Note from the Senior Editor
The modern dialectic juxtaposition between Science and Theology did not exist in the Ancient Greek thought. Anyone who reads the books A, Γ, and E of Aristotle’sMetaphysics becomes aware of the fact that Theology is simply the peak of the obelisk of the theoretical philosophies, which obelisk consists precisely in Mathematics,Physics, and Theology. This is the First Philosophy, that means, the Metaphysics, which investigates the question of being as it is—and thus it is a science initially ‘possessed by God himself’. The philosophical systems of the Epicureans and, even more, the Stoics, based their ethics and anthropology upon science and the vision of a holistic knowledge of the universe, where ethics, logic, and physics are one and the same animal or egg or fertile field, according to Diogenes Laertius (7, 40).
The myth, according to Peter Harrison, of the conflict between science and religion/theology began in the recent centuries, and only after the Protestant criticism of the frozen medieval Roman Catholic understanding of the universe. According to Harrison, the literal approach to the Scripture, made by the Protestants, initiated fundamental changes, which led to the creation of modern science. First, it precipi- tated the collapse of the symbolic universe of the medieval ages, and made possible the creation of experimental physics, in close alliance with natural theology. Second, the literal understanding of the Biblical doctrine of the Fall, concluded with the arousal of scientific activity, which aimed at restoring nature and extending human domination upon it. Of course, the parallel rise of the modern exclusive humanism, in Charles Taylor’s terms, gradually secularised this sort of scientific approach of theCosmos. Thus, by the end of 19th century, even Christianity itself was considered as a series of statements needing an experimental ‘scientific’ proof. In this way, modern science reversed the Aristotelian obelisk, and finally abolished its ancient peak: for a considerable part of modern philosophy, Metaphysics seems to mean only an investigation of the clarity of scientific proposals.
However, post-modern thought allowed the emergence of the question of Metaphysics again. This also makes possible a rethinking of the science-theology relation in a new light. The aim of this volume is precisely to shed a glimpse of this new light upon this ongoing conversation, by now involving Orthodox Theology in it. The possible contribution of Orthodox Theology to this discussion, in the context of the Christian Greek-Western world, can be path-breaking.
I thank all the contributors to this valuable project, and especially Prof. Stoyan Tanev, who, under his double capacity as scientist and theologian, undertook the difficult enterprise of putting together this insightful volume.
– Nikolaos Loudovikos, Senior Editor
The thematic focus of this special issue is broadly defined as ‘theology and science’. The breadth of the thematic focus is part of the initial design of the special issue and could explain the variety of topics addressed by the contributors, who were invited based on their ability to contribute a unique, insightful, and engaging perspective on the productive encounter between theology and science. It should be admitted however that some of the contributions could be better positioned on the interface of science and religion (and not so much theology). This could be also considered as part of the initial editorial design which focused mainly on ensuring the interdisciplinary nature and quality of the of the specific insights.
Despite the variety of the topics, one could identify (in addition to the other distinctive topical contributions) two more dominant themes focusing on issues related to the dialogue between theology and quantum physics, and theology and psychology. The more substantial presence of these themes reminds of a point made by Christos Yannaras for whom the post-modern duty of the Church consists in the creative appropriation of the new language emerging quantum mechanics and post-Freudian psychology, aiming at linking the salvific message of the Christian Gospel to linguistic categories that could be more efficient in the interpretation of the reality of existence, the appearance and disclosure of being, and more specifically, in the articulation of the existential and empirical mode of the relationship between God, world, and man.1 These two themes however could only enhance the interdisciplinary value of the rest of topics discussed in the special issue.
For example, Jean-Claude Larchet, a well-known French Patristic scholar, Orthodox theologian and prolific writer, provides a systematic review and analysis of The Patristic Views on the Nature and Status of Scientific Knowledge. According to Larchet, even though some of the Fathers admit the possibility of using reason or logical reasoning in the theological domain, the common Patristic view is that science remains limited to a knowledge of appearances only. For Larchet however this view does not seem to contradict the current scientific understanding since science focuses on studying phenomena, i.e. it does not claim that its knowledge coincides with reality as it is in itself, and the deepest essence of things remains inaccessible to the scientific approach. For some of the Fathers true knowledge of the nature of things is that of their logoi. Such knowledge becomes possible through the contemplative function (θεωρία) of the intellect (νοῦς), which presupposes a proper spiritual preparation (ἄσκησις). This contemplation seeks to grasp the logoi of created beings in themselves by disengaging them from their immediate sensible expression, and thus distinguishing in every single being between its logos and its appearances. Natural contemplation discovers God, the incarnate Logos in the logoi of beings, but it also discovers the Spirit that is present in creation. This is how a believer can attain spiritual knowledge while the contemplation of nature is related to the science of beings alone.
Alexei Nesteruk is a Senior Research Lecturer in the School of Mathematics and Physics at the University of Portsmouth, Hampshire, GB, working on foundations of cosmology and quantum physics. He is one of the most proactive Orthodox contributors to the dialogue between science and theology. Nesteruk re-envisions The Dialogue between Orthodox Theology and Science as Explication of the Human Condition. He adopts a philosophical perspective in emphasizing that the founda- tion of both science and theology originates in human beings. Human beings have an ambiguous position in the universe that cannot be explicated on metaphysical grounds but can be interpreted theologically. The difference in the hermeneutics of representation of the world in the phenomenality of objects and the inaugural events of human life and religious experience is a key characteristic of the human condition. This difference is the reason for the paradoxical position of humanity as an object in the world and a subject for the world. It is also the fundamental reason for the split between science and theology. That is why, for Nesteruk, any attempt of overcoming this difference under the guise of a ‘dialogue’ between science and theology represents an existentially untenable enterprise. The overcoming of the unknowability of man by himself which is attempted through the reconciliation of science and theology, is not ontologically achievable, but demonstrates the possibility of uncovering a definite sense of purpose. In this sense, the dialogue between theology and science can be considered as a teleological activity representing an open-ended hermeneutics of the human condition. For Nesteruk the discourse of the paradox of subjectivity provides the delimiters for any of such hermeneutics.
Georgi Kapriev is Professor of the History of Philosophy at St. Kliment Ohridski University in Sofia, Bulgaria. The area of his research interests is the medieval—Latin and Byzantine—philosophy and culture, as well as the cultural history of the 20th and 21st centuries. Kapriev’s works have advanced the study of Byzantine philosophy worldwide. His paper Actor-Network Theory and Byzantine Philosophy offers a detailed reflection on almost 20 years of work focusing on the interdisciplinary exploration of the paradigm of Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) through the application of concepts and methods inherent in Byzantine philosophy. Kapriev systematizes and expands some of the latest research in this interdisciplinary domain. The starting point is the attempt to re-examine the sociological explanations of such phenomena as endurance, resistance and innovation, which are difficult to explain through the paradigms of classical sociology. The suggested analysis adopts the concepts of essence-energy-power, hexis, perichoresis, hypostasis, prosopon and body, to refine some of the positions characteristic of the ANT paradigm, and propose new ones that allow to problematise ANT’s principle of symmetry between human and non-human actors, the understating of initiative, the essence and the figure of the actor. The paper pays special attention to some of the paradoxes inherent in the understanding of the human hypostasis and to the questions emerging from the theoretical prescriptions of transhumanism. It is a great example of how the adoption of the conceptual apparatus of Byzantine theology could benefit the social sciences.
Fr. John Breck is an Archpriest and theologian of the Orthodox Church in America specializing in Scripture and Ethics. He has served as Professor of New Testament and Patristics at St. Herman’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (Kodiak, Alaska), as Professor of New Testament and Director of Studies at St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute (Paris, France), and as Professor of New Testament and Ethics at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (Crestwood, New York). His paper Quantum Physics and Christian Faith is a text adapted from a chapter of his recent book Beyond These Horizons, Quantum Physics and Christian Faith, published in 2019 jointly by St. Sebastian Press and Kaloros Press. The book itself is structured as a novel, with lectures given by a young professor of physics to a group of alumni of his university. It lays the groundwork for an exploration of the relationship between quantum mechanics and certain key aspects of the traditional Christian teaching. According to Fr. John Breck quantum theory, if properly interpreted, offers invaluable insights in our quest to see beyond the empirical horizons of the world we live in. “It provides a fresh perspective on the spiritual significance of the Whole, from unimaginably small quantum phenomena to the immense galaxy clusters of an ev- er-expanding universe.” One of the aims of the book is to point out that our usual conceptions of God and the world are simply inadequate. With the help of insights drawn from quantum theory, we can now see that Creation is more intricate, more interconnected and more beautiful than one could ever have imagined. The text included in this special issue demonstrates how a deeper discussion of the peculiarities of quantum physics could be turned into a wonderful journey into the realm of Orthodox theology.
Stoyan Tanev is Associate Professor of Technology Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management in the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, and Adjunct Professor in the Faculties of Theology at St Paul University in Ottawa and Sofia University, Bulgaria. He holds a PhD in Physics and a PhD in Theology. His paper Exploring Analogy of Debates to Approach the Encounter between Orthodox Theology and Quantum Physics adopts the Analogical Comparative Theological Approach (ACTA) to explore the encounter between Orthodox theology and quantum physics. The ACTA approach integrates the intuitions of the analogical isomorphism and comparative theology methods by focusing on issues that are of high relevance for both theology and physics. The issues addressed here are the ones emerging within the context of two important debates: a) between St Gregory Palamas and Barlaam the Calabrian in the fourteenth century, and b) between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr in the twentieth century. The first debate is refers to some of the key aspects of Orthodox theology and spirituality. The second debate is related to the never-ending challenges of the interpretation of quantum mechanics and the nature of physical reality. The analysis suggests that the controversial issues in the two debates are deeply rooted in disagreements about the nature of knowledge, the interplay between epistemological and ontological issues, the challenges of applying logical arguments, the role of apophaticism, the challenges of knowing and the ways these challenges affect the interpretation and sharing of human experience. The discussion of the role of apophaticism is of particular interest since it shows a common need of going beyond representation, assertion and negation by focusing on epistemological conditions of knowledge emerging through union and participation. This need is more sharply expressed in Orthodox theology where the apophatic does not emerge as a comment on representation, but as an opportunity for participation. The paper offers a first theological reflection of the analogical potential of QBism—a recent interpretation of quantum mechanics that takes agent’s actions and personal experience as the central concerns of quantum theory. The key message of the paper is that one can learn more about theology and quantum physics by adopting the ACTA exploratory lens to examine the potential similitudes between the ways theologians and physicists debate about their ways of knowing and the challenges of articulating their personal experience with reality.
Tim Labron is Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies in Concordia University of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Labron is a leading scholar working on the theological implications of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy. One of his last books is Science and Religion in Wittgenstein’s Fly Bottle (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016). His paper is titled Logic of Mystery: Reading Wittgenstein in Parallel to Orthodox Theology and Quantum Theory. Labron’s starting point is that, in contrast to Western philosophy, theology, and classical physics, Wittgenstein, Orthodox theology, and quantum theory (e.g., Bohr and the Copenhagen interpretation) are more comfortable with mystery and do not have a similar drive to explain, codify and justify knowledge. According to Labron, these three points of view—Wittgenstein, Orthodox theology, and Bohr—are distinct from one another, yet they all converge on the importance of our living experience (participation) in contrast to excessive ratiocination. At the same time, it is obvious that neither Bohr nor Wittgenstein were opposed to scientific investigation, nor by any stretch of the imagination were they Christian apologists. Yet they both showed the confusion of conflating or reducing reality and meaning to metaphysical or logical confines only. Labron’s point is that mystery is a given and in a theological context it is experienced as a personal relationship. The example provided by Labron refers to the liturgy—mystery is part of the liturgy, but it is not a cognitive metaphysical mystery. It is exactly because mystery is part of the liturgy, it is concretely lived by the believers.
Georgios Gounaris is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Theoretical Physics, Aristotle’s University of Thessaloniki. His paper The Cosmos in the Bible and Science presents the Biblical description of the Creation of the Cosmos in parallel with the corresponding description of contemporary science. The scientific under- standing of Creation presented in the paper is based on the assumption that the forces of Nature were created at the very beginning and have remained unchanged ever since. First, without this assumption, it is impossible to shape a creation story. Second, the few available measurements so far agree with this assumption. Gounaris switches masterfully between the biblical and scientific narratives to offer a story which is both very readable and highly insightful.
Fr. Nikolaos Loudovikos is one of the leading Orthodox theologians today who has an interdisciplinary background in theology, philosophy and psychology. He is a Professor of Dogmatics and Philosophy at the University Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki (Greece), Visiting Professor at the University Balamand (Lebanon), the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies (Cambridge, UK), and Research Fellow at the University of Winchester in the United Kingdom. Loudovikos’ paper Psychoanalysis and Eschatology provides an insightful discussion of the relationship between psychoanalysis and theology. According to Fr. Nikolaos, at the deeper level of ontological presuppositions and consequences, psychoanalysis has yet to receive a proper theological treatment or be given a sufficient and sober interpretation. He engages in a discussion of several philosophical critiques as a path towards a theological hermeneutical encounter. Loudovikos selected three of the most important philosophical critics of psychoanalysis in the twentieth century: L. Wittgenstein, P. Ricoeur, and C. Castoriadis, because of the complementarity of their critiques and their suitability for a potential theological hermeneutical engagement. After dis- cussing their views, Loudovikos asks the question: In what way, then, does psychoa- nalysis differ from theology? The answer he provides is provocative: “psychoanalysis seems to be at its base a former philosophy that wishes to become a theology, and herein lies its fundamental ‘scientific character’”. According to Fr. Nikolaos, it is the ‘theological’ nostalgia for empirical authenticity that provides psychoanalysis with the quality of an empirical science. The paper offers an insightful story that could benefit many scholars interested in the interface of psychology, philosophy and theology.
In his second paper Theology and the Discovery of the Unconscious: Preliminary Remarks, Fr. N. Loudovikos provides a theological account of the Unconscious by reviewing some of the most relevant research studies in the domain, and then making several theological remarks as a basis for future studies. He reviews the contributions of three books: Matt Ffytche’s The Foundation of the Unconscious: Schelling, Freud, and the Birth of the Modern Psyche; Suzanne Kirschner’s The Religious and Romantic Origins of Psychoanalysis: Individuation and Integration in Post-Freudian Theory; Michel Henry’s emblematic Généalogie de la Psychanalyse: Le Commencement Perdu. The combination of the three books forms a highly representative source for the research of the Western history of the Unconscious. Loudovikos guides the reader through the insights articulated in these works and ends his analysis by articulating several preliminary remarks. First, for him, the Unconscious seems to relate with the truth and the fullness of human nature and life, but the relation is impossible without its grounding in appropriate theological premises such as freedom and autonomy, holism, catholicity, particularity, originality. Second, the Unconscious has to do with human desire and will, and therefore with ecstasis, which means that the discernment of similarities and differences concerning its possible meaning requires a history of ecstasis in both East and West. A possible theological interpretation of the Unconscious could find its basis in St Maximus the Confessor’s understanding of the natural will, who can be considered as a forerunner of the modern notion of the Unconscious. Third, the Unconscious is apophatic; it is radically unknowable but pretends to possess an absolute knowledge concerning the essence of human nature. To reconcile the bipolarity of unknowability and knowledge in the Unconscious one should find a true analogical dimension that could relate the divine fullness and human inwardness. Loudovikos suggests that his previous work on the analogical identity of man could become a basis for further exploration of this point. Fourth, the Unconscious is wise because it goes beyond representation but also because it reflects primordial human nature and life. Because of that it can be related with the image of God in man. Fifth, the Unconscious is revealing because it discloses hidden aspects of the divine image. Lastly, because of its revealing role, the Unconscious is also eschatological, in the sense that in its theological and psychological interpretations it pertains to the final fulfilment of human nature. According to Loudovikos, it will be impossible to explore the notion of the Unconscious in its fullness unless one examines further the relation and the difference between the ancient philosophical and Patristic concepts of life, nature, person, and ecstasis.
Athanasios Fokas is a mathematician, with degrees in Aeronautical Engineering and Medicine. He is Professor of Nonlinear Mathematical Science in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) at the University of Cambridge. His paper is the Prologue of his forthcoming book Ways of Comprehending(World Scientific, 2022). In this book Fokas suggests a unifying approach to life that is based on the elucidation of deep neuronal mechanisms, which ultimately lead to understanding and fulfilment. The book is an exemplary work of interdisciplinarity. Some of its key features are as follows: (i) it suggests a way for resolving the paradox between the abundance of information and specialization; (ii) it introduces an all-en- compassing approach to the sciences and humanities that will help restoring the arts and letters to their rightful position at the centre of the human existence; (iii) it demonstrates that a unified, integrative approach to knowledge is indeed possible by refuting the myth that it is supposedly impossible to be both deep and broad (for the author breadth and depth are not antithetical but act synergistically); (iv) it provides the proper framework for an illuminating discussion of several important questions which should concern every educated individual: “What is the origin of the distinguishing mental advantages of humans in comparison to our evolutionary predecessors? What is the relationship between innate and acquired knowledge? What does it mean to ‘understand’ and how is insight achieved? Why is it possible for us to comprehend the universe? What is the effect of the cultural evolution on our brains? What is the neuronal origin of our emotional responses to arts and letters?” The paper will provide a sense of how the answers to these questions should incorporate elements of biology, neuroscience, medicine, mathematics and physics.
Gayle E. Woloschak is a Professor of Radiation Oncology at Northwestern University in Chicago and Associate Director for the Zygon Center for Religion and Science at the Lutheran School of Theology Chicago. She holds a PhD in Medical Sciences and DMin in Eastern Christian Studies. Woloschak’s paper Evolution, Genetics, and Nature: Implications for Orthodox provides a medical scientist’s perspective on evolution. It does not engage in the usual for the science and religion community apologetics of evolution—i.e., defending evolution against creationism or intelligent design or some other form of fundamentalist perspective on human origins. It attempts to discuss evolution from the perspective of the implications it has for how we think about humanity now and in the future. Unavoidably, the suggested perspective has a naturalistic flavour which refers to life as ‘that which evolves’ and defines evolution as a process by which natural selection chooses those species that are most fit to survive in their current environment. Evolution is driven by random mutations. According to Woloschak the randomness of mutations is essential for evolution because without randomness species would not be able to adapt to a changing environment and the Earth could not sustain life. She admits that many in the Church find it worrisome that randomness plays such an important role in creation. Randomness however allows for a creative and dynamic component in the process of creation and is essential not only for the evolution of species but also for the survival of each living organism. The concept of natural selection suggests that nature selects for an organism what is best suited for a particular en- vironment, which does not mean that this is the best possible design that one could develop or the best organism that lives in an environment. Evolution, because of its randomness, is not perfect. Life is not perfect, and many aspects of humanity are not well-suited to the lives we live. But in all cases our biological existence is the result of our species’ evolution so far. Woloschak raises two questions: How much humanity should be revering our evolution and calling those biological traits that have been most successful so far ‘natural’? Should we morally forbid anything that appears to be ‘unnatural’ today simply because it was not (yet) selected for by evolution? The paper discusses the possible answers to these questions in the context of the Church and provides a reflection on their implications for the emerging ethical perspectives on ‘un-natural acts’ such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), genome editing, vaccines, and other medical technologies. The final recommendation of Gayle Woloschak is that people in the Church should remember two important aspects of evolution. “First — we are all members of our species and a new disease without a vaccine or swift climate change may quickly change the odds for survival of those of us who are currently in majority. Secondly — we recognize as ‘natural’ simply that which is currently most prevalent in our species because evolution has favored it so far.” The paper is quite informative. It opens the possibility for future studies that could focus on the discussion of some important theological issues such as the relation between the evolution and the human Fall, as well as the relation between the characteristics of the Divinely created human nature, its imperfections from the point of view of evolution, and the understanding of the ‘natural’ which seems to emerge somewhat a-theologically, i.e. predominantly in the context of contemporary medical profes- sional practice.
We hope that the specific topics and interdisciplinary perspectives adopted by the contributors to this special issue will both enable, motivate and demonstrate the need for future studies that could help in shaping the answers to some important questions. What does make the dialogue between science and religion theologically valuable? What are the best modes of engaging theology and science in a way that could enable their synergetic impact on each other? How can we transform our academic endeavours on the interface of theology and science into a source of prayer, hope, compassion, and love towards the Other? How to use the dialogue between theology and science as an invitation for the participatory engagement and theological opening of people who are outside of the Church?
– Stoyan Tanev, Special Editor
See Christos Yannaras, ‘The Reality of the Person in Post-Modernity’, in: The Meaning of Reality – Essays on Existence and Communion, Eros and History (Los Angeles: Sebastian Press & Indiktos, 2011), 21- 28, as well as interview with Yannaras on June 26, 2002 at the Bulgarian Science and Culture Foundation in Sofia, Bulgaria (in Bulgarian): http://svetinikolay-so a.info/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/www.hkultura. com_db_text_2002_3_4_cristosjanaras.pdf.