Project SOW Symposium @ the 25th International Congress of History of Science and Technology – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

090. Science and Orthodox Christianity around the World

Tuesday, 25 July 2017 

Session 1

John Hedley Brooke (University of Oxford)

Orthodoxy and Science: Varieties of Engagement and Indifference

Recent scholarship on the value placed on the sciences by Christian Orthodoxy has exposed complications that militate against facile generalisation. These can arise, as Efthymios  Nicolaidis has shown for the culture of Greek Orthodoxy, from repeated resistance to forms of scientific enquiry associated with Latin Christendom and Western polities. This was still an issue at the end of the nineteenth century when perceived threats from Darwinism added to pressures faced by Greek scientists to defend the moral virtue of dedicated, altruistic research. The presence within Eastern Orthodoxy of a contemplative spiritual tradition that placed the highest value on ascending to a mystical union with God has been seen as contributing to an indifference that contrasts with the case made for an active interrogation of nature in Catholic and, most explicitly, in Protestant cultures. It is suggested, for example, that lacking in Orthodoxy was a prominent Augustinian theology of redemption based on a literal reading of the Fall-narrative in Genesis. By extension, the empirical investigation and manipulation of nature could not be presented, as it was by Francis Bacon, as redemptive in reversing the effects of a historical Fall. Current scholarship also reveals the diversity of political contexts in which engagement with particular forms of “science” was either possible or viewed with suspicion. As further contrasts are drawn between different forms of Orthodoxy, notably in relation to links with national identity, it is important to distinguish different kinds of indifference and the reason s for them, whether of the Churches towards science or of scientists towards religious doctrine. A disinclination to engage in public on matters concerning the relations between scientific and religious authority, particularly when, as with Darwinian evolution, the science was potentially disruptive, has manifested itself among both scientists and Church representatives. Accordingly, in this paper I shall examine some ambiguities in what engagement with, and indifference to, science might mean. Where indifference has been found in the Orthodox Churches, should it be regarded as simply a reflection of different priorities; a sign of timidity, suspicion or fear; the outcome of a political desire for theological autonomy; or a considered strategy to avoid entanglement with conceivably ephemeral theories?

Kostas Tampakis (National Hellenic Research Foundation)

Science and Orthodoxy as an historiographical intervention: The Greeks bearing gifts

Is the historical analysis of the relationship between Orthodoxy and the Natural Sciences just another set of case studies to be included in the more general Science and Religion scholarship? This paper would like to argue otherwise. Drawing on the findings of projects NARSES and SOW, especially as they apply to 19th and early 20th century Greece, I would like to point out several ways where the study of the interactions between Orthodoxy and scientific practice hints of new venues of research on the subject. Some of these include the role of prevalent 19th century ideologies, the importance of considering the local contingencies of the emergence of a scientific field and the public role of both science and religion during the era. In the Greek case, the consolidation of an autocephalous Greek Church and the emergence and establishment of a scientific field went hand in hand. Greek men of science, clergymen, intellectuals and literati were active in both these processes. As such, the ideological, cultural and intellectual boundaries between different public roles were easier to transverse, and indeed, the question can be posed whether they existed at all. In short, this paper would like to explore how these local contingencies interacted with transnational and global developments to problematize historiographical categories of analysis in the field of science and religion.

Efthymios Nicolaidis (National Hellenic Research Foundation)

Nature and religion in today’s Orthodox Church: the ecological discourse of the Ecumenical patriarchate

The raise of the ecological preoccupations during the 20th century lead Orthodox theologians and thinkers to revisit exegetical texts of the Greek Fathers of the Church concerning the relations between humans and nature. Various discourses arose, most of them fostering the idea of a harmonic symbiosis of mankind with nature. Supporters of this idea referred to texts of the Fathers presenting the place of humans inside the Creation. The Ecumenical patriarch Demetrios (1972-1991) was the first to establish a special date, September 1st, as a date of prier for the environment. His successor, Bartholomeos developed a series of ecological activities such as Symposia, lectures, and publications and intervened about such matters in international fora (for example the European Parliament). In the website of the Ecumenical patriarchate we read that “thus it is that the Ecumenical Patriarchate – in keeping with our own sense of responsibility for the house, the oikos of the world and all who dwell therein, has for decades championed the cause of the environment, calling attention to ecological crises around the globe. And we engage this ministry without regard to self interest”. In this paper we will present the raise of the ecological discourse of the Orthodox Christianity during the 20th century, the various ideas developed and the ecological discourse and activities of the Ecumenical patriarchate during the last 30 years.

Session 2


Dialogue and Conflict about the Publication of Dawkin’s “The God Delusion” (in Greek)

 Richard Dawkin’s controversial book “The God Delusion” was translated and published in Greek in 2007, a year after the publication of the original work in English. This publication has followed the record breaking circulation in Greece of the author’s previous works:The “Selfish Gene”, “The Blind Watchmaker”, “River out of Eden” and “Unweaving the Rainbow”. By 2007, Richard Dawkins had established, also in Greece, a reputation as one of the world’s most important science popularizers and as one of the most important proponents of scientific rationality. Nevertheless, this reputation has been proved insufficient to regulate the conflict between his cothinkers and Orthodox Christian believers that followed the publication of “The God Delusion”. Extended book reviews were written in Athens daily newspapers featuring positions in favor and against Dawkins’ argumentation unfolded in the book, involving Greece’s prominent scientists and theologists. The official clergy, university professors and science educators have been part of the debate. Alister McGrath’s book “Dawkins’ Delusion” was translated and published in Greek the following year (2008). In April 2015, Dawkins visited Athens for a series of lectures. His visit initiated a new round of debates in the mass media of the country. This paper is going to give an account of the events and publications in the mass media (both electronic and printed) following Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”, in an attempt to explore the inner core of the anti-Dawkins argumentation aiming to reveal the contemporary trends in orthodox Christianity in their relation to atheism inspired by science. This work is part of the SOW Project.

Gianna Katsiampoura (Institute of Historical Research/National Hellenic Research Foundation)

Orthodox Church and Science Education Policy in Contemporary Greece

The aim of this paper is to present the influence the Greek Orthodox Church has on matters of Education Policy in the Modern Greek state, especially of Science Education. Historically, since its foundation the Greek state is closely linked to the Orthodox Church, which is the institution of orthodox Christianity, the official religious dogma of the Greek state as it is explicitly mentioned in the Greek Constitution. Since the foundation of the Modern Greek state, nearly two centuries ago, the Orthodox Church plays a key role in every aspect of general policy, and especially in educational policy. It is characteristic that Religious affairs and Education are governed by the same ministry, the Ministry of Education, Research and Religions and orthodox priests are public employees enjoying the status of civil servants. Historically, this interlink of the Church with the State can be easily explained by the privileged relation the patriarch had with the sultan in the Ottoman empire, a status that continued to exist in a different form in the age of the modern Greek state. Due to its privileged position in the state apparatus, the Orthodox Church and its multitude of official and unofficial organizations could control the educational policy and especially the national curriculum. This control is more obvious in science education. In this paper, I will refer to some interventions in the school science curriculum and their relation to the courses on religion, which still exists in the primary and secondary curricula of the Greek school.



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