Science and Religion

Fr. Razvan Ionescu - A better understanding of Modern Science builds a better dialogue with the Orthodox theology

Modernity and the new landmarks of the scientific method

Science is, par excellence, knowledge that is preoccupied with the certainty and the efficiency of its results, scientific thought being nothing other than the product of a continuous refinement of every day thought.[1] If until the end of the medieval period, in a strict Aristotelian sense, the researcher is interested first in the relationships between ideas (logoi, gr.), and only gives secondary importance to the testing of hypotheses through experimentation, modernity inverses the hierarchy between the two. The issue of potentiality-updating[2] (?), the defining of the "logos" of phenomena (both in terms of completion and finality, or the end goal) through natural observation and philosophical reflection makes room for quantifiable analysis and for the verification of experiments started by formulating working hypotheses. Modern science strictly delimits what the object of knowledge is, proposing not so much the intuition of certain relations in terms of finality, but rather favoring pragmatic description, and the prediction and control of natural phenomena.[3] The Cartesian spirit of systematic doubt, of searching for clarity of ideas to serve as the premise for their correctness, of dividing problems into sub-problems so that they become sufficiently simple as to make them solvable, all of these strive for objectivity and become the condition for scientific rigor. The structure of what we will henceforth call the scientific method of knowledge starts simultaneously with modernity. The new science does not remain therefore purely deductive, as it was practiced in ancient or medieval times. In those times, they started from general principles, which were often philosophic, and expanded on the particular examples of these as they applied to concrete reality. The new science becomes inductive, which is to say it takes into account particular observations and constructs generalizations expressed through laws.

Medieval theology used Aristotelian cosmology as its scientific support to represent the world, a cosmology that affirmed that the earth is the fixed centre of the Universe, surrounded by celestial concentric spheres that represented the divine world. Consequently, there is a fundamental distinction between earth and heaven. This distinction will be blurred thanks to the cosmological model proposed by Galileo Galilei, one that will lead to the a deeper crystallization of the organic unity between heaven and earth. Galileo will use the telescope to demonstrate that the earth is a "simple" planet that gravitates around the sun, a fact that will be equivalent to the "decentralization" of the universe of antiquity. The revolution sparked by Galileo, however, is first of all methodological: it proposes experimental observation formalized through mathematical calculation, the latter which adds an efficient quantitative aspect to observations.[4] Galileo introduces new concepts such as length, time, and speed, with which he can describe the movement of bodies, or more specifically of planets. Fundamentally, the universe is matter, and the new categories introduced - mass, space, time -[5] make it mathematically describable. The new science, then, is a combination of theory and experiment, and at the same time an effort to express the laws of nature through mathematical relationships between variables.[6] Galileo is not at all interested in answering questions such as "why" bodies move, but rather "how" they do it.[7] There is a shift in emphasis from the medieval final causes to the modern efficient causes. For example, a change no longer means a transition from potential to actual, but rather "the rearranging of particles in time and space".[8] Here appear the first instances where reality is modeled, and these permit the repeatability of testing in laboratory conditions; and this in a context in which certain natural phenomena were not easily repeatable or easily observable. Galileo uses balls and surfaces of inclined planes to describe the motion of terrestrial bodies by using notions of speed and acceleration. More than that, celestial bodies can also be described by using the same categories: the human scale and the planetary, cosmic one accept the same concepts and instruments for inquiry. We then find ourselves facing a veritable revolution.


Non-overlapping magisteria - the beginnings

The revolution Galileo brought about is observed even more pronouncedly in the interaction between the new knowledge and the scriptural perspective. It is a meeting of two authorities: the divine authority, expressed through the Old and New Testaments, and the human authority, newly strengthened by a rigor of thought that was once unimaginable. Foreseeing this potential crisis, Galileo himself, in a letter addressed to the duchess Christina in 1605, Lettera a Madona di Lorena, Granduchessa di Toscana, tries to offer two methodological principles to govern this meeting. Here we see a pioneering work on behalf of science in its modern period, concerned with a dialogue with theology. The first principle Galileo outlines affirms that science and theology have different goals and are irrelevant to each other. Having read Augustine, Galileo sees Scripture as being focused on the essence of man's salvation, and not on a description of nature, which is entrusted rather to science. In other words, the Bible is not a science book.

Galileo tells Cardinal Baronius: "The intention of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how the heavens work." In anything to do with cosmology, the writers of the Bible had to "adapt to the capacities of ordinary men", using the "method of communication" of the time.[9]

Galileo has the conviction that the Holy Scriptures, and respectively the Book of Nature, cannot be divergent, as two that have the same author. Through the intermediary of his second principle, he concerns himself with searching for an optimal interpretation of the Scriptures in case of those inevitable situations of inconsistency between the theological vision and the scientific one. Galileo claims that if a scientific theory related to a scriptural subject can be demonstrated with certainty, a metaphorical explanation of the Scriptures is preferable to a literal one. 

Identifying key-issues in the scientific method: experiment, model, theory, paradigm

Today, along with the precise definition of the scientific method of knowledge, the meeting between science and theology can be seen as one between two paths to knowledge, each with different objects and methodologies. Science is developed by searching the material universe,[10] that is to say, nature, or "the material world, whether organic or inorganic".[11] Meanwhile, theology searches first and foremost for sainthood as the way to live in God, and, only secondly does it search for the meaning of knowing the material universe through the prism of religious experience. 

Consequently, for science, the object of knowledge is the world, while for theology, it is God, with the world taking second place. The scientific method permits the articulation of an intellectual construct that represents and understands the world through the participation of the human compartment named the intellect. Theology searches the experience of meeting God, an experience in which the human person participates as a whole. 

Both science and theology propose a coherent, internally consistent image of reality. The claim of some that the two paths differ because the former is based on observation and the latter on authority has no basis in reality. At the core of each of them is experience, even if that experience is qualitatively different, and at the same time, both include authority across the range of ways they manifest themselves. The mystical life is fundamentally experiential, and the construction of authority in the Church starts with the concrete reality of the experience of divine presence. Science, while also experimental, does not exclude authority; the results obtained by science are often accepted through an act of trust in authority and in the professional probity of those who are part of the scientific community. Evidently, this trust is based in the verifiable and trans-subjective character of scientific results.

If science focuses its attention on the physical universe, on the human exterior that is accessible through the senses, theology fixes its regard on the renewal of the inner man, the transformation of the human-interior reality. This makes us distinguish between the domain of competence of science, which belongs to the human exterior, and that of theology, which belongs rather to human inwardness. This distinction, however, holds some nuances. Just as the knowledge of the surrounding world structures the interior of the human being, training him to a state of “becoming”, a change of the interior universe through a spiritual discipline gives birth to a new way of life in the world, with an impact upon the material world. There is an interdependence and an inter-relationship between the exterior and the interior. In the same vein, there are voices that want to place theology in the area of subjectivity and science in that of objectivity. This distinction is not absolute. It's uncontestable that one of the most objective aspects of the world is the fact that man is subjective. Science cannot capture him, it can only "describe" him through objective principles. The objectivity of science, however, pays the price of simplifying its vision of the world through the elimination of what are considered secondary aspects, a vision that is known and taken as such. Meanwhile, in theology the landmarks of objectivity are dependent on collaboration with the rationalities of God that are ciphered into the world, rationalities that are discoverable through the working of grace. 

Science makes use of experimental observations to construct a theoretical explanatory framework:

"Science has the objective of constructing a theoretical framework to best describe the facts and the dates derived through observations and measurements. Theories are developed to explain facts. Theories evolve, and they are constantly modified to accommodate new facts as these are demonstrated by evidence and as their validity is confirmed."[12]

To understand how science functions, a few preliminary distinctions impose themselves. When we talk about science today in a generic way, we are thinking about the large spectrum of scientific disciplines - different, varied, and autonomous in their fields of competence, with differing notions and strategies and which are the effects of historical accumulations. We also think of their unifying principle, which is a methodological one. In spite of their variety, the sciences possess a common denominator: a single method of work named the scientific method of approaching research, unanimously accepted by the scientific community:

"The scientific method is unique and invariable: it has not changed since the works of Galileo and other founders of modern science. That does not mean that this scientific method might not change someday; but this change could take place only under the pressure of the absolute necessity to include experimental data and not on the say-so of some scientist or philosopher."[13]

This method wishes to be trans-subjective. Any man initiated in the mechanism of the development of scientific knowledge can apply it in order to arrive at coherent, verifiable results. Beyond the creativity of a person or of a team, which is related to the way in which nature is "asked" (and which determines the type of experiment proposed), the data obtained is verifiable. In this sense, the role of the scientific community is extremely important. Once the research is done, the results are communicated to the scientific community with the goal of benefiting from a critical community spirit. In science, systemic doubt is a condition for rigor, and verifiability is dependent not so much on the person, but on the community. It wishes to be independent of any factors such as values that are linked to the person's subjectivity. The absence of such values is a necessary condition, especially in the stage of verifying the objectivity of a research project. The rationality behind this is the following: "We believe that nature functions after certain "laws" that are independent of human wishes, and scientific results are notoriously untrustworthy when the influence of human inclinations was not adequately controlled."[14]

There is an order to scientific development: the data and the facts obtained through the experimental method are assembled similarly to the way pieces are assembled in a puzzle, highlighting the relationships between them. Based on a model, that is to say an already existing symbolical structure whose properties are already known to the experimenter, a scientific theory is built, which remains to be subsequently verified. A possible schema for the scientific method, as inspired by the one proposed by Ian G. Barbour[15] is the following:

 Theory is not a deterministic result of experiment data – rather, it assumes a creating impulse of the imagination. It assumes the discovery of a spinal chord on which the whole construction will be articulated. Hence the importance of scientific creativity, which permits the assembly of facts considered relevant to the knowledge in question, and which thus proposes a unifying logic.

"All the sciences are based on a series of "evident" facts (or of experimental data) that they need to explain and with which different theories are confronted with. Experimental data finds itself in a series of relationships that are interpreted in the framework of certain models [...]. Not all facts are relevant for every theory; some facts, indeed, must be neglected in certain stages of scientific development."[16]

Using his instruments, the researcher measures and describes phenomena, and he does so in a contextual manner. In other words, an observation is not independent from the framework in which it was made, and subsequent measures do not produce only numbers, but they also beg for a framework of interpretation. This is why one of the conditions for research rigor is the precise specification of the conditions in which observations and measurements take place.[17]

"These details are fundamental inasmuch as the next step is to search for cause-effect type relationships, or for correlations with different parameters, with the end goal of generalizing the phenomenon by eliminating secondary conditions."[18]

Theories are obtained through generalizations. Also names "laws of nature", theories are enunciations that have demonstrated their efficiency in describing a specified number of phenomena. Yet, equally important, they also have the potential to describe other phenomena, whose internal logic is not yet known. And if they succeed, the field of applicability of theories grows.  Theories are valid so long as contrary cases have not been identified. When this happens, and when the insufficiency of a theory is exposed, the theory must be perfected in order to respond to the new demands. In this way, the failure actually becomes a vector for progress. At the same time, any verification of a new theory places a brick towards the base of its credibility. 

In the past, the existence of a plurality of theories meant that scientists were attentive to defining the validity of their domains, as well as their limits and competences. Thanks to the developments arising from quantum physics, this development shifts today to the validity of competing alternative models that favour the understanding of one and the same theory. Hence, demands such as contextuality, which in modernity are present especially in the "inter-theoretic" space, we also find today in the "intra-theoretic" space. The exercise of finding counter-arguments shows the weak points of a model and provokes renewed reflection and development. What is important is the spirit in which the scientific act is produced: an uninterrupted verification, implicit in which is the honesty of recognizing mistakes. The general thrust is similar to the one in the space of the human interior, where it is not the sin that is condemnable, but rather the failure to correct it.[19] In science, it is not the mistake that is condemnable, as mistakes are inherent to the process, but a lack of recognition, a lack of acceptance, and thus, a failure to correct mistakes. It is for this reason that the physicist Niels Bohr remarks that the specialist is he who recognizes the mistakes that are usually made in his field and knows to avoid them.[20]

Generally, however, as science is currently practiced, once the majority of mistakes are recognized, they are corrected "on the go". Erroneous hypotheses are reformulated and the research continues. The permanent recursion of hypothesis-theory-verification-new hypotheses is a premise of scientific rigor.

Ian G. Barbour considers the following as fundamental components of modern science: (1) the particular observation corroborated with the experimental data, (2) general concepts and (3) theories. The relationship between data and theories is mediated by the scientific imagination, by models and by interdisciplinary analogies. Ian G. Barbour rejects the inductive vision proposed by Francis Bacon and John Stuart Mill in which the formulation of theories is made by generalizing patterns observed experimentally. The relationship between theory and data, which is much more complex, implies imagination. There are no rules that can be outlined for the use of imagination. In the imagination, an analogy can play the role of a conceptual model in characterizing a postulated entity, but the imagination cannot be directly observed. [21]

Once formulated, a theory must be empirically validated. The theory expresses a particular specter of expectations, while at the same time (blocking?) other kinds of expectations. This method of research, deductive-hypothetical?, dominated the philosophy of science in the years 1950-1960.

"Science is composed of facts, of the relationships between facts and the explanations of these relationships. Facts and relationships need to be respected with care, just like the penal code is respected. Well established facts remain unchanged, only relationships are made more precise with the development of science. The interpretation of facts and relationships, or of representations based on a consciously simplified picture of phenomena, must not be absolutized. Representations and models develop and change their character with every new discovery."[22]

Facts that are supplied by rigorous observation wish themselves to be invariable. Theories and models are, on the other hand, polymorphous. The latter change their form once the framework of research is perfected through the addition of new data and relationships. Scientific demands ask that theories and models always rigorously respect experimental data and the relationships that come with it. Henry Poincare (1854-1912) compared in his time the act of putting together disparate facts with the construction of a house from a pile of rocks: the cohesion and durability of the whole depend on a rigorous respect of every stage of the process. The resistence of the house will have to be tested by the hostile winds and showers of counter-arguments. Here we see then that the experimenter's mission is not only to verify the theory or the model, but also to search for facts that can damage or contradict them. Science is a discursive kind of knowledge, it does not lead to absolute certainties. Its conclusions are always provisional, incomplete, and consequently, subject to revisions. Theories, and respectively models, change with time, and science can assure tests that are more or less pertinent to their evaluation.

Ian G. Barbour distinguishes four criteria for the development of a theory. The first is concordance with the data, with the caveat that theory is subordinate to the data - a theory can never be proved true or false by referring exclusively to the data. The second criterion is its coherence - the new theory has to be consistent with other accepted theories, or, if it possible, interconnected conceptually with these:

"Scientists place value on the internal coherence of a theory (the simplicity of formal structure, the smallest number of independent or ad hoc assumptions)."[23]

The third criterion is the purpose of the theory, according to which we can verify whether the theory succeeds in uniting previously disparate fields, whether it responds to multiple pieces of evidence, and whether it is applicable "in the long term or with the relevant variables". The fourth and final criterion is that of fertility, in the sense of potential that encourages further research, opens new horizons, generates new hypotheses, etc.

In time, when a theory or a model is immobile, there is a clear danger:

"In science [...] there are two precipices: superficiality and dogmatism, the two sides of pseudo-science. Those who are superficial elaborate their conceptions without taking into account facts and relationships, ignoring phenomena and the relations between them and basing their conclusions only on unverified intuitions. Those who are dogmatic absolutize the current representations. It is difficult to say which of the two is are more dangerous."[24]

In addition, particular attention must be paid to the extremely important differences between a theory and its interpretation. The interpretation can be produced in a different catalogue than the scientific one, and the confusion between catalogues can run the risk of ideology, with a negative impact on the recursive continuation of research:

A scientific theory has its own language, its own methods, its own internal coherence and it is more or less mathematically formalized. Thanks to this, a scientific theory arrives at certain results. The interpretation of these results on an ontological level momentarily escapes the boundaries of science for a moment for it brings into play another language, other methods, another internal coherence. The confusion between a scientific theory and its interpretation on the logical level can lead to even worse confusions.”[25]

Returning to the autonomous framework of the scientific method, the lack of accord between theory and the new experimental data is the motor of renewal for those theories, and it often means the addition of auxiliary hypotheses. Theories influence observations, that is to say the way in which a theory is formulated intervenes in the way data is collected – we are basically witnessing reality being filtered. This filtering is manifested not only through the selection of phenomena, but also through choosing variables considered significant for the experiment, without excluding a certain language and certain types of instruments for investigation. In other words, the types of questions we ask, which stem from the paradigm in which we approach things, fundamentally determine the type of answers possible. It is as if we are peering at the world through colored glasses – inevitably, the world will reveal itself as a function of the color of the classes.

Thomas Kuhn considers that theories submit themselves to a game of dependencies of a generalized pattern in a society of scientists in a particular moment and historical context. This pattern is a set of conceptual and methodological presuppositions that are generally accepted, and that Kuhn calls paradigm. For example, 18th century Newton mechanics will decisively influence the framework and way in which nature must be asked scientifically for two centuries. This will hold until the revolution generated by quantum physics in the 20th century, which little by little will lead to a new paradigm emerging. Paradigms are thus the products of historical communities. Referring to normal science, that is to say research solidly founded on one or more previous scientific accomplishments, accomplishments that a scientific group considers sufficient to supply the starting point for subsequent research, Kuhn finds in history the existence of normative manuals to this end: Aristotle’s Physics,, Ptomely’s Almageste, Newton’s Principia and Opticks, Franklin’s Electricity, Lavoisier’s Chemistry, Lyell’s Geology. Each of these implicitly define the legitimate problems and methods of their respective research domains for the next generations. These manuals define normal science in particular historical contexts and have two common characteristics: on the one hand, their accomplishments were sufficiently important for “eliciting a coherent group of followers from other competing forms of scientific activity” and, on the other hand, they opened “perspectives that are vast enough to offer to this new group of scientists all kinds of problems to resolve”.[26]

In conclusion, the scientific method of knowledge assumes the existence of certain methodological key concepts. First and foremost, science is based on experimentation, an action that corresponds to a particular vision as to how nature must be “asked”, a vision that stems from a set of conceptual and methodological presuppositions at particular moments in history, and which in a kuhnian sense bears the name of paradigm. In modern science, the evaluation of data obtained experimentally is done through the highlighting of certain relationships on the basis of already existing symbolical structures generally named models, to ultimately reach the last step: the formulation of scientific theory. Quantum physics brings a methodological extension, in the sense that the existence of an already formulated theory triggers multiple, competing explanatory models. Thus, if in classical physics, the model precedes the theory, in quantum physics the theory precedes the model. The obvious consequence is that, in the first case, the demands of verification target the theory. Once the theory undergoes verification, the new experimental data provoke the formulation of a new theory. In the second case, it is rather the model that is subject to verification, and the new experimental data help the formulation of a new, more complete model. In any case, the simultaneous existence of a plurality of models accentuates different methods, which are often competing, of understanding the same theory.


The scientific experiment and the religious experience

This section will stress two distinct ways of embracing experience, the first belonging to a scientific approach to knowledge, the second to a religious approach. Thus, if in Christian theology we affirm that man experiences the presence of God through an experience (=an interpersonal meeting, a partaking of man in the reality which God, with His grace, reveals in the interior space of man), in science, and especially with the onset of modernity, we affirm that man experiments, or performs experiments (=manipulating phenomena discovered in nature with the help of a technical apparatus of investigation and with the goal of obtaining information as precise as possible about these phenomena). The following will trace a few landmarks, marking some potential similarities and differences between the two approaches.


The scientific experiment as an appeal for precise answers from nature

Modernity manifests itself in the field of natural sciences through a methodological revolution. Among others things, this implies the import of mathematical formalism and logic, perceived as premises to gain stringency in that which the concerns the possibility of investigating the surrounding universe. Man’s regard is focused especially on discovering quantifiable aspects in nature. Evidently, the consequence is that man’s relationship with nature is more and more exteriorized. Progressively, the interest for understanding nature or the substance of things cedes its place to an interesting in describing nature in terms of quantity and function. Nature becomes an object, and it is more and more easily perceived as an environment in which relationships take place in the domains of necessity, utility, and law-making.

One of the most distinguishable effects of the mutation produced in the process of effectuating experiences is that these will cease to be simple ad-hoc verifications of certain phenomena in nature, without systematically being based on a well-established strategy. Rather, they become a validation of the previous way of thinking, of a rational theory, of a model. Nature is determined to reveal itself according to a particular reading grill of the scientist, according to certain expectations. Thus, cooperation and open-mindedness in the face of the mysterious make way instead to a precise judicial investigation. Nature can no longer be the space of a play of lights and shadows; the coldness of the science’s spotlight seeks to exhaust any semi-darkness from its field of search:

“Science no longer uses experience, but rather experimentation, or the putting to use of a technical apparatus destined to extract from nature precise answers to the questions which we decided to pose to it. There exists then at the base of modern science a technical a priori, which is concretely characterized through a manipulation of nature in light of its insertion in Procust’s bed, in the pre-established system […] of mathematics.”[27]

Experiments, which are personalized inside the discipline that proposes them, are at the same time methodologically uniform. This uniformity is the expression of an effort to assure the reproducibility of results, an objective that is made easier through the formalization that occurs with the aid of mathematics. In this context, the risk of simplifying reality through the exclusive retention of those parameters considered relevant for the experiment is done with maximum gain in mind, in terms of the objectivity of the investigation.

The results of the experiments are, in theory, verifiable by anyone that respects the procedure of experimentation. Practically, however, it is found that the “democratization” of experimentation is also the expression of gaining certain competences, an enterprise that is achieved gradually, most often mediated through cooperation with the scientific community that is able to research in the framework of the particular discipline. There are certain disciplines where the repeatability of the experiment’s conditions is basically immediate. For example, in mathematics the judgments of the plausibility of theorems, which are basically experimental, are accessible anywhere and to anyone, with the assumption of a correct usage of rationality and a minimum level of familiarity with the research subject, at the operational as well as conceptual levels. There are also less favored disciplines, however, such as psychology, where the repeatability is hard to test due to the difficulty of reproducing the experiment. Conversely, in astronomy, the unrepeatability of certain astronomic conditions that are local, momentary, and predicated upon certain means of observation, often makes experiments remain little but punctual “observations”, characterized by their uniqueness. Only the introduction of satellite technology was able to ensure a repeatability of astronomic experiments in space that, under conditions on earth, continues to remain impossible.

The experiment plays an important role in the validation of theories. The progress of experiments, by placing them in a state of crisis together with identifying certain local non-validities, urges a reformulation of theory according to the new demands generated by the experiment. Feyman’s observation is fundamental here, since it emphasizes that one should not circumscribe the new experiment to the path already beaten by many predecessors, inasmuch as, he claims, one of the ways to block the progress of science is to permit experiments only in the domains in which all the laws have already been discovered.

The religious experience as an inter-personal meeting between man and God

Preoccupied with the meeting between science and religion, Ian Barbour compares the scientific experience with the religious one. In this context, he affirms the latter as being a “set of concepts and beliefs” which “are not the product of logic reasoning”, but rather “the result of creative imagination”. The perspective he offers, however, seems a far cry from the richness of Orthodoxy’s perspective. Those who have lived authentic theological experiences and have spoken about the knowledge of God through prayer, which is framed in the methodology of the Holy Fathers, have witnessed to the fact that the imagination cannot constitute the basis of religious experience. They affirm that any advancement along the ladder of prayer necessarily assumes a gradual and resilient abandonment of the imagination, which is a hindrance to pure prayer. It is true that faith cannot be the product of logical reasoning, as Ian Barbour observes. But this is not in the sense that faith has a predilection for and targets other forms of the intellect’s manifestations, but rather, faith fundamentally assumes a profound implication of the man as a whole, and a penetration beyond his natural powers. Thus repentance occurs, which is also named “the renewal of the mind” (metanoia, gr.). At its core, repentance is an “opening” of the mind to the working of grace. The Christian experience addresses itself to the inner man: the latter starts by making an effort to cleanse himself of passions, to gradually renounce the perverted and sick behaviours which waste the powers of the soul. Then comes the gradual acquiring of virtues, an intense regeneration of the spiritual senses. The heart cleansed of passions becomes thus more “transparent” to the presence of God, and through a more full “descent of the mind into the heart”, man meets the Christ that dwells in the altar of man’s soul through the mystery of baptism. The unification of all of the compartments of the human conscience into the same endeavor, the union of the activity of the mind with the feeling of the heart, are affirmed by the mystical experience of Orthodoxy as a means for healing the internal schizophrenia which so often separates intelligence from feeling in the contemporary man.

On the other hand, we should remark that the issue of the repeatability of the religious experience could appear difficult to those that are familiar exclusively with the perspective of the scientific method. Nevertheless, the religious experience, as the Church shows, can be imparted, communicated, and repeated. For example, one of the most usual realities of Christian life, infinitely repeatable – but not deterministic, representing rather a gesture of an inter-personal relationship between man and God – is the experience of the taste of the presence of grace. Those experienced in prayer say that beyond the perception of initial grace, there exist states infinitely finer, and thus harder to communicate, which have to do with the experience of interior growth in Christ. The difficulty here apparently lies only in the absence of repeatability. In actuality, just like in scientific inquiry, where the experiment assumes a certain methodological and conceptual competence, without which the experiment is impossible to repeat, in theology, the experience can require a “personal competence” of being receptive (a cleansing of the heart, or at least a minimal opening to this end), which is the result of an effort of purification and cleansing of the inner man. The most evident example is the one given by the experience that is continuously imparted through prayer in the relationship between the spiritual father and the disciple. In such a context, we are reminded of the experience of the presence of uncreated light that Saint Seraphim of Sarov made his disciple, Motovilov, a partaker of. This light, inaccessible to the senses, is identical to the one in which the Savior revealed Himself to his disciples on Mount Tabor. Although personal – and thus profoundly subjective – the spiritual experience is repeatable and communicable, not as an autonomous initiative of man’s powers but as a gift from God.

Christian life is crucially based on the feeling of grace, without which there can be no theology. We thus affirm the centrality of experience in the life of the Church, without which theology becomes a simple manipulation of concepts related to certain religious subjects. The Liturgy is the mystery par excellence of the life of the Church, and the liturgical space is the laboratory of religious experience.


[1] Albert Einstein, The world As I See It.

(Albert Einstein, Cum vad eu lumea. Teoria relavitatii pe intelesur tuturor, ed. Humanitas, Bucuresti, 1996, p. 99.

[2] Here we must distinguish between potentiality, characteristic of all that is potential, and potentiation, which accentuates the effect or the action of a product – this term belongs to quantum physics

[3] Ian G. Barbour, Religion and science – historical and contemporary issues, Harper San Francisco, 1997, p. 5

[4] Ibidem, p. 10.

[5] In the contemporary perspective, the updated formula for these categories is: substance, energy, space-time, and information.

[6] Ibidem, p. 10.

[7] Ibidem, p. 11.

[8] Ibidem, p. 12.

[9] Ibidem, p. 14-15.

[10] Here we must remark the continuous evolution of the concept of materiality. Classical physics understands the material in terms of substance. The concept of the spatial-temporal continuum highlighted by Albert Einstein highlighted the intrinsic link between substance and space-time. Through the equation E=mc2, Einstein also emphasized the material-energy controversy, which is realizable in both senses, thus showing the intimate link between material and energy. Contemporary research in quantum physics underlines the link between material and information in the Universe.

[11] Friedel Weinert, The Scientist as Philosopher – philosophical consequences of great scientific discoveries, ed. Springer, Germany, 2005. Designating the “material universe that is organic or inorganic”, nature is not a product of human understanding, but it has an objective existence, observes Friedel Weinert. On the other hand, this same author finds that nature is, in a symbolical sense, a product of human understanding. This is because in man’s interaction with nature, he conceptualizes it. Models, theories and laws are produced through the process of understanding, symbolically reflecting the image that man has about nature in a particular epoch; image that man calls nature.

[12] Willard Young, Fallacies of Creationism, Detselling Enterprises Limited, Calgary, 1985, p. 116

[13] Basarab Nicolescu, Science, Meaning and Evolution: The Cosmology of Jacob Boehme, ed. Jacob Boehme Online, 2013, pp. 44-45

[14] Willard Young, p. 118

[15] Ian G. Barbour, p. 107

[16] Gheorghe Stratan, From Doubt to Certainty

(Gheorghe Stratan, introducere la: A Migdal, De la indoala la certitudine, ed. Politica, Bucuresti, 1989, p. 7.)

[17] For example, analyzing the trajectory of an object in the air is dependent on conditions such as the wind, altitude, temperature, and humidity. Analyzing a cosmic object through images depends on the distance between the point where the observer is situated and the object, on the angle of the view, on the quality of the sensor, and subsequently the image produced, on the quality with which the images are transmitted on earth, etc.

[18] Jean Kovalesky, Science et Religion, in: Convergences – Science & Religion, Spring 2000, Université interdisciplinaire de Paris, p. 22.

[19] Errare humanum est, perseverare diabolicum (lat.).

[20] The similarity with the theological perspective is evident: true Christian life does not mean the absence of the possibility to fall, a fall that falls the willing acceptance of what we call in a Christian sense, temptation. Rather, true Christian life is developing a strategy to avoid a potential fall.  This strategy assumes on the other hand, the willingness to rise after the fall if the latter has occurred, and on the other hand, a more efficient avoidance of future risks.

[21] Ian G. Barbour, Religion and science – historical and contemporary issues, Harper San Francisco, 1997, pp. 106-107.

[22] A. Migdal, p. 34.

[23] Ian Barbour, p. 109.

[24] A. Migdal, p. 34.

[25] Basarab Nicolescu, Science, Meaning and Evolution: The Cosmology of Jacob Boehme, ed. Jacob Boehme Online, 2013, pp. 44

[26] Thomas S. Kuhn, La structure des révolutions scientifiques, ed. Champs Flammarion, Paris, 1983, pp. 29-30.

[27] Pierre Aubenque, Métaphysique et technique, in: L’héritage du monde grec, editat de Lambros Couloubarisis, Ousia, Paris, 1989, p. 24


ps: I am gratefull to Daria Tilimpea for the work of this translation.