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Philosophy of Evolution: Evolutionism

Neo-Scholasticism's Views


This study intends to limit itself to Neo-Scholastic philosophers of the twentieth century.  The philosophy taught at the Gregorian University in Rome has been traditionally scholastic, and in the forefront of Neo-Scholasticism.



Neo-Scholasticism and Its Roots

Scholastic philosophy in the Middle Ages was the philosophy taught in the universities, the "schools" from whence Scholasticism gets its name. Later when modern philosophy broke away from traditional philosophy, those who continued to teach the doctrines of the great philosophers of the Middle Ages became known as Scholastics. The term Scholastic philosophy is almost equivalent to Catholic philosophy since it is the philosophy taught, by papal rescript, in Catholic seminaries and universities even today.25

Neo-Scholasticism is the revival of the scholastic tradition in modern times. This revival is due in large part to the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, Aeterni Patris (4 August 1897). Scholasticism never really died out completely, but had lost much of its vigor and popularity among philosophers.26

Neo-Scholasticism is a system especially based on the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, who was in large part an Aristotelian in philosophy.27 Before Aristotle, Parmenides (flourished 475 B.C.) proposed that becoming (change) was impossible, because being cannot come from being (this already exists) nor can being come from non-being (utter nothingness, and from nothing, nothing comes). Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), in reply to the problem of Parmenides, did a brilliant analysis of change. Change, Aristotle maintained, is possible because between being and utter nothingness there is an intermediate state, which is potential being or being in potency. This is important for our analysis, for fundamentally, evolution is transformation or change. In addition, it may be said that Aristotle was the founder of biology as a science. Some of the principles of Aristotle can still be useful in the analysis of the mutability of species.28 While Plato (born 427 B.C.) thought things perceived by the senses were real because they imitated ideas, for Aristotle things are reality because they embody forms. The doctrine of Aristotle that sensible substances are real embodiments of forms in matter, is called Hylemorphism (from hyle, matter, and morphe, form). Aristotle also rejected both Materialism and the Mechanicism of Democritus, and Idealism of Plato.29

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), in the thirteenth century, did not specifically treat the idea of evolution, which arose as an intellectual challenge in the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, his principles and method are still important in philosophy. It is these principles and this method that can be used to try to explain the phenomenon of evolution in its several aspects.30

Twentieth Century Renewal of Philosophy of Nature

The Neo-Scholastic philosophers of the twentieth century faced a double task.31 First, the science of biology was just becoming modern in the twentieth century, so the material content of the philosophy of nature in biology was changing. Second, the Neo-Scholastics had to answer new problems that had not been treated in prior scholastic philosophy of nature (cosmology and rational psychology), and so some of the formal principles of philosophy (finality, chance, space, and time) had to be enlarged in new application.

Jacques Maritain called for a deep renovation of philosophy of nature. He maintained that there was an essential distinction between philosophy and science. Scientific measurement (empiromtrique) was only a medium (scientia media) between pure mathematics and natural philosophy, while modern descriptive sciences (emperioschmatique) only lend themselves to verification by experience. Therefore, empirical sciences keep to the more concrete notions, and when they go a step further in analysis, they do not go to ontological but mathematical principles, which fall short of the ontological degree of abstraction, in the opinion of Maritain. Accordingly, if descriptive sciences would be as superficial and hypothetical as Maritain thought, they would not be sciences at all, but only dialectical preparations for science.

The better opinion is that of Aristotle, who held that natural philosophy and empirical science are one, since both treat mobile being and each is a part of the other. The Aristotelian position is also the position of Mondin at the Urbaniana University, Selvaggi at the Gregorian University and the Dominican priests at the Aquinas Institute in River Forest, Illinois, near Chicago. The Aquinas Institute is also the location of the Albertus Magnus Lyceum, dedicated

to the working dialogue between Neo-Scholastic Thomism and empirical science.

The philosophy of nature in the twentieth century must be explored to determine if there has been a development favoring essential difference between philosophy and science (Maritain), or whether the dominant opinion will favor the unity of philosophy and science in a unified (Mondin et al.) philosophy of nature.

Part of the philosophy of nature is the philosophy of "human" nature, which is an organized, unified and certain knowledge about the nature of man, derived from experience and through an analysis of his activities, characteristics, and powers.32


The Gregorian University in Rome

The use of the Gregorian University as a special limit is for internal and external comparison. Historically, thirteen scholars have been identified as working at the Gregorian University in Rome. These scholars’ lives have covered the whole of the twentieth century. These scholars have interacted and influenced one another. Some of these scholars have taught the next generation at the Gregorian University.33 Some are gratefully cited or quoted by their successors in philosophy. A number of these scholars at the Gregorian University have been conservative, due to philosophic principles or due to the consciousness that their centrality in Rome leads to the conclusion that their views have some official sanction. Some of the other scholars are innovative. Internal comparison should reveal any change of views during the last century. There is a contemporary course on evolution being taught at the Gregorian University and the text of the course is published.34 This most recent publication should reveal where the position of the faculty on evolution is now. Concerning external comparisons, Gregorian University scholars, usually Jesuit priests, have produced texts in philosophy that have been widely used in other Jesuit institutions around the world Have these texts influenced opinions of scholars in other institutions?35 Accordingly, in a large survey of literature, the Gregorian University may be used as a convenient yardstick.


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.