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Exploring Science and Religion

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Fr Robert Verill standing by the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology

Speaking from the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology at Berkely, California.

Fr Robert Verrill OP of our Province is currently studying for his Master’s degree at the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology, based at the beautiful campus of Berkeley, the University of California. We asked him about his life and work in the USA.

Could you tell us something about your daily life in the Dominican community at Berkeley?
I live at St Albert's Priory which is the house of formation for the US Western Dominican Province. In many ways it is similar to our community in Oxford so I feel quite at home. It's a big priory with about thirty friars, around half of whom are students in initial formation. The day starts at 6:30am with the Office of Readings, and finishes in the evening with Compline and adoration. We also have recreation for half an hour every evening. The weather is usually good enough that we can have recreation outside, so it's a nice way to wind down after a busy day. The school itself is a 15-minute drive from the priory, and I have classes most days. The classes are mainly in philosophy, though I've also had the opportunity to study the Dominican Rite Mass – I now regularly celebrate this for a community of Carmelite nuns in Berkeley.

Our readers might wonder how you made the leap from a PhD in Mathematics to Dominican Friar, and then onto your current studies in Thomistic philosophy. What link do you see between the two, and more generally between science and religion?

I've always been passionate about mathematics and I've always taken my Catholic Faith very seriously, but before joining the Dominicans I tended to compartmentalise these two important aspects of my life. Thus, when I decided to enter the Order, I figured that giving up mathematics was just one of the sacrifices I would have to make. Yet as a Dominican, I've found that my formators have encouraged me to maintain my mathematical interests – doing philosophy and theology has helped me to see mathematics in a new light. As for the relationship between science and religion, I think that the fact that Christ took on our physical human nature means that we have to take the physical world seriously. A great danger for the theist is to imagine that one is a soul trapped inside a body. But if true religion is about the salvation of souls, then it is important that we properly understand how our souls relate to the natural order. After all, grace perfects nature.

Your current studies are focusing on a specific aspect of Thomas Aquinas’ works: What do you think modern science could gain from his philosophy?
Aquinas’ philosophy takes very seriously the unity of individual things and the purposes for which they act. Modern science on the other hand often fails to recognise this and tends to take a very reductionistic approach. Reductionism has certainly been very successful, but modern science would be even richer if scientific interpretations could be found which genuinely accounted for the unity and purpose we find in natural things. This is why I'm interested in Aquinas’ theory of virtual presence as a possible way of incorporating the results of modern science into Aquinas’ natural philosophy.

For information see: www.dspt.edu


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