Emmeciquadro - N. 75 - June 2020
Science and Faith in a Realist Perspective
Review by Mario Gargantini of:
Alessandro Giostra, Stanley Jaki. Science and Faith in a Realist Perspective, IF Press, 2019, pp. 144, € 15.
[This book deals with] the relationship between science and faith in the work of the great Hungarian historian of science, who has been able to demonstrate the inconsistency of many preconceptions [on the subject] by opening up positive and constructive perspectives.
This book, published in the IF Press series Science and Faith-Essays, is a collection of recent articles in English, related to some fundamental themes present in the works of Stanley L. Jaki (1924-2009). The Hungarian thinker was a professor at Seton Hall University and spent his entire life as a researcher, investigating the relationships between science and faith, contributing to dispel the prejudices that have always influenced the common perception of this topic.
The Introduction explains how, starting from the era of the Enlightenment, the preconception that science and Christian revelation do represent two irreconcilable environments developed. The legacy of the Enlightenment period, in this sense, was then taken up by positivist culture and by contemporary naturalism. Even the dialectical materialism of Marxist origin, although concerned more about the socio-economic dimension than that of natural philosophy, contributed to the spread of this prejudice.
A detailed biography of Jaki is found in the first chapter, written by Antonio Colombo. From this initial section emerge the details that give a precise idea of the character of this writer, and of the intellectual path he followed during his life. The general lines of Jaki’s vision are set out in chapter 2. They gravitate around three essential thematic nuclei: a realistic philosophy of knowledge, the impossibility of an opposition between science and faith and the Christian origins of modern scientific thought. These are the theses that put Jaki in contrast with the current extremely reductionist cultural context, exalting scientific rationality as the only reliable form of knowledge.
Among the arguments most frequently used to highlight the alleged opposition between faith and science is the one relating to Galileo Galilei’s case. Galileo was condemned by the Church in 1633 for defending the Copernican theory. Jaki has never diminished the importance of the Italian scientist, but only repeatedly underlined his main [scientific] mistake, consisting in his belief to have conclusively demonstrated the motion of the Earth. Paradoxically, Jaki comes to the conclusion that Galilei was right in affirming the lack of a scientific purpose in the Bible; on the other hand, the Church had correctly rejected heliocentric cosmology in the absence [at the time] of convincing evidence of it.
Modern science has rejected all forms of pantheism and animism, and this is the fundamental reason for seeing a decisive impact of Christian theology in the genesis of scientific knowledge. This aspect is addressed in the volume in the parts where Jaki’s judgment on Platonism and medieval Islamic philosophy is described. In neither of these two environments, the basic laws of motion of the bodies could be formulated. The latter result was achieved only in the European Christian context, more precisely during the phase of the Scientific Revolution. Similarly, Jaki has always shown himself to be extremely critical of Hegelian philosophy, whose negative outcomes are found not only in the field of natural knowledge, but also in the ethical one.
Among the numerous publications by Jaki, the most important one was undoubtedly Science and Creation: from Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe, published in 1974 and reprinted posthumously in 2016. In chapter 7 a review of this work is re-proposed (previously published in a University of Victoria magazine). To conclude, in the final chapter, the relationship between faith and science is discussed, as it is outlined in some writings of Benedict XVI. The arguments of the Pope emeritus, although less focused on properly scientific details, substantially coincide with those of the Hungarian philosopher.
Ultimately, the purpose of this volume is to highlight the originality and consistency of an author who has had the courage to point out the unsustainability of many opinions, too often and superficially elevated to the rank of absolute truths.
[translation not reviewed by the Author]