Stanley Jaki on the Copenhagen Theory

‘Whatever the distance of human passions from atomic physics, the real question was whether one’s epistemological attitude was truly general, that is, consistent or not. The impression Bohr gave was that one was to have two kinds of epistemology, one for atomic phenomena, another for everything else, but it was still to be explained whether the understanding, or episteme, could be split in two. On this decisive point Bohr gave at best an impression which was vague and superficial. Staying with superficial impressions means staying on the surface, and this in turn implies the avoidance of deep questions. Typically enough, Bohr completed the final review of his epistemological conflict with Einstein with the remark that “through a singularly fruitful cooperation of a whole generation of physicists we are nearing the goal wheere logical order to a large extent allows us to avoid deep truth.” The most obvious of such deep truths should have been for Bohr the truth of the complementarity of matter and light, waves and particles, atomic stability and indeterminacy. The truth that they were complementary to one another was not a matter of observation, but an inference, and a genuinely metaphysical one, which had no justification in the Copenhagen theory. The truth in question was about the truth of a reality which had complementary aspects. These aspects could really complement one another only if they inhered in a deeper reality, about which Bohr could only be agnostic. A harmony of relations or aspects, complementing one another, such was Bohr’s epistemological message, a message void of reference to the ontological reality of anything harmonious. About the entity which embodied the harmony of relations he was not permitted by his own premises to make any claim and he carefully avoided doing so. In a truly pragmatist way, which he learned from Hoffding, a forerunner of William James, Bohr could speak of fruits, though not of their harmny (which is never a matter of direct observation) and certainly not of the tree which produced the fruits, to say nothing of the soil which supported and nourished the tree. For Bohr the deepest aspect of existence was pragmatic fruitfulness, the rather shallow perspective in which he saw physics itself: “Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of the present position of physics is that almost all the ideas which have ever proved to be fruitful in the investigating of nature have found their right place in a common harmony without thereby having diminished their fruitfulness.”

As will be seen shortly, this was not even true of quantum mechanics, a fact which should surprise no one. The really creative elements of quantum mechanics are not the data observed by physicists bu the marvelous ideas formed in their heads. Of those heads few were as impressive as that of Bohr, who for many was a twentieth-century Moses with two flaming horns on his forehead. The horns were the horns of complementarity, but as interpreted by Bohr they could not secure reality to the atomic realm, to say nothing of Moses or Bohr himself. Bohr’s pairs of complementarity resembled pairs of horns from which one could not even infer unambiguously that they were rooted in the same head and thereby truly complementary or that the head itself was real, and even more fundamentally real than the horns themselves.’ (Stanley Jaki, ‘The Road of Science and he Ways to God’, p. 205-206)

Stanley Jaki on Kant and the Ontological Argument

‘Kant’s criticism of it [the ontological argument] shows him both a poorly informed and a poorly reasoning philosopher. If not from Scotus ( a paradigm of obscurantism in Kant’s time), at least from Leibniz he might easily have learned that the weakness of the ontological argument , in which he saw the basis of the cosmological, is not in its major premise – if God (perfect being) is possible, he exists – but in its minor – but God is possible. The latter can be securely asserted only if the existence of God has already been established a posteriori. Kant’s two objections to the ontological argument show him a poor reasoner. They are based on his failure to perceive the conceptual difference between infinite and finite being. Concerning the latter, be it Kant’s hundred thalers or the perfect island of Gaunilo (Anslem’s first critic), the existence of a thing is wholly extrinsic to the concept of it, but not in the case of an infinite, that is, infinitely perfect being.

The poor reasoner in Kant is once more revealed by his objection to the cosmological argument on the ground that it rests on the ontological. He overlooked the fact that the existence of a necessary being has been proved from the existence of things not necessary by the time the argument turns to the infinite perfection of that necessary being.’ (Stanley Jaki, ‘The Road of Science and the Ways to God’, p. 121)

Stanley Jaki on the Starting Point of Science

‘Since science is divested of its nature when it ceases to be about nature, it is but logical to start with the facts of nature in staking out the epistemological phases of the road to discovery. The most immediate feature of those facts is their complexity, a complexity, however, that is far from chaotic. Regularities in those facts are obvious even to a cursory look, but so are departures from them. It is these departures or anomalies that spark curiosity in the mind, a feature which is mysterious only to those who are busy with the task of clearing up the process of understanding without admitting their curiosity about the task itself. Curiosity is not an automatic reaction, and much less automatic is the urge to look for ever more meaningful curiosa presented by nature. Such a look involves a patient sorting-out process, which in turn implies the isolation of special factors operative in nature, giving rise to more specialized or abstractive notions of it. The interrelation of those factors into sets and the integration of the sets themselves are further steps along the road to discovery of so-called laws, which are obtained when a complete generalization is achieved in the act of induction.’ (Stanley Jaki, ‘The Road of Science and the Ways to God’, p. 252-253)

Jaki on Science

‘It is a fundamental shortcoming of science that on its exact and formal level it gives the appearance of being severed from that reality which is a vast network of events standing in causal relation. Yet, while science may and should appear in that sense severed from reality, science becomes an illusion if that appearance is declared to be real.’ (Stanley Jaki, ‘The Road of Science and the Ways to God’, p. 275)

Stanley Jaki on Hume

‘Starting with a dark mystery, Hume went on stumbling from mystery to mystery, because he had radically separated at the very outset sense from mind and mind from sense. The rise of sensory impressions become one unfathomable mystery, the assocation of impressions another. By ascribing it to some “gentle force” to an instinctive inclination, Hume only made the mystery more mysterious. More mystery arose when Hume tried to reduce that instinct to the “original qualities” of mind. The mystery was now so dense that Hume did not even pretend to “explain that origin”. But Hume could have even that thick mystery only at the price of evoking a vision of mind as a substance capable of having qualities. A little honest reflection on Hume’s part might have shown him that man’s experience of having a mind consists precisely in experiencing a peculiar unity which gives them intelligibility and order. Instead, Hume ended up advocating a notion of mind which in his description could easily evoke the image of a heap of bricks. To assume that the heap formed through some all-pervading mortar a genuine unity was an illusion: “What we call a mind, is nothing byt a heap of collection of different perceptions, united together by certain relations and supposed, though falsely, to be endowed with a perfect simplicity and identity.” (Stanley Jaki, ‘The Road of Science and the Ways to God’, p. 104)

Science and Theology


The relationship between science and theology is an interesting one. For starters, I fully reject any notion of incompatibility between the two – the mythical ‘faith versus reason’ conflict is simply a bankrupt idea. Indeed, if historians of science such as Stanley Jaki are to be believed, science could have only come about in a Christian climate. This is a thesis he develops with incredible rigor in his book ‘The Roads of Science and the Ways to God’.

Contrary to the wishful thinking of those who desire to posit a bloody conflict between science and faith, I think the two share some similarities. Theology and science both seek to come to conclusions based on data – science about the physical world, theology about God (theology literally means the study of God). Now, I’m obviously not putting God on the same level as any other physical object – God is most definitely not merely one subject to be studied among many others. Indeed I would say that God is what makes the study of anything possible. But we are given data (in a sense) about God in the sense that the Holy Scriptures tell us things about God. We can come to conclusions based on the data we have received as well as our experience.

When we ask questions such as ‘what is the nature of the atonement’ or ‘what is the nature of the Trinity’ or any theological questions like that, we are to an extent engaging in a scientific theology. We are trying to come to conclusions based on the data we have that we have studied.

There are differences, of course, between the empirical sciences and theology. Theology is by nature a personal enterprise – it’s very subject matter is personal, and as such the discipline of theology must be pursued in a personal way. One cannot engage in theology otherwise.

‘A theologian is one who prays, and one who prays is a theologian.’

– Evagrius of Pontus

Blaise Pascal wisely pointed out that if any kind of theological or spiritual study is undertaken, it must be done first and foremost in a personal way – one must seek with the whole of the heart, soul and mind. Theology cannot be a detatched discipline – apart from union with Christ theology cannot happen. Apart from the guidance of the Holy Spirit, theology cannot happen. Though theology can be an methodical academic endeavor, it remains at its heart a personal, worshipful science.