Friday, December 29, 2006

Best Books of 2006: Science

This past year has seen a rekindling of my old love for science, spurred on in part by a gift of Stanley Jaki's book The Savior of Science (an ordination gift) and by a series of talks that I have been giving to a group of secular priests and church musicians on the relation of music and morality. Music, morality and science? you say...Well, the full explanation will have to wait for my book, if God should will that I finish it. In any case, this exposure to Fr. Jaki's work induced me to check out another from his extensive oeuvre.

Unfortunately, The Relevance of Physics, is out of print, notwithstanding the urgency of its title. I thought it a far stronger effort than Savior, inasmuch as he spends a great deal of time in this long book analyzing the actual arguments and experiments of real physicists (he has been rightly criticized, I think, for skimping on this detail in his later and more ambitious books). Significantly, here he is just as tough on theologians who scoff at science as he is on scientists who thumb their noses at metaphysics and theology.

If I could distill the main theses of this excellent book, they would be:
1) The relevance of physics has to do with the fact that any metaphysic should not contradict the surest data of experimental physics.
2) There is no final theory of the physical world that explains everything.
3) We need metaphysical disciplines: morality, ethics, principles of objectivity and sympathy, in order to avoid applying the results of experimental physics improperly, either outside of its proper domain or by holding to theories clearly contradicted by evidence (the best example here is the legion of respected scientists who held to the incredible thesis of the ether, even when ether would need to possess physical properties that were completely absurd and outside of any observable properties of known elements).

As I mentioned, Jaki, a Benedictine, has written a huge amount of books on many topics. He is always an engaging writer: never a dull sentence! If you can't find The Relevance of Physics and this sort of thing interests you, his other works on the history of science and theology should be provocative for you at the very least. His more recent works probably won't convince those who wouldn't already be inclined to agree with his Christian apologetic, but they will inform you and make you think differently none the less.

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may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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