Thursday, April 15, 2010

Photos and News from the Jaki Memorial Conference

Our good friend Magdalen has returned from Roma and has posted some photos from the Conference here. She also informs us of the announcement of the forming of the Jaki Foundation, about which we await further details.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Fifty Years of Learning

I was not yet through with my doctoral research in physics at Fordham University in 1956-57, when it dawned on me that the real problems between science and religion, or science and the humanities, lie not in the quantitative results of science, or of physics in particular but in the philosophical interpretation of those results given by prominent physicists. Many of them turn to writing high-level science popularizations in order to gain more fame and money. A case in point is Stephen Hawking, whose Brief History of Time sold five million copies within five years after it came off the press in 1988. He tried another business coup a few years ago with The Universe in a Nutshell, which only proved that prowess in mathematical physics is no antidote against churning out sheer nonsense by using words other than numbers. In that book the universe is turned into a joke.

We have come a long way since John Henry Newman, the greatest convert of the nineteenth century, wrote in his The Idea of a University that only the idea of God is greater than the idea of the universe. Now it has become a fad with prominent scientists to swallow up the universe as if it were a pill and then regurgitate universes in umpteen numbers.

Numbers are the soul of science, that is, of exact science, of which physics is the chief form, which is closely following by chemistry, astronomy, and molecular biology. Other so called sciences, such as psychology, political science, sociology, and theology can be and should be forms of reasoned discourse but they should not be called science. For the last three hundred years, since Newton to be specific the word "science" has become increasingly associated with the word "physics," the only science that can predict the future position or states of small and largest bits of matter in a quantitative way, that is exactly. Political science cannot do anything similar. When it tries, things can go spectacularly wrong. An instance of this was Henry Kissinger's prediction, in 1988, or two years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, that the Soviets would remain the other superpower.

I have just mentioned theology and said that it should not be called science in spite of Thomas Aquinas and other great theologians. The reason for this is that as the superstructure of revelation, theology is about purpose, about the ultimate purpose of human life. Purpose, or rather the sense of purpose, is not something that can be measured, whereas exact science stands or falls with measurements at times so exact as to called for the seventh, and even for the ninth decimal point.

In addition to purpose, or the sense of purpose, which is the determining factor of healthy or sane human life equally decisive is free will, and also equally unmeasurable. Free will cannot be measured, nor can the words is or are or were or would be or should be or will be - words that carry the burden of all human communications. Communication in turn has to be free or else everything turns into a machinery,leaving not a shred of the so-called human dignity, which again cannot be measured. It would be nonsensical to look for two pounds or two gallons of human dignity.

I found that from the start I was groping after something which became crystallized in my mind only around 1984 and in reference to my work on the relation of science and religion, which earned me the Templeton Prize, three years later. What crystallized can be stated briefly. Whenever religion, be it the one in the Bible, contains something which can in principle be measured, the Truth of that proposition stands with measurement, that is, with science. And whatever cannot be measured, such as purpose or free will, is no business of science.

[S.L. Jaki, Fifty Years of Learning, extracts from pp.4-7]

The picture of Father was taken in June 2004 provided courtesy of Antonio!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Meditation For Our First Anniversary

My dear fellow members, readers of this blogg, students and scholars and all who seek the Truth:

Today marks one year since the passing into eternity of Father Stanley L. Jaki, O.S.B. It also marks the founding of this "Duhem Society" - at least in the sense of one simple yet visible activity, the posting of periodic thoughts and excerpts and other articles about or by our Great Teachers, Pierre Duhem and S. L. Jaki. Our Society may not be very formal as yet - there are no dues and no scholarly works, no articles of incorporation or membership badges or ballots for officers. But there are interested people who come here and read - and hopefully think and pray as well - from all over the terrestrial globe, and this is a very gratifying thing. At the very least, we have begun some simple rapport of interested minds, of curious persons, of hopeful scholars - and perhaps this is better (I mean healthier) for scholarship in general, especially at this time of tension and concern which worries so many all over the earth.

It is no easy task to find a unifying passage to underscore our Society's purpose, or the solemnity of this day - but perhaps the excerpt quoted below, of Father Jaki speaking about Duhem, will be sufficient. We who claim to follow such great teachers must strive, in our work in laboratory or field, in classroom or library or office, to be "a witness to a faith whose hallmark is trust in the ultimate victory of virtue and truth."

Let us keep today in solemn memory, recalling our Great Teachers, pondering their writing if we can find some time to do this, praying for the repose of their souls and for the well-being of our fellow members. Let us especially pray for wisdom for teachers and students, for scholars of every type, for scientists and engineers, for theologians and philosophers, for priests and for laity. And let us work to do more in our second year, to the extent we can.

I join with my assistants across the Atlantic, Jakian Thomist and Angelo, in wishing you a grand Paschaltide, and best wishes on our solemn anniversary.

May the souls of Pierre Duhem and Stanley Jaki, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

Paradoxically yours,
Dr. Thursday.

For all his acquaintance with many Thomists, Duhem never grew fond of Thomistic terms. Had he done so, he might have perceived the misconception of the term "faith" as a label put by Rey on his ideas about what a good physical theory ought to be. Instead, Duhem took Rey's use of "faith" in a theological sense and replied in kind. As one walks in an argumentative mood, one can easily miss the immediate countryside and even walk well beyond one's chosen target. Duhem certainly missed the point Rey wanted to make. It is to that misunderstanding on Duhem's part that we owe his magnificent profession of Catholic faith in a scientific context. He lived that faith from childhood to sudden death in his mid-fifties with heroic fidelity and with a profoundly reasoned conviction.

Yet that misunderstanding of his contains in a nutshell a most instructive aspect of his being a believer as well as a scientist. The misunderstanding was that of a philosopher of physics, but it was his overriding interest in a perfect form of physics, a heavily philosophical objective, that prompted him to unfold with great originality previously unsuspected harmonies between faith and science. The science was physics, which even more than in his time stands, because of its exactness, for the ideal to be emulated by all other sciences. Though a theoretical physicist, he deeply appreciated the role which industrial applications played in the progress of his field. The depth of his views about the abuses of physics for destructive purposes can be gauged from his remark that the ravages of World War I constituted that gravest of all sins which is the sin against the Holy Spirit.

Here too he was led by a faith that had for its object the teachings of the Catholic Church which Duhem followed and practiced with no mental reservations. Even in most difficult situations, which State as well as Church created on more than one occasion around the turn of the century, he did not let his personal preferences override his sense of loyalty to Church authorities. Nor did he grow resentful when in vain he tried to call the attention of those in charge at the Institut Catholique in Paris to the decisive role which studies in the philosophy and history of physics were to play in the shaping of twentieth-century cultural consciousness.

Catholic institutions of learning still have to do justice to that role. They might put themselves into a commanding position if they recognized Duhem as one of the greatest and most reliable geniuses of this century of science. Those teaching in Catholic universities can always derive inspiration from his fearless courage whereby he kept disregarding the interests of his own academic career. The one who trusted so much in Divine Providence offered no hollow rhetoric when he portrayed, in his Les Origines de la statique, unquestionably the most revolutionary work in the historiography of science, even the evolution of science as something directed from above. Apart from his devotion to science, his life too was, from start to end, a witness to a faith whose hallmark is trust in the ultimate victory of virtue and truth.
[SLJ Pierre Duhem: Scientist and Catholic 24-5]

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday Surprise

Father Jaki in Rome

It is timely that on this day, the most important and joyful of the Christian calendar, we reflect on the passing of father Jaki during holy week last year. I remember my sadness upon hearing of his sudden illness and then knowing that he would not be able to reply to the letter I had sent to him. I was reading his Genesis 1 through the ages at the time and his words were echoing through my mind as I listened to the first reading from Genesis during the Easter Vigil that following Saturday.

It amazes me that almost a whole year has past since the foundation of the Duhem Society in father's memory. It was thanks to a link from The Blue Boar that I first discovered this page on the day after father died and I was struck by the wonderful initiative of Dr. Thursday to ensure a continuity of father's thought from then onwards. To think that a few months later I would be contributing myself!

A special day of lectures and no doubt lively discussion (Father would expect no less!) has been organised for the 13th April in Rome (details here) as a fitting tribute. That the programme is to be divided into four sections - biographic, scientific, philosophical and theological, points as evidence that father's talents knew no boundaries and could not be contained within one mere discipline! How I would love to be there, but a combination of work and study prevents me from travelling. (Some guest bloggers may be required to keep everyone informed of the events!)
But here is a surprise for us all to enjoy right now! It was with great amazement that I heard Fr. Jaki being discussed on EWTN's The Journey Home programme last week. Ms. Becky Mayhew, a former Southern Baptist had encountered father through philosopher friends of her deceased husband. I recommend watching the video replay through the JH Website, (the link to the current show is at the bottom of the page) or it can also be heard as mp3 in the past programs section No. 577. Fr. Jaki features 44 minutes into the show. "If you know one thing about Fr. Jaki" she says, you'll know that "he did not suffer fools gladly!"
As father's anniversary approaches on Wednesday, I would ask that all readers of the blog remember him especially in their prayers. Jaki's commitment to Christ and his tireless, unceasing work for the Kingdom is truly an example for us all to follow. May he enjoy the splendor of eternal life with Our Lord and all the saints!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Embracing the Cross

And bearing his own cross,
he went forth to a place called the Place of Skull,
in the Hebrew, Golgotha where they crucified him.
Jesus was not only sentenced to death, but to perhaps the most cruel from of death imaginable. The Romans were not the inventors of crucifixion, but they meted it out very generously. So often did they use it that the vertical pole of the cross was left in fair numbers in the ground as a gruesome decor of the outskirts of cities and towns of the vast Roman Empire.
From the tribunal the victim had to carry the horizontal bar on which he was to hang, with arms nailed or tied to it. Such a bar was put on the shoulders of Jesus. The one who spoke of his yoke as easy to bear, took up a yoke of indescribable pains.
Jesus showed no reluctance which is a resistance. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane he did not resist to say that his Father's will be done, no matter what. No trace in him of rejecting even the mere thought of suffering, not even the thought of the torture of crucifixion. Already scourged, his head bore the imprints of a crown of thorns that might have ripped one of the arteries in his temples. A bloodstained wretch he looked every inch, who already had spent a whole night on his feet and was subjected to trumped-up charges, buffeting, taunting and vilification by the vile. He must have now been at the point of exhaustion. Far more exhausting tortures lay just ahead of him.
As he grabbed that beam, his hands and fingers must have acted with a heroic desire which is inconceivable to us humans. We even fail to see that when we hold on to something delightful, we are held in its grip. A fateful grip indeed, when it is the desire of our eyes, or the urging of our body, or our pride of life.
May we be released from such bondage by letting Jesus gain hold of us! All we have to do is take up our crosses with an eye on him as he embraces his infinitely heavier cross.
[S.L. Jaki, Fourteen Stations, pp. 6-7]
(The mosaic of our Lord comes from the webpages of the Capuchin Franciscans of SS Peter and Paul Church, Cumberland, Maryland. I encourage you to visit their site at