Science and Faith?

It has been almost one year since the Youth Office of our Archdiocese commenced online classes for young people of all ages, reaching out to them in these challenging times of the pandemic. We began discussing the feasts of the Church, the Scriptural readings for each Sunday, the examples and teachings of the Saints and, generally speaking, the practical implementation of our Orthodox Christian faith in the context of school and the routine of our daily lives.

Following the summer holidays (of 2020) we then moved on to themes associated with the worship and liturgical life of the Church, of virtue, spiritual edification and of philanthropy. However, due to the interest and requests of our young attendees, as of January 2021 we have dedicated our weekly sessions (for age groups 11-15 and 16-24) to contemporary issues. One topic of interest, which emerged throughout the year in our class discussions, was that of the relationship between science and the Christian faith. Do they interrelate harmoniously or are they contrary to each other?

The field of science is undoubtedly essential in the contribution to our understanding of the beauty, the magnificence and the complexity of human life, of our existence and the universe in which we live. The Church promotes, respects, and, is willing to cooperate with science and all who seek truth, honoring the human person. The Church encourages balance and cooperation between faith and knowledge, for both are gifts of God and are to be cultivated by His people. In fact, for the Fathers of the Church, ‘intelligence urges the soul to conform itself by its own free choice to the divine likeness.’ (St Maximus the Confessor, Philokalia II) ‘The noetic and intelligent creature, man – has been made, alone among created beings, in God’s image and likeness.’ (St John of Damascus on Gen 1:26)

Clearly, the Fathers and theologians of the Church teach that the intellect is a characteristic of the highest value. In this case, intellect does not necessarily mean high intelligence, but rather the ability in each of us to reason, to create, to distinguish and to learn.

We can see many examples of contemporary bishops, nuns and monks, clergy and laity who harmonize faith with science, a Godly life with a medical profession. We are reminded of St Luke the Evangelist, a doctor by profession, the Unmercenaries Saints Cosmas and Damian and St Luke the Surgeon of Simferopol. Before we consider the matter at hand let us conclude this thought; the Church is not opposed to, and in fact, encourages science and the use of intellect, all as God’s gifts to humanity.

Fr Christopher Knight, a priest of our Archdiocese and the author of the recent book ‘Science and the Christian Faith,’ highlights that we do not make a distinction between how things work in the world – physical and natural laws – and God’s action through and within this process. The Saints of the Church, such as St Maximus the Confessor, highlight that the incarnation of Christ affects the way we see the entire created order, in the way one sees the whole of God’s creation, witnessing His manifestation and love everywhere. We read in the Scriptures, particularly in the Psalms, the book of Job, as well as within the Hymns of our Church, the fact the entire cosmos praises, worships and hymns our Creator God: ‘How wondrous are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.’ (Ps 104, read at the beginning of Vespers)

In this context, the writer Alister McGrath, states ‘The Christian faith allows us to see further and deeper, to appreciate that nature is studded with signs, radiant with reminders, and emblazoned with symbols of God, our creator and redeemer.’ We must not forget that our faith goes beyond physical or scientific facts, for ‘God is understood in a personal relationship. Not as an invisible entity, as a general principle which governs the universe. Often in the past, and also more recently, the apologetic method was content to present God as the presence necessary to deal with the gaps in scientific research. He was the ‘God of the gaps’. ( Petros Panayiotopoulos, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Theology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) Dear friends, Orthodox Christianity goes further than scientific findings. Rather than a ‘God of the gaps,’ we believe in, and experience (through the life of Christ’s Church) the God who rather heals gaps, Who loves us as our Father and Who has created everything in order for us to have a relationship with Him.

St Paisios the Athonite tells us:

‘Science can be of great help…but if scientists also live spiritual lives they will be able to help many people positively… if we base everything only on science then we are unable to have inner peace and balance. When the mind revolves around God and is illumined and sanctified, science is used both for our spiritual edification and for the benefit of the world!’

Let us thus rejoice in the great contribution of science, as young Orthodox Christians, and simultaneously delve into the unseen parts of our existence, into our spiritual hearts, in order for us to appreciate, to experience, to commune with the Loving God Who created this awe-inspiring and miraculous earth and universe.

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