Stu­dents and faculty gathered in the formal lounge of Grewcock Student Union to hear from Rev. Dr. Nicanor Aus­triaco. JULIA MULLINS | COLLEGIAN

In the middle of a busy home­coming week, stu­dents and faculty gathered in the formal lounge on Sept. 19 to hear Father Nicanor Aus­triaco, Ph.D. pro­fessor of biology and the­ology at Prov­i­dence College, ener­get­i­cally discuss the har­mo­nious rela­tionship between the­ology and biology in Dar­winian evo­lution.

Aus­triaco is a member of the Thomistic Institute. The Institute’s campus out­reach director Rev. Gregory Pine said the Thomistic Institute is based out of Wash­ington D.C. There they have a school, the Pon­tifical Faculty of the Immac­ulate Con­ception. The institute pro­motes research in the Catholic intel­lectual tra­dition and has campus chapters throughout the United States, where they sponsor lec­tures, con­fer­ences, and retreats.

Samuel Roberts, the student liaison for the Thomistic Institute, pro­vided stu­dents with a survey last semester to see which topics inter­ested stu­dents on campus.

“We sent out a survey, and there was an over­whelming majority who were inter­ested on the talk on cre­ation and evo­lution of the soul,” Roberts said. “The spe­cific speaker who was on the list for that was Fr. Nicanor Aus­triaco, who is world-renowned.”

Sophomore Patrick Mitchell said he was impressed by Austriaco’s joy and enthu­siasm for the­ology and biology.

“In such a divisive debate about evo­lution and Chris­tianity, I loved hearing about why evo­lution can be con­sidered beau­tiful,” Mitchell said. “It really made me see the beauty of God through the process of evo­lution, which I absolutely loved.”

Angelica Pytel, a vis­iting lec­turer of biology, said she appre­ciated Austriaco’s bal­anced approach to science and the liberal arts.

“His approach to science was extremely sound, and his inte­gration of his science with his phi­losophy and the­ology was perfect for us here at a liberal arts insti­tution,” Pytel said. “It just high­lights the necessity of almost all of the liberal arts incor­po­rated together to get a com­plete, or holistic, view of what is really going on in this world.”

Aus­triaco said biol­o­gists must draw the dis­tinction between Homo sapiens as a bio­logical species from human beings as a natural kind.

“This is a philo­sophical move,” Aus­triaco said. “The reason is because biol­o­gists have philo­sophical pre­sup­po­si­tions.”  

The dif­ference between Homo sapiens as a bio­logical species and human beings as a natural kind is based on the capacity for ratio­nality.

“Hominins evolved into archaic humans about 200,000 or 100,000  years ago in Africa at a single moment in time,” Aus­triaco said. “Eighty-five thousand years ago, a mutation arises, and this makes this matter apt to receive a rational soul, so God infuses the rational soul in that person and then that person, his descen­dants would migrate out of Africa to pop­ulate the globe.”

According to Aus­triaco, there was a change in one individual’s brain that allowed them to develop the capacity to abstract lan­guage from their thoughts. Aus­triaco said this com­bi­nation of abstraction and lan­guage is known as merge.

“I’m going to say that you can define Adam after Darwin, and I’m going to say that there is a single, his­torical, original human being, and this person is the uni­versal ancestor for all of us,” Aus­triaco said.

Pro­fessor of Phi­losophy James Stephens said he admired Austriaco’s ability to incor­porate knowledge from many dif­ferent dis­ci­plines into his rec­on­cil­i­ation of evo­lution with divine action.

“He could take phi­losophy, Chomsky’s recent lin­guistics, the­ology, bib­lical hermeneutics, Dar­winian Evo­lu­tionary Theory, pop­u­lation genetics — he could take all those things and bring them together so that they com­plement one another in pursuit of a single goal,” Stephens said. “That single goal is to under­stand some­thing about us as human beings. That seems to me to exhibit: that’s what the liberal arts are sup­posed to do.”

Stephens and Pytel teach Phi­losophy of Mind together and were able to discuss how Austriaco’s seminar applied to their studies in class the next day.

Assistant Pro­fessor of English Benedict Whalen said he appre­ciated the fact that Aus­triaco sup­ported a liberal arts edu­cation and empha­sized the impor­tance of dif­ferent depart­ments engaging in con­ver­sation. Whalen added that he is proud to be a part of the scholarly com­munity at Hillsdale where stu­dents and faculty alike can have fruitful con­ver­sa­tions.

“I was just really proud of Hillsdale, that in a stuffy, hot room, in the middle of home­coming week, all of these stu­dents and faculty turned out,” Whalen said. “It’s a real sign we’re com­mitted to higher learning and to finding the truth of things.”

Pytel also said she was impressed by the student’s reaction to Austriaco’s seminar.

“The stu­dents standing up and giving him a standing ovation was to me, maybe my favorite part, hon­estly,” Pytel said. “It’s one thing for me to be impressed, or to be stim­u­lated intel­lec­tually and philo­soph­i­cally by an invited speaker, but for stu­dents to be so fired up and enthu­si­astic about this message and be pos­itive about science having a place within the con­ver­sation is very reas­suring to me that stu­dents really do care, and really want to see how they fit together.”

Roberts said the Catholic Society will be hosting more speakers from the Thomistic Institute throughout the year, and he hopes to con­tinue building a strong part­nership between the Catholic Society and Thomistic Institute.