The Independence and Proper Roles of Engineering and Metaphysics in Support of an Integrated Understanding of God's Creation

  • Alexander R Sich


In the speculative (or “theoretical”) sciences—including mathematics, natural sciences, and metaphysics—the world is studied independent of human volition, calling people to recognize the truths obtained about the world as valuable in their own right. Indeed, these disciplines are ordered to “understanding-thinking” as an end in itself. The engineering disciplines, in contrast, are productive sciences ordered to “understanding-making”—not as ends in themselves but to achieve practical ends per our wills.

Natural science and engineering focus on different subject areas. In physics all forms of natural non-living matter in physical motion are studied by modeling “objects” according to mathematical formalisms while employing univocal terms such as force, energy, mass, charge, etc. In biology all natural living things are studied. In engineering disciplines knowledge gained from the natural sciences is applied to achieve practical ends—to the making of artificial things (artifacts). (Principles of motion of natural things are immanent to them, whereas artifacts’ principles of motion are imposed externally.)

The knowledge obtained by the particular (or individual) natural sciences and engineering disciplines is limited because they all presuppose certain extra-scientific concepts and principles. These concepts and principles cannot be derived from any of the natural sciences themselves, for that would be circular. Moreover, the scientific method cannot validate its own ability to guide scientists to truths about creation: it cannot be the epistemic arbiter of all knowledge—otherwise known as the non- scientific pseudo-philosophy of scientism.

It falls to metaphysics to include the study of the most general principles com- mon to all contingent beings—whether natures or artifacts. For example, it is not the reduced understanding of motion studied in physics through physical ecient causality that is studied within metaphysics, but all manifestations of change qua change. Metaphysics does not ask, “how do objects change?” but “what is change?” In metaphysics, reality is studied in ontological terms (hence, also employing analo- gous terms), for it must understand what being, change, substance, accident, cause, potency, act, essence, etc. are in their widest throw. Moreover, metaphysics cannot be reduced to a crude synonym for “worldview”: it is a rigorous speculative science that inter alia animates the coordinating role a realist philosophy of nature plays for the particular natural sciences and engineering.

It falls within a realist philosophy of nature to study the most common principles of the natural sciences. To provide the foundational principles which all particular sciences and engineering disciplines presuppose, there must be a way of knowing nature whose subject matter concerns the principles and causes of natural things insofar as they are natural—that is, subject to change per principles immanent to themselves. A realist philosophy of nature therefore has the same general subject matter as the natural sciences, but it applies general philosophical (rather than specific scientific) methods to study nature, and it does not suffer the operational restrictions of method- ological naturalism.

Philosophy of nature must be distinguished from philosophy of science—the latter of which includes the study of systems of reasoning about natural things. It must not be confused with philosophical naturalism, nor should it be conflated with the term “natural philosophy” as used during the Enlightenment, whose antecedents reflect a slow, incremental drift from a unified understanding of nature into the fragmentary and highly-specified particular sciences observed today.