Orthodox Christianity and the Reassessment of Scientific Knowledge

Science and Orthodoxy around the World

Second International Conference
Athens, 9-10 February, 2018

 

Rev. Jean Boboc  Dean of The Dumitru Staniloae Orthodox Study and Research Center, Paris
 

Transhumanism and Orthodoxy

Humanity, at least as we still know it today, is threatened at its core by three major plagues, each of them interconnected by essence: Eugenism, Ectogenesis and Transhumanism. To these we must add another plague, syncretism, or consensus based on the smallest common denominator, implying a relativistic way of thinking, very much like that of the ecumenists. Progress in the knowledge of the human genome and the ability to edit it is feeding these three plagues. Editing the genome has now become the new leitmotiv for Scientists.

Genetic manipulation is the common denominator for these three plagues. By convergence and synergy, they first lead to the concept of “exploded Motherhood” and, followingly, to the concept of the “groundless Man”, the revolutionary objective of transhumanist ideology. According to the Transhumanist Declaration, “Humanity stands to be profoundly affected by science and technology in the future. We envision the possibility of broadening human potential by overcoming aging, cognitive shortcomings, involuntary suffering, and our confinement to planet Earth .” Another declaration, the Letter to Mother Nature, states that “we will no longer tolerate the tyranny of aging and death. Through genetic alterations, cellular manipulations, synthetic organs, and any necessary means, we will endow ourselves with enduring vitality and remove our expiration date. We will each decide for ourselves how long we shall live .”

Transhumanist ideology is mainly based on scientific progress and the acceleration of its applications. Also known for its atheism, its plan to improve human faculties, whether physical, biological, genetic or mental, it aims towards a new moral – the obligation to improve and select the best genes for future generations – thus part of the overcoming of the human condition, by a utopian quest for immortality, leading the human to the post-human. Profoundly eugenic, transhumanism allows all transgressions, refusing all authority and dogma. Among the most unsettling projects, research on AI (artificial intelligence) and the transfer of intelligence to a server in order to transfer it to a clone, an avatar or a robot (works by Ray Kurzweil) lead from human to cyborg and cybernetic immortality. Conscious of the human’s religious dimension and the ontological character of the homo religiosus, transhumanist ideology calls today all religions to a unique form of religion ignoring dogmatic differences to better establish the new world order religion, using the ecumenical trend to establish a sort of international ecumenist movement favorable to its ideology. Orthodoxy is directly confronted with this challenge and stands in the front line against the 2045 Initiative program by Dmitry Itskov, the European alter ego of Ray Kurzweil.

 


 

Protopr. Dr Doru Costache  Senior Lecturer in Patristic Studies, Sydney College of Divinity
 

One Description, Multiple Interpretations: Suggesting a Way Out of the Current Impasse

Contemporary science offers the only rigorous description of reality. This judgment remains valid despite the concurrent scientific explanations of certain phenomena and the inevitable advancement of the sciences. In this light, the ancient computation of the age of the cosmos to roughly eight thousand years is not an acceptable description of reality. Neither are geocentric cosmography and the flat earth geography. Nor is the old calendar. However, such anachronisms still linger in certain milieus within Orthodoxy, against the backdrop of an opposition to the current representation of reality. The impact of anachronism is double. On the one hand, there is dissension among the Orthodox. Indeed, in contrast to the anachronism cultivated by certain quarters, most Orthodox neither follow the old calendar nor believe in a recently made universe which revolves around a flat earth. On the other hand, the Orthodox worldview is ridiculed by the scientific community. But is there anything noteworthy in the criticisms levelled by the anachronistic milieus at the current scientific representation of reality? I believe that what determines their opposition to contemporary science is not the description itself, but the fact that this description is ideologically fraught—lending substance to agnostic, atheistic, naturalistic, and materialistic agendas. Drawing from a patristic example and several modern Orthodox scholars, I propose that the difference between description and interpretation must be observed, and, consequently, that multiple interpretations of the one scientific description of reality are allowed. Illustrating the convictions of certain groups, the agnostic, atheistic, naturalistic, and materialistic ideologies amount to biased interpretations of science. As such, they cannot monopolise science and all sides should agree that, being pertinent to other groups, theological interpretations of the same science must be likewise permitted. Should the contemporary scientific narrative cease promoting agnosticism, atheism, naturalism, and materialism, allowing instead for a variety of interpretations, including theological, the current description of reality could become readily acceptable to all, including the reluctant Orthodox quarters.  

 


 

Sergey Demidov  Professor, Dept of Mechanics and Mathematics, Moscow State University

 

Infinity in theology and in mathematics: to the discussion of academician N.N. Luzin and father Pavel Florensky
The problem of the infinity was one of the central problems in the work of the mathematician academician N. N. Luzin and the theologian, philosopher and naturalist father Pavel Florensky. One approached this problem as a mathematician, the other from the standpoint of theology. The result was a discussion that revealed a fundamental divergence in views.

 


 

Sotirios Despotis  Professor, School of Theology, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
 

Exodus to the Multiverse: Pauline theology, Orthodox Christianity and the modern quest for interdisciplinarity

This paper aims at presenting the way Paul was received by the sciences of the modern era as an interdisciplinary event. Within this scope, we examine the reception of Pauline theology by the Humanities, the social sciences, and the exact sciences of Western modernity. It is an ‘exodus’ of an Apostolic theology, which is simultaneously ecumenical but also deeply connected to the Christianity, and later Orthodoxy, of the eastern Mediterranean, from its biblical identity into scientific multiplicity. The milestones of the effort to trace this Pauline ‘exodus’ are the works by philosophers Badiou and Derrida, social anthropologists, religionists and theologists, such as Mauss, Satlow and Davis, as well as researchers of the new theories of Everything, such as Barrow. In its diachronic dimension, the research focuses on the one-hundred-year period starting from the end of the First World War or Great War (1918-2018), the immense tragedy of which urgently raised the issue for contemporary Humanity to demand an interconnected universal society, the result - but also precondition - of which is interdisciplinarity. The open and interdisciplinary mind with which the pioneer thinkers of western culture during the past two centuries met and conversed with the theologian-tentmaker from the 1st-century eastern Mediterranean, and, indirectly, with eastern Christian spirituality, is a good example of an understanding between religion and science, in the latter’s effort to provide answers to the big questions of our time.

 


 

Rev. Perry (Paraskevas) T. Hamalis, Ph.D.  Metropolis of Korea | North Central College, Naperville
 

Conquering Death through Radical Life Extension: A Challenge for and to Orthodox Christian Ethics
    Major funding and scientific research is being directed today not only toward disease-fighting medicines but also toward “radical life extension”, anti-aging therapies and technologies that aim to push the maximum human lifespan from approximately 120 years to 150 years, 200 years, 1000 years, or more. Several leaders of top technology companies, including Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Google’s Larry Page, PayPal’s Peter Thiel, and XPRIZE’s Peter Diamandis, have invested heavily in new initiatives dedicated to such radical life extension, seeing it as a kind of ‘final frontier’ in humanity’s efforts to master nature. While some ethicists have responded, from a variety of normative perspectives, with concerns over the pursuit of radical life extension, few Christian communities have developed thoughtful stances on it. Are radical life extension efforts congruent or incongruent with Orthodox Christianity? What insights does Orthodox Christianity offer to the ethical debates surrounding the pursuit of radical life extension? And what challenges to traditional Orthodox ethics are likely to arise if progress in radical life extension is achieved? This paper provides a preliminary response to such questions, while also highlighting the need for deeper theological-ethical study in order to avoid arbitrariness. Specifically, it suggests that while, on the one hand, radical life extension initiatives raise challenge both to Orthodoxy’s historical support of medical science and to Orthodoxy’s distinctive emphasis on “the problem of death” and “conquering death”, on the other hand, the Orthodox tradition offers resources that illuminate ethical nuances of the issue that might otherwise be overlooked.

 


 

Sergey S. Horujy  Major Research Fellow, Institute of Philosophy, Russian Academy of Sciences
 

Risky trends of scientific development and the problem of integral ecological expertise

In the development of modern science there are well-known directions and trends, which bring serious risks for the world of nature as well as for the prospects of humanity, culture and spirituality. Such directions and trends include many studies based on genetic technologies, computer and IT technologies, developing virtual practices and so on. Risks concerning the world of nature belong to the working field of ecology and the ecological expertise. As for risks concerning the human and society, culture and spirituality, a new approach called integral ecology was propounded for dealing with them. This approach elaborates generalized versions of ecology corresponding to areas of anthropological, social, cultural and spiritual reality: ecology of the human, ecology of culture, etc.
In my talk at the 1st SOW Congress it was shown that the patristic paradigm of the Cosmic Liturgy can provide the general basis for integral ecology. Continuing the conceptual line of this talk, I plan to show that the strategy for neutralizing anthropological, social and cultural risks involved in modern scientific development can consist in the establishment of the integral ecological expertise similar to the ecological expertise in usual ecology and based on the principles of the Cosmic Liturgy. In this new kind of expertise, theology must perform the important function of a practice, which makes the appraisal of scientific practices from the viewpoint of their anthropological, social, cultural and spiritual security and soundness.  

 


 

Petar Jevremović  Professor, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade
 

Critical Psychoanalysis and the Question of Ecclesial Truth

There is unavoidable (but potentially fruitful) tension between Christian theology and the discourse of the modern (critical) psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic discourse is subversive, opposed to any kind of ideology and metaphysics, deeply related to the realm of unconsciousness and narcissism within the human. Christian theology stands upon the - mystical, metaphysical or ideological - presupposition of ecclesial unity, unity of all true believers (within the order of Ecclesial hierarchy) in their common belief and worship. Human personality, with all its immanent logics and alogism, is the biggest common topic of psychoanalysis and Christian theology. Theology implies the necessity of belief in the possibility of actual possession (and ritual distribution) of the truth. Psychoanalysis, being radically devoted to its own clinical and critical roots, strongly opposes all possible - actually pathognomonic - attempts to petrify ecclesial authority as a metaphysical possessor (and distributor) of the truth. The substantial point of divergence between psychoanalysis and theology is in their different treatment of the ontological status of the truth. For theology, the truth is one and whole. For psychoanalysis, the truth is never whole; something is always missing. It makes our experience of the truth polymorphic and potentially (for any kind of petrified order) subversive. Paradoxically, it makes modern (critical) psychoanalysis much more familiar with the ancient traditions of monastic and ascetical practices than to modern (urban) ways of Christian living.

 


 

Alexei Nesteruk  Senior Lecturer, University of Portsmouth

 

Philosophical Delimiters in the Dialogue between Science and Theology and the Relevance of the Fathers
The paper discusses the philosophical difficulties of conducting the dialogue between science and theology. It is argued that unlike science theology deals with the event-like phenomena which cannot be presented in the phenomenality of objects. Correspondingly, in order to incorporate the givens of theology (the ‘data’ of religious experience) into a philosophical framework one needs to extend philosophy beyond its metaphysical and transcendental setting.  Theology, in particular patristic  theology, provides examples of such an extension through the means of mediation between the givens of communion and their epistemological appropriation.  The fact that science and philosophy have to rely on the method of theology follows from  the inexplicability of the phenomenon of Man.  It is this phenomenon that remains an ultimate reference point in the account for the contingent facticity of both science and theology. Both science and theology originate in human beings, having an ambiguous position in the universe which cannot be explicated on metaphysical grounds and which, theologically, originates in the event of the Fall. The so called dialogue between science and theology demonstrates that the difference in hermeneutics of representation of the world in the phenomenality of objects and the inaugural events of human life and religious experience pertains to the basic characteristic of the human condition and that the intended overcoming of this difference under the disguise of the ‘dialogue’ represents, in fact, an existentially untenable enterprise. Discussions on the difference in experience of the world and experience of God are profoundly timely for further articulation of the sense of the post-lapserian human condition, but not for its feasible change. The latter is a subject matter of practical theology, involving ascetics and ecclesial practice.
 

 


 

Argyrios Nicolaidis  Professor, Dept of Theoretical Physics, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
 

Modern Science and St. Gregory Palamas

The dialogue and the interaction between science and theology is inherently difficult. On the one hand science is using an analytical language and every theory should be verified by experiment. On the other hand religion and theology involve deeply personal considerations. The language of theology is poetic; it is a metaphorical language which employs signs or symbols that assume multiple interpretations. Theology also raises issues such as ethics, goal/telos, human freedom, issues that science cannot address. Under these conditions, the usual approach is to keep science and theology apart.
But there are second thoughts and important questions which we cannot avoid. For example,
• If science is a sign, what is the interpretation of this sign? What is the image that emerges from the scientific knowledge of the Universe?
• What are the foundations of science? On what is our trust, or even belief, grounded? On analytical language?
• What is our relationship to Nature? Are we a part of Nature, or rather detached from it?
• How is techne-technique-technology affecting our lives?
These are questions, which emanate from science, but they lead us beyond science to an encounter of science with philosophy and theology.
We review modern science: Special and General Relativity of Einstein, Quantum Mechanics, Gödel’s theorem.  Modern science, considered as a sign, invites us to a new mode of thinking, dominated by relational ontology and relational logic. Everything is under evolution, dualisms are abolished and are replaced by genuine triadic relations. Our findings resonate with the ideas and notions developed by Charles Sanders Peirce, notably the triadic semiotic process and relational logic. We also follow Heidegger’s consideration that technology may allow us to dwell near the truth of being, though the risk to end up with an instrumentalization of Nature and life is always lurking.
Above all, however, the new paradigm converses with the old sophia and gnosis of the Patristic Tradition and especially Saint Gregory Palamas. Palamas, starting from the philosophical terms essence and energy, pointed out that it is the energy (action-relation) that reveals and determines the essence. Before us the universe appears as a dense network of relations. Furthermore, in a subtle approach to the cognitive process, the energy-relation does not allow to separate the three factors subject-medium-object. Palamas’ approach provides the basis for a new epistemology, within which knowledge is founded on the energies, the interactions and the relations, rather than being conceived as the pursuit of essence. We are thus led to an ontology of relation, and not an ontology of essence, which actually forms the core of Western European thought.

 


 

Basarab Nicolescu  President, Centre International de Recherches et Études Transdisciplinaires, Paris

 

Science and Orthodox Christianity confronted with the New Barbarism:
Panterrorism, Anthropocene, and Transhumanism
Technological singularity is defined as a hypothetical event in which artificial intelligence would be capable of recursive self-improvement or of autonomously building smarter and more powerful machines than itself, up to the point of an intelligence explosion, that yields an intelligence surpassing all current human control or understanding. We review the different opinions expressed around this idea and around the idea of Transhumanism. We also analyze the phenomenon of Panterrorism and the theme of the Anthropocene. Orthodox Christianity, when using transdisciplinary methodology, offers the privileged means to resist the new barbarism and to face the challenges of the 21st century.
 

 


 

Jean Staune  General Secretary, Université Interdisciplinaire de Paris | Lecturer, École des Hautes Études Commerciales, Paris
 

Apophatism in Science, a key concept for the dialogue between Orthodox Christianity and Science

We face an epistemological revolution: we are able to show the boundaries of science from the inside of science, and not from the outside. We now know perfectly well and with great scientific precision why we will never know certain things (so we are NOT in a “God of the gaps situation”). We know precisely and scientifically why we will never be able to establish the speed and position of a particle at any one moment in time. (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle), why we will never have a logical system that is complete and coherent (Gödel’s theorem) and why we will never be able to accurately predict the time span of a month (chaos theory). This leads us however to renounce a project which was at the very heart of “classical” science. Not only did science demonstrate during the twentieth century that it could never completely “reveal” reality, but also – if what we understand by the word “reality” is the level of reality in which we live, the reality we can measure, touch, feel; a reality that is situated in time and space, one that includes matter and energy – science shows us (by virtue of such phenomena as non-locality) that it is not ontologically sufficient and that it cannot be explained entirely by its own rationale because phenomena emanating from another and different reality can influence it causally. This of cause reopen doors for dialogue between science and religion, especially with Orthodoxy because of the importance of Apophatic Theology in this tradition.

 


 

Gheorghe Stratan  Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, Dubna, Russian Federation | Horia Hulubei Nat. Institute of Physics and Nuclear Engineering, Romania
 

Orthodoxy and the Science of the Future

It is clear for all of us, theologians or scientists, that we live in a period of radical changes in all fields of human activity, generated, sustained and led by science. This tendency will be maintained in the future, and only a major planetary-level catastrophe, natural or provoked by man, will stop it. Let us hope that this will not happen and that ahead of us there are numberless millennia of scientific development. If so, one of our possible and necessary tasks is to understand – in the perspective of the relations between science and religion – the main challenges to which we are confronted in the present time and will be confronted in the near future. To accomplish this, we may use the research instrument of History of Science, as some situations of the past offer useful analogies with our present stage. Learning from the past, to understand the present and to foresee the future is a principle which also applies in the field of our Conference. In this perspective, it is important to understand the actual relations between science and Orthodoxy and to see at which extent they are different from the more general relations between science and religion. To do that, in this communication we appeal to a book published under the John Templeton Foundation program science and religion due to 19 Romanian authors whom we consider to offer an almost complete actual perspective on Romanian science and Orthodoxy.  

 


 

Gayle E. Woloschak  Professor, Northwestern University
 

Science and Orthodoxy should be Compatible…. Are they?
The Church Fathers and some contemporary scholars have noted that there should be a consistency between the truth of nature as uncovered by science and the universal Truth that one finds in Orthodoxy.  Those areas that require a choice between science and religion can be based in an inappropriate understanding of either the faith or the science based more on culture wars than on reality.  Discoveries made in science have already had a strong influence on religion, impacting thinking about human origins, definitions of some disease states, human personhood, and others.  As science and technology continue to expand their knowledge base and capabilities, the Church must be prepared to step forward with perspectives that can be helpful in guiding the faithful for correct decision-making; technology is drastically changing the number of decision points in people’s lives, and too often the Church’s response is delayed, inappropriate, and/or without impact.  Areas of inconsistency should be a primary focus of dialogue within the Church to try to overcome limitations in thinking, perspectives, or understanding.

 

 
 
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