Evidence challenging Darwin 'could be valid,' explains Catholic scholar

Fr. Robert Spitzer
Fr. Robert Spitzer


Commenting on recent evidence that Darwin's theories on competition driving the survival of species may be wrong, one Catholic expert explained that the new information “could be valid.” In an interview with CNA, Jesuit priest and scholar Fr. Robert Spitzer, also weighed in on the subject of evolution and its compatibility with Catholic theology.

Media outlets have recently buzzed over emerging evidence that the drive for habitat or living space – not competition, as scientist Charles Darwin believed – may have driven the survival of the species.

A recent study conducted by Ph.D student Sarda Sahney and colleagues at the University of Bristol and published in Biology Letters, used fossils to study evolutionary patterns over 400 million years of history, according to the BBC.

In their study, the research team proposed that big evolutionary changes happen when animals move into empty areas, challenging the idea that intense competition for resources in overcrowded habitats is the major driving force of evolution. The recent study ultimately critiques Darwin's widely held view that organisms clashing for dominance where only the fittest survived is what led to the evolutionary process.

CNA interviewed former president of Gonzaga University and noted scholar Fr. Robert Spitzer, who confirmed that “Darwin assumed that competition was what was driving the development of human species and particularly the dominance of one specie over another.”

However, “there is no way of reaching back in time and finding empirical evidence of that fact.”

The priest explained that “Darwin's theories are based on a series of inferences,” which are rooted in genetics, fossil evidence, empirical evidence and even mere conjecture.

“For all intents and purposes then, the argument that space may have driven the development of species or one species' dominance over the other could be very much valid and, frankly, just as valid as competition,” Fr. Spitzer said.

“Both theories could be valid,” he stated, adding that the development of species could also have been driven “by another explanation that we don't yet know of.”

Fr. Spitzer then weighed in on the issue of evolution and the Bible and whether the two are at odds with one another.

“Catholics hold that the Biblical author is inspired,” he said, “and what we mean by inspiration is not that God dictated something to the Biblical author.” Rather, “inspiration means that the Biblical author is using his human capacities – he's using his human categories for things that he understands.”

“In other words, God's not going to dictate a treatise to him about science that he can't possibly understand,” the scholar added, noting that when God “inspires a biblical author that biblical author is doing something that's important to him in his context and at his time.”

Instead of science being the main focus, the more important topic to a biblical author is “theology,” said the priest.

“The biblical author's purpose is not to write science at all,” Fr. Spitzer emphasized, especially given that “obviously science has not even been developed yet.”

“So, can science and the Bible be reconciled?” he asked. “Of course – the Bible is doing something theological and science is doing science.”

Fr. Spitzer then cited two major encyclicals from Pius XII – “Divino Afflante Spiritu” and “Humane generis” – clarifying that “Catholics can believe in evolution.”

“The only real limitation is that we do not believe that the human soul came from an evolutionary process,” he added, “because evolutionary processes are material, they're bodily.”

“Even though human embodiment may have evolved over a varied period of time – and it could have evolved even from subordinate species – the human soul is a special creation of God - it transcends the material order.”

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