Thursday, May 17, 2018

Anglo-Catholicism And Darwin

Just yesterday I ran across a remarkable passage in Guelzo's For the Union of Evangelical Christendom:
The publication of Sir Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology (three volumes 1830-1833) and then of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859 turned the entire Baconian, empirical, common-sense, natural-law apologetic completely on its head by showing on precisely the same Baconian, empirical, common-sense, natural-law principles as those espoused by Butler, Paley, Hodge, and McIlvaine that the description of the creation and providence of natural world found in the Bible was simply unthinkable. From that point on, the Evangelicals were thrown on the defensive, and a stampede to Romantic escapism in American culture commenced. . . . Many historians have chronicled this movement into Romantic revolt in terms of individuals or movements, but they have usually missed how perfectly it was embodied in one of the largest, wealthiest, and most influential of American institutions, the Episcopal Church. Anglo-Catholic ritualism served for late Victorian Anglo-American culture the same purpose that the Paley-Butler-Hodge gospel of rationality had once served in the heyday of commercial capitalism, in that the silver plates and rich brocades of Anglo-Catholic ornament reflected the transition of capitalism from the limited horizons of eighteenth-century commercial capitalism to the unprecedented power of industrial capitalism and the new patterns of international finance that accompanied it. The sacred symbols of the Anglo-Catholics -- such as Ralph Adams Cram's Gothic cathedrals -- were also the ultimate symbols of Victorian affluence, and taken together they represent a new attempt to rationalize the aggressive power of the industrial marketplace without wholly repudiating it. (p 190)
I am about 85% with Guelzo here. The threat modern geology, including fossil evidence of wholly extinct kinds of animals, posed to evangelical Christianity was covered in Edmund Gosse's Father and Son (1907), whch I studied as an undergraduate, as well as Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. We've talked about Ralph Adams Cram recently here, and I saw in St Thomas Fifth Avenue precisely what Guelzo seems to see. The Lambeth Conferences began in 1867 in direct response to Darwin's Origin of Species.

However, I don't think there's ever been a whole lot of empricism or rationality in sola scriptura - sola fides Protestantism, which Guelzo seems to conflate with a greater spectum of Christianity. Retreat into romanticism isn't the actual Catholic response to the challenges of Darwin and Hume, if it is in fact the Anglo-Catholic response. Ven Fulton Sheen seems to have seen Freud and Marx as greater threats to Catholic Christianity by the time of his 1950s broadcasts -- to which, as a Thomist, he offered authentically rationalist responses -- but an equivalent rationalist response to Darwin and Hume is certainly available.

Edward Feser and Bp Barron, both Thomists, have dealt extensively with the opposition to natural religion offered by Hume and Kant -- see Feser's Five Proofs and Barron's numerous YouTube videos on the "new atheists".

Effective opposition to Darwin has begun to emerge since the 1990s from a number of quarters, although it appears that the Intelligent Design movement, an essentially deist position, has begun to lose steam amid controversy. Paley's watchmaker argument, to which Guelzo indirectly refers, may be challenged by Darwin, so I'll go along with him there, but Paley is a Protestant, not a rationalist, and Darwin can be seen to fail on the basis of rational inconsistencies.

As Berlinski, a non-observant Jew but a scientific rationalist, points out, Darwinian natural selection is not a scientific theory in that it cannot be expressed mathematically. It cannot be confirmed via empirical testing or reproduction of results. It violates established scientific principles like the second law of thermodynamics. As Fr Ripperger, a Thomist, points out, it violates rational principles like the principle of sufficient reason, while Feser points out that Paley's explanation of teleological purpose is insufficient, since it reflects an incomplete understanding of first cause.

Guelzo is chronicling the position of Evangelical Anglicanism and Anglo-Catholicism as formative influences in 19th and 20th-century American culture, so I can't really fault him, and he is correctly pointing out the ultimate failure of both the Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic approaches to the intellectual threats to Christianity that emerged by the first half of the 19th century. He's also quite correct in recognizing that Anglo-Catholcism was much more successful in offering a solution that allowed elites to temporize with the problem by retreating into historical fantasy, alhough in the process, the fantasy misrepresented actual Roman Catholicsm.

The actual Catholic responses to Hume and Darwin have been much more robust, addressing them (with non-Catholic support) on scientific and rational grounds. I think we need to go to these responses for further progress in re-Catholicizing the culture -- but I think Guelzo's observations suggest that Anglo-Catholicism, as an essentially inauthentic development within Protestant Christianity (and it arose prior to the arrival in the US of many more Catholics in the late 19th century), is not a resource the Church can rely on.

This is yet another reason to shut the ordinariates down and redirect the resources, however minimal they may be, elsewhere.