Science, Philosophy, Theology and Altruism: The Chorismos and the Zygon
(A Response to Sociobiology and Evolution)

B. Epistemology and What the Human Faculties are Knowing

These definitions are different because they were arrived at differently, that is, different methods of knowing or investigating the real world were used. Also, careful consideration of the ways in which we use these methods will help to clarify the connectedness of all the "sciences" -- all of whose starting points are the material things outside the mind in the real world.

Because material things are composed of several aspects, we as human knowers are equipped by nature to know those different aspects of a material thing by using different human faculties of knowing. In other words, different aspects in the thing are matched by different faculties in the knower. If one only considers Reason (which knows the "form") as a knowing faculty, then the human knower can only grasp the "form" (and the same is true of each of the other knowing faculties taken singly). This is, for example, one reason why Plato and Descartes defined things only in terms of form, and why this resulted in a gap (chorismos). They both also rejected sense cognition, and never even considered a "negative judgment". Reason alone was the knowing faculty. On the other hand, this is why many scientists define things only in terms of matter, as they focus primarily on sense cognition (which knows the matter). However, in this present scheme, "the whole man knows the whole material thing." Both sense and intellectual cognition are validated (and necessary). Here there is no gap between the knower and the thing known.

This epistemology entail a different "mechanics" or method of knowing a material thing.35 Both sense cognition and intellectual cognition are valid ways of knowing -- and both are needed. The starting point is not in the Mind, but in the thing outside the mind -- the same starting point for all of the "sciences". Here the criterion of truth of the concept we end up with is not an "innate idea", a mathematical formula or God's good graces -- but a return to the sensible image to see if there is a match36 -- much the same as in the biologists' scientific method. Here the faculties of sensation, imagination and memory are not intellectual faculties (as in rationalistic philosophies), but they are sense faculties!

This is a different way of knowing; and it will not only conclude to different definitions of material and human things, but will also determine -- literally -- how to define the sciences themselves. A science is not defined now only in terms of its subject matter but also in terms of the human faculty which is knowing that subject matter. Since each human faculty is specialized to grasp a part of the whole multi-aspect thing it is studying, each "science" is specialized to contribute valid and sound information about a part of the whole reality in which we are interested -- as long as they don't overstep their respective boundaries. The method of one science cannot be validly used in the investigation of a different science. For example, it would be invalid to use the method of metaphysics in the investigation of biological science or physics.

When it is claimed that any one of the sciences has absolute autonomous authority to know everything, i.e., that it is the only science which is really equipped to interpret the whole of reality, then one has obviously abstracted with "too much precision". Only one aspect of reality has been grasped, and then it has been turned into the whole of reality itself. We have already seen -- from the history of philosophy -- what happens next!

Instead I would suggest that we understand each "science's" proper contribution in an analogous way37 -- based on the samenesses and the differences we actually do find in reality. Each science is studying a special subject matter using a special method -- and in that sense they are different. But insofar as they are all studying an aspect of the same whole reality, they are similar. In this analogous way they are all, legitimately, really "sciences", and therefore interconnected, because reality is interconnected. Just as all of the aspects of a single material thing must interrelate and cooperate in order for the individual thing to survive and flourish, so too all of the different "sciences" must interrelate and cooperate in order for the individuals in our culture to know reality, in order to survive and flourish.

C. Application to Biological Evolution, Cultural Evolution, and Altruism

At this point I want to propose a number of theses that will perhaps be rather startling to many of you. I would argue that evolutionary biology and cultural evolution are not so different from each other! They should not be so separated and considered as dealing with two separate and different "things" which contradict each other, but rather understood analogously as collectively explaining the same complex evolution of a complex human being!38 As Gilkey has put it, they are "baffelingly interrelated".39 Pedagogically, let me turn to the "science" of ethics as a way in which to focus this claim.

Ethics is also objectively based on reality. That is, it is proximately based on the real objectively known nature of the real human being -- known a posteriori in its wholeness. Because we are naturally material beings, we tend to "selfishly" behave on the biological (material) level in ways that are determined by that aspect of us that is physical. Because we are naturally human too (substantial form), we also tend to act in ways that are "selfish" on an intellectual level. Both the material and the formal aspects of the nature of a human being require us to behave "selfishly", in order that we may survive and flourish as individuals, and reach our built-in human goals.

Thus the "selfish gene" of Dawkins40 is really not just an act of the material genes, and he claims, nor of just the material body -- but the act of the whole composite human being, including, then, the formal aspect or the "soul". To argue that all that has evolved in the human species is the genetic matter is to cause a gap. This is to split off a part of the whole nature, i.e., the matter, and intellectually make that part a whole thing in itself. In contrast, I would argue that during biological evolution it was not even primarily the material aspect which was responsible for the change, but the formal aspect -- in "cooperation" with the other aspects. Substantial change occurred during biological evolution from one species to another; and it is the substantial form which causes and directs a thing to function and act biologically in species-specific ways. What the human genes have done over time, then, was done in cooperation with all of the other components of the particular human beings who evolved -- under specifically human formal direction. One cannot really say, then, that it is, or was, the genes alone or per se who are, or were, behaving "selfishly", but the whole human being who experiences, deliberates, chooses and acts selfishly, altruistically, agapically and charitably.

The same is true for "cultural evolution". It is not "culture" -- as a thing per se -- which has evolved, nor human Minds which have evolved, but individual complex physical human beings with human intellectual components who have evolved. Neither genes, nor Minds, nor "cultures" are things -- unless we want to go back to the splits of earlier times. Hence, as the term is generally used, "cultural" evolution implies the opposite gap than the one just described for Darwinians. It implies the evolution of real "things" which are not connected essentially with "matter". Both biological and cultural evolution are studying the same reality, but analogously.41 Biologists are studying the history of the concrete evolution of form and matter; cultural evolution is studying the history of the concretized actions and behaviors of these same humans as influenced by both individual and institutional learning.

However, although I think evolutionary biology has at times lost sight of one of the aspects that has been evolved in that phenomenon, the contribution that evolutionary biologists have made to our understanding of reality (and specifically to ethics) has certainly played a critical role. It has clearly reinstated the legitimate status of "matter" in the definition of "a human being", and required us to consider once again the critical importance of our natural a posterioi starting point for knowing the human being. It also insists that the empirical sciences be taken seriously as the starting point for all of the sciences. To illustrate this, let me again suggest an application of this thesis to the "science" of ethics -- specifically the empirical sciences' role in ethical decision-making and behavior.

Human beings do have an objectively-based real nature (like all other material beings), and that nature is empirically grounded. We are teleological or goal-orientated beings -- any biologist will tell you that42, and our "telos" or "goal" is a built-in component of our natures as human beings. Our goal is to survive, to flourish, and progressively perfect ourselves as humans.43 To that end there are many decisions we must make on all levels in order to accomplish those goals. Here there is no is/ought gap.44 Because we in fact are a certain kind of thing, with species-specific built-in goals, then in order to reach those goals we ought or should act or behave in ways that allow us to reach those goals.45 This is why ethics, or "morality" is not essentially "relative". It is not based on any one person's "feelings" or "opinions" -- but on the real objective nature of the real whole human being. (And, as introductory books in ethics will indicate, if the moral theory of "relativism" is true -- i.e., that all theories of ethics are relative -- then "relativism" as a theory itself is necessarily also relative -- and therefore not objectively true!).

Our human deliberations and choices of actions are also empirically grounded. If the wrong empirical information about which we are to deliberate is incorrectly presented to our intellects as "true", then our choice will be incorrectly based on "artifactual" information. A simple example will elaborate my point.

Suppose that empirical science tells me that cocaine is not harmful and in fact a good for me. If I accept that scientific "expertise" as true, and use that scientific information in my deliberation process as to whether or not I should use cocaine, my decision and choice of behavior would probably be to go ahead and use it. However, my real nature as a human being really is such that cocaine would harm and destroy my body and my intellect -- even my life -- and thus my decision to use it would preclude me from attaining my intermediate and ultimate goals. If, however, empirical science tells me that cocaine is in fact harmful to my body and my intellect, that information is used in my deliberations and choice of behavior. The resultant behavior is completely the opposite now, as I would choose not to take cocaine. Because my complex nature as a human being is, in fact, such as it is, and because cocaine is in fact such as it is, all of my decisions should be based ultimately on these empirical facts in order to flourish and reach human perfection.

Thus information from the empirical sciences is the starting point even in my ethical analyses, and plays a critical role in my moral decision-making process. But, as we can see, the correctness of that information is also critically important. Our survival as individuals and groups depends on deliberating about the correct empirical information. Indeed, traditionally, one of the intellectual virtues went by the name of the virtue of "science"!47 Because a human being is so complex, information which affects all aspects of its survival has been "decisive" in the evolutionary processes of the human being.48 I would suggest that Darwin was only partly correct. It is not only the "survival" of the most physically fit genes -- but the survival of the most morally fit genes as well.49

What I have just outlined suggests another set of redefinitions. "Evolutionary biology" would be the study of the evolution of both form and matter -- including that of the evolution of the whole human complex. "Cultural evolution" would be the study of the evolution of human being's choices and behaviors as influenced by individual learning and as influenced by all of the "sciences" -- including the physical and life sciences (not by the "humanities" alone). Here the study of man's behavior must be understood as man's concrete embodied behavior. Both "sciences" -- evolutionary biology and cultural evolution -- are reflecting on a complex composite formally and materially human being who did or does exist, and who behaved in certain human ways.

These considerations also force a redefinition of this complex concretized "human behavior". To be "selfish" is not necessarily an evil50 - and I think our society has lost sight of this in our frantic swing to social consciousness. To put it bluntly, if I don't have my own head screwed on right, I really can't help others very effectively. Ethical actions are about the actions of a human being who is both intellectual and material, and virtue-theory is about both the intellectual as well as the moral (body) virtues. A dusty old philosopher once said: to act good I have to think right. He also added that only a morally good man thinks right.51

This insight captures the back and forth interrelationships within the dynamic human nature as such. It also indicates the inherent legitimacy -- indeed necessity -- for "balanced" self-regarding actions, grounded in the pivotal virtue of prudence.52 Thus true self-love is a legitimate caring for one's self on both the level of the body and the level of the soul. This kind of behavior is in reference to the human individual himself, and he behaves in this fashion because (intention) he wants to survive well, flourish and reach his natural (soul and body) and supernatural goals.53

Altruism also captures these same elements -- but the referent and the intention are different. Altruism is also naturally based on the human complex -- but the human complex as seen in the "other". When we act altruistically we are caring for other complex fellow human beings on both the level of their bodies and the level of their souls because we see in them ourselves and our own needs -- and recognize that for all of us to survive and flourish these needs must be met collectively. This I think is distinct from agape in which we care for them because we want them to reach both their natural and supernatural goals, for their own sake alone.

I would, however, distinguish both altruism and agape from charity.54 As with altruism and agape, charity is also based on the nature of the human complex -- but the referents are both the individual "self" and the human "others"; and the intention is different. This brings me to that awkward and elusive concept of "esse", or the accidental act of existing -- the third aspect in the definition of a human being.

The act of existing is a natural aspect of every human being. Whereas both self-love, altruism and agape focus on the material and formal aspects of a human being, charity focuses on the act of existing. The act of existing betrays an essential and structural "openness"55 within the human complex itself -- an "openness" which is the most dynamic feature of the human complex. It reveals not only that we are, but also that we are not yet what we would or could be. Our present-ness, then, also contains our possibilities. Because man is so structurally "open", personality is not constituted only by a concrete "I", but by a concrete "we" in our relatedness to other beings. Here "caring" is the "contingent watch over the contingent", as Wilhemson so eloquently expressed it. Indeed, it signifies a way of knowing that is not often acknowledged. As it was once said of the early Christians, "you will know them by the way they love one another." This way of acting (behavior) is grounded in our knowledge of God -- attained through both our natural knowledge of the contingent existing of all creatures, but confirmed in Revelation. Thus Revelation, too, is a source of information -- information that is also presented to the human intellect to consider in its decision-making process. It is in this way that our intellects are not only informed, but informed as well.56 So in our understanding of charity we have a completely different intention.57 As the act of existing points to our individual and collective contingency, it points to our Creator, our supernatural "telos". It points "beyond itself to a truth about Esse per se, a truth which in turn can bend back and illuminate its point of departure -- the contingency of human existence."58 In charity we care for our own humanness and that of our neighbors for no other reason than because of our love for God alone.


The above analyses focus on certain artificial "artifacts" in our knowing of reality -- "artifacts" which have forced a virtual cascade of gaps and separations. The consequences have included the construction of a split picture of reality, and forced artificial wedges among the disciplines, as well as misunderstandings of the contents of their subject matters. By using the tool of the history of philosophy, I hope I have convincingly uncovered a major source of this negativity. By a careful reconstruction based on the way things really are and the legitimate ways in which they are really known, I hope I have encouraged one means by which reality can be pieced together again. By these means I have tried to demonstrate analogically the connectiveness and distinctiveness of the "sciences" -- in particular, the empirical sciences, philosophy and theology -- and their collective influence on how we, as whole human beings, should understand altruistic behavior.

As many of you have already surmised, these insights are rooted in an Aristotelean-Thomistic system of philosophy -- one which was scholastic in time, but not in content. Although one could question the temerity and even saneness of a Thomist participating in a predominantly Protestant endeavor here today, I turn to an insight taken from the World Council of Churches: "Openness to each other holds the possibility that the Spirit may well speak to one Church through the insights of another".59 It is in this same Spirit that I hope that some of Thomas' insights may bridge our common efforts and concerns about altruism and evolution.


1 See Gilson, Etienne, Being and Some Philosophers (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1949); also, Dianne Nutwell Irving, Philosophical and Scientific Analysis of the Nature of the Early Human Embryo, Doctoral Dissertation (Washington, D.C., Department of Philosophy, Georgetown University, 1991). [Back]

2 Crombie, A.C., Medieval and Early Modern Science (New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1959, p. 130); see also Jeffrey S. Wicken, "The limits of science for theology", in Hans May, Meinfried Striegnitz, Philip Hefner (eds.), Loccumer Protokolle (Rehburg-Loccum: Evangelische Akademie Loccum, 1989), p. 121. [Back]

3 Richerson, Peter J., and Robert Boyd, "Simple models of complex phenomena: The case of cultural evolution", in John Dupre (ed.), The Latest on the Best Essays on Evolution and Optimality (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1987), p. 28. [Back]

4 Gilson, Etienne, Being and Some Philosophers, op cit; also, Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy (New York: Image Books, 1963). [Back]

5 Eslick, Leonard J, "The material substrate in Plato", in Ernan McMullin, (ed.), The Concept of Matter in Greek and Medieval Philosophy (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1963). [Back]

6 Aristotle, in De Coelo; in Richard McKeon (ed.), The Basic Works of Aristotle (New York: Random House, 1941), lines 1.5.271b, pp. 9-10. [Back]

7 Ruse, Michael, "What can evolution tell us about ethics?", in May et al, Loccumer Protokolle 1989, pp. 203-205; but see, Philip Hefner, "Altruism and Christian love: definitions and interrelationships", Loccum Conference, 1992, p. 1. [Back]

8 Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence, Armand Mauer (trans.) (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1983); also, George Klubertanz, Introduction to the Philosophy of Being (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1963); and Klubertanz, The Philosophy of Human Nature (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1953). [Back]

9 Thomas Aquinas, The Division and Method of the Sciences, Armand Mauer (trans.), (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1986). [Back]

10 Plato, The Republic, in B. Jowett (trans.), The Dialogues of Plato (New York: Random House, 1932); also, Gregory Vlastos, Plato: A Collection of Critical Essays (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1978); also, Robert S. Brumbaugh, The Philosophers of Greece (New York: State University of New York Press, 1981). [Back]

11 Kirk, G.S. and J.E. Raven, The Pre-Socratic Philosophers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964). [Back]

12 Plato, Phaedrus, in Jowett, op. cit. [Back]

13 Singer, Peter, "Taking life: abortion", in Practical Ethics (London: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 118; Michael Tooley, "Abortion and infanticide", in The Rights and Wrongs of Abortions (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1974), pp. 59, 64; H.T. Englehardt, The Foundations of Bioethics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 111. [Back]

14 Gilson, Etienne, Being and Some Philosophers, op cit; also Aristotle, in Mauer (trans.), Met. 3.2.997b18-998a10, and in 11.1.1059a34-1059b14. [Back]

15 Brumbaugh, Robert S, The Philosophers of Greece (New York: State University of New York Press, 1981). [Back]

16 Gilson, Etienne, Being and Some Philosophers, 1949). [Back]

17 Ibid. [Back]

18 Descartes, Rene, "Meditations on First Philosophy", in E.S. Haldane and G.R.T. Ross, The Philosophical Works of Descartes (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979); also, in Cottingham, J., et al, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). [Back]

19 See Wicken, "The limits of science for theology", Loccumer Protokolle, 1989. [Back]

20 Williams, Bernard, "Rene Descartes", in Paul Edwards, (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. and the Free Press, 1967), Vol. 1- 2, p. 234. [Back]

21 See use of term in Hefner, Philip, and Karl Peters (eds.), Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science (Cambridge MA: Basil Blackwell Inc., The Chicago Center for Religion and Science), 1991, 26:1, p. 2. [Back]

22 Romans 1.20. [Back]

23 Wicken, p. 121; ee contra , William Irons, "How did morality evolve?", Zygon 26:1, p. 51. [Back]

24 Maritain, Jacques, The Degrees of Knowledge, G.B. Phelan (trans.), New York, 1959. [Back]

25 Campbell, Donald T, "A naturalistic theory of archaic moral orders", in Hefner et al (eds.), Zygon 26:1, 1991, p. 93. [Back]

26 Klubertanz, George, Introduction to the Philosophy of Being (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1963); also, Klubertanz, The Philosophy of Human Nature (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1953); also, Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence (Toronto: The Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1983). [Back]

27 Veatch, Henry, Aristotle: A Contemporary Approach (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1974). [Back]

28 Lewin, Benjamin (ed.), Genes III (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1987), pp. 11-13, 30; also Emery, Alan E.H, Elements of Medical Genetics (New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1983), pp. 25, 101-103. [Back]

29 Wilhelmsen, Frederick, Man's Knowledge of Reality (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1956). [Back]

30 Wilhelmsen, Frederick, The Metaphysics of Love (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1962). [Back]

31 An excellent application of this to natural law theory and sexual behavior is: Rhonheimer, Martin, "Contraception, sexual behavior, and natural law", in Linacre Quarterly, May 1989, p. 20. [Back]

32 Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence, op. cit., Chap. 3; see also Kevin Doran, "Person - a key concept for ethics", Linacre Quarterly, 56:4, 1989, p. 39. [Back]

33 Ibid. [Back]

34 Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence, op. cit. [Back]

35 ased on Thomas Aquinas; see Mauer, Armand (trans.), The Division and Method of the Sciences (Toronto: The Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1986). [Back]

36 Klubertanz, The Philosophy of Being, op. cit.; Gilson, op. cit., 1949. [Back]

37 Klubertanz, The Philosophy of Being, op. cit. [Back]

38 Burhoe, Ralph Wendell, Toward a Scientific Theology (Belfast: Christian Journals Limited, 1981), Chap. 6. [Back]

39 Gilkey, Langdon, "Biology, ethics and theology", in Loccumer Protokolle 1989, p. 47. [Back]

40 Dawkins, R., The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976). [Back]

41 Hefner, Loccum Conference, 1992, p. 2. [Back]

42 Jacob, Francois, and Jacques Monod (1961), in Benjamin Lewin (ed.), Genes III (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1987), p. 18; Schrodinger, Erwin (1945), in Lewin,, pp. 443 and 639; Lewin, 1987, p. 318. [Back]

43 Irving, Dianne Nutwell, Philosophical and Scientific Analysis of the Nature of the Early Human Embryo, op. cit., Chap. 5. [Back]

44 McInerny, Ralph, Ethica Thomistica (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1982), p. 50. [Back]

45 Fagothey, Austin, Right and Reason (St. Louis: The C.V. Mosby Company, 1963 (third ed. only), pp. 66 and 78. [Back]

46 Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, in McKeon, op. cit. [Back]

47 Ibid. [Back]

48 Boyd, Robert, and Peter Richerson, Life in the fast lane: Rapid cultural change and the human evolutionary process (California: Institute of Ecology, University of California, Davis, 1990)., p. 2. [Back]

49 Gilkey, Langdon, Loccomer Protokolle, 1989, p. 41. [Back]

50 Browning, Don, "Altruism and Christian love", Loccum Conference, 1992, p. 8. [Back]

51 Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, in McKeon, op. cit. [Back]

52 See Fagothey, op. cit.; McInerny, 1982, op. cit.; John Paul Scott, "The evolution of altruism", in Loccumer Protokolle, 1989, p. 67. [Back]

53 Finnis, John, Natural Law and Natural Rights (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982). [Back]

54 Hefner, in Loccum Conference, 1992, p. 9; also Browning, ibid., p. 6. [Back]

55 ilhelmsen, op. cit., Metaphysics of Love, 1962. [Back]

56 Hefner, op. cit., pp. 4 and 5. [Back]

57 Thomas Aquinas, De Caritate. [Back]

58 Wilhelmsen, op. cit., Metaphysics of Love, 1962. [Back]

59 World Council of Churches, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982), p. 54. [Back]

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