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Philosophy of Evolution: Anti-Mechanicism

Level of Certitude


The level of certitude about the rejection of Mechanicism is high.

The purpose of this section of the dissertation is to assess the minimum level of certitude for the thesis proposed, with an additional comment of any suspected higher level of certitude. There are various levels of certitude that can be chosen. Opinion is defined as intellectual assent (or disagreement) given to one part of a contradiction with fear of the opposite.54 Possibility is defined as the capacity for existence for a concrete possible thing: internally, that its constituent characteristics are not impossible, and additionally externally possible, if there is power to produce the thing.55 Probability, also called likelihood, is defined as the weight of motives, or the accumulation of serious motives, for prudent assent to some proposition, which is intrinsic probability if the motive arises from the nature of the thing, and can be extrinsic probability if the motive is from authority, which can also suppose the internal motive.56 Summary of Probabilities is defined as an accumulation of probable arguments, considered according to their force, which results from a mere juxtaposition. Convergence of Probabilities is defined as an accumulation of probabilities which converge to produce a sufficient reason. Moral certitude is defined as firm assent to one part of a contradiction whose necessity arises from the moral law in the physical (not ethical) sense, e.g., every mother instinctively loves. Physical certitude is defined as firm assent to one part of a contradiction whose necessity arises from the very physical nature of the thing, e.g., the law of gravity. Metaphysical certitude is defined as firm assent to one part of a contradiction whose necessity arises from metaphysical necessity, e.g., my own existence.57

Certitude could arise from some observable fact or experiment. However, there is no experiment to prove the mechanism of evolution.58 However, some restricted observation of the mechanism of evolution is possible within species.59 Mechanicists allege that natural selection is the mechanism for evolution, but the great number of evolutionary theories would indicate that Evolutionists themselves are not satisfied with the completeness of this explanation.60 Observation is also invoked by Mondin who studies the phenomenon of life by comparing a non-living being such as a block of marble with a living being such as a dog.61 The dog is not a machine since it can move itself, and can die. Palmes also notes "from observation" that if the animal is only moved mechanically by another, it is dead by defect of life.62

Certitude could arise from some philosophical explanation that exists. However refutations of Mechanicism were given by several Neo-Scholastics: Hellin,63 Mondin,64 and Maritain, who maintains, "In our day modern biology manifests a very strong anti-mechanistic reaction."65

Certitude could arise if the argumentation was based on some philosophical principles.

However, the principle of sufficient reason is violated because Mechanicism cannot adequately explain Evolutionism.66

Certitude could arise if the explanation is sufficient, due to the principle of sufficient reason.

The theory of Mechanicism is not sufficient to explain Evolutionism.67

Certitude could arise if the explanation was rooted in St. Thomas Aquinas, thereby being faithful to tradition, but Mechanicism revives "the nominalistic interpretation of science to pit Ockham once more against St. Thomas Aquinas."68

Certitude could arise if Neo-Scholastics agree, but their agreement is against Mechanicsim. Examples of this opposition to Mechanicism among the Neo-Scholastics are Dezza,69 Hellin,70 Hugon,71 and Maquart.72

Certitude could arise due to recent scientific confirmation by convergent scientific arguments, but Maritain, who studied scientific biology under Dreisch at Heidelberg, notes that scientific biology has a strong anti-mechanistic reaction.73

Certitude could arise if the opposite opinion is not tenable, but the opposite opinion, that Evolutionism is helped by Hylemorphism, is tenable. Mondin notes the decline of Mechanicism’s view of corporal reality and the contemporary return to the Aristotelian theory of Hylemorphism.74 Mondin cites Selvaggi, a professor at the Gregorian University in Rome, as confirmation of this return to Hylemorphism.

Certitude could arise if the objections of adversaries are able to be answered. However, all objections raised by the Mechanicists can be answered.

OBJECTION: The arrow from the bow is not impelled by a extrinsic locomotor force distinct from the local motion of the arrow, but only by the conservation of motion. REPLY: If admitted, there exists an external "independent" conservative cause of motion, which is not the motion itself because motion is not a productive thing.75

OBJECTION: Activities like elasticity, affinity, and valence cause diverse movements. REPLY: Therefore you admit "internal" independent causes of motion. Further, you then admit these qualities, or principles, or activities are essentially distinct among themselves, and not reducible to each other.76

OBJECTION: Activities like electric and magnetic fields cause motion and are reducible to local motion. REPLY: Electric and magnetic fields "cannot be reduced" to local motion, because their goal is not to cause successive position in space, but only to dispose elements under those forms with which they have an affinity.77

Certitude can be had from the possibility of philosophers and theologians admitting this mode of origin without damage to their other beliefs. No Neo-Scholastic philosopher could accept Mechanicism, because it retarded the "authentic philosophy of nature."78 No theologian could accept Mechanicism’s view of God, namely Deism, where God is the clockmaker who winds the clock and disappears.79 No theologian could accept the thesis of Mechanicism that created substances cannot be true efficient causes, since this leads to the Occasionalism of Malebrance (died 1715), who denied true efficient causality to creatures, only allowing creatures to be "occasions" of Divine action.80

Certitude can be had from the fact the Mechanicism is not the best answer to explain Evolutionism now,81 but some intrinsic vital element must be present. Maritain notes that biological scientists of his time were turning against Mechanicism.82 Maritain also notes that even the poets of our time reject Mechanicism in favor of the autodetermination of living forms.83

The level of certitude for "Evolutionism is incompatible with Mechanicism" is at the level of the metaphysically certain. The proof is the principle of causality, since the effect cannot be greater than the cause. Further, the convergence of all of the above arguments are proof, especially the lack of fulfillment of the principle of sufficient reason. This agrees with the opinion of Palmes.84

Having come to the correct conclusion on the philosophical level of certitude, the philosopher must still conclude with some humility. The philosophy of nature does not disregard the objects observed and perceived by sense.85 This is the method of Aristotle and St. Thomas.86 This method is confirmed by the Neo-Scholastic Jacques Maritain, as he explains "the appearance of mechanism" while at the same time explaining the inadequacies of Mechanicism: " physiology. If for example, muscle must be considered, according to the studies of Hill and Meyerhof, as an absolutely special moving power (chemico-collodial) of a type unknown in mechanics, that doesn’t prevent the appearance of mechanism. ‘The mechanism appears (apart from certain secondary lacunae) as entirely physico-chemical, involving no reaction, force that has not been met in inanimate matter and rigorously subject to the law of conservation of energy’ (Louis Lapicque, in the collective volume L’Orientation Actuelle des Sciences, 1930). What is here ‘entirely physico-chemical’ is the ensemble of energetic and material means of the phenomenon. Materially physico-chemical, the phenomenon itself is formally vital, it is the auto-actuation of the subject, and it implies that the physico-chemical energies in play are precisely the means, instruments of a radical principle of immanent activity."87 Secondly, the Neo-Scholastics concede that through every bodily activity local motion is produced, even though they deny that this motion is all and only local motion.88

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