Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jaki on GKC, the "Champion of the Universe"

With the sole exception of that most profound title given by Pope Pius XI in 1936, who called Chesterton a "gifted Defender of the Catholic Faith" I do not expect I shall ever hear a greater title given to G. K. Chesterton than the one formulated by S. L. Jaki in his little text on Chesterton: the title "Champion of the Universe". (Until, of course, the day he and his dear wife Frances are canonised, when he becomes St. GKC.)

Here is just a brief selection from that chapter, with a short fragment of Chesterton which bolsters the argument - it might be the Chestertonian version of Einstein's absolutist exaltation of the speed of light in support of the Maxwell equations... but I defer such studies to others.

--Dr. Thursday

Whatever true progress has been made in the history of science, it was always an advance from one stage of specificity to a stage where things appeared even more specific, that is, ever more incomplete in their ever greater completeness. But, as I noted earlier, only since Einstein has science achieved a contradiction-free discourse about the totality of consistently interacting things, and in doing so it revealed a most specific universe. It is in that sense that science can be seen as carrying on with the speed of light to the supernatural and touching on it as does a champion on the finish line. The exact shape of that line will see many further refinements, but they all will bear further witness to a most specific cosmos, which is therefore radically contingent on a supracosmic choice for its existence.

To acknowledge the contingency of the universe is hardly a natural move. It has never been natural for fallen man to fall on his knees. Science, or rather the so-called scientific establishment and its pseudo-philosophical consensus, will keep itself light-years removed from the point where scientific cosmology readily becomes metaphysical cosmology and natural theology. Every trick of the trade - from multiworlds to cosmic quantum flips - is being tried out so that the metaphysical sting may disappear from modern scientific cosmology. Most leading scientific cosmologists swear by the universe only to discredit that outlook on it which Chesterton celebrated under the caption: "The Flag of the World." Theirs is that old pagan view that makes God part of the universe and then turns Him into the universe itself. That today there are self-styled Christian theologians who do the same would not surprise Chesterton. Rather they, overawed as they are by an unjustified sense of originality, would be surprised on finding Chesterton decry a phenomenon very noticeable in the first decade of this century, the first heyday of modernism. In speaking of the Christian answer to the pessimism of pantheism, Chesterton defined it as the answer "which was like the slash of a sword; it sundered; it did not in any sense sentimentally unite. Briefly, it divided God from the cosmos." And he added: "That transcendence and distinctness of the deity which some Christians now want to remove from Christianity, was really the only reason why any one wanted to be a Christian. It was the whole point of the Christian answer to the unhappy pessimist and the still more unhappy optimist."

If this was true, its contrary had to be no less valid, for, as Chesterton aptly put it, "religion means something that commits man to some doctrine about the universe."
[Jaki, Chesterton a Seer of Science 111-3]

There must at any given moment be an abstract right and wrong if any blow is to be struck; there must be something eternal if there is to be anything sudden. Therefore for all intelligible human purposes, for altering things or for keeping things as they are, for founding a system for ever, as in China, or for altering it every month as in the early French Revolution, it is equally necessary that the vision should be a fixed vision. This is our first requirement. When I had written this down, I felt once again the presence of something else in the discussion: as a man hears a church bell above the sound of the street. Something seemed to be saying, "My ideal at least is fixed; for it was fixed before the foundations of the world. My vision of perfection assuredly cannot be altered; for it is called Eden. You may alter the place to which you are going; but you cannot alter the place from which you have come. To the orthodox there must always be a case for revolution; for in the hearts of men God has been put under the feet of Satan. In the upper world hell once rebelled against heaven. But in this world heaven is rebelling against hell. For the orthodox there can always be a revolution; for a revolution is a restoration. At any instant you may strike a blow for the perfection which no man has seen since Adam. No unchanging custom, no changing evolution can make the original good any thing but good.
[GKC Orthodoxy CW1:314-5, emphasis added]


Anonymous said...

Dr. Thursday,

I have just now discovered this blog (I suppose I am a little slow). While I purport to be a "professional philosopher" (at least, I am paid to teach philosophy, my areas of interest which include Chesterton, St. Thomas and other catholic thinkers has rearely spent much time with "philosophy of science" again, at least, as it is usually understood in "pro" academic circles...I suspect you would understand why. so imagine my surprise and great joy to find this I will be able to learn something!!! Thank you.

Carl Hasler said...

Dr. Thursday,

Please excuse the typos from the previous "anonymous" entry ...I am somewhat embarassed by them. I too hastily sent the response and meant to send it under my name and not anonymously but my fingers walked faster than my mind apparently. Best regards