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Living Tradition, Oblates of Wisdom, P.O. Box 13230, St. Louis, MO 63157, USA
|No. 99||Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program||May 2002|
EVADING THE TRUTH, review by Joseph Gehringer
WHERE GEORGE SIM JOHNSTON WENT ASTRAY, review by John F. McCarthy
EVADING THE TRUTH
George Sim Johnston, Did Darwin Get It Right?:
Catholics and the Theory of Evolution
(Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 1998)
Since its publication in 1998, George Sim Johnston's Did Darwin Get It Right?: Catholics and the Theory of Evolution has become the de facto "bible" of many Catholic evolutionists, While Catholic creationists turn to Sacred Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium to support their position, the typical evolutionist is satisfied with relying upon George Sim Johnston. But does this book deserve its favorable reputation and ‘authoritative’ status? Does it present a truly Catholic perspective on this complex issue? Or does it, on the contrary, present a misleading and distorted view of Catholic tradition and teaching, in order to buttress the claims of theistic evolutionists? As this review will endeavor to demonstrate, Did Darwin Get It Right? is a clever effort to eradicate 1900 years of Catholic tradition and biblical exegesis, and a century of Magisterial and authoritative rulings.
The underlying theme of the book is expressed in its Introduction, which declares that "the public has been led erroneously to believe that in the debate over evolution the only choice available is between Bible-thumping fundamentalism and Darwin. As is so often the case, there is a reasonable Catholic middle ground between the poles of biblical and scientific absolutism. It is a ground that was claimed by St. Augustine and is comfortably occupied by modern Catholic thinkers like Chesterton, Maritain, and Gilson" (p 14). And what is this supposed "middle ground" that the author carefully and misleadingly fails to identify? It is none other than some unspecified form of ‘theistic evolution,’ a position that was never, in fact, claimed by St. Augustine (see below, pp. 9-10).
Note that Johnston's presentation deliberately ignores an important fourth alternative: the traditional Catholic teaching on creation, and the traditional Catholic exegesis of Genesis 1-3. These genuine Catholic positions, which reflect the thinking of the Popes from Pius IX through Paul VI, are systematically excluded from the book – as if they never existed.
George Sim Johnston began to prepare this book more than a decade ago. He solicited material from a number of Catholic creationists who supplied him with the relevant information: Magisterial rulings, the teaching of the Fathers and Doctors, books and studies which present the traditional Catholic teaching, and a vast array of scientific arguments against evolution. While some of these scientific arguments appear in the book (and are disregarded), the Catholic thinking on creation has deliberately been omitted and ignored. In effect, Johnston has waved his "magic wand" (his pen), causing the true teachings of the Church to disappear, so he can replace them with his own evolutionist opinions. Several illustrations should demonstrate the technique used by the author.
On page 123 we read: "The temptation to biblical literalness should be resisted, however. [...] Since Leo XIII, the Magisterium has progressively discouraged the literalist reading of Genesis favored by Protestants." Note that the phrase "favored by Protestants" has been inserted to suggest that a literal reading of Genesis is a Protestant idea and therefore "should be resisted." But what has the Magisterium actually said about a "literal" reading of Scripture and Genesis? Let the Popes speak for themselves.
There are several things to note here. First, what the Popes actually said is almost the exact opposite of what Johnston claims they said. Second, the ruling of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, made binding upon all Catholics by Pope St. Pius X, requires a "literal and historical" reading of Genesis 1-3. This ruling appears nowhere in the book – even though it is directly applicable to the issues under discussion. But since this formal ruling of the Magisterium contradicts the opinion of George Sim Johnston, he simply omits it. Third, Johnston does not seem to have given sufficient consideration to these strong teachings of recent Popes. On page 123 of his book he suggests that Catholics who adopt "a literal reading of Genesis ... will be severely handicapped in doing apologetics in a Post-Christian world."
As if this were not enough, note how Johnston misrepresents what these Popes have told us. He asks: "Can a Catholic nonetheless read Genesis as a literal scientific treatise?" These Popes did not insist on reading Genesis as a "literal scientific treatise", but rather as the history of creation.
Another illustration of Johnston's using his "magic wand" to obliterate Catholic teachings occurs on page 113. He tells us that "The great Catholic Encyclopedia of 1907 includes a long entry on evolution, which is perhaps as close to an ‘official’ Catholic response to Darwin as one can get during this period." This is followed by two pages of selective pro-evolution statements from the Encyclopedia. But what are the facts? First, Johnston carefully omits certain key sentences from the article, including: "There is no evidence in favor of an ascending evolution of organic forms" and "There is no trace of even a mildly probable argument in favor of the animal origin of man." Second, as any "educated Catholic" (one of Johnston's pet phrases) knows, the Catholic Encyclopedia has absolutely no "official" status whatever; it is privately published by a commercial publisher. Third, is it true that there was no response to Darwin "during this period"? Absolutely not! Shortly after the publication of Darwin's The Origin Of Species, the Provincial Council of Cologne, with the tacit approval of the Holy See, condemned the idea that man's body was "derived by spontaneous transformation from an imperfect nature, which improved continually until it reached the present human state." In the encyclical Arcanum, Pope Leo XIII noted that "detractors of the Christian faith ... persist in ... efforts to erase the history of all nations and all ages ... . We call to mind facts well known to all and doubtful to no one: after He formed man from the slime of the earth on the sixth day of creation ... ". Nevertheless, several Catholic priests published books in which they suggested that the evolution of the human body was compatible with Church teaching. The Vatican intervened and the Rev. J.A. Zahm withdrew his book. A book by Fr. M.D. Leroy was also withdrawn – and placed on the Index of Forbidden Books; a book by a Father Caverni was placed on the Index, as were two works of St. George Mivart. (see Living Tradition, May 2001 pp 8-9). Then, in 1909, came the rulings of the PBC "On the Historical Character of the First Three Chapters of Genesis." None of these Church actions showing its opposition to the spread of evolutionary ideas is reported in Johnston's book. (Just as various Catholic books which report these actions in greater detail are omitted from the Bibliography.)
For a final illustration of Johnston's using his "magic wand" to cause historical events to disappear, we can turn to his chapter on "Modern Christian Writers and Darwin." Under the heading "A Reasonable Catholic Center," Johnston discusses the pro-evolutionist ideas of six "major Catholic thinkers." The first to be considered (pp. 127-130) is St. George Jackson Mivart (1827-1900). After a sympathetic presentation of some of Mivart's ideas, we read how the Darwinists "were relentness in excommunicating (Mivart) from the scientific establishment." But the facts which Johnston ignores are these: (a) Far from being in the Catholic Center, Mivart was so extreme in his ideas that he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church; (b) when asked to sign a Profession of Faith, he refused; (c) In 1900 Mivart wrote: "The Roman Curia has dared again to show its now broken teeth, and to extend its now broken claws against worthy ecclesiastics, in a biological question on the origin of Man," (d) At least five, and perhaps seven, of Mivart's works were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books. All of this important and directly relevant information is ignored by Johnston, thus misleading his readers into accepting Mivart as a "major Catholic thinker." In reality he was an excommunicated evolutionist, some of whose writings were formally condemned by the Church.
As noted previously, the Bibliography (pp. 160-171) is woefully unbalanced. One notices immediately that almost one-fourth of the entries refer to writings of four famous evolutionists: Niles Eldridge, Stephen Jay Gould, Ernst Mayr, and Stanley Jaki. Many other evolutionists are represented. But virtually no works of creationists – either Catholic or Protestant – appear. The most authoritative Catholic refutation of evolution, The Theory of Evolution Judged by Reason and Faith, is ignored, even though its author, Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini, was an advisor to Pius XII at the time Humani Generis was issued. A long list of other Catholic books is ignored, including The Case Against Evolution (Rev. George O'Toole), God and Creation (Rev. Thomas Chetwood), Science of Today and Problems of Genesis (Rev. Patrick O'Connell), The Crumbling Theory of Evolution (J.W.G. Johnson), etc. And the many books by atheistic evolutionists are not balanced by the works of Protestant creationists such as Gish, Morris, Sutherland, Brown, etc. Despite their separation from the Church of Rome, these Protestant creationists are surely closer to Catholic thinking and belief than are the atheistic evolutionists whose works fill about half the Bibliography. But the Protestant creationists are also excluded – lest some reader should discover that there are books which present a convincing case that evolution is false.
Of course, the most serious imbalance is in the text itself. As noted earlier, the relevant statements of the Council of Cologne, the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and Pope Leo XIII are completely ignored. The most important and definitive Catholic ruling on evolution, the Encyclical Humani Generis, is given less than seventeen lines. By way of comparison, the excommunicated evolutionist Mivart receives six times as much space. Johnston quotes only part of one sentence, the one which permits "investigations and discussions" by qualified theologians and scientists. He ignores such cautions as "if such conjectural opinions are directly or indirectly opposed to the doctrine revealed by God, then the demand that they be recognized can in no way be admitted" (no. 35). The crucial footnote 11, paragraph 36, is ignored, even though it reaffirms the teachings of earlier Popes and the ruling of the PBC. Instead of giving Humani Generis the attention if deserves, Johnston quickly switches to "A Digression on Galileo" – even though the chapter is on "The Catholic Church and Evolution."
Nowhere does Johnston inform his readers that "the Fathers concur in teaching that God immediately created the first man, both as to body and soul" (Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 95). Or that Pope Paul VI insisted that no theory of evolution was acceptable if it did not recognize that our first parents were gifted with immortality. Nor is there any mention of the Catholic dogma that Eve was formed "from Adam." Having excluded these and other truly Catholic teachings and traditions from consideration, Johnston then concludes that "the position of the Magisterium regarding evolution is clear. It makes no difference whether man is descended biologically from some apelike creature" (p. 119).
As a final illustration of the misleading nature of Johnston's presentation, consider a quotation (p. 113) from Knabenbauer (otherwise unidentified in the book) used to support his conclusion. Knabenbauer (a biblical exegete) wrote: "there is no objection, as far as faith is concerned, to assuming the descent of all plant and animal species from a few types." First note the exact words used: "animal species" and "a few types." This is in perfect accord with Sacred Scripture and the beliefs of both Catholic and Protestant creationists; it gives no support to evolution whatever. Genesis tells us that the Almighty created certain basic "kinds" of animals. Over the centuries, and after the Flood, they diverged (microevolution) and formed what scientists today classify as "species." So the quotation gives no support at all for Johnston's claim. But, even if it did support evolution, note that Johnston cites only one biblical exegete. By way of contrast, consider this quotation from L;Osservatore Romano (June 3, 1950): "St. Thomas Aquinas, Suarez, Scheeben, Hurter, Billot, and many others, have ... (described) as heretical, or proximate to heresy, the theory of evolution extended to man's body."
Among the other famous theologians who concluded that evolution was not compatible with Catholic teaching were Hetzenhauer, Tripepi, Hugon, Pesch, Pohle, Pignataro, Bartmann, Ratti (later Pope Pius XI), Perrone, Buonpensiere, Cardinal Mazzella, Egger, Palmieri, Huarte, L. Janssens, Lahousse, etc. Naturally, none of these is mentioned by Johnston.
But about one-half of Did Darwin Get It Right?" considers the scientific arguments and evidence. So let George Sim Johnston tell us himself:
After reading all these statements by Johnston, what conclusion do you think he reached? That evolution never happened? That evolution is highly improbable? Not at all! He concluded the exact opposite – that evolution is "reasonable" (p. 16), Again, "we are biologically related to the rest of the animal kingdom" (p. 93). Even more subtle is his reference to "what modern science tells us about the origin of man" (p. 8). Obviously, in his view, "modern science" tells us that man evolved from an animal. And a rhetorical question shows a completely evolutionist mentality. "How did an amoeba floating round the primordial soup eventually turn into Homo Sapiens?" (p. 16). And he admits that Mivart, one of his "great thinkers" who occupied his supposedly correct "middle ground" also "accepted the hypothesis of evolution, of common descent."
While Johnston never admits openly that he is an evolutionist, he makes his position clear with statements like "Catholics – it cannot be emphasized enough – have to be careful not to fall into the trap of ‘creation science,’ about which St. Augustine warned" (p. 151). One need not be a great scholar to realize that St. Augustine said no such thing. But Johnston tries to make us believe that St. Augustine is on his side with statements like "Augustine himself was a kind of evolutionist" (p. 121).
There are other flaws in the book, but perhaps it is even more relevant to ask ourselves how an author can hold so many confused, contradictory, and misleading opinions. Fortunately, Mr. Johnston explains his thinking on page 123: "The test of a first-rate intellect, it has been said, is the ability to hold two seemingly opposed ideas and retain the ability to function. The creation account in Genesis is true, but it is not scientifically ‘true’."
Did Darwin get it right? Absolutely not, and neither did George Sim Johnston. Both were – and are – totally wrong!.
WHERE GEORGE SIM JOHNSTON WENT ASTRAY
George Sim Johnston, Did Darwin Get It Right?:
Catholics and the Theory of Evolution
(Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 1998)
After reading Joseph Gehringer's critical review of George Sim Johnston's Did Darwin Get It Right? (see above in this issue) I was prompted to read the book myself. Is it very likely that Johnston is as completely wrong as Gehringer makes him out to be? I found in my reading that Johnston makes strong and eloquent statements in many parts of his book, and yet the basic argument and conclusion of the book, as Joseph Gehringer says, appears to be fundamentally flawed.
Johnston argues that Darwin did not get it right, and he presents formidable facts to demonstrate the invalidity of the theory of evolution, defined as the theory that the biological species presently living on earth are the result of a long and gradual upward mutation of forms from a collection of gases to complex living forms, it is "the idea that all life-forms share common ancestors, and maybe even a single ancestor" (p. 16). Johnston presents a powerful series of arguments, eloquently expressed, that convincingly show that this chain of imagined changes leading upward to higher and higher species never took place. Distinguishing between microevolution (small changes within a species) and macroevolution (changes leading to another species), he points out that Charles Darwin, from his observations on the Galapagos Islands, claimed, "with no direct evidence – actually with much evidence to the contrary," that micro changes could add up eventually to macro changes (p. 28). Similarly, Johnston notes that the fossil record actually tells us that "species appear suddenly in a fully developed state" (p. 30), and (quoting Steven Stanley) that "the fossil record does not convincingly document a single transition from one species to another" (p. 33). Referring to the scientific evidence that is available today, he securely opines that "so far as we know, life only seems to come from life" (p. 77), and also that "there was (and is) absolutely no evidence that the barriers between the higher animal and plant groups have ever been crossed by minute gradations" (p. 64). Regarding certain alleged simian ancestors of the human race, he goes on to point out that "there is no clean line linking man and these early apes" (p. 88). In fact, he says, "the fossils [of "hominid" species] do not show gradual, progressive evolution" (p. 87). and, more generally, that there is "a paucity of scientific evidence for any macroevolutionary mechanism" (p. 118). He draws a general conclusion to his arguments against the theory of evolution in the following words. "Nobody, in fact, has ever seen one species change into another. Macroevolution, Darwinian or otherwise, is a theory in search of a real event (p. 124)."
Now, this could have been an impressive book, if the author had stayed with his general conclusion that the theory of evolution has no scientific legs to stand on, but we find that Johnston reduces this part of his discourse to a secondary theme and incases it in another line of thought. He expresses this theme, as Joseph Gehringer points out (p. 5 above), with the remark that evolution is a "reasonable hypothesis," because "all life-forms share certain genetic material and there are nested hierarchies of structure within the major animal groups." (p. 16). Thus, Johnston argues, evolution may have happened, and in this respect Darwin and his followers may be right, but Darwin erred in claiming that the way evolution took place was through a mechanism of "natural selection working on random mutations" (ibid.) On the one hand, Johnston characterizes Darwinism as a "creation myth," and, on the other hand, he says that "there is no contradiction between the existence of a Creator and an evolutionary process that may have some mechanistic features." Thus, for Johnston, "the real issue is philosophical" (pp. 109-110).
But the real issue is not philosophical. If, in the course of his book, Johnston has more than adequately refuted the claim that biological evolution has taken place, he cannot logically say that the theory of evolution is "reasonable." Let me illustrate this logical error with a fictitious example. Suppose that the theory had become widespread or even dominant in intellectual circles that the Moon has evolved on its own from a ball of burning gases into a planet composed of crackers and cheese. How might one logically address this theory? First of all, it would be rather easy to prove that the Moon is not composed of crackers and cheese. Modern astronomy would have several ways of proving this. And, after all, we have been there. Men have landed on the Moon, and they found no crackers and cheese there. But then, could one go on logically to say that the crackers and cheese theory is, nevertheless, "reasonable," as long as it is not maintained that the Moon made itself into what it is today without the aid of a Creator? Could not the Creator have caused a ball of flaming gases to turn into a planet of crackers and cheese, using also the mediation of some mechanistic processes? The Creator could certainly have done so, but, since the Moon is, in fact, not made of crackers and cheese, there is no room for such a consideration. And so, also, for the theory of evolution, as already convincingly disproved by George Sim Johnston.
Johnston believes that "while the idea of evolution will no doubt survive, the Darwinian explanation of that process, which is the only one we have, is finished," for the reason that "scientists themselves now have serious reservations" (p. 11). By "scientists" Johnston means empirical scientists, such as, "geneticists, paleontologists, and molecular biologists who call themselves evolutionists" (ibid.). He notes that "the empirical evidence against Darwin is so compelling that a paradigm shift is inevitable" (p. 12). What Johnston does not point out in this observation is that the empirical evidence being brought forward by the scientists he is referring to is not just against Darwin's alleged materialistic causes; it is also against the very idea that biological evolution has ever occurred.
The aim of George Sim Johnston's book is to explain how Catholics should regard the theory of evolution. He acknowledges that science has its legitimate sphere of autonomy, but he opposes "scientism," which is "the belief that there is no truth outside of what can be demonstrated by the natural sciences" (pp. 12-13). On the other hand, he strongly opposes the "biblical fundamentalism" of Catholics who feel themselves "obliged to square scientific data with the early verses of Genesis, whose truths – and they are truths, not myth – are expressed in words addressed to an early people whose understanding of the physical world was very different from our own" (p. 125). Johnston himself believes that there is a "reasonable Catholic middle ground between the poles of biblical and scientific absolutism" (p. 14), that is, "between the philosophical materialism of Darwinists and the biblical literalism of fundamentalists" (p. 126). In his book he sets out to provide for intelligent Catholics a guide to the creation account of the first chapter of Genesis. He holds with the Magisterium of the Church that there can be no real conflict between Sacred Scripture and science, and, therefore, considers those educated Catholics to be suffering from a kind of "schizophrenia" who accept the first chapters of Genesis to be "both the inerrant word of God and a scientific embarrassment" (p. 17).
In the accompanying article, Joseph Gehringer discusses the search for a happy medium between the two extremes of atheistic theories of evolution and a so slavish adherence to the literal wording of Genesis 1-3 that it is riveted to six 24-hour days of creation and will admit of no evolution whatsoever of the biological species that inhabit the planet today. He claims that the true middle position is that of the Fathers of the Church, as presented by the teaching of the Church, especially during the past hundred years. And the defense of this position leads Gehringer to reject the alleged "Catholic middle ground" of theistic evolution represented by George Sim Johnston's Did Darwin Get It Right?
Johnston claims to be advocating a "reasonable Catholic middle ground" between "Bible thumping fundamentalism and Darwin," between the approaches of "biblical and scientific absolutism," on a ground "that was claimed by St. Augustine and is comfortably occupied by modern Catholic thinkers ..." (p. 14).1 This is, for Johnston, "a reasonable Catholic middle ground," because it accepts the notion of an initial creation by God at the first instant of the universe while not requiring belief in any further interventions by God in the upward development of the living species that inhabit the earth, apart from the placing by God of an original plan of development.
Gehringer, however, sees Johnston's position as a kind of warmed-over Darwinism, with the idea of creation granted, indeed, but hanging ineffectively in the background, and as an uncritical acceptance of an evolutionary explanation of life based upon logical contradiction.
Johnston correctly points out that, according to the teaching of the Church, there can be no real conflict between what is stated in the inspired word of Sacred Scripture and the findings of science. He reasonably opposes "scientism," defined as "the belief that there is no truth outside of what can be demonstrated by the natural sciences" (pp. 12-13). And so he reasonably accepts the existence of other truths in addition to the truths of empirical science. But he does not seem to recognize that there are such things as the science of philosophy and the science of history or to see how they function in the question of evolution and Genesis 1 that he is treating. In the Catholic intellectual tradition, there are other kinds of certified knowledge derived from rigorous thinking about evident facts or principles, and this includes philosophical science, historical science, and theological science.
Let me suggest these definitions. Science is certified knowledge of reality as such. Empirical science is certified knowledge of observable reality as such. Philosophical science is certified knowledge of natural reality beyond the merely material. Historical science is certified knowledge of past reality as such. And theological science is certified knowledge of revealed reality as such.
Johnston justifiably declares: "We have forgotten that while science can give us valuable quantitative statements about material reality, it is incapable of explaining that reality. It is not within the competence of the scientific method to discuss the origin of the universe – to explain, that is, why there is something rather than nothing. But modern man will not accept answers to such questions that do not come in a scientific package. This absolutizing of the scientific method has hurt both science and philosophy" (p. 99). I think it would be more correct to say that empirical science cannot explain the ultimate causes of even natural reality, but philosophical science can explain it, and it can demonstrate the existence of a Creator of that reality. What most people have forgotten is that there is such a thing as philosophical science, that is, certified knowledge of natural truth that goes beyond the merely material. They have forgotten that real philosophical knowledge also comes in a "scientific package," and they have forgotten that empirical science, with its narrow area of activity, must defer to the findings of philosophical science and of historical science. Empirical science has its scientific method; the philosophical, historical, and theological sciences have their characteristic scientific methods as well. And it is within the proper competence of both the philosophical and the theological scientific methods to discuss the origin of the universe.
Johnston maintains that the early chapters of Genesis, while they do not "teach science," nevertheless "are history and not myth." But, he adds, they are not "history as it would be written by a modern historian." He sees these chapters as "history written in mythic language," with the result that Catholics are obliged to believe only "the fundamental truths expressed by the Sacred Author, - for example, that our first parents, tempted by the devil, committed a primal act of disobedience whose effects we still suffer." Hence, "the Catholic doctrine of original sin is entirely outside the realm of science" (p. 122).
In my view the early chapters of Genesis do definitely teach science, not empirical science but historical science and theological science. If the early chapters of Genesis "are history," as Johnston admits, then the episodes narrated in the early chapters of Genesis really took place. Just as the researcher in one area of empirical science must defer to findings in other areas of empirical science, so must he defer to the findings of researchers in the areas of historical and theological science. So also the historical fact of Original Sin must be accepted by empirical scientists as real knowledge contained in the sciences of history and theology. And so must the paleontologist defer to the divinely revealed events in Genesis 1.
The Magisterium of the Church has always maintained the historical character of the early chapters of Genesis. This means that they do not simply contain certain general truths expressed in mythical language; they narrate series of episodes that really took place. It is not enough to see, underlying these events, the doctrines taught by the Church, because these doctrines would have no foundation in reality if they had not been derived from what really and historically took place. The first three chapters of Genesis narrate real history. This means that the series of creative interventions by God in Genesis 1-3 really took place. Therefore, it is false to say, as Johnston does, that "creation is a strictly philosophical concept; it has nothing to do with science, which deals only with quantitative matter" (pp. 151-152). Creation has to do with historical science and with theological science, or, more succinctly, creation has to do with the science of historical theology. Creation is not just an abstract idea; it is a series of real divine interventions.
Evolution is not a scientific theory at all; it is a disproved historical theory. It is a theory regarding a large series of transformational events imagined to have taken place in the past. The fossil record is an historical record, and this record disproves the theory of evolution. Various empirical scientists over the years have necessarily been engaged in the study of this theory. But they should have been simply contributing data for historical scientists to utilize. Instead, many of them, unfortunately, have usurped the function of historical science to themselves and, in the absence of true historical method, have drawn the false and unscientific conclusions that have sustained the theory of evolution up to this present day.
Hence, evolution is not a "reasonable scientific hypothesis." In fact, with reference to empirical science, it is not an hypothesis or a theory at all. Empirical science deals with the existence of laws that determine how material nature functions. Evolutionists have never been able to establish that any evolutionary laws exist. Random mutation would not be based on any law; it would reflect the absence of all law. Survival of the fittest is not the expression of a law, since the only definition of the fittest that evolutionists have been able to come up with is "whatever survived." In addition, evolution is a theory without a mechanism. No evolutionist has ever been able to suggest in any plausible manner how a collection of gases could turn into a living cell with all the immense number of elements that microbiologists like Michael Denton tell us any living cell has to have. A stroke of lightning? This is sheer fantasy. And then, this first living thing would have had to be enclosed in a membrane; otherwise its elements would have floated apart. And it would have had to be able to reproduce itself, which involves another great complexity. Furthermore, evolutionists have never been able to propose a mechanism whereby one species could evolve into another. Not only does the fossil record disprove this; it is contrary to all known observations. And "punctuated equilibrium" (Jay Gould) is either disguised creation or it represents the sheer desperation of drowning evolutionists clutching for a straw.
Johnston proposes a "Catholic middle ground" between "Bible thumping fundamentalists and Darwin." He characterizes as "biblical fundamentalism" attempts in our day to read the text of Genesis 1-3 as historically true in the modern usage of the word "history." . This biblical fundamentalism, he says, is "a distinctly Protestant phenomenon" which arose in the United States during the nineteenth-century (p. 122). His "Catholic middle ground," he affirms, was already claimed by St. Augustine of Hippo back in the sixth century A.D. (p. 14). Gehringer, on the other hand, says that Johnston has mistaken the true Catholic middle ground for a brand of warmed-over "theistic evolutionism." It is also my observation that, included in what Johnston refers to as "Bible-thumping fundamentalism," is really the entire history of Catholic biblical interpretation until the acceptance of the method of historical criticism by many Catholic biblical scholars from the 1890s down to the present day.
St. Augustine was not a theistic evolutionist. Like most of his contemporaries he accepted the occurrence of spontaneous generation, that is, the springing of individuals of lower forms of life directly from inanimate matter. This erroneous belief was not eliminated from the halls of biological science until it was definitively laid at rest by Louis Pasteur in the nineteenth century. But Augustine never considered that one living species could move upward to a higher or more complex form of life. For Augustine the seeds of things and of species of things were planted "hiddenly" in the secret recesses of nature,2 that is, potentially and causally, from the first moment of creation and were then brought into actual life by God progressively when the time and the conditions were ripe.3 Through these "primordial packages," 4or "causal reasons,"5 the earth was given an invisible inner potency to be unfolded over the course of time,6 but not without creative divine interventions and not without the guidance of God's providence.7 Thus, he says, all the species (naturae) of things were impressed in the earth in potency at the first instant of creation, and then God proceeded to "plant" them (bring them into actuality) at the proper times.8 Augustine's theory of primordial packages of things later to emerge (often referred to by commentators as "seminal reasons") is certainly developmental in a broad sense, but it does not correspond to the theory of evolution, because it does not admit of an ascendance of species from one to another, and it does require subsequent interventions of God to "plant" the forms whose "numbers" had been primordially instilled in non-living matter.9 Thus, as St. Thomas Aquinas points out, the ability of the earth to produce living forms was visualized by St. Augustine as a passive potency which disposed the matter to receive the forms but which did not give to matter the power to create the forms themselves.10 And Johnston actually admits that St. Augustine was not a theistic evolutionist where he later says that "St. Augustine's version of evolution is utterly non-Darwinian; it is, rather, creation on the installment plan" (p. 24).
Johnston declares that to read Genesis as "a literal scientific treatise" would not be "reading Scripture with the mind of the Church" (p. 123). But not even "creation scientists" read Genesis as "a literal scientific treatise." They read Genesis as a true historical account, and, just as evolution scientists search for data to support the pseudo-historical theory of evolution, so do creation scientists use their expertise to support the historical accounts of Genesis. To do this properly (and not all creation scientists do this properly) is completely in keeping with the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church. The response of the Magisterium on this particular point, as Joseph Gehringer points out, was given by the Pontifical Biblical Commission on June 30, 1909, when it answered "in the negative" the following question: "Whether the various exegetical systems which have been elaborated and defended by the aid of pseudoscience for the purpose of excluding the literal historical sense of the first three chapters of Genesis are based upon solid arguments" (EB 324). This authentic statement is clear evidence that George Sim Johnston's "Catholic middle ground," with its openness to the pseudoscience of evolution and its rejection of the literal historical truth of Genesis 1-3, cannot claim to represent the Magisterium of the Church. According to Johnston, "The creation account in Genesis is true, but it is not scientifically ‘true’" (p. 123). Thus, for his solution, he proposes a double standard of truth. And he misses the point entirely, because the real point in this discussion is not whether Genesis 1-3 is scientifically true, but whether it is historically true. And, if it is historically true, then it is also scientifically true. Since the viewpoint of Genesis 1 is not limited to ancient Hebrew cosmology, it is an error to try to limit the wording of that chapter to what ancient Hebrews are supposed to have believed about the structure of the universe.11 Genesis 1-3 is historically true, because what it literally narrates really did happen. The series of concrete events described in Genesis really took place, granted that, to understand properly these events, the full scope of the wording must be recognized. What Genesis 1 tells us that God did in creating the universe He really did do, and no evolutionist has ever disproved this. So, as Joseph Gehringer fittingly points out, Charles Darwin didn't get it right, and neither did George Sim Johnston.
1. St. Augustine was not an evolutionist. He did believe in the historical truth of Genesis 1-3. See below, p. 10.
2. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., VI, 1.
3. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., VI, 4.
4. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., VI, 6.
5. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., VII, 22.
6. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., VIII, 8.
7. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., IV, 12; VI, 14. Cf. Living Tradition 47, "The Days of Creation according to St. Augustine," p. 8.
8. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., V, 4.
9. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., V, 4.
10. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 71, art. 1, ad 1.
11. Johnston seems not to have given any consideration to the possibility of a double literal sense of Genesis 1. I have presented a detailed exposition of a possible double literal sense of the creation of the material universe, as related in Genesis 1, in Living Tradition, no. 50, "The Creation and Formation of the Physical Universe".