“Why are there no penguins at the North Pole?” is a question posed by Carlo Maria Polvani in the 6 Feb. English edition of the Vatican journal, L’Osservatore Romano.

Or, as the same scientist has explained, in

evolutionary language, why do polar bears exist exclusively at the North Pole?

Pope John Paul’s 1996 Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences certainly should make us all aware that “few today doubt the evolution of life on earth,” as Professor Polvani states. However, he adds, “this does not alter the fact that the onus probandi (burden of proving) the precise scientific merit of the specifics of the Darwinist formulation of that theory still rests on the shoulders of its defenders.” (Ibid.)

My own field is not biology, much less evolutionary theory. But I can read and try to understand what specific issues the theory (or theories) raises. Besides, I have always attempted to implement the axiom that unexamined ideas hardly enrich our brief lives here below. Intellectual curiosity trumps even watching the Yankees advance to the World Series, or pitifully, even spending hours watching TV reruns. Personal discovery of new truths is mentally and emotionally fulfilling; “Excelsior!” should be everyone’s personal motto.

Returning to the question about penguins, what is the answer and why? Evolutionists suggest that millions of years ago, a species of bird appeared in the Antarctic. Perhaps they were in search of food; perhaps they were escaping from predators. In time, “genotypic mutations” occurred – I am following Prof. Polvani again – but these mutations remained dormant. Eventually a mutation occurred by which the birds’ wings turned into scaly fins. Now, unable to fly, they survived by becoming expert underwater divers, because of their fins and, of course, enormous schools of fish. With more time – millions of years! – they became penguins.

Reduced to its fundamental argument, what happened? The answer lies in what Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck (1744-1829) would have called (a century before Darwin!) chance and necessity. (The Greek, Democritus, described the causes of “evolution” in the same way in the fourth century B.C.)

Nonetheless, why are penguins found only in the South Pole? Here Prof. Polvani is especially instructive:

“The Darwinist position implies that statistically, the genotypic mutation of wings into fins would have also occurred in birds living in other areas of the planet, such as …the rainforests of Sumatra, but since in that environment the phenotypic features offered no competitive advantages, the penguin did not establish itself there. The same Darwinist position, however, implies that in the Arctic zones, similar in many ways to those of the Antarctic, species similar to the penguin might have been expected. Instead there are none. To explain this absence, many Darwinists frequently use a deductive or ‘top-down’ approach, pleading the existence of causes not yet explained experimentally in order to justify an unforeseen observation.” (Ibid.)

Which means that when Darwinists cannot explain a phenomenon experimentally, they sometimes take refuge in philosophical reasoning. (Is there a single scientist who would dare predict if and when penguins will populate the North Pole, even assuming the disappearance of polar bears because of alleged global warming?)

In fact, Darwinists cannot accurately predict the future of a species simply by reference to chance and/or necessity. The reality is so complex. Darwinist theory(s) is not per se threatened by theology, “but rather from the incapacity of a certain self-referential science to recognize when it is time for a paradigmatic change…”

Among the intellectual rewards one can realize from reading and rereading articles like Prof. Polvani’s is a deeper appreciation of the profound complexities of the world and the cosmos. Surely such appreciation is a God-given gift, whose dimensions tend far beyond the merely scientific. A sharpening of the theological vision is also involved, in that it fires up new enthusiasm for the Supreme Intellect who is the Infinite Source of all creation, a source whose slightest breath is cloaked in awesome Wisdom. But to detect the emerging vibrations of this Wisdom constitutes an astonishing insight into what Teilhard de Chardin once described in the Dantesque phrase, “a universe charged with love in its evolution.” This love, of course, emanates from God, and keeps us aware that, when we think we are grasping it, the phenomenon “is always ahead of us.”

Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.