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  • Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis by Michael Chaberek, O.P.
  • John Baptist Ku O.P.
Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis. By Michael Chaberek, O.P. Kettering, Ohio: Angelico, 2015. Pp. x + 354. $21.95 (paper). ISBN: 978-1-62138-137-2.

In Catholicism and Evolution, Michael Chaberek mounts a case against the theory of evolution in ten chapters and an appendix. He believes that the Catholic Church unambiguously ruled out the evolution of man's body but has, more recently, allowed a plurality of views, even mutually exclusive ones (3). He rejects Darwin's theory for philosophical reasons, because it appears to imply that a species has no proper end of simply being itself. That is, according to evolution, "each being by nature strives to become something else" so that "over time, a bacterium is supposed to turn into a plant, a reptile into a bird, a monkey into a man" (4). He also rules out evolution on scientific grounds, maintaining that "it is impossible to transform from one nature to another by way of small accidental changes" (3). The (theological) solution, as he sees it, is offered by intelligent design theory, which provides an "adequate scientific background for further development of the doctrine of creation within Catholic theology" (5). [End Page 453]

In chapter 1, Chaberek reports on the birth of the evolutionary paradigm in the mid-eighteenth century among Charles Darwin and his less-well-known precursors, and examines the core neo-Darwinian principles of mutation and natural selection that explain the evolution of new species. Quoting Étienne Gilson, Chaberek reasons that because the term "evolution" refers to an unfolding of something preexisting, "creative evolution" is contradictory and impossible (7). That is, either there is something there already, with its potencies in place to unfold, or else there is a creator creating something new. In addition to challenging the principles of evolution, Chaberek exposes evolution's theme of strife, over against a view of an harmonious world, and Darwin's aggressive agenda.

Chapter 2, "From Biblical Creationism to Intelligent Design," outlines the principal positions on evolution: young-earth creationism, progressive creationism, theistic evolution, and atheistic evolution. Chaberek traces the trajectory from young-earth or scientific creationism to intelligent design theory before discussing the emergence of theistic evolution. Young-earth creationism seeks scientific proof of Genesis's account of a six-day creation and of biblical genealogies that would establish the earth's age at less than 10,000 years. Intelligent design scientists "believe that natural selection and random mutations cannot explain the entire complexity of the organic world" (42). Thus, the intelligent ordering of things in the universe would require an intelligent producer.

In chapter 3, "Early Statements of the Magisterium on Evolution," Chaberek comments on the 1860 Synod of Cologne, Vatican I's Dei Filius (1870), and Leo XIII's Arcanum (1880). Chaberek interprets the Cologne Synod to rule out the evolution of the human body in its determination that it is against the faith to hold that "man as regards his body, emerged finally from the spontaneous continuous change of imperfect nature to the more perfect" (73). And Chaberek takes Dei Filius's assertion that "the world and all things which are contained in it … were produced, according to their whole substance," to be a challenge to the theory of evolution (79). Moreover, he understands Leo XIII's formulation that God "miraculously took [Eve] from the side of Adam" to preclude her evolution (82).

Chapter 4, "The Rise of Catholic Evolutionism," presents six Catholic figures who published proevolution works: George Mivart (1871); Fr. Raffaello Caverni (1877); Fr. Dalmace Leroy, O.P. (1891); Fr. James Zahm, C.S.C. (1896); Bishop Geremia Bonomelli (1898); and Bishop John Hedley (1898). Caverni and Hedley stopped short of saying that the human body evolved. Caverni's, Leroy's, and Zahm's books ended up on the Index, and Bonomelli issued a retraction of sorts.

In chapter 5, "The Pontifical Biblical Commission Decrees, 1905-1909," Chaberek determines that this Commission's decree of 1909 "claims that Genesis tells a true history of the creation of the world...


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