Aristotle, Aquinas & Emergence

I was asked to write an article relating the teaching of Aquinas to contemporary science for the journal Scientia et Fides. I decided to use and further develop the material contained in my doctoral dissertation. I expanded my reinterpretation of the classical notion of emergence, with its emphasis on the role of downward causation, in terms of the fourfold notion of causation in Aristotle and Aquinas, and the theory of divine action offered by the latter. The PDF version of the article is available HERE.

Abstract of the article:

One of the main challenges of the nonreductionist approach to complex structures and phenomena in philosophy of biology is its defense of the plausibility of the theory of emergence and downward causation. The tension between remaining faithful to the rules of physicalism and physical causal closure, while defending the novelty and distinctiveness of emergents from their basal constituents, makes the argumentation of many proponents of emergentism lacking in coherency and precision. In this article I aim at answering the suggestion of several thinkers to redefine emergence and downward causation in terms of the broader Aristotelian view of causation. In addition, I further develop this interdisciplinary conversation to include theological implications of emergentism, analyzed in reference to Aquinas’ understanding of divine action in terms of the same fourfold division of causes—bringing thus natural science, philosophy, and theology into creative and fruitful dialogue.

Keywords: emergence; downward causation; hylomorphism; teleology; Aristotle; Aquinas.


CTNS Conference 2016

Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences organizes a conference on this Saturday:

The Annual Russell Family Research Conference
Saturday, April 16, 2016

Steps to a Metaphysics of Incompleteness

It is dedicated to the work of Terrence Deacon from the UC Berkeley whose theory of emergence is one of the main topics of my doctoral dissertation. Deacon will present the paper he wrote together with Tyrone Cashman. Then there will be four scholars responding to the paper. I am one of them. Go to the website to get more details:

The Annual Russell Family Research Conference
Saturday, April 16, 2016

Dissertation Proposal

Emergence and Divine Action:
Exploring the Dispositional View of Causation
as a New Philosophical Foundation

My dissertation proposal was accepted at the GTU systematic and philosophical theology area meeting on Oct 15. All I have to do is to have it approved by the GTU doctoral council (sometime in November) and then write it. 🙂 Few words of explanation concerning my current research that I wrote in an email sent to a scholar that I am corresponding with online, will serve as a good introduction to the topic of my work.

The reason I got interested in the dispositional metaphysics is its rejection of Humean view of causation and re-connecting with Aristotelian metaphysics and philosophy of causation. But there is not an easy connection that one can establish between the two I’m afraid. Although some thinkers like Brian Ellis argue in favor of essentialism (see his Scientific Essentialism), they are not ready, nor willing to accept hylomorphism. The other problem is teleology. Molnar speaks about the natural “physical intentionality” of powers to manifest themselves, but hardcore Aristotelians are not satisfied. For them Aristotle’s distinction between active and passive potencies is crucial. They emphasize the character of the active potencies which are causal grounds of certain effects but without being determined to those effects by nature or without requiring any stimulus condition to obtain. (See for instance the paper by Errin Clark, which will be published soon in proceedings of the ACPA conference that took place a week ago in D.C and was dedicated to dispositional metaphysics) But this whole argumentation sounds like another criticism of conditional view of causation which is criticized by several dispositionalists – so they can defend themselves here. But the question remains: how Aristotelian is dispositional metaphysics???

Complex systems approach, emergence and systems theory are fascinating in terms of their re-discovery of complex structures and their holistic approach to reality. But they are stuck with the Humean view of causation which is based on his atomistic ontology of events and his dismissal of the ontology of objects. But one ontology cannot do without the other. Objects have properties (smell, age, physical construction) which cannot be ascribed to events. But acknowledging this requires from us a step beyond efficient causation which is the only one accepted in modern science. But scientists are very suspicious about making this move and buying into formal and final causes. They want to eat the cake and have it. That is, they argue in favor of irreducible complexity in systems theory, while saying – at the same time – that after all everything is explainable at the level of physical particles. They call themselves “non-reductionist physicalists” which I think brings a logical contradiction. If they are willing to buy into formal and final causes they claim – as Deacon does – that they emerge on the way of the growing complexity of the organization of matter, whereas for Aristotle these causes are simply out there all the time and ground all structures and processes not only bottom-up or top-down, but – as my advisor Michael Dodds OP says – inside-out.

My project would be to try to propose dispositional metaphysics as a philosophical base and ontology for Deacon’s emergentism and suggest that accepting a sort of essentialism (not necessarily hylomorphic essentialism) does not contradict science but opens it to philosophy of nature which can help to overcome the causal closure imposed by modern philosophy and science. In the second part of my dissertation I will work on the theory of divine action based on emergentism. I will show that dispositional metaphysics opens the way back to the Aristotelian-Thomistic view of causation and divine action, and God/world relation, which I want to propose as an alternative to the panentheistic theology of divine action based on emergence developed by Arthur Peacocke, Philip Clayton, and Niels Gregersen.

From Spinoza to Hegel

I’m publishing another paper that I wrote during the first two years of my studies at the GTU. It will eventually become an important part of one of the chapters of my dissertation.

Abstract: In recent years, the concept of panentheism has become one of the most influential  methodological frameworks among authors contributing to the science/theology debate in the Anglo-American context. However, a deep and well-weighed study of its philosophical foundations is still lacking. Moreover, a more critical evaluation of its legitimacy within theological reflection in the context of natural science is needed. The aim of this article is twofold. First, I present an analysis of a critical shift in metaphysics and the philosophy of God: I trace the origin of modern panentheism, the trajectory from Spinoza to Hegel, from substance to subject, from ontologically independent to an evolving God. Secondly, I refer to Barbour, Peacocke and Clayton and try to reveal crucial problems that challenge their versions of panentheism, as well as the one presented by Hegel. I claim that they all fail to express properly God’s transcendence. I argue from the position of classical theism.
View the paper in the PDF file (published on my profile on