Tuesday, 14 April 2009

From the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

Stanley L. JAKI (1924 – 2009)

‘Give them eternal rest, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine on them for ever’

Dear Academician,
It is with deep sorrow and great sadness that we have to inform the Academic body of the death of Stanley L. Jaki on 8 April 2009.
Born in Györ, Hungary, on 17 August 1924, he became a Catholic priest of the Benedictine Order and was appointed Pontifical Academician on 5 September 1990. Of considerable importance is his application of Gödel’s theorems, first in The Relevance of Physics (1967) and, much more thematically, in God and the Cosmologists (1980), to physical theories that aim at fundamental completeness. Such theories are systems of elementary particles, unified field theories, and comprehensive cosmological models. Prof. Jaki maintained that these theories were heavily, and at times esoterically, mathematical and should embody a far from trivial system of arithmetic, therefore they were subject to the limitations set by Gödel’s theorems in the sense that they could not have proof of consistency within themselves. This would seem to undermine claims of a final physical theory having been formulated although not proven. Prof. Jaki wrote that, “if physics has a built-in incompleteness, reductionist and scientistic claims should be all the more suspect. This incompleteness of physics further supports what is known also as the contingency of all material beings, including their totality, the universe. The philosophy of science has indeed a theistic edge, although this by itself does not relate to the practice of the scientific method. Only when a scientific methodology is constructed which is either materialistic or agnostic would possible harmful precepts emerge for that practice. The history of science shows that all great creative advances in at least the physical sciences were made in terms of an epistemology which also underlies the classical proofs of the existence of God”. These two themes were given a detailed presentation in Prof. Jaki’s Gifford Lectures, The Road of Science and the Ways to God. Prof. Jaki also believed that historically, this theistic perspective of science emerged from what he called the repeated stillbirths and the only viable birth of science. The former occurred in all great ancient cultures, whereas the latter is intimately tied to medieval Christianity. It was Christianity, and especially its dogma about the divinity of the Incarnate Logos, that gave a special strength to the biblical notion of a coherent universe, fully ordered in all its parts, an idea indispensable to the emergence of Newtonian science. All these themes were set forth in his Science and Creation and The Savior of Science books.
The commemoration of Prof. Stanley L. Jaki will take place during the next Plenary Session (2010).
We invite all Academicians to remember our beloved colleague and friend in their thoughts and keep Fr. Jaki in your prayers this Holy Week. The memory of his valuable contribution to the growth of the Academy will always be cherished,
Yours sincerely,

+ Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo


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