning, or diminished the public confidence that certitude can actually be obtained, it is no wonder that the public has turned to opinion, belief, ideology and even skepticism. A recent Harris Poll in the United States in June 2005 found that 55% of the 1,000 adults surveyed said children should be taught Creationism and Intelligent Design along with Evolutionism in the public schools.6 The same poll found that 54% did not believe humans had developed from an earlier species, and this number is up from 45% with that view in 1994. Jon Miller of Michigan State University conducted a recent poll showing that in the last 20 years, American adults favoring evolution has decreased five points from 45% to 40% and those undecided have risen from 7% to 21%.7 This may involve some skepticism, which is a lack of faith in reason’s proper capacity to know the truth. Skepticism in modern culture first struck philosophy, and more recently science.8 Scientific dogmatism with its ideologies, utopias and all inclusive systems fell into crisis. No one today believes in the infallibility of science.

What are ideology, belief and opinion? Maritain defines ideology as "a collective attitude or spirit engendered hic et nunc in the mind of men."9 Maher defines belief as that which has as its object the inevident, or what is only extrinsically evident, like authority or testimony; while the full assent of cognition arises from what is mediately or immediately intrinsically evident.10 Salcedo defines opinion as the assent or dissent offered to one part of a contradiction with fear of the opposite.11

Since practically all the Neo-Scholastics are Catholic, is the Catholic Church open to evolution? The doctrine of evolution has never been condemned.12 Pope John Paul II affirmed evolution within limits, noting that if a scientist has Materialistic pre-conceptions, his conclusions should not be presented as scientific.13 The pope promotes dialogue. In fact, in the mid-twentieth century, there was encouraging discussion between unbiased scientists and open-minded theologians, so that there was a "steady growth of theological opinion which fully recognizes the serious value of the majority scientific opinion in the question of origins."14

Can science contradict religious faith? The market seems flooded with books describing a death match between science and faith. In fact, much of this publicity pictures science winning, or at least chipping away at the underlying truths of faith.15 It had been often thought "that an intelligent person cannot be a Christian and an evolutionist" and the reason for this is that "much of Christian philosophy appears to stress the fixity of things, whereas evolutionary thought stresses the flux of things."16 However, a master principle of the thought of Aquinas is that the truth of science cannot contradict the truth of faith.17 This principle has been true since the beginning of the existence of the Catholic Church up to the present.18 Cardinal Schnborn recently noted that "when science adheres to its own method, it cannot come into conflict with faith."19 Nevertheless, science and faith must follow their respective methods. Further, there can be no system of two truths.20

Can Evolutionism be an ideology? Yes, it can. Even in 1914, Donat noticed that anthropological evolution was not only very common, but was just like a dogma.21 Evolution has recently been called an ideology.22 In fact, Darwinism is ranked as a sort of religion with the three great secular faiths.23 One of the problems of ideology is that it often flows from prejudice.24 Another problem is the attack on religion by otherwise reputable scientists.25

Can anti-Evolutionism also be an ideology? Yes, it can. The intelligent design movement is beginning to alter the way that most fundamentalist tenet of biology are presented in public schools in the United States. New laws that in some sense challenge the teaching of evolution are pending or being considered in twenty States.26 The headquarters for such ideology is the Center for Science and Culture at the nonpartisan but generally conservative think-tank called the Discovery Center, founded in Seattle in 1990. However, this is not generally the position of current Catholic thinkers.27


Author: John Edward Mulvihill, S.T.D., D.Min., Ph.D.
Copyright 2009 by The Genealogist, 3236 Lincoln, Franklin Park, IL 60131 U.S.A.