Page 2, 11th July 1941

11th July 1941
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Page 2, 11th July 1941 — EVOLUTION A Final Letter
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Organisations: King's College
Locations: Newcastle

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EVOLUTION A Final Letter

SIR,—I have been asked by the Editor of the CATHOLIC HERALD to contribute the final letter to the controversy on Evolution, which I began. It would be uncharitable, 1 think, to reply in the usual way to the last batch of letters from Mr. Dewar, two from Mr. McGlynn, one from Dr. Sutherland, and one from Mr. Ciianelli. I would like Co remark, however, that one needs the patience of Job to argue with Mr. Dewar and Mr. McGlynn. In my opinion they simply will not get down to brass tacks, but keep on bringing up side issues, while the last-named writer has tried his best to muddle up the issues by his verbosity—plain English is beyond him, so much so that he accuses me of making statements that exist only in his imagination.

.Dr. Sutherland should refer to the complete New English Dictionary; he would then probably agree with my statement about his incomplete definition of " Genetics "—the word " breeding " is not even mentioned and, besides, the word is also a technical one. A pocket dictionary is scarcely one to quote from in a controversy.

Since I first began to read about Evolution the theory has always seemed to me to be eminently reasonable, useful and attractive. Through contact with non-Catholics I have learnt that for some of them Evolution is their Credo. It furnishes them with a rule of life, not necessarily purely materialistic. One particular example will illustrate this. During a discussion on Evolution one day, a man I admire, a good, kind, true "Christian" in every way, informed me that he upheld the theoryr because, excluding the purely scientific arguments for its validity, it furnished him with some basis on which to build up his philosophy, or way of living. To me, brought up on the penny catechism in the accepted way, and in Catholic surroundings always, this was a revelation. It is some years now since 1 had that conversation with my friend. but I have reason to believe there are many others with similar views to him.

I could find nothing in Evolution contrary to Catholic dogma, but this revelation on the part of my friend led me to think that our official philosophers should seriously interest themselves in the theory. I thought, and I maintain now, that they should analyse the root ideas behind the evolutionary conception, examine it in their coldly logical way and see what it is worth in terms of abstract thought. If intelligent, highly educated men and women can make a religion of the theory there must be something of positive value behind it. Instead, in my opinion, at least, I contend that our philosophers and theologians have ignored the theory, waiting for the obviously impossible direct proof ; or at least they are inclined to sneer at it and to over-emphasise the objections and the objectors to the theory.

A friend of mine who conducts an adult University tutorial class in Biology told me that the Catholics in the class absented themselves when he dealt with Evolution, because, as they said, " it was against their religion." Can one wonder then that Catholic philosophy and Catholic teachings are discounted by the average non-Catholic, or are pushed aside with a shrug of the shoulders? Mr. Dewar complains that his anti-evolutionary papers are refused publication by the Evolutionists. Maybe one of the reasons is that official Catholic expounders of Catholic teachings refuse to acknowledge the importance of the theory to these same Evolutionists,

finish sts,

T nish up the controversy may I be permitted to say that my opponents have ignored the weighty arguments in favour of the theory, especially the phenomenal advances made in the science of Biology since the general acceptance of the concept of Evolution—an advance directly attributable to the theory. In spite of my statements that I was not concerned with the pros and cons of the theory (because of extremely limited newspaper space and because such discussions could be continued indefinitely), my opponents time and again filled the columns of the CATHOLIC HERALD With the obvious difficulties of the theory. Is there any human conception which has not some difficulties in the way of its general acceptance? My opponents preferred to spend the time quibbling and shuffling and babbling about whales and elephants (I was surprised at the puerility of this), but they deliberately ignored my main thesis and refused to answer my questions. I will repeat my thesis now.

To very many biologists the concept of

Evolution is a fundamental one, The basic

principles of the theory are true in so far

as our human reason enables us to arrive

at a truth. It is a deep enough concept to

furnish some intelligent men and women

with the guiding principles to which to build up their attitude towards life, on which to base their actions towards their fellow-men. I maintain, then, that I think it is imperative for our theologians, etc., to tackle the theory from this point of view If they find it to be true in the same way as biologists do. then it should be incorporated in the more or less official scholastic system, and taught (or implied) in our schools, colleges and seminaries. Mere denying or poohpoohing leads us nowhere and engenders a feeling that we are afraid of the subject. I hope the staff theologian of the CATHOLIC HERALD Will reply to my questions and appeals. I hope he will give me some really tangible reasons why our intellectuals seem to fight shy of Evolution when their forbears, with much less reason, were able to accept even the theory of Spontaneous Generation.

Finally, to lend weight to my appeal and to strengthen my contentions, I would like to quote some passages from a letter I have received from a Catholic teaching theologian whose name I cannot give without his per nissio e letter was referring toEvolutionarytniO

Evolutionary controversy in the CATHOLIC HERALD. He writes: " Of course I much regret the usual ignorant invective which you received from certain of your opponents. When all is said and done, it must be obvious to any thinking Catholic that, as a whole, we are afraid of the consequences of modern science; that, too, our loss in intellectual prestige in the last 75 years on those very questions has been catastrophic; and that, finally, as yet no synthetic and really convincing reconciliation of Revelation and modern Biology has been achieved — I mean one which can reconcile not merely facts by a negative incompatibilltas non demonstratum but by working them into a positive harmony." And, again, " the argument which impresses me most is precisely the philosophical argument—both from Analogy, Potency and the Dignity of God which you mentioned yourself. The theory of Special Creations does indeed seem to me unworthy of an all-wise Creator — especially in relation to what we, of the seminal and ordered relations f the Universe as it is now." And finally: " But do not despair of us all—some of the yourtger generation hope for greater things," The reception of that letter has, I think, given me any further justification I needed for beginning the controversy. I am not alone in my ideas. I would like to thank the editor of the Centoeic HERALD for the facilities he has so kindly given me and the patience he has shown to all contributors to the controversy.

PHILIP G. FOTHERGILL.

Dept. of Botany and Genetics, King's College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 2.




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