Lesson 102- Organic Level and Radiation of Life
I must admit that I feel a certain frustration in attempting to describe the Catholic view of evolution because much of what I have to say is better shown. In other words, I have been attempting to describe a diagram that I have before me that I use with my students in class. And, as the old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” However, I am limited by what I can describe over radio. Therefore, I hope you will excuse me if I continue to refer back to some of the visual descriptions that I have used in previous programs because I have to be aware of two things. First, that some of you might still have trouble visualizing what I am describing and, second, there are people who might just be tuning in who would have no idea of what I am talking about. If some of you would like to have a copy of my diagram, contact Dom Letteri and we will mail it to you.
Anyway, before I continue my description of the Organic Level of evolution, let me present a quick overview of what we have covered so far.
The Catholic view, like on so many other issues, is the midpoint between two opposing position. On the one hand, we have atheistic humanists who, following the philosophies of Existentialism and Nihilism, say that the universe is accidental and absurd and thus evolution is the result of an accidental process. This, of course, is an absurd theory because it would have us believe that an accidental process, of its own accord, could move from unstable sub-atomic particles, to a stabilized hydrogen atom and from that evolved all the various forms of life up to and including ourselves. This requires an act of faith that exceeds anything that any religious faith requires of us.
On the other hand, we have fundamentalist Christians who, wanting to emphasize the Lordship of God, insist that everything is the result of “Intelligent Design.” Thus, they see any developmental process in the Creation as a progressive line moving from the Alpha to the Omega in which God intervenes directly in every event. Thus, each species and the variations within them were specific work of His hand. Of course, this contradicts the facts because we know that human beings, through selective breeding, have brought into actual existence various forms of plants and animals that were locked potentially within the specie. God may have created the potential in the original dog but it was human selective breeding that actualized it by developing the French Poodle, the Boxer, the Daschund, and the Chiwawa. The Daschund, for example, was bred by crossing a hound with a terrier, thereby producing a hotdog shaped dog with short legs that was designed to chase badgers into their burrows. Therefore, there is no doubt that evolutionary development takes place on the micro level within a species. It is on the macro level, where one specie becomes another, that the theory is short on facts and long on speculation.
Thus, we have two opposing theories: accidental evolution vs totally rational evolution and each side points to evidence to support their view. The atheistic humanist point to the fact that many things seem to be the result of accidents and that is true. The fundamentalist Christians point to the fact that many things seem to reflect rational design and purpose, and that is true. We have here a classical dialectical clash in which a thesis or theory is opposed by an antithesis or anti-theory and the solution, instead of being “either-or” becomes “both-and”, through a synthesis that combines them both.
And that is exactly what the Catholic theory of Intelligent Design does. It is based on the observations and writings of Fr. Tielhard de Chardin, the French Jesuit and paleontologist. Father Chardin writes, “But does not everyday experience teach us that in every order of Nature, and at every level, nothing succeeds except at the cost of great waste and fantastic hazards? A monstrously fragile conjunction of chances normally dictates the birth of the most precious and essential beings. We can only bow before this universal law whereby… the play of large numbers is mingled and confounded with a final purpose.” Translated into more simply language he is saying that Nature reveal a system in which great numbers are used as the basis for a process that involves both selection and chance to bring about results that further the goal of evolution. Or stated even more simply, “the play of large numbers can result in a rational end if they are subjected to a judging agent.”
I demonstrated this when I explained how it was possible for me to spell my name after fifty attempts of throwing up a handful of small pebbles from an aquarium. After each attempt my rational mind looks at the accidental pattern and “selects in” those that fit the pattern in my mind while “selecting out” those that don’t. After the fiftieth attempt, I will have filled in all the missing parts of my pattern resulting in the spelling of my name. In other words, I used the laws of Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest.
But let’s look at some examples from Nature to see how large numbers and selection interact.
Female sea turtles emerge from the sea once a year to dig a hole in the sand in which they deposit over 200 eggs. Then they return to the sea. The eggs, warmed by the sun, begin to hatch and as the little turtles make a “mad dash” to the sea, hovering seagulls begin to swoop down upon them. The result is that out of the original 200, only a few will ever make it to the sea. “What a waste” we might say. But as God says in the Bible, “My ways are not your ways”. It appears that the natural world operates on the laws of statistical probability and the result for the group is more important than the result for the individual.
Let me give you another example that is closer to home. Science has revealed that in each human sexual act the male releases hundreds of millions of sperm in relationship to the one egg of the female. When the sperms enter the womb they face their first challenge. The female womb is acidic in order to protect her against infection. However, the acidic condition is also lethal to the sperms. To protect themselves, the sperms congeal into a ball in which those sperms on the outside sacrifice their lives to protect those on the inside. Whether this was the result of a conscious choice by the outside sperms or the “luck of the draw” is not known but I would lean towards “the luck of the draw.” The remaining sperms begin their journey toward the egg by following strands of mucus that were released at ovulation. However, some of them lose their way and mistakenly attempt to fertilize normal cells in the walls of the uterus. The price they pay for this is death. The remaining sperms continue to follow the strands of mucus until they reach the openings of the two fallopian tubes. And now comes the great decision. Each month the females alternates which tube will contain the egg. Thus one tube is a reproductive dead-end that leads to death and the other is the path to life and reproduction. Those that take the wrong path enter the category of “people who could have been but now will never be.” Those who took the right path are still part of the category of “people who could be” since their potential for existence is still in effect. However, of the millions on this path, in most instances, only one will reach the egg first and, upon penetrating its wall, will initiate a chemical reaction that will make the cell wall impenetrable to all other sperms. In effect, it has closed the door to actuality on all the other sperms. Thus, out of the hundred of million of potential human beings that began the journey, only one ever became actual and you and I represent the lucky ones who won the race from potential to actual existence. So if you don’t think that you have anything to be thankful for, consider the odds you beat just to be here. The odds of you and I existing are greater than the odds of us hitting the Pennsylvania lottery every day of our lives. This give an entirely new slant on Jesus’ statement that “Many are called but few are chosen!” For a fuller explanation of this, listen to my tape on potential and actual existence. Life, it appears, is the greatest gift that anyone could ever get and intelligent life is a bonus offered to only a few.
With these examples in mind, let us once again consider Father Chardin’s statement that “But does not everyday experience teach us that in every order of Nature, and at every level, nothing succeeds except at the cost of great waste and fantastic hazards? A monstrously fragile conjunction of chances normally dictates the birth of the most precious and essential beings. We can only bow before this universal law whereby …the play of large numbers is mingled and confounded with a final purpose.”
So far the two theories of evolution – accidental evolution and totally rational evolution – that I have described have glaring flaws in relationship to Christian theology. The obvious flaw in accidental evolution from this perspective is that it is atheistic. Lacking God, it logically follows that it lacks primary purposes, and if things don’t have any primary purposes then there is no objective target or mark for anything to hit. And since the word “sin” means to miss the target or mark, then there would be no sin. An accidental creation would, in the words of the Existentialist Jean Paul Sartre, lacking any objective meaning and purpose, and would be absurd. And thus all meaning and purpose would be subjective rather than objective. In short, a totally accidental universe would be chaotic freedom with no organizing principle. In fact, the only rational mind capable of imposing any order on it would be our own. Of course, this raises the problem of where do the objective natural laws of science come from. We certainly didn’t create them by the imposition of our wills. If not ours, then whose?
However, a totally rational universe also has problems in relationship to Christian theology. Its insistence on God’s direct action on everything suggests a universe with order but no freedom. It would be based on absolute laws that allowed no deviation, which is just another name for freedom. The mind that created it would be a dictator who would take His evolutionary plan from the Alpha to the Omega without any wrong turns. Every creature would follow in logical lockstep to the next creature in a straight line of development and there would be no need for “natural selection” or “survival of the fittest” because everything created would be a perfect “fit” for the steps that preceded and followed it. Therefore, nothing would ever become extinct.. Like accidental evolution, there would be no “sin” in this universe because, without the possibility for deviation, there would be no sin. “Free choice” would be, as the Hindus claim, an illusion. And if “free choice” is an illusion, so is the concept of love since unfree love is an oxymoron, or a self-contradiction. And if there is no love, then according to Christian theology, there is no God because God is Love.
So if both the accidental and totally rational theories of evolution are inadequate, the only other possibility is an accidental/rational theory that incorporates the observations of both. And that is exactly what the Catholic version of evolution is.
So far I have described the universe as springing from a state of existence that the scientists call the Event Horizon in which only non-linear space existed. However, it contained a potential for time and when it exploded “space begot time or, as the Bible says, the Father begot the Son or the Creator begot His Wisdom. Since any type of dialectical interaction that leads to a third result is a form of intercourse, then we can say that the Big Bang was the explosion of creative energy, or Spirit, that flows from the interaction of the Father and Son. Thus, graphically we can portray this with the Yin/Yang symbol, that according to Lao Tsu, is the causes of everything that comes into existence. The dark side represents the potential of the universe and the light side represents the actualizing principle. From their continuing interaction there develops the first level of evolution in which the chemical foundation for all that is to follow is created. Atoms becomes molecules, elements, inorganic compounds, and finally organic compounds that are the basis for life. At this level of complexification, a new level arises known as the organic level in which organic compounds give rise to one cell creatures that, following the law of complexification, join to form multi-cell creatures that, at a certain level of complexification, begin to organize according to specific functions such as eyes, ears, hearts, etc…
What is obvious here is that there is an organizing principle that is causing all this to happen. The scientists say that this is the result of Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest. Call it what you will, it is evidence that Reality is not neutral and that it is moving progressively towards higher forms of existence and life. However, the movement is not steady or straight because life forms come into existence, last for a period of time, and then disappear from the scene by becoming extinct. “Would an all-powerful God create in this way?”, asks the atheistic skeptic. The answer is “Yes, if he was committed to freedom as well as order.” This becomes clear when we look at how the relationships are formed on the various levels of evolution. You might remember when I was discussing potential and actual existence that I said “whatever moved from potential to actual depended on the relationships that were formed.” Thus, in the physical, social, and mental worlds, things come into actual existence by what we have intercourse with. Like an interactive video game such as Super Mario, the choices made by the player open up different worlds with different potentials and closes down others. Thus, it appears that we live in a universe where what move from the potential to the actual is not exclusively in the hands of the Creator. I believe it was the physicist Niels Bohr who said that Heinsenberg’s Theory of Indeterminancy that proposed that, although we can demonstrate that large groups of atoms obey natural laws, there is no way to demonstrate that individual atoms do, showed a basic freedom in atomic structures that, philosophically, laid the groundwork for our free-will.
Thus, it appears, that on the Chemical Level of Evolution relationships among atomic structures are accidental, while on the Organic Level they are based on unconscious tropisms, drives, passions, and instincts. If this is true, then evolution is moving from the non-conscious, accidental relationships of chemicals to the unconscious or sub-conscious impulse driven relationships of living things. However, neither a non-conscious or unconscious process is capable of moving towards a conscious rational end by themselves. There must be a conscious judging agent that is selecting these relationships according to their feasibility and application to some pre-ordained plan. If “without judgment there can be no progress” then a process that progresses from a hydrogen atom to a human must be judgmental.
As Christians we claim that this judging agent is the Logos or Logic of God who, according to the scriptures, is Jesus the Word who became flesh in order to lead us out of Mental Darkness into the Kingdom of Mental Light. In this context it is interesting to note that Jesus once said, “The Father judges no one. I am the judge of all things!” Furthermore, it is interesting to note that our creative, artistic right lobe is non-judgmental while our logical, craftsman-like, left lobe, being goal directed, is judgmental.
As I ended my last program, I was talking about how at different times during the evolutionary process new species or expressions of life arose with some outstanding advantage that allowed them to grow and expand in every direction. The scientists call this “radiation” because it suggests something that is spreading out in every direction. Thus, at different times and in different conditions plants and animals radiated to take advantage of any opportunity for life. Those that developed the proper response to their environmental challenges survived and thrived and those that didn’t decreased and died. Thus, the earth is full of life-forms that would defy the imagination of our greatest science fiction writers. Creatures with specialized eyes, mouths, ears, lungs etc… that are specific responses to the conditions in which they must survive. Thus, the simple world of our childhood that contained a few recognizable creatures gives way to an astounding array of creatures of our adulthood, each one so complex that many scientists devote their entire lives to the understanding of just one. Thus we could paraphrase scripture by saying, “Eye have not seen, nor have ear heard, the wonders that God has created…” But how did He create them? Was it through a specific act of creation, as the theory of Special Creation contends, or was it through an evolutionary process in which each creature was judged according to the laws of Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest? Was it accidental or rational or both? Accidental/Rational evolution says “both.” The creatures of earth formed relationships on the micro level unconscious of their effect on the Macro Plan. However, the Natural Selector stands over these choices as the selecting agent who is responsible for the fulfillment of the Macro Plan. The result is a halting plan that takes dead-ends and detours on the way to its goal.
Where accidental evolution can be symbolizes by a scribble of crossing and intersecting lines lacking any linear direction and totally rational evolution as a totally straight line moving without interruption from the Alpha to the Omega, accidental/rational evolution is a line that deviates from its linear course but nevertheless continues to move ever forward in its general thrust towards its goal.
Thus it shouldn’t surprise us that there were different evolutionary ages when species that are now extinct or are only small remnants of their past dominance, once were the dominant specie and ruled the earth. Many of them were foundational steps that were necessary for what was to follow. Others, could have just been dead-ends that were destined to succeed in the short term but to become extinct in the long term. Thus, we had the Age of Plants, Fish, Amphibians, Reptiles, Marsupials, and Mammals. Each age produced a form of life that was especially adapted to either take advantage of a unexploited opportunity for life or to defeat other life forms in competition for survival. Some of the methods developed are truly astounding. Let me give you some examples that illustrate these observations.
Life it seems began in the seas and thus, the first type of animals to radiate were fish and any one who watches National Geographic Specials or other nature programs is aware of the many types of fish who had developed different and ingenious strategies for survival. My favorite is the Angler Fish who actually fishes for other fish. He lays on the bottom and wiggles a worm-like appendage that grows out of his head in front of his mouth. When another fish approaches, attracted by the worm-like appendage, he suddenly opens up his enormous mouth and the rush of the water pulls his unsuspecting victim into his mouth.
However, there is one limitation that all fish have. They can take advantage only of the resources that exist in the sea. However, even this is not totally true because there are some fish, like the lungfish of Australia, that can breathe in and out of the water. In fact, they have been known to climb trees. In appearance, they have somewhat of a frog looking face and they use their pectoral fins to move themselves along the ground. Also, there is a catfish in Florida that someone brought from Asia that is also capable of breathing air. When ponds were poisoned to prevent their spread, they simply left the pond and walked to the nearest water. Thus, in no time at all, they were winning over other landlocked fish in the battle for survival until their existence became of major environmental concern. The same thing happened in Australia when mammals were introduced by settlers. The native marsupials animals were at a disadvantage in competition with them. And, just recently, African killer bees were accidentally release in South American by a scientists who was studying them. They overcame native varieties of bees and began to spread northward towards the United States. The last I heard, they were in Texas and were quickly spreading elsewhere.
Thus, according to the scientists, fish, such as the lung fish, were able to leave the water and eventually gave rise to a new form of life known as amphibians, such as frogs, who were able to survive in both the water and the land.. However, amphibians have a major limitation. It appears that they can’t move too far from their water source because they are dependent on it to reproduce. The eggs and sperm of the female and male are deposited on the surface of the pond where they intermix. The tadpoles that develop look like little fish until, at a later stage, they develop legs and begin to spend more time on land. However, there is a form of frog found in the deserts that remain in suspended animation for months and years until it rains. Then they spring to life just long to reproduce and return to suspended animation until the next infrequent rainstorm.
It appears that all animal life, like the fish, begins in water. Thus, the next improvement over the amphibians was the reptiles who had found a way to overcome the limitation of needing a pond in which to reproduce. The strategy they developed was an egg that encased liquid in a hard-case shell. Also reproduction took place within the female’s body and because this increased their off-springs chances for survival, the number of eggs fertilized decreased. Because of this egg laying technique, reptiles were able to move away from water and further inland. Like the forms before them, they radiated into many different types with varying techniques for survival. However, reptiles also contained an important limitation. They were cold-blooded, which meant that their body temperature was the same as their external environment. Thus, if the temperature dropped to 5 degrees below zero, so did their body temperature. If it rose to 150 degrees, the same thing happened. This is the reason why snakes in the desert often spend their time under rocks and hunt mainly after the sun goes down. If they laid in the sun, they would cook themselves. This severely limited their operation and thus a new strategy was needed.
This seems to have occurred with the marsupials who are still found in Australia and parts of South America.
We know them mainly as kangaroos but, like other animals, they radiated and there are many different types of marsupials. Some of them are the same as some of the mammals that are dominant now except for the way they give birth. For example, there are kangaroo rats that look similar to our own rats except that they carry their young in pouches. Marsupials improved upon the reproductive techniques of the reptiles by keeping their developing young in the mother’s body for a longer period of time. For example, the mother kangaroo keeps her developing young within her womb till its basic form has developed and then, at that stage, the little, hairless creature crawl out of her womb and climbs up her fur to reach a pouch in her stomach area containing nipples to nourish it. Because of the increase protection that the mother’s body, the number of off-springs conceived decreased even more and move towards single birth rather than multiple. Also, marsupials, unlike reptiles, were able to regulate their body’s heat, thereby permitting them to operate in a greater range of environments. But there was something else that was an improvement on the marsupial: the mammal.
Mammals, like the marsupials, were able to regulate their internal body temperature and thus are said to be “warm-blooded.” Thus, if we put a thermometer into our mouths it ought to measure 98.6 regardless of what the external temperature is. In heat, we sweat to bring our temperature down; in cold we shiver to raise it up. Thus, our species can operate in the frigid Artic and the sweltering jungles of the topics. Also, like the marsupial mother, mammalian mothers have milk glands to feed their young. In fact, that is the defining feature because these are known as mammilla glands. But even more important, young mammals remain in their mother’s body for a longer period of time and emerge in most species almost ready to go. This greatly increases their survival value because a predator must get through the mother to get to the child and she has an instinct to protect her young at great cost. In fact, the Bible has God contrasting His love for us to a mother’s love for her child as though this was the closest form of human love to God’s love.
Perhaps that is why the crime of abortion is so abhorrent. The womb should be the safest environment we ever experienced because our mother was a living breathing protective guardian dedicated to our survival. However, today it is the most dangerous place for a developing child to be. More children die in their mother’s womb than in any other place. And the only way that it can happen is for her to open up her body willingly and betray her role as guardian and protector of her child’s life. It is probably this creeping awareness that causes many of the psychological pains that women experience after aborting their children.
Anyway, it is from the radiation of the mammals that, according to the evolutionists, our own species will arrive. It appears that the Logos behind Reality, whom we call Jesus, was looking for a candidate from all the various mammalian forms to take the next step onto a new level of evolution. It had to be a creature who contained certain pre-conditions that would permit rational thought. Up to this point in the evolutionary process, this external Logos was directing its movement through its evaluation and judgment of the non-rational acts of the creatures. But now it was poised to enter into the very structure of the mind of one of these creatures.
They already possessed arational minds in which intuitive knowledge directed by drives, passions, and instincts led them to perform rational acts that were necessary for the survival of life. But these were the blind actions of creatures who lived in Gehenna, the place of “empty thought.” In this world, “love proposes but logic disposes.” In other words, they lived by their feelings and impulses without any awareness of logical consequences and the Logos of Reality, through its selective judgment disposed of those that were anti-life. Thus, the only reflective agent in the evolutionary system up to this point, was the Logos of God in the form of the laws of Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest.
However, the Creator longed for rational creatures who were able to share His mental life. And that is where we pick up in my next talk on this topic. However, for the next two weeks, I will be replaying my customary talks for Christmas and New Years.
Well, I see that my time is up. Here’s Dom!