Theology and Science: Part 2

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos


seek_truthThe Fathers of the Church – and I have in mind in particular St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Gregory of Nyssa and some others who dealt with these issues, as well as St. Gregory Palamas – operate not in the framework of classical and western metaphysics but in a contrary direction. In fact, Orthodox theology, as expressed by the Fathers of the Church, is anti-metaphysical. I will provide some examples to make this comprehensible.

One example has to do with analogia entis. As we said before, even western Christian metaphysics argues that there is an analogy between the world we see and the unborn world of ideas we do not see, that the entire world is a copy of God’s ideas and on this point they see harmony in creation. The Fathers of the Church, though, argue against this view and, following the theology of the Church, teach that the whole creation was created by God out of non-being and not out of unborn ideas. According to the Fathers of the Church, there is no ontological relation between the ideas of God and those of the creatures. The world came to existence out of non-existence. St. Gregory the Theologian in his theological sermons urges his listeners to “reject Plato’s ideas”.

A second example is a continuation of the former and refers to the soul. According to classical metaphysics, as expressed by Plato, man’s soul belongs to the unborn world of ideas and after its fall it was sealed in the body which is the soul’s prison. Because the soul has a memory of the world of ideas, it wants to return to it by the rejection of the body, and the whole mysticism of the Platonic and Neo-Platonic philosophers revolves around this point. The Fathers of the Church, however, do not accept this view of the soul. They claim that the soul does not belong to the world of ideas, that it is, instead, God’ creature which came to existence out of non-being, just like the entire world. In this perspective, then, the body is not the prison of the soul, and the soul has no need to return to the world of ideas, in a mystical way, through sorcery. It is well known that Neo-Platonism is closely associated with sorcery, as we see in the life of Plotinus.

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Thus, Orthodox theology refutes the mysticism of Platonism and Neo-Platonism.

The third example, which follows from the previous ones, has to do with the distinction between uncreated and created beings. While metaphysics is concerned with metaphysical and natural phenomena, the Fathers of the Church refer to uncreated and created beings. This is particularly important, because, as we mentioned before, in metaphysics the natural beings are copies of the metaphysical, while for the Fathers of the Church God is uncreated and the whole of nature is created, that is, it was created by God and it is not a copy of ideas. Most importantly, there is no dialectical distinction between them, as if the metaphysical ones reside in a floor above the natural ones. Instead, God’s uncreated energy meets the created energy of the created things.

This is the reason why the Fathers of the Church did not clash with science, as happened in the West with the Holy Inquisition. They knew very well that theology talks about the uncreated God and develops the prerequisites for the sanctification of things by the uncreated Grace of God, while science deals with the exploration of created things. Therefore, from an Orthodox theology point of view, the advances of natural sciences cause no problem to us, because scientific discoveries do not undermine man’s relationship with God, since the creation is not a copy of ideas, in which case it could be said that God is insulted by each investigation. To address this issue I will refer to astronomy and modern genetics.

Ancient Greek metaphysics argued that celestial bodies are unchanging and revolve circularly without change. Aristotle in his book “Physics” claims that there is change in natural phenomena but not in celestial bodies, which he had placed in the “after the physics” (metaphysics). It is indicative that he considered celestial bodies to be animate beings, lower gods who are close to the divinity. Thus, in the universe there is the feature of no change, while modern astronomy, observing the starry skies, sees changes. Modern astronomy cannot view celestial bodies as gods, because man is able to send manned spacecrafts to these celestial bodies and has even walked on the Moon.

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Furthermore, modern genetics has the means and the ability to study the sub-cellular world and explore the whole mystery in it, as well as to testify the changes occurring in the genetic matter, man’s DNA. For this reason, modern science cannot accept that it investigates all these elements as copies of a metaphysical world of ideas.

This is why we claim that Orthodox theology, which rejects metaphysics, has no essential problem with the advances of modern science, unless science goes beyond its boundaries. So, it does not attack science, when science serves man. In fact, in the modern discoveries we marvel at the wisdom of God who created the world,

“How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures”. (Psalm 103:24)

Of course there is a problem regarding the way scientific discoveries are used. It is possible that some of them may become a problem for man and the world, contribute to the rape of the environment and to genetic pollution and eventually harm man himself. Even in these cases, Orthodox theology only sets certain fundamental theological principles and stresses that science itself has to set bio-ethical rules in order not to work against mankind. We note that modern bioethics sets such rules, after the encounter of molecular biology with mechanical medicine and technology.


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