Creation and Science: The Work of Stanley L. Jaki
From time to time statements by the Catholic priest and eminent historian of science Stanley L. Jaki, are quoted with approval in the literature of the modern creationist movement. A careful reading of Jaki's overall work bears out his belief in the original creation of the universe by the God of Christendom. At the same time Jaki cannot be called a creationist in full agreement with strict adherents to the Bible, especially the Genesis record, because he accepts the inerrancy of this record only with qualifications of a "higher critical" nature.
In his two most important books, Science and Creation and The Road of Science and the Ways to God, Jaki singles out belief in the Creator God of the Bible as the unique factor which made modern science possible only in the West. He substantiates this thesis with meticulous historical research. While Jaki has written other very instructive volumes (The Relevance of Physics; Brain, Mind and Computers; The Paradox of Olbers' Paradox; The Milky Way: An Elusive Road for Science; Planets and Planetarians), Science and Creation and The Road of Science and the Ways to God stand in a class by themselves. They are the mature and comprehensive formulation of Jaki's fundamental religious-philosophical convictions and his prodigious knowledge of the history of religion and science. As such they deserve unbounded admiration, and they contain a wealth of useful and fascinating information for historians, philosophers of science, and natural scientists (in particular, physicists). They are accessible to the educated lay person as well.
In his introduction to Science and Creation, Jaki points out the incontrovertible fact that "Only once, in the period of 1250-1650, did man's scientific quest muster enough zest to grow into an enterprise with built-in vitality" His explanation for this birth of science at this particular time and place, and in no other culture, is that.
Great cultures, where the scientific enterprise came to a standstill, invariably failed to formulate the notion of physical law, or the law of nature. Theirs was a theology with no belief in a personal, rational, absolutely transcendent Lawgiver, or Creator. Their cosmology reflected a pantheistic and animistic view of nature caught in the treadmill of perennial, inexorable returns. The scientific quest found fertile soil only when this faith in a personal, rational Creator had truly permeated a whole culture, beginning with the centuries of the High Middle Ages. It was that faith which provided, in sufficient measure, confidence in the rationality of the universe, trust in progress, and appreciation of the quantitative method, all indispensable ingredients of the scientific quest.
The future of man rests with that judgement which holds the universe to be the handiwork of a Creator and Lawgiver. To this belief, science owes its very birth and life. Its future and mankind's future rest with the same faith.1
Jaki begins the substantiation of this thesis by a thorough investigation of the thought systems and the scientific achievements of the great civilizations of antiquity. He shows that they all shared a cosmology of an eternally self existing, monist, pantheist and animist universe everlastingly fluctuating between long periods of expansion and contraction, ascent and descent, birth and death. One full cycle of such fluctuation became known as the "Great year," a concept not fully rejected even in the Western Christian culture until the High Middle Ages. In such a universe man cannot produce lasting achievements because he is of necessity tied to an ultimately meaningless treadmill in the great cosmic wheel of eternal recurrences. In such an existential situation, man's highest wisdom consists in detachment from all purpose and desire. Help and guidance from a deity "beyond" this world is ruled out; the "gods" of antiquity symbolized the forces of nature and were themselves subject to it. Man can not only find no goals and purpose; he also can find no real rest. He may look forward only to temporary release from consciousness of and participation in the torment of existence upon his own death or upon the cyclical contraction/descent/death of the whole universe, before his reincarnation or else before the new cosmic cycle begins. So tar Jaki has not logically extrapolated from the fundamental monist cosmologies of the ancients but merely described their own deductions from their first principles as documented in their own records.
Jaki also shows that the ancients, whether in India, China, Egypt. Aztec, Inca, and Maya civilizations in South America, Babylonia, and ancient Greece, excelled in sometimes highly sophisticated observations of nature and the starry sky, and in practically useful technical inventions. Neither lack of intelligence, nor natural adversities (such as the inclement climate of Mesopotamia), nor enemy invasion or wars arrested their scientific progress. Upon a few occasions, most notably in ancient Greece, they advanced not only in utilitarian technology but also in abstract thought, such as Euclidean geometry, and in specifically science-related theorizing. However, even in Greece they stopped at the threshold of truly modern science. Within their common monistic premises, even their best thinkers, such as Aristotle and Plato, could not consistently do more than speculate on an ever shifting, animist world. As Jaki points out with regard to Hinduism specifically, but, of course, with general validity for all monist-pantheist-animist thought, "If man was a tiny part of a huge cosmic animal, there remained little if any psychological possibility that he could ever achieve a conceptual stance which would put him outside the whole for a critical look at it."2 Such a stance is not only psychologically unlikely, but also logically false if there is no "outside the whole" in reality. The Greek philosophers could only act "as if" it were possible for man to be a "subject" studying and making valid statements about the "object" of the rest of reality. Only a cosmology positing a personal Being apart from and above the universe, who is in no way dependent upon the world, the world rather being contingent upon him in all respects, who made man reasonable like himself, and the world amenable to man's reason that is, the cosmology of biblical creation, with it God can give an epistemological foundation to man's study of the world as though he really stood "outside it" as a "subject" investigating an "object." It is to Jaki's great credit that he emphasizes this crucial point many times both in Science and Creation, and in The Road of Science and the Ways to God As he puts it in the latter, for example, when critiquing the fundamentally shallow and flawed but very influential book by Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
To find the metaphysical beliefs, the other major constituent of paradigms, governing scientific research according to Kuhn, would have been easy and revealing it would have been enough to speak of one belief, the belief in a personal rational Creator. It was this belief, as cultivated especially within a Christian matrix, which supported the view for which the world was an objective and orderly entity investigable by the mind because the mind too was an orderly and objective product of the same rational, that is, perfectly consistent Creator.3
Jaki shows on the basis of their own statements that all the great and truly revolutionary, that is, creative and innovating, scientists from Bacon to Einstein adhered at least to fundamental belief in an orderly and objective universe investigable by man's mind, although a few, such as Max Planck and Albert Einstein, rejected the Creator God as the substance of this assumption. Charles Darwin, of course, would count as an exception to this rule if Jaki had included him among the great scientists. However, Jaki points out that Darwin's theory of evolution was more philosophical than scientific, and never accepted by all scientists of note. Darwin's mechanism of natural selection was especially unsatisfactory from the start, and at any rate could not prove the absence of purpose in the universe. Then Jaki makes one of his most crucial points in his critique of evolutionism presupposing the absence of design:
yet the chaos itself, inherent in the concept of a teleological evolution, if it was to be helpful for science, could not be pictured as rigorously chaotic. The only kinds of chaos which are helpful to science are forms embodying singular specifics expressive of a design which in turn points to purpose. Failure to probe deeply into the meaning of the fact that a chaos ought to be a chaos designed if it is to serve science, including the science of evolution, has since Darwin been the single failure of most evolutionists.5
Jaki does not hesitate to identify "a craving for the absence of metaphysical perspectives" as the chief ingredient of Darwinism besides scientific arguments. He ascribes "the flat declaration that Darwin was right and that mechanistic evolution is an indisputable fact" to this craving.6 He then states that there have been minorities of reputable scientists dissenting from Darwinist dogma ever since the Origin was first published: "Indeed, the persistence over four generations of a minority quantitatively not at all small and qualitatively most respectable, is quite a unique phenomenon in the history of modern science."7 Dissenters to Darwinism were very strong during the decade before the centenary of the Origin. Already twenty years earlier, in 1937, all leading French biologists, collaborating in the fifth volume of the Encyclopédie française,
came to a conclusion almost impossible to believe and just as impossible to find quoted: "It follows from this presentation that the theory of evolution is impossible Evolution is a kind of dogma in which its priests no longer believe but which they keep presenting to their people. So much about a matter which it takes courage to spell out so that men of the coming generation may orient their research in a different way."8
For these and other reasons Jaki believes that mailers with evolutionary theory stand today as they did before Darwin's Origin of Species was published. His most important objection to it, the need for design even in chaos as stated above, is reformulated as the Darwinists' ignorance of the science of mechanics, which demands "the ascertaining of laws within given boundary conditions."9 Such boundary conditions are present everywhere in nature. They are given and not derivable from laws. They do not exist separately from the overall boundary conditions set by the totality of beings in nature. Finally, much as with Gödel's famous theorem in mathematics, no given set of individual boundary conditions can be done in its own terms, but only in the terms of a more general set.10 Jaki concludes:
These sets form a hierarchical structure in respect of which infinite regress is forbidden by the fact that the universe has, in its structure if not in its extent, an overall boundary condition. Since this overall boundary condition is not self-explaining, it is legitimate to look for its givenness in a factor which, since the universe embodies all that is physical, can only be metaphysical with respect to the whole universe. That factor is not a super-designer or an engineer-in-chief, and much less a demiurge, but a Creator who alone is capable of producing a universe with that true mark of givenness, a contingency implying creation.11
With this chain of reasoning proceeding by strictly factual steps derived from the science of mechanics, Jaki reiterates the way to God from nature (that is, natural theology) based on the contingency of the cosmos. He correctly notes that, as others have also recognized, this way of contingency is the summary of the classical five proofs of St. Thomas Aquinas for the existence of God, "or any number of ways based on the contemplation of nature"12 The agreement of this modern scientific argument from contingency is not only congruent with Aquinas and natural theology, but also with the biblical dictum that "that which may be known of God is manifest to [men]; for God has showed it to them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse." (Romans 1:19-20) If one rejects the modern scientific argument from contingency implicit in the science of mechanics in order to exclude its simultaneous implications about the existence of God as stated in the Bible, one also wars against science. Thus T.H. Huxley, Darwin's "Bulldog," "endorsed the notion of a cyclic universe, now developing, now degenerating, a notion which, it is well to recall, became the blind alley for science in all ancient cultures."13 This same notion under the name of "oscillating universe" is now an increasing fantasy of some scientists wishing to shore up the eternity of a self-contained universe, complete with aeons of evolution, in the face of the two laws of thermodynamics. Jaki renders a detailed account of this novel and anti-scientific development in the concluding chapter of Science and Creation.
The idea of eternal recurrences of the universe was also shared by the German idealist philosophers Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, and "Naturphilosophie" descending from their thought. Jaki traces the tie between it and the Nazis:
It was no coincidence that Naturphilosophie saw a strong revival a century or so later among the exponents of Nazi ideology. Nor was the swastika chosen without full recognition of the fact that throughout classical antiquity it served as the chief symbol of eternal recurrence.14
Less well known is the fact that the Hegelian left, the Marxists, also shared belief in eternal recurrence. Friedrich Engels loathed the physicists. Clausius who had formulated the second law of thermodynamics in 1865. For Engels,
Clausius, entropy, and the heat-death of the universe mean one and the same thing They represented the most palpable threat to the materialistic pantheism of the Hegelian left for which the material universe was and still is the ultimate, ever active reality. Engels made no secret about the fact that the idea of a universe returning cyclically to the same configuration was a pivotal proposition within the conceptual framework of Marxist dialectic. He saw the whole course of science reaching in Darwin's theory of evolution the final vindication of the perennial recurrence of all, as first advocated by the founders of Greek philosophy.15
Engels admitted that the reutilization of the heat dissipated by entropy was a problem, but felt certain that an answer would be found.16 Jaki shows the same cosmological views in the work of another Marxist socialist, the Frenchman Louis Augusta Blanqui, whose book L'éternité par les astres (1872) defended an infinite and endless universe of eternal recurrences. For him
the world was in reality an infinite chaos with infinite variations, of which many were identical repetitions. In the cosmic eternity as pictured by Blanqui there was no direction but only resignation if not despair. It is by showing this, perhaps unintentionally, that Blanqui performed a cultural and scientific service. The rambling and agitated pages of the L'éternité par les astres certainly convey me hardly intended message that the notion of a creation out of nothing is the only logical foundation of a confidently rational attitude toward the cosmos and man's place in it.18
Jaki's discussion of Blanqui is but one example of many where he acquaints the reader with historical facts overlooked or even misrepresented by nontheistic scholars. Another notable instance is the lack of attention paid to Olbers' Paradox in the defense of supposedly scientific belief in an infinite universe. From Newton to Einstein, this paradox of the dark night sky, when in such a universe "the skies should be blazing at each point day and night with an infinite brilliance, " was neglected.19 Yet another instance is the correction of historiography with regard to the alleged "darkness" of medieval culture, amended after the 1881 publication of the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. They reveal "not only astonishing flights of fancy, blueprints of wondrous machines. anticipations of some laws of Newton's physics, but also a devout reverence for the Creator, an evangelical piety, and a revulsion against magic. astrology, and necromancy."20
Jaki asserts that modern science became fruitful by "adopting an epistemological median, the common basis of the road of science and of the ways to God. " He states that neither "Cartesian a priorism rooted in a spurious natural theology" nor Baconian empiricism, but only "a conception of the mind's role which transcended empiricism without being trapped in a priorism" could pave the way for scientific advances.21 At this point he may be reading too much into Newton's Principia. Yet even if the truth of his analysis were granted, one would need to make sure that the mind's role would not become so unrestrained as to work from mere subjectivism. In such an event, Jaki's "epistemological median" would militate against his own fundamental thesis, theistic creation as the basis for the development of modern science. In addition, a tendency to mere subjectivism in the mind cannot help but cast doubt upon the truth value of scientific research. The emphasis by some modern philosophers of science upon the mind's inescapable "psychological set" while doing research22 as well as reflection upon historical reversals in assumptions about science have led to the contemporary view that all scientific theories can be only probabilistic. Hence today's admirers of Einstein, for example, including Jaki, do not praise his relativistic cosmology as "true," but merely as more probable or more inclusive than the mechanistic cosmology of Newton. Jaki does not really come to grips with this development, and in particular with the implications of the "psychological set" proposition of philosophy. lmre Lakatos has expressed this proposition most rigorously, pointing out that "there are and can be no sensations unimpregnated by expectations and therefore there is no natural (ie. psychological) demarcation between observational and theoretical propositions. "23 This line of reasoning breaks down the dividing line between man as "subject" and nature as "object" of knowledge, and is therefore in closer conformity with Jaki's greatest abhorrence, a monistic-pantheist world view, than with his own premises of theistic creation out of nothing and natural theology.
The trouble with Jaki is his excessive reliance upon the reliability of man's reason. He is honest enough to cite the great scientist and Christian Blaise Pascal's reservations regarding natural theology, and especially against the trustworthiness of man's mind, based on Pascal's recognition of man's "fallen reality" (due to man's sin against God).24 In view of man's fallenness, not less restraint by a "a priorism' and empirical data (Jaki rightly objects to extreme empiricism and positivism), but more humility becomes man's mind engaged in scientific research or in any dealings with reality. Such humility would safeguard man's awareness of contingency upon the Creator and his works, which, as Jaki shows so well, made modern science possible in the first place.
At the same time, the historian of science should point out at this juncture that notwithstanding man's fallenness, and notwithstanding the mind's "psychological set," modern scientific research has in fact produced results which all men (except solipsists) would call objectively true, such as the first and second laws of thermodynamics, life coming only from life, and soon. Applied science teems with inventions made possible by that research, which conform to true reality in that they "work" and have made the lives of all mankind easier than in antiquity. That this is so should serve as a pointer to the Creator's character as merciful and loving, and not only rational. Of course the achievements of science, including those made even in antiquity, in dealing with given reality confirm the cosmology of theistic creation. In antiquity as now, the Creator is kind even to those who deny him. This is why readers of Jaki might wish he had argued for theistic creation not merely from contingency (natural theology) appealing exclusively to reason, and leading at most to a mental concept of God. He might also have referred to some of the multitude of ways, or instances, in which men may personally meet the living, really existing Creator and Redeemer Himself. Thus, for example, Blaise Pascal met Him in the night of November 23, 654, as documented by his written memorial of that historical event. A historian of science might have included this event in a discussion of "the ways to God" at least in a footnote. However, the God thus met in a living way is the God of the Bible, of "Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and of Jesus Christ," to be found and kept" only through the Gospel," and not the uncertain concept-God of "philosophers and learned men" (Pascal Memorial).25 Perhaps a theist creationist, wedded to "higher critical" denial of the certainty, that is, inerrancy, of the biblical record (especially Genesis), and primarily concerned with appealing to human reason through natural theology, simply could not afford to enter into such a matter. Yet one cannot help believing that here lies the foundation of that view of the world "as an objective and orderly entity investigable by the mind because the mind too [is] an orderly and objective product of the Creator," which Jaki set out to defend in the first place.
To sum up, Jaki is a convinced believer in the original creation of the universe out of nothing by the God of Christianity. He is not, however, an adherent of the modern creationist movement and its acceptance of the Bible, in particular the book of Genesis, as the inerrant record of God's revelation to man. In his most important work dealing with the overall history of science and the unique birth of modern science between 1250 and 1650 in the Christian West, he argues that only belief in the Creator God of the Bible as an absolutely transcendent and rational lawgiver made this birth possible, because it alone gave man confidence in a rational universe. By exhaustive historical research of all ancient cultures as well as the development of scientific advances since the high middle ages he plausibly undergirds his thesis. The chief flaw in his approach is his excessive reliance upon and exclusive appeal to man's reason, to which he assigns a quasi-autonomous role at least by implication. Nevertheless the prodigious scope of his historical scholarship amply rewards any student of his excellent work, and it glaringly exposes the conceptual fallacies and stifling effects of all monist-pantheist cosmologies.
1 Stanley L. Jaki, Science and Creation (New York Science History Publications, 1974), viii.
2 Ibid., p.20.
3 Stanley L. Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God Chicago. The University ot Chicago Press, 1978), p.242.
4 Planck, who introduced the quantum theory of energy to the scientific world in December 1900, was the grandson and great-grandson of Lutheran theologians. Throughout his life he clung to a vague religiosity which included certain Christian formalities. However, when his beloved son, Erwin, was executed by the Nazis in 1944, he wrote a friend that what helped him in this tragic grief was his "faith in the Almighty and All-good" implanted in him since childhood. Nevertheless, when near death and informed of a rumor that he had been converted to Catholicism, he wrote to an atheist inquirer: "While from youth on I was deeply attuned to the religious, I do not believe in a personal God, let alone in a Christian God."
Ibid., pp.166, 179.
As for Einstein, he made a number of "theistic" remarks implying cosmic order by design, such as his famous quip about God not playing dice to Nils Bohr at the Solvay Congress of 1927. In 1952 he wrote a friend that he thought the comprehensibility of the world was a miracle or "an eternal mystery" because the success of scientific theories presupposed "in the objective world a high degree of order, which we are in no way entitled to expect a priori." He added, however, thai he saw no "legitimate way of getting any further. I have to add the last point explicitly, lest you think that weakened by age I have fallen into the hands of priests." Ibid., pp.208, 192-3.
Jaki draws the obvious conclusion that Einstein "perceived that such a train of thought was not only a road of science but it also came dangerously close to turning at the end into a way to God." Ibid., p~ 193.
5 Ibid, p.287.
7 Ibid, p.288.
8 Ibid. According to Jaki, this statement is found in the Encyclopédie française, tôme 5. Les êtres vivants (Paris: Société de Gestion de l'Encyclopédie française, 1937), pp. 82~88. The editing of this volume was directed by P. Lemoine, R. Jeannée, and R Allorge, all professors at the Muséum de Paris. Ibid., n. 44, p.442.
9 Ibid., p.290.
10 Ibid., pp.291-292, and n. 59, p~ 444. Also see Ernest Nagel and James F. Newman, Gödel's Proof (New York University Press, Eighth Printing 1973).
11 Ibid., p.292.
13 Ibid., p.295.
14 Jaki, Science and Creation, p.311. On the swastika, Jaki gives the following specific information: "The great champion of Buddhism, King Asoka (c. 269 B.C.-c.232 B.C.) had all his monuments inscribed with the swastika, the classic symbol of cyclic returns, the original form of which probably consisted of the diagram of the bodies of two intertwined snakes, symbols of evil and pessimism. What the swastikas stated concisely about the cosmos and existence, the great Buddhist ascetical classics gave in detail " Ibid., p.11.
15 Ibid., p.312.
16 Ibid., pp.312-313, and n.51, p.331.
17 Ibid., p.318.
18 Ibid., p.318-319.
19 Ibid., p.315. Also see Stanley L. Jaki, The Paradox of Olbers' Paradox (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969).
20 Jaki, Science and Creation. p.261. Also see Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God. pp. 306,316.
21 Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God p.90.
22 See especially lmre Lakatos and A. Musgrave, eds., Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge London: Cambridge University Press, 1970), p.99.
24 Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God. p.314.
25 The full text of the Pascal Memorial is as follows:
The Year of Grace 1654
Monday, November 23rd
From about 10:30 in the evening
till about half past midnight
God of Abraham God of Isaac God of Jacob
Not the God of philosophers and learned men
Certitude certitude feeling joy peace
God of Jesus Christ
Forgetfulness of the world and of all save God
He is only to be found through the Gospel
Greatness of the human soul
Joy joy joy tears of joy
I have separated from him
My God wilt thou leave me
Let me not be separated from him eternally
This is eternal life knowing thee the only true God
and him whom thou hast sent Jesus Christ John 17:3
I have separated from him I have run away from him
I have denied him crucified him
May I never be separated from him
He is only to be kept through the Gospel
Total and sweet renunciation
Total surrender to Jesus Christ and to my director
for one single day of renunciation on earth
The memorial was found sewn in a seam of Pascal's coat upon his death in 1662.