The study of nature must be integrated into a comprehensive vision of reality as God’s creation. Otherwise, the human person who is at the foundation of the curriculum becomes unintelligible and the truth about him becomes a matter of private opinion.
The study of nature, therefore, begins from the presupposition that all of reality is God’s creation, though the implications of this are easily misunderstood. The act of creation is not an alternative to natural processes; nor is the doctrine of creation an alternative to natural explanations. The act of creation is not something done to the world since prior to creation there is nothing to act upon. The doctrine of creation, therefore, does not explain how the world came to be, but what the world is. And to treat nature as creation is not to confuse science with theology or to divert attention from nature to prove God’s existence, but to behold nature differently in a way that is at once deeper and more comprehensive, but no less rigorous, than modern scientific materialism.
- It is to recognize that we do not arbitrarily impose meaning upon a meaningless material world, but that meaning is inherent in the world itself. It is reflected in a rational order that penetrates to the depths of the natural order and can be apprehended by reason.
- It is to see the infinite generosity of God reflected in the mysterious uniqueness of every living thing.
- It is to recognize that this mysterious uniqueness can never be exhaustively explained or understood and can only be fully appreciated through the eyes of love.
- It is to recognize that what things are is not exhausted by how they work or how they came to be. Therefore, living things are wholes, irreducible to the interaction of their parts or the history of causes that produced them. They are wholes that transcend their parts. o It is to recognize that living things differ essentially from non-living machines because:
- Unlike a machine that acquires its identity only at the end of a manufacturing process, living things have a nature, and therefore a unity, that precedes and guides their development. (This is partly what is meant by soul. It is also why a fetus is a person from the moment of conception and why it eventually matures into an adult: because it is already human.)
- Unlike a machine, an organism is not a means to an end and its purpose is not imposed from the outside. An organism’s end or ‘good’ is internal to it and is that for the sake of which it develops and acts. Maturity and health are the ends for which organisms ordinarily develop and grow as they do.
- Machines and other inanimate objects have an environment which surrounds them but is basically eternal to them. Living things have a world which they assimilate to themselves through metabolism and within which they move themselves and act. This world is not just the organism’s physical surroundings, but the whole order, including past, future, and other creatures, which makes up the organism’s ‘action space’. - Higher organisms are characterized by having a larger world in this comprehensive sense. Man has the largest world of all, since he can deliberate about his future, since his world includes God, and since he can respond to God’s call.
- There is, therefore, an essential difference between the living and the non- living, between procreation and mechanical reproduction, between what is born and what is made. No aspect of the human body or of human biology is ever merely material or purely biological, but personal. All human biology is personal biology, the biology of persons.
- It is to recognize that science alone, which is preoccupied with the causal history and mechanical aspects of the natural world, is not sufficient to understand what nature, living things, and human persons are. Philosophy and ultimately theology are also required.
The study of nature should train the student above all to see nature through the eyes of love and to respect its inner integrity.
This must be the foundation on which all further specialized study in the sciences is based. Coursework should emphasize the observation, classification and rendering of living things (as in a nature notebook). Students should consider the unique characteristics of different kinds of plants and animals and their ways of life, be able to recognize and appreciate the unique characteristics and classify them accordingly. They should understand what distinguishes human beings from other animals and the relation between human biology or morphology (e.g., upright posture, primacy of sight, opposable thumbs, etc.) and the uniquely human way of living. From the study of living wholes, students should then move to the study of their parts through the study of anatomy, physiology, and related disciplines. From this foundation, students should proceed through the relevant sub-disciplines in science—chemistry, geology, astronomy, etc., with special attention to how these various aspects of nature combine to make Earth a home suitable for life, but also in a way that prepares the student for the study of these subjects in high school. Students should have experience in both inductive and deductive methods and know the difference between them. Students should complete their study of nature at Divine Mercy Academy with a keen eye for nature, a deeper wonder and love for the natural world, a greater awe at the mystery of living things, and a deep appreciation of how the world, in providing a home fit for life, reflects the wisdom and generosity of its Creator.