Saturday, June 27, 2009

"... the supreme master of stunts..."

As we should know by now, sometimes a very serious discussion can contain some very fragrant humour - and sometimes the humour is a bit disconcerting. Here is a very important fragment from SLJ's autobiography which adds to our collection of his writing about miracles - a major topic for us of the Duhem Society, who are serious about faith and reason simultaneously, and like Charles Babbage, admit the possibility of miracle as befits authority of the Supreme Programmer of the Universe. [For more see SLJ's Brain, Mind, and Computers on CB's Ninth Bridgewater Treatise]

Today's excerpt is worth study, especially when united with Jaki's God and the Sun at Fatima and Miracles and Physics as well as various texts by Chesterton. But this excerpt definitely has a degree of humour as well, which does not leap off the page as some of our previous selections have. No, it rather gives me the same feeling as an almost parallel quip from Chesterton's essay on a parallel topic, which may give you a quicker effect:
When first the giraffe was described by travellers it was treated as a lie. Now it is in the Zoological Gardens; but it still looks like a lie.
[GKC ILN Oct 21 1911 CW29:176]
The topic was the legendary "Sea Serpent" or so it appeared - but as usual Chesterton was saying far more. So, in this case, does Father Jaki.

Think, if you can; laugh if you will.

The realist epistemology of the Bible, which I tried to trace out to some extent in Bible and Science, imposes a ready acceptance of biblical miracles, and especially those that involve a major interference with the physical laws of nature. Such are the ten plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea and of the Jordan, of Isaiah's pushing back the sun's shadow, the miraculous multiplication of the bread by Jesus, and the darkening of the sun at the hour of His death. For if one does not see in those events some real interference with the laws of nature by the Author of nature, one begins to tamper with the realist language of the Bible and ultimately undermines the possibility that it can carry a real message to real men immersed in a real world.

Of course, one can go a long way in having recourse to the interplay of purely natural forces in explaining those miracles. One should, however, refrain from taking them for purely natural events, however fortuitous. Also, the God who performs miracles should not be thought of as a supreme master of stunts. In Bible and Science I took for my guideline the verse in Psalm 76 (77) which states that, although God Himself passed through the storm that pushed back the waters of the Sea of Reeds, no one could see His footprints. God does not make a miraculous event so overwhelmingly obvious as to literally force man's free will to accept it. No one respects man's free will more than that very God who created it and creates every act of it. Only a man who worships freely can offer a service that pleases God.

Therefore miracles should have a certain chiaroscuro to them, although here, too, the exegete should be aware of some limits. The chiaroscuro always finds a potent source in man's proverbial forgetfulness which begins at the very moment when the sensory impression is no longer in the focus of one's perception. The principle, "out of sight, out of mind," is valid not only of that marvel which a woman can be, but also of immensely greater marvels. Shortly after the miraculous multiplication of the bread, Our Lord had to remind the Twelve, almost in vain, of what they had just seen with their very eyes and grabbed with their very hands. One may be prompted to deplore the Twelve or to commiserate with them, but one should not fasten on them the idea that the multiplication of the bread was for them the fruit of the outpouring of brotherly love: all knapsacks were opened, all loaves and fish shared, and all had their fill.

Such an idea, fully discredited a century ago, has lately become a fad among some Catholic exegetes. Any victim of such a fad would assert that he accepts on faith what his "scientific" method of exegesis forbids him to accept by his reason. Apparently, nothing is remembered about the Church's condemnation of fideism and about the earlier battle of the Church against the principle of double truth. But about the theological training in vogue even in Pontifical Universities, let alone in lower-level Catholic theological faculties, where anyone, including students, can freely pontificate, one cannot say anything more appropriate than melius silere quam loqui. I do not wish to waste much time on "leading" Protestant schools of theology. In more than one I was greeted with a condescending smile as I stood up on behalf of the physical reality of biblical miracles. The wages of theological liberalism are not only spiritual death, but also a chronic and contagious intellectual schizophrenia.
[SLJ A Mind's Matter 156-8; the Latin means "better to be silent than to speak".]

A Late Awakening and Other Essays (contents)

A Late Awakening and Other Essays
by Stanley L. Jaki
2006 (Port Huron, MI: Real View Books) viii+256pp.

  1. A Late Awakening to Gödel in Physics
    First published in Sensus communis 5(2004), pp.153-162.
  2. Myopia with Lynx Eyes about a Text of Aristotle
    First published in Sensus communis 4 (2003) 2-3, pp. 145-163.
  3. Pierre Duhem: Uneasy Genius
    This chapter is an expanded form of the text of a lecture delivered at the University of Lisbon on October 12, 2002.
  4. Christ and the History of Science
    This chapter is an expanded form of a lecture given at the University of Lisbon on October 13, 1003. (sic)
  5. What God Has Separated... Reflections on Science and Religion
    This chapter is an expanded form of a lecture given at St. John's University (Queens, N.Y.) on February 20, 2003.
  6. Christ, Creation, and Science
    This essay was read at the University of Navarra, on April 26, 2005, and then at the Catholic Forum of the Cathedral of Lancaster, on May 4, 2005.
  7. Christ, Extraterrestrials, and the Devil
    This chapter is the text of a lecture read as part of a lecture series at Lancaster Cathedral on July 22, 2005.
  8. Relativity and Religion
    First published in Quarterly of Catholic Scholars, Fall 2005. Reprinted with permission.
  9. Purpose Redux
    Text of a lecture given at the invitation of the Department of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America, Washington D.C., January 24, 2003.
  10. The Metamorphoses of Human Dignity
    This is the English text, published in Aquinas (Rome) 57 (2004), pp. 284-91, of a speech given in Hungarian before the Hungarian Society of Bioethics at its Meeting on "Human Dignity," in Budapest, September 17, 2003.
  11. The Parasitical Society and Its Parasite Families
    A lecture given first in Hungarian at the meeting of the Hungarian Bioethical Society, Budapest, Sept. 18, 2002.
  12. A Dire Need and Vain Hopes: Bioethics at the Third Millennium
    Invited paper presented in Hungarian at the Meeting of the Hungarian Society of Bioethics, Budapest, Sept. 8, 2004. First published here in English.
  13. Jewish Psychiatrist Turns Catholic
    This chapter is a slightly longer form of the Introduction in the re-edition of Karl Stern's Pillar of Fire (New Hope, KY: The Remnant of Israel, 2000), the second volume of "Studies in Catholic-Jewish Relations."
  14. Chesterton a Seer of Science
    This chapter is the expanded form of an invited address delivered at the meeting of the American Chesterton Society, Minneapolis, June 18, 2004, to be published also in Chesterton And ... (American Chesterton Society: Minneapolis, 2006).
  15. Heretics and Dogmatists: or the Gist of Chesterton's Heretics
    Keynote address at the Annual Conference of the American Chesterton Society, held at Saint Thomas University, Minneapolis, Minnesota, on June 16, 2005, to be published also in Chesterton And... (American Chesterton Society: Minneapolis, 2006).
  16. A Non-Thomist Thomism
    First published in Sensus communis 4-1(2003), pp. 75-88; reprinted with permission.
  17. Thomas and the Universe
    First published in Thomist 53 (October 1989), pp. 545-72.

Notes: Jaki's title of chapter five has a striking similarity to a famous line of Chesterton: "Those whom God has sundered, shall no man join." This refers to man and woman, and is the concluding sentence of "Two Stubborn Pieces of Iron" in The Common Man.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Some words about marriage

Two young friends of mine are getting married this Saturday. Marriage is not properly speaking a "scientific" matter, but it is a human one as well as a universal - indeed, a cosmic one - and so poets can easily suggest scientific or philological aspects of the idea. And so perhaps it is fitting to consider some of the words of our masters.

--Dr. Thursday

Within half a year after their first meeting in the spring of 1890, Pierre Duhem and Marie-Adèle Chayet, the youngest of the five sisters, were married. The wedding took place on October 28 in St Sulpice in Paris, a ceremony with deep spiritual significance for both bride and bridegroom. They religiously kept the manuscript of the sermon preached by the officiating priest. Soon they were able to implement the exhortation in a signal way. During their honeymoon, which took them to the Flemish seacoast, they met a seminarian. On learning from him that his education to the priesthood was in jeopardy because of financial problems, they decided to give the money which Pierre gave as a wedding gift to Marie-Adèle, or Maddie as she was called in the family, to that seminarian.
[SLJ Scientist and Catholic: Pierre Duhem 48-9]

Even today science has not come even remotely close to controlling a stormy sea. Thus no “scientific” explanation should interfere with moving straight to Christ's purpose in performing that miracle, which was to prompt the Twelve to ask themselves: “Who can this be that the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mk 4:41). Any reference to antigravity (and antimatter thrown in for good measure) would be counterscientific in dealing with Christ's walking on the waters and making Peter do likewise. Most importantly, it is altogether beyond physics what the Twelve suddenly realized after Christ climbed into the boat: “Beyond doubt you are the Son of God!” (Mt 14:33). It was in order to reveal himself in that capacity that he performed his very first miracle, the transformation of six large jars of water into choice wine. The miracle had to appear very material to John, otherwise he would not have specified the amount, equivalent to over a hundred gallons. Such was indeed the quantity needed to satisfy the gusto of the several hundred guests attending a typical country wedding in Palestine in Jesus' time.
[SLJ Bible and Science 190]

Even on the purely human and sympathetic side, therefore, the Jesus of the New Testament seems to me to have in a great many ways the note of something superhuman; that is of something human and more than human. But there is another quality running through all his teachings which seems to me neglected in most modern talk about them as teachings; and that is the persistent suggestion that he has not really come to teach. If there is one incident in the record which affects me personally as grandly and gloriously human, it is the incident of giving wine for the wedding-feast. [Jn 2:1-11] That is really human in the sense in which a whole crowd of prigs, having the appearance of human beings, can hardly be described as human. It rises superior to all superior persons. It is as human as Herrick and as democratic as Dickens. But even in that story there is something else that has that note of things not fully explained; and in a way here very relevant. I mean the first hesitation, not on any ground touching the nature of the miracle, but on that of the propriety of working any miracles at all, at least at that stage, "my time is not yet come." What did that mean? At least it certainly meant a general plan or purpose in the mind, with which certain things did or did not fit in. And if we leave out that solitary strategic plan, we not only leave out the point of the story, but the story.

[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:336-7]

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

SLJ: Examples of Intellectual Stinginess

Father Jaki warns us of how even great scientists can succumb to temptation...
--Dr. Thursday

In speaking of the science of motion, Newton's name naturally comes to mind. Physics in Newtonian physics and even Einstein's physics would be inconceivable without Newton's Principia. That book begins with the three laws of motion: the basis of the whole science of mechanics, including rocket propulsion and space travel. Newton, of course, did not care to tell his readers how he arrived at those laws. He did not care because he was a very proud man unwilling to give credit to others, as was all too often the case with other seventeenth-century scientists and authors. Galileo and Descartes are two chief examples of this intellectual stinginess. Had Newton cared to say something about the origin of those three laws, and had he been utterly candid, he might have proceeded something like this: The credit for the third law (force equals mass times acceleration) belongs to me though not in the sense that I had formulated the notion of uniform acceleration. Credit for the latter should go to Galileo. As to the second and first laws, Newton should have made a special effort to be candid. The reason for this was that both those laws could be found in the books of Descartes, of whose reputation Newton was terribly jealous. He did not want anyone to suspect that he owed anything to Descartes. In his later years, Newton spent much precious time on erasing from his manuscripts and notebooks the name of Descartes, lest posterity learn a thing or two.

Had Newton acknowledged Galileo and Descartes, he would have not stated thereby the true origin of the first law and of the law of acceleration of which the free fall of a body is a classic case and primary example. Descartes was not the inventor of the all-important first law, nor was Galileo the inventor of the no-less-important law of acceleration. They could find them (and indeed found them) in several books printed in the 1570s and 1580s, whose authors took them from an earlier tradition, antedating the invention of printing. That tradition can be traced to the fourteenth-century Sorbonne, especially to the lectures of John Buridan and his greatest disciple, Nicole Oresme, who died as Bishop of Lisieux in 1378.

Lecturing in the fourteenth-century medieval universities consisted in reading the books of a prominent ancient author, very often Aristotle, and commenting on the text. This had by then been an old tradition going back to Hellenistic times and in particular to Muslim schools. One of Aristotle's scientific books that was most often commented upon was his cosmology, called On the Heavens. There Aristotle most explicitly states that the world is eternal and that its motion, and in particular the daily circular motion of the sphere of stars, is also eternal because the world is and must be uncreated, that is, without a beginning. Whatever else the Prime Mover of Aristotle was, he was not a Creator. Aristotle had no use for the idea of creation out of nothing. For Aristotle, the world, the universe, the cosmos, was the ultimate entity, most likely identical in its better or celestial parts with the Prime Mover himself. The cosmos, according to Aristotle, had necessarily to be what it is - in no way could his Prime Mover fashion, let alone create, a different universe.

Newton's first law was formulated by medieval schoolmen in reaction against such and similar statements of Aristotle and of other pagan classical scholars who held those statements to be absolute dogmas. The eternity and uncreatedness of the universe was indeed the chief dogma of all pagan religions, old and new, crude and refined. The medieval reaction to that dogma was, as one could expect it, made in terms of the first tenet of Christian Creed, which states the creation of all and in time, that is, in the beginning. How productive and fruitful that reaction was for science can be seen in John Buridan's commentaries on Aristotle's On the Heavens. After rejecting Aristotle's doctrine on the eternity of motion, Buridan wrote: "In the beginning when God made the heaven and the earth, He imparted a certain amount of impetus (motion) to the heavenly bodies, which impetus they still keep because they move in a space where there is no friction." This statement, which is essentially equivalent to Newton's first law, reappeared in many medieval lecture notes and its equivalent appeared in print many times before Descartes came to the scene.
[SLJ "God and Man's Science: A View of Creation" in The Absolute Beneath the Relative and other essays 62-3, emphasis added]

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why is the Sky Dark at Night? (a case study)

This sounds like a classic "little kid" kind of question, but the actual science - and the history and the philosophy which surround it - are well worth your own consideration...
--Dr. Thursday

Science can be studied in more than one way. Besides systematic, theoretical investigation, there is the experimental approach. In addition to admiration of the latest results, there is also the fascination of the long series of steps that precedes the crowning achievements. The survey of the road of advance offers, however, more than enthralling intellectual entertainment. The study of the past contains vital lessons as well that can be ignored only at a grave cultural risk. As human culture is increasingly influenced by science it becomes imperative to take a long look at science, at its potentialities and limitations, and last but not least, at the attitudes, qualities and shortcomings of its practitioners.
In achieving this objective, case histories of scientific thought should be particularly helpful. Their documentation often speaks more effectively than technical if not arcane arguments. Needless to say a case history of an old question imposes limits on the amount of documentation to be presented. The judgment implied in a representative reconstruction of the historical record is doubly difficult when the story is written for the first time, and when the number of special studies is rather meager. Both these remarks hold true of the history of scientific attempts aimed at the explanation of the darkness of the night sky, or Olbers' paradox. Although the collection of relevant material has been for years in the making, the present work makes no claim to completeness. Still it is hoped that no major document has been overlooked.
As the title of the book indicates, the story unfolded here is paradoxical in addition to the scientific paradox of the night sky. A principal source of the paradoxical character of the story lies in the fact that publications which constitute major mileposts in the story failed to be consulted by most of those who during the last hundred years or so discussed the question. The chronic neglect of those major documents is in part due to their relative inaccessibility. To remedy this situation the original texts of several classic essays on the question have been reprinted here as appendices. Their respective authors are Halley, Chéseaux and Olbers.
I am indebted to too many scholars and friends to have their names registered here. It will, of course, be my pleasure to receive communications from all those who have not ceased to ponder the meaning and significance of the paradox together with its fate and fortune in scientific thought.
December 1969 S. L. J.
[SLJ The Paradox of Olbers' Paradox (introduction)]

Saturday, June 20, 2009

" is taken for magic..."

"Welcome boys and girls! Welcome to Hogwarts School of Science and Philosophy. Please take out your wands and your copy of..." Ahem!

Yes, I thought you might laugh. In our Saturday half-holiday we have finally gotten to Jaki's collection of essays titled Numbers Decide - which seems to have a somewhat greater proportion of humour to it than the others. I must tell you I am grateful for being a Chestertonian, since it is by reading Chesterton one really begins to appreciate the uses of humour - by this means, one can see how splendidly Jaki uses humour in his own work.

I can't recall if I mentioned before that this collection contains two interesting essays on education, and that a very suitable research project for our Society (or indeed for a topic-seeking grad student) would be to examine Jaki, Chesterton and Newman on education. Certainly these three fit together in a useful fashion. There is no particular book of Jaki's which has education in itself as its primary topic - certainly nothing to compare with Newman's The Idea of a University and University Sketches - or even a large section of a book like GKC's What's Wrong With the World. But the two essays in Numbers Decide certainly contain much worth our consideration, and not only for those who wish to teach science or philosophy.

I made a selection for our half-holiday, and having re-read it was wondering why I thought it was so funny. Perhaps it will not provide quite as hearty a lift as some of our other selections, but having read not only the Hogwarts stories but many others of the fairy-tale and mystery genre, I do think the pivoting word of "magic" goes very far... but before I give you the selection I feel it necessary to make an aside here, in case you somehow miss the point:

No one seems to have noticed the very curious oblique reference from the Hogwarts Seven to the famous Pirotechnia of Biringuccio, a very early treatise on metallurgy and mining. It is simply this: Hogwarts presumes that its students have already acquired all the basic skills of reading and writing! (I seem to recall there some use of mathematics as well, but they sure have to read and write a lot; I thought it very funny to hear essay lengths assigned by "inches of parchment".) Those skills, I beg to point out, are not accomplished by magic. Or rather, those skills are a transcendent form of "magic" - a magic which is open to muggle and wizard alike, providing they bother to work at obtaining the skill! (They must be diligent at that work - from diligo = I love; they must have discipline - from discipulus a scholar, disciple.) But discussion of this and its parallel to the Pirotechnia I leave for another day; see here for my brief review and here for the relevant excerpt.

Having said that, let us hear Professor Jaki on magic...

Compared with these two notions, the object and subject of education, quite secondary should seem the manner or the technique of the procedure, or the educational skill, which often passes for the art of education. As long as those two, the subject and the object of education, were in the focus, and not the technique or skill of educating, no one assumed that the student, the pupil has a built-in fund of information, a fund born with him, so to speak, that can be cajoled out of him or her. It became the dubious privilege of education in recent decades to take education for magic whereby one can prompt the student to rediscover the rules of mathematics and the rules of grammar, and even the skills needed for the various arts such as drawing. Luckily they are not encouraged to compose music. They are, however, being taught that computers can take the place of composers. So they are hardly encouraged to care about learning music, which, however, was a principal branch of classical liberal education.
[SLJ Numbers Decide 87-8]

Numbers Decide and Other Essays (contents)

Numbers Decide and Other Essays
by Stanley L. Jaki
2003 (Pinckney, MI: Real View Books) viii+267 pp.

  1. "Numbers Decide or Planck's Constant and Some Constants of Philosophy"
    Invited paper, presented at the Academic Session of the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, April 11, 2000. First published in J. Gonzalo (ed.), Planck's Constant. 1900-2000 (Madrid: UAM Ediciones, 2000), pp. 108-134. Reprinted with permission.

  2. "The Power and Poverty of Science"
    First published in Asbury Theological Journal. 56 (Fall 2001), pp. 49-66. Reprinted with permission.

  3. "Non-Darwinian Darwinism"
    Invited paper read at the International Congress on Evolution, April 23-24, 2002. Roma, to be published in L'evoluzione: Crocevia di scienza, filosofia e teologia (Rome: Studium, 2003). Reprinted with permission.

  4. "Pluralism in Education and Education in Pluralism"
    First published in Journal of Education, 180 Nr. 3 (1998), pp. 67-94. Reprinted with permission.

  5. "The science of education and education in science"
    Paper read at the Workshop of the Pontifical Academy of Science, November 19-21, 2001. First pubished in its Scripta Varia Nr. 104, Vatican City, 2002, pp. 56-72. Reprinted with permission.

  6. "Myopia about Islam, with an Eye on Chesterbelloc"
    First published in The Chesterton Review 28 (2002), pp. 485-502. Reprinted with permission.

  7. "Islam, Science, and Christianity as Seen by a Muslim Physicist"
    A shorter version of this essay, presented as a lecture in the Department of Philosophy of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome on April 24, 2002, was published in Italian translation, "Islam, Scienza e Cristianesimo" (tr. B. Scolart), in Nuntium, Nr. 18 (November 2002), pp. 123-32.

  8. "The Origin of the Earth-Moon System and the Rise of Scientific Intelligence"
    First published in Commentarii (Pontifical Academy of Science), vol. IV, Nr. 3. Plenary Session on the Origin and Early Evolution of Life, 22-26 October 1996. Part I (Vatican City State), pp. 321-31.

  9. "Cloning and Arguing"
    First published in Linacre Quarterly, 65/1 (February 1998), pp. 5-18.

  10. "Cosmology in Science and Theology: Some Perennial Differences"
    Paper presented at the University of Helsinki and published in Infinity, Causality and Determinism: Cosmological Enterprises and Their Preconditions, ed. E. Martikainen (Munich: Peter Lang, 2002), pp. 193-203. Reprinted with permission.

  11. "The Relevance of Materials Science"
    Invited paper read at the Tenth World Congress on Ferroelectricity, Madrid, Sept. 6, 2001. Reprinted with permission from Ferroelectrics, 207 (2002), pp. 77-89.

  12. "Quantities and Everything Else"
    English version of the paper, "Mennyiségek és minden más," read at the "Cognitive Seminar" held at the Hungarian Academy of Science, April 18, 2001. Reprinted with permission from the Seminar's Proceedings, Agy és Tudat ((Brain and Consciousness)) Budapest: BIP, 2002, pp. 95-101.

  13. "From World Views to Science and Back"
    Paper presented at the Plenary Meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Science, held on "The Cultural Values of Science," November 8-11, 2002, to be published in its Proceedings (Vatican City, 2003). Reprinted with permission.

  14. "Giordano Bruno's Place in Science"
    An invited paper read at the Giordano Bruno Conference at the Università di Roma, on February 17, 2000, the four hundredth anniversary of Bruno's death on the stake.

  15. "A Thousand Years from Now"
    First published in Modern Age (Winter 2001), pp. 6- 15.

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]

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]

Yes I know didn't post on Saturday

Yes, I missed. This will happen from time to time, as I have been busy.

After all, there are only 26 hours in a day.

Or is it 34?

Say, what planet is this, anyway? Hee hee.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Our purpose, restated

A brief insight from Fr. Jaki into science, religion, and Pierre Duhem...
--Dr. Thursday

Had Duhem been but an exemplary practicing Catholic, an account of his life and work focused on that fact would need no further justification. We live in a secularist age which is not willing to learn from the colossal debacle of institutionalized Marxist slogans about religion as a mere opiate of the people. By and large, scientists in the Western world fail to protest against those colleagues of theirs who, blessed with literary and performing talents, keep preaching a now two-hundred-year-old message of secularist Western culture. The message, first formulated by the gurus of the Enlightenment, consists in the claim that science is the only reliable savior of mankind and that for science to be born Christianity, or the religion most explicitly steeped in belief in a most extraordinary Savior, first must be discredited.

That religion, including Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular, can only be tolerated as a subjective option, is the implicit message of pontificating scientists, all too ready to perform before the batteries of television cameras. The option they allow to that religion is a lame licence to operate as an opiate which, so they hope, proper exposure to science will sufficiently prevent from doing too much harm.

Against such message and claim it is always effective to fall back on Diogenes' unsurpassable method of refutation. He was not the first to be presented with the sophisticated fallacy (then as always coated in specious references to the method of science) aimed at securing the rule of universal scepticism. The fallacy was meant to prove that it was impossible to traverse any distance, however small, because any such distance consists of an infinite number of parts which it takes an infinite time to traverse. Apparently, Diogenes was the first to dispose of that hollow argument by walking from one end of a room to the other. His commonsense act became remembered in terms of a proverbial phrase, solvitur ambulando. [Latin: "It is solved [by] walking"; a grand pun and a succinct counterexample!] The very life of any scientist who was also a devout Christian is such a perennial factual disproof of that impertinent secularist message. Such a disproof can particularly well serve those who cannot handle effectively the arguments, philosophical and historical, that invariably enter the scene whenever the question arises about the alleged conflict between science and religion.

Duhem, the scientist and Catholic, can be utilized in a far deeper sense. For Duhem was unique among modem scientists with his penetrating insights into the method of the exact sciences, and in particular of physics, both on the conceptual level and along the vast and broad front of its use in history. In fact he did, what historians and historians of science were supposed to have done long ago: He discovered the true origins of Newtonian physics. That those origins are steeped in a culture, the Middle Ages, which for many is still the classic embodiment of obscurantism, could have but served as lèse majesté. But as if insult were to be added to injury, Duhem also spelled out the fact, with a vast and most original historical research that those origins are intimately connected with Catholic dogmas, such as the creation out of nothing and creation in time.
[SLJ Scientist and Catholic: Pierre Duhem, introduction]

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sounding a perfect triad: J, C, B

If you have ever studied music, you know how the notes of the scale are named for the first seven letters of the alphabet. If you have gone into it further, you may also know that the German notation uses "B" to stand for the note others call "b-flat" and "H" to stand for "b-natural". Furthermore, those of you who are familiar with 20th century organ music may know of Olivier Messiaen, who devised "Communicable Language" extending tonal values to the remainder of the alphabet...

Why do I bring such things up here?

Well, for one, because the members of our Society are true scholars, anxious to learn about all things which help lead us to Truth. Here's why:
I never can really feel that there is such a thing as a different subject. There is no such thing as an irrelevant thing in the universe; for all things in the universe are at least relevant to the universe.
[GKC ILN Feb 17 1906 CW27:125-6]
And also because I wanted a curious metaphor to introduce today's topic. I was thinking of how one can take a J and a C, and add a B to get a perfect triad.... not, of course in music, not even in Messiaen's notation. Rather, in the curious and powerful wide vision of Father Jaki, (the "J") who brought Chesterton (the "C") and Babbage (the "B") together in his Brain, Mind and Computers.

This work is a dangerous one for me to take up, since it touches my own field, and because there are some interesting topics for discussion - topics which are not those the typical reader (be he a computer scientist, a philosopher, or otherwise) would propose for debate! However I am not going to proceed to those matters today, nor shall I review the book, even obliquely. And lest I give you the impression I have reservations about its worth, be assured - it is far too important a book for our Society - which I shall now proceed to justify.

In Jaki's usual style, he quotes a famous Chesterton line, which has its value for computing as much as for mechanical physics and for cosmology:
Machines, if properly constructed, require no more than plainly worded operating manuals that are useful in the measure in which their writers make no pretense to philosophical sophistication. Indeed very little can be written about the philosophy of machines, unless one is ready to take prolixity for substance. In the philosophy of machines the essential point can be made, pace Mumford, in a few lines. Chesterton’s dictum, “There must in every machine be a part that moves and a part that stands still,” is philosophy of its deepest kind, partly because it is followed by the unwavering generalization: “There must be in everything that changes a part that is unchangeable."

The profundity of Chesterton’s dictum becomes obvious as soon as one considers that in a world of change rational, that is, meaningful judgments must assume a connection between the starting and end points of any process. This, however, makes sense only if something remains identical while the process or change runs its course. The merit of this consideration is recommended not only by its balanced character, but also by the vertiginous stances to which any tinkering with that balance inevitably leads.
[SLJ, Brain, Mind, and Computers 253-4 citing GKC's What's Wrong With the World]
However, even if Jaki had not quoted Chesterton, this book has a profound effect on me, akin to that of Science and Creation in which Jaki repeats Pierre Duhem's revelation of the groundbreaking work of Buridan and Oresme in the 1300s. And not just on me, but on our Society, for it tells us that there is another great scholar whose work we must also study.

For in Brain, Mind, and Computers Father Jaki tells of the long-concealed work of Charles Babbage (1792-1871) the founder of computer science, and inventor of the "Analytical Engine" - I refer to his famous Ninth Bridgewater Treatise!

Rather than attempt a summary, I shall quote at length:
The prospect of saving men from the tedium of routine computation clearly delighted him [Kelvin]. "The object of this machine," he remarked about his Tidal Harmonic Analyzer, "is to substitute brass for brain in the great mechanical labor of calculating the elementary constituents of the whole tidal rise and fall." While the device, as Kelvin noted, "did the work, which seemed to the Astronomer Royal so complicated and difficult that no machine could master it," Kelvin, unlike Hobbes, did not assign to brass the faculty of thinking. Much as he valued mechanical models as reliable guideposts in the scientific search for the ultimate form of physical reality, his appreciation of non-physical realities was just as strong. Intelligence and freedom of will, these basic distinctives of humans, constituted, in his opinion, "a miracle to physical, chemical, and mathematical science."

In such an appraisal no one would have concurred more wholeheartedly than Charles Babbage, the nineteenth-century founder of twentieth-century computers. Considered an eccentric by his neighbors and unappreciated by the British government, Babbage was to receive due recognition only long after his death. It is readily admitted today that the giant electronic computers, a chief pride of our times, are but the embodiments of principles that Babbage laid down well before the nineteenth century reached its midpoint. Little is it remembered, however, that in Babbage's own evaluation his novel calculating machines were not only aids for calculation. He also considered his invention a most impressive illustration of a train of thought indicating the existence of an infinite intellect, or Creator.

Such was the essence of Babbage's philosophy of the computer which he set forth in detail in The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise. In writing it, Babbage had several objectives in view. In general he wanted to show that "the power and knowledge of the great Creator of matter and mind are unlimited." It was also his determination to combat a recurring prejudice, that "the pursuits of science are unfavourable to religion," a prejudice which he believed "to have been long eradicated from every cultivated mind." More specifically, he wanted to show that the computer has certain characteristics that might effectively be exploited in constructing a new and most powerful proof of the existence of a Creator. To use the modern terminology, Babbage described the Creator as an infinitely skilled programmer, "whose mind, intimately cognizant of the remotest consequences of the present as well as of all other laws, decreed existence to that one alone, which should comprehend within its grasp the completion of its destiny - which should require no future intervention to meet events unanticipated by its author, in whose omniscient mind we can conceive no infirmity of purpose - no change of intention!"

It was in that perspective that Babbage defended such cardinal points in natural theology as the possibility and reality of miracles, of providence, of freedom of will, of future punishments and rewards. The question of miracles especially retained his attention, determined as he was to lay bare the weaknesses inherent in Hume's argument against miracles. Hume's argument, as is well known, is based on the principle of induction. As an uncounted number of observations supports the sameness of the action of the laws of physics both in space and time, it is unreasonable to give credibility to a few individuals claiming that certain events took place at variance with the laws of physics. In Babbage's estimate, Hume's argument was faulty on two counts: it overestimated the bearing of particular inductions and at the same time it took an oversimplified view of the universe. Miracles, Babbage argued, could be properly understood only by those sufficiently aware of the immense complicatedness of the processes of nature. This complicatedness was the result of the infinite number of the ways in which the material forces and entities in nature could interact with one another. The infinity of ways implied in turn that a most extraordinary change might take place in the regular course of events at the most unexpected moments. To illustrate this, Babbage spoke at length of the surprising turns that could be displayed by the calculating machine. The machine, constructed to follow a given law of calculation, might equally well be built in such a way as to begin to obey another law of calculation at a future time, known only to its constructor. The sequence of these two laws was evidently determined by another superior law, indicating the basic idea underlying the mode of operation of any advanced calculating machine. Thus the machine was in fact the embodiment of hierarchically ordered instructions or laws. As such, the calculating machine, so Babbage argued, was but a modest replica of nature. Vast as the complexities of a calculating machine might have been, they were far surpassed by the vastness of the intricacies present in even the most elementary contrivances of nature. Yet for all its relative primitiveness, the calculating machine constituted a most telling analogy. By studying its structure and mode of operation, one could form, as Babbage emphasized, "a faint estimate of the magnitude of that lowest step in the chain of reasoning, which leads us to Nature's God."
[SLJ Brain, Mind, and Computers 42-45, attributions omitted]
Truly, meat for whole teams of scholars, for truly joint colloquia of philosophers and scientists and technologists...

You may wonder why I do not add the "D" note (for Duhem) to our chord. I must here reveal that the name "Duhem" does not appear in this book. Perhaps some future scholar, hopefully a member of our Society, shall one day take up the synthesis of these four notes, and compose a great work much as another once wrote fugues on B-A-C-H...

Saturday, June 6, 2009

"...all-purpose wrapping paper..."

I have mentioned before that one who reads Jaki's writing will come to expect certain themes - and indeed certain grand epigrams, certain very important quotes, certain distinct repetitions - to occur, again and again. Some might find these a bit annoying in a scholarly work, but they are wrong: wrong for neglecting a simple fact: these repetitions typically occur in Jaki's essay collections, which after all were not organized to avoid repetition, but in fact exist in order to repeat already-published works in one place!

But there is a more important point to observe about such repetitions.

As I have had cause to ascertain, three words - "the","of", "and" - account for around ten percent of the typical Jaki book, or the typical Chesterton book. They are very important words, even though their omission would rarely damage [the] meaning [of] any given sentence. But they are important helps to us as we read, justasimportantasthespacebetweenwords... these provide verbal structure and a form of synchronization. That is, they reassure us that our mental shapes are being built according to the rules. If we came upon some omission of those synchronizers, we would wonder what is going on, and might even lose the train of thought...

But it is Saturday, our half-holiday, and though unfortunately I have been too busy to give you the lectures and quotes you expect, I shall not do them now, when I am clearly far too late. I will contritely attempt to do better in the future, and proceed to our dessert course.

One of those curious little nuggets we find again and again in the Jaki collection is the "Three S's" - or sometimes the "Four S's"... and you will wonder what those are. Herewith I provide you with both the definition and use in one compact and entertaining excerpt:
The fact that a scientist, a chemist, can become Minister of Foreign affairs, is suggestive of some scientists who want to pontificate about everything under the sun, even about matters for which they are not trained at all. They show the sad development in which science becomes an all-purpose wrapping paper to sell effectively anything. Science then is lowered to the level of three other S's - Sport, Sex and Smile - where it stands for one of the four chief vehicles of the often unconscionable tactics of advertising. As such they amount to the modern version of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse that wreak havoc over any and all in their way.
[Jaki, A Late Awakening and Other Essays 35]

The Gist of Catholicism and Other Essays (contents)

The Gist of Catholicism and Other Essays
by Stanley L. Jaki
2001 (Pinckey, MI: Real View Books, 2001)

  1. "The Gist of Catholicism"
    Reprinted with permission from Catholic Dossier 7 (Jan.-Fete. 2001), pp. 17-28.
  2. "The Catholic Intellectual"
    Reprinted with permission from Catholic Dossier 6 (Jan.-Feb.2000), pp. 8-16.
  3. "Faith, Reason and Science"
    Reprinted with minor additions from Quarterly of Catholic Scholars, 23 (Nr. 2. Spring 2000), pp. 8-15. First presented at Portland University on October 16, 1999, in the context of the Faith and Reason Symposium, sponsored by the Office of Ministry Formation of the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon.
  4. "The Immaculate Conception and a Conscience Immaculate"
    This chapter is the expanded and annotated text of a lecture given at the 7th annual Marian Program at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia, on March 4, 2000. Reprinted from Catholic Dossier, Nov.-Dec. 2000, pp. 4-11.
  5. "Liberalism and Theology"
    First published in Faith and Reason, 20/4 (Winter 1994), pp. 347-68. Reprinted with permission.
  6. "Undeceivably Infallible"
    Originally delivered in Hungarian, in Budapest, in May 7,1991, in preparation of John Paul II's visit to Hungary. First published in English in The Wanderer, July 18,1991, pp. 4 and 6. Reprinted with permission.
  7. "Peter's Chair: A Professorial Chair?"
    Invited lecture for the 12th World Conference on Love, Life and Family of Human Life International, Houston, April 12-14, 1993. First published in a booklet form by Human Life International, Gaithersburg, Maryland. Reprinted with permission.
  8. "Authoritatively no authority to ordain women"
    First published in The Wanderer, June 30,1994. Reprinted with permission.
  9. "The True Origin of Man"
    Invited paper for the Hungarian World Congress on Bioethics, Budapest, 6-8 June 1992. First published in Hungarian in JEL 5/1 (1993), pp. 3-ó. The English text is published here for the first time.
  10. "The Purpose of Healing"
    Keynote address to the 61st Annual Meeting of the National Federation of Catholic Physicians' Guilds, October 1992. First published in Linacre Quarterly 60 (February 1993), pp. 5-15. Reprinted with permission.
  11. "Life's Defense: Natural and Supernatural"
    First published in Linacre Quarterly, 61 (February 1994), pp. 22-31. Reprinted with permission. Here some notes have been added.
  12. "Consistent Bioethics and Christian Consistency"
    This English version of a talk, originally given in Hungarian in Budapest, appeared in Linacre Quarterly, 61 (August 1994), pp. 87-92.
  13. "The Ethical Foundations of Bioethics"
    First published in The Linacre Quarterly 62 (November 1995), pp. 74-85. Reprinted with permission.
  14. "The Dilution of Essence"
    The English text of a lecture presented in Hungarian in Budapest, July 24, 1998, and published in Hungarian Review of Bioethics, 4 (1998) Nr. 3, pp. 15-21.
  15. "The Future of Bioethics and the Soul's Future"
    The English text of a lecture, presented in Hungarian in Budapest on June 23, 1999, and published in Magyar Bioetikai Szemle (The Hungarian Review of Bioethics) 5 (Nr. 4,1999), pp. 1-7.
  16. "The Catholic Church and Astronomy"
    Originally published in History of Astronomy: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing Company, 1996), pp. 127-31. Reprinted with permission.
  17. "Two Miracles and a Nobel Prize"
    First published in Catholic World Report, November 1994, pp. 60-63. Reprinted with permission.
  18. "Creation: Once and for All"
    First published in Proceedings of the 24th Annual Wanderer Forum, October 18-19, 1991 (St. Paul, Minn.: The Wanderer Forum Foundation, 1992), pp. 6-11. Reprinted with permission.
  19. "Beyond the Tools of Production"
    Invited paper to the collection of essays, "Reflections on the 100th Anniversary of
    Rerum novarum," published as a Wanderer Supplement, May 16, 1991, pp. 5-7. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Jaki: a Glimpse of Middle Ages Technology

As promised, the wonderful excerpt from Jaki about the medieval monastery. Imagine any tech document giving a fervent little bow of thanks to God, even as a footnote! Why not? We ought to thank Him, especially for our technology:
The wrong is not that engines are too much admired, but that they are not admired enough. The sin is not that engines are mechanical, but that men are mechanical.
[G. K. Chesterton, Heretics CW1:113]
--Dr. Thursday

The chronological definition of the Middle Ages as an epoch from 800 to 1450 provides a logical ground for the historian insofar as the work of evaluation has to be concerned with comparison. Since such a comparison is usually a reference to the preceding culture, the evaluation of the Middle Ages has to be done with an eye on the Roman Empire.

During both the Middle Ages and Roman times material and organizational needs were keenly felt. The Roman Empire had periods of famine, as did the Middle Ages. Both heavily depended on agriculture and relied on manual labor. One was largely served by slaves, the other by serfs. Although the Christian serfs received more humane treatment than did the Roman slaves, the physical conditions of their lives were not much different. At any rate, the pagan Roman landowner had the same interest in a good harvest as did the medieval feudal lord. Why is it then that a major improvement of the plow had to wait for the Middle Ages? Unlike the traditional Roman plow, the medieval plow had, in addition to a vertical knife, a horizontal shear to slice under the sod and a moldboard to turn it over.

Material needs, of course, must have played a part in that very important technological invention, but why then did those needs fail to spur the inventiveness of the Romans of old? They and the Greeks and other ancient nations that made much use of horses in warfare failed to exploit an elementary fact about the horse's anatomy. If a horse is made to pull something by means of a strap around its neck, it not only does so ineffectively but also risks being exposed to strangulation. However, the weight-pulling effectiveness of the horse can be increased fourfold with a breast harness, a medieval invention, as is the nailed horseshoe and the harnessing of horses in front of one another. Their use for plowing the fields is first depicted on the Bayeux tapestry, more famous for showing Halley's comet.

Those medieval inventions made an agricultural revolution. Together with the introduction of three-field crop rotation, they almost doubled the harvest. While many of the physical conditions of medieval serfs remained much the same as those of Roman slaves, they ate much better. A further proof of this is the much wider use of watermills in the Middle Ages compared with Roman times. In England, for instance, a late eleventh-century count of three thousand villages registered almost twice as many watermills, a situation not untypical of other parts of Latin Christendom.

Watermills were needed for more than the grinding of grain. Fullers found a revolutionary use for them, proof of the fact that the clothes worn by medieval people were of better quality than those of their Roman forebears. (Those clothes also had buttons and pockets, two small but most useful advances achieved in the art of dressmaking during the Middle Ages). The use of watermills by fullers is tellingly evidenced in the description of the Abbey of Clairvaux, given about 1180 by a Cistercian monk. The description is an encomium to machinery insofar as it relieves man of hard labor.

In the description of the abbey the visitor approaching it along the river first sees two hills, a vineyard and an orchard respectively, between which nestles the abbey itself. On the near side of the orchard the visitor finds a fishery, made possible by damming the river. From there the river is channeled into the abbey, but in such a way that in case of flood its surplus water would flow around the abbey along an auxiliary canal. From here on, let the anonymous monk take over:
Once the river is let inside the abbey through a sluice, it first rushes against the flour mill, where it is very solicitous and occupies itself in many tasks, both in grinding the grain and in separating the flour from the bran.... But the river is far from being through with its work. It is invited by the fullers who labor next to the flour mills and who rightly demand that just as the river was busy in the mills so that the brethren may be fed, it should also assist the fullers so that the brethren may also be clothed. The river does not decline any work the fullers demand from it. By alternately raising and lowering the heavy stumps, or pestles, or if you wish hammers, or wooden legs (because this name better fits the fullers' jumping style of action), the river relieves them of their really heavy work. Or, if one may inject into a serious topic a remark in a light vein, the river takes upon itself the fullers' punishment for their sins. O God, in your goodness you provide so much respite to your poor servants lest they be overtaken by much sadness! How much relief do you administer to penitents from their sins, lest they feel oppressed by the hardship of their work! The backs of how many horses would be broken and how many men's arms greatly exhausted by a labor from which this river gratuitously dispenses us and without which no clothing, no food would be prepared! The river therefore shares our life while demanding nothing in a way of recompense for its work, which it performs under the blazing sun, except that it may freely leave after it has diligently done its work. It has turned so many big wheels in rapid rotation that it emits froth so that it looks tamed and increasingly so as it moves on.

Instead of following the further course of the river through the numerous other workshops, such as the tannery and laundry, which are also enthusiastically described by that anonymous monk, let us return to his reference to the fullers' up-and-down legwork, now performed by trip-hammers. As well as describing the river's turning "so many big wheels in rapid rotation," he attests to the use of one of the foremost medieval technological inventions, the cam. It does nothing less than transform rotary motion into linear thrust, and vice versa. The medieval introduction of mechanical saws, not mentioned by the monk, is another example of the use of cams.

This is excerpted from Jaki, "Medieval Creativity in Science and Technology" in Patterns or Principles and Other Essays 71-73. I omit the other annotations but the lengthy quote has this note:

My translation is from the Latin text, "Descriptio positionis seu situationis monasterii Clarae-vallensis," in J.-P. Migne, ed., Patrologiae cursus completus. Series latina (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1844-1864), vol. 185, cols. 569-74.