Saturday, April 01, 2006

Fr. Jaki: the Fight About Science and Christianity

Recently I began re-reading A Mind's Matter - Fr. Jaki's "intellectual autobiography". It contains some of his most succinct and powerful writing. Perhaps, as a Chestertonian and a scientist, I keep hearing that most profound line from GKC: "The rebuilding of this bridge between science and human nature is one of the greatest needs of mankind." [GKC, The Defendant 75]

Perhaps it is because it seems a bit tiresome to laugh about the usual media whining on Galileo yet another time - after all, in a certain way he was wrong about his science (the planets move around the sun in ellipses, not circles) though right about the theology (Oh yes - it's in St. Augustine!)

But really, it is time to get to work on this bridge, even if it means a fight. Jaki, Chesterton, Duhem, and Newman, have done a lot of work already. Now it's our turn.
--Dr. Thursday

Note: the following is from Jaki's A Mind's Matter, pp. x-xii

The resolve to deny any tie, factual or possible, between Christianity and science, has become essential to modern secularism. Whatever concessions it might be willing to make, modern secularism will not yield an inch on that point, which serves as the basic rational foundation of its radical rejection of the supernatural. And since only the Catholic Church still stands as a distinctly identifiable body on behalf of the supernatural, the animosity of secularism ever more heatedly centers on the Catholic Church. In an age that disavows any abusive reference to any group, Catholics remain the only free game.
Anyone who has not resorted to wearing the thickest blinders can readily cite examples of this. For my part, let me recall one such example insofar as it relates to some pivotal point in this intellectual autobiography. As a historian of science, or rather the kind who, precisely because he is also a theologian and a priest, this author found nothing irritating in findings made early this century about the medieval, Christian origins of Newton's first law. And since those findings are well documented, he cannot be blamed for taking great delight in them and for finding them most seminal for a reinterpretation of intellectual history in a sense almost diametrically opposite to the one bequeathed by the philosophes to modern Western Europe. Its academic establishment is ruled by intellectuals who write lengthy books, among other things, about discoverers and discoveries as modern man's chief achievement but keep turning a blind eye to what made it intellectually possible for a Copernicus to remove the earth from the center of the universe and still retain his Catholic peace of mind, a mind firmly anchored in the supernatural.
One can understand the resentment which seizes those who rest their naturalism and secularism on science whenever they are confronted with the Christian origins of science. Resentment, bordering on rage, can make one resort to strange footwork that cannot be explained on purely intellectual grounds except as a visceral reaction of the modern "noble pagan" to the specter of the supernatural. Counter-supernatural motivations, and not purely intellectual considerations had to drive that physicist at Michigan State University, who was the official respondent to my presentation there on "Medieval Creativity in Science and Technology." In that role he could be expected to comment on the data and arguments presented by me on exclusively medieval material. Instead of doing anything of the sort, he spoke almost twenty minutes on what he believed to be a fundamental connection between modern science (physics) and Eastern mysticism.
Beneath such a strange performance there must have lain some strong motivations which should not be difficult to pinpoint. They bespeak of some desperate salvage operation at work. What has to be saved is the secularist's hope that modern science justifies man's dechristianization of his Christian heritage. Therefore if that man has to concede something important in his culture to Christianity, to the supernatural, he has to try to offset this concession by making claims such as that there is a connection between modern physics and Eastern mysticism, which is indeed a most religiously coated denial of the supernatural, properly so-called.
It takes some naiveté to overlook the true nature of all this. Whether one likes it or not, one is engaged in a battle, and if such is the case, it is better to fight. I certainly do not dislike a spirited encounter or two, and I read with great delight that Newman readily joined a battle whenever he saw one. This is not to suggest that I have always fought wisely, or even to the purpose. But I have no doubt about the very essence of the great contestation which has taken on a frightening vigor for the past two or three decades and got into high gear during the 1990s. It is a wholesale attack by the champions of naturalism and secularism on the supernatural as mainly represented by the Catholic Church. For them, the Catholic Church is the chief enemy of a mankind that wants its autonomy from anything superhuman, that is, supernatural. Their view of the Church echoes the invectives hurled at her by T. H. Huxley who in that respect was at least consistent as an ideological Darwinist. In modern America, embarked on the Third Millennium, everything is defined, overtly or covertly, with a reference to the Catholic Church.
I simply could not stand on the sideline. I felt I had to contribute whatever I could to stem the onrush of the juggernaut of secularism, insofar as it invokes science on its behalf. But my aim was not so much to attack some spokesmen of that juggernaut, as to strengthen those ready to resist it but often are at a loss for arguments that would convince them that they are on the winning side, or at least on the side against which no force, no factor, shall ever prevail. It is the side that for now two thousand years has held about the forces opposing it: non prevalebunt. Its success in holding out for two millennia augurs well for it now that mankind has entered a third millennium counted from the birth of Christ.


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