Rorate Caeli

Foundations Restored, a DVD series from the Kolbe Center for Creation Studies -- A guest-review, by Fr. Thomas Crean OP

Fr. Thomas Crean, OP

Atheism is not natural to man. St Thomas Aquinas writes: “Natural reason shows man that he is subject to some superior, because of the defects he experiences in himself, which mean that he must be helped and directed by a superior – and whatever this superior is, it is what everyone calls God” (Summa theologiae 2a 2ae 85, 1). Yet atheism has been spreading among mankind from the 19th century on.

Likewise, before the 19th century, and absent bloody persecution, baptised peoples did not en masse give up the practice of some form of the Christian religion.  Since then, they have done so throughout the West.

How can we explain these phenomena?  The Kolbe Center for Creation Studies believes, first, that they are caused in large part by a general acceptance of the claim that the first human beings, and the main categories of living things, derive their existence from natural causes rather than from a miraculous act of the Creator; and secondly, that this claim is incorrect and contrary to divine revelation.  I think that the Kolbe Center is correct in both regards.

I welcome, therefore, the appearance of Foundations Restored, a DVD series in 17 episodes which offers theological and empirical arguments against the ‘Darwinian mentality’ which for the moment still prevails among the human race, including among many Catholics.  The series is aimed at adults and young adults at secondary schools, college and seminaries, and the average length of an episode is just over one hour.

The series falls into three parts.  The first four episodes aim to give theological reasons for rejecting a naturalistic, that is, a non-miraculous, account of origins.  They highlight the role of Rene Descartes, in the 17th century, in preparing the way for an account of origins which excludes the miraculous activity of God.  They argue, convincingly to my mind, that all theories of ‘theistic evolution’, whereby man and the main kinds of living things supposedly came into existence by the ordinary working of God in nature, collapse the distinction between creation and providence which is part of Catholic tradition, taught by the Fathers of the Church.  Particular attention is given to the thought of St Augustine, since many authors in the theistic evolutionary camp have claimed him as an unofficial patron.

The next nine episodes turn from theology to the empirical sciences.  As St Augustine pointed out long ago, there is a twin danger to avoid when believers speak about these sciences.  The first is that they may appear to make the truths of the faith rest on empirical hypotheses, an unstable base if ever there was one.  This would happens, for example, if someone argued that we should accept mankind’s descent from Eve on the basis of genetics rather than on the basis of Scripture as taught by the Church.  The other, opposite danger, is that believers may fall silent about some truth of the faith because it is contrary to, or hard to reconcile with, some currently fashionable empirical hypothesis.  Thus, in St Augustine’s day, the doctrine of the Ascension was deemed unacceptable by some, as contrary to the prevailing wisdom about the proper place in the universe of different kinds of material body.  While the first of these two dangers is widely recognised by Catholic apologists, the second is not, and it is greatly to the credit of the Kolbe Center that they are determined to avoid it.

Nevertheless, the fact that divine revelation is not subject to every wind of empirical doctrine (cf. Eph. 4:14) does not mean that Catholic apologists should simply ignore what the biologists, palaeontologists, biochemists, geologists, and astrophysicists are saying.  If experimentalists are drawing conclusions from their researches which run counter to a natural reading of Scripture, apologists do well to know how far their conclusions are truly warranted by the evidence.  If they are drawing conclusions which offer support to a natural reading of Scripture, apologists do well to bring these conclusions forward, without, however, presenting them as more than very secondary and provisional motives of belief.

Foundations Restored covers much ground in examining the various arguments that have been drawn from different branches of natural science against a literal or obvious reading of the early chapters of the Book of Genesis.  Among the topics discussed are so-called ‘icons of evolution’ such as Darwin’s finches, ‘vestigial organs’ and archaeopteryx; mutations; the Miller-Urey experiment; the shifting sands of palaeoanthropology; dating methods; and the big-bang hypothesis.  I have no special expertise in any of these subjects: I can therefore only record my impression that the speakers make out a good case that evidence which is supposed to favour the naturalistic account of origins in reality does so only by virtue of massive extrapolations, beggings of the question, and postulations of unverifiable entities.  As an example of such entities, one might mention the ‘dark matter’ supposed to account for 95% of the universe, postulated to preserve the belief that the universe is old.  Imagine if a ‘creationist’ had postulated that 95% of the universe was undetectable, to support the belief that the universe is young!  He would have been mercilessly mocked. 

The final four episodes consider the effect of Darwinism on society.  Since our Lord bids us judge a tree by its fruits, it seems reasonable to point out, as Foundations Restored does, that the naturalistic account of origins has helped foster early 20th century German militarism, racist eugenics, Marxist-Leninism and the New Jerome Biblical Commentary.   

More perhaps than a doctrine, Darwinism may be considered a prejudice against the miraculous.  Such a prejudice has no place among Catholics.  Foundations Restored should help to dissipate it.