Fr. Paul Robinson’s book, The Realist Guide to Religion and Science, is a powerful response to the many intellectual challenges confronting contemporary society. Starting with a solid defense of the epistemological and metaphysical truths which undergird Aristotelian-Thomistic thought in the first section of the book, he applies this realistic philosophy to the belief systems presented by major religions in the second section, demonstrating adroitly how necessary a realist worldview is for a religious culture to make intellectual progress. He explores first the Indian and Chinese pantheistic mythologies, then carefully exposes the beginnings of a Western philosophy immersed in epistemological realism and its fruits for the future of rational thought. Then follows a sojourn through the riches of medieval Christian society, which embedded realism into the fabric of society, leading, among other things, to the birth of modern science. Medieval Islamic culture, on the other, could not sustain a realist philosophical balance, cleaving its rational bridge between religion and science. The irrationalism of Luther and later Protestants burnt that bridge with their “Bible only, faith only” approach to truth. Today’s fundamentalist creationists embody that legacy in their assault on mainstream natural science.
In the third and final section, Fr. Robinson turns toward the current empirical bias which deadens the minds and hearts of men to transcendent spiritual realities. He shows how the advent of modern philosophy and the Newtonian scientific worldview replaced classical realism with the errors of subjectivism and empiricism. This latter materialist viewpoint begets the contemporary atheistic worldview which assumes physical nature to be an unquestioned “given,” devoid of any need for a spiritual First Cause. Because of its rejection of realism, that worldview ends with irrational fideistic beliefs in physics and biology, to the discredit of science.
The Realist Guide to Religion and Science is an historical and radically interdisciplinary work that provides clear answers to the intellectual confusion that besieges the modern world. Well written, it makes use of an innovative graph that constantly reminds one as to where a given intellectual position stands relative to epistemological and metaphysical truth.
Skillfully employing the perennial wisdom of the Catholic intellectual tradition, this important work provides the reader with the mental tools needed to pierce through the contemporary cognitive maelstrom and to illuminate much needed objective truth. The author achieves this especially by demonstrating exacting scholarly competence as he follows closely the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas throughout the book.
Though lively and readable for the serious beginner, this wide-ranging historical tome is deeply rooted in the careful reasoning and documentation sought by the professional scholar. Fr. Robinson’s book will serve as an excellent text for both undergraduate and graduate courses in philosophy. I most strongly recommend it as a college text, a must acquisition for all libraries, and as an essential home reference.
Dennis Bonnette, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
(Retired, Niagara University)
New York, USA
A sound philosopher, able to move with confidence from Plato to quantum, Fr Paul Robinson here explains, in clear terms, with illustrative examples to facilitate effective understanding, why and how it is that we can attain to knowledge, find truth, and grasp reality. With this volume, the student will be able to safely navigate through the busy halls of philosophy, seeing where and how errors arise, and how to vindicate the truth.
Fr. Joseph Azize, Ph.D (University of Sydney), Honorary Associate, Dept of Studies in Religion, University of Sydney; Adjunct Assoc. Prof. University of Notre Dame, Australia.
It is not an easy task to write a short endorsement of Fr. Robinson’s book, even if - in itself – the book is not a long opus. The difficulty lies in fear which I experience together with many commentators of the works of St. Thomas: it lies in a justified anxiety that the comment will become much less comprehensible in relation to the scrutinized original. But if, despite the lack of skill, I am to fulfill my task, I should follow a simple pattern of judgment and try to respond to two fundamental questions: does the author recognize the importance of a problem he is dealing with, and does he presents an adequate remedy. In my opinion, the answers to both of these questions appear to be positive. Let me try to explain why.
Chesterton used to mock modern men by saying that “like other barbarians, they really believe the mirror”; and therefore break it, hurting themselves and others in the process. Men have not changed from the time of Chesterton, it seems that human condition reached the bottom of the gnoseological abyss: most of us do believe that the reflections of the ‘mirrors’ represent the essence of being.
Fr. Robinson would agree with this assessment, as he considers the idealistic epistemology the source of most (if not all) contemporary problems, both within the parallel and vertical dimension of human reality. A remedy he proposes is simple: return to the realist cognition and focusing upon causa finita argumentation. Pointing out these two factors proves that author possesses a good intuition and perceptive abilities, features not shared by many. Why is focusing upon modus quo rather than modus quod so important? The way we approach reality is quintessential, as it determines our every-day praxis.
This fact is nicely put into words by a Polish contemporary poet, J.M. Rymkiewicz. In 2011, he expressed his frustration about the ongoing events by assessing the problem of the destruction of human identity, a disregard towards tradition, and the accomplishments of the past, while at the same time exaggerated, beautified ‘non-reality’ was being imposed by ‘deceivers and villains’. “Nothing is true anymore” - he writes emotively – “we have fiduciary economy, irrelevant problems presented to us as relevant, fictitious state agencies administered by a fictitious government… Even unimportant details of this ‘non-reality’ are nothing but the shards of thoughts of the un-real authorities and un-real literati, who preach to us that this ‘non-reality’ is indeed the essence of what is”.
Polish poets are not philosophers or scholars when it comes to guarding their tongues, but from time to time they manage to name the problem more accurately than others. Rymkiewicz called this phenomenon a “Great [Cognitive] Darkening”, which is a term semantically close to what Gordon Wood called an ‘Epistemological Revolution’.
Fr. Robinson, following the great tradition of Christian Aristotelianism and thoughts of the erudite English-speaking apologists, managed to describe the very same problem taking the philosophical deductive approach. Comparing to either Rymkiewicz or Wood he did it in much more coherent and compact fashion. Not many thinkers today are capable of such a feat, as most of them shiver in fear at being considered ‘judgmental’ or they pursue the feeling of safety within the ontological realm of ‘concepts’, doing anything to avoid suspicion of being called ‘axiom-obsessed supporters of foundationalism’. Fr. Robinson knows that talking about the absoluteness of truth is not very pleasant to a modern scholar, especially when it challenges the established lie (often sugar-coated by the term ‘paradigm’), but it is – de facto – a very scholarly thing to do. In my opinion, the author of the “Guide” deserves praise for this attempt, as well as for his attachment to the aleithia-oriented philosophical tradition. The fact that he was capable to interweave his very specific (I dare even say ‘sarcastic’) sense of humor within the precise philosophical narration is even more praiseworthy and should be highly regarded by the readers.
If I were to point out the feature of the book that I regarded most highly it would be the following: within the Anglo-Saxon worldview, any epistemological discourse will often end up facing the alleged dichotomy between the realm of religion and the realm of science. It is an obvious categorical shift problem intrinsically affiliated with the Euler diagram. I was very happy to find this issue addressed in the book. I had an impression, that Fr. Robinson, unlike many of his contemporaries, was quite successful in explaining this issue.
Even if Fr. Robinson’s critique of contemporary scholarship might appear to be too harsh, one might at least hope that it will lead scientists to avoid advocacy research, and build their theorems upon the realistic basis or, at least, to encroach the realm of philosophy or theology only after an adequate theoretical preparation. It might be nothing but an expression of my enormous naivete, but I dare to assume that if this guide is to be followed by other works of this kind, there is a chance of effective propagation of realistic thinking not only among the amateur philosophers, but even among us, professional concept-making academicians. A daring think to hope indeed! And I thank Fr. Robinson for giving me this hope by writing his extraordinary book.
Jakub Taylor is a research professor in the Academy of East Asian Studies at Sungkyunkwan University, in Seoul, South Korea.