An email from a blog reader, who writes:
"I have just read Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial and have a couple of questions. By the way, I am a practicing Catholic but with education only in medical science, and none in philosophy. Theology I have tried to study on my own.
"The first question is regarding your brief references to transubstantiation. I think I understand what you mean by saying the old physics and metaphysics is not a wrong explanation, just no explanation at all. My question is whether or not you believe that transubstantiation should be referred to only in theological terms? Or whether there is a modern science explanation of its meaning, and if so, what it would be.
"The second question refers to what I've read in another book, this time by a modern philosopher (Edward Feser). He speaks of hylomorphism, involving four irreducible causal components of material substances, and then about the 'rational soul' being the 'form' of the human being. I tried to understand his examples, which I will not include. But I can make no sense of what these things actually mean given what I do understand about genetics, evolution, emergence, and complexification which is not predetermined. Can you explain, or refer me to a book or reference which will help?"
Can I explain? Not really. I'll only make a few comments here, and then see what our other readers may want to add.
The point of our comment on Transubstantiation was exactly as you suppose… it's a theological concept, not a scientific one, and thus not open to a scientific explanation. The point here is that science doesn't really explain, anyway; what science does is describe. And what goes on in the Mass is not in the realm that science's explanations are particularly useful.
Think of it this way… let's suppose that there were such a "scientific" explanation. How good would that explanation be in a thousand years, when our science will probably look much different – say, as different as 21st century science looks from what Thomas Aquinas was dealing with?
The best we can do – which is all Aquinas did, after all – was use the prevailing language of the day to try to explain, in a way that an educated person might grasp, what is going on during the Mass. I suspect that's what Feser is trying to do, too. If the explanation works, and gives the reader an insight, great; if it doesn't work, go try some other way to describe things.