Book Plunge: Aquinas and Modern Science

What do I think of Gerard Verschuuren’s book published by Angelico Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

What did Aquinas know about modern science. Very little no doubt. If you asked Aquinas his opinions on general relativity, he would not know what you were talking about. What about the Big Bang Theory? What about evolution? Oh he would know some basic ideas of what we call physics and such today, but this was a man who was a monk and lived when people thought the Earth was the center of the universe. What hath Aquinas to do with modern science?

Quite a lot actually.

You see, part of the problem is we enter into the discussion thinking often that science is the supreme field. Why not? It’s what’s been ingrained into us. “People in the past today believed in miracles, but we know that they didn’t happen. We live in a world of science.” If you want an expert on any subject for a TV show, bring in a scientist. A scientist is automatically assumed to be the beacon of knowledge and wisdom.

None of this is meant as anti-science. Many scientists are no doubt very knowledgeable and wise people. The problem is that science has its limits. Bring it out of its area and put it where it has no business and it does a lot of damage. Much of the problems in discussions about science today are not so much about the data as they are the metaphysics behind the data.

That’s a dirty word today. Metaphysics is often seen as “Studying things that are nonsense” or just a catch-all term for “the supernatural” or something of that sort. Those who mock metaphysics though have their own metaphysics that they are doing, and it’s quite normally a bad one in that case. Metaphysics is the study of being as being. How does existence work and function?

All that is science is a part of this existence and so Aquinas, the great metaphysician, has something to say. He can’t tell you about evolution, but he can tell you about substances and potential and change. He can’t tell you about the Big Bang Theory, but he can tell you about potential and actuality. He can’t tell you about DNA, but he can tell you about formal, material, efficient, final, instrumental, and exemplar causes.

If we study science with all of those in mind, then Aquinas can believe it or not shed a lot of light. Thankfully, Verschuuren has written a great book on this. The knowledge he brings is highly impressive. He has a great love of Aquinas and familiarity with him and his metaphysics, yet also looks to be highly read in the scientific literature.

But isn’t Aquinas’s view all about faith? Not at all. Faith and reason were not opposed to Aquinas. He would say that there are things known by revelation and things known without, but we must never make the two contradict. While Aquinas did believe the Earth was the center of the universe, he was going with the science of his time. If he thought the science today was overwhelming, he would also agree with that.

Verschuuren gives us an introduction to the metaphysics that is simple enough for the layman to understand. My only puzzle here was when talking about causes why the instrumental cause was left out. I consider this one highly important to understanding many cosmological debates and such, but it seemed to be forgotten.

While many will see a war between science and religion, Aquinas would not. What about evolution? If it is true, Aquinas would have no problem. Evolution is one thing becoming something else. It is not nothing becoming something, which is entirely different.

There is also the question of areas like neurology and such. How does the brain work? What about the mind-body problem? Aquinas has something to say in each case. Even something like NDEs receive something from Aquinas.

Finally, what about government? Here, Aquinas might have some more experience. What would Aquinas say about our constitutional freedoms today? What would he say about the role of money in our culture? What would he say about our rights?

I leave Aquinas’s positions for the readers to find in this book that should be read. Today, scientists are trying to understand our world by looking through telescopes and microscopes and other such tools, which they should do. Maybe they should look through old Aquinas as well and see if they can bring out treasures of old instead of just new.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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