International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Light from the East: Theology, Science and the Eastern Orthodox Tradition

by Alexei V. Nesteruk

Introductory Essay by Alan Padgett

There have been far too few books by knowledgeable Orthodox theologians who are also up on current scientific knowledge, or vice versa. This may well be because, in this tradition, rooted in Scripture, liturgy, and Platonic philosophy, the Eternal is of enduring significance rather than change, the future, or “progress.” Both Greek and Russian scholars have, from time to time, written scholarly works in their own language in conversation with both modern science and Orthodox theology –  but very few. In the last few decades, Orthodox voices, while still few in number, have made fascinating and important contributions to the ongoing scholarly conversation between theology and science. In this fascinating monograph from mathematician, physicist, and lay Orthodox theologian Alexei Nesteruk, the long tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy directly engages current topics in theology and physics. The result is a brilliant synthesis that experts will wish to carefully consult. It is not a book for beginners!

In seven chapters, Nesteruk covers the main topics in any integration of Orthodox theology and science. After an introduction, he gives a condensed overview of Patristic Theology and Natural Science. He argues that true faith (Christian) is a condition for true knowledge of the deep things of God, including the deepest rational structures of the universe. The author consistently takes a Christian-Platonic approach to the most fundamental issues concerning theology, God and creation. He moves easily, for example, from the uncreated divine Logos to the uniformity of nature. Chapter Three, sets forth enduring themes in the mystical vision of Orthodox theology, providing his framework for the integration and mediation of theology and science. For Nesteruk, the universal Logos is made known really and personally in the incarnation of Christ. He argues that “the Christ-event” is thus “the major ontological reference” for the enduring and invariant foundations of Christian thought [57].

Because the fundamental ontological foundations of reality and of the Church are thus timeless, eternal, and divine (the Logos of God), the basic structure of the Christian religion does not change over time (this is the standard Orthodox perspective). The sciences, however, do change as humans more fully and in various ways and times penetrate more deeply into the divinely ordained structures and patterns that reality itself, in all its temporality and change, depends upon for its very being. Thus all our knowledge partakes in the dialectic of apophatic and cataphatic. 

In Chapter Four the author develops more fully and philosophically the basic framework already established. Here he argues that the universe itself is a “hypostatic inherence” within the Logos of God, the living Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. These basic perspectives then inform his extended discussion of many current issues in physics, cosmology and theology. For example, in his discussion of the Anthropic Principle in cosmology, he blends physics and theology to argue that the “humankind-event” is a central, organizing factor in the universe itself. Humanity is not merely the purpose of creation (as some argue based on anthropic design), but “the mediating agency that is supposed to bring the whole universe through its knowledge to the new creation” [230]. 

Other chapters go into sustained discussion of quantum cosmology, Big Bang theory, relativity theory and the nature of time to flesh out Into this new, important monograph by Prof. Nesteruk.

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