St. Basil the Great advised monks to use reason and philosophy as a bee uses the flowers, to take only the honey. In Byzantine Orthodoxy, unlike in the West, philosophy was used to complement theology, as long as it did not contradict the Holy Scriptures. There resulted a healthy balance between Classical learning and Christian theology. In the Latin West, with Thomas Aquinas, the emphasis was put on human reason, and the doors were open to the destruction of the Church and to the so-called Renaissance and Enlightenment--the "triumph of reason."
I would like to know if, in modern Orthodoxy, human reason is still loved as it has always been, but remains superceded to the Holy Scriptures and the Fathers. For instance, what do Orthodoxs--the clergy and the people--think about evolution and Darwinism? The Protestant "churches" in the United States often take a radical, almost fundamental, stance on this issue, to the point of contradicting themselves and eventually becoming lame and ridiculous: they use science to prove that science is not infallible. What does Orthodoxy say about this issue in particular, and science in general when it contradicts the Scriptures? Is there an "official" position, like in Roman Catholicism, or is there rather a "general consensus?"
Theories of evolution have not become an issue in Greece, for the people or the clergy. There is a general tradition on such matters, that theology is not to be judged by any scientific developments, and the opposite. Theology and science can’t be compared or used to fight each other. George is maybe too critical towards the Greek clergy. I think that in this as in other issues the Greek clergy follows a prudent path.
So, does the Orthodox clergy tend to view the Christian mythology of creation ( to use that particular example) as something to be taken allegorically, as many modern Catholics do? I agree when you say that "theology and science can't be compared or used to fight each other," because this is precisely the mistake the numerous Baptist, Evangelical, and other churches in America are doing. And avoiding that mistake gave the Orthodox Church her health and strength of soul and body. So, this brings me to the question, What is theology in Orthodoxy? We know that for the Roman Catholic Church, it is studied scientifically, and myths such as the creation story are then to be viewed from a scientific point of view. When science contradicts theology, conflict arises. How is theology considered from the Orthodox point of view? Or, to put it this way, WHAT is theology in Orthodoxy? And how do we know the boundaries of the realms of theology and science? For example, if the creation story as related in genesis is considered to be allegorically true, but literally "untrue," how do Orthodoxs organize their beliefs system?
Here is an important difference between eastern and western theology, because in the East there is no need of having an “organised belief system”. The are only a few doctrines (trinitarian and christological) and the interest is focused on salvation. The rest have only a minor importance.
From the beginning the Church in general followed a balanced way of understanding the Scriptures, in the middle between an allegorical and a literal interpretation, favouring allegory. Before theology became another science, this approach protected the Church from entering into fightings with science. For example, St. Basil the Great writes about the Creation, “whether you say 7 days, or 7 millenniums, or whatever, is exactly the same”. The only thing we can know for sure by Genesis, is that Creation has a beginning, stages, and a completion, not the exact, 'scientific', duration of it. Therefore, if science concludes that the universe has a history of 40 billion years, this is no problem to an Orthodox theologian.
In the West the Church tried to compete with science, because theology, after the discovery of Aristotle, was starting to become a science in itself, and as such it ought to be the most true, under 'scientific' (aristotelian) and not only under theological criteria. On the issue of evolution in particular, although I agree with Alex, that it is not really raised in Greece, there are some opinions expressed. For the moment the Church (the Clergy) has not made, so far as I know, any attempt to ‘close’ it with some definitive, official, position. In general, and here is Alex right too, the Church in the past used to leave things open, to an on-going thinking, without the need for everything to be defined and become a doctrine.
I don’t know if this tradition will last, since nowadays there are various Church committees following scientific issues, critisizing, etc. Will this end up to an ‘Orthodox’ position on evolution or other scientific matters? Maybe. Maybe it is a time that we become westerners even in this... Alex, please correct me if I am wrong, but do not just make general statements (“George is too critical...”) without explaining my mistakes.
Laellius has a talent in causing interesting conversations! To the core of his question I would have to remind what Gregory of Nyssa wrote in the 4th century, that man was made last in order to be made of, contain and fulfill the creation, upon which he was going also to reign. This can be ‘harmonised’ with an evolutionary theory, although, on the part of the Church, such ‘harmonies’ are (or ought to be) meaningless.
Darwinists’ claim, so far as they oppose faith, is not the evolutionary way of creation, but its not needing a God to be achieved, which is a theological and not a scientific position. Even if evolution is correct, how can we know if it was not God who set up the forces of creation in their evolutionary ways? This is, I think, the main point of intelligent design, a theory similar in this aspect to that of St. Gregory of Nyssa, yet it is a scientific guess and not a theological interpretation, which means that a Church should not adopt it, this way founding her theology upon science. This causes problems not only because a scientific theory may prove invalid tomorrow, but because it does not contain the theological dimensions and presuppositions that are of interest to the Church. Here we understand some crucial boundaries between 'science' and theology. 'Science' is based on proof and is subject to denial, while theology is based on revelation and rationality just forms this revelation into concepts, wherefrom intellectual progress is made from a good to a better concept, and not by denial and change of concepts.
Therefore, our problems start when a Church feels obliged to oppose 'science', and not to understand, live and teach the theology of the Church. Gregory used reason in order to approach the Scriptures, this way offering possibilities: he was not after a theology that would become the ultimate science. For a theologian, and for the Church as such, the problem is not the scientific validity of various theories, but, in the case that we discuss, why God created the world (and creates each of us) through various processes and not absolutely directly? Why do we have to have parents, for example, and do not appear in life alone? What is the theological reason of all those cause-effect processes in nature, etc. If God could have elected other ways for our being born and growing in this world, why did He elect the specific ways that we know and not others? These questions are just unthinkable from the evolutionist (or any 'scientific') point of view (unable and uninterested in searching for a metaphysical and alive meaning of what is happening), yet these are the important questions for the Church, and are not to be discussed just with rational arguments, that is, out of or despite the Experience of the Saints.
A Church ‘thinking’ that follows scientific adventures, and tries to have a word for each word that 'science' utters, is sad and pathetic, because it depends to what it follows (negating or confirming it), unable to give to her people the existential theological meaning of this world as is experienced by the saints, in a way that would be essentially independent from any science. If a Church becomes unable to elevate her thinking to the point where 'scientific' adventures (beliefs of today / denials of tomorrow) just don’t matter, she is not able to help people and she betrays her saints. Science tries for things to be proved, while the essence of the Church is beyond proof (not rational, neither irrational, but beyond both of these), which is an indication of why God does not reveal Himself to impious people, although He could have very well and immediately prove His existence...
The famous word “Logos”, sometimes misunderstood to mean “ratio”, above all means the Revelation of God. Logos comes from legein, that is revealing, distinguishing, gathering and speaking, - it is the Speech of God, which is for us the Purpose and Meaning of our existence. This is why (in the West too, even among Protestants) we seek in everything that happens in our life, good or bad, even in illness, even in everyday seemingly unimportant events (having a bath, etc), we seek what God is trying to tell us with all this - to each of us personally, not by a system of beliefs. The End and ultimate Logos of all this, is Christ himself.
In the East, in the old Church, and to various degrees even in Catholicism and Protestantism (our tendency to become again united may also be due to this most important element we share), theology is the course of all life as a “divine speech” to help us become able to receive the Revelation of Christ in the Father’s Spirit. In this course man co-operates with the Holy Trinity, meets with, talks with God, and conceptual truth comes from the in-and-above-concepts meeting of man with God - which all are for the scientific way of thinking realities absurd or just indifferent!... I was reading a report, that in modern France, in the third of all divorce cases, the parents fight each other on who will not keep the children! But if you live for yourself and you don’t care even about the children you have born, you have seen, you have lived with..., - what love and interest could you possibly have for an invisible God? And what else, except fear, will you have when He becomes visible?
I have read St Basil's Comentaries "To the Youth" concerning using pagan literature in order to enhance our knowledge and discretion - (ie. the Bee, Thorns and Pollen analogy).
One should therefore appreciate that there is a freedom in Orthodox Theology which allows one to explore both Christian and Non-Christian writings. Christianity from the very beginning was always analytical ("...analyzed the Scriptures daily..." Acts 17:11 and "Search the Scriptures..." (John 5:39). We have always sought as true 'Philosophers' (lovers of wisdom) to understand the truth, not only of God but also of His creation.
One would be surprised to find that many scientific ideas came from the Bible. That the Earth is a Sphere may be extracted from the Bible (Greek LXX - Proverbs 8:27,) likewise, that it is suspended in space (Job 26:7). That man was fashioned by the same substance as the Earth is made of is clearly stated in Genesis. That God created the more simpler plants and then creatures first, (progressing to more complex) is consistent with the evolutionary theory of Darwin. That man and woman were the last and most intelligent life forms to be created is also a consistant part of both Genesis and Darwin's theory. That creation has ceased while perfection continues (ie 7th day=day of perfection) is also consistent with both the Bible and Darwin's theory.
So we discover that the Bible may also be a source of information giving us clues and hints for science to explore further. Darwin was no-doubt inspired by the Bible as he himself was a Christian familiar to the Scriptures. I firmly believe that excluding God from the picture was not his intention. This quote sums up what I also believe.
"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." Albert Einstein, (Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium", 1941).
In the past, the Church in the West (ie. the Papacy) saw science and every other authority as a threat against her own power and authority. The Patriarchs of the East did not suffer the same paranoia.