Foreword by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
Darwin’s theory of evolution remains controversial, even though most scientists, philosophers, and even theologians accept it, in some form, as a well-attested explanation for the variety of organisms. The controversy erupts when the theory is used to try to explain everything, including every aspect of human life, and to deny the role of a Creator or a purpose to life. It is then that philosophers and theologians cry, “Foul!”.
The overreaching of many scientists into fields beyond their competence is perhaps explained in part by the loss of an important idea in modern thinking—final causality or purpose. Scientists understandably bracket the idea out of their scientific thinking because they seek natural explanations and other kinds of causes. Yet many of them wrongly conclude from their selective study of the world that final causes do not exist at all and that they have no place in the rational study of life. Likewise, many erroneously assume that philosophy cannot draw upon scientific findings, in light of final causality, to better understand the world and man.
The great philosopher and historian of philosophy Etienne Gilson sets out in this book to show that final causality or purposiveness is an inevitable idea for those who think hard and carefully about the world, including the world of biology. Gilson insists that a completely rational understanding of organisms and biological systems requires the philosophical notion of teleology, the idea that certain kinds of things exist and have ends or purposes the fulfillment of which is linked to their natures. In other words, final causes. His approach relies on philosophical reflection on the facts of science, not upon theology or an appeal to religious authorities such as the Church or the Bible.
Etienne Gilson (1884-1978) was a French philosopher and historian of philosophy, and a member of the prestigious French Academy. He was a prominent leader in the twentieth century resurgence of the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. Among his books are The Unity of Philosophical Experience, The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, and The History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages.