Here’s something to make Fundamentalist heads explode

Here’s something to make Fundamentalist heads explode November 27, 2012

…whether they be atheist or Catholic.  The invaluable Mike Flynn writes:


The outward appearances of the bread and wine remain those of bread and wine, and so far as science runs that is all that science can say.  The bread and wine are not transformed.  They are transubstantiated.  The substance, the inner reality, is changed to the Body and Blood, not the forms.


The outward appearances of the biological human remain those of a biological human, and so far as science runs, that is all that evolution can say.  It really does remain a biological human.  It is not transformed into a metaphysical human until the Word imparts an immaterial soul that adds the power of intellect and will to the animal powers of the biological human to produce a metaphysical human (which is to be human per se.)

Properly understood, evolution can be considered a prefigure of the Eucharist.

From a Thomistic perspective, I’ve never seen much of a problem with the proposition that God–using secondary causes ranging from the manufacture of carbon atoms in the heart of exploding stars, to the development of the mouth-to-anus gut tract during the Cambrian Explosion, to the creation of live birth reproductive systems and the mammary gland, to the Cretaceous Extinction Event to my own father and mother–created me.  God *usually* uses secondary causes.  Evolution has always seemed to me to be a way of saying “Grace perfects nature” and “God made man from the dust of the earth reeeeeeeeeeeeeally slowly.”  And “grace perfect nature” is a statement that reaches it apotheosis in the proposition that God raises bread and wine to transubstantiation into the Body and Blood of Christ, just as he raises a race of hairy fanged primates to be children of God through God the Son, who became a risen and glorified hairy fanged primate for us and for our salvation.

When God doesn’t use secondary causes (as for instance when he created loaves and fish ex nihilo) we regard that as such a departure from his normal way of doing business that it is called a “miracle”.  When we start needlessly invoking miracles by literally shouting “Then a miracle occurs!” in order to prop up some completely needless demand for a pet theological theory the Church in no way demands, we are headed for trouble.

God of the gaps arguments, such as Intelligent Design, tend to want to look at such exceptions to rules as the *main* proof of the existence of God.  That’s fine (assuming, of course, that transitions in living forms is really an exception to the rules).  Jesus does, after all, say “If you don’t believe me, believe the miracles I’ve done.”  But it is notable that St. Thomas doesn’t point to exceptions to the rules.  He points to the rules and says, “Why is there anything?  Why is it intelligible?”  He, like Augustine, has no problem with the idea that God could invest matter with the power to self-organize and change and bring out new possibilities, likening it to a collection of wood that miraculously self-assembles into a ship.  God, under carefully controlled laboratory conditions, can do whatever he likes.

The main problem with God of the gaps arguments like ID is that they say, “We don’t know how this apparent exception to the rules happened, so God.”  That work, till you find out how the exception to the rule happened.  Then people (falsely) conclude. “So no God.”  Result, you are left with with a) atheist fundamentalists concluding that nature seems to work fine, so there’s no God, or b) Christian fundamentalists making futile and increasingly strained attempts to say, for instance, “God made the universe to *appear* to be billions of years old–10,000 years ago.”  This is, for all intents and purposes to needlessly call God a liar. Appeals to the miracle of the loaves and fishes (“God instantly made fish that looked old, so he *must* have done the same in order to fit my pet theory of a 10,000  year old earth”) founder on the fact that you do not, in fact, know he must have done any such thing.  They also founder on the fact that the point of the sign simply was not at all related to your pet theory, particularly since Jesus refused rather pointedly to endorse the idea that he could be expect to keep creating stuff ex nihilo. It also proves too much since, by the exact same logic I could declare that God, for his own inscrutable purposes, made the universe 10 seconds ago, but made it *appear* to be be billions of years old (and made us complete with a set of false memories of our entire lives).  Sooner or later, common sense kicks in and you have to say, “Young earth creationists who maintain God made the universe to fool us into thinking it is 13.5 billion years old are positing a Liar God in order to prop up a theory that not one member of the Magisterium would regard as remotely necessary to the Catholic faith.  Instead of listening to pet theories cherished by people who are paying not attention to either the teaching of the Magisterium *or* the scientific data, why not actually think with the Magisterium and make us of the best science has to offer?”

The denial that God works through secondary causes–which undergirds a lot of anti-science rhetoric when it comes to evolution is, ironically, a hallmark of Islamic, not Christian, thought.  There’s a reason Science was stillborn everywhere but in Christian Europe.  It depends upon a specifically Catholic and Christian metaphysic to be born.  It remains to be seen whether it can survive once it severs that metaphysical root and tries to survive without it.  My money is on the death of the scientific enterprise in the long run since science is done by scientists and scientists have the unfortunate habit of being born into the species homo sapiens sapiens: a race afflicted by a spiritual condition known as “original sin” which darkenes the intellects, weakens the will, and disorders the appetites, even of men and women in lab coats.

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