Philosophy of Evolution: Evolutionism

Study of Evolutionism


Evolution and Evolutionism

What are the limits of this study concerning philosophy and science? This presentation will confine itself, as much as possible, to the topic of evolution as a philosophical system, which is Evolutionism. Evolution can be a scientific theory too, in addition to being a philosophy.

Philosophy, according to the Neo-Scholastics, is defined as the science of all things from their ultimate causes as known by the light of human reason.1 It is called a "science" because it is knowledge that is certain and evident, deduced by reasoning from principles that are certain and evident. It is called the science of "all things," because it treats the Creator, and creatures whether material or spiritual. It is "through ultimate causes" to distinguish it from other sciences which study the same object "through proximate causes." This separates philosophy from the empirical sciences. For example, medicine might find that someone died from cancer (a proximate cause), while the same analysis done philosophically finds that the cause of death was the separation of the vital principle from the material (the ultimate cause). Among the differences in the point of view is that the philosophical explanation applies to all deaths, so it is an ultimate explanation. Further, philosophy knows ultimate causes "by the light of human reason." This separates philosophy from theology, which also knows the ultimate causes by revelation.

As a scientific theory, evolution is the process which, over the course of time, plant and animal species are successively generated.2 A fuller definition states that evolution is the derivation of a very large number of kinds (biological species) of living things by means of a tremendously long series of usually small (although sometimes large) cumulative changes from a very few (perhaps only one) living ancestor. Note that scientific evolution is not a proven fact, at least not to the satisfaction of the Neo-Scholastics.3

Fixism, or the Theory of Permanence, is a philosophic theory that holds species are fixed without any evolutionary change between species. This is a possible theory philosophically, but is not entirely concordant with new paleontological discoveries.4

Creationism is a philosophic theory that holds God created species, and is a theistic form of Fixism. This is a possible theory philosophically, but is not entirely concordant with new paleontological discoveries. Certainly, God is the creator of the world, but the issue here is the precise creation of species.5

Materialistic Evolutionism is the system that holds the complexity of kinds of things (species) is due to accumulated changes brought about by the activity of merely material things, all causality on the part of the Creator being excluded.6 Another definition of Materialistic Evolutionism, or Darwinism, is a philosophical theory maintaining the evolution of both man’s body and soul. Among Neo-Scholastics this theory is universally rejected. Neo-Scholastics make a clear distinction between bodily or material evolution (which involves change or becoming, whose Latin term is fieri), and the spiritual soul’s creation (which gives man not just essence but existence, whose Latin term is esse) Neo-Scholastics affirm the creation of the soul of man by God. Neo-Scholastics affirm the notion that there is an essential difference between man and the other animals, due to the vital principle, or soul, of man. However, evolution of the body alone is not impossible.7

Spiritualistic Evolutionism holds that the soul was created by God, but the body had an evolutionary origin. Di Napoli distinguishes this Spiritualistic Evolutionism to be of two kinds.

Spiritualistic Evolutionsim without divine intervention: Some hold that the body of man had its de facto origin from a simian body without a special divine intervention. This opinion is held by Mivart, Le Roy, and Teilhard de Chardin. Di Napoli rejects this type of Spiritualistic Evolutionism.8

Spiritualistic Evolutionism with divine intervention: Some hold that the body of man had an evolutionary origin with special divine intervention, in so far as God previously transformed a simian body into the human body and then infused in this human body a created soul. Catholics who hold this doctrine are D’Hulst, De Sinety, Bouyssonie, Wasmann, Gemelli, and Marcozzi. This second opinion of Spiritualist Evolutionism with special divine intervention is the position defended by Di Napoli. Di Napoli holds that Spiritualistic Evolutionism with special divine intervention is possible and even probable.9

Author:  John Edward Mulvihill, S.T.D., D.Min.,  Ph.D.
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