Designed Beauty and Evolutionary Theory | Thomas Dubay, S.M. |
Designed Beauty and Evolutionary Theory | Thomas Dubay, S.M.

Editor's note: This piece is excerpted from Fr. Dubay's The Evidential Power of Beauty: Science and Theology Meet (Ignatius, 1999). It is taken from chapter 10, "Artistry and Beauty."

Evidential Power of Designed Beauty

Beauty and design are indeed the language of God. At this point in our study we need no longer multiply examples of the stunning splendors with which we are surrounded on every side, and most especially in the living kingdoms. Two reflections are now in order.

Gifted mathematician and theoretician that he was, Albert Einstein was perceptive enough to marvel at the simple but astounding fact that our universe is comprehensible, that is, that our minds can make intelligible connections with it, that we can know it and thus in a manner enter into it. This marvel, of course, would be impossible in a chance universe. Most people take this comprehensibility of the cosmos to be obvious, as indeed it is, but we are so accustomed to the fact that we fail to be astonished by it. If reality were nothing but the cohesion of random particles senselessly flying through space, it would neither have nor need an explanation. On the chance premise, coming from no mind, it could be grasped by no mind. Things having no sense cannot make sense.

The universe requires incredibly complex mathematical formulas to explain how it is and how it operates. Which, of course, means that it demands a supreme Mind to make it to be what it is. No book of algebra or geometry or trigonometry comes to be by random chance.

Once a person admits that the universe makes sense, that it is comprehensible, that there are overwhelming beauties in it, he logically must be a theist. It is not accidental that the only consistent atheism is that of men like Albert Camus and jean Paul Sartre, men who held that reality is absurd. Their atheism is called existential absurdity, for on their non-God premise everything is literally senseless, for there is no one to give sense or meaning. If the reader thinks that I am being too hard on these men, he need only read their works. If the atheist is logically consistent, his views of reality are horrifying. Camus and Sartre and Beckett were consistent.

Not surprisingly, Sartre's atheism is termed postulatory; that is, he was atheistic not because he proved his views (they cannot be proved), but because he postulated them. He presumed them and attempted no proof. By free acts of will he embraced his atheism and then drew the conclusions–and they are frightful.

Normal, unbiased people with no philosophical axe to grind immediately see the convincing power of design and beauty. Despite continuing and vast propaganda for materialistic evolution in our public schools, colleges, and universities and in the print and electronic media over several generations, the large majority of our population reject the chance-alone view of evolution. They see through the propaganda and know immediately that chance explains nothing of the beauty and obvious design we see everywhere.

Philip E. Johnson, who has written worthy critiques of the chance idea, has recently commented that "[Carl] Sagan himself worried about opinion polls showing that only 10 percent of Americans believe in a strictly materialistic evolutionary process." [1] No surprise there.

Evolutionary Ponderings

The idea that living species in all their magnificence could slowly develop from rudimentary beginnings to marvelously complex and beautiful fish and flowers, birds and beasts, is attractive, even charming. I have no theological problem with the concept, and no biblical difficulty either. Biblical fundamentalists have many problems, but that is due to their interpreting the Scriptures as a scientific text, which clearly it is not, nor has it any intention to be. Genesis is no more making scientific statements about our origins than is the daily newspaper when it reports times of sunrise and sunset.

Contrary to the impression given by the popular media, the problems with gradualism in evolution are scientific. Recent developments in biochemistry and microbiology, as we have intimated, conclusively demonstrate that gradual changes by natural selection and random chance are impossible. The reader should note that this is not a theological statement; it is the conclusion of scientific experts in the two fields. In addition there is the negative conclusion of paleontology: the geological strata are embarrassingly empty of transitional forms. Darwin himself honestly admitted that if his theory were correct, there would have to be innumerable transitional developments.

There are no theological problems with evolution, provided it remains firmly within scientifically verifiable facts and sheds any baseless philosophical bias against design. If facts compellingly demand design, as they do, honest science embraces the evidence and the conclusions. As we have noted in this chapter, our best scientists find no problem with what is here being stated. It is also interesting to note that Saint Augustine, back in the fourth or fifth century, has some lines that favor the evolutionary idea, and he seemed to find no problem with it.

For the sake of clarity we should remark that all through this question we are speaking not of microevolution (tiny changes in life forms) but of macroevolution (major changes). Microbiologist Michael Denton puts the matter well: "However attractive the extrapolation, it does not necessarily follow that, because a certain degree of evolution has been shown to occur, therefore any degree of evolution is possible. There is obviously an enormous difference between the evolution of a colour change *in a moth's wing and the evolution of an organ like the human brain, and the fruit flies of Hawaii, for example, are utterly trivial compared with the differences between a mouse and an elephant, or an octopus and a bee." [2]

We have already noted briefly that there are no partial forms, half developed transitions in the paleontological record. A bit more needs to be said. Both in the geological strata and in common contemporary observations there are no transitional organisms in the animal kingdom. Every species appears from the beginning perfect according to its kind. There are no eyes 40 percent or 80 percent suited to seeing. Falcons do not (five in a clumsy fashion for a million years and slowly hone their skills during the next million years. Hummingbirds do not hover for eons in an awkward way, nor do dolphins swim in a hit-and-miss manner before they finally learn their graceful and flawless elegance. The cheetah's body is a wonder, ideally constructed to achieve high running speeds, but there are no records of sluggish cheetahs. Fleas' mechanisms and muscles are always made to perform their stunning feats of high jumping with remarkable skills. Everywhere we find perfect design with no partial bunglings on the way.

Another devastating blow to the theory of gradual transitional changes that might bring about a new species is the sheer lack of time such changes would require. Denton tells us that "evolution by natural selection is in essence merely a special case of problem solving by trial and error. This implies that every evolutionary route followed during the course of evolution to every adaptive end must have been initially discovered and traced out as the result of a process which is in the end nothing more nor less than a gigantic random search." This would take an enormous amount of time, and the geological strata tell us that this simply was not available. "Darwin himself was often prone to self doubt over the sheer enormity of his own claims." [3]

Contemporary theorists seem to be greatly troubled about these same claims. They now routinely discuss the sudden biological burst "that produced almost all major groups of modern animals in an astonishingly short span of time", reports Science News in a recent issue. Called the Cambrian explosion, this "biological Big Bang" was a giant leap in innovation, with the sudden appearance of "animals sporting novel features such as shells, skeletons, legs, and antennae. That event transformed life." [4] This "evolutionary frenzy" lasted "only 5 to 10 million years", says geochronologist Samuel A. Bowring of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. To compound the enormity of Darwin's claims, we note that this frenzy of alleged drastic changes occurred about 530 million years ago, and "since then, advanced animals have stuck with those same basic body plans; no new ones have evolved", adds Bowring. [5] Across the sea we read in the London Daily Telegraph about this same explosion of fundamentally new forms the highly pertinent question, "Why was there no fossil earlier than 565 million years ago?" [6] Even Stephen Gould admits all this: "The Precambrian record is now sufficiently good that the old rationale about undiscovered sequences of smoothly transitional forms will no longer wash. About five-sixths of life's history tells the story of single-celled creatures alone." [7] No wonder that he also had given up on Darwin. A further wonder is why the popular press and television, if they are so interested in objectivity, do not present documentaries on these developments ... and much else.

But the end to the Darwinian devastation is not yet. Gradualism by chance selection is ruled out also by the need for simultaneous and coordinated modifications in all the structures of the organism, not simply in one bone or muscle or tendon. Georges Cuvier, a nineteenth-century French naturalist, had already seen that animals could not gradually change one part (organ, muscle, or bone) independently of all the others. Speaking only of the limbs of meat-eating animals, Cuvier wrote: "[so] that the claws may seize the prey, they must have a certain mobility in the talons, a certain strength in the nails, whence will result determinate formations in all the claws, and the necessary distribution of muscles and tendons." He goes on and shows how the turning of the forearm would require "special formations of the bones ... thus affecting the shoulder-blade and its structure and the legs and other muscles." [8] The chances of all this happening at once are unimaginably impossible.

To top it all, Michael Behe, using his expertise in biochemistry, writes of what he calls irreducible complexity on the molecular level. By this terminology he means "a single system which is composed of several interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced gradually by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, since any precursor to an irreducibly complex system is by definition non-functional." [9] In his best-selling book, Darwin's Black Box, Behe presents with great detail several examples on the molecular level that show in a compelling manner why gradualism could not possibly work. It is to Darwin's credit that he openly admitted that his theory about the origin of species would "absolutely break down" if what is now called irreducible complexity were shown to be true. "If it could be demonstrated", said Darwin, "that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down." [10] Well, it has been so demonstrated clearly arid convincingly.

What is likewise clear is that if macroevolution has occurred, science will have to come up with a far better explanation of how it happened than we have in Darwin's effort. At the moment we find many statements but no credible explanatory evidence, together with rigid repetitions of disproved and dated ideas. There is nothing persuasive on the scene. What we do find in our world is an overwhelming display of evidence pointing to beauty, artistry, design ... and an Artist. That this Designer has worked through a developing process in the physical cosmos seems clear. How he has operated and continues to operate in the living kingdoms still awaits additional enlightenment.

End Notes:

[1] "The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism", First Things, Nov. 1997, p. 22.
[2] Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis [ECT] (Bethesda, Md.: Adler and Adler, 1986), p. 87.
[3] ETC, p. 61.
[4] R. Monastersky, "Siberian Rocks Clock Biological Big Bang", Science News, Sept. 4, 1993, P. 148.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Daily Telegraph (London), Irwin Aisling, "New Clock Answers Puzzle of the Origin of Species", Oct. 25, 1996, P. 7.
[7] Stephen Jay Gould, "An Asteroid to Die For", Discover, Oct. 1989, p. 65.
[8] Cited in ETC, p. 102.
[9] Behe, "Molecular Machines", p. 4.
[10] Charles Darwin, Origin of Species, 6th ed. (New York: N.Y. University Press, 1988, p. 151, cited in Behe, "Molecular Machines", pp. 4, 8.

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The Evidential Power of Beauty | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.

Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M., is a well-known retreat master and expert in the spiritual life.

A Marist Priest, Father holds a Ph.D. from Catholic University of America and has taught on both major seminary level for about fifteen years. He spent the last twenty-seven years giving retreats and writing books (over twenty at last count) on various aspects of the spiritual life.

Ignatius Press has published several of his books, including Fire Within, Happy Are The Poor, Faith and Certitude, Authenticity, The Evidential Power of Beauty, Prayer Primer, and, most recently,Deep Conversion Deep Prayer. He has presented many series on EWTN, including an extensive study of the spiritual life of St. Teresa of Avila and a series on the life of prayer.

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