Contemporary Aristotelian-Thomistic Notion of Theistic Evolutionism

The main objective of this book project developed by Fr. Mariusz Tabaczek, O.P. is to contribute to and further develop the contemporary Aristotelian-Thomistic account of the theory of evolution, both in its philosophical and theological dimensions. It thus builds on the thought of a number of thinkers, coming from and continuing the classical tradition, who commented on more speculative – philosophical and theological – repercussions of Darwin’s view of nature.  What motivates the research presented in the volume is the current status of the conversation engaging evolutionary biology, philosophy of biology and metaphysics, and Christian theology of creation. Past strongly reductionist, anti-teleological, and anti-essentialist views of species transformism – on the one hand – and theological interpretations of evolutionary theory leaning towards panpsychism and pantheism – on the other – we seem to face an opportunity for developing a multidimensional, openminded, and comprehensive account of evolutionary theory. One, that remains in line and benefits from a reference to the categories of classical metaphysics and Aquinas’s notion of God and divine action in the universe.

Concerning the scope of the project, it offers new and original interpretation (and/or development) of the following themes: metaphysics of evolutionary transitions, the classical and contemporary notions of species (within the framework of the current debate on species in philosophy of biology), teleology and chance in evolutionary processes, Aquinas’s notion of creation (with emphasis on its aspects potentially related to evolutionary theory), constructive proposal of the contemporary Aristotelian-Thomistic version of theistic evolution; critical analysis of the common conviction of theistic evolutionists saying that God creates through evolution, constructive proposal of a model of the concurrent action of God and created beings in evolutionary transitions, and a discussion of some central issues in the intersection between biological (evolutionary) and theological anthropogenesis (including the constructive scientifically informed theological model of hominization and the discussion of the mono- versus polygenism debate).

The project builds on a number of articles on various aspects of evolutionary theory published by Fr. Tabaczek. It is currently under the review of one of the leading academic presses.

The Autonomy of the Cell in Theoretical Systems Biology and Metaphysics of Science

In cooperation with a theoretical biologist Dr. Erick Chastain (a co-PI) Fr. Mariusz Tabaczek, O.P. is planning a research project that concentrates on the question concerning the biological autonomy of a living cell.

Some of the more recent scientific attempts to better understand the intrinsic nature, mechanics, and logic of living systems, argue in favor of their irreducibility, expressed in a global emergent causation that organizes their parts in a way that is end-directed. One of the major challenges in theoretical biology is modeling such top-down causation and goal-directedness in order to (1) better understand the way in which they are decisive for complex systems being intrinsically self-goal-directed, autonomous, and, consequently, alive, and to (2) test their irreducibility.

At the same time, the concepts of emergent and irreducible global (top-down) causation and intrinsic goal-directedness, advocated for in the dynamic systems theory, call to mind both the contemporary debate on emergentism in philosophy of biology (and more generally, in philosophy of science), and the enduring interpretative categories of substantial form and teleology that go back to the ancient Greek philosophy of Aristotle, which is recently having its revival in analytic metaphysics. However, these categories need to be proved to be valid when analyzed within the context of contemporary science.

The main objectives of the project would be (1) to develop a model of top-down causation and goal-directedness based on research on cell-signaling and biological information theory, and thus verify their irreducibility; (2) to develop “empirically traceable” models (a necessary empirical grounding) of the classical metaphysical categories of formal and final causation – in correspondence to the theoretical model of global (top-down) causation and intrinsic goal-directedness established in (1); and (3) to explore the possibility of applying the empirically traceable philosophical explication of the autonomy of a cell and reinterpreted categories of Aristotelian metaphysics of living systems to the scientific models similar to one developed in the first stage of the project.

In order to provide a necessary foundation for this large and ambitious project, the present research pursued by Fr. Tabaczek and Dr. Chastain will concentrate on the critical analysis and evaluation of the most important recent developments in both theoretical biology and philosophy of biology and metaphysics of living beings – with respect to the notion of biological autonomy (and individuality).

Thomas Davenport – Thomistic Natural Philosophy and Contemporary Philosophy of Science

This thesis, being written by Fr. Thomas Davenport, O.P., seeks to engage with a number of  contemporary currents in philosophy of science and place them in dialogue with an updated understanding of a Thomistic view of nature. The first of these currents is the attempt to argue for a form of “moderate realism” about the results and claims that modern science that does not slip into a sort of instrumentalism or anti-realism, but also avoids an overly literal “realism” that insists whatever we find in our best equations and theories “is real”. The second current is the increased interest in modelling and idealization in science and the corresponding careful concern for the actual practice of scientists in their experimental and theoretical efforts, rather than overemphasizing the overarching theories that result.

The aim of the project is to argue that a healthy understanding of the Aristotelian Thomistic theory of nature can provide a ground for both a reasonable “moderate realism” about science which argues that science can, in limited circumstances, make real truth claims about the natural world, and make sense of the power and success of idealization and modelling in science which, on the surface, seem to place a barrier to such truth claims. In short, the Thomistic understanding that the natural world is a collection of substances with distinct accidents and properties, which are the seat of real natural causal powers, provides a framework for balancing these disparate and, to some eyes, competing approaches to science.