Reflections on an Intelligent Design
By Dr Jacobs Maliekal Vattamthottiyil
Published by Better Yourself Books and Media Pvt. Ltd.; August 2022; 160 pgs; MRP: ₹ 220/-; ISBN: 978-93-92340-16-1
Available at the Pauline Book Centres in Mumbai and their online store.
Do Catholics believe in Human Evolution?
This is one of the most controversial topics in Catholicism, and one that is least understood by the Catholic laity. A good way to gain knowledge on the subject is to pick up a copy of Dr Vattamthottiyil’s book ‘Reflections on an Intelligent Design’. Evolution has not always been seen to be anti-Christian. In fact, four Popes of the Catholic Church, namely Pope Pius XII, Saint Pope John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (as Cardinal Ratzinger) and Pope Francis, consider the idea of Theistic Evolutionary Biology as a good and probable explanation of the way the world was created, and that human beings evolved from an animal to a being with a soul and will of his own. According to this theory, bi-peds were without a soul until a certain period in the evolution cycle. When the right physical variant was present in the bi-ped or two-legged ape, the infusion of the soul took place in the body of the being, which ultimately became us. This is called ensoulment; it is a topic also dwelt upon by Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica. This theory is in harmony with both science and the Catholic faith. It is being regarded seriously, just as once Creationism was. Creationism is the theory that God literally created the world in exactly six days as described in the opening chapters of Genesis. Dr Jacobs Vattamthottiyil’s book gives us a careful insight into this progression of understanding in a daring but theologically correct way.
The book introduces the keen Catholic reader to numerous Catholic philosophical topics in an easy-to-read format, but erudite nonetheless. The book is well-written, with extensive notes and chapter-wise bibliographies, that can encourage a reader to study further. Topics such as Human Evolution, Theistic Evolutionary Biological Theory, Creationism, Climate Change, The Big Bang controversy, the History of the Man-God Jesus, Eschatological topics, and the ills that await us by 2050 are penned in this book and dwelt upon from a Catholic standpoint. The bulk of the book is dedicated to Theistic Evolutionary Biology and Traditional Creationism which can stimulate a lot of thought among readers, especially the laity. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI mentioned many times as a Cardinal that Creation and Evolution were complementary realities, while Saint Pope John Paul II had the following to say on Theistic Evolution:
“New knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis.”
The author of this book manages to educate us on the key concepts by balancing Scripture with Science, and has done a brilliant job. Many science-oriented students will appreciate the idea of Theistic Evolution. The book is engaging, and you can hardly put it down once you pick it up. Topics on the theme of Teleology or the presence of a Guiding Principle in Evolution are highlighted, along with a lot of information from everyday life and science that we usually take for granted. Thus, we tend to miss several glaring points staring at us in the face! For example, says Dr Jacobs, a chimpanzee and a man have 98% of their DNA in common. Does that mean that man has achieved so much greatness and altruism over the chimpanzee only because of that crucial 2%? Not at all! It is because the soul of man and the Spirit of God within him has made him the conscious being he is, and the perfect model of that ultimate altruism is our Lord and Saviour Jesus.
Other topics dwelt on in this stimulating and awesome book are Religious Symbolism, Deep Ecology, the fact that Jesus has always been the key figure in the Intelligent Design, and God has never given up on His original creation.
But what have we done in the bargain?
The book also highlights the predicament that humanity finds itself in vis-a-vis the future. For one, says Dr Jacobs, the Earth will have to produce more food in the next fifty years than in all of human history. Also, by 2050, the human population will reach 9.3 billion, so humanity will need 1.6 Earths to sustain our current consumption rate. These and solutions based on Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ are pondered upon in this scholarly book. Let us not, in our zeal to give in to selfishness, forget the words of Mahatma Gandhi:
“The world has enough resources to satisfy everybody’s need, but not everybody’s greed.”
This book is a perfect gift for a young Catholic mind of scientific bent. It will assuage some of his warranted doubts. The book is also great for Youth Group meetings, Sunday School and Confirmation sessions to spread the otherwise unknown Catholic Philosophy and Theology on the topic of Human Evolution and God’s role in it. It’s a must-have for all seminarians just beginning their studies in Catholic Philosophy. We must realise that Theistic Evolution does fall into God’s providential plan of Creation.