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Why Evolution Doesn’t Eliminate God (Part 3)

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Cy concludes his interview on evolution and God with the author of Prepare the Way: Overcoming Obstacles to God, The Gospel, and The Church. Here, Karlo explains why greater complexity coming from apparently lesser complexity is not a problem, and why arguments that a wise God just wouldn’t have done it this way don’t hold water.

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Cy Kellett: We wrap up our discussion on whether or not God can survive evolution with Karlo Broussard right now on Catholic Answers Focus. Hello, and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I am Cy Kellett, your host, and today, we continue our conversation with Karlo Broussard, apologist here at Catholic Answers, the author of Prepare the Way: Overcoming Obstacles to God, the Gospel, and the Church. And that conversation that we’re having is about evolution, particularly about one aspect that’s kind of a consequence of the theory of evolution. That is that people will make arguments derived from their understanding of the theory of evolution that say, “Well, this is an argument against God.” We’re not trying to have a debate here about whether or not evolution is true. We’re not trying to find supports for it or arguments against it. What we’re trying to do is take those arguments that other people make derived from the theory of evolution against God’s existence or against God’s participation in nature and evaluate them and actually provide you with some tools to address them. Does that seem like a fair summary of what we’ve been doing thus far?

Karlo Broussard: That’s perfect. You hit the nail on the head. Yeah, we’re simply trying to show that … We’re simply showing why evolution doesn’t eliminate God. Whether it’s true or not, I don’t have a dog in that fight yet, and I’ll leave that up to those who are going back and forth with that evidence, but we simply want to show that those arguments that many atheists use from evolution to show that God doesn’t exist or that God is not needed to explain things in the universe, we want to show why those arguments fail. And we’ve done so for a few of them already, three-

Cy Kellett: Four out of six or three out of six.

Karlo Broussard: I think three out of six. Yeah.

Cy Kellett: Okay. We’ve done three out of six. Okay.

Karlo Broussard: We’ve done three out of the six that we said we were going to address in the previous two segments. So, I this segment, we want to address three more and show why these arguments fail.

Cy Kellett: All right. Okay. So, this one is kind of sui generis, this argument that this doesn’t fit in a more generalized category, like from chance or about the wisdom of God. This one stands on its own. More complex life forms come from simpler life forms, and that breaks the path of reasoning to God’s existence. So, since our own arguments for God’s existence rely heavily on the principle that whatever perfection is not had by virtue of its own essence must be received from something outside of itself or a cause, and evolution seems to prove this principle false. It is argued, then, that it follows that evolution breaks our path to reasoning to God’s existence.

Karlo Broussard: Yeah. The idea her is that evolution seems to show that with more complex forms of life coming from less complex forms of life, it would seem that something is coming from nothing. That you have being coming from non-being, and thus, violating the traditional understanding of the principle of causality, right? And that’s a principle that our theistic arguments are grounded in. And so, if evolution undermines that principle, then it would seem to break our path to reasoning to God’s existence. Thus, evolution could be used as a weapon against God, right, as some see it. So, how would we respond to that? Well, the first way we could answer this, I think, is that if we grant the evolutionary process is correct, right, and the evolutionary theory is true, and that’s how God willed for things to come about in a natural way, what we have in that process is many causes. And this piggybacks off of what we said in the previous segments. What you have is many causes concurring with each other in an evolutionary event. So, there’s like a causal nexus that can sufficiently account for certain effects coming about, for certain things happening, right?

Karlo Broussard: So, for example, you’ve got the very existing genetic material itself of living organisms. You have the mutations as effects. You have factors that contribute to the mutations, whether it’s radiation or chemical, some form of chemical factor or the elements in the environment, right? And you have all of this together working as a causal nexus, working together. Although each one by itself might not sufficiently account for some effect, but together, they could very well. So, this is the argument or the line of reasoning that the late Benedict Ashley, Dominican Benedict Ashley, took in a very insightful essay that he wrote, “Causality and Evolution,” in the journal The Thomist, Volume 36. In 1972, he says this, “Nuclear, chemical, and biological evolution, although involving very different kinds of events, have this in common: Atom, molecule, and organism are products of historical events no less complex and sequentially ordered than in entities which they produce.” You see? And he goes on to say, “The new species is not a greater emerging from the less, because the amount of information it contains in integrated form is no greater than the amount of information present in the historical, evolutionary process.”

Karlo Broussard: So, what Benedict Ashley is arguing there is that the information, the integrated information in the complex form of life, is the same amount in the historical process, right? So, it’s the information being put together, you might say, in a new way, right? So, it’s not a greater emerging from a less, according to this line of reasoning. So, this is one possible way in which you could answer this objection. Now, here’s another way that you could answer, and that is to say: whatever potentials things have and are actualized by the causal factors in the evolutionary process are ultimately accounted for by God’s creative activity, right? So, even hypothetically, if it is the case that you have higher forms of life emerging from lower forms of life, right, if we just grant that for argument’s sake, within the theistic framework, I see that as cohering because within the theistic framework, those potentials that these things have to be actualized under certain circumstances would be ultimately due to God’s creative activity of creating those things with such a nature, with such inhering potentials to be actualized in order to develop and from that, emerge new and higher life forms.

Karlo Broussard: So, rather than the emergence of higher life forms from lesser life forms escaping God’s divine causality, within the traditional theistic framework, I see it as fitting within it because those potentials would be due, ultimately, to God’s creative activity. So, ultimately, what would sufficiently account for the emergence of the new life forms? It would be God, right?

Cy Kellett: All the potentials that God put into nature already.

Karlo Broussard: That’s right.

Cy Kellett: Okay.

Karlo Broussard: So, it’s not something coming from sheer nothingness, right?

Cy Kellett: No. Something emerging from its potentials.

Karlo Broussard: That’s right, which ultimately is accounted for by God. So, God would be the ultimate answer for explaining and making intelligible how these things have the potentials that they do and are actualized, and you have new life forms emerging if, once again, if we grant, for argument’s sake, that this account of the emergence of new life forms is true. Now, we’ll talk more at the end of this segment about some general thoughts concerning if it’s even possible, philosophically, to get from vegetative life form to non-rational animal life form, right, in an actual process or it requiring God’s direct, causal activity. We’ll say a few things about that when we finish up these arguments here.

Cy Kellett: Okay. So, we’ve worked our way, now, through four of the six arguments.

Karlo Broussard: That’s right.

Cy Kellett: So, let’s go to the last two arguments, and they can both be grouped under one heading. That is evolution contradicts God’s wisdom. It wouldn’t be wise of God to do it this way, in other words, and that can be split into two sub-arguments. The first one being evolution makes for a wasteful universe because things come and go to no purpose.

Karlo Broussard: That’s right. So, the idea is why not just create the universe immediately in its current state and avoid wasting so much stuff. So, the wastefulness of the evolutionary process seems, on face value, to contradict God’s wisdom. If he were all wise, he wouldn’t do that, right? So, one possible answer is that, well, we can’t possibly know that things of the past were wasteful, right? It’s kind of a similar response to the “problem of evil” objection against God, right? We can’t possibly know if there’s no good to come from evil. Similarly, we can’t possibly know that there’s no purpose to the thing that have come and gone in the past. Number one-

Cy Kellett: Oh, yeah. We’re kind of small, first of all, to make that judgment. Yeah. Okay.

Karlo Broussard: That’s right. We’re limited by space and time, right? So, we don’t have access to the details of the universe in its entirety in the past or even the universe in the future, right? So, we’re limited by space and time, and we’re also limited just in our knowledge, being a finite being. God is infinite, right? So, we might not see or know a purpose of something that has come and gone in the past that could contribute to the current state of the universe now or in the future. We might not see that or know that purpose, but God could, right? And we might not have the power. Of course, we don’t have the power of the things in the past and order them to some purpose beyond themselves, but God, being infinite in power, does. He’s omnipotent, right? So, what might seem wasteful to us–this is similar to the chance thing–what might seem wasteful to us is not wasteful to God in His providential plan, okay? So, that’s one way that we could answer it, sort of an appeal to ignorance, giving our finite limitations, right? We can’t possibly say there is no purpose when we’re dealing with an infinite God who is infinite in knowledge and in power.

Karlo Broussard: Now, a second way we could respond to this argument is that nothing God creates can be wasteful because the mere existence of things manifests God’s glory. And Aquinas was big on this. For example, in the Summa Theologiae, Question 47, Article 1, he writes, “God brought things into being in order that His goodness might be communicated to creatures and be represented by them.” So, the very existence of things represents, manifests God’s goodness. That’s purpose. That’s not wastefulness, right? So, even if, hypothetically, we say that the things that have come and gone in the past in no way contribute to the current state of the universe now or the future state of the universe, they still were not wasteful because they manifested God’s goodness, his being, right? And then, Aquinas also gives us another way we could respond when Aquinas talks about, in the Summa, about how God willed a multiplicity of beings, and how not only the very existence of some created being manifests God’s goodness, but the multiplicity and diversity of beings manifests God’s goodness. And he says, “Because one creature alone…what was wanting to the one in representation of the diving goodness must be supplied by another.”

Karlo Broussard: So, one created being, although that’s pretty darn good in representing God’s goodness, it’s insufficient, right? It’s lacking, it’s wanting in manifesting the majesty of God’s goodness. So, God creates a diversity of beings, which each manifests God’s goodness in their own, distinct way. So, that’s a possible answer we could derive from Aquinas’s thought that in the past, we have a multiplicity of things coming and going, not wasteful because they served the purpose of manifesting God’s goodness in their own distinct ways, you see? Even that would contribute to this idea, many atheists will say, “Well, Karlo, come on, man. The vastness of the universe seems to be wasteful as well.” Well, having a vast universe entails having a multiplicity of beings, and having a multiplicity of beings manifests God’s goodness more so than not having a multiplicity of beings. So, these are some ways that we could respond to that argument that says the evolutionary process entails a wasteful universe in general, which seems to contradict God’s wisdom. But as we’ve shown, it doesn’t.

Cy Kellett: Fair enough. So, we can go to argument two related to God’s wisdom, an argument against God’s wisdom. Evolution makes a wasteful universe relative to the goal of bringing about the human race. So, we say all of this is to … We do, in fact, say the crown of God’s creation is humanity. So, why not just go straight to the crown? Why’d you have to do all this?

Karlo Broussard: Yeah. So, you would think that, given the size of the universe–there’s two, actually, two aspects here. Number one, the size of the universe seems to be wasteful because you have parts of the universe that’s shrouded from our observations. We can’t enjoy it. So, why create it, right, if we’re sort of the crown and glory of the physical cosmos? And then, the second aspect, it seems to be insufficient in producing the desired result of the human species, right? Why take all that time and use all of that stuff when you could’ve just, bam, created the universe in the current state with the human species?

Cy Kellett: It’s like building a forest so you can have a toothpick or something like that.

Karlo Broussard: Yeah. It seems wasteful, right? So, how do we respond to this? Well, number one, once again, similar to before, we can’t possibly know that the things were wasteful relative to making human beings, all right? So, that’s just the appeal to our finite nature, right, our finite knowledge and ability to know things. It’s possible that we might not see a purpose of something in the past that has come and gone that contributes in some way to the universe being what it is in its current state for human beings to be in, right? We may not see a purpose, but God could, right? So, that’s the first way, but secondly, if God willed to create, through natural means, hypothetically, if God, we concede for argument’s sake, God willed to use the evolutionary process to be the natural means by which things emerge, et cetera, well then, the vast universe may very well have been necessary to bring about the desired result. See, on condition that God willed to create through the natural means, through the evolution, the vast universe may have been necessary to bring about the desired result.

Karlo Broussard: So, the vast array of things that have come and gone throughout the history of cosmic and biological evolution wouldn’t be wasteful if that’s how God willed to do it. And finally, I would just say God didn’t have to be efficient in bringing about the desired result, right? He’s infinite in power. He’s outside of time. I’m finite and limited by time and my resources. So, in getting ready for this podcast, I couldn’t read every book and journal article on evolution.

Cy Kellett: I did. Oh, man. We didn’t have to?

Karlo Broussard: I didn’t have the time, nor did we have the resources to buy every book and every piece of literature. So, I had to work with what I had. So, I had to be as efficient as possible in preparing for these segments of our podcast here, but God is outside of time. God is infinite in resources, right? He creates ex nihilo, from nothing. So, it’s not as if God had to be efficient, right, from our standard and our viewpoint, to bring about the desired result. If He willed to have billions of years of the evolution of the cosmos and billions of years on planet Earth of evolution of life forms in order to bring about the desired result, he could very well have willed that. He is bound by no standard to create in the first place, much less to create in a specific way. You see? So, these are ways in which we could respond to this particular argument that says evolution entails a wasteful universe relative to the goal of bringing about the human race. So, the first one was evolution entails a wasteful universe in general. This particular argument says evolution entails a wasteful universe relative to the goal of the human race. But as we’ve seen, the answers that we’ve given to both arguments, neither argument succeeds in showing how evolution either disproves God or shows that God is not all-wise, et cetera.

Cy Kellett: Okay. So, we’ve covered six arguments that a person who believes in evolution could make against God, and it seems like God’s still standing after all that.

Karlo Broussard: Indeed He is, and there may very well be other … There are other arguments out there that atheists could make as well. I’ve found these six to be sort of the most prominent, and you may have other arguments out there that atheists make to show that how evolution disproves God. And we didn’t even talk about evolution in the Bible, right? We’re in the philosophical domain, right? But these six, I take, are the most prominent.

Cy Kellett: Whenever you’re talking about creation and the creator, you’re going to have to limit your conversation.

Karlo Broussard: Correct.

Cy Kellett: You just have to. Okay. So, it would be okay to say, “Look, I accept the theory of evolution and that does not do any damage to God,” at least I can’t see how that … There’s no intellectual reason why evolution is incompatible with God.

Karlo Broussard: And I will point this out. There are some philosophers who will make an argument to counter that and try to put forward arguments to show that they are incoherent, and so, what I’m trying to do here is to show that, at least relative to these arguments, there’s no contradiction in saying that evolution could be a means by which God creates.

Cy Kellett: So, are you, then, advising that a Catholic really should accept the theory of evolution?

Karlo Broussard: I am not. I am not.

Cy Kellett: Why?

Karlo Broussard: First of all, I don’t have a dog in that fight, right? So, I take a step back when it comes to whether evolution is true or not. To be honest, I simply haven’t looked into and read much of the literature for the evidence for, the empirical evidence, for evolution and against evolution. I just simply haven’t had the time or the mental energy yet to get into that debate. But what’s important to note is that the Catholic church allows for good Catholics to disagree on whether evolution is true or not based upon empirical evidence. So, some will put forward the scientific evidence in support of it, others will put forth evidence not in support of it, and Catholics are free to disagree on that. In fact, Pope Pius XXII, in his encyclical Humani Generis, in section 26, he states, “The teaching authority of the Church does not forbid that research and discussions take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution.” So, we can talk about it. We can discuss it. We can debate it. “In as far,” he continues, “as it inquires into even the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existing and living matter.”

Karlo Broussard: So, the Church is not forbidding discussion about that. The reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, they must be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation, and measure, provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church. So, Pope Pius XXII was acknowledging that Catholics can go back and forth on whether they think evolution is true or not, whether the human body was formed from pre-existing matter and an evolutionary process. Catholics can go back and forth on that. But he does make a specific qualification that as Catholics, both by virtue of divine revelation and the natural light of human reason, we must assert and conclude and hold that the rational soul is directly created by God. That could not have been the product of an evolutionary process, and that is something that we must hold to. Not only based upon what we believe as Catholics, but what we know philosophically because it’s immaterial, and immateriality can’t come from matter, et cetera.

Cy Kellett: Okay. So, what about the question that’s called macroevolution, which refers from the jump from inanimate to animate, from vegetative to non-rational animals, from non-rational animals to rational. These are big evolutionary jumps. So, what do I-

Karlo Broussard: Well, concerning the jump from non-rational animal to rational animal, right? Well, we already just said that we have to hold that God directly creates the rational soul to make that jump. So, God is needed for that jump, okay? Now, concerning from inanimate to animate and then from vegetative life to non-rational animal life forms, okay, well, as to the empirical question, scientists disagree as to whether there’s enough evidence for that. I think the stronger evidence leans toward … The stronger position leads toward there being no evidence for those big jumps, right, from inanimate to animate, from vegetative to non-rational animal, okay? So, that’s with regard to an empirical question of whether you can settle that with observational data, right? But as far as the philosophical question goes, I think there are two points to make. Number one, I already said God’s direct causal activity is necessary for the jump from non-rational animal to rational animal because you need God’s infinite power to create a rational soul, okay? Second point to make is that concerning whether God’s direct activity is required for the jump from inanimate to animate or from vegetative to non-rational animals, philosophers go back and forth.

Karlo Broussard: There’s a big debate, right? So, to the question, “Could God do it that way? Could God bestow certain potentials within inanimate matter that, under certain conditions, would be actualized in order to bring forth animate, living beings, right, to go from inanimate to animate,” could God do that? Personally, I don’t see any logical contradiction in saying that God could create inanimate, material things and bestow certain potentials within it in order to be actualized under certain conditions to bring about animate being, right, living being. I don’t see a logical contradiction in that yet. I haven’t found any logical contradiction in it yet. So, it seems to me that God could possibly do that, but did God do it that way? Well, that’s another question, right? And I suspect that he didn’t. I’m inclined to say that God at least directly caused the jumps from inanimate to animate, from vegetative being to non-rational animals, right, that God’s direct causal activity would be required for those jumps. I’m inclined to that position, but I don’t see a logical contradiction in saying that he could have done it in the natural way rather than directly causing the jumps, bestowing certain potentials to be actualized that account for the jumps.

Karlo Broussard: I mean, I think it’s just hard to accept because if inanimate being had certain potentials to be actualized to become animate, I mean, by golly, don’t you think we would have evidence of that? I mean, and so, because we don’t, it seems as if there are no potentials in inanimate matter to be actualized in order to become animate matter or living things.

Cy Kellett: Which would argue for a direct intervention of God to start the chain of life.

Karlo Broussard: Which would seem to imply the need for a direct intervention of God. Yeah. And even once you have life, there’s that important question of going from vegetative life to sentient life of non-rational animals, and that’s-

Cy Kellett: That’s another big jump.

Karlo Broussard: Yeah. There seems to be an essential difference in kind between those two types of being. Now, it is interesting that within those categories, right, for example, Thomists will put forward the idea that you can find in the writings in Aquinas that within vegetative being and non-rational, sentient being, right, that those are the two essential categories that, perhaps, would require God’s direct causal activity to account for the difference, right? But within those two categories, the differences among those beings is simply accidental as opposed to essential. Now, that’s a theory that some put forward, and they argue back and forth, but that’s just out there. That’s one possibility. But ultimately, I think this jump from inanimate to animate, from vegetative to non-rational animal, I’m inclined to say that God’s direct causal activity would be required for those, but-

Cy Kellett: But even the way you approach it, it emphasizes, again, to the Catholic person, you have a great deal of freedom to do your best to figure it out.

Karlo Broussard: There is. Yes.

Cy Kellett: And guess what. You’re not going to figure it all out. So, enjoy yourself. Karlo, thanks.

Karlo Broussard: Hey, thank you, Cy. God bless you, brother.

Cy Kellett: Thanks to everybody who listens to Catholic Answers Focus. Please, if you’ve enjoyed these conversations with Karlo, just give us a like on each one of them or maybe put a comment where you get your podcast. That’s how we grow. Also, you can suggest to people that they might want to listen to Catholic Answers Focus, tell them where to get it, or tell them to sign up for Radio Club by going to CatholicAnswersLive.com, scrolling down, and putting in their email where it says Radio Club. We don’t do anything except send them free stuff if they’re members of Radio Club. Thanks so much, Karlo. I just really enjoyed these conversations. I really appreciate it.

Karlo Broussard: Same here, my friend. Thank you.

Cy Kellett: We’ll see you next time, God willing, on Catholic Answers Focus.

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