Edward T. Oakes dies

Edward T. Oakes

The Catholic theologian Edward T. Oakes, S.J., died on December 6, 2013, at the age of 65, according to the Catholic News Agency (December 6, 2013). A fierce critic of "intelligent design" creationism, especially in his essays and reviews in the popular press, Oakes was known among scholars primarily for his work on theology, such as Pattern of Redemption: The Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar (Continuum, 1997) and Infinity Dwindled to Infancy: A Catholic and Evangelical Christology (Eerdmans, 2011).

Speaking to the independent Catholic news agency Zenit in 2005, Oakes was happy to endorse evolution in the sense of descent with modification and natural selection as a driving force in evolution, while insisting "that doesn't mean that any of the conclusions that so many boring positivists draw from evolution is true." He also told Zenit that the "intelligent design" movement "conflates the Thomistic distinction between primary and secondary causality. The advocates of this movement claim that if it can be proved scientifically that God must intervene on occasion to get various species up and running, then this will throw the atheist Darwinians into a panicked rout." He added, "I disagree. My view is that, according to St. Thomas, secondary causality can be allowed full rein without threatening God's providential oversight of the world." Reviewing Phillip Johnson's The Wedge of Truth in First Things in 2007, Oakes lambasted the theological inadequacies of the "intelligent design" position: "Who, pray tell, is this artificer? The God of Genesis 1-3? Visitors from outer space expert in cell engineering? David Hume's clumsy craftsman who botched the job? Malign Sartrean gods who, to paraphrase Gloucester's lament in King Lear, kill us for their sport as wanton boys do to flies?" Johnson and a host of his allies responded in a subsequent issue, and Oakes replied in turn, dismissing the underpinnings of "intelligent design" by saying, "Paley did far more damage to nineteenth-century Christianity than Friedrich Nietzsche ever managed to do to twentieth-century religion."

Oakes was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on May 18, 1948. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1966 and was ordained a priest in 1979. He attended St. Louis University, from which he received his BA in 1971 and his MA in 1976, both in philosophy; the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California, from which he received his MDiv in scripture in 1979; and the Union Theological Seminary, from which he received his PhD in theology in 1987. He taught at New York University, Regis University, and the University of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Chicago.