Faith And Science In Orthodox Gnosiology and Methodology (Part 2)

D. God-Man dialectic

Thus the Orthodox believer experiences in the correlation of the two knowledge-wisdoms a God-man dialectic. And to use the Christological terminology, every knowledge must stay put and move within its limits. The problem of the limits of each kind of knowledge is put thus: The surpassing of those limits leads to the confusion of their functions and finally to their conflict. According to the above, the Holy Fathers defended the correct use of science and education. Saint Gregory the Theologian states:

“Education should not be dishonored.” The same Father in his second theological Oration also sets the limits of both kinds of wisdom. Saint Gregory says that the ancient sage (Plato in Timaeus) said: “It is difficult to know God and impossible to express Him [verbally].” However the same Greek yet Christian St. Gregory understands that it is impossible to express (describe) God with words, moreover it is absolutely impossible to understand Him! That is, Plato has already pointed out the limits of human reason and it is important to add that there is no rationalism in the ancient Greek philosophy. Saint Gregory also demonstrates the impossibility of surpassing those limits and the conception of the Uncreated by means of the knowledge of the created.
The distinction and simultaneous hierarchy of the two kinds of knowledge have been pointed out by Saint Basil the Great when he states that faith must prevail in words concerning God and the proofs made by reason. That faith originates from the action and energy of the Holy Spirit. Faith for St. Basil is the illumination of the Holy Spirit in the heart. (P.G. 30,104B-105B). He also gives a classic example of the Orthodox use of scientific knowledge in his Hexameron (P.G. 29, 3-208). He repudiates the cosmological theories of the philosophers on the eternity and self-existence of the world and proceeds to the synthesis of biblical and scientific facts, through which he surpasses science. Furthermore, by rejecting materialistic and heretical teachings, he gets to the theological (but not metaphysical) interpretation of the nature of creation. The central message of this work is, that the logical support of dogma is impossible based only on science. Dogma belongs to another sphere. It is above reason and science, yet within the limits of another knowledge. The use of dogma with wordly knowledge leads to the transformation of science into metaphysics. Whereas the use of reason in the domain of faith proves its weakness and relativity. Therefore, there is no belief that is not searched in Orthodox gnosiology, but each field is searched with its own criteria: Science with its presuppositions and Divine Knowledge with its presuppositions.
The most tragic expression of the alienated Christian body is the ecclesiastica1 attitude in the West towards Galileo. The case could be characterized as surpassing the limits of jurisdiction. But it is much more serious, it is the confusion of the limits of knowledge and their conflict. It is a fact that this loss of the wisdom from above in the West and the way of achieving it have caused the intellect (mind) to be used as a tool of not only human wisdom, but of Divine Wisdom too. The use of the intellect in the field of science leads unavoidably to the rejection of the supernatural as incomprehensible, and its use in the field of faith can lead to the rejection of science when it is considered to be in conflict with faith. This same way of thinking and the same loss of criteria is also betrayed by the rejection of the Copernican system in the East (1774-1821). Science, in turn, takes its revenge for the condemnation of Galilee by the Roman Church, in the person of Darwin, with his theory of evolution.

E. Transplantation of the Western Problem to the Orthodox East

The European Enlightenment consisted of a struggle between physical 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 empiricists and metaphysicists to Greece. However, the Orthodox monks of Mount Athos, the Kollyvades and other Hesychast Fathers remained empiricists in their theological method. The introduction of metaphysics in our popular and academic theology is due, principally, to Korais. For this reason Korais became the authority for our academic theologians, as well as for the popular moral movements. This means that the purification of the heart has ceased to be considered as 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 (17-18th century). Thus the Fathers are considered to be philosophers (principally Neo-platonists like St. Augustine) and social workers. This has become the prototype of the pietists in Greece. Furthermore, Hesychasm is rejected as obscurantism. The so-called progressive ideas of Korais comprise from the fact that he was a supporter of the Calvinistic and not the Roman Catholic use of metaphysics, and his theological works are intense in this Calvinistic pietism (moralism).
However, for the Fathers, Orthodoxy is anti-metaphysical, as it continually searches empirical certainty, by means of the hesychastic method. This is why the hesychasm of the Kollyvades is empirical and scientific. Ratio according to Saint Nicodemus the Hagiorite is empirical. This is illustrated by the Hesychasts of the 18th century in the way in which they accept the scientific progress of the West. The Kollyvades acknowledged scientific viewpoints like, for example, Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite did in his work, Symbouletikon, where he accepts the latest theories of his time on the functioning of the heart. Saint Athansios Parios does not fight science itself, but its use by the Westernized Enlighteners of the Greek nation. They regarded science as God’s work and as an offering for the improvement of life. But the use of science in a metaphysical struggle against faith, as was practised in the West, and as was transferred to the East, is opposed quite rightly by the traditional theologians of the 18th and 19th century. The mistakes lies on the side of the Greek Enlighteners who, without having any relationship with the patristic viewpoint of knowledge, although they themselves were priests and monks, transferred the European conflict of metaphysicists and empiricists to Greece, talking about irrational religion. Whereas, the Fathers of Orthodoxy, discriminating between the two kinds of knowledge making a distinction at the same time between the rational from the super-rational.
The problem of conflict between faith and science, apart from the confusion of knowledge, has caused the idoloziation of the two kinds of knowledge. Thus, a weak and morbid apologetic has resulted in Christianity (e.g. a Greek professor of Apologetics many years ago produced a mathematical proof of the existence of God !). In Orthodoxy, however, this dualism is not self-evident. Nothing excludes the co-existence 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. The return to the Fathers therefore, helps to overcome the conflict. The acceptance of the limits of the two kinds 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 which places earthly wisdom under higher or divine knowledge.
In contrast, the confusion of the two types of knowledge in Western thought promotes their mutual misinterpretations and continues and fosters their conflict. A Church which persists in metaphysical theology, will always be obliged to beg Galileo’s pardon. But a Science that also ignores its limits, will deteriorate into metaphysics and will either deal with the existence of God (which is not its responsibility) or reject God completely.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: