Living Tradition
Editor: Msgr. John F. McCarthy, J.C.D., S.T.D.Distributed several times a year to interested members.
Associate Editor: Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D.  Not to be republished without permission.
Please address all correspondence    e-mail:
Living Tradition, Oblates of Wisdom, P.O. Box 13230, St. Louis, MO 63157, USA

No. 127 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program January 2007


Ronald C. Dressman, Not by Chance: A Theory of Evolution
Governed by Essential Law
and Driven by Natural Effectuation
(Infinity Publishing Company, 1094 New DeHaven Street, Suite 100,
West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania 19428 - 2713, USA: January 2007)
Tel. toll-free (877) BUY BOOK – on line: $17.95

reviewed by John F. McCarthy

1. In this new book, Ronald Dressman presents a clean-sheet approach to the theory of evolution, rejecting the prevailing idea of chance and natural selection as the driving force and mechanism of the evolution of biological forms in favor of the physical and chemical laws underlying the behavior of matter and energy in the universe. Dressman, a retired chemist, is deeply read in the subject, and he presents a well-organized argument in which he uses a whole new set of terms to distinguish his concepts from the elaborate terminology of neo-Darwinian theory. The New Paradigm begins from a recognition of the metaphysical dimension of reality that is systematically denied or ignored by neo-Darwinians in their attachment to a purely materialistic view of the biological world. By “metaphysics” he means philosophy (p. ii) and religion (p. 263), and, therefore, the whole domain of reality that transcends the purview of empirical science. What he opposes in the “modern synthesis” of neo-Darwinism is its doctrine that biological evolution “proceeds by a combination of the random favorable mutation of hereditary units (genes) and their fixation in the population by natural selection, thereby producing a continuum of change in the phenotype that leads to speciation” (p. iii). Dressman mounts formidable arguments against the notion of random mutations of the genes capable of producing new species through natural selection of the more adjusted organisms (phenotypes) that are said to have come forth successfully and successively in the process. He calls himself a creation evolutionist, since he assumes as an obvious principle that the matter and energy of the universe had to have been created by God (p. 3), and he defines science in the broadest sense as “the study of the law and order that inheres in the substance” (matter and energy of the universe) (pp. 4-5).

2, Everything that occurs, Dressman points out, must have an assignable cause, even though we may not know the cause, since nothing exists by sheer “historical fortuity” (p. 6). While assuming that existing biological organisms did evolve, he also maintains that they are the results of a Master Production of God, acting through the “inevitable eventivity” of the Essential Law [of Nature] (p. 90 and Glossary). Dressman redefines the “anthropic principle,” which is acknowledged by many theoretical physicists and biologists today, so as to read that “we exist by the divine purpose of Creation” in the sense that “God chose [the] initial conditions whereby man would inevitably evolve” (p. 45). Since every event is influenced by all preceding events, there is an historical network of events, and, therefore, the evolution of species can only be fully understood as the product of this historical network (p. 15). From a unique series of events one can expect only one outcome (p. 17). At the basis of Dressman's theory of evolution is the premise that “all of the substance [of the universe] at the moment of creation (the boundary condition of science) was a concentrate of the full flowering of the universe (embodied its total potential), which evolved under the constraint of Essential Law by the process of inevitable eventivity – the law-abiding, controlled-advance, driving force that [he calls] ‘Natural Effectuation’ (p. 89) In keeping with this premise, he says, chance has no meaning intrinsic to true science, and neo-Darwinian theory is not, therefore, true science, because it does not study events in the context of Essential Law (p. 27). Chance is a pseudo-phenomenon (p. 25). Natural selection is another pseudo-phenomenon, because it is an algorithm based on chance (pp. 71-72), and chance is not a driving force.  Nothing can actually occur by chance (p. 23). The modern synthesis of neo-Darwinian theory understands random mutation to mean that the hereditary units of an organism changed in such a way that alternative effects were possible from the very same causes of the changes. For this understanding very long periods of time are critical to the coherence of the synthesis, and this assumption is “one of its most outrageously incorporated necessities” (p. iii).  In the neo-Darwinian synthesis the word “chance” is a term misused to cover over the absence of knowledge of the assignable causes of events, not the demonstrated absence of the inevitable causes themselves (p. 22). And in quantum mechanics the word “random” refers merely to behavior that is unpredictable and beyond our present knowledge and control; it is not a “fortuity principle” (p. 38). In other words, he points out, “The uncertainty principle described by the mathematics of quantum mechanics is merely a symbolic representation of the behavior of the substance, not a fundamental constraint on that behavior” (p. 39).

3. Dressman maintains that God chose to fulfill his Grand Plan of Evolution by evolving the substance of the universe through the inevitable eventivity of his Essential Law, which is the driving force of evolution (p. 81).  Dressman here presents a New Paradigm of evolution, that is, a new theoretical framework to serve as a working hypothesis with which to reexamine the existing body of knowledge regarding evolution theory and thus to produce “a fresh, genuinely credible theory of evolution complete with sensible mechanisms of accomplishment”(p. 82). He says that the neo-Darwinian synthesis is untenable. He notes, for instance, that the late Stephen J. Gould, a leading spokesman for the neo-Darwinian synthesis, defines the course of evolution as “the summation of its fortuitous contingencies, not a pathway with predictable directions (quoted on p. 61), but, he adds, when neo-Darwinians attempt to justify this conclusion scientifically, “the only facts in evidence are those marshaled by tautology” (p. 62). Contrary to the belief of neo-Darwinists, he points out, the entity that evolved was the gamete, not the species, because at no time in the history of evolution did a species change into a new species by means of random, generational modifications of the phenotype (p. 133), that is, of “the collection of expressed traits of an individual that are genotypically controlled and that set the individual apart” (p. 114). There is no “compelling evidence,” he notes, “that the mutation of that genic DNA that is the genetic basis (the genotype) of the phenotype ever produced a new species through gradual phenotypic change” (p. 165). But fossils of archaic species do provide “credible evidence” of the evolution of characteristics, by way, not of transitioning forms, but rather of fully formed intermediate species (p. 209). In fact, he goes on, there never were any forms existing with incompletely developed and nonfunctional characteristics that were on the way to becoming a new species. Rather, such a “burden of change” would have been fatal for the organisms concerned (p. 210).  Hence, this standard idea of neo-Darwinian gradualism is refuted by the scientific facts (p. 251).

4. Dressman presents the major lines of his New Paradigm in absolute terms (chapters 1-3), and then lays out in tentative form an elaborate pattern of ideas to replace the prevailing neo-Darwinian scheme of biological evolution. He introduces dozens of new terms to describe his theory of evolution, which he does not claim to be the last word on the subject but only offers it as “food for thought” (p. 90). In his new set of terminology, Bioevolution represents the organic evolution of living substance by which “wholly new species of life emerged from preexisting species of life” without there having been any change in the phenotype during the process (p. 88). How this took place was through the formation of genic variablelates (genes adapted to a new ecological niche) by the mechanism of Incipiation (reconfiguration of the gametes of the progenitor species).  Dressman visualizes the chromosome as being composed of two functionally distinct and uniquely ordered assemblages of DNA: the genosome and the incipiosome. The increment of change toward the new species is hidden in the incipiosomes until it is triggered by the completion externally of the new ecological situation for which it has been fitted (p. 116). Speciation occurs when the altered gametes of the parent species come together to endow their offspring with a variant genotype that can be expressed in a new phenotype and can be passed on to their descendents (p. 120). In the evolutionary process, Dressman distinguishes between species and subspecies, according to which a subspecies is a variant within the adaptive capacity of a full-blown species, having its own differentiated genome and a unique changing essence bounded by the unchanging adaptive limits of the species itself, yet recognized as a kind of species in the sense that it is reproductively isolated (p. 134).

5. As a development preceding the rise of biological life, Dressman suggests that, out of various complex chemical compositions “there emerged localized non-living organizations which he calls protocells and protoviruses. These were followed by progenotes (not yet living organisms) and viruses, and “eventually there were enough such precursors to life to contain the design potential of all life ever to appear on this planet” (p. 91). From these came “a great assortment of primitive cells, the progenotes,” and thus the foundation was laid for “the emergence of a great assortment of species” (p. 204). Life arose through Vitalization, which was “the act of metaphysical intervention that animated substance,” at the moment when the substance of the Earth, “having been inorganically evolved into the biological basis for life, was vitalized by God” (p. 88). It is Dressman's clear position that “the evolution of life involved the coming into being of arrangements of substance [matter] inevitably organized to be vitalized by metaphysical intervention” (p. 103).

6. In the neo-Darwinist idea of the tree of life, different species are considered to have descended from common ancestral species, but the common ancestors are never precisely identified. “In all of evolution history,” says the author, “common ancestors have gone unrecorded, unfossilized.” The tree of life is an expedient that actually hinders the search for the truth about evolution (p. 76). In fact, he avers, there is, for instance, no evidence of any immediate ancestor of the first member of any new class of vertebrates (p. 217). Rather, in order to reasonably account for the known similarities in otherwise seemingly unrelated species, the notion of ancestry needs to be adjusted from that of straight-line descent “to a matrix of emergence down through the ages” (p. 216). As a notable example, in the case of the “Cambrian Explosion,” the union of a broad spectrum of gametocytes better explains the “sudden appearance” in the fossil record of almost all of the major groups of invertebrates having hard parts (p. 297). As for the massive number of extinctions of species reported in the fossil record, Dressman finds that his Natural Effectuation Theory gives a better explanation than does neo-Darwinian theory, inasmuch as it recognizes that progenitor species had to give way to emergent species because of the planned evolution of the environment, which was creating new niches to which the new species were fitted to conform (p. 212). In the broader picture, each emerging organism was coordinated to the Ecologization of the planet, “as the planet was being purposefully prepared for the advent of man” (p. 237). The primary purpose of the Grand Plan of Evolution was to advance biological complexity up to the point at which it was fit for the instilling into man of the immortal soul that confers on him intelligence and free will (p. 238). In accordance with this theory, Dressman adds the observation that after the advent of man no new biological species (as perhaps distinguished from subspecies) was scheduled to emerge (p. 202).

7. Human beings are in a biological kingdom of their own (p. 271). Dressman sees a problem with neo-Darwinists in their refusal to accept the spiritual/intellectual reality of human nature (p. 263). The evolving biological form of the first human beings was made human by God's infusion of an immortal soul (p. 265), when at some stage there emerged a human from non-human parentage. Dressman understands the story of Adam and Eve (Gen 2-3) as representing the set of first human beings, “when God first infused immortal souls into biologically human forms and made them free-will human beings” (p. 266). Becoming human was a one-generation occurrence, and he says, there has been no gradual evolution from animal to human, but, he adds, “human beings had as their progenitors multiple non-human species,” and racial differences among humans “are no more than a manifestation of the differences in the genotypes of the gametes of Incipiation from those various progenitors” (p. 269). Homo habilis and Homo erectus probably preceded the human being, Homo sapiens, in the line of descent, although we may never know from anthropological evidence alone when the first truly human beings emerged. However, Homo erectus (which includes, he says, such fossils as Java man, Peking man, Heidelberg man, Neanderthal man, and Cro Magnon man) may actually have been primitive races of human beings (p. 270).

8. REMARKS. Ronald Dressman's Not by Chance is more than just another good book on the subject of biological evolution; it is a major undertaking that could prove to be a seminal work in the field of evolutionary theory, since it calls powerfully upon evolutionary biologists to revise their whole view of the subject. And he backs up his call with a multitude of scientific facts. The brief summary of his argument given above does not adequately represent the depth and scope of his work, which addresses dozens of contemporary issues and reaches far into molecular biology and the fossil record to provide better answers than the prevailing neo-Darwinian approach can supply. Many Catholic philosophers have provided philosophical arguments against the materialistic outlook of neo-Darwinism, and many proponents of intelligent-design theory have offered convincing arguments against the neo-Darwinian ideas of random mutations and natural selection, but no one to my knowledge has presented such a full-scale paradigm embracing most of the scientific knowledge existing today and organizing it under major headings into a detailed synthesis that certainly, to say the least, embodies “food for thought.”  Dressman combines an awareness of the everyday realities known to philosophy and religion with a comprehensive knowledge of biology and chemistry to address aspects of evolutionary theory that are either ignored or shrugged off by most empirical scientists.  From the viewpoint of those many who believe that biological evolution is an historical fact, if he does not have the ultimate answers, he is, nevertheless, making a good start in the right direction.

9. In proposing his idea of Essential Law, Dressman adheres to the prevailing view of contemporary physics and chemistry that the activity of the universe is upheld by a network of physical and chemical laws. Strangely, neo-Darwinian theory contradicts this whole structure with its notion of random mutations as the only driving force of biological evolution. Against this anomalous position Dressman advances the law of efficient cause and effect, explaining that chance is not a cause, and he concludes that the paradigm of neo-Darwinism does not even pertain to science, since science is the study of the law and order that inheres in the substance of the universe, not the study of the supposed absence of law and order. He maintains that every physical event that occurs in the universe is determined to one only eventuality by the physical laws in existence, which can be modified only by the intervention of God or of human free-will activity (p. 16). And Dressman allows explicitly for the intervention of God in the creation of the first substance of the universe, in the rise of the first life forms, and in the creation of the human rational soul. Thus, he styles himself a “creation evolutionist” who admits the hand of God but opposes the belief that God intervened separately for the creation of each biological species (ii). Dressman is convinced that evolution, in the sense of the emergence of species from parent species in the history of the Earth, is an obvious fact that he does not feel constrained to defend in his book. One might suggest, however, that, in the general overhaul of the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution which he proposes, the supposed fact of biological evolution also needs to be reexamined.

10. From the viewpoint of faith, on the other hand, while Sacred Scripture does not say explicitly that God intervened to create each species de novo, it does say that He caused the earth and the waters to “bring forth living creatures” (Gen 1: 20,24), without specifying what created mechanism, process, or instrumentality He may have used. Could the primal created matter of the universe have been endowed by God with the potentiality to develop on its own simply under the driving force of Essential Law into the universe of today without any other creative interventions on his part except those three admitted by Dressman as listed in the preceding paragraph? This is a question that needs to be studied. Genesis narrates six interventions of God the Creator over six “days.”  St. Augustine speculated that the six days described there were not six chronological days of 24-hours each, but were stages in the understanding of creation by the blessed angels, and he posited what he called the “seeds” of emerging things planted by God in the original matter of the universe. In this way St. Augustine conjectured a development somewhat similar to the theory of evolution presented by Ronald Dressman, but with the difference that St. Augustine assumed more divine interventions than Dressman does. And he did not consider an evolution of species to species. How much potentiality for development could the original matter/energy of the universe have had? Were not other divine interventions needed, as Genesis seems to imply?

11. Again, Dressman, in his New Paradigm, reasonably posits the need of purpose for things to exist and to function, and purpose implies final causes. St. Augustine was well aware of the need of substantial forms for the emergence of things, and he allowed for this, although he was using concepts of Platonic philosophy. In Aristotelian philosophy, which seems better fitted to this discussion, every individual material substance, that is, every independent material thing, has a form as well as a material base. Could material things have emerged from the primal substance of the universe, simply under the driving force of Essential Law, without their forms having first been conceived and then created by God to give them a window into existence?  For instance, water is composed simply of hydrogen and oxygen, but it has characteristics that are very different from hydrogen and oxygen. We say that hydrogen and oxygen have the power to unite into water, but could they have had that power if it had not been conferred on them by God over and above the potentiality of the simplest form of matter with which the universe began? And many physicists acknowledge that the laws of physics and chemistry could not have evolved from the mere potentiality of primal matter. God must have created these laws in a separate act. Again, doesn’t Essential Law itself depend upon the capacities of essential forms? On the level of faith, Genesis 1:6-8 seems able to be interpreted as saying that on the second day of creation God intervened to create both the laws of the universe (“the firmament”) and the early material forms, especially gases (“waters”), that flowed from the primal matter. Furthermore, it is obvious to common experience that every living organism is an artistic and engineering masterpiece, functioning, we may say, by virtue of its vital form, which is its principle of life. How and where could all of the forms of things that have come into existence in the history of the world have been contained or packaged potentially in the primal matter of the universe, a substance that may have been even less structured than a homogeneous mass of photons? Of course, neo-Darwinist theory, from within the limits of its purely materialistic viewpoint, does not allow for any purpose or essential forms, but, since it is precisely this neo-Darwinist theory that needs to be replaced, the function of essential forms, whether of merely material forms or also and especially of vital forms, should be integrated into the plan.

12. Dressman sees a need of proper physical preparation in order for a new species of living things to emerge. He sees the place for this preparation as being the “Incipiosome,” that is, the alternate gene system located in the chromosomes of the gametes of the parent species alongside of the genome (no. 4 above). The positing of a separate gene system evolving in order to become the genome of a new species is an interesting idea, but if, as a general rule, a new physical disposition is necessary in order to bring forth a radically new form and body-plan, as this idea seems to require, then what would be the cause of this reorganization? Dressman allows that the genomes of every full-blown species contained already in their variability the potentiality to become sub-species, and this wide range of variability could have been instilled in advance by divine creation, but, for the formation of each new sub-species, what would have caused the precise reordering of the genes in the Incipiosome to take place? A new ecological niche might trigger an emergence, but it could not cause the reorganization of the genes, nor, it seems, could the mere functioning of the physical laws of nature. Dressman conjectures that, as precursors to living organisms there first arose simpler organizations which he calls protocells and proto viruses, followed by progenotes and viruses, which, he suggests, became so abundant that they contained the “design potential” of all the biological life that ever was to appear on the planet (no. 5 above). What does “design potential” mean? Can the forms of living things be packaged potentially in a multitude of non-living things, and where did this “design potential” come from? Was it contained in the primal substance of the universe?  Perhaps a better solution would be to allow that God intervened to create the design, at least of every full-blown species, and gave to each a different kind of living soul.

13. While Dressman seems to exclude the infusion of non-rational souls into the evolving sub-human species, he does posit the infusion by God of a rational soul into the first human beings that emerged from non-human parentage, and this acceptance goes contrary to neo-Darwinian theory, but does it go far enough? In an across-the-board restudy of neo-Darwinism, should not the supposed emergence of man also be restudied, considering also the excessive use of imagination and the tendency to exaggerate findings in favor of neo-Darwinian theory that have been the case in the examination by neo-Darwinists of so-called “hominid” fossils? Nebraska man was a total invention from one bone that turned out to be the tooth of an extinct pig; Piltdown man was a hoax; Java man was a fraud; Peking man seems to have been another fraud; Heidelberg man seems to have been completely human; and so the story goes. Adam and Eve deserve a better break than that. Many experts say that Homo habilis was just an ape and that the category of Homo erectus should never have been introduced. The Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture has to date gathered the signatures of over 700 prominent empirical scientists to a statement expressing their skepticism as to the validity of the Darwinian theory of evolution. Their main objection to the theory is its supposition that biological evolution occurred as a result of random mutation and natural selection, and this objection is exactly in keeping with Dressman's position in Not by Chance. But the skepticism goes further than that. Some signatories of the statement claim also, for instance, that “Darwinism is a trivial idea that has been elevated to the status of the scientific theory that governs modern biology” (Dr. Michael Egnor of the State University of New York), and “it is time to rethink Darwin's theory of evolution in the light of new scientific evidence that shows the theory is inadequate” (John West). The signed statement can be viewed on the Internet at  This statement eloquently supports Ronald Dressman’s contention that the neo-Darwinian theory is false and unscientific, and it backs up his attempt to present a better theory. All of the signatories of this statement reject the neo-Darwinian idea of evolution by random mutation and natural selection, while many question other aspects of the theory as well. Hence, in the course of an objective and unprejudiced restudy of Darwinian theory, the other elements may fall as well.

14. Dressman's aim to include “metaphysics” (philosophy and religion) in the scientific discussion of human origins is a good one. This is what Catholic philosophers and theologians have always contended. But the philosophy and the religion to be included must be the true philosophy and the true religion. It is my observation that the philosophy to be included is the Aristotelian philosophy of moderate realism and essential forms, while the religion to be included is the inspired word of Sacred Scripture (as authentically interpreted by the magisterium of the Catholic Church). As he points out, the neo-Darwinist outlook must be elevated from its crude materialism to a studied recognition of purpose in the workings of the universe. I would add to this that the philosophy of form helps one to realize that any living organism is more than the total of its material parts; it has a living soul. Plants have vegetative souls, animals have sensitive souls, and men have intellectual souls. The bodies of living things have been prepared to accommodate their souls, and their souls are the essential forms of their bodies as well as their unified principles of growth to bring their genotypes into the mature existence of their phenotypes. As regards the origin of man, Sacred Scripture tells us that the human race is descended from a single pair of individuals created by God.  Dressman's notion of the emergence of the different races of mankind, as we know them today, from different pre-human progenitors (no. 7 above) in my estimation conflicts with the clear teaching of Sacred Scripture, and, therefore, needs to be rethought.

Go to: Roman Theological Forum | Living Tradition Index | Previous Issue | Next Issue