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Philosophy of Evolution: Survey of Literature

Neo-Scholastics in Ireland

North America
South America

Michael Maher (1940).49 Michael Maher was an Irish Jesuit Neo-Scholastic who is the author of a work in psychology that is both empirical and rational. His is an Aristotelian and he offers readings in his book from St. Thomas Aquinas. He was an examiner in education for the National University of Ireland. He is an educator, and his intention is to come into closer contact with modern questions. He wants to aquaint students with the merits of modern psychological analysis and explanation. He was also a consultant for the Catholic Encyclopedia, and wrote several articles.

Maher wrote his book in psychology as part of the Stonyhurst Philosophical Series for students. The ninth edition of his book was published in 1918, and the first edition was published forty years earlier, in 1878. The book was still in print and republished in 1940, a testimony to its worth. Even Maher notes that the book had a surprising endurance and reflected an expression of demand. Maher was well ahead of his time in treating both empirical and rational psychology at the same time. Still, this made the treatment of "life," both plant and animal, to be treated in another course, cosmology. This is not merely a technical issue, for it allowed Maher to say that he did not have to treat the issue of evolution directly, since it did not apply to the subject of psychology, the soul. Nevertheless, Maher is most insistent that he wishes to expand the old system of scholastic psychology, test its principles, develop them, and apply those scholastic principles to "modern problems" in the light of the most recent research. His footnotes are in English, French, German, and in Greek for Aristotle.

Maher does treat various evolutionist theories. He is opposed to Darwin’s theory of emotion. He is opposed to both Darwin’s theory of natural selection and to Spencer’s theory of hereditary habits being passed on to another generation. Maher’s critique of both Darwin and Spencer is that both men assume that changes will be passed on to the next generation by heredity. Maher notes that natural selection of itself or learned habits in one generation do not necessarily modify the cells of the parent and so inheritance would be impossible. Maher explains the essential union of body and soul by hylemorphic principles and by the Aristotelian system of causes. He treats the discontinuity between men and animals by showing that animals have a material soul. He affirms the spiritual soul of man, created by God. He has a section on the origin of human language. He notes that man has free will, and gives a metaphysical proof among other proofs. He affirms that God exists as an efficient cause, as Creator of the soul.

Henry V. Gill (1944).50 Gill is an Irish Jesuit Neo-Scholastic writer who also has a M.A. from Cambridge. He worked in the Cavendish Laboratory in physics research with J. J. Thomson. For many years, Gill was directly engaged in lecturing and teaching. In addition to his scientific background, his philosophical and theological training make him well equipped to write with authority. His book about fact and fiction in modern science is a compilation of a number of articles he had already published in such journals as the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, The Month, Studies and Thought. His book is intended for the educated reader, and is in popular style. Nevertheless, the content is serious and up-to-date in science at the 1944 time of publication. The book proved very popular, with three printings in Ireland and an American edition.

Gill treats modern science. He cites Michael Maher, a fellow Jesuit, about the metaphysics of consciousness. It is also noteworthy that while Maher was interested in the future as modern and up-to-date, Gill sees modernity as the rapid growth of science and has a chapter on "Science and Survival." Gill notes that the attitude of the popes was to promote science. He also endorses the principle of finality in treating evolution and entropy.

Gill treats evolution. He notes that Materialism has no answer adequate to explain the difference between life and non-life. Gill opposes abiogenesis. He does note that scholastics did affirm spontaneous generation in the past, and that this would not exclude the existence of God. However, Gill maintains that if abiogenesis is excluded, then the necessity of the Creator can be demonstrated. He excludes the theory that life came from across space, for then the same problem of the origin of life is pushed back, still unsolved. Gill notes that evolution is contrary to the law of entropy, and that entropy is a dogma accepted by all physicists.

CONCLUSION: The conclusion for the Irish Neo-Scholastic philosophers brings to light two teachers also in public life: Maher as university examiner, and Gill as a lecturer and popular author. Maher, an older Neo-Scholastic at the beginning of the twentieth century was preoccupied with being modern, while Gill near mid-century was concerned with survival and the future of man. Both believed in the separation of science and religion, without prejudice to either. Concerning evolution in general, the psychological presentation maintained that evolution does not even belong in rational psychology, which treats only the soul, according to Maher. Gill is more concerned about the origin of life itself, or spontaneous generation, which he rejects. When Gill treats evolution directly, he rejects evolution because of the physical law of entropy. While Gill rejects Materialism, Maher explains the essential union of body and soul using the concepts of matter and form. Maher shows (in a supplement on animal psychology) the material nature of the soul of animals, while the human soul is spiritual and created. Maher’s treatment of the immortality of the soul looks to the future of man. Both Gill and Maher endorse free will, and Maher gives a methaphysical proof for that freedom. Maher and Gill are both theists. Maher invokes God as the efficient cause of the creation of the soul, and Gill invokes God as the cause of order in the universe.

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