The title of your article, "Aquinas v. Intelligent Design," (November 2008) may be misleading. The case presented is that of neo-Thomists vs. Intelligent Design, not Aquinas. Author Michael Tkacz may have extended Aquinas’ observations beyond their logical limits. And in doing so he may not have helped in the ongoing cultural war against the inroads of atheism.
I say this because the theory of evolution is a bedrock foundation of modem atheism. As geneticist Richard Dawkins said, Darwin "made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." And as Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin wrote, "Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."
While Michael Tkacz does point out that the theory of evolution is inherently "inconsistent" and "impossible" because it relies on natural science, which itself relies on "order and design in nature," he does not get down to the nitty-gritty to show how implausible, if not impossible, evolution is. So allow me to list a few of these scientific objections to evolution.
- Charles Darwin surmised that the innumerable gaps in transitional fossils would be found in the next 100 years. More than 150 years have since passed, and none have been found. Where are these thousands upon thousands of fossils? Did the bone fairy come in the middle of the night and steal them away? As Swedish scientist N. Herebert Nelsson observed, "The fossil material is now so complete . . . that the deficiencies are real, they will never be filled."
- Evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould admitted, "New species almost always appeared suddenly in the fossil record with no intermediate links to ancestors in older rocks of the same region."
- G.K. Chesterton said the "Missing Link" is really the "Hole in the Argument." And there are untold thousands of such holes. Attempts to fill in these holes have usually turned out to be cases of "mistaken identity" and even fraud.
- All fossil species appear completely developed. There are no half-developed or transitional organs or body parts, and thus no evidence of evolution.
- Although single-cell life exists, there are no 2, 3, 4, or 5 forms of cell-life. This gap indicates that life did not evolve from a single-cell organism to multiple-cell organisms.
- Advances in microbiology have revealed that cell life was incredibly complex. And as evolutionist Richard Dawkins conceded, if such a thing as irreducible complexity exists, then Darwinism is not true.
- Information (as in a genetic code) is not an organic object. The gene is the medium but is not the message. Evolution does not explain the origin of information.
- The male and female reproductive systems would have had to evolve complimentarily at about the same time. If evolutionists believe this, then they should also believe in miracles.
- All forms of life depend on other forms for survival, both internal and external. For life to have evolved, other things had to evolve at the same time and place. Evolutionists presuppose such almost miraculous coincidences.
- Even Charles Darwin could not fathom how the human eye could have evolved. And it is a simple organ compared to the human brain. And as the eye had no survival value until it was fully developed, there is no reason why nature would develop something over the eons that had no value at the time—only an ultimate far-distanced value.
As a layman, I perhaps don’t understand the distinction between the Thomistic argument of order and design evident in nature and "intelligent design." Both are intended to prove intelligent design, whether as "built-in" nature, or created as such. Whether or not this is more than semantics is questionable. But the argument that the "intelligent design" theory contains "gaps or omissions" in nature that later required God to fill in or repair seems to be an argument that is based upon semantics. We are told that it is inconsistent with a "proper" conception of the nature of creation, and is therefore "cosmogonically fallacious." We are not told why, however. We are just told that "God’s act of creation is a completely non-temporal and non-progressive reality," and that "God does not intervene into nature nor does he adjust or ‘fix up’ natural things."
But if we use the term "sequential" rather than "gaps" we can perhaps see the fallacy in the "Cosmogonical Fallacy." Further, the "Intelligent Design" theory then becomes more compatible, not only with modern science than does the pseudo-Thomistic interpretation, but even ontologically. Of even more importance, perhaps, it is a theory that dovetails with the biblical account of creation.
The Genesis account of Creation does not describe creation in all its diversity as being created at once. Rather, Genesis first describes the creation of an undiversified body of matter. Then God said, "Let there be light." It then goes on to describe how then everything was separated and diversified into their own specific forms over six periods of time, until man was created on the sixth day. Note that the word for day in Genesis is not used to mean an exact time, but rather is used by the ancient Israelites to indicate the period of time for an event to happen.
And so, the neo-Thomists "confuse" the creation of matter ex nihilo with the following sequential diversification of matter over six general time spans as explained in Genesis. All this is in conformity with modern science and possibly even with what is known as the Big Bang Theory, which may have begun the process of diversification.
Further, fossil evidence indicates that this was the procedure. As stated in Genesis, man was created on the final day, and the fossil records indicate that man has been on earth for a very short time, compared to other life species.
While it may be impossible to prove a negative such as Behe’s claim that irreducible complexity proves evolution couldn’t have somehow happened, the scientific evidence against evolution is so overwhelming that to accept it as a viable theory runs contrary to basic common sense.
—Andrew J. McCauley
St. Augustine, Florida
Michael Tkacz replies: Part of the problem with the current evolution debate is the fact that it has become so polarized: Either one accepts evolution as an explanation of the diversity of life and is an atheistic materialist or one is moved by Intelligent Design arguments to reject such atheism and materialism. The point of my article is that the insights of St. Thomas on the nature of creation and divine agency provide a tertia via: an alternative way of looking at the problem. St. Thomas, of course, did not have much to say about biological evolution, but he did hold that, whatever the causes of organic development, they are discoverable in a natural science of biology. If God created nature to be intelligible to intellectual beings, such as human beings, then nature has a causal autonomy and is intelligible on her own terms. Biology does not need to be assisted by theology in order to provide an intelligible account of organic nature. Now, whether Darwinian evolution is an adequate biological account is another question, but whatever the answer to that question, it is a biological question.
As for creation, it cannot be that God creates sequentially or episodically, nor does he create by intervening in nature. St. Thomas’ point is that this is incompatible with God’s transcendent perfection. If one conceives God as a sequential or episodic Creator, then one is not thinking of the Christian God. The God of revelation is the reality that ontologically grounds all nature, without which nature would not exist. This is argued by St. Thomas in many writings, and one need only to consult these texts to see that this is authentic Thomism.
Mr. McCauley suggests that part of the problem here may be a confusion between the sort of argument from design used by Intelligent Design advocates and that of medieval theologians such as St. Thomas. This may very well be true. Many today who would use Dr. Behe’s irreducible complexity argument to support an appeal to a divine Designer are thinking of divine agency as operating within the world as a supplement to natural agents. St. Thomas’ argument for the existence of a divine Designer is rather different. The order and intelligibility evident in nature and studied in our natural sciences cannot be the result of chance alone, for order cannot result from chaos without the agency of some ordering principle. God is the ultimate ordering principle. He is so not because he intervenes in a chaotic universe making it ordered, but rather by simply and absolutely being the source of an ordered universe. However one understands the creation account of Genesis, one cannot include in one’s exegesis an account of God’s creative agency that violates his divine nature as the ultimate source of order.
I am sympathetic with Mr. McCauley’s concerns about the culture wars, but I do differ on how to fight the battle. Following the lead of St. Thomas, we must counter the atheism and materialism of today with a sound account of both the nature of scientific knowledge and a proper account of the Christian doctrine of Creation. The fact that we can scientifically explain natural processes does not show that nature is uncreated. The true teaching that God created nature does not imply that nature cannot be scientifically explained through natural causes. From the Thomistic point of view, nothing that we can scientifically discover about nature alters the fact that she requires a divine author and nothing about our true belief that God created nature guarantees that we know the causes of nature’s operations.
A Plea from the Choir Loft
I appreciated the articles on liturgical music written by Anthony Esolen ("The Curse of Bad Liturgical Music," October and November 2008). I fully agree. I am 75 years old and I remember many of the Latin responses I gave as an altar server, the familiar Latin hymns, and for the most part I deplore the loss of the beautiful Latin Mass. Most of the modern music is simply "performance music" and spotlights cantors. We have several cantors in our parish with beautiful voices and obvious musical training and they are the only ones able to perform much of the music, thereby becoming "stars." I am from a small parish of about 950 families, and our choirs are simply amateurs gathered together to praise God. The members, with a couple of exceptions, have no voice in selecting the music. Almost all of it comes from Today’s Missal: Music Issue, published by Oregon Catholic Press.
I am a cantor, about to remove myself from that duty. I have a very limited choice of music available and most of it is modern trash. I led Panis Angelicus at Communion one Sunday, but I was required to sing the English version first. I had several nice comments, and some said "thank you"—mostly older people—but our priest discourages such actions.
I did find one problem with the two articles however. Although the defect is thoroughly exposed, I find no suggested solution for the average parish. What can we do? Where can we find decent music? Our best and most meaningful hymns are of Protestant origin! Telling us we have a big problem but then offering no solution is not helpful.
I returned to the Church at St. Agnes Parish, St. Paul, Minnesota, after a 23 year hiatus, on Easter Sunday 1996. Msgr. Robert Schuler, who had a doctorate in liturgical music, directed portions of the Minnesota Symphony and Minnesota Chorus for the high Mass, done entirely in Latin. What a moving experience. I had seen him on EWTN and remembered him as my class proctor during my one year in a preparatory seminary. I chose him to hear my first confession on Easter Saturday. Is it any wonder that more than a third of the seminarians studying that year were from St. Agnes Parish?
Unfortunately, most of us do not have access to such talents. Please run another article by Mr. Esolen offering some solutions for we untrained people in the trenches. Thanks for This Rock.
—John D. Gebhart
Watertown, South Dakota
Mary Ann Carr Wilson replies: The main remedy the Church offers us, as I discussed, is in the style of music itself.
So how might your parish music situation improve, with the approval of your pastor? Though some may resist, cantors with even a small music background can seek out training in Gregorian chant in order to teach the rest of the choir, then parish. I suggest the Church Musician Association of America as a great practical resource to you (musicasacra.org). This organization is having success across the country.
The point you made about the connection between beautiful, reverent liturgy and the number of seminarians stands as one of Msgr. Schuler’s finest fruits. The wise will try to follow his example.
Not So Fast with the Latin Mass
Thomas E. Woods’ "Extraordinary Form 101: A Beginner’s Guide to the Old Latin Mass," in the November issue was illuminating and helpful but also drew close to justifying a return of the Extraordinary Form at the expense of the Ordinary Form.
Having served as an altar boy 50 years ago, I appreciate the beauty of the Latin Mass and sympathize with the current nostalgia for it. But the Holy Spirit did not take a vacation during the Second Vatican Council, and his inspiration for a more open, easily understood, more participatory Mass is a timely and magnificent gift. While the EF should be available and revered, it should never, ever replace the current form in a weekend Mass schedule.
I speak from a public communications background and quarrel with several of the assertions by Mr. Woods and those he cites, especially in regard to participation and posture. I was there in the old days. We had onlookers, not participants, at least in the sense of easily being aware of what was going on. It was a major effort, thumbing through sticky, thin pages and threadbare marker ribbons of a worn missal. Solving the mystery of a Mass being mumbled often required matching the priest’s actions with a missal illustration. Only a handful bothered to keep up; few had or could have had an understanding of Latin. This is not the way to reach an audience. Not surprisingly, most of my Catholic high school classmates gave up the faith after graduation. The Latin Mass simply did not communicate to them reinforcement of Catholic beliefs. On a regular basis, the separation fostered by the Latin Mass also is harmful, for it would contribute to an impression of clerical aloofness at a time when the Church is trying to recover from lay wariness over clerical scandal. Also deleterious is the priest not greeting or processing before or after Mass. But the closed nature of his back to the congregation is what makes this form so troublesome as an attempt to communicate, to touch souls, to offer resonating lessons, ultimately to make meaning. The Latin Mass confounds a mass understanding of the Mass, making evangelization extremely difficult. While soothing to the spiritually elite, the form can grate on the common Catholic whom I have witnessed walking out in frustration. Yes, that common Catholic needs to advance spiritually but the chances of him or her doing so is far greater with the Ordinary Form.
—John F. Donovan
Thomas E. Woods, Jr. replies: I cannot disagree more with Mr. Donovan’s letter. I suggest he read Pope Benedict’s meditations on the priest’s eastward posture to understand what a tragic error it was to abandon what we now know was, in fact, the ancient practice. In fact, he’d do well to read all of chapter one of my book Sacred Then and Sacred Now: The Return of the Old Latin Mass, which discusses the pope’s deep and rich liturgical thought—a refreshing alternative to modern superficialities.
As for people leaving the faith, I wouldn’t want to compare today with yesterday if I were Mr. Donovan. The same goes for people’s knowledge of the faith: Mr. Donovan must be joking with us if he thinks the average Catholic in the pew today knows half of what the average Catholic 60 years ago knew.
And more "familiarity" is the very last thing we need. Young boys are far less attracted to the priesthood and its sacrifices the more we strip it of mystery. We’ve had just about enough of Father Ted greeting the congregation with, "Good morning, everyone." How is that an improvement over the stunning prayers at the foot of the altar?
I discuss and defend all of these assertions at greater length in my book.