Thomistic book on evolution—publication and translation

juan_eduardo_carrenoOne of the ongoing cooperative projects I’m involved with is the translation of Juan Eduardo Carreño’s 2017 book, La filosofía tomista ante el hecho de la evolución del viviente corpóreo: Consideraciones metodológicas y conceptuales para una integración, or in its working title: Thomistic Philosophy in the Face of Evolutionary Fact. This is a general call for an interested translator who would like to take over this project, or to publishers who might be interested in the project. While my own work as translator continues for the time being, a new translator could step in to take over what is left to be completed. Please contact me if interested.

What follows is Dr. Carreño’s summary of his book, and at the end is the full translation of the book’s table of contents and Chapter Three.

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The numerous controversies raised by the discovery and development of the idea of biological evolution often overshadow its actual intellectual value. To overcome these difficulties, it is essential to judge and integrate the various contributions to this development in the light of an epistemologically superior type of knowledge. For this to be possible, however, that knowledge must have a universality and breadth that only a deferential openness to reality can confer. This is the case, we think, with Thomas Aquinas’s philosophy.

After recapitulating the main contents of St. Thomas’s philosophy of corporeal living beings (Chapter 1), and the historical itinerary that has led to the formulation of the various evolutionary theories and models (Chapter 2), we identify the difficulties posed by the integration of the evolutionary fact in Thomistic philosophy, and the responses that some authors connected with this tradition have given them (Chapter 3 and 4).

With this background in place, we then attempt our own synthesis. First, we clarify the epistemological status of philosophy (Chapter 5) and evolutionary biology (Chapter 6). We conclude that the latter does not fit into the kind of knowledge that traditionally has been designated as “science” (scientia), but rather in a sort of discipline that we refer to as “natural history”. Within this disciplinary field we distinguish between (1) the fact of evolution; (2) the theories proposed to formulate and explain that fact; and (3), the ideological projections developed from the above elements. The focus of the argument then becomes the integration the first of these elements with the natural philosophy and metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas.

Despite what some authors linked to the Thomistic tradition have argued, we think that the diversity of species and varieties of corporeal living beings is consistent with the doctrines contained in key passages St. Thomas’s corpus. To explain this, in Chapter 7 we distinguish two forms of evolution of the living being, intra-specific and trans-specific. Intra-specific evolution results in the generation of races or varieties of living beings that share the same specific essence, and falls therefore at the level of accidental changes. On the other hand, in trans-specific evolution new species of living beings are generated, and therefore involves a substantial change.

Following the main contents of Aquinas’s metaphysics and philosophy of nature, we analyze the various principles and causes intervening in both facets of evolution. Developing and extending what authors such as Jacques Maritain and Lorenzo Burgoa have suggested, we affirm that the purpose of evolution is the similitudo Dei, which is manifested in two ways. First, in an “upward” directionality, whose purpose is generating increasingly perfect races and species of corporeal living beings, man being the vertex of the process. Second, in a “non-upward” direction, which produces varieties and species not necessarily more perfect, in ontological terms, but just different, which means an actualization of the potentiality inherent to matter, and to that extent, a perfection for the universe as a whole.

We complete our investigation by offering a general picture of evolutionary history in the light of the criteria outlined, with particular emphasis on anthropogenesis (Chapter 8). Given the data available today, we argue in favor of the hypothesis that the members of the taxonomic genus Homo constitute a single species, from a philosophical point of view. In addition to being consistent with the Thomistic philosophy, this alternative is compatible with other areas of the work of St. Thomas, including original sin and the possible monogenic origin of the human species.

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Categories: Current Reading, Current Writing, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Evolution, Philosophy of Nature

Tags: , ,

2 replies

  1. Dear John. Thank you for what you are doing and your tanslation of of Juan Eduardo Carreño’s 2017 book. I have a simple question : why De Koninck’s works on evolution is not mentioned as a source for such synthesis ?

    • While I cannot speak for the author, in my view De Koninck’s “Cosmos” leaves far too much unanswered to be a synthesis at the level of detail that Carreño is considering. (E.g., De Koninck was writing before the discovery of DNA.) However, the linked work of Lorenzo Burgoa (an article titled “Materia appetit formam,” which I have not yet read) appears to capture one of the philosophical keys used by De Koninck in “Cosmos,” namely, the transcendental order between matter and form.

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