The book by Manuel María Carreira, SJ, and Julio A. Gonzalo, is a fascinating survey of the intellectual deviation of one of our great scientists, highly publicized, Steve Hawking. The subject is particularly sensitive because of the fascination which from eternity, stars and the universe in general operates on humanity. This goes as far as the Babylonians or Chinese of the same period. We know what scientific impact had on the study of planetary orbits in particular in the work of Newton, the great predecessor of Hawking at Cambridge. To understand this deviation, we must go back to the tragedy that occurred in the 19th century with the Naturphilosophie, high priests were Hegel and Schelling. The divorce between philosophy and science had been consumed by then. As a new Descartes who asked the entire Europe to communicate scientific results available to him so that he could interpret them in the light of the subjectivity born from his cogito, Hegel created a science only submitted to his dialectic which was highly unscientific. Whether the supporters of the German Naturphilosophie have dedicated to public obloquy Science, to recall the own words of Schelling “The method of experimental physics is worthless and futile, false in its principles, and is an inevitable and eternal source of errors”, it was obnoxious to separate science from philosophy.
Speaking of the scientific incompetence of Schelling and Hegel, Gauss could not help asking the astronomer Schumacher “their definitions, do not make your hair stand on end?”. Helmholtz in 1862, summed up the crisis that started: “The philosophers accused the scientific men of narrowness; the scientific men retorted that the philosophers were crazy. And so it came about that men of science began to lay some stress on the banishment of all philosophical influence from their work; while some of them including men of the greatest acuteness went so far as to condemn philosophy altogether, not merely only as useless but as mischievous dreaming. Thus it must be confessed not only were the illegitimate pretensions of the Hegelian system to subordinate to itself all other studies rejected, but no regard was paid to the rightful claims of philosophy, that is, the criterion of the sources of cognition and definitions of the functions of the intellect”.
The wealth of discoveries in physics led the mathematician Harnack to say in a conference in Berlin in the late 19th century “People complain that our generation does not have any more philosophers. It's true: it's just that the philosophers of our time are in another department and their names are Planck and Einstein “while Heisenberg advised the young Weisäcker who planned to do philosophy. “Nobody can go anywhere whatsoever in philosophy today without knowing something in contemporary physics”.
It is not surprising that it was mathematicians who founded the philosophy which underlies contemporary thought. Whether Husserl, who defended a thesis in mathematics with one of the greatest master in this discipline, Weierstrass, or Whitehead who was with Russell the writer of the Principia Mathematica, a logical compendium of the whole mathematical science, hoping to base permanently this science on intangible bases. The imperia of mathematics, on which contemporary thought Gian-Carlo Rota highlighted the pernicious influence in philosophy, will obviously be reflected in the thinking of Hawking who is basically a mathematician who describes phenomena related to stars. Black holes as evidenced with another mathematician R.Penrose – he who created the famous pavement which is grist to the mill to Gödel’s theorem - are in fact singularities of solutions of differential equations!
To have everyone agree, we can only mention Etienne Gilson (1884-1978) “Nothing beats the scientific ignorance of philosophers to that, in parallel, of scientists in the field of philosophy”.
The settling of accounts vis-à-vis the Catholic Church relies on biased data on Galileo's trial, which was publicized mainly in the 19th century -not to mention the sentence falsely attributed to Galileo by Bertolt Brecht “and yet it turns!” - Nowadays, the case « Giordano Bruno » is more trendy…It is fascinating how an itinerant true pathology who never ceased to be kicked out of the various kingdoms of his time because of intellectual dementia is turned to a matyrdom because of Church obscurantism !
The position of the Church is founded on realism. G. Chesterton said that only she could retain a strong sense of reality that lacked much in view of the contemporary intellectual pollution. This is what has been claimed since Cardinal Barbieri asked Galileo if he could say that his assumptions were the only ones that could account for observed phenomena, to Blessed Pope John Paul II pointing out that science is only a model of reality and cannot be exhausted.
Thus this contemporary crisis is fundamentally materialistic and has its roots in the defection of a realist philosophy vis-à-vis the spectacular results of modern science. Even Phenomenology, which is the least toxic of the modern philosophic thinking is not interested in the being as such but in the way the being is grasped. Definitely, this is not realism. The least materialist among nowadays scientists we can meet would be for example Einstein - but only at the end of his life…- who was, for the better, “a spinozist of the becoming” to use another phrase of Etienne Gilson. No wonder that a Creator subtly emerging from contemporary astrophysics would turn crazy materialists of any kind, Hawking first. Disappearance of Carl Sagan in further editions of the best seller “A brief history of time” is also to be pointed out: before he died in December 1996, he confessed his belief in God turning away from the materialist vision he expressed in the foreword of S. Hawking’s book.
In conclusion, the book by Manuel María Carreira, SJ, and Julio A. Gonzalo, brings in the field of astrophysics an important diagnostic on how these contemporary mental illnesses are no longer able to distinguish the real from its scientific modeling or even the metaphysics which they insinuate. To explain to the lay man what is being made in laboratories without making a wolf in sheep clothing is a challenge. A real makeover for the goodwill reader.
Professor Jacques Vauthier
Some contemporary scientists do not care about the principle of energy conservation and say seriously that the universe comes out of nothing. Of course Planck, Einstein and Lemaitre would disagree. But they do not seem to worry in the least. This is a clear proof that nowadays nonsequiturs are easily accepted in academic circles as most serious scientific statements.
After an introduction in which the authors review high level presentations at the 1993 Summer Course in El Escorial in which two future Nobel Prize winners, John C. Mather and George F. Smoot were principal speakers, this book puts into perspective the views of Stephen Hawking, from his presentation at the Vatican Study Week on Astrophysical Cosmology (1981), his book “A brief history of time”, (1988), his lecture on “Gödel and the end of physics” (2002), and his latest book “The Grand Design” (2010).
Chapters on the origin of science in the Christian West, the Post-Renaissance Revolution and the true pioneers of Modern Physics follow. A concluding chapter reviews briefly the evidence for a finite, open and contingent universe, and an illuminating Appendix on “The Chaos of Scientific Cosmology”, by the late historian and philosopher of science Fr. Stanley L. Jaki, recently deceased, completes the book.
In summary, pretending that “Everything coming out of nothing” is a realistic description of the origin of the universe is not logically, epistemologically or metaphysically tenable. On the other hand “A finite, open & contingent universe” is a reasonable coherent and intelligible description.
A description well grounded on the scientific evidence now available. In pre-Christian civilizations (India, China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, even pre-Christian Greece and Rome), as noted by Stanley L. Jaki, the cosmos was viewed as an eternal, infinite entity, subject to eternal returns. Only in medieval Catholic Europe, under the protecting shadow of right reason aided by Biblical revelation, did the view of a finite, open and contingent universe emerge. To some extent, this Christian view is shared also by Jews and Muslims philosophers who did not relapse to pagan pre-Christian pantheism.
Manuel Ma. Carreira S.J.
U. Pontificia de Comillas
Julio A. Gonzalo
U. San Pablo CEU
List of Contributors
Manuel Ma Carreira S.J.
U. Pontificia de Comillas
Julio A. Gonzalo
U. San Pablo CEU