Last year a kind reader sent me several of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki, OSB books and I am quite indebted for that. I had read previously of Fr. Jaki and had wanted to read his books. Fr. Jaki who is a Benedictine and originally from Hungary and holds doctorates in theology and physics and is one of the foremost thinkers in the the intersection of science and theology. Often when you get theologians speaking on science or scientists speaking on theology it is often problematic. Fr. Jaki is one of those rare exceptions that can write on both disciplines to good effect.
One of the most interesting books I have ever read is his 1974 Science and Creation: From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe. The title may be off putting to many, but I think this is a book many will enjoy. Most that read my blog are probably aware of the many scientific achievements that have been made by those who are members of the Church and especially individual priests and monks. The Church’s history in this regard and has recently popularized in books such as Thomas E Woods Jr.’s How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization Though sadly most people only hear a distorted version of the Galileo affair. Some have even heard the conjecture that it was specifically Christianity that helped science to finally bloom. What Fr. Jaki has done in this book is to put flesh to that theory and the facts to overwhelmingly show this as being true.
Fr. Jaki is quite an accomplished historian of science and in the case of this book a historian of philosophy. The beginning chapters of the book each take on a different culture and gives a very thorough overview of that culture and its underlying philosophy. His overview of the culture and philosophy Hinduism, the Egyptians, Greeks, Mayans, etc is worth reading just of itself and he packs a lot of information in the multiple chapters dedicated to these cultures. The main thrust of the question throughout the book is why did not science develop further in these cultures. Often we find the beginnings via mathematics and astronomy and looking back at some of these achievement we wonder why they didn’t make the next step, especially in some cases the next step was not very distant. We find that in all of these cultures that even with some promising beginnings that the scientific method is always stillborn.
The books subtitle From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe gives a clue to why this is. Al of these seemingly diverse cultures pretty much agreed on the idea that the universe was eternal and that it was constantly going through cycles of growth, death, and reverse and that these endless cycles repeated the same history as had gone before. Their view of the universe was like that of the mythical Phoenix. What I found interesting that this idea had also infected the Greeks and I found even more amazing just how recently into history this idea had continued on. We are rather spoiled now with the idea of the big bang firmly in our consciousness and the idea of the universe having a beginning matches exactly with the Judeo-Christian tradition and theology on this subject.
As Fr. Jaki shows it is not just the idea of a start of the universe that helps science in the right direction, it is the idea of a universe that is intelligible with underlying rules that can be explored with man’s reason that was so missing in previous philosophies. Monotheism and a created universe is a great help in the development of the scientific method. Though this is also not enough. Islam which has much in common with Christianity on this score (since they lifted it in the first place) later developed some ideas that truncated the so-called Golden Age of Islam. As Pope Benedict mentioned in his infamous Regensburg address "Ibn Hazm went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word." This idea is scientific poison since it implies that the underlying rules can change and thus exploring them is useless. This ties in with the idea by some of the universe being created and recreated constantly instead of God creating the universe and then holding it in existence. All of these ideas became like walls for scientists since they assumed them and rarely looked beyond them. Scientists often assume they are working on pure science and not tainted by any philosophy, this though is pretty much never the case.
Now I realize I am not giving Fr. Jaki overview and critique the justice it deserves since he says all of this so much better and much more accurately than I can. But if you are interested in how Christianity gave birth to the scientific method, then this is a great book on the subject. Those that attack the Church for being anti-science only show their ignorance and are really quite unthankful for what they were given by the Church in the first place. Though this is an ignorance that so many articles, books, textbooks, etc work to further.
Now as good a writer that Fr. Jaki is on the history and philosophy of science he is also a very good spiritual writer. He has recently written books on the Litany of the Sacred Heart, Litany of Loreto, The Litany of the Holy Name, The Litany of St. Joseph and a book on the Rosary called Twenty Mysteries. The books on the litanies are really really good. Now you might think that books on these litanies would be just short pamphlets. These in fact our full length books. In each of the books he takes each phrase from the litany and then gives a three to five page mediation on it. These mediations combine history, theology, philosophy, and social commentary. These reflection on each refrain will really hold your interest as both being informative, but also containing good spiritual insights. I especially like his social commentary as he relates the phrase back to our modern culture.
I recently also read his Miracles and Physics which I had recently ordered. I had received The Physics of Christianity by Frank J. Tipler for review and I didn’t know what to think of it before reading it and feel pretty much the same after reading it. I enjoyed the first half of the book that mostly talked on physics but found it increasingly odd as he expounded on God as singularity and miracles .I think he gets miracles mostly wrong since he tries to frame them in a one hundred percent physics perspective where all miracles are just divinely ordered as far as timing goes. This thinking lead to miracle of loaves and fishes becoming the miracle of sharing and sin discussed as a genetic disorder and even Jesus (and I am not joking here) having small testes. I was looking for something much more sane on the subject which is why I picked up Fr. Jaki’s Miracles and Physics. This book wasn’t exactly what I was looking for but was still quite interesting. He details the history of the demythologizers of miracles in the scientific community over mostly the last two hundred years. Though he also critiques though who over scientific reasoning in defense of miracles that when followed really end up denying all miracles. This is a shorter book of 96 pages but again shows Fr. Jaki skill as a historian of science and his ability to critique bad philosophy.
Fr. Jaki does have rather a large catalog of books and the one thing I know is that I will be working through more of them.