Fr. Stanley Jaki on the Rationality of the Universe

‘To what has already been said about Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Planck, and Einstein, or rather about the manner in which they pressed forward toward their great discoveries and held fast to them, one could add many other examples, each a rebuttal of the empiricist slighting of the mind. Unlike two generations ago, it is no longer without risk to present Oersted, Faraday, Helmholtz, Clausius, Maxwell and Hertz as discoverers going about their business in an empiricist fashion. Enough is known about the puzzlement of such professedly nonmetaphysicist physicists, like Bohr, Born, Heisenberg , and Dirac, to permit one to shrug off the empiricists’ interpretation of twentieth-century physics – which also has on its roster Schrodinger, de Broglie, Compton, and others whose votes were never cast in favor of empiricism. All these great figures of exact science gave the lie, if not with their words at least with their deeds, to an empiricism restricting the reach of the mind to what is directly observable. Whether they peered into the realm of the very small or the very large, they were led by the conviction that greater than what is seen through the instrument is the act of looking through it. It was their confidence in the act of looking, in which the sensory reveals the rationality of its objectivity, that made them follow a Copernicus in reaching out for the vistas of a coherent universe, a target which empiricism cannot secure. Like Copernicus, they had fear only of those willing to use but their physical eyes. Theirs had always been that assurance about the ability of the mind to find an ever-deeper rationality in the physical universe which can be felt on every page of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus – an assurance they had to have if they were to succeed in unfolding that deeper rationality. Its objectivity was one side of a coin and the other side was their personal commitment to it. Separated from the physical universe, that commitment would turn into a mere urge; without that commitment the physical realm could never appear a universe, that is, a totality of coherent things and processes. (Stanley Jaki, ‘The Roads of Science and the Ways to God,’ p. 249)

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