Cosmology, and the History of Science
by Thomas D. Watts, Ph.D.
This article has originally been printed in the Social Justice Review (St Louis, MO), Vol. 100, No. 7-8, July-August 2009. Published here with permission.
The Rev. Stanley Ladislas Jaki, OSB, one of the most significant scientific minds in modern times, died in Madrid on April 7, 2009. On August 17 he would have celebrated his 85th birthday. A Benedictine priest, monk, and physicist, he was a seminal thinker and contributor in cosmology, theology, and the philosophy of science, and his legacy will be felt for years to come. His work could not be more relevant than it is now, what with the rise of the “new atheism” and such figures as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, etc. This article is both a tribute to the considerable genius of Stanley L. Jaki, and a reexamination of the importance of his prodigious work as a refutation of those who advance dubious or invalid notions about the universe and its origins. It also examines the rôle of Christian thought as a progenitor, rather than an inhibitor, of scientific discoveries and advances.
Stanley L. Jaki was born in Győr, Hungary, in 1924. From 1932 to 1942 he attended a school there, run by the Benedictines. He was so impressed by them that he entered their order in 1942, and was ordained a priest in 1948. During World War II he lived at the famed Hungarian Archabbey of Pannonhalma, established in the 10th century and, after Monte Cassino, the second largest territorial abbey in the world. This was a trying time in his life, and he had several close calls with Soviet soldiers, among other events.1 His intelligence, brilliance and wide learning were recognized at an early age, and he went on to receive a doctorate in theology from the noted Pontifical Institute of Sant’Anselmo in Rome in 1950. He then came to the United States, where he taught at a seminary in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, complications from a tonsillectomy deprived him of his voice for several years. He then gave up teaching, and enrolled in a doctoral programme in Physics at Fordham University, where he studied with the Nobel laureate Victor F. Hess, the discoverer of cosmic rays. He received his doctorate in physics in 1957.2 He now had two doctorates (in theology and physics), with undergraduate studies in philosophy, theology, mathematics and other subject areas. Thus, he was provided with a wide, expansive educational background that enabled him not only to traverse the boundaries of several disciplines, but to see a larger, broader picture of things than most people are capable of seeing. A reviewer has noted that both of Jaki’s doctoral theses were acclaimed by prominent people in the fields he studied.3 As if this were not enough, he did post-doctoral research in the philosophy of science at several universities, including California at Berkeley, Stanford, and Princeton, as well as the Institute for Advanced Study, also in Princeton, New Jersey. He was the Fremantle lecturer at Balliol College, Oxford, in 1977, Hoyt Fellow at Yale in1980, Farmington Institute Lecturer at Oxford (1988-89), and twice Gifford Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh (1974-75 and 1975-76). In 1987 he was awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize for his work in furthering science and religion.
A prodigious writer and indefatigable scholar, Jaki wrote more than forty books, on subjects ranging from G.K. Chesterton,4 to the contributions of the French physicist and historian of science Pierre Duhem,5 to the life of John Henry Cardinal Newman,6 and other topics. He may be best known for works like The Relevance of Physics (1966) and Science and Creation (1974).7
The cosmology of Stanley L. Jaki could be summed up in the comment he made in one of his works, that one must say “Creator” in order to say “Cosmos”. Indeed, this summarizes well the long intellectual journey that is to be seen in his numerous articles and books on the subject.8 That journey was well-chronicled by Fr. Paul Haffner in his pioneering book on Fr. Jaki.9 Indeed, to be a serious cosmologist is to be involved in a long, extensive, sometimes bewildering intellectual and spiritual voyage. In his book The Road of Science and the Ways to God (1978), Jaki stated that the metaphysical realism that is embodied in the classical proofs for the existence of God is the only epistemology compatible with creative science.10 For Jaki, influenced as he was by Gilson, and others, the evidence for God’s presence, or purpose, is overwhelmingly apparent everywhere in nature.11 (Indeed, it is so evident that it eventually moved the noted British philosopher Antony Flew away from atheism to theism.) Jaki found Gödel’s mathematical theorems to be a special confirmation of his metaphysical and cosmological thinking and beliefs.12
Jaki could be (and often was) combative about his metaphysical and cosmological convictions, against the seemingly growing post-Enlightenment and “postmodern” contemporary movements that opposed almost everything he stood for. Epistemologically, modern philosophy has been characterized by scepticism, doubt, uncertainty, and often disbelief, from Descartes and Kant, down through and beyond Nietzsche, Sartre, and Rorty. Thus, Jaki was an active combatant in the “culture wars”, and at times he found it difficult to comprehend how anyone could not be an engaged combatant.
On the question of evolution, and how Jaki looked at it, it might be said that he would probably have agreed with much of what Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, O.P., wrote in his book Chance or Purpose? Creation, Evolution and a Rational Faith (2007). Cardinal Schönborn distinguishes Darwin’s biological theory from “evolutionism,” an ideology that reduces all of reality to mindless, meaningless processes.13 Science and a rationally-grounded faith in God are neither at odds nor necessarily antagonistic. Jaki is balanced in his approach. He is not a “creationist” per se .14 But he does strongly believe in the original creation of the universe by God. God has created humankind in His wondrous, marvellous image. If one wants to postulate that some kind of broad, evolutionary process has occurred, then Jaki would surely “baptize” this process. If indeed there is an “evolution,” then the process is totally under God’s control.
Raymond Nogar, O.P., also a priest-scientist, observed in The Wisdom of Evolution (1963) that the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin pushed the ideological aspects of evolutionism too far.15 Certainly, there is no possibility of that comment being made about Jaki. Nor can the pantheistic16 and confusing17 tendencies that have been attributed to the work of Teilhard de Chardin apply in any way to Jaki. The existence of a prime mover in the ontological sense is a fulcrum point for Jaki, 18 and there is no room for “Gods in nature,” more Gods than one, or anything like that. There is only one God. This God creates all and maintains all. (Thus, Jaki’s view of the philosophy of creation was opposite to that of, say, Professor Stephen Hawking.)
Jaki argued persuasively and profoundly that Enlightenment philosophes, thinkers and writers (on down to the present) have been mistaken about Christianity and science. For them, Christianity supposedly inhibited, and even oppressed, science. But Jaki, along with his great mentor Pierre Duhem, knew that the opposite had occurred. In The Savior of Science (2000), Jaki revealed the Christian foundations of modern science.19 He examined the failed attempts at a sustained science on the part of the ancient cultures of Greece, China, India, and the early Muslim empire. Christian monotheism alone provided epistemological underpinnings for scientific endeavour. In another booklet, Christ and Science, Jaki provided four reasons for the unique birth of modern science in Christian Western Europe.20 First, the Christian belief in the Creator provided a foundation-stone for thinking about nature. Only a truly transcendental Creator could be powerful enough to create a nature that incorporated autonomous laws without the Creator’s power over nature being diminished. Second, it put all material beings on the same level. There could be no divine bodies in the Christian cosmos (unlike the Greek cosmos). Third, humankind was created in the image of God, with a rationality that somehow shared in God’s own rationality. Fourth, humankind, created by God, cannot dictate to nature what it should be. Indeed, the rise of the experimental method owes much to this Christian matrix. The noted conservative thinker Russell Kirk stated, “Modern science, Father Jaki points out, rose from the natural theology of medieval Christian learning—a fact that philosophes and positivists sedulously ignore.”21 Father Jaki worked hard to refute those who asserted that Catholicism has been an enemy of science—has thwarted science. The opposite is the case, and Father Jaki worked boldly and strongly in order that the truth about this should come out and be known, as it must.
Professor M. D. Aeschliman noted a few years ago, regarding Jaki’s work, that
Yet a certain pathos and irony characterize this enormous accomplishment, whose nobility and power they only enhance… [His work] has been steadily resisted… [It] has been the object of envy, neglect, and hostility… Since World II there has been no more learned, profound, or judicious guide than Jaki to the increasingly important questions that are indicated by phrases such as ‘the two cultures’… Jacques Barzun wrote, with Swiftian understatement, that the penalties imposed by the current regime of political correctness ‘have been mild—opprobrium, loss of employment, and virtual exclusion from the profession’. Jaki’s great offence against this intellectual establishment is that he is sceptical about modern cultural and intellectual currents, espousing instead an articulate, combative Christian rationalism.22
Professor Aeschliman later wrote that “Jaki’s oeuvre has an astonishingly learned and original power and relevance that have as yet been inadequately recognized.”23
Father Jaki saw that various modern cultural and intellectual currents had inundated the Church that he loved so much. He creatively coined the term “AquiKantists”, referring to an attempted “miscegenation” between Aquinas and Kant. Some others refer to a “transcendental Thomism” in describing this philosophical attempt at marriage (of which Karl Rahner’s work would be a notable example.) These developments troubled Jaki, to be sure.
The noted conservative author M. Stanton Evans said that he had shared a platform at a national meeting of the Philadelphia Society “with one of the most unusual and provocative thinkers in our era… Father Jaki (he is a Benedictine) is a rarity in the intellectual world, a theologian who is also a theoretical physicist… The conclusions [resulting from his work] amount to nothing less than a complete rewriting of our intellectual history.”24
In future years, I think we will see Fr. Stanley L. Jaki’s name achieve the prominence and recognition it so justly deserves. I can think of no more effective counter to the “new atheism”, secular humanism, postmodernism and similar notions than the seminal and path-breaking work of this noble monk, scientist and theologian.
1. Robert Mauro, “An Uphill Fight Never To Be Completed”, Inside the Vatican magazine Newsflash, 26 April 2009. (Accessed 24 July 2017 here).
2. Bruce Weber, “The Rev. Stanley L. Jaki, Physicist and Theologian, Dies at 84”, The New York Times 12 April, 2009. (Accessed 22 June 2010, at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/13.
3. John-Peter Pham, “Saving Good Science from Bad Philosophy”, Crisis, 4 November 2002 (a review of Stanley L. Jaki, A Mind’s Matter: An Intellectual Autobiography [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002]).
4. Stanley L. Jaki, Chesterton: a Seer of Science (Urbana/Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1986).
5. Stanley L. Jaki, Uneasy Genius: The Life and Work of Pierre Duhem (Dordrecht/Boston/Lancaster: Martinus Nijhoff, 1984) and Scientist and Catholic: an Essay on Pierre Duhem (Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 1991).
6. Stanley L. Jaki, Newman’s Challenge (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000).
7. Stanley L. Jaki, The Relevance of Physics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), and Science and Creation: From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1974).
8. John C. Rooney, A Truly Catholic Cosmology: The Perspective of Stanley L. Jaki, OSB (Yonkers, NY: St. Joseph’s Seminary M. A. Thesis, 1989).
9. Paul Haffner, Creation and Scientific Creativity: A Study in the Thought of S. L. Jaki (Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 1991. Second revised and extended edition: Leominster England, Gracewing, 2009).
10. Stanley L. Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God (Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1978).
11. Anne Barbeau Gardiner, “The Achievements of Father Stanley L. Jaki”, New Oxford Review LXXVI (6) (June, 2009), pp. 28-32. Available also here.
12. Hrvoje Relja, “The Road of Science and the Ways to God: Stanley L. Jaki’s Epistemological Principles” (in Croatian), Filozofska Istrazivanja 27 (2) (September 2007), pp. 321-36.
13. Christoph Cardinal Schönborn (Ed. Hubert Philipp Weber), Chance or Purpose? Creation, Evolution and a Rational Faith (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007).
14. Ellen Myers, “Creation and Science: The Work of Stanley L. Jaki”, CSSHS Journal (Creation Social Science and Humanities Society) 9 (2) (Winter 1986), pp. 17-24.
15. Raymond Nogar, The Wisdom of Evolution (New York: New American Library, 1963).
16. Philip Trower, The Catholic Church and the Counter-Faith: A Study of the Roots of Modern Secularism, Relativism and De-Christianisation (Oxford, England: Family Publications, 2006).
17. Romano Amerio, Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth Century (Kansas City, MO: Sarto House, 1996).
18. Stanley L. Jaki, “The Physicist and the Metaphysician”, The New Scholasticism 63 (Spring 1989), pp. 183-205.
19. Stanley L. Jaki, The Savior of Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000).
20. Stanley L. Jaki, Christ and Science (Royal Oak, MI: Real View Books, 2000), p. 23.
21. Russell Kirk, “The Rediscovery of Creation”, National Review 35 (10) (27 May 1983), pp. 640-41.
22. M. D. Aeschliman, “Faithful Reason”, National Review 54 (17) (16 September 2002), pp. 49-50.
23. M. D. Aeschliman, “Jaki, Stanley L. (1924- )”, in Bruce Frohnen, Jeremy Beer & Jeffrey O. Nelson (Eds.), American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2006), pp. 449-50.
24. M. Stanton Evans, “Dark Horses”, National Review 32 (13) (27 June 1980), p. 798.