"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Eastern Orthodoxy in the Academy Today (IV): The Sciences

Five years ago now, I interviewed Gayle Woloschak about her then-new book, co-edited with Daniel Buxhoeveden, Science and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

So it was no surprise to find her name appear again in the collection I have been discussing on here in several parts, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and American Higher Education,edited by Ann Mitsakos Bezzerides and Elizabeth H. Prodromou.

Gayle's chapter, "Perspectives from the Academy: Being Orthodox and a Scientist," begins by noting the frequency with which "science" and "faith" are portrayed as radically different, if not incommensurate, but says that in her experience such a position is only held by fanatics on the extreme edges of both ideological camps. She reveres equally the wisdom that comes from science and Orthodoxy.

Gayle, a professor of radiation oncology at Northwestern University, notes that in general scientists are not believers, and are subject to peer pressure in this area just as other groups put pressure on their members. Sometimes they make prejudicial decisions about matters of religious belief without bothering to consider them with the same critical-rational skills they would consider any other matter--without, that is, using the same skills they would regard as the sine qua non of scientific method and research. But then she notes the same can sometimes be true of Christians, especially when they are debating topics such as evolution.

She notes how much "unscientific" reasoning goes into science--the role of creativity, e.g., in making discoveries, or the number of times someone in a lab follows a "hunch" or "gut instinct" and makes a discovery in a way that was not transparent to conscious, considered, logical reasoning at the time. No scientist, then, is totally "scientific" in everything if by that we mean a sort of crude empiricism.

If there are places where science and faith come close to one another, it is often, she notes, in the context of medical schools, where the concern today is on treating the whole patient, and where, therefore, there is often an openness to spiritual realities, not least in situations where one is dying.

She concludes by noting the number of outstanding questions where science and Orthodoxy, and Christianity more generally, could have a lot to learn from each other, not least as technology and pharmacology increasingly foist difficult questions on us.

That is very much an overriding theme of this volume as a whole: the fact that Orthodox interactions inside the American academy today remain new and rare, and a whole host of questions await both as these interactions grow and continue in the years ahead.


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