We live in an age where it is popular to set Scientist against Religious Thinker, Science against Theology, to portray the Person of Faith as someone full of irrational nonsense, portraying the Scientist as a rational person discovering facts and, by implication, not believing in God.
This has not always been the case, atheism has only been seen in a serious light for about two hundred years, it is thus arguable that most scientists who have ever lived would have had some sense of God – however they might describe this. Some years ago a Scientist called Ian Barbour looked at the interaction between science and theology and suggested four possible models that could characterize the attitude of believers towards Science. Using these models, this essay will explore what the attitude of Eastern Orthodox believers should be towards Science.
The essay will first of all look at how Eastern Orthodoxy sees Science – suggesting ways in which the Orthodox Church came to those conclusions and how Orthodoxy approaches Science. It will then summarise Barbour’s models and then discuss which one, or more of them, should characterize how Eastern Orthodox believers approach Science.
The Orthodox Church has always had a very high view of Creation – even today, because of his commitment to ecological issues, the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I. is known as “The Green Patriarch”. In his essay “The Orthodox Vision of Creation” (FOMA Annual Report 2005 pg 29) Kallistos Ware talks about Vespers, the first service of the Liturgical Day, how it begins the new day, celebrating a new start. Ware points out that Vespers begins with the reading of Psalm 103 (104) – a great hymn of creation. Fr Alexander Schmemann says that in that hymn the Church takes us back to “that first evening on which man…opened his eyes and saw what God is His love was giving to him” (Schmemann pg 60)
In her high view of Creation, however, the Orthodox Church has been careful not to advocate “pantheism”. According to the New Oxford English dictionary, “pantheism is the belief that all of reality is identifiable with divinity1”.
The underlying Christian principle, Transcendence, is different. Transcendence means that God pervades the whole of Creation, that He is Omnipresent but that in His Omnipresence, God is at work holding Creation together. God’s Transcendence is best summed up by Paul (Colossians 1 v 17: “He is before all things and in Him all things consist.”)
Orthodoxy says that God is not merely Creator of the universe, as His dynamic presence is necessary to sustain the existence of everything that has been created, however large or small they may be and includes all things visible and invisible (Barbour 1990). This means that God’s energies (or operations) maintain the created order and its existence, and all created beings. His love for creation is such that He will not withdraw His presence, even if those beings have explicitly rejected him, which would of course be the ultimate form of annihilation, because not only would it impose death, but would also end existence completely. Thus, all of creation is fundamentally “good” in its very being and is not evil in anyway.
A modern day version is called Panentheism – a theory that (to simplify) God is in the world and that the world is in God. The thought is that God holds all things together, not by setting it up and leaving it, but that He interpenetrates everything in the universe. However Eastern Orthodoxy would not necessarily accept panentheism as it would imply that creation is “required to be part of God” (wikipedia Panentheism), a subtlety of difference that is sometimes overlooked due in part to Eastern Orthodoxy’s relationship with the Neoplatonism of Plotinus.
This relationship between Platonism and Christianity, needs some explanation. Platonism, according to Louth (2012), was an early intellectual ally of Christianity, because not only did it have a monotheistic base, but also believed that God cared for Creation and that after death humans would be held responsible for what they had done in life and rewarded or punished appropriately. The difference was that in the Judeo-Christian understanding God was not a remote concept but One who had revealed Himself personally to His Chosen People
This has then lead the Eastern Orthodox Church into two inter-related positions: firstly the importance of Creation in its worship and, secondly, an almost reverent attitude, not only to science, but to the advancement of knowledge in general.
These attitudes have had a singular effect of the transmission and development of science and even knowledge across the world in a way that is often missed and it is worthwhile in looking at Orthodoxy’s attitude and examine in some detail what actually happened.
In his book “The History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science”, John Draper begins by outlining the development of Greek Science. He explains how mythology and the gods were losing ground to the philosophers of Athens: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and their predecessors, contemporaries and successors. Draper points out that the expansion of the Greek Empire, under Alexander in particular brought Greece into an increasing contact with the Persian Empire, and although that contact was due to war – Greece and Persia were the “super-powers” of the day – there was also an exchange of intellectual knowledge. Persia had been an Empire for centuries and had much knowledge to impart – Draper points out, for example, that the Persians were able to pass on a record of eclipses going back 747 years to Greek astronomers-whereas Greece, under her philosophers, was emerging into an era where the study of nature was encouraged.
Perhaps due to the influence of The Academy in Athens, the university established by Plato, and Plato’s own ideas – that everything is a shadow or form of a Reality – and that from Plato’s ideas, Aristotle developed a theory that took into account physical realities, Science (or Philosophy as it was then called) was seen to be not conflict with the Divine but to complement it.
Given that the Orthodox Church is rooted in this philosophical soil, it is not surprising that the Church of the Eastern Roman Empire developed a sympathetic attitude towards science and philosophy. It seems that the Eastern Church inherited much of its reverence for Creation from the Hellenistic Society that it grew up in, and an understanding of God which saw that God was not only immanent but also transcendent. What is important, however is that Theology took precedence over Science. It was only later on when Science reached the West that attitudes changed. Lindberg comments that Augustine saw Science as the hand maid of Theology, not the other way around.(Cam Comp Science & Religion 2010)
One of the major issues debated at the Third and Fourth Ecumenical Councils in AD431 and AD451 was a Christological understanding called “Nestorianism”. Now is not the place to discus “Nestorianism”, but rather consider some of the consequences of its condemnation .
The Council of Chalcedon of AD451 put an end to Nestorianism within the Roman Empire. Those Roman Christians who were sympathetic to this Christology fled to the neighbouring Persian Empire. Persia had been evangelised in the Apostolic Period by St Thomas and there was a strong Church there. However Persia and Rome were deadly enemies, Persia was aware of how popular the Church in the Roman Empire was-something which the Persian Church did not possess. The government of the Persian Empire looked with suspicion on the Church, seeing them as potential fifth-columnists. It was thus with some relief that the Christian refugees held to a theology that was inimical to the Church in the Roman Empire. These refugees brought not only their theology with them, but also their knowledge of various scientific disciplines. (Scott Latourette 1978 pg 405)
Thus it was that knowledge and science prospered in both the Churches of the Eastern Roman Empire and of the Persian Empire. The Church of the Western Roman Empire was of course under attack from barbarian tribes at this time, and was more in survival mode than in a position to explore new ideas and inventions.
In AD633, the Arabs attacked Persia and, although they took eighteen years to complete the conquest, eventually they replaced the historic Sassanid rulers. One of the results was the absorption of the intellectual elite into the new Islamic State. Many of these intellectuals were Nestorian Christians and they in turn passed many of their skills on to their new rulers. (Bell 1925, Brague 2009)
Inevitably these new skills were passed on to other Muslims who met up with Christian scholars at the new universities that grew up in the Mediterranean world, particularly in Spain. This knowledge made its way to Northern Europe and influenced the universities there. All due to the attitude of the Eastern Orthodox Church to science (Scott Latourette 1978, pp 405ff)
During the Byzantine Empire, Science was taken very seriously – The University of Constantinople was purely secular in the subjects it offered – Theology was taught in the Patriarchal Academy. This meant that research, built on the foundations of previous generations was conducted with vigour. Inevitably, scientific knowledge grew – in particular Byzantine medicine was very advanced and influenced both Islamic and Renaissance medicine.
Constantinople fell in 1453, but Byzantine culture lasted another eight years in the Empire of Trebizond in the north east of Asia Minor. In particular, Trebizond was well known for its study of astronomy. Ahmet Zehiroglu in his essay “Astronomy in the Trebizond Empire” outlines the geographic and mythic reasons for this. Zehiroglu points out that the study of astronomy survived the destruction of the pagan religion and its replacement with Christianity and became an important factor in Medieval Trebizond.
Despite its being a conduit for the spread of scientific knowledge from the time of Ancient Greece to the Medieval period, because it was politically controlled by the Ottoman Empire, the Eastern Orthodox Church was unable to acquire the knowledge of scientific developments in Western Europe and comment on them.
That being said, a number of the Greek Church Fathers had already said interesting things about science and had begun to lay down principles by which Orthodoxy and Patristic Christianity could approach the subject.
The prime mover was Basil in his commentary on the opening chapters of Genesis, called “The Hexamera” (which means “six days” in Greek). Although Basil was not the first (he looked to Origen for some of his ideas) nor the last, the principles which Basil laid down became the basis of future Patristic thought. Maximus, for example, used Basil’s understanding of the “λογοι” to develop his own understanding (Maximus said the “λογοι” are “the uncreated intentions of God for each thing which are brought to their realization in concrete creation. “ (Vereschack, moderator, Monachos Forum “The Cosmos”). In brief, Orthodox and Patristic thinking sees the opening chapters of Genesis not as “expressing literal ‘scientific’ truths about the way that creation came into being” (Knight 2011, pg 41), but as an allegory which tells us more about who God is and why He created the Universe, than on the actual mechanics of the methods He used.
Maximus the Confessor took these ideas and developed them to explain the transcendence of God – that through “λογοι” put there by God in every living creature, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity was able not only to take on flesh through Mary, but also simultaneously “hold all things together”. According to Dominick, Maximus teaches us that Man was meant to rule over Creation in love, but because of the Fall, Man failed. It was Jesus who by being the Second Adam freed Man from this curse and enabled him to rule once again over Creation.
This then gave Orthodoxy a “liturgical vision of science” (Nesteruk pg 39) and saw creation as a sacrament. The Greeks saw nature as a revelation of the goodness of God because of the “λογοι” in which the Holy Spirit was always active. The Greek fathers thus saw nature as a “part of their liturgical experience “ which gave meaning to science.. However due to its Platonic roots, the need to experiment with science was never developed.
It was only when these ideas became known in the West, and by that time the Platonistic ideas had been mixed by Islam with Aristotelian philosophy – which up until then had not been translated into Latin and was therefore not available to the West (Bragg IOT Aquinas) – that a different attitude to science was developed (Aristotle’s view of physical realities may have seemed antithetical to Plato’s view that there was a “Supreme Mind” who was the source of all things, the Church wanting to emphasise that God was indeed the Source of All Things)
Thus it is that Eastern Orthodoxy, although missing out on the development of the understanding of science which happened in the West, developed its own view of Science and how that related to Theology.
Having said all that, there were two significant events in the twentieth century that have affected Orthodox thinking about science. The first was the rise of Marxism, with its doctrine of Scientific Atheism. Most Orthodox countries were ruled by Marxist governments, who used pseudo-science as a tool to discredit Christianity. Although with the overthrow of Communism, these countries now have freedom from this approach, the effect lingers on and Orthodox thinkers have a degree of wariness of the relationship between science and theology, even though they do acknowledge that one exists (Knight 2011, pg 41).
The other event is the reception over recent years of a significant number of Evangelicals into the Orthodox Church, primarily in America, but to some extent also in Britain. Some of these converts have brought Protestant ideas with them-particularly a literalist interpretation of Genesis and a conflict between evolution and creation. Although the blame for the latter is often given to Darwin’s book “The Origin of the Species”, in fact it is more likely that the Creation/Evolution debate, as such, is a fall out from the notorious Scopes Trial of 1925, originally a publicity stunt by the American Civil Liberties Union, picked up and satirised by the journalist H.L.Mencken of the Baltimore Sun (wikipedia Scopes Trial)
The most influential of these converts to Orthodoxy was Seraphim Rose, who according to Knight (2011 pg 42)“”defends a kind of fundamentalism in relation to the patristic literature”. However the reality is that mainstream Orthodox thinking has not veered away from traditional Patristic thought, although Seraphim Rose has, to some extent, been influential amongst English speaking Orthodox converts.
Barbour in his book “Religion and Science” suggests that there are four different approaches to the relationship between Science and Theology. The first, Barbour calls “Conflict”. This category is probably the most well known of the four, due to interest in the on-going “evolution/creation” debate. Popular imagination credits this debate originating with the publication of Darwin’s “Origin of the Species”, but as I have remarked earlier, I suspect it is more likely to be a reaction to the Scopes Trial of 1925, when one John Scopes, a teacher in the town of Dayton in Tennessee was charged with teaching evolution in the school there in defiance of the Tennessee State Legislature “Butler Act” also of 1925. Scopes was found guilty and fined $100. The case had been set up by the American Civil Liberties Union as a test case to ensure that secular (as opposed to Christian) values could be taught in American schools. The case raised the important issue of whether or not Modern Science should be taught there and also highlighted the theological issue of Fundamentalism verses Modernism.
The resulting press coverage portrayed the prosecution as naïve and foolish, using such words as “buffoon” to describe the prosecutor. The result was that religious belief was ridiculed and increasingly seen to be in opposition to science. Rightly or wrongly, religion was portrayed as foolish and out-of-touch, the domain of the less educated
The second model that Barbour describes is called “Independence”. In a sense Independence is a reaction to the Conflict scenario. Independence sees both Theology and Science as disciplines in their own right, which use methods appropriate to their own areas of interests. Each discipline, to quote Barbour, is “selective and has its limitations”. The Independence category emphasises that God (and by extension, Theology) can only be known by revelation, whilst Science can only be known by observation and reasoning.
There is also a middle ground-called “Natural Theology”-which argues that the Existence of God can be demonstrated by rational argument. These arguments would also point to such observations as design in nature to further their case. This “middle-ground” is important to the Independent category because it reminds us of the twin attributes of God: His Immanence and His Transcendence, that God is both apart from nature and is also working in and through nature.
Independence leads to the view that Scripture, although to be taken seriously, is not necessarily to be taken literally. Taking Scripture literally is the central issue of the Conflict category. By observing that Scripture could be understood allegorically, those who advocated the Independence perspective could avoid the issues raised when the scientific/historic account appeared to differ from the Scriptural account.
Barbour’s third category is “Dialogue”. Dialogue is what happens when Science and Theology meet or, even, overlap. Barbour uses the example of Creation as an example. He points out that scientists have wondered why Modern Science is a product of the Judeo-Christian World and not in any other society. The Greeks considered that the world was orderly and intelligible, and that because of this it would be possible to work out the structure of the world from first principles.
The Greeks differed from Biblical thought in that whilst both recognised the necessity of order, Biblical thought made that order dependent on God, rather than just the product of first principles. Biblical thought also saw nature as real and good, but not divine. This then allowed humans to experiment on nature-this approach “desacralized” nature and allowed the human race to begin to explore by means of scientific exploration.
Historically it is important to understand the role of the Church in encouraging Science. As we have already remarked, much of the Greek understanding of Science came to Europe during the Middle Ages from Islam. But in turn the Muslims had learnt their Science from the Ancient Church of the East in Persia. This Church, learnt its Science from Greece. The Nestorian Church then passed its Science on to Islam who in turn passed it on to the West, mixing it with Aristotelian philosophy in the process. By being the channel by which knowledge of Science passed into the West, it should give the Church some moral authority in discussing areas of mutual interest between Theology and Science.
The fourth and final category that Barbour describes is “Integration” Integrationists believe that integration is possible between Theology and Science without conflict. There are three different Integrationist positions: natural theology, theology of nature and systematic synthesis.
Natural theology is based on human reasoning, rather than divine revelation or religious experience. For instance, by the argument that every event must have a cause, it is clear that there must have been a First Cause, unless one believes in an infinite regression. Similarly, it could be argued that orderliness, intelligibility and examples of design in nature – eg mammals being covered in hair/fur and suckling their young-may be evidence of a Supreme Being.
The British philosopher Richard Swinbourne, citing Baye’s Theorem (which he quoted as saying: “ a theory has an initial plausibility and the probability that it is true increases or decreases with the additional evidence” – http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=2237&C=2064 ), argued that the existence of God is plausible. He then argued that order in the universe strengthened the hypothesis. He also maintained that Science cannot account for conscious beings and that religious experience added vital evidence. Swinbourne concluded that on the basis of probabilities, theism was more likely than not.
The Theology of Nature point of view starts from the religious perspective, taking into account the experience of religion and also historical revelation. But the Theology of Nature accepts that some religious understanding may need to be adjusted in the light of accepted scientific knowledge. The important word is “accepted”-the religious perspective is adapted on scientific understanding that is well established, speculative or limited theories that may well be abandoned in the future generally speaking are not considered.
The final aspect of Integration is Systematic Synthesis. Systematic Synthesis uses Metaphysics as an arena for both Theology and Science to reflect on. Metaphysics is really the area of the Philosopher, but it creates a neutral zone, as it were, for both Theology and Science to come together and contemplate areas of mutual interest.
There are indeed various approaches to Systematic Synthesis, but probably the most the most interesting one is called Process Philosophy. Its most important exponents have been Alfred North Whitehead, John Cobb and Charles Hartshorne. Process Philosophy teaches that reality is a dynamic process of interconnected events in which nature is characterized by change, chance, novelty and order. Humanity is a part of that nature and human experience can then be used as a way of interpreting the experience of other sentient beings. Process Philosophers see God in a much more dynamic way-not as a an “unrelated Absolute” or an”Unmoved Mover” but a Being who is actively involved in His Creation. Process thinkers see any new event to be the result of a combined effort by the object’s own past, the object’s own actions and the actions of God. This led Hartshorne to postulate a twofold understanding of God: that God was unchanging in purpose and character, but changing in experience and relationship.(Barbour pg 28, 29). Theokritoff (2009) however points out that Process Thinking places God “exclusively, beyond and outside the world”, preferring the view of Gregory Palamas who defended the practice of hesychast monks whose prayer rule involved the body as well as spirit.
Having given a brief summary of how the Eastern Orthodox Church views of science and also having given a précis of Barbour’s models of four approaches to the relationship between Science and Theology, it is now time to turn our attention to examine which of the four models most accurately describes how the Orthodox approach this relationship.
The Conflict model is most closely associated with Protestant Fundamentalism. There has always been a school of interpretation within Orthodoxy that takes literal interpretation of Holy Scripture. It is called the Antiochian School, because its roots are in the way that the Church in Antioch understood the Bible. However Protestant Fundamentalism seems to go several steps further and makes the Biblical account the benchmark of validity – that is if whatever science (or any other discipline for that matter) says does not fully agree with a literalist reading of the Bible, then it is wrong. Although throughout the Christian Millennia, Church Thinkers have used the Bible as a basis for their philosophical peregrinations, it seems that since the Scopes Trial of 1925, there has been a degree of animosity that was not there before. Generally speaking, Orthodoxy has had a good relationship with Science-indeed, as we have seen, the Eastern Orthodox Church was partly responsible for Science ultimately reaching the West and this has meant that, until recently at least, the Orthodox Church and Science have had a fruitful relationship. .
Sadly however, it now seems from anecdotal evidence (Knight), that there is a growth in the Conflict model within certain Orthodox Circles – some not only under the influence of Fr Seraphim Rose, but some under the influence of a strange combination of extreme Russian nationalism and younger Russians finding Orthodoxy as part of their national heritage and reacting in an extreme manner.
But for those who we might call “mainstream” Orthodox, both historically and during the present time, the relationship between Science and Theology has been helpful, worthwhile and profitable. But is it a relationship of Independence, Dialogue or Integration? Or perhaps a combination of two or more of these models?
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, in a lecture to Seattle Pacific University, has made it clear that he prefers the model of Independence. According to Ware, Science and Religion work on different levels, using different methods and different kinds of evidence. Although each have things to say to the other, he points out that Science uses the evidence of of what can been seen, and felt, and read and Religion uses Scripture. Ware feels that there should be no conflict between Science and Religion, if each is properly understood, because they answer different kinds of questions. The Scientist investigates how the Universe came into being and how it developed. The Theologian, or Religious Thinker, to use Ware’s phrase, asks why the world was created and why it is that we are human beings, and why we are on earth. Whilst the two disciplines do not cover the same ground, it maybe that Science has something to offer the Theologian to help him or her find the answers they are looking for.
Significantly Metropolitan Kallistos rejects the idea of Intelligent Design because he feels it “is mixing the levels of Science and Religion in an unhelpful way”. Ware points out that God can work though evolution, but also points out that man is “made in the image and likeness of God”-a concept that Science cannot address. Ware goes on to add that a correct understanding of science and the way it works can help us to develop our understanding of Theology. However there should be, according the Metropolitan, a proper distinction between the two, and if this kept, Science should not be seen as a threat. In short, Ware sums up the Independence view that “Science tells us how, Religion tells us why.”(Ware, youtube)
Despite coming out so clearly on the side of Independence, Ware makes it clear that by understanding Science, the Theologian can be helped in their understanding of the discipline. This brings us neatly to the third of Barbour’s models – that of Dialogue. Dialogue recognises that both Science and Religion are separate fields with aims and values of their own, but it also recognises that there are areas where Science and Religion coincide – borderlands if you like. In these areas then both Science and Religion have something to offer each other. Clearly The Eastern Orthodox Church historically has a high, even sacramental view of Creation and thus Science – the Church by removing the notion that nature was divine, and emphasising that fact in Christ it was all held together, in effect desacralised nature and paved the way for scientific investigations to begin, although (perhaps due to its political situation) this was something the Orthodox Church never really began to develop. Thus it is realistic to conclude that although the Church saw Science as something separate from Religion, because of the sacramental way she saw Creation, she could accept that in certain areas both Theology and Science had something to say to the benefit of each other.
This has been the historical view of the Orthodox Church, but sadly the events of the the twentieth century have meant that to some extent, Orthodoxy has become wary of Science. This is due largely to the (mis)use of Science by atheistic Communism who ruled over many traditionally Orthodox countries up until 1991 (Knight, Natural Religion 2013). Although attitudes have begun to change in the subsequent years, nevertheless there remains a feeling of wariness amongst Slavic Orthodox thinkers concerning Science.
Interestingly, Greece, which did not succumb to Communism, seems to maintain the historical openness to scientific insight (Knight, Natural Theology 2013)). One of the most prominent modern day Church Fathers was the Elder Porphyrios. The Elder was born in 1906 in Evola, the fourth child of a family of poor peasants. He received no education but was always keen to learn. Eventually he became a monk on Mount Athos, finally reposing in 1991. The Elder was fascinated by modern technology and once said “our religion is not against science, nor is science against religion…..they co-exist and one complements the other.” (Buxhoeveden 2011 pg 12). Porphyrios, who commanded much respect in Greece, not only availed himself of all the latest technological inventions-particularly using the telephone to talk to his Spiritual Children (on one occasion, contacting a spiritual son in a NATO submarine in the Mid-Atlantic), he also encouraged his disciples to do the same. Buxhoeveden even commented that it was a shame that the Elder died before the use of desk top computers became common (Buxhoeveden 2011). Porphyrios clearly saw Science not as threat to Religious Thinking but as a tool to be used in helping people to understand what the will of God was.
Another Twentieth Century Greek Elder, Pasios, called for a balance between Science and Religion. He taught that we should do nothing without God, but also encouraged the use of modern technology. What the Elder taught against was getting the balance wrong; in Paisios’ eyes it was the Christ who had the emphasis, and technology, although important, came second (Buxhoeveden 2011)
The Slavic Orthodox cautious attitude to Science is hopefully only something temporary; Knight has pointed out that Patristic writers maintain that a philosophical and scientific understanding of the world plays a very important part in the spiritual development of a human being, especially when it provokes wonder and awe towards God. Knight points out that Basil, especially in The Hexameron, uses the science of his day to encourage his listeners to understand that even “the least plant may bring to [them] the clear understanding of the Creator.” Basil took and developed ideas from Origen and later on Maximus the Confessor took Basil’s ideas and developed them even further. Clearly then, the Patristic writers understood that, although Science and Theology were two very different fields, Science could enable the spiritual person to learn and understand more about the Godhead.
It should however be pointed out that Orthodoxy does not have the concept of “Natural Theology” that Western Christianity has, although Dimitru Staniloe the Romanian does make reference to “Natural Revelation”, a concept that he may have found in John of Damascus.. Natural Theology is is best summed up by the English naturalist John Wray (1627-1705) “to illustrate the glory of God in the knowledge of the works of nature or creation” (Armstrong, 2000 pg 46). Both Staniloe and John of Damascus hint that Orthodoxy has some concept of Natural Theology in which Nature (and hence Science) is part of the revelation that God has given to us, and by implication, it becomes possible to find God by study of Nature as well as by Divine Revelation.
The reason for this is because Eastern Orthodoxy understands that God speaks through The Two Books-the Bible and Nature. Although the Bible takes precedence – the Orthodox Church teaches that a person comes to God not through Nature but through the Teaching of Holy Scripture, nevertheless the Church knows that God can speak through Creation-after all Maximus’s teaching of the “λογοι” is that they originate with the Divine “Λόγος” or as Paul has it: “in Him all things consist” (Col 1 v17). Nature is thus seen as a sacrament – a means of grace for the Christian believer, working alongside the Church to bring people into the fullness of God.
Thus it can be said that all of Barbour’s Four models have some kind of resonance within the modern Orthodox approach to Science, but the question under consideration is which should characterize the attitude of the Eastern Orthodox believer towards science?
It is interesting that it is only in the twentieth century that the Conflict model has begun to appear in Orthodox circles. It seems to be especially prevalent amongst American Protestant converts who have read the writings of Fr Seraphim Rose. Rose however seems to give the appearance of pandering to the Protestant mindset. This is an important consideration. From my own experience, it would appear that the Latin West and the Greek East approach things in two very different ways, so much so that it takes many years to adjust to a new way of thinking. Rose ignores this and treats Orthodoxy as yet another “denomination”. People reading him take this on board and present what is in effect just another form of Western Christianity, albeit with an Orthodox veneer. There are also groups found in Russia who also take an anti-scientific approach, significantly they are extreme nationalists who see following the Orthodox Church as part of their Russian identity. Their knowledge of what Orthodoxy means appears to be superficial, including the fact that the way they portray Orthodoxy is called phyletism, an approach which was declared heretical by a Synod of Orthodox Patriarchs in 1872 (orthodoxwiki, phyletism). Up until the late twentieth century the Conflict model was not found in the Eastern Orthodox Church and then only in groups of people who seem to have a superficial knowledge of what it means to be Orthodox.
The opposite of Conflict would be the Independence model. To put it briefly, the Independence model is that Science and Theology have nothing to do with each other. The areas of interest do not coincide, in effect they speak two different languages. There is no need for conflict and therefore no need for communication of any sort.
The Dialogue Model implies that Science and Theology not only have something to say to one another but that they are also related in some way. This is of course the “Two Book” concept discussed earlier-that God is the Author of all things spiritual and material and that He is able to speak through both. Historians, according to Barbour, have often wondered why Modern Science arose in the Judeo-Christian West. Both Greek and Hebrew thought saw the world having order, although the Greeks saw that as a necessity and therefore sacralised nature, whereas the Hebrew view was more contingent and therefore paved the way for the eventual study of, and experimenting on, nature – with great economic benefits, it must be said, but also with negative influences on the environment.
The final model is that of Integration. Orthodoxy always emphasises both the transcendence and the immanence of God, so of the three approaches of Integration, clearly although Orthodoxy may find Natural Theology interesting, the concept does not wholly describe how Orthodoxy approaches Science The Theology of Nature, it seems to me, starts from the opposite side of Natural Theology, but demands that Theology be defined in terms of Science. The Two Books idea mitigates against that – Science should be defined in terms of Revelation. This is where the third approach of Integration comes in-seeing God in a dynamic way, working with His Creation. It is entirely in line with the thinking of Maximus the Confessor, and with the teaching of Paul.
In conclusion, it is fair to say that none of Barbour’s models strictly sum up what the attitude of an Eastern Orthodox Christian should be to Science. Clearly the Conflict Model is new to Orthodoxy, but is very much a fringe approach. Despite Kallistos Ware’s keen advocacy of the Independent position, even he concedes that Science and Theology have something to offer each other. So should the Eastern Orthodox Christian approach be one of Dialogue? Winston Churchill famously said that “Jaw, jaw is better than war, war!”2, so dialogue is important but because Orthodoxy has, as Nesteruk puts it, a “liturgical vision of Science” that Integration is probably the nearest model to Orthodxy with the caveat that God speaks through Nature (Dialogue) but does not identify Himself with Nature, although He is its Creator and is both immanent and transcendent (Independent). In short, a mixture of these three, with the most important model being Integration.
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Barbour, Ian: Religion In An Age of Science (1990)
Bell, Richard ,M.A., B.D: Christian Influences In Early Islam.
(The Gunning Lectures, Edinburgh University, 1925 ) http://www.answeringislam.org/Books/Bell/christian_influences.htm
Brague, Remi Assyrian Contributions to the Islamic Civilization, 2009
Bragg, Melvyn, In Our Time: Podcast: Science and Religion
Bragg, Melvyn, In Our Time: Podcast: The Needham Question
Dominick. Jesse , Man in Creation: The Cosmology of St. Maximus the Confessor http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/96486.htm
Knight C.K., Science and Orthodoxy: The historical and methodological background
Metropolitan Kallistos on Evolution
Monachos Forum: The logoi of creation in St. Maximus the Confessor – created or uncreated http://www.monachos.net/conversation/topic/7061-the-logoi- of-creation-in-st–maximus-the-confessor-created-or-uncreated/
wikipedia: Byzantine Science
Council of Chalcedon
Muslim Conquest of Persia
World Pantheism http://www.pantheism.net/definitions
Zehiroğlu, Ahmet M, Astronomy in the Trebizond Empire
(Translated by Paula Darwish)
Conversation with Fr Christopher K. Knight
All Bible references are from the Orthodox Study Bible (Thomas Nelson 2008)