Review of Aquinas and Evolution
  
Aquinas and Evolution, by Michael Chaberek O.P., S.T.D., Chartwell Press (2017)
Reviewed by Thomas L. McFadden, author of Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism: A Discussion for Those Who Believe
(www.scienceandcatholicism.myfreesites.net )

The book is an ”inquiry into the question of compatibility between Thomas Aquinas’s philosophy and the modern theory of evolution.”  “Today”, wrote Fr. Chaberek, “the majority of ‘Thomists’ assert that Aquinas’s theology/philosophy can be reconciled with the evolutionary origin of species.” Methodically Fr. Chaberek went through an exhaustive list of reasons that the Thomists to which he referred have advanced to support their opinions and he refuted them all with the very words of St. Thomas. While I have extensively studied the science involved in the matter of evolution I have no education in philosophy but I found this book an easy read.  I yield to the opinion of the five philosophers whose endorsements are published in the front of the book as to whether or not theistic evolutionists (Thomist or otherwise) will find it as persuasive as I did. Especially helpful was the Foreword by Logan Paul Gage, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville which put the question to be investigated into plain language for the non-philosopher.

Fr. Chaberek explained that at the end of the nineteenth century
Thomists universally rejected the Darwinian theory of origins. They based their opinion on revealed doctrine and sound philosophy. By sound philosophy they meant a broad heritage of classical metaphysics found in the Aristotelian-Thomistic as well as the Platonic-Augustinian school. Both of the schools seemed to exclude what Darwin taught. This fact leads us to the following question: Darwin’s ideas have not substantially changed over the past 150 years. Neither have the teachings of Aquinas. How is it therefore possible that the Thomists of the late nineteenth century excluded Darwin’s theory based on Thomistic principles, whereas the contemporary Thomists do not see any substantial incompatibility between the two?(Page 7.)

After dealing minutely with the arguments of those “contemporary Thomists” Fr. Chaberek returned on page 223 to that question with a subsection labeled “Why do Thomists adopt theistic evolution?”  He asserted three reasons: the adoption of the naturalist paradigm, the deficiency in scientific knowledge, and the fear of the “scientific community.”

My interest in this subject is based on my hypothesis that the teaching in school of the evolutionary theory of origins as an undeniable scientific fact has confused Christian children and is a significant contributing factor to the mass exodus of Christian youth from the Church. The Catholic intellectuals who should be our greatest teachers are the “contemporary Thomists” about whom Fr. Chaberek wrote:
In fact, it is precisely the strong, fundamental conviction that science proved evolution that makes the contemporary Thomists believe that evolution must be compatible with philosophy. After all, if something is a “fact” (and Thomists believe that biological evolution is a “fact”) it cannot contradict the realist philosophy of Aquinas. The starting point for today’s Thomists is the conviction derived from the supposedly scientific evidence testifying to the idea of transformation of species or universal common ancestry. Thomists deem it their task to show how Aquinas’s teachings should be compatible with that assumption derived from science. (Page 11.)

He wrote (p.228) that theologians and philosophers don’t know natural science well enough to be able to distinguish scientific facts from the materialistic interpretations.   If Fr. Chaberek is correct, that Aquinas’s teachings are not compatible with the idea of transformation of species or universal common ancestry, the most direct solution is to teach the theistic evolutionists that biological evolution is not a fact. The ideas of transformation of species and common ancestry are based on 19th century science and everything that science has discovered in the last 50 years has gone against it. The theory of the evolutionary origin of species is so full of scientific problems that it is not even plausible to anyone willing to look into its claims.  Dennis Q. McInerny, Professor of Philosophy at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary, has summed up the implausibility’s acceptance as follows:
Over the course of the past century and a half, Western society has allowed itself to be convinced by something which, from a strictly scientific point of view, is singularly unconvincing. I speak of the theory of evolution.  But if this theory fails to make the grade as serious science, it has managed to succeed spectacularly as a philosophy, a comprehensive worldview, whose presence is pervasive and whose influence is as powerful as it is deleterious.  Its invasion of our educational system is complete, and for decades now the nation’s youth have been systematically indoctrinated to accept as an unquestionable “fact” what, in fact, is anything but. (Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism, p.196.)

Many theologians and philosophers tell other Catholics what to think based on the “science” they learned in high school. Many of the theistic evolutionists that Fr. Chaberek identified by name in his footnotes while refuting them would have been in high school when frauds like the Piltdown Man, a half ape with a “knowing” look in his eyes, and Ernst Haeckel’s drawings of embryos graced the pages of their high-school textbooks.

Fr. Chaberek himself seems to support my opinion that the easiest way to convert an evolutionist is with modern science rather than philosophy. On pages 202-203 he wrote:
Philosophical conclusions are permanent, because they are derived and separated from changeable particulars by abstraction. This makes philosophical argument more certain and permanent than scientific ones. Scientific arguments, however, are more concrete and easier to grasp for those who have not possessed the ability of abstract thinking. And this is why the persuasive power of the scientific arguments for ID [Intelligent Design] often turns out to be greater than the philosophical arguments for the existence of God. And this is why ID creates more resistance among unbelievers than any of the five ways [of proving God’s existence] proposed by Aquinas.

It may not be true that the easiest way to convert a person with a doctorate in philosophy or theology is by teaching him 21st century science but it surely is the best way to educate a high school or college student.

As great a contribution to authentic Christianity that this book is, Fr. Chaberek may have tried to do too much as he went well beyond his central objective which was to prove the incompatibility between Thomas Aquinas’s philosophy and the modern theory of evolution.  In support of ID he introduced into his book a controversial scientific subject that does not seem to be germane, namely, a six billion year old universe. In doing that he seemed to have displayed an inconsistency with respect to the inerrancy of the Bible. On more than one occasion, when it came to the question of species, he said Aquinas read Scripture literally. Regarding speciation, after going through a lot of Aquinas’s philosophic reasoning, Fr. Chaberek presented what he said was Aquinas’s “positive doctrine” which is based literally on Genesis 1. Fr. Chaberek said (p. 63) we learn from this fragment “how Thomas understands the words from Genesis 1: ‘Let this or other thing be’—they signify the direct exercising of divine power that brings about new kinds of animals and plants.”  That is similar to what he wrote on page 211: “According to Thomas, species of living beings have a supernatural origin.”

On the other hand, Fr. Chaberek wrote statements which seem to conflict with even a liberal literal reading of Genesis 1. For example, on pages 216-217 he said it matters not if one believes that the age of the earth is in thousands of years or billions of years because according to Augustine and Aquinas “the time scale of creation is not essential to faith.” I wonder: is it a fact that in the time that Aquinas lived he really would have had no problem with the assertion that Earth was billions of years old? My study of this issue indicates that in the interval between the ancient Greeks and when Humanists Hutton (18th century) and Lyle (19th century) popularized uniformitarian geology and the concept of “deep time”, Christian thinkers reading Genesis would not have readily agreed that it matters not if one believes that the earth is billions of years old.  For support of what he attributed to the teaching of Augustine and Aquinas, Fr. Chaberek referred the reader to his earlier argument on page 102 where he wrote that
we can conclude that for Thomas the mode and order of formation means (1) the historical details of the Genesis account; (2) the timeframe of the Genesis account (six days meant as one moment/day or six days as natural days or some other period of time); (3) the sequence of appearance of different beings in the universe; (4) whether plants and animals were created first potentially or actually.
  
I think Fr. Chaberek’s attributing to Thomas “six days as one moment/day or six natural days or some other period of time” is conjecture on his part. Father followed that with his own opinion that
applying this reasoning to the contemporary understanding of natural history, it would be accidental to faith, for instance, how long the formation of the universe lasted.—whether six days, six million years, or six billion years.
 
Is it appropriate to apply Aquinas’s reasoning that included the literal historical details of the Genesis account to whatever length of time Fr. Chaberek means by “the contemporary understanding of natural history”? On page 90, Fr. Chaberek wrote that “As a principle” Thomas “adopts the completion of the universe in the work of the six days.” He then quoted Aquinas: “Nothing entirely new was afterwards made by God, but all things subsequently made had in a sense been made before in the work of the six days.” Is it really credible to assert that when Thomas wrote the phrase “in the work of the six days” he could have meant “six days, six million years, or six billion years”?

According to Fr. Chaberek (page 217) ‘there is overwhelming evidence that the universe is older than a few thousand years, and that it was formed over a longer time than six natural days. What, I wonder, is that overwhelming evidence? Is it the materialist Big Bang Theory dependent on two theoretical opposing “dark” forces that have never been observed and the inexplicable horizon problem? No room for supernaturalism there. There is a lot of scientifically observed data that when interpreted in harmony with Divine Revelation puts a question mark on Fr. Chaberek’s assessment.
 
Fr. Chaberek readily agrees with Thomas (who based his teaching on the historical details of the Genesis account) that “species of beings have a supernatural origin.” However, when it comes to the age of the universe he allows that it might have taken six billion years in its formation presumably by natural processes. Would God create the universe, presumably for the creature to be made in His image and likeness, and not make that creature for 6 billion years? And what was going on during those hypothetical 6 billion years. Was the original matter evolving into what it eventually became? Is “cosmic evolution” Thomistic but “biological evolution” not Thomistic?
 
 
 After making the case that Aquinas taught the supernatural creation of species based on the literal reading of Scripture he devoted a whole chapter to Intelligent Design. Why? If the origin of species was a supernatural creation, it is self-evident that Intelligence was involved. Fr. Chaberek devoted Chapter V to Aquinas and Intelligent Design. I wondered what got Fr. Chaberek going down that path that seemed to have nothing to do with his central thesis about the origin of species.  The foremost promoter of Intelligent Design (ID) is the Discovery Institute (DI) based in Seattle. In 2015 the Di's website was promoting a paper published in 2015 by Fr. Chaberek called “Thomas Aquinas on Creation…” that made the case that for years Thomists have been using the argument from Commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sentences by Thomas Aquinas to defend theistic evolution. The paper is online at epsociety.org/library/.   The Discovery Institute goes out of its way to disassociate ID from creationism. While the DI promotes origin of life and species by Intelligent Design, its policy is to remain silent on who or what was the inteligent mind responsible for the design.   Irrespective of what individuals at the Discovery Institute may personally believe regarding Divine Revelation it is the policy of the Discovery Institute to sometimes concede things to the scientific consensus simply for the sake of argument. The supposed 13.7 billion year old universe is something ID theorists can concede without harm to the ID theory and it gives them separation from creationism. By its "agnosticism" regarding the Designer and its disassociation from Scripture, ID is little more than a basis for Deism.

But why did Fr. Chaberek feel a need to adopt the DI's position that the age of the universe is a non-issue? .   Pages 216-217 of his book are devoted to disassociating ID from creationism as the Discovery Institute also does.  In so doing, Fr. Chaberek  has expressed opinions about the age of the universe that don’t square even with a liberal literal/historical reading of Genesis 1 where God made the same “Let there be” statements regarding the earth and heavenly bodies that He made regarding the origin of the species. I think it is a “stretch” to attribute to Aquinas indifference about the timeframe of the Genesis account. By his attempt to put distance between ID and creationism  he introduced a scientific controversy that has nothing to do with his central thesis and gave short shift to Biblical inerrancy which is a Catholic doctrine.
  

The solitary disagreement with Fr. Chaberek on a scientific point unrelated to his magnificent exposition of Aquinas’s theology/philosophy regarding the origin of species detracts nothing from this reviewer’s high opinion of the book. 




  

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