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]