Philosophy of Nature
An on-line six-lecture course
inspired by Aristotle's Physics
by William A. Wallace

The Modeling of Nature

William A. Wallace,
The Modeling of Nature


THE 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 development.
    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. Wallace’s discussion of the role of Jesuit scientists and astronomers, and particularly the position of Bellarmine, in these early scientific controversies is particularly appreciated.
    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. Wallace’s 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.”

James V. Schall, S.J.
Georgetown University
Washington, D.C.


"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. Wallace, 1968

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