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Philosophy of Evolution: Survey of Literature

Neo-Scholastics in Germany

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Joseph Wilhelm Karl Kleutgen (1883).41 Kleutgen was a Neo-Scholastic philosopher and theologian who composed the first draft of the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII Aeterni Patris (1879) concerning the revival of scholasticism. He played a leading part in the revival of scholastic philosophy and theology. He had mastered the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas so well the he was called Thomas redivivus (Thomas returned to life). In response to theological controversies raised by Gunter, Hermes, and Hirscher, he produced some epoch-making works.

Kleutgen was born in Dortmund, Germany, in 1811. He studied philosophy at the University of Munich in 1830 and 1831. He was very interested in Plato and the Greek tragic poets. Among the moderns of his time, he read Lessing and Herder, which he could not reconcile with his Catholic faith. From this intellectual crisis, he turned to prayer, through which he was transformed. He attended the theological academy at Munster for two terms in 1832. Then he went to the Catholic seminary at Paderborn. In 1834, he entered the Jesuit Order at Brig in Switzerland. He became a Swiss citizen and changed his name to Peters. He was ordained a priest in 1837, and became the professor of Ethics at Fribourg, Switzerland, for two years. From 1840 to 1843, he taught rhetoric at Brig. Then in 1843, he became the professor of sacred eloquence at the German College in Rome.

Kleutgen spent from 1842 to 1874 in Rome. He did his main writing during this period. He did pastoral work, and was loved by the poor of Rome whom he served. He also served as a secretary at the headquarters of the Jesuit Order from 1843 to 1862. He was persecuted by the Holy Office in Rome, so he left Rome for the secluded shrine of Our Lady of Galoro, where he wrote some of his major works. He was restored by Pope Pius IX, who made him a consultor to the bishops at the First Vatican Council, where he helped to prepare the council document De Fide Catholica. He died at St. Anton in the Tyrol in 1883. When he died, Pope Leo XIII said of him, "Erat princeps philosophorum" (He was the prince of philosophers).

Joseph Donat (1914).42 Joseph Donat was a Jesuit Neo-Scholastic teaching at the University of Innsbruck at the beginning of the twentieth century. Each of the departments of philosophy (Critica, Ontologia, Cosmologia, Psychologia, Theologia Naturalis, Ethica Generalis et Specialis) are treated in a handy small volume. His books were popular in Jesuit institutions for the preparation of the clergy up to the 1930s.

Donat treated natural philosophy, which he also calls cosmology. He defined cosmology as that part of philosophy which treats corporeal things according to their ultimate causes. In this tract, Donat also treats "life" in general and the activity of plants and animals. Donat treats man only later, in psychology, which Donat defines as the philosophical science of the sensitive and rational life of man. Later authors, like Boyer (around 1937 for his several volumes) and Calcagno (around 1952) treat all of life, whether plant, animal or human, together in psychology.

Donat begins his treatment of cosmology by stressing order in the world. He maintains that the universe in not infinite, since it does not have all perfections nor have them perfectly. Further, the universe is not even infinite partially (secundum quid) in extension, since there are no arguments to favor infinity, while actual extension (which is observable) does not include infinity in its concept. Donat also maintains that the universe is good, but not the best, as the Stoics, Pantheists, and Leibniz all claim. Donat also argues against Materialism.

Donat treats evolution in cosmology and in psychology. In cosmology, Donat maintains that abiogenesis is impossible. Donat also rejects Darwinism. Donat does admit evolution of plants and animals that is polyphyletic and restricted to species and genera. Donat rejects monphyletic evolution. In his treatment of psychology, Donat rejects the evolution of the whole man, including man’s body and soul. Donat also denies, against Mivart, that even the body of man has descended from brutes. Donat adds a rare personal comment in his denial of the evolution even of the body of man, that if he conceded the evolution of the body of man, this would not satisfy the Evolutionists, until the descent of the whole man is admitted and the necessity of any divine creation is refused.

Donat treats man in psychology, which Donat notes can be divided into empirical psychology (science) and rational psychology (philosophy). Donat says these two can be treated together, and can be a philosophical science. He notes, however, that the scientists reject a philosophical treatment. Donat begins his treatment of man by considering the nervous system and the senses. Then, he considers the intellect and the will. Donat seems to be ahead of his time with his ten page treatment of language. Donat also stresses the freedom of the will of man.

Donat treats man in ethics. The proximate goal of man is the perfection, order and conservation of his own life. In addition, the proximate goal of man is the good of others, which is attained by a social life appropriate to man’s nature. Modern opinion which makes culture or humanity the sole goal of mankind, contains some truth, but also have grave errors, according to Donat.

Edith Stein (1952).43 Edith Stein (1891-1942) was a disciple of Husserl and a Thomist philosopher in her own right. She authored a study which tried to combine the phenomenology of Husserl and the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas (Halle: 1929). She also translated St. Thomas’ work on truth (Aquinas De Veritate) in 1932.

Stein lived an unconventional life. She was born into a devout Jewish family, drifted into atheism in her mid-teens, took up the study of philosophy, and studied at the University of Gttingen with Edmund Husserl who was the founder of phenomenology. She followed Husserl to the University of Freiburg as his assistant. She became a pioneer in the women’s movement in Germany, and served as a military nurse in World War I. She received her doctorate in philosophy in 1916 with a dissertation under Husserl, On the Problem of Empathy. She then became a member of the faculty in Freiburg.

Stein found no conflict between knowledge and faith. She had some earlier contacts with Catholicism, but it was her reading of the autobiography of St. Teresa of vila on a holiday in 1921 that resulted in her conversion. Baptized on 1 January 1922, she gave up her assistantship with Husserl to teach at the Dominican girls’ school in Speyer from 1922 to 1932. It was while she was in Speyer that she translated St. Thomas’ work on truth into German and she familiarized herself with Catholic philosophy in general. In 1932, she became a lecturer at the Institute for Pedagogy at Mnster, but anti-Semitic legislation passed by the Nazi government forced her to resign the post in 1933. She entered the Carmelite monastery at Cologne in 1934 and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. There she wrote her metaphysical book Endliches Und Ewiges Sein which again tries to combine the philosophies of Husserl and Aquinas. To avoid the Nazi threat which was growing in Germany, her Order transferred her to the monastery of Echt in the Netherlands. There she wrote The Science of the Cross: Studies on John of the Cross. She was murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942, and was canonized as a Saint by Pope John Paul II.

Stein was a personalist and a person of action, as proved by her thesis on empathy, by her nursing in World War I, and by her pioneering in the women’s movement in Germany. (Aquinas was a man of action too.) Her orientation toward St. John of the Cross is very much like Maritain in The Degrees of Knowledge where St. John of the Cross is explicitly treated. Her position that there is no conflict between knowledge and faith did not arise directly due to science, but is relevant to the consideration of evolution. Her treatment of psychology was not the rational psychology of the Neo-Scholastics of the 1940s, but closer to the experimental psychology of practice.

Karl Rahner (1958).44 Karl Rahner (1904-1984) is a German Jesuit priest and Neo-Scholastic philosopher and theologian. The philosophical sources of Rahner’s theology include St. Thomas Aquinas, read from the aspect of contemporary continental philosophy. Rahner also is a clear exponent of a dialogue with Existentialism, which raises the importance of metaphysics and the vital distinction in creatures between essence and existence.

Rahner was born in Freiburg, Germany on 5 March 1904. He attended lectures by Martin Heidegger at the University of Freiburg. Between 1937 and 1984, he taught dogmatics in Catholic universities in Innsbruck and Munich. It was in 1964, he followed Romano Guardino at Munich. He gave attention to pastoral issues, to Church reform, and to the responsibility of man as the receiver of revealed messages. He was at the Vatican Council between 1962 and 1965. He profoundly influenced the Second Vatican Council, since Rahner was one of the ground-breakers for a modern understanding of the Catholic faith. H wrote more than half a dozen books. Written near the end of his life, one of his most important theological works is the Foundations of the Christian Faith (Grundkurs des Glaubens), which is the most developed and systematic of his works, most of which were published in the form of theological essays. He died in Innsbruck, Austria, on 30 March 1984.

Rahner has as the basis of his theology that all human beings have a latent ("unauthentic") awareness of God in any experience of limitation in knowledge or freedom as finite subjects. In this, he is similar to Dambricourt’s Adamic revelation. Also, because such an experience is necessary, since it constitutes what Rahner calls "a condition of possibility" for any knowledge or freedom, Rahner borrows the language of Kant to describe this experience as "transcendental experience." This transcendental experiential factor reveals his closeness to Marchal’s Transcendental Thomism.

Rahner does touch on evolution in his work, Homanisation, which originally appeared in 1958. Rahner revised it and it was republished by Herder in 1965. This 1965 edition is the one described here. Note that the term "hominization" means the theory of man’s evolutionary origins. The Preface describes the limits of Catholic theology relative to evolution. The toleration of moderate evolution by the Catholic Church leaves many questions unanswered. The first section (of three) is dogmatic and gives a summary of official church teaching on evolution. The second section is "fundamental theology" to elucidate the background or foundation of church teaching. The long third section raises some philosophical and theological questions, which are useful to this dissertation: the concept of becoming, the concept of cause, the distinction between spirit and matter, the unity of spirit and matter, the concept of operation, and the creation of the spiritual soul.

Rahner does not simply treat the origin of man, but his existence and his future, items that can be of some concern to the issue of evolution. Central for Rahner is the theological doctrine of grace, which for Rahner is a constituent element of man’s existence, so that grace is a permanent modification of human nature in a supernatural "existential," to borrow a phrase from Heidegger. For this reason, Rahner doubts the real possibility of a state of pure nature (natura pura), which is human existence without being involved with grace. The fulfillment of human existence occurs in receiving God’s gift of Himself, not only in the beatific vision at the end of time, but present now as seed in grace. In treating the present existence of man and his future as human, Rahner is of special usefulness to this dissertation.

Rahner has been open to the prospect of extra-terrestrial intelligence, the prospect that cosmic evolution has yielded sentient life forms in other galaxies. This raises questions of philosophical, ethical and theological significance. Rahner argued against any theological prohibition of the notion of extra-terrestrial life, while distinguishing the existential significance of such life forms from that of angels. Further, Rahner raises, but does not affirm, the possibility of multiple Incarnations. Given the strong Christological orientation of the theology of Rahner, it does not appear likely Rahner would incline toward the repetition of the Incarnation of Christ.

Victor Cathrein (1959).45 Victor Cathrein in a Neo-Scholastic moral theologian who was born in Brig in Switzerland in 1845. He was an editor of the journal Stimmen aus Maria-Laach. He taught moral theology for twenty-eight years. He wrote several books, including one on Socialism. He died in Aachen in 1931.

Cathrein wrote a book on moral theology, Philosophia Moralis, that had become a classic and went through twenty-one editions up to 1959. The original book was written in 1895 in Valkenburg, Holland, at the College of St. Ignatius. The book contains more than 500 pages, and the material is presented in thesis form. There are 106 theses. His citations are from Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. He does not recommend reading many authors, which will cause "only confusion." His book Philosophia Moralis: In Usum Scholarum. 21st ed. (Freiburg: Herder, 1959) is written in Latin but Cathrein also has another work in German which expands on the Latin compendium. The book has two parts, of which the first is general moral philosophy, containing the ultimate goal of man, human acts, natural law, conscience, sin, and law. The second part of the book is special moral philosophy, containing individual ethics, (duties to God, self and others was well a property rights and contracts) and special social ethics (domestic, civil, political and international society).

Cathrein treated Evolutionism. He wrote a pamphlet Darwinism in 1885. However, Herbert Spencer’s book Data of Ethics makes Spencer a better adversary than Darwin. Cathrein does put Spencer and the "followers of Darwin" together under the same philosophy, Evolutionism. Cathrein (thesis #3) opposes Spencer who holds Mechanicism for ethics since man is a machine with no free will and will continue to evolve. Cathrein (thesis #26) accuses Spencer of being a Utilitarian, because altruistic common joy will evolve to perfect harmony. Cathrein (thesis #41) opposes Ahrens (1808-1874) who maintains that the ultimate good and the goal of evolution will be the progress of human faculties. Cathrein (thesis #127) opposes Spencer’s evolutionary system is not positive but falls between social eudaemonism and hedonism. Cathrein (thesis #139) opposes Spencer who maintains: that man is not created by God, that God is not the final goal of man, that man has no spiritual and immortal soul, and that man is not a species diverse from brutes.

Hans Urs von Balthasar (1961).46 Father Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) was a Swiss Neo-Scholastic Roman Catholic theologian, born in Zurich, Switzerland, and who studied in Vienna, Berlin, and Zurich. He obtained his doctorate in German literature. Although von Balthasar is known as a theologian, he never obtained a doctorate in theology. He joined the Jesuit Order in 1928, and was ordained a priest in 1936. In 1950, he left the Jesuits, and joined the diocese of Chur where he founded a religious order for the laity. He was prohibited from teaching. However, the journal he founded, Communio, is published in twelve languages, including Arabic. He was asked by Pope John Paul II to become a cardinal. He died on 26 June 1988 at his home in Basel, just two days before the ceremony making him a cardinal. He is buried in Lucern, in the Hofkirke cemetery. Pope John Paul II called von Balthasar his favorite theologian and the most cultured man in Europe.

Von Balthasar was concerned that his theology address practical issues and the spiritual life. For example, he was influenced by the mystical experiences of Dr. Adrienne von Speyr. He wrote about the lives of the Saints and the Church Fathers in order to give examples of the perfect Christian life.

Von Balthasar was a very serious thelogian. His work Glory of the Lord was seven volumes, and explored the philosophical transcendentals, the good, the true, and the beautiful. His work Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory was five volumes, and concerned God’s action and man’s response. His work Theo-Logic was three volumes, and concerns Christology and ontology. Von Balthasar even wrote a "forward" to the book on Tarot by Valentin Tomberg.

Von Balthasar is difficult to categorize because he is so eclectic in approach, sources and interests. For example, von Balthasar had a long conversation with the Protestant theologian, Karl Barth. Von Balthasar wrote the first Roman Catholic analysis of Barth and a response to Barth’s theology that was full of sensitivity and insight. Barth himself agreed with the analysis.

Von Balthasar was one of the most important Catholic theologians of the twentieth century, along with Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan. All three offered an intellectual and faithful response to the Modernism of the West. Von Balthasar was the traditionalist who resisted all reductionism and wanted Christianity to challenge all philosophical and modern assumptions. The moderate position was taken by Lonergan, who worked out a philosophy of history that sought to critically appropriate modernity. The progressive position was taken by Karl Rahner who sought an accommodation with modernity.

Ioannes B. Lotz (1963).47 Lotz is a German Jesuit Neo-Scholastic teaching in Pullach, seven miles from Munich, Germany. He follows the Perennial Philosophy, which is the philosophy whose basis is Aristotle and Aquinas. Although he professes Scholastic Philosophy dependent on Aquinas, Lotz notes that there are several schools of scholastic philosophers, so some of his opinions are a synthesis between Thomists and the followers of Suarez. He does note the influence that the Transcendental Thomism of Marchal and Rousselot had on him, and he was also influenced by Kant, Hegel, Heidegger whom he believes also contributed to Perennial Philosophy. He was also influenced by E. Coreth’s Metaphysik written in Innsbruck in 1961. Lotz, writing in 1963, thinks that the transcendental method, which is the ascent to subsistent Esse (God), is indispensable to accommodate Scholastic Philosophy to modern problems, such as historicity, existential ontology, freedom, and the importance of the person.

Lotz wrote his book Ontologia in Latin in 1961. He had been working on the book for five years, from 1956 to 1961, and it went through several forms as student notes. The book is part of a series, Institutiones Philosophicae Scholasticae, whose independent books were written by Jesuit philosophy professors at the Jesuit College at Pullach, near Munich. He gives a five page general bibliography, but more important is the bibliography with each thesis, always beginning with Aristotle and Aquinas. Lotz uses the scholastic method of thesis, definitions, opinions, proofs by syllogism, and objections. He adds educational helps for his students by putting important matter in larger print. He uses modern terms as much as possible, for example, in types of analogy.

Lotz treats evolutionary issues in his treatment of Driesch. Hans Driesch at Heidelberg University was an evolutionist, who rejected merely material evolution. Driesch was a teacher of Jacques Maritain. Lotz praises Driesch for his use of the inductive method, the method of science. Driesch was a scientist and biologist, who later changed to the field of philosophy. Lotz mentions Driesch favorably twice for the support Driesch gives to final causality. Note that Marcozzi and La Vecchia at the Gregorian University view the failure to admit final causality as the fatal flaw of Evolutionism in general.

Lotz treats evolutionary issues under the topic of mutation (mutatio). Lotz maintains that change of earthly beings supposes final causality. The goal, or final cause, is not just a term, but the reason for and the reason why change happens. It can be a goal in intention (humans decide) or in execution (infra-human). Finality is an order to a goal (ordo ad finem) which is called "subjective" if the order to the goal is in a conscious subject, or called "objective" if the order to the goal is not in a conscious subject. Man knows and wills the goal. What about infra-human creatures and goals? An intelligent cause (such as the Creator) can imprint such a final structure on infra-human entities, just as man makes machines.

Lotz treats finality extensively, which is most important since Anit-Finalism (chance in natural selection) is the usual characteristic of most Evolutionism. Lotz maintains that the goal is a real cause (finis est causa proprio sensu), since it fulfills the definition of cause properly speaking: a principle which by its influx determines to existence something insufficient by itself. Therefore, the goal by its goodness is determinative. Lotz also maintains that finality does not violate the Principle of Contradiction (as if the goal caused itself), since the goal does not yet exist as attained. But the final cause does conform to the Principle of Sufficient Reason because it moves something to the yet non-existent goal.

Christoph Schnborn (2005), who has his own web site.48 Christoph Cardinal Schnborn is a German Neo-Scholastic trained Domincan, and since 1995 the Archbishop of Vienna, Austria. He was born on 22 June 1945 in Skalhen Castle, west of Leitmeritz, Bohemia, now the Czech Republic. He has two brothers and one sister. His parents died in 1959. His family is an old and noble central European family. Several members of that family held high posts in the Catholic Church in the past. In 1945, the family was forced to flee Bohemia. He was created Cardinal-Priest by Pope John Paul II on 20 February 1998. He was considered a possible papal candidate when he took part in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI. He is a chaplain to the Austrian Order of the Golden Fleece.

Schnborn was trained as a teacher and is a Neo-Scholastic from the last half of the twentieth century. He took his Matura exam in 1963. He studied philosophy, theology and psychology in Barnheim-Walberberg, Vienna, and Paris. He was ordained a Dominican priest by Franz Cardinal Knig in 1970 in Vienna. He later studied at Regensburg under Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI. In 1975, he became professor at Freiburg im echtland. In 1980, he became a member of the International Theological Commission of the Holy See. In 1987, he was made the editorial secretary for the World Catechism. He speaks six languages.

Christoph Cardinal Schnborn wrote an editorial published in the New York Times (7 July 2005) in which he criticized the Neo-Darwinian theories of evolution as incompatible with Catholic teaching. The defenders of the Neo-Darwinian position on evolution somehow believed their position was actually compatible with the Catholic faith, due to the statement of Pope John Paul II in 1996, that evolution (a term he did not define) was "more than a hypothesis." Although Christoph Schnborn admitted that evolution in the sense of common ancestry may be true, he opposed chance evolution in biology and cosmology. He opposed evolution by the proper mechanism of matter, which is Materialism. He relied on papal documents to illustrate and prove his theological view. He does not define "immanent design evident in nature" and he defends this from a theological point view.

Schnborn received a great deal of public criticism for his views, even from Rev. George Coyne, S.J., director of the Vatican Observatory. In an exchange of articles with the Catholic physicist, Stephen Barr, Christoph Schnborn replied and clarified some of his statements. He recognizes the great progress made by science. He states that science and faith need not conflict, because they answer different questions. Science and faith should each respect the worldview of the other. He notes that the work of Darwin remains great in the history of ideas. He notes that unguided, unplanned evolution is not Christian faith compatible. He has no problem with theistic (God guided) evolution. While there is no difficulty between belief in a Creator and the theory of evolution, it is important that the borders of scientific theory be maintained; but he notes that Julian Huxley, Will Provine and Peter Athins do not stay in their own scientific territory. Those who hoped to replace religion as a worldview, Schnborn categorized as followers of Scientism, a dogmatic view of science.

CONCLUSION: The conclusion for the German Neo-Scholastic trained philosophers brings to light a surprise on the variety of their activities. Kleutgen was a founder of Neo-Scholasticism and wrote the first draft of its charter in the encyclical Aeterni Patris; Cathrein was also an early Neo-Scholastic and unique in his field of moral philosophy. On the other hand, a professional philosopher like Edith Stein moved toward experimental psychology. Rahner and Lotz emphasized the importance of metaphysics. Rahner, Fabro and Maritain were all influence in part by Existentialism. Von Balthasar founded a religious order for laity. Both von Balthasar and Cathrein were magazine editors. Both Stein and Schnborn held that there was no conflict between religion and science. However there are some common traits such as educators and activists, and many of these Neo-Scholastics held some common opinions on evolution.

German Neo-Scholastics were all teachers at one time or another: Kleutgen, Donat, Stein, Rahner, Cathrein, von Balthasar, Lotz, and Shnborn. Several were activists, such as Kleutgen with the poor of Rome, Stein with the liberation movement for German women, and von Balthasar founding a new religious order and a successful magazine. Two of these activists were persecuted by Rome, but Kleutgen and von Balthasar were both recognized as worthy by subsequent popes. Schnborn was not an activist, but certainly a controversialist.

German Neo-Scholastics held a number of helpful opinions on evolution. Darwinism was specifically rejected by Donat. Cathrein accused Spencer of Utilitarianism. Concerning evolution in general, Donat admitted polyphyletic evolution in plants and animals in species and genera, while Schnborn had no problem with evolution as common ancestry with a Creator God. The Principle of Finality was well defended by Lotz and Schnborn. Donat and Schnborn argued against Materialism. Cathrein argued against Mechanicism. Cathrein argued an essential distinction between man and brute. Donat opposed the evolution of the body of man. Donat and Cathrein both endorsed the creation of the individual soul of man by God. Abiogenesis was rejected by Donat. However, Donat did argue that the cosmos is well ordered. Donat, Rahner and Cathrein all endorsed free will for men in society as opposed to evolutionary determination, and Cathrein noted free will is necessary as a foundation for morality. Donat, Rahner and Schnborn all endorsed the necessity of God in evolution. Rahner took up disputed questions in the philosophy of evolution. Rahner also treated extra-terrestial life as possible. Concerning the future development of human understanding, both Maritan and Stein were creative philosophers, both entered monasteries, and both wrote about the mystical thought of St. John of the Cross.

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