Criticism of the River Forest Thomist School

Indeed, the lyceum’s firm commitment to a single philosophical school left adherents open to the charge that they merely upbraided modern scientific theory for its apparent conflicts with their own preconceived Aristotelian notions rather than engaging authentic theoretical difficulties. As Charles M. Herzfeld (b. 1926), a Catholic physicist who worked as an assistant director for the National Bureau of Standards, complained in a 1959 Commonweal article, the lyceum’s kind of scholasticism “makes a corpse out of science, leaving science no real autonomy, no method of its own, no spirit, and, really, no name.” […] In addition, however, he [Herzfeld] expressed to Yancey his dissatisfaction with the guild’s policy of treating “the serious problem of the relation of science and Religion in [an] . . . extremely narrow [way].” Believing “the ‘River Forest’ approach” of relating the church’s teachings to the problems of modern science merely “propaganda for a particular point of view,” he found it of little use in his professional work.

– Binzley, R. A. (2007). American Catholicism’s science crisis and the Albertus Magnus Guild, 1953-1969. Isis, 98(4), p. 717.

The “lyceum” here refers to the Albertus Magnus Lyceum, a school in River Forest, IL, which was dedicated to bringing together religion and science (as well as other disciplines). As one might guess, the River Forest Thomists sprung from this school. It should not be confused with the Albertus Magnus Guild, referred to as “the guild” above, which was an organization of Catholic scientists that existed in the 1950s and 1960s. It was created to address the problem that American Catholics were, at that time, not wide contributors to natural science. The lyceum and guild were, however, associated. After the popularity of Thomism declined after Vatican II, the Guild had no philosophical “anchor” to keep it focused. This, in addition to the fact that Catholics became increasingly involved in the natural sciences, led to the Guild’s increasing irrelevance and eventual disappearance. Compare its fate with the American Scientific Association, then considered the Guild’s “Protestant counterpart,” which still exists.

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