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Light from the East (Theology and the…

Light from the East (Theology and the Sciences)

by Alexei V. Nesteruk

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Author Alexei Nesteruk presents a hefty tome of 248 pages divided into seven chapters in this 2003 monograph from Augsburg Fortress, a Lutheran Press with principal offices in the USA. In addition to manuscript pages, footnotes that are collated by chapter occupy another 20 pages, followed by Latin and Eastern Patristics sources in translation organized by author, a bibliography of primary Orthodox texts, a separate general bibliography, and Index--in all another 39 pages appended to the manuscript.

The author is a philosopher of science and lecturer on faculty at the University of Portsmouth (UK). Nesteruk's monograph is one of 17 titles in the publisher's Theology and the Sciences series (led by general editor Kevin J. Sharpe). It earns critical acclaim along with other titles in the same series by exemplary theologians and philosophers such as Langdon Gilkey, Patricia A. Williams, and Ian Barbour.

Given the breadth of remarkable and provocative books in this publication series, I recommend what Nesteruk contributes vis-à-vis others in the same series. 'Light from the East' is singular among the lot in having entered "...the dialogue with science" on the scale of Christian Orthodoxy and not Western Christian theology (Preface, 1). Nevertheless, Nesteruk's contribution shares a handful of common themes addressed in other monographs in this series, such as H. Paul Santmire's approach to a Christian ecology and Samuel Powell's study of the Creation by relations among the Holy Trinity.

Bringing a secure Orthodox faith to his dialogic enterprise underscores how Nesteruk differentiates scientific and theological strands from Latin West and Byzantine East with the confident hand of an ancient mariner. Sailing along a geographic and historical fault at 47 degrees North and variably 15-20 degrees East, ethnic Orthodox enclaves that appear south-by-northeast of this intersection as well as the Orthodox Diaspora elsewhere have produced far less discourse between science and eastern theologians than witnessed in the West. However, according to Nesteruk's view, less might well be a 'felix culpa.'

Nesteruk calls for synthesizing Greek, Syriac and Arabic Patristics qua Orthodox theology to answer Kantian objections ascribed to the constraints of human perception. Furthermore, he assures philosophical engagement with object(s) of science without borrowing Augustinian or Baconian assumptions (Chapters 1-3). The author explores an Orthodox metaphysics, which Orthodox contemporaries, Christos Yannaras of Greece and Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo) of Canada, charted across several decades prior to this book. Emphases on attachment of subject and object by apophaticism, hypostatic union of three divine Persons, and the spiritual intellect (nous)--three metaphysical realities of eastern theology, he envisions ground for dialogue with science that a western "detachment of the intellect from its object" (p.47) cannot achieve. Acknowledging fragmented conclusions in western dialogues, the central premise of holism in Orthodox theology establishes philosophical ground--a "logic of mystery"-- for compatible mystical and empirical inquiry.

Nesteruk develops theological monodualism in Chapter 4, a critical contruct for his thesis. Again, he remains in dialogue with Kant regarding a possibility for genuine onotology by identifying a process that would expose an apophatic opposition, which theology could address by way of its own praxis and theoria combined. An apophatic opposition comes close to a cataphatic principle, so careful attention to Nesteruk's distinction portends a prominent place for apophatic opposition in future dialogues between theology and science.

Similar to Nancy Cartwright's approach of detailed analysis of a scientific idea to expose philosophical problems, Nesteruk's investigative process employs first a dualist perspective to establish scientific objects as ontological entities and relations. Having first assured ontological comparability and comparisons, his process calls for a summary of the philosophical problems by creating a statement--an apophatic opposition. An apophatic opposition affirms and denies any claims about the object(s) under investigation in the way that apophatic theology affirms and denies every claim about God. Indeed, as Nesteruk concludes, the apophatic opposition directs investigation of the scientific object(s) under review toward Orthodox theology, which he has already defined in the ancient Eastern sense of a mystical understanding, arrived at by prayer and contemplation.

Karl K. Allen reviewed this book in the 2005 issue (Vol. 7) of 'The Journal of Religion and Society' (an electronic peer-reviewed journal), having concluded that" "Much of the fun of this book, once one has swum through the surge of new concepts, is watching Nesteruk getting great minds in different disciplines to talk to each other."

Yes, I agree with Professor Allen, there are technical hurdles in language to climb in 'Light from the East,' but they are fun and enticing. Every future endeavor by philosophers of science or religion, and every theologian who sails the way of studying science, must grapple with Nesteruk's ideas.

I anticipate posting a review soon of Alexei Nesteruk's 2008 monograph 'The Universe as Communion: Towards a Neo-Patristic Synthesis of Theology and Science.' (London: T&T Clark, 2008). ( )
  Basileios919 | Mar 30, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0800634993, Paperback)

In this unique volume, a new and distinctive perspective on hotly debated issues in science and religion emerges from the unlikely ancient Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition.

Alexei Nesteruk reveals how the Orthodox tradition, deeply rooted in Greek Patristic thought, can contribute importantly in a way that the usual Western sources do not. Orthodox thought, he holds, profoundly and helpfully relates the experience of God to our knowledge of the world. His masterful historical introduction to the Orthodox traditions not only surveys key features of its theology but highlights its ontology of participation and communion. From this Nesteruk derives Orthodoxy's unique approach to theological and scientific attribution. Theology identifies the underlying principles (logoi) in scientific affirmations.

Nesteruk then applies this methodology to key issues in cosmology: the presence of the divine in creation, the theological meaning of models of creation, the problem of time, and the validity of the anthropic principle, especially as it relates to the emergence of humans and the Incarnation.

Nesteruk's unique synthesis is not a valorization of Eastern Orthodox thought so much as an influx of startlingly fresh ideas about the character of science itself and an affirmation of the ultimate religious and theological value of the whole scientific enterprise.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:48 -0400)

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