Friday, February 11, 2011

Roads and Ways to a Starting Point

Recently I was asked about SLJ's The Road of Science and the Ways to God, his published edition of his Gifford Lectures. This is one of his earlier works, a hefty book, though at 331 pages not quite so large as his The Relevance of Physics with 532 pages. He says in his introduction that these lectures are supposed to be aimed at audiences in which scholars are "at most a perceptible minority". Be that as it may, Road is an important work in the Jaki collection, though - when I was asked about it - I said I am not sure that it ought to be "first" on one's reading list. Just consider this very important glimpse from his introduction:

Science found its only viable birth within a cultural matrix permeated by a firm conviction about the mind's ability to find in the realm of things and persons a pointer to their Creator. All great creative advances of science have been made in terms of an epistemology germane to that conviction, and whenever that epistemology was resisted with vigorous consistency, the pursuit of science invariably appears to have been deprived of its solid foundation.
[SLJ The Road of Science and the Ways to God, vii]
Really, that's very important, though there is more to Jaki's work than this encomium of Duhem's work. (As you ought to know, "encomium" is one of SLJ's pet words, it means praise. That quote is a succinct summary of Duhem's master-work, but also permeates and is permeated with Jaki's own work.)

I may have said that "Road is not a good start" in private, but I wish to retract in public, or at least qualify my remark. As I think about Jaki's writing, there is one great difficulty. It is hard to suggest a "starting book" to begin the introduction to his work - very hard indeed. Since I like Chesterton, I usually suggest SLJ's Chesterton a Seer of Science since it is comparatively small (116 pages); it forms a complete unity, and it provides a good starting point for these two very important writers. It also covers four major points of synthesis: a correct view of science, a opposition of scientism, a criticism of evolutionism (NOTE the ending) and a triumphant championing of the universe - these points not only describe Chesterton, but also Jaki.

Yet others are not going to want to only read about Chesterton; they want to know more - they want to know about Wöhler and his synthesis of urea, or about the Olbers paradox, or about why the moon matters, or about how Galileo got the theology right and the Church got the science right, or how St. Augustine answered all the Galileo conundrums about a millennium in advance... oh my there are so many things to mention! (I could cause all sorts of havoc by mentioning his studies of Kant or of Bruno.) But mostly people want to know more about Pierre Duhem and his work - and especially they want to know more about Jaki's explorations of the history of science. Which is, after all, the reason we have this Duhem Society: to continue the work of our masters in the study of the Way of Science - "Science writ large", as SLJ loved to put it.

One is also confronted with the eight collections of SLJ essays - these are good reading, and give a healthy seasoning of humour and insight along with their information - but they are collections and do not form a comprehensive scheme.

So I pondered this matter last night, and so I think this morning - and I wondered... Finally I decided to ask you, oh patient and kind reader, who may be less beset by conundrums at the present moment than I am:

What do you think? What book ought one start with, especially if one is NOT a historian of science, or even a scientist? Or is it time for the Duhem Society to write an introductory text? And please say why you think that, if you can.

Please comment here, or, if you prefer, send me an e-mail about this. (Click on "Dr. Thursday" under the "Contributors" on the right panel for contact info.)


Ron Van Wegen said...

A good question. I'm not an "historian of science" per se but I do find it fascinating. I've just ordered almost everything written by "the great man" from RealView and have already read six of his works including the "Relevance" and "Chesterton".

My boss (I’m a computer programmer and he an engineer) floored me a few weeks ago when out of the blue he walked in and asked, “Has religion come to terms with science yet? How’s that going?” I’m known as a Catholic though we’ve never spoken before. I was to put it mildly “taken aback”! I made the mistake of accepting the assumption that he implied and attempted to defend religion by saying something ludicrous like, “It’s going quite well”.

I talked a little about Galileo and how that situation was highly dependent on so many other issues such as the reformation etc and he then threw Bruno into the ring of whom I knew even less. I then mentioned that everyone knows about the Galileo question but what other “issues” had there been since then? One so-called mistake in three centuries doesn’t a position make so-to-speak. He then said “contraception” and I was at a loss to know where to begin. He then had to go off to do his real job. I believe I lost that exchange though I console myself with the knowledge that it’s the fight that’s important not the result. I gave it a go. Then I went home and read up on Bruno and Galileo online and ordered the previously mentioned six books.

I’ve also had a look at a few online philosophy and history of science sites and wondered how to even begin to insert what I’ve learned into the discussions. It’s like I need to be able to refer to a “position paper” in a sense. Which is similar to the question you put as to how to begin reading Jaki.

I have been so buoyed by Father Jaki and believe that what I’ve discovered through him is of immense importance and thank God for it.

May I humbly suggest then as an answer to your question, "Questions on Science and Religion"? It’s topical. Other than that I’d just say, “Go for it”! Whatever you pick up will be fascinating and the more you read the more you will want to. At least that is what I’ve found.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I began my Jakian journey with _Savior of Science_ and still recommend it as a solid starting point. Having corresponded with and having enjoyed a lunch conversation with Fr Jaki shortly before he died, I can state that only months before his death he thought of _Is There a Universe?_, _Means to Message_, _Archipelago Church_, and _The Impassable Divide_ as his key works for the largest possile audience, if not for his legacy as such.

Benjamino said...

for me the first book was "God and the Cosmologists" but I was captured by the second book I read, "the Saviour of Science". It was 1997 or 1998.

These two books where published in Italian translation by the Vatican Publishing House. Then I began to gather all SLJ books I could find, first in Italian but then in English, corresponding with fr Jaki and meeting him in 2003.

Then he asked me what I had read, and he suggested me "a Mind's Matter - an Intellectual Autobiography" and "Means to Message" in order to "get acquainted with his thought".

Angelo said...

The Road of Science was the first book by Jaki I read. It is still my favorite one. (I haven't read The Relevance) It was immediate love. I was impressed by Jaki's erudition and his idea of the Christian basis of modern science. It is not a book for everyone as it requires a certain level of knowledge of philosophy and history of science. I would recommend it to an educated reader.