To Heal Reason: Science and Religion in Russian Culture
By Vladimir Katasonov
Introduction by Fr. Andrew
I came upon this article in a magazine entitled Science and Spirit. There were several points in the article that I questioned. Since the author gave his e-mail address, I sent him my questions. The answer he e-mailed back to me was that his article had been edited and that he did not agree with the editor. Since it had already been published, it could not be changed. The author sent me an unedited version with permission to publish it in the Evangelist. This article presents an Orthodox approach in the dialogue between science and religion. It is philosophical and technical and may not be suitable for a parish newsletter. However I believe that it is an honor for us to publish it. I hope it will generate further questions.
About the author- Professor Vladimir Katasonov is a senior research fellow at the Russian Academy of Science. He is a mathematician who holds a PHD in Philosophy and BA in Theology. He has been writing on the subject of philosophical and religious aspects of science for 12 years. He has written 70 works. Presently he is leading a seminar on Science, Religion and Philosophy of Culture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Home address is 4 Vnukovska 6, Moscow 103027 Russia.
Mankind begins the new millennium in an unstable condition. Political terrorism, waves of the violence, moral crisis, ecological crisis, - all this gives birth to the understanding of the fragility of our world and makes people look for the new strategies of world development. After the "age of pure reason", having understood tragically the deadens of the modern civilization, we return to religion, the motherly bosom of every culture. We try again to learn to join reason and faith, knowledge and wisdom, man and God... There are many ways to approach these problems in world culture. The Russian one is closely tied with the Eastern Orthodox tradition.
In Russian culture, the great theme of *Science and Religion* has been played in a different key from that sounded in the West. There has been, on the Russian side, far less conflict between the two *magesteria* (always excepting, of course, the 70 years of state atheism under the Soviet regime). The antagonism that has marked, and often marred, the Western science-religion dialogue was never a part of the foundations of Russian thought, due to several unique factors in national religious and intellectual development.
Historically speaking, this greater amity was conditioned by the fact that science as a systematic exploration of nature was institutionalized much later in Russia than in the West. The nation's first universities, in St.Petersburg and Moscow, were not founded until the middle of the 18th century. Thus, Russian science sprang up in a more liberal intellectual atmosphere than that of, say, Oxford or Paris in the 13th or 14th centuries. By the 1700s, there was less resistance to scientific ideas - plus a longer history of scientific development - and nascent Russian science benefited from these favorable, fertile conditions.
However, a more fundamental reason for the peaceful relations of science and theology in Russia can be found in the specific understanding of the concept of reason in Eastern Christianity. In the East, reason was not seen as being opposed to faith; rather, it was assumed that reason - particularly scientific reason - was one of the faculties that grew out of the general root of faith. Along with other faculties of the soul - such as the aesthetic sense, or the moral sense - reason remained close to its spiritual roots; it was, in fact, more or less spiritualized. In this view, then, the opposition of faith and reason would be as absurd as a *conflict* between the roots and branches of a single tree.
Of course, no philosophical tradition can ignore the issue of doubt, the unbelieving consciousness - the *Doubting Thomas syndrome*, arguments made solely from rationality. But in the Russian religious-philosophical tradition, this apparent divergence of faith and reason was viewed as evidence for the fallen nature of humanity, a descent from grace and wholeness that must be overcome by a spiritual exploit of faith, by a conscious, constant striving for the unity of all aspects of soul: spiritual, moral, rational. The fallen human nature, - and the *actual* state of reason as well, - is understood in Russian tradition as a kind of the ontological disease, which should be healed by spiritual remedies.
Such an understanding is rooted in the Orthodox tradition of Hesychasm. The name comes from the Greek word, which means a "quietness". This quietness is, here, at first, man's freedom of the passions. In man's actual fallen situation the passions influence the human person and deform substantially his ability of right understanding. To overcome this it is necessary "to clear the heart" - the organ of will and assessment, - from the passions. Practically, to realize, this the Orthodox tradition proposes the specific technique of prayer, which is usually called the "union of the mind with the heart". Mind should "come down in the heart" to watch its spiritual condition, to drive away any Evil passions: gluttony, fornication, anger, greed for money, arrogance etc. The Hesychasts realized this by the unceasing repetition of the so-called "Jesus Prayer". At the same time this clearing of heart is the healing of reason because the human reason depends substantially in its work on the strivings and assessments of the heart. In this tradition, to join mind and heart means to overcome the consequences of the human fall, to unite the soul's disintegrated abilities in one holistic sense of truth. Then the human mind, cleared by God's grace, will learn to see all the things in the right perspective, in the horizon of the genuine values. The history of Russian philosophy is in many ways the story of the search for such restoration of human reason.
The Quest for Unity
By the middle of the 19th century, Russian religious philosophy had developed its own interpretation of the relation of faith and science, based on the concept of *integral reason*. One of its most noted exponents was Ivan Kireevsky. According to Kireevsky, faith is not purely human knowledge; it is not merely a cognitive faculty, a specific notion in the mind or heart, a matter of logic, or simply the voice of conscience. Instead, "faith encompasses the wholeness of human existence; it appears only in the moments of this wholeness, this integrity". The main task of religious intellect, Kireevsky says, is to "collect all the separate parts of the soul into one force, to find that inner center of being, where the mind and the senses, the beautiful and the true, the willed and the unexpected, the just and the charitable, conscience and reason, all merge in a living unity". In this way, the essential human personality will be "reestablished in its original indivisibility".
This program of evaluating science - and, more generally, the whole of culture - from the viewpoint of "integral reason" was developed by other thinkers, including the poet and philosopher A.S. Khomiakov, and was to have perhaps its most fruitful elaboration in the works of Vladimir Solovyov.
Writing in the last quarter of the 19th century, Solovyov developed his "critique of the abstract principles of culture" (influenced in some points by Schelling, Schleiermacher and Hegel). In Solovyov's conception, as with Kireevsky, in "fallen" human nature the natural, organic unity of being had disintegrated into various faculties (such as reason, faith, the aesthetic sense, and so on), which sometimes were at war with one another.
Solovyov ranked "dogmatic theology" along with other abstract, disintegrated faculties such as rationalism and empiricism. He called for a return to a genuine "religious worldview." In his view, the task was not to restore traditional theology to its former unique authority, but rather "to free theology from dogmatism, to introduce religious truth into the free play of reason," and to realize this religious truth "in the data of natural science". Solovyov sought to organize knowledge into a "complete system of free and scientific theosophy," to "justify the faith of the fathers" in a "new degree of reasonable consciousness."
Solovyov's conceptions found a deep resonance in Russian culture. Both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were profoundly influenced by his work, which also played a major role in the development of Russian philosophy. From Solovyov, one can trace a direct line to such important thinkers as Sergey Bulgakov, Nikolay Berdyaev, Semyon Frank, Andrey Bely and many others. Once again, the idea of an essential (if lost, or fallen) unity of being - both in the culture and within the individual - prevented the complete sundering of science and religion in Russian thought.
One of the most interesting offshoots of Solovyov's work was the "concrete metaphysics" developed by Pavel Florensky. Once again, the holistic approach is applied; but whereas Solovyov concentrated on a critique of philosophy and religious thought, Florensky's focus was more of a critique of the foundations of science. He sought to reveal the metaphysical and theological underpinnings at the basis of science, an approach (influenced by Goethe, among others) that he called "philosophical anthropology": Science is humanity's creation and humanity's essential features are reflected in it. The scientific methods and technologies are, according to Florensky, some "projections" of human organs, both physical and mental. At the same time, five human senses are not simple psychological organs, but "five metaphysical axes of the world itself", because humanity is created in the image of God.
For Florensky then, science has both a physical and metaphysical nature: its ultimate aim is to reflect the ultimate religious reality. The concrete realities uncovered by science therefore had a symbolic character; while being true in themselves, they also pointed to a truth beyond themselves. But these two levels of truth were inextricably linked. The factual data of hard science were not disregarded or manipulated in relation to metaphysical truth - they were, in fact, a primary and necessary means of apprehending that truth. Florensky applied his method of "reading" metaphysical and religious symbolism to various branches of science and social science: linguistics, mathematics, economics, cosmology, and many others. In his hands, the philosophy of science became a concrete metaphysics.
The theme of the unification of science and religion was brought to a fever pitch in the works of the utopian philosopher Nikolai Fyodorov (1829-1903). Fyodorov took the Gospel promise of the "resurrection of the dead" quite literally; however, he saw it not as the transformation of nature beyond the end of time, but rather as something that occurs within history. It was thus the vocation of humanity to realize the resurrection of all the dead generations by means of scientific technology. Such a task Fyodorov believed, would give meaning and purpose to the development of civilization, which otherwise would be a senseless collection of pointless events. And thus all human activity - science, politics, industry, art and culture - should be yoked together in this noble endeavor.
Despite its radically utopian character, Fyodorov's "Philosophy of the Common Cause" attracted many influential thinkers, including Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Solovyov, who were drawn by the power of its moral pathos: the ardent desire to find the moral and religious dimension - and thus, the justification - of science and technology. Within this framework, Fyodorov developed several interesting concepts. These include: the liturgical character of human activity, the settlement of outer space as a religious task, the religious sense of museum, the synthesis of science and religion as the method of resolving conflicts in society, inequalities in society, nationalist tensions, religious bigotry, political repression, and so on.
The Living Tradition
By the end of the 19th century then, the science-and-religion dialogue in Russia was in a state of creative ferment. This continued into the new century until, in the consolidation of Soviet power following the Russian Revolution and Civil War, the dialogue was driven underground. There it remained for almost 50 years, until the 1960s, when the first studies of Russian religious philosophy began to appear, and a few classic works by Florensky, Solovyov, Sergey Bulgakov and others were republished. This continued in small trickles until Soviet society was opened up in the late 1980s, and the active re-editing of the full range of works by Russian religious philosophers began.
In the last decade in Moscow, St.Petersburg, Archangelsk several centers, continuing the elaboration of the theme of science and religious dialogue, have arisen. Their orientation on the conception of the integral reason reflects the classical tradition of Russian religious philosophy.
In Moscow, the author of this paper has for several years conducted seminars on "Science, Religion and Philosophy of Culture". Including, in May 1999, a round table, co-sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, on "Science and Religion: Dialogue in Western and Eastern Traditions", which drew a number of top specialists in the field from around the world, including 1999 Templeton Prize winner Ian Barbour, and many others. Thus, slowly but surely, the science-religion dialogue in Russia is re-emerging into the light, and engaging greater numbers of scientists, thinkers and theologians in fruitful interaction.
In the beginning, we noted that for the Orthodox Church, the relation of science and religion never displayed the same kind of antagonism often seen in the West. Traditionally, Orthodox theology, in general, depends less on science than do the Western denominations. It is, in a sense, more otherworldly; yet, paradoxically, this often allows it to be less hostile to developments in this world, including science. Today in the situation of the world crisis, of the search for the new strategies of development, this heritage of the old wisdom is, to our mind, very relevant.