Digital devices connected through binary code on the internet

Religion and Science in the Information Age

If the over­abun­dance of infor­ma­tion is a cause of dis­trac­tion and sep­a­ra­tion from God, a ques­tion aris­es: to what extent must we cut our­selves off from this sen­so­ry over­load? Below is a con­tin­u­a­tion of an Ortho­dox Life staff arti­cle that first appeared in the print edi­tion of Ortho­dox Life, Vol. 67.1. The begin­ning of this arti­cle was repub­lished here as “The Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian in the Infor­ma­tion Age”.

A ques­tion may arise, espe­cial­ly among stu­dents: does all this mean that sec­u­lar, world­ly knowl­edge is at best vain and use­less, and at worst harm­ful and in con­flict with Divine knowl­edge? Ivan Mikhailovich Andreyev of blessed mem­o­ry, the pro­fes­sor of Ortho­dox Apolo­getic The­ol­o­gy at our Holy Trin­i­ty Sem­i­nary, gave a good answer to this quandary in his lec­ture on the rela­tion­ship between reli­gion and sci­ence. Pro­fes­sor Andreyev states: 

True reli­gion and true sci­ence, mark­ing the lim­its of the sphere of their com­pe­tence, can nev­er have con­tra­dic­tions between them. If such con­tra­dic­tion occurs, it means that either reli­gion or sci­ence has betrayed its prin­ci­ples and become pseu­do-reli­gion or a pseudo-science. 

Faith and knowl­edge in their very essence are insep­a­ra­ble. It is impos­si­ble to sur­mise that a believ­ing per­son did not think about the object of his faith and did not know what he believed in; it is impos­si­ble that a philoso­pher or a schol­ar, while inves­ti­gat­ing, did not believe, at least, in his own intellect. 

Knowl­edge is as nec­es­sary and law­ful for reli­gion as faith is for sci­ence. Faith can be indis­pens­able where knowl­edge is inad­e­quate and help­less. Any­thing learned through faith should not enter into con­tra­dic­tion with knowledge… 

The more deeply and thor­ough­ly man stud­ies the sci­ences and knows the lim­its of their com­pe­tence, the more philo­soph­i­cal and the­o­log­i­cal cul­ture man pos­sess­es. Like­wise, the more deeply his reli­gious faith is devel­oped, the few­er become the imag­i­nary con­tra­dic­tions between faith and knowl­edge and between reli­gion and science… 

Reli­gion answers the high­est and most intri­cate inquiries of man’s spir­it, which sci­ence is absolute­ly help­less in answer­ing. The more high­ly devel­oped reli­gion is, the more it nur­tures a love for knowl­edge; not, of course, vain knowl­edge, but true knowl­edge, which is called spir­i­tu­al wisdom… 

St Basil the Great, who was a schol­ar, a philoso­pher and a the­olo­gian, said: “In philo­soph­i­cal teach­ing there was only a shad­ow of revealed truths, a pre-por­tray­al of Truth shown in the Holy Scrip­ture, a reflec­tion of the light of Christ’s truth, sim­i­lar to the reflec­tion of the sun in water.” Of the rela­tion­ship between faith and knowl­edge, St Basil the Great also assert­ed: “In sci­ence, faith pre­cedes knowl­edge.” This is pro­found­ly true, since every­thing most fun­da­men­tal and ini­tial in sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge is impos­si­ble to prove and is accept­ed as a basic prin­ci­ple by an act of faith…

If the great Fathers of the Church regard­ed hon­est sci­en­tif­ic and philo­soph­ic knowl­edge with such deep respect, then, in their turn, the great­est sci­en­tif­ic schol­ars regard­ed reli­gious faith with deep esteem and rev­er­ence. True knowl­edge is incom­pat­i­ble with pride. Humil­i­ty is an indis­pens­able con­di­tion in the pos­si­bil­i­ty of per­ceiv­ing Truth. Only a hum­ble schol­ar, like a hum­ble reli­gious thinker, always remem­ber­ing the words of the Sav­iour: With­out Me you can do noth­ing (John 15:5), and I am the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6), is capa­ble of going in the cor­rect way (method) toward per­ceiv­ing Truth. For God resisteth the proud, but giveth Grace unto the hum­ble (James 4:6).1 

The thoughts of Pro­fes­sor Andreyev give us hope that there is still knowl­edge worth pur­su­ing out there in the world of schol­ar­ship. Yet with what cau­tion must one pro­ceed in a world where words such as Faith in God, humil­i­ty, rev­er­ence, and even Truth have been ban­ished from the lex­i­con of acad­eme. Like a mush­room pick­er one must be extreme­ly care­ful in choos­ing what to con­sume, lest one be poi­soned and risk spir­i­tu­al death. 

This brings us to the next term which we must inves­ti­gate in our exam­i­na­tion of our Age of Infor­ma­tion: Truth.

The sim­ple dic­tio­nary def­i­n­i­tion of “Truth” is: “The sub­stance of real­i­ty; actuality.” 

In one of his lec­tures Pro­fes­sor Andreyev not­ed that every sen­si­ble, nor­mal and crit­i­cal­ly think­ing per­son, devel­op­ing spir­i­tu­al­ly, soon­er or lat­er sets before him­self a whole line of ques­tions con­cern­ing what Truth is: What is the nature, mean­ing and aim of life, per­son­al­ly for each indi­vid­ual and for the uni­verse as a whole? What is life? What is the ori­gin of all exist­ing things? Is there a God, Cre­ator of all things, or does the world exist with­out a Cre­ator? If there is a God, can we pos­si­bly have com­mu­nion with Him? Does anoth­er world exist besides the vis­i­ble one? What is mat­ter? What is con­science? What is the Spir­it? What is death? Does the soul exist, and does it pos­sess immor­tal­i­ty? What is good and evil? Can the absolute Truth be known? How must one live and what must one aspire to? 

These are ques­tions which, in one form or anoth­er, every nor­mal, think­ing human being must ask him­self. For if there is no absolute Truth, then life has no mean­ing and no goal. Yet, these ques­tions take time to form. They do not arise all at once. Time is need­ed for the process of their for­ma­tion, con­tem­pla­tion, and res­o­lu­tion. Each indi­vid­ual needs to go through this process, oth­er­wise he does not devel­op as a human being and is spir­i­tu­al­ly and psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly stunted. 

The ques­tion can valid­ly be asked in our age of hyper-infor­ma­tion, where from the youngest age indi­vid­u­als are per­pet­u­al­ly sub­ject­ed to Infor­ma­tion­al Sen­so­ry Over­load: is there enough time, is there enough atten­tion capac­i­ty left for these all impor­tant ques­tions even to arise in a young person’s heart, let alone for them to be resolved? Per­haps this is why we have become a soci­ety of spir­i­tu­al mis­fits and that one out of every five Amer­i­cans are known to have men­tal prob­lems of one degree or another. 

Of course, before the Fall, when man lived in full com­mu­nion with God his Cre­ator, the ques­tion of God’s exis­tence did not arise. It is only after the Fall, when sin began to geo­met­ri­cal­ly mul­ti­ply and the major­i­ty of the human race start­ed to lose the con­cept of the One True God that man begin to ask him­self: Is there a God, is there an absolute Truth, and can it be com­pre­hend­ed? Through­out the ages fall­en man has dealt with the ques­tion of the exis­tence of God and absolute Truth in a vari­ety of flawed ways. Our cen­tu­ry, which has been marked with the re-inven­tion of all the here­sies of old, has not shied away from embrac­ing the flawed philo­soph­i­cal sys­tems of the past as well. 

To be continued…