Evolved Abilities

What Bonaventure and Duns Scotus say about our human nature and what we are intended to be.

I relate it to our evolved abilities and capabilities that still points towards something of our ultimate nature as beings evolved with purpose in relation to God and other life.

 From Bonaventure – Images in the garden

 As would be expected from a medieval theologian Bonaventure treats the subject of the creation of humanity with regard to the Genesis 2 account in which the human body is made from the clay and given the breath of life from God. The following is based mainly on what he writes Breviloquium about creation the creation of man.

He writes that Adam and Eve, before they fell from grace, were able to feed on the Tree of Life. There is nothing in the Hebrew text to suggest that humanity fed upon the Tree of Life, merely that it was present in the garden. On the other hand it was not a tree that was forbidden to them. It is doubtful that in an evolutionary context this can have any validity beyond a divine intention that humanity should have some kind of enduring life in the future and that humanity was desired to have something more than  the current material existence. A physical immortality in the human body is not a realistic prospect and that we should look towards another type of existence greater than our fleshly existence where our being is united with another existence in which such a promise can be realised. It comes to full realisation in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

 In accord with Genesis 1 (but not Genesis 2) humanity is made last by God “so that they might clearly appear and shine forth the consummation of the divine works. God’s power is also revealed in humanity in the combination of body and soul”. It would be the divine intention that something of the power and wisdom of God would be displayed if humanity had grown in such wisdom. It still remains a possibility through the acts of salvation brought by God, but remains incomplete until salvation is accomplished. Later on Bonaventure writes that we are “capable of beatitude”, that is receiving a blessed existence that exceeds what we have now.

Bonaventure ascribes certain attributes of humanity are part of what is shared with God. It includes the divine “bounty” and benevolence that should be revealed in humanity.

“The first Principle being both utterly good and supremely just, He could not in His utter goodness make man otherwise than good, that is, innocent and virtuous”.

 In an evolutionary context humanity passed through what may be thought of as a primitive and innocent state but became flawed and delayed in moral and social development.  There is in undeveloped human behaviour levels of charity and altruism that socio-biologists point to as evolved traits. The development of fullness of benevolence and bounty has not properly and completely become a property of humanity. Any benevolence that humanity has is flawed and imperfect compared with God’s benevolence that becomes supremely revealed in salvation to rescue humanity from our failed and under-developed state

The Genesis 2 story appears to create a kind united duality of the body that is animated by the breath of God and creating a living soul. Bonaventure picks upon this but may have certain Greek philosophy overtones of distinctiveness between body and soul. Moreover humanity is..

 A form endowed with intelligence, grasping not only created essence, but also the Creating Essence, of whom it was made an image through memory, intelligence, and will. A form endowed also with freedom, for it is always free from compulsion. In the state of innocence, it was free from misery and sin as well, but in the state of fallen nature this is not so. Freedom from compulsion is nothing else than a joint capacity of will and intellect, the principal faculties of the soul.

Even in an evolutionary setting humanity have the qualities of being, life, intelligence and freedom. Through evolution God has given humanity the abilities and freedom to choose and our independence that has evolved from the functions of the brain give is all these things. God has memory, intelligence and will. Bonaventure sees these things as ways in which we share in the image of God. We would need to add that since God is Trinitarian, being-in-relationship, this is also a mark of what it means to be made in the image of God. That our physical abilities are part of our divine image but so to our our ability to be in relationship to others.

In conclusion our human existence and purpose is founded on the special abilities that have evolved within us as part of our make up. They include in some small measure some of the attributes and character of God who is our Principle and origin.


From Duns Scotus – The product of love and for love

God’s love is the cause of creation, and hence the cause of the evolution of humanity. Because God loves, He wills that the creation He makes should also be infused by love. Since love must go out to another, it is only right and good that the highest object of creation’s love should be God himself, for nothing within creation could be a more fitting object of love than the God who lovingly created.

This is a source and focus of the development of intelligent creatures able to express that love. Although forms of altruism may be found in other parts of creation, and creatures may be sensitive about another’s hurt, in humanity it is destined to be at its highest expression and our capacity of self and awareness is to be a mode of God’s love expressed as no others can. Humanity has developed and evolved with a freedom and capacity to love and has the capacity to understand God, precisely because such a nature is desired by God.

 Scotus argues that there is only one order of being, except in terms of degree. Our being and God’s being are of the same order because there is a common meeting ground between the Creator and his creatures because all possess being. It is not that there is God on one side in His state of being and creatures on the other in a separate order of being. All our being and all being in the cosmos is related to the Being of God. That is how we make seek and observe the world with our senses. What we get to know we get to know in relation to the Being of God.


Following others in relation to their interpretation of Aristotle’s philosophy, Scotus takes the view that human beings have two different sorts of cognitive powers: senses and intellect. Senses arise from the physical organs of the body that enable such functions. In contrast the power of intellect is something immaterial. The intellect takes information from the senses and sensory world and combines these into internal images that become parts of understanding. Such things can develop into abstract concepts and thinking.


We know through modern science that the functions of the brain derive from the neurons and chemical transmissions and connections to the sense organs. Yet something else is also present that gives rise to imaginative and abstract thought and emotions. Quite how the mind develops from the cellular and chemical makeup remains a focus of investigations, but Scotus and others of his time were surely right in making distinctions between different parts of human thought process and how they may relate to ability to make sense of the world, and also be able to receive revelation from God and make our choices in life.

In conclusion from an evolutionary point of view the emergence of humanity in time and space can be seen as stemming from the Being of God and we are able to find God by our developed mental capacities, through our senses, intellect and other developed parts of our mind that other Creatures lack. Our altruism and capacities to love stem from the primal purpose of God to be so and two aspects of our will to Self and God’s Justice.  Our various capacities are developed because of the nature of God who intended us to be so and to balance the natural desires with the will to greater good and communion beyond our natural animal inclinations.

Devotional (various things to meditate on)

Freedom, memory and will are things from God, as a developed gift and abilities. Consider how you use them in your life. What positive aspects of them enable you to love, to worship and to serve?

Think about what freedoms you have to choose things you want to do

Think about your capacity to remember things

Think about the element of your will that helps to determine and do things and how you use it to make choices

Consider how we use our senses to observe the world, but also how we may use our senses in worship.

Consider how you reasoning faculties are a gift from God, to examine the world and test and think about what you see.

Think  about how your feelings and emotions may also serve God and others.