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Skunks & Evolution


Skunks and Evolution

by Fr. Frederick Edlefsen

“Until the 1960s, all of the spotted skunks found across the United States were considered to be the same species. Then Rodney Mead, a graduate student at the University of Montana, began looking at their reproductive biology and discovered something startling. Populations living in the western United States exhibited delayed implantation, breeding in late September and delaying their pregnancies so they could give birth in May. Yet spotted skunks found in states east of the Continental Divide bred in March, exhibited no delay, and gave birth in June. Thus, the eastern and western populations were reproductively isolated. With this information, Mead classified two species: ‘Spilogale gracilis’ in the west and ‘S. putorius’ in the east.” (Montana Outdoors, March-April 2016, p. 24)

New discoveries are amazing.  They push back the frontiers of ignorance.  Discovering that there are two skunk species – not just one – makes me wonder about the researcher.   How did this affect his love life?  One false move in the lab and Friday’s romance is over.  Did he stock up on tomato juice?  If married, did his wife understand “for better or for worse”?  Nonetheless, Rodney Mead’s research advanced our knowledge about Natural Selection.

Textbooks say Natural Selection is “the process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring,” which underpins evolution.  Therefore, American skunks have evolved into two species for mere survival.  

This suggests something amazing: the creative dynamics of the Trinity.  God – three “consubstantial” Persons – is in no hurry to make or morph anything.  He just lets Mother Nature do her thing in Natural Selection.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls this “secondary causality” (CCC 306-308), which is an aspect of Providence.  Meanwhile, humans like Rodney Mead try to figure it out.

But Natural Selection doesn’t explain Rodney Mead. He went against Natural Selection to discover something new about Natural Selection. Something else must be going on in an intelligent man who studies skunks.  

The Trinity is a creative trio of Eternal Persons, “consubstantial” in One Nature of love, intelligence, and freedom.  Humans are embodied spirits that cannot be explained by Natural Selection.  Evolution may explain something about matter, but it has nothing to say about spirits.  We create because the Trinity creates.  We contemplate because the Trinity contemplates.  We are free, in the Trinity’s image and likeness. 


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