Fr. Stanley Jaki’s Definition of Science

Fr. Stanley Jaki

This Teaching Series

Holy Tuesday, April 7, marked six years since Fr. Stanley L. Jaki died in Madrid in 2009. Toward the end of his life, Fr. Stanley L. Jaki asked himself, “What is the point to work hard on a topic, though only to see in the end that what one tried to transmit on the basis of decades of hard work runs like water off a duck’s back?”[1] These words are in his 2009 addendum, “Three More Years,” to his 2002 autobiography titled A Mind’s Matter: An Intellectual Autobiography. However in 2015, it does not seem that Jaki’s work has slipped away at all. The appreciation for his brilliance has continued to gain traction.

Two of Jaki’s most important teachings were 1) the divide between theology and science and 2) the claim that science was born of Christianity. Plenty of people will easily agree that science and faith occupy separate domains of knowledge, but the claim that science was born of Christian faith will likely evoke suspicion or denial especially if the facts for the claim are not presented. These facts and these two teachings of Fr. Jaki’s are relevant for those navigating a secular society where people think science removes the need for faith or go so far as to elevate science to, as Jaki put it, omniscience.

I have been learning and defending these teachings of Jaki’s ever since I first read his book, The Savior of Science in 2010. I find Jaki’s clear definition of science and his exhaustive accounting of the historical facts of the Christian birth of science compelling (even to atheists). Hence, I work to communicate Fr. Jaki’s teaching because it is our Catholic heritage. I seek to inspire Catholic leaders in science.

In the weeks to follow and in commemoration of Fr. Jaki, I will present a sifted compilation of the historical facts of his research, taken from my book on the subject which itself is a summary of Jaki’s much longer works. I hope you will join me in sharing the work of this physicist, historian, theologian, and holy priest with the next generation. This series will proceed as follows:

Definition of Science

Understanding Fr. Stanley L. Jaki’s insistence on the demarcation line between science and religion and understanding his claim about the birth of science lies in the way he defined “exact science.” Jaki applied this definition in his historical research. Where some historians tried to understand the history of science by trying to understand what science meant in different times and cultures, Jaki approached the question the other way. He first defined “exact science,” (i.e. physical science) and then searched through history to discover what intellectual breakthrough was responsible for the emergence of modern science.

As a physicist, Jaki consistently referred to science as “exact science.” He used that term in his doctoral research conducted from 1956 to 1958 and still in his 2004 essay, Science and Religion: A Primer. In the primer, he began the discussion with, “By science exact science is meant throughout this booklet.”[2] He ended the epilogue of the primer with:

“Equations of numbers are practically everything in science, very little in philosophy, and nothing in theology. It is therefore a huge mistake to take trendy philosophies of science, let alone some theological flights of fancy, for science. Numbers alone make science.”[3]

He covered this distinction more thoroughly in a 2003 compilation of essays, Numbers Decide, a 2004 book, Questions on Science and Religion, and again in his 2006 collection of essays, A Late Awakening and Other Essays. He discussed this distinction in The Savior of Science.

Jaki’s definition was: Exact science is the quantitative study of the quantitative aspects of objects in motion.

It is obvious today that science is about the quantitative aspects of objects in motion. On the grand scale, the ability to travel in space has been developed by science. On the minute scale, particle accelerators to detect the motion of subatomic particles have been developed by science. Modern laboratories are designed to trap, manipulate, or measure moving objects. In technology the quantitative movement of objects has delivered “ever more stunning marvels,” from the harnessing of the flow of electrons in metal wires to the detection of waves triggered by their acceleration in antennas, or “jumps” between “holes” in semiconductor materials.[4]

All of these marvels imply a continued reliance on Newton’s three laws of motion: 1) by the law of inertia, a body remains at rest or moving uniformly in a motion unless acted on by an external force; 2) the acceleration (a) of a body is proportional to the force (F) acting on it and inversely proportional to its mass (F=ma); and 3) to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.[5] That is to say, all these marvels of science imply a continued reliance on “the quantitative study of the quantitative aspects of objects in motion,” thus Jaki’s definition.

Jaki’s definition was also based on ancient physics. Numbers are the only specifically exact notions, among all other notions, that the human mind is capable of forming. Aristotle recognized that numbers stand apart some 2,300 years ago.[6] He recognized that there are quantities, and there are qualities. Quantities are numerical, qualities are not. Jaki drew this distinction of quantities versus qualities from a dictum in Aristotle’s Categories, and it hinged on three little words, “more or less.”[7] In Categories, Aristotle enumerated the ten categories that can describe every object, using the phrase “more or less” repeatedly. He wrote, “There is nothing that forms the contrary of ‘two cubits long’ or of ‘three cubits long’, or of ‘ten’, or of any such term. A man may contend that ‘much’ is the contrary of ‘little’, or ‘great’ of ‘small’, but of definite quantitative terms no contrary exists.”[8]

Aristotle went on to explain that if something is white, it can be “more or less” white. If something is beautiful, it can be “more or less” beautiful than another object. Habits can be “more or less” permanent. In the grasping of honor, men may be “more or less” brave or practice justice and self-mastery “more or less.”[9] But “more or less” cannot be predicated of quantities; quantities are absolute. There is no more or less to the number “1,” for instance, or to any other number or numerical fraction of a number. Quantities–and quantities alone–are exact. “Quantity does not, it appears, admit of variation of degree,” Jaki quoted from Aristotle.[10]

In antiquity, nature was described mostly qualitatively, but in modernity, quantitative measurements are required to define physical laws. This change to quantities marks the Scientific Revolution that transformed the world. In Aristotelian physics, “more or less” was enough because Aristotle’s physics noted details qualitatively of substances in the natural world, but Newtonian physics changed that. Newtonian physics addresses every proposition aiming for quantitative exactness, and “more or less” is no longer appropriate. The Scientific Revolution was a change to recognize the significance of exact quantities.

Exact science is therefore extremely limited in its applicability. Jaki thought this was a standard of most importance, not just for scientists but even more so for philosophers and theologians. Consider this strong admonishment:

“Whenever a philosopher/theologian yields the fraction of a hairsbreadth on the intrinsic limitation of exact science, he runs the grave risk of the heedless boy who put his hand through the fence of the lion’s cage. The risk is that of a potential tragedy.”[11]

Theologians do not need information about quantities of objects in motion to shore up the material of their discipline. They do not need science to defend what reason can discover or what God has revealed. Scientific discovery can contribute to the appreciation or understanding of philosophy and theology, but those disciplines ought to first stand on their own merits, and herein lays the reason why Jaki could both insist science and religion were separate domains while claiming science was born of Christianity.

In an essay given in 2003, “What God Has Separated . . .” Jaki taught that this separation of science (quantities) and religion is not just a separation of his making, but one God Himself created in the mind of man. Mankind knows this separation because the human mind innately knows the difference between quantities and everything else. Christ demonstrated this too when asked about what to do with a coin. The Lord said, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”[12] The reminder in Mark’s Gospel is a good one for those who think science can explain everything. “How is a man the better for it, if he gains the whole world at the expense of losing his own soul?”[13] Truly, a person could learn all the science there ever could be learned about the motion of objects in the physical world, and it would not save his soul.

“Science does not tell us what we should do, it does not even tell us what is, simply because there are no units of measurement for is. Revealed religion depends and rests on that verb is.”[14]

God is existence itself, “I Am who Is,” and religion is about purpose of the highest conceivable kind, life after death and personal immortality. The etymology of the word “religion” means to re-ligare; ligare means to tie a knot, so re-ligare means to reunite with God.[15] Jaki made this point often, the only real religion is the one “steeped in Christian Revelation,” a personal Creator who brings forth the universe out of nothing and who inspired man to pray to Him by becoming Incarnate and by purchasing through his life, death, and resurrection the eternal rewards of Redemption. Jaki summed it up beautifully: “I only wish that Catholics would really cherish the word is even though science cannot say anything about it.”[16]

The significance of this simple rule—that science deals with quantities and theology does not—is that it at once subordinates science to religion. Cultures need the latter more than the former. Religion is about morality; science is not. It also In his autobiography, Jaki explained that “real culture” must attend to questions that “most agitate a human being.”[17] There must be attention to religion’s questions, and since religion cannot exist without the form of a cult, worship directed towards God, cultures–by necessity, by definition–must do so. As any admirer of Jaki’s knows, this is where his brilliance and his passion united with force. He could speak or write so powerfully about science and culture and point his audience straight to Christianity.

“No true worship is deserved by a God who is the product of a cosmic process, let alone the distillation of a process theology. The only God who deserves a proper cult, which is worship, is much more than the Creator who brings forth the universe out of nothing . . . by real cult I mean a religion steeped in Revelation and in particular in the Christian Revelation.”[18]

As we will cover in the coming weeks, Jaki not only argued that Christianity in the Middle Ages contributed to the rise of modern science and that the Church was a patron of science, he argued that there had to be a birth, the birth of the only begotten Son of the Father as a man, to allow science to have its first viable birth after being stillborn in other ancient cultures. Using historical facts, Jaki showed how faith in divine revelation produced the breakthrough in an understanding of the universe. This departure, this breakthrough—this birth—was not based on observation or experiment but on faith in the Christian Creed.


Notes

[1] Stanley L. Jaki, A Mind’s Matter: An Intellectual Autobiography, Another additional chapter, “Three More Years” (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 10.
[2] Jaki, A Mind’s Matter, 24; Stanley L. Jaki, Science and Religion: A Primer (Port Huron, MI: Real View Books, 2004), 4.
[3] Jaki, Science and Religion, 31.
[4] Stanley L. Jaki, The Savior of Science (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 50.
[5] Jaki, Savior of Science, 50; Isaac Newton, Principia, A New Translation by I. B. Cohen and A. Whitman (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999), 416-417.
[6] Jaki, Science and Religion, 4.
[7] Aristotle, Categories, Part 5. For Jaki’s explanation see Jaki, Science and Religion, 28; Jaki, A Late Awakening, 63. See also Stanley L. Jaki, Numbers Decide and Other Essays (Pinckney MI: Real View Books, 2003), 191; Stanley L. Jaki, Questions on Science and Religion (Pinckney MI: Real View Books, 2004), 183; and Stanley L. Jaki, The Drama of Quantities (Port Huron, MI: Real View Books, 2005).
[8] Aristotle, Categories, Part 5.
[9] Aristotle, Categories, Part 8.
[10] Aristotle, Categories, Part 6.
[11] Jaki, Science and Religion, 6.
[12] The Knox Translation Bible (Westminster: Baronius Press Ltd., 2013), Mark 12:17.
[13] Jaki, A Late Awakening, 68; Knox, Mark 8:36.
[14] Jaki, A Late Awakening, 63-67.
[15] Jaki, A Mind’s Matter, 13.
[16] Jaki, A Late Awakening, 70.
[17] Jaki, A Mind’s Matter, 13.
[18] Jaki, A Mind’s Matter, 13.

Photo: The picture was taken from Santa Caterina del Sasso, on the Lake Maggiore, and provided by Fr. Jaki’s friend, Antonio Colombo.

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About the Author

Stacy Trasancos is a wife and homeschooling mother of seven. She holds a PhD in Chemistry from Penn State University and a MA in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. She worked as a chemist for DuPont in the Lycra® and Teflon® businesses.

She teaches Chemistry and Physics for Kolbe Academy Online and Homeschool Program and serves as the Science Department Chair. She is teaching a set of summer mini-workshops titled "Science in the Light of Faith" for students, parents, other educators, or any Christian interested in the nuts and bolts of navigating science.

Similarly, she is teaching a "Reading Science in the Light of Faith" at Holy Apostles College & Seminary next Fall (2016). The course is funded by a John Templeton Foundation grant through John Carroll University for teaching science in seminaries. She is on the Board of Directors for ITEST (the Institute for the Theological Encounter with Science and Technology) where the essays from the course will be shared with the public.

Also in the Fall of 2016, she will teach a "Theological History of Science" course at Seton Hall University, where her mentor, the late Fr. Stanley L. Jaki was a distinguished professor. She is the author of Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki.

Her new book, Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science is forthcoming with Ave Maria Press...

She teaches, researches, and writes from her family's 100-year old restored mountain lodge in the Adirondack mountains, where her husband and children (and two German Shepherds) remain her favorite priorities. Here is her website.

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25 Comments

  1. I don’t mean to be critical Stacy but your proof reading needs to be more careful. ” The significance of this simple rule that science deals with quantities and theology does not is that it at once subordinates science to religion. Cultures need the former more than the latter. ” The correct expression would be, ” Cultures need the latter not the former.” Also, pay a little more attention to your mode of expression, your prose. For example, the first sentence above would be improved by inserting ” is ” between ” rule ” and ” that “. Again, in the sentence, ” But “more or less” cannot be predicated on quantities; quantities are absolute. ” it would be better to say ” of ” quantities rather than ” on ” quantities.

    I know you are a busy Mother. But readers will be turned off if your prose is awkward or your grammar is incorrect.

    I look forward to your series because I to am interested in philosophy and I look forward especially to your comments on Buridan’s theory of impetus.
    Sometime I would be interested to hear your views on whether Thomas Aquinas really thought that Aristotle recognized that his First Mover was also the efficient cause of the ” being ” of all the world. Some have asserted that Thomas was convinced of this. I can find no evidence of it in Aristotle. But perhaps I missed something.

    Sincerely,
    Linus

    1. Dear Linus,

      Please accept my sincere apology for the error and my gratitude for your suggestions. You offered them most graciously, and you are absolutely right. Thank you so much.

      I do not know the answer to your question about Aristotle and the First Mover, but perhaps another reader will be able to assist.

      In Christ,
      Stacy

      1. I just found the answer. Yes! At least that was the opinion of Thomas Aquinas. And that is all that matters because Thomas’ proofs for the existence of God are based on Thomas’ interpretation of Aristotle. This is not my discovery, it was given to me by Fr. James A. Weisheipl in his book Nature and Motion in the Middle Ages ( or you can find it in the article “The Celestial Movers in Medieval Physics,” [ The Thomist, no. 24 ( 1961 ) , pgs. 286- 326 ].

        On page 171 he says, “Over and above the mode of becoming by which something comes to be through change or motion, there must be a mode of becoming or origin of things, without any mutation or motion through the influx of being [ per influentiam essendi ]. 1. St. Thomas goes on to say that, although Plato and Aristotle did posit that immaterial substances and even heavenly bodies always existed, ” we must not suppose on tthat account that they denied to them a cause of their being. 2.

        Let’s examine Thomas’ commentary. ( All footnotes refer to Thomas’ commentaries on A’s works, which can be found here: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ .

        The the creation of a world that has eternally existed, is not contradictory. ” Thus it is clear that there is no contradiction in saying that something made by God has always existed. Indeed, if there were some contradiction, it would be amazing that Augustine failed to see it, for exposing such a contradiction would be a most effective way of proving that the world is not eternal, and although Augustine offers many arguments against the eternity of the world in XI and XII De Civitate Dei, he never argues that his opponents’ view is contradictory. On the contrary, Augustine seems to hint that there is no contradiction involved. Thus, speaking of the Platonists, he says (X De Civitate Dei cap. 31), “They somehow contemplate a beginning in causation rather than a beginning in time. Imagine, they say, a foot that has been in dust since eternity: a footprint has always been beneath it, and nobody would doubt that the footprint was made by the pressure of the foot. Though neither is prior in time to the other, yet one is made by the other. 1.

        Thomas thought that Aristotle’s God created a world that has existed eternally.

        ” 1164. Now common causes must be eternal, because the first causes of beings which are generated must not themselves be generated, otherwise the process of generation would proceed to infinity; and this is true especially of those causes which are altogether immobile and immaterial. For those immaterial and immobile causes are the causes of the sensible things evident to us, because they are beings in the highest degree, and therefore are the cause of other things, as was shown in Book II (290). From this it is evident that the science which considers beings of this kind is the first of all the sciences and the one which considers the common causes of all beings. Hence there are causes of beings as beings, which are investigated in first philosophy, as he proposed in Book I (36). And from this it is quite evident that the opinion of those who claimed that Aristotle thought that God is not the cause of the substance of the heavens, but only of their motion, is false. [against Ibn-Rushd] 2.

        ” 996. Very special attention should be paid to what is here said, because, as is mentioned in Metaphysics II, the arrangement of things in existence and in truth is the same. Therefore, just as some things are always true and yet have a cause of their truth, so Aristotle understood that there are some eternal beings, namely, the heavenly bodies and separated substances, which nevertheless have a cause of existence.

        From this it is evident that although Aristotle posited a world that was eternal, he did not believe that God is not the world’s cause of existence but of its motion only, as some maintained. Finally, he concludes his main proposition with a summary. And he says: “Let this conclude what we have to say in support of our claim that there never was a time when there was not motion and there will never be a time when there will not be motion. ” 3.

        ” 296. Now this is necessary, because everything that is composite in nature and participates in being must ultimately have as its causes those things which have existence by their very essence. But all corporeal things are actual beings insofar as they participate in certain forms. Therefore a separate substance which is a form by its very essence must be the principle of corporeal substance. ” 4.

        1. In De Aeternigtate Mundi, the whole article
        2. VI Metaph, lect. 1. n. 1164
        3. VIII Phys, lect 3, n. 996
        4. II Metaph, lect 2, n. 296-296
        * Also De Caelo, lect 8, ch 4, n. 91, para 4

        It is easy to see the importance of this for Thomas’ proofs, especially in ” cosmological ” proofs. For the First Mover in the First Way moves the world through the natures/essences/forms he creates, by which he empowers them to move themselves and to cause motion in others.

        E.R.

    2. Good question about Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, too bad he’d died with unfinished work! Out of curiosity, what do you feel Thomas thought about it?
      The reason I ask is because “Some have asserted that Thomas was convinced of this. I can find no evidence of it in Aristotle.”, only wouldn’t Thomas need to write about what he was convinced of?… It does however, seem logical to think that Thomas would be convinced of Aristotle feeling that way about a First Mover. It’s also possible Aristotle felt he had a pretty tight rope to walk in keeping his life after learning about Socrates fate for “importing strange divinities of his own”, so would it also be possible that Thomas thought Aristotle had to ‘skirt the issue’ so to speak?… Wouldn’t want to corrupt the youth with non-state approved thinking and all that (haha). Thoughts?
      Please accept my apologies if I sound ignorant in asking, but I do enjoy hearing different ideas so I’d appreciate hearing (well, reading) your thoughts on the matter!

      1. He seems convinced of it in his arguments for God’s existence in the SCG. But when I went to his references in Aristotle, I couldn’t see what he was seeing. Perhaps it was wishful thinking on his part because the arguments for God’s existence don’t go any where if the Prime Mover is nothing but a Final Cause.

  2. This is an interesting topic. The idea that all this is the brainchild of an incredibly intelligent source is something I think about all the time. Just look at one single law of nature such as gravity and then consider how many other laws there are on which all this operates. Could the source of these laws be impersonal? It seems possible but it seems more likely that there is a consciousness that is at least as personal as we are. Christianity sees this consciousness as God. I get that. But all these stories about that god? They are all made up by men who knew far less about all this than we do now. So the stories are just man-made myths. Right?

    1. Hi, Bill S. You are right to say “there is a consciousness”. We believe we have consciousness because He IS Consciousness. You are right to say these men knew less about created things, but they are witness to the Creator of all things. All that is lacking is the giving ascent to faith. As the Fisherman, who had his own struggles with faith, wrote shortly before his death;
      ‘We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.’ (2 Pt 1:16-19)

    2. Hi Bill!- Good question, but how would a consciousness reveal itself while maintaining its subject’s ability to freely acknowledge whether it exists or not?
      If you look up “Game of Pawns” in YouTube you’ll see a short movie produced by the FBI. Now we all know the FBI is not in the movie business, so a) why was it shot? and b) who authorized tax dollars to produce a movie?
      Well, it was shot in response to the FBI citing a study to figure out the best ways people learn. The study (I don’t remember the cost of it, but let’s just say it wasn’t the least expensive study we’ve ever done), revealed the mystifying results in that; the majority of humans learn best when the truths looking to be taught are revealed in connection and context of a story!
      Now, the government could have very easily asked me or anyone else who has learned a lot from the Bible or a movie whether or not that was true, free of charge. However the fact that money was spent, not on whether stories are true or not, but what most people get out of them, and their response to it, is very telling when it comes to asking “How important are stories to people?”…
      If stories are “creation dumbed down to humanity’s level”, then it would seem like a brilliant way to tell people truths. However, if say “John”, if John’s mind would need a technical manual about how a Creator could manufacture not just John’s mind and being, but 7.125 billion minds just like John’s, but also a slight variation of each persons entire being, how would John possibly comprehend it when he could never memorize that many names and faces, let alone 7.125 billion entire lives of John?
      If it were in story format- “John, you can know what the ocean is, but you could never fully explain it’s depth and molecular size, it’s origins, it’s complete contents and matter, that’s what a mystery is.”, then at least John could grasp the concept, a truth just the same. John could know that he could study it his whole life, swim in it and examine it closely, and realize it’s monumental effect on the whole of Earth and his life; but never fully and truthfully say “I’ve figured all of the ocean out, and it was as easy as reading a book”…

      What do you think?… Have you ever learned, or do you remember your earliest memory, of a truth revealed to you in a story?

  3. Hello Mrs. Trasancos,

    I understand you are writing in an effort to present what is true and to honor the life and work of a man whom you admire, but I would like to point out that your observations about Aristotle’s works concerning the natural world are false as is your separation of theology and science.

    You wrote “Numbers are the only specifically exact notions, among all other notions, that the human mind is capable of forming.” This is not true. The first act of the intellect is simple apprehension, the “…understanding of indivisibles, by which it knows what a thing is” (Aquinas, Commentary On the Trinity of Boethius Q5, art. 3). The act of simple apprehension concerns understanding “the nature itself of a thing” (ibid.). Although you do make reference to two of the accidents Aristotle discusses in Categories (quantity and quality) you leave out the first, which is not an accident, Substance. Aristotle defines substance as “…that which is neither predicable of a subject nor present in a subject”. The substance of a thing is its immaterial form, and as Aquinas writes in his Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, “…quantities of things follow upon their forms.” Also, in his Physics Aristotle writes, “The form indeed is ‘nature’ rather than the matter; for a thing is more properly said to be what it is when it has attained to fulfilment than when it exists potentially.” Quantity does not have the independence you claim that is has, and as you can see Aristotle certainly would not have made the claim “Quantities–and quantities alone–are exact. ” because the accidents follow substance.

    You also wrote “In antiquity, nature was described mostly qualitatively, but in modernity, quantitative measurements are required to define physical laws.” I don’t know what your source for this claim is, but the great minds of antiquity did not study the natural world in the way you suggest. In his Commentary on Aristotle’s De Caelo et Mundo, Aquinas writes, ““the subject of motion, however, is a magnitude and body because nothing is moved except what is quantified.” Magnitude, of course, is continuous quantity. In his work, De Institutione Arithmetica, Boethius writes “Motion itself follows directly from the dimensions of magnitudes so that “…the six motions are connected to the natures and number of the intervals [length, width, and depth]…”. Students in antiquity and the medieval world studied the mathematical arts (the Quadrivium), which presented a unified view of quantity beginning with unity and proceeding through the motion of magnitudes, before advancing to the study of the natural world.

    ” This change to quantities marks the Scientific Revolution that transformed the world.” No, this is not the case. The Scientific Revolution can be characterized by the abandonment of Aristotle’s Organon with the replacement of the ‘Novum Organum’ (see Francis Bacon), the inductive scientific method. The other key change is the study of matter as a unity. Unfortunately, the rejection of deductive thought takes away the possibility of knowing scientifically (as Aristotle and Aquinas understood the term, meaning knowing with certainty). Also, matter itself is not unified, but is essentially diverse and potential. As Aquinas writes in his Summa Contra Gentiles: ““…the diversity of matter cannot be the first cause of the distinction of things” Again, in his Commentary on Posterior Analytics, Aquinas writes ““…the closer one gets to matter, the less certain the science”. By attempting to separate the study of matter from other pursuits of truth, modern scientists are leading people away from God, as Aquinas writes in his Summa Contra Gentiles “things referred to matter as their primary cause fall outside of the agent concerned”

    You wrote “Theologians do not need information about quantities of objects in motion to shore up the material of their discipline.” In this, you appear to misunderstand why God created the natural world. Aquinas writes that God created the universe “…in order that His goodness might be communicated to His creatures…”. The Catechism (299) makes clear that this work of creation is addressed specifically to us. Since “…the distinction and multitude of things come from the intentions of the first agent, who is God”, we must say that as “…the wisdom of God is the cause of the distinction of things, so the same wisdom is the cause of their inequality.” (both quotes from Aquinas) Humans receive sensory information from God’s creation. As we study both the forms of the things that are and the ordering that exists of those forms, we come to recognize an immaterial Wisdom that orders and maintains the inequalities of everything and exceeds these things in being. In each of the mathematical arts of the Quadrivium, whose principles flow directly from nature itself, students learn that immaterial limits contain matter so that it is understandable by the human intellect. In so doing, they are studying the distinctions made by God in ordering the natural world. Also, the demonstrations utilized in Geometry and Astronomy, due to their certainty, helped to train the students mind for Philosophy and ultimately Theology. Christopher Clavius, the famous Jesuit mathematician, wrote in his Modus Quo Disciplinae Mathematicae that without understanding the methodology of the mathematical arts, natural philosophy “is maimed and imperfect” and the works of Plato, Aristotle, and the more illustrious commentaries about those “…are in no way able to be understood”.

    “Jaki taught that this separation of science (quantities) and religion is not just a separation of his making, but one God Himself created in the mind of man.” In antiquity, logic was considered the “science of sciences” and was used as the method for all other sciences because of its ability to generate certain knowledge. Logic is the unified method given to man by God to attain certain truth.

    Ultimately, as Aquinas writes, “error concerning creatures, by subjecting them to causes other than God, spills over into false opinion about God, and takes men’s minds away from Him…”. There is a unity of truth in God. God communicates that to His creatures through His creation, the natural world. Through Revelation, the ancient liberal arts and Scholastic Philosophy and Theology, that message from God is studied and understood. Modern science severs these connections, and consequently, Catholics would do well to give honest consideration to revisiting their own intellectual heritage. Perhaps you and Fr. Jaki misunderstand the ancients because you attempt to understand their writings through a modern materialist viewpoint and without the necessary formation in the actual classical liberal arts as they were taught.

    I’m writing this not as an attack but in charity to correct a false presentation of information about truth in the universe and how Catholic should pursue it.

    In Pace Christi,
    Christopher Ruckdeschel

    1. Hi Christopher,
      Good call, and you’re right about Catholics needing to revisit the intellectual heritage. I’m unsure if Fr. Jaki and Stacy misunderstand because they’re viewing through a materialist lens (although she does have a PhD in chemistry and not literature or philosophy), or if they’re trying to build a bridge for modern materialists with no philosophical understanding or a rejection of philosophy altogether, thus being an evangelist to modern scientists. It’s tough work that C.S. Lewis mentioned when he wrote about Christianity’s failure to enable modern people to learn why these ancient truths are still truth today, so he took it upon himself to write about them for the masses and is still popular for it. Modern materialistic science on the other hand, at least in the Western world, has a very tight grip on an abundance of people (how else would abortion become legal when muder outside the womb is illegal?). I’m a former atheist and could be wrong about all that as I don’t have any doctorates, but when it comes to evangelization I know not to start with “you’re wrong”, which Stacy doesn’t seem to do to people in her field. For good reason too, people get dismissive of the truth if it’s presented out of order or they’re not ready for it, you probably know this. As a coordinator for RCIA and brother of a homosexual fellow I find it heartbreaking when people think they’re helping bringing souls to Christ with a sign that says “God hates fags”. While homosexual ACTS may be an abomination, probably better to start with “God is love” and let the attraction to that lead to a fuller relationship where one can assess their own wrongdoing at the right time for them by getting to know what pure love really is… None of us are right all the time, you know? (rhetorical, of course you know that– with two exceptions of course, but that’s for people who’ve taken the time, in order, to know Jesus and His Mother ;))
      On another note I do appreciate your comment, very thoughtful!

    2. Dear Mr. Ruckdeschel,

      Thank you for that thoughtful comment. Your philosophical acumen is beyond mine, but please consider these responses.

      To your first point about substance, quality, and quantity: Fr. Jaki referred to Aristotle’s Categories (5-6a). Aristotle mentioned “more or less” to say that substance does not “admit of variation of degree.” A man is a man, not more or less a man. A dog is a dog, not more or less a dog. But he also pointed out “it is a distinctive mark of substance, that, while remaining numerically one and the same, it is capable of admitting contrary qualities, the modification taking place through a change in the substance itself.” A man can be diseased or healthy. A dog can be more or less cold. Of quantities, he goes one step further. He wrote that “quantity does not, it appears, admit of variation of degree.” Quantities are equal to what they are. One meter is one meter, exactly, not more or less, and there is no contrary of one meter. When Jaki wrote that quantities are exact, this is what he meant. The other categories admit variation of degree and have contraries.

      To your second point about the difference between Aristotelian physics and Newtonian physics (antiquity vs. modernity): Aristotelian physics was not mathematical. Newtonian physics and later quantum physics are mathematical (quantitative).

      To your third point about the Scientific Revolution not being a change to quantities: The Scientific Revolution was a change to the application of mathematics to matter to describe physical laws and systems of laws.

      To your fourth point about the warning not to use science to shore up theology: This is a warning echoed by other Catholic scientists, notably Fr. George Lemaître who warned Pope Pius XII not to cite the Big Bang theory as evidence of a Creator. People today should not rely on scientific theories to provide evidence of or to prove theological truths. The human understanding of the physical world (modern science) is incomplete and provisional, as anyone who has grappled with experimentation and calculation knows, and always will be. What God revealed is certain, and we hold it in faith. We do not need to use scientific theories to prove what God revealed, rather we should see Creation as the Handiwork of God, all of it. Even spiders.

      To your fifth point about the separation of science and religion: Fr. Jaki explained them as an “impassable divide,” like two streams flowing down different sides of a mountain. Theology has its own methods. Science (modern science, mathematical science, physics) has its methods. They cannot be reduced to each other because quantities cannot be reduced to qualities and qualities cannot be reduced to quantities any more than water would flow uphill and over the summit to join a stream on the other side of the mountain. Yes you could fly above the mountain (in a helicopter maybe?), and you could see the unity of the mountain and the streams and see how it fits together, but when you are on the ground doing science or doing theology, no, you cannot use one to shore up the other.

      To your sixth point about unity of truth: Yes. Truth cannot contradict truth.

      My understanding of modern science is admittedly reductionist and modern, but I’m trained as a chemist, and that is how it is. When planning experiments, analyzing data, and reporting conclusions, a scientist thinks in terms of deterministic particle behavior. He or she does not expect to be studying the meaning of life or purpose of it all because purpose and meaning cannot be put on an instrument and measured. I am of the opinion that a Catholic ought to be a thorough materialist. To use my own metaphor, it’s like being a thorough cook because I love my family.

      Kindly,
      Stacy

      1. Hello Stacy,
        I very much appreciate the time you took to respond. Thank you. I have certainly considered the points that you suggested.

        While substances may admit variation of degree, those variations would only be changes in the accidents of particular things, not in substances themselves. We know what the substance of man is no matter what accidental change he may experience. Also, the substance of man itself does not admit any contrariety only the accidents predicated of that substance. There is no sliding scale of humanity. While the accident quantity, abstracted from matter, does not admit variation of degree, its certainty is entirely dependent upon the prior and certain understanding of substance. The priority and certainty of substance are evident in two ways. All creation is caused by God, who understands Himself completely and immaterially without number: “Before the mountains were made, or the earth and the world was formed; from eternity and to eternity thou art God. (Ps 89). From God’s Wisdom the natural world appears, and only then does quantity appear. As a result, it is clear that substance is prior to quantity. In another manner, we see that quantity is entirely dependent on the certain understanding of substance in the created world. We cannot admit that there is ‘one’ of any particular thing without first understanding the nature of that thing, which is its substance. The certainty of quantity is entirely dependent on our certain understanding of substance, which is the immaterial form of the thing.

        Also, if quantity is the only thing we can understand with certainty, then Scholastic Philosophy and Theology are destroyed. The certain knowledge obtained from the Aristotelian demonstration is dependent on the certainty of the premises. This would mean that the education that wise men have always followed throughout time was vain. All of the Doctors of the Church, who studied the liberal arts and utilized the deductive thought gained from those studies in their works of philosophy and theology, would be wrong, and the Church would be wrong in promoting their work. The encyclical of Pope Leo XIII Aeterni Patris would be a direct recommendation that all Catholics follow the wrong course in education.

        Aristotelian physics are deductive and based on classical mathematics, which enjoy the unity and certainty derived from deduction. I’m not using the idea ‘mathematical’ in the same way that you are understanding it. The mathematical sciences of the classical liberal arts are fundamentally different than the way students are instructed in mathematics today. For example, the classical Arithmetic studied by the Scholastics in Boethius’ De Institutione Arithmetica is not like the practical ‘arithmetic’ taught to little children today, consisting of the four operations.

        Yes, your training “reductionist and modern” in which you do not “expect to be studying the meaning of life or purpose of it all” is a problem. As St. Paul writes in Romans 1:20 “For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.” Matter is essentially a potentiality rather than an actuality and the power of a thing to be is “the victory of form over matter”( Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas Aquinas, II, 30, 9.). It is clear that a study of the natural world must utilize deductive reasoning to obtain truth, for a form can be known in itself but matter cannot be known without a form (Summa Theologica., I, 86, 2, ad 1.), exist without a form (ibid., I, 15, 3, ad 3.), and in itself is incompatible with intelligibility (ibid., I, 86, 1, ad 3.) because “the principle of knowing is form.” (Commentary on Metaphysics. St. Thomas Aquinas, VII, 2,1296.). God certainly understands the world immaterially through His own Being. We have the ability, through our immaterial intellect using deductive thought, to consider all of God’s creation in a way that possesses a likeness to God.

        As I wrote in my initial post, when we approach the natural world in the way you are suggesting, we by necessity are cutting out the Creator, who created the natural world for the very reason of drawing us to Him. Also, we reject the path of wisdom followed by wise men throughout time that has been supported and encouraged by the Church constantly. I don’t understand how any Catholic would want to study the world in that way.

        Thank you very much for your time and consideration.
        In Pace Christi,
        Christopher

        1. Christopher,

          “The priority and certainty of substance are evident in two ways. All creation is caused by God…” That is the point. Please refer to the quote from Fr. Jaki about the verb “is” and the limits of “exact science.”

          “Also, if quantity is the only thing we can understand with certainty…” It’s not, and neither Fr. Jaki nor I have said so.

          Read carefully: Because modern science is mathematical (the kind you find when you open, for example, a chemistry or physics text book), modern science cannot say anything about purpose and meaning. Modern science (exact science) is limited (key word, “limited”) to matter and quantities. This in no way implies that a person cannot know God. This in no way denigrates philosophy and theology, rather it shows that science is subordinate to philosophy and theology. Please read the essay above.

          “Yes, your training ‘reductionist and modern’ in which you do not ‘expect to be studying the meaning of life or purpose of it all’ is a problem.” No, the idea that science can answer life’s biggest questions—known as Scientism, an atheistic idea—is a problem.

          “As I wrote in my initial post, when we approach the natural world in the way you are suggesting, we by necessity are cutting out the Creator…” Not at all. Study the biochemical mechanisms involved in the photosynthetic process that leaves flapping in the wind carry out as naturally as we breathe air, and see if you are not amazed at the order and rationality found in Creation.

          Regards,
          Stacy

          1. Hello Stacy,

            The problem is that while isolated quantity can be known exactly, isolated matter cannot. Matter, considered apart from form, is many things at once. The Scholastics and ancients understood that matter is essentially diverse and its study is unable to offer a certain understanding of the world. The application of quantity to matter cannot yield a certain understanding of the material things studied. Isolating the material cause and separating it from the other causes makes it so that you cannot gain ‘scientific’, that is certain, knowledge.

            By observing a natural phenomenon like the ‘photosynthetic process’ that you suggest, only as matter, an individual may subjectively be “amazed at the order and rationality found in Creation”. Others will have a different subjective reaction and not attribute any order or rationality they may observe to God. A deductive understanding of the natural world, in contrast, shows the interpenetrating role of immaterial order at every level of quantitative study. As Cicero suggests in his dialogue On Laws, “This, then, as it appears to me, has been the decision of the wisest philosophers — that law was neither a thing to be contrived by the genius of man, nor established by any decree of the people, but a certain eternal principle, which governs the entire universe, wisely commanding what is right and prohibiting what is wrong. Therefore, they called that aboriginal and supreme law the mind of God…” With this deductive understanding of the natural world, an honest person is compelled to recognize that an immaterial order structures the material world at all levels. With an inductive understanding of the natural world, honest non-believers recognize only a material regularity and think believers are superimposing their faith on phenomena that can be adequately explained without God.

            Catholics can and should do better than this in our study of the natural world. Certainly, there is a role for inductive scientific research, subordinate, as you suggest. However, there has been no progress made by misunderstanding the deductive study of the natural world, and then in misunderstanding, claiming that probabilistic inductive study today is an advance. Why not return to our Catholic intellectual heritage and allow it to enlighten inductive natural study as Pope Leo XIII suggested, “In short, all studies ought to find hope of advancement and promise of assistance in this restoration of philosophic discipline which We have proposed. The arts were wont to draw from philosophy, as from a wise mistress, sound judgment and right method, and from it, also, their spirit, as from the common fount of life. When philosophy stood stainless in honor and wise in judgment, then, as facts and constant experience showed, the liberal arts flourished as never before or since; but, neglected and almost blotted out, they lay prone, since philosophy began to lean to error and join hands with folly. Nor will the physical sciences themselves, which are now in such great repute, and by the renown of so many inventions draw such universal admiration to themselves, suffer detriment, but find very great assistance in the restoration of the ancient philosophy.”

            Thank you,
            Christopher

          2. I don’t know how you took any of this as an argument that philosophy and theology should not be taught. I will bow out, and encourage you to try to understand what Fr. Jaki meant about the birth of science from Christianity in the Middle Ages as you may discover some ideas about how to restore the teaching of ancient philosophy in this modern era.

  4. Stacy, the ultimate conclusion is not easy to absorb without much consideration of all the parts, this is a good start. My brow furrows and I say to myself, “There is something missing”. What part did fear of the gods or god have in preventing people from observing nature without passion. Or did this freedom just incubate. The human relationship to the material of earth and sky became delineated from it’s meaning. I can pick up dirt and there is someone to tell me what it is composed of, what we call the parts but no scientist in that capacity can tell me why it feels so good to touch. It is this psychological view that I hope the great thinker Father Jaki has explained so I can understand it better.

  5. Hello Stacy,

    I have read Fr. Jaki’s “Savior of Science”. I have argued that deductive natural science, which is one part of the unity of learning that is our Catholic heritage, should be primary in our view of the natural world and direct any efforts people may have in exploring the natural world using modern inductive science.

    The division that exists today between natural science and Philosophy and Theology did not grow out of Christianity itself, and further, this division was championed by anti-Catholics during the scientific revolution. Here is an excerpt from the Novum Organum of Francis Bacon that illustrates his desire for Philosophy and Theology to form an isolated (and eventually forgotten) place in society so that the scientists can explain to people how things really are:

    “Be it remembered then that I am far from wishing to interfere with the philosophy which now flourishes , or with any other philosophy more correct and complete than this which has been or may hereafter be propounded. For I do not object to the use of this received philosophy, or others like it, for supplying matter for disputations or ornaments for discourse — for the professor’s lecture and for the business of life. Nay, more, I declare openly that for these uses the philosophy which I bring forward will not be much available. It does not lie in the way. It cannot be caught up in passage. It does not flatter the understanding by conformity with preconceived notions. Nor will it come down to the apprehension of the vulgar except by its utility and effects .

    Let there be therefore (and may it be for the benefit of both) two streams and two dispensations of knowledge, and in like manner two tribes or kindreds of students in philosophy — tribes not hostile or alien to each other, but bound together by mutual services; let there in short be one method for the cultivation, another for the invention, of knowledge.

    And for those who prefer the former, either from hurry or from considerations of business or for want of mental power to take in and embrace the other (which must needs be most men’s case), I wish that they may succeed to their desire in what they are about, and obtain what they are pursuing. But if there be any man who, not content to rest in and use the knowledge which has already been discovered, aspires to penetrate further; to overcome, not an adversary in argument , but nature in action; to seek, not pretty and probable conjectures, but certain and demonstrable knowledge — I invite all such to join themselves, as true sons of knowledge, with me, that passing by the outer courts of nature, which numbers have trodden, we may find a way at length into her inner chambers.”

    Thank you,
    Christopher

  6. Great article, Mrs T! I always believed that the beginning of “modern” science started Abraham/Monotheism. I know it’s a long way back, however with the discovery of the truth of monotheism we were finally travelling the path of non-superstition which was the catalyst and necessary prerequisite for exact science.

  7. Thank you for taking the time to present such an interesting, and important topic.

    Fr. Jaki’s distinction between the quantitative and the qualitative is very helpful for discerning the approach of how to view different aspects of human experience.

    I am getting ahead of myself (and your series) but the key question that I am hoping to gain some insight on is how can we discern the Truth in the qualitative? It seems that individualism and relativism have neatly closed up into separate, little boxes even the desire, if not the possibility, of discerning Truth in the qualitative.

    I look forward to the next installment.

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