Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Transplantation of the Western Conflict with Science in the Orthodox East

By Fr. George Metallinos

The European Enlightenment consists of a struggle between natural empiricism and the metaphysics of Aristotle. The Enlighteners are philosophers and rationalists as well. The Greek Enlighteners, with Adamantios Korais as their patriarch, were metaphysical in their theology, and it was they who transported the conflict between the empiricists and the metaphysicists to Greece. However, the Orthodox monks of Mount Athos, the Kollyvades hesychast Fathers, remained empirical in their theological method. The introduction of metaphysics in popular and academic theology is owed principally to Korais. For that reason, Korais became the authenticator of academic theologians as well as of popular moral movements. This means that the cleansing of the heart has ceased to be considered a presupposition of theology, and its place has been taken by scholastic education. The same problem appeared in Russia at the time of Peter the Great (seventeenth to eighteenth century). Thus the Fathers are considered to be philosophers (principally Neo-Platonists like Saint Augustine) and social workers. This has become the prototype of the pietists in Greece. Furthermore, hesychasm is rejected as being obscurantism. The so-called “progressive” ideas of Korais are inclusive of the fact that he was a supporter of Calvinistic and not Roman Catholic use of metaphysics and that his theological works are intense in Calvinistic pietism (moralism).

However, in the Fathers Orthodoxy is anti-metaphysical, as it continually searches empirical “certainty” by means of the hesychastic method. For this reason, the hesychasm of the Kollyvades is empirical and scientific. Reason, according to Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, is empirical. This is illustrated by the hesychasts of the eighteenth century in the way in which they accept the scientific progress of the West. The Kollyvades accept scientific viewpoints in the same way that Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite accepted the latest theories of his day on the functioning of the heart in his work Symbouleutikon. Saint Athansios Parios does not fight science itself, but its use by the Westernized Enlighteners of Greece. They regarded science as God’s work and as an offer for the improvement of man’s life. But the use of science in a metaphysical struggle against faith, as was done in the West and was transferred to the East, is rightly fought by traditional theologians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The mistake lies on the side of the Greek Enlighteners who, without having any relationship to the patristic view of knowledge (although they themselves were priests and monks), transferred the European conflict between metaphysicists and empiricists to Greece, speaking about an “unreasonable religion.” Whereas the Fathers of Orthodoxy, discriminating between the two types of knowledge, simultaneously distinguish the reasonable from the super-reasonable.

The problem of the conflict between faith and science, apart from the confusion of knowledge, has caused the idologiation of the two sides of knowledge. Thus a weak and morbid apologetic has appeared in Christianity (for example, many years ago a Greek professor of Apologetics produced a “mathematical proof of the existence of God”!). In Orthodoxy, however, this dualism is not self-evident. Nothing excludes the coexistence of faith and science when faith is not imaginary metaphysics and science does not falsify its positive character with the use of metaphysics. The mutual understanding of science and faith is helped by current scientific language.

The principle of indetermination (that there is no causality) is a kind of apophatism in science. Therefore, the return to the Fathers helps to overcome the conflict. The acceptance of the limits of the two types of knowledge (Uncreated and created) and the use of the suitable organ or tool for each one, is the element of Orthodoxy and of the Fathers that ranks “earthly” wisdom beneath “higher” or “divine” knowledge.

In contrast, the confusion of the two types of knowledge in Western thought promotes their mutual misinterpretation and continues to foster their conflict. A “Church” that persists in metaphysical theology will always be obliged to beg the pardon of Galilee. But a Science that also ignores its limits will deteriorate into metaphysics and will deal with the existence of God (which is not its responsibility) or reject God completely.

From the article "Authority is Experience".