Monday, April 19, 2010

Edward Feser, Cudworth and Fuller respond

One of the comments at WWWTW:

30. In order to maintain the unity of body and soul clearly taught in revelation, the Magisterium adopted the definition of the human soul as forma substantialis (cf. Council of Vienne and the Fifth Lateran Council). Here the Magisterium relied on Thomistic anthropology which, drawing upon the philosophy of Aristotle, understands body and soul as the material and spiritual principles of a single human being. It may be noted that this account is not incompatible with present-day scientific insights. Modern physics has demonstrated that matter in its most elementary particles is purely potential and possesses no tendency toward organization. But the level of organization in the universe, which contains highly organized forms of living and non-living entities, implies the presence of some "information." This line of reasoning suggests a partial analogy between the Aristotelian concept of substantial form and the modern scientific notion of "information." Thus, for example, the DNA of the chromosomes contains the information necessary for matter to be organized according to what is typical of a certain species or individual. Analogically, the substantial form provides to prime matter the information it needs to be organized in a particular way. This analogy should be taken with due caution because metaphysical and spiritual concepts cannot be simply compared with material, biological data.

Which reveals two things, to a Thomist -- a Catholic theologian cannot do without adequate training in philosophy, especially physics, if he is to speak of natural things. Secondly, one must look at the causes of natural things in order to judge what others speak of them. While it may be easy for those of some intelligence to look for corresponding concepts, it is unfortunate that they do not see the problem with saying DNA is the formal cause of a human body, which can lend support to a dualistic understanding of human nature. Catholic intellectuals have lost much in the last century.

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