Friday, August 11, 2006

Magister: Creation or Evolution

Creation or Evolution? Here Is the View of the Church of Rome
The view of the Church of Rome? Perhaps he exaggerates.

ROMA, August 11, 2006 – All those who are expected to attend Benedict XVI’s private seminar with his former theology students at Castel Gandolfo in early September will come with the necessary documents tucked away in their briefcases. Among the papers, an article published by “L’Osservatore Romano” on January 16, 2006, stands out. It is signed Fiorenzo Facchini, who is both priest and scientist, and teaches anthropology at the University of Bologna. He has written extensively on the question of evolution. The importance of this article – which appears in its entirety below – is confirmed in the latest issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica”, a Jesuit journal published in Rome under the control and with the authorization of Vatican authorities. In the August 5-19 issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica”, Jesuit Giuseppe De Rosa reserves ten pages to evolution and its workings, from Lamarck and Darwin up to today. He signs off his piece with a reference to Facchini’s “L’Osservatore Romano” article which he considers the most up-to-date synthesis of the position of the Catholic Church in the matter.
In his article Facchini writes:

For this reason, we must take into account possible developments within evolutionary biology as they impact the study of the role of regulatory genes in effecting considerable morphological changes. Experiments on the regulatory genes that shape the embryonic development of crustacea might allow for hypotheses on new organizational frameworks underlying single genetic mutations. Research in this direction could open up new horizons, but they would still leave one question unanswered, namely whether mutations are the byproduct of random selection or the outcome of some kind of preferential orientation.

Ah, but are genes (even regulatory genes) the whole story behind morphogenesis? I think not--Facchini needs to read the work of the structuralists, or that of his countryman (I presume) Giuseppe Sermonti. Even regulatory genes are not on all the time--they must be switched "on" and "off"--what moves them to act? The question no one asks, because no one analyzes the question of change deeply enough.

The rest is what I would expect from someone trying to maintain a balancing act between what must be held on Faith and what the scientific community claims, conceding to the scientific community much in order to avoid embarrassing the Church and the Faith. (Which is to say, too much--since that evidence and the reasoning behind it should receive a better critique from Catholic scientists and philosophers. But who wants to take on the secular academy?)

Supposing that neo-Darwinism were a true account of changes in living things, it would not negate the need for a First Mover. In fact, the mechanism itself is a proof for a First Mover, so long as one reasons properly. The mechanism does not threaten theism; only scientists who reason poorly do, and they need to take a class on the pre-Socratics on change to get their thinking straight.

These are the questions that should really be asked.

(1) Whether macroevolution is possible?
(2) Has it taken place?

In order for these questions to be answered, the problem of species must first be resolved. Does like reproduce like? Or can species themselves become lost through reproduction?

From an Aristotelian pov, analysis then could go on in this direction:
(3) Is macroevolution a form of substantial change or accidental change? (And the related question: are there many natures, or do all living things share one nature?
(4) Does neo-Darwinism give sufficient respect to nature as a principle of living things? Does the mechanism fail to take into account other parts of living things which influence organization and the development of parts?
(5) If development (or morphogenesis--a term which I believe needs clarification) is an operation that is posterior to a nature and not prior to it (that is to say, a thing of a specific nature does not come to be only when development is complete, but pre-exists it, and only the adult 'form' comes to be), then is it possible for a thing to substantially change itself? Or must any change in form therefore be accidental? Does chance tinker with a machine? If it tinkers with a living thing with its own nature, and the nature is ordered to a certain adult "form" (or perhaps a range of adult "forms"), if the new adult form is outside its range of possibilities, has not the nature been destroyed and substituted with something else?
(6) Even if it is possible for drastic changes in structure and appearance, how are such changes inherited, if we find that genes are not sufficient to explain morphological change? And how can we explain the accumulation of said changes without resorting to a mechanistic account of life that denies that living things are substances and wholes?

Not to mention the important question of what "chance" is... it is easy to give a definition of chance that leaves God out of it, but when applied to the substitution of bases in a DNA sequence, does it really make sense? DNA replication is a form of generation at its own proper level; the efficient cause of DNA generation is not itself, since that is what is coming-to-be. I would argue that it is not even the parts, even if the parts change in place naturally. (That is, their locomotion is a natural motion.) Now God may will that all the things involved in DNA replication "do their thing," more than the proper outcome [i.e. accurate replication], but does God really need such a haphazard way in order to bring about the diversity of life? And if it is really chance, would it not have been possible for life and its diversification not to have been brought about? What then would we say about God's wisdom?

Dr. De Koninck wrote about chance and evolution; I have to dig up that article and read it, and see if he uses Aristotle's account and applies it to evolution.

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