Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Periodic Table of Elements is All? No.

Giordano Bruno, a pantheist and materialist sometimes erroneously categorized with Galileo, said: "Matter is not without its forms, but contains them all; and since it carries what is wrapped up in itself, it is in truth all nature and the mother of all the living." (C. Gutberlet). Is this true? Is matter "all nature and the mother of all the living?" Is life—even human life—ultimately dependent upon matter? It seems so because without matter what would life or physical things be? Nothing? Is matter the principle and cause of everything as the atomists thought?
Of the first philosophers, then, most thought the principles which were of the nature of matter were the only principles of all things. That of which all things that are consist, the first from which they come to be, the last into which they are resolved (the substance remaining, but changing in its modifications), this they say is the element and this the principle of things, and therefore they think nothing is either generated or destroyed, since this sort of entity is always conserved, as we say Socrates neither comes to be absolutely when he comes to be beautiful or musical, nor ceases to be when loses these characteristics, because the substratum, Socrates himself remains. Just so they say nothing else comes to be or ceases to be; for there must be some entity—either one or more than one—from which all other things come to be, it being conserved.


From these facts one might think that the only cause is the so-called material cause; but as men thus advanced, the very facts opened the way for them and joined in forcing them to investigate the subject.

—Aristotle's Metaphysics 983b8-18, 984a17-20

Are we not more advanced today than those who thought that there are only material causes, e.g., the four elements—earth, water, air, and fire? After all, today we have over a hundred elements on the periodic table. Yet, are we not "men thus advanced" so we can more fully "investigate the subject?" Or do we think all the seemingly eternal elements on the periodic table are the principles and causes of everything? If this is true, then the efficient cause¹ of this blog is not me but the matter that makes me up; the material cause² is a hard disk magnetized in a certain way somewhere; the formal cause³, the words, are, e.g., light coming from your computer screen in a certain way; and the final cause does not exist since I apparently direct this blog to no definite end. From this it follows that everything is merely due to the random motion of atoms.
[E]ven though finished products were not in existence from eternity, we might be inclined to think that matter had to exist from eternity. For everything that has being subsequent to non-being, is changed from non-being to being. Therefore if created things, such as heaven and earth and the like, did not exist from eternity, but began to be after they had not been, we must admit that they were changed from non-being to being. But all change and motion have some sort of subject; for motion is the act of a thing existing in potency. However, the subject of the change whereby a thing is brought into existence, is not the thing itself that is produced, because this thing is the terminus of the motion, and the terminus and subject of motion are not the same. Rather, the subject of the change is that from which the thing is produced, and this is called matter. Accordingly, if things are brought into being after a state of non-being, it seems that matter had to exist prior to them. And if this matter is, in turn, produced subsequent to a period of non-existence, it had to come from some other, pre-existing matter. But infinite procession along these lines is impossible. Therefore we must eventually come to eternal matter, which was not produced subsequent to a period of non-existence.


The arguments just reviewed do not compel us to postulate the eternity of matter, for the production of things in their totality cannot properly be called change. In no change is the subject of the change produced by the change, for the reason rightly alleged by the objector, namely, that the subject of change and the terminus of the change are not identical. Consequently, since the total production of things by God, which is known as creation, extends to all the reality that is found in a thing, production of this kind cannot properly verify the idea of change, even though the things created are brought into existence subsequently to non-existence. Being that succeeds to non-being does not suffice to constitute real change, unless we suppose that a subject is first in a state of privation, and later under its proper form. Hence "this" is found coming after "that" in certain things in which motion or change do not really occur, as when we say that day turns into night. Accordingly, even though the world began to exist after having not existed, this is not necessarily the result of some change. In fact, it is the result of creation, which is not a true change, but is rather a certain relation of the created thing, as a being that is dependent on the Creator for its existence and that connotes succession to previous non-existence. In every change there must be something that remains the same although it undergoes alteration in its manner of being, in the sense that at first it is under one extreme and subsequently under another. In creation this does not take place in objective reality, but only in our imagination. That is, we imagine that one and the same thing previously did not exist, and later existed. And so creation can be called change, because it has some resemblance to change.

St. Thomas Aquinas's Compendium theologiæ, lib. 1 cap. 99

Therefore, matter cannot be "all nature and the mother of all the living" because matter is not eternal, time is a part of nature, and only something eternal can be the cause of time; how could something bound to time cause time?

The efficient cause of this blog is not the matter that makes me up; it is me. The material cause, sure, is the hard disk on which there are bits representing the characters that make up the blog. The formal cause of this blog is not matter but the words or characters themselves; if the words or characters were different, one would have a different blog.

Now, non-eternal things have a creator. Thus if something uncreated created matter, then that "something" would be "the mother of all the living," but not "all nature" because a creator cannot logically be its creation. This "something" is God, the final cause, I hope, of this blog.
¹²³⁴The four causes of Aristotle were the efficient cause, the force, instrument, or agency by which a thing is produced; the formal [HOBBES Decameron ii. 15 Another they call the Formal Cause, or simply the form or essence of the thing caused: as when they say, Four equal Angles and four equal Sides are the Cause of a Square Figure.]; the material, the elements or matter from which it is produced; the final, the purpose or end for which it is produced [final cause: a term introduced into philosophical language by the schoolmen as a transl. of Aristotle's fourth cause, τὸ οὗ ἕνεκα or τέλος, the end or purpose for which a thing is done, viewed as the cause of the act; esp. applied in Natural Theology to the design, purpose, or end of the arrangements of the universe.]. The First Cause, the original cause or Creator of the Universe; secondary causes, those derived from a primary or first cause.

Oxford English Dictionary

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Philosophy ≠ Metaphysics or Ontology

Many modern scientists misconceive philosophy as being just metaphysics or ontology. Philosophy is not metaphysics nor ontology; metaphysics and ontology are a part of philosophy. This is the proper division of the sciences:

  1. Speculative Sciences
    1. Natural Sciences
    2. Mathematics
    3. Metaphysics
  2. Practical Sciences
    1. Art
    2. Prudence
Instead of this hierarchy of the sciences, Christian von Wolff (1679-1754) proposed his own. He inverted the proper division of the sciences by identifying metaphysics (ontology) as philosophy itself and placing it first:

  1. General Metaphysics (Ontology)
  2. Special Metaphysics
    1. Metaphysics of Bodies
    2. Metaphysics of Spirits
      1. of Created Spirits
      2. of Uncreated Spirits
Resulting from this erroneous division of the sciences is the modern separation of natural (now conceived as "naturalistic") and philosophical (now conceived as "ontological") sciences. Humans by nature start with imperfect sense knowledge and gradually build up to more perfect knowledge, not the other way around as Wolff would suggest. Why? Cf. Romans 1:20, which says that we must first start with sense knowledge—from the physical world, God's creation—before proceeding to knowledge further from the senses—such as God Himself. St. Paul does not say, as Wolff would: "[T]he creation of the world from the invisible things of him are clearly seen, being understood by the things unmade." Rather, he says:
[T]he invisible things of him [e.g., His ontology] from the creation of the world are clearly seen [i.e., with our imperfect knowledge from the senses], being understood by the things that are made [e.g., the physical world].

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Extraterrestrials and Artificial Intelligence

Catholicism allows for extraterrestrial intelligent life as this interview with Fr. Funes, the director of the Vatican Observatory, shows:
LOR: Can the Church’s interest in the study of the universe be explained by the fact that astronomy is the only science that has to do with the infinite and therefore with God?

FUNES: To be precise, the universe is not infinite. It is very big, but finite, because it has an age: about 14 billion years, given our most recent findings. And if it has an age, this means that it also has a limit in space. The universe was born in a determined moment and from then is continually expanding.


LOR: But Genesis speaks of the earth, of animals, of man and of woman. Does this exclude the possibility of the existence of other worlds or living beings in the universe?

FUNES: From my judgment this possibility exists. Astronomers hold that the universe was formed by 100 billion galaxies, each of them is composed of 100 billion stars. Many of these, or almost all, could have some planets. How could it not be left out that life developed elsewhere? There is a branch of astronomy, astrobiology, that precisely studies this aspect and has made much progress in recent years. Examining the light spectrums that come from stars and planets, soon it will be possible to single out elements of their atmosphere—the so-called biomakers—and understand if conditions exist for the birth and development of life. For the rest, life forms could exist in theory, even without oxygen or hydrogen.

LOR: Are we referring also to similar beings to us or more evolved ones?

FUNES: It is possible. Until now we have had no proof. But certainly in a universe so big this hypothesis cannot be excluded.

LOR: And this would not be a problem for our faith?

FUNES: I believe no. As a multiplicity of creatures exist on earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God. This does not contrast with our faith because we cannot put limits on the creative freedom of God. To say it with Saint Francis, if we consider earthly creatures as “brother” and “sister,” why cannot we also speak of an “extraterrestrial brother?” It would therefore be a part of creation.

L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper

What really seems to fascinate both scientists and laymen is whether different physical matter can give rise to life as we know it on earth. Could organisms be silicon-based instead of carbon-based? But one bases this fascination on an implicit erroneous assumption: that matter is the origin of everything, even non-physical things like a soul and intellect of an intelligent life-form. That physical matter is all there is is the materialist's position. But how could an intellect, an intellectual soul, depend on something corruptible like physical matter? It does not because the soul of an intelligent being is one, incorruptible, and immortal (cf. Summa Theologica Iª q. 76 a. 6).

St. Thomas Aquinas took up the question of intelligent extraterrestrials, too:
Aquinas took an interest in the question of whether there were intelligent material beings other than humans in the universe, both as a philosopher and as a theologian. As a philosopher he sought to understand the order of the universe and this entails ascertaining what beings are in the universe. As a theologian he sought knowledge of created beings insofar as it leads to a greater understanding, admiration, and love of the creator, and also insofar as it frees one from superstitious beliefs which pose an obstacle to faith in God. Although Aquinas was unable to approach the question of the existence of intelligent extra-terrestrial life from the scientific perspective of our day, he does raise some generally overlooked philosophical questions regarding the status of such beings. His theological reflections are helpful for addressing the frequently voiced claim that the discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life would spell the end of Christianity. Aquinas's position is that it is possible that ETs of a certain sort exist, but improbable that they do.


Aquinas calls to our attention that one sort of ET that could exist is a separated intelligence joined to body as its mover. He himself thinks that there are intelligences of this sort which move the heavenly bodies. As for the other sort of ET which would consist of a separated substance united to a body as its form, Aquinas points that it is extremely unlikely that a pure intelligence be united to a body as its form, since the pure intelligence in no way profits from its union to the body. However, an intellectual substance of the rational sort is suitably united to a body since an intelligence of this sort can only acquire its ideas through sense experience.

Aquinas points out that the sort of body the composite being must have is specified to some extent by the requirements of the intellectual substance that is united to it. The body cannot be a simple body such as air or iron, because sense organs require a balance of elements, and indeed, a most subtle blend of elements; otherwise the being will lack a good sense of touch and well-functioning internal senses that provide reason with the starting points it needs for forming ideas. Aquinas further points out that rational beings need not have fingers, hands, and feet as humans do; he holds that even humans would still be human without them.

Aquinas does not favor the idea that other human-type beings exist because he thinks that the human soul represents the very lowest type of intelligence, whereas the human body represents the very highest material body. However, he does remain open to the possibility.

From a theological standpoint, Aquinas explains that there is no reason for concern here because it is not the task of Scripture to classify the beings in the universe. Since Aquinas does not think that there in fact are other human-type beings, he has little reason to investigate any apparent conflicts between their existence and scriptural statements. His examination of whether many Incarnations are possible is useful for theological discussions of ET existence.

Aquinas explicitly denies that it is probable that other human-type bodies exist, for the reason noted above. There are two other probable arguments that can be drawn from Aquinas, one against and one in favor of the existence of other human-like creatures. On the one hand, the human species would reflect God's goodness in a special way by being unique, while on the other hand, it is befitting to God's goodness that he create more of better creatures. Aquinas leans in the direction of the former view, but realizes that the latter could in fact be the case. And by doing so, he gives us an example of the circumspection that this matter demands.

The Thomist, 65, 2, April 2001, 239-258

Whether there can be non-human life with human-like intellects in the first place is another question.
Having shown that a certain intellectual substance—the human soul—is united to a body as its form, we must now inquire whether any intellectual substance is united to any other body as its form.


[I]f an intellectual substance is united as form to one of the simple bodies, it will either be endowed with an intellect only, or will have other powers such as those that belong to the sensitive or to the nutritive part, as in man. In the first case, there would be no point in its being united to a body. For every corporeal form has some operation proper to itself which is exercised through the body; whereas the intellect has no operation pertaining to the body, except by way of moving it; because understanding is not an operation that can be exercised through any bodily organ, and, for the same reason, neither is the act of the will. The movements of the elements, moreover, are derived from natural movers, namely, from generators; the elements do not move themselves. Hence, the mere possession of movement on their part does not imply that they are animated. But, if the intellectual substance, hypothetically united to an element or a part of an element, is endowed with other psychic parts, then, since these parts are parts of certain organs, a diversity of organs will necessarily be found in the body of the element. But this is incompatible with its simplicity. An intellectual substance, therefore, cannot possibly be united as form to an element or to a part thereof.

There is also the fact that the nearer a body is to prime matter, the less noble it is, being more in potentiality and less in complete act. The elements, however, are nearer than mixed bodies to prime matter, since they are the proximate matter of mixed bodies. Hence, the bodies of the elements are less noble in their specific nature than mixed bodies. Since, then, the nobler form belongs to the nobler body, it is impossible that the noblest form, namely, the intellective soul, should be united to bodies of the elements.

Summa Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 90 n. 1,4-5

This definitely goes against a materialist conception of the world and would seem to render true, self-conscious, reasoning artificial intelligence (AI) impossible. Is it?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Intelligence, Physics, and Humanness

One common argument that human life begins at conception is that an embryo has a human intellective or rational soul (viz., an immaterial part or "mind") that will continue maturing its whole life. Why would being inside or outside of the womb change a person's innate ability to reason and exercise an intellect? Why would a baby born two months prematurely, for example, be able to think while another baby still in his mother's womb after seven months apparently does not?
Probably the most interesting conversation I had at the UA's JFA exhibit was with an ex-nurse of an abortionist. [...] She thought it is a human's intellect and ability to understand that differentiates a human from an animal. She talked about her stay with Buddhists and how they told her that a mocking bird could repeat their chants but would not understand the words. Humans, however, would understand. The ex-nurse could not tell, however, when a human embryo first begins to understand and hence when the embryo is a human. I asked if the ability to understand is genetic, and I think she agreed. Then I commented that if it is genetic, that would make a fertilized egg a human being. She denied that one can know that for sure. She seemed to view viability outside the womb as the determining factor for humanness.
As St. Thomas Aquinas says in his Summa Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 87 tit., "the human soul is brought into being through the creative action of God," not through the biological processes of procreation, which are instrumental causes, but as its efficient cause. In ibid., lib. 2 cap. 88 n. 3, Aquinas presents the argument of those who think the intellect arises from something genetic and not from an intellective or rational soul:
Moreover, as Aristotle [erroneously] teaches in the De generatione animalium [II, 3], the fetus is an animal before becoming a man. But, during the time in which the fetus is an animal and not a man, it has a sensitive [i.e., pertaining to the senses] and not an intellective soul; and, just as in other animals, this sensitive soul in indubitably produced by the active power of the semen. And yet that same sensitive soul is potentially intellective, just as that animal is potentially a rational animal; and the notion that the supervening intellective soul is substantially distinct from the sensitive one has been refuted already. It therefore seems that the substance of the intellective soul is derived from a power in the semen. [Viz., it is genetic.]
He countered this argument in Summa Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 86 n. 4-5 and ibid., lib. 2 cap. 89 n. 3, saying:
[...] the intellective soul is the most perfect of souls and its power the highest [and] its proper perfectible subject is a body having many different organs through which its multifarious operations can be carried out; and that is why the soul cannot possibly be actually present in the semen separated from the body [...] The intellect, which is the proper and principal power of the intellective soul, is not the act of any part of the body, and therefore it cannot be divided accidentally as a result of the body's being divided [as through cell division]. Nor, then, can the intellective soul be so divided.


Hence, from the hypothesis that the human soul is brought into being through the active power in the semen it follows that its being depends upon matter, as with other material forms. But the contrary of this has already been proved. The intellective soul, therefore, is in no way produced through the transmission of the semen.


And the hypothesis of the soul's presence in the semen from the beginning would entail the further consequence that animal generation takes place solely by way of partition, as with annulose animals, where two are produced from one. For, if the semen were possessed of a soul at the moment of its separation, it would then already be endowed with a substantial form. But in every case substantial generation precedes the substantial form; it never comes after it; and if any changes follow in the wake of the substantial form, they concern not the being but the well-being of the thing generated. Thus, the engendering of the animal would be completed with the mere alienation of the semen; and all subsequent changes would have no bearing upon the process of generation.

But this theory would be even more ridiculous if applied to the rational soul. For, first, the soul cannot possibly be divided as the body is, so as to be present in the separated semen; and second, it would follow that in all extra-copulative emissions of semen, without conception taking place, rational souls would nevertheless be multiplied.
Since the human soul includes the intellect, it follows that "the intellect is intrinsically independent from an organ" (XVII. of the 24 Thomistic Theses); therefore, it is not genetic. We know this, for example, because people with only one brain hemisphere still have a human intellect. But is there no relation between the brain and intellect? No, because there is a relation between body and soul even though the human soul does not depend on the body ("a human soul is incorruptible and immortal" and "subsists through itself," XV. of the 24 Thomistic Theses), just like form does not depend upon a specific matter; if it did and if the human soul is a human's form, a man, e.g., with a non-human body—i.e., with a different matter—would no longer be a man, a contradiction of our assumption that we are talking about a man.

Since the "intellect, which is the proper and principal power of the intellective soul, is not the act of any part of the body;" the brain is not the cause of thoughts, which are objects of the intellect; the brain, being a sense organ, is only instrumental to them. The soul is the cause of thoughts. But what if the intellect is the act of every and/or all parts of body? Could theories of holism and non-separability in physics disprove this, or are they based on false philosophies? No, they are most likely false philosophies because an intellective soul's "proper perfectible subject is a body having many different organs through which its multifarious operations can be carried out."

Also, from the definition of soul as an "immaterial part," the body cannot equal the soul. But why is there a soul in the first place? Asking this question is like asking: Why should I believe in anything non-physical pertaining to me? Thoughts, e.g., are non-physical; and undoubtedly they do pertain to you. We cannot escape the reality of non-physical entities such as thoughts, souls, angels, etc.; viz., there is a supernatural order.

Then what makes a human zygote a human, or possibly more specifically, a human scientist or physicist? That God created his soul and infused it into his body at conception.

False Philosophies ☯ Ruin Science

What is wrong with these philosophies?
Evil is good because without evil there would be no good. Similarly, good is evil because without good there would be no evil. Therefore, evil is good, and good is evil. Consequently, if God exists, God as the supreme good is also God of the supreme evil, and worshippers of God worship both good and evil or neither good nor evil at all. Why prefer good to evil instead of evil to good if they are really the same?
Arbitrarily substituting "good" for "truth" and "evil" for "falsity" yields an equivalent argument with which many modern scientists might agree:
Falsity is truth because without falsity there would be no truth. Similarly, truth is falsity because without truth there would be no falsity. Therefore, falsity is truth, and truth is falsity. Consequently, if God exists, God as the supreme truth is also God of the supreme falsity, and worshippers of God worship both truth and falsity or neither truth nor falsity at all. Why prefer truth to falsity instead of falsity to truth if they are really the same?
Here is another:
God's command "Thou shalt not steal" (Exod. 20:13) is meaningless since if, for example, I steal my neighbor's thing, I am not really stealing but rather giving him the gift of an anti-thing. If I give him the thing instead, then I am stealing his anti-thing.
All these arguments proceed from the atheistic philosophy of the relativism of truth, namely that everything obtains its meaning solely from an interdependence on everything else rather than from a dependence ultimately on God. "Good," "truth," and "thing" do not depend for their existence upon "evil," "falsity," or "anti-thing," respectively, because good is a lack of evil, falsity is a lack of truth, and "anti-thing" is the lack of "thing" (cf. Einstein's professor). What kind of physics, for example, do we have if it be based on such a false, yin-yang–like philosophy as relativism? What does it profit us to question why, e.g., good does not depend on evil? Yes, there are such things as futile questions (cf. Job 38), for example: Why does 2 + 2 = 4? Therefore, we must submit ourselves, before we lead ourselves astray, to the guiding principles of the truest philosophy: Scholasticism.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Scholasticism in Empiriological Sciences

From footnote †7 on pg. 24 of St. Thomas Aquinas's Division and methods of the sciences, a commentary on Boethius's De Trinitate II., translator Armand Maurer mentions these articles relating Scholasticism to empiriological sciences like modern physics.

The growth in modern times of empiriological science, as distinct from philosophy in its formal object and method, renders impossible a physical theory that would be applicable in a univocal way to both. Such a theory, which denies the distinction between philosophical and empiriological analysis, has been proposed by R. Nogar, "Toward a Physical Theory," The New Scholasticism 25 (1951), 397-438.

J. Weisheipl proposes a return to St. Thomas and St. Albert for "a unifying physical theory" that would include both the philosophy of nature and the empirical or experimental sciences. For Weisheipl these constitute one specific discipline, both materially and formally. However, he regards the sciences employing mathematical principles as really distinct from natural philosophy. See J. Weisheipl, The Development of Physical Theory in the Middle Ages; "The Relationship of Medieval Natural Philosophy to Modern Science: The Contribution of Thomas Aquinas to Its Understanding," in Science. Medicine and the Universities 1200-1550. Essays in Honor of Pearl Kibre (= Manuscripta 20 [1976]), pp. 181-196; idem, Introduction to The Dignity of Science. Studies in the Philosophy of Science Presented to William Humbert Kane OP (= The Thomist 24 [1961]).

In the same spirit, see C. De Koninck, "The Unity and Diversity of Natural Science," in The Philosophy of Physics, ed. V. E. Smith, pp. 5-24; W. A. Wallace, "St. Thomas's Conception of Natural Philosophy and its Method," in Studi Tomistici. La philosophie de la nature de saint Thomas d'Aquin, ed. L. Elders, pp. 7-27; idem, Causality and Scientific Explanation.

For further discussions of this topic, see E. McMullin, "Philosophies of Nature," The New Scholasticism 43 (1969), 29-74; J. Compton, "Reinventing the Philosophy of Nature," The Review of Metaphysics 33 (1979), 3-28; E. McMullin, "Compton on the Philosophy of Nature," ibid., pp. 29-58; idem, "Is There a Philosophy of Nature?" Proceedings of the International Congress of Philosophy, Vienna, 1968, 4: 295-305.

This is what the Society of Scholastics and the Institute of Advanced Physics seek to promote. See also the Society of Scholastic's Constitution, the 24 Thomistic Theses, and especially the works on which I have commented here.To discuss these articles, post your comments here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Grand Unified Theory?

There is a correct division of the speculative sciences into physical, mathematical, and metaphysical ones; as Boethius says in his De Trinitate II.:
There are three divisions of speculative science: Natural science¹ deals with motion² and is not abstract³ (ἀνυπεξαίρετος), for it is concerned with the forms⁴ of bodies along with matter⁵, which forms cannot be separated in reality from their bodies. These bodies are in motion (earth, for example, tending downward and fire tending upward), and the form that is joined with the matter takes on its movement. Mathematics does not deal with motion and it is not abstract, for it inquires into the forms of bodies apart from matter and therefore apart from motion, which forms, however, since they exist in matter, cannot be separated from bodies. Theology⁶ does not deal with motion and it is abstract and separable, for the divine substance is without either matter or motion. ¹The terms natural science, physics, and natural philosophy are synonymous. ²Motion means not only movement but also change. ³To abstract means "to consider something separately." ⁴Form is "the essential nature of a species or thing." (New Oxford American Dictionary). ⁵Click here for the difference between form and matter. ⁶Theology here means metaphysics.
Today, however, there is much more division than Boethius envisions. Even within physics, e.g., there is disunity between quantum mechanics and general relativity. Between physics and its subfield, astronomy, there is a culture war, and between physics and biology there is an even greater disunity. A Grand Unified Theory (GUT) or Theory of Everything (ToE) will only be possible if we adopt a "Grand Unified Philosophy." The Society of Scholastics is its proponent:
As modern science has lighted the darkest corners of the discernible universe, the lack of a complete philosophy adequate to synthesize all the empirical results has cloven every field of human knowledge one from the other. Now, each science is autonomous, submitting all reality to its own judgment, and admitting no conclusions outside itself. Every science is an empire and every scientist a tyrant—there is no longer wisdom, only wise men.

The Origin of the Society of Scholastics

Still applicable today is St. Thomas Aquinas's statement (De ente et essentia, pr.; cf. De Cœlo 1, 5, 271b8-13): Parvus error in principio magnus est in fine. ("A small error in principle is a big error in conclusion."). Thus if our premises, postulates, or axioms are wrong; so will be our conclusions. Can you imagine what would happen to Euclidean geometry if we submitted all its axioms to the same sort of free skeptical inquiry that characterizes today's misguided academic freedom? We would more often than not be groping in the dark and obtain a geometry with false conclusions. So with science itself we must place our faith in one, true system of philosophy that serves as the axiom from which we can draw error-free conclusions and clearly communicate our results to others. As St. Thomas Aquinas says in his Summa Thelogica Iª q. 1 a. 8 co.: "sciences do not argue in proof of their principles, but argue from their principles to demonstrate other truths in these sciences."
One system of science alone, amidst the incessant endeavors of the many systems through four centuries to investigate the inmost mysteries of reality, has been able to stand without modification in its fundamental tenets, and this is the system of Scholastic Thomism. Today its stability and breadth is such that it serves as an excellent basis and principle of unification for all the results of scientific speculation reached by the various particular sciences of modern times. We are convinced, and in this we feel confident we are not mistaken, that all who have the courage to pursue his philosophy to the bottom and follow its logical conclusions will agree with us that concerning the analysis of the activity and processes of the mind, concerning the inner nature of body, living being and man, concerning the foundations of speculative science and ethical philosophy, no other man has ever thought and written with the power of Thomas Aquinas. Nevertheless, whilst it is true that our philosophy is intimately associated with the name of Thomas, we wish it to be understood that we do not regard the Thomistic philosophy either as an ideal which one must not attempt to surpass or as a boundary which sets limits to personal activity in thought; but our position is that we regard it as a mark no less of prudence than of modesty to make use of his teaching as a starting-point from which we may go further afield in original speculations and as a constant standard of reference. This we feel called upon to say in reply to those, whether opponents or friends, who may feel tempted to ask if it is our intention to lead back the modern mind to the outlook of the Middle Ages. There is no question of retracing our steps back to bygone centuries. But respect for tradition is no indication of servility of mind but rather one of elementary prudence; respect for a doctrine whose merits have been personally ascertained and verified is no mark of a blind devotee, but of a dutiful disciple of truth.

—Adapted from Cardinal Mercier's Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy

Mantle Stars

That many scientists might simply dismiss the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe as mere superstition shows that we have lost the art of wonder, something great scientists never lose (cf. "Einstein and Catholicism"). They fully embrace the mysteries of God and His creation. This does not mean, however, that we blindly believe anything; rather, reason allows us to grasp the objects of faith, and faith directs our reason. As Einstein said: "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."


imagen estrellas
The sky of the winter solstice, which took place on a Tuesday, December 12, 1531, at 10.30, Mexico City time, is represented very accurately on the Virgin's mantle.

All the constellations visible at sunrise, and at the moment Juan Diego shows his "tilma" to Bishop Zumárraga, are represented.

The roses he was carrying in his tilma fall onto the floor and the image of the Virgin appears impressed on the cloth.

The main constellations of the Northern sky can be seen on the right of the mantle. On the left, the Southern ones, which can be seen from the Tepeyac in winter at dawn. The East is situated in the upper part and the West in the lower part. The mantle is opened and there are other groups of stars which are not marked in the image, but they are present in the sky. The Boreal Crown is located above the Virgin's head, Virgo is on her chest, in the region of her hands. Leo on Her womb, precisely above the sign of Nahui Ollin, with his main star Régulo, the small king. Gemini, the twins, are found in the region of the knees and Orion is located where the Angel is.

mapa estelar
Summarizing, the main stars of the winter constellations can be identified on the Virgin's mantle. All of them are in the right place, with very small changes.

Picture author: A. Von Waberer. Collection Lic. Francisco Vizcaya C.

Modern Science a Language of Babel

Read the Tower of Babel story (Genesis 11:1-9):
And the earth was of one tongue, and of the same speech. And when they removed from the east, they found a plain in the land of Sennaar, and dwelt in it. And each one said to his neighbour: Come let us make brick, and bake them with fire. And they had brick instead of stones, and slime instead of mortar: And they said: Come, let us make a city and a tower, the top whereof may reach to heaven; and let us make our name famous before we be scattered abroad into all lands. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of Adam were building. And he said: Behold, it is one people, and all have one tongue: and they have begun to do this, neither will they leave off from their designs, till they accomplish them in deed. Come ye, therefore, let us go down, and there confound their tongue, that they may not understand one another's speech. And so the Lord scattered them from that place into all lands, and they ceased to build the city. And therefore the name thereof was called Babel, because there the language of the whole earth was confounded: and from thence the Lord scattered them abroad upon the face of all countries.
Modern science could be considered a language of Babel and needless technology (not that all technology is needless) the tower it produces.

God will scatter the nations that globalization, brought about by advances in technology due to modern science, seemingly binds together. Why? We have become too prideful in our modern science, which is becoming less a pursuit of truth for the love of God and our fellow men and more a pursuit of controlling matter. We must be very wary of scientism, the philosophy that modern science is itself a philosophy.

Pope John Paul II wrote about scientism:
Another threat to be reckoned with is scientism. This is the philosophical notion which refuses to admit the validity of forms of knowledge other than those of the positive sciences; and it relegates religious, theological, ethical and aesthetic knowledge to the realm of mere fantasy. In the past, the same idea emerged in positivism and neo-positivism, which considered metaphysical statements to be meaningless. Critical epistemology has discredited such a claim, but now we see it revived in the new guise of scientism, which dismisses values as mere products of the emotions and rejects the notion of being in order to clear the way for pure and simple facticity. Science would thus be poised to dominate all aspects of human life through technological progress. The undeniable triumphs of scientific research and contemporary technology have helped to propagate a scientistic outlook, which now seems boundless, given its inroads into different cultures and the radical changes it has brought.
Regrettably, it must be noted, scientism consigns all that has to do with the question of the meaning of life to the realm of the irrational or imaginary. No less disappointing is the way in which it approaches the other great problems of philosophy which, if they are not ignored, are subjected to analyses based on superficial analogies, lacking all rational foundation. This leads to the impoverishment of human thought, which no longer addresses the ultimate problems which the human being, as the animal rationale, has pondered constantly from the beginning of time. And since it leaves no space for the critique offered by ethical judgement, the scientistic mentality has succeeded in leading many to think that if something is technically possible it is therefore morally admissible.
—Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio §88
Also, interestingly, Pope John XXIII would not have considered Latin a language of Babel:
It is a matter of regret that so many people, unaccountably dazzled by the marvelous progress of science, are taking it upon themselves to oust or restrict the study of Latin and other kindred subjects. … Yet, in spite of the urgent need for science, Our own view is that the very contrary policy should be followed. The greatest impression is made on the mind by those things which correspond more closely to man's nature and dignity. And therefore the greatest zeal should be shown in the acquisition of whatever educates and ennobles the mind. Otherwise poor mortal creatures may well become like the machines they build—cold, hard, and devoid of love.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Marriage and Academic Freedom

According to a report on the fertility of U.S. women in 2006, the number of children ever born per women
  • with a high school diploma was 1.719 and
  • with a bachelor's degree was 1.632.
Why do those with more education have fewer children? Is it because we value education over children or knowledge instead of new life? Or is this simply a correlation that does not imply a causation? Both men and women are putting off marriage, though; the median age of first marriage in 2003 was 27 years for men and 25 years for women, and in 1960 it was 22 and 20 years, respectively (U.S. Census Bureau). Is this due to higher education requiring a prolonged adolescence? Why should it? Are learning, researching, educating, and doing science not manly or womanly endeavors? Or are they just child's-play?

Marriage is a sacrament, i.e., it confers sanctifying grace, the same grace that makes one virtuously excel at academics or scientific research. Yes, it can even make one a better scholar. To understand better the beginning of this sacrament, watch this:

Academic Freedom

Many still believe today, due to a nineteenth century myth that the Church is at war with science, "that the uncritical acceptance of religious doctrine not only inhibits, but even destroys the life of intelligence," yet
inasmuch as this conception of intellectual and academic freedom is based on the principle of free inquiry—i.e. the position that every doctrine is subject to critical examination and possible rejection—it is suitable (and hardly unfair) to examine critically the general principle itself. If it claims to be a dogma, the only dogma immune to criticism, by what right does it claim its exemption from the general principle? Or, on the other hand, if it too is open to question, by what principle are we to justify our examination of it? Not by the principle of free inquiry, for it is presently under judgment and therefore in suspense. [...] A further difficulty is that the principle of free inquiry would be nullified by the achievement of its stated purpose. As long as a man is ignorant, it is consistent with his condition to remain open to both the affirmative and negative answers to the issue in question. But when and if he comes to know (which is the purpose of his investigation) the matter ceases to be doubtful to him, and his mind closes to the possibility that the opposite might be true. He is no longer free to doubt, except willfully. Thus by the assumed definition ignorance makes free, while knowledge enslaves. A reply to this objection might assume that knowledge is simply unattainable, inasmuch as all things are in all respects always changing, or inasmuch as our minds, not being omniscient, cannot reach the certain truth about anything. But this, as before, would base the principle of free inquiry on particular and controversial philosophical theories, which as a consequence would be immune to criticism under the principle.

St. Thomas Aquinas College Founding Document: III. Academic Freedom

This mirrors the argument against the relativism of truth, and indeed many universities no longer consider science the pursuit of an absolute truth nor do they submit themselves to any absolute authority, except maybe the self-contradicting dogma of free inquiry and endless argument-forming. According to the notable historians of science David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers,
The notion that any serious Christian thinker would even have attempted to formulate a world view from the Bible alone is ludicrous. For example, contrary to popular belief (which White's [A History of the] Warfare [of Science with Theology in Christendom] has helped to shape), the church did not insist on a flat earth; there was scarcely a Christian scholar of the Middle Ages who did not acknowledge its sphericity and even know its approximate circumference. [...] Galileo argued that God spoke through both scripture and the "book of nature," that the two could not truly conflict, and that in physical matters authority should rest with reason and sense. [...] Galileo never questioned the authority of scripture, merely the principles by which it was to be interpreted. [...] It was not a matter of Christianity waging war on science. All of the participants called themselves Christians, and all acknowledged biblical authority.

Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 39.3:140-149 (9/1987)

Why did scientists submit themselves to an authority? They recognized that academic freedom is not the aimless and chaotic but directed and ordered pursuit of truth. This direction and order originates from the wisdom, laws, doctrines, and dogma of the Church, ultimately from the authoritative founder of the Church, Christ Himself, Who said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. [...] And you shall know the truth: and the truth shall make you free." (John 14:6, 8:32).
These words contain both a fundamental requirement and a warning: the requirement of an honest relationship with regard to truth as a condition for authentic freedom, and the warning to avoid every kind of illusory freedom, every superficial unilateral freedom, every freedom that fails to enter into the whole truth about man and the world. Today also, even after two thousand years, we see Christ as the one who brings man freedom based on truth, frees man from what curtails, diminishes and as it were breaks off this freedom at its root, in man's soul, his heart and his conscience.

—Pope John Paul II Redemptor Hominis 12.