Sex, Science, and the Sacred
The Importance of Origins in the Battle for Morality
Even a decade ago, who ever would have thought that a Catholic stronghold like Ireland would end up legitimizing abortion by a public referendum in which thousands of people, young and old, took to the streets, wildly demonstrating in favor of killing sacred life in the womb? Or, more likely in their socially-liberated thinking, in favor of women having the right to choose to have an abortion (which just happens to kill sacred life in the womb).
In today’s competition among sacrosanct values, anything remotely sacred doesn’t stand a chance against raw, unfettered, adamantly amoral freedom of choice. As an expression of personal autonomy untethered to moral responsibility, choice for its own sake has become the highest good. In a culture saturated with unlimited choices—be it flavors of ice cream, rows of breakfast cereal, endless cable channels, or (stupefyingly) sexual identity—the legitimacy of abortion is but the starkest example of what happens when Choice becomes God.
Who doesn’t want more choices? But how ever did we get to the point when our Choice Culture could be so blasé about a personal choice which results in the death of sacred life in the womb? To find the answer, we need to climb all the way to the top of the philosophical waterfall.
In discussing issues such as abortion, divorce, and sexual lifestyle, we are drawn inexorably from “relatively small questions of morality” to larger, existential questions. The linkage between controversial moral issues and life’s most defining questions cannot be overstated, for the meaning of human existence (Where did we come from? Why are we here?) is that from which all other issues flow. No use debating the many moral rocks upon which culture might come crashing down, without tracing back higher and higher to the headwaters of the falls.
As we climb above the sound and fury of the abortion debate, it’s easy to miss the motivation behind most abortions. In both the American experience and much of Western Europe, abortion is primarily the ultimate safety-net for illicit, promiscuous sex. At its extreme, no immoral sex, no abortion. The “007 license to kill,” then, is but an extension of the license for sexual freedom (glorified, ironically, by Bond himself, the womanizing master of sexual innuendo). Any wonder why hyper-sexed young people are baying for passage of legislation enabling abortion?
Climbing even higher toward the top of the waterfall, we encounter a cultural obsession with unshackled personal autonomy, not unlike that described in Judges 21:25 (“In those days Israel had no king, and everyone did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.”) Personal moral autonomy (including unrestrained sexual freedom) is inevitably what fills the vacuum when there’s no “king”—or, more especially, no God.
As a “Christian nation” we Americans once proudly proclaimed ourselves to be “one nation under God,” with all the higher moral authority that assumed. No longer. Except for lingering lip service, an upcoming generation has taken a knee in protest at that embarrassing expression of allegiance. What God? What Holy Scripture? What universal moral code? What divine sanction? A new, amoral, non-judgmental secular culture is fast replacing faith, religion, and a higher authority. Each of us has become our own arbiter of morality, subject only to the censure of a politically-correct, faux morality harshly imposed by militant secularists in politics, education, and entertainment who have become our new high priests.
How did such an unthinkable revolution happen? No mystery here. It came with the untimely demise of deity. Even the early pagans had their deities, and non-Christian religions have their panoply of gods. But, of late, any foolish notion of a Higher Power has, itself, (to play on John Magee’s High Flight) “slipped the bonds of surly earth,” not to touch the face of God, but to replace the face of God.
As our trek to the source of life’s crucial issues nears the top of the philosophical waterfall, we find a world that no longer attributes to a Creator God the beauty, power, and wonder of any actual waterfall in the wild, praising only the non-directed natural processes that surely must have been in play over eons of time. God’s replacement is mindless, purposeless Nature—perhaps appearing as if designed, but only deceiving the naïve into thinking there might have been an actual Designer creating with purposeful intent. In the shift from Nature’s God to Nature alone, God is not so much dead as irrelevant. A wholly naturalistic explanation for life neither heeds God nor needs God.
If you are old enough to remember when prayer in public schools was first prohibited, you’ll recall the hue and cry from Christians that God was being removed from the classroom. Banning school prayers may have contributed to spiritual decline, but their removal was penny ante compared with what was happening, largely unnoticed, down the hall from home-room. Proof of this proposition lies in a similar dynamic occurring even in parochial schools where classroom prayers were still being observed. Whether public or parochial, it was in the science class where God was quietly being nudged out of education, soon to be evicted from the public square and any meaningful moral framework.
With God no longer in the picture, generations of students have become fully-fledged secularists enjoying the self-focused benefits of a materialist worldview. No prizes for guessing where that mindset leads in choices about abortion, divorce, and sexual identity and lifestyles. Is nothing sacred? Not any longer, not even life itself—which science confidently assures us is merely an accident of Nature, the outcome of natural forces acting haphazardly over time. No meaning, no destiny, no accountability, only each individual making of life whatever one wishes.
At a recent Prayer Breakfast, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City summed it up well, saying—whether it’s the killing of millions of babies in the womb, or the plight of immigrants and the poor, or now-routine school shootings—what lies behind them all is one simple truth: “It’s a God crisis”:
The relationship between man and God is severed. Man becomes just a highly developed organism. Human life becomes just another thing in a world of things. Materialism reigns and brings utilitarianism; our value is determined by our usefulness. We no longer possess inalienable rights that are God-given from which no human being can deprive us. The pursuit of pleasure becomes the highest goal.
What severed the relationship between man and God? The popularized Evolution Story that the scientific community would have us believe about human origins—a highly-speculative story extrapolating far beyond the observable process of natural selection which undeniably occurs in nature. This isn’t an assault against a scientific theory which explains much about our world, but about a false narrative dressed in seductive scientific garb.
If the top of the waterfall—the question of origins—is so pivotal to moral issues (indeed to morality itself), why is there so little discourse about origins? Why isn’t this most seminal of all issues a significant focus of the Church? Indeed, it should give us great pause to think that, while the Church laments the moral decline typified by abortion referendums, it has already unwittingly stamped its imprimatur on the naturalistic assumptions from which such amoral attitudes and actions flow.
In the spirit of our post-modern generation’s penchant for blithely accommodating conflicting, irreconcilable propositions (“Whatever!”), the Church has come to accept the classic evolutionary premise of common descent through natural selection alongside its affirmation of divine Creation. In a 1996, address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, for example, Pope John Paul II reiterated the Church’s position regarding evolution:
In his encyclical Humani generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII has already affirmed that there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation, provided that we do not lose sight of certain fixed points…. Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis.
That statement, of course, is in line with the classic position of theistic evolutionists, who hold that a Darwinian process of microbe-to-man evolution produced highly-evolved hominid precursors, at least two of whom, Adam and Eve, became the first ensouled human beings when God divinely reached down and endowed them with his own image. In every other respect, we humans evolved in biological continuity with all life on earth, arising by natural selection from primordial organisms.
Just prior to his becoming Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was president of the International Theological Commission which, in a July 2004 statement, concluded:
Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism. Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution.
Parroting evolution’s flaccid non-sequitur that genetic similarity evidences common descent (not possibly common design!), Ratzinger hitched his philosophical wagon firmly to Darwin’s Grand Theory. What irony, then, that Ratzinger, as Pope, took pains to denounce relativism’s denial of objective truth, and to warn particularly against the denial of moral truths in the increasingly secularized West as the central problem of the 21st century. Did Ratzinger never consider the inextricable connection between the rise of secularism and the inherent amorality of a scientific theory which the Church officially blesses?
In attempting to plow an accommodative middle ground between divine Creation and classic evolution, Pope Benedict was not alone. C.S. Lewis was at once drawn by the scientific method behind evolution and repelled by its inevitable outworking in nihilistic evolutionism. For Lewis, no matter what might have been scientifically true about natural selection, there was nothing but fantastical conjecture behind evolution’s materialist “creation story” purporting to provide an alternative to the biblical Creation story. To Lewis’s mind, this “Myth” of Evolution was nothing more than the story-telling of imaginative evolutionists.
For years, Lewis assumed that the problem was not with the science of evolution but only with its overly-imaginative popularizers. By his own confession, Lewis’s belief in evolution was “of the vaguest and most intermittent kind.” When finally confronted by his friend Bernard Acworth, a leader in Britain’s Evolution Protest Movement, with a lengthy manuscript critical of evolution, Lewis wrote back, “I must confess it has shaken me.” In what way was Lewis so shaken? “In my belief that the question was wholly unimportant.” At last, Lewis twigged that the God-denying message of the Darwinian story was baked into evolution theory itself from the very start, no matter how much miraculous “God-sauce” you pour over it.
Hence, Lewis’s response to Acworth that “…you may be right in regarding [evolution] as the central and radical lie in the whole web of falsehood that now governs our lives….” Say again? Evolution (not just evolutionism), the central and radical lie.
But dare tell that to the Protestant scholars and theologians who in recent years have eagerly followed in the footsteps of Catholic scholars, although wearing the new moniker of “evolutionary creationists.” Despite some of them having been brought to faith by Lewis’s writings, apparently they’ve missed the word about Lewis’s evolution epiphany. More yet, they insist on conscripting Lewis into their own ranks, as if they require his approbation. They needn’t worry. Already they have convinced a host of Evangelical scholars and theologians who enthusiastically coalesce around Francis Collins’s prestigious BioLogos Foundation, endorsed by such luminaries as Tim Keller, N.T. Wright, Philip Yancey, Os Guinness, Mark Noll, John Ortberg, Richard Mouw and Andy Crouch. Through their influence, and that of popular writers like Wheaton’s John Walton (The Lost World of Genesis One), and Scot McKnight and Dennis Venema (Adam and the Genome), evolutionary creation is now being taught explicitly or implicitly in the vast majority of Christian colleges and universities.
Whereas a succession of Catholic Popes and scholars have attempted a nuanced neutrality between Creation and Evolution, evolutionary creationists have become evangelistic apologists for the cause, mounting bold, sophist arguments to exclusively theologize the Genesis account, denying the historicity of its first eleven chapters and rejecting the early genealogies, with many insisting that Adam and Eve were merely archetypal literary figures, never historical. Unsurprisingly, this forcible shoehorning of evolution thinking into Genesis has put an inordinate strain on New Testament theology, particularly the writings of Paul and, brazenly, the words of Jesus himself. So much so, that even the most respected theologians are playing fast and loose with inspired revelation in order to safeguard a liberally-progressive scientific proposition with which they are enchanted.
Merely consider N.T. Wright’s exploitation of Jesus’s Kingdom teaching. Drawing on Jesus’s parable of the seed, Wright analogizes that story to the gradual, random process of evolution. Is not the seed sown prodigally, with both wastage and fruitful production? Does it not develop slowly and secretly, eventually overcoming chaos? Indeed, this deliberative, patient “evolutionary process” is the act of a loving and generous Lord of Creation, in contrast to the arbitrary command of some oriental despot demanding the speedy construction of his palace by an army of architects and builders cowering before him. (To say the least, Wright’s Genesis interpretation is a bizarre, brutish characterization of the traditional view of Creation in which a loving, providential God instantaneously creates the universe and all kinds of living creatures.)
“Could not a Sovereign God have chosen any creative method he might wish?” we are asked (at least any method other than instantaneous creation!). Of course, he could. But if the creation of humankind was his end goal, is it likely God would have chosen an undirected process which evolutionists (including Francis Collins) assure us might easily have gone awry at any point along evolution’s uncertain path? Not to worry, we are reassured. Behind the scenes (possibly by some divine bias built into the Big Bang), God made sure that this purely naturalistic, uncharted, unpurposed process was ultimately teleological!
Interestingly, faith-prompted evolutionists who castigate creationists for foolishly relying on a fail-safe “God of the gaps” have, themselves, raised that dubious notion to a new level of sophistication, having a God who is always in deep background “sustaining and maintaining” (whatever that woolly nod to the Creator actually means). As long as we can envision a Creator God theoretically in the frame, then with evolution, as with God, “all things are possible.”
So, God’s finger was surreptitiously “fine-tuning” evolution to assure a divinely-intended outcome (as some glibly propose without further elucidation)? Well, no. In the spirit of deism-lite, most evolutionary creationists insist that at no point in the evolutionary progression from the simplest organism to the appearance of the first pre-human hominids did God sweep in, Superman-like, to leap any of its yawning gaps or supernaturally alter the course of natural selection. Had he done so, of course, everybody would instantly recognize the bait-and-switch pretense in claiming that textbook evolution’s wholly natural, unguided, unpredictable process was God’s chosen method of purposeful creation.
Might this particular conflict between science and faith be one of those inexplicable paradoxes wherein we dare limit God at our peril? Strewn throughout pronouncements of the Church’s position on evolution are any number of elegantly articulated ambiguities and disclaimers permitting one to take the high road of neutrality without having to dip into the messy facts and dodgy logic that might scupper an ecumenical, faith-science “love in.”
Consider, for example: “According to the Catholic understanding of divine causality, true contingency in the created order is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence.” Beware the circularity: “Since everything is ultimately providential, then even ‘true contingency’ must be providential!” Beware, too, the imprecision. Providence certainly permits contingency, but the “all is contingent” nature of the scientifically-accepted evolution which the Church now sanctions is patently incompatible with providence.
And again, “We cannot say: creation or evolution, inasmuch as these two things respond to two different realities.” (One can’t help but think of Stephen Jay Gould’s “nonoverlapping magisteria,” which ought to be an immediate caution. In the hands of both evolutionists and theistic evolutionists, the magisterium of science not only overlaps the magisterium of theology but inexorably overpowers it.)
The Church’s lofty, all-embracing view from 30,000 feet may be blissful, but does the landing gear actually work! Unfortunately, “cake and eat it too” simply doesn’t work—either scientifically or theologically, nor certainly in some grotesque blending. Endeavoring to conjoin Darwin and God is a Pollyannish attempt to put the proverbial square peg in a round hole, ignoring both divine and scientific mechanisms that would be absolutely required to do the evolution trick. (Oddly enough for a scientific theory notorious for countless studies of mechanism, acceptance of the romanticized, politicized, and now-theologized microbe-to-man Evolution Story is dependent upon an astonishingly blinkered view of mechanisms.)
Space here doesn’t permit a full recital of all the glaring mechanism difficulties in evolution, but there are at least three problems that are fatal to evolution theory. Ironically, in light of the issues we’ve discussed in relation to sexual freedom and abortion, all three have to do with sex—as in the origin of sex itself.
For all his revolutionary insight into the fascinating processes of natural selection so useful to current scientific research, health care, and technology, Darwin never seriously dealt with the following three devastating problems with his Grand Theory:
1. If by evolution theory asexual replication was initially the sole, primitive form of biological reproduction on the planet, moving the evolutionary process forward to novel sexual reproduction would have required first evolving separate genders. Male and female forms would have to appear separately, concurrently, and compatibly in order for the first-ever (gendered) sexual reproduction to occur. Because genderless asexual DNA only enables the production of exact copies, there is no DNA information that possibly could be “selected” to produce never-before-seen gender.
2. Natural selection could not possibly have evolved even the most elementary form of sex by male/female meiosis—a radically-different form of reproduction from “exact-copy” asexual mitosis. Unlike mitosis, in which an organism simply clones itself by making identical “selfies,” meiosis requires a precise 50% reduction of (compatible) chromosomes, a breathtaking process of “crossing over,” and a stupendous recombination whereby the offspring is a genetically-different organism from any other that’s ever existed. Without having all the right kinds of bells and whistles in place simultaneously in Generation One, the first-ever prototype of male/female meiosis never could have gotten off the ground to move on to Generation Two of sexually-reproducing creatures. (Since mitosis and meiosis are each mind-blowingly complex, Intelligent Design’s “irreducible complexity” argument is not my brief here. Complexity is not the primary problem, but, first and foremost, uniqueness.)
3. Natural selection could not possibly have provided simultaneous, on-time delivery of the first sexually-compatible pair of any given species in order to move to the second generation of that species, nor certainly to any other, “higher” species along the supposed chain of common descent from microbe to man. How do we know we have a distinct species as opposed to merely some spin-off variety (confusingly also called a “species”)? When it can’t reproduce with any other species on the planet. Despite certain similarities with the sexual processes of other organisms, each species is unique in its mating equipment, its (pin-number-protected!) method of reproduction, and in its (often unimaginably bizarre) sexual instincts. Since no haphazard, gradual, natural process possibly could have provided the first compatible pair of each of millions of sexually-unique species, no upwardly evolving evolutionary chain or branching “tree” ever occurred.
Taken together, the first two problems are quietly acknowledged by evolutionists to be the “Queen of evolutionary problems” which, despite their best efforts, remains a complete mystery. Remarkably, the third (even more obvious) problem is never once addressed by evolutionists. Could it be because evolutionists intuitively know that evolution’s sex problems flunk Darwin’s own test? “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications,” said Darwin, “my theory would absolutely break down.”
Forget the Bible. Forget Adam and Eve. On its own terms, the notion of microbe-to-man evolution is simply bad science.
Why, then, the Church’s needless capitulation? Why would the Church dare attempt to insinuate bad science into God’s creative mind? Or lend the slightest credence to evolution’s built-in, secularist message? The first answer is that the Church—as a religious rather than a scientific institution—has uncritically adopted the evolutionary conclusions and rhetoric of the scientific community, forcing the Church into an “open-minded” accommodative mode. Rather than asking hard questions about the purported evolution of the human body (including evolution’s trinity of fatal sex problems), the Church takes a page from Augustine’s deference to scientific authority and contents itself focusing on matters of the soul and its spiritual meaning.
Ironically, when the Church insists that the question of why human life exists is what really matters, not how it came about, it mimics a fundamental mistake of evolutionists in their attempt to explain the origin of sex. Invariably, studies on how sex originated quickly devolve instead into asking why, counterintuitively, sexual reproduction would have been sufficiently advantageous to evolve from far-more-efficient asexual replication. Speculation abounds, including the “DNA repair theory,” the “Red Queen hypothesis,” and so on. But what seems lost on evolutionists is that natural selection can’t possibly select (for whatever potentially advantageous reason) what doesn’t yet exist!
Whether for science or for the Church, if WHY is important, HOW is not unimportant. Incoherence between WHY and HOW diminishes, not just scientific theories, but both theology and reason. Indeed, if the HOW is wrong, morality itself is diminished. For anyone still dubious of the linkage between assumptions about origins and moral issues, it’s intriguing, to say the least, that Pope Francis—widely perceived as softening the Church’s traditional stance on moral issues—is the most outspoken among his predecessors in insisting that evolution theory does not contradict biblical teaching.
A more subtle explanation for the Church’s unseemly embrace of evolution may lie in Cardinal Paul Poupard’s warning (specifically referencing evolution) about “the permanent lesson we have learned from the Galileo affair.” As its critics will never let it forget, the Church was famously embarrassed by being on the wrong side of modern science in the Galileo controversy. One can understand, then, how the Church would bend over backwards not to be out of step with the received wisdom of the scientific community ever again.
Yet, given the haunting memory of the Church’s fiasco with Galileo, it’s easy to miss the real parallels. From antiquity, both Plato and Aristotle had rejected heliocentricity. And by Galileo’s time, virtually every major thinker subscribed to the geocentric view popularized by Ptolemy. So Galileo upset, not just the orthodox view of the Church, but what then passed for the entire scientific community—both the pious and the impious. Ptolemy’s hypothesis was the entrenched Darwinism of his day—for centuries! Most importantly, it hadn’t derived from Scripture (despite the gloss of strained proof-texts), but from pagan (human) reasoning, which the Church foolishly baptized with legitimacy. Beginning to sound familiar?
Here’s something else to ponder. If the Church could get a major scientific consensus so terribly wrong once, why should we think it couldn’t get another major scientific consensus terribly wrong again? Not to mention that the Galileo controversy—unlike the current origins debate—didn’t have the slightest implications regarding human nature, immortality, Christian doctrine, transcendent morality, or social issues of any kind.
The stakes, then, couldn’t be higher. With but the slightest play on words, we’ve come full circle back to the Galileo question: Are our moral values centered “heliocentrically” on the Son (the Lord of Creation through whom all things were made), or—owing directly to an intrinsically materialist and scientifically flawed theory—centered “geocentrically” on the secular, God-less values of this world?
F. LaGard Smith is the arranger and narrator of “The Daily Bible” (the NIV in chronological order), and author of over thirty books, most recently “Darwin’s Secret Sex Problem: Exposing Evolution’s Fatal Flaw—The Origin of Sex.”