I listened to a popular debate about the relation between Christian theism and Evolution yesterday (by “popular” I mean one of those evolution-says-how-not-why debates). Anyone who reads this blog has already heard a dozen such debates so there is no reason to give the details again. Once we know whether the other guy is for it or against it we more or less know how the explanations will go.
There is something unsatisfying and incomplete about these discussions. One part of this stems from boredom, another from the fact that we postmodern people are more comfortable dealing with conflicts by shrugs, irony, and exaggerated irenism. But a very large part of it comes from this: we’re wasting all of our time talking about evolution when in fact our problem is more general. The Christian objection to evolution is identical in all relevant details to an objection against generation or reproduction. There’s no difference between the claim “our species arose from descent with modification, and therefore not from an act of special creation” and saying “I arose from the sexual activity of my parents, and therefore not from an act of special creation”. We know this is the case since Christians have had such an argument before, namely over traductionism, that is, the idea that since human being arose from the sexual activity of his parents, there was no need for an act of special creation to explain them. St Thomas treated this question at considerable length – there was a good deal of dispute about it in his day, and again in the Reformation period, and it was still a live topic during the Enlightenment – and all that’s changed in moving from traductionism to evolution is that gone from asking about any old person being generated from purely natural causes to asking about whether the first member(s) of some population arose from purely natural causes.
The objections that Christians legitimately have to evolution don’t concern evolution as such. We can flip this around and point out that an attempt show how theism and evolution are compatible also doesn’t concern evolution as such. Darwin’s theory and its various developments are not the problem: the problem of compatibility would be no different if Darwin, upon sailing to the Galapagos Islands, didn’t end up finding various lengths of finch beaks but instead found a large tree that grew new plant and animal species out of giant seed pods. The fundamental problem remains irrespective of whether nature generates the first member of some new population by seeds or by chance or by aliens. For that matter, the same problem would remain if all species have existed for an infinite time. The fundamental problem is whether natural science suffices to explain human beings. In its present state, natural science never has to be forced to see an inadequacy since it proceeds dialectically, and so whenever one side of a hypothesis would require that it terminate in a supernatural explanation, it can simply choose to follow out any one of the innumerable hypotheses that go the other direction. “Fine tuning” arguments are a case in point: the data can either lead to a supernatural explanation or a natural one (multiverses) and, as a matter of dialectics, one is free to simply choose which path he wants to follow. It suffices to explain the multiverse choice to say that, by choosing it, one can continue with natural explanations, which are exactly the sort of explanations that natural scientists are interested in. Aristotle, on the other hand, was forced out of physics to a supernatural explanation because his physics did not proceed dialectically but in a demonstrative manner from the definition of motion and other facts of nature given in common experience. If Aristotle had the choice to keep his explanations natural, then qua natural scientist, he was duty bound to take them, but demonstration does not allow the same liberty as dialectics in this matter.