Sunday, March 28, 2010

Einstein and the Anglican ABC

A friend, discouraged by the general scarcity of ethical conduct in all walks of life, suggested to me the need for a scientifically grounded ethics. As if it had not been tried before, I thought to myself! Today, I share with you an interesting story Fr. Jaki describes about the dinner-table discussion between Einstein and the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, arranged by Evangelical British MP and gentleman philosopher, Viscount Haldane.

Does relativity have an impact on morality? Well, the marketeers of '79 at Time magazine certainly thought so! But let us listen to Fr. Jaki to discover the answer.

~ Jakian Thomist

Now the Archbishop wanted to learn the truth from Einstein himself. During the dinner with Haldane sitting close to the two, the Archbishop turned to Einstein: "Lord Haldane tells us that your theory ought to make a great difference to our morals." Einstein replied: "Do not believe a word of it. It makes no difference. It is purely abstract - science." So it is reported in the Archbishop's standard biography. According to another version, which is in Philipp Frank's Einstein. His life and times, the Archbishop asked "What effect would relativity have on religion?" Einstein tersely replied, "None. Relativity is a purely scientific matter and has nothing to do with religion".

Contrary to a once famous book, Relativity a Richer Truth, relativity as science can enrich only exact science. It is will impoverish any and all who expect from science more than it can ever deliver as long as it wants to remain exact and therefore rest its own truth with quantities, the only "exact" concepts, though they are such only in their abstractness. Hence, the truth of Einstein's remark to the Archbishop of Canterbury, that the science of relativity has nothing to do with moral betterment, which, let it be recalled, forms the gist of genuine religion. Einstein certainly offered something most momentous when he said in another context that he could not distill a drop of morality from his science. Pascal, no mean scientist, would now say, I told you so.

[S.L. Jaki, A Late Awakening and Other Essays, pp. 19 & 116]

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Jaki on the Annunciation

Today we celebrate the singular turning point of history: the moment about 2000 years ago, when Mary of Nazareth performed the greatest act of communication in all time, saying "Be it done unto me according to thy word". And so, having received this communication, God the Son, the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, took to Himself the human form of a single living human cell, in the state of the fertilized egg - and so the Word was made flesh, and began to dwell among us.

Someday perhaps there will be others to collect Father Jaki's words about this topic, which is the critical substrate of his The Savior of Science among others. But it may be well for us to consider Father's words this topic, as difficult as it may be for some - because it is a matter of science, not faith, which establishes the humanity of the Fruit of the Womb. (It is true that some scholars use the term "embryo" at this stage, but the point is that entity in question is an unborn living human being, and so true Man as well as true God.)

--Dr. Thursday.

All scholars are in a sense glasshouse-men, though not always wary of throwing stones. Quite possibly they will remain stone-deaf on hearing, very likely not for the first time, that the very first journey of Christ was a monumental demonstration of the fully human stature of the human fetus, be it but ten days old and not larger than a pinhead.

That journey of Christ began once the Angel's visit to Mary was over. "Thereupon," states St. Luke, "Mary rose and proceeded with haste to a town in the hill country of Juda," generally identified as Ain Karim near Jerusalem. Where the New American Bible has "thereupon," which, it should be noted, means according to the best English dictionaries, forthwith and right away, that is, not any sequence but a practically immediate sequence, the venerable King James gives a literal rendering, "in those days," of the Greek. But since King James it has been learned that "in those days" is a Lukean idiom demanding an idiomatic rendering. As for Mary's "proceeding in haste," the Greek spoudazein leaves no room for any slowness or tarrying. What St. Luke says implies therefore that at most a few days after the Angel's visit to her, Mary was on the road. Since quite possibly she traveled on a donkey, the less than a hundred miles from Nazareth to Ain Karim could not have taken her more than ten days.

Needless to say, Mary could not notify Elizabeth in advance. Nor was she in a state of mind to do so. Possibly she spoke to Joseph, but this is not likely. The latter seemed to have learned of Mary's being pregnant only after her return to Nazareth three months later. Why did Mary proceed in haste? Some rationalist commentators, always emphasizing run-of-the-mill psychology, insisted that Mary wanted to know for sure whether she was pregnant. She could only be sure through observing herself for another two months at least, the amount of time needed for the absence of two successive menstruations. But she could easily verify whether the aged Elizabeth, barren until then, was truly in her sixth month and gain thereby assurance that the Angel's words to her could also be trusted.

Of course Mary was anything but a doubter like Zacharias. The latter was reproved by the angel and lost his speech for disbelief. Quite different was Mary's visit by the angel who, though very authoritative in regard to Zacharias, was most respectful toward one who was "highly favored." The angel knew that since belief and grace went hand in hand, full belief was inseparable from the fulness of grace. At any rate, Mary rose forthwith, proceeded in haste, and was to experience on arrival another visitation from on High. For before she had said a word to Elizabeth, the latter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, greeted her as "the Mother of my Lord," or "the Mother of my Messiah," as most modern commentators would add.

In that greeting by Elizabeth the attention of commentators has almost invariably focused on "my Lord." No commensurate attention has been given to the fact that Elizabeth, through divine inspiration, recognized Mary as a mother, that is, one with child. That the child was the Messiah is, of course, an important. But no less important should seem the fact that the Messiah was at that time but a fetus of at most two weeks old, not much bigger than a pinhead. That fetus, which is but a cinch for modern medical techniques to wash out from the womb, that is, to abort, was the Messiah because in addition to being the Son of God, it was also a full human being. So it was recognized by the six-month-old fetus, the still-to-be-born John the Baptist, jumping with joy in Elizabeth's womb. A lucky John, whom our Supreme Court (though not the widespread medical practice) might have protected. As for the Messiah, only a two-week-old fetus, he would not have been granted any protection by that august Court of ours, or by any such Court in any country in a world that proudly considers itself civilized.

Perhaps one day, once that concrete teaching of the fetus-Jesus has shaped popular consciousness, there may develop a greater consciousness of the Feast of the Visitation. By advancing that Feast from July 2 to May 31, the Church wanted to achieve two objectives. One, a more obvious, was the upgrading of the Feast by turning it into the crowning of the month devoted to Mary. The other objective, less obvious, was the bringing closer in the Liturgical Year the Visitation to the Annunciation. If it were not for the usual closeness of March 25 to the Holy Week, it might not be impracticable to make the Visitation the octave of Annunciation. This would provide another stunning seal of the Church's respect for any and all foetus as a truly human being. But even as it stands, the Feast of the Visitation powerfully translates the principle of legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi and should thereby serve as a strong guidance in an agonizing confrontation. Of course, what happened at the Annunciation is a far greater fact than the visit made in virtue of the fact. But the actual human recognition of that fact came only with the visitation of Christ to John the Baptist, the visit of the Creator become-a-mere-fetus to the greatest of mere human fetuses ever alive in a woman's womb.

Medical science provides more and more gripping details about the fertilized ovum's quick attachment to the mother's body in a most extraordinary symbiosis of two living beings. Yet its evidences shall never become as plain and as succinct as the word "thereupon" which occurs in a most crucial point of biblical salvation history. There that word found a far more exalted purpose than to serve masters of language, however noble, such as Alexander Pope and far lesser figures in whose hands language is rapidly deteriorating to the art of how to evade issues. On being called in, so the story goes, by George II, the famed poet was threatened with the alternative: "Mr. Pope, either you produce a pun right here and now, or you shall lose your head." "Thereupon" (forthwith, right away) the poet replied with feigned apprehension: "Your Majesty? A pun? What a pun [upon]?" Needless to say, Pope did not lose his head. But Pro-Lifers may lose their heart. The state of mind of Americans being what it is, a new law on abortion (much less a constitutional amendment) is hardly a likelihood. On seeing themselves foiled in their activist strategy, however praiseworthy, Pro-Lifers may soon begin to shake their heads in despair. They will be spared if their eyes be riveted on Elizabeth's words to Mary.

[SLJ "Christ, Catholics and Abortion" in Catholic Essays]

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Inescapable God and the Perennial Philosophy

As part of our liturgy to celebrate the feast of St. Patrick, we listened to the beautiful psalm number 139, titled 'The Inescapable God' in my RSV-SCE bible. This psalm is one of my favourites and one of the most philosophical. Today, I wish to share some extracts with you and Fr. Jaki's commentary in his Praying the Psalms.
~Jakian Thomist
Psalm 139
O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways,
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
For you formed my inward parts,
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for you are awesome and wonderful.
Wonderful are your works!
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I could count them, they are more than the sand.
Ps 139, 1-4, 13-18. RSV-SCE
Those who sensed keenly, and almost all saints are an instance of this, the futility of escaping God's pursuit of the soul, must have found in this psalm a mirror for their experience. A memorable expression of this is Francis Thomson's poem, "The Hound of Heaven."
This psalm contains for modern man more valuable material for reflection than a psychological, introspective plumbing of one's motivations. The material, once properly grasped, exposes one to that mental sanity which is sound philosophy of which there is aplenty in this psalm. This is indeed the most philosophical of all psalms. Its main theme is God's omnipresence and omniscience. Most of the times the point is put across in distinctly poetic terms, such as the fastness of the wings of the dawn and the brightness of even the darkest night. But at other times the diction is worthy of the finest metaphysical poets. Only those would be taken aback by this who let themselves be blinded by the cliché that there is a radical difference between Greek metaphysical rationality and biblical existentialism. Once one admits that good philosophy begins with wonderment and keeps exuding it, it will be easy to see metaphysics blare forth from this psalm, which in fact contains utterances about infinity that no mathematician can improve upon.
And if one sees that the difference between wonderment and assent is not an opposition but a complement, one's conversion to metaphysics, as recommended by this very "biblical" psalm, may be complete. It is a metaphysics vibrant with vitality, including its spiritual kind. True enough, the Bible stands or assent, but never for a blind one. Faith, as Paul insisted (Rom 12:1), ought to be a logike latreia, a truly reasonable and well-reasoned service, a point that cannot be recalled often enough.
Those desirous of a truly perennial philosophy may find it articulated in a capsule form in this psalm. By praying this psalm devoutly we may go a long way toward obtaining the grace which is the true love of wisdom. The word "philosophy" means precisely this insofar as it aims at truth and not merely at opinions about it.
[S.L. Jaki, Praying the Psalms pp. 226-7]

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Is there a universe?

I remember first reading Fr. Jaki's list of publications on the inside of one of his books and this title in particular struck my interest. Is there a universe? I had never asked myself that question before! After reading a copy in 2 days, it quickly became one of my favourite books - grounded in Thomism and a classic example of father's scientific creativity.

Today, we will join in at the point where father brings the final of his six lectures to a close (imagine tiptoeing into the back row of the auditorium to listen!) and where he provides an answer to a most novel question.

~ Jakian Thomist

When it comes to the universe, Burtt's remark becomes especially true that "the only way to avoid becoming a metaphysician is to say nothing." Much less can one, even if he is a scientific cosmologist, say "everything" or universe if he refuses to be a metaphysician. It does more harm than good if the metaphysics in question is the one that begins with the mind, instead of with the objectively material. Those who started with the mind, never reached matter, a point still to be learned by scientific cosmologists through a careful study of the history of Western philosophy. But if there is no physical realm, one tries in vain to go beyond physics in that sense which is metaphysical. So much in a way of comment about Burtt's other remark, appropriate both to philosophers and scientific cosmologists, that "an adequate cosmology will only begin to be written when an adequate philosophy of mind has appeared."

What is really needed is a recovery of the sense of the real from the clutches of rank idealism and blissful endorsements of Platonism as if equations and co-ordinate systems were the foundation of reality and therefore the creators of the universe itself. Until that happens, a prominent cosmologist may but momentarily awaken from the slumber of his philosophical idealism and register his astonishment over material reality by exclaiming: "The Universe flies!" That slumber must be totally dissipated if a step is to be taken from wondering about reality to the reality of the Universe itself.

The universe itself is raised to the highest conceivable pedestal - and a very safe one at that where no intellectual vertigo threatens the cosmologist - if one says, with John Henry Newman, that the idea of the Universe is so great that only the idea of its Maker is greater. Had Newman been an idealist, he would have thereby invited a mental vertigo. What he really meant echoes a long-standing conviction, voiced among others by Aquinas, that even the Creator could not have created anything greater than the Universe. Such has to be the case if the Universe, or the converging of all, is a reflection of the coherence which God has to be. The science of cosmology is unfolding magnificent vistas about the coherence of everything under its purview, while it has to take it for granted that there is such a totality of things which deserves to be called the Universe. This ultimate physical entity will loom convincingly at the end of one's mental journey as long as one holds fast to the right starting point.

[Extracts from S.L. Jaki, Is there a universe?, 1993, pp. 124-126 ]

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Linguistics and Philosophy ~ Etienne Gilson

Father Jaki's interest in the writings of Etienne Gilson prompted him to ensure that some of his best works were translated into English. I have regularly referred to the rare book Methodical Realism and From Aristotle to Darwin has been recently republished by Ignatius Press. However, the final book of the trio, Linguistics and Philosophy should not escape our notice.

While father did not write an introduction to this book, he is suitably acknowledged by the translator, John Lyon:

"To Father Stanley L. Jaki, O.S.B., I owe the suggestion that this work be translated. His influence and inspiration are deeply felt and appreciated." [L&P p. vii]

Indeed I am grateful that father continues to influence our studies to this very day!

So, why is Linguistique et philosophie of particular interest? According to father, "even in its philosophical purism, that book remains a mine of arguments against those who think that language, and with it the human intellect, is a mere binary counter with feedback mechanisms." [P&P p.196]

Here below is a long extract from the preface for us to enjoy!

~ Jakian Thomist

My book has taken shape and been provoked into being by the liberty which numerous linguists grant themselves of philosophizing as linguists and presenting their philosophy as if it were a matter of the science. This same attitude is not unknown to physicists or biologists either. It does not bother them if the philosophy thus bandied about under the name of science often consists in a denial of the validity of philosophical positions accepted by those whose metier is philosophy. A scientist who, with good right, would become indignant upon seeing a philosopher with a casual acquaintance with science uttering supposedly scientific opinions, will not himself thereupon refrain from philosophizing. Holding reasonably that it is necessary to have learned a science in order to be authorized to speak about it, he does not for an instant doubt that it is a matter of indifference who may be authorized to speak of philosophy, provided only that he knows some other discipline.

For the philosopher nature is what the physicist and the biologist tell him it is. Language is for him what the linguist tells him it is. In these two cases he comes across two kinds of scientists. All of them agree to hold all philosophical speculation in the background, and as scientists, they are reasonable to refuse to go beyond the realm of reasoned observation and experience. But all of them do not observe the same attitude toward reality. Some of them, for whom the fear of philosophizing is the beginning of science, methodically ignore or deny on principle the aspects of language use which provide reflection for the philosopher. Whether or not this attitude is of use to linguistics is for linguists to decide among themselves. Others - a short time ago Edward Sapir, today Emile Benveniste and Noam Chomsky for example - are equally solicitous to prevent their science for losing its way in the indistinct landscape of philosophy, and in particular metaphysics. These, however, have great concern in their descriptions to maintain the mysterious aspects of language for him who observes it merely as a scientist. These are precisely the aspects which retain the attention of the philosopher, for whom the philosophical constraints of language are but a particular case of metaphysical constraints.

[E. Gilson, Linguistics and Philosophy, pp. xvii-xviii]