The governor of Wisconsin excitedly announced the theme of this year’s holiday tree: “Celebrate Science.” In a letter to schools, he asked students to make ornaments “showcasing science in Wisconsin.” He added: “Science is so critically important to understanding and appreciating the world around us and each other. ”
I wonder if he has ever read the works of Father Stanley Jaki. A man of theology and science, Jaki contends that the Incarnation is critical to the birth of science. It is because of Christmas that we can celebrate science.
Some claim it was easy for scientists of the past to remain Christian. The field was still in its infancy. Knowing all that we know now makes it almost impossible for present-day scientists to believe in God. How, then, to explain Father Jaki? He is a contemporary who died only a decade ago.
Jaki was born in Hungaria, where he became a Benedictine. He later moved to the United States. Father Jaki earned doctorates in both physics and theology.
Catholic Exchange sums up what many websites say about him:
Jaki was a prolific writer, authoring dozens of books, articles, and essays covering everything from the metaphysics of the Eucharist, to the primacy of the Apostle Peter, to exactly where and how Charles Darwin went woefully wrong. In short, Father Jaki was one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century and his contributions to Catholic thought and culture will be difficult to quantify.
A major contribution of Father Jaki is his study of science and history. While giving credit to great advances in science occurring in non-Christian civilizations, he calls them “stillbirths.” Dr. Stacy Trasancos, author of Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki, and Editor Emeritus of Catholic Stand, explains his use of this term:
The birth of science represents the emergence of exact science as a universal discipline where one discovery leads to another, and laws of physics and systems of laws were established. The stillbirths refer to the potential within other ancient cultures to achieve this emergence, but a failure to make the breakthrough.
What is it about Christianity that made it different? According to Theoretical Particle Physicist Stephen M. Barr:
Into that cosmic fatalism burst the Christian revelation, which speaks of the unique and unrepeatable event of the Incarnation. Biblical time has a beginning and a direction so that every event had real causes and real consequences. The world is thus dynamic, and its dynamics can be studied.
In creation ex nihilo, with a creator who is good, the universe itself must be good and therefore worth investigating. As the creator is the logos, the universe is intelligible and therefore capable of being investigated” and human beings, made in the image of the creator, are intelligent and capable of investigating it.
An ordered world can be studied. As God’s creation, it is worth studying. Made in the image and likeness of God, we are capable of studying the world. Other religions fail on one or another of these points.
Father Jaki spent a significant part of his life speaking and writing about the importance of Christianity to science. He clearly thought it was an important subject. What motivated him?
Anne Barbeau Gardiner knew him personally. She wrote about him in New Oxford Review. Anne reports:
As he grew, he said he longed “to understand, propagate, and defend my Roman Catholic religion, which, on the intellectual level, is a set of propositions with enormously wide ramifications. Indeed there is no theology so wide in its scope and reach as Catholic theology.”
He also understood the importance of being faithful to truth rather than personal gain. In his words:
A Catholic intellectual should not have for his or her prime objective the gaining of the applause of secular academics. The latter are interested only in Catholics in whom they can spot real or potential traitors to Truth. If only such Catholics suspected the value of enduring riches which they barter for very transient handouts! I mean intellectual riches, valid very much even for science.
To be motivated to serve God means understanding the importance of love. In accepting the Templeton Prize, he beautifully said:
Hunger for true love — heroic, self-sacrificing love — remains humankind’s basic hunger. Acknowledgment of this comes on occasion even from those who earned their fame (often their fortunes, too) by preaching salvation through science. When Bertrand Russell stated at Columbia University in 1950 that Christian love or compassion was the thing most needed by modern humans, he moved revealingly close to declaring intellectual bankruptcy on his and many others’ behalf. He said much more about Christian love. Although fully familiar with the enormous power of modern science, medicine and technology, he held high Christian love as the answer to human needs in the broadest sense: “If you have Christian love,” he declared to a stunned audience, “you have motive for existence, a guide for action, a reason for courage, an imperative necessity for intellectual honesty.”
He closes by discussing progress. Jaki states that progress will come about only if humankind “will muster more willingness to bow to God.”
A bow, if it is more than a mere ritual, is always an act of humility. But so is love which seeks not its own, broods not over injuries, and always rejoices with the truth (I Cor. 13:5-6). This tremendous insight into the very depth of love comes from a perception about God ready to empty himself and take the form of a slave (Phil. 2:6-7). For such is the only love that never turns into a slavery, emotional or other. It is in that love that religion completes all the progress it is capable of. It has already done so on countless occasions, long before the advent of science, and will keep providing the only means whereby science may act not as a curse but as a blessing.
In this age of science, and in coming times to be increasingly more scientific, no claim may be more startling than the one that love rooted in religion would be around long after all science is gone. Long before science had arrived, religion also foresaw a stage where even faith and hope would cease by finding their completion in love. That stage will consist in knowing God as he is. Such is the deepest aspect of the true harmony between intellectual honesty and Christian love, between science and religion, and also the crowning phase of their progress.
I have read several stories about people turning from God when they go to college. Then I read about people like Father Jaki. His motivation for his work was his love of God as well as his love of science. His goal was “to give Catholics the weapons with which to counter secular materialism and promote the Catholic faith.”
Many websites report Jaki as saying “One has only one choice: to fight.” In my great dislike of controversy, this gives me something to think about.
In fact, much of what he writes gives me food for thought. He used his gift of intelligence to lead others to holiness. How might I use any gifts God gave me toward the same goal?
As we look to the coming of Jesus during this Advent season, consider that the birth of our Savior ultimately led to the birth of science.