Cosmologist Jaki discussed in a Letter to An Old Friend

619 22nd St.  Oakland  94612  4 May 1987

Dear old Friend,

I haven’t begun a program of counseling — outside of writing letters to a list of potential supporters — but I have found a certain amount of inner peace and self-acceptance even in the absence of a professional career, a situation which I tried to put into words in my so-called Last Newsletter.

One of your admirers, my father, who had previously challenged me to accept your call to “discipline” myself (for so he interpreted that snippet of your last letter which I reproduced in my “Franklin Street Cafe” letter), congratulated me on the honesty of the Last Newsletter.

Luckily, I’ve delayed writing this letter until your reaction arrived, today — while I was turning over how to introduce my occasion for writing — I can state categorically that I was (am) under the influence while reading your letter, a commission I earned by buying for $50 a quarter-ounce of Humboldt County( a discovery I made just this week is that there were two almost contemporary Humboldts: William the constitution-of-Prussia reformer and Alexander the polymath explorer; the first was the one responsible for the reconstitution of the university of Berlin)‘s Finest, from — let us say — Danny the Red for Steve the Greek.

I can also reply that I’ve considered just the option to which you allude — move to LA — but it certainly won’t happen before the end of this year; I’d be delighted to meet during June.

The real reason for writing this letter is to discuss with you a recent change of opinion of mine about the question of the relevance of theology in astrophysics; a change resulting from my reading 3 books of Stanley L. Jaki (I took notes, and you are the test).  This is a personal book review updating what you and Alison and I discussed last August on the subject.

Jaki’s name came up because the book I volunteered to review for the OHST grad-student journal club last December, God and Nature  [part II of an anthology, the part that includes an article by Roger Hahn, since the first five articles had been reviewed separately

written at the Franklin St. Cafe sipping orange/mango juice provided by Micha

by that Italian grad-student Mario Biagegli, whose last name I keep misspelling, at the 1st meeting I attended last fall& everyone wanted to hear about & discuss the section dealing with the Scientific Revolution], was conceived as sort-of-an Official State of the Professional History-of-Science Community on the interaction of Christianity with science, and the statement was made intentionally to contrast, in contradistinction to, both the views of a negative-resulting interaction [A.D. White, late 19th-cty, Warfare of the above, cited repeatedly in the preface & all the articles] and that of a positive interaction [of which Jaki is the most prolific & respectable, but he was relegated to two slurring footnotes, in a book which studiously avoids any mention of my all-time fave, Lynn Thorndike].

Just because the God & Nature anthology was so negative about him, I dipped into Jaki, and was pleasantly surprised by what I found; here is one who has examined the professional motives of all these Giants of the Life of the Mind and can cite every blessed first-rank natural philosopher (a list would be otiose to both you & me) from William of Ockham to Weizsäcker — the same, I imagine, who is presently President of Bundesrepublik Westdeutschlands — and back.

Jaki’s 1974 Gifford Lectures (Univ. of Edinboro, as they say) is the book noted with contempt in God & Nature, but Jaki has to his credit The Relevance of Physics (1966) and The Milky Way: An Elusive Road for Science (1972), both here on the desk before me, overdue at the Undergraduate Library since February 24th, not to mention a history of Olber’s Paradox — that, and the Milky Way, certainly are excellent choices for historical studies of the interaction of Christianity and cosmology, are they not? — and a book comparing the human brain to computers which won the 1970 Lecomte du Nouy prize, whatever that is.

An excellent summary of the thesis of the Gifford Lectures (published as The Road of Science and the Ways to God, in 1978)

Theocosmology, p. 3  at home, watching Quincy on tv

in Jaki’s own words (pp. 326-327) is as follows

Although it is not for science to answer the question about the reason f or the existence of a unique or singular universe,

[just what question I raised with you all last August as an ignored topic!]

this is a question that must be asked and answered if one aims at completeness in the way of understanding.  The answer, which only metaphysics, or rather natural theology, can give, will not, of course, ‘profit’ the scientist in a narrowly ‘scientific’ sense.  But the answer, which is God,

[this is our Professional Community’s reason for condemning Jaki — he’s a Believer]

will greatly strengthen the scientist’s trust in the existence of an objectively existing, rationally ordered universe which can be investigated by the human mind, a pursuit which is man’s exclusive privilege and responsibility.  This trust, privilege, and responsibility constitute the backbone of the scientific enterprise.  Science arose when these three facors became a cultural matrix.

Ah, if only your correspondent wrote as beautifully!  Here’s Professor Jaki fulminating against the great Ernst Mach:

Mach’s Buddhism is not merely the mark of a full circle in the inner logic that guided him personally.  It is also the mark of that full circle which science could possibly have run in a span of twice twenty centuries, starting with the first evidences of science recorded a little beyond 2000 B.C.  More than the first 3000 years of that span

[up until c. 1600 A.D., that is, until the birth of modern science]

were a pattern of historical blind alleys, a pattern of repeated stillbirths of science.  The birth of science came only when the seeds of science were planted in a soil which Christian faith in God made receptive to natural theology and the epistemology receptive to natural theology and to the epistemology implied in it.  The transition from that first viable birth to maturity

Charlie’s Angels ended & now the news is on

[and Jaki considers, like other historians of science, the Scientific Revolution as having reached maturity with the work of Newton]

was made neither in the name of Baconian empiricism nor in the name of Cartesian rationalism.  The transition was made in a perspective which was germane to natural theology and which was instinctively adopted by Newton, chiefly responsible for completing that transition.  The next two centuries

[ — Jaki cannot abide any famous philosopher, 1700 to 1900 . . . ]

saw the rise of philosophic movements, all hostile to natural theology.  Whatever their lip service to science, they all posed a threat to it.  The blows they aimed at man’s knowledge of God were as many blows at knowledge of science, and at the rationality of the universe.  All those philosophical movements from Hume to Mach also meant an explicit endorsement of the idea of eternal returns, an idea which from the viewpoint of science acted as the chief road into its historical blind alleys.

So it is not an accident, comme disent les Russes, that these very questions and considerations which could not but occur to any close student of the history of science go unmentioned in the literature; I am intellectually ravished by the discovery of half-formed thoughts of my own clothed so aptly in English together with a wealth of detailed references.

Boy, can Jaki quote to good purpose. Here is Einstein, 1929, Festschrift Prof. Strodola überreicht (Jaki, incidentally, puts this gem in note 32 on page 402):

In all such cases the matter turns on grasping the empirical law as a logical necessity.  Once one assumes

Franklin St. Café  6 May 1987

the basic hypothesis of molecular kinetic theory, one realizes in a sense that God Himself could not have established those connections other than as they actually exist, just as it was in no way possible for Him to turn four into a prime number.

Jaki employs this sparkler of a citation against Einstein himself while flaying him in a footnote one page later.

P. Frank’s Relativity: A Richer Truth : Frank saw in the Copernican revolution only the ‘relativisation’ of up and down (pp. 7-15) and he saw Einstein’s world view as wholly devoid of metaphysical elements (pp. 16-22).  Indeed, Frank thought that the ep[istemology of relativity is germane to operationalism (pp. 23-28).  Since Frank seemed to know only of idealistic metaphysics, he equated assertion of absolute truth with the behavior of totalitarian regimes and of heresy-hunting theologians (pp. 119-122).  No wonder that the ethical philosophy which Frank based on Einstein’s relativity was equivalent to a pragmatism cultivated in the spirit of an ‘ anti-metaphysical view of science'(pp. 112-118).

It is even more regrettable that Einstein provided some support to Frank’s interpretation of his thought through a foreword in which he drew a parallel between the free choice of axioms in science and a similar choice in ethics, although it was his well-known belief that one set of scientific axioms is always superior to all others.[emphasis added]

Such a digression, I’m sure you will admit, gives the lie to the characterization of Jaki in God & Nature as “so biased as to be worthless.”  Au contraire, voici une intelligence formidable.

You may know that it’s a proof of the Handiwork of God adduced by Newton himself, that all the planets orbit the sun in one plane and (at least so it seemed from telescopic evidence in the eighteenth century) rotate in one direction.  It is the purview of Roger Hahn’s article

resumption of main argument after digression on Einstein  Franklin St. Café  12 May 1987

in God & Nature discussing Laplace’s abnegation of the necessity of hypothetical divine intervention, Hahn asserts that Laplace was merely carrying out the research program of Maupertuis, in whose 

[Interminable Digression No. 2: Roger alleges in his article that Maupertuis advances this powerful argument ‘tongue in cheek’, although in my own reading of the Essai I detected no such rhetorical maneuver.  Since lifelong students of the French Enlightenment have infinitely more sources to base their characterizations that do we dilettantes, I made no mention of it in reviewing the article to Roger himself — an account which had to be delivered sotto voce and tête-à-tête because Heilbron curtailed my presentation once it passed G&N’s treatment of the Scientific Revolution, on account of time, while Roger himself with light good humor protested that the only reason he had attended was to hear my reaction to his article on Laplace — but accused him of begging the question by relegating all inquiry about his subject’s religious views to a footnote citation of an Archives Internationales article dating from 1958, by one R. Hahn, discussing an unpublished manuscript by Laplace on religion, which manuscript he admitted is still unpublished and concerning said five-page article is purely descriptive.  Roger immediately admitted that his article did not address the interplay of science and Christianity within Laplace personally, but beyond that we did not go since the session was adjourned and everyone was trooping out of the meeting room.]

Jaki praises, in passing, Laplace’s manque de besoin de cette hypothèse, but Maupertuis he indicts for identifying action — that is, force times distance, the subsequently quantized-by Planck stuff, in units h,

E   =   hv

that is, the energy of an atom is an integral number gnu times h — with the divinity.

Now a mystical interpretation of the theology induced by considerations of cosmology would champion


and Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve

as having heard the ineffable music of the spheres

in their discoveries

the former preshadowing peri-Pauli physics

the latter vindicating Copernicus to three significant figures

so that if we come to praise Democritus and not to bury him

we hail those who hear the heartbeat of the universe.

You see avec quel joie j’ai lu the ‘physicist-priest’ Jaki.  But as we turn to the Relevance of Physics and even more in the history-of-astronomy The Milky Way a more and more restrictive interpretation of the history of science becomes evident.

Jaki’s claim that the uniqueness of science proves the value of Judeo-Christian cosmology would be falsified if we admit Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid as scientific works.  Now the eminent Nathan Reingold, speaking at one of his informal Smithsonian seminars, once (it was the mid-70s) took  standard division

preEuclid  =  pre’science’ in mathematics

preGalileo  =  pre’modern’ ‘science’

to the logical conclusion that one must have a ‘pretechnological’ age — this was news to yours truly — and therefore classified the Great Pyramid as a product of an ‘age of crafts’. For Jaki all but the traditional shapers of present-day science were so many “blind alleys” in science, were all of them doomed to failure.  The now lost mathematics of the builders of Stonehenge is not science, the recently deciphered Venus tables of the Maya is not astronomy.

Since for Jaki all the views of an historical investigator that subsequently prove false are so many lamentable errors, unproblematically, the Relevance of Physics sets its subject within a lengthy series of mistakenly erroneous applications of physics to biology, ethics, theology, and what Jaki (and others) calls ‘scientism’ .

written while McFarlane drones on

One shudders to read that all astronomical journals during the three decades of high Stalinism managed to avoid mention of even the subject matter of general relativity, and is obliged to accept the prima facie argument, that Marxist thoughtcrime hinders science.  Still, Jaki by unblinkingly reciting the absurdities of unwarranted extension of physics into theology has convinced me that

The uniqueness of the universe is different from the Big Bang theory although the latter implies the former.

which is the change of opinion I mentioned back on page 1 of this letter.

The Milky Way book as well snarls constantly at views its author considers behind the times, constantly employing the straight-jacket of presentism.  His procedure withholds even a speck of sympathy for the scientists who are scorned.  Even J.C. Maxwell’s habit of spending all day on Sundays studying theology does not prevent a cartload  of brickbats being unloaded on his poor “demon”.  The man writes about science in the past but scrimps the history of science.

McFarlane is still talking.  I’m finished.

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
This entry was posted in Astronomy, Global, Mathematics, Seidel, Spiritual life, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Cosmologist Jaki discussed in a Letter to An Old Friend

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