National Catholic Register

Commentary

Blind Chance Alone Didn’t Satisfy Darwin

BY Father Anthony Zimmerman

March 5-11, 2006 Issue | Posted 3/5/06 at 11:00 AM

 

The real Charles Darwin (1809-1882) did not accept blind chance as the engine of evolution, nor did he believe that his theory excludes the Creator.

Public school teachers who promote irreligion with Darwin as front man are foisting error upon a captive audience.

Darwin rejected blind-chance evolution with these words, for example: “The birth both of the species and of the individual are equally parts of that grand sequence of events, which our minds refuse to accept as the result of blind chance. The understanding revolts at such a conclusion” (Descent of Man, 1871, Ch. XXI).

It is true that he accounted for the survival of species by the process of natural selection, but he did not believe that survival also explained origins. He searched nature to find reasons for the origins of variations which he wrongly held to be incremental changes that lead to a smooth and gradual transition from one species into another. He theorized about possible reasons for change that are not random but specific and direct.

He wrote, for example, that “a change in the conditions of life [the environment] by specially acting on the reproductive system, causes increase in variability (Page 82); also that “climate, food, etc. probably produce some slight and direct effect” to induce differences (Page 85). He also entertained the concept that habitual actions can become inheritable (Page 209). He frequently included the use and disuse of traits as an inheritable factor (Pages 11, 43, 134 etc.), which is certainly not a concept of random happenstances. As evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr observed: “Darwin did not understand the causation of variability; no one did until this particular problem was elucidated by genetics after 1900” (Introduction, facsimile of the first edition of On the Origin of Species). We thus see from Darwin’s writings that he looked for intelligible causative factors rather than blind chance as the engine of evolution.

He did not suggest a biological mechanism whereby a changed environment might affect the reproductive system. By coincidence, his contemporary, the monk Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), was discovering the very opposite, namely that environment does not affect reproduction.

At any rate, to the credit of Darwin, he reasoned that evolutionary changes must have discernible causes. To his discredit, he suggested mistaken causes, for which he can hardly be faulted at his time.

To the additional credit of Darwin, he believed that the concept of evolution gave more glory to the Creator than belief in a special creation of species. Thus he wrote:

“Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual. When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings that lived long before the first bed of the Cambrian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled (The Origin of Species, first edition, 1859, Page 488).

In a later edition of the same book, Darwin returned to this theme: “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved. THE END.” (End of book The Origin of Species in a subsequent edition).

From these passages, we conclude that Darwin did not hold that evolution excludes the Creator.

Mendel, through experiments with 28,000 pea plants in his monastic garden and greenhouse, found that species do not change incrementally through inheritance. Identifiable traits remain unchanged through hybridization and heredity. Long stems and short stems, round pods and shriveled pods, green colors and yellow — did not average out but remained identifiable through generations. He discovered the laws of dominant and recessive traits, which we now call genetical alleles. Almost a century later, in 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick announced the structure of DNA, the carrier of hereditary genes in molecular units that can replicate, mutate and be expressed. Genetics had entered into its own.

Bearing in mind that the human genome has about 30 million genes (Mendelian traits), that crossovers of genes that are random to a limited degree occur during meiosis, that males produce 100 million sperm cells per 24 hours, and that a human offspring is a singular selection of billions of resultant possibilities, we should not wonder why no two humans are exactly alike, except in the case of identical twins.

Darwin, a giant among scientists, belongs in science class rooms, as do Mendel and modern genetics. But teachers must not be permitted to drag irreligion into science courses, waving Darwin. Science, by itself, is not a one-way street leading to stupidity. For only the stupid say there is no God:

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools (Romans 1:19-22).”

Father Anthony Zimmerman

is a doctor of sacred theology.

He is a retired professor of

moral theology at Nanzan

University in Nagoya, Japan.