Thursday, May 19, 2016

Faith and Science: Contradictory or Complementary Meanings?

By Michael G. Houlis,
Theologian, Professor, Special Associate of the Holy Metropolis of Syros

Over the past few years, there has been an unnecessary return to essays and articles at the forefront of research, even by various positive scientists, on the old, misunderstood topic of the “enmity” between Science and Faith, or, Logic and Religion.

This phenomenon is being fuelled once again, mostly by representatives of the positive sciences, with quite a number of new and more heated books opposed to Christianity, but also by circles of the more conservative Protestants of America, who are opposed to the contemporary findings of Biology, Astronomy, Physics, etc. with their verbatim interpretation of the first Chapter of the Holy Bible (Genesis) and who are also against certain branches of Science with scientific and religious criteria.

We must make it clear from the very start, that Theology and Science do not oppose each other by nature, given that Science concerns itself with the structure and the functions of Nature, whereas Theology deals with God’s revealed truth and with the Holy-Spiritual meaning of Life. Science can answer questions about how the world and the universe are made, but it cannot of course answer the questions of who created the universe and why. These last questions are the business of Theology and by extension, of the Church. The great contemporary scientist Stephen Hawkins had stated that “even if science could manage to explain everything that happened from the birth of the universe to this day, it will not be able to explain why” (Focus magazine, vol.2, April 2000, p.80-84).

Science does not have the right to formulate methodologies by resorting to metaphysics (i.e., by accepting or rejecting God), regardless whether each and every scientist is personally faithful or faithless. On the other hand, it is the duty of Theology to help us – from within the spiritual experience of the Church – to reach the (spiritual) heavens. Similarly, Theology does not have the right to concern itself scientifically, either with how the “cosmic” heavens were created, or how Man appeared on Earth, because these are matters that preoccupy Science, not Theology.

The purpose of the first chapters of the Book of Genesis is to reveal that the entire universe has a Creator-God - that it did not just happen to appear, as though by magic - and also, that the heavenly bodies and all of Creation are not “gods”, as was the belief of the numerous idolatrous nations that surrounded Israel at the time. The intention, therefore, of the divinely-inspired authors was not to project any kind of science but rather, a sublime theology, for which purpose they utilized the religious and scientific knowledge that existed at the time. One cannot therefore regard the (purely auxiliary) scientific world-images of the divinely-inspired authors’ times as “divinely-inspired images”; only the theological message of the Bible is considered divinely-inspired. That is the ONLY sector of the Holy Bible that can be called infallible, and not necessarily the scientific knowledge that has been utilized therein. We can therefore understand why the representatives of either side are not justified in their reactivation of situations and settings that had been contained over 100 years ago. Given the above, one discerns how Science actually betrays itself, if and when it strives to discover the uncreated God through physical means, because by doing so, it is going beyond the boundaries of its own research. But certainly Theology is also not obliged to accept each and every scientific theory that conflicts with the Christian world-theory on God and the world.

In this context, Atheism does not have the right to use Science as its vanguard against Christianity and religions in general, because when Science embarks on researching an absolute knowledge, it lacks the instrument, the object and the method respectively that can even come close to understanding the meaning of “God”, since the essence of God is beyond everything absolute and is entirely inapprehensible. Atheist scientists, therefore, are not atheists thanks to any findings of their science, but on account of a specific, materialistic ideology that they believe in.

Faith and Logic, Religion and Science are not seen as conflicting, by well-meaning persons. Only the erroneous placements of the representatives of each side are in conflict. Proof of this is the fact that eminent Christians, clergymen and laymen, as well as the major Fathers of the Church, were also well educated for their time and some of them – for example Saint Basil the Great – were also well versed in all the sciences. Wasn’t the Belgian scientist Georges Lemaitre – the “father” of the “Big Bang” theory on the Beginning of the Universe – a priest? Weren’t many of the Teachers of our Nation during the Turkish Occupation, such as: Eugenios Voulgaris, Nikephoros Theotokis, Methodios Anthrakites, Benjamin of Lesvos, e.a., also the first teachers of positive sciences in our homeland, and at the same time priests?

On the other hand, there have been very important scientists who were also religious: Keppler, Pascal, Newton, Leibnitz, Volta, Ampere, Gauss, Carrell, Faraday, Maxwell, Pasteur, Lister, Jung and so many others; all of them were exceptional scientists and at the same time people with deep religious faith. Their science did not and does not negate their faith; in fact, one could say that it complemented it. This is because scientists examine with their Science the natural and the empirical world, throughout Time, while with their faith and their prayers, they communicate with the “One Who Is” – the personal, Triadic God – and from Him, they draw their courage in their lives and their work. When, in the course of his observations and his research, a scientist realizes the grandeur of Nature as a creation of Divine Providence, he does not necessarily have to respond with a display of conscience, crying out “How great are Your works, o Lord; You have created everything with wisdom” (Psalms). In view of this, the English Physicist Paul Davis wrote: “The fact that the natural laws of the universe have allowed the development of complex biological structures which have led to the appearance of conscience, to me constitutes obvious proof that there is something in nature that surpasses us. I am convinced that behind the miracle of the universe, there is a divinely-inspired plan” (Focus magazine, as above)

The very significant scientist and studier of the human genome, Francis Collins, in his book “The Language of God” writes: “The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshiped in the cathedral or in the laboratory." ( - Interview with John Horgan).

Furthermore, the English astronomer, Prof. Smart, submitted the following thoughts: “When we study the Universe, we take into account its size and its regularity and are thence led to acknowledging a Creative Power and a Cosmic Purpose, which transcends all the boundaries of human comprehension” (D. Kotsakis, The Astronomical Universe – Creation or Chance?, Zoe publications, 1983, page 108).

But even the great mathematician Einstein wrote: “Every researcher of nature is overcome by a kind of religious awe in the presence of the order that prevails in nature, which cannot be a chance thing. The universe reveals to Man an unlimited superior intelligence” (Ferdinand Krenzer, Synopsis of the Catholic Faith, Spiritual Course Publications, p. 32-33).

The existence of the infinitely perfect God can in no way be proven by scientific means and much less can His essence be made known, because if that were the case, Man would have been perfect, and God imperfect. God is not a cadaver laid out on an operating table for forensic examination; He is a Person – an actual, existent Person – with Whom we can come in contact and communicate. The inability to logically prove the existence of God does not mean that God does not exist. It only means that our own intellect is not able to grasp the infinite God. Intellectual logic functions under the same laws and the same infrastructure as Nature. God, however, (as far as His Nature and His essence are concerned) is the “entirely Other”, when it comes to our cosmic laws. He cannot be comprehended with only our ideological and scientific capabilities. A scientist - devout or agnostic - but also every faithful Christian, can detect only the traces of His presence in the world; His Providence and His energies in Creation (His “circum-essence”), but not His essence per se – that is, His unfathomable depth. God is not a unit, an individual atop a throne in the sky. He is the source of life; He is the meaning of “being” per se, and He is not revealed by anyone; instead, it is He who reveals Himself, through His uncreated energies, to the humble and the spiritually sound (=with a cleansed heart), in response to their prayers and their worship, whereas the self-opinioned mind usually requires God to adapt Himself to its own, personal theories, without that person displaying any humility whatsoever. This is how an autonomized and obscured mind is, when it cannot see God’s things, because it is in a fallen state. Obversely, salvation is attained through catharsis of the heart, through ascetic labor and the upholding of Christ’s commandments, through Whom and in Whose Person God revealed Himself and ever reveals Himself to the world. Such is the experience of the Prophets, the Saints and the Fathers of the Church. And we Christians know in our hearts that this is the truth and the path that orientates us towards the personal, Triadic God.

Nowadays, Man has succeeded in placing Nature in his service through Science and Technology, which has given him the impression that this has made the presence of God redundant. But the fact that someone can utilize electricity does not mean that he has actually created it. For someone to solve a mathematical problem, he must follow the correct mathematical method for solving problems. In order for an experiment to succeed in Chemistry, we must combine specific materials in correct proportions. In order for a piece of equipment to work, it must have the instructions of its manufacturer. For someone to learn to dance, it is imperative that they follow the teacher’s steps. To learn how to play a musical instrument, we need to understand the notes and acquire dexterity in our hands. Thus, in order for one to attain faith, but also the state of seeing God (which is the only perfect, divine miracle), it is imperative that he follow, step by step, the guidelines of the Church (Christ’s guidelines), Who is the only one that can responsibly show us the way: that is, through humility, acts of love, sacramental living, ascesis and the orientation of one’s will towards God. It is futile to ask “cerebrally” if God exists, if we haven’t first embarked on the road that leads directly to His own revelation of Himself.

Science mainly provides knowledge and the technological implementation of that knowledge, for the health and the well-being in people’s lives, while Theology – and especially the Church - provides psychosomatic therapy and salvation, sanctification and deification (theosis), through ascesis, sacramental life and love. The work, therefore, of the Church has a much broader spectrum than Science. And the genuine scientist or intellectual does not reject the miracle – should he encounter it in his life – because neither Intellect nor Science blocks the paths and the means of research, nor do they stagnate and crystallize into irrevocable recipes and solutions. Everyone has a right to declare himself an agnostic, however, he is betraying his quest and his very self, if he declares himself an atheist. The truth may exist in the future of Science, but Christ always comes from the future as well - in some bend of our existential road - and never from the past.

These two supreme magnitudes in people’s lives – Faith and Science – we can therefore discern as not being in conflict, but rather, that they are in a harmonious collaboration for mankind’s benefit. In other words, they most definitely complement each other – especially in our day, when the problems that rear their heads are multilateral and in need of a multilateral handling. If mankind wants to survive, it needs to be in a phase of synthesis and reconciliation, and not in a phase of unproductive confrontation and division. The future of our planet and our universe should concern us, and not the pseudo-advantageous pursuits of various representative individuals.

It is a fact, that wherever Religion is attacked by Science, that is where certain representatives of Science respond with ideological and metaphysical - and not scientific - warfare.

Science is neutral in its research. It should have no materialistic or theistic presuppositions during its search for the objective truth.

Hence, wherever Science’s work is made difficult by religious representatives of various confessions, that is where the role of Religion has become misunderstood and unorthodoxically interpreted.

Of course, it has by now become clear to scientists that each Science is not a kind of magic with unlimited potentials, nor does it claim to possess –without any weaknesses whatsoever- the extreme certainty, in an absolute knowledge, based on its findings. Natural reality has many aspects, just like a building. And it has now become part of our conscience that the scientific view of the world and nature indicates only one of the many functions of the world. Besides, the source of every knowledge is undoubtedly the faith in the potentials of that knowledge, even when our basic scientific beliefs are as yet unproven. Furthermore, every world theory is – deep down – an esoteric and religious one. You begin from the point that you believe in, deep down inside you, and you continue on, with faith in the result. Philosopher E. Block mentions: “There are some knowledges that we cannot acquire, except only if we desire to” (Ferdinand Krenzer, as above, page 31). We must not forget that all scientists, during their work, daily put their trust in the positions and the research of others, of colleagues who have preceded them, without trying to prove everything, from the very beginning. (see Chorepiskopos of Arsinoe George, "Religion and Science in our Days", A Homily delivered at the Union of “Friends of Saint Menignos the Cloth-dyer”, patron saint of Chemists, Athens 23.11.2003).

Given the above, collaboration is becoming evident in our day, on every level, between Science and Religion, and especially for us, between Science and Christianity. Without Religion, Science stands only on one leg. This is because “every science, separated from virtue, appears as cunning and not as wisdom”, according to Saint Gregory the Theologian. In fact, humility is the only thing that can save Science from its self-sufficiency and its isolation, when it finally admits that it is aware of its boundaries and its limitations, and that it does not always have a ready answer to all the problems and questions in life.

Nobody can live with scientific knowledge alone. Morality, meaning and quality of life, the perception of beauty, of sanctity, of everything lofty and just are equally necessary. When the Third World and millions of our fellow-men are living below the levels of mere survival, they are most assuredly not interested in chromosomes, DNA, or the number of protons and neutrons that comprise the nucleus of their cells. When someone is dying of hunger, he will not satisfy his hunger with quarks and sub-atomic particles. Christianity, Science and Technology are, for that reason, the servants and the deacons for the benefit of the world, especially in view of the rapid development of the bio-sciences and bio-technology, in the wake of the critical impasses that are encountered. The German Physics Nobelist, Max Planck, actually states that: “The paths of science and religion move parallel to each other, and they meet in the vast infinity, in other words, God.” ("Science and the Church", Archimandrite Timothy Kontoyannis,

Subsequently, “Science and Technology are both instruments given by God, which, if used properly, will extend our potentials for the better… it is the misuse and not the temperate use of Science that causes harm. If, on the other hand, there are those who from the standpoint of Science…present themselves as atheists, they will need to remember that their atheism cannot be founded in Science, but will continue to be simply an existential placement on their part.... The relationship between Christianity and the Positive Sciences is a relationship of a common course, because all the factors that shape it are positive ones.” (Chorepiskopos of Arsinoe George, as above)

The dilemma therefore of “Science, or Faith?” is a pseudo-dilemma.

“Science and Faith” is the answer, for all time.