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DESCENT AND SELECTION: A QUERY
BY D. T. BARRY, M.D. D.Sc.
THE psychic plan of the human race exhibits a lack of uniformity in adaptation to knowing, which is more remarkable for some branches of knowledge than others; in few domains is this heteromorphic character so well revealed as in that of things spiritual and their relation to the realm of science. The varying significance of the phenomena observed or described, the different aspects of theories advanced or assertions made to account for them, the facile incidence of occasion for dissent, doubt, denial make it a domain of many views. Uniformity of outlook, however, in this as in other spheres, has always been a characteristic of the Catholic standpoint, but even for Catholics it is essential to examine the problems with punctilious care and a due sense of the proper significance of things before giving a definite ruling concerning this point or that. What is theory to day may not be theory to-morrow, and there is no valid reason for failing to pronounce a theological verdict on any form of scientific belief, whether it be in ascertained facts or not. For the Catholic teacher of science it is not always a salutary line to take up to shirk the question or refer seekers after light to exponents of philosophy or theology. It is more impressive, and perhaps more effective, when the scientist can himself turn philosopher or theologian for the nonce. The theologian proper may himself be a biologist of no mean order, and very naturally is entitled not only to entertain an opinion on the purely scientific aspects of a problem, but also to express it. In this restricted domain, however, he cannot expect all students to see eye to eye with him or to come to similar conclusions.
The writer of this article may seem to be unorthodox in some of his expressions, but he is not intentionally so; he must at the outset disclaim all conflict with the principles of theological pronouncements; where a semblance of this strikes the reader it is to be taken rather as indicating a want
of light in the interpretation of these pronouncements, chiefly those affecting the theory of evolution, the problems presented in its exposition, and especially the relationship to Catholic belief of the Darwinian basis of the explanationNatural Selection. He is a scientific teacher seeking information on questions bearing on religion, which have either occurred to himself or have been propounded by Catholic students and others in the course of philosophical discussion. The truth is that a Catholic student frequently announces his inability to discriminate in scientific writings between what might be accepted as orthodox and what should be rejected as heterodox. The delver in science brings his delving propensity with him when he invades new fields, and the tendency in the theological field may seem to overstep the limits of reason by his desire for clear enunciation; he is not questioning the why and wherefore so much, however, as seeking how far and how much-how far certain views in the biological world are in or out of line with Catholic concepts.
In the Catholic Encyclopaedia the writers on evolution concede the acceptance of the theory of descent as compatible with Christian views of the Universe, and apparently the concession extends to the descent of man; but evolutionary theories, such as neo-Lamarckism and natural selection, are condemned. However, one of the writers of this, Wasmann, in a separate work,' is by no means so restricted. There, apparently, he grants the acceptance of the evolutionary theory in full and at least a part of the natural selection theory as in harmony with the Catholic outlook. He does not always announce his own views of the theory as a biologist-its scientific value-and to that we raise no objection, but clear as he is in many respects as a theologian, even Wasmann does not satisfy in explicitness.
To take another example of the theological position and the difficulties of the lay mind in interpretation, we may cite a recent article in the I. E. RECORD by Father Agius, S.J., who states: To the theory of descent, then, apart from the question of man, there appears to be no insuperable theological difficulty.' This plainly implies that for belief in the theory of the descent of man there is an insuperable theological difficulty. Now to put a simple
1 Modern Biology and the Theory of Evolution, p. 439.
June, 1919, Fifth Series, vol. xiii. p. 445.
question: Is there an insuperable difficulty from the theologist's point of view to this belief? It is a question solely concerned with somatic or bodily evolution and is distinct and separate from wild theories of psychic evolution. In the same article we find the following: That the human soul is created directly by God is a demonstrated conclusion of sane philosophy, and from a theological standpoint it appears [no italics in the original] to be heretical to deny it, mainly because though there is much in Genesis to favour it.' To favour what? Ambiguity in the sentence may only seem to exist to an obtuse reader, and the present one must confess to the affliction if it be so. A discriminating student, a neophyte in theology, however, when asked to expound it, said he could not determine whether it meant that Genesis favoured the direct creation or the denial, with its apparent heresy. Of course the learned writer's views are easily intelligible to those whom no doubt he considered likely to be his sole readers, adepts like himself in the seizure of theological sense; but, would it be asking too much to cater even in an ecclesiastical journal for the needs of the embryo in exegetics when the biological relationship is touched? There can scarcely be a single Catholic scientist who would not consider denial of direct creation of the human soul as positive heresy. Can one still be Catholic and doubt that act of creation? What is the alternative belief which enables one to escape a suspicion of heresy? The questions are put in genuine ignorance, though at one time the questioner thought he knew the answers. The alleged evolution of the human rational soul from the sensitive animal soul is as widely separated from the problem of somatic evolution as is the problem of psycho-physical parallelism in the higher spheres of mentation from the simple processes underlying osmosis and secretion in the vegetative sphere of the body glands.
That there could be continuity of somatic development as between lower animal forms and man is a simple proposition; the physiological processes are the same; the belief, according to the Catholic Encyclopaedia, is not heretical. It is an essential belief for many students of science, though the proposition is still in the realm of theory; they cannot envisage vital processes in human physiology as being fenced off in an unknowable compartment, distinct in origin as in function from all animal physiology. Vivisection and
comparative physiology would have little significance or value were the view of morphological and functional continuity not tenable. Once the Church grants that it is tenable it would be better to demonstrate to students the proper standpoint from which to envisage that possibility of continuity than to assume a fainéant attitude and declare: 'It is only a theory.'
Darwin's theory of natural selection has a fascination for many students, but there is a general belief that it is condemned by the Church as godless and untenable. Is it? Is it not rather certain attributes of the theory, methods of expounding it, interpretation of accessory phenomena, and unwarrantable appropriation of it by causo-mechanical pilferers that are condemned as atheistic or agnostic. To expose in full detail these attributes and methods would be out of place here; it would be necessary to go too profoundly into the scientific data to appreciate their character as truths or half truths; it is a wide region in science, from which facts and theories reacting on faith may emanate; but, without desiring to introduce scientific discussion into these pages, it will be permitted perhaps to set forth a few points, culled from limited regions but salient, to amplify those referred to by Father Agius. Our besogne is that of establishing the necessary data with which to equip the student of science who has a leaning towards the theory of descent; failing these such a one is in danger, when, or if, he becomes more taken with the theory, of falling a victim to the speciousness of the materialistic exponent of evolution. He is not prepared for argumentation; looking upon descent as incompatible with teleology and driven to a choice between them. he plumps for the former, to him the more apparent truth. Such was the type of student so easily transformed by Haeckel and Huxley. 'Faith begins where science ends,' said the first-named of these materialists. A modification of the axiom, 'Faith ends where science begins,' was a formula applicable as a general rule to the student of the untutored kind presented to Haeckel.
Evolution is to-day widely accepted in the scientific world as the ground plan of animal development on the earth. It is only a theory, but one of such wide significance and varied import that it attracts and holds many minds, to whose conformation biological science would make little appeal were it not for this basis of explanation to anchor them. To such minds a few questions naturally arise from
another statement of Father Agius, that the actual origin of the human race from a single pair is an article of faith, because taught as an essential part of the doctrine of original sin. Is this article of faith consistent with the view that the human bodies of our first parents might not have been the result of an act of direct and immediate creation? Is the single pair limitation conceivable on the hypothesis of indirect creation of the human body? Is it conceivable on the hypothesis of direct creation of souls in the indirectly created bodies? This dual form of creation-firstly, indirect for body, by evolution (evolution producing morphological change in the primarily created creature), and secondly, direct for soul-is a possibility put forward by Wasmann. 'It is certainly not an indispensable part of the idea of the creation to believe that man as a whole was created directly by God, through an extraordinary interference with the laws of nature; body and soul may have been created by God in different ways, the former indirectly, the latter directly.' The author does not apparently give this view as his own; he states nowhere that he believes in the grounds for that view as a biologist. The present writer expresses no opinion of the kind either, no views on the relationship of theromorphic forms to homo sapiens, but he would draw attention to the fact that while some scientists consider pithecanthropus to be a man-like ape, and some take it for an ape-like man, there are others who look upon it as being neither. The last-mentioned hope that paleontology will one day reveal better forms for their argument.
Wasmann's view, if it be legitimate to entertain it, is one well adapted to the Catholic scientific mind. Father Agius, in his paper, started with the intention of outlining the general features- so as to be able to fix the Catholic point of view all the more accurately.' It is just this Catholic point of view that it is desired to grasp in the writing of this one, because of failure to learn from the other how far a definite theological ruling affects the acceptance of the theory of evolution and accessory theories concerning its exposition. We have, for instance, apparently conceded that there is some reasonable ground for the basis of comparison between the ontogenetic development of individuals and the phylogenetic development of the tribe or species-the so-called biogenetic law. But just how far the concession goes is not
1 Loc. cit. p. 439.