Workshop Reconciling Intelligent Design and Thomism

Workshop Reconciling Intelligent Design and Thomism

The Theology, Biology and Philosophy Departments at Ave Maria University co-sponsored with the Discovery Institute a workshop on “Logos and Eros in Evolution: Intelligent Design and Thomism.” Dr. Susan Waldstein (Theology, AMU) organized the conference as part of her research interest in the interface of philosophy, theology and science. Scholars from Ave Maria University, Baylor University, the Discovery Institute, the Institute for the Study of Nature and Thomas Aquinas College gathered together to discuss topics ranging from “Nature and the Good” to “Transformism” to “Reproduction and the Continuity of Life” over the weekend of February 20-21, 2015.

“A marvelous conversation took place,” said conference organizer Susan Waldstein. “An attempt was made to reach mutualunderstanding between Intelligent Design proponents and Thomists.” The workshop took the format of seminar discussions, instead of lecture and response. This format allowed for thoughtful discussion to flourish over the course of the two days.  Workshop participants prepared for the event ahead of time by reading a packet of articles that included pieces such as Logan Gage’s “Can a Thomist Be a Darwinist?” and “Thomas Aquinas and Theistic Evolution” by Fr. Michael Chaberek, OP. 

The weather was unseasonably cool during the weekend of the workshop. In spite of the cold, Waldstein said there was a “warm atmosphere” throughout the sessions. “I had a wonderful time in ‘frozen’ Florida,” said evolutionary biologist Dr. Richard Sternberg. “The warmth of the workshop participants was all that mattered.” Sternberg had some surprising things to say about the results of his research into the genome—namely, that much of the data from studying the genomes does not support evolutionary trees. “There was a profound discussion of the role of the good in nature and the deficiencies in a merely mechanistic view of nature,” Waldstein said.

Susan’s husband, theologian Dr. Michael Waldstein, participated in and chaired multiple sessions of the workshop. He warned of the limits of Mechanics and cautioned against turning it into a universal science of nature, as Descartes and Newton attempted to do. He urged an understanding of the science of Mechanics as an account by mathematical laws or models of measurable forces by which bodies interact, an account already attributed to Aristotle or one of his students.

Fr. Michael Chaberek, OP argued against the metaphysical possibility of evolution without miraculous interventions by God: “When it comes to generation of a completely new nature of a living being (new substantial form), this can be done only by God. No other “superior agent” could ever accomplish anything like this, whether it was an angel or human, or anything created. Both Aquinas and Augustine are very explicit about this.” A lively debate followed his remarks. Dr. Susan Waldstein questioned whether species are created or only individuals, and whether the generation of individuals of a new species could be natural, although caused by God.

Richard Sternberg said, on eternal Archetypes causing evolution: “A sequence of evolutionary states is captured by the projection of categorical transitions into time. So the events of evolution are, if you will, moving reflections of eternity.”

Dr. Keith Houde, Associate Professor and Chair of Psychology at Ave Maria University, closed the workshop by reading the following quote from Pope Benedict XVI:

It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love—a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free. In ancient times, honest enquiring minds were aware of this. Heaven is not empty. Life is not a simple product of laws and the randomness of matter, but within everything and at the same time above everything, there is a personal will, there is a Spirit who in Jesus has revealed himself as Love.
-Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi (n. 5).