Saturday, August 29, 2009

"...they can only blame themselves..."

Another busy week, and an interesting one. I added two new books to my collection of ancient texts - books which though apparently not referred to by SLJ, can offer some insights into one of our main subjects: the history of science. They are very interesting, and quite old - alas, I only have them in English, though I do hope to obtain them in the original some day:

1. The Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor: a Medieval Guide to the Arts translated by Jerome Taylor. Regarding the word "Arts" in the subtitle, I must quote Taylor's footnote 40 to Book Three: "That Hugh uses the terms 'art' and 'science' interchangably is evident from a comparison of the title and opening sentence of this chapter [three]." The title reads: "Which Arts are principally to be read" and the first sentence begins "Out of all the sciences above named..." There is much meat in this book, and I hope to consider it more fully as time permits.

2. Science and Creation in the Middle Ages: Henry of Langenstein (d. 1397) on Genesis bby Nicholas H. Steneck. This is a study and commentary of Henry's Lecturae super Genesim, but does not contain the text (even in translation). As it mentions Duhem, Buridan and Oresme and others, and examines issues which SLJ also examines, we shall also consider it. It came out in 1976, which was after SLJ's The Relevance of Physics and Science and Creation, but it does not seem to mention SLJ; so far I have not yet noted any mention of Henry in SLJ's writing, though it is possible I have missed the reference. From my casual investigation, it looks to be a relevant and interesting book - certainly the title jumps out!

Now, it is Saturday, so let us have a bit of fun while we learn. Today's excerpt is speaking about the universe....
Taken in itself, any object, in its ontological limitedness, points to God as its only reason for its existence. As Chesterton said somewhere, even a telephone pole proves the existence of God. [Note: I have not yet been able to locate this reference. Dr. T] But no consideration of any object taken separately can demonstrate that it had been produced by God out of nothing in a separate action. All individual objects can be traced to one another. Indeed, this is what science does. It reduces the quantitative aspects of a thing or a group of things to the quantitative aspects of another thing or another group of things. But science cannot assure us about the reality of the totality of things. No matter how many galaxies have been counted or postulated by astronomy, their total sum as calculated or postulated does not necessarily constitute the universe.

The notion of the universe, or the totality of things, is a most philosophical notion. One can argue that totality, for instance, on the epistemological ground that any knowledge is a knowledge of some kind of totality. But anything more here on the intimate epistemological connection between the universals and the universe, would be out of place. There is, I believe, a less abstract argument about the existence of the totality of things, or universe, which is still independent of the actual scientific extent to which man has penetrated into cosmic spaces, either observationally or through his scientific theories. Since the argument begins with real matter, it is not a scientific argument. Science assumes the reality of such matter and only by doing so can it deal with its quantitative properties. Science as such cannot even prove the reality of its very instruments, such as telescopes and microscopes, or even the very existence of scientists. Reference to reality is a philosophical reference, whether some scientists like it or not. And if philosophers or theologians do not like this, they can only blame themselves if in the not too long run they will find themselves with their conceptual pants down.

Now any real matter has quantitative properties. In one way or another all matter can be counted and measured. Scientists as such cannot account for this fact. Some philosophers, like Descartes, tried to do the trick by positing extension as the essence of material reality. In the process, Cartesians lost out not only on reality, but also on science. They even had to give up on God, for good measure. The best approach to the countability of matter is still to be found in the Book of Wisdom where one reads that "God arranged everything according to measure, number, and weight" (11:20). Belief in the Creator is not at all counterproductive when one wants to use the scientific method with a fair dose of logic.
[SLJ "Creation: Once and for All" in The Gist of Catholicism and Other Essays 224-5, emphasis added]

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