Today is a very important personal anniversary since it was this night, one year ago, that I encountered the work of Fr. Stanley Jaki for the very first time! His writings have propelled me into disciplines far removed from my day job and for that insight I am eternally grateful. What a delight for me it is to share with you those words I first read from Science and Creation which have inspired me to build a Jaki library and truly engage with my faith in the wider world.
~ Jakian Thomist
With his penchant for startling dicta, Whitehead once defined European philosophical tradition as a series of footnotes to Plato. Whether this was the safest generalization to make on the topic is another matter, but it cannot be denied that the major themes of philosophy are as old as philosophy itself. Much the same holds true of scientific speculation. The word "atomic", which our age uses as its hallmark, has an ancestry leading back to the times of Pericles. Then and there it was clearly perceived that matter had to be either discrete or continuous. Decision on this represented the touchstone of truth for Democritus as well as for Aristotle. In the latter's words the verification of a strictly smallest quantity could be of such portent as to shake the very foundations of philosophy.
Ancient Greek philosophers showed equally keen interest in questions having to do with the very large. There again, a fundamental pair of alternatives was formulated with all possible clarity: the world could only be finite or infinite in extent. The counterpart of this along the parameter of time also received a most explicit attention. the classical Greeks' firm advocacy of an eternal world became a distinctive feature of their world view and science. Their concept of the eternity of a finite world, repeating itself in every Great Year, also anticipated to a surprising degree the idea of an oscillating universe, the favorite choice of many cosmologists of our day.
Reaching full maturity always prompts a look backward. Young people do not care about genealogies. Family records begin to be of consuming interest only to those who have already arrived. The interest is particularly pressing when the beginning of the journey amounts to a miracle. The miracle is the emergence of a self-sustained type of the scientific endeavour. In a world history that had witnessed at least half a dozen great cultures, science had as many stillbirths. Only once, in the period of 1250-1650, did man's scientific quest muster enough zest to grow into an enterprise with built-in vitality.
Great cultures, where the scientific enterprise came to a standstill, invariably failed to formulate the notion of physical law, or the law of nature. Theirs was a theology with no belief in a personal, rational, absolutely transcendent Lawgiver, or Creator. Their cosmology reflected a pantheistic and animistic view of nature caught in the treadmill of perennial, inexorable returns. The scientific quest found fertile soil only when this faith in a personal, rational Creator had truly permeated a whole culture, beginning with the centuries of the High Middle Ages. It as that faith which provided, in sufficient measure, confidence in the rational of the universe, trust in progress, and appreciation of the quantitative method, all indispensable ingredients of the scientific quest.
The future of man rests with that judgment which holds the universe to be the handiwork of a Creator and Lawgiver. To this belief, science owes its very birth and life. Its future and mankind's future rest with the same faith.
[S.L. Jaki, Science and Creation, 1974, p. vii-viii]