This article is a response to a paper presented by Terrence Deacon and Tyron Cashman (“Steps to a Metaphysics of Incompleteness”) at the conference organized by the CTNS in Berkeley, CA in April 2016. It engages into a conversation with Deacon and the main theses concerning his theory of emergence and its metaphysical and theological repercussions. My challenges are than commented on by Deacon and Cashman in their answer to all four commentators of their ideas who participated in the conference (the response is published as a separate article).
Does Aquinas’ metaphysics reduce God to an Aristotelian “thought thinking itself,” a first principle blissfully unaware of the world that it moves? Is Thomas successful in defending the teleological character of creation coming freely from God’s creative will, against the view attributing it to chance or the necessity of God’s nature? In Aquinas on the Divine Ideas as Exemplar Causes, Gregory T. Doolan shows that the doctrine of divine exemplarism—a heavily Platonic supplement of otherwise Aristotelian Thomistic philosophy—is absolutely essential to this philosophy, and provides an answer to both questions. (…)
Abstract: 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.
Neither Aristotle nor Aquinas assumes the reality of the evolution of species. Their systems of thought, however, remain open to the new data, offering an essential contribution to the ongoing debate between scientific, philosophical, and theological aspects of the theory of evolution. After discussing some key issues of substance metaphysics in its encounter with the theory of evolution (hylomorphism, transformism of species, teleology, chance, the principle of proportionate causation), I present a Thomistic response to its major hypotheses. Concerning the philosophy of Aquinas I trace what might be seen as a preliminary description of natural selection in his commentary on Aristotle’s Physics. Turning toward theology, besides addressing the topics that were referred to in the past—such as: Aquinas’ reading of Genesis, his account of creation as dependence in being, secondary and instrumental causality, and univocal/equivocal predication of God—I bring into discussion Thomas’ concept of the perfection of the universe, which has been virtually unused in this context.
Key Words: Aristotle; Aquinas; Natural selection; Chance; Divine causality; Evolution; Hylomorphism; Perfection of the Universe; Teleology
The anti-reductionist character of the recent philosophy of biology and the dynamic development of the science of emergent properties prove that the time is ripe to reintroduce the thought of Aristotle, the first advocate of a “top-down” approach in life-sciences, back into the science/philosophy debate. His philosophy of nature provides profound insights particularly in the context of the contemporary science of evolution, which is still struggling with the questions of form (species), teleology, and the role of chance in evolutionary processes. However, although Aristotle is referenced in the evolutionary debate, a thorough analysis of his theory of hylomorphism and the classical principle of causality which he proposes is still needed in this exchange. Such is the main concern of the first part of the present article which shows Aristotle’s metaphysics of substance as an open system, ready to incorporate new hypothesis of modern and contemporary science. The second part begins with the historical exploration of the trajectory from Darwin to Darwinism regarded as a metaphysical position. This exploration leads to an inquiry into the central topics of the present debate in the philosophy of evolutionary biology. It shows that Aristotle’s understanding of species, teleology, and chance – in the context of his fourfold notion of causality – has a considerable explanatory power which may enhance our understanding of the nature of evolutionary processes. This fact may inspire, in turn, a retrieval of the classical theology of divine action, based on Aristotelian metaphysics, in the science/theology dialogue. The aim of the present article is to prepare a philosophical ground for such project.
Zygon, Vol. 48, No. 2, June 2013
The methodological nonreductionism of contemporary biology opens an interesting discussion on the level of ontology and the philosophy of nature. The theory of emergence (EM), and downward causation (DC) in particular, bring a new set of arguments challenging not only methodological, but also ontological and causal reductionism. This argumentation provides a crucial philosophical foundation for the science/theology dialogue. However, a closer examination shows that proponents of EM do not present a unified and consistent definition of DC. Moreover, they find it difficult to prove that higher-order properties can be causally significant without violating the causal laws that operate at lower physical levels. They also face the problem of circularity and incoherence in their explanation. In our article we show that these problems can be overcome only if DC is understood in terms of formal rather than physical (efficient) causality. This breakdown of causal monism in science opens a way to the retrieval of the fourfold Aristotelian notion of causality.
Theology and Science, Vol. II, No. 2, May 2013
Panentheism has recently become a widely accepted and appreciated concept among scholars in the science-theology dialogue, and its theological repercussions have been discussed to great extent. Yet, there remains to be studied in more detail the notion of the philosophical foundations of the term. A prominent gap in our understanding of these foundations is the potential similarity between the metaphysics of Hegel and Whitehead, their understanding of the transcendence and immanence of God, and their respective versions of panentheism. In this article, I present a critical reflection on the possible resemblance between process thought and Hegelian metaphysics and philosophy of God. In the last section I refer to those who use panentheism within the science-theology dialogue. I try to specify which of the two versions of panentheism, that of Hegel or Whitehead, is more popular among those scholars.
Theology and Science, Vol. II, No. 2, May 2013