The purpose of revelation is not to confirm what man can know of material and immaterial things through his own natural capacity. The purpose is to inform man of the supernatural plan of God: “His will that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit and thus become sharers in the divine nature.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 51). Revelation is not about the natural, but the supernatural.
In the Nicene Creed, we profess our belief that God is the creator of heaven and of earth and of all things, visible and invisible. We believe that God created the angels. The angels, who are pure spirits, i.e. wholly immaterial, are ontologically superior to human beings, who are composites of spirit and matter.
By the way, the order of grace is superior to all natural levels of existence. Our Blessed Mother is ontologically lower in nature than the angels but superior to them in grace (CCC 492), including the grace of vocation (CCC 490).
The human soul is the animating principle of the human body. The soul, as immaterial, is so ontologically superior to matter that each individual soul, i.e. each human being, must be created immediately by God (CCC 366). The requirement of an immediate act of creation of the human soul at conception implies that the production of a new individual of other animal species at conception is not an act of creation. This is fully in accord with the judgment of the perennial philosophy of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas.
Yet the hierarchy of creatures (CCC 342), created over six stages, implies degrees of existential perfection among material entities. A hierarchy would not be the appropriate term if there were only one ontological discontinuity among material creatures, namely that of man versus everything else, where everything else includes both the animate and the inanimate. Commonly accepted minimal ontological discontinuities among (1) the inanimate, (2) the living non-sentient and (3) the living sentient, are reflected in the philosophical distinctions among (1) the physical sciences, (2) botany and (3) zoology, respectively.
Our expression of faith in God, as the Creator of the visible, is so general that it allows a wide variety of particular views, among them a variety of views of biological evolution. This essay addresses a few of those views.
One Anti-Evolutionary View
Let us first consider one anti-evolutionary view, recently described, which claims that creation, as defined by Church Councils, as “at once and out of nothing,” precludes the use of pre-existing matter in the initial creation of each biological species. Creation, thereby, precludes biological evolution. This would mean that the first two earthworms and the first pair of black bass, were created without predisposing matter.
Let us stipulate that the black bass is ontologically superior to its proposed and remote evolutionary ancestor from which it is said to diverge. We are agreeing that this ontological disjunction, spanned through evolution, would require an act of creation. However, the anti-evolutionary view of creation proscribes this as a possibility because it involves pre-existing matter.
This proscription is false, because (1) the ontological disjunction of the nature of humans from all other sentient living things is much greater than any possible disjunction among the natures of non-human sentient living things, and (2) it is of the Faith that each human being is created individually by the unmediated creation of a soul by God at the moment of conception. This act of creation of the human soul, at once and out of nothing, is nevertheless in concert with, and extrinsically dependent upon, the material zygote formed at conception by the fertilization of a pre-existing, material human egg by a pre-existing, material human sperm.
Thus, according to the Faith, the creation of entities of a material nature “at once and out of nothing” does not exclude the use of pre-existing matter. Man is a material creature, neither a body nor a soul, but a composite. Any rebuttal of this anti-evolutionary view must concern the coming into existence of a material entity which cannot be explained as the substantial change of already existing material entities. The coming into existence of each new human being at conception cannot be explained solely as substantial change, as can the coming into existence of other animals at conception.
Another rebuttal of creation precluding the use of pre-existing matter was based on the formation of the first element of the periodic table, hydrogen, and the subsequent formation of the remaining elements of the periodic table as an evolutionary process occurring within stars. Since this evolutionary creation of a hierarchy of elements, each from the existing material of preceding elements, is scientifically established, creation does not preclude the use of pre-existing matter.
This rebuttal can only be relevant if it can be established that the elements of the periodic table differ from one another by levels of existential perfection and not by different substantial forms at a single level of existence. Examples of different levels of existential perfection, i.e. different levels of being, would be animals, humans, and angels. If one, along with Aristotle et al, philosophically judges that all transitions among the natures of inanimate entities are merely substantial changes and not creation, the rebuttal would fail due to its irrelevance.
The commonly accepted philosophical division between the sciences of physics and chemistry implies that physics typically concerns changes in the properties of substances, while chemistry typically concerns changes of substance, but at a single level of ontological perfection, namely the inanimate. Thus, to demonstrate that the elements of the periodic table differ from one another ontologically would be a novel and outstanding philosophical feat. From its inception, the periodic table has been viewed as solely scientific. The distinctions in the table delineate measurable properties. To be relevant, the rebuttal requires that the periodic table also be philosophical, in that distinctions in the table must also delineate levels of being.
Evolution as Continuing Creation
In the Providence Journal (7/10/2005), biologist Kenneth Miller described his belief in biological evolution as belief in continuing material creation. He proposed the compatibility of these two beliefs by identifying randomness, i.e. chance, as creativity. This would be an exceptionally cogent analysis by Prof. Miller if material chance and material creation were identifiable with one another rather than being materially indistinguishable from one another. Both are beliefs in scientifically intractable mystery.
It is one thing to employ the mathematics of probability in science in instances where the detailed circumstances of a material process are unknown. It is another to propose that chance is the material process. A major difference, distinguishing advocates of material chance from those who believe in material creation, is that most of the latter believe that material creation ceased with the creation of man (CCC 342-343, 345). The cessation of creation renders experimental science possible throughout human existence. Such science includes the examination of the fossil record as a record of biological evolution.
In contrast, belief in continuing material chance is belief in continuing scientifically intractable mystery. This renders experimental science impossible throughout human existence. Belief in material mystery is not science, whether that mystery is believed to be material chance or material creation. Accordingly, the biologist Richard Dawkins views chance vs. design/creation as opposite and false extremes. He identifies gradualism, due to natural selection, as the via media of scientific truth (The God Delusion, p. 121). However, Dawkins has disproved his own argument with self-criticism.
A Cogent Reconciliation
From a scientific perspective of the origin of biological species diversity, the question of creation as creation would not be addressed. A default assumption would be that the evolution of a new species would occur not as a singularity, but as multiple occurrences. Dr. Stacey Trasancos addressed the reconciliation of the default assumption in the case of humans, where from revelation we know that the creation of humans, irrespective of the usual default assumption, is a singularity. According to revelation, there was only one Adam and one Eve from whom all humans are descended.
Most importantly to this discussion, Trasancos notes that science deals with commonalities, not with singularities. “Biology tells us that sperm and egg fusion is the beginning of life, but none of us know down to the subatomic event on a femtosecond timescale what exactly happened when we began to live. And we never will. At its most precise resolution, all our lives begin mysteriously.” Another expression of this is that typically at conception one human egg is fertilized by one sperm out of millions. The methods of science are not suited to determining that many specific details.
The methods of science cannot be applied to every single circumstance, nor are the singularities of circumstance the object of science. Rather the object of science is the discovery of generically applicable mathematical relationships inferred from the measurements of material properties. This mathematics can be quite mundane. In biology, for example, it includes the geometry of mammalian anatomy and the geometry of plant morphology, as well as the definition of sets and subsets in taxonomy.
Trasancos addresses the reconciliation of human evolution and revelation, looking to the past. One implication of the revelation of one Adam and one Eve, not mentioned, but implicit in her essay, is that the progeny of Adam and Eve cannot be subject to biological evolution, vis-a-vis, the divergence of new species, looking to the future. This is required not only by the supernatural destiny of man but by the Sabbath Rest of God from the work of material creation (CCC 345).