The National Association of Scholars is hosting a webinar this Friday, 3 PM EST: Is Science Broken? featuring Yours Truly. Free, but you have to register.
Before we get to this, it’s well to acknowledge asking questions along these lines angers many, especially scientists, most of whom can’t bear criticism, especially about evolution, which is a matter of utmost faith for them. So, too, is strong faith found in some hardcore young-earth creationists.
My point is this: any comments along the lines of “Only stupid people ask these questions” or “You’re an ignorant poopy head for rejecting my favorite hypothesis” will without mercy be deleted.
There are two basic positions, which are held by many, but which here I name by their well known champions.
Fr Chad Ripperger says God created all species at once (though many have died out), and that evolution, the creation of new species, is impossible. Mike Flynn & Kenneth Kemp thinks God allowed evolution, by whatever mechanism (pay attention here), and at some point in history imbued human-like creatures with intellects and wills, also known as rational souls.
Ripperger’s arguments are mainly metaphysical and theological. Flynn & Kemp’s are, too, in a larger sense, but they allows the possibility of speciation through evolution, and draw more on empirical evidence.
Ripperger has a book on the subject: The Metaphysics of Evolution: Evolutionary Theory in Light of First Principles, and a precis “The Metaphysical Impossibility of Human Evolution“. Flynn has written often about evolution; and Ed Feser has a nice summary of Flynn’s position, and it’s relation to official Church teaching. Kemp has a scholarly work on the subject: “Science, Theology, and Monogenesis” (pdf).
If Ripperger is wrong, then Flynn & Kemp’s account meshes neatly with Catholic dogma. For instance, in their scheme there were still a literal Adam & Eve. If Ripperger is right, then everything in the universe was put here on the six days of creation, as we see it, and that other explanations exist for certain observations (such as dinosaurs, geology, and genetics).
All (and all are Catholic) agree that man is unique: a rational animal, and imbued by God with eternal intellects and wills. In other words, materialism is false. We’ll take that as a given. We can also take as a given Ripperger’s argument that “evolution-like” thinking has had pernicious effects; for instance, in allowing the idea that since creatures can evolve, so can dogma. Obviously, whether that’s true does not change whether evolution, by whatever mechanism (pay attention here), is true or false.
Enough throat clearing.
Ripperger says the six days of creation were real, and that man, dinosaurs, the whole lot, were created in this period and placed here in their known and constant form (dinosaurs mostly disappeared immediately after the Flood). But his real point is that speciation itself is impossible. Not unlikely: impossible. I will trust all of you commenting will read at least his precis.
Ripperger, if I understand him correctly, takes a Thomistic stance. Here are what I think are the most essential quotations from it (with paragraphifications outside ellipses added by me):
…every essence is immediately created by God and could not be caused by any created substance [like a species]. The essential reason for this is that to create a substance requires the ability to bridge the gap between nothing and something. The gap between nothing and something that is being actualized requires an infinite power since the ontological distance between nothing and something is infinite….
Some theistic evolutionists hold that evolution is just a natural process used by God to bring about the various forms of life up to and including the bodies of the first human beings. Other theistic evolutionists hold that evolution is a case of constant miracles being used to bring about the various forms of life culminating in man.
As to those who hold it is a natural process, they introduce God into the issue to provide what might be lacking in the order of nature, such as the order that one finds in the universe, which may not be accounted for by purely natural causes and this introduces the above philosophical difficulty where only God can create a substance as well as a whole host of other difficulties…
If God is used to supply on the side [via evolution] of the principle of sufficient reason, it ends up violating the principle of economy because God must intervene to supply the sufficient reason at each step. This indicates that it is not strictly a natural process but requires the introduction of God into each step to be able to achieve the next higher species in the evolutionary process.
This violates the principle of economy because what is ultimately being stated is that nature does not suffice in order to produce each individual species on its own. This is a true enough principle but theistic evolution requires God to be involved in each individual step since the laws of nature do not suffice.
At each step, therefore, God must suspend the laws of nature and add what is lacking in the order of nature.
The definition of a miracle is: “something occurring aside the whole created nature”. Theistic evolution, whether it states that it is a natural process, which is really just a covert way of introducing constant miracles, or asserts outright that miracles are constantly necessary for the process, violates the principle of economy.
It violates the principle of economy because it posits a number of causes, in this case God intervening as a cause on repeated occasions, without a sufficient reason. In this sense, God creating directly all of the individual species including man in a short period of time without a large number of secondary causes more perfectly fulfills the principle of economy than any theory of evolution, theistic evolution included.
Crudely, a prior species cannot create a new one because the prior species (the cause) doesn’t have the new in it. A new species is greater, in a sense, than the old one, because it has a different essence. And effects cannot be greater than their causes.
God could work a miracle for each speciation, but this becomes like the famous Sidney Harris cartoon.
Flynn & Kemp’s Position
As said, both allow evolution, by some mechanism (all mechanisms are not the same!), which eventually came to a point of human-like creatures, though absent rational souls. Perhaps this creature was homo erectus. God picked two of these proto-man beings, named Adam and Eve, and imbued into them rational souls.
Their offspring, or perhaps even they themselves, bred with the other human-like creatures, at least to some extent. Mike Flynn’s article on this is a must-read. The rest, as they say, is history.
Here’s Feser’s summary of Flynn-Kemp:
The Flynn-Kemp proposal is this. Suppose evolutionary processes gave rise to a population of several thousand creatures of this non-rational but genetically and physiologically “human” sort. Suppose further that God infused rational souls into two of these creatures, thereby giving them our distinctive intellectual and volitional powers and making them truly human. Call this pair “Adam” and “Eve.” Adam and Eve have descendents, and God infuses into each of them rational souls of their own, so that they too are human in the strict metaphysical sense. Suppose that some of these descendents interbreed with creatures of the non-rational but genetically and physiologically “human” sort. The offspring that result would also have rational souls since they have Adam and Eve as ancestors (even if they also have non-rational creatures as ancestors). This interbreeding carries on for some time, but eventually the population of non-rational but genetically and physiologically “human” creatures dies out [or is snuffed out], leaving only those creatures who are human in the strict metaphysical sense.
On this scenario, the modern human population has the genes it does because it is descended from this group of several thousand individuals, initially only two of whom had rational or human souls. But only those later individuals who had this pair among their ancestors (even if they also had as ancestors members of the original group which did not have human souls) have descendents living today. In that sense, every modern human is both descended from an original population of several thousand and from an original pair. There is no contradiction, because the claim that modern humans are descended from an original pair does not entail that they received all their genes from that pair alone.
That, I hope, is a good, quick, but of course incomplete, explanation of both positions.
It would, at first glance, appear impossible to reconcile the two. You can either make new species from old or you can’t. Either all things were via God’s creation put here at once or they weren’t. Yet there is, I think, a way of marrying the two.
God is the only way you can get something from nothing, and he is the reason why there is something rather than nothing. God also sustains, at every moment, the universe. All our men agree on this.
Now evolution, if true, need not be caused by uncountable “random” mutations that produce unpredictable forms. For one, “randomness” does not exist. Things do; causes do. I now quote myself, from my article “Don’t Panic, But Intelligent Design Is Trivially True (Breathe, Breathe…)“.
What about the rest of (if you will) creation [beyond man]? That must have been designed, too, in the following analogical sense (if I’m going to be misquoted, it’s going to be here).
You’re asked to design a carnival game for kids, a sort of junior wooden pachinko device. Ball goes in at the top, rolls down a board hitting posts along the way, bouncing to and fro, finally coming to rest in one of four slots at the bottom, A, B, C, and D, which, although it’s not part of the analogy, correspond to certain prizes.
Before the ball is dropped nobody really knows which of the slots will have the ball. All sorts of things will cause the ball to land where it does, from the friction of the ball, board, and posts, the bounciness of and wear on the ball itself, the humidity and temperature of the air, even the gravitational field; and many more things comprising the Way Things Are operating on All There Is (the machine and its environment).
Nobody can track all these causes, yet they must be there, because otherwise how would the ball get where it’s going? One thing is clear, the ball can only land A, B, C or D. It cannot land E nor F nor any other letter because these slots do not exist by design.
Evolution is just like that. However changes occur to an organism, whatever mechanism causes genes to shift, the eventual organism must “land” in, and be caused to land in, some slot, or biological niche if you like. Viable organisms are like the slots of the pachinko game, and non-viable ones—the beasts that cannot live because their genes will not produce a living being in a particular environment—are like the slots that aren’t there.
No scientist knows, and more importantly no scientist can know, that the slots we see weren’t designed, weren’t planned for. And the same is true for the slots we don’t see. The reason is simple: whether the slots were designed is not a scientific question, but a philosophical one. Science can tell us what we’ll see given a set of rules (the Way Things Are), but science, as we learned, must be mute on the big question: why these rules?
In other words, God created on those six days all the forms for every species. They are here, now as potentia, but not necessarily here in actuality. On-going miracles are not needed for speciation. All that is required is the exact sequence of secondary causes to have the balls land in “D”. “D” is here now, awaiting those causes.
Reminder: In Thomistic metaphysics, potentia have existence; indeed, all things, except God, are mixtures of the potential and actual. God is pure actuality. This reminder is all we need.
“Random” mutations are an unhelpful way to think of evolution. Directed, accumulated, revealing causes is better—and true.
An analogy might be water: here are hydrogen and oxygen, God’s initial creation. One spark and it’s true love. The potential for the water was created with the creation of hydrogen and oxygen. Even though the water in actuality wasn’t in place until a certain cause brought it about. No separate miracle is needed (except for the ever-present First Cause). And, of course, water has a different essence than hydrogen or oxygen. The effect would seem to be larger than the cause. Unless water as potential was created prior.
In other words, given Thomistic reasoning, potentiality has being, so it is possible all forms of all species were created at once In The Beginning. It’s not, then, one prior species causing (in totality) another new species. It’s a prior species becoming yet another cause in the causal chain to bring a God-created potentiality—that “new” species—to actuality.
When we say “new” species, what we mean, or should mean, is that here, at long last, is another of God’s creation emerging.
The real problem, then, is all this “random” business, as if “randomness” itself is causing a creation, which is Ripperger’s sticking point. And should be. The forms of the new species are already here, created in potentiality. It’s not “randomness” causing anything. “Randomness” has no causal powers! It’s only certain specific secondary causes—thinking of cause in all four aspects—shifting the potential to actual.
Naturally, Flynn thought of all this before:
The only time Thomas Aquinas touches (in passing) on the origin of species, he ascribes its possibility to the powers inherent in nature itself as created in the beginning:
Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.
Of course, all this is apart from other, empirical observations which may or may not indicate the age of the earth, whether evolution by any mechanism was possible, and so on.
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