Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Catholic View of Evolution and Darwinism; Part I - The Philosophical Background

I'm a theologian, not an historian.  In my last two entries i've tried to delve a bit into history in order to lay a foundation for this discussion; the apparent dichotomy between science and religion.  I've attempted to show how this idea grew out of the enlightenment and i've striven to demonstrate how the supposed examples of this conflict are mythical.  Today i would like to begin an examination of it in light of the modern debate on evolution.
      I'm not really interested in discussing evolution as a scientific theory.  That would be outside my pay grade.   Rather, i think this is an excellent time to discuss science in general: What is science?  How ought we to pursue science?  Why should we pursue science at all?  In part II i'll consider the four terms; evolution, Darwinism, creationism and intelligent design.  Specifically, their relation to Catholicism and the philosophical concepts which i'll discuss here.
      To begin we need to cover some philosophy.  Although not directly related to evolution, understanding these classifications will allow us to understand the difference between pre-enlightenment and post-enlightenment thought.  Ancient Greek thinkers discussed four causes, or preconditions for existence.  These correspond to the three major questions we have discussed in previous posts; what, how and why.
      The first cause is the efficient cause.  This is how the thing came to be, how it was created.  For example, i am the efficient cause of my computer.  I purchased the components, i drove all over St. Louis trying to find thermal paste at 11pm, i assembled the components, i tried to turn it on, i spent two hours trying to figure out what i had done wrong, i fixed it, turned it on and installed the software.  (Max helped)  What is the efficient cause of my computer?  How did it come into being?  I did it.
      The second cause is the material cause.  This is what the thing is made out of, what it is materially speaking.  Again, turning to my computer, at the most foundational level it is made of metal and plastic.  We could come up a few levels and say it is made of a case, and a motherboard, and a hard drive, and a processor, and a video card, and a power source and so on.  Or we could go to a middle level and talk about circuits and cables and screws.  Like the efficient cause, the material cause can be discussed in gradients of precision without any loss of truth.
      The third cause is the formal cause.  This is what the thing is by way of definition, what it is in its essence.  What makes my computer a computer?  What distinguishes it from a bench or a house?  Some people say this is purely subjective, that a thing is defined but what we choose to call it.  However, this is to confuse essence with name.  It doesn't matter if you call it a computer or una computadora or diàn nǎo, it remains the same thing.  It remains distinct from a bed or una cama or chuáng pù.  The human capacity to distinguish between different concepts and assign them names proves the existence of essence.
      The fourth and final cause is the final cause.  This is why the thing came to be, why it exists at all.  My computer exists to to do my bidding.  To access those web pages i would have it access, for me to write thrilling and insightful blog posts and schools papers in a legible format, to compute and store what i would have it compute and store.  The formal and final causes cannot be discussed in gradients of precision.  They can be elaborated on or more carefully explained, but they are what they are.  If you leave something off, at best, you have only a partial truth and if you add something unnecessary you have a falsehood.
      When we pursue the first two causes we engage in the natural or physical sciences.  We learn about them through experimentation and the scientific method.  They can be explored in greater or lesser detail depending on the needs of the situation.  The second two causes are the realm of theology and philosophy.  They are not subject to experimentation so they must be grasped through reason or revelation.  However, they are all science.  Although we often use the term "science" in reference to solely natural or physical science, the word simply means knowledge and applies to any method by which we pursue knowledge.  Thus, we have a distinction between the hard sciences and the soft sciences.  In the hard sciences, natural or physical science, we seek knowledge of a thing's matter and how to control it.  In the soft sciences, philosophy and theology, we seek knowledge of a thing's essence and purpose, that is, how it ought to be used. 
     Prior to the enlightenment the soft sciences ruled supreme.  The hard sciences were not ignored or forgotten, but they were generally only pursued to the extent they could illuminate the more important questions of purpose.  Some of the perpetrators of the enlightenment saw the soft sciences as unreliable and rejected them as not being true science.  They denounced essence and purpose as being imaginary and non-existent.  This lead to a new focus on the efficient and material causes as the only ones which can be known.  This mindset is known as metaphysical naturalism.  Although the denial of purpose inherent to metaphysical naturalism led to a degradation of the human person, most of the major modern genocides and the general suicide of western spiritual well being, i do have to acknowledge that naturalism in of itself does have a positive effect.  The knew recognition of the value of asking how also led to the discovery of anti-biotics, the computer, blogs, cars, airplanes, spaceships and universal indoor pluming.  I like these things very, very much.
      So here we can make a distinction between metaphysical naturalism and methodological naturalism.  Metaphysical naturalism is a philosophical worldview that denies essence and meaning and has been used to justify every atrocity you can name.  Although it claims to be "scientific" it actually impedes scientific progress because it rejects any thought which does not fall in line with its foundational assumptions.  It is bad, a scourge upon mankind, an evil to be feared and resisted to your dieing breadth.  Methodological naturalism is simply an assumption of consistency in experimentation.  It leads to all the scientific breakthroughs we know and love and i thoroughly endorse its usage.
      So, what does all this have to do with evolution?!?!
Well, come back next week and i'll tell you.

No comments:

Post a Comment