Moral Priorities in the Scientific Debate
Recently we at The American Catholic have debated, over the course of 140 posts, the topic of evolution. It doesn’t surprise me that a topic as controversial as evolution would generate so much discussion, but I do believe there is something missing from it, and which is partially addressed by fellow contributor Darwin Catholic.
What I notice, first of all, is that the comments fall into two categories: those in vigorous support of the theory of evolution, and those who just as vigorously reject it. In my view neither group is taking an approach to the question that I think is appropriate for Catholics. The problems with those who reject evolution are more obvious – the Church has declared that there is no necessary conflict between the theory and the faith, provided that philosophical materialism is removed as the only possible foundation for the theory. This is a good thing, for the scientific evidence for evolution is quite strong. While it is difficult for some opponents of the theory to think of it apart from materialism, I do believe it is possible.
The problems with some of those who support evolutionary theory, however, also need to be addressed. The very first problem is that “scientific consensus” is not a divine stamp of approval with the word “Truth” on it. We have an obligation to take the discoveries and claims of the scientific community seriously, but we do not have an obligation to defend them as if they were the dogmas of the Church.
Secondly, about those dogmas – they are, in the eyes of atheist scientists and intellectuals, as absurd, unscientific, and worthy of ridicule as the theories of young-earth Creationists. From where they place themselves, at the height of the intellectual summit of humanity, all non-materialist suppositions are nothing but insignificant specks on the landscape below. You will not be more respected by them on the whole because you reject YEC if you still believe in transubstantiation.
Thirdly, and this is the most important point, a person does not need to accept the theory of evolution to be a good person or a good Christian. It works the other way around as well – a person who accepts it is not necessarily a bad person. To read and hear the two sides argue, however, one would hardly know it. YECs are convinced that Darwinists are pawns of a scientific conspiracy to undermine the faith, while Darwinists look at YECs as if they were hillbillies from the Dark Ages. This hostility boils into conflict to the point where one’s position on evolution almost becomes more important than one’s position on the basic tenants of Christian morality.
For my part, though I believe that the evidence for evolution can be reconciled with belief in God and the teachings of the Church, I also understand why so many people reject the theory. At the bottom of it is a rejection of the materialism that appears to be the necessary support for the theory, a materialism which, to quote the Catholic Encyclopedia, “has shown God the door.” Consequently man is reduced to an animal with no greater value than any other animal. It also doesn’t help that totalitarian movements of the left and right have drawn, and continue to draw, inspiration from Darwinian evolution. This shouldn’t discredit the theory, but it should provide us with a reason to approach it with more caution. If God has been shown the door, so has any objective foundation for human dignity.
In the end, when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, Matt. 25 tells us that we will be judged on the basis of how we loved or failed to love the least of our brothers. There is nothing in there about our stance on the scientific controversies of the day. And I find it hard to take seriously a strenuous rejection of YEC by anyone who believes in a virgin birth, walking on water, multiplying fish and bread, spontaneous healing, raising a man from the dead, angels, demons, the parting of a sea (is that one still acceptable?), and so on, and so forth. At the very least, those who support Darwinian evolution can listen to what a YEC has to say without implying or declaring that they are an imbecile or an idiot.
It would also help if YECs would stop asking “show me the evidence” – it isn’t the burden of someone on a blog to bring you up to date on all the latest or even the first discoveries. Read a book and learn to use Google.