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The distinction between science and its philosophical expressions allowed the commentators to focus their fire on the real enemy, the emerging materialist worldview of secular modernity, with its disastrous social and religious implications. “Darwinism as a scientific theory reflected the epistemological assumptions of this world view and advanced it in the realm of science” (Robert, 281); Darwinism as a philosophy, that is, as “a more general and universal theory which is applied to the physical world, to the realm of ethics, to man and society,” as one Catholic commentator described it, lifted materialism to the status of a scientific worldview. Hence Darwinism fit quite snugly into a conservative turning, anti-modernist Catholic horizon in which “modern thought” evoked adjectives like “materialist,” “atheistic,” “naturalized” theistic evolution. Yet he had interpreted Aquinas, Augustine, and other Church Fathers “loosely” – that is, without sufficient attention to the Neo-Scholastic commentaries. “This violated Zahm’s ecclesial opponents’ understanding of Thomism’s special mission in the age of evolution” (Robert, 281).
The official Roman Catholic philosophy would preserve the primary achievement of civilization: the establishment of moral and social order. Outside of the neoscholastic framework, even “theistic evolution – to “social Darwinism,” for example – that was eroding traditional order and civility. Yet evolutionary theory itself was neither rejected nor accepted as much as it was seen as a prize in this competition of worldviews. In the early twentieth century, American Catholic conservatives muted the criticism of science and focused on undisciplined and ideologically inspired applications of the theory to other realms.
Despite the fate of evolution and Dogma, Zahm made an impact on the Catholic community by publicizing and interpreting the theory of organic evolution for significant segments of the American Catholic community. Even his conservative opponents accepted Zahm’s basic premise, that true religion had nothing to fear from true science. Accordingly, they reasoned, Catholics should join in the efforts to purify science. “Scientific updating” thus became the goal of early-twentieth-century Catholic apologists. Zahm’s error had been to attempt such updating outside the sacred canopy of Thomism. This is perhaps the most significant sense in which the Roman Catholic response to Darwin differed from the Protestant response.
While Roman Catholicism defines itself inn every age according to the way its papal-Episcopal magisterial, or teaching office, interprets the Christian Tradition, Protestants in general, and evangelical or fundamentalist Protestants in particular Protestants in particular, are bound to the verses of the Bible alone. On a controverter scientific question such as evolution, catholic tradition, rather than biblical literalism, was the contested arena of meaning for Catholics; in short, Neo-Scholasticism was a bigger obstacle to turn-of-the –century Catholic evolutionists than the general theory of evolution itself (Stephen, 2). When Neo-Scholasticism eventually fell out of favor, the church was in a position to reconsider evolution through different theological anthropological lenses, and it did so.
In this regard, the Catholic response to evolution was perhaps closer in spirit and form to the Jewish debates precipitated by evolutionary thought were ultimately about the nature of modern Judaism rather than about evolution per se. Indeed, the Roman Catholic response to evolution continued to reflect a deeply rooted ambivalence in the years after the Zahm affair. After Catholic apologist writing in 1928 summarized the Church’s encounter with evolution as follows; “Despite the growing caution over man’s bodily origins, it did not lead to any public censure by a Roman congregation on the general theory of evolution.”
The survival of evolution in Catholic scientific circles reflected the judgment of a Jesuit scientist writing in 1911, not long after the condemnation of modernism: “The theory of evolution is not in itself opposed to theism. It has unfortunately been misused and still lies under reproach and suspicion. In view of the above, a considerable degree of latitude in exegesis would have been reasonable to expect. Progress in biblical studies was anticipated in the light of advances in the natural sciences, archaeology, and history. But, from Martindale’s point of view, a far greater consideration outweighed this prospect. The church existed for the salvation of souls and was entrusted by divine authority to teach the truth and nothing but the truth. Upholding the infallibility of scripture was an essential part of its mission.
The church was not a school of science. The teaching authority, in safeguarding the “saving truths” of the church, would not allow its scholars to be “hasty” or “reckless.” New opinions on the meaning of scripture would have to be “thoroughly tested” before being widely disseminated. Catholics would not be permitted to treat the narratives of Genesis as unhistorical – as “purified Babylonian myths”. It was feared that if new interpretations of scriptures were adopted too readily on the basis of modern scientific theories this could undermine Catholic doctrine because of the evolutionary nature of science.
Therefore, Catholics were exhorted to be extremely careful not to admit as a fact what may turn out be fiction. The denigration of science was, therefore, to be used as a prop to sustain the maximum rigidity (Robert, 25). This attitude failed to take cognizance of two very important points. First, traditional and widely held interpretations of scripture had been decisively overturned by scientific discoveries. Therefore, simply to dismiss science as fickle and unreliable was irrational. Second, science – in the broadest sense of the term – was constantly changing in the light of new discoveries. It was eminently sensible to propose theories for the purpose of placing a mass of data, arising from experiment and observation, in a logical framework to enhance understanding. Future research could then be focused to optimize beneficial results. It was in the nature of science to abandon, modify, or expand theories in the light of new observations.
This was its strength, not its weakness. Catholic resistance to theory of evolution, although diminished, still remained strong. Catholics, of course, were not exceptional among Christians for their resistance to evolutionary theory. The opposition of Protestants to evolution, when it did occur, was motivated especially by the extension of the theory to humankind. The most dramatic manifestation of this was the Scope trial (1925) – sometimes referred to as the “monkey trial” – Dayton, Tennessee. Roman Catholic theologians tended to regard evolutionary theory as part of the encroaching ‘Modernist’ philosophy that posed a general challenge to the Church’s teaching office, and Roman Catholic laity were indifferent to ideas that did not appear to threaten the centrality of the Eucharist in personal devotion and communal piety. But there was certainly increasing talk within the non-Roman Catholic Churches of theological ideas developing, of given revelation being progressive and of the Scriptures showing signs of an evolving sense of God.
Canon AE David of Brisbane believed that evolutionary theory saved the Church from needing to locate ‘direct evidence of design in creation’. The task was now ‘to find the impress of the mind of the creator not so much in these isolated instances as stamped upon the face of nature as a whole – a far higher and grander concept of the Universe and its Maker’. According to the Methodist, the concept of evolution, that everything happened by accident and chance, is the same philosophy as the religions of this world that are fallen from God. Man believes that by reincarnation, through transubstantiation in the mass, by good works and karma, and by involving themselves in social justice and charity, they will arrive to a place called heaven. It is salvation by chance and accident.
However, even as this world did not come about by chance, but was created by God who inhibits eternity, so is mankind’s restoration to that creator. “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising,” (Isaiah 60:1-5). The chapter from which this text is taken describes in the most exalted language the “Golden Age” of the Church, under the Messiah. While apparently a command, the expression “Arise, shine!” Is more of an admonition? The purpose of this text is to awaken the Church to the true sense of her character and encourage her to perform the task set before her.
The idea of “She is admonished to rise” is the idea that is taken from the custom of oriental people, who during warm weather would sit down upon the bare ground for hours with their feet drawn beneath them, whiling the time away in idle gossip (Francis, 288). No matter how costly their robes, they would thus sit, and this position would naturally cause their clothes to gather dust. At times they would arise and shake off the dust and then sit down again.
The Methodist church is admonished to arise from the dust, from the earth, from things that are earthly. She has spent too much time sitting in this dust, doing nothing; she is told to get up and shake this dust from off her beautiful robes. To be contaminated with the dust of sin is not her proper condition; the ground is not her sphere, she must take her seat in a more exalted place; she must arise. Her attitude smacks of indifference to her true characteristics and mission. All the images are found in the religions of man make us brutish. They distort our minds as to who God really is. We set forth these things as devotional helps, and objects of veneration and reverence, but they take us away from God’s word. Thus, while seemingly providing a great focus of devotion; venerating images make us spiritually dull of mind regarding the truth and glory of God. Further, many in this world worship man-made objects and things they have made or obtained. Property, education, husbands, wives, children, jobs, and possessions are some of the things men worship and place before the honor of God.
When we worship a substitute in the place of the true God, neglecting His word, no matter how sincere we may be, we become brutish in our knowledge. Whether we have a master’s or doctorate degree, or are a peasant with little or no formal education, we are dull in our knowledge. And why? Because all those who worship things, ideas, or possessions become like them. The pictures we adore the incense we burn to statues, the images we bow down before and pray to, thinking we are honoring God or drawing closer to Him, is all falsehood. There is no life and help to be found in these images.
In conclusion, it has emerged from among a number of ideas as the only one that supported by the facts. At times in the past, groups of scientists have only grudgingly accepted the ideas that make up evolutionary theory, but as evidence grew the Baptist theory of evolution triumphed. The theory of evolution itself has evolved since Darwin first put forth his theory in 1859. Evolution as we understand today includes at least sixteen fundamental principles, all of which are outlined by the churches. Therefore, there evolution theory is something that needs time for everyone to understand. Whether you are a Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran or Methodist, we need to come to one conclusion of the evolution theory. We should not have any divide over it. All the leaders in all mentioned churches must sit down and ensure that all their followers understand this concept of evolution theory.
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