The Orthodox Scientist today

 by Fr. George Metallinos


1.  According to its epistemological definition, a scientist is the one who is (and is rightly acknowledged as) the one who has mastered a science, pursuant to specialized studies. More specifically, scientists are those who “stand above” – that is, who possess – a full and certain knowledge, but also possess the prerequisite of experience in the area of that knowledge.  One might also add to the scientist’s prerequisites his performance in research. His studies and the diploma that he attains is merely that person’s introduction into the sphere of the science that he has been studying.  His specialization in conjunction with his research within a sphere of science is that which entitles someone to be characterized as Scientist.   The non-expert is not a scientist, but rather a thinker, who relies on an arbitrary opinion – that is, on a mere conjecture. That is why we must not be surprised when improvable positions are propagated by “scientists”, especially in the realm of History.  This happens, because an unsupported “knowledge” is being produced and reproduced for the deception of many – which may be embraced by the semi-literate, but not by the specialized scientist.


Science, as accurately defined by our holy Fathers.

The blessed Chrysostom: “There is also human wisdom (that is, in parallel to divine wisdom), which is the experience that pertains to art and to the useful things in life” (ΡG 64, 628).  Also, according to Gregory the Theologian: Science presupposes “study” and “intelligence” (ΡG 36, 125 Ο).  In other words, he acknowledges an inherent and an acquired element. Scientific knowledge is not without prerequisites. Alongside the inherent elements (intelligence, inclination) there must also be study, diligence, perseverance.   I usually tell my students that ranks and statuses are for the few; however, scientific knowledge belongs to everyone.  “…and your joy no-one will take away from you…” (John 16:22).  So, in the absence of intelligence, acquired knowledge will not transform a person into a “scientist”.  Knowledge presupposes the natural foundation – intelligence – which is not produced simply by studying.  A number of years ago, a University professor had published a work titled “How even dopes acquire diplomas”! Moreover, intelligence is amplified and enriched, only through life experience; as an example of this statement I could mention our national hero, General Theodore Kolokotronis, who had not received any significant education. Once, while he was sitting atop a rock outside the Athens University building that was still under construction, the (then young) king Otto arrived on horseback. The general apologized for being seated in the king’s presence.  Otto asked him in a friendly tone: “What were you thinking about?” Kolokotronis pointed towards the Palace (which was in plain view at the time, unobstructed as it is today, by high-rise buildings), and he circumspectly replied: “My king, I was thinking that one day, this house (=the University building) will devour yours”!  He didn’t need a degree or diploma, to have made that politically astute observation….


2.  Furthermore, regardless of how high a level scientific instruction may have been, it will not, on its own, either create or build human personality, as that exists independently of education.  Examples are Saint Basil the Great and Saint Anthony the Great.  It is History, which has “anointed” both of them as “Great”.  The former had (also) acquired the entirety of human wisdom, while the latter had no school education; however, their experience with uncreated divine Grace (divine wisdom) is what made them both share the characterization of “Great”.  Genuinely wise are only the Saints. To them, human (natural) knowledge can be rendered useful, only in the exercising of their poemantic opus. Its absence, however, does not diminish their personality or their contribution to mankind.

On the other hand, school knowledge can be linked to various moral concerns; for example, it can generate or breed ambitious plans and objectives such as a “successful career” and human “glory” –egocentrically– aspiring to recognition and financial success and ultimately to power and “the good life”.  This morbid mentality is expressed by a popular expression that is frequently used and reveals the weaker aspects of our civilization: “He became someone”, we say of the one who rises socially; and specifically, of the one who has become wealthy. But what is oftentimes not examined is HOW that came to be!   It so happens, that those who ascend socially and financially with science as their springboard sometimes forget the purpose of their studies, which is to minister to the whole of society – to which we are lifelong debtors, given that the body of the populace (the Homeland) has provided our education and we are obliged to pay back that debt by utilizing the knowledge we acquired.   Our objective, therefore, cannot be for personal recognition and relish; it should be our elevation to becoming a healthy member of the societal corpus, which functions on the basis of the principle of collaboration and reciprocation, per the Apostle Paul’s teaching regarding the Church as the “body of Christ” (1 Cor.12).

That is why building a healthy conscience is imperative for the avoidance of knowledge-related pathologies, whose basic signs are the following: 

(a) The perverted use of knowledge and warping of the truth.  A characteristic example is the atom bomb and the use thereafter of atomic energy for the enforcement of universal domination.  The fact that one of the basic creators of the atomic bomb – Julius Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) – recanted his participation in the misuse of atomic energy is immensely significant.  “Pater Kosmas” the Saint (1714-1779) used to speak of “godless letters”, while the great Feodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) had said that “without God, everything is permissible”!

b) Puffing up, arrogance (1Cor.8:1 “knowledge puffs up”), which seals the behaviours of many of us.  That is why James, the Lord’s brother, checks us (3:13): “Who is wise and with knowledge among you? Let him show his works, by his good conduct, in the meekness of wisdom”.

Reversely, true science seeks the Truth in order to minister to fellow-man and to society.  According to Clement of Alexandria (215), the whole of Hellenic philosophy is about “the seeking of truth”.  Thus was the meaning of science -as given by Hellenism- recognized by a Christian intellectual. This is the distinctive mark of a true scientist.  According to Basil the Great: “The more that one examines in depth the reasons by which beings are created and how their existence is regulated by Providence, the more he will perceive the majesty of the Lord and will all the more magnify the Lord”.  In other words, he spontaneously arrives at the Psalmist’s confession when acknowledging the Creator:  “How magnified are Your works, Lord; in wisdom You have made everything.” (Psalm 103:24). However, the Saint adds:  “It is not possible with a blurred eye to claim as accurate the understanding of what is viewed” and “nor with a blurred heart arrive at the understanding of the truth”.

Furthermore, Job had said: “To abstain from evils, that is science” (28, 28), which will be repeated in the quote ascribed to Plato: “Science that is separate from virtue... cunning, not wisdom”.  The scientist who is honest and self respecting acts orthodoxically, unawares.

3. Here too we can perceive what an “orthodox scientist” is. It is the one who transcends the simple scientist and his morality – which can of course exist – and who seeks to reach the in-Christ charismatic ethos with his incorporation in an in-Christ, Holy Spiritual way of life, on which he rests his entire course and his presence.  He is not satisfied with a formal relationship with the Faith and with being Christian only in name; instead, he struggles to become a carrier of the tradition: that is, prophetic, apostolic and patristic.  He also aligns his science (his research) with the course towards theosis (deification), ascribing to it a soteriological content.  He believes all that the Saints do, and his conscience (phronema) is what shapes and determines his entire life and his scientific ethos.  He lives within Grace, with his spiritual living. The secular scientist, moving –in the best case– within the boundaries of Morality, is content with moral achievements. The Orthodox scientist seeks the Grace of God and surrenders his entire scientific opus to Him, as his feat of piety and philanthropy.

What, therefore, is the self-awareness of an Orthodox scientist?

Α)  He lives his science as a potential for theosis (deification).  Science becomes one of the means within that course.  According to the Apostle Paul:  “Whether you eat, or whether you drink, or whether you are doing anything, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor.10:31); in other words, so that God is glorified with your labours and you partake of His Grace.

Β)  He has the awareness of one who is the recipient of a gift, as admitted by Moses in Exodus (31:3): “and I have filled him with a divine spirit of skill and intelligence and knowledge in every work…” (referring to the architect).  This is expounded by Basil the Great in his own way:  “For this, woe be to the one who does not attribute the cause of prudence and knowledge (science) to God… Given that wisdom is the science of divine and human things, let him attribute the cause of these to the Holy Spirit” (ΡG 30, 416 Β).

C) The scientific opus thus acquires a spiritual character, shaping a spirit of humility and prudence.  “Tell me, therefore, why you boast” -observes Basil the Great- “about good things as though they are yours, instead of confessing the giver of those gifts?” Whatever good thing we have is a gift of God. “Every perfect gift descends from above, by the Father of Lights” (Divine Liturgy). Why then do we boast?  This is what the Apostle Paul had also said: “Therefore what do you have, which you had not received? And if you had received, why do you boast as if you were not a recipient?”  (1 Cor.4:7) The blessed Chrysostom is even blunter:  “Why, o man, o smoke, o futile one, do you think so grandiosely?”  Allow me at this point to -confessedly- reveal a purely poemantic method of confronting the danger of vanity, as implemented by my ever-memorable Spiritual Father in Kerkyra, the humble Father George Savvanis. On the one hand, he would encourage the disposition for learning, except that he would give it an altruistic content. As he used to say, “Learn as much as you can, so that you can take the side of the one who is not learned.”  On the other hand, he would check one’s tendency for self-importance: “You know, cleverness is a very fragile thing. If a single drop of blood seeps into the brain, even the cleverest person becomes an imbecile!”  I assure you that these guidelines continue to be operative in my life to this day, with analogous dynamics along my course. May his memory be eternal!

D) The Orthodox scientist sees everything through the prism of eternity. This was also indicated by Basil the Great, in “To the Young” (PG 31, 565), when evaluating human media from within the perspective of salvation: “Whichever things contribute towards it (= he is referring to one’s embarking on another lifestyle – the Christian one), we say that one must love and pursue them, with all their might; whereas those that do not lead there, being of no value, should be disregarded”. That is, he recommends those aspects of life which have the power to reinforce one’s course towards theosis (deification).

Ε) He is also aware that with his scientific opus he is participating in God’s creative opus in the world – in fact, not only as a researcher, by tracing the essence of beings, but also as a teacher, by introducing his students to it.  That is how every science and art is elevated, as were the scientific progress of our Holy Fathers:  Basil the Great’s broad scientific knowledge, Saint Gregory the Theologian’s poetry, the blessed Chrysostom’s rhetorical  powers, the historical-critical opus of the blessed Photios, John the Damascene’s extensive musicological knowledge, the scientific achievements of Eugenios Voulgaris and Nicephorus Theotokis etc…  All the Fathers and Theologians of the Church were discerned for their worldly wisdom also, except that they had made sure to incorporate it in their path towards sanctification – both their own, as well as their fellow-men’s.

More especially, the natural scientist (who is the most “vulnerable” to temptations that can lead to a sense of self-importance and centrifugal tendencies in matters of the Faith) has the most potential to attain knowledge pertaining to creation – to the natural world; however, if he responds as an Orthodox faithful, he knows that he is not at risk of any conflict between Faith and his science inside him. Why? Because there are two gnosiologies: of the created and the Uncreated; of the natural and the supernatural. Moreover, natural knowledge has intellect/logic as its instrument.  Supernatural knowledge (theosis) has the “nous” inside the heart, as our Hesychast tradition teaches us.  This is what Basil the Great elucidates (ΡG 31, 389/ 392): “There is wisdom, the science of divine and human things and the causes thereof… and there is human wisdom, the experience of the things of life, where we call “wise” those who are scientists of each of the useful things”.

The topic is however elucidated further by the great Eugenios Voulgaris, from within his own experience (Against Latins,6): “What does the wisdom of the world have in common with the wisdom of God? The wisdom of the world is a delusion, it is folly, it is moronic, according to Paul, when it is separated from the wisdom of God, which is the true Faith.  This is actual wisdom: the unerring, faultless wisdom, the upright wisdom.  One learns the other wisdom in the contemporary Academies, and this wisdom in the ancient Church; the other wisdom in philosophers’ books, this wisdom in the writings of the Fathers;  the other one with the sharpness of acumen, this one with the fervour of a pure and intimate soul; the other one with complicated cogitations of cunning arguments, this one with the simple and steadfast consent of an unhesitating faith; the other one with curious research and examination, this one with a carefree, captivity of the nous”.   Professors in natural science are the specialized scientists, but in supernatural knowledge, they are the Spiritual Fathers-Elders and finally the Saints. Conflict occurs, only when the one type of knowledge is judged by the other one’s criteria. In our tradition however, the coexistence of both types of knowledge in the same person is possible, as is the case with many of our Saints who had also received the highest level of secular education. This is what our Church chants for the mathematician Saint Catherine: “Having received the wisdom of God since childhood, the Martyr also learnt higher studies well”.

Saint Gregory the Theologian has given us the most classic position on this matter in his Funerary Homily to Basil the Great. He firstly rebuts the rejection of secular wisdom: “For education is not a dishonorable thing, just because some believe so …” then adding: “...thus, we have accepted the inquisitive and theoretical element (of secular wisdom), but as for whatever leads to demons and to the depths of delusion and perdition, we have rejected it… because with these too we have benefited piety-wise, since we learned of the better from the worse, and have made their weakness the strength of our word” (PG 36, 508/9).  This means that benefit can be derived, even from the negative elements of secular education - that is, the problem rests in the inner prerequisites, and with what conscience one views things.

F) The Orthodox scientist assists Science in transcending all the pseudo-dilemmas, by giving it a proper orientation.  For example, in Mechanical Genetics priority is given to the worth of humanity and it does not absolutize research, knowing that all institutions exist for the ministering to mankind:  “The Sabbath was made for man; not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). In other words, he learns to look at man and the things of man, from within the perspective of the holy Fathers, like Gregory of Nyssa when proclaiming to the scientists of his time that man may be an “animal”, a living being, but he is a “deifiable animal”: an animal that can become a god through Grace, deified, whereas no ordinary animal can attain that height.

And it is at this precise point that the essential difference between man and animals lies, and not in quantitative differences - for example in the brain, e.a..  Because, like his brother, Basil the Great used to say that only man is “called upon to be a god”. He has inside him the divine commandment to become a god by Grace. How, then, can an Orthodox scientist not respect Man, but instead use him as a guinea pig for his research, or ruthlessly slaughter him with abortions?

This is also why he knows there is self-restriction in his research or in the exercise of his “profession”.  He does not seek to substitute God, since he cannot create “ex nihilo”, but learns to preserve balances and hierarchies.  Divine knowledge produces a Holy-Spiritual ethos, thus elevating Science to an inter-human ministry, and the scientist to a ministrant of the Most High, inasmuch as he is the one who can officiate in the mystery of divine philanthropy.

G. This type of scientist, who fulfils our traditional prerequisites, is especially necessary in our day and age, with the spreading of exploitation-use of science, conceitedness and the anti-human spirit and arbitrariness in the implementation of science - always to the detriment of man, who is always the victim. That was why Gregory the Theologian noted (ΡG 35, 936/7): “For, the said wise man is not –to me– a wise man; nor is the one who may have a versatile tongue, but has an unstable and untrained soul… but rather, he who speaks little about virtue, but is exemplary by his many acts, and additionally whose word is trustworthy throughout his life...”  In other words, according to the holy Father, a wise man is the one who possesses a purity of heart – in which case, he does not exhaust himself with garrulous speeches about virtue, but instead proclaims it with his way of life, which then makes him trustworthy – in other words, justifies his scientific worth.  The in-Christ ethos avouches the scientist.

This type of scientist becomes the “leaven, that leavens the entire lump (of dough)” (1 Cor.5:6).  He becomes the light and the salt of the scientific family and more broadly, of society (Matt.6:14). What is important, however, is that he thus acquires the potential to exert his influence on the environment “for the good”.  Why, indeed, do we invoke the viewpoints of important scientists?  It is because they can influence society.  So, just as an “atheist” scientist can demolish consciences by propagating his denial, likewise the Orthodox scientist builds up consciences, indirectly exercising a missionary opus through his confession – his witness of scientific truth – which remains theocentric.

This is how the ever-memorable Von Braun used to theologize, when saying: “There is no conflict between Faith and Science, since Faith is confessed with the Creator and Science with the created”.  On the other hand, a scientist who dares to argue that there is no room in research for creation and Creator - since everything (according to him) “originates from nothing and ends up in nothing” – can “kill” one’s conscience.  He of course does not realize that this stance of his is not Science, because Science does not possess special instruments for capturing God; it is Metaphysics, in which case, he is negating himself as a scientist!  I was however impressed recently, when reading a statement by our important anthropologist, Ms. Katerina Harvati:  “Science gives replies to the how, and religion to the why”!

And you too, Ladies and Gentlemen – my Colleagues in Science – by making use of all the means and potentials that are available to you (journalism, Mass Media), but also in discussions both public and private, can, beyond the scientific truth, also offer society the divine truth.   

Thus, the more patristic you are, the truer you become.  Do not forget that!

Translation by A.N.

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