Does Nature Need Miracles?

Thinking about miracles we usually see them as (1) manifestations of God’s love and presence in our life – usually in response to our prayers (e.g., miracles of healing); (2) unique signs that God gives us to strengthen our faith (e.g., eucharistic miracles, stigmata of the saints); or (3) special ways in which God conveys his message to us (miraculous apparitions). However, there is one more category of special divine action that at least some thinkers (e.g., David Oderberg, Edward Feser, and William Carroll) suggest should be added to this list. These are direct God’s interventions that were/are necessary at major (evolutionary) transitions as the one from non-life to life. Similar is the Intelligent Design proponents’ argument with respect to emergence of higher levels of complexity in nature.

In his current research project, Fr. Mariusz Tabaczek, O.P. works on a careful definition of the category of miraculous divine action and a critical evaluation of the claim that nature needs miracles. One of the main points of reference in his argumentation will be Aquinas’s conviction about the character and dignity of causal agency bestowed on creatures by God.

The Autonomy of the Cell in Theoretical Systems Biology and Metaphysics of Science

In cooperation with a theoretical biologist Dr. Erick Chastain (a co-PI) Fr. Mariusz Tabaczek, O.P. envisions a research project that concentrates on the question concerning the biological autonomy of a living cell.

Some of the more recent scientific attempts to better understand the intrinsic nature, mechanics, and logic of living systems, argue in favor of their irreducibility, expressed in a global emergent causation that organizes their parts in a way that is end-directed. One of the major challenges in theoretical biology is modeling such top-down causation and goal-directedness in order to (1) better understand the way in which they are decisive for complex systems being intrinsically self-goal-directed, autonomous, and, consequently, alive, and to (2) test their irreducibility.

At the same time, the concepts of emergent and irreducible global (top-down) causation and intrinsic goal-directedness, advocated for in the dynamic systems theory, call to mind both the contemporary debate on emergentism in philosophy of biology (and more generally, in philosophy of science), and the enduring interpretative categories of substantial form and teleology that go back to the ancient Greek philosophy of Aristotle, which is recently having its revival in analytic metaphysics. However, these categories need to be proved to be valid when analyzed within the context of contemporary science.

The main objectives of the project would be (1) to develop a model of top-down causation and goal-directedness based on research on cell-signaling and biological information theory, and thus verify their irreducibility; (2) to develop “empirically traceable” models (a necessary empirical grounding) of the classical metaphysical categories of formal and final causation – in correspondence to the theoretical model of global (top-down) causation and intrinsic goal-directedness established in (1); and (3) to explore the possibility of applying the empirically traceable philosophical explication of the autonomy of a cell and reinterpreted categories of Aristotelian metaphysics of living systems to the scientific models similar to one developed in the first stage of the project.

In order to provide a necessary foundation for this large and ambitious project, the present research pursued by Fr. Tabaczek and Dr. Chastain will concentrate on the critical analysis and evaluation of the most important recent developments in both theoretical biology and philosophy of biology and metaphysics of living beings – with respect to the notion of biological autonomy (and individuality).

Thomas Davenport – Thomistic Natural Philosophy and Contemporary Philosophy of Science

This thesis, being written by Fr. Thomas Davenport, O.P., seeks to engage with a number of  contemporary currents in philosophy of science and place them in dialogue with an updated understanding of a Thomistic view of nature. The first of these currents is the attempt to argue for a form of “moderate realism” about the results and claims that modern science that does not slip into a sort of instrumentalism or anti-realism, but also avoids an overly literal “realism” that insists whatever we find in our best equations and theories “is real”. The second current is the increased interest in modelling and idealization in science and the corresponding careful concern for the actual practice of scientists in their experimental and theoretical efforts, rather than overemphasizing the overarching theories that result.

The aim of the project is to argue that a healthy understanding of the Aristotelian Thomistic theory of nature can provide a ground for both a reasonable “moderate realism” about science which argues that science can, in limited circumstances, make real truth claims about the natural world, and make sense of the power and success of idealization and modelling in science which, on the surface, seem to place a barrier to such truth claims. In short, the Thomistic understanding that the natural world is a collection of substances with distinct accidents and properties, which are the seat of real natural causal powers, provides a framework for balancing these disparate and, to some eyes, competing approaches to science.