Philosophy of Evolution: Evolutionism

Limits of Evolutionism


The general intention of this dissertation is to limit the study to the philosophy of evolution to Neo-Scholastic philosophers of the twentieth century, with a special emphasis on the Gregorian University in Rome.

This dissertation will limit its study to the philosophy of evolution in three general areas. First, Evolutionism, considered as a system in itself, must be critiqued. Secondly, Evolutionism as a system that involves man must be critiqued. Thirdly, Evolutionism will be critiqued to determine the limits of the idea, in other words, how fruitful is the idea of evolution?

Evolutionism and Its Critique

Materialistic Evolutionism, or Darwinism, as defined above, is a materialistic philosophical system that needs some critique. First, Materialistic Evolutionism is inadequate because it is based exclusively on material causality. An illustration of that inadequacy can be seen in the example of the material kitchen table. If Materialism only considers the material cause, there would be no difference between the lumber, (the material of the table) and the beautiful table itself (the formal cause, formed by the lumber). Further, only considering material cause, there would be no need for a carpenter, thus excluding an efficient cause. Secondly, Evolutionism which admits only the existence of matter seems to deny the facts of experience, in that there would be no difference, on the one hand, between the material activity that is physico-chemical, and on the other hand, life, sensation, and thought. Thirdly, Evolutionism which admits only matter overlooks a basic principle of knowledge: we know what things are by what they do (agere sequitur esse). Since Materialistic Evolutionism maintains that the nature of things is material no matter how they operate, this is an assumption against the facts.10 On the other hand, there may be some elements of truth to be found even in Darwinism, which is Materialistic Evolutionism.11

Part of difficulty of limiting this presentation involves the large number of different philosophies of Evolutionism. Dr. Maria Teresa La Vecchia of the Gregorian University says there are about thirty different theories of evolution today, and her opinion is confirmed by a number of other Neo-Scholastic philosophers.12 The biography of Vittorio Marcozzi, the Neo-Scholastic philosopher at the Gregorian University who was occupied with evolution even from the beginning of his career in teaching in 1939, states that he found new theories constantly arising, such as Neo-Darwinism, Neo-Larmarckianism, and Puctuated Equibilrium.13

Can Evolutionism, considered as a philosophy in itself, be critiqued under a single heading? No, it cannot. Since Darwin, there have arisen a number of different philosophies of evolution. In addition to the basic philosophic problem of transformation of species, there is an added question of progress by chance. Further, Positivist philosophers believe that evolution progresses in a mechanical way, raising the questions of Mechanicism and Materialism. A deeper study of the question of evolution raises the question about whether Aristotelian Hylemorphism can give a satisfactory philosophical understanding of evolution, since the "species" of any particular thing arises from both formal and material causality.

Evolutionism and the Philosophy of Man

In an attempt to limit the treatment of Evolutionism, why include the origin of man? Isn’t man’s origin the same as any other animal, since man is a rational animal? Although Darwin included man, body and spirit, in the evolutionary pattern of all animals, the co-discoverer of evolution, Alfred R. Wallace, denied that evolution by natural selection could account for the origin of man’s mental, moral and sociological faculties.14 Thus arose a precisely evolutionary debate between those who put man totally within the evolutionary pattern and those who placed man totally outside that pattern.15 Some modern philosophers, such as Maria Teresa La Vecchia at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, base their whole presentation of evolution in relation to the philosophy of man. Since man is defined as a rational animal, what is man’s evolutionary relationship to the other members of the animal family?16 What is the origin of the body of man?17 What is the origin of man’s soul?18 Finally, what can be expected of man in the future in terms of evolutionary progress? Since, at first, it may seem that this last question can only be answered with speculation, not even La Vecchia gives much thought to the continued meaning of evolution philosophically.

Evolutionism as Universal Law

Even with the intention of limiting the presentation of Evolutionism, some consideration must be taken of its expansion to the level of universal law, and the consequences of this.19

A number of philosophers, such as Spencer, have elevated Darwin’s biological views of evolution to the status of a universal law.20 This raises some real and challenging questions. Not the least is the question of the possible evolution of life from non-life, the question of abiogenesis.21 Does the universe itself evolve?22 What is to be said about the current views on evolutionary society.23 Finally, does the theory of evolution need to exclude God, the Creator, and what can Scholastic philosophy answer to this atheistic position of Evolutionism.24

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