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4/29/2018 10:51 am  #1


Evolution and Proportionate Causality

In his most recent link post, Feser points toward a review by Fr. Nicanor Austriaco of Fr. Michael Chaberek's new book on Aquinas and evolution, which argues for incompatibility.

​One way of putting one of Chaberek's arguments is that, if evolution is true, then at some point an organism of one species generated an organism of a distinct, more perfect species, and this violates the principle of proportionate causality, so Thomists should reject evolution.

​Austriaco replies that the same objection applies to the generation of water from hydrogen and oxygen. He consequently directs the following tu quoque toward Chaberek: clearly hydrogen and oxygen do​ combine to form water, and we can say the same thing about evolution that we say about such chemical reactions. Aquinas generally proposes that where the lesser seems to cause the greater, in fact some more perfect natural substance is involved, either an angel or a celestial sphere. Another option is to say that God provides the lesser with the lacking perfections to cause the greater.

​It strikes me that this could only be framed as the obvious way to vindicate Aquinas in a conversation between Thomists. It places chemical and biological causation on a par, true, so that the Thomist will in some sense be entitled to say that evolutionary history does not provide a new​ challenge to his principles. And it isn't strictly​ creationism, since angels and celestial bodies are still in the natural order, and the proposal is that God supplies perfections to the lesser so that the lesser really does generate the greater (that is, even in the theistic proposal, the new species has a secondary cause). But in spirit the reply seems to be that a Thomist is committed not just to creationism in biology but in chemistry; to make sense of ordinary chemical reactions, we have to appeal to more perfect natural bodies, which are, admittedly, not God, but are something like gods.

​That's obviously unattractive because no one who is not already a Thomist will find it attractive. It also removes proportionate causality from ordinary experience. It's true that proportionate causality can be given a metaphysical defense of sorts, that it can be said just to be a working out of the notion of the role of actuality and potentiality in causation. But it remains pretty unattractive, for it would seem to have the implication that apparent​ contradictions of proportionate causality are exceedingly common, so that the principle is frequently requiring us to infer to the existence of more perfect natural bodies with which we are basically unfamiliar and unable to become familiar.

​How do people feel about this issue? I am not sure that it is right to regard the chemistry and biology cases as genuinely parallel. One would hope​ that a broadly Thomistic account of substances and powers will allow one to say something such as that "the laws of nature are the laws of natures"--and that it isn't anything like an accident​ that hydrogen and oxygen combine to form water, as though the more perfect natural substance could happen not to help it along. It has been a while since I've combed through the standard Feser material on proportionate causality, but my recollection is that he would want to say that the existence of such a tendency in hydrogen and oxygen itself suffices for the satisfaction of proportionate causality. That seems more plausible, but then the parallel between chemistry and biology is not available for Austriaco to exploit, for speciation does seem to be accidental, and it seems wrong to say that it proceeds in accordance with the "laws of natures".

 

4/29/2018 4:48 pm  #2


Re: Evolution and Proportionate Causality

I responded there by saying that we may hold that evolution does respect PPC *and* it can do so without the need to invoke God, angels or celestial spheres. We might say the environment as a whole provides a dynamic, sufficient causation that is needed for every effect; it would be very hard to actually isolate every change in speciation to this cause or that cause when it happens in a rich environment with many potential causes around it. I don't think we need to appeal to angels or the celestial spheres, and it's counter-productive to suggest that. Thomist philosophers should be working on better specifying how many natural(istic) causes can cooperate at once, or in different times, in the production of each effect.

I think this would allow us to both respect accidental speciation and the PPC requirements.

 

5/06/2018 3:19 am  #3


Re: Evolution and Proportionate Causality

Since evolution doesn't work towards a goal, and species don't become more "perfect" over time, isn't it just a blatant misunderstanding to say that a member of one species produces "an organism of a distinct, more perfect species"?  Evolution tends toward the more complex, but complexity is not the mark of perfection, and in some cases, it seems animals may evolved by becoming less complex.  

 

5/06/2018 9:45 am  #4


Re: Evolution and Proportionate Causality

Miguel wrote:

I responded there by saying that we may hold that evolution does respect PPC *and* it can do so without the need to invoke God, angels or celestial spheres. We might say the environment as a whole provides a dynamic, sufficient causation that is needed for every effect; it would be very hard to actually isolate every change in speciation to this cause or that cause when it happens in a rich environment with many potential causes around it. I don't think we need to appeal to angels or the celestial spheres, and it's counter-productive to suggest that. Thomist philosophers should be working on better specifying how many natural(istic) causes can cooperate at once, or in different times, in the production of each effect.

I think this would allow us to both respect accidental speciation and the PPC requirements.

I'm not sure. An organism's environment is an accidental unity. Unless some substance in the environment possesses the form of the new organism, the complexity of the environment doesn't obviously help the Aristotelian​. Or, at least, if the Aristotelian is going to say that what generates an organism might be an accidental unity, no part of which has the form of the organism, then he is changing his views about generation. (Unless, perhaps, one is suggesting that the generation is anomalous. Perhaps it could be assimilated to the mule case.)

Brian wrote:

Since evolution doesn't work towards a goal, and species don't become more "perfect" over time, isn't it just a blatant misunderstanding to say that a member of one species produces "an organism of a distinct, more perfect species"?  Evolution tends toward the more complex, but complexity is not the mark of perfection, and in some cases, it seems animals may evolved by becoming less complex.

​It's true that evolution might lead to the production of less complex species; that just doesn't provide a challenge to Aristotelianism.

​It need not be that evolution works toward a goal or even that it tends to produce more perfect species over time, for the sort of problems posed to be problems. Evolution just needs, sometimes, to produce more perfect species. And from what I can tell it does. A Thomist is committed to holding that some of the species which appeared later in natural history are more perfect than those earlier species from which, according to evolution, they were descended.

     Thread Starter
 

5/07/2018 4:02 am  #5


Re: Evolution and Proportionate Causality

Greg wrote:

I am not sure that it is right to regard the chemistry and biology cases as genuinely parallel.

In my view they are not parallel.

First, supposing that water is just a(n accidental) combination of hydrogen and oxygen, it should be evident that biological organisms are nothing of the sort. Biological organisms are not (accidental) combinations of limbs or heads or organs or cells. The constituent parts of the organism belong to a body plan and according to that plan the organisms belong to species. Deviations from the plan have certain limits, beyond which we get unstable hybrids or outright bastards, not ordinary species. Announcing new species too lightly would remove all meaning from the term "species".

(This first point is intended to highlight how rearrangement in chemistry is of a different kind compared to rearrangement in biology, supposing that evolution is viewed as mere rearrangement of material without a goal, purpose, or true hierarchy of kinds. Organisms clearly have a body plan, and the arrangement of organs and cells is not accidental in the way it can be said to be in chemical combinations.)

Second, given the more traditional view of water (i.e. that it's a specific stable natural element as opposed to an accidental combination of other more fundamental elements), biological organisms are not analogous insofar as (Darwinian) evolution is asserted. On (Darwinian) evolution, a species can evolve into another, bacteria can eventually recombine into a human, whereas water does not evolve, not by itself anyway. You can cook it so that it becomes vapour, freeze it so that it becomes ice, and do other tricks with it, but that would be you doing it, not water doing it.

Sure enough, given similar natural conditions (cooking or freezing temperatures), similar events would occur to water without human interference, but this again highlights the disparity compared to biological species: What are the specific natural conditions that give rise to the specific biological species? If there is a specific causal relation between natural conditions and biological species, then why, given our current specific natural conditions, we have an abundance of biological species instead of a specific limited set. Rolling back the timeline billions (or what have you) of years ago what were the specific natural conditions that determined the set of species back then? What was the essential difference compared to natural conditions now? If the relation between natural conditions and biological species is not specific but more like accidental or "conditioning" instead of "determining", then this goes to highlight the disanalogy with e.g. water that always cooks at cooking temperature and freezes at freezing temperature, i.e. has a specific relation to natural conditions.

Moreover, concerning human interference, it seems experimentally proven that we are at best capable of the kind of manipulation of natural conditions that can effect chemical changes a la cooking or freezing water, but somehow we are not capable, even with strong will and best intentions, of manipulations of the sort that would give rise to new species. This indicates, at least to me, that mere change of natural conditions is inadequate to give rise to new species. There must be some other more powerful causes at work to bring about new species, not to mention beings of a whole different kind, like angels and such. Their material aspect could perhaps be artificially constructible, e.g. it is quite conceivable that humans could reproduce the body of a dog or whatever in laboratory conditions. However, it would be a mere corpse. The mere material arrangement has nothing to do with its life capacity, which is the true sign of a biological organism. Life capacity is of a whole different category than the body.

 

5/07/2018 10:09 am  #6


Re: Evolution and Proportionate Causality

seigneur wrote:

 Their material aspect could perhaps be artificially constructible, e.g. it is quite conceivable that humans could reproduce the body of a dog or whatever in laboratory conditions. However, it would be a mere corpse. The mere material arrangement has nothing to do with its life capacity, which is the true sign of a biological organism. Life capacity is of a whole different category than the body.

If we could assemble all of the requisite atoms that make up the body of a living dog, and were then to combine them in such a way as to produce an actual living dog, wouldn't this go against your claim that material arrangement has nothing to do with life capacity?

Surely, if a dog were to be created like that, with all of it's atoms brought together in a single instant, and arranged in a way a living dog's atoms would be arranged at some particular moment, it is then not inconceivable that the dog would also live?

It would merely be matter that we have cooked up ourselves being informed with the form of a living dog due to the formal arrangement of it's constituent atoms.

This would be similar to making any other substance from scratch ourselves. The matter would be provided and combined by ourselves, whilst the arrangement would be the form of the matter which makes it a living dog.


Something similar may or may not be said for the theoretical cryogenic revival of dead human bodies. The body would be brought back to life from a state of true death due to some sort of technology, whilst God may co-operate and bring back the seperated intellect into the body to enform it again, or create a new rational soul for the body (assuming the revived human body demonstrates it has intellect).

 

5/07/2018 10:21 am  #7


Re: Evolution and Proportionate Causality

seigneur wrote:

First, supposing that water is just a(n accidental) combination of hydrogen and oxygen, it should be evident that biological organisms are nothing of the sort.

Austriaco is not supposing that water is an accidental combination. He is choosing the generation of water from hydrogen and oxygen as an example of substantial change.

seigneur wrote:

Second, given the more traditional view of water (i.e. that it's a specific stable natural element as opposed to an accidental combination of other more fundamental elements), biological organisms are not analogous insofar as (Darwinian) evolution is asserted. On (Darwinian) evolution, a species can evolve into another, bacteria can eventually recombine into a human, whereas water does not evolve, not by itself anyway. You can cook it so that it becomes vapour, freeze it so that it becomes ice, and do other tricks with it, but that would be you doing it, not water doing it.

Strictly, I think, Austriaco agrees. At some point a lizard generates a non-lizard, on his view. He thinks that what makes this possible is a drift in the material constitution of lizards over time, that eventually lizards come to have a matter which is receptive of the form of snake. But he thinks that when a lizard finally generates a non-lizard, that is, something with a distinct and (let us stipulate) superior form, it must be helped by something without.

     Thread Starter
 

5/07/2018 12:51 pm  #8


Re: Evolution and Proportionate Causality

aftermathemat wrote:

If we could assemble all of the requisite atoms that make up the body of a living dog, and were then to combine them in such a way as to produce an actual living dog, wouldn't this go against your claim that material arrangement has nothing to do with life capacity?

Yes, it would go against my assumption.

aftermathemat wrote:

Surely, if a dog were to be created like that, with all of it's atoms brought together in a single instant, and arranged in a way a living dog's atoms would be arranged at some particular moment, it is then not inconceivable that the dog would also live?

Empirically, this has not been achieved, so what gives? In my view, it must be that atoms are not everything there are to constitute a living biological organism. The life capacity is somewhere else than the atoms.

aftermathemat wrote:

Something similar may or may not be said for the theoretical cryogenic revival of dead human bodies. The body would be brought back to life from a state of true death...

Is it really true death or is it more like coma or clinical death? And what is your answer based on?

 

5/07/2018 3:15 pm  #9


Re: Evolution and Proportionate Causality

seigneur wrote:

Empirically, this has not been achieved, so what gives? In my view, it must be that atoms are not everything there are to constitute a living biological organism. The life capacity is somewhere else than the atoms.

Of course atoms aren't enough to constitute a living being. The form is also needed, and the enformation of the matter occurs at the moment the atoms no longer function as individuals but are subsumed under their new identity as pieces of the dog - which would be when they are successfully arranged in dog form. Something similar happens with the substantial generation of water through the particular arrangement of hydrogen and oxygen.

seigneur wrote:

Is it really true death or is it more like coma or clinical death? And what is your answer based on?

Considering all of the dead bodies stored up in some of the existing cryogenic banks in the world, the answer is actually dead as opposed to mere coma.

My answer is based on intuitive considerations combined with hylemorphism. If technology could revive dead things back to life, what would happen is that the matter would have regained it's living form under artificial circumstances, and if the being revived also demonstrates it has intellect, then this means God must have co-operated in either creating a new rational soul for the revived matter, or has brought back the original seperated soul back to it's old revived body again.
 

 

5/07/2018 11:55 pm  #10


Re: Evolution and Proportionate Causality

aftermathemat wrote:

Of course atoms aren't enough to constitute a living being. The form is also needed, and the enformation of the matter occurs at the moment the atoms no longer function as individuals but are subsumed under their new identity as pieces of the dog - which would be when they are successfully arranged in dog form. Something similar happens with the substantial generation of water through the particular arrangement of hydrogen and oxygen.

Yes, except: With water it may be said to "happen" when you put hydrogen and oxygen together, but it doesn't just happen with a biological organism. Either something more has to be done to enliven the biological organism and/or it may matter who is doing it.

aftermathemat wrote:

seigneur wrote:

Is it really true death or is it more like coma or clinical death? And what is your answer based on?

Considering all of the dead bodies stored up in some of the existing cryogenic banks in the world, the answer is actually dead as opposed to mere coma.

If it can be revived, it's not truly dead. (Not to mention that most religious/spiritual systems would deny that death - 100% death, such as decapitation - is cessation of existence. It is merely cessation of bodily life.)

aftermathemat wrote:

My answer is based on intuitive considerations combined with hylemorphism. If technology could revive dead things back to life, what would happen is that the matter would have regained it's living form under artificial circumstances, and if the being revived also demonstrates it has intellect, then this means God must have co-operated in either creating a new rational soul for the revived matter, or has brought back the original seperated soul back to it's old revived body again.

Okay, except that there are no instances of technology reviving dead things that I could acknowledge. My intuitive consideration is to affirm proportionate causality. Water may "happen" from hydrogen and oxygen, but life cannot just happen, And artificial life is not really life. Even artificial intelligence is not really intelligence.

Last edited by seigneur (5/08/2018 12:12 am)

 

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