Sorry USA Today, Evolution Isn’t “Settled” Science
It’s official, ladies and gentlemen! The Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection is no longer a “theory”; it’s confirmed science!
At least, that’s what USA Today would have us think anyway. In a column entitled “Evolution is Not a Matter of Belief,” Tom Krattenmaker proclaims, “As settled science, evolution is not a matter of opinion or something one chooses to believe in or not, like a religious proposition.” Here, USA Today misleads an increasingly uneducated, uninformed public with shoddy journalism, while demonizing dissenters from elite opinion with backhanded jabs at conservatives: “[T]wo thirds of Democrats accept the validity of evolution, in contrast with the 43 percent of Republicans who accept it.” Allow me to elucidate matters for Mr. Krattenmaker and USA Today.
Let’s start with what science is (and isn’t). In order to be considered “science,” a phenomenon must be: 1) observable via the senses (albeit we must use tools to enhance our sensory limits frequently); 2) reasonable individuals should be able to posit a theory based upon these observations; and 3) reasonable people should be able to replicate conditions to reproduce the phenomenon in question to either confirm the theory or, more to the point, disprove it, via the scientific method. If these three criteria aren’t met, it isn’t science. Ergo, the Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection cannot be understood as science, but instead, a “leap of faith.”
Consider: We may be able to observe, for example, genetics, or “inherited characteristics,” change over time in present-day species, or even genetic similarities between, say, human beings and other primates, specifically chimpanzees and bonobos, which is obviously suggestive. However, we cannot observe inherited characteristics that possibly produced new species from existing ones in the past; i.e., we cannot observe humans “evolving” from apes, nor can we replicate the specifics that could have allowed such a thing to happen. In point of fact, there is very little fossil evidence, of any sort, that suggests such a transition even occurred. Eminent sociologist Rodney Stark has ruminated on this point, citing the late Stephen Jay Gould, who was an equally eminent paleontologist and evolutionary theorist:
Contradicting evolutionary thought, the fossil record reveals species to be rather stable. Further, periods of the Earth’s history, such as the Cambrian, show, not the transitional forms concomitant for affirmation of Darwin’s theory, but sporadic outbursts of highly complex organisms. Not only is it then impossible to validate the assertions of evolutionary theory through the scientific method (as historian Glenn Sunshine has written in Why You Think the Way You Do, “Darwinism is not subject to the scientific method any more than anything in history is”), the data (fossil record) that is frequently cited is actually rather scant. This is important because even Darwin recognized this corroboration was needed. Stark continues,
It was well-known that selective breeding can create variations within species. But the boundaries between species are distinct and firm—one species does not simply trail off into another by degrees. As Darwin acknowledged, breeding experiments reveal clear limits to selective breeding beyond which no additional changes can be produced.** For example, dogs can be bred to be only so big and no bigger, let alone be selectively bred until they are cats. Hence, the question of where species come from was the real challenge and, despite the title of his famous book and more than a century of hoopla and celebration, Darwin essentially left it unanswered.
Darwin’s response was to retreat to natural selection and articulate one reason or another why the fossil record does not display the gradualism of transitional forms he himself knew should be there, all of which were hollow arguments and impossible to falsify scientifically. This is hardly the “scientifically valid” or “accurate account of what we observe” that Krattenmaker professes.
All this said, to demonstrate evolution is an act of faith does not mean the theory isn’t “valid.” As someone who obtained his degree in anthropology (along with history) I happen to believe evolution via natural selection is tenable and fits well enough (although not perfectly, as has been indicated) with the circumstantial evidence we currently have. And to be fair, Krattenmaker gets this much right at least in that “we are not faced with a stark choice between God and science. Unless we read the Bible as a collection of facts as we would a textbook (which, admittedly, some 30 percent of Americans do), people can place their trust in God the creator and accept the scientific validity of evolution.” Yet, it will always have to be considered a theory. Nothing more.
Many people who take religion and faith seriously would question my piety because of my belief in the theory of evolution. As a Catholic, however, I can state with confidence that evolution is not incompatible with Catholicism. Science and faith operate hand-in-hand, not in opposition. To paraphrase John Paul II, science teaches us how the heavens operate, while religion teaches us how to get to heaven. Catholicism acknowledges God to be a rational being who thus created a rational universe. As we are beings created in His image and likeness, that truth means, in part, we too are rational entities that can use this rationality to study the universe in order to better understand God himself, as well as His creation. Verily, this awareness of God and Man’s nature explains why science is unique to the West, by which is meant Europe. Who’s to say, therefore, God wouldn’t use a rational mechanism of his design, such as evolution, to fulfill His will? In turn, this presents many Christians, and to a lesser extent Jews, with a bit of a conundrum: where does the Book of Genesis fit in?
Unlike Protestants, Catholicism has Tradition (the Magisterium) to fall back on. Tradition informs us there are four senses of Scriptural comprehension that are used simultaneously: literal, spiritual (or anagogical), moral (or allegorical), and a meaning associated with human society (tropological). Thus, “Jerusalem,” when mentioned in the Bible, simultaneously is read to mean: a literal geographic city in the Middle East; heaven, since Jerusalem is the city of God (anagogic); an “upright” life (allegoric); and political rule, since Jerusalem was the capital of Israel (tropologic). Catholics, then, do not read Genesis literally, in the sense that the universe was created in six days or that Adam and Eve even existed. Instead, a Catholic reading of Genesis means that the universe (including time) was indeed created by God, but the Genesis recording of creation does not literally walk us through that process but is meant to be symbolic of it. Similarly, Adam and Eve are meant to symbolize humanity’s downfall, not that a “literal” Adam and Eve existed.
Where the idea of evolution and natural selection becomes problematic with Catholicism, and Christianity more broadly, is when people use it to deny the existence of the soul—to somehow assert Man isn’t both a spiritual animal as much as he is a rational animal. But again, this is a misapplication of “science.” Just as science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, so too is science incapable of explaining, or denying, the existence of the soul (“evolution says nothing about the existence of God” as even Krattenmaker allows). As such, evolution probably demonstrates how our physical selves came to be, but it doesn’t reveal the particulars of the soul: when the soul enters into the corporal matter, what the soul means for ourselves and our interactions with others, and so forth.
While the Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection is perfectly compatible with Christianity and may be a reasonable inference based upon what little obtainable observable evidence we have, that’s all it is: an inference. It doesn’t meet the definition of science and is actually a question of belief, despite what USA Today erroneously pronounces. It’s worth quoting Professor Sunshine again:
[I]t is literally impossible to recognize evidence that would contradict Darwin because every explanation of the data begins by assuming evolution is true and proceeds from there. In other words, Darwinism interprets the evidence rather than the evidence testing Darwinism [this is known as performing “eisegesis”]. As a result, no matter how many failed predictions come from Darwinism, it can never be proven false. Simply put, naturalistic evolution is an article of faith.
If you are surprised or offended by this argument, then I would simply put a question to you: What evidence would falsify Darwinism? If you cannot think of, or imagine anything that would, it is an article of faith and not a scientific theory.