Monday, August 24, 2009

Our Society: A Plea On Behalf of Truth

For your consideration: some more about our purpose, and a strong appeal to work, yes, even as scientists, for the conversion of others... did you know that Jaki's work was a driving force in conversions? What are we waiting for? Be sure to make your work - at your lab bench or desk or computer, at home or at play or in church - a plea on behalf of truth.
--Dr. Thursday

The question, whether one can know that there is a universe, a concept which Kant disqualified as a bastard product of the metaphysical craving of the intellect, is of course constantly staring any and all scientific cosmologists in the face. It will not be avoided by replacing the term universe, this most catholic entity insofar as it stands for the totality of consistently interacting things, with the term rnultiverse, which is but a verbal cover-up for endorsing cosmic incoherence, a most unscientific perspective indeed. On a different level, work in biology, especially in genetics, brings up with ever greater pressure questions that are ethical in that supreme sense in which ethics relates to the very catholic core of personhood.

A Catholic intellectual must be ready to face up to such questions and in a genuinely Catholic sense. And if he has not acquired the ability to cope with such questions, he at least must have a vivid conviction that Catholic answers can be given to such questions, and indeed have been given time and again. And, most importantly, the Catholic intellectual must not turn the truth of those answers into a function of the measure of their acceptance in secular academia, which is well nigh zero in most cases.

A Catholic intellectual must be ready to swim against the tide which will flow against him until the end of time. He must not dream about a new Middle Ages, partly because those Ages were very mediocre in many ways, and partly because history cannot be replayed. Utopia and history are mutually exclusive notions. The Catholic intellectual cannot meditate often enough on an often overlooked statement in the Documents of Vatican II about the grim struggle between the Church and the World, a struggle that shall never abate. A Catholic intellectual is, of course, fully entitled to wonder about the strange disproportionality between that gigantic struggle and its brief portrayal in those Documents.

The Catholic intellectual must be ready to recognize opportunities for Catholic research in his own field. The case of Pierre Duhem (1861-1916) remains most instructive. He did not dream of what he would eventually find as he started searching for the historical origin of the principle of virtual velocities, a cornerstone of the science of motion. He wanted to do no more than show that historically too, the exact science of physics was an economic coordination of data of measurements and therefore unqualified to say anything ontological, let alone metaphysical.

This is not to suggest that a vast portrayal of this point would not have contained a great liberating vision, the prospect of sidelining once and for all the specter of scientism. But when Duhem found that the first intimation of that principle was done in the medieval Sorbonne, he did not hesitate to put everything aside. The result was a portrayal in a dozen or so vast volumes of the medieval Christian origin of Newtonian science.

Duhem himself, a staunch and devout Catholic from childhood, gave a priceless account of this intellectual odyssey of his in his essay, "Physics of a Believer," which should be compulsory reading for all Catholic intellectuals, whether scientists or not. Perhaps the meditative reading of that essay will give them the inspiration to put a great deal aside when even a remotely similar opportunity arises before their searching eyes.I mentioned Duhem partly because I found in his lifework, combining the task of a physicist, of an historian and philosopher of science, and of an artist to boot, a truly catholic and Catholic inspiration, in more than one sense. Certainly inspiring should seem his resolve not to be discouraged by secular academia's systematic slighting of him during his life. He held it to be his greatest satisfaction when he received word about the intellectual support which Catholic university people and students found in his writings.

The fact that some non-Catholic readers of my The Relevance of Physics and of my Gifford Lectures, The Road of Science and the Ways to God found in them a major incentive to join the Catholic Church remains for me far more precious than some prestigious prizes. Not that either of those books was apologetics in any sense. They were mere pleas, as any intellectual effort should be, on behalf of truth.
[SLJ "The Catholic Intellectual" in The Gist of Catholicism and Other Essays 34-5, emphasis added]

Postscript from Dr. Thursday: Confer, if you will, this parallel thought from Chesterton:
A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it. A dead dog can be lifted on the leaping water with all the swiftness of a leaping hound; but only a live dog can swim backwards. A paper boat can ride the rising deluge with all the airy arrogance of a fairy ship; but if the fairy ship sails upstream it is really rowed by the fairies.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:388]

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