Catholic Tradition and the Creator of All

Peter A. Kwasniewski FAITH Magazine September-October 2006

Catholic Doctrine and Evolution: The Continuing Debate

In a hotly-discussed New York Times opinion piece of July 7, 2005, “Finding Design in Nature,” Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna stated that the Catholic Church has never endorsed evolutionary theory tout court, and could never endorse that strand of neo-Darwinism which sees all living things, including man, as having arisen from the chance interactions of matter functioning according to necessary “natural laws”—albeit, for some, under the benevolent gaze of a non-involved deity. The Cardinal noted that while John Paul II has been cited as a supporter of evolutionary theory, he was careful to distance himself from the philosophical naturalism and materialism that are more or less required to sustain Darwinism.
If the late Pontiff favoured the idea of an evolution of species, it was according to a notion far more limited than the one held by secular scientists. Hence the Cardinal quoted these sharp words of John Paul II: “It is clear that the truth of faith about creation  is  radically  opposed  to  the  theories  of  materialistic  philosophy.  These view the cosmos as the result of an evolution of matter reducible to pure chance and necessity.” He also quoted a statement to the effect that the refusal to ask questions about a transcendent source of finality in nature amounts to an abdication of intelligence.

Thus, concluded the Cardinal, there are no grounds for rapprochement between the  Church’s  perennial  teaching  and  the  non-theistic  premises  of  mainstream evolutionary theory. On the contrary, there is reason to reject the latter as an example of ideology masquerading as scientific objectivity.

The Need for Clarity

This op-ed piece caused a flurry of negative reactions, especially from “scientist-believers” who were upset that their creed of chaotic cosmology mysteriously brooded over by the Spirit had been called into question. One of the first reactions, an article by Cornelia Dean and Laurie Goodstein that appeared on the front page of the Times on July 9, sported the title: “Leading Cardinal Redefines Church’s View on Evolution.” What the Cardinal said was, however, traditional and should have seemed unsurprising in the light of classic Catholic sources. Far from constituting a “redefinition,” it was a modest restatement of what has always been and will always be the Church’s position. Still, the Cardinal’s piece was important both in content and in timing, because it helped clarify a point thatfor many Catholics has become murky.

There are many books and articles that deflate the exaggerated claims of the so-called neo-Darwinian synthesis, but the response typically given by spokesmen of the scientific community is a flood of ad hominem sneers. It is easier to thunder “Proven fact!” than to make the effort of taking counter arguments seriously. Notice the current favorite strategy: all anti-evolutionists are painted as Christian biblical “fundamentalists” who insist that the world and all its species (in a post-Linnean sense[1]) were created in six days, or that the world is only 6,000 years old. On the contrary, the strongest critiques of evolutionary doctrine come from Catholic philosophers and scientists who have no difficulty with large-scale timelines orvariations within kinds. St. Augustine was already proposing a mechanism called “seminal reasons,” rationes seminales, to explain a gradual appearance of species over the span of ages. His account nevertheless emphasizes pre-planned natures and purposes as well as the intimate presence and activity of God in all things—as must any adequate account.

Although much can be done to refute certain evolutionary beliefs by the disciplined use of reasoning and scientific research, believers also have a duty to be clear about the limits that are set “from above.” This is not fideism but reverence for the Lord of reason, the infinite Light of Truth from whom the spark of human intelligence derives.

"Intelligent Design": Two Different Meanings

It is important to clarify, before proceeding, that a theory of “intelligent design” can be parsed in two different ways. It can mean that a rational account of the universe as a whole and in each of its parts demands the existence of a divine being, intelligent and free, that foreknows or “plans” this universe, and executes Its plan such that what It foreknew does come to pass, whatever the subordinate means employed to forward this along. The theory can also mean that a divine being intervenes to micromanage or  introduce specific  designs into  a  world that would otherwise fail to achieve key steps of progress—as if to say: you’ve got a bicycle, but some intelligent intervention is required to turn it into a motorcycle, since this won’t happen automatically; or,  you’ve  got  a  light-sensitive spot, but an external operation of considerable dexterity is required to transform this into a functional eye.

The former is the more traditional Thomistic approach, which makes allowances for a diversity of secondary agents that can bring about the primary agent’s designs or purposes. The latter is what people now are referring to as  “intelligent  design  theory” (IDT).  Whatever their differences,  defenders  of  both  approaches  agree  on the necessity of there being a creator and ruler of the universe, the objective (i.e., written-into-things) reality of purpose in nature, and the impossibility of evolutionary mechanisms bearing the sort of explanatory weight they are customarily allowed to bear.

Scriptural Foundations

Because of the secular venue chosen for his op-ed, Cardinal Schönborn did not fully exploit an angle that is important when it comes to the Church’s faith: the witness of Sacred Scripture to the discoverability of God’s existence, wisdom, and creative power through his  works.[2]  The  Bible  says  remarkable  things  about how much we can and should know about God from an attentive consideration of the world he has created.

First,  there  are  the  creation  accounts in the first  two chapters of Genesis. There is much that can be said about the implicit “natural philosophy” of these chapters, but here I will limit my observation to this. The creation accounts teach us that God, sole author of the world, has left his signature on it precisely in regard to (a) its goodness—the goodness of each thing and the goodness of the totality; (b) its beauty and orderliness; (c) its utility for man; (d) the image of God in man’s soul, owing to its  rationality and freedom. Genesis does not, however, reflect philosophically on this signature; by depicting the act of creation and the result—a magnificent paradise well stocked with its birds, fishes, cattle, and so on, not to mention creeping  things,  a  veritable  kingdom  over which the man and the woman reign in the peace of an integral  nature—it  simply  shows  that  God’s  abundant goodness has been poured out, that his own nature has been “mirrored” somewhat as a mountain is mirrored in a clear lake.

For the careful reader, the creation accounts are saying that however God fashioned the world—we are not made privy to the formation but only to the results and, in a general way, their cosmic purpose of displaying God’s glory—he, his generous love, is its single ultimate source. This completely rules out the idea of a random process that might or might not have yielded the cosmos as we have it. On the contrary, God planned in detail the cosmos he wanted; he is an artist who has conceived the work to be executed and who executes it in the most suitable way, in order to lead mankind to union with himself. He is  not  a  Jackson  Pollock  who “paints”  by splattering pigments randomly onto a canvas.

A World Full of Meaning and Purpose

The cosmic perspective of Genesis is shared by many of the Psalms. The ringing assertions of Psalm 148 come to mind: “For  he  commanded  and  they  were
created. And he established them for ever and ever; he fixed their bounds which cannot be passed” (Ps. 148:5-6). Again, there is no attempt on the part of the sacred writer to describe, as a scientist would attempt to do, the sequences or processes by which stars or starfish arose in a world aborning; but the Lord did command, and it did happen according to his command, in such a way that boundaries—note the connection with ends: finis in Latin, telos in Greek, mean “end, bound, terminus”—were firmly  fixed.  Definite  kinds  of  things  came about; the Almighty wanted them so.[3]

As the Bible  underlines,  the  Almighty  is  no  species-egalitarian; the creation accounts bring man and woman into  view as the summit of the visible creation, with everything else placed at their service, and in general, with lower things being placed at the service of higher ones  (plants are given to animals for food, and later, after the flood, animals are given to men for food). But this relationship of “means to end” is itself subtle. Thus, the book of Wisdom seems to regard the visible universe as principally designed to reveal the beauty of God to mankind, and only secondarily to provide for the needs and wants of human life.[4]

A Universe Ruled by Intelligence and Providence

Psalm 19 presents the very skies as preachers of God’s creative lordship: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge” (Ps 19:1-2).  All  things,  not  just  human beings, are subject to divine providence: “He determines the number of the stars, he gives to all of them their names” (Ps 147:4). Psalm 33 bears witness both to the manner of the Lord’s working (he acts by intellect and will,  preconceiving  and  executing  his  designs;  cf.  Ps 136:5) and to the extent of his work (he is the author of being as being, of the very substance and nature of things). While it does not exclude a lengthy period of time over whichGod may bring about distinction within his creation, nor many subordinate means through which he may have executed his designs, the doctrine here manifestly excludes pure chance: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth. … For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood forth” (Ps 33:6, 9; cf. Ps. 104:2 and Ps. 95).

Aristotle considered Empedocles to be mistaken in saying that the cycles of weather, of rainfall and evaporation, are purposeless processes that just happen to benefit mankind; it is more reasonable to see their purposefulness (Physics II, ch. 8). It is true that purposefulness is much harder to see in lifeless than in living things, since the element of appetite, of striving for a good as a goal, seems absent from the former, whereas it becomes increasingly important and evident in the latter in proportion to their complexity, their rank in the hierarchy of living forms. Yet Scripture expects us to stand with Aristotle, so to speak, on this matter: “Thou visitest the earth and waterest it, thou greatly enrichest it; the river of God is full of water; thou providest their grain, for sothou hast prepared it. Thou waterest its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. Thou crownest the year with thy bounty” (Ps 65:9-11).

Psalm 104, a poem much quoted in the liturgy, eloquently probes the mystery of creation. Three verses sum up its perspective: “Thou dost cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man’s heart. … O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy creatures” (Ps. 104:14-15, 24).

Everything in the Cosmos Gives Praise to God

Scripture is replete with such expressions of joy and admiration at the works of God’s hands, songs of praise  to  the  Creator  who reigns  over all  and  whose handiwork is  visible  all  around—he  himself  remaining hidden because he is infinite spirit, in all and yet above all.[5]  I  should like to draw attention to one other song, from  the  book  of  Daniel—the  hymn  known  as  the Benedicite, where, in a manner that must have inspired the canticles  of  St.  Francis,  the  whole  of  creation  is called upon to “sing praise to God and exalt him above all forever.”[6] Now, this Benedicite is on the lips of priests and religious (and laity who pray the Divine Office) as often as several times a week, so it cannot be unfamiliar; but is its significance always appreciated?

What is by chance is, ipso facto, not intended; and what is not intended is no praise to anyone. Those who assert that God is “creator” and “ruler” of a world that comes about by chance events are in truth denying that God is  really  the  cause of things as they are; and so, this makes the Benedicite utterly meaningless. (There would not even be a universe, a single cosmos or world: note how the Latin universum means “turned upon one” or “combined into one,” and the Greek kosmos refers to the world as something orderly or adorned.)   There is no further “spiritual” meaning to this famous hymn. It plainly says that all creatures, being what they are, become a kind of praise-offering to God when man, contemplating God’s wisdom and goodness in them, turns to God inpraise. Whatever secondary causes are involved in the temporal unfolding of his eternal plan, God is the primary maker of all these things, and so, as an intelligent and free cause, he knows them, “plans” them (i.e., conceives their plan), and wills them to be just such as he knows them. Whatever other causes are involved are all subject to this foreknown plan, and so they too do not operate by chance but by design.[7]

Contingency Within a Structured World

It is true that nature often makes use of random methods for definite purposes, as with the scattering of seeds into the breeze, or the vast multiplication of insect offspring many of which will not survive. As Aristotle long ago saw, nature does not work in a purely mathematical way, but involves the uncertainties of prime matter, of potentiality and its multiple possibilities.[8] If there is ample room for what we call chance in the natural world, it is because there is already an intelligible structure of purposes within which unintended intersections can occur. It is because I  am going to the marketplace already that I happen to meet my friend who is also going to the marketplace. We did not intend to meet each other, but we werelucky because our paths crossed. Here, the “luck”—the chance that turns out well—depends on the prior intentionality of both agents. At the level of subordinate, mutable, material causes, then, there is plenty of room for the unintended, though always because there are already definite purposes in play; but from the vantage of the ultimate Cause, who knows and wills all that has being, motion, or life in any way, there is no such thing as chance.

Put differently, whatsoever really exists, in whatsoever way it does exist, has and must have God, ipsum esse per se subsistens, for its cause—but in a radical way that extends even to its mode of being, its very mutability, its   possibility  for  otherness,  interaction,  frustration, and fulfillment.[9]  The  significance  of  this  is  that  God remains ever most intimate to a thing in its essence and constitution, yet without depriving it of its individuality and distinctiveness as a creature of such-and-such a sort, indeed guaranteeing that it come to be and remain so for the time, or span of life, he apportions for it.

Any Theory of Evolution Entails the Notion of "Good"

As we have seen, what occurs by chance is precisely unintended and purposeless, regardless of whether or not the result happens to be something good (“good luck”) or bad (“bad luck”). The evolutionist holds, in fact, that what we call “good” is simply that which survives or  works,  and “bad”  that  which  thwarts  survival  or fails,  but  such  terms  must be purely subjective—from the perspective of a subject struggling to survive, a tool striving to be functional. This is, however, a begging of the question. A subject only exists because it is a certain kind of subject that has as its fundamental aim continuing in being and, if possible, reproducing the same kind of being; a tool is only a tool by being purposeful. Thus in theorder of intention, the good aimed at (always some perfection of being) preexists the thing aiming at that good, so as to achieve it. If the thing so aiming has no intelligence with which to understand the end, and no freedom with which to direct itself to the end, that is undeniable evidence of a prior intellect and will by which it is aimed at that end.

Thus, to say that God is Creator and Lord if the actual steps by which the world comes to be as it now is are chance results, is to say something empty. This God can, at best, be a passive observer (and so, it turns out, cannot be God—at least not the God whom Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship). If, in contrast, he is actively involved in what things are doing and why, he is their origin and explanation—in short,  their  designer,  whatever  be  the tools he employs to get his designs across.

No Place for True "Chance" in a Theistic World View

In a world built up by chance, God would no more be responsible for the success of his “offspring” than a father whose children got fed and dressed because they were lucky enough to find scraps of food and clothing in the neighbors’ trash bins. When a father is said to provide, it  is  because  he works and plans for the good of his family. God is truly provident: he provides; foreknowing, planning, willing, bringing it about.

This is why Jesus says it is his Father who feeds the birds and clothes the flowers  (Mt  6:25-34), and why Job says, in response to the bad news about his family and flocks, “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). And why the Psalmist confesses: “For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps 139:13).

In his critique of pagan theology, St. Augustine observes that the denial that God’s providence extends directly to everything that has happened, is happening, or will happen, is to deny the existence of God, period.[10] This position  has  never  been  understood  to  be  a  form  of determinism or necessitarianism,  because  God causes not only beings but modes of being, and so makes some things to be necessary and others contingent, and of the latter he makes some to be unfree and others free. Yet all this is within the sphere of divine governance, not outside of it; and so it does not make any sense to speak as if things can occur without God’s causing them to be.

Denial of Divine Nature

Another passage of Scripture often cited by Catholic philosophers and theologians down through the ages is  from the opening chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:

What can be known about God is plain to them [sinful human beings], because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. (Rom 1:19-21)

The most explicit text in the Bible on the manifestation of divine wisdom in and through the beauty and order of  creatures  is  found  in  chapter 13 of the Book of Wisdom.[11] The teaching of this passage becomes all the more striking when read today against the backdrop of  the  modern  materialistic  mind-set  and  its  pseudo-scientific justifications:

For all men who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists, nor did they recognize  the  craftsman  while  paying  heed  to  his works; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world. If through delight in the beauty of these things men assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the author of beauty created them.

And if men were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is  he who formed them. For from the greatness and beauty  of  created  things  comes  a  corresponding perception of their Creator. Yet these men are little to be blamed, for perhaps they go astray while seeking God and desiring to find him.

For as they live among his works they keep searching, and they trust in what they see, because the things that are seen are beautiful. Yet again, not even they are to be excused; for if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things? (Wis. 13:1-9)

The Church in Defence of Reason

It is not the Catholic Church that decides, through the personal (and evolving?) views of her Popes, what can and cannot be accepted as consistent with the doctrine of God as creator and governor of the universe; it is, on the one hand, the plain witness of what we accept as the revealed word of God, and, on the other hand, the conclusions that human reasoning based on well-interpreted experience bring home to us about the world we see around us.

Looking  back  on  the  scriptural  texts  gathered  above, particularly the verses from Wisdom 13, what should we conclude? First, it is revealed that, for those who make suitable efforts, God’s existence, wisdom, love, creative power, can be glimpsed in what he has made—in the works of his hand. This is a confession of confidence in  reason and of the intelligibility of creation that is a central leitmotif of all Catholic theology; it is not in the least a matter of “fundamentalism.” On the contrary, and ironically (as the Cardinal points out), it is Catholicism that is placed in the curious position of defending reason’s ability to understand reality, to understand it as an orderly and beautiful whole that demands a transcendent source of beautyand order not only for its coming into being but for the continued existence of each and every part so long as it has being.[12]

Great Teachers of the Christian Faith

We find this to be the teaching of all the great theologians. Let us take some especially notable figures:  St.  Augustine (354-430),  St.  Bonaventure (1221-1274), his almost exact contemporary St. Thomas Aquinas  (1225-1274), and nearer to our times, John Henry Newman (1801-1890).

It   would  be  easy  to  find  parallels  in  almost  any Father,  Doctor,  Pope,  or  theologian,  at  least  of  the preconciliar generation. Augustine wrestles in Book X of the Confessions with the question of God’s nature:

I  put  my question  [“But what is my God?”] to the earth.  It  answered, “I  am not God,” and all things on earth declared the same. I asked the sea and the chasms of the deep and the living things which creep in them, but they answered, “We are not your God.
Seek what is above us.” … I spoke to all the things that are about me, and all that can be admitted through the door of the senses, and I said, “Since you are not my
God, tell me about him. Tell me something of my God.” Clear and loud they answered, “God is he who made us.” I asked these questions simply by gazing at these
things, and their beauty was all the answer they gave.

Creation Answers the Seeker of Truth

As Ronald McArthur of Thomas Aquinas College once pointed out, Augustine is here the very model of the honest seeker that the Book of Wisdom admonishes us to be—one who, sensing God’s works, understands them to be made, and proceeds to venerate their maker. Later in the same discussion Augustine explains why it is that the “answer” given by all these things does not speak aloud to everyone:

Surely  everyone  whose senses are not impaired  is aware of the universe around him? Why, then, does it  not give its same message to us all? The animals, both great and small, are aware of it, but they cannot inquire into its meaning because they are not guided by reason, which can sift the evidence relayed to them by their senses. Man, on the other hand, can question nature. He is able to catch sight of God’s invisible nature through his creatures,  but his  love  of  these material things is too great.…

Nor will the world supply an answer to those who question it, unless they also have the faculties to judge it.… It would be nearer the truth to say that it gives an answer to all, but it is only understood by those who compare the message it gives them through their senses with the truth that is in themselves. For truth says to me, “Your God is not heaven or earth or any kind of bodily thing.”
Augustine’s insight that the world does give answer to all who are prepared to listen, is developed with Franciscan enthusiasm by St. Bonaventure:

"All creatures, whether they are viewed in terms of their defects or in terms of their perfectibility, in voices most loud and strong, cry out the existence of God whom they need because of their deficiency and from whom they receive their completion. Therefore, in accordance with the greater or lesser degree of fullness which they possess, some cry out the existence of God with a loud voice; others cry out yet louder; while still others make the loudest cry".  (Disputed Questions on the Mystery of the Trinity)

What kind of a man is it who can hear these cries? The Seraphic Doctor tells us in his work The Soul’s (or Mind’s) Journey into God, which is about the spiritual ascent from the world around us and the powers within us to the ultimate source above us:

"All creatures in this visible world lead the spirit of the contemplative and wise man into the eternal God. For creatures are shadows, echoes, and pictures of that first, most powerful, most wise, and most perfect Principle, of that eternal Source, Light, Fullness, of that efficient, exemplary and ordering Art".

God "Shines Forth" in the Works of His Intellect

Bonaventure means us to take him at his word: God is really known in and through creatures themselves, in whom his signature is inscribed. It is not as if he is an infinitely remote postulate that answers the abstruse question “Why is there something rather than nothing?”; he shines forth in the deliberate effects of his intellect.
“It  must be said that as the cause shines forth in the effect, and as the wisdom of the artificer is manifested in his work, so God, who is the artificer and cause of the creature, is known through it.” (Commentary on the First Book of the Sentences)

The Dominican friar from Aquino had similar things to say. In the sources he treasured—Scripture, the Fathers, Aristotle—Aquinas discovered support for the message he himself read in the created world: there is a God, who is pure actuality, possessed of all perfections, essentially and supremely good, infinite, ubiquitous, unchangeable, utterly  one—the  source  of  the  whole  of  reality.  For Thomas no less than for Bonaventure, creation can be compared to a book, as we see in this comment on Romans 1:19: “God manifested his attributes to men [without special revelation] both by infusing the light of reason within, and by setting forth all around the visible creatures in which, just as in a book, the knowledge of God might be read.” (Commentaryon Romans)  

Recognising The Creator's Art

Aquinas concludes a discussion of why it is obvious that nature acts for an end with these words: “Hence it is clear that nature is nothing but a certain kind of art, i.e., the divine art, impressed upon things, by which these things are moved to a determinate end. It is as if the shipbuilder were able to give to timbers that by which they would move themselves to take the form of a ship.” (Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics) This is the strategy we find in the fifth of St. Thomas’s celebrated “Five Ways” of proving the existence of God, near the start of the Summa Theologiae:

"The fifth way is taken from the governance of things. For we see that things lacking intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end [propter finem], which is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way so as to obtain the best result. Hence it  is  plain that they achieve their end not by chance, but by design  [ex intentione].  Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot tend towards an end unless it be directed  by  some  being  endowed  with  knowledge and intelligence, as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are ordered to their end—and this we call God".

In a sermon he preached in Naples near the end of his life, Aquinas was even more insistent:

“'God' means the ruler and provider of all things. That man believes in God who believes that everything in this world is governed and provided for by Him. He who would believe that all things come into being by chance does not believe that there is a God. No one is so foolish as to deny that all nature, which operates with a certain definite time and order, is subject to the rule and foresight and orderly arrangement of someone. We see how the sun, the moon, and the stars, and all natural things follow a determined course, which would be impossible if they were merely products of chance. Hence, as is spoken of in the Psalm, he is indeed foolish who does not believe in God: “The fool hath said in his heart: There is no God” (Ps. 14:1).

Clarity of Vision More Persuasive Than Arguments Alone Taking up the implied conclusion of Ps. 14:1, namely that the existence of God is above all a matter of the heart and the heart’s recognition of the truth, John Henry Newman developed an approach that centered rather on conscience and consciousness than on proofs derived from cosmological or teleological order.

Newman also entertained a good deal of skepticism about the power of arguments or proofs when it came to winning over unbelievers who did not want to believe, or even to listen; he knew there had to be a basic friendliness to the Gospel, an openness to conviction, before any apologetic could be received into the ear, let alone judged by the mind. Yet Newman was not a Cartesian solipsist who found the root of all certitude inside the soul; on the contrary, he was peculiarly sensitive to the beauty of the natural world and to the message (one thinks again of Augustine) that it speaks to the wakeful heart:

"Does not the whole world speak in praise of God? Does not every star in the sky, every tree and flower upon earth, all that grows, all that endures, the leafy woods,  the  everlasting  mountains,  speak  of  God? Do not the pearls in the sea, and the jewels in the rocks, and the metals in the mine, and the marbles in the quarry—do not all rich and beautiful substances everywhere witness of  Him who made them? Are they not His work, His token, His glory? Are they not a portion of a vast natural Temple, the heavens, earth,  and sea—a vast Cathedral for the Bishop of our souls, the All-sufficient Priest, who first created all things, and then again, became, by purchase, their Possessor?" (Parochial and Plain Sermons)

In Discourses to Mixed Congregations, Newman proclaims, in  line  with  Wisdom 13 and Romans  1, that God’s “traces” can be found in the material world:

"He has traced out many of His attributes upon it, His  immensity,  His  wisdom, His power, His loving-kindness, and His skill; but more than all, its very face is illuminated with the glory and beauty of His eternal excellence. … This is that quality which, by the law of our nature, is ever able to draw us off ourselves in admiration, which moves our affections, which wins from us a disinterested  homage; and it is  shed in profusion, in token of its Creator, over the visible world.
Leave, then, the prison of your own reasonings, leave the town, the work of man, the haunt of sin; go forth, my brethren, far from the tents of Cedar and the slime of Babylon: with the patriarch go forth to meditate in the field, and from the splendours of the work imagine the unimaginable glory of the Architect".

A Common Voice of Reason and Faith

Such witnesses from the Christian centuries could be multiplied ad libitum. There are few questions on which unanimity can be so easily ascertained, and the reasons for that unanimity so readily grasped, as in the case of God’s creative, intelligent, designful causality of the whole of reality—from its heights to its depths, from galaxies to subatomic particles. This ultimate causation can be understood on the basis of rational engagement with and contemplation of reality; it may be, but it need not be, a matter of faith. It was in this sense that Aquinas thought that the best of the philosophers, Aristotle, knew that God was creator.[13] While Aristotle did not know how or why God created the world, he glimpsed that an infinitely perfectMind was the source of its orderly being. Whether Aquinas was right or wrong in his interpretation of Aristotle has been a hotly disputed question, but this much is clear: Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Newman, and countless others concurred that this world is ordered by the good, to the good, for the good. With varying degrees of clarity, they saw and bore witness to the primacy and causality of the Good, and with it, the reign of Wisdom, for the two can never be dissociated.

Schönborn Simply Restated   Catholic Tradition

All in all, as I have shown, Cardinal Schönborn’s op-ed is an unassuming restatement of what has been commonly held and taught in the Catholic Church. It expresses a view soundly rooted in Scripture (which, for Catholics, is inspired, inerrant, a more certain foundation than any merely human source of knowledge[14])—a view sustained in all ages by the Church’s pastors, including John Paul II in his more substantive remarks about the natural world.

Dr. Kenneth Miller is one among many who worries that the Cardinal’s op-ed “may have the effect of convincing Catholics that evolution is something they should reject.” To which I can only reply: Deo gratias. Catholics with a mind for natural philosophy and the sciences might start  to  think  again  for  themselves,  within  their  own rich tradition and with the freedom of offering trenchant criticism, rather than yielding to the pressure of a modern scientific  culture  whose  historical  antecedents  were anything but encouraging toward revealed religion and whose present-day tendencies do not augur a friendly collaboration with Catholicism.

Prejudice and Confusion to be Overcome

The uproar over Schönborn’s statements once again shows us what thinkers who wish to be faithful to the Catholic tradition are up against in the contemporary world. Much “science” is sheer assertion, unwarranted or unwarrantable by empirical evidence. We have much more going for us: the formal beauty and intelligible order of  the  natural  world;  the  testimony  of  great  religious traditions;  a  nearly  unanimous  consensus  among  pre-modern philosophers; and most of all, the clear teaching of divine revelation that the visible world offers man a road to the discovery of God as Creator and Lord. We have no reason to cower before the high priests of scientism, who offer us (in the Cardinal’s words) “ideology, notscience.” It  is  fitting to conclude with a remarkable passage from Gaudium et Spes. It comes at the point where the Council Fathers are trying to explain the “rightful autonomy” of earthly affairs. They say, of course, that there cannot be any genuine conflict between faith and reason, theology and natural science, but they provide this commentary:

By the very circumstance of their having been created, all  things are endowed with their own stability, truth, goodness, proper laws, and order. Man must respect these as he isolates them by the appropriate methods of the individual sciences or arts. Therefore if methodical investigation within every branch of learning is carried out in a genuinely scientific manner and in accord with moral norms, it never truly conflicts  with faith,  for earthly matters and the concerns of faith derive from the same God. Indeed whoever labors to penetrate the secrets of reality with a humble and steady mind, even though he is unaware of the fact, is nevertheless being led by the hand of God, who holds all things in existence, and gives them their identity. … For without the Creator thecreature would disappear. For their part, however, all believers of whatever religion always hear his revealing voice in the discourse of creatures. But when God is forgotten, the creature itself grows unintelligible.

[1] The concept of “species” as used in post-Linnean biology is not what anti-evolutionists mean when they speak of the “species” God created; these are better referred to as “created kinds” within which there can be considerable development or, one might say, micro-evolution. The boundaries of these created kinds do not necessarily correspond to biological “species” in the narrow sense; for instance, in a biblical worldview dogs, wolves, and coyotes would belong to the same “kind,” whereas modern biology classifies them as          distinct species. Few scientifically-minded anti-evolutionists argue       for a fixity of species in the post-Linnean sense of the term. What theyquestion most basically is the grandiose and question-begging          extrapolation of the radically more complex from the radically    simple, at level after level in the hierarchy of organisms.
[2] cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 31-34, 286, 299.
[3] cf. CCC, n. 269.
[4] cf. CCC, nn. 293-294; Psalm 8 captures both aspects.
[5] cf. CCC, n. 300.
[6] cf. Dan. 3:35-68; Ps. 148 is quite similar.
[7] cf. CCC, nn. 269, 306-308.
[8] In this sense, God is more interested in the survival of ants and bees than in the survival of this ant or that bee; the species takes precedence over the individual. With human beings it is oherwise because they are persons—rational, free animals, who bear the   image of God and have thus an intrinsic dignity or worth.
[9] It is very important to point out that for Aquinas, not only a thing’s existing, but its way of existing, is caused by God. God stands so much beyond being as we know it that he is even beyond     necessity; God is being, he is not this or that kind of being. When he freely creates a finite being, he determines whether it will exist in such a way that it must exist (a “necessary being” in his terminology), or in such a way that it need not exist, though it does exist for a time (a “contingent being”). The two types of being that belong to the former class are angels and human souls (inasmuch as our souls are spiritual and hence incorruptible); all other beings in the visible universe belong to the latter class, and canperish into a nothingness as profound as that from which they emerge when  called into being by their Creator.
[10] See On the City of God, Book V, chs. 8-10.
[11] Our Protestant brethren do not recognize this book as inspired Scripture, but the Catholic Church has always accepted it.
[12]  cf. CCC, nn. 299-301.
[13]  Aquinas argued that Aristotle, and to some extent Plato, knew that God was “creator” in the sense of the one who gives being (esse) or ultimate actuality to things, even though neither could know that God’s creation had a beginning in time (even as it will have an end at the Second Coming), which is something knowable only through revelation.
[14] It is surprising how often nowadays one hears Catholics and Protestants contrasted, as if Protestants believe that the Bible   is literally the word of God, inspired and without error, whereas Catholics believe that the Bible is a special way that God teaches us, but is only inerrant in regard to doctrines of faith and morals. This is a flawed description of Catholic doctrine, as a perusal of key documents indicates (not only Leo XIII’s Providentissimus Deus, of course, but also Pius XII’s Divino Afflante Spiritu and   Vatican II’s Dei Verbum). The Catholic Church herself teaches that       Scripture is written, as a whole and in all its parts, by God as the primary author and by men as true secondaryauthors, “intelligent    instruments” that the Lord employs to convey a message that, rightly understood, is always and only true. Hence there can be no factual error that a secondary author not only thought to be true—for there are plenty of false opinions recorded in the Bible—but also intended, as God’s instrument, to communicate as if it were true. Scripture is true as a whole and in all of its parts, precisely according to the meaning that its authors (primary and secondary) intended for these parts. Catholics therefore accept the literal meaning of every passage of the Bible, yet not according to a superficial notion of   what “literal” means, but with a nuanced   understanding of what the “letter”—i.e., the meaning intended by      theauthor—really is in this or that passage (see CCC, nn. 105-119).

Faith Magazine

September - October 2006