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!

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