Sunday, November 29, 2009

Contradictions and Refutations

Here is a gem from Cosmos and Creator which neatly contrasts Jaki's realism with the recent philosophers of science (Popper, Kuhn et al.) who I hope to cover in the new year.
~ Jakian Thomist

Part of the truth of Thomas' metaphysical realism, the only proper label of a genuinely Thomistic 'epistemology', lies in its consistency. This will not appear a small matter if one recalls Chesterton's poignant observation that 'No sceptics work sceptically; no fatalists work fatalistically;... no materialist, who thinks his mind was made up for him by mud and blood and heredity, has any hesitation in making up his mind.' Had Cherterton been a professional philosopher and he had lived today when philosophy is in many quarters a respectable enterprise only when it deals with scientific knowledge, he would have easily found some highly acclaimed targets to make his point. Clearly, the falsification theory of knowledge was not proposed to declare that theory to be intrinsically falsifiable. The process theory of knowledge and existence clearly aims a permanence while it subjects everything else to endless transformations. The theory of Gestalt switches obviously wants to retain a permanent image of itself, while it turns all other viewpoints into the prey of unpredictable sudden changes. The theory of knowledge based on the succession of basically disconnected scientific paradigms, brought about by scientific revolutions, carries its own refutation by claiming that there is a connection or structure underlying all revolutions.

The latter theory has at least the merit of having been carried by its author to its logical end where it is no longer necessary to assume that the world science deals with is an ordered entity, a consistent construct. That such a world cannot logically prompt that well-ordered knowledge which is science shows the intimate connection between cosmology (science) and epistemology (metaphysics), and also something of the soundness of Thomas' starting principle that it is the existing beings which elicit knowledge. The principle is not only proven sound by that laboratory which is the history of philosophy, but also helps explain why the brute facts of nature can shock the scientific mind to such an extent as to spark profound insights about the workings and structure of the physical world to be tested in laboratories where one looks for real things and not merely one's thought about them.

[Cosmos and Creator p. 101-102]

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks

Today in America we are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, and so I wanted to give a very brief insight from Fr. Jaki into this most mystical and most powerful of actions - the action of giving thanks. It must come as a surprise to some readers of this blogg, or of Fr. Jaki's books, to see how deeply human - that is, how truly universal - is Father's awareness of the Human Thing: he does not write simply as a scientist or as a philosopher (or the scholar of any other specific discipline) but as a Man - and so imbues his writing with touches of the Human Scholarship. It is a very Chestertonian style of writing. Take, for example, this excerpt in which Father refers to GKC as well as St. Augustine:
No philosophical sophistication, only robust common sense is needed if one is to be electrified by the plain realization that, as put by Chesterton with his customary incisiveness, "nothing can be more universal than the universe."

With such mental conditioning on hand, man will naturally feel, as he consciously takes his stand on that board, that he is set in an upward motion toward God, the only being beyond the universe of specific, that is, contingent beings. Man will then experience something very different from that leap in the dark which those try to perform agonizingly who never have really felt the universe, and at times not even plain ordinary things, under their feet. The move toward God, if it is to be a safe one, must not be a separation from the universe. The move rather consists in sensing the pulse of cosmic contingency, the relentless pointing of the universe beyond itself. A mental experience of this type animates St. Augustine’s celebrated passage:
I spoke to all the things that are about me, all that can be admitted by the door of the senses, and I said, ‘Since you are not my God, tell me about him. Tell me something of my God.’ Clear and loud they answered, ‘God is he who made us.’ I asked these questions simply by gazing at these things... I asked the whole mass of the universe about my God, and it replied, ‘I am not God. God is he who made me.
That this passage is from Book X of the Confessions is not accidental. Book X begins with Augustine’s asking his readers to thank God for his conversion described in Book IX. His conversion meant among other things the opening of his eyes to the mind’s fascination with glittering half-truths and specious fallacies. The cosmological argument will appear a delusion unless those fallacies and half-truths, which the modern world mass-produces about the universe, are seen for what they truly are. It is precisely because the modern intellectual atmosphere is polluted to suffocation with disastrous ideas about the universe that any vote cast on behalf of the cosmological argument may appear a sheer defiance of all accepted standards of intellectual respectability.
[SLJ God and the Cosmologists 213-4]

Also consider this, which provides me with the link to one of my favourite GKC poems, which I think must be the essence of every true follower of these Great Ones:
The Psalm begins with the declaration of God's full knowledge of all of man's actions including his very purpose, however hidden. It is wholly vain for man to think that he can ever escape the searching eyes of divine knowledge. It is present in the highest heavens no less than at the seas' furthest end and readily penetrates the darkness as if it were broad daylight.

Furthermore a very specific reason is given for all this in three stanzas in which God is not merely credited with full foreknowledge of man's free actions but also portrayed as being the very author of them. To deepen that already very deep perspective, the nature of that divine knowledge is tied to the very depths of that foremost divine act which is creation. Creation out of nothing is not explicitly mentioned, but in view of the obvious immateriality of free human acts, it lurks between the lines as reference is made to the womb as the place of each man's creation:
For it was you who created my being,
knit me together in my mother's womb.
I thank you for the wonder of my being,
for the wonders of all your creation.

Already you knew my soul,
my body held no secret from you
when I was being fashioned in secret
and moulded in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw all my actions,
they were all of them written in your book;
every one of my days was decreed
before one of them came into being.
No less extraordinary depths are intimated by the same Psalm's conclusion about a need for infinity if the Infinite himself is to be fathomed:
To me how mysterious your thoughts,
the sum of them not to be numbered!
If I count them, they are more than the sand;
to finish, I must be eternal, like you.

[SLJ The Purpose of It All 195-7]
Indeed - and now, Chesterton's poem:

I cannot count the pebbles in the brook.
Well bath He spoken: 'Swear not by thy head,
Thou knowest not the hairs,' though He, we read,
Writes that wild number in His own strange book.

I cannot count the sands or search the seas,
Death cometh, and I leave so much untrod.
Grant my immortal aureole, O my God,
And I will name the leaves upon the trees.

In heaven I shall stand on gold and glass,
Still brooding earth's arithmetic to spell;
Or see the fading of the fires of hell
Ere I have thanked my God for all the grass.
[GKC CW10:209]
You do not need to be American to be thankful today - or any day. Indeed, we should do as St. Paul told us, "Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness" [See Col 3:15]

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Polkinghorne on Jaki

Dr. Polkinghorne has been aware of Fr. Jaki’s writings for many years and indeed has quoted from them across several of his books, including his Gifford Lectures. One can find a reference to the theistic origins of science thesis in Faith, Science and Understanding p. 18, Science and the Trinity p. 9 and Quantum Physics and Theology p. 107. Polkinghorne presents the argument is a non-committal manner and always with an incomplete explanation by ignoring Jaki’s emphasis on the stillbirths of science and the Christological thrust of the Buridan’s thinking. Polkinghorne’s silence on the writings of Pierre Duhem should therefore not come as a surprise.


Fr. Jaki is mentioned by the interviewer in Polkinghorne’s best-selling Questions on Truth with colleague Nicholas Beale, and indeed is associated with linking the Godel theorems to TOE:

Q: Do you agree with Stanley Jaki’s invocation of Godel’s incompleteness theorem as an argument against the possibility of developing a theory of everything as an argument against the impossibility of developing a theory of everything that is “necessarily” and not just “contingently” true? Hawking, as I understand it even admits that Godel’s work will complicate the consistency of a unified theory, does he not? If Godel’s work does throw a wretch into the works, why hasn’t the physics community caught on to this? Why, after his many walks with Godel in Princeton, was Einstein not dissuaded from pursuing a grand unified theory?

JP: Godel’s theorem shows us that truth can never be totally caught in any purely logical system – a useful lesson I think. It seems that truth always exceeds what can be proved by logic. This fact certainly provides a significant check to grandiose claims about theories of everything. Stanley Jaki is very learned and interesting to read. I think that Christian belief in creation was an influence on the birth of modern science in twelfth-century Europe, but I would not go so far as Jaki’s claim that this belief, then and now, is indispensable to a fruitful science.

[Questions on Truth p.51-52]

Of course, Jaki never argued that Christian belief is still indispensable for fruitful science, as science is now successfully birthed and self-sustaining. Actually in The Road of Science and the Ways to God, “ Fr. Jaki argued that the same philosophical realism underlay both the classical proofs of God’s existence and science’s greatest steps. One had to begin not with the mind, but “with objects, with facts.” [A. Gardiner, NOR] [1]


It was father’s respect for objects that lead him to reject the Copenhagen Philosophy, not Quantum Mechanics itself, as Polkinghorne claimed in his review of God and the Cosmologists. [2] This difference over the Copenhagen Philosophy had major consequences for their respective stances on natural theology and the cosmological argument.


“Stanley Jaki may say with some impatience ‘if pointers do not point unambiguously, that is, with certainty, what is the point of using them?’ but God is not to be read out of experience with quite that degree of clarity. I have more sympathy with the words of David Burrell, who speaks of the aim ‘to secure the distinction of God from the world, and to do so in such a way as to display how such a One, who must be unknowable, may also be known’.”

[Faith of a Physicist p. 40, my emphasis]


Setting aside the logical dilemma of the last sentence, quoting the surrounding paragraph to Jaki’s quotation may prove instructive.


One indeed reveals a grave myopia for very broad consequences when one declares that instead of the cosmological argument or proof, one should talk about pointers the universe affords about the existence of God. For if pointers do not point unambiguously, that is, with certainty, what is the point of using them? But if the difference between proofs and pointers is merely verbal, why the reluctance to speak of proofs? Or is it perhaps one’s particular cult, in which rational certainties are not welcome, that recommends the abolition of proofs along a broad front so that a particularly sorry predicament might not appear for what it truly is?

A chief reason for doubts concerning the demonstrative value of the cosmological argument may lie in a pathetic surrender to a cultural cliché which Niels Bohr wanted to see elevated, as if he had been a magus and not a scientist, into a secular cult.

[God and the Cosmologists p. 231]


Yet again the problem of knowledge raises its ugly head and once objects are not taken for a starting point, scepticism lurks in the wings. Even with this in mind I was quite surprised to read that Polkinghorne thinks that;

If we cannot even prove the consistency of arithmetic, it seems a bit much to hope that God's existence is easier to deal with [Faith of a Physicist p.57]

While Polkinghorne was referring to Anselm’s argument in writing this, these sentiments appear elsewhere, as he endorses Nagel’s statement that ‘we must also admit that world probably reaches beyond our capacity to understand it, no matter how far we travel.’ Polkinghorne adds ‘How much more so must that be true of God’. [Faith of a Physicist p.40]


Lack of confidence in man’s ability to know the Truth is a symptom of what Jaki views as a sickly atmosphere where an “infatuation with the ‘proofs’ of the scientific method may blind one to a wider meaning of proofs…Its proofs are for the most part identity relations, plain tautologies, to recall a remark of Bertrand Russell. Those proofs work as long as one remains within the limits of mathematical formalisms, but are of no help when a physicist wants to demonstrate the reality of the telescope he uses. Statements about the reality of this or that object, however trivial, cannot be cast into the molds of mathematics.” [God and the Cosmologists p.230-231]


A. Garnider notes “sadly, the excessive respect for quantitative considerations in the West has bred an “insensitivity” to philosophical questions, so that the pseudoontological interpretation grafted onto quantum mechanics by Bohr now carries the day, even in theology.” [1] From this perspective, Polkinghorne’s attempts at an “unexpected kinship” between Copenhagen Philosophy and Theology are only one step nearer to Bohr’s goal to make ‘complementarity’ the ultimate religion.


Jaki’s commitment to the Cosmological argument, in contrast to Polkinghorne, necessarily dispels doubt about man’s ability to know the world. “…Truth is given its greatest service when its certainty is held high unconditionally. Only then does truth perform its very role, which is to liberate man.” [God and The Cosmologists p.232]


~Jakian Thomist


[1] Excerpts from Anne Barbeau Gardiner’s excellent review of Father Jaki’s work and life in the New Oxford Review. Available from along with an extensive bibliography of Father’s writings.


[2] Quoted from P. Haffner Creation and Scientific Creativity p.168. I could not access Polkinghorne’s review in Theology 63 (1990) p.407. I would be grateful if anyone could pass on details of its availability.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Jaki on Polkinghorne

John Polkinghorne is the famed physicist turned Anglican minister who has written several books on science and religion such as “Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship”, “Exploring Reality: The intertwining of Science and Religion” and “Serious Talk: Science and Religion in Dialogue”.


However, Polkinghorne’s fondness for “quantum” theology only earned him a serious talking to in Fr. Jaki’s works. With direct reference to Polkinghorne, Jaki writes:

Almost a crude lack of perceptiveness is at work in a Christian who sees in that “quantum mechanical” world an ally of Christian faith, a deliverance from ironclad mechanical determinism. For one, such a Christian fails to see that physical determinism, discovered freely and investigated freely, can never be any threat to human freedom. For another, such a Christian fails to see anything significant in the fervent espousal of that random world by a post-Christian world. The fervour is largely fuelled by the “liberating vistas” of moral randomness, the worst counterfeit of true freedom.
[The Only Chaos and Other Essays p.257]

Jaki criticises Polkinghorne’s attempts at theo-scientific monism through the Copenhagen interpretation and its end results, such as taking “quantum mechanical chance for a proof that God handed over to the universe the work of creation.” [God and the Cosmologists p.152] According to Jaki, only a play of words “lies at the basis of any explanation of physical reality as a particle play” [ibid p.139], such as the one outlined in Polkinghorne’s The Particle Play, his popularisation of Quantum Mechanics.


Jaki had little sympathy for Polkinghorne’s stance as a “critical realist” and for his “dual aspect monism”. In God and the Cosmologists (p.152), Jaki notes Polkinghorne’s rejection of Aquinas’ argument “that only an immaterial organ can carry on with the act of understanding”, and comments:


“When a Christian clergman does not see why this has to be so, he obviously can but be disturbed by the age-old Christian belief that the soul survives bodily death.”


I conclude this piece with some long excerpts of Jaki’s review of Polkinghorne’s Christian apologetic, “The Way the World Is” in the National Review (22 March 1985). Next week I will consider Polkinghorne on Father Jaki’s writings.


~ Jakian Thomist




Stanley L Jaki

The Way the World Is, by John Polkinghorne

(Eerdmans, 144 pp., $4.95)

The book is mostly on theology, an area in which the author considers himself a novice, not necessarily out of false modesty. Only three years elapsed between his resigning his Cambridge professorship in physics and his writing this booklet. In that interval he studied theology as a preparation for "ordained ministry," as he puts it, in the Church of England. Judging by this book, the theology he assimilated was heavy on New Testament criticism, a field more complex than theoretical physics. Still more importantly, the sciences and theology are very different fields—a claim that may turn one nowadays into a loner.


Polkinghorne doesn't mention Kuhn, though twice he approvingly recalls Popper, the architect of falsificationism. He fails to suspect that on that basis also fragmentation is in store for his theological venture aimed at securing reasonableness for the main tenets of the Christian religion. He is not only galloping across the crucial issues of Christian theology (the status of the New Testament, of Jesus, His divinity and Resurrection) but also riding the wrong horse. It would be a bad horse even if it were a good scientific methodology, which can hardly be said about the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, the author's chief intellectual arsenal. For all its computational wizardry, quantum mechanics is not (as the Copenhagen interpretation claims it is) a proof of the proposition that one can know only aspects but not things in which aspects presumably inhere. Countless books to the contrary—including The Particle Play, Polkinghorne's popularization of fundamental particle physics—if one is to probe the play of particles one must have particles or things. It still remains a colossal fallacy in logic to argue, with an eye on Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, that if an interaction cannot be measured exactly, it cannot take place exactly. The fallacy is the confusion of the operational and ontological levels.


Ontology, of which the author could not learn through his studies of New Testament criticism, is indispensable even in Biblical theology. There one has to come face to face with such statements as "I AM WHO IS" and "Before Abraham existed I AM," and "I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life," to mention only three. The second and third are not cited by Mr. Polkinghorne, whose notion of truth is probabilistic, harking back to his quantum- mechanical upbringing. Truth he confuses time and again with "knockdown demonstration." No wonder that he has no use for dogmatics, not even for the hallowed dogmatics of Nicea and Athanasius's defense of it, although it failed to "knock down" either the Arians and semi-Arians or their present-day liberal progeny.


Polkinghorne is unconvincing in his efforts to make his reader accept something divine in Jesus, Whose strict divinity he leaves to the mercy of the phenomenological approach, where it is largely ignored. According to Polkinghorne, that approach may liberate one "from the hectoring and self-confident tone of the Quicunque vult." Such is the worst kind of liberation theology conceivable. For it imprisons one in that probabilistic subjectivism for which the deepest ontological questions of theology—such as the homoousion and its chief corollary, the constant beatific vision enjoyed by Christ, the man—do not carry any significance.


It is doubtful that on the basis of this book one might hope for a calming of the latest Anglican storm stirred up by the new Bishop of Durham's [David Edward Jenkins] "scientific" onslaught on Christ's miracles and His Resurrection. Tellingly, the bishop rejects the bodily Resurrection of Christ. Once more, things— bodies—are the ultimate touchstone of truth. This book is hardly about the way the world is, physical and spiritual, and it certainly does not provide those worlds. In fact, both are potentially fragmented in this book. It may titillate Christians eager to make a misconstrued theology appear respectable to a scientific forum chronically misunderstanding itself.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jaki in Italian 2

Last time I presented a list of Jaki's works published in Italian. Today we will see what is available on line.

Let's start with Cristianità, the official journal of Alleanza Cattolica, an Italian catholic association. Two interviews with Jaki and a long review of his God and the Cosmologists (1989) were published.
In October 1994 Jaki was in Rome for a meeting of the Pontificial Academy of Sciences and was interviewed on various aspects of his work. The interview appeared in 1995 with the title Fede e razione fra scienza e scientismo (Faith and reason between science and scientism). Initially Jaki presents the reason why he spent his life studying the history and philosophy of science, then he summarizes the limits of Greek science. In the third question he is asked to comment on his thesis that Christ is the saviour of science.
Among the other things he says that
"Newton's argument that the fall of the apple and the movement of the moon in its orbit are governed by the same laws would have be unconceivable for the ancient Panteists, Aristotle included. Newton himself didn't realised how much he was in debt with the vision of the world that follows from the Christian Creed, at the centre of which there is Christ Pantocrator."

Then he talks of Hawking, Sagan and Davies, claiming that the simplest way to unmask their sophisms is to observe that the presuppositions of their reasoning cannot be proved scientifically.
After this he discusses the development of cosmology, and the principle of causality, chaos and quantistic mechanics.
When asked to comment on science among Catholics he laments that the new trends in Catholic philosophy and theology are too personalistic and they tend to ignore the demarcation between quantitative and non quantitative concepts. People influenced by those trends are generally unequipped with those ontological and epistemological tools which are necessary to deal with science and its limits.
Finally he is asked about Duhem and his relevance:
"Duhem excellence as a thinker lies in the fact that he recognised with clear arguments the incapacity of the scientific method of saying something about ontological problems or metaphysics. This incapacity is shown not only through an analysis of the scientific method but also profiting from the teachings coming from the history of science. In all this Duhem made his best to respect the requirements of the principles of logic and of the history of science. In fact, his respect for science brought him to engage with the heroic task of bringing to light the true origins of classical mechanics. With his big surprise, he discovered this origin in the medieval scientists of the XIV century, particularly from the Sorbonne, like Oresmes and Buridan. What stroke me about Pierre Duhem was not only his dedication, which is natural, to the scholarly work that reached the limits of heroism, but also that he experienced what it means to be a prophet whose voice seems to disappear in the desert. Even the Catholic intellectuals establishment wasn't able to appreciate him for his right value. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. I have devoted a work to this subject: Pierre Duhem. Homme de Science et de Foi (Beauchesne, Paris 1992).
Duhem was a martyr in the arena of intellectuals, this is a reality that Catholic scholars could never meditate enough. They should also try to imitate him in his indifference for academic honours, awards and career. Female Catholic intellectuals could find abundant reasons for meditation in the heroic enterprise, carried out for thirty years, by Duhem only daughter, Hélène, on whose fragile and unprepared shoulders fall the almost overhuman task of finishing the publication from the sixth to the tenth volume of his immortal work Le systeme du monde. Histoire des doctrines cosmologiques de Platon à Copernic (A. Hermann et Filles, Paris 1913). I have told the incredible story of Hélène in Reluctant heroine, the life and Work of Hélène Duhem (Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh 1992)."


Thursday, November 5, 2009

BYOJL #3: New Books


We have news of new booklets by Fr. Jaki recently published by Real View Books and reprints for our "Building Your Own Jaki Library" series. As Dr. Thursday explained previously, these are "books which Father Jaki refers to, and which are important for our work in science, in philosophy, and in history - and what is more delightful, books which are presently available in print"

We hope you enjoy them!


The Garden of Eden: Why, Where, When, How Long? 32pp.

From the Description by Father Jaki in 'Three More Years':

In that booklet I elaborated on the biblical story as a creditable position against polygenism. The story, as I insist throughout, is steeped in man's moral destiny, which, and this cannot be emphasized enough, cannot be an object of evolutionary science. Further, I also insist that humanness does not have its first evidence in the paintings of Lascaux and other prehistoric caves. Art is surely a signature of man, as put concisely by Chesteron, but it it is another matter, pace Chesterton, whether those paintings are truly a form of art which man alone is capable of producing. The indisputable signature of man is language, the very tool abused in the effort to make man appear to be just an animal. The chief practitioners of those efforts should remind themselves that present-day theories about the origin of language beg the question as much as they did when a century and a half ago the Academie des Sciences in Paris decided not to consider any further paper on the subject.

Available now from Real View Books: $3


The Drama of Guadalupe 36pp.

From the Description by Father Jaki in 'Three More Years':

The prompting to write a booklet on the tilma that made Guadalupe the most famous Marian shrine in the Church, came when I could join two friends of mine from Madrid in the last days of January 2009 at Anahuac University in Mexico City for a conference...

The average educated Apparitionist still has to make much of some indisputable facts, such as the stunning survival value of the tilma's textile, made of agaye cactus, and the unexpected emergence of Codex 1548. The scholars among the anti-Apparitionist systematically underplay all such evidence and at times shove it under the rug.

The Drama of Guadalupe provides a new chapter to the old story that in reference to miracles there is an ongoing drama on the purely intellectual level as well.

Available now from Real View Books: $3


Being and Some Philosophers - Etienne Gilson

Reprint of the Second Edition (PIMS, 2005)

From the Back Cover

The study of being was one of the main preoccupations of Gilson's scholarly and intellectual life. Being and Some Philosophers is at once a testament to the persistence of those concerns and an important landmark in the history of the question of being. The book charts the ways in which being is translated across history, from unity in Plato and substance in Aristotle to essence in Avicenna and the act of existence in Aquinas...

And yet Being and Some Philosophers remains not so much an historical investigation but, in the words of its author, "a philosophical book, and a dogmatically philosophical one at that." Its passionate vigour has proven, over many years, at once fresh and provocative.

"Time and again Gilson had turned to history to deepen his understanding of existence, and in Realisme thomiste history became the crucible in which his timeless insights into Thomist metaphysics were tempered. In Being and Some Philosophers those insights received their mature expression"

Frederick D. Wilhelmsen, Introduction to Thomist Realism and the Critique of Knowledge

Small Quantity Available now from CND $16

Also available from


Three Quests in Philosophy - Etienne Gilson (PIMS, 2008)
From the Back Cover

These seven previously unpublished lectures - Gilson termed them "Quests" - represent his mature thought on three key philosophical questions: the nature of philosophy, "species" and "matter" - all pertinent issues of perennial interest to both philosophers and scientists. Gilson presents them here with his characteristic clarity, sense, and humour.

They have been published by the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies to commerate the thirtieth anniversary of Gilson's death in 1978.

Small Quantity Available now from CND $23

Also available from


From Aristotle to Darwin and Back again: A Journey in Final Causality, Species and Evolution - Etienne Gilson (Ignatius Press, 2009)

Twenty-Five years after Father Jaki prompted John Lyon to translate Gilson's masterpiece on teleology into English, it is available oncemore from Ignatius with an introduction by Cardinal Schoenborn..

Father Jaki, in Gilson and Science:

In his From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again, he came to grips with the question of whether it was still reasonable to look at the actions of living beings as evincing some purpose. This is not the place to give even a brief summary of that book full of sparkling phrases, a wealth of data, and rigorous analysis of some basic terms constantly used by biologists, both ancient and modern. In fact the constancy of their falling back on registering the presence of some goal which organisms seem to strive for, made Gilson conclude that one of the constants of biology is that references to purpose in biology are unavoidable.

Available now from $11.50


Catherine of Siena - Sigrid Undset (Ignatius Press, 2009)

Quotations from Father Jaki's 'Sigrid Undset's Quest for Truth':
As one with deep commitment to truths that animated the Saint, Sigrid Undset came up with the best single book on her for those who prefer substance to matters secondary and circumstantial.

In reading Catherine of Siena one cannot help feeling that Sigrid Undset, so eager to remain in a state of grace after her conversion, was, in writing that work, communing with Christ, whose handmaid she vowed to be, simply because she came to the conclusion that Christ, the Son of Mary, was God and took that conclusion with utter seriousness.

Available now from $11.50

~ Jakian Thomist

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fr. Jaki's Contribution to Theoretical Physics

After reading physicist Prof. Steven Barr's tribute to Fr. Jaki, now may be the time to consider Fr. Jaki's contribution to the body of knowledge in theoretical physics.

"The piece is a simple rewriting of Heisenberg's uncertainty relation Δx.Δp ≥ h, which means that the product of the uncertainties in measuring the position Δx and momentum Δp in an interaction cannot be smaller than h or Planck's quantum divided by 4π. Shortly after Heisenberg proposed in 1927 that relation or inequality, it was recognised that it has an equivalent form in ΔE.Δt ≥ h, where E is energy and t is time. But although no formula of physics has been better known than E = mc², nobody cared to rewrite ΔE.Δt ≥ h as Δmc².Δt ≥ h. In this form the inequality reveals that, since c or the speed of light is invariable, there will necessarily be on hand an uncertainty in measuring m or mass. Further, this uncertainty or margin of error increases or decreases inversely with the error of measuring t." [A Mind's Matter p.164-165]

So what does the equation mean? Is everything now uncertain? Has causality been refuted? Is there no difference between being and non-being? Let us continue now with the philosophy.

"Suppose then that in terms of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics one takes operational uncertainties for ontological ones. Then the uncertainty in measuring, say, the time of the emission of an alpha particle from a radioactive nucleus turns the uncertainty of measuring the mass into an ontological uncertainty. This can only mean that the mass defect Δm must come from nothing, unless one assumes that the Creator supplies it in each radioactive decay, which, of course, would be absurd to assume.
In the case of an alpha emission, that defect may not exceed 10-31 grams, an unimaginably small amount of matter. Why then should one worry about accounting for its providence? No petty theft could be more "petty" than a swindling with such a small quantity. But endless acts of swindling can only make one insensitive to what is actually being done. At the end, the Heisenberg uncertainty relation would then inspire an oversight of matter of cosmic accounts, such as entire universes. And this is actually what happened." [A Mind's Matter p. 165]

This brings us nicely to the key criticism that Prof. Barr has of the work of Fr. Jaki.

"The fear of subjectivism led both Jaki and Hodgson to a vehement rejection of the traditional understanding of quantum mechanics, against which they inveighed constantly. They hoped that physics would eventually return to a more Newtonian framework, despite the fact that this would entail a return also to the mechanistic and deterministic cosmos from which quantum mechanics had once delivered physics—a deliverance that Jaki celebrated in many passages. In any event, such a return is highly unlikely. In my view, they despaired far too quickly of the possibility of reconciling the traditional understanding of quantum mechanics with a sound metaphysics, challenging though that task may be. They might have paid greater heed to one of Jaki’s own observations: “Truly, there is no exaggeration in the words of H. Margenau, who referred to the ‘enormous metaphysical wealth reposing largely untapped in modern physical theory.’” [First Things Jun-Jul 2009]

As can be seen from my quotations above it was hardly a "fear of subjectivism" that led Fr. Jaki to reject the Copenhagen Philosophy, but it was rather his fight to protect the reality of the universe, of those within it and of the One who is their savior. I also never recall reading that Jaki wished that physics would return to a more Newtonian framework and this is further evidenced by Haffner's statement that "Jaki has spoken highly of quantum mechanics from The Relevance of Physics onwards, yet always distinguished it from the Copenhagen antiontology grafted onto it by Heisenberg and Bohr." (p.168, Creation and Scientific Creativity, 2e)

I am led to despair when I read that Prof. Barr thinks that quantum mechanics has delivered us from a "deterministic cosmos". Re-read that point - he said "cosmos" not "philosophy". What is it exactly that Fr. Jaki has celebrated? Perhaps I am mistaken here (please correct me!), but I will let Fr. Jaki speak with his own words:

"Quite believable will sound, I think, the indignation which a President of the German Philosophical Society voiced on hearing me expound the anticausal misinterpretation of Heisenberg's principle. Do you mean, he asked me, that we have to return to universal mechanical causation, which swallowed up even man's free will? The question illustrated the fact that one can hardly endorse a philosophical error without endorsing some other as well. It was erroneous to identify causation with mechanical causation: the former is an ontological matter, whereas the latter is merely a manner of causation. But once that error was made, and the universality of mechanical causation firmly asserted, it was easy to draw the inference that this also meant the refutation of the reality of free will. One could, of course, retort that the refutation itself could not be a blind mechanical reaction if it was still a valid refutation, which has to be an act of free reasoning. Apart from this the question revealed a confusion between the manner or the how of causal interaction among physical bodies and the ontological reality of that causation. This confusion is endemic in the literature. No wonder that so many saw in the indeterminacy principle a scientific vindication of free will. One can hardly imagine a less reliable life belt thrown to humanists who still care about free will." [A Mind's Matter, p. 166]

Prof. Barr quotes (from The Relevance p.367) the eminent physicist's H.Margenau's observation about the metaphysical wealth untapped from modern physical theory. Margenau, the author of Scientific Indeterminism and Human Freedom, however, also recognised the laws of science are forever subject to revision (c.f. Relevance p.347). Fr. Jaki did not advocate concordance of the science of the day with scripture or with philosophy and he would not find Prof. Barr's declaration that the return of mechanistic physics was "highly unlikely" particularly reassuring.

The bedrock of the perennial philosophy was never far from Jaki's thought. His realism always started with things and never thoughts, even mathematical formulas. The words of F. Wilhelmsen in his introduction to E.Gilson's Thomist Realism and the Critique of Knowledge are particularly apt: "Once the critical starting point is adopted, once our living contact with the world of existing beings is cut, and we start from thought alone, no amount of abstract manipulation of concepts will ever reunite us with the world...". And the sad reality is that due to the Copenhagen philosophy, physicists do extol all sorts of basement-induced universes while reposing at the feet of Kant and other critical "realists". A clarification from Fr. Jaki is in order:

"The science of quantum mechanics states the impossibility of perfect accuracy in measurements. The philosophy of quantum mechanics states ultimately the impossibility of distinguishing between material and non-material, and even between being and non-being. Physicists who fail to realise what this means for their science should remind themselves of a remark of James R. Newman, for many years the editor of Scientific American and always full of admiration for the work of physicists: "The more creative physicists have in recent years cultivated philosophy. They are usually disinclined to admit to this weakness. But there is no escape, even if it be only to embrace anti-philosophical philosophies. For the physicist has come to realise that if he throws philosophy into the fire, his own subject goes with it." [Chance or Reality and Other Essays p.14]

I do not doubt that there will be other reviews like that of Prof. Barr and they serve a useful purpose. They witness the possibility of the peaceful co-existence of faith and reason . However, it is imperative that we ensure that the work of our masters does not follow the well trodden path. That path was the subject of a talk by Fr. Jaki, it was named - "Damned with faint praise or the Fate of Pierre Duhem".

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Two more tributes: one old, one new

Yesterday our canonical member, Magdalen posted the link to a very good article about Fr. Jaki by Dr. Stephen Barr which appeared in First Things back in May. I thought I ought to call it to your attention. One of the interesting points for me was the comment about Peter Hodgson, whose work I will have to investigate. It is this sort of "collecting" force of our wonderful net which makes me so grateful for it: just as Chesterton once wrote "I have often thanked God for the telephone" [GKC What's Wrong With the World CW4:112] we of the Duhem Society must also say "I have often thanked God for the INTERNET." Yes, there are many dull and useless things out here in the E-cosmos, but also good and useful ones too: certainly this blogg has begun to link scholars of all kinds from all around the world... It is the sort of thing which recalls these words of our Lord: "Again the kingdom of heaven is like to a net cast into the sea, and gathering together of all kinds of fishes. Which, when it was filled, they drew out, and sitting by the shore, they chose out the good into vessels, but the bad they cast forth. [Mt 13:47-48, emphasis added] As I have said elsewhere, echoing all our great ones, we need to have this catholic view, to learn to see things with the larger, universal view.

Another view on Jaki (and containing at least a nod to Duhem) is presented in the most recent edition of "Gilbert!" the magazine of the American Chesterton Society, which is a kind of Chestertonian Festschrift in memory of Father Jaki. Here is the cover as it was posted on the ACS "facebook" site:
There are essays on Father's work and on several of his essays, including one by Dale Ahlquist, president of the ACS, on the very important chapter "Champion of the Universe" (the title of a chapter in SLJ's Chesterton a Seer of Science). There is also a rather lengthy and wandering interview of someone who had visited Father Jaki a few times in recent years, but you will have to read that for yourself if you care to do so. It may appear to be irrelevant to our work, but then it may help to shed some light on this blogg.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

100th post of the Duhem Society

As my colleague "Jakian Thomist" reminds me, this posting marks the one hundredth since our founding on April 7, 2009. He has sent me some wonderful news about a new edition of the Haffner study of Jaki's work, and we'll hear it shortly.

But first I think we ought to review a little about our Society. You can read Jaki's own statement of why a "Duhem Society" ought to be founded. I have augmented it simpy by including study of Jaki's work, intending that we enlarge our vision as Newman and Chesterton. Why? Here is why:
...all sciences being connected together, and having bearings one on another, it is impossible to teach them all thoroughly, unless they all are taken into account... ...all branches of knowledge are connected together, because the subject-matter of knowledge is intimately united in itself, as being the acts and the work of the Creator... ...if you drop any science out of the circle of knowledge, you cannot keep its place vacant for it; that science is forgotten; the other sciences close up, or, in other words, they exceed their proper bounds, and intrude where they have no right.
[Newman, The Idea of a University IV.15, V.1, IV.2]

The rebuilding of this bridge between science and human nature is one of the greatest needs of mankind. We have all to show that before we go on to any visions or creations we can be contented with a planet of miracles.
[Chesterton, The Defendant 75]
It is the perfection of the intellectual endeavor to unite all the subjects as one: this is the way taken in that most fruitful time called the Middle Ages - and the one which we must also take. We may not yet have our Society journal, our annual conference, our International Symposia with its published Proceedings - we may not yet have any tangible item of formal existence as the world considers such things - but if we work true to our own fields, and keep in mind the Light from these great minds, we have all we need to proceed. And perhaps, as we have been told, if we seek first the Kingdom of God, we shall receive all the other things we need... Let us keep this in mind as we proceed.

Next, "Jakian Thomist" presents an announcement of an important book. I have not yet seen this new edition, but I have read the first one and it is a useful synoptic study of the many works of SLJ. Perhaps we can take this opportunity to propose another project: simply that someone begin on a comparable work on Pierre Duhem. There is much work to be done; may God give us light and strength to do it.

--Dr. Thursday.


Fr. Paul Haffner composed his PhD on the work of Fr. Jaki and this was first published by Christendom Press in 1990 with a list of Fr. Jaki's publications. It is with great joy that we announce that this excellent review is once again available in print in memoriam of Fr. Jaki. It has been republished in a new expanded and updated edition by Gracewing Publishing with a full bibliography of Fr. Jaki's work approved by him.

It is available now from at the following link: