Wednesday, October 25, 2017

God and Science (3 of 3)

...continued from part two.

Against Supernaturalism

The value of the Trinity thus described is wholly compatible with a scientific account of the world in which the lineaments and workings of natural processes in space and in time are accounted for without recourse to God as a direct causal agent. If, for example, we believed that hurricanes happened because God sneezed, then what would be the point and practical advantage of meteorology?

We must say rather that the lineaments and processes of the natural order are in and of themselves signatures of the divine. These signatures cannot be shaped by a calligraphy of intelligent design without invoking the capricious intervention of a episodically active god in an otherwise chaotic and frequently fragile and dangerous evolutionary process. Such extrinsic and invasive actions of a god from beyond the Cosmos—the classic form of supernaturalism—neuter both science and theology. The divine signatures are rather to be found in the beauty, elegance and fittingness of the natural operations themselves which are both emergent in their complexity and convergent in their function. Consciousness, for example, is a fluid and dynamic artifact of emergent complexity; physiological commonality a functional convergence of evolution. Neither is a deterministic process, but each nonetheless has its own teleology (that to which it tends), notwithstanding the chaotic and random factors involved. God, then, only acts “from beyond” when, ex nihilo, He creates space and time itself.

This characterisation, however, presupposes a scheme of primary and secondary causes with God in the backseat and Nature in the front. How then is this different from deism where the God who is aboriginally involved in creation is subsequently absent, or Neo-Thomism where divine intervention is a more subtly conceived additional layer of supernatural causation? The only way such a model of divine action can be different, at least in Christianity, is by building it on a radically different foundation than that which has been commonplace in the west since the Middle Ages. This foundation is neo-Patristic in that it learns from the Fathers in their engagement with Hellenistic philosophy whilst at the same time striking out with a similar method and some of their insights into the arena of this century and its concerns.

There are three theological references that we need to consider in order to make progress in constructing an old but new model of divine activity that compromises neither science nor Orthodox Christianity. These three theological references are basic and biblical—the Word of God, the Spirit of God and the Wisdom of God.

The Word of God, (that is, the Logos in Greek) and the Holy Spirit are two hypostases of the Trinity, the Father’s active agents in Creation.

The Wisdom of God has often struggled to find a place in this scheme for she (in reference, feminine) certainly is not an additional hypostasis, nor the essence or energy of God but something else. Rehabilitated from ancient Christian Tradition by the sophiological school of Russian Orthodox Christian thought in the 19th and 20th centuries, Divine Sophia, Holy Wisdom is, I submit, a shared divine attribute which we can apply to ALL three hypostases or persons of the Holy Trinity in the summation of their activity in the Cosmos as one God.

I shall refer, therefore, to Wisdom in relation to each and all of the hypostases in the following account. The Father is in relation to the Son or Word and the Spirit as the timeless Source of the Trinity. He is never without them, nor they without Him. In the course of this proposal, therefore, I shall proceed in my argument from the Logos in Wisdom (from the Father alone but in the Spirit) to the Spirit in Wisdom (from the Father alone but in the Son). The Father of course timelessly imparts Wisdom both to the Son and the Spirit in their coordinated actions as One God in Creation. (I am indebted in much of what follows to Dr. Christopher Knight whose reasoning and conclusions I largely follow. The sophiological speculations are my own).

The Logos Christology

St John the Theologian in the prologue to his Gospel taught that it was the Logos (the Word of God) that was active in both the creation of the Cosmos and in the Incarnation. St. John deftly achieved two goals in his use of this Logos Christology. Firstly, he showed the universality of the Incarnation by using a term which was familiar to Jews and pre-Christian Greeks, the Logos. The Jewish diaspora in Alexandria (Philo) had already united the Hebraic concept of the Word of God (dabar) with the Hellenistic Logos, the divine seed inherent in all things. Secondly, by using a single term, the Logos, St John ensured that Christ would be received, as is His due, as the Lord of all creation. Christians such as Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen continued to develop this synthesis and used it as a bridgehead for the communication of the gospel in Greek culture. Pre-Christian Greek philosophy, at this stage heavily influenced by Plato, contributed something of great value to Christianity—the means to express the inclusion of both nature and revelation as the sphere of God’s action. The Church reimagined Platonism from a dualistic philosophy in which created forms were merely shadows of more substantial heavenly ideals into the Judaeo-Christian confession of the goodness of creation itself.

Important progress in the development of these ideas took place in the cosmological teaching of the seventh century Byzantine theologian, honoured in both the East and the West, St Maximus the Confessor (580-662). St Maximus explored further this idea of the logoi in all things created as manifestations of the creative Word, the Logos imparting both the inner essence and the ultimate fulfilment to one and all. In this account the Incarnation was characterised not as an abrupt intrusion or invasion of the Logos into the created order from which it was originally absent but rather the personal and particular development and refinement of an existing and universal creative presence of the Word, now united to human flesh and nature in the person of Christ. Although the Incarnation happened so that death might be destroyed and humanity with creation restored to the path of dynamic transformation, the East generally held that the Word would have been made flesh in the context of this process even if humanity had not fallen. It is after all the nature of Divine Love to make itself known through self-giving.

St Maximus, together with all the Greek fathers and their successors, had a panentheistic conception of God’s immanence which harmonised ideas in both pagan and Hebraic religion without sacrificing God’s transcendence. Later generations of theologians, notably St Gregory Palamas articulated this in the distinction they made between the nature or essence of God, forever transcending anything created, and his energies, also God and Uncreated, but manifest in every spacetime coordinate and in every physical and immaterial creation. After the Great Schism in 1054 when the West began to lose touch with Greek Christian culture, this vital insight was gradually lost. Later Western theologians assumed as axiomatic the principle that God had to “move” as it were from heaven to earth when he needed to act, his presence otherwise being rather nebulous and erratic. This was the source of supernaturalism, the notion that grace had to be added to nature. This view prevailed for centuries until the Enlightenment finally dispensed with supernature leaving the west in the grip of deism or the worship of the goddess Reason. Secularisation rapidly followed as the sea of faith made its melancholic withdrawal from the public consciousness. The Christian East however continued with what we might call its theistic naturalism in which the Lord pervaded the whole of the Cosmos without the need to suspend natural laws at whim in order to achieve his purpose. Creation has complete freedom to be itself and yet at the same time there is a natural and grace-full growth in the logoi or Logos towards an end or telos in God. In the Christian West science only flourished once the Catholic Church’s inflexible intellectual control had been broken. There never seems to have been such a problem in the Christian East and for good reason. The phoney war between science and religion never broke out beyond Rome’s dominion, nor could it, the theology being radically different.

The Life Giving Spirit

The unique theological perspective of the Christian East, which the Orthodox believe to be the simple witness of Scripture and Tradition, is expressed in its understanding of the person and work of the Holy Spirit as well as the Logos. The Holy Spirit is the Life Giver, the power of creation, of revelation, of guidance, of cleansing, of renewal, of holiness, of justice and of peace. The action of the Holy Spirit in human life and the Cosmos itself is simply to bring the fullness of life to all that is latent within the logoi of created things. This, however, is not a vitalism that constitutes or replaces the energies of creation but rather that which restores and enhances these according to their divine purpose. Consider the healing of the sick. This is achieved through the skill of doctors, nurses, surgeons and drug researchers in addition to the care for the whole person manifested through pastoral support and prayer. The Holy Spirit works in and through the logoi of each means of healing, once more revealing the Wisdom of God in action, bringing everything to its proper fulfillment in Christ.

The Holy Spirit also continues to work in Creation so that in the Wisdom of God the Cosmos is transfigured and, in the case of humans who are in the divine image and likeness, deified. Again St Maximus the Confessor reveals this cosmic regeneration as possible by reaffirming a pre-Christian notion of Greek philosophy, namely that humankind is a microcosm of the Cosmos. If humanity is restored and set free by the Holy Spirit so shall the Cosmos (Romans 8:18-23). This glorious vision is not of course what we see in the world today. We have inherited the legacy of a quite different view of the earth in which divine transformation is very far from the mind of those who are its unwitting stewards. The impact of this legacy is plain for all to see. The recovery of Earth’s ecosystems will only occur when humans exercise once again an ascesis of self-restraint and live out anew their connectedness to the Cosmos. This will require a spirituality that does not see the natural world as a mere stage for unbridled human activity but rather a gift to be respected and cherished. How can this be achieved without honouring the divine logoi that inhere within all things?

I have contended that there is no conflict between Science and Religion, when each discipline is properly understood. More specifically, it should be recognized that Orthodox Christianity has developed important insights into that fine structure of the Cosmos which allows for divine action without compromising or controlling creation’s freedom to move toward its goal in God. It should now be clear that both creationism and scientific atheism are dead doctrines based on a weak understanding of both science and religion. In contrast, Orthodox Christianity offers the freedom to humanity to explore the inner workings of the Cosmos, its glory and its beauty.

Manchester Metropolitan University Multicultural Studies Lecture on February 24, 2011, by Archpriest Gregory Hallam, on the subject of Science, Creation, and the Seeking of Truth in Orthodox Christian Theology, recorded by Ancient Faith Radio of Conciliar Media Ministries.