Monday, June 15, 2009

One of our greatest challenges

What is the greatest challenge to our Duhem Society?

(I mean, of course, besides the challenge of actually forming an authentic, properly constituted, vitally animated and intellectually enthusiastic, humble and honest, approved academic organization, the membership of which shall cover the whole world.)

Well, some might say it is dealing with the usual issues: the abstract topic of faith and reason (though that was answered by Chesterton, and there is even an encyclical on it); or the nature of "scientific law" with an eye to the freedom of the Divine Will; or the precise significance of Genesis I (treated by St. Augustine and by Jaki); or more concretely, the proper place of Pierre Duhem - and of S. L. Jaki - in the academic realm; or the usual whines about Aristotle and Galileo and Bruno and Darwin; or topics like transmutation of metals, or phlogiston, or the aether, or the flat earth, the young earth, the motionless earth, evolution, motion, life... Or where Darwin was wrong - and the even more curious matter of where Darwin was right!

Someday, God willing, we shall consider all these matters - though I think some of us would prefer a somewhat different meeting ground - a duelling arena at dawn, perhaps, or the pages of our Duhem Society's Journal...

But as I flip through the thousands of pages of Jaki, one topic strikes me as being the most challenging of all, for both scientists and for the faithful: the topic of MIRACLE.

We have two important texts from Jaki we might consider: the booklet-size Miracles and Physics, and the much larger study called God and the Sun at Fatima - yet comments on this topic are scattered elsewhere.

Here, clearly, we should make a first entry on our Society's "List of Possible Dissertation Topics": Jaki on Miracles. (As we proceed in our work, perhaps we can add other topics to the list.)

I do not mean to open this matter for lengthy consideration - even though there is a comment box here. I think it too early for such treatments - we are too young, and still working to produce a stucture, even a provisional one, for our work. Let us rather, if we are so inclined, do some reading, take some time to think, then make some notes about what issues we see related to this matter. (If on the other hand you are willing to write at length, please feel free to erect your own blogg, or write your own monograph!)

So, for today, I shall give you the opening of the first text I mentioned, then add a small and important quip...

Just about a hundred years ago, Hippolyte Taine, one of the first to pour the interpretation of cultural history into Darwinian moulds, traveled through Italy and did some Church-watching. Then as now Catholicism in Italy offered a unique mixture of decay and saintliness in the midst of modernity on a rampage. In reflecting on modernity Taine had more in mind than the rapid transformation of life through the onrush of railroads and electrification. As one keen on registering new forms of thinking he wondered whether the Catholic Church would have enough strength to survive the attacks of theological modernism.

In saying that if "Catholicism resists this attack it seems to me that it will forever be safe from all other attacks," Taine wanted to compliment modernism rather than a possibly victorious Church. He knew that modernism represented the very essence of what only the Catholic Church opposed as a body with no readiness to compromise. Theological modernism was the deepest form of sheer humanism that brooked no interference from any factor above, whereas the Catholic Church represented in a most concrete way the view that such interference is a continuous, ubiquitous and daily process.

Whatever the possibility of a pantheistic mysticism within modernism, it is irreconcilable with prayer insofar as prayer presupposes its being answered by a God different from the world. Hence the opposition of modernism to prayer, properly so called, comes particularly to a head in respect to prayers whereby man tries to obtain strictly miraculous events. Indeed, in reacting to modernism the Church stressed the centrality which miracles play in the Christian dispensation. Through his motu proprio, issued on September 1, 1910, against modernism, Pope St. Pius X made it obligatory for Catholics to view miracles as "most certain signs of the divine origin of Christian religion," signs perfectly suited for the understanding "of all ages," including modern times.
[SLJ Miracles and Physics 1-2]

There are plenty of cross-links from our topic to Chesterton - and another doctoral study might be made of GKC's consideration of the matter. Jaki's study touches on the matter, for example:
"The question of miracles is merely this: Do you know why a pumpkin goes on being a pumpkin? If you do not, you cannot possibly tell whether a pumpkin could turn into a coach or couldn't. That is all. All the other scientific expressions you are in the habit of using at breakfast are words and winds."
[SLJ Chesterton a Seer of Science note 51 to chapter one quoting GKC from the "Blatchford Controversies" in CW1]
But there is another, less academic but more striking insight to be found:
[Father Brown said:] "You see, it doesn't quite do for a man in my position to joke about miracles."
"But it was you who said it was a miracle," said Alboin, staring.
"I'm so sorry," said Father Brown; "I'm afraid there's some mistake. I don't think I ever said it was a miracle. All I said was that it might happen. What you said was that it couldn't happen, because it would be a miracle if it did. And then it did. And so you said it was a miracle. But I never said a word about miracles or magic or anything of the sort from beginning to end."
"But I thought you believed in miracles," broke out the secretary.
"Yes," answered Father Brown, "I believe in miracles. I believe in man-eating tigers, but I don't see them running about everywhere. If I want any miracles, I know where to get them."
[GKC "The Miracle of Moon Crescent" in The Incredulity of Father Brown, emphasis added]

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