Monday, May 08, 2017

St. Thomas Aquinas on the creation of man's body

I spent a probably inordinate amount of time some years ago arguing over whether, somehow, intelligent design theory is incompatible with Thomism. Others have done a more thorough job on that subject even than I have. (Jay Richards devotes several chapters to the subject in this book.)

Just every once in a while, though, I find myself frustrated anew at some new person who has been given the bizarre impression that neo-Darwinism is somehow "more compatible with Thomism" than intelligent design or special creation. This is, in my view, quite crazy, since St. Thomas himself was undoubtedly a creationist in what would nowadays be considered a crude, interventionist sense.

Time after time people will make statements about how Thomas was open to abiogenesis (not mentioning that this wasn't for some heavy metaphysical reason but because people erroneously believed they had observed it at the time), or talk knowingly about St. Augustine and the rationes seminales. And then will come more talk about secondary causes (yes, we know about secondary causes), until one almost starts to wonder why we needed Darwin at all. It begins to sound like maybe St. Thomas invented Darwinism before Darwin.

At those moments, I always point out that St. Thomas Aquinas was absolutely emphatic that God directly created the body of the first man from the slime of the earth. This often comes as news to the one considering or promoting some form of allegedly Thomistic theistic evolution. And then I have to go look it up again. So I got tired of looking it up this time and put the quotations on my hard drive, and I'm going to post them here, too. Notice that Aquinas explicitly rejects the notion that man developed from "seeds" in nature, a la Augustine.

So here is the reference:

Summa Theologiae, question 91: The Production of the First Man's Body.

Article 1 is "Whether the first man's body was made of the slime of the earth." I'll let you read it yourself. Hint: The answer, according to St. Thomas, is yes.

And in case you were wondering if he means this in some fancy, metaphoric sense compatible with a neo-Darwinian origin of man's body, the answer is no, he doesn't. How do we know? From Article 2, "Whether the human body was immediately produced by God."

Here's a really juicy quote, just before St. Thomas starts replying to objections:

The first formation of the human body could not be by the instrumentality of any created power, but was immediately from God. Some, indeed, supposed that the forms which are in corporeal matter are derived from some immaterial forms; but the Philosopher refutes this opinion (Metaph. vii), for the reason that forms cannot be made in themselves, but only in the composite, as we have explained (I:65:4; and because the agent must be like its effect, it is not fitting that a pure form, not existing in matter, should produce a form which is in matter, and which form is only made by the fact that the composite is made. So a form which is in matter can only be the cause of another form that is in matter, according as composite is made by composite. Now God, though He is absolutely immaterial, can alone by His own power produce matter by creation: wherefore He alone can produce a form in matter, without the aid of any preceding material form. For this reason the angels cannot transform a body except by making use of something in the nature of a seed, as Augustine says (De Trin. iii, 19). Therefore as no pre-existing body has been formed whereby another body of the same species could be generated, the first human body was of necessity made immediately by God.

Unequivocal enough?

But there's more. Aquinas explicitly rejects the view that the body of man was formed first and then ensouled.

Some have thought that man's body was formed first in priority of time, and that afterwards the soul was infused into the formed body. But it is inconsistent with the perfection of the production of things, that God should have made either the body without the soul, or the soul without the body, since each is a part of human nature. This is especially unfitting as regards the body, for the body depends on the soul, and not the soul on the body. Question 91, Article 4, reply to objection 4.

Timely, isn't it? Especially since intellectual Catholics have apparently en masse embraced an "ensoulment" view of the origin of man in an attempt to make their theology compatible with neo-Darwinism. (See my discussions of "ensoulment" here and here.)

What Aquinas says here is quite accurate from the viewpoint of hylemorphism. The ensoulment view, which makes the body of the first man (or men) indistinguishable from animal ancestors and even envisages the possibility of hominid zombies living in the same vicinity with newly-ensouled, biologically identical "real humans," is more like a bad caricature of Cartesian dualism than like anything remotely hylemorphic. (Nor even a sane, interactive Cartesianism.) As Aquinas says, in his philosophy "the body depends on the soul, and not the soul on the body." If you dislike "angelism" philosophically (and what good Thomist doesn't dislike angelism?), you should be completely closed to the ensoulment view of human origins.

Hopefully putting these passages here will make them easier to find next time this question comes up.