Saturday, September 04, 2010

Garrigou-Lagrange on Evolution (aka 'Transformism')

From Garrigou-Lagrange's The Trinity and God the creator, Ch.37.

Transformism and the Origin of Life

State of the question. The question of the origin of life and of the different species of living things is one of the most important of those that pertain to the creation of corporeal things. The modern theory of transformism was scarcely mentioned among the ancient philosophers, although St. Thomas sometimes spoke of the hypothesis of the appearance of new species.[1261] This problem is in some way connected with the old question of universals: whether the universals are fundamentally in individual beings according to their unchangeable nature.

Transformism may be either absolute or moderate.

Absolute transformism holds that matter is uncaused, that it exists of itself from eternity, and that from it by successive transformations have issued different living beings, that is, vegetative, sensitive, and intellectual life. (Huxley and Darwin.)

Moderate transformism holds that matter is not uncaused but is created by God, that it is not eternal, that the first living beings were created by God, and that God intervened in a special way to produce sensitive life, in the formation of the human body and in the creation of the spiritual soul. This moderate transformism refers to the production of various species of plants and animals which derive by successive transformations from the first living beings. Some of those who hold a moderate transformism think that all plants and animals come from different species created by God; others think that all plants came from one species and all animals came from one species of animal. Those who support the theory of transformism are not agreed on the definition of species; what one calls species another may call a variation.

Absolute transformism. This theory manifestly contradicts faith and reason inasmuch as it denies all intervention by God. It is directly opposed to the dogma of creation ("In the beginning God created heaven and earth"), since it teaches that matter has no cause and is eternal. This theory is opposed to all the proofs for the existence of God, and it implies that more is produced by less, the more perfect by the imperfect. This is at the same time against the principle of contradiction or identity, against the principle of the reason of being, the principle of efficient causality, and the principle of finality. It implies an ascending evolution, in which something more perfect appears without any reason, without any efficient cause, without an end, and without order. This theory destroys all intelligibility of things, as we have explained at length on another occasion.[1262] Such an evolution of species would be entirely fortuitous, without any preconceived idea or finality, and no reason is supplied for the wonderful subordination and coordination of things in nature.

In even the most ancient species, as we know from fossils, the organs are adapted to an end, coordinated with one another, and subordinated to the preservation of the individual and the species. All this cannot be attributed to chance; it presupposes an intelligent cause. Chance is a cause , a cause that is accidentally connected with a cause , and therefore an accidental cause cannot be the first cause of the order in things, for then order would come from the privation of order, and intelligibility would come from unintelligibility. What would be more absurd than to say that the intellects of the great doctors and the charity of the saints derived from a blind and material fate? The greater cannot be produced by the lesser. Hence absolute transformism substitutes the most patent absurdity for the mystery of creation.

This refutation of absolute transformism is confirmed by experience, which shows that every living thing comes from another living being and that there is no spontaneous generation. Pasteur and Tyndall demonstrated that no living beings are generated where all ova and seed have been destroyed. Such bacteria as are said to be generated in the atmosphere do not come from inanimate matter but from ova existing in the atmosphere. Huxley himself admitted Pasteur's conclusions.

St. Thomas held that certain animal life was generated by putrefaction under the influence of the sun. His explanation was as follows: "A heavenly body, since it is a moving thing that is moved, has the nature of an instrument which acts with the power of the principal agent; and therefore it can cause life by virtue of its mover, which is a living substance."[1263] St. Thomas never admitted that the more perfect being can be produced by the less perfect.

Moderate transformism. This theory does not oppose the teaching of faith. The words of Genesis ("And God said: Let the earth bring forth the green herb, and such as may seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind") show that there was some difference among the species that God created, but they do not assert that all species were immediately created by God. St. Thomas himself said: "If certain new species should appear, these have existed previously in certain active forces; in this way what is generated by animal putrefaction is produced by the power of the stars and the elements," that is, "by the power of the mover (of the stars), which is a living substance."[1264] Thus St. Thomas maintains inviolate the principle of causality, according to which the more perfect cannot be produced by a less perfect being as a fully sufficient cause.

Lastly, it is difficult to say where true variation begins and where species leaves off in the ontological sense. Generally interfecundation is held to be the sign of membership in the same species. If it is pointed out that the horse and the ass generate the mule, it should be remembered that the mule is sterile, that is, it does not propagate a species. Here we have confirmation of the principle that operation follows being, and the mode of operation follows the mode of being; from this it follows that every animal generates offspring similar to itself in species. Ontological species therefore are immutable. But it is difficult to say when two animals belong to the same species properly so called or to two similar species. We do not have a clear enough understanding of the specific difference between living sensible beings; their specific forms are deeply immersed in matter and hardly intelligible to us. We know them only in a descriptive manner, empirically.[1265]

But when we come to man, we clearly understand his specific difference because it is not immersed in matter. Man's reason or rationality is a form of intellectuality, and intelligence is distinctly intelligible to itself because it is essentially ordered to the cognition of intelligible being itself and the reasons for the being of things.

It is clear, then, that the human soul cannot be educed from the potency of matter; on the other hand the specific form of plants and animals is educed from matter by way of generation.[1266]



1261 Summa Theol., Ia, q. 73, a. 1 ad 3; q. 115, a. 2. "Whether there are any seminal reasons in corporeal matter."

1262 Garrigou-Lagrange, De revelatione I, 233-76.

1263 Summa Theol., Ia, q. 70, a. 3 ad 3.

1264 Ibid., q. 73, a. 1 ad 3; q. 115, a. 2

1265 cf. Dict. apol., art. "Transformism."

1266 Summa Theol., Ia, q. 118, a. 1, 2.

De Deo Trino et Creatore as well as many others of his works 
are available on PDF format through ITOPL!


Geremia said...

Interestingly, in Garrigou-Lagrange's De Deo Uno he says that a general proof of God's existence which would include confusedly the Quinque Viæ is "that the greater or more perfect does not come from the less perfect, but the imperfect comes from the more perfect." Darwarnism holds that "that the greater or more perfect [living organism] does [indeed] come from the less perfect [living organism]." Therefore, Darwinism is a confused disproof of God's existence.

Don Paco said...

That some evolutionists (in particular, those of the Darwinian kind, which are atheistic and materialistic) deny the metaphysical principle that "the greater or more perfect cannot come from the less perfect," I concede; but that the belief in evolution necessarily and logically entails a denial of this principle, I deny.

Evolution may be the less perfect, miraculous effect of a supremely-perfect, intelligent First Cause.

(I say miraculous because it would violate the physical principle that one species cannot come from another. But in the end this is a physical law, not a metaphysical one, so it is within God's power to 'violate' it, or act contrary to it.)

Don Paco said...

I meant the above in the sense of macro-evolution (one species coming out of another).

Micro-evolution (change in allele frequencies--in other words, accidental changes--within a population of the same species) is in no way philosophically problematic.

Evoken said...

Perhaps I am missing something but I don't really see how evolution goes against the principle of "the more perfect cannot come from the less perfect".

How and to what extent is this principle to be applied?

Let's say on the level of microevolution, we have a population consisting of both light and dark colored moths. Due to environmental circumstances, the dark moths end up being harder to catch by predators and thus are more likely to leave offspring. In this case, the dark moths are "greater" than the light ones. But, it is possible for a light moth to carry the genes of dark coloring and thus have as offspring dark moths which end up being "greater" than it because given the environment they find themselves in, dark colored moths are favored by natural selection.

Here we have an instance of a "greater" moth coming from a "leaser" one. But is that really a violating of the principle? I am not sure but I am inclined to say no and think that it just doesn't really holds in the context of evolution.

But, as I said, I am probably missing something.

Don Paco said...

What Garrigou means by "transformism" is primarily what is now called "macro-evolution." He is not concerned at all about "micro-evolution."

Micro-evolution is simply the change of allele frequencies in a population through time, or, in philosophical terms, the idea that a self-same species undergoes accidental changes through time. Some of these changes are beneficial for some members of the population, thus resulting in a better adaptation to their environment. This occurs primarily through natural selection (as your example of the moths illustrates), but also through mutation, genetic drift, and gene flow. This phenomenon has been empirically verified and no serious theologian today (much less Garrigou) has any interest in denying it.

Macro-evolution is the idea that one species emerges from another. Supposedly, this occurs through the same factors as above (natural selection, mutation, genetic drift, and gene flow), but repeated innumerable times for a long, long time, resulting in speciation, the emergence of a new species. Macro-evolution has never been directly observed; the only evidence lies in historical interpretations of fossil records, of genetic mapping, and the like.

Garrigou has a problem with macro-evolution, or at least with "absolute transformism," which is a version of macro-evolution according to which speciation does not have God as its cause. According to that theory, a greater species would come out of the lesser species. For instance, the first animal came from a plant (understanding these terms according to their Aristotelian meanings, as non-sensate and sensate, respectively).

Garrigou has much less of a problem with "moderate transformism," a version of macro-evolution that makes God the cause of speciation. As you can see from the text above, he says it does not contradict the faith, and it does not violate the principle that the greater cannot come from the lesser. But he still thinks there is not enough empirical evidence for it, and hence as a theory it is merely probable, not certain.