Many significant scholars from various disciplines reveal how important first principles are, for they inform so much immediate history only to be revised or ignored in light of contemporary insights. It matters to study those present at ‘creation’ (to use Dean Acheson’s phrase), for it is they who possess the clearest vision, the keenest insight that often gets displaced within the echo of time. It is no different with the hard sciences. How else to explain the status of Richard Feynman, Freeman Dyson, Brian Greene and hosts of other physicists who explicate the rigors of Galileo, Copernicus, Brahe, and in doing so sharpen not only the discipline but shape the fortitude to pursue ideas unbecoming to others not earnest to face the loneliness that is true discovery.
Xavier Zubiri was one of those rare selfless self confident minds pursuing lines of discovery that dwarf legions of academics who falsely claim residence in houses (disciplines) not their own. He was truly interdisciplinary. He was Catholic! Often called an existentialist who sought to synthesize scholastic theology with contemporary continental philosophy of Husserl, Heidegger and Ortega y Gassett, not to mention particle physics! To achieve the synthesis of harmonizing distinct disciplines, Zubiri undertook studies in theology, philosophy and natural sciences that could well have occupied three scholarly lives. He took a doctorate of theology in Rome, philosophy in Freiberg under both Husserl and Heidegger before tackling both biology and particle physics. In his free time he studied Oriental languages throughout various European centers. He gallantly pursued openings in quantum theory and atomic science with Einsten, Bohr and Fermi only to discover that his synoptic approach was disdained by specialists who only sought discovery in isolation.
From his extensive study Zubiri concluded that positive sciences and Catholic philosophy were separate points of view concerning the same reality. The philosophy or theologian cannot dispute, correct or complete anything in science, but neither does he/she have to accept the philosophical opinions of scientists. The connection between these two parallel approaches to reality is simply that the sciences always leave us hungry, so they impel us to turn to either theology or philosophy.
What the sciences must get from philosophy is an idea of nature, a theory, an understanding from which to promote its discoveries. Scientists cannot themselves build such an idea out of positive facts, although they can criticize or reject unsuitable concepts of nature offered by erroneous philosophy. Aristotle provided an idea of nature adequate for the founding of physics. Medieval Catholic philosophy known as scholasticism provided the idea of nature for modern sciences. Without Duns Scotus or William of Ockham both Newton and Galileo’s work would have been impossible! Physics is again in crisis, facing problems that cannot be solved by physicists, logicians or epistemologists for only ontology can supply the fresh idea of nature within which quantum physics can progress.
The study of ontology (the being of humanness) is only studied in Catholic Colleges/Universities; it is contemporary Seminaries that demonstrate the rigor required to address the current crisis of physics. Look for a theology of sacraments (where else does one find a language for both freedom, change and constancy) to address the conditions for the discovery of resolving the crisis of contemporary physics.