Theology and Science: Part 1

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

hierotheos_vlachos2Before elaborating on the topic I would like to point out that when I use the term “theology” I mean the Orthodox patristic theology, as preserved in the Orthodox Church, not the Scholastic and Protestant theology developed in the West. In elaborating the topic, I will briefly mention some points that I consider important.

1. CLASSICAL METAPHYSICS AND SCIENCE

The term “metaphysics” first appeared with the publication of Aristotle’s works by Andronicus of Rhodes, in the 1st century BC. It is known that Aristotle wrote a book titled “Physike Akroasis” or “Physics” and some other works in which he deals with natural phenomena, that is the sky, birth and decay, meteorology, etc. In addition, Aristotle wrote another book titled “First Philosophy” which presents his ontology. The editor of the aforementioned books placed the book “First Philosophy” after the book “Physics”, so this was called “Metaphysics” [“After the Physics”]. Thus, metaphysics denotes the science that deals with the Supreme Being, God.

Plato’s teaching, which preceded that of Aristotle, is also included under the term metaphysics. Plato argued that God is the Supreme Being, in whom there exist the unborn ideas, and the world was created based on these ideas. Furthermore, Aristotle expounded the theory about the first unmoved mover.

Therefore, metaphysics is the science that talks about God, but connects God very closely with nature, because all existing objects are copies of unborn ideas or are moved by the Supreme Being. Scholastic theology embraced this classical metaphysics and we find it in the works of Thomas Aquinas who speaks about analogia entis. This means that there is an analogy between God and created things. By extension, it means that there is a close link between metaphysics and physics, between God and the creation. Whatever occurs in the creation is a reflection of ideas. It is very characteristic that Aristotle himself linked philosophy with science.

In studying western theology, as expressed in Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, we find the view that the creation of the world is a copy of divine essence through the hypostasization of the archetypes.

This link between metaphysics and physics, that is western theology and science, constructed a specific worldview and all interpretations about God, man and the world developed based on this worldview. During the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, however, when humanism developed, based on rational thought and human autonomy, the facts changed. It was impossible to accept the link between metaphysics and science, to accept that everything that exists in the world is a copy of Plato’s ideas or is moved by Aristotle’s first unmoved mover, and therefore the worldview of metaphysics collapsed.

Scientists investigating the world, both the earth and the skies, checked everything through observation and experiment. The positivism that developed went to a direction contrary to metaphysics. Through this perspective atheistic humanism argued against the God of the West. This is how atheism was created. Atheism is in fact the refutation of an imaginary God, because the God of Plato and Aristotle, and of the Scholastic theologians as well, is actually imaginary, non-existing. Hence, the declaration of the death of God refers to the God of metaphysics – classical and Christian – prevailing in the West. The Pope’s theologians wanted to protect the God described by Thomas Aquinas, and as a result they clashed with science, indeed violently, as is seen in the actions of the Holy Inquisition.

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