Thursday, September 11, 2014

Church and Science

The Christian world, historically, has had a troubled relationship with Science. However, we can, currently, identify a relationship and a better understanding between the two. John Meyendorff, in his book Living Tradition explains this relationship claiming:
‘Thus the Church cannot identify itself totally with either social causes and ideologies of “change” or with the conservative philosophies of the status quo. However, there is a more natural and more reliable ally of Christianity which most Christians tend to overlook. This ally, I submit, is science.
The history of the relationship between Church and science is, as you know, a tragic one; and the Church is greatly responsible for the conflict. While the Western Church attempted to impose upon science its authoritarian control, which led to the development of antireligious “scientism” and positivism, the Orthodox East has often been too contemplative and (why hide it?) somehow monophysitic. It had little time to think of the problem. Modern science, moreover, was created in the European West and not in the Byzantine or Slavic East.

Nevertheless, today science and Christianity are no longer real enemies, but there is between them a tragic mutual ignorance. Christian theologians know little about science, partly because their own field is demanding enough, and partly because true science quickly discourages amateurs while sociology and politics do not, so that many theologians are tempted by easy and illusory success and become amateur sociologists and amateur politicians in order to be “in dialogue” with what they think is “the world.” On the other hand, many scientists often know Christianity no more than what they learned in their childhood on a grade school level. Meanwhile it is science and the technology streaming from it which control the contemporary world, rather than the politicians and social ideologists. The theologian and the scientist can and must understand each other. If they do not know each other, it is mostly because both have been conditioned by centuries of hostility, and because both were too busy with their respective parochial interests. Here is where the Church must manifest its catholicity, i.e. through overcoming all parochialism! . . .
Here is where lies a most urgent “catholic” responsibility-not, of course, in the sense of promoting a new kind of “Orthodox science” which would know more about atoms, molecules and genes than regular science, but in the sense of making theology and science consider each other seriously again. Today direct hostility between them has been largely overcome, but it has been replaced by mutual ignorance. The situation is that theologians recognize that science and technology represent a tremendous power for man, given by God to control nature. But scientists must also admit that their competence is limited by its very object. They establish facts, but the ultimate meaning of these facts escapes their domain. They should therefore look into theology, i.e. into the basic intellectual and spiritual implications of the faith for ultimate criteria and moral norms.’[1]    

[1] Meyendorff, John, Living Tradition, (Crestwood, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1978), pp. 95-96. 

1 comment:

  1. This is especially timely, since a new Mother Jones article provocatively titled "Study: Science and Religion Really Are Enemies After All" is making the rounds on the Internet. Of course, I suppose this would be timely on many other weeks as well. This is an unfortunate conflict, made more so by the absence of any Orthodox voice in most of the ink that's spilt about it. I wanted to tear my hair out when I listened to just a few minutes of the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, for instance.

    As usual, very good choice of quote.