It is only in the past two or three decades that serious frictions began to emerge on a wider scale. Evolution theory was (rather unpredictably) turned into a rock-hard ideology, the intention of which was to act aggressively against religion. On the religious side the response was mostly a defensive one.
Why did things happen this way? I have a pet theory. “Conquering” and “triumphalist” secularist Christophobia used to rely, until recently, on three solid columns: Marx, Freud, and Darwin. We know very well how Marxism began to crumble, both theoretically and in practical ways; right now it is, at best, a phenomenon of the rearguard, of the losers and of the backward or hopeless activists and nations. We know equally well that Freud is treated by knowledgeable people, indeed by the public at large, with a kind of patronizing smile. A great genius? Some would continue to say so, but few would regard him as such in practice. Under these circumstances it became enormously important, even essential, for materialist determinists (and actual Christophobes) to rally around Darwin, to bolster him, to turn a mild scholarly hypothesis into a strict and dogmatic ideology.
One of the unintended supports of the rigid Darwinists came ironically from fundamentalist and literalist “creationists.” These people had never understood or accepted the complex and sophisticated mode of reading the Bible that Medieval Scholastics (and, even earlier, Talmudic scholars of the Hebrew Scriptures) had developed. They ignored the multiplicity of semantic layers (literal, symbolic, moral, anagogical—and sometimes more) to be found in the wealth of meanings embedded in the Sacred Texts. Likewise they were oblivious of the multiple rational arguments vindicating God and His ways.
Most of the “creationists” were content with a literal reading of the Bible and with an explanation of Divine existence on the simple level of literal deduction (often described as “Revelation”: many of us may hesitate to label it so). I do not doubt the good intentions of such individuals, nor do I object to their firm faith. I merely note that by their positions they were turned into an easy prey and convenient foil for their adversaries and they opened an unjustified rift between reason and faith.
Fortunately, the response of most Catholics (as well as of a number of Protestants and Eastern Orthodox faithful) was placed on a rather different level and did not resort to a wholesale negation of scientific accomplishments. The mainstream Christian intellectuals sought their support from objective, neutral scholars and researchers, particularly those in “cutting-edge” sciences such as genetics and astrophysics. They simultaneously looked back to the classical arguments of the existence of God, as developed particularly in the Middle Ages.
The latter had been considered obsolete or demolished by many in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Some or most of these arguments showed a remarkable resilience, however, and proved that in a renewed version they could be of considerable help in the renewed debate. Thus, for instance, the “teleological argument.”
This argument was fully developed by Averroes and by St. Thomas Aquinas during the Middle Ages, but early, somewhat sketchier outlines can be found already in the writings of Plato (e.g., Timaios
and the Republic
), Aristotle (Metaphysics
), Cicero and the Neo-Platonic movement in general (not least St. Augustine). In simple summary it said that the universe is too orderly, purposeful, even beautiful to be the result of random mechanical causes; the assumption of Divine creation makes sense, it is in fact inevitable.
While in its “hard” form it was doubted early on, the teleological argument “expanded” and ramified. In one way it was used (unexpectedly) by British empiricists—and occasionally even by Voltaire (!); in other ways, and more recently, it engendered the “argument from beauty” (at least since the great Chateaubriand on); even more recently, the “anthropic principle” or “teleonomy.” And more generally it provided ammunition for the wider “post-secularist” movement.” Such simple facts should be familiar to all intellectuals who are not hopelessly ignorant or ill-intentioned.
Two recent books—one French, one German—expand in highly sophisticated ways this “ramification” of the teleological argument and interestingly undermine the dogmatist and materialist “Darwinism” of the noisy “new atheists.”