MODELING OF NATURE: PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHY OF NATURE
IN SYNTHESIS. By William A. Wallace, O.P. (The Catholic University of
America Press, Washington, D.C. 20064, 1996), 450 pp. Paper.
William Wallace is a Dominican, a remarkable philosopher.
He has devoted his lifetime to the understanding of the relation between
philosophy and science and, in turn, of these to Christian revelation.
This is a concise and clear book, magisterial in its dimensions. The work
is of great importance and interest. I confess I found the book downright
exciting to read.
Modernity, it has often been said, began with the rejection
of Aristotle as the primary authority in science. Father Wallace argues
clearly and insightfully that in fact the great scientific discoveries
of modern times were in fact better explained by the Aristotelian tradition
than by those scientific explications that began with Bacon, Descartes,
Hume, and their later successors, particularly the logical positivists.
What Wallace argues, convincingly, on the basis of the way science has
in fact operated when it has successfully demonstrated some scientific
certitude, is that it followed implicitly the Aristotelian methodology
and understanding of nature. He concludes that the Aristotelian discussions
of rhetoric, dialectics, and science are, in fact, in their developed
form, the proper way to understand what has happened to explain scientific
Though the book is also addressed to scientists, Wallace
has a great capacity to explain clearly to those who are not themselves
experts in science what the history of science and its philosophical implications
imply. Of particular interest is the way Wallace explains the great controversies
between the Church and science that unfortunately had such dire consequences
for the Church. Seen from the angle of strict scientific demonstration
that it implies, particularly in the Galileo case, about which Wallace
has made most significant studies, it becomes clear that the controversy
did not so much pit religion against science. Rather it was an examination
of what scientific demonstration, strictly speaking, entailed and the
care with which it needed to be treated. Wallaces discussion of
the role of Jesuit scientists and astronomers, and particularly the position
of Bellarmine, in these early scientific controversies is particularly
For those pastors and academics who need to know something
concrete about the present state of science in its philosophical and theological
dimensions, no better book will be found. Indeed, this is an original
book that sums up the whole tradition of philosophical reflection on the
meaning of science. Catholic colleges once were proud of their careful
attention to Aristotle and Aquinas, not merely for their work in metaphysics
or ethics, but for their understanding of the way the human mind works
in its dealing with nature and with the question of what one means by
nature. Wallace has done nothing less than reinstate this tradition at
the center of precisely scientific studies.
The scope of this book is breathtaking. It is not merely
a review of the whole Aristotelian corpus about the nature of science,
ontology, epistemology, even ethics and politics, but it relates this
tradition to the actual history of scientific discoveries, of which indeed
it was an abiding part. He explains the relations of logic and natural
philosophy and shows how and what the mind can know, that it knows because
it is in fact connected with the world, which itself was not merely a
mental or mathematical projection. Wallaces book contains a clear
explanation of the old adage that nothing is in the intellect that was
not first in the senses, except the intellect itself, of the relation
of logical and sensory knowledge.
Is this a book for the layman or the busy pastor or
the academic student looking for something more interesting,
say, than music or sociology? I think this book is one of those seminal
books that are a reminder of the intellectual depth of a sound realist
philosophy combined with a clear understanding of what modern science,
in its strengths and weaknesses, is about. Likewise, it does not hesitate
to show the pertinence of these ideas both to science and to its understanding.
Wallace implies that only with a proper understanding of science will
the truths that lie in revelation be seen for what they are, how they
are related to a valid understanding of the world. I cannot recommend
this remarkable book too highly. Father Wallace has given us the fruits
of his long study of science and philosophy. In reminding us of the abiding
validity of perennial philosophy, Wallace articulates how this philosophy
is a valid context to explain what scientists actually do in their explanation
of the order of things. In a very real sense, Wallace, in his explanation
of science and its history, is more revolutionary than Kuhn
and his followers, who are often given credit for best explaining the
origins of the scientific revolution.
"Is it, then, possible to imagine a new Natural Philosophy, continually
conscious that the 'natural object' produced by analysis and abstraction is
not reality but only a view, and always correcting the abstraction? I hardly
know what I am asking for. I hear rumours that Goethe's approach to nature deserves
fuller consideration—that even Dr Steiner may have seen something that
orthodox researchers have missed. The regenerate science which I have in mind
would not do even to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to
do to man himself. When it explained it would not explain away. When it spoke
of the parts it would remember the whole."
—C.S. Lewis, The
Abolition of Man
"Thomists have been content to remain at a very general level, concentrating
on metaphysics, and neglecting the specialized disciplines that have developed
because of the needs of modern man. Without intending to do so, they have promoted
a divorce between philosophy and science, and as a result, they have allowed
their theology to be completely untouched by scientific progress.
One usually benefits from the mistakes of the past by conscientiously attempting
to avoid them in the future. A simple way of doing this, and a most important
way at that, is to return to a concept of the relationship between Thomism and
science that existed at the time of St. Albert and St. Thomas. The pragmatic
program of confining Thomism to a simplistic system of thought well adapted
to the education of seminarians must be relinquished as quickly as possible.
Instead, Thomists must be encouraged to become increasingly concerned with,
and enlivened from, their contact with, the specific problems of the physical,
biological, psychological, social and political sciences. Such a renewal will
benefit not only Thomism but also the sciences it can serve to integrate. In
so doing it will meet the needs of modern man and his society so strikingly
pointed out by the Second Vatican Council." —W.A.