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A CALL TO CHALLENGE OUR MINDSETS

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Over the many years, I have been an ardent follower of Australia’s ethnic media, observing with diligence the differing views, debates and issues which the various migrant communities engage in. It is without doubt, a great blessing of modern-day Australia, whereby one can seek and hear an alternate view to that of the mainstream media. For ethnic and migrant communities who struggle daily between the tension of integration, preservance of identity and assimilation, these media outlets afford the opportunity to adapt to their wider surroundings, while provide a forum to air their discourse.

Neos Kosmos Greek Section

Yet unlike the mainstream Australian media which has thrown out sensible discourse on matters of religion and metaphysics, and advocates a one-sided atheistic stance as the only path to life, truth and wisdom. The Australian ethnic media at least, still provides a vibrant and more balanced forum on questions of a religious nature, where both sides can in actual fact be heard. I have often found the thoughts of our ethnic/migrant communities of immense interest, since they are usually overlooked or ignored. This is rather quite ironic since they are a human capital to which Australia can capitalize on. But the sum extent of multiculturalism in Australia seems to remain at the level for most Australians, the existence and attendance of various restaurants and cafes offering the differing “ethnic cuisines”. And yet these same migrants who are often overlooked and are usually identified with their ethnic cuisines and the various stereotypes attached to them, have so much wisdom to offer, that challenges our own preconceptions.

smiling cleaner

It is quite humbling at times, to read the sublime eloquence of some commentators who are better known as “that smiling cleaner” who had not even received an education. And yet from such figures, writing or speaking in the various Asian, European, Middle Eastern and African languages, one can learn about Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Islam, Animism and many other religions from the perspective of their adherents.

However, in recent years the beauty and interest of these religious discourses has been overtaken by the usual, boring and infantile debates that pervade mainstream media, particularly in Western and East Asian countries, and to which pseudo-intellectual charlatans like Dawkins profit from. One of our best places in discerning public thought and discourse, particularly in print media, are the correspondences published in the letters section. Within those correspondences there is often a constant appeal to independent scientific rational thought, the need to maintain an open-mind, and having absolute freedom, especially in regards to decision-making.

Open mind before opening mouth

In many of these mind-numbing dialogues, where the reader would be better off placing their head in a blender and pressing the liquefy button, the themes continuously revolve around some supposed clash between religion and science. The writers inevitably, if not always, make constant appeals to logic as the sole arbiter for discerning all things, while science serves as its handmaiden and affirmation. The majority of writers speak about science without truly knowing what it really is, but place wholly their trust in it, in an almost religious devotion. On the other hand, ridicule is skewed at myth or faith, thus indicating an even greater ignorance as to the true meaning or purpose of these concerns. Without doubt, this sort of negative, unbalanced and uninformed dialogue naturally reflects the perspectives of the mainstream media worldwide, which forms and informs public opinion. We therefore need to step back and re-evaluate our preconceptions, and if we are serious, to challenge our mindsets and investigate the meanings and definitions of these fundamental principles. We should note from the outset, that it is not the intention of this article to provide an exhaustive explanation or answer to these concerns in their entirety, but to provide some thoughts and reflections in order to inspire people towards further thought and re-evaluate existing preconceptions.

Our modern-day misunderstanding stems from the inheritance of Europe’s age of Enlightenment together with western Christian and late Islamic scholastic theology.  Accordingly, the net result of these musings, was the assertion that humans are JUST rational beings, as epitomized by Decartes phrase, “cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am). Thus, if we cannot understand things by the capacities of the dianoic (conscious logic/rationale/discursive thought) and sub-dianoic prism (unconscious logic), then it is false and useless.

false and useless - philosophical paradoxes

Therefore to challenge how open-minded, free or rational we really are, let us consider certain questions:

*1. Are we just rational beings?

*2. Is rationale the only effective means of analysis or are we impoverishing ourselves?

*3. Are we absolutely free to exercise rationale and choice divorced from our human or environmental conditions, like emotion, mortality, culture, laws, family, friends etc.?

*4. What is myth, faith and science?

*5. Is there a clash between religion and science?

Conflict

A careful study of the thoughts, writings and philosophy of ancient peoples, from whom we have received the foundations of civilization and society, indicates that we need to rethink our stance.

Firstly, because we are more than just rational beings for we possess senses, emotions, psyche, heart, soul, nous (translated often as spiritual intellect) and sub-nous. As a result logic complements these experiential components of the human being that can discern truth and recognise that there are things which are illogical as well as beyond logic. In effect, the role logic plays, is that it assists us in interpreting, expressing and giving meaning to the experiences of these psycho-somatic components that are part and parcel of our entire being. Yet, as life teaches us, logic is not always correct, nor is it the most reliable element of our being, but is often challenged by the other psycho-somatic components, as well as the logic of other people. Even when we read something that inspires us, it is a challenge to our logic that causes it to rethink its previous stance or to consider another element of an issue that it never thought of before.

Logically challenged

There are many examples to which we could consider that cause us to confront the illogical, as well as that which is beyond logic. One example, is the need for humans and all other living beings, to consume liquids in order to survive. The logical explanation which can be examined and observed by science, is that we are beings that are composed of liquid substances. It could then be explained that the most effective way of circulating and supplying our bodily functions with the vitamins and minerals that it requires, is best served by dissolving them into liquid form by which they could be absorbed. But if we ask the question as to why do our bodies need such vitamins and minerals in the first place, along with the liquids to dissolve them, then we could never have an adequate answer, even scientifically. Because it brings us to further questions, such as, if we are to be living beings, why could we not exist and function in another manner? Why could we not be living beings without the need for food, water or vitamins? Why could we not just live off air, or even do without it?

The theologically and philosophically inclined would speculate why are we created or exist in this particular manner or are constrained by our organic context? Thus we can see that reality can jar intolerably against and confound logic and science, for neither has all the answers, but can only examine, observe and discern within a given and relative context. Where logic or science cannot speak in certain terms or provide explanations for the reasons of why things are the way they are, they both invariably fall back on drawing upon the other psychosomatic components of our being, in order to speculate and theorise. And we must remember that these grey areas are part of the ongoing effort that logic and science confronts and is motivated by. The problem arises when we erroneously enshrine logic and science as religions that can provide all the answers to life’s questions or the reality of our context. And we can say this is an error, in that logic and science do have a speculative dimension to them, because their focus is to observe and analyse. But we should also remember that logic does not always or necessarily have to equal science, and vice versa.

thinking_man

Yet another example that can draw us into entire diatribes is examining the reasons and causes behind the law of human attraction. The topic of course is a minefield, because one can ask why is one man drawn to a certain woman as opposed to another prospective candidate. Now science has examined and developed some useful insights into the matter, by citing variables like the bio-chemistry between the two, which is the response for the compatibility of fertility to bear offspring. Yet again, if we start following a line of reasoning on this matter, why should a man be attracted to a woman and vice versa, in order to ensure the survival of the species? Why would the man be more inclined to one woman over another who may be as equally fertile, and in terms of proportions be as equally, if not more “attractive” than the woman he’s drawn to? Would not biological logic dictate that he should impregnate both women? Why is it that he would find greater “satisfaction”, “pleasure” or “fulfillment” in the arms of one woman over another at that given point in time, and then wish to continue remaining with that woman? Why is it that two people can drift apart and become attracted to other people at another point in time?

man showing interest in women

Additionally, we could ask why attraction and sex are so necessary in drawing together the genders of a species, which of course brings us to the question of why gender exists? There are some very good explanations and insights into these points such as the need to create multiple genetic variables to ensure the survival of a species by creating and drawing together multiple differences and variables.[1] But then we could consider a deeper question, as to why we need species to survive or reproduce? Could we not reproduce or ensure the survival of a species by any other means? Could we not create another human by thought or by forming them out of clay as extreme and bizarre this suggestion may be?[2] That of course causes us to consider what are the parameters of life, and what constitutes life? The quest for answers and explanations will lead us into an unending process of questioning, whereby the ultimate answer will always elude logic and science, and the reason for that, is so that it provides the impetus and inspiration for continual enquiry.

lazy cat with beer and controls

It is as Orthodox Christian thought asserts, is a means by which God ensures we do not become lazy, complacent or remain ignorant due to believing that we have found the all-encompassing answer; but it is a means for us to remain ever-vigilant, always searching and examining the reality that abounds all around us. In a way, to see the patterns, fingerprints and mysteries of God within our contextual reality, but this is a subject that could be examined in its own right and to which, requires further discussion elsewhere.

In any case, the psychosomatic components of a person are conditioned, influenced as well as constrained by many factors like our ability to comprehend, ethics, health, culture, timeframe, the legal system or family. Therefore our ability to exercise rationale or choice is not absolute, but relative because of its constraints.

Yet let us consider the reason why we form myths. In defining myth, we see that it is a means to symbolically encode a message, truth or history to serve as a didactic tool, and to pass down a collective memory or experience from one generation to another. A classic example being Homer’s Odyssey and Illiad, which prior to Heinrich Schliemann’s discoveries had been viewed outside of Greece as nice pieces of epic poetry that held no truth or meaning. The irony being, was that the Greeks themselves had always preserved this tradition for centuries, as a historical account that used its characters to teach certain values, like the nobility of courage.

Ancient Troy

As for faith, both the ancient philosophers and the Byzantines asserted that it is not the expression of a blind belief, otherwise it would be more rightfully called fanaticism or fundamentalism. Rather faith is the product of a living experience and not purely a notional or logical understanding, and as a result expresses a relationship of trust. Whether this be in God, family, friend, prophet, law or country, this trust is not based on some unfounded loyalty, but upon experience, relationship or personal examination.

With regards to science and answering question 5, the ancients made a unique distinction. For them there was sacred or divine knowledge that pertained to the Creator/s, and was viewed as separate and distinct from all other knowledge. This other secular knowledge, inclusive of the sciences, was called PHILOSOPHY. This umbrella term originally did not mean “a purely speculative or contemplative discipline” as we know it today. Rather, in being the “friend of wisdom” (philossophia), one would study and unravel the patterns or secrets of CREATION which had been bestowed by the Creator/s.

Thus philosophy encompassed disciplines ranging from music, mathematics, linguistics to biology, since they were (and are) matters that could be speculated on, studied and even proven. Thus science was not applied to theological knowledge, because the latter dealt with matters that existed before creation and “matter”. In other words, divine wisdom and knowledge, that is theology (Theos – God + Logos – Word), focused upon the Creator/s and the holistic psychosomatic formation of the human person, while philosophy focused solely upon creation and the existing order of the cosmos.

Such a perspective was commonly held by the many diverse nations and civilizations of ancient times, ranging from Greece to China, Babylon to India, Persia to Ethiopia and so forth. It is a view also echoed within Byzantium and within the theology and patristic tradition of Orthodox Christianity. It is for this reason, amongst many others, that to the Orthodox Christian mindset, there is no conflict between science and religion. If anything, it is viewed as both juvenile and counterproductive to assert that there is a conflict, because it draws away energy from the pursuits and goals to which science or religion seek to attain and aspire to, in order to enrich and empower humankind. It is to use the old cliché, like comparing apples with oranges, it cannot be done, because neither can disprove the other’s objective since their focuses are completely different, even if there are minor cross-overs into each other’s discipline.[3]

apples & oranges00

If we take one of the most famous and useless, so-called debate, the question of “Evolutionary theory”. From the outset, what alludes most people in such discussions are the very terms which they use, because we should observe that evolutionary theory is just as it says, theory. And we should note that there is not one form of evolutionary theory, nor was Charles Darwin the first to articulate such a concept, since there were philosophers in ancient Greece that had postulated similar notions. The first inklings of evolutionary theory have their origins in the observations of how living beings survive and adapt to their environment, and this theory required a proven articulation which could help it delve into its postulation, and that proven fact and inspiration for evolutionary theory is known as natural selection. Natural selection was then augmented by the studies and observations of a 19th century Austrian monk who began to study matters of genetics, when his interest was triggered by differences in flowering and fruiting habits of the peas that he cultivated in his vegetable garden. He observed that certain “attributes” were more dominant than other characteristics which were “recessive”. Such studies on natural selection and genetics, helped provide the template for figures like Darwin to develop their theories of evolution, but we must remember evolutionary theory is distinct from the proven studies of natural selection and genetics, thus remaining theory.

Yet it is interesting to observe, that prominent evolutionary scientists are exploring and even proving the merit of a Lamarckian evolutionary model over and against the Darwinian model. A prominent Australian professor, Ted Steele, had been chased out of Britain’s scientific and academic establishment back in the 1970s and harassed ever since, because he advocated the alternate Lamarckian evolutionary view. Unfortunately within the academic and scientific environment there are many who abuse their particular standing or “authority” to distort actual facts from the theory and their personal convictions. The eminent Steve Hawkins is a classic example of this confusing distortion, because when someone of his calibre speaks, people uncritically listen and take his words and thoughts at face value without examining carefully the actual facts. Yet such figures have ambitiously turned science into a religion, that supposedly has all the answers to life’s questions and the reality of the cosmos.

Of course the “debates” have shifted from evolutionary theory, to the scientific theories that delve into the origins of the universe, such as the Big Bang Theory and String Theory which have been disproven in recent years by scientifically applied mathematics. Thus, science does not have all the answers, but it may have the clues that would lead us to the thing that will always remain unknown. However, to the commonfolk who walk the streets like myself, the scientists and the mainstream mass-media fools, often try to pass off these theories as proven scientific fact, to which most of us shrug our shoulders and accept.

shrugging shoulders

It is due to these circumstances, that one rarely encounters an official statement by any Orthodox Christian jurisdiction that either condemns or accepts evolutionary theory, big bang theory or string theory. And the reason for that as we mentioned before, is because they are theories and notproven fact”. Yet the Church has a particular gripe with the Darwinian evolutionary model, because it inspired some of the worst human atrocities of modern times via eugenics which asserted and sought to prove the superiority of one human race against another.

Nevertheless, this is not to say that those religious fanatics who are not grounded in the faith, are entirely correct in their attacks upon science and scientists. As unflattering the epithet “the earth is flat society” which is ascribed to such fanatics who distort Christianity, is probably an accurate description of their phronema,[4] since much of their rhetoric discredits and brings derision upon Christians before others on matters of serious science.

Rhetoric of the Mad Hatter

The main issue at hand, in light of the Church’s tradition and its Apostolic-Patristic heritage, is how modern-day creationists contort Scripture into linking specific texts with specific scientific and historical facts or theories, like how the Ten Plagues of Egypt came about. The point lost upon these who are weak in the faith and believe they are there to defend God against atheists, is that the Genesis account of Creation is aimed at expositing a theological truth, not scientific facts.[5] It may relate scientific facts within its own particular prose and language, but we must remember that it was not written as a scientific treatise that provides specific scientific details. If anything, Scripture is not really concerned with such matters, since its focus is upon divine wisdom and the formation of the human person. Scientific concerns are only a side reference or footnote within Scriptural narrative, such as the Prophet Isaiah’s passing reference to the revelation that the earth is a sphere, before returning to his narrative of God’s command and the coming of the Messiah.

Therefore we must be sensible to not confuse religious matters with engaging scientific discourse or to use Scripture as a means to answer all cosmic mysteries or refute science. That is where humility and living the spiritual life seeks to petition, the grace of God to reveal the full truth to us. Hence, Scripture is not a scientific treatise or a “do it yourself” (D.I.Y.) manual, but its purpose was/is liturgical and draws upon myth and symbolism to present fact, while utilising history as a means to assist and contextualize its narrative. In any case many more things could be said, but that is where each and every one of you need to learn further and seek the answers yourself, but to remember that there is no conflict between science and religion, for one focuses on Divine Knowledge and Wisdom (Gnosis and Sophia) and the other looks at worldly knowledge and the created order, Philosophy (Friend of Wisdom and Learning).

We dedicate this work to the humorous and modest scientific erudite, Father Nicholas Dalinkiewicz. – V. M.

Fr Nicholas Dalinkiewicz


[1] That is how humanity has survived plagues and epidemics, for example carriers of cystic fibrosis are immune to tuberculosis, but should they have offspring with another carrier of this malady, their children will have the illness. This of course ensures population control, but is not a pleasant thing for the sufferer of this illness.

[2] In all likelihood there are companies and governments who are probably, secretly developing the means to clone humans despite their public denials.

[3] If anything, as one Orthodox observer once cited, science may not disprove the Faith, but it could possibly lead us to it by its efforts in seeking to unravel the secrets of the cosmos, and in the process observe the patterns of God’s cosmic handiwork, such as this “God particle” that the scientists are enraptured about.

[4] Behaviour, mindset, disposition.

[5] This is not to say that science can disprove or prove the days or ages of creation, but it could also be the manner in which we read and interpret the Genesis narrative. What do I mean by this, is that for example, the great folklore epic of Britain about how King Arthur draws the sword from the stone, could easily refer to the manner in how a sword is made within a stone mould. With respects to Genesis there is the first day which had light, but no sunlight till the fourth day, and science has shown us that it is possible to have other forms of light apart from sunlight. Yet we must also consider that the word “day” in ancient Hebrew (yom) and Greek (Imeran) not only mean a literal day in the 24 hour sense, but also means “time period”, “era”, “age”. Whatever the case is, these things will remain mysteries in that we will know certain things but not in their entirety, science may help in this point or might go off on a tangent, but the truth for human existence and life remains, because the Genesis narrative seeks to teach us a lesson about how to live, not scientific specifics as to the world’s origins.

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