Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Duhem or Chesterton?

I have found what seems to be a startling parallel - or perhaps I might say a convergence of ideas - between Duhem and Chesterton. Even more remarkable, it is a sort of derivative from Darwinian evolution - though it is what we might call a sane form of Darwinian reasoning. It suggests a great mystery, and yet a positive one, since it urges fruitfulness: to me this strongly suggests the great "Analogy of the Body" from St. Paul (1Cor12). See what you think.
-- Dr. Thursday

Here is Duhem:
What is true of all living beings, is also true of scientific doctrines: It is through struggle that selection is made among them; it is the conflict which fragments and sweeps away the false ideas; it is the struggle which forces the right ideas to make more precise and more valid the proofs which they claim to themselves; it is the struggle which forces the fruitful ideas to deliver all their products.

Now this struggle of ideas is impossible if science is entirely in one single locality; when this absolute centralisation is in effect one finds before long in each branch of knowledge only one teacher, and the disciples of that teacher. The teacher, no longer exposed to being contradicted, and long since accustomed to seeing his best ideas received as products of a genius, hardly has any concern to protect himself from an exaggerated confidence in his own judgment, confidence which delivers him defenseless against the habit of making errors. The disciples, receiving their master's teachings as oracles instead of improving them with free discussions through a contact with opposite doctrines, yield to the nonchalant habit of repeating a lesson already learned which ends in no longer being comprehended.

Precisely because we feel how dangerous it would be to let French science reach that point, we desire to see our universities vigorously armed for engaging in a contest with one another. We wish that a doctrine proclaimed in Lyon may see an opposite doctrine rise in Toulouse or Nancy, that a doctrine proclaimed in Paris might develop in Lille or in Bordeaux. We wish that in France each man of science may find at every moment these two essential conditions for scientific work: the freedom which permits him to put forward all his ideas, and the opposition which obliges him to produce only mature ideas.
[PD quoted in SLJ, Uneasy Genius: The Life and Work of Pierre Duhem 133; see my note at the end.]
And here is Chesterton:
Because a man prayed and fasted on the Northern snows, flowers could be flung at his festival in the Southern cities; and because fanatics drank water on the sands of Syria, men could still drink cider in the orchards of England. This is what makes Christendom at once so much more perplexing and so much more interesting than the Pagan empire; just as Amiens Cathedral is not better but more interesting than the Parthenon. If any one wants a modern proof of all this, let him consider the curious fact that, under Christianity, Europe (while remaining a unity) has broken up into individual nations. Patriotism is a perfect example of this deliberate balancing of one emphasis against another emphasis. The instinct of the Pagan empire would have said, "You shall all be Roman citizens, and grow alike; let the German grow less slow and reverent; the Frenchmen less experimental and swift." But the instinct of Christian Europe says, "Let the German remain slow and reverent, that the Frenchman may the more safely be swift and experimental. We will make an equipoise out of these excesses. The absurdity called Germany shall correct the insanity called France."
[GKC Orthodoxy CW1:304]

I might add that Jaki has a caveat about the implications regarding "evolution", and I could add my own. But I think we can examine the ideas here without jumping to any unwarranted conclusions; Chesterton (and Jaki) have plenty to say about Darwin, as they remember to distinguish proper science from improper philosophy - but we shall defer that topic for the time being.

A note about the Duhem quote: There appears to be a typographical error in SLJ's text. In checking the footnote reference, there is a diswcrepancy of pagination, so it seems that the article by Duhem must be what SLJ would note as "1989(13)" and not "1898(12)", but I do not have access to the materials in question to verify. The footnote of the citation gives page 246 for "1898(12)" but the bibliography has "On the General Problem of Chemical Statics", JPhCh 2:1-42 and 91-115. Item 13, however, is "Une soutenance de thèse de doctorat à la Faculté des Sciences de Bordeaux", RPBSOu 244-50 (avril); which agrees with the context of the quotation.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Link to Your Christmas Gift

Courtesy of Dr. Kelly of the Catholic Association of Scientists and Engineers, I have the delight of presenting you with a link to a most startling website...


It offers hiking tours to the sites visited and painted by Pierre Duhem!

Amazing. Delightful. Awesome. How I hope I may go there someday. At least both you and I can have a small glimpse of the natural beauty of Cabrespine...

* * *

My very best wishes for a happy and holy Christmas day and season to you and your family...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Duhem on the relation of the sciences to metaphysics

[Early September 1894, the Third International Scientific Congress of Catholics held in Bruxelles...]

Duhem's hour came the following morning when he attended, in the philosophy section of the Congress, some lectures dealing with topics that touched on the relation of sciences to metaphysics. After the Pere Bulliot, future head of the philosophy department of the Institut Catholique in Paris, had read his paper on the concepts of matter and mass, Duhem asked, not without the promptings of some present, for permission to make a few remarks. Although his remarks were not reported in the Compte rendu of the Congress in the form of a verbatim quotation, the printed text can, partly because of its incisiveness and clarity, be taken for the most part for Duhem's actual words. Duhem, the report begins, 'is convinced that these researches [having for their object the confines of the positive sciences and metaphysics] will, if done wisely and prudently, lead to the reconciliation of Christian philosophy and modern science, but he insists on the extreme difficulty of such studies.' Duhem's reasons were as follows:

Only the principles of the different positive sciences are of interest to philosophers; but, in order to know these principles, it is not enough to read a book of popularization, not even the first chapters of a treatise written by a competent scientist. One does not comprehend the meaning and bearing of the principles on which a science rests except when one has studied that science for years, applied in a thousand ways those principles to particular cases, and mastered in depth the technique of what the Germans call the materials of science.

For example, the obvious sense of Euclid's [parallel] postulate is accessible to a child who studies the first book of geometry. But in order to understand the exact sense of that postulate, to grasp the reasons which give it a special place among the truths of geometry, to see clearly what would become of geometry if that postulate were to be abandoned, one must have a complete mathematical training which requires years of work.

If therefore we want to handle with competence and fruitfully the questions which are of the domain common to metaphysics and to positive science, let us begin with studying the latter for ten, for fifteen years; let us study it, first of all, in itself and for itself, without seeking to put it in harmony with such and such philosophical assertion; then, as we have mastered its principles, applied it in a thousand ways, we can search for its metaphysical meaning which will not fail to accord with true philosophy.

Anyone who would find exaggerated a similar labor must not forget that every hasty, scientifically incorrect solution of one of the problems relating to the common frontiers of science and philosophy, would result in the greatest prejudlce against our cause. The philosophers must imitate the patience of scientists. Once a problem is posed, scientists devote centuries, if necessary, to solving it. They accept only a precise and rigorous solution.

At any rate, the schools we are combatting give us example. The positivist school, the critical school, publish numerous works on the philosophy of science. These works carry the names of the greatest names of European science. We cannot triumph over these schools except by opposing them with researches done by people who, too, are masters of the positive sciences.

[quoted from Compte rendu du Troisième Congrès Scientifique International des Catholiques tenu à Bruxelles du 3 au 8 septembre 1894 (Bruxelles: Société Belge de Librairie, 1895) in Jaki, Uneasy Genius: The Life and Work of Pierre Duhem, 113-4, emphasis added]

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Essential Jaki

What can I possibly mean - "essential Jaki"? The Relevance? (He himself suggests as containing much of his later work, at least in embryonic form. See A Mind's Matter 27.) Or one (or more) of his essay collections? Or his amazing meditations on prayers? Or that tiny little thing on Chesterton? Or perhaps - Science and Creation?

Well, No.

I have no time to fairly and justly give you a recommended selection of his works - so if you are hoping for for an "introduction" to him I must diappoint you, at least for today. But then... perhaps (like some other great writers) almost any of his works are a suitable start. In this he is like the holograms of laser physics, a great analogy to certain even more mystical ideas: any fractional part of a hologram contains a representation of the whole image.

But actually, I was thinking about how one could easily have a "Jaki Advent Retreat" with his incomparable meditations on the Savior, and though there are barely two weeks left before Christmas, I suggest the following texts. (You can always work on obtaining them now, for future use.)

1. Advent and Science - a booklet of four essays
2. The Virgin Birth and the Birth of Science - a booklet with pictures by Blake
3. Catholic Essays - this is a collection but I mean specifically these two: "3. The Creator's Coming" and "4. A Most Holy Night"

You may also add, if you like, his little books on the Litany of Loreto and of St. Joseph, as well as the Magnificat...

I must also suggest his cosmological or Christocentric studies, though it would be to open not a retreat, but the bibliography for a grad-school seminar, and add items like his studies of the Psalms and The Savior of Science - but especially deserving of exploration is the important chapter on Science and the Jews, the seventh in Science and Creation which is called "The Beacon of the Covenant":
In the biblical view God is primarily and ultimately a person, whose most unique characteristic is to reveal His unspeakable transcendence in His most immediate concern for the children of Abraham.
The God of the Bible is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; that is, the God of the Covenant, or a God who freely binds Himself to the welfare of mankind through the mediation of Abraham’s progeny.
[SLJ SC 139]
What a grand statement of What Advent Is All About...

"...a God who freely binds Himself to the welfare of mankind through the mediation of Abraham’s progeny..."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jaki and Advent

Sorry I have fallen behind on our study of The Relevance of Physics; I hope to resume it shortly. Meanwhile, I suggest you get a copy of SLJ's Advent and Science and read it. Here is its beginning.
--Dr. Thursday

It may seem strange to seek a connection between Advent and science, and even stranger if Advent is mainly a matter of sentiments. Yet, undoubtedly, more than any other phase of the liturgical year Advent is the season of that gripping sentiment which is longing. Advent is also replete with the joy of anticipation which in some way surpasses even the joy of possession. Many have observed, and rightly so, that there is something special in the joy of expecting as compared with the joy one feels on coming into possession of what one has eagerly looked for.

What is true of religion, as experienced especially during Advent, is also true of science. The magic of science comes to a large extent from musing about its future marvels and about its promise that man's horizons would forever expand. The feats which science has already achieved along these lines greatly strengthen the confidence that the future has even greater feats in store.
[SLJ Advent and Science 1]

P.S. If you wish for some more seasonal reading material, I have just posted links to some of my past blogg-writings, which includes some unusual observations relating the 20 amino acids to the 20 mysteries of the Rosary.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Brief Thoughts for the Feast of Christ the King

Duhem and a few other Catholic historians of science undoubtedly saw in medieval science a credit to Catholic faith. Duhem himself viewed science in the Middle Ages as a proof of Christ's promise that those who seek first the Kingdom of Heaven will reap benefits on earth as well.
[SLJ "Medieval Creativity in Science and Technology" in Patterns or Principles and Other Essays]

...Gilson's profound conviction [was] that all intellectual work should promote the Kingdom of God as a service under Christ the King...
[SLJ "Gilson and Science" in Patterns or Principles and Other Essays]

"For religion all men are equal, as all pennies are equal, because the only value in any of them is that they bear the image of the King."
[GKC Charles Dickens CW15:44]

Let us always do as these great Masters have indicated: in lab, or office, in classroom or library, at home or at work: let us seek first Christ's kingdom, and all our work be in service of others thereby serving Christ the King.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Sun is a Doggy: Observation, Similarity, Prediction

We are considering Jaki's primal work of cliognosology, that is, of the history of science, The Relevance of Physics: part one of which is called "The Chief World Models of Physics" and chapter one which is "The World as an Organism".

It is, as we saw last week, a very Chestertonian title to a very Chestertonian work. A Scientist reading it may (unfortunately) be disappointed, and in fact dismayed; it does not seem to be about science, and (worse) it is not written in a very scientific style, though it has over 150 footnotes in its fifty pages, and even mentions Einstein and other modern scientists. Perhaps the title itself is misleading, for there's not very much in this chapter about the idea of "the world as organism" and hardly a scientific portrayal of it: a critique of what it described correctly and what it failed to describe. Still I urge you to deal with it, as it will be useful, and even surprisingly so.

Here is one reason why. This chapter gives us a wandering through the museum of Greek philosophers, most of whom did not do science in any sense, and who would probably laugh at the idea that they were "studying nature" - but whom some scholars deem as scientists, or at least scholars who laid a foundation for science. They spoke, wrote, ranted - just like us - except it wasn't on a talk show, or on a blogg. (This may seem to be an extreme view, but, thankfully, it's not mine. Granted, Jaki doesn't state that theme directly, but it gleams out by his almost chaotic approach to the pantheon of Greek writers.) Ah, now we can begin to understand: the Greeks were having a good time talking, embellishing or defending their views and adopting or opposing the views of others without regard for order, for reason, or (most importantly) for concern over whether any of their ideas related to something in the real world. (Just like we do these days.) Sure, some of their ideas sprang from the real world, but as these wise men retreated into their groves for debate, they left all reality behind. (Just like we do these days.) In other words, they do what we moderns do: in our academic journals, in our bloggs, in our talk shows (sometimes called "the news") - indeed, in all our media.

But this is a great advantage to us. Jaki provides a priceless insight into these historic and exalted figures, and brings them to us in a way which fits into our own world: as fallen humans, hoping to apply their intellects to the world around them, yet full of themselves and concerned with their own interests even while they purport to be doing "science". (Or others claim that purpose for them.) Yet - and this is the real surprise - they did make some advances, and important ones - if only in the sense that their works were collected and maintained for two millennia, and thus we can take advantage of their work, even with its errors and its absurd views.

It may seem crazy to us in the 21st century to "admire" these ancient Greeks - that we ought not do. Indeed, they leave very much to be desired when one recalls their soap-opera polytheism and their distorted views of government (the State is all) and Man (the individual is unimportant - so unimportant we can enslave other humans). We can ignore all this, since we are trying to see what they had to say about science. But even there... oh my, what can we say? It sounds like the sheerest nonsense to imagine the sun as an animal, going to its den in the evening, or the sea as an animal with its tides being its "breathing" or whatever. Yes, you might suggest that this had some relation to their paganism: these people believed that the sun was a god, didn't they? Excuse me, but unless you've never been outside your whole life, you must know that the sun (speaking strictly from its appearance) is as glorious as a god: brilliant, powerful, warming, and even (speaking as a Christian) subject to death and resurrection... Isn't it? That truth hasn't changed, even if it is merely a truth of appearance (even committed Copernicans speak of "sunset" without committing heresy). Moreover, Christianity did not take this truth away, but confirmed it in a startling manner: as great and holy a saint as Francis of Assisi could write a canticle which spoke this way of our local star:
All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made,
And first my lord Brother Sun,
Who brings the day; and light you give to us through him.
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
[St. Francis, "Canticle of the Creatures"]
No pagan could write such a thing, but I have a feeling that plenty of pagans would be willing to join with him in singing it. And if our science does not urge us to sing along, we ought to find another occupation, since we have failed. We ought to be adding verses; God knows we've learned so much more since the 12th century.

(Ah - another project for our society; we should have an annual contest: quarks and quasars and everything in between - they have no voice, but we do: "All praise be yours, my Lord, through ALL that you have made...")

No; we need to understand the work of the ancients, and also the correctives. By refusing to examine (and yes, to admire, if only remotely) the ancient Greek philosophers, you would miss the important second point to be learned from this chapter, and it is a complex one. These ancients had really begun to be scientific, and that in three ways, which I shall term Observation, Similarity, and Prediction.

(1) They truly observed. You cannot speak about an "animal" in a general sense unless you have at least started to pay attention to how a sheep is not a goat, is not a dog, is not an eagle, is not a fish. (You must have already understood how this sheep is not that sheep as you understand Plato is not Socrates, even though both are "Man"; this is of the same sort of idea, but advanced by a level.) This power of "observation" is the fundamental characteristic of a scientist, though it is (as Chesterton noted in a famous context) an idea which is "too big to be noticed". If you do not see, observe, pay attention to what IS, you can never do Science. Remember how Chesterton also said: "the object of my school is to show how many extraordinary things even a lazy and ordinary man may see if he can spur himself to the single activity of seeing." [GKC Tremendous Trifles 6] The Greeks revealed that they were seeing something extraordinary: they could even see the ordinary, which is the first mark of a Scientist. And that IS extraordinary.

(2) They could apply the idea of similarity; they could generalize.

In order to understand this, I must mention another something which may be "too big to be noticed": Similarity is not logic, nor is logic similarity, but there is a link between them, and it is that both require accurate raw material in order to proceed. Otherwise you may claim that a "snark" is like a "boojum" only more "rovantic" - which tells you nothing at all. (Besides being boring, and Science is never boring.) This truth is enshrined in Chesterton's great epigram, which is another one for the wall of your lab or office or classroom:
Briefly, you can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.
[GKC Daily News Feb 25 1905 quoted in Maycock, The Man Who Was Orthodox]
In the same way, one cannot find truth from similarity unless one has first found truth without it.

The Greeks knew this, and so, once they had observed: animals retire to their dens at night; the sun also appears to retire. Hence, they said, "the sun is like an animal". You can laugh about this; it does sound funny, and there are far more goofy ideas to come - but you must not lose sight that this IS the beginning of real science. Yes, of course, we have learned so much more since then, but remember, one has to start somewhere! Also, you must recall the record of history: there are many others who never got that far. This is the point of Einstein's remark Jaki quoted near the start of the chapter: Einstein's famous remark: "In my opinion one has not to be astonished that the Chinese sages have not made these steps. [of the ancient Greeks] The astonishing thing is that these discoveries were made at all." [SLJ TROP 4 quoting AE's letter of April 23, 1953, to Mr. T. E. Switzer of San Mateo, California; see D. J. de Solla Price, Science since Babylon (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1961), p. 15.] For extensive details on this record, consider the first six chapters of Jaki's Science and Creation.

(3) Even more important, they were able to build upon these fundamental tools. They were able to extend, from observation and similarity, to prediction. That is: "We saw animals doing thus-and-so. The sun is like them. And so, we can expect that, since an animal also does so-and-thus, someday we may also observe the sun doing so-and-thus." Of course this leads to absurdities: they saw dogs having puppies and nursing at their mother's side... what they may have expected in terms of curious solar phenomenon can only be guessed at. Sure, in some cases these ideas lead nowhere. But prediction is a tool, and as one learns how the tool works, its uses and its abuses, one learns not to hit one's thumb with the hammer - and then one begins to build.

It is true that the ancients didn't always observe; made distorted similarities, contrived absurd predictions. But so do we. We need to learn about their mistakes so that we do not continue to make them. We also can begin to appreciate (in the richest sense) these men as men, as scholars, and thereby find our kinship with them, and be grateful for their work and the work of all those who have built on theirs.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Feast of St. Albert the Great, patron of Science

But in the same book Gilson also had to voice a conviction of his which could serve as a prime guideline in his program of keeping alive Thomism by constantly immersing it in the latest development of science. "Science is revolutionary," Gilson quoted Claude Bernard, and then in the same breath he added: "I am profoundly convinced that philosophy is not." Such a conviction must imply the recognition of two important consequences. One has to recognize that no study of science, not even of its very latest developments, can have for its fruit revolutionary implications for the perennial philosophy. The latter can gather from such study only new illustrations, however startling, of very old truths. And since each age, or rather generation, has its own preferred variations of phraseology, those new illustrations should seem of utmost pedagogical value. This is to be still learned by many Thomists who often speak as if they were brought up in the waning of the Middle Ages.

While this can be expected to change for the better, realism forces one to recognize a rather dispiriting feature of human behavior: Human nature is itching for novelties. Gilson himself once dejectedly registered the unwillingness even of Thomists to hold on to this or that well-established truth, even historical truth. Consequently, somewhat illusory should seem Gilson's dream of what he called "a religious order of scientists." He had in mind a close collaboration among a handful of theologians well trained in the sciences.
Collaboration of this kind may be a pleasing subject for conversation, but it would be a most difficult thing to bring about. Even the collaboration between Aquinas and Albertus Magnus was not what Gilson had in mind. Yet they were geniuses, and saints for good measure. Still, as Gilson the teacher demonstrated, it is possible to produce like-minded pupils who, even if their influence suffers a temporary eclipse, will serve as guideposts for a post-eclipse generation searching for beacons better than the ones who presented the twilight of eclipse as the dawn of a new day.
[SLJ "Gilson and Science" in Patterns or Principles and other Essays]

Postscript: We must here note another great project for the Duhem Society to pursue: Gilson's dream of "a religious order of scientists". Far from being illusory, it is surely a topic for us to consider and ponder - and someday propose.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Problem with The Relevance

The single biggest problem facing the reader of Jaki's The Relevance of Physics is not its size or even its scope. (An aside: I understand some readers of this bloog are having difficulty obtaining a copy; perhaps you might send an e-mail to Real View Books inquiring whether there are any remaining copies around, or asking about a reprint - perhaps if there is sufficient interest...) No; the difficulty arises in the complexity of dealing with the subject itself, the history and inner life of science. This study (which I called "cliognosology" in a previous column) is at least half philosophy, and requires tools of literature and history and allied fields - and yet, at the same time it requires knowledge of the matter of science itself: its subject matter, its organization, its method - along with its dramatis personae of science, their writings and methods. It is a huge project.

But then so is any field of our subject, and if we are scientists (in the widest sense) we do not shrink from mere size, or from complexity. We do not avoid the thought of Antares, though it may be larger than our entire solar system out to the orbit of Mars. We do not avoid the topic of metabolism, though the usual chart of Metabolic Processes looks more like some sort of vast computer network - even to the four-place enzyme codes which have the same format as IP addresses! Besides, this book contains important ideas - it is a sourcebook. We do not reject the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics because it is too large to go into our pocket - and TROP is a good deal smaller. It's also a good deal more readable. And where it is a bit obscure, I hope to assist, by means of this study.

Therefore, let us begin with chapter one, "The World as an Organism" (pp. 3-51)

In these first stage-setting paragraphs, we immediately find how rocky our road is - and yet how rich. (Apropos of my own introduction, I think of our Society's Master, Pierre Duhem: physicist, historian, and hiker. He did not avoid a difficult rocky trail for he knew the vistas to be attained by means of it!)

We find Plato mentioned in the unattributed quote of Whitehead; we find mention of a J. Burnet; we find the name Archimedes with that odd word "divus". A bit later we find a torrent of other names: Homer, Plutarch, Hesiod, Thales and so on, but among these we also find scattered Einstein and Schrödinger. We may wonder who these people are, how they relate, and what is the point of it all.

Clearly, Jaki's spotlight is on ancient Greece - as indeed you will find in the rest of this chapter. Now, if you happen to have read other of Jaki's books, in particular Science and Creation, you may be a bit surprised at some of the "encomiums" he gives to ancient Greece here. (That word "encomium" is a fancy synonym for "praise" and is one of SLJ's "pet" words, but surprisingly it does not appear in TROP.) In fact, this is one of the curious complications - almost an unsettling one - about this book. Is Jaki praising or condemning the Greeks, or what? No; he is trying to suggest a larger view.

This method, Jaki's style, or approach to handling such topics, may take a little getting used to. It's not the usual sort of exposition one finds in science, and (contrary to his own words to me about non-fiction writing) I think it suggests a certain hidden longing for the complex-web-weaving style of detective-fiction. (Oh, how I wish he had written a mystery story!) Let me say more about this. A writer like Chesterton (of whom, as you know, I am particularly fond of mentioning!) will allude to other writers, and give huge leaping analogies, thereby linking difficult ideas into something one can grasp. He will not refrain from even taking a famous Bible verse and extending it by a sort of trick of typesetting, almost as one makes a word "bold-face" in a word-processor. One famous instance is GKC's inversion of Mt 19:6 to give "Those whom God has sundered, shall no man join" - almost mystical insight into the truth of the sexes, and one which Jaki quotes (e.g. in "Purpose Redux" in SLJ, A Late Awakening and Other Essays, though he is not using it as GKC did.)

Jaki does not use Chesterton's approach, though on occasion we find his using something like it, as we have just seen. (It can happen to any serious student of Chesterton.) He has another, which (like Chesterton) takes some getting used to. He leaps, in a kind of weaving motion, bringing various link-points together across the millennia and across the entire gamut of "cliognosology" [my word for "the study of the history of science] which we should see here as its two halves, as Science, writ large, and as History. You will find its first instance in the second paragraph of our text, where we find Heisenberg and Aristotle and Schrödinger bumping into each other - and this is just the start.

You may claim: but this is only natural when one examines an idea!

Perhaps. This is why it is so difficult, especially to come into such a topic as a scientist, since it is not about the idea, but about those who held an idea, or a version of an idea - it is History writ large, not Science, though it may be an item drawn from Science or which one has come to term Science. It will be unsettling, but then so are some of the ideas in our own science or what we term science. This is the point, and this is the strategy of presentation, which does have a scientific style: bring the related matters together, no matter how twisted other parts may become - and then examine the adjacencies. (This is much like Mendeleev's method which gave us the Periodic Table - a matter which we shall hear about in chapter 4 of our text.) So if we need to bump something from quantum physics with something else from ancient Greece, just keep reading, and enjoy the view - it may get bumpy, but the vista will be excellent.

Fortunately, when we get to the fourth paragraph, we find this kaleidoscopic mosaic clarified for us. Jaki is setting up his structure for the first three chapters, the three views of Nature as (1) living, (2) mechanical, or (3) numerical.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

November 1 and 2

In the last few days the plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences took place in Rome. The tradition provides that a commemoration of the deceased academicians take place before the talks. As I read on the leaflet, the commemoration of our dear Father Stanley Jaki has been given by prof Jean Michel Maldamé, OP.
Father Jaki has been in Rome many times this period of the year, and not only for the periodical gathering of the Academy...
... Personally, I would like to add that in late October and early November 1950 I was in Rome, preparing for the defense of my thesis in theology. The high point of those days was, of course, the definition of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary. I was present at the definition in St. Peter's Square, November 1.
[SLJ God and the Sun at Fatima]
... Prior to the gathering of over two thousand bishops for the opening of the Second Vatican Council the largest such event took place on November 1, 1950. On that day, under an unusually blue sky, almost a thousand bishops filed out to the Vatican Palace to Saint Peter's Square to join as the College of Bishops with their head, Pope Pius XII...
[SLJ The Litany of Loreto 213]
In some sense we have lived the last two days together as one, the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. And together are the Assumption of Mary and her praying for us.
The words "pray for us sinners..." reveal their appropriateness in most unusual and unforeseen occasions. For the writer of this book one such occasion came as he was sitting in the front pew of the Chiesa dei Frari in Venice gazing at Titian's "Assumption". ... Pray for us in the hour of our death so that first our souls and then our bodies may be taken up to heaven where there will be no tears whatsoever.
[SLJ Twenty Mysteries 97-99 (see also this post)]

Cliognosology: Jaki's Very Chestertonian Approach to Physics

Yes, I am getting into some incredibly hot water with this study of The Relevance of Physics, Father Jaki's first major work of cliognosology, but then you must remember that Chesterton said "I believe in getting into hot water. I think it keeps you clean." [GKC ILN March 10 1907 CW27:142] We also ought to keep a sense of humor, even as we deal with serious topics - this will help us recall our humanity, and make our work truly a culture - which springs from the Latin root meaning "to grow".

Eh... Cliognosology? What's that?

It's my new word for "the history of science", made from "Clio" the Muse of History, and Greek "gnoseo"= scientia. If you have another suggestion, or can help improve this one, please let me know.

I say this - that SLJ uses a Chestertonian approach - as a mark of esteem. Jaki has chosen a huge subject, which can easily get bogged down in details. But he, like Chesterton, uses the method of vignettes, rather than structures, since after all Jaki writes as a literary scholar, not as a scientist, despite his doctorate in physics. He gives us a thumbnail structure in the table of contents, but after that you need a guide, which I hope to provide, if only in a rambling fashion. (I am a scientist, you see, but have read Chesterton and Jaki at great length, and indicate my admiration for them by my own poor form of imitation.... but the science keeps on creeping in, which may help.)

Yes, the book is huge: over 530 pages, twelve chapters, with about 100 footnotes in each. It is a difficult subject: the history of science in general, the inner purpose and reason and meaning of physics in particular. It spans the time from the earliest musings on reality by the ancient Greeks up to the latest (1966) topics. But it is not a history, so much as it is an examination of certain intellectual aspects of physics - and at this point the best way I can help you to understand this is to give you the master outline of the book.

The Relevance of Physics
Table of Contents

Part One: The Chief World Models of Physics
Chapter One The World as an Organism
Chapter Two The World as a Mechanism
Chapter Three The World as a Pattern of Numbers
Part Two The Central Themes of Physical Research
Chapter Four The Layers of Matter
Chapter Five The Frontiers of the Cosmos
Chapter Six The Edge of Precision
Part Three Physics and Other Disciplines
Chapter Seven Physics and Biology
Chapter Eight Physics and Metaphysics
Chapter Nine Physics and Ethics
Chapter Ten Physics and Theology
Part Four Physics: Master or Servant?
Chapter Eleven The Fate of Physics in Scientism
Chapter Twelve The Place of Physics in Human Culture
This may seem overwhelming; the book is overwhelming, but in a good sense. Let me give you an example. Do you have a copy of the amazing CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics around? I mean a "tactile" version, not an electronic one. It's got to weigh over five pounds, maybe a couple of thousand pages, representing perhaps hundreds of thousands of man-years of meticulous lab work and record-keeping... what a gift it is. A huge and useful work. (If you are not a scientist, please consider your own master-reference, perhaps the Oxford English Dictionary, or perhaps the Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon.) I do not mean that Jaki's text reaches these levels, but it is rich in a similar way, and so it is overwhelming.

Here I will make a suggestion. I suggest you think of TROP as a "four-volume" set, bound as one. It will help lessen the impact. The sections (and to a certain extent, the chapters) are far more separable than in other texts of this type.

As I peer into the first chapter, near its very start I found this line:
It has been said in the twentieth century that the European philosophical tradition is but a series of footnotes to Plato...
SLJ quotes it also in Science and Creation, which gives us a name, though not a citation:
With his penchant for startling dicta, Whitehead once defined European
philosophical tradition as a series of footnotes to Plato.
[SLJ Introduction to Science and Creation]
But he gives something more in another place, not more in the sense of a citation, but "more" as a musician might develop a theme:
In comparison with a flame or a tidal wave, quite anemic is the figure of speech which Whitehead used in describing all Western philosophy as a series of footnotes to Plato. Any scholar busy with footnotes knows how enervating can be the tracking down of references to reliable sources. Still Whitehead meant a beginning for philosophy which is a robust enterprise. Such an enterprise generates an ever more powerful continuation.
[SLJ "Purpose Redux" in A Late Awakening and Other Essays]
I quoted that because in some sense this is SLJ's own commentary on TROP. It might be said that all Jaki's other works (at least those which are cliognosological) are a series of footnotes to The Relevance of Physics.

Please note. This is not really my own idea. It is, in fact, Father Jaki's idea. See how he phrased it in his "Intellectual Autobiography":
Meanwhile I began to write short articles for a Hungarian language quarterly, published in Rome, on various scientific questions relating to religion. They contain in a nutshell more than one idea which I was later to develop in full in The Relevance. The extent to which this long book anticipates themes of many of my subsequent writings dawned on me only when I had to see through press the publication of its Hungarian translation in 1996. It was then that I read again each line of The Relevance and found out that it was truly the coming of age of my mind.
[SLJ A Mind's Matter 27, emphasis added]
Indeed, he has more to say about TROP in that book, and we shall explore it also.

For today, then, take some time and review your own personal storehouse of knowledge about history and physics. What ideas leap out at you? What order would you give to such a study if you were to write it? What ideas or events or individuals would you spotlight? There is a reason that the "table of contents" comes first: it gives you the map, the floor plan, the layout, the blueprints of the complex structure you are about to enter. Recall that Aristotle and Aquinas say that "it belongs to wisdom to put things in order". It is wisdom for you to grasp this order now, lest you become dazzled or confused once we begin our explorations.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why the Relevance?

We must answer this question - why is there a book, The Relevance of Physics - before we proceed to study it in detail.

Jaki gives the answer in a concise preface. As if it were a hologram, almost any sentence might (on its own) render a complete reason or justification for the remainder of this huge volume - or at least it gives a very strong enticement. One might not even be a physicist, or even a historian, to find a fascination with the subject.

In his original preface Jaki quotes two excellent - perhaps superlative - statements about his topic. Oddly, neither is annotated, but since he quotes them elsewhere, I can provide the attribution. They are important for us, and I shall offer them for your consideration:
...no less prominent a figure of present-day American science than Vannevar Bush voiced the desperate cultural need for a systematic illustration of the limitations of physical science. "Much is spoken," he noted, "today about the power of science, and rightly. It is awesome. But little is said about the inherent limitations of science, and both sides of the coin need equal scrutiny." To help redress the balance between those two sides is the aim of this book.
[SLJ, preface to TROP, quoting VB "Science Pauses," Fortune 71 (May 1965), p. 116.]

Then there is this grand epigram, an insight from one of the greatest scientists of history, which ought to be a poster upon every lab and in every work area of all scientists:
[This book's] purpose would be fully achieved if it increased in those who cultivate and love physics that component of the wisdom of science of which Maxwell once wrote,"One of the severest tests of a scientific mind is to discern the limits of the legitimate application of scientific methods."
[SLJ, preface to TROP, quoting JCM "Paradoxical Philosophy" (1878), in The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell, edited by W. D. Niven, II (Cambridge, 1890), p. 759.]

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What I meant about a new project

I apologise for these lags in my postings... I am sure many of you have your own business to attend to. But I know you would like to have some sort of action, or at least know there are good things to come. I can't make promises, but I am trying to arrange for good things to come. Bear in mind I have no direct connection to a publisher or anything else, and my own time constraints often leave me with very little time, even to post here. (I hope you may have some small satisfaction with my postings on my own blogg where I am trying to maintain my Thursday writing.)

But 2011 is just two months away, and there are not many more years until 2016.

Why do I bring up 2016?

Well - there are two reasons, both of which must strongly act upon us of the Duhem Society, and which may possibly get us to accomplish something.

The first: 2016 marks the centennial of the death of Pierre Duhem. This year ought to be marked in a fitting manner. Since at this time the "Duhem Society" exists only as a loose collection (yet a world-wide collection) of friends and scholars, linked by common interests by means of this blogg, I don't yet know how we might take a suitable action towards this event. But we ought to consider it. In my dreams I might hope for a major conference, with papers and seminars and a dinner, and time to meet and to talk among ourselves, and a Mass of Thanksgiving - perhaps one in France, and one on the western side of the Atlantic. I also dream of a publication of "The Collected Works" of Pierre Duhem (annotated, as may be fitting) and also an English translation. But I have no means to enable any of this. At best I have an enthusiasm... and offer a sense of support to those who may be able to work at this.

The second: 2016 marks the 50th anniversary (the semi-centennial) of Stanley Jaki's first major work in his field: The Relevance of Physics. This also should demand a conference, and perhaps a republication - in this case I consider an annotated edition to be very important. I regret that there was never time for us (I mean the students and friends of SLJ) to produce a Festschrift to Jaki. But by 2016 we ought to have something... if only a study of this important text. There is plenty of meat to go around; one avenue I would like to see explored is a cross-link from TROP to his other works.

It is in this second case that I have hope for my own involvement. I would like to begin a blogg-study of this work - but I would like to know whether this is of any interest to my readers. I have done something similar to this for Chesterton's Orthodoxy (you can see here for the index) - though for TROP I will not post the complete text, since it is not out of copyright. I will work out a way of handling the disparate editions; that is not an insurmountable difficulty. But I think we need to begin. We may wish for a complete annotated "Collected Works" of Jaki as well as Duhem - these are huge projects and will take a long time - but we must start somewhere, and TROP and its 50th anniversary provides a suitable starting point.

So please add a comment about this. Note: I am not trying to give myself airs as a "scholar" - perhaps there are plenty of real scholars at work on PD and SLJ, and I am simply out of touch with the journals. But there is the INTERNET now, and we ought to be cross-pollinating - there are people who are interested, who are enthusiastic, and who are capable of thought - and of writing about their thoughts.

Besides: what a grand thing: to unite, here in this wonderful medium, in consideration of the works of these great scientist-historians. It reminds one of the work of Mersenne...

Finally, I must point out one other matter in regard to this topic. Perhaps you are interested, but for some reason find yourself in disagreement with me, or us, or the approach. There is no reason why you may not have your own blogg, and we might communicate. The Scholastics often used the debate-paradigm, since this is a tool for seeking the truth. It would be a great thing if there would be other Duhem Society bloggs, perhaps in other languages, or focussed on other aspects.

I write this now, Saturday October 23, 2010, since only God knows how much (or how little) time I may have. At least I have told you about my hopes. But I would like to hear from you. (Or you can e-mail me; see the link in my profile - please be sure to state "Duhem Society" in your subject-line.) And I hope that (God willing) I shall meet many of you at the conference in 2016, if not sooner.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On a Great Medieval Scientist

On this, the feast of the Holy Rosary, let us consider something about a Dominican, from a book about another Dominican. It contains a very interesting line:
Albert the Swabian, rightly called the Great, was the founder of modern science. He did more than any other man to prepare that process, which has turned the alchemist into the chemist, and the astrologer into the astronomer. It is odd that, having been in his time, in this sense almost the first astronomer, he now lingers in legend almost as the last astrologer. Serious historians are abandoning the absurd notion that the medieval Church persecuted all scientists as wizards. It is very nearly the opposite of the truth. The world sometimes persecuted them as wizards, and sometimes ran after them as wizards; the sort of pursuing that is the reverse of persecuting. The Church alone regarded them really and solely as scientists. Many an enquiring cleric was charged with mere magic in making his lenses and mirrors; he was charged by his rude and rustic neighbours; and would probably have been charged in exactly the same way if they had been Pagan neighbours or Puritan neighbours or Seventh-Day Adventist neighbours. But even then he stood a better chance when judged by the Papacy, than if he had been merely lynched by the laity. The Catholic Pontiff did not denounce Albertus Magnus as a magician. It was the half-heathen tribes of the north who admired him as a magician. It is the half-heathen tribes of the industrial towns today, the readers of cheap dream-books, and quack pamphlets, and newspaper prophets, who still admire him as an astrologer. It is admitted that the range of his recorded knowledge, of strictly material and mechanical facts, was amazing in a man of his time. It is true that, in most other cases, there was a certain limitation to the data of medieval science; but this certainly had nothing to do with medieval religion. For the data of Aristotle, and the great Greek civilisation, were in many ways more limited still. But it is not really so much a question of access to the facts, as of attitude to the facts. Most of the Schoolmen, if informed by the only informants they had that a unicorn has one horn or a salamander lives in the fire, still used it more as an illustration of logic than an incident of life. What they really said was, "If a unicorn has one horn, two unicorns have as many horns as one cow." And that is not one inch the less a fact because the unicorn is a fable.
[GKC St. Thomas Aquinas CW2:455]
You may be wondering which line I wanted to single out. I mean this one:
Serious historians are abandoning the absurd notion that the medieval Church persecuted all scientists as wizards.
I wonder who GKC meant. Could this suggest that Chesterton did know something about Pierre Duhem? Or does he mean some other historians of science of the first third of the twentieth century? It would take some research to answer, and we may add this to our growing list of research topics.

P.S. I wil no longer be writing my weekly column for the American Chesterton Society, whose blogg is stopping. Whether I will have any additional free time remains to be seen, but I have an excellent project in mind, if that is God's will. All I will say for now is involves SLJ's first book (not counting his doctoral dissertations)... We have about six years until its 50th anniversary, and there's work to be done. Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

On Catechism and Dignity

Throughout many of his essays, father stressed the importance of reviving the 'Penny' (UK) and 'Baltimore' Catechisms. Based on his prompting, I purchased the Baltimore Catechism 'One' from Tan Classics, as basic as could be found. I turned to the first lesson and a question on the first page stood out:
Q: Why did God make you?
A: God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in Heaven.
Looking back on my catholic school-time catechesis, not too long ago, how I wish I had been taught such a simple, but direct and profound expression of our faith, instead of learning definitions of 'ecumenism', 'sectarianism' and 'the eightfold path'.
Fr. Jaki reminds us that simple catechisms remain 'the best means of implementing the only metamorphosis that results in human dignity as acted out in the daily lives of individuals. Anything else is largely a waste of time'. Having read quite widely about the catholic faith at this stage, I find that the simple statements are genuinely the most profound and memorable ones.
Human dignity is precious yet so easily and routinely violated. This is all the more tragic when it occurs in the fields of religious care, scientific advancement, and (of increasing concern) ecological conservation, where noble aims are corrupted because people forget the answer to yet another simple question on the first page of the simplest catechism:
Q: What is man?
A: Man is a creature composed of body and soul, and made to the image and likeness of God.
Fr. Jaki diagonoses the historical precedents of the loss of that dignity and what is required to reignite a genuine respect for who man is.
On the intellectual level nothing definite about human dignity is generally shared any longer in spite of profuse references to it. The Enlightenment spread the illusion that man was pure reason, thereby putting human dignity on a pedestal befitting angels. Once on that pedestal man looked out for perspectives suitable for beasts and obtained them through Darwinism. The physics of relativity and of quantum mechanics created the widespread belief that all is relative and mere happenstance. In both cases the individual is the measure of all things as he frantically measures everything. The September 2003 issue of Scientific American suggested to its readers that they were mere holograms because the universe itself may be just a hologram. Computers are used to celebrate the idea that man's mind is an artificial intelligence machine, hardly a dignified perspective, except for some rabid hackers. Environmentalism transfers the dignity which only humans deserve to have to meadows, rivers, lakes, and a clean atmosphere. Microbiology is used for justifying the view that human nature is an agglomerate of "selfish genes". The dictates of instant gratification set the tone of cultural discourse about human dignity while modern man is robbed of the last traces of traditional Christian views about that dignity.
The lessons of history turn against man unless he learns them thoroughly. One of these lessons is that ethics must be lived by a society's individuals, before society can discourse about ethics to any and all. No different will be the lesson about a bioethics which focuses on genes and genomes. In the absence of a society, where individuals steeped in genuine ethics set the tone of discourse, the focusing will resemble the amusement of children who let sunlight pass through their magnifying glasses, focus it on a piece of paper, and shout with joy when it catches fire, at times with devastating consequences. The question is whether society wants to risk being devoured in a conflagration or rather wants to secure proper warmth for its well being. Both are a process of metamorphosis. Only one of the two means life.
[S.L. Jaki, 'The Metamorphoses of Human Dignity' in 'A Late Awakening and Other Essays', pp. 147-148]

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

SLJ on St. Michael's feast

Less than two months after the dreams, Descartes, not yet twenty-three, began writing his “Cogitationes privatae” which started with the following statement for the first days of January, 1619: “Just as actors, who are advised against appearing on the stage with a blush on their face, put on a mask, I too enter, with a mask on, the theater of the world in which I have so far lived as a spectator.” Cryptic as these words may appear at first, they can be understood if one assumes that Descartes wanted to hide his view of himself as a superior man, an angel in short. He knew - he did not jettison all common sense - that he would blush were he to present himself to his fellowmen as being far superior to them. While all this has to be conjecture, the reading of Descartes' works can leave no doubt that his claims about truth and knowledge required far greater powers than those of mere man. Those powers, as he described them, were, in fact, angelic. Unfortunately for Descartes, and for posterity as well, there are two kinds of angels. one kind, which had for leader the bearer of all light, Lucifer, rushed headlong into a disastrous fall.

Speaking of Lucifer, one thinks of Michael, a name which means “who is like God.” It is also a hallowed shorthand, telling perhaps less of God than of Lucifer's daring and downfall. Lucifer wanted to play God. How an angel can do that is a question for which answers, very speculative to be sure, may be found in the writings of an Aquinas or a Maritain. All such answers rest on considering angelic nature, pure intellects, whose cognition has three main features. The mode of that cognition is intuitive, its origin is innate, and its operation is independent of things. The Cartesian theory of errorless human knowledge is expressed in exactly the same terms. It should not be surprising that a man, believing himself to be capable of knowing in such a way, should try to play God. Descartes tried to do this in the only sense in which a poor mortal can do it, namely, to dictate to God how to go about the business of creation.

Descartes' apologies that he in no way prescribed to the Creator how to fashion a world out of the chaos, have convinced only some Cartesians. He was the first modern scientist who fell to the in which man is lured into deriving a priori the shape, structure, and laws of the universe. The core of an a priori derivation is not that it relieves one of laborious search and experimentation (although this may reveal a good deal about the merits of the enterprise). The core is rather the consequence that once such a derivation is achieved, the possibility that God could have created any other world is pre-empted. A God who is bound by inner necessity to create the very world which exists in a poor shadow of himself. The true creator of such a universe is the man sold on a priori reasoning, a very fallible way of playing God. As one could expect, the universe fashioned in such a way is a very fallible construct, and so is its science. The science and universe of Descartes provide a perfect example.
[SLJ Angels, Apes, and Men 15-16]

Thursday, September 23, 2010

New Newman Book by Dr. Angelo Bottone

In light of Newman's recent beatification, it gives me great pleasure to share with readers of the Duhem Society blog, the news of the publication of the first comprehensive treatise concerning Bl. Newman's works in relation to his quest to establish a Catholic University in Dublin. This book is written by none other than Dr. Angelo Bottone, one of this blog's contributors and a founding member of the Duhem Society. Our congratulations to you Angelo!

Further details and purchasing information is available from the publisher's website:
(H/T Magdalen)

This is the first comprehensive study of John Henry Newman's works related to his foundation of a university in Ireland. It considers his Dublin Writings (1851-1859) in their totality and full meaning, in an attempt to show that they share a unity that is not merely chronological but also conceptual. It analyses Newman's volumes, articles and sermons produced while he was in residence in Dublin and explains the historical background that led to the establishment of the Catholic University of Ireland. This work offers an original exploration of the influences of philosophers such as Aristotle, Cicero and Locke on Newman's own thought. Aristotle's inspiration is presented in a new light and compared with Ciceronian rhetoric and the Utilitarianism of Locke and his followers. Moreover, the intellectual, moral and artistic dimensions of the human person in Newman's Dublin Writings are discussed, in conjuction with his concepts of the unity of knowledge and of the philosophical habit of mind. The final chapter is the author's personal reflection on the issues that Newman raised, with reference to the development of university education and to contemporary thinkers such as Derrida and MacIntyre.


Angelo Bottone has covered some aspects of Newman from an original perspective, focusing particularly on the rhetorical elements of his writings. In this respect, his work is innovative, as Newman’s Dublin Writings have been always considered only for their contribution to a debate on education. Angelo Bottone covers new areas, like the influence of Cicero or the role of the study of foreign and ancient languages in the university founded by Newman. Angelo Bottone’s book and its timing for publication may generate new perspectives on this period of Newman’s life. He has given a philosophical flavour to this study, which is novel as other authors have written about Newman mostly from a theological or educational view point. (Domenico Iervolino, University of Naples)

Bottone's book is an historical and thematic treatment of Newman's Dublin writings, the best known of which is The Idea of a University. The merit of this work is that is makes available an account of many other writings of Newman that are not generally available, and presents an integrated interpretation of them. Reading The Idea of a University in the context of his other Dublin writings allows the reader to gain a more complete and nuanced understanding of this centrally important text. (Gerard Casey, University College Dublin)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Beacon from Birmingham


Tonight is the eve of the joyous beatification of John Henry Cardinal Newman in Birmingham, the highlight of what has been an historic and incredibly successful visit for Pope Benedict to the island of Britain. Newman was an inspirational figure to countless Christians, not least Fr. Jaki, who penned no less than five books and a collection of essays concerning Newman's books and letters.
Newman also contributed greatly to the foundation of the Catholic University of Ireland (which became University College Dublin) and its University Church, pictured above, where I had the privilege of attending lunchtime Mass on Friday. The parish community has a series of events to celebrate his beatification, which can be viewed on its website here.


It is most fitting to quote from Fr. Jaki's conclusions on Cardinal Newman's life and conversion on this most special day. Let us remember them both in our prayers along with the individual Anglican converts and groups of Anglicans availing of Pope Benedict's Anglicanorum Coetibus.





Since the purity of Newman's life had for some time been attested by many, he was not a modern Saint Augustine. There is however, a close parallel between Augustine's Confessions and Newman's Apologia. The Confessions contains many pages about Augustine's struggle to extricate himself from the many traps set by man's mind in his search for truth. In his Apologia Newman "apologizes" to his Anglican contemporaries for having waged an uncompromising struggle with himself, background, and circumstances to gain a grasp of the Catholic truth. Had he chosen for the Apologia's motto, "I have not sinned against light", he would not have exaggerated.

For Newman it was relatively easy to change from an Evangelical into a zealous member of the Church of England. It was somewhat difficult for him to notice there the Catholic features a divinely established Church had to possess. He took it for a noble task to turn intimations of those features into a vivid reality. He agonized over finding that he merely chased a dream because the Church of England was but a "mimic Catholicism". To part with it meant for him a parting not only with friends but humanly with all. He needed much research and soul searching to muster resolve to make the move and cash his lot with the true Church which, humanly speaking, was, in his parts, rather void of whatever that all represented.
But what gives to that existential transition, involving as it did all of Newman's human existence, its most decisive aspect was his perception that were he not to make that step he, whom all took for a paragon of saintly life, would remain in the state of sin, the sin of schism. It is that perception of Newman's that governs the last three of his Anglican years and all his years as a Catholic. Ignore or slight that perception of Newman's, and his life and thought will fall to the level of clichés, however pleasing. Ignore that perception of his and an opaque screen will be put in front of the volcanic force with which he kept preaching, especially to converts, that there was only One True Fold, that to belong to it was the key to one's eternal salvation whereas to postpone endlessly one's conversion might inure one into the treacherous habit of living in sin, the sin of schism...
In making the step from the Church of England to Rome, Newman was fully aware that he was proceeding from shadows and images of reality to reality itself (ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem). In these Latin words, harking back to a phrase of Saint Paul, he had perceived his life's destiny long before he had decided to have those words be the sole décor of his tombstone. He lived those words all his Catholic life...
[Extracts from S.L. Jaki, Newman to Converts: An Existential Ecclesiology, pp. 487-488; 502]

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In Memoriam: Pierre Duhem, September 14, 1916

Eternal rest grant unto thy servant Pierre, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

On this day, 94 years ago, Pierre Duhem died. Today is also the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and there is a fitting harmony here, though some may find it mysterious: a harmony between the Instrument of Salvation and this heroic historian of science. Let us of the Duhem Society, and all scholars, ponder this mystery: the cross is Defeat; the cross is Christ; the cross is the path to Science Writ Large. And if you need a starting point to link them, start in the Nicene Creed with the clause per quem omnia facta sunt = "through Him all things were made". Also see the quote from St. Paul given below by Father Jaki - one might give a series of lectures on the great truth that Jesus is Lord of Science and of Engineering just as much as He is Lord of Philosophy and Theology...

Let us also begin now to consider our plans - in six years we MUST have an international conference on Duhem. That's not very long, my friends; we must begin to plan for it. Perhaps two, one in Europe and one in America. But there must be a meeting, and lectures, and a publication. There is work to be done - I think specifically of translations and reprints (with commentaries). God willing we shall find a way of getting it done. Let us ask Duhem and Jaki to intercede for us, that God's will be done, whether in the lab or in the classroom, wherever we may be.

For your meditation, here is a fitting excerpt from Jaki's second book on Duhem.

--Dr. Thursday

Obviously, Duhem did not long for a fashionable and easy Christian faith and life. His life had too many trials to let him entertain illusions, especially their spiritual kinds. At the center of his religious life stood the cross of Christ. A proof of this is his obvious identification with two crosses in the outskirts of Cabrespine, the subject of two exquisite drawings of his. Ultimately, they are the most genuine context for putting Duhem on the scene of his life and work.

One of the crosses, the Croix d'Estresse (the cross of distress), he drew on September 4, 1912. His drawing of it has its own value for students of the history of art, as the cross is a rare example of crosses with a Pietà carved on their reverse side. The cross, erected in 1632, has since attracted many pilgrims. They still keep going to the place where it stood until about six years ago when it mysteriously disappeared while a new road was constructed to the property acquired by some from abroad. (Perhaps through this reference the Department of Aude will take note and appropriate action). Let it be hoped that Duhem's drawing of that cross will not become its sole detailed evidence and a painful reminder of widespread illegal trafficking in art objects in the region. In any case, the drawing by Duhem remains a lasting evidence of his spontaneous recourse to the Virgin invoked as the mother of all afflicted. It should not be difficult to evoke Duhem's sentiments as he drew the figure which in a kneeling position under the Pietà raises his hands in supplicant prayer towards the One of whom it was never heard that anyone turning to Her would have had his prayers unanswered.

The other cross, erected in 1638, a plain one in the midst of the communal field, Duhem drew on August 21, 1916, less than a month before his death. He made that simple cross speak by emphasizing its size. He did so by letting it be seen from an angle whereby it appears equal in height to the mountain behind and thus dominates the field. A purely artistic technique, but hardly in the case of Duhem who never pretended to show what he was not convinced about. He let his whole life be dominated by the cross, the very act that alone makes a Christian for whom "every treasure of wisdom and knowledge is deposited in Christ" (Col.2:3). It was through identification with Christ that Duhem's vast knowledge of science, including its philosophical and historical dimensions, took on a prophetic character.

[S. L. Jaki, Scientist and Catholic: Pierre Duhem 109-10]

Monday, September 6, 2010

Evicting the Creator

The title of this post may sound familiar to readers of this blog. It is, of course, the title of Fr. Jaki's review of Prof. Hawking's grand foray into popular science called 'A Brief History of Time'. Now some twenty-two years after the publication of that bestseller, Hawking is making waves in the news-sphere with his latest book 'The Grand Design' to be released shortly. The 'God' question and the search for the elusive Theory of Everything (ToE) feature heavily in the previews and if reviews of the proof editions are accurate, then the grand conclusion of this latest venture may not be too different from his prior writings:

"the authors made their point quite convincingly: philosophy is dead in the sense of answering the most mysterious of life's questions. It is up to science, and scientific theory, to provide clues to the true answers, as philosophy in its most ancient forms has taken a back seat, but modern philosophy, that of scientific philosophy, has taken root." From 'Memoiai's' Amazon Review.

Old wine in new skins? Here are some extracts from Fr. Jaki's review of the original ~ JT.

"What place then for a Creator?" This question of Professor Hawking received wide publicity in a two-page profile on him in Time just about a month before his book appeared in tall piles in countless stores. Professor Hawking makes no secret of his aim: it is to find the answer to the question of the why of the existence of all matter, mind, and will in terms of that science, physics, which presumably can answer questions only about the how of purely physical processes.


Professor Hawking philosophizes from the start and he does it badly. He does not notice the irony when at the end he complains about the comedown of philosophy from its Aristotelian heights to its Kantian shallows and to the wastelands where philosophers offer only talk about talk. [His] book is less about the history of time than about his own ideas on it. Worse, if in any prestigious post of physics, then certainly in the Lucasian Chair one should have at least been familiar with a famous twentieth-century remark that the reality -so fleeting and so fundamental - of the now is beyond the competence of physics. Coming as it does from Einstein, the remark should seem important for two reasons. One is the rather unfortunate predicament of our culture which takes note of a basic philosophical truth only when registered by a prominent scientist. The other is that Hawking has Einstein for his chief antagonist, though for a reason which was not altogether unknown to Einstein, but for which Hawking's insensitivity is almost complete.


Professor Hawking's chief purpose is to create the impression that a perfectly homogeneous beginning of the universe is a most plausible state of affairs and is therefore in no need of further explanation. His road there leads through a recount of the latest research on black holes to which he contributed greatly.


Not only hypothetical but philosophically wholly unjustified is the very earliest phase of the universe as imagined by Professor Hawking. He begins with a most unjust report about the address which Pope John Paul II gave to a conference on astrophysical cosmology at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Fall of 1981. According to Hawking, the Pope told the participants that "it was all right to study the evolution of the universe after the big bang itself because that was the moment of Creation and therefore the work of God" (p. 116).


As anyone can ascertain from pp. xxvii-xxxii in the thick volume of the proceedings of that conference, published in 1983 under the title, Astrophysical Cosmology, the Pope merely noted that it was not within the competence of the physical method to discuss the origin of the universe insofar as it is a creation out of nothing. The Pope's reminder was merely an echo of a remark by James Clerk Maxwell, after Newton the greatest physicist at Cambridge University: "One of the severest tests of a scientific mind is to discern the limits of the legitimate application of scientific methods." Only physicists who think that physics enables them to observe the nothing would ever have any problem with that wise and fully scientific reminder.


Professor Hawking makes it clear right then and there that he wants to be one of those physicists. Their number is fairly large, as most physicists have subscribed for over two generations now to the ontological fallacy of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics [i.e. an interaction that cannot be measured exactly (in the operational sense), cannot take place exactly (in the ontological sense)], though relatively few of them are so flippant with reality as are Professor Hawking and some of his colleagues.


Scientifically the saddest aspect of Professor Hawking's book is his failure to refer to Gödel even once. I cannot imagine that Professor Hawking would be as ignorant about Gödel's incompleteness theorems as was a world-famous Nobel-laureate expert on quarks, gluons, and charms as late as 1976. The luminary in question, a fellow panellist with me at a conference attended in that year by more than 2,000, was rather miffed when I told him that he would certainly fail in his attempt to come up within three months or even three years with a necessarily true theory of fundamental particles. Such a theory, he believed, would tell us why the universe is what it is and cannot be anything else, and that therefore it need not have been created.


Professor Hawking seems to be unaware of a point I have been making since 1966 in the pages of books published by leading university presses, including my Gifford Lectures given at the University of Edinburgh in 1975 and 1976. The point is that Gödel's theorems exclude the possibility of necessarily true theories about the universe. Physical or cosmic infinity can have no abstract or purely geometrical proof. The geometry of a cosmology may of course be so satisfactory, so simple, and so symmetrical as to suggest that it is the necessary form of physical existence. The philosophical fallacy latent in that suggestion should be clear. Here the scientific fallacy should be recalled briefly. According to Gödel's theorems, no non-trivial set of mathematical propositions can derive its proof of consistency from the set itself. Consequently, the cosmological theory in question, that obviously implies many non-trivial mathematical propositions, has to obtain its proof of consistency from a proposition lying outside the set of those propositions.


Those familiar with the fallacy of regress to infinity would now be fully entitled to say, sapienti sat. Those not so wise should perhaps turn to Professor Hawking for an answer to the question why he as a cosmologist chose to ignore Gödel's incompleteness theorems. Had he considered them, his book would not have become a futile move to evict the Creator from the business of creating nothing less than the universe itself.


[Extracts from 'Evicting the Creator', Chapter 10, The Only Chaos and Other Essays (1990) pp. 152-161]

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An Important Link: PL of St. Augustine

I have a wonderful thing to tell you, something I just learned.

The following link, http://www.sant-agostino.it/latino/index.htm will take you to the complete Latin text of the Patrologica Latina of the Opera Omnia (complete works) of St. Augustine. My hearty thanks to those who worked on it - let us remember them in our prayers.

This is of great importance to us who study SLJ (and therefore PD also) as by means of this link you have access to St. Augustine's De Genesi ad litteram - his commentary on Genesis which SLJ quotes in several places regarding the supposed "conflict" between Science and the Faith. It provides the complete answer to all the whining nonsense we are still hearing today, some 1400 years after the book came out.

I know it's in Latin; I don't yet know of an English source for it. But it is far better than nothing, and perhaps someone who knows of an English text or web page for it will tell us.

To save you time in looking up the reference, here is how SLJ tells it:
...he [St. Augustine] wanted no part of a study of the Bible which purposely ignored the well-established results of scientific studies. He put the matter bluntly: “It is often the case that a non-Christian happens to know something with absolute certainty and through experimental evidence about the earth, sky, and other elements of this world, about the motion, rotation, and even about the size and distances of stars, about certain defects [eclipses] of the sun and moon, about the cycles of years and epochs, about the nature of animals, fruits, stones, and the like. It is, therefore, very deplorable and harmful, and to be avoided at any cost that he should hear a Christian to give, so to speak, a ‘Christian account’ of these topics in such a way that he could hardly hold his laughter on seeing, as the saying goes, the error rise sky-high.” Such a performance, Augustine remarked, would undercut the credibility of the Christian message by creating in the minds of infidels the impression that the Bible was wrong on points “which can be verified experimentally, or to be established by unquestionable proofs.” While ignorance on the part of Christians was reprehensible, not every detail of knowledge about nature possessed, as Augustine was quick to note, the same measure of certainty. Beside incontrovertible facts there were probable hypotheses and simple conjectures. When some statements of the Bible collided with the latter, Augustine urged caution. A case in point was the question whether celestial bodies, stars in particular, were animated or not. As reason and observation provided no decisive evidence, nor did the Scriptures seem to be explicit, the matter was open to further inquiry. When, however, a question appeared to be settled in a convincing manner by scientific reasoning, Scriptures had to be reinterpreted. Clearly, the biblical phrase about God stretching out the firmament as a tent (skin) clashed with the sphericity of the earth. This naturally demanded a spherical covering, which was also suggested by the motion of the planets and stars. Augustine was not reluctant to give reason its due: “The Bible contradicts those who affirm something which is false; for that is true which is asserted by divine authority and not that which is conjectured by human frailty. However if perchance, they [the heathen] should prove it [the sphericity of the heavens] with evidences that cannot be doubted, it remains to be shown that what is spoken of as a tent, does not contradict those true demonstrations.”
[SLJ "The Leaven of Confidence" in Science and Creation 182 quoting Sancti Aureli Augustini De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim,edited by J. Zycha, in Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, vol. XXVIII, Sec. III, Pars 1 (Vienna: F. Tempsky, 1894), pp. 28-29 (Book 1, chap. 19); p. 62 (Book II, chap. 18); p. 46 (Book II, chap. 9)]

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Mystery of the University

A reader recently commented here, asking about Jaki and Duhem on "geocentrism". Of course this term comes up frequently in Jaki's studies on the history of astronomy, and in other settings such as his Bible and Science. Trying to go through all the citations would be the work of a little monograph, and I have no grad students to assist. (Not yet, anyway; if you are looking for a topic, or an advisor, do let me know, though it will have to be a remote kind of advice.)

Anyhow, I was going over the citations, at least the fifty-odd I could readily get from AMBER. The commenter wondered what that is, and you may also. AMBER is my term for my electronic collection of texts, mostly Chesterton and Jaki, and a few related authors - books I own, which I have taken the ridiculous amount of time necessary to scan and proof and arrange for my own use. Since most of GKC is already on the net in some state or other, and SLJ's is still under copyright, there is no expectation that it will become a public tool, alas. And yes, Father Jaki knew and approved of my work; in fact he came to rely on it very heavily for his own work. (Does this mean I was in the role of "grad student" to SLJ? History will have to decide.) Of course being a computer scientist makes all the difference, especially considering that my doctoral work was on searching biological sequences... but never mind that now.

As I was saying, I was going over the citations for "geocentrism" and found one which I thought was quite apropos, especially considering a link to another book I am presently reading in my work towards this mysterious "university" I mentioned previously. It is an instance of the remarkable Chestertonian character one may see in SLJ's writing, relating widely divergent matters to illuminate an idea. Here it is:
Nothing is more difficult than to speak of the brain-mind or mind-body relationship. It is a mysterious coin with two luminous sides. The only way to handle it is to follow the advice once given about a tax coin and render both mind and body their respective dues. In a sense the Thomistic doctrine of the soul as the form of the body states precisely this. It is a doctrine respecting facts, refractory though they may be to the impatience of reductionism. Lacking intellectual patience, Descartes from the start read his own mind into Scholastic terms. Had Descartes appreciated Thomas's doctrine of soul, he would have kept equal respect both for Thomas's emphasis on the priority of the sensory (thoroughly misunderstood by Locke and other empiricists) and for his simultaneous emphasis on the active role of the intellect (intellectus agens), mistakenly viewed by many nowadays as a vote by Thomas for idealism. Both emphases could but degenerate into shibboleths of empiricism and idealism once they were no longer considered as two sides of one and the same coin. Had Descartes pondered this, he would have retained a healthy respect for the sensory and experimental. He might even have perceived that the experimental, being inexhaustible in new data, casts a pallor on purportedly definitive systems. At the same time he might even have spotted for the intellect a healthier role than an intuition of all basic truths in one fell swoop which puts an end to any further creativity. The reward for acknowledging the mysteriousness of the mind-body relationship would have been a notion of science as an open-ended enterprise with ever new challenges and exploits.
Behind the debacle which is Descartes' performance in physical science lies a disastrous bargain. He wanted the coin of truth at the price of eliminating all mystery. The transaction secured for him only his own perception of extension, or space in a broader sense, which he took for an utterly luminous, ultimate, and exhaustive verity. In more technical parlance, he bargained for Euclidean geometry, which certainly fitted man's experience of his immediate surroundings, as a universally valid expression of reality. Thus Descartes performed, long before Kant though to have done it first, that turn which became called Copernican, although it was the very opposite of what Copernicus performed. What Copernicus did was to transform geocentrism into heliocentrism, and let heliocentrism rest on theocentrism, the best, even the only safeguard against anthropocentrism of any kind. Copernicus never tried to refashion Christian anthropology, let alone to dictate to the Creator.
[SLJ Angels, Apes, and Men 19-20]
As you see, this excerpt contains some wonderful cross-links. Of especial interest to me in one of my present tasks is the mention of "Thomas's emphasis on the priority of the sensory" - this is emphasized and brought to a new drama in Chesterton's St. Thomas Aquinas which I will forgo quoting just now.

But the other cross-link is to an interesting little volume I am reading at the moment, and I will give you just a sample. The link wil lbe obvious:
If there were no Catholic Universities, the academic world would be the poorer for it.
The reason Academe would be poorer is that it would lack an advocate of mystery.
[Francis C. Wade, S. J. The Aquinas Lecture 1978: The Catholic University and the Faith]
The author goes on to explain this remarkable thesis, but I have not finished the entire text (though it is short).... perhaps I ought not have quoted it without grasping the conclusion, but this point is far too important to allow to slip by. The right sense of this "mystery" - and both Wade and I see several wrong senses - does indeed give us hope - and even more, a thrill. It is, as Chesterton would put it, the sense of wonder, the sense of Surprise.

We of the Duhem Society ought to be in wonder, ought to continually seek for the Surprise - which is the Reality God gave us.