Order out of Chaos: Resonance between Theology & Experimentation

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On 28 May 2003, Ilya Prigogine (1917–2003) died. A Russian-born physical chemist, he won the 1977 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on “the theory of dissipative structures.”

His best known work is perhaps the “Theorem of Mimimum Entropy Production” (1945). This theorem states that at local equilibria, the rate of entropy production (P) is a minimum defined by the second derivative, δS², a Lyapunov function.

His book Order out of Chaos: Man’s New Dialogue with Nature (1984), co-authored with Isabelle Stengers (b. 1949), included some reflections on the convergence of theological and scientific thought regarding the mechanistic universe:

At the origin of modern science, a ‘resonance’ appears to have been set up between theological discourse and theoretical and experimental activity—a resonance that was no doubt likely to amplify and consolidate the claim that scientists were in the process of discovering the secret of the ‘great machine of the universe.’ Of course, the term resonance covers an extremely complex problem. It is not our intention to state, nor are we in any position to affirm, that religious discourse in any way determined the birth of theoretical science, or of the ‘world view’ that happened to develop in conjunction with experimental activity…

3263887“It must now be stressed that scientific discourse is in no way a mere transposition of traditional religious views. Obviously the world described by classical physics is not the world of Genesis, in which God created light, heaven, earth, and the living species, the world where Providence has never ceased to act, spurring man on toward a history where his salvation is at stake. The world of classical physics is an atemporal world which, if created, must have been created in one fell swoop, somewhat as an engineer creates a robot before letting it function alone. In this sense, physics has indeed developed in opposition to both religion and the traditional philosophies.

“And yet we know that the Christian God was actually called upon to provide a basis for the world’s intelligibility. In fact, one can speak here of a kind of ‘convergence’ between the interests of theologians, who held that the world had to acknowledge God’s omnipotence by its total submission to Him, and of physicists seeking a world of mathematizable processes.

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John Herschel: To Believe in The Spirit of Physical Law

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On 11 May 1871, John Herschel (1792–1871) passed away in Kent, England. The son of William Herschel (1738–1822) and Mary Baldwin Herschel, he was an astronomer, chemist, botanist, mathematician and inventor who helped develop photography.

One source noted: “John Herschel believed that his scientific discoveries confirmed the existence of a loving creator God.”

A passage from A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1880):

“This use of the word law, however our readers will of course perceive has relation to us as understanding, rather than to the materials of which the universe consists, as obeying certain rules. To obey a law, to act in compliance with a rule, supposes an understanding and a will, a power of complying or not, in the being who obeys and complies, which we do not admit as belonging to mere matter. The Divine Author of the universe cannot be supposed to have laid down particular laws, enumerating all individual contingencies, which his materials have understood and obey,— this would be to attribute to him the imperfections of human legislation; Rather, by creating them endued with certain fixed qualities and powers, he has impressed them in their origin with the spirit, not the letter, of His law, and made all their subsequent combinations and relations inevitable consequences of this first impression, by which, however, we would no way be understood to deny the constant exercise of his direct power in maintaining the system of nature, or the ultimate emanation of every energy which material agents exert from his immediate will, acting in conformity with his own laws…

herschel“Now, when we see a great number of things precisely alike, we do not believe this similarity to have originated except from a common principle independent of them ; and that we recognize this likeness, chiefly by the identity of their deportment under similar circumstances, strengthens rather than weakens the conclusion. A line of spinning-jennies, or a regiment of soldiers dressed exactly alike, and going through precisely the same evolutions, gives us no idea of independent existence: we must see them act out of concert before we can believe them to have independent wills and properties not impressed on them from without. And this conclusion, which would be strong even were there only two individuals precisely alike in all respects and for ever, acquires irresistible force when their number is multiplied beyond the power of imagination to conceive. If we mistake not, then, the discoveries alluded to effectually destroy the idea of an eternal self-consistent matter, by giving to each of its atoms the essential characters, at once, of a manufactured article, and a subordinate agent.”

Referenced:
Lamont, Ann. “Great Creation Scientists: Sir William Herschel (1738–1822): Founder of Modern Stellar Astronomy.” AnswersInGenesis.com. 1 Jun 2000.
Herschel, John. A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy. (London: 1831), 37. Image: Portrait (1829), by Alfred Edward Chalon (1780–1860).

Carl Friedrich Gauss: Enchanted by God’s Mathematics

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On 20 April 1777, Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855) was born in Brunswick, Germany.

While a student at Göttingen, he had found that he could apply Fermat’s prime number theorem (for powers of 2) to the geometrical construction of a regular polygon by a compass and straightedge. The solution had addressed an issue in geometry known to Ancient Greek mathematicians and led Gauss to choose mathematics over languages for his concentration. Numerous theorems are credited to Gauss (wikipedia lists over 60 original topics, 12 proofs, 5 identities, and 6 conjectures named for him).

An account of the last days of Gauss was recorded by Wilhelm Baum (1799–1883) in a letter to Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859):

“The last days of his life were often very painful owing to the aggravated complaint of dropsy, which the hypertrophy of his heart produced – but still he always maintained his freedom and greatness of spirit, the strongest conviction of his personal permanence, the firmest hope in the still deeper intelligent insight into the number-relationships, which God places in matter and which he would perhaps be able to recognize in the intensive magnitudes, for he used to say: ὁ θεὸς ἀριθμητίζει [Trans: God arithmetizes].”

Referenced: – “Carl Friedrich Gauss.”“List of things named after Carl Friedrich Gauss.” Wikipedia.—Ferreirós, José. “Ὁ Θεὸς Ἀριθμητίζει: The Rise of Pure Mathematics as Arithmetic with Gauss.” in The Shaping of Arithmetic after C.F. Gauss’s ‘Disquisitiones Arithmeticae’. Eds. Catherine Goldstein, Norbert Schappacher, and Joachim Schwermer. (New York, NY: Springer Science & Business Media, 2007), 236. Image online.

Derek H. R. Barton: Establishing God as Truth

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barton 2.pngOn 16 March 1998, Derek Harold Richard Barton (1918–1998) passed away in College Station, TX. Educated at Imperial College London (PhD, 1942), he was co-awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Odd Hassel (1897–1981) “for their contributions to the development of the concept of conformation and its application in chemistry.” He was also known for the reactions named the Barton reaction, Barton decarboxylation, Barton–McCombie deoxygenation and Barton–Zard synthesis.

The book Cosmos, Bios, Theos (Open Court, 1992) provided some of Prof Barton’s responses to questions on scientific research and his theological views.

When scientists make numerous repeatable experiments or observations, they establish truth. Religion seldom wishes to make experiments and the truth that is accepted is often divine intervention of God in the affairs of man. However, what is written is written by man, with the liability of human frailty. The observations and experiments of science are so wonderful that the truth that they establish can surely be accepted as another manifestation of God. God shows himself by allowing man to establish truth …

“There is evidence that at one point in time the universe that we observe today was compressed into a point which exploded. Why not? But the matter of the universe had an infinite existence before this happened and will have an infinite future. God may well choose to redistribute matter and energy from time to time.”

“As I have already stated, God is Truth. But does God really have anything to do with man? Certainly I cannot believe that God accepts only one religion, or one sect, as the only group authorized to speak for man. I would believe that God accepts all, even those who pretend not to believe. Morality and religion interact and much beneficial human behavior results from this interaction.”

Referenced:
Margenau, Henry, and Roy Abraham Varghese. Cosmos, Bios, Theos: Scientists Reflect on Science, God, and the Origins of the Universe, Life, and Homo Sapiens. (Chicago and La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing, 1992), 145, 147.
Image modified from: © Science.TAMU.edu.

Stanley L. Jaki – Science as a Pathway to God

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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.

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Referenced:
“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.

The god of the Astronomers and the true God

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In a recent article on Catholic Link, Mauricio Artiedo writes:

The god of the Astronomers

This god is as beautiful as the moon. His followers contemplate him with admiration and respect, especially at night, perhaps with a sincere prayer before sleep, but after that his presence in their daily lives is merely decorative. And it is not that these faithful men do not believe in him. It is not that they do not know that he incarnated and gave his life to redeem us from sin. They also know about the moon and have the certainty that some gravitational factors that allow life on Earth depend on her. That is not the problem. The point is that the god of the astronomers does not come down, he does not become concrete, nor does he get involved in the lives of others, and his mysteries belong to the past.

These believers are a very particular and sad race: they believe they have been redeemed, but they do not live as redeemed people; they believe they are loved, but they do not feel loved; they believe that the Eucharist is the body of the Living God, but in practice, he is dead.

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