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A Thoughtful Catholic Response to Darwinism

In the midst of much confusion among Catholics about evolution, I am very pleased to see an excellent piece by Monsignor Charles Pope on the website of the Archdiocese of Washington DC.

Monsignor Pope has clearly seen the fundamental incompatibility between the standard, Neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution, and Catholic theology. According to Neo-Darwinism, the adaptive complexity of life is the result of natural selection and random genetic mutations. Given this definition, Monsignor Pope argues that while many aspects of "evolution" may not be problematic, "a simple, uncritical acceptance of evolutionary theory is for a Catholic untenable."

Joe Carter highlights the piece at First Things.

Predictably, both pieces have drawn dozens of comments, some good and some not so good. Among the not-so-good is the common assertion that in Neo-Darwinism, random simply means "uncorrelated" and doesn't otherwise have any particular metaphysical significance. This claim is as common as it is misleading. As I argue in God and Evolution, one can always just stipulate and hold a private definition of a word in one's head which differs from the way it's used by the relevant community. And there's obviously a difference between something being merely uncorrelated at a physical level and being undirected at the theological level. But this nuancing of the word "random" hardly clarifies things.

Even a casual acquaintance with mainstream biology textbooks (and Darwin's writings) reveals that in such contexts, the word "random" is almost always understood to be purposeless and undirected. In his chapter in God and Evolution, Casey Luskin provides many examples of this. Darwin was absolutely insistent on this point and resisted any interpretation of his theory according to which God might be directing things behind the scenes. Neo-Darwinists have generally followed Darwin on this. They have a right to define their theory; it's their theory, after all. It's misleading for Catholics and other theists to insist on some other private definition of a word and then to declare that Neo-Darwinism and theism are compatible. It would be nice to pretend there is no conflict here between Darwinian Theory and Catholic theology, but clearly there is.