"FIGHT FOR TRUTH...": THE OEUVRE OF STANLEY L. JAKI

 

Life and activity

 

Stanley L. Jaki was summoned by the Lord in Madrid, on Good Tuesday April 7, 2009. His words as well as life have born a recent evidence of the relation between faith and science.

 

Father Stanley was born in Győr (Hungary), on August 17, 1924, after having finished his secondary-school studies there, entered the Benedictine Order in Pannonhalma (Hungary) in 1942, made a monastic vow likewise there in 1947 and was ordained in Assisi on June 27, 1948. He acquired a doctoral degree in theology at the Pontifical University of San Anselmo, Rome, 1950, and in physics, with Nobel Prize winner Victor Franz Hess at Fordham University, New York, 1957. He became a member of Seton Hall University, New Yersey in 1965, was appointed as Full University Professor in 1968 and Distinguished University Professor in 1973. Owing to his more than 60 books, over 350 articles and innumerable lectures delivered at major universities throughout the western world, he became a well-known and recognized authority on the matter of the relation of faith and science. The entry "Stanley L. Jaki" gives over 410,000 answers on the Internet. In 1987 he became recipient of the famous Templeton Prize. He became an honorary member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1990. Among others, he served as Gifford Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh on two occasions.

 

Personality

 

He had personal, direct knowledge of the situation of the Catholic Church in the world of today: "The resolve to deny any tie, factual or possible, between Christianity and science, has become essential to modern secularism....Whether one likes it or not, one is engaged in a battle... 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."

 

Father Jaki passed himself for a historian and philosopher of science. All the subjects he elaborated were discussed with composed internal logic, in context of history as well as finding the biblical roots and evolving a rich apparatus of literary references. On several occasions, he mentioned that history was the laboratory of philosophy. His massive philosophy came near the methodical realism (réalisme méthodique) of the famous classical Thomist Étienne Gilson. Although a theologian at the first place, he paved his way of looking at things with views collected from his work for a doctorate in physics and with respect for experimental facts and quantitative aspects.

 

Of course, he was fully aware of his own limits as he confessed in private conversation; he strongly criticized transcendental Thomism as well as the world view of Teilhard de Chardin and he accepted the cosmological anthropic principle only at the end of his life.

 

He was a captivating lecturer speaking Hungarian in a perfectly elaborate style even after an absence of more than five decades from his homeland. He always spoke plainly and distinctly even when the train of his thought was not easy to follow. He knew his duty of preaching the Word, especially to young people and about the relation between faith and science.

 

This paper does not make possible even a rapid glance over his works, but fortunately the volume called A Mind's Matter acquaints us with it. However, we necessarily have to emphasize some subjects in which we have got orientation for life here, at home too.

 

Genesis 1 through the Ages

 

God created the world out of nothing, i.e. not from something existent beforehand. Genesis 1 describes it in pictures. Father Jaki's volume Genesis 1 through the Ages analysed the two millennia of Genesis exegetics right through (with 674 references!). The distressing outcome was but an incoherent conglomerate of opinions pernicious to Christian faith instead of a useful, consistent interpretation. The last chapter of this book outlined his own explanation to be summarized like this:

 

Genesis 1 is not a scientific cosmology, not even a myth or legend but most probably a kind of metaphoric biblical exhortation emphasizing that all things were made by God, and they were good, nay, very good; that man has a special position in the universe with the duty of devotion to the Lord of the Cosmos to be manifested in praising Him by the observation of the Sabbath. In accordance with the ancient views of the chosen people the universe is to be conceived as a cosmic tent. By ancient means of rhetorics, parts can be mentioned for the whole (pars pro toto) or the whole characterized by parts (totum per partes). This is how the biblical phrase "heaven and earth" stands for "everything". Erecting a "tent" needed, of course, conditions such as light, created on the first "day", while the two main parts (heaven and earth i.e. the roof and the floor) came into being on the second and third "days" (opus divisionis) (plants were sprouting from the earth), all was ornated with the celestial bodies as well as fish and birds on the fourth and fifth "days" (opus ornatus). Terrestrial animals appeared on the sixth "day" and from them Adam emerged by direct creation, and an equal status was given to Eve. Finally, God rested from all his work on the seventh "day". He is rightly to be praised by the Universe as Psalm 148 is resounding in a similar sequence.

 

In connection with biblical interpretation, Father Jaki often referred to the principle descending from Saint Augustine that if solid experiences were coming up against the Bible, the latter should be reinterpreted. Unfortunately, even the bishop of Hippo himself, had not been consistent in insisting on this principle. Father Jaki's interpretation of Genesis 1 is totally and deliberately independent from modern cosmology, not to suggest any kind of concordism or creationism, and it does not yield to the fashionably biased opinion of intelligent design either.

 

Quantities and "everything else"

 

You can read in Father Jaki's memoirs: "If there is a conviction that has grown in me during these last four or five decades,... I mean the decisive role which quantities play in science and their inability to play that role elsewhere." All the objects and facts of human experience can be categorized as quantities or "anything else but quantities" (non-quantities = qualities). Quantitative properties are usually established by way of measuring. Talking of that, Aristotle remarked that the attribute "more or less" is inadequate for quantities. So Eddington correctly emphasized this "metric non-metric" nature of the universe but Jaki was the first to realize its significance.

 

He considered the universe as the totality of mutually interacting things. The task of physics is the quantitative study of the quantitative aspects of things in motion. Accordingly, the competence of physics is obviously restricted by the limits of measurement. Since chemistry and biology rest on physics as well, they can only be considered natural sciences as far as their results are based (at least in principle) on observations and/or measurements. And it is also obvious that the aspects of quantitative and "anything else" can not be traced back to each other.

 

Today's physics is claiming to trace the history of the cosmos back to 10-43 seconds after the Big Bang. Since Catholic theology regards creation as the production of things in time and out of nothing, and the nothing can not be measured, the problem of creation goes beyond the competence of physics. For similar reasons, natural science cannot discuss the nature of matter and gravity, electromagnetism and life, purpose and universals, not even of God's existence because all these realities are immeasurable (non-metric). Since science is competent in metric aspects and religion in non-metric ones, they cannot get into conflict except when their representatives overstride competence, i. e. when Nobel Prize winner scientists declare an opinion about matters of religion and theologians look for support in cosmology.

 

The Gödel-Jaki Theorem

 

Undoubtedly, one of Stanley L. Jaki's most important and fundamental statements is the application of Gödel's theorem to physics and the cosmos. In 1931 Kurt Gödel published his theorem that even just a slightly complicated system of arithmetic (i.e. of axioms) can include arguments whose consistence (let us add: and/or contingence) can neither be proved nor disproved inside their own system but only in a higher one. As the theory of the universe dreamt about by physicists (Theory of Everything, TOE) must be based on a high degree of mathematics, Father Jaki considered Gödel's theorem valid for the universe, too. Since the universe, according to its definition, includes everything that exists, there is no higher system (a metauniverse) where the problem could be solved. We could only get knowledge of such a higher system if we could somehow get into contact with it, but then it would belong to our universe. The question whether the universe is completely rational or not, might be answered only with "we don't know" or "yes, it is because it has been created by the omniscient and omnipotent God". The first answer is scientific and the second is theological. There is no third answer. The decision is up to us. According to our faith, all of us will obtain the necessary grace of God, but a decision should be done by each of us personally.

 

Gödel's theorem has got a very unusual fate. Owing to its faultless argumentation, it was dejectedly accepted by leading mathematicians all over the world but physicists did not take any notice of it, and Gödel himself did not apply it to physics or cosmology either. Father Jaki discussed the problem already in his first monumental work The Relevance of Physics published in 1966 (with 1823 references!), repeating it in countless additional publications and lectures without conceding or refuting or even mentioning by the physicists. The situation is well illustrated with an interesting event at a Nobel conference in Minnesota, 1976. Father Jaki was one of the six illustrious lecturers, all of them physicists and/or philosophers from major universities in the United States. In front of an audience of two thousand scientists, the contribution of the Hungarian Benedictine, already well-known at that time, made it obvious that besides him, there was only one philosopher who knew Gödel's name, and the other four physicists (two Nobel Prize winners among them) did only then, i.e. 45 years after Gödel's publication, hear about it for the first time! The name and especially the theorem of Gödel is unfamiliar to most of those experts aiming at drafting a theory of the universe even today. This conspiracy of silence is, of course, tendentious. Most of the liberal, agnostic and atheist scientists feel ashamed of pronouncing "don't know" and aren't willing to admit the existence of God.

 

The Gödel-Jaki theorem has got a similar fate among theologians, too. The above train of thoughts is not a scientific proof of God's existence (as it is impossible by reason of the aforesaid) but an argumentation based on mathematics and logic, pointing at the Creator of the Universe. And hereby it provides a brand-new base for apologetics.

 

Further/additional activity

 

Of Father Jaki's powerful oeuvre some more subjects must be highlighted. He clearly marked the subject and the borders of physics as early as in his first exciting book. He entered into a detailed examination of the life-works of outstanding Catholic characters such as his Benedictine fellow member and compatriot, the physicist "Ányos Jedlik, the English cardinal John Henry Newman and the excellent French physicist Pierre Duhem, widely spreading their merits. Relying on Duhem's medieval studies, he demonstrated that the roots of modern natural science, and especially Newton's first law, go back to medieval Christian culture or rather to the doctrine of Christ's Incarnation.

 

In Hungary, Father Jaki received neither official state nor Church recognition. His activity there is none the less significant. A number of Hungarian translations, partly private editions, of his books have been published in this country. He has never lectured at Hungarian universities but, for students and teachers within the scope of the University Chaplancy of Budapest, he delivered some 50 lectures on basic issues in science and religion as well as in the Catholic faith and moral. These were not traditional "divinity classes" but helped widen the way of seeing things and strengthening faith by giving historically and biblically established knowledge illustrated with a number of examples. All through his life he demonstrated that high-level science is in complete harmony with the Catholic faith.

 

Summary

 

Father Stanley was of the same kind of the great struggling saints such as Saint Paul or Saint Athanasius. He was not an easy personality. He got hardened in a ceaseless, multi-decennial fight against liberalism. He got a number of blows and he must have given a few. Some of his declarations are polarized or not acceptable to someone. However, he was inspired with a missionary sense of vocation even in his last days. He has passed a supremely opulent heritage down to us to be fostered by succeeding generations. The end of his autobiography reads like this: "I have been fighting, and consciously so, ever since in the early 1940s I read a series of public lectures on "God in History" given by a noted Hungarian theologian [Antal Schütz] at the University of Budapest. The book came to a close with a quotation from the Book of Sirach: "Fight, and the God of truth will fight for you" [Sir 4,33]. Father Stanley was fighting for truth to the very last.

 

László F. Szabó

professor emeritus

Semmelweis University

Department of Organic Chemistry

Budapest, Hungary