During his long and prolific (41 books) academic career Stanley L. Jaki, an Hungarian-born Benedictine priest, received many of the prestigious honors bestowed upon eminent scholars—e.g. the Lecomte du Nouy Prize, the Templeton Prize, the Gifford Lectureship. In A Mind’s Matter: An Intellectual Autobiography (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, c. 2002), he charted the significant events and accomplishments in his life as a physicist-theologian with earned doctorates in both disciplines. This is not a conventional, chronological life-story, however, since Jaki wrote “for those who, because they have found the message of my books instructive, would like to see its development through the eyes of their author” (p. vii). He also wrote to counter thinkers who are “systematically shredding the last bits of its Christian cultural inheritance. This is what weighs most heavily on my mind” (p. 217). This volume provides a handy précis of his thought (though extensive reading in the corpus of books would of course provide deeper insight into his positions).
As a 20th century Christian intellectual, Jaki sought to offset the secular humanism birthed half-a-millennium ago in the Renaissance, an epoch wherein it “was not man added to God, but man minus God, the God of the supernatural dispensation. The Renaissance wanted to dispense man of any concern about that God” (p. x). In subsequent centuries an army of secularists endeavored “to deny any tie, factual or possible, between Christianity and science” (p. x), repudiating any Supernatural dimension to Reality. “For most in academe the basic dogma is that science is the savior of mankind, and is already liberating mankind from that highest form of superstition, which is Christian belief in the supernatural” (p. 57). Thus there is a mighty battle being waged for man’s mind, a battle Jaki resolutely joined whenever possible, fully aware of “the great contestatation 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” (p. xii). This rejection of God has, however, been accompanied by a growing ennui, a general malaise of meaninglessness. To Jaki: “All our cultural ills and woes, the disintegration of Western culture unfolding before our very eyes, are due to a growing loss of the sense of purpose” (p. 171).
Jaki began his scholarly work with a doctoral dissertation on ecclesiology, a treatise that occupies a “place of honor” in the library of Pope Benedict XVI due to the fact that Jaki early discerned some of the devastation that would follow liturgical and theological innovations in the wake of Vatican II—“the greatest self-inflicted wounds which theologians have ever inflicted on the Church in the shortest conceivable time” (p. 17). Following the Second World War he came to the United States and, while teaching theology, found himself drawn to graduate studies in physics with a special interest in the history of science. To his dismay, he found that scientists, “who in their own field demanded utmost carefulness with data, were shown to act in a cavalier manner with respect to historical facts relating to their topics” (p. 32). So he devoted himself to rectifying the record, exploring archives rather than experimenting in laboratories. His theological concerns “led me first into the deep waters of modern physics, and from there to the even deeper currents of the history and philosophy of science. The work I have done in that field was dedicated to the defense of certain theses—the existence of mind as distinct from matter; the fundamental importance for scientific method of an epistemology embodied in the classical proofs of the existence of God; the limited validity or relevance of exact science or physics; the crucial importance of Christian belief in creation for the unique rise of science” (p. 120).
He especially discovered—and sought to make known—that the allegations of Enlightenment intellectuals such as Voltaire regarding the “alleged darkness of the Christian Middle Ages” was basically “the work of those who write intellectual history from the dark recesses of their prejudices” (p. 40). This was definitively proven by the great French scholar, Pierre Duhem, a “kindred mind” whose insights (in Systeme du monde) provided Jaki exhaustive evidence regarding the scientific accomplishments of Medieval Christian scholars. In truth: “The only viable birth of science took place in a culture [Christendom] steeped in a vision wherein history, cosmic and human, appeared to be subject to a single one-directional movement, for which a straight arrow may be the most appropriate symbol” (p. 51). In addition to rehabilitating the Middle Ages, Jaki sought to demonstrate the errors of naturalistic biology, flowering in the soil of Darwin, whose inner core stands revealed in some letters he wrote responding to the inquiries of a young German who wondered “whether evolutionary theory is compatible with belief in biblical revelation in general and in Christ in particular” (p. 64). With uncustomary frankness Darwin acknowledged “that he did not think that there ever was a revelation.” (p. 64). This statement led Jaki to compose some lectures published as The Savior of Science wherein he “set forth for the first time the scientific impact of the Logos doctrine” inscribed in the Nicene Creed (p. 66). The saint responsible for much of the creed’s formulation, “Saint Athanasius clearly perceived an all-important implication: The divinity of the Logos demanded that the universe created by the Father in the Son be fully logical, that is, fully ordered as befitted a truly divine Logos” (p. 66). The universe is logical, not chaotic; ordered, not chance-driven. “At any rate, the evidence of design, indicative of some purpose, is overwhelming everywhere in nature” (p. 174).
Invited to deliver the 1976-1977 Gifford Lectures (the most prestigious award granted natural philosophers), Jaki wrote The Road of Science and the Ways to God, meticulously detailing significant developments in the history of science, showing how the greatest minds—Newton, “Galileo, Copernicus, Oresme, and Buridan, all endorsed natural theology insofar as they held that reflection on the natural world could propel the mind to recognize the Creator” (p. 95). He especially stressed their common commitment to methodical realism, with its assumption of a rationally-ordered cosmos. Indeed, “the gradual de-Christianization of the West logically brought about a progressive turning away from the objectively real to the subjectively perceived” (p. 183). With this established, he turned to a defense of classical arguments for the existence of God.
In addition to his scientific studies, Jaki devoted considerable attention to John Henry Newman, one of the 19th century intellectual giants who “again and again predicted the coming collapse of the liberal Western world’s intellectual and moral fabric” (p. 202). Newman “characterized his entire life as a struggle against the principle of liberalism. He specified it as the natural man’s standard that all religions are equally good, that there had been no supernatural revelation, that man never experienced a Fall and therefore stood in no need of a supernatural salvation” (p. 203). Newman perceptively diagnosed the deadly threat of naturalism (with its scientific trappings) posing as mankind’s savior. Nor was he ever a “Darwinist, not even an evolutionist,” primarily because the word “‘evolution’ eventually became synonymous with randomness and chance and therefore with discontinuity. Evolution no longer means that something evolves because it has been there at least in embryo on the first place” (p. 214). Still more: “Newman’s mind was immune to the illogicalities of Darwin’s arguments” (p. 214). Thus, while touring London’s Botanical Garden in 1876, he delighted in the wonders of the flora and exclaimed: “But what argument could the Evolutionists bring against this as evidence of the work of Mind?’” (p. 215).
The evidence of Mind in nature (and the functioning of mind within man) reverberates throughout Jaki’s Mind’s Matter, reminding one of one of his finest treatises, Brain, Mind and Computers, wherein he persuasively demonstrated the long succession of failing endeavors to reduce man’s mind to any kind of mechanical device, computers included. The mystery of the human mind simply cannot be dispelled by scientific means. Nor can the ultimate Mystery of a Mind-designed Universe be reduced to atoms-in-motion or the chance-and-necessity of natural selection. While a prior appreciation for his works enables one to more fully absorb this book, anyone concerned for the intersections of science and theology in the past century will profit from perusing it.
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Though most of Jaki’s works focus on the history of science, in Means to Message: A Treatise on Truth (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Col., c. 1999) he developed some of the guiding philosophical themes basic to his endeavors. Much of his work was devoted to the history of science, and he always “considered the study of history to be a branch of philosophy” which “teaches by examples, which are such only if they serve as so many mirrors in which one can take a proper measure of oneself and of society” (p. 4), and “to write history is to do philosophy” (p. 199). His historical perspective frequently enables him to remain nonplussed by sensational and inevitably transient “scientific” claims or alleged discoveries or end-of-discussion theories. For him: “Philosophy has to be the love of reality all across the spectrum, which is, however, complexity incarnate” (p. 2). There are neither simple answers nor demonstrable encyclopedic theories available suitable for the love of wisdom.
In response to question “What is Truth? The answer, ‘adaequatio rei ad intellectum,’ [correspondence of a thing to the intellect] is Aquinas’ definition of truth” (p. 10). The thing exists, and the mind can know it. Philosophy, rightly done, begins with the reality of objects. The failure to begin with an objectively given reality “is responsible for the fact that the history of philosophy may appear to be a chain of errors” (p. 17). Beginning with one’s own mind, reducing truth to subjectivity, following the lead of thinkers such as Descartes and Spinoza, Kant and Kierkegaard, sabotages the real task of philosophy, founded on “Chesterton’s great philosophical and linguistic tour de force: “‘There is an is!’” (p. 23). “The reality of objects should be a truth clearer than daylight” (p. 27). Yet modern philosophers “want clear ideas,” whether or not they stand anchored in existent things.
Though deeply interested in science, Jaki insists that it provides no foundation for philosophy. “The road that connects philosophy and exact science is a one-way road. One can travel from philosophy to science, but not from science to philosophy, unless one confuses science with the philosophy which scientists through around their science” (p. 54). Unfortunately, great scientists such as Einstein, ignoring his own confession that “the man of science is a poor philosopher’” (p. 43) frequently make seriously flawed philosophical pronouncements. In truth, science is “a superb tool for handling things, because they all have quantitative properties, but is of no help in understanding anything else about things, let alone what things are” (p. 63). As a primary example Jaki cites Werner Heisenberg, who tried to expand his discoveries in quantum mechanics to a philosophical principle of uncertainty (rejecting causality) regarding everything and sinking into demonstrably fallacious reasoning.
The failure of science to truly understand human nature stands revealed in the denial of free will often asserted under the rubric of “brain science,” earlier explored in Jaki’s Brain, Mind, and Computers. “In a sense,” he says, “the philosophy of free will amounts to a declaration similar to the immediacy of kicking a stone, or Samuel Johnson’s famed demonstration of external reality. The one-liner, ‘Sir (said he), we know our will is free, and there’s an end on’t’ . . . capsulized all that can be said in essence about free will as a reality” (p. 65). Philosophers like Spinoza and the Enlightenment thinkers who followed him denied free will by reducing the mind to a machine—a practice still widely evident in evolutionary psychology manifestoes. As formulated by Fichte: “‘In my immediate consciousness I appear to myself to be free, but through reflection upon the whole of nature I find that freedom is utterly impossible’” (p. 69). Despite their assertions, however, those who deny the reality of free will inevitably employ it in their denials! No intellectual writes a book persuaded he cannot refrain from doing so! “Poincare’s now century-old dictum, ‘no determinist argues deterministically,’ sums up it all” (p. 70). As a Christian, Jaki makes the significant point that God “created man to be free so that man’s service may have that merit which only a freely performed act can have. God therefore has to remain a subtly hidden God, lest man should find himself ‘constrained’ to obey Him” (p. 78).
We are free because we can think rationally, we know we are conscious and can understand ourselves and our surroundings. Our minds function much differently from the mechanical process of the material world. “Unlike bodies, thoughts are not extended. Unlike bodies that move necessarily, mental operations are often performed with an explicit sense of freedom and for a purpose at that” (p. 127). Our ability to formulate and use words—the “incredibly strange faculty which is language” (p. 130)—especially illustrates a non-material depth to our minds. “What, however, can be known (it had been pointed out in 1927 and by an unabashed materialist) is a frightful conundrum: If one’s mental processes are the equivalent to actions of atoms, one can have no reason to assume that one’s beliefs are true. Those beliefs may be sound chemically, but not intellectually. Hence there remains no reason for even supposing that one’s brain (or one’s computer) is composed of atoms” (p. 133). “All this appears especially baffling when seen from Darwin’s evolutionary perspective, in which material needs and use precede all developments, including the development of intellectual faculties. Already Wallace pointed out to Darwin that his explanation of the evolution of the mind was equivalent to putting the cart before the horse. . . . . The only answer Darwin could give was an imperious No!, which he wrote on the margin of a reprint of an essay which Wallace sent him. This reply may have satisfied Darwin’s resolve to fight tooth and nail anything indicative of something non-material in man, but if left the problem fully intact” (pp. 129-130).
That there is purpose in the cosmos seems manifestly evident to Jaki, though denied by the 18th century Enlightenment thinkers who reduced man, as Carl Becker approvingly wrote, to “‘little more than a chance deposit on the surface of the world, carelessly thrown up between two ice ages by the same forces that rust iron and ripen corn, a sentient organism endowed by some happy or unhappy accident with intelligence indeed, but with an intelligence that is conditioned by the very forces which it seeks to understand and control’” (p. 84). Add Darwin’s 19th century theory of natural selection to the mix wherein, Jaki says: “The comedy of philosophical myopia was crowned by the matter-of-fact acceptance of the view that an evolutionary process, which is seemingly and allegedly purposeless, could produce a being whose very nature is to act for a purpose. The view implies a monumental non-sequitur, which remains the Achilles’ heel of an evolutionary science turned into an ideology of evolutionism. The latter has not better foundation than the miscegenation of chance and necessity. Of these two, chance remains a glorious cover-up for necessity. As to necessity, it is refuted by the very freedom whereby it is posited” (p. 82).
As in creation, there is a moral end or purpose to life. The lack of such is revealed in Captain Ahab in Melville’s Moby Dick, where he says, “All my means are sane, my motive and my object mad.” Thus Jaki asks, “Was this merely madness or was it a sin? By trying to cover up with a psychiatric label something essentially unethical, that is, sinful, Captain Ahab anticipated modern man’s desperate footwork to obliterate the categories of moral good and moral evil so that he might escape the profoundly moral predicament of human existence, steeped, to put it bluntly, in sin” (p. 155). Many efforts to destroy ethical distinctions wrap themselves in “scientific” theories (e.g. relativity, natural selection, and sociobiology). “In fact,” Jaki notes, “science, when left to itself, invites the opposite to moral probity. On the basis of science alone, mankind is but another animal species, locked in a grim struggle for survival” (p. 163). As Darwin himself admitted, “‘A man who has no assured and no present belief in the existence of a personal God or a future existence with retribution and rewards, can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones’” (p. 163). Consequently: “For the first time in history man is experimenting with one-parent families, taken for a normal alternative to old-fashioned monogamous unions. Same-sex unions are receiving legal protection to the extent of their being granted the right of adoption. Advocates of polygamy have begun to raise their voice, and they need no other arguments than the ones used with success on behalf of same-sex unions” (p. 156). Such developments stem from reducing “the categories of the ethically good and ethically evil” rooted in Transcendent Reality to “the categories of legally permissible and legally prohibited” subjectively determined by human beings (p. 157). There is, therefore, nothing absolutely forbidden.
“One can bemoan the fact,” says Jaki, “that the Ten Commandments have turned in public perception into the Ten Counsels, or something much less, but the process is undeniable and logical. If man, as he actually exists, is believed to do the good by natural inclination, there remains no barrier against viewing any and all inclination of man as something naturally good and thereby entitled to legal protection. The latter, as is well known, is ultimately a function of counting the votes cast at regularly repeated elections” (p. 158). This democratic way of setting moral standards was, however, decisively rejected by Moses, who declared: “Neither shall you allege the example of the many as an excuse for doing wrong, nor shall you, when testifying in a lawsuit, side with the many in perverting justice” (Ex. 23:2).
In citing Moses, of course, Jaki make clear his conviction that morality must be derived from a Higher Authority than man’s reason or experience. That God is Real ever remains central to his thought; that His existence is demonstrable remains his informed conviction, for the very limits of our own reality necessarily suggests the limitless Reality underlying our existence. “The explanation can only be found in a being which is self-explaining in the sense that it possesses all perfection in an absolutely perfect way, and above all the perfection to exist and do so without any limitation” (p. 165). Such an elucidation is deeply philosophical and theological rather than scientific, for scientific methods simply cannot probe intangible realities. Demonstrating the existence of God or the soul requires thinking that is “radically inferential” inasmuch as it “has for its object something which is no longer material but strictly spiritual” (p. 176).
This was the approach of Medieval Scholastics such as Thomas Aquinas, whom Jaki cheerfully follows. And he shares the commendation given them by Condorcet, himself a hostile witness: “‘We owe to the Schoolmen,’ Condorcet wrote, ‘more precise notions concerning the ideas that can be entertained about the supreme Being and his attributes; the distinction between the first cause and the universe which it is supposed to govern; the distinction between spirit and matter; the different meanings that can be given to the word liberty; what was meant by creation; the manner of distinguishing the various operations of the human mind; and the correct way of classifying such ideas as it can form of real objects and their properties’” (p. 179).
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