Sunday, July 8, 2018

Creation, Christianity, and Islam

"The customary designation of the dogma of creation as a Judeo-Christian tenet raises therefore more questions than it settles. In view if the foregoing it will not perhaps appear a rank exaggeration to call the dogma of creation out of nothing, the only creation worth considering, a Christian dogma. To call that dogma Christian just because it became universally known and widely shared through the spread of Christianity, is a failure to see beneath the surface. Christianity was able to carry that dogma far and wide only through the strength provided by faith in the Incarnation. Not surprisingly, it is again the dogma of the Incarnation which helped Christians to unfold the full meaning of the dogma of creation by vindicating the true nature and dignity of created minds in the cosmos, a point, as will be seen, of crucial importance for the fate and fortunes of science. While belief in the immortality of the soul is a minor and peripheral phenomenon within Judaism, it is the very core of Christianity and precisely because of belief in the Incarnation. Without such immortality no meaning can be given to the reality of Christ between his death and resurrection, nor to the meaning of many of his words, such as for instance, ‘Today you shall be with me in Paradise,’ words spoken to the good thief facing with Jesus an imminent physical end. No wonder that from reason’s probing into the mystery of the Incarnation there also derived a view of man as a person with inalienable dignity.

"Creator, God Incarnate, creation out of nothing, immortal soul, and human dignity are notions that form a closely knit unit, a fact well attested by the story of the dogma of creation. A milestone in that story is the Fourth Lateran Council (1214) which made the expression ex nihilo an official part of Christian dogma. The move may appear ‘a most serious mistake’ to anyone suspicious of philosophy in the articulation of faith. The expression ex nihilo is indeed very philosophical in comparison with the purely biblical phrase ‘Maker of heaven and earth’. These efforts follow Christianity as a perennial shadow which bears witness to the grim resolve of human nature to oppose both Creation and Cross. In the decades preceding the Council the resolve saw a violent resurgence with Cathars, Bogomils and their kindred on the rampage. For them matter was either unreal or was evil, and in the latter case a principle on equal footing with God, the Creator. The resounding voice of the Council was clearly in order.

"Another, anything but crude trend at its peak at that time represented perhaps an even greater threat to Christianity and rationality alike. Its source was the wholesale surrender of Islamic intelligentsia to the Greek world-view steeped in the dogma of the world’s eternity. The chief spokesmen of that intelligentsia, Avicenna and Averroes, settled problems of the relation between revelation (faith) and philosophy (science) with recourse to the principle of triple truth. One truth, given in the plain words of the Koran, was for simple folk; another for theologians interested in distinctions; a third, or highest form of truth, for philosophers who had already found it in Aristotle. That the chief opponents of this trend were mystics—Al-Ghazzali and Al-Ashari, who rejected all philosophical approaches to points of faith, above all its chief point, Creation—shows that monotheism in its Islamic form was incapable as it was in its Judaic version from becoming a vehicle of the dogma of creation in a way consistent with revelation, with reason and with that notion of an orderly world which is demanded by science. It was no accident that Al-Ashari was forced to propound an atomistic notion of creation, according to which the world is created anew by Allah at every moment and that there was no causal connection between any two momentary worlds. Such worlds could in no way constitute the cosmos needed by science."

~S.L. Jaki: Cosmos and Creator, Chap. 3—The Dogma of Creation.  

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

From the Vatican...

“SCIENCE encourages legitimate human curiosity to know the universe and to admire and contemplate its beauty and goodness. In this way we enter into communion with God himself, who looked upon what he had created and saw that it was very good.”

~Pope John Paul II, Discourse to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Sept. 26, 1986.

“MAN learns from two books: the universe, for the human study of the things created by God; and the Bible, for the study of God’s superior will and truth. One belongs to reason, the other to faith. Between them there is no clash.”

~Pope Pius XII: Address to the Pontifical Academy of Science, Dec. 3, 1939.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Einstein, Maxwell’s Equations, and Relativity

“But if light, a form of electromagnetic waves, was propagated in a medium at absolute rest, the type of rest synonymous with the ether, then those equations [Maxwell’s] did not retain their form (beauty) if expressed in a frame of reference moving at a steady velocity with respect to an observer assumed to be at rest. Unlike leading physicists of the time, young Einstein seemed to have been led by the conviction that by safeguarding the invariability of Maxwell’s equations he saved their essential beauty and that this was of far greater importance than absolute rest and ether. Beneath his subconscious dissent from the prevailing preferences there lay a commitment to the beauty of the universe, a commitment with a distinctly metaphysical character of which Einstein became aware of only years later.

"In the eyes of many physicists Einstein’s move emptied the universe not only of the ether but also of its intelligibility and unity which, in the form of a hallowed scientific dogma, had been equated for the previous 300 years with mechanical interaction. Actually, Einstein’s move made the genuine content of the term universe more unified than ever, and also far more intelligible and meaningful. Indeed, the first step in saving the beauty of Maxwell’s equations was the unification of the speed of light by the postulate that its value remains in a vacuum always the same, regardless of the velocity of the emitting source, a postulate inconceivable within classical mechanics. An equally startling though logical consequence of Einstein’s procedure was the unification of matter and energy. Their equivalence became a common place through the formula E = mc2 . Another, and no less important consequence was Einstein’s almost immediate interest in extending his work from frames of reference that moved with respect to one another at any given velocity, to frames of reference accelerated with respect to one another. Such an acceleration was exemplified by the gravitational field produced by any mass. Unlike Special Relativity, General Relativity had therefore to have momentous cosmological consequences. They were spelled out by Einstein himself in 1917 in a paper in which for the first time cosmology came into its own, that is, achieved the status of a scientifically consistent discourse.”

~S.L. Jaki: Cosmos and Creator, Chap 2—The Cosmos of Science.  

Monday, June 25, 2018

Christ and Creation

“AT THE HEART of Christian message stands the person of Christ, who is ‘the image of the unseen God’ (Col 1:15), and he ‘has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom’ (1 Cor 1:31). Jaki makes it clear that ‘the Christian certitude about the rationality of nature, about man’s ability to investigate its laws, owes its vigour to the concreteness by which Christ radiated the features of God creating through the fullness of rationality which is love.’[13] Christian rationality was something very different from the Greek variety, for the Greeks tended either to extreme mechanism or to pan-teleologism (the stance which saw purpose everywhere). From Socrates onwards, it was the problem of pan-teleologism which prevailed, bringing with it a cosmology which was ‘a mixture of rank subjectivism and inescapable determinism’. Lacking in the Greek conception of the rationality of the cosmos was an understanding of the freedom of man and the contingency of things. ‘Conviction on both points was secured only by Christianity for which the freedom of man is an indispensable tenet,’ as is also ‘the contingency of a world which is created.’[14]

According to Jaki, the crucial contribution of the New Testament to the doctrine of creation is pivoted in the efforts of John and Paul to safeguard monotheism by attributing to Christ the work of creation, a work most specifically tied to the Father in the Old Testament. Such is the gist of his quoting St. John’s portrayal of Christ in whom ‘all beings came to be; not one being had its being but through him’ (Jn 1:3). The same is true of his quoting Paul: ‘For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and invisible; . . . all things were created through him and for him’ (Col 1:16). This notion of creation through Christ eliminated the specter of a duality between the Father and the Son while the portrayal, specific to John, of Christ as the ‘only-begotten Son,’ posed a powerful barrier within Christianity to those inroads which pantheism made within other forms of monotheism.”

—Paul Haffner: Creation and Scientific Creativity: A Study in the Thought of S.L. Jaki, Chap. 4. (Christendom Press; 1991)

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Savior of Science

Christo Pantocrater
The socio-economist Gunnar Myrdal . . . lived long enough to see that reason alone was of very limited effectiveness to solve the problem of poverty and other even greater problems. His last years were a period of disillusion. The world, he remarked, was “really going to hell in every respect.” It was not hope but grim resolve that made him add: “We must not let the injustices of the world take over.”

Hope was not so absent in Einstein’s often quoted remark: “It is easier to denature plutonium that it is to denature the evil spirit of man.” Such a view implied that there was something enduringly defective in man’s readiness to choose life instead of death in more than one sense. That Einstein did not spell out that process of changing one’s nature in terms of love, let alone of Christian love, cannot be simply ascribed to his being above all a man of scientific intellect. Such a man was Bertrand Russell, the co-author of Principia Mathematica, who in 1950 spoke of Christian love in terms that would have done credit to the finest and most orthodox Catholic theologian. The most informative thrust of his words, which I have quoted on more than one occasion, is not that they represent a rebuttal of his life-long crusade against religion and certainly against Christian religion which he had earlier denounced for its “deprecation of intelligence and science.” Nor should that thrust be seen in his biting reference to the cynicism with which, he knew, much of academia glorying in science would greet his words. Not even his acknowledgement of Christian love as an already very old and still indispensable commodity which provides a “motive for existence, a guide for action, a reason for courage” constitutes the thrust in question. The thrust is carried in his emphatic statement that only by having Christian love shall one have “an imperative necessity for intellectual honesty.”

Honesty borne out of that love, which demands utter unselfishness, will help one to reconsider cultural history, global as well as Western, and straighten one’s resolve to discard hardened clichés, however hallowed. Some of the most misleading among those clichés relate to the historiography of science, burdened as it is with many vested interests. The importance of the historiography is amply revealed by its taking on the role which the study of classics played until recently in the formation of Western cultural consciousness. A principal cliché in that historiography is that science is the savior—a tragic absurdity if one considers the great, potential and actual, setbacks dealt to science by those who presented it as the ultimate and only truth available for man. Condorcet, Comte, Mach, Spencer, the “scientific” Marxists (Lenin, Stalin, Mao), logical positivists and Darwinian paradigmists proved themselves chief enemies of science as they tried to substitute it for Christ and everything He stands for. Unlike those misguided and self-anointed spokesmen of science, the truly anointed Mashia or Christos followed a course of proper priorities as befitted One who existed prior to any and all. That course revealed its uniqueness by providing real sense for human history. Modern historiography owes its birth to that sense which also became the matrix for the only viable birth of science. This is why Christ rightly looms large, before eyes sensitive to His unique grandeur, as the Savior of Science.

~S.L. Jaki: Excerpt from The Savior of Science, Chap. V—The All Saving Love. 

The Savior of Science
by Stanley L. Jaki
The Savior of Science is available at Amazon and RVB.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Stanley L. Jaki

Stanley L. Jaki
Fr. George Rutler

by Fr. George Rutler - April 21, 2009

The first impression really was the lasting one in my instance with the Rev. Stanley L. Jaki (1924-2009). More than 20 years later, I vividly see him sitting me down on the porch of a house in Princeton and telling me that religious freedom was the most important teaching of Vatican II and that, in his view, Pope John Paul II's "Achilles heel" as a philosopher was phenomenology.

Father Jaki was a genius and, as true humility dispenses with modesty, he would not have denied it if someone were rude enough to ask, though he would have thought the question more silly than impolite. Suffering fools gladly was not his charism, nor was debate a genre comfortable to him. More than ruffling feathers, he plucked them, and he could turn callow undergraduates to melted butter when they used non sequiturs.

Like his two surviving brothers, he was a Benedictine of the tenth-century Archabbey of Pannonhalma, where he lived through World War II, being ordained in 1948. After receiving a doctorate in theology in Rome, he came to the United States and taught in Pennsylvania, but that ended when he lost his voice after a tonsillectomy. His speech returned, unforgettably, a few years later, but the voice was raspy and must have been a trial to him. No longer able to teach, he studied at Fordham for a doctorate in physics with Victor Hess, who had received the Nobel Prize in 1936 for his discovery of cosmic rays. Then he founded, with six other Hungarian priests, a priory in Portola Valley, California, where he was bookkeeper from 1957 to 1960. He did further studies at Stanford and Princeton and went on to lecture in universities around the world, publishing some 40 books, including his brilliant Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh.

He died in Madrid at the age of 84 only a few days after having lectured in Rome as a member of the Pontifical Academy of Science. It distressed some – including Chauncey Stillman, who had endowed it – that he would not take a chair in Roman Catholic studies at Harvard, for they thought Father Jaki would restore it to its original purpose; but he was loyal to Seton Hall, where he was Distinguished University Professor. All this while he was under obedience to the archabbot of Pannonhalma, whose abbey he helped with the proceeds of the largest monetary award in the world, the Templeton Prize.

Father Jaki's great lights were Newman and Chesterton, about whom he wrote books from his unique perspective as a philosopher of science, but his intellectual father was Pierre Duhem, mathematician and physicist. He even wrote a book about Duhem's hobby of painting landscapes. That spectacular French pioneer in thermodynamics and hydrodynamics paved the way for Father Jaki's perception of the essential role of Christianity, and in particular medieval scholastics such as Oresme, in providing the mental and cultural matrix for the development of modern physics.

"Science lives by hope no less than religion." The Duhem-Quine thesis, which posits an alternative to Popper's method of distinguishing science from pseudoscience, was, I am sure, at least in its method of observation, behind Father Jaki's claim that Gödel's incompleteness theorem applies to "theories of everything" in theoretical physics.

Father Jaki was the bane of editors, writing brilliantly in English but with thoughts within thoughts and rambling asides that he refused, with the ferocity of a Hungarian hussar, to have retooled. In one book on which we collaborated, he asked permission to add a "small footnote" to one of my paragraphs. Upon publication, I found myself calling Kant a rank amateur in science and recommending Father Jaki's translation of Kant's "shockingly incompetent" cosmogony. It was by far my most erudite footnote, though I had not written it. He also highly disapproved of Rahner's "Transcendental Thomism," which he called "Aquikantianism," a neologism that I mentioned to a professor of theology in Oxford who, while poles apart from the Benedictine in most matters, deemed it a brilliant confection.

Father Jaki knelt for a holy hour every day and kept rosaries in his pockets for people to join him in prayer. While only a brave man would challenge points dear to him, I remember Father Jaki on long summer days talking with children as if time did not matter; when, as pianist, he played Chopin and Liszt, he seemed the most docile of men. In electing Newman and Duhem and Chesterton for mental fraternity, he was organizing in subconscious hope what might be a convivium in the heavens of the Savior of Science.
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About Rev. George William Rutler

Sunday, February 25, 2018

"A new situation"

“A new situation has come about within the Christian community itself . . . with regard to the Church’s moral teachings. It is no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent, but of an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine.” So stated Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Veritatis splendor. The situation is indeed very new. Church historians may not agree as to how far back in time they should go to find a situation similar to the one described in the Encyclical. But they would certainly agree that no Encyclical issued during the last 200 years contains a statement even remotely so ominous.

~Stanley L. Jaki: The Gist of Catholicism and Other Essays, Chap. V—Liberalism and Theology.

The Gist of Catholicism
and Other Essays