By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
3. THE TASK OF THE THEOLOGIAN AND THE TASK OF THE SCIENTIST
So far we have discussed the relation between metaphysics and science and pointed how they were linked together in the past, but in our age, especially in the last two-three centuries, they have been de-linked. However, even though science functions independently of theology, scientists can be believers and theologians, and theologians may be scientists, but each one knows his limits, his role and his mission.
Orthodox theology discusses what God is, as we can see in Orthodox dogmatics which elaborates the Church teaching on God. God is Triune, Father, Son and Spirit, uncreated, person, as revealed by Christ Himself with His incarnation, and experienced by the saints of the Church. On the other hand, science deals with creatures, investigates the essence of created things, observes the way they function, and then reaches conclusions that are recorded in order to benefit mankind.
Orthodox theology argues that God is the creator of the world. He brought it to existence out of non-existence, He gives life to it, and therefore, through the creation one may glorify God. On the other hand, science inquires about the way God made the world or at least the way created things operate.
Orthodox theology defines the “reasons for the existence of beings”, that is, discusses the uncreated energy of God which is inside all creatures, even the smallest ones, such as small grass. There is the substance-giving, the life-giving energy of God to all nature, as well as the wisdom-giving energy in man, manifested in the way he uses his intelligence. On the other hand, science deals with the material substance of things, observes their compositions, their changes and the benefit they might bring to mankind. Out of research in the natural world we discover the composition of things and are able to cure certain diseases. This is achieved in medical laboratories.
Orthodox theology refers to the transformation of the world, to how the world is sanctified and man is redeemed. Bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ without undergoing an alteration of their substance, oil becomes the Holy Unction, etc. Furthermore, the entire man is sanctified in body and soul and may unite with God. This is the task of Orthodox theology. By contrast, science deals with the way to improve material things, in order to solve ecological problems, while medical science tries to cure the corruptible, mortal body so that man’s life maintains a degree of quality.
All these show that the task of Orthodox theology is different from the task of science. Obviously, then, the task of the Orthodox theologian differs from the task of the scientist. The two cannot be confused. An Orthodox theologian may be involved with science only when he is a scientist. A scientist may be involved with God only when he follows the perspective of theology. It is unacceptable for a theologian who has only theological knowledge to express scientific views, if he is not a scientist. It is unacceptable for a scientist to express theological views, if he is not a theologian. In both case there are boundaries between theology and science.
In any case, Holy Scripture is not a scientific book, it is a theological book which aims not at producing science but at helping man to know God and unite with Him. This means that the authors of Holy Scripture, the Prophets and the Apostles, employed the scientific knowledge of their own times. So, one cannot use Scriptural examples against science, nor can scientific discoveries be viewed as undermining Holy Scripture. For example, the authors of Holy Scripture use the knowledge of their times about the sun’s movement around the earth, and thus write about the sunrise and sunset. The discovery that the earth revolves around the sun does not undermine faith in Holy Scripture, because the latter’s purpose is theological, not scientific.
After these brief thoughts, I will remind you that Nietzsche, the philosopher, referred to the death of God. His phrase is well known: “don’t we hear yet the noise of the grave diggers burying God? Don’t we smell yet anything of the divine decomposition? – even gods decompose! God is dead! God remains dead! And it is we who killed him!”
The question is: which God is dead? From what we have said so far, it seems that the dead God is the God of western metaphysics who is based on philosophy and contemplation, not the God of the Orthodox Church, who is empirical, meaning that a person living within the Church is able to reach the experience of God.
There is also the additional question of who killed God. From what has been said before, the conclusion is that the metaphysical God of the West was killed by people who could not feel close to him, because he was inaccessible in heaven and they viewed him as a sadistic father. He was also dethroned by science, which could not accept him, or rather could not accept the link between metaphysics and physics. This, however, is not what happened with the Fathers of the Church who experienced God as a personal Being who loves and cares for man.
And a further question is: who smells the corpse of God? From the above it seems that it is the humanists that smell it, especially the atheistic humanists, who rejected the metaphysical God with the slogan “back to nature”, not the Orthodox ones who smell the energy of God and enter into communion with Him through the neptic hesychastic tradition.
Science can be beneficial or catastrophic for man and it will certainly disappear when this world ends its existence. Theology deals with the sanctification of the world and man’s transformation, and it will lead man to communion with God, after the destruction of the universe.
Consequently, there is no field for a clash between theology and science, only the possibility of a clash between theologians and scientists, when they get out of their boundaries. Theologians try to get to know God and guide people to Him, and scientists try to study nature.
In our times, when people search for the meaning of life, Orthodox theology can help them without entering into rivalries with science or possibly with atheists. As clergy and theologians we have a substantial scope for action in the spiritual, existential, and social field to help contemporary suffering people.