CEPOS Program

All conference talks, breakfast and breaks will take place at 205 Murray-Herrick Center.

Abstracts below.

Sunday, June 26

1:00 pm - Opening remarks

1:45 pm - KoperskiTheism, Naturalism, and Scientific Realism

3:00 pm - Break (Coffee, tea and snacks available outside 205 Murray-Herrick Center)

3:15 pm - PageSense and Reference of a Believer

4:30 pm - Break

4:45 pm - MarcacciTruth and facts: an ontic space for the history of science 

6:00 pm - Adjourn for evening


Monday, June 27

8:15 am - Light breakfast available outside 205 Murray-Herrick Center

9:00 am - SweetmanEvolution, Chance and Design: Catholic Perspectives

10:15 am - Break

10:30 am - PetersonAn Anti-Reductive Biological Homology Concept

11:45 am - Adjourn for lunch

1:45 pm - Basti, “Physics beyond the Standard Model” and the Post-Modern Paradigm Shift in Science and Philosophy

3:00 pm - Break (Coffee, tea and snacks available outside 205 Murray-Herrick Center)

3:15 pm - KoonsQuantum Hylomorphism: An Aristotelian Interpretation of Quantum Theory

4:30 pm - Break

4:45 pm - ObojskaReason, Relations, and the Foundations of Mathematics

6:00 pm - Adjourn for evening


Tuesday, June 28

8:15 am - Light breakfast available outside 205 Murray-Herrick Center

9:00 am - McDonald and DiekemaIn Defense of 'Simonian' Science

10:15 am - Break

10:30 am - AustriacoUnderstanding Adam, Eve, and Original Sin, from an Evolutionary Perspective

11:45 am - Adjourn for lunch

1:45 pm - AllenLonergan, Science and God: Phenomenology in Nature and Historical Faith

3:00 pm - Break (Coffee, tea and snacks available outside 205 Murray-Herrick Center)

3:15 pm - BarrThe Mathematization of Physics and Neo-Thomist Natural Philosophy

4:45 pm - Concluding general discussion

5:30 pm - Adjourn



Paul Allen (Concordia University)Lonergan, Science and God: Phenomenology in Nature and Historical Faith

Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan (d. 1984) advocated a critical realism, in which scientific and theological knowledge are products of self-critical phenomenological analysis. Allying his thought with Thomas Aquinas in elaborating a cognitional theory to serve epistemology and metaphysics, Lonergan challenged reigning idealist and empiricist philosophies. He expressed an understanding of the human knower as ordered to both the known world and to divine providence. This paper will sketch a few key ways in which Lonergan constructs a methodical link between phenomenology and both contemporary philosophy of science on the one hand and theology on the other hand. Like several other twentieth century Catholic thinkers, Lonergan rejected the idea of a choice between the thought of Thomas Aquinas and modern thought as regards science and religion.   


Nicanor Austriaco, OP (Providence College), Understanding Adam, Eve, and Original Sin, from an Evolutionary Perspective

There are many philosophers and theologians today who have proposed that the Catholic Church’s doctrines regarding Adam, Eve, and Original Sin have been made untenable by developments in evolutionary science. As such, they propose that these theological claims are now obsolete. In response, I will argue that recent discoveries in genomic science that have supported the Out-of-Africa model for human evolution, as well as developments in biolinguistics, actually make it reasonable to claim that all human beings, understood either as rational animals or as speaking primates, are descended from an original family of a handful of individuals. I also propose that an account of original sin understood as a privation rather than as a corruption of integral human nature would allow us to develop a narrative that explains why we struggle with evolutionary adaptations that we had inherited from our non-personal human ancestors.


Stephen Barr (University of Delaware), The Mathematization of Physics and Neo-Thomist Natural Philosophy

Much of Catholic reflection on science has taken place within an Aristotelian framework that has a predominantly qualitative rather than quantitative approach to the natural world.  Within that framework, mathematical concepts tend to be seen as arising from a second level of abstraction and thus farther removed from nature than physical concepts. Quantity is seen as pertaining more to adventitious accidental features of things and to their individuation than to their essential properties. And, especially in a strain of neo-Thomism stemming from Maritain and Duhem, the “empiriometric” approaches of modern science are seen as giving quantitative descriptions of phenomena that are more or less accurate rather than yielding an understanding of causes, natures and essences. It will be argued in this talk that serious challenges to such views are posed by the ever deepening mathematization of our understanding of the physical world in the last 400 years and especially in the last century. Among the issues discussed will be (a) how natures and causes in the realm of inanimate things can be understood through mathematics; (b) the relation of mathematical form to “matter,” and whether there is a fundamental stuff out of which physical things are made; (c) the distinction between approximate mathematical “models” and exact “fundamental laws”; (d) the sense in which some higher branches of science are mathematically reducible to physics; and (e) whether a complete and exact mathematical description of the inanimate physical world exists, and whether that world  could be regarded as being a mathematical structure. This raises, finally, the question of how mind relates to the physical.


Gianfranco Basti (Pontifical Lateran University)“Physics beyond the Standard Model” and the Post-Modern Paradigm Shift in Science and Philosophy



Robert Koons (University of Texas at Austin), Quantum Hylomorphism: An Aristotelian Interpretation of Quantum Theory

Defenders of physicalism often point to the reduction of chemistry to quantum physics as a paradigm for the reduction of the rest of reality to a microphysical foundation. This argument is based, however, on a misreading of the philosophical significance of the quantum revolution. A hylomorphic (from Aristotle’s concepts of hyle, matter, and morphe, form) interpretation of quantum theory, in which parts and wholes stand in a mutually determining relationship, better fits both the empirical facts and the actual practice of scientists. I sketch two versions of such a hylomorphic interpretation of QM and I argue that only such hylomorphic versions generalize appropriately to an account of quantum statistical mechanics that is able to treat thermodynamic quantities, like temperature and entropy, as genuinely real, which in turn provides grounds for the reality of the direction of time and of molecular structure.


Jeffrey Koperski (Saginaw Valley State University), Theism, Naturalism, and Scientific Realism

Scientific knowledge is not merely a matter of reconciling theories and laws with data and observations. Science presupposes a number of metatheoretic shaping principles in order to judge good methods and theories from bad. Some of these principles are metaphysical (e.g., the uniformity of nature) and some are methodological (e.g., the need for repeatable experiments). While many shaping principles have endured since the scientific revolution, others have changed in response to conceptual pressures both from within science and without. A fair number of them have theistic roots. For example, the notion that nature conforms to mathematical laws flows directly from the early modern presupposition that there is a divine Lawgiver. This interplay between theism and shaping principles is often unappreciated in discussions about the relation between science and religion. Today, of course, naturalists prefer to kick away the theistic ladder and do science on their terms. But as Robert Koons and Alvin Plantinga have argued, this has some unhappy consequences. In particular, they argue, metaphysical naturalism is in conflict with several metatheoretic shaping principles, in particular explanatory virtues such as simplicity and with scientific realism more broadly. We will consider these arguments as well as possible responses.


Flavia Marcacci (Pontifical Lateran University), Truth and facts: an ontic space for the history of science 

Science changes according to the methods, the objectives and perspectives of scientists. The way it changes and how the different scientific theories are linked along time are philosophical issues. A scientific theory refers to phenomena, and phenomena are described by propositions that, in turn, refer to events and facts. Thus, the history of science can be conceived as a succession of different representations of the world or as a succession where something remains beyond change. However, the dualism between factual reality and representational truth is not sufficient to explain the shift and mutations of a scientific theory. The distinction between facts and events is not only de dicto. It is also a distinction de re and it does not only depend on human knowledge. The facts that occur in the scientific experience can be, e.g., nomological facts, logical facts, political facts, and daily facts. They have in common an ontological aspect: they are always causal facts. Historical knowledge in science can be described by means of a well-founded epistemic logic, which has an ontological counterpart. An historical ontology of science is necessary to explain the relationship between historical cause in facts and events. The history of science, while explaining the shift of theories, describes something that is true about the objects of reality and science. This truth is historical and things change while our comprehension of them becomes deeper.


Patrick McDonald (Seattle Pacific University) and David Diekema (Seattle Pacific University), In Defense of 'Simonian' Science 

In his 2011 book Where the Conflict Really Lies, Alvin Plantinga articulates a number of arguments about the conceptual relationship between science and faith, especially Christian faith. He cites Herbert Simon’s evolutionary account of altruism and David Sloan Wilson’s evolutionary account of reli­gion as exemplars of theories that are in genuine but superficial conflict with Christian faith. In my talk I will discuss our argument that any conflict between Christian faith and evolutionary psychology or “Simonian” science is more superficial than Plantinga himself admits. We argue that apparent conflicts between Christian control beliefs and social scientific theorizing are due predominantly to (1) misunderstanding the scope of a theory (or the terms used in a theory) or (2) metatheoretical overreaching on the part of one side or the other. Specifically, the apparent conflict between Simon’s account and Christian faith is rooted in a misunderstanding of Simon’s limited definitions of rationality and altruism. The apparent conflict between Wilson’s account and Christian faith is a result of failing to distinguish Wilson’s broader metatheoretical commitments from the more limited scope of his evolutionary theory of religion.

Lidia Obojska (Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities), Reason, Relations, and the Foundations of Mathematics

The scientific field of mathematics is often considered to be strictly logical. However, many great scientists, Paul Dirac, for example, have seen beauty in mathematical equations, and this beauty can point beyond mathematics to something that makes mathematics possible. In the film A Beautiful Mind, while John Nash is accepting the Nobel Prize, he declares: “I've made the most important discovery of my life. It's only in the mysterious equation of love that any logic or reasons can be found.” Nash’s statement asks us to think about the relationship of reason and something beyond reason, something which grounds human knowledge. Much like Nash’s declaration, Christians can be inspired from the relationship with the Holy Trinity, which is the relationship of love. As Benedict XVI put it, “everything has its origin in God's love, everything is shaped by it, everything is directed towards it” (Caritas in Veritate, par. 2). Hence, even mathematics, which is the science of relationships, can find its reason rooted in love. I would like to offer some preliminary reflections following from the Christian’s perspective of God’s love applied to the foundations of mathematics. I will begin with some fundamental concepts, such as sets and relations, especially focusing on one property of relations called anti-symmetry. Anti-symmetry unifies mathematical objects and is necessary for the concept of order. Then I will show how small changes in the definition of anti-symmetry can, without introducing paradoxes, fundamentally change mathematics, opening up new pathways of investigation.


Meghan Page, Sense and Reference of a Believer

In his famous paper Physics of a Believer, Pierre Duhem, a Catholic philosopher and physicist in the early twentieth century, insists that claims in a scientific theory are incapable of contradicting the claims of religion. Duhem also maintains that science converges on a ``transcendent order according to which the [natural] realities are classified.’’ In other words, science aims for a true ordering of the natural world. But if scientific claims converge on metaphysical truths, shouldn’t they also bear on the tenets of religion? What principle justifies Duhem’s separation of these two contexts? Many suggest, understandably, that Duhem’s opinion of science emerges out of a desire to defend his faith. After all, his is a rather convenient position for a believing practitioner of science. But Duhem emphatically defends himself against such accusations. In Physics of a Believer, he insists that his view of science arises not from religious zeal but his program of scientific research. In this paper, I unpack Duhem’s view by considering the theory at the heart of his research program: classical thermodynamics. Specifically, I focus on the discovery of entropy by means of the Carnot cycle. Interestingly, the state space of thermodynamics consists of only equilibrium states, implying that any thermodynamic process would require an infinite amount of time. Entropy, one of the core quantities in classical thermodynamics, is defined by an appeal to processes in this highly idealized context. This makes it difficult to think about the term `entropy’ referring to the physical world in any straightforward way. Nevertheless, `entropy’ surely points to an important feature of the natural world, and without implementing such idealizations, entropy itself is obscured from scientific discovery. Duhem’s point, I argue, is to carefully heed the boundary conditions for scientific terminology. While scientific claims certainly latch on to the world, they cannot be translated into ordinary language without careful attention to their theoretical context and limitations.


Anne Siebels Peterson (University of Utah), An Anti-Reductive Biological Homology Concept

The Catholic intellectual tradition has consistently upheld an anthropology that places great value on the body’s role in the flourishing of the human person. Given the increasing robustness, from John Henry Newman to recent popes, of this tradition’s additional commitment that religion and science are mutually illuminating pathways toward truth, it would be problematic if biological inquiry supported viewing the parts of the body as intelligible in a reductive way (i.e. without reference to the overarching context of the body as a whole). For this result would open the door to viewing the body as a construct of prior, independently identifiable parts—at best secondary in its ontological status to those parts and at worst a mere heap or aggregate of them, without unity and purpose in its own right. The biological homology concept concerns the identity conditions of biological trait types—or more precisely, the question of what determines whether individual traits within organisms fall under the same trait type. I will argue that inquiry into biological homology supports the view that the traits making up an organism’s body, far from being reductively intelligible, require for their identification as the traits they are a reference to the context of the organism’s body as a whole. Accounts of homology that proceed in the opposite way face one of two problems. They either fail to provide an ultimate answer to the homology question, or they fail to account for the capacity of a single trait type to undergo changes in its morphology and functionality over time—a capacity required in the context of contemporary evolutionary biology. The way of understanding the biological homology concept that I will defend underscores the body’s status not only as a fundamental entity within the biological realm, but indeed as prior to the biological traits making it up—for the identity conditions of those traits must reference the body taken as a whole, while the reverse is not the case.


Brendan Sweetman  (Rockhurst University), Evolution, Chance and Design: Catholic Perspectives

Some have suggested that Catholic thinkers, both philosophers and theologians, have not given enough attention to the question of how religion and evolution can be reconciled. Evolution is thought to raise a number of problems for religious belief, including the role of chance in the process; more specifically whether it would follow that the human species, like all species, is an accident of history, and so is unlikely to be the result of any (divine) plan. Another issue raised is the question of whether human beings differ in kind or only in degree from other species. Yet another difficulty is the presence of large amounts of waste and suffering in nature, which seems to make the problem of evil worse that it was before evolution. My paper will explore these issues informed by the work of several thinkers in recent Catholic thought: Ernan McMullin, John Haught, Cardinal Christoph Schőnborn, Fr George Coyne, and Pope John Paul II. Along the way, I develop my own views on the topic arguing that there is no chance operating in nature, a conclusion that has serious implications for our responses to these key questions.