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Course Number: PHL725
Course Name: Philosophy of Nature
Term Summer 2014


Dr. Timothy Smith


1. Course Description:

This course explores the fundamental aspects of the natural world knowable to philosophy and science, including a discussion of the methodology and limits of the scientific and philosophical methods. Topics include the nature of substance, matter, form, space, time, motion, causality, and the transcendent first cause.

2. Envisioned Outcomes:

  • Students will understand the basic framework of Aristotelian metaphysics and how it was incorporated into Christianity.
  • Students will be able to dialogue about the nature of space, time, causality, and motion.
  • Students will grasp the basic methods of science and the limits of science and its relation to religion.

3. Course Textbook:

  • Wallace, William, The Modeling of Nature: Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Nature in Synthesis (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1997).

4. Course Assignments:

  1. Weekly posting of 2 answers to questions at course Discussion Group [30%]
  2. Responding to 10 postings of other students throughout the course of the semester, i.e. roughly 1 per week though you can skip up to 4 weeks [20%]
  3. Research Paper of 10-15 pages on philosophy of nature topic [50%]. Topic and thesis must be approved prior to submission.

5. Course Schedule:

Each week the student will watch one or two videos, read from the Wallace book, read from additional readings, answer questions about the readings at Discussion Group, and review and perhaps comment on other student’s postings.

Generally speaking a good schedule would be to watch the Videos on Monday-Tuesday, do the readings on Wednesday-Thursday, and answer questions and read other student’s postings and comment on them through Blackboard on Friday-Saturday.

You should plan on dedicating 4-7 hours per week to the course, typically 1 hour watching videos, 2-4 hours doing the readings, and 1 hour doing the postings.

Week 1: Positivism; Philosophy of Nature


Describe yourself, major, seminarian or non-seminarian, and why you are taking this class? What for Comte are the 3 stages of thought? Why does he think thought leads to science? Can science study the realities underlying scientific phenomena for Comte? Why or why not? Does Comte give good arguments for his position? What is Royal’s critique of positivism? Does Royal make good points or not? What are the critiques of positivism in the Catholic Encyclopedia article? Did Littré have a true conversion to Catholicism or not?

Week 2: Substance and Accidents


Take a simple object and list Aristotle’s categories for it (all ten). Give an example of substantial or accidental change. What do you think of the use of Augustine and Boethius on applying the Categories to God? Does Augustine or Boethius do a better job? Why? Is it proper to apply Greek categories to Christian thought? Why or Why not? Describe and comment on Benedict’s paper on the three stages of the program of dehellenization.

Week 3: Matter and Form


Select an object of your choice and describe its matter and form. What are the similarities and differences between Aristotle and Aquinas's accounts of substance and accident and form and matter? What are Büchner's major gripes with Christianity in its relation to science, how accurate are his complaints? What are some of the ways in which the Catholic Church has made use of Aristotle's notions of substance and accident, matter and form? What are any strengths or limitations of such an appropriation? Is there any validity to using more recent concepts to explicate such things as the Eucharist, Trinity, or other things?

Week 4: Individuation (Primary versus Secondary Qualities; Bundle Theories; Physics vs. Aristotle; Theseus Ship Paradox)


Which of the positions of Aristotle, Aquinas, Scotus, or Suarez do you agree with on individuation and why? How would you solve the Ship of Theseus paradox, i.e. is the later ship the same as the earlier one or not? Why or why not? Do you agree with the position of mereological essentialism, why or why not? Were the views of Galileo and Descartes on the Eucharist heterodox or not? Explain. Can one still defend Aristotle’s substance theory or his theory of matter and form today? Explain. Can we apply Aristotle’s theory to the scientific realm? Is the Bundle Theory correct? Why or why not? To what extent can or should we use modern categories and not the category of transubstantiation in teaching catechism or RCIA (i.e. adult education) classes, explaining our faith, etc. Explain.

Week 5: Space


Is a theory of absolute space still tenable today? Why or why not? Which view of space do you agree with most? What is the best characterization of Einstein’s religious views, theism, deism, or pantheism, etc.? Is the bucket argument valid, if so what does it show? Is the hole argument valid? If so what does it show? Can space be infinite? Can space be more than 3 dimensions, i.e. can there be an actual 4-dimensional or 11-dimensional space? Why or why not?

Week 6: Time


Why does Augustine reject the view that time is the measurement of motion (Confessions, XI, 24). Is his argument a good one? Why or why not? Why do Kant and McTaggart reject the objectivity of time? Are their arguments good ones (i.e. the argument from the Power Point). Is time relative to the motion or objects or is it absolute? Defend your position. Can the theory of entropy (or any of the modern theories of physics that you know of) explain the arrow of time? How can we explain the arrow of time?

Week 7: Time Travel


What is the grandfather paradox? Why for Aristotle (on an expansion of his thought) is time travel impossible? Is time travel possible? Why or why not? What are the views of Peter Damian and Aquinas on whether God can change the past? Can God change the past? Why or why not? Is it allowable to pray to God to save one’s relative in the Dummett situation? Why or why not?

Week 8: Causality


What is Aristotle’s notion of the four causes? Give an example and explain the four causes for the example you gave. To what extend did Bacon reject the notion of final causes? Can the notion of a final cause still be held today? How? Which account of causality is best, i.e. Hume, Lewis, Salmon, Rescher, Anscombe, etc.? Why? What do the other accounts omit? Who gives the best criteria for the identification of causes, Hume, Mill, or Bradford-Hill? Explain why. Are Laplace and Hawking right to think that everything is determined and there can be no free will or miracles? Has quantum mechanics shown that the notion of causality does not apply at the microscopic quantum level? Would such a quantum notion of spontaneity allow for the existence of freedom of the will or would it be irrelevant?

Week 9: Motion


Take one of Zeno’s paradoxes and tell how you would solve it. Why did Galileo and Newton reject the views of Aristotle on motion? What are the differences if any between the medieval theory of impetus and Newton’s (or Galileo’s) theory of inertia? How can we explain the ultimate cause of inertia? Why does God make use of secondary causes?

Week 10: The Inorganic Realm [Matter in Modern Science; The Chemical and Physical Realms; Natural Kinds (Kripke, Shoemaker, Putnam, Wiggins); Materialism]


Is Quine's criticism of the Aristotelian view of natural kinds valid? Explain. Is Wittgenstein's criticism of natural kinds valid? How could we define a game or a sport? What is Putnam’s theory of natural kinds? Is he right to think natural kinds exist? Why or why not? Or is Aristotle's position better and so there can be natural kinds on the macrstructural level? Why or why not? What is Buchner’s argument for materialism? Is his argument a good one, why or why not? How could we know about or validate an immaterial realm?

Week 11: The Organic Realm [Biological nature; Species; Body; Bodily Resurrection; Same body in Jesus, Resurrection, Eucharist]


Why is the classification system of Linnaeus preferable to that of Aristotle? Which of the systems of biological classification seems best? Why? Can there be objective categories of species in nature? Why or why not? If so which is the best account of a species? Is the Eucharist the same body as that of Jesus, and will our resurrected bodies be the same as our current ones? Explain. Do we need to appeal to teleological explanations in sociology? Why or why not? What does this say about determinism and materialism if anything?

Week 12: Science, Its Methodology and Limits; Induction; Uniformity of Nature; Natural Law; Methodical Naturalism]


Is there a problem of induction? If so what is it? How can we solve the problem of induction if we can? How can we solve the New Riddle of Induction of Goodman and the predicate grue or the Raven Paradox? Take one of the views of the scientific method and critique it. What method of science do you agree with most? Why? Can science ever invoke non-natural explanations? In other words does the principle of methodological naturalism hold for science? Why or why not? Are Duhem and Quine right to think observations are theory-laden? Explain. What point is Alvin Royal trying to make in his paper? Do you agree with him?

Week 13: Realism vs. Instrumentalism; Science and Religion


Is instrumentalism of realism with respect to science better? Why? What do you think of the view of NOMA? Is there a conflict between science and religion? Why or why not? Does Draper show there is a conflict of science and religion? Explain. Does White show there is a conflict of science and religion? Explain.

Week 14: Unmoved Mover (Conservation of Energy; First Way); Ultimate Explanation of Universe; Miracles


What is Aquinas’s argument from motion to God? Does it fail due to the principle of inertia? How can we account for the creation of the universe, by quantum fluctuation or divine creation? Discuss. Is Pruss or Vuletic more accurate in their discussions. Explain. Is belief in miracles irrational? Explain. Why does God perform miracles?

Week 15: Final Paper Due on Friday of last week by 12pm. No exceptions.


Students who have difficulty with research and composition are encouraged to pursue assistance with the Online Writing Lab (available at


A 94-100; A- 90-93; B+ 87-89; B 84-86; B- 80-83; C+ 77-79; C 74-76; C- 70-73 60-69; F 59 and below


Topic: Write a paper on a topic we have or will explore in this philosophy of nature course, i.e. substance and accidents, matter and form, individuation, space, time, time-travel, the nature of causes, methods for determining causes, natural kinds, biological classification, motion, the unmoved mover, the method of science, realism vs. instrumentalism in science, science and religion, etc. You may consider taking up and answering one of the discussion forum questions at greater length for your paper. You might take a glance at the full syllabus posted in week 1 to see future topics and discussion questions in finding an item to write upon (30% of your grade)

Length: 7-15 pages, topic should be fairly focused to allow detailed discussion. You can email a topic to me for feedback if you wish to make sure it has proper focus for the course.

Due Date: Friday of Week 15 by noon

Parameters: Your paper should have an introduction, a section setting up the problem and discussing various possible positions on the problem (i.e. a little history of philosophy), and then a final section which gives your own take on the issue.

Your paper should include at least 5 sources (i.e. articles or books from the internet or library).

Please type and double space your paper and include a bibliography with the references.

As far as the format for your references consult pp. 18-34 of the Holy Apostles College and Seminary Style Sheet (especially pp. 20-25).


Holy Apostles College & Seminary is committed to the goal of achieving equal educational opportunities and full participation in higher education for persons with disabilities who qualify for admission to the College. Students enrolled in online courses who have documented disabilities requiring special accommodations should contact Bob Mish, the Director of Online Student Affairs, at or 860-632-3015. In all cases, reasonable accommodations will be made to ensure that all students with disabilities have access to course materials in a mode in which they can receive them. Students who have technological limitations (e.g., slow Internet connection speeds in convents) are asked to notify their instructors the first week of class for alternative means of delivery.


Students at Holy Apostles College & Seminary are expected to practice academic honesty.

Avoiding Plagiarism

In its broadest sense, plagiarism is using someone else's work or ideas, presented or claimed as your own.  At this stage in your academic career, you should be fully conscious of what it means to plagiarize. This is an inherently unethical activity because it entails the uncredited use of someone else's expression of ideas for another's personal advancement; that is, it entails the use of a person merely as a means to another person’s ends.

Students, where applicable:

  • Should identify the title, author, page number/webpage address, and publication date of works when directly quoting small portions of texts, articles, interviews, or websites.
  • Students should not copy more than two paragraphs from any source as a major component of papers or projects.
  • Should appropriately identify the source of information when paraphrasing (restating) ideas from texts, interviews, articles, or websites.
  • Should follow the Holy Apostles College & Seminary Stylesheet (available on the Online Writing Lab’s website at

Consequences of Academic Dishonesty:

Because of the nature of this class, academic dishonesty is taken very seriously.  Students participating in academic dishonesty may be removed from the course and from the program.


Even though you are not required to be logged in at any precise time or day, you are expected to login several times during each week. Because this class is being taught entirely in a technology-mediated forum, it is important to actively participate each week in the course. In a traditional classroom setting for a 3-credit course, students would be required, per the federal standards, to be in class three 50-minute sessions (or 2.5 hours a week) and prepare for class discussions six 50-minute sessions (or 5 hours) a week. Expect to devote at least nine 50-minute sessions (or 7.5 quality hours) a week to this course. A failure on the student’s part to actively participate in the life of the course may result in a reduction of the final grade.


An Incomplete is a temporary grade assigned at the discretion of the faculty member. It is typically allowed in situations in which the student has satisfactorily completed major components of the course and has the ability to finish the remaining work without re-enrolling, but has encountered extenuating circumstances, such as illness, that prevent his or her doing so prior to the last day of class. NOTE; THE EXTENSION REQUEST MUST BE SUBMITTED TO HOLY APOSTLES BEFORE THE END OF THE SEMESTER – NO EXCEPTIONS.

To request an incomplete, distance-learning students must first download a copy of the Incomplete Request Form. This document is located within the Shared folder of the Files tab in Populi. Secondly, students must fill in any necessary information directly within the PDF document. Lastly, students must send their form to their professor via email for approval. “Approval” should be understood as the professor responding to the student’s email in favor of granting the “Incomplete” status of the student.

Students receiving an Incomplete must submit the missing course work by the end of the sixth week following the semester in which they were enrolled. An incomplete grade (I) automatically turns into the grade of “F” if the course work is not completed.

Students who have completed little or no work are ineligible for an incomplete. Students who feel they are in danger of failing the course due to an inability to complete course assignments should withdraw from the course.

A “W” (Withdrawal) will appear on the student’s permanent record for any course dropped after the end of the first week of a semester to the end of the third week. A “WF” (Withdrawal/Fail) will appear on the student’s permanent record for any course dropped after the end of the third week of a semester and on or before the Friday before the last week of the semester.


Dr. Timothy Smith

  • Ph.D., University of Notre Dame (IN), 1999
  • M.M.S., Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame (IN), 1994
  • M.Div., Southern Theological Seminary, Louisville (KY), 1991
  • B.A., William Jewell College (MO), 1988


  • Thomas Aquinas’ Trinitarian Theology: A Study in Theological Method (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2002)
  • “Aquinas on Aristotle and Creation: Use or Misuse?” Sapientia 55 (2000), pp. 193-216
  • Ed., Faith and Reason: The Notre Dame Symposium (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2000)
  • “The Context and Character of Thomas Aquinas’ Theory of Appropriations,” The Thomist 63 (1999), pp. 1-35
  • “The Importance of Order in Theological Discussion,” Sapientia 54 (1999), pp. 227-261
  • “Thomas Aquinas’ Theological Method,” Sapientia 53 (1998), pp. 119-154

 Currently residing in Ventura, California

(860) 632-3010