Can Aquinas’ Cosmos Still Be Our Cosmos?

Paradiso_Canto_31When returning to learn from the great thinkers of the past, especially with an eye for what they can contribute to our discernment of what the modern age claims as true or to be believed, a balance must be struck so that, on the one hand, the truth from prior ages is not so emaciated in the transfer that the only connection it has with its original proponent is its author’s name, which we tack on as a helpful label to remind ourselves why it is made by that association important, and, on the other hand, that those truths from bygone eras are not weighed down by cultural and scientific baggage that encumber the truth still lurking within the work’s yellowed pages. Good intentions can lead to errors on either end, and this seems especially true when history reports that a thinker is one to be revered. St. Thomas Aquinas is frequently subjected to this. For instance, a recent short essay by Paul Krause claiming that “Thomas Aquinas’ cosmology and doctrine of the soul are vitalistic” is an example of the latter extreme, despite the good intentions of the essay’s author.

Continue reading Can Aquinas’ Cosmos Still Be Our Cosmos?

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Essay for The Federalist

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Just published today at The Federalist is an essay of mine analyzing, and providing some broader philosophical context, the recent Kansas Supreme Court decision regarding abortion and SB95. An excerpt:

The framers at Wyandotte in the times of “Bleeding Kansas” could see well enough, despite their limitations, the truth in the phrase “All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights.” Because of this, they constituted Kansas a free state, without slavery. Stegall has shown us that the killing of unborn children in Kansas, a state “birthed in the crucible of pitched battle between two opposed and irreconcilable ideas—government by consent or consent by government,” can only be declared a natural right by undermining the political liberty of its citizens.

A Natural Philosopher’s Lament

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Over at Public Discourse is a new essay of mine, “A Natural Philosopher’s Lament.” An excerpt from the essay:

There already exists a tradition of natural philosophy, originating with Aristotle and his medieval commentators. Just as a Thomistic natural law theory still defends the fundamental knowledge about which a wide-ranging tradition of jurisprudence and constitutional law has developed, so also this Aristotelian-Thomistic natural philosophy would defend knowledge that is fundamental to the modern sciences. The complexities of the modern sciences and the claims of rival versions of natural philosophy can be addressed by this tradition. Aristotle may yet have his revenge.

Chilean philosophy course comes to a close …

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After the end of the course, with those who attended the series of lectures.

Thanks to the good folks at Universidad Gabriela Mistral, and my good friend Pablo Maillet, my short extension course, a series of lectures on “God and Philosophy,” came to a successful close this week. A short description and news story from UGM can be found here. The Spanish text reads:

Yesterday saw the successful conclusion of a course given by Prof. John Brungardt, PhD Catholic University of America, which was conducted in our university during March and April. The course treated the contemporary debate over the existence of God and whether or not it is possible to demonstrate that God exists by way of modern science. The instructor, John Brungardt, with a doctorate in the philosophy of science and a current postdoctoral researcher at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, reviewed the principal modern theories utilized by modern atheists. Among others, he considered the Big Bang Theory in the work of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, as well as Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which tend to be employed as demonstrating the non-existence of God. Dr. Brungardt explained that these theories do not support such a claim, much less in a conclusive or demonstrative way. Among those attending the course were religious, lawyers, and philosophers, complemented by the presence of students of various fields at our university.

Now that the course has finished, we are revising the text of the lectures. They will be published as a short book: Dios y la filosofía: La existencia del divino, la sabiduría de Santo Tomás y la cosmología moderna.

Call for Papers: CEPOS 2019 at the ACPA

For those interested, consider submitting papers to CEPOS. Details below.

Catholic Engagement in Philosophy of Science at ACPA 2019

CEPOS Satellite Session(s) at the 2019 meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Association

November 21-24, 2019

Hilton Minneapolis
1001 Marquette Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Send ~ 500 word abstracts to dist0011@stthomas.edu by May 1, 2019.

We invite abstracts for papers related to Catholic Engagement in Philosophy of Science (CEPOS) to be presented at CEPOS satellite session(s) at the 2019 ACPA meeting in Minneapolis, MN.

Catholic Engagement in Philosophy of Science (CEPOS) seeks to cultivate sober perspective on the history and current state of engagement with (especially mainstream, anglophone) philosophy of science among Catholic intellectuals. CEPOS aims to articulate, explore, and evaluate a variety of approaches to philosophy of science as they relate to the Catholic intellectual tradition. These approaches include explicit philosophies of science, as well as ones implicit in and shaping theological work, hierarchical church documents and actions, and evaluations of the relevance of the sciences to metaphysics, philosophy of nature, and theology.

Questions to Peter Distelzweig dist0011@stthomas.edu.

Course in April

As part of the last stages of my postdoctoral project here in Chile, I’m happy to announce a course that I’ll be teaching this April at Universidad Gabriela Mistral: Dios y la Filosofía. The course is an overview of the fundamentals of natural theology, especially in view of modern science, following a classical Thomistic approach to the subject.

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Scholastic “cosmologies”

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The long history of the Thomist revival and its various idiosyncrasies is difficult going. Part of my research focuses upon the fruits of the tradition of scholastic “cosmology,” which nowadays we call the philosophy of nature. A new page collects and makes available some resources as part of that ongoing project.

Currently available is a draft translation of the prefaces and introduction, with some notes and other items, of Petrus Hoenen’s Cosmologia (5th ed.). Of particular interest are these words from Hoenen’s exordium:

Does one not at times pity the philosopher upon whom is inflicted the duty of teaching scholastic cosmology? For—as is suitable and particularly befitting for a peripatetic—if he wishes to diligently consult the sciences (which have accomplished much through their experiments), and if (so that he might follow them) he interrogates the physicists so as to have a great number of their answers, these contradict the scholastics, originating as they do from mechanistic philosophy. However, if he neglects them, apart from the fact that he in doing so denies also Aristotle and the great scholastics, that splendid atomic theory will always be reckoned against him, whose discussion he wishes to avoid and which, in its essential parts confirmed to a remarkable degree, will remain a possession forever.

Hoenen sought to avoid what he called a “concordism” between the Thomistic tradition and the modern natural sciences. That is, “concordism,” as I understand it, is his allusion to a method of scriptural exegesis, especially when interpreting the six days of creation in Genesis, which method attempts to broker an interpretive peace between the discoveries of the sciences and the literal text of the Bible by proposing various metaphorical or extended readings of certain passages or terms. This relates to attempts to understand the perennial philosophy of nature in relation to the modern sciences when one attempts a “facile concordism” between the two (in Maritain’s words). This analogy, as near as I can tell, was first used by Paolo Gény, “Metafisica ed esperienza nella Cosmologia,” Gregorianum 1.1 (1920): 95.