Published by the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas (founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann)
In association with the The Adler-Aquinas Institute and Aquinas School of Leadership
Member of the Alliance for Liberal Learning

Friday, June 26, 2015

God, philosophy, and science

Scheduled for 1:30pm–3:00pm Eastern Time, Plenary Session papers and panel discussion 7
Chair: Heather M. Erb (Great Books Academy/International Etienne Gilson Society)
There are a variety of reasons for the growing Catholic “identity crisis” (both within the Church, and in relation to the world), but it is the philosophical forces gathered in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Catholic modernism that have crystallized into theological views which permeate the antinomian atmosphere in the Church today. In this paper, I will briefly explain the ways in which Catholicism’s identity crisis is rooted in the rejection of the unity of wisdoms in Thomas Aquinas, and in the turning aside from Catholic philosophy in general.

In place of the perennial philosophy and its contemplative ideal, the Church has come to welcome the fruits of pragmatism, the incoherence of philosophical and theological pluralism, and the rhetoric of false dichotomies (justice/mercy; intellectual/pastoral, truth/charity, etc.). These problems are shown to rest on the false modernist notion of truth, and to introduce a misinterpretation of the evolution of dogma.

In response to the current theological and pastoral crisis, I propose the possibility (at least on a theoretical level) of a rehabilitation of Catholic identity, through drawing on tools from St. Thomas’s perennial philosophy and its interpreters. These include a robust sense of the speculative intellect, the unity of natural, revealed and mystical wisdoms, the retrieval the ideal of a unitary system of philosophy for theology, and reintegrating liturgical beauty and objective spirituality into Catholic formation.

Speaker: Richard Fafara (Adler-Aquinas Institute): “Is philosophical atheism possible?”

Étienne Gilson finds various types of atheism inadequate because none arrive at rational certainty that nothing (no ‘being’) answering to the word ‘God’ exists in reality.  For Gilson, the true problem is the origin of the notion of God. Gilson locates the notion of God in human thinking as the informing ground of intelligibility. As such, true atheism is impossible.

Speaker: Fr. Ronald Hurl (Catholic University of America): “God and philosophy as a way of life for Etienne Gilson”

Philosophy as a way of life is a crucial notion for understanding the life and works of Etienne Gilson. As seen in the works of Nietzsche, Henry Adams, Leo Strauss, and Pierre Hadot, a recent movement has sought to revive our understanding of philosophy as a way of life. By making the question of making philosophy a way of life open to faith and revelation,, Gilson holds a Catholic can answer this question. Gilson’s view of philosophy as a way of life can be demonstrated throughout his whole corpus. While Gilson’s project to revive the Catholic philosophical activity as a way of life can be seen especially in his early purely philosophical works published between 1913 to 1929 when he founded PIMS, he also shows his commitment to reviving philosophy in this fashion in his foundation of PIMS, which appears to be his version of a philosophical school on the ancient and Medieval model.  PIMS appears to be Gilson’s philosophical school. And considering PIMS as a Catholic School of philosophy is key to understanding Gilson’s life works and thought. In this paper I will focus on Gilson’s development of his vision of the Institute and his decision to found his Institute at St. Michael’s College, with a special focus on his correspondence with professors at Harvard.  This will show how Gilson saw philosophy as a way of life and PIMS as a school of philosophy for the Catholic philosophical life.

Speaker: Stacy Trasancos (Holy Apostles College and Seminary): “What did Stanley Jaki mean when he claimed science was born of Christianity?: How to tell the story and why telling it matters”

The story of how science was born of Christianity was one of the late Fr. Stanley L. Jaki’s most important teachings. Atheists and people of other religions often reject such a claim without further investigation because it seems offensive or divisive on its face, but even Catholic scholars have called the story a myth. What is missing in these discussions are the facts, mostly in the form of original quotes from ancient writers, Biblical texts, early Christian apologies, and the writings of Medieval scholars. Knowledge of the facts allows a communicator to tailor the language for different audiences. Telling this story matters to different audiences for different reasons. To atheists, it matters because the role Christian philosophy and theology played in the emergence of modern science should be defended when anyone claims Catholicism is opposed to science. The story matters in ecumenical discussions because it shows why the Incarnational and Trinitarian monotheism of Christianity intellectually purified the correct view of the universe. This history is pre-Protestant, it is therefore shared by all Christians, which means the story can be a discussion of unity among Christians. Finally, and arguably most importantly, the history should be taught to young Catholics maturing in a secular culture so they will know the truth when people tell them Christians cannot be good scientists. This story illuminates for them why Catholics not only have a legitimate role in modern science, but why they are needed in the sciences as intellectual and moral leaders now and in the future.

Livestream of video from the Conference will be at the Holy Apostles College and Seminary YouTube Channel.

Next session scheduled for 3:30pm.

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