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Philosophy of Evolution: Evolutionism

Conclusions on Evolutionism



Goals of this dissertation were to explore the philosophy of evolution in twentieth-century Neo-Scholastic literature, and to produce some theses for an academic class in philosophy. Both goals were fulfilled. The analysis of literature led to a deeper consideration of the nature of the continued debate about evolution. The presentation of the theses for the academic class led to a convenient tripartite division of evolution: first, evolution considered metaphysically, second, evolution in the philosophy of man, and third, evolution as a fruitful concept and universal law.

Method in this dissertation involved analysis, heuristic, and synthesis. The dissertation began with analysis in the consideration of literature produced by 120 Neo-Scholastic philosophers. Then, heuristic, which is the part of analysis concerned with discovery, in order to discover the special problems in treating evolution. The dissertation then moved to synthesis in the form of thirteen academic theses, each with its pertinent proof. The development of the dissertation in this logical manner gave the entire presentation both a comprehensiveness and unity not found elsewhere.

Contributions of this dissertation to the philosophy of evolution involve a number of new items. First, the production of an academic course of the thirteen theses on the philosophy of evolution is significant and useful, since no one else has such a course relating extensively to the Neo-Scholastics. Second, this presentation of the Neo-Scholastic philosophy of evolution covers every major aspect of the metaphysical nature and equivocal application of evolution, with both a priori and a posteriori arguments. Third, this presentation of the Neo-Scholastic philosophy of evolution was truly philosophical, and always attempted to relate issues to philosophical principles. Fourth, the academic presentation of the Neo-Scholastic philosophy of evolution always attempted to relate each thesis to some observed facts in order to embrace a moderate realism. Fifth, this presentation attempted to aid the reader by using the thesis system for increased clarity. Sixth, an extensive consideration of the roots of the Neo-Scholastic philosophy of evolution as founded in the principles of St. Thomas Aquinas was developed. Seventh, an extensive consideration of the certitude of each academic thesis was developed. Eighth, a general index was provided for the use of serious researchers. Ninth, a special index concerning the works of St. Thomas Aquinas was also provided, and illustrates the continued great usefulness of his philosophy. Tenth, the dissertation explained how Neo-Scholastics who engaged in activism fit nicely into the treatment of the evolving future of man, and also cultural evolution, areas largely neglected by the traditional Evolutionists.

Having treated the contributions of the dissertation, some conclusions can now be drawn. New acceptance of evolution, identification of the philosophical difficulties of evolution, surprises arising from the survey of literature, the continuing relevance of Aristotle, the foundational value of St. Thomas Aquinas, twentieth-century changes in Neo-Scholasticism, the Gregorian University as a mirror of change illustrated by the treatment of evolution, the importance of the evolutionary philosophy of man, and the importance of humility in drawing conclusions about evolution, all involved significant conclusions.

First, some major conclusions concerning the philosophy of evolution among Neo-Scholastics appeared as a revision of prior positions. The current Neo-Scholastic philosophy of nature can give answers to the objections of the early twentieth-century Neo-Scholastics. Such serious objections involved the principle of causality, which states that agents produce results similar to themselves (Oportet agens esse simile facto: Aquinas Summa Theologiae 1. 91. 2), and that effects cannot exceed their cause (Simile fit a suo simili: Aquinas Summa Theologiae 1. 65. 4). Today, Neo-Scholastics can reply that the principle of causality holds true with a singular cause, but not necessarily with multiple causes. Other principles have been applied by Neo-Scholastics to begin to explain evolution philosophically, such as providence, chance and causality per accidens. Most important, secondary causality is a philosophically crucial notion to argue a priori to the evolution of life through abiogenesis, to evolution of species, to the evolution of man.

Second, special problems arise in the treatment of the philosophy of evolution. The particular question of underlying problems arises due to the long debate concerning evolution. For 150 years, evolution has been debated and continues to be debated. Other scientific hypotheses have been easily accepted. What is the unusual character of evolution that makes it an object of continued debate? There is a scientific basis of the problem with evolution. The hypothesis of evolution has not actually been proved scientifically. Nevertheless, the philosopher can still continue to examine evolution to determine any philosophical problems or contradictions. The philosopher quickly notes problems with definition, with judgement, with reasoning and with belief. Problems with definition arise due to a lack of definition in some cases, or the use of vague popular definitions, or the use of a technical definition taken from one of the thirty different schools of evolution, or from the equivocal use of the term evolution as an universal law. Problems with judgment that "evolution is true" arise from the thirty different types of evolutionary explanation, each with its own concept of "true" evolution. Problems with reasoning arise because evolution is more in the genus of history, not repeatable, and largely not observable, rather than in the genus of science which argues from observation, repeatable experiments, and mathematics. Problems with belief arise due to the different the methods of science, philosophy, and theology, each of which needs to be respected by the practitioners of another method, such as science explaining religion, and vice versa. Modern Neo-Scholastic solutions to these problems involve personal meetings for public dialogue which has been done by Pascual, and also the reunion of epistemology with the philosophy of nature which has been done by Mondin.

Third, some surprises arose in the treatment of the philosophy of evolution.

Surprisingly, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) proved extremely useful for the modern problems of philosophy of evolution. Thomistic philosophy provided the principles of almost all the argumentation favoring evolution. One might suppose the Thomism would be contrary to evolution, but this does not seem to be the case. That same Thomistic philosophy provided a needed background for the critique of some of the equivocal applications of evolution as a universal law. The number of useful texts of Aquinas was both impressive and unsuspected in confronting a modern problem only 150 years old.

Surprisingly, also, was the prominence of North American Neo-Scholastics for a philosophical explanation of how evolution actually works. There were a number of different hypothesis, but each was well argued philosophically. Many of these Neo-Scholastics had been trained at the Albertus Magnus Lyceum which successfully promoted the philosophy of nature in opposition to the theory of Jacques Maritain who maintained a division between nature and metaphysics. The North Americans trained there consequently made significant contributions to the philosophy of evolution, more so than any other group.

Surprisingly, the problem of an evolutionary future for man has been largely left open due to the influence of chance in evolution. The Evolutionists, tied to survival of the fittest, were lacking especially in the reasons for moral behavior. Evolutionists also have the problem of the dilution of good genetic material in man by charitable care for the weak, thus eroding the action of the survival of the fittest. However, the Neo-Scholastics had a significant background in area of the future of man, and did provide extensive explanations both in natural and moral philosophy. Neo-Scholastic philosophers and theologians, and the popes trained in Neo-Scholasticism, were concerned about the cultural evolution of peace and justice during a significant part of the twentieth century, and more intensely concerned as the century progressed.

Fourth, Aristotle proved very useful in the philosophy of evolution. Aristotle has a theory for the reality of chance, one of a number of elements in the explanation of evolution. Aristotle’s theory of Hylemorphism is still the most reasonable account of substantial change, which is applicable to evolution.

Fifth, St. Thomas Aquinas was important in providing principles for the philosophy of evolution. Although Aquinas provided many principles, some very critical ones need and explicit mention here. St. Thomas has a view of the order in the universe in which lower creatures are in the service of the higher, and have an appetite for higher things (Aquinas Summa Contra Gentiles 3. 22). St. Thomas endorses secondary causality (Aquinas Summa Theologiae 1.105. 5). St. Thomas always starts out his philosophy with the observable, which allows for causality per accidens (Aquinas In Phys. 2. 1. 6; Aquinas In Phys. 2. 9. 446) and for chance (Aquinas Summa Contra Gentiles 3. 74). St. Thomas endorses the action of the providence of God (Aquinas Summa Contra Gentiles 3. 74), thereby offering a final cause for evolution.

Sixth, Neo-Scholasticism itself changed during the twentieth century, especially in the treatment of the philosophy of nature, where evolution is considered.

Neo-Scholasticsim changed due to the challenge of new developments in science. These new material developments had not been met by the old Scholasticism, as noted by Jacques Maritain. Neo-Scholastic philosophy had to meet these new challenges by developing new structures and new insights. Most Neo-Scholastics responded to this general challenge by noting their commitment to challenge new developments in science and philosophy itself. Hoenen brought the theory of relativity and the like into philosophical cosmology. Scientific method was scrutinized by the Neo-Scholastics. The mathematical method of science was not applicable to philosophy. Calcagno at the Gregorian University warned against mere use of statistics in philosophy. However, methodic use of the principle of observation in science does offer a good starting point for reasonable philosophy.

Neo-Scholasticism revised some of its departments for the treatment of philosophy. The problem of the possibility of a philosophy of nature was raised by Maritain, who thought that science and philosophy were incompatible. This was not the view of William Kane at the Aquinas Institute and the Albertus Magnus Lyceum, in River Forest, Illinois, outside of Chicago. Science was welcome in the halls of philosophy. Raymond Nogar taught at the Aquinas Institute and produced his book, The Wisdom of Evolution (1963). Later, in Rome, Battista Mondin reunited epistemology with the philosophy of nature in his book, Manuale di Filosofica Sistematica: Epistemologia, Cosmologia (1999).

Neo-Scholasticism changed its audience, language, Church approbation, and specific applications. The problem of educating the wider audience involved the communication of the fruits of philosophy. All the Neo-Scholastics were educators. The change to the vernacular slowly followed changes in style at universities. Universities and seminaries, which had previously trained theologians, began to train laity in multiple faculties. Students began to be trained in discovery, rather than academic disputations seeking certitude. There was a movement from certitude among scholars to creativity. Departments of philosophy expanded philosophical programs, especially in elective courses.

Neo-Scholasticism began to consider the practical applications of philosophy. The problem of activism arose from the dissatisfaction of trained Neo-Scholastics with merely academic philosophy. Poverty in South America caused a number of Neo-Scholastics to develop Liberation Theology and practice. The popes, all trained Neo-Scholastics, indirectly aided such movements by papal writings throughout the twentieth century, with an emphasis on social justice and peace. The Neo-Scholastics in the Liberation movement continued to teach and write a great number of publications. These Neo-Scholastics brought the old Scholastic philosophy of "special ethics" to modern practical applications.

Seventh, the faculty of the Gregorian University in Rome provided an example of the development of the philosophy of evolution and its teaching. The current course at the Gregorian University is restricted in two major ways. It generally restricted the treatment of evolution to the philosophy of man. Further, it generally restricted the treatment of evolution to biological evolution. This restricted presentation gives greater emphasis to the scientific issues of evolution than to the philosophical issues. The course has contemporary characteristics. It is taught in the Italian language, and the student notes are in Italian. The course book no longer sought ecclesiastical approval for publication. The course is open to all students, not just clerical students. Such modern characteristics are far different from the text books and classes during the early twentieth century.

At least eight of these changes deserve fuller treatment. These innovations, involving the concern for the modern, divisions in the philosophy of nature, the promotion of epistemology related to science, and the development of individual courses taught in Italian, can be seen to have slowly developed during the course of the twentieth century. Other innovations at the Gregorian University concerning evolution involved finality, hominization, the Anthropic Principle, and education.

Innovation at the Gregorian University involved the philosophical concern for modern problems, such as evolution. Calcagno, in 1937, treated evolution in ten pages in the tract on plant life. Boyer, in 1939, treated evolution in seventeen pages as an addition to human intellectual life. Siwek, in 1965, places the treatment of evolution in the beginning of the treatment of life, and spends forty-nine pages on evolution, but still uses the Latin manual style. La Vecchia expands the philosophy of evolution in an Italian textbook of 330 pages, complete in itself.

Innovation at the Gregorian University resulted in the division of the philosophy of nature, which also touches evolution. Calcagno notes that his predecessors included all inorganic bodies and organic bodies in one tract called Cosmology, which was the traditional philosophy of nature. Calcagno (1937) and Boyer (1939) treated inorganic being (Cosmology) and organic being (Metaphysical Psychology) as separate philosophical tracts, but within philosophical manuals that comprehensively treated every department of philosophy. The manuals of Calcagno and Boyer went through numerous editions with only very small changes. Hoenen, in 1956, so extensively treated modern problems in cosmology, such as Einstein’s relativity and Heisenberg’s quantum mechanics, that the philosophy of inorganic being (Cosmology) began to be treated in a separate book and a totally separate course. Naturally, the philosophy of organic being, involving evolution, began to evolve separately. Siwek, in 1965, treated evolution with the philosophy of organic being (Metaphysical Psychology) in a 554 page volume that stood by itself. In 1999, La Vecchia restricted her new 330 page book to evolution itself, which previously had been only a small part of the philosophy of man (Higher Metaphysical Psychology).

Innovation at the Gregorian University led to a philosophy of science, where epistemology touches evolution. Philosophy of science deals with the principles of biology, while the philosophy of nature studies the material and facts of biology. Selvaggi in his 1953 Filosofia delle Scienze gives renewed emphasis to epistemological principles. Selvaggi, in 1962, in his Cosmologia, page 401, gives a positive answer to the placement of the philosophy of nature between physics and metaphysics, favoring Kane at the Aquinas Institute rather than Maritain. Selvaggi uses epistemology in philosophy to make an analysis of the material of science. This practice was shared by Pascual, in 2002, at the International Congress on Evolution in Rome.

Innovation at the Gregorian University continued to develop a number of independent philosophy courses, eventually including an entire course on evolution. Soccorsi, in 1958, did a Latin course on physics. Crochon, in 1958, did a Latin course on the psychology of children and adolescents. Arcidiacono, in 1962, did a Latin course on numeration, and another course on geometries. Dezza, in 1960, for the first time in Italian, did a philosophy course on the scholastic synthesis, including a treatment of evolution. Babolin, in 1997, did an Italian course on the philosophy of esthetics. La Vecchia, in 1999, did the Italian course on the philosophy of evolution.

Innovation at the Gregorian University arose in application of the principle of finality to evolution. Although the principle is traditional among Neo-Scholastics, such as Calcagno (in vol. 1, page 313), its application as a central problem applied to evolution is significant. Marcozzi, in 1976, published a book entitled Chance and Finality. La Vecchia, in 1999, made finality part of the title of her class notes for the course in evolution at the Gregorian University.

Innovation at the Gregorian University stressed hominization, more than the study of fossils, to determine evolution. Marcozzi, in 1958, uses this theory of hominization to show that the humanity of the Neanderthals is proved not only by fine stone work, but also funeral rites and religious ideas, as noted in Doctor Communis 2/3 (May to December 1958): page 133. La Vecchia, in 1999, expands this useful theory in her book, chapter seven.

Innovation at the Gregorian University also touched the Anthropic Principle. Calcagno (in vol. 2, page 455) in 1952 notes that, although God is the primary goal of creation, man is a secondary goal of creation. This view, which was later called the Anthropic Principle in reference to man as a goal of creation, is an opinion common among the Neo-Scholastics. The phrase "Anthropic Principle" itself was first used by Brandon Carter in Cracow in 1973. The Anthropic Principle was elaborated by Zycinski at the International Congress on Evolution in Rome in 2002, chaired by Pascual, a Gregorian graduate.

Innovation to improve education has been a perennial feature of the Gregorian University. In the 1960s, Lonergan and De Finance promoted learning by the student’s self-appropriation. In addition to classes in Latin, both Lonergan and De Finance published in the vernacular for a wider audience. Educational accommodation is seen in Dezza’s 1960 course touching evolution which was taught in Italian and which was open to laity. La Vecchia, in 1999 and thereafter, uses Italian for her course on evolution. Her course is open to laity, and uses a style that invites student participation and discovery.

Innovation by the use of dialogue is helpful for the promotion of understanding. Dezza in 1960 gives a balanced view of evolution, citing both arguments and objections. His presentation to lay students at the Gregorian University Institute of Higher Religious Culture involved, according to Dezza’s preface, presentation and discussion ("vengono presentati e discussi"). Pascual, a doctoral graduate of the Gregorian University, presided over the professional dialogue at the International Congress on Evolution, held in Rome in 2002.

Eighth, the philosophy of man is the most important, the most difficult, and the most critical area of the discussion of evolution. First, the philosophy of man is most important in evolutionary studies because man is the only species that has cultural evolution, with consequences for biological evolution. The Anthropic Principle and even modern ecological imperatives place man at the center of creation, just when man seemed to be dethroned by the theories of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Darwin. Second, the philosophy of man is most difficult because, unlike any other animal, man’s substantial form, or soul, in origin is created, in operation is intrinsically independent of material, in appetite is free, and in finality is immortal. Third, the philosophy of man is most critical because man is the custodian of the future. The activism of South American Neo-Scholastics and the social doctrine of the modern popes trained in Neo-Scholastic principles, can be viewed as philosophy in practice. Education for peace and justice today aim to eliminate the destructive national and class warfare that destroys the current fabric of civilization. Democracy and liberty under law allow the major portion of humanity to contribute to the cultural evolution of the world. Religious liberty endorses the dignity of man, which may also involve for Neo-Scholastics a philosophical theory on the restoration of the human body. A serious social critique against the Evolutionists is that any theory of survival of the fittest is not well adapted to future cooperative and free cultural evolution.

Ninth, any conclusions about the philosophy of evolution must be made with some humility. Every thesis has some complexity involving its opposite. There could be a danger of proving too much. Evolution is substantial change, but that kind of change (like death) can rarely be observed to exist; and also it is difficult to tell what qualities are substantial in order to exactly determine a new species. Evolution needs final causality, denied by Spencer, as part of its explanation, but chance exists and is observed, although it is not strictly intelligible. Mechanicism, affirmed by the Positivists, allows for efficient causality, and also for accidental change (man like a machine), but substantial change is hard to detect. Materialism, affirmed by Darwin, does not explain evolution entirely, but material is the source of individuation and species. Hylemorphism explains substantial union, but such a union is hard to detect directly; even substance is obscured by its accidents, so all the more the transcendental relation of act and potency is difficult to detect. Essential distinction between man and animals exists, but man, a rational animal, is also an animal. The body of man evolved, but direct knowledge of man’s substance is blocked by accidents. The soul of man is created by God, but creation is impossible to imagine; further, animals have material souls. The future biological evolution of man may be ended by cultural evolution, but the material body of man has a unique dignity in ethical action and may be destined for the restoration. The interaction of cultural evolution with any biological evolution is hard to detect. The restoration of the body is only a hypothesis in philosophy (although not in theology). Abiogenesis left no evidence in the past, and has been un-producible up to the present, but is consistent with secondary causality. Cosmic evolution begins with creation, but creation is impossible to imagine. Cosmic evolution continues based on order, but entropy is disorder. Social evolution appears to be blocked by free will, but some determinism is evident in habit and disease. Evolutionary atheism is wrong by demonstration, but God is not immediately observable.

Tenth, a well-reasoned philosophy of evolution has a proper place in modern intellectual life. Both scholars and the general public are very interested in evolution. This interest is contemporary, continuing, and intense both in theory and in practical applications, such as the teaching of evolution in the public schools of the United States of America. The philosophy of evolution may be of significant use in these cases. Philosophy is the mediator between science and theology. Aristotle and Aquinas began philosophy with the observation of nature and developed principles of thought. The Neo-Scholastics have not only followed this perennial philosophy but have renewed themselves in the mid-twentieth century. Our fond hope is that the Neo-Scholastic views on the philosophy of evolution may be enlightening to scholars and useful to the general public.

Author:  John Edward Mulvihill, S.T.D., D.Min.,  Ph.D.
Copyright 2009 by The Genealogist, 3236 Lincoln, Franklin Park, IL 60131 U.S.A.