New Book on Aquinas and Evolution

Some readers here might be interested in the new (second) edition of Michael Chaberek’s book Aquinas and Evolution. Chaberek, a trained Dominican scholar, takes issue with the view of Feser and others on the subject.

You can ask for the book as a Christmas present, and get it from Amazon. See:

As the copyright page shows, this is the 2019 edition, not the 2017 edition incorrectly given in the Amazon information on the book. The cover image is also that of the 2019 edition.


@Eddie welcome back.


Thanks, Patrick. I may come and go irregularly, but thought I’d say hello.


“macroscopic evolutionary theory”??


The phrase you ask about appears in the blurb, but not in the book itself. However, the book does distinguish between “microevolution” and “macroevolution”, in a fairly common way, i.e., between observable changes at the level of species or maybe genus, and inferred, more radical changes that over greater lengths of time produce whole new families, orders, classes, etc. [And yes, I know that many evolutionary biologists would say that macroevolution is just microevolution extended over time, so no need to “correct” me on this; I’m merely explaining Chaberek’s usage.]

This distinction is important in a book on Thomistic theology, because Thomas Aquinas puts restrictions on the kinds of change that can occur without direct divine action. New “natures” cannot be produced without direct divine action, though variations on existing natures can be. For example, a brown bear might over time yield black bears and white bears, or a basic “ox” type might yield a variety of oxen, and that would not violate any principle of Thomistic metaphysics; but larger changes would do so. (One must remember that Thomas accepts, in the main, Aristotle’s understanding of metaphysics and of physics, and integrates that understanding into a Christian understanding of created nature.)

Chaberek, unlike Feser and some other Thomists, thinks that Thomistic thought precludes macroevolutionary change – unless that change is perceived as being aided by divine interventions, which for Chaberek means that God is not merely letting living things evolve naturally, but is directly creating radically new entities (even if making use of earlier genetic and somatic material).

The debate among Thomists rages on. I’m not asking anyone to endorse Chaberek’s side, but for those whose ideas on Thomas and evolution are shaped by philosophers like Edward Feser and theologians like NIcanor Austriaco, and think that such writers have settled the question, it is good to have an alternative interpretation of Aquinas available, for comparison and contrast. Chaberek’s book is filled with primary texts from Aquinas from which he defends his conclusions.

Of course, you might ask: “What does it matter what Thomas Aquinas thought about evolution?” And you might answer, “It doesn’t matter at all, since he had no modern biological knowledge.” But in the world of discourse in which Feser, Austriaco, Chaberek, etc. live and breathe, Thomas Aquinas is an unimpeachable authority on theology and metaphysics, and therefore is relevant even on scientific matters insofar as those matters have a metaphysical component. So in that world of discourse, the initial question is not whether or not evolution is true, but whether or not evolution is compatible with Aquinas’s principles. The question of what a Thomist should do if Aquinas and evolution disagree is another question entirely. I think I can guess what you and several others here would say in answer to that latter question, but it is a different kind of question from the first one, which is a question for exegesis, theology, and philosophy, not for modern biology, geology, etc.

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So much the worse for Thomistic thought, then. What does “directly creating”, etc. actually mean? What does “making use of earlier genetic and somatic material” actually mean?

Most importantly, why should we care what Thomas Aquinas thought about evolution? Should it have any influence on our understanding of evolution? Thomism seems like a personality cult.


I already implicitly answered that question, above. You don’t need to care at all. But Feser, Beckwith, Austriaco, Chaberek etc. must care because of their prior commitment to the truth of Thomism (certainly on all major points, and for some of them, seemingly on everything).

For Feser, Beckwith, Austriaco, etc., since Thomas can’t be wrong, then, if macroevolution really did occur, then there must exist some interpretation of Thomas’s words which can be squared with it. And they all seem to accept that macroevolution is established, so out comes the apologetic exegesis of Aquinas.

Chaberek reasons in the other direction: since Thomas can’t be wrong, and since Thomistic principles forbid accepting macroevolution, then macroevolution must be false; the scientists who claim it is established beyond doubt must have made some error, which will emerge upon a closer and more critical look at the evidence for macroevolution. [Note: he also has scientific reservations about macroevolution, but they aren’t the primary topic of his book.]

Then there is Vincent Torley, also a Roman Catholic. I’m not sure what his view of Aquinas is. He respects Aquinas and is, I believe, in some respects a follower of Aquinas, but I don’t know if he is one of the “Aquinas can do no wrong” people, or if he allows that Aquinas could be just dead wrong on some things. In any case, a few years back, he argued very ably (and apparently without any help from Chaberek) that close reading of Aquinas’s text shows that Aquinas is not compatible with an uncompromising, full-fledged Darwinian evolutionary scheme. Now Chaberek has come to the same conclusion. Chaberek goes from there to “macroevolution (Darwinian or other) is false”. I’m not sure what Vincent’s current view on the reality/unreality of macroevolution is. I think he posts here now and then; maybe he can bring us up to date on his view and how it resembles or differs from Chaberek’s. It would not surprise me if he has conversed with Chaberek and compared notes.

Anyhow, the book by Chaberek is very interesting for those who have even a general interest in Thomistic/Aristotelian ideas of nature and their application to evolution, but will probably be much less interesting for those who aren’t enthusiastic about Aristotle/Aquinas.

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@vjtorley may respond for himself in more detail, but he definitely thinks Aquinas got it wrong on a number of issues.

Thanks for this information. I look forward to hearing further clarification from Vincent Torley, if he reads this exchange.


True. Aquinas is much more than a pivotal figure in Catholic tradition, or more broadly Christian thought. It is fine to disagree with him or even to be unaware of his name, but for the record he is an acknowledged contributor to western intellectual history. No one is going to say that of Ken Ham.


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To get back on the original topic: @Eddie, in this new edition, does Chaberek have a new response to Austriaco’s main Thomistic explanation that in evolution, new forms are produced by God’s special action (similar to the creation of the soul in human reproduction)? The original objection from Chaberek was how less perfect things could evolve to become more perfect (i.e. well-adapted to their environment), given the principle of proportionate causality. I think Austriaco’s position essentially amounts to a form of progressive creationism, though at the metaphysical instead of scientific level.

Related: I think Feser does a good job in his newest book Aristotle’s Revenge of giving a general overview of the different ways Aristotelians can think about evolution. Austriaco and co. have also recently published a new book about Thomism and evolution, which includes chapters on Adam and Eve as well. Some of the information was published previously on their website, Thomistic Evolution.


I haven’t read the new book by Austriaco; I’m familiar only with an article or two of his reprinted on BioLogos. Chaberek comments on the Austriaco book (which is an anthology) in about half a dozen places in his own work, indicating in footnotes where he disagrees with certain points, but the main text of his book focuses primarily on the exposition of Aquinas and avoids detailed wrangling with other scholars.

If Austriaco etc. believe that new forms are produced by God’s special action, then to that extent they don’t disagree with Chaberek. But how that cashes out in detail, I can’t say without reading the book.

I think Feser is a good scholar of Aristotle and Aquinas, and I enjoy his critique of modernity from a pre-modern point of view. When he explains and teaches, as opposed to writing superciliously about philosophical and theological opponents and ID proponents, he is very good. I like the look of Aristotle’s Revenge and may get hold of a copy. I can’t comment on it, however, until I’ve read it.

My general impression of Feser is that he is very good on the “Greek” side of Christian thought, but does not do full justice to the “Hebraic” side – which is not uncommon among modern Thomists, and more generally among people who come into theological study from the philosophical rather than the Biblical side of things. His idea of “classical theism” is much more about the philosopher’s God than the Biblical God, as far as I can see. Everything he says about classical theism is fine as far as it goes, but every now and then, I find myself saying (uncharacteristically for me, since I am usually combating the opposite tendency, the anti-philosophical Biblicism of the fundamentalists), “Where is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in all this?” But you remind me to read more of Feser, so I thank you.


I agree that he does focus more on the Greek, perennial aspect of classical theism. Personally, I found Eleanor Stump’s lecture God of the Bible and God of the Philosophers to be helpful to reconcile these two ideas. In addition, one should remember that Aquinas thought of his main work as biblical commentary. This aspect of Thomas hasn’t been widely discussed as much as his philosophy.


Eddie -

I appreciate your bringing to our attention this interesting new work by Chaberek.

Since I don’t have time to read the book anytime in the near future, would you mind answering a question about it for me?

My reaction to the Thomistic view of evolution as described in this thread is that it is based on a medieval understanding of science that has leaked into the definition of a “form.” In other words, his understanding about what makes one biological form different from another would have been based on a certain medieval common sense. But we know today that much of that medieval sensibility about biology which undergirded his classification of forms has not survived the test of time.

There’s a very good case to be made for understanding all of biological life as an expression of a single form. I.e.,

Biology = Single Thomistic Form

Consider that every organism shares these characteristics:

  • Blueprints encoded in DNA
  • Common repertoire of amino acids
  • Common mechanisms for manufacturing proteins
  • Common mechanisms for regulating genetic expression
  • Blueprints copied to descendant organisms by replication
  • Changes introduced at a certain frequency through mutations
  • Life in populations having genetic alleles that provide adaptation capability
  • Respiration

This list could be magnitudes longer.

Dear St. Thomas could not possibly have imagined the double-slit experiment or Michelson-Morley. Would Thomas have regarded quantum entangled particles as a different form than beta decay? Such a question is a preposterous anachronism! We have a fundamentally different understanding of physics than Thom. We should not ask him to adjudicate our physics theories.

Likewise, we should not ask dear St. Thom to adjudicate our biology theories. He could not possibly have imagined that scientists would eventually discover the biochemical and genetic similarities across the entire domain of biology that we know about today.

Thom has a lot of important things to say about how we relate to one another, and how we relate to God. We do not listen to him enough about these subjects. Thom even has some important things to say about how the life of a scientist relates to a life of faith. I do think it inappropriate to ask him to adjudicate modern scientific findings, however.

So that’s my initial reaction. I would imagine that Chaberek and Feser have given some thought to what I just stated. I am curious about how they would respond, if indeed they have.




Excellent example, Rich! Thomas’ medieval understandings (or perhaps we should say misunderstandings) of astrophysics led to fundamental errors in classifying forms–in this case, what is eternal and without variation vs. what is temporal and variable.

I would add this: we should expect Aquinas to be approximately as relevant to modern biology as he is to modern astrophysics.



Hello, Chris.

There are two distinct questions that need to be treated separately:

  1. What did Aquinas teach?

  2. Is Aquinas’s teaching (regarding physics, metaphysics, whatever) defensible today, in light of modern knowledge?

The dispute between the one group of Thomists and the other group is first and foremost over what Aquinas taught, though the other question sometimes get tangled up in the debate, because the Thomists are usually just as interested in showing that Aquinas was right as in determining what he taught.

If we focus on the question of what Aquinas taught, forcing ourselves to refrain from judgment regarding its correctness, the question is whether Aquinas’s understanding of creation, nature, matter, form, etc. is compatible with:

(a) the specifically Darwinian understanding of evolution;
(b) any form of evolution.

Chaberek, against many current Thomist philosophers, argued that Aquinas’s understanding of creation and of nature is such that it is incompatible not only with the Darwinian understanding of evolution, but with any understanding of evolution in which purely natural causes bring about changes in the substantial nature of a being. In other words, for Chaberek, you can have Aquinas, or you can have evolution, but you can’t have both.

So the question become an exegetical one: who interprets Aquinas better, Chaberek and Torley, on one hand, or Feser, Beckwith, Austriaco, etc. on the other?

If one decides that Chaberek is correct, then one has to say either that evolution is a major error or that Aquinas’s understanding of creation, nature, form, etc. contains major errors. If one decides that Austriaco is correct, then one can have both evolution and Aquinas.

If your theological orientation is such that Aquinas doesn’t automatically have to be right about anything, then the debate will be of less importance to you. But it’s a bone of sharp contention among those for whom Aquinas is believed to be incapable of serious error. If evolution is really incompatible with the thought of Aquinas, then the Thomist must dump one or the other, and the price for either choice is higher than most Thomists today are willing to pay (either being laughed at by the world of secular science and scholarship for rejecting evolution, or being shunned by their Thomist colleagues for admitting that Aquinas was wrong on some very central matters regarding creation and nature). So it is not surprising that many Thomists bend over backwards to try to harmonize the very different world views of Darwin and Aquinas. But Chaberek doesn’t care much about what the world of secular scholarship thinks of him, or what the majority of Thomist scholars thinks of him. He believes that the teaching of Aquinas logically excludes evolution, and he says so without mincing words.

Whether the fact that Chaberek is from Poland, and most of the vigorous defenders of a Thomistic evolutionism work in the Anglo-American orbit, has anything to do with his willingness to defy scholarly opinion, is perhaps impossible to determine.

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