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.


Thomism and Evolution

I’m sharing the good news. My article on the thomistic response to the theory of evolution – that I have been working on for a long time – has been published today in an online version of the coming issue of Theology and Science. you can find link to the article and a pdf of the final draft on my profile on ACADEMIA.EDU and RESEARCHGATE.NET.

The paper is significant for two reasons.

First, I’m bringing in it my discovery of a preliminary definition of natural selection in Aquinas’ commentary on Aristotle’s Physics II, 8 (198b 29-32), that can be found in In Phys. II, lect. 12, par. 253.

Second, in the theological part of the paper I bring Aquinas’ Commentary on Sentences (In I Sent., dist. 44, I, 2, co.) where Thomas — in the context of divine action in the possible perfection of the universe — says explicitly about addition of new species (multae aliae species).

Thomistic Response to the Theory of Evolution: Aquinas on Natural Selection and the Perfection of the Universe


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

We are all metaphysicians…

Yesterday at the dinner table I had a conversation with the brothers about science and metaphysics. We were trying to answer the question whether a scientist can remain completely not engaged in any kind of metaphysical issues and questions. Can he do his job without asking the question why??? Why do the things and organisms he is researching exist and are what they are? Why all the laws of nature that he is trying to name and describe using mathematical language hold? Of course, he can – or even should – stay away from this kind of questions as a scientist, but can he ignore them as a human being? If he cannot, then is it appropriate and good for him to live his life in this kind of dualism? Ultimately, the question concerns science itself. Does it have merely a descriptive role, or maybe it is supposed to be explanatory as well?

Today, while continuing my study on the history of causation in scientific explanation I came across a nice quote from Norman Robert Campbell, a distinguished English physicist from the first half of the 20th century. He opposed phenomenalism of Mach, who claimed that science should be concerned with phenomena only, with no questions of causality and explanation – in order to attain “ecconomy of thought” (Mach was one of the founders of the logical positivism). Against him and PoincarĂ©, who claimed that scientific theories are only conventions (conventionalism) and their value is just utility and furnishing an aesthetic picture of the universe – against both of them Campbell says:

“… we are all metaphysicians, physicists included. We are all interested in problems which the metaphysician attempts to solve… The world is not divided into those who do and those who do not hold metaphysical doctrines, but rather into those who hold them for some reason and those who hold them for none.” (Foundations of Science, 12)