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 ]