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Philosophy of Evolution: Anti-Materialism

The Scholastic Solutions

Overview
Background
Dialogue
Definitions
Question
Aquinas
Solution
Certitude
Links

The thesis that Evolutionism is incompatible with Materialism is generally supported by Neo-Scholastic philosophers, who give arguments against monistic Materialism.

Calcagno argues against Materialism that material operations are external and transient, while "immanent actions are without a doubt required for vital effects."44 Calcagno also argues that material organisms alone cannot explain the constancy of phenomena.45

Donat has two arguments against Materialism. First, matter needs a sufficient reason for its existence since it is contingent; and matter cannot be its own sufficient reason. Second, matter cannot effect the marvelous order in the universe from mere chance.

Gevaert agrues that Materialism is insufficient, especially anthropologically.46

Hoenen argues against Materialism that substantial material forms do not have being (esse) by themselves (per se), as proved by the principle: operation follows being (agere sequitur esse). But, substantial material forms have no operations that are intrinsically independent of matter, as proven from observation of the material form in inorganic substances, in plants and in brute animals.47

Palmes argues against Materialism that no theory up to now, or is possible, to philosophically explain the nature of vegetative life, negating the reality of the vital principle.48

Renard agues against Materialism. He notes that the Materialists postulated internal necessity, namely nature itself, as the complete solution to the problem of finality. Renard replies that this argument from necessity, and the powers of adaptation in nature, is the very argument that St. Thomas uses to prove the finality of nature. Renard notes the superiority of the argument of St. Thomas because the Evolutionists start and end in the first degree of abstraction.49

In addition to these shorter critiques of Materialism, it may be helpful to order some of the material in syllogistic form to more clearly elaborate the arguments.

ACCIDENTAL POWERS: First, concerning an accidental vital principle, metaphysical argumentation proves that an accident cannot be the vital principle.50 The vital principle is a ultimate and intrinsic principle of the living organism. But no accident can be a ultimate intrinsic principle. Therefore, no accident can be the vital principle.

Proof to the major is the definition of the vital principle. Proof of the minor is from the definition of accident, which defines accident as "in" the substance; so properly speaking it is not the vital powers that act, but the living substance that acts through the vital powers.

ACCIDENTAL POWERS: Second, concerning an accidental vital principle, physical argumentation proves that an accident cannot be the vital principle.51 If the vital principle would be just a complex of accidental powers, either it naturally needs a substantial subject, or not. But neither alternative is able to be maintained. Therefore, an accident (or complex of accidents) cannot be the vital principle.

Proof of the major is by complete disjunction, either affirmative or negative. If negative, not needing a substantial subject, there is no explanation of why life should only come from (substantial subject) life. If affirmative, needing a substantial subject, this need makes the substantial subject (not the accidents) different from common matter which does not have such an exigency. Therefore, an accident cannot be the vital principle.

MATERIAL ITSELF: First, concerning a material vital principle, metaphysical argumentation proves that the material body cannot be the vital principle.52 The vital principle as defined here is the first principle quo of life, intrinsic to the living thing, as is evident from the definition. But, the first principle quo of life, intrinsic to the living thing, cannot be some material body. Therefore, the material body cannot be the vital principle.

The proof of the major is the definition itself. The proof of the minor is that some body can be the principle quo, either in so far as "it is" a body, or else in so far as "it is such a kind" of body. It can be neither: not in so far as it is a body, because then all and every body would be alive;53 not in so far as it is such a kind of body by virtue of some properties, since those accidental properties cannot be the vital principle (proved in the two "accidental power" arguments above).

MATERIAL ITSELF: Second, concerning a material vital principle, physical argumentation proves that the material body cannot be the vital principle.54 If the vital principle were a material body, its causality would be in the genus of efficient cause, and the effect would be local motion. But the vital principle is defined by immanent activity. Therefore, the material body cannot be the vital principle.

Proof of the major is that material corporal bodies are principia quod, by definition. Proof of the minor is by definition of the vital principle, which is obtained from observation of immanent activity.55 Another proof of the minor is the common observation that living things are essentially different from machines, in self-operation even opposite to the preferred, self-repair, and reproduction.56

The proof of the thesis that Evolutionism is incompatible with Materialism can be stated syllogistically.

There is an argument from the Principle of Causality. The effect cannot be greater than the cause. Materialism (cause) cannot yield life (greater effect). Therefore, Materialism cannot be the cause of life.

The major premise of the above argument is the principle of causality. The minor premise is proved because if Materialism (cause) yields life (greater effect), it would follow (per absurdum) that there would be no difference between dead material and live material, since both are equally material. The minor premise is also proved metaphysically because the material dynamism is from an external efficient cause, while life (by definition) is internal self-actuation.57 The conclusion follows that Materialism cannot yield life.

 

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