Letters to Embryologist O'Rahilly, and McInerny, Re Maritain's "Thomistic" Theory of Evolution (Sept./Oct. 1996)

Dianne N. Irving
Copyright October 12, 1996
Reproduced with Permission

Doctor Professor Ronan O'Rahilly
Rue du Coteau 57
CH-1752 Villars-sur-Glane

Dear Professor O'Rahilly:

Thank you so kindly for inviting me to respond to Maritain's 1967 paper in Nova et Vetera and mailing me pages from his book. I would not be so presumptuous as to think that I understand precisely the work of such an eminent theologian/philosopher as Maritain. But I will try to offer some thoughts concerning his theses in these pages, drawn mostly from my own work in the field.

But before responding to Maritain, let me give you at least a very brief sketch of my background and dissertation, as I think it will help you to understand my response. I was originally trained as a bench research biochemist, worked as such at NIH for about 7 years, and hold a "career appointment" with them as a research biochemist (although I have not worked at the bench for a while). I later received my Master's degree in metaphysics and epistemology, and my Doctorate in philosophy (with two concentrations: the history of philosophy, and bioethics) from Georgetown University.

The main issue in my dissertation was: "Is it ethical to use surplus human embryos in purely experimental research?". The answer to that question would, of course, depend on "what" the early human embryo is. I was originally going to argue for personhood beginning at 14-days. However, once I collected all of the piles of articles, books, etc., and arranged them in the order of human embryogenesis, I became aware of many scientific inaccuracies in the arguments for delayed personhood. In most of these bioethics arguments usually a scientist pairs up with a philosopher/theologian/bioethicist. The starting point is usually some scientific fact about human embryogenesis - the major premise; then a philosopher/theologian/bioethicist posits some philosophical or theological claim about personhood; and the conclusion about delayed personhood necessarily follows.

I was fairly well prepared to philosophically analyze these arguments - I had completed in formal course work the entire history of philosophy (which I have been teaching for 9 years now). And I tried to ignore the incorrect science for a while. That was not my problem now, I kept saying to myself - it's not my field any more. Besides, I had enough problems with the philosophy! But I soon realized that in order for me to accurately analyze these arguments and argue my own philosophical position coherently, I would have to be certain that I myself had the correct scientific facts. So I put off my dissertation twice (for over a year and a half) in order to go back into the human embryology, genetics, biochemistry, etc. I obtained every text book I could; I went back to my colleagues at NIH; I talked to Nobel Prize winners, etc. Once I was certain and clear that the science was correct (as best I could), then I went back to the bioethics arguments on delayed hominization.

In my dissertation, Philosophical and Scientific Analysis of the Nature of the Early Human Embryo, I do not use any religion or theology in my own response. I am not a theologian. I use only science, philosophy and logic. I finally analyzed more than 23 "representative" arguments for delayed hominization in the bioethics literature according to three criteria: was the science used as the major premise actually correct science; was the philosophy used as the minor premise historically accurate or theoretically defensible; and did the conclusions follow logically from the major and minor premises?

Once I analyzed these arguments, I discovered that all three criteria were not met in virtually all of the arguments for delayed hominization. This I was not expecting! Statistically this would not pass a T-test! Nor was it "politically correct" for me to argue against Fr. Richard McCormick, whose work with Grobstein was central to the bioethics literature and which therefore I was required to address in my dissertation. He was also at that time the Director of my institute! Yet, having corrected the science, I had no alternative but to argue for immediate hominization. [I have sent you my dissertation, and an up-dated copy of my Linacre Quarterly paper which is a summary of it, "Philosophical and scientific expertise: An analysis of the arguments on personhood", hereafter referred to as PSE].

But back to Maritain. As I read him in the article which you sent to Dr. Kischer, Maritain is trying to use St. Thomas' theory of delayed hominization to demonstrate that it can be used to philosophically ground the theory of evolution. That is, "as Thomas says", there is a distinction between being virtually a human being and being formally a human being. The former takes place at conception; the latter about three months when the rational soul is infused (because it is then that the material is properly and proportionately organized). Maritain rejects the views of some "modern" theologians that the rational soul must be infused at conception, because: (1) they are trying to retain Thomas' edict that abortion is wrong, even from conception; and (2) they are trying to preserve the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. [The second point I feel unqualified to address.]

But, Maritain says, that amounts to a "philosophical absurdity". Thomas clearly had a theory of delayed hominization; and Maritain proceeds to demonstrate how profound this theory was, as it fits into the modern scientific theory of evolution (also implied by the work of Rahner and de Chardin in Maritain's footnotes). He uses two "scientific" starting points. (1) Embryological science recognizes that during the embryogenesis of a (single) human being, "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" (the "biogenetics law", or, the evolution from vegetable, animal to human species over millions of years is mimicked during human embryogenesis because of the formation of "gill slits" and "tails"); and (2) because the human embryology text book to which he refers recognizes three (corresponding) stages of development in utero. [Interestingly, that text claims that the embryo does not begin until 18 days; the fetal period is from 3-6 months; and the third stage begins at "viability" - all incorrect in today's human embryology]. For that old text, then, the human being would not begin until 7-9 months. He then further develops St. Thomas' thought, claiming that the initial "vegetative" stage is like a seed-in-transition (process) to the second and third stages (sensitive and rational) - [precisely the position taken by Wallace, who I address in Chapter Three of my dissertation and in my PSE paper.]

What I will try to explain in this letter is that: (1) Thomas' theory of delayed hominization was contradictory to his own metaphysics and anthropology (as also with Aristotle); (2) had Thomas or Aristotle access to today's human embryological facts they both would have had to argue for immediate hominization; and (3) Maritain's interpretation of the theory of evolution is confused; the "scientific" theory of "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" to which he refers has long since been debunked and formally rejected in human embryology as nothing but myth; and the "three" stages of embryology given in the out-dated human embryology text quoted by Maritain are incorrect.

To respond, then, to Maritain – as you requested. First, you probably realize that there are many different kinds of Thomists: Platonic, Neo-platonic, Aristotelean, Suarezian (Jesuit), Kantian, transcendental (Rahner), process (de Chardin), etc. – depending on which school of philosophy used to interpret him! After reading Thomas directly myself, within the context of the history of philosophy, I quite reluctantly concluded that the Aristotelean-Thomistic philosophical ball-park (not theology) seemed to match the correct empirical scientific facts - believe it or not. (I must say I was not very pleased with my own conclusion, as I was debating with secular bioethicists). Maritain is difficult to categorize: sometimes he sounds like a transcendental Thomist, and here he certainly sounds like a mixture of a neo-platonic (Plotinus) and process Thomist. This leads to the question: is his interpretation of St. Thomas' philosophy correct and defensible?

It is true that St. Thomas argued for delayed hominization, pace Aristotle (much to the displeasure of Thomas' master, St. Albert the Great, who was a biologist). This is obviously one of the questions I had to deal with in my dissertation. In "Appendix A" in the back of the dissertation is a 150 page section on "Two Aristotles, Two Substances". After carefully analyzing all of Aristotle's works word for word myself, I concluded that the "mainstream" Aristotle would have had to argue for immediate hominization to be consistent with his own metaphysics and anthropology. This is an issue which many famous Aristoteleans whom I reference from time to time have themselves addressed and who have come to similar conclusions as mine. Most of my analysis is in terms of directly quoting Aristotle from his major works. The De Anima is particularly strange and very self-contradictory - and is of course, unfortunately, the work from which most people quote Aristotle concerning delayed hominization. That work is extremely self-contradictory and runs counter to his mainstream metaphysics and anthropology - which I try to demonstrate by direct quotations from Aristotle in my "Appendix A".

The same can be said, unfortunately, for St. Thomas. In his mainstream philosophical works, his metaphysics and anthropology would also have to argue for immediate hominization if he had had the current accurate human embryology. For example, both Aristotle and Thomas argue that the soul is in all parts of the body; that the rational soul cannot be split from the vegetative and sensitive powers of the soul, and that the rational soul contains virtually, by definition, the vegetative and sensitive powers of the human soul; and that the whole soul cannot be split from the body which it informs. In the Summa Theologica, Thomas even states that the name of "person" does not apply to the rational soul alone, nor to the whole soul alone, but to the entire "SUBSISTENS" [i.e., form (whole soul), body, and act of existing (esse)]. [Thomas is one of the few philosophers in the history of philosophy who includes "undesignated matter" in his formal definition of a "human being" - e.g., in his De Ente et Essential. Neither Aristotle nor Thomas ever spoke of "seeds-on-the-way" etc., as Maritain suggests. That is a very neo-platonic and historically incorrect interpretation of Thomas (and Maritain's position is quite similar to that of Wallace which I analyze in Chapter Three of the dissertation).

So it is actually theoretically contradictory for either Aristotle or Thomas to argue, as they do argue, that first there is a vegetative soul, then a sensitive soul, then a rational soul – three different souls - during human embryogenesis. Either a substance is all there, or it is not, according to the rest of their works. And for both of them, also, there is no such thing as a human vegetative soul alone, or a sensitive soul alone, or a rational soul alone. This clearly contradicts any theory of delayed hominization - indeed, it would make it impossible.

Second, it is also true that both Aristotle and Thomas argued that the "matter" must be properly organized before the soul could be infused. Most Thomists today argue, as I, that had they access to the same human embryological data which we do today, they would have to argue that at fertilization the matter is already properly organized (some examples of papers enclosed). This is the argument which I am attempting to explicate.

We know scientifically that immediately at fertilization a human being normally begins to exist, and that specifically human proteins and enzymes are produced. I cannot understand any human embryologist who would deny that. By "three months" even specifically human nerve and organ systems have been produced. Thus scientifically there is no need for anything to be "infused" at three months to do something which has already been done from fertilization on! Thus, it is scientifically certain that at fertilization a human being begins to exist.

But is the human being also a human person at fertilization? This is not a scientific question, but a philosophical one (not that that means philosophy cannot help to answer the question - it can). Once I looked at that question closely a philosophical "flag" started waving in my mind. Those philosophical systems containing a mind/body split began to become crystallized in virtually all of these arguments for delayed hominization. But can one really split a human being from a human person?

Both Aristotle and St. Thomas have stated "no". And both philosophically and scientifically one simply cannot hold that. If the whole soul and the whole body with its act of existing is how one defines a "person" (for Thomas), then the whole complex must be present at fertilization - when we now know that the matter is properly organized. We know scientifically that during human embryogenesis a "vegetable" (e.g., a cabbage) is not produced; nor are monkey or giraffe organs or systems produced. A human being during human embryogenesis is simply not capable of producing cabbages or giraffes because it doesn't have the "information" or the capacity to do so. So there must be "something" present at fertilization (and not before) which controls and organizes specifically human embryogenesis (rather than cabbages or giraffes). This "thing", philosophically, Thomas calls a rational human nature - a "subsistens" (and therefore not just the form) - with a "potency" to direct itself throughout all of embryogenesis - and beyond.

This term "potency", or the flagrant misuse and abuse of it, has been sorely misinterpreted in these modern and contemporary bioethics delayed personhood arguments. By "potency" Thomas does not mean that there is a "potential" human being, or a "possible" human being. He means that there is an already existing human being with the potency or power to grow and develop further. There are no successive changes of natures. There is, at fertilization, an already existing human nature ("subsistens") with the potential to grow bigger - that's all. Yet so many of these bioethics arguments completely destroy the academically proper understanding of the Aristotelean-Thomistic term "potency", and argue instead that it means "potential human being" - i.e., that a human being might or could exist sometime in the future.

Furthermore, it is precisely this human nature ("subsistens") which must be present at fertilization to explain why and how specifically human activities follow from that point on. For both Aristotle and Thomas, function follows form. Thus the empirical observation of specifically human functions and activities can only be explained - scientifically and philosophically - by the presence of a human nature ("subsistens") at fertilization which directs and controls specifically human embryogenesis. All a scientist has to do to settle this issue is take a sample of the human embryo anytime after fertilization, make a slide, and observe under the microscope that this sample is from an already existing human being. All a Thomist has to do is take that empirical evidence, as well as the empirical evidence of specifically human functions and activities (function follows form), and conclude that at fertilization there is both a human being and a human person present - by definition.

These are the kinds of precisions that Maritain completely leaves out of his rendition of St. Thomas, or fails to make - which tells any interested Thomist that he might only be selecting bits and pieces of Thomas' theory and using them to advance his own position. Whenever I read a "Thomist", the first thing I look for is the manner in which the term "esse" is used - or not used, misused or abused. "Esse" is the hall-mark of Thomas' philosophy. It is interesting that writers such as Maritain (and Wallace, in my dissertation) never mention the term "esse" at all - probably because they don't really understand it and how it fits into Thomas' definition of a "human being". It is usually an indication of a "rationalist" strain of Thomism. (This is true especially for many German interpretations of Thomas. I discovered at a conference in Loccum, Germany, that the German language cannot express "esse" as a pure verb, only as a participle!). Maritain also fails to include in his Thomism Thomas' own very critical precise intellectual tools involving the correct definition of a "human being" or a "human nature" ("subsistens"), Thomas' teachings concerning the correct understanding of "potency", and his doctrine that "function follows form".

So I would tend to conclude up to this point that: (1) Maritain's interpretation of Thomas is possibly filtered through both a neo-platonic and process philosophical interpretation of Thomas (interpretations which have always had many Thomistic errors and philosophical critics); (2) that delayed hominization is contradictory to both Aristotle and Thomas' mainstream metaphysics and anthropology, and thus that they theoretically contradicted themselves; (3) that Maritain leaves out of his "Thomism" several of Thomas' most key and critical doctrines; and, (4) that the scientific facts about human embryology which we now know would have them both argue for immediate hominization - and that those same scientific facts actually validate a philosophical theory of immediate hominization. Indeed, the scientific facts prove that specifically human embryogenesis takes place from fertilization on - not just from 3 months on - and that only a human being, with all of its "parts" intact, could be responsible for it from the beginning. How Maritain would have responded to my arguments I do not know - but I would have indeed loved to have been around to discuss these issues with him!

Third, what often happens with philosophers and theologians who operate only a priori is that their starting point is not really the scientific facts (a posteriori), but rather some problematic philosophical or theological "theory" or "concept" in the mind, which is then imposed on the empirical data. This is, to be quite honest, how I interpret Maritain's next move to gain scientific and professional credibility by trying to match this "theory" of delayed hominization to the (sometimes questionable) current scientific theory of evolution and the long-abandoned scientific theory of "recapitulation". Using a human embryology text book which is grossly out of date, Maritain tries to appeal to "scientific" theories in order to validate his own philosophical/theological "theory".

The problem as I see it is, aside from the wrong epistemological starting point for his deliberations, and aside from the use of such an out-dated human embryology text, he simply misinterprets the theory of evolution, confusing the evolution of the species with the growth and development of an individual within one species (as I have developed in my PSE) - which is classic rationalism. And his use of the scientific theory of "recapitulation" is just as unfortunate, as I assume you would agree, since you forcefully reject it in your own textbooks. I have come to realize that a little bit of scientific knowledge in the hands of a scientifically untrained philosopher or theologian can spell disaster (and visa-versa, of course).

Unfortunately today, at least in the United States, "philosophers" are not even competent in their own field, and are especially academically deficient in the history of philosophy. At Georgetown, for example, a student can come into the graduate program in philosophy with absolutely no former course work in philosophy (especially, for example, the bioethics students); most of their non-philosophy undergraduate courses are applied to the graduate philosophy degrees; and a student can then get a Ph.D. in philosophy with only comparing two or three philosophers which can all come from only one era of philosophy (such as all contemporary philosophers, or all modern philosophers). Many of them have never studied any philosophers before Kant (of course generically the theoretical philosophical rebuttals and solutions to Kant and most other modern and contemporary philosophers are found before Kant!).

This is why the bioethicist Tom Beauchamp argued before the philosophy faculty meeting that he considered it a "tragedy" that graduate students were required to study any philosopher before Kant (I have a feeling that he did not study any philosophers before Kant himself, based on private "conversations" I had with him). This is also why those Ph.D. philosophers who concentrated in bioethics are, academically, really not philosophers. This situation would probably never be tolerated in the European universities. These new Ph.D. philosophers/bioethicists very seldom publish, because they know that they don't have the hard core philosophical background and will be blown out of the water by any real philosopher. So they spend most of their careers in bioethics "think tanks", perpetuating their confusion and imposing it on national and international public policy - or they leave the field entirely.

At any rate, as I have tried to demonstrate, both scientifically and philosophically it makes more empirical sense to argue for immediate hominization, considering that immediately after fertilization specifically human proteins, enzymes, and then organ systems are produced (instead of cabbages and giraffes). My sense is that Maritain is not really starting with the scientific facts. Rather he is starting with his own unique "brand" of Thomism and then trying to impose that "theory" onto the "scientific" facts - both sources of which are scientifically invalid or misinterpreted.

I am probably not reducing these arguments as well as in my papers, and I hope that you might find the time to read my paper PSE, which directly or indirectly answers most of the points which Maritain has raised. Such is my "quick" response to you concerning Maritain's position. It is quite similar to several of the positions on delayed hominization which I addressed in my dissertation.

One of the most problematic positions I addressed there was that of Grobstein (an amphibian embryologist) and Fr. Richard McCormick (a dissident theologian - against whom the encyclical Veritatis Splendor is directly aimed). The "science" they use is often incorrect - yet has been published around for 25 years without any critical comment from the scientific community - with the outstanding exception of the courageous, excellent and accurate work of Dr. C. Ward Kischer, whom I read about three years after my dissertation.

I approached Grobstein at a research ethics conference at Georgetown one week after I defended my dissertation. He had also presented his "science" to about 350 of his fellow scientific peers. When I questioned the accuracy of his science after his talk, he responded before everyone that he did know that he was using amphibian embryology in place of human embryology - but that he was only trying to be helpful - whatever that means! This brings us to the subject of bioethics and the use of the term "pre-embryo". This "science" and that term have dominated public policy in the United States for over 25 years. Hundreds of other "scientists" and bioethicists have commandeered the science and the term in order to set public policy on many issues besides abortion.

For example, the recent NIH Human Embryo Research Panel, explicitedly basing their conclusions on the work of Grobstein, McCormick and others (particularly Australian philosopher Peter Singer et al), recommended that the early human embryo has a "reduced moral status", and therefore can be used in purely experimental research for the greater good of society (and Nobel Prize winners!). At least they acknowledged that the 14-day marker was arbitrary, but they added that when the "public" was ready, they would move the marker up accordingly.

The Food and Drug Administration just allowed birth control pills to be marketed as "morning-after" pills because, as argued by the pharmaceutical industry, "there is no human embryo there" until two weeks after fertilization, and therefore "whatever" is trying to implant in the uterus is not a human being yet (using the dissident theologian Australian Fr. Norman Ford's book as their basis, which in turn is based on Grobstein and McCormick - see enclosed letters). McCormick, Grobstein and Ford recently presented their work on personhood to the Constitutional Court of South Africa in support of the new Constitution which allows abortion on demand (and hundreds of other international documents reference their work, and thousands of bioethics textbooks and videos now carry it - please note my analysis of bioethics "expertise" in my PSE paper).

The Catholic Church has been profoundly affected, as priests, bishops and cardinals internationally rally around McCormick, or against him (when I was teaching medical ethics in Romania recently, the papal nuncio in Bucharest assured me that early abortion was permissible in Romania because, "as McCormick and Grobstein had proven", there is no person there until 14- days!). I just debated several women from the Center for Reproduction and Law of New York (Planned Parenthood) who, on national TV, redefined all of the embryological terms to suit their own agenda: pregnancy begins at implantation, abortifacients are really contraceptives, we don't know when the life of a human being begins because that is a religious or philosophical question, etc. Philosopher Frey (now a Senior Scholar at the Hastings Center), pushing Singers logic (correctly), argues in a new paper (enclosed here) that if the higher primates are persons, and mentally ill and retarded human beings are not persons, then we should substitute them for the higher primates in purely destructive experimental research!

Such is the necessary logical outcome of some of the other bioethics arguments for delayed personhood I addressed (which also met none of my criteria). They are either that personhood depends on the exercising of "rational attributes" (self-consciousness, autonomy, loving, willing, relating to the world around us, etc.), or on the exercising of "sentience" (the ability to feel pain or pleasure). But none of these arguments are grounded on sound science. The scientific fact is that the full exercising of "rational attributes" or of full "sentience" does not really take place until many years after birth. Furthermore, as I have tried to argue with the phrase "conceptual transfer", if a "person" must be defined in terms of the exercising of "rational attributes" or "sentience", then the following list of adult human beings are not also human persons: Alzheimer's and Parkinson's patients, the comatose, drug addicts, the depressed, alcoholics, paraplegics, stroke victims - possibly (or probably) even my teen-age son and daughter! In fact, that would probably apply to most of us at one time or another! Certainly, it will apply to the elderly and disabled when it comes time for considerations of the allocation of scarce medical resources. Perhaps these arguments could be used to theoretically justify using all of these human populations in experimental research for the greater good of society as well. Sound familiar?

In short, science, especially the science of human embryology, has been co-opted and redefined for purely political purposes (please see my comparison of Moore's third and fifth editions, and the Islamic pamphlets concerning Moore) - and not one scientist - with the noted exception of Dr. Kischer - is complaining. As it stands now, if you look just at the arguments I address in my dissertation, it will already take human embryology several life-times to root out all of the incorrect "scientific" facts concerning human embryogenesis now already contained for so many years in all of those documents, text books and videos. It goes on and on. The genie is out of the bottle.

As for the field of bioethics, I would respectfully caution you about including any mention of it in your human embryology text books. I have sadly come to the realization that U.S. bioethics is, to be brutally honest, a fake field - and I ought to know, because part of my Ph.D. is in it (with a straight A average). The field is abysmal academically and could never sustain any serious philosophical scrutiny. Even the founders of the field (e.g., Daniel Callahan and Albert Jonsen) have admitted that their basic "bioethics principles" (autonomy, justice, and beneficence), used now throughout our U.S. OPRR regulations for the use of human subjects in research, court cases, hospital ethics committees guidelines, all the bioethics courses, IRB's - even the new (1993) United Nations CIOMS/WHO guidelines for the use of human subjects in research (especially targeted for the Third World countries) - were simply "made up" and are now no longer valid, sorry! Yet they live on. Bioethics is simply a political "good-old-boys" club, academically providing and justifying the theoretical grounding for many political projects - and science ought to stay clear of it if they know what is good for themselves and for their fields. Science has been there before. Bioethics is now starting to crumble from the inside out. These people are academically and morally bankrupt - but they do have a lot of power, and do make a lot of money and fame for themselves.

Well, I thank you once again for your patience, and I consider it an honor to have the opportunity to try to respond to your very interesting questions.†I hope that I have not bored you, and I also hope that you find the time to page through at least the PSE paper.†It will answer indirectly or directly most of the points which Maritain brings up.†I have also enclosed several other items which you might find interesting.†If you have any questions, please feel free to write (please use my home address).†Much success in your continuing very important work, and God bless --


Dianne N. Irving, M.A., Ph.D.

John F. Harvey Professor of Ethics
Professor, History of Philosophy, Natural Law, and Medical Ethics
De Sales School of Theology
Washington, D.C.†20017

[Edited for format and clarity July 19, 2004]


[Note:†Never received a response. - DNI]

Copyright September 18, 1996

Dr. Ralph McInerny
Jacques Maritain Center
714 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame, IN†46556

Dear Dr. McInerny:

This passage (enclosed) from Maritain was sent to me by an eminent human embryologist in Switzerland for my comments.†I am in the process of responding to him (specifically via my dissertation), but I wondered if you might have some ideas.

If my French is correct (its been a while), Maritain is trying to use St. Thomas' theory of delayed hominization to demonstrate that it can be used to philosophically ground the theory of evolution.†That is, "as Thomas says", there is a distinction between being virtually a human being and being formally a human being.†The former takes place at conception;†the latter about three months when the rational soul is infused (because it is then that the material is properly and proportionately organized).†Maritain rejects the views of some "modern" theologians that the rational soul must be infused at conception, because:†(1) they are trying to retain Thomas' edict that abortion is wrong, even from conception;†and (2) they are trying to preserve the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

But, Maritain says, that amounts to a "philosophical absurdity".†Thomas clearly had a theory of delayed hominization;†and he proceeds to demonstrate how profound this theory was, as it fits into the modern scientific theory of evolution (also implied by the work of Rahner and de Chardin in footnotes).†He uses two "scientific" starting points:†(1) the "biogenetics law", i.e., embryological science recognizes that during the embryogenesis of a (single) human being, "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" (or, the evolution from vegetable, animal to human species over millions of years is mimicked during human embryogenesis because of the formation of "gill slits" and "tails");†and (2) because the (extraordinarily outdated) human embryology text book to which he refers recognizes three (corresponding) stages of development in utero.†[Interestingly, that text claims the embryo does not begin until 18 days, a forerunner of the "pre-embryo" status of McCormick and Grobstein;†the fetal period from 3-6 months;†and the stage of "viability", another interesting marker - all incorrect in today's human embryology].†For that text, then, the human being does not begin until 7-9 months.†[Even St. Thomas would put the beginning of the human being virtually at conception, and the beginning of personhood at about three months - not 7-9 months;†but Maritain seems intrigued simply with the numerical number of "3" stages].†He then further develops St. Thomas' thought, claiming that the initial "vegetative" stage is like a seed-in-transition (process) to the second and third stages (sensitive and rational) - precisely the position taken by Wallace, which I also addressed in my dissertation and papers.

My intention is to send him some of my materials, including the up-dated and revised paper I am including here with this letter for you (FYI).†I will demonstrate my argument that Thomas' theory of delayed hominization was contradictory to his own metaphysics and anthropology (as also with Aristotle), and that had he access to today's human embryological facts he would not have argued for delayed hominization, etc.†I can also explain that the "scientific" theory of "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" (the "biogenetics law") has long since been formally rejected as nothing but myth by the field of human embryology (I quote from this distinguished human embryologist in my up-dated paper);†that he knows well that the "three" stages of embryology given in the text quoted by Maritain are incorrect;†and why Wallace's neo-platonic theory of seeds-on-the-way is questionable (as exhaustively analyzed in my dissertation).

But I wonder if you can indicate off-hand other materials dealing with Maritain's claims about evolution and St. Thomas, or any †papers analyzing it from an Aristotelean-Thomistic view or a contemporary scientific view?†I would like to send him some papers specifically written by any specialists on Maritain (which I definitely am not).

Thank you for your consideration and taking the time out of your very busy schedule to review this material.†Any comments or suggestions would be very greatly appreciated.


Dianne N. Irving, M.A., Ph.D.

J.F. Harvey Chair of Ethics
De Sales School of Theology
Washington, D.C.†20017

[Edited for format and clarity July 19, 2004]