Father Wallace

Post-modern Western man has lost his religion. This we all know, it is hardly a controversial statement. But he has a closely-related difficulty that is not so widely appreciated: he has also lost his mind. This is a more serious matter than may first appear. One cannot get by for long without a mind. Sooner than one might have thought, one will lose one’s independence, too; and then be subjected to many other inconveniences.

In principle, the mind could be recovered first, and that would lead to the recovery of religion. In practice, I don’t think so. Something more like divine intervention may be required. This is because the madness is quite advanced. It is cocky and blithering. It will not be disabused of its illusions or, more fundamentally, it will not listen to arguments. One sees this in the academy, which is as close to an asylum run by the inmates as one could wish to get; and one sees it especially where “science” is at issue. It was brought forth vividly to me this week when I saw a video clip of a man who is obviously insane — a certain Al Gore — not merely talking nonsense, but frothing in his demands to have critics of his nonsense punished.

Consider his (perfectly commonplace) notion of “settled science.” It is not merely that no such thing is currently available in the field to which he refers, but that the one term contradicts the other. What is settled cannot be science. What is science cannot be settled. Granting the contemporary belief that science is empirical, there is nowhere else to go. Even by older definitions, in order to be scientific, a proposition must be open to inquiry and challenge. What requires the silencing of critics, isn’t science. Have I made myself clear?

Surely not, for there is more involved in this. We would have to begin with some realistic, and in a sense positive understanding of what “science” might be. This discussion, if conducted on a typical university campus today, would immediately lapse into hysteria, shrieking, and the vapours; yet it continues in some quiet places. Science is knowledge, as we might at first agree. This is etymologically correct. The word could be used broadly in this way, but we want something less general. It is a particular kind of knowledge, different from other kinds. As a man of the thirteenth century, let me tell you that scientia est cognitio per causas. It is a search for the causal explanation of things. It must therefore necessarily be grounded in epistemology, and ultimately metaphysics. One must know what a cause is, to look for one.

“Modern science” is not like that. Not since David Hume; arguably not since René Descartes who, with his asinine little thought experiment on a ball of wax, overturned scholastic reasoning without bothering to refute it. The whole idea of empiricism is that man cannot come to a knowledge of causes. The best we can do is to gather and correlate “data.” This necessarily precludes the possibility that we can obtain certain knowledge of anything at all. In the Humean analysis, there can be no such thing as “settled science.” And yet as we see from, for instance, Mr Gore’s puffy and gaseous presentations, assertions are made on behalf of modern science as if we were working from a knowledge of causes. Frankly, my dear, this is on a level with, “I’m a little teapot, short and stout.”

In the very face of historical experience, which has for instance wiped away every single “certainty” of empirical scientists in the Victorian era, certainties are claimed. And they are claimed as if we understood causes. Moreover, they are claimed on the basis of an arbitrary “scientific method” which, quite possibly, no scientist has ever followed, and which has never been described twice in the same way.

Up here in the High Doganate, the mug of tea from which I am currently drinking levitates twenty-nine inches above the floor. I know why it does this. It is because it is resting on a solid wooden table of that height. I also know that the floor hovers one hundred feet above street level, and why. I could explain a whole series of hierarchical relations, touching on the altitude of my tea mug, with a certainty that might frighten gentle reader, but would be more likely to bore him. I could also retrace a linear sequence of events which gives a powerful, even irrefutable explanation of how the tea mug came to be there.

Given time, we could take this back to Aristotle, the great master of the principles of causation, and of the search for answers to the question, “Why?” We could return finally to the cause of causes, and put our Western world back together again, under God. Indeed, I recommend we do this, and better still, it is being done. People are working on it.

One of the primary workers in this field — of what science can and cannot be, in truth as opposed to self-serving phantasy — was William Wallace, OP. His two volumes on Causality and Scientific Explanation (Ann Arbor, 1972/74) rest on another secure wooden surface up here, at a height I could measure and explain. It may not even have been his most important work, but has the virtue that it helped me understand historical alterations in “scientific paradigms,” in a way that freed me from the speculative vagueness of the once-popular Thomas Kuhn. Forty years later, it stands up (with its extensive source notes) as a fine work of reference on the history of science over the last eight hundred years, and as an excellent resource for the recovery of the philosophy of science, or might I even say the philosophia naturalis.

Philosopher, theologian, palaeographer, physicist, historian, engineer, and inspiring priest and teacher, Father Wallace was a living reminder that the game isn’t up yet. He died March 3rd, in his ninety-seventh year, as I have just learned. Requiescat in pace.