Expanded Reason Congress – Round Table: “The wonder of the world through quantum physics and ecology”.

Michael Taylor. Founding member of the International Institute “Laudato Si” of Granada and former adjunct professor at the Edith Stein Institute of Philosophy (Archdiocese of Granada, Spain). Visiting Professor at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, NH. Taylor holds degrees in Philosophy, Bioethics, Biology and Environmental Studies. Winner of the 5th edition of the Expanded Reason Awards with The foundations of nature: metaphysics of gift for an integral ecological ethic.

The second round table of the Congress sought to discover the metaphysics of gift in order to appreciate the beauty of creation.

The moderator Álvaro García-Tejedor, a biochemist and expert in Artificial Intelligence, opened the round table by pointing out that the micro (referring to particles) and the macro (referring to ecosystems) are two worlds that are closely interconnected.

Michael Taylor has confessed that astonishment is the first emotion he wanted to rescue from his childhood in order to make a deeper reflection on nature. Thus, amazement, in philosophical terms, demonstrates the humility that one must have before reason, because it exposes oneself to an overabundant objective reality that becomes intelligible. He explained that the world communicates truth and beauty so that the human being receives the gift of wonder and this, precisely, reminds us that man is limited, but that he can also embrace a portion of reality.

The professor of the University of Navarra, Javier Sánchez Cañizares, remarked that the astonishment of the scientist comes from living in a world that is not chaotic and from knowing that in a few seconds it will not explode into a thousand pieces, since there are a series of stable patterns. “It is part of the sense of mystery,” said Professor Cañizares, but not as an excess that shows human limits, but as an amazement at the ability to understand how the processes of nature work, something that Albert Einstein himself recognized. In other words, it is a matter of noting that, unlike the order that can be found in a dictionary, which is the result of conventionalism, the order of nature has not been configured by human beings, and that there is an obvious connection between this order and the possibility of knowing it.

In this sense, M. Taylor asserted that this leads to the formulation of a metaphysical question par excellence: why there is something and not nothingness, a question that science does not seek to answer because it takes for granted that there are things that are already here. He clarified that the metaphysics of gift only alludes to a way of understanding the world: creation does not give itself existence, but is received and, therefore, exists insofar as it is given. This, he explained, can be seen in chemistry, but also in ecology (the animal and mineral relationship in nature), and in the person who is not understood as an isolated individual. Thus, it must make disposition to see reality with gratitude and relational search.

On the other hand, although one cannot do metaphysics without knowing physics, Javier Sánchez Cañizares pointed out that a large part of the current problem occurs when science and philosophy are separated and, while the philosopher thinks he can focus on metaphysics, the scientist interprets nature exclusively with science. In short, he has advocated a philosophy of nature that allows a more complete construction of reality.

Precisely, M. Taylor has proposed a third way of approaching reality in order to avoid reductionism to a simple mechanical structure. In his opinion, the dominant ideologies understand it as a great flow of energy that pigeonholes man into a stardust. For this reason, he has called for a traditional view of the individual as a substance that is not separated from other individuals, with a dignity that is not at war with nature and that sees nature as a gift of his existence.

However, common principles do not explain the whole of knowledge and any reduction is an ism that hypertrophies, according to Sánchez Cañizares. Sometimes, it can be useful to avoid inventing new things at every step that human beings take, but science cannot forget its ontological presuppositions, when it does not take into account that the fact that the universe exists is something given or that things have an essence. Nor can it forget its epistemological presuppositions, because it needs to connect with other knowledge. In his opinion, scientism occurs when it is believed that universal knowledge has been found and is not complemented by access to other ways of knowing reality or by a real influence of beings on each other. Rather, in nature there is a causality that allows its development at different levels because there is a deep analogy of the human being with these different levels.

In this way, being has characteristics that are truth, goodness and beauty, even in the most banal, as developed by Michael Taylor, who is convinced that the agnostic vision of the goodness of the created world runs the risk of understanding the method in an absolute way. And so, in a world that apparently needs quantum processes, the issue of consciousness and freedom coexist dangerously. For Professor J. Cañizares, this issue has recently aroused massive interest as seen in the latest film productions of the Marvel fiction universe, which, on the other hand, shows that the objective and the subjective are intimately united. However, physics is related to the mind from the moment when there is experience that freedom is not an illusion and when the quantum world makes room for this capacity to coexist. It has warned against the mechanistic view of history because, although it helps to know reality and avoids boring automatisms, it does not solve everything: the purpose of nature is being discovered. “The human being is an evolutionary vertex that does not fit into mechanistic understandings,” he noted.

The speakers echoed Joseph Ratzinger’s thesis that substance and relationship are equally paramount, since one does not arrive at something without being in relationship. M. Taylor spoke of a clear tension between death and the tendency to reach an eternal stability. Well, the so-called ecophilosophy, which explains life and the immateriality of the soul from the property of emergence, needs to get out of matter and stop encapsulating knowledge within a mere evolution that does not solve the problem of meaning. In his book he defends an essence that starts from the constant relationship between the material and the immaterial. Javier Sánchez also noted that there is a vision of emergence understood as something that seems novel, but he clarified that it is only apparent because it could be described from basic components, such as the rainbow. However, there are other properties that are ontologically emergent and even if the properties were known, they would not be giving a reason for how an entity emerges. It is a contemplation that leads one to intuit a personal god, in fact, J. Ratzinger said that with this unfolding story that would be the only thing one would expect from a god for whom relationship is so important. “It gives color to a cold nature based on pure calculation,” he exclaimed.

During the question time, J. Sánchez Cañizares assured that Einstein’s deterministic vision does not give reason for a temporal nature where the past is different from the present and the future, and the figure of the dice attributed to Hawking is for M. Taylor nothing more than an incentive to confirm that it is the simple ones who find god, as a way that god wanted to preserve their freedom to love him.

Sanchez spoke of theological currents that introduce new visions on how god would act in evolution without being interventionist, but, in his opinion, we should speak of a theology of creation that does not forget the relationship between nature and its creator, and that emphasizes that creation is made with a view to the incarnation of a god that seeks the divinization of the universe (that god be all in all). M. Taylor argued that the god of Newton or Galileo can mistakenly lead to a deistic vision of a great watchmaker creator of the world, but that he forgot about him. His thesis is the vision of a transcendent god, but more intimate to the human being than the human being himself, present in everything in a mysterious way, allowing the freedom of the human being and the development of the laws of nature.

Regarding the doubts about evolutionism, M. Taylor answered that, if everything is matter and form, there should also be an immaterial accompaniment, a qualitative leap in the human being, when the soul is self-conscious and relates to God. Finally, Javier S. Cañizares included the scientific advances within the Darwinian framework without saying that it has been surpassed and agreed with Benedict XVI in a spiritual evolution of the human being.

In the debate, a call was made to strengthen the collaboration between science and faith so that reason can reach a more mature science. John Slattery gave the example of a group of American professors debating the notion of evolution. He revealed that they could only accept dialogue when they gave their views on ecology, creation and psychology. In his opinion, it is important not to be forced to understand, but to go deeper into the content in order to reach a deeper level.

The virtues are tools that help reasoning, according to J. Arthur, but it is necessary to integrate them with the intellectual ones so that reason can be expanded; this is what he called the “practical wisdom of good sense”. Thus, the virtues make it possible to know, to desire and to act with good reasoning. All that is needed are intelligent and practical people who are leaders in their professions.

Verónica Fernández said that it is a challenge to educate in open reasoning because one educates as one has been educated and if one wants to improve, the teacher must be a master. This depends on how he looks at the person in front of him, who is not an object of content consumption, but someone with whom to establish a sapiential relationship. He also needs to be a point of reference, because a teacher is not just what he says, but an integral person with prestige, capable of welcoming his students and helping them to grow. In his opinion, for there to be unity in knowledge, several levels of the person must be taken into account, ranging from the set of atoms to the need for respect. He intends to rethink the title of each subject to forge self-taught students who see in the other a brother or sister.

Artist Etsuro Sotoo’s desire to find the right question has led Curtis Baxter to say that good scientists should be brought into the classroom to raise questions about new patterns of thinking: how the brain works, climate change, evolution, sexual abuse… John Slattery added that whether it is science or theology, the basic questions are similar and the conversations revolve around the same issues. James Arthur asked again what are the desires of human beings and took a stand against relativism and the loss of human nature. He considered that European humanism and Judeo-Christianity come together and fall apart very easily today with respect to anthropological issues. In his opinion, the decline of religion, the displacement of philosophy by psychology and the emergence of constructivism have been determining issues. She advocated recovering the idea of a human nature that can be understood through many perspectives such as philosophy, psychology, the arts…, just by making knowledge centered on human flourishing fashionable.

Verónica Fernández added that the UFV’s pedagogical model (awakening, discovering, deciding) is especially aimed at students who are only concerned about the exam and do not seek to enrich themselves with wisdom. It is based on the relationship: of the professor with other professors, of the professor with the student and of the students with each other. It is about asking pertinent questions and seeking answers together, crystallizing in decisions that lead to personal growth. To this end, the communities of Open Reason seek to bring to the attention of all, the questions of the different subjects in order to extend their conclusions to an interdisciplinary field.

Along with this, dismantling scientistic prejudices is also a way of opening horizons in the formation of future clerics. John Slattery pointed out that there are so many scientists involved in the project that the results of the interaction have been very fruitful. Curtis Baxter pointed out that in the end it does not matter whether the scientist has faith or not, because the only important thing is whether they are willing to cooperate.

As we have seen, Open Reason means openness to all dimensions of the subject. James Arthur explained that teaching must awaken to true education, therefore, it is not just textbook knowledge or transmission of information, but must involve transformation. Education is not what the student knows, but what the student has become during the process of opening to knowledge.

From the Faculty of Education, Verónica Fernández recalled that if education is a challenge, it is because it involves human freedom. On this point, she affirmed that accompaniment is one of the most appropriate strategies to be close to the student in times of difficulty, and she bet on continuing to strengthen the mentoring system that assigns a mentor to each student for personalized follow-up.

In the question and answer session, it was asked to what extent it is important to distinguish between compelling or respecting. Slattery responded that there is no perfect solution, but rather a combination of subjects: “It is a debate about what is considered essential at the disciplinary level and the limits of such teaching,” he said. In his opinion, the key is to generate spaces to put into play the existing issues, in fact, in the project of the seminars they start from a basic education, but then it has been observed that other subjects arise that do not entail a regulated context.

Regarding the virtues that every educator must have, these are part of the path of those who seek the greatest good, according to Veronica Fernandez, who at the same time intuited them in the form of a cluster. Arthur specified that he expects all educators to be honest and sincere, to have compassion, interest and respect for the students. He even added that education is influenced by architecture and environment, so the teacher’s code of conduct should include humility and truth.

Regarding students who may approach with a hostile attitude or some resistance to open reason, Slattery presented research being conducted in some biology classrooms in the USA on how devoting a portion of the class to recognizing that there are two different points of view changes the environment, because the mere fact of recognizing that there was one group with one theory and another group with another positively influenced the results. Arthur recommended the book “The Closing of the American Mind,” which talks about open-minded students who are not able to establish a judgment on anything, overly sensitive to so many issues. He confessed that these same young people do not realize that they are looking for something more, a deeper participation in society, and that if a student is closed, he or she cannot be trained, not even in technical knowledge.

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