Book Review of The Realist Guide to Religion and Science by, Wolfgang Koch, PhD.
Sedi Sapientiae, Reginae coeli et terrae, Matri universae, to the Seat of Wisdom, to the Queen of Heaven and Earth, to the Mother of all, an important new publication has been dedicated. It has the potential of becoming a substantial contribution to a healing of philosophical thinking about religion and science that our intellectually and spiritually broken time needs. In his own way and covering a certain aspect, the author, Fr. Paul Robinson FSSPX, Her servant and son, is preparing the promised triumph of Her Immaculate Heart.
What reward is awaiting the reader? Being very readable even for non-native speakers, Fr. Robinson’s book does not require any specific prior knowledge, but it does require patience in following the lines of thought from the first to the last page – it is not a book for page hoppers! Its fruit is a unified, unifying, and at the same time joyful view of the universe as a whole, where in an intellectually coherent and satisfying way, religious and scientific thinking co-exist in harmony without excluding but supporting each other.
However, can there exist such an integrity of human reason after all the intellectual and spiritual revolutions since the times of “Enlightenment”, a wisdom where even the highest objects of knowledge come into the view, in whose light all other things begin to shine? Yes - argues Fr. Robinson. Every other answer is logically inconsistent and ultimately leads to despair. Only the realist is an optimist.
After studying engineering, mathematics and computer science at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, U. S. A., where he graduated with a Master's degree, Fr. Robinson spent two years in his profession before joining the American seminary of the Society of St. Pius X. Since his priestly ordination in 2006, he has taught Thomistic Philosophy and Theology, currently at the Holy Cross Seminary in Australia.
His intellectual pathway from the rigorous discipline of reasoning in the realm of science and technology, where "right" and "wrong" is relentlessly valid, has led Fr. Robinson through the school of classical western and ecclesiastical thought, into philosophical realism as mentality, as an intellectual and spiritual way of life. The reviewer had the pleasure of personally meeting with this gracious, humble, and pious priest, who is marked by a deep inner life.
Realism as a mentality refers to a basic mental attitude in which people are able to know something reliably and to relate themselves validly to reality. Why is this mentality no longer indisputably normal? It is due to the abuse of free will, argues Fr. Robinson, which chooses other mentalities. Such a wrong preference then limits the natural ability to perceive the world as it really is – darkening the eye of reason, blurring intellectual perception.
However, whenever reasoning goes wrong, because the will has not chosen a mentality appropriate for human beings, a person’s thinking about the objects of faith and the facts of science also diverges. The apparent incompatibility of religion and science, which has characterized western thinking since the Copernican revolution, is not so much caused by the mutual incompatibility between these two ways of thinking, but by the fact that those who do religion or science or both have made their mindset incompatible with reality. Fr. Robinson therefore seeks to reconcile religion and science with one another, but not through religion or science. He rather seeks to reconcile human reasoning with reality itself.
If there is a single origin of the entire universe as the realistic view of the world suggests, reality is a single whole. Moreover, if that one origin has given man the ability to perceive reality, then there is no reason to assume that this very perception does not also focus on the whole of reality. For the great realist philosopher Josef Pieper, human beings have the potential of “being able to live in the face of and in the midst of the whole of reality. The created spirit is capax universi, open to the whole of truth". (Die Wahrheit der Dinge, 1947).
Elsewhere, Pieper speaks of “the uncharted territory that awaits conquest today, one might say more precisely, the already conquered land that would finally be taken over and used for philosophical world interpretation". It has a vast extension. Which country is it? “First of all, it is the world region opened up by physics and biology”, Pieper explains (Die Aktualität des Thomismus, 1953).
Fr. Robinson’s book is a travel guide to this adventurous country, an intellectual frontier, waiting for its spiritual settlement: The Realist Guide to Religion and Science. With a smiling wink of the eye, the title alludes to a cult novel of the science and technology community, Douglas N. Adams' satirical science fiction series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, 1979.
In the first part of his travel guide entitled REASON, Fr. Robinson looks as a realist on reality. Analyzing the logical structure underlying pagan pantheism, the Catholic doctrine of creation, Muslim monotheism and Protestant biblicism, the second part of the book, RELIGION, shows how religion is reasonable as long as it remains realistic but becomes unreasonable as soon as it turns away from reality. The same applies to the interpretation of scientific facts, the theme of the third part, SCIENCE.
For readers from the science and technology communities, the first part is particularly instructive. Shortly and precisely, Fr. Robinson calls upon the three witnesses of reality, the senses, from which all knowledge about the particulars emanates, reason, to recognizing the universals, and authority, which complements all knowledge – for all knowledge needs trust. Starting from the principle that science is certain knowledge through insight into the causes, he then convincingly discusses Aristotle’s analysis of the four aspects of causality, the material, formal, efficient and final causes. An outline of the three ways of knowledge, science, philosophy, religion, concludes this compact and concise introduction to realistic thinking.
The second part offers insights into the inner structure of Muslim and Protestant thinking, which is put into contrast to the balanced character of the Catholic doctrine of creation according to St. Thomas Aquinas which has been called Thomas a Creatore by G. K. Chesterton. These sober insights are particularly valuable in the current debate with intelligent fundamentalists that may seriously inflict injuries to religion and block the pathways to it for many.
In most countries, popularized representations of physical cosmology and evolutionary biology dominate the public mainstream and even the unconscious of modern man, where scientific facts are mixed up with ideologically charged interpretations that usually turn against the Christian faith. Against this backdrop, special emphasis is to be placed at the third part of the book. Fr. Robinson sharply distinguishes between the facts that are scientifically sound and their interpretations that are open to discussion and correction. This distinction could perhaps have been made even sharper.
Right in the beginning of part three, Fr. Robinson addresses a core problem when he cites Albert Einstein: "The man of science is a poor philosopher". Note that Einstein underlined the importance of sound philosophical thinking even though he followed philosophical strands that are unacceptable for Christians. In the first of the four chapters of this part, Fr. Robinson critically analyses the development of philosophical thinking on nature from the late Middle Ages to modern times. The reader realizes how much progress towards the ever more important scientific discoveries coincides with a progressive disintegration of philosophically clear and valid thinking.
The reviewer is able to technically evaluate the content of the chapter on physical cosmology beginning with the important discoveries of Einstein, Hubble, and Lemaître, which he considers convincing, thorough and serious. The representation of the universe in its highly specific peculiarity is comprehensibly presented also for the non-scientist, by which the inhabitability of the universe for living creatures is made possible (keyword: cosmic fine-tuning). Fr. Robinson sharply refutes, by philosophical reasoning, on the other hand, experimentally non-falsifiable cosmologies (keyword: multiverses), which are highly controversial even among physicists because these cease to be part of natural science at all.
Thoroughly in the spirit of Pius XII and his Encyclical Humani generis (1950), the two biological chapters on the origin of life and evolution provide, on the one hand, verified facts of biology. On the other hand, they document the internal contradictions of “biologistical” ideologies, which are associated with names such as Francis Crick, Richard Dawkins and Charles Darwin. Obviously, the same person can make significant biological discoveries and at the same time make serious “biologistical”, i.e. philosophical errors. Fr. Robinson’s discussion seems to be convincing. Since the reviewer has no specific training in biology, a review from a professional biologist would be desirable. Teilhard de Chardin is not an issue for Fr. Robinson. However, his sound realistic principles may prove themselves valuable in the debate about his rehabilitation.
Besides being a sound philosophical book on the realist mentality, Fr. Robinson’s travel guide has at the same time also a profoundly missionary impulse. May his guide open up again pathways to the Catholics faith, especially for the science and technology communities, and may it light the love for the Queen of Heaven and Earth and the Mother of the Universe and be blessed by Her!
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With great sadness, the U.S. District of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) announces the passing of Fr. Dominique Bourmaud. He went to his eternal reward in the early hours of Saturday, September 4, 2021.
Eternal rest grant unto Fr. Dominique Bourmaud, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.