Henri Poincaré: Leaving One’s Beliefs at the Door?


poincare artwork by S. Uchii 2

On 29 April 1854, Henri Poincaré (1854–1912) was born at Nancy, France. He has been called the ‘The Last Universalist’ by mathematician Eric Temple Bell (1883–1960) due to numerous contributions in the areas of mechanics, chaos theory, topology and also differential equations.

While working on the three-body problem in classical mechanics, Poincaré discovered that he was able to derive the most important information about the behavior of solutions without having to solve the equation (something which is not always possible). As Poincaré himself wrote “the numerical ‘solution’ of the three-body problem revealed orbits ‘so tangled that I cannot even begin to draw them’,” leading to his recognition as a founder of chaos theory.

Poincaré was raised Roman Catholic and was the brother-in-law of the spiritual philosopher Emile Boutroux (1845–1921). Though he drifted into agnosticism as an adult, Poincaré in ways retained aspects of the religious sensitivities of his youth. N.B. “In 1865, when he was eleven years old, Henri received, together with his cousins Louis and Roger, his First Communion, the sacrament of the Roman Catholic Church… According to his sister, Aline, Henri took this occasion very seriously.”

His later opinions about religion might be summarized by several statements written by Poincaré himself:

“Do not understand this in the sense that I want to prohibit science to religious people, in particular to Roman Catholics. God forbid! I would not be so stupid as to deprive humanity of the services of a Pasteur. There are those who forget their beliefs when they enter a laboratory; as soon as they have their work clothes on, they put a bold face on truth and they have as much critical spirit as anyone else.”

“About the first question [ed: ‘Does science tell us the real nature things?’] nobody hesitates to answer ‘no.’ But I believe one can go further: not only can science not tell us about the nature of things, nothing is able to tell us that, and if some god knew it, he could not find the words to express it. Not only could we not guess the answer, but if one would give it to us, we would not be able to understand it. I even ask myself whether we have a good understanding of the question.”

Robinson, S. “Chaos Theory.” Polytechnic School’s Mathematical Modeling II with Calculus BC.
Verhulst, Ferdinand. Henri Poincaré: Impatient Genius. (New York, NY: Springer Science & Business Media, 2012), 10; 80; 93. Image: Artwork by Soshichi Uchii, 2003.


Stanley L. Jaki – Science as a Pathway to God


Stanley L. Jaki was born in 1924 in Györ, Hungary. He entered the Benedictine Order in 1942. After completing his undergraduate training in philosophy, theology and RoadofScience200mathematics in 1947, he went to the Pontifical Institute of San Anselmo, Rome, where he received a doctorate in theology in December 1950. In 1948 he was ordained a priest. Dr. Jaki held the STD in systematic theology, Istituto Pontificio di S. Anselmo (Rome, 1950), a PhD in physics from Fordham University (1957), and several honorary doctorates. Dr. Jaki gave the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh in 1974-75 and 1975-76. The lectures were published as The Road of Science and the Ways of God. In 1987, he was awarded  the Templeton Prize for furthering understanding of science and religion. Jaki authored more than two dozen books on the relation between modern science and orthodox Christianity.

From 1951, Dr. Jaki taught systematic theology at the School of Theology of St Vincent College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania. During this time, he attended in the same college courses in American history, literature, mathematics and sciences to secure American recognition of his undergraduate training done in Hungary. He received his BS from St Vincent College in 1954. The same year, he began doctoral research in physics in the Graduate School of Fordham University, New York, under the mentorship of the late Dr. Victor F. Hess, the discoverer of cosmic rays and a Nobel-laureate. Dr. Jaki’s thesis was published in the June 1958 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research under the title, “A Study of the Distribution of Radon, Thoron, and Their Decay Products Above and Below the Ground.” Between 1958 and 1960 he did research in the history and philosophy of physics at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley. From 1960 to 1962 he was Visiting Fellow in the Program for the History and Philosophy of Science at Princeton University. From 1962 to 1965 he wrote the important work, The Relevance of Physics (University of Chicago Press, 1966). From 1975 to his death, he was Distinguished University Professor at Seton Hall University, in South Orange, New Jersey. He held doctorates in theology and in physics and was a leading contributor to the philosophy of science and the history of science, particularly to their relationship to Christianity.

He was among the first to claim that Gödel’s incompleteness theorem is relevant for theories of everything (TOE) in theoretical physics. Gödel’s theorem states that any theory that includes certain basic facts of number theory and is computably enumerable will be either incomplete or inconsistent. Since any ‘theory of everything’ must be consistent, it also must be incomplete.

He died on 7 April 2009 in Madrid, Spain following a heart attack. He was in Spain visiting friends, on his way back to the United States after delivering lectures in Rome on Faith and Science at the Pontificio Ateneo Regina Apostolorum.


“Biography: Stanley L. Jaki.”  Gifford Lectures.
“Stanley L. Jaki.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation.

Further recommended reading:
John J. Mulloy. “Fr. Stanley L. Jaki on Science as a Pathway to God.” EWTN.com Article from “The Dawson Newsletter.” Spring 1995. EWTN.com 
John Beaumont. “Does science disprove God? A great philosopher-priest showed that it couldn’t.” CatholicHerald.co.uk. 20 April 2016.
Stacy A. Trasancos. “Fr. Stanley Jaki’s Definition of Science.” IntegratedCatholicLife.org. 8 April 2015.

Gregor Mendel – the Father of Genetics


Gregor Mendel

The title “Father of Genetics” can be attributed to Gregor Mendel in two capacities: he laid the groundwork for the new discipline of Genetics and he was an ordained priest and Augustinian monk – therefore, he was called “Father”, like all priests.

Gregor Johann Mendel was born in Hyncice, Moravia on 20 July 1822 in what is now the Czech Republic. The only son of a peasant farmer, Mendel attended local schools and the Philosophic Institute at Olomouc. In 1843, he entered the Augustinian Order at St. Thomas Monastery in Brno (German: Brünn) and began his theological studies at the Brünn Theological College. He was ordained to the priesthood on 6 August 1847.

The Augustinians had been established in Moravia since 1350, and St. Thomas Monastery was a center of creative interest in the sciences and culture. Its members included well-known philosophers, a musicologist, mathematicians, mineralogists and botanists who were heavily engaged in scientific research and teaching. The library contained precious manuscripts and incunabula, as well as textbooks dealing with problems in the natural sciences. The monastery also held a mineralogical collection, an experimental botanical garden and a herbarium. It was in this atmosphere, Mendel later wrote, that his preference for the natural sciences was developed.

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Xu “Paul” Guangqi


Xu “Paul” Guangqi, the scientist. Photo: Jeremy Clarke

Xu “Paul” Guangqi (24 April 1562–08 November 1633) was a Chinese theologian, governor, astronomer, agricultural scientist, and mathematician. A friend of the Jesuit missionary Fr. Matteo Ricci, S.J. (1552–1610), Guangqi is known for having written “Nong Zheng Quan Shu,” an extended scientific treatise on agriculture. He also translated Confucian texts into Latin and co-wrote a Chinese translation and commentary of parts of Euclid’s “Elements” with Fr. Matteo Ricci.

The European approach to astronomy and the calendar scored a major success shortly after Father Ricci died when it accurately predicted the eclipse of 15 December 1610. Another eclipse was predicted for 1629 and a competition was held by the Chinese government to determine who could give the most accurate prediction of its timing. Three different predictions were made, one by the Da Tong traditional Chinese school, one by the Islamic calendar school, and one by the New Method School led by Xu Guang-qi which used European methods. The most accurate prediction for the eclipse of 21 June 1629 was made by Xu Guang-qi and the emperor then appointed him take charge of calendar reform. Four European Jesuits assisted Xu Guang-qi but the reform process had not been completed on his death in 1633. The reform finally failed in 1644 at the end of the Mang dynasty due to internal and external conflicts.

Guangqi is known as one of the “Three Pillars of Chinese Catholicism.” He is currently “Servant of God” in the ongoing canonization cause from the Archdiocese of Shanghai.

In 1596, Xu encountered Catholicism for the first time, but he received baptism only at the end of 1603. He had thus studied and seriously researched this doctrine for a full seven years. He arrived at the conclusion that the Christianity preached by the Western missionaries was not contrary to Confucianism, rather, it only added that which is missing from it. While studying Christian doctrine in depth, he produced a brief written summary:

“To place the service of God in the centre; to concern oneself with the salvation of the soul and the body; to attempt the way of filial piety and charity; to convert from one’s own sins and to aspire to sanctity in order to enter the gates of Heaven; to make penance and the purification of vices the heart of ascetic life; to aspire to paradise as the reward for good deeds; to be aware that eternal damnation will be the inferno for impenitent sinners. All of these teachings are part of a fundamental truth regarding Heaven and humanity. These teachings can render men [sic] more brotherly and sincere, and stimulate to the highest degree their commitment to eradicating evil from their existence. The salvation that comes from the Lord is a great grace: the doctrine concerning the reward for goodness and the punishment for evil is demonstrated in a very clear way, it is capable of touching the deepest part of the heart. This doctrine moves men to fear and the sincere faith that is born from the depth of conscience.”

xu guangqi.png

— Jin Luxian, Aloysius (金魯賢). “In Praise of Xu Guangqi 徐光啓.” Trans. Jeremy Clarke. Chinese Heritage Quartery. 23 (2010): pp.1-
J J O’Connor and E F Robertson. Xu Guangqi.
—  Benjamin A. Elman. On Their Own Terms – Science in China, 1550-1900. Harvard University Press 2005, p. 91-94
Images: https://www.maa.org/sites/default/files/images/upload_library/46/Swetz_2012_Math_Treasures/Euclid-China/Image-3.png

Georg Ohm


Georg Simon Ohm (16 March 1789– 06 July 1854) was a German physicist known for his statement of Ohm’s law (V=IR, voltage equals current times resistance) and its related forms. He was also credited with Ohm’s phase law in acoustics.

And he was a man of faith:

“In 1849, Ohm published Beiträge zur Molecular-Physik, (in English: Molecular Physics). In the preface of this work he stated he hoped to write a second and third volume ‘and if God gives me length of days for it, a fourth.’ However, on finding that an original discovery recorded in it was being anticipated by a Swedish scientist he did not publish it, stating: ‘The episode has given a fresh and deep sense for my mind to the saying “Man proposes, and God disposes.” The project that gave the first impetus to my inquiry has been dissipated into mist, and a new one, undesigned by me, has been accomplished in its place.’ He died in Munich in 1854, and is buried in the Alter Südfriedhof. A collection of his family letters would be compiled in a German book, which shows that he used to sign some of his letters with the expression ‘Gott befohlen, G S Ohm,’ meaning ‘Commended to God.’”

The Renaissance Mathematicus tells the story of Georg and his brother Martin:

“This is the story of two brothers born into the working class in a small town in Germany in the late eighteenth century. Both of them were recognised as mathematically gifted whilst still teenagers and went on to study mathematics at university. The younger brother was diligent and studious and completed his doctorate in mathematics with a good grade. There followed a series of good teaching jobs before he obtained a lectureship at the then leading university of Berlin, ten years after graduating. In due course, there followed positions as associate and the full professor. As professor he contributed some small but important proofs to the maths cannon, graduated an impressive list of doctoral students and developed an interesting approach to maths textbooks. He became a respected and acknowledged member of the German mathematical community.”

“Georg Ohm.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
Christie, Thony. “Ohm Sweet Ohm.” The Renaissance Mathematicus. 6 May 2015.
Image: Detail – The first record of Ohm’s law in Georg Simon Ohm’s lab book, today at the archives of the Deutsches Museum (wikipedia).

National Insect Week 20-26 June 2016


In order to celebrate this week as your “National” Insect Week, you need to be located in Great Britain [1], but the entomologists –  “who happened to be Catholic” – featured in this slideshow  from our colleagues at Catholic Lab (on twitter: @catholiclab) come from different countries.

Here is more about Agostini Bassi, the “Father of Insect Pathology; Pierre André Latreille, a priest during the French Revolution who discovered a rare beetle and came free from prison; Jean-Henri Fabre who influenced Charles Darwin and who remained skeptical to Darwin’s theory of evolution;  Henri Mouhot who travelled South East Asia dedicated to the study of Natural Sciences; Johann Dzierzon, a Catholic priest and discoverer of parthenogenesis (asexual reproduction without fertilization) in bees; Erich Wasmann, SJ, who studied ants and termites and was a promoter of Catholic acceptance of evolution;  Thomas Borgmeier, a Franciscan priest working in Brazil, and Karl Kehrle, also known as ‘Brother Adam’, a Benedictine monk, beekeeper and developer of the ‘Buckfast bee’.


[1] National Insect Week 2016

Eduard Heis, Astronomer for God’s glory


imagesEduard Heis (18 Feb 1806–30 June 1877), a mathematician and astronomer, was the first to record a count of the Perseid meteor shower in 1839, which has been recorded yearly ever since. Heis published a significant number of astronomical treatises, including “De Magnitudine” (1852), and “Sternschnuppen-Beobachtungen” (1875), among others. The most important one is Atlas Coelestis Novus (1872, dedicated to Pope Pius IX): here, Heis described 5,421 stars visible to the naked eye and classified according to their light intensity, seen in Central Europe and caredfully catalogued.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia (1910):

“Shortly before his death he prepared the design of the Scriptural and symbolical constellations (Orion, Ursa, Pieces, Virgo, Crux) for the ceiling of the choir in the cathedral of Münster. Heis was an excellent teacher, a fatherly friend to his students, charitable to his neighbour, especially the poor, and an exemplary husband and father. During the I Vatican Council and the Kulturkampf he stood faithfully by the Church. In 1869 as rector he offered the jubilee congratulations of the Academy of Münster to Pius IX, and in 1872 he received from the same pontiff a precious medal with a Latin Brief for the Atlas Coelestis which he had dedicated to the pope through Father Secchi. Heis died of apoplexy, three months before his golden jubilee as teacher. He had his own tombstone prepared in the proportions of the ‘golden section,’ with the symbol of the dove and olive-branch from the catacombs.”

Time-lapse video the 2016 Perseid meteor shower in Noble Canyon, California (youtube account: slworking2@: http://www.youtube.com/user/slworking2)