OTTAWA, Canada (Canadian Catholic News) – Is Darwinism science or a form of religion? What are the consequences to the human person, especially in the practice of medicine through a Darwinist approach? A group of Christian medical doctors from across North America pondered these questions during a week-long course at Ottawa’s Augustine College June 3-9, examining Darwinism from philosophical, literary, artistic and ethical perspectives.
Augustine College president Dr. John Patrick, a pediatrician and retired Ottawa University professor, believes that the “Darwinian myth” is becoming the “ordering myth” for the West, replacing the Christian story, with potentially disastrous consequences.
“Who would you rationally trust when we legalize doctor-assisted suicide?” he asked. “A Darwinist physician or a doctor who believes in judgment after death?”
Darwin’s theories of natural selection, survival of the fittest and of evolutionary progress are making an impact on health care, even though Patrick describes the art of medicine as “very anti-Darwinist” in its care for the sick and the vulnerable. But that is changing as society becomes “profoundly incoherent,” he said.
Darwin’s influence on medical care is especially evident in the “eugenics on unborn babies” through abortion, he said in an interview.
“Darwinists deny any role for purpose in life,” he said.
The Darwinian elevation of progress gives validation to embryonic stem cell research, he said.
University of Ottawa Philosophy professor Graeme Hunter, a Catholic, pointed out in a lecture there is a difference between metaphysical naturalism – belief that nothing supernatural exists – methodological naturalism, which he described as acting “as if” nothing supernatural exists. Metaphysical naturalism is “the bad kind” because it makes the scientific method dogmatic, when science should always be open to new discoveries, he said.
Methodological naturalism has been good for modern science as long as it is not straying into making ultimate truth claims. Advances in modern medicine, for example, have depended on viewing the body as if it were a machine, he said, because it helped doctors overcome the taboos, shame and inhibitions around the body that hampered scientific discoveries.
Hunter showed that at the time of Galileo, science as understood by the university and the Catholic Church was in shambles. New ideas challenged old notions, but the church and university resisted. French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes wanted to avoid the trouble his contemporary Galileo faced, so he took a more cautious approach “to show how to apply the scientific method to cosmology that would not arouse the ire of the university or the church,” Hunter said.
Descartes speculated about what would happen in an imaginary universe where God set aside some matter and left it in chaos, yet governed by the laws of physics.
“The surprising thing is that the chaos of formless matter Descartes represents as hurled by God into imaginary space would in the course of time come to resemble the orderly cosmos with which we are familiar, and require no special intervention of God in doing so,” Hunter said, explaining Descartes ‘imagined’ world.
Descartes envisioned a naturalistic and an evolutionary world, but stressed that he believed it was more likely the Biblical creation story was true and God designed the world. What he was doing was creating a methodological principle for seeking truth within the sciences, not for discovering how the universe came into being, Hunter said.
“We want to be able to predict the future, and where possible, to produce the future we want and control our environment,” he said. Methodological naturalism has served well in helping achieve those goals, though ethical questions about whether we ought to everything we can do arise. Hunter said the primary aim of modern science in gaining “power over nature.”
Hunter ridiculed the claims of metaphysical naturalists, like Richard Dawkins, who call themselves “The Brights” and claim that nothing beyond “the kinds of things that 21st Century humans (especially scientists) call natural are capable of existing.”
“Let a worm make a similar claim, or a rat or a monkey and we would laugh,” he said.
Hunter quoted Cardinal John Henry Newman who wrote that a Catholic who believes in revelation with absolute faith is not apprehensive about anything that can be discovered by scientific methods.
“He is sure, and nothing shall make him doubt, that, if anything seems to be proved by astronomer, or geologist, or chronologist, or antiquarian, or ethnologist, in contradiction to the dogmas of faith, that point will eventually turn out, first not to be proved or, secondly, not contradictory, or thirdly not contradictory to anything really revealed, but to something which has been confused with revelation,” Newman wrote. “And if, at the moment it appears to be contradictory, then he is content to wait, knowing that error is like other delinquents; give it rope enough, and it will be found to have a strong suicidal propensity.”
Hunter argued for a kind of “double vision,” saying the body can be treated as a machine out of methodological naturalism, “without ceasing to recognize the person as an immortal being, created and loved by God.”
University of Ottawa English professor Dominic Manganiello, a Catholic, showed how author and philosopher C.S. Lewis distinguished between evolution as a scientific hypothesis and “evolutionism” as a “quasi-religious belief.”
Manganiello showed how Lewis critiqued the religious kind of evolutionism in his novels Out of a Silent Planet and Perelandra. In Lewis’ view, according to Manganiello, the myth of human improvement or progress was a misapplication of Darwin’s biological theorem to the metaphysical sphere.
In this view, even certain sins become a sign of progress, he said.
Patrick has no problem with accepting methodological naturalism, But along with Manganiello and Hunter, he does not think science is equipped to provide answers to ultimate questions about God and the universe.
“All that’s needed in science is a little less hubris,” Patrick said.
Founded by a group of Christian professors from the University of Ottawa and St. Paul University 10 years ago, Augustine College offers a one-year academic program to introduce students to the foundations of Western civilization. For several years, it has offered a one-week course for Christian doctors and dentists after the academic year closes.
Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Canadian Catholic News Service.
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Among CCN governing members is the Western Catholic Reporter (http://www.wrc.ab.ca), serving Catholics in Alberta and published by the Archdiocese of Edmonton.