Category Archives: Physics and Modern Science

Great Blog by a Ph.D. Molecular Biologist and Microbiologist

Great Blog by  Ph.D. Molecular Biologist and Microbiologist Gerard M. Nada



On the ABOUT page, He says that “I rejoice in the knowledge and power that is at the disposal of my community…Along the way, we have lost something of ourselves as a race, something essential. The reductionism of the Twentieth Century has flashed back on us. We have come to see ourselves as less sacred, and therefore, less deserving of a unique dignity in all of creation.” This is Gospel truth
Check out the blog

Evolution, Final Causality, and a Creator

Evolution, Final Causality, and a Creator


The order of learning as taught by St. Thomas Aquinas, is that we first sense the created world and because of the understanding we form of it come to know of the truth of its Creator. It is possible, though, to focus on the part and lose the whole, and this myopia has resulted in the current secular understanding of evolution, commonly called Darwinism, which has become one such reductionist belief of a great majority of modern man. Etienne Gilson finds this problematic and has explained that “[t]he pure mechanist in biology is a man whose entire activity has as its end the discovery of the ‘how’ of the vital operations in plants and animals. Looking for nothing else, he sees nothing else, and since he cannot integrate other things in his research, he denies their existence.”[1] Most discussions of evolution, in fact, end up centering on the question of chance, and, once established, it seems permissible for its adherents to do away with not only final causality (already a fatality to the reductionism already mentioned), but also the existence of God.

Our crafting a correct theory of evolution might enable us to come to a greater knowledge of the world around us and to an initial understanding of at least the existence of its necessary cause.

What is Evolution?

Catholics, although not obligated, are certainly encouraged to accept some form of evolution as the most coherent, scientifically verified, and likely material theory for the current state of species. “First, evolution, in its broadest sense, states that the world ‘began’ and gradually more and more complex substances developed.”[2] None other than Pope John Paul II said as much in his Letter on Evolution.[3] The point to be made here, before investigating some of the problems with erroneous theories of evolution, is that faith and reason are not opposed, and the Catholic Church itself has no opposition to such a theory, correctly understood.

We run into philosophical problems when the totality of the actual beings, these new forms, is reduced to a mere sum of the material parts involved. “In philosophical terms, different actual beings (substances with new forms) appear as time progresses.”[4] This reductionism is a constant temptation for scientists, whose observations are of the merely empirical, the measurable. If we say that a book is paper with ink marking bound together by covers, we are correct in as much as we say, but we err when we decide that a book is only those things.

We may ask the question here of the possibility of a million monkeys typing on a million computers for a million years and the question of their achieving “Hamlet.” The truth is, that an infinite amount of monkeys typing for an infinite amount of years could not generate the first sentence of Hamlet, unless we say that “Hamlet” is merely the arrangement of ink on paper. But Hamlet is an idea, and conveys concepts, abstracted thoughts, and many other things than require an intellect to recognize. Perhaps a single monkey could, in 5 minutes, type out the image of words to the first page of Hamlet, but it would not be “Hamlet” without the intellect recognizing it as such. The ink and the paper are there, to be sure, but much more than the ink and the paper.

Reductionism of this type can even take place in those who believe in the existence of a reality beyond the physical. Much of the error of modern reductionist science can be linked back to the views of such a believer as Descartes, who separated the human soul from the body in almost a complete way. Once this occurred, there seemed to be no way to put the two back together. The human body has now become the machine through which a human soul merely operates.

Animals, not having an intellectual soul, therefore become nothing more than their bodies, which are merely matter. Gilson makes the excellent observation “that primitives take a watch for an animal, but only the genius of Descartes has been able to take animals for watches.”[5] It is one thing for us to recognize our tendency to see a biological type of teleology of the kind with an intellectually known purpose “in” an inanimate object. But it is equally erroneous to reduce everything to the material as a correction.[6]

A Note on Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer

Darwin preferred his doctrine to be taught under the understanding of epigenesis, where successive acquisition and formation of new parts occurs, rather than a strict evolution, which would posit the completed form in the seed that merely develops to its end.  “[True evolution is] the notion of all those who wish to make absolutely certain that the divine act of creation having once taken place, nothing new is added to the created nature.”[7]  Herbert Spencer should probably be credited with coining evolution in the modern scientific sense. He certainly made an effort to defend the proposition that it was he and not Darwin who came up with it, but history seems to have had its unchangeable victory in forever linking Darwin with the foundation of evolution. “Not only is it that Darwin did not teach evolution, but Spencer does not believe in natural selection.”[8] Spencer would be much closer to a Lamarkian (see the works of Chevalier de Lamarck, 1744-1829) than a Darwinian, as we understand the terms.

We need to emphasis the point that Darwin did not intend his thought to be tied with that of evolution. “At the time when Darwin elaborated his own doctrine of the origin of species, the word ‘evolution’ was already in use to signify something completely different.”[9] ‘Evolution,’ from the Latin verb evolver, is an old philosophical notion of the of the Stoics. The word evolution, indeed, cannot be found in Darwin’s Origin of Species until the 6th edition. It seems to have been placed there, not because it was fundamental to his own thought, but because of the intellectual atmosphere of the time.

In place of evolution, Darwin posited a quite different theory. “The authentic Darwinian principle is not that of evolution; it is that of the principle of selection.”[10] This is an important point, because among the majority of laymen, and likely among many scientists, these two theories are erroneously seen as synonymous. For our purposes here, however, we note this point and move on to theories involving chance and then the notion of final causality. I wish to simply affirm, with Gilson, that “the great discovery which was popularly attributed to Darwin was not the evolutionism of Spencer, but his own doctrine of natural selection under the Spencerian name of evolution.”[11]

Chance: An Explanation?

We see that, although he denies it several times,[12] the underlying and strong position a modern biologist such as Dawkins gives to the “explanation” of chance. Chance has been touted as the explanation for much in Darwinian theories of evolution. But an explanation should be a cause, for we have real knowledge when we have knowledge through causes.[13] Is chance, then, a cause?

Aristotle lists four causes, and these are the formal, the material, the efficient, and the final causes. Material and efficient causes play an obviously important role in the empirical sciences. However, it seems that whatever lies beyond these two causes is lumped into the “cause of chance” and left at that. If Aristotle is correct, however, chance is only virtually a cause. Chance is sometimes concurrent with the four causes; therefore, chance is a cause only by virtue of concurrence. There are certainly other possible explanations of the concurrence of events, and they should not be written off outright without justification.

Let us take the example of a chance meeting of two old friends. Bob and Sam meet each other, by chance, in the market. But chance is not a real cause of their meeting. Bob went to purchase a product at the market, and Sam went to file a complaint with the manager at the market. Since they did these at the same time, without knowledge of each others’ intentions, we say they met by chance. But all we are really saying is that the cause of the concurrence of these events is outside the intentions of the individuals. Chance, then, is not an explanation, but merely states the lack of a known cause for the concurrence of the two old friends being in the market at the same time.

Perhaps Sally, a friend of both, was able to arrange this meeting, apart from the knowledge of both Sam and Bob, for she did the favor of reuniting old friends. We may imagine other causes that were intentional as well. The point, for us, is that, for Bob and Sam, as well as any other party unaware of Sally’s intention, the meeting of Sam and Bob in the market would appear as chance. This is because they lack the explanation of their concurrent appearances in the market.

Chance, then, is no true explanation at all. It is more of a placeholder. Chance is the part of the puzzle where we say “here we lack knowledge of the cause.” This is fine, as far as it goes. But when we remove the placeholder and name “placeholder” as “cause,” we have decided that to simply state our ignorance is to state some knowledge. This is as far from the true goal of science as we could get. Materialist atheists tend to charge the theist with worshipping gaps, but the truth is, the theist recognizes the gaps in our explanation and tries to offer a real explanation rather than to push that gap as that explanation.

Final Causality and Teleology

Richard Dawkins makes an attempt to refute Thomas Aquinas’ fifth way, that is, the argument from design, which we can take as one instance of a teleological argument. He writes that “[t]he argument from design is the only one still in regular use today.”[14] This itself is erroneous, but Dawkins has already failed to give a real argument against the first four of Aquinas’ proofs, and so this statement is an instance of rhetoric designed to keep his reader from returning and investigating his “refutation” of them. He continues, stating how “[t]he young Darwin was impressed by it [a version of this argument by William Paley] but…the mature Dawkins blew it out of the water.”[15] In this section, Dawkins argument amounts to this: “Thanks to Darwin, it is no longer true to say that nothing we know looks designed unless it is designed.” His argument here is that, because Darwin was right, Darwin was right. The argument is both circular (and thus fallacious) and is an argument from authority (the weakest kind of argument).He does promise to return to the argument from design in a later chapter, but never really returns to a refutation of the teleological argument as presented by Aquinas. This is, after all, typical of Dawkins and his rhetorical rather systematically reasoned style. Other poor refutations given by Dawkins do not concern us for our purposes here.

Certainly, a biologist, a physicist, a chemist, etc., may rightly reject a teleology where rocks move toward a massive object, such as the earth’s surface, with an intellectually known purpose. But to refute teleology in this way is to refute a straw man, rather intentionally or through ignorance. “Much of the difficulty with teleology in nature arises from conceiving all final causality as intentional or cognitive and not sufficiently differentiating the cognitive from the terminative and the perfective.”[16] Gilson is at pains to remind us throughout his book that, as Aristotle so often stated, art imitates nature, and not the reverse. “Matter, form, and the end are real constituents of being, but they exist only in it and by it. This is what distinguishes the teleology of nature from that of art. The artist is external to his work…The end of living nature is, on the contrary, consubstantial with it.”[17]

Gilson then gives one of the finest examples to clear up our confusion on the “location” of this teleology in nature. “Whatever may be the transcendent origin of it, the teleology of the organism is in it as, once let fly by the archer, that of the arrow which flies to the target without knowing it, is in the arrow.”[18] It may be that Aristotle tending to “biologize” all of nature. He posited intelligences in the celestial matter, and professed that matter to be of a different type than earthly (mundane) matter. His statements that heavy things tend toward a resting place and that fire tends upwards could be taken as if these objects had an intellectual disposition to do so. But to misunderstand the exact “place” of the teleology and to remove it completely are two different things. We cannot, as the saying goes, “throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

Final Causality and the Question of God

One of the principles of metaphysics, in fact, of all thought, is the principle of sufficient reason. “Every being has the sufficient reason for its existence (i.e., the adequate ground or basis in existence for its intelligibility) either in itself or in another.”[19] Any being that does not provide the explanation from within itself of itself, must have an explanation outside of itself. A television exists, but we easily see that the fact of its existence and the reason for its existence are not the same thing. While it may take a moment’s reflection to see that the same thing applies to a natural item like a rock, it should be obvious that the fact of the rock is not the cause or reason for the rock’s being where it is, when it is, and lastly, “that” it is.

We may be tempted here to move directly from our topic of evolution and final causality to an attempt at a proof of the existence of God (and such an attempt would be completely valid). However, we need not take that leap here. Instead, we will look simply at final causality, at least for the moment.

Let us take the example, again, of the arrow that flies “intentionally” towards its target. We have no problem stating that this intention is not in the arrow as a cognitive intention. Nevertheless, we do not reduce to chance, at the moment the arrow leaves the archer’s bow, the question of whether the arrow will strike its target accurately or not. To do so would be to admit living in a world of utter chaos.[20] We cannot see this intention in the arrow, but in some way, it is there. To explain why the arrow strikes the target, we give a reason, and chance is not an explanation (unless we agree that all world class archers are simply those who have, by chance, hit more targets than the rest of us).

The problem is, as we said, that we do not “see” “where” this cause is. But we cannot simply deny its existence, any more than a man, now blind, denies there is anything out there that can be seen. It is merely that this cause, unlike, for example, the material, is not of the class that we can empirically test.

At this point, we can admit final causes without going so far as to admitting the existence of God (although following this through, I believe, will ultimately lead us to this conclusion).

Naturalism would admit that there are indeed final causes, but that these final causes are built into the totality of the universe. The sum total, therefore, contains all that is necessary within it to explain the occurrences of all within it. The tree provides the oxygen and the mammal provides back the carbon dioxide, the system, as a whole, self-explanatory. Theistic naturalism would go a step further and say that an intelligent being started this whole process, but, like a wind-up toy, built it and let it go. This is, perhaps, better called deism.

We can now approach the question of God in a scientific way alongside the metaphysical way. We see leaps in nature that simply are not explainable by theories such as naturalism. Perhaps naturalism can explain, through built-in potentialities in atoms, the possibilities of molecules, and through them, the possibilities of various reactions and conglomerations of larger objects, etc. But when we make qualitative jumps in being, such as from non-living to living beings, living beings (plants) to sensing beings (animals) and sensing life to intellectual creatures (man), we must explain this new “being” (remember the principle of sufficient reason).

While some solutions at this point try not to require the existence of a creator beyond the deist god who creates and abandons, by again trying to posit that all this potentiality is latent within the universe as a complete system, it seems not only to be a metaphysical issue, but one that requires the scientist to simply state facts rather than give explanations. Emergentism is one such “theory.” Emergentism states that it is a “law of nature” that higher beings emerge from lower beings. However, this is merely the stating of a fact, not the providing of an explanation. Stating that something is a law is simply a tautological “explanation” at best. The scientist must explain why it is a law of nature, or he has done nothing to advance our knowledge of the world.

Where Bertrand Russell had to, in debating the existence of a first cause, finally make the statement that “the universe just ‘is’ and we start from there, the scientist that denies a final cause outside the universe must make the “just is” statement of Russell each time a qualitative jump (mentioned above) in being is made.

We offer here, for reflection, one possible solution. If we understand creation in the Thomistic sense, we know that the universe, including its progress through time, is all one single act of a Creator. Therefore, viewed in time (as we must view it, at least empirically), creation of the material world is an ongoing process. In other words, the world, for us, may appear to have periods of interference from “outside” by the Creator, but to God, all things are “now.” The world is not changing; it simply “is.”

Empirically, we can only study our world as one that changes, that has movement. But recognizing that our point of view only gives us one dimension of that reality, we should not count out that there are other ways to study reality. For many empirical scientists, who today have a great hammer, every problem is viewed as a nail.

This is certainly not the only possible explanation. It does, however, fit the facts. It seems to be philosophically sound. It gives a real explanation to the empirical data of science. By “real,” we simply mean that it offers, in scientific terms, at least a theory. Rather than chance, which is no true cause at all, it provides an actual cause to the evolving world around us.


Many scientists hope to find a supertheory, or a “theory of everything.” However, if they do so by only seeking to explain everything through efficient and material causes, it is not only that we will be waiting a very long time for them to achieve this; it is an impossibility. Just because one posits a “great many box cars” it does not constitute the sudden appearance of a locomotive. In other words, multiplying the lack of an explanation by a “very long time” is multiplication by zero, producing a product of zero. It is their reductionism that will always be to blame. Our reductionist empirical scientist in this case is a typical Horatio. And “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”[21]

Etienne Gilson provides some wisdom here once more. “To hold final causality to be beyond science is one thing; to put it completely beyond nature is something completely different…he who loses himself in the contemplation of the form opens himself to the possibility of allowing many a secret to remain hidden in unexplored nature. But it is possible to take account of one without excluding the other, and that is all that we wish to point out…In brief, if there is in nature at least an apparently colossal proportion of finality, by what right do we not take it into account in an objective description of reality?”[22]The empirical scientist is free and should feel free to seek the efficient and material causes of the world around us. That is his role, and it is a worthwhile profession. But to overstep those bounds and claim that those two causes are all that is needed to explain everything would be tantamount to praising “spell check” to the point where the content of the paper matters not as long as the particular words are spelled correctly. Word processors have provided us great tools, but they still need an outside source to provide the direction, the teleology, the purpose of what is written. A million monkeys cannot write Hamlet, and a million years cannot write life into inorganic material.

We will, in other words, never understand the big picture of reality by chopping off its most important parts and trying to explain the whole by the little we let remain.



Appendix – Excerpts from Magisterium Is Concerned with Question of Evolution For It Involves Conception of Man by Pope John Paul II in a Message to Pontifical Academy of Sciences on October 22, 1996

“Taking into account the state of scientific research at the time as well as of the requirements of theology, the Encyclical Humani generis considered the doctrine of “evolutionism” a serious hypothesis, worthy of investigation and in-depth study equal to that of the opposing hypothesis. Pius XII added two methodological conditions: that this opinion should not be adopted as though it were a certain, proven doctrine and as though one could totally prescind from Revelation with regard to the questions it raises. He also spelled out the condition on which this opinion would be compatible with the Christian faith…

Today, almost half a century after the publication of the Encyclical, fresh knowledge has led to the recognition that evolution is more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favour of this theory…

And, to tell the truth, rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations. What is to be decided here is the true role of philosophy and, beyond it, of theology…

Theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the mind as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person.

With man, then, we find ourselves in the presence of an ontological difference, an ontological leap, one could say. However, does not the posing of such ontological discontinuity run counter to that physical continuity which seems to be the main thread of research into evolution in the field of physics and chemistry?


Clarke, W. Norris, S.J. The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001.

Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species. New York, NY: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. New York, New York: First Mariner Books, 2006.

Gilson, Etienne. From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again: A Journey in Final Causality, Species, and Evolution. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2009.

Jaki, Stanley L. The Savior of Science. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, July 2000.

Rizzi, Anthony. The Science Before Science. Baton Rouge, LA: IAP Press, 2004.

Wallace, William A. The Elements of Philosophy: A Compendium for Philosophers and Theologians. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1977.

Wallace, William A. The Modeling of Nature. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1996.

[1] Gilson, Etienne. From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again: A Journey in Final Causality, Species, and Evolution.(San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2009) 14

[2] Rizzi, Anthony. The Science Before Science. (Baton Rouge, LA: IAP Press, 2004) 249

[3] I quote at length from this letter to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, dated October 22, 1996, in an appendix to this paper.

[4] Rizzi, 249

[5] Gilson, 145

[6] See below, under Final Causality and Teleology

[7] Gilson, 59

[8] Gilson, 76

[9] Gilson, 59

[10] Gilson, 77

[11] Gilson, 77

[12] See Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion.(New York, New York: First Mariner Books, 2006) 139, 168, etc

[13] “Scientific knowledge is judgement about things that are universal and necessary, and the conclusions of demonstration, and all scientific knowledge, follow from first principles (for scientific knowledge involves apprehension of a rational ground).” Aristotle, EN vi 6

[14] Dawkins, 103

[15] Ibid, 103

[16] Wallace, William A. The Modeling of Nature (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1996) 17

[17] Gilson, 148

[18] Ibid, 148

[19] Clarke, 21

[20] I will not here address the various issues of occasionalism, Hume’s denial of causes, problems of quantum theory, etc., even though they could all bring up valid points, alas refutable ones.

[21] Shakespeare, Hamlet (1.5.166-7)

[22] Gilson, 31-32, adapted

Faith and Reason: Bad Metaphysics and the Divorce Between Faith and Science

Metaphysical thought inquires beyond our sense experience, but is derived from it.  We can understand something about the world beyond our immediate perceptions, and “come to a knowledge of the truth.”  Philosophical reasoning, rightly employed, will bring us to many of the same truths as divine revelation, as truth, by its nature, is one.  But likewise, a bad metaphysics, or a doubt of the possibility of doing metaphysics at all, can lead to a view that doubts revealed truth as well.

The problem of modern philosophical trends is not merely limited to the secular world, but has in many places crept into the writings and teachings of Catholic philosophers and theologians as well.  While the Church doesn’t have an official philosophical position, she must guide and sometimes reel in those who wonder into dangerous territory.  The problem has been addressed in different times and in different ways by the Church in the past and, more recently, by the encyclical Fides et Ratio.  Certainly this work of Pope John Paul II contains other insights and addresses other issues, but we will here look at the problem of modern philosophy in a broad sense, and how the church document addresses it.

The two directions of rationalism and empiricism that developed in the modern period of philosophy, as emphasized by Descartes and Hume, respectively, contributed to a divorce between faith and science.  Kant later attempted to reconcile the divergent views, but he also had to deny the ability to prove the existence of God, and many other metaphysical possibilities fell by the wayside in his system as well.

Fides et Ratio, or Faith and Reason, presented to the church in 1998, addressed the apparent divorce between faith and reason, and suggested the remedy to it. Faith and reason are not contrary to one another, and so faith will never be irrational, although it can be supra-rational, for certain.  Likewise, reason, if not in line with the revealed truths of God, must therefore have an error in reasoning or otherwise.  Truth is one, and although seeking it can certainly come through different means and explain the truth in different ways, it must always coincide.

As said in the forty fifth paragraph of Fides et Ratio, “Although they insisted upon the organic link between theology and philosophy, Saint Albert the Great and Saint Thomas were the first to recognize the autonomy which philosophy and the sciences needed if they were to perform well in their respective fields of research.”  These two learned Dominicans understood that philosophy, by definition, had to come from human reasoning alone.  Indeed, many articles of the faith that others tried to prove through philosophy were rejected by St. Thomas as being philosophically demonstrable.  For example, St. Thomas argued that the eternity of the universe could not be disproved by reason alone.  He also understood that the eternity of the world could not be proved positively either, and as a believing Catholic, believed in the worlds beginning as a free act of creation by God.  What this example shows is that some truths are known only by revelation and through faith in that revelation, but while these truths are not philosophically provable, they are likewise never contrary to reason either.  They simply transcend it.

Fides et Ratio continues “As a result of the exaggerated rationalism of certain thinkers, positions grew more radical and there emerged eventually a philosophy which was separate from and absolutely independent of the contents of faith. Another of the many consequences of this separation was an ever deeper mistrust with regard to reason itself.”  This rationalism began with Rene Descartes.

Descartes was a believing Catholic, and there is no substantial evidence that he denied aspects of the Catholic faith.  In fact, he states often that it is his intent to prove things such as the existence of God, but through reason, since our senses can be deceived.  However, it is hard to understand what his position would be on such things as Transubstantiation and similar dogmas of the faith, given his views in other areas of metaphysics and the material world as well.

Fr. Benedict Ashley, O.P.  lectures that “what Descartes is primarily saying is that we must for the moment turn away from the world of the object (the world of the senses) to the interior truth of the thinker.”  Descartes does this because he doubts his sense perceptions can lead to any certain truths, since they often deceive us, such as when we are dreaming.  In other words, only that which we can have no doubt of can be certain, and this cannot come from what we attain through our senses.

As stated above, Descartes aggressive change from the Aristotelian and generally Scholastic epistemology and metaphysics began a split in philosophical thought from his day forward.  As Benedict Ashley says “On the continent of Europe it went in the direction of ‘Idealism’ saying that actually the material world does not exist, or if it exists, it is somehow a projection of the human mind.  That a world outside the human mind, a reality outside the human mind is inaccessible.”  This, to me, develops most faithfully the philosophy of Descartes himself.

However, across the English Channel, the dualism of spirit and material reality showed its emphasis in the latter.  As. Fr. Ashley again states, “It begins [also] with the cogito ergo sum.  What I really know is my own thinking.  But it then says when I look at my thinking, what I find are sense impressions, and from the sense impressions, I have some idea that there is a material world other than my own mind.  And yet, Empiricism, because it confuses the sense data and the power of the intelligence to analyze that data tends to say that intelligence, and its abstract ideas, are simply faint versions of our sensations. They do not give us the essence of things.” So once again, we cannot know the essence of things; we cannot know them as they really are.  And without this, we certainly cannot know things beyond them (beyond the material, that is) or even confirm that anything at all exists beyond the physical.

What we have additionally with Hume, who stands as a giant in this empirical reasoning, is a denial of the ability to truly know causes.  Just because we have always seen that every time “X” happens, “Y” has followed, does not, for Hume, demonstrate that “X” causes “Y,” or that when “Y” happens, we can be assured that “X” just took place.  Hume would tell us that we must live practically as if these cause-effect relationships we perceive were real, but that we can by no means know that they are in fact a certainty.  Of course, without a way to understand “cause,” even between two material objects, there is certainly no way to prove causes beyond them, such as a first mover.  We cannot prove or disprove God, in other words, and all our knowledge of the world must be based on what we experience in what we now would call scientific method, although with Hume, even this gives us no certainty of knowledge.  In the end, the main point for us here is that God and all revealed truth must be completely disregarded in our seeking to know the physical world, and therefore, can never be a corrective for it, keeping us from certain errors that, with a faith in God’s revealed truth, we might avoid.

Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, tried to reconcile, to some degree, the diverging paths of the empirical and rational philosophies.  His emphasis came to be placed on the “limits of knowledge which have been set by the nature of the human reason.” (Kant, Dreams of a Ghost-seer I, 2,)  For Kant, our capacity to know is limited by categories of ideas into which we place things, and these prevent us from truly knowing the things-in-themselves.  The end result is a lack of ability to know things metaphysical.  We can try to describe them in their possibilities, and that mostly by negation, but we cannot demonstrate them to truly exist, or have any certain knowledge of them if they do.

Well, metaphysics is not in the realm of ideas for Kant but in the realm of subjective needs, a postulate of practical reason which makes it completely subjective.

All of this, of course, has led to a doubt of the possibility of metaphysics at all, and therefore doubt of any ability to have knowledge of anything beyond the physical world around us in a material way.  This has led to the divorce we see between faith and reason, pouring over most especially into the field of the physical sciences.  A return to a moderate realism in metaphysics seems to be the answer to the problem of modern philosophy and faith.

John Paul II, in Fides et Ratio, says that “[There is then] the need for a philosophy of genuinely metaphysical range, capable, that is, of transcending empirical data in order to attain something absolute, ultimate and foundational in its search for truth. This requirement is implicit in sapiential and analytical knowledge alike; and in particular it is a requirement for knowing the moral good, which has its ultimate foundation in the Supreme Good, God himself.”(Fides et Ratio, 83)

When we limit ourselves to an idealist or materialist philosophy, we have no way to attain to the higher truths that man must seek, especially as they pertain to our moral life on earth, and our knowing our own “ends” beyond this earth.

Pope John Paul II’s answer to the philosopher is exemplified in his statement in Fides et Ratio: “I believe that those philosophers who wish to respond today to the demands which the word of God makes on human thinking should develop their thought on the basis of these postulates and in organic continuity with the great tradition which, beginning with the ancients, passes through the Fathers of the Church and the masters of Scholasticism and includes the fundamental achievements of modern and contemporary thought. If philosophers can take their place within this tradition and draw their inspiration from it, they will certainly not fail to respect philosophy’s demand for autonomy.

Aristotle, Thomas, and the law of conservation of energy‏

From Aristotle’s Physics

(the context is disproving the need for a void for contraction and expansion of objects specifically and for movement in general)

@217a26-31: The same matter also serves for both a large and a small body. This is evident; for when air is produced from water, the same matter has become something different, not by acquiring an addition to it, but has become actually what it was potentially, and, again, water is produced from air in the same way, the change being sometimes from smallness to greatness, and sometimes from greatness to smallness.

Similarly, therefore, if air which is large in extent comes to have a smaller volume, or becomes greater from being smaller, it is the matter which is potentially both that comes to be each of the two.

St. Thomas’ commentary says:

@ 554: Therefore condensation does not take place by certain parts moving into others, or rarefaction by inhering parts being extracted, as those thought who posited a void within bodies. Rather it is because the matter of the same parts now has greater, now lesser, quantity: hence, to become rare is nothing other than for matter to receive greater dimensions by being reduced from potency to act; and the opposite for becoming dense. For just as matter is in potency to definite forms, so it is in potency to definite quantity. Hence rarefaction and condensation do not proceed ad infinitum in natural

Basically, I gather from this that the matter, the more or less it is in act can be seen between states of energy and matter as scientists understand them today. (Of course, Fr. William Wallace, O.P.’s book, The Modeling of Nature, was very helpful in seeing things such as this).  But I am working through St. Thomas’ commentary on myown right now and this seemed to really show how philosophy had this figured out pretty accurately well before our modern scientists.

Modern science not only more and more sees that there probably is no true void, no true vacuum (with ether and dark matter and everything else that seems to come along), and also “discovered” the law of conservation of matter and energy.