475. Science, Religion and Art: Patriarch Kirill said it right.

Back in the days before he got co-opted, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia said some things which I think are right on target, including one thing which has helped me think in a new way. We’ll come to that later in this Post.


Creation Ministries International

When long ago I was raised in the Evangelical Protestant world *, I knew many people who insisted that, since the Bible was entirely literally true, then we must believe that God created the world in six literal twenty-four hour days – else everything was up for grabs, even the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus  Christ. I never took any of it seriously.

  • which was very different from most of today’s Evangelical movement

Then, probably in reaction to that sort of non-intellectual religion, for a while I bought into liberal Protestantism, where they accepted the scientific theory * that the world has been created over billions of years. However, they had trouble with miracles and even the Divinity of Our Lord Jesus.

  • Note that science never produces cold hard facts. Only mathematics can do that. Scientific research gives us theories. The evidence for some of these theories can be overwhelming (such as the relationship between smoking and cancer) but it’s never 100% proof..

I found the resolution in Anglicanism, where it seemed generally accepted that science tells us how things work, as best it can. E=mc2 doesn’t explain; it only describes. Religion tells us why things exist, their purpose and meaning, also as best it can.

As Anglicanism began to flounder, I was greatly relieved to find that most Orthodox theologians and authorities take the same approach. For example:

Patriarch Kirill on Science and Religion and Art

Courtesy of BBC

I can’t find the entire quotation, so this is the account from Pravmir, August 2, 2016:

“We can say that science, religion and art are different ways of examining the world and mankind, by mankind. Each of them has its own instruments, its own methods of learning. They respond to their own questions,” the Primate said at his meeting with scientists in Sarov.

He noted that “though during human history relations between science and religion were very different, religious and scientific ways of examining the world do not have contradictions, as there are no contradictions between science and art, religion and art.”

He believes that science answers the questions “how and why” while religion answers the question “what for.” According to the patriarch, religious studies focuses on “the problem of meaning in life and attitude to death.”

“It is naive to read Genesis (the first book of the Bible describing how God created the world) as the text book on anthropogenesis *. At the same time, it is counterproductive to search for an answer to the meaning of life in text-books on Biology and Physics,” the Patriarch said.

  •  the scientific study of the origins or development of the human race

It is self evident that science and religion must agree – true science, that is, and true religion – because all things come from God Who is “Creator of  heaven and earth”. If they seem in conflict, one or the other must be off base,

As for his comments about art, we’ll talk about that a little later.

Patriarch Bartholomew on Religion and Faith

Courtesy of The Orthodox Times

Here are two quotations in which His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch makes the same point. However, he speaks not of the relationship of “Science and Religion“, but rather the relationship of “Science and Faith“. I prefer that wording. “Religion” is a somewhat nebulous term. “Faith” is specific.

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 1:1  Just like scientific knowledge, our Faith is based on substance, evidence. (We talked about that last week.) Our Faith is grounded in revelation: the revelation of God in the Old Testament, the ultimate revelation of God in Christ recorded in the New Testament. 

The first quotation is taken from when Patriarch Bartholomew addressed the “Third International Conference of Bioethics and Young People” at the Phanar on December 8, 2023.

  “It is written that the discussion on the modern bioethical dilemmas between the Church and Science reminds the Church of the confrontation with revolutions in the field of natural sciences, associated with the names of Newton and Darwin. We believe that such a perspective benefits neither the relations of faith and science nor the hypothesis of dealing with bio-ethical problems. Faith and science are beneficial forces for man. Their cooperation promises a future full of expectations. It is inconceivable and ineffective for faith to be suspicious of scientific knowledge and for science to link the future only to its progress.

Then to a group of Internists who visited the Phanar in May, 2024:

“Within Christian doctrine, scientific knowledge is revered as a precious endowment bestowed upon humanity by the divine. This principle finds validation in the pronouncements of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Crete, 2016), which affirm: ‘For the Orthodox Church, mankind’s capacity for scientific exploration of the world constitutes a gift from God.”

“Naturally, there exist scientists who, in their pursuit of knowledge, undervalue the significance of faith. Yet, they are misguided, for faith, too, possesses profound power—a gift of immense value. While medical science preserves and enhances life’s quality, faith imbues existence with purpose and unveils the eternal realm, granting a life transcendent over the grasp of mortality.”

When a few scientists deny the existence of God or of miracles, that’s not science; it’s their philosophy. They are exceeding the boundaries of scientific research, which can speak only to that which will hold still within our cosmos and be measured and analyzed – which God and miracles certainly cannot! Likewise, when theologians or students of Scripture deny “good science”, they are exceeding the boundaries of theology and Scripture.

The Creation Story in Genesis 1

Now let’s go back and try to apply these principles to the story of Creation in Genesis 1. (Note that there is another story of Creation in Genesis 2.)

Six 24-hour days? No. The text makes that obvious. The author certainly was aware that there couldn’t be 24-hour days before there was a sun by which they are measured. He knew herbs and trees couldn’t exist without sunlight. Indeed the Hebrew word יְוֹם, usually translated here into English as “day”, is translated elsewhere in the Old Testament as “time”, “season”, even “age”. I read (haven’t researched it) that Saint Irenaeus bishop of Lyons (2nd century), Saint Basil the Great (4th century); and Saint Augustine (5th century) all interpreted Genesis 1 in this way.

Likewise, were Adam and Eve the first people on earth? No. The text says there were also people in the Land of Nod, where Abel got his wife. Then the author goes on to describe the increase of sin and evil and the development of various professions in a few generations, when in fact archaeology has demonstrated that it required many. Not a problem. Genesis here is talking about meaning, not length of time.  (I think it is remarkable how close Genesis came to getting the sequence of what actually happened.)

Genesis 1 tells us the meaning of Creation:

Creation didn’t just happen. It  had a Creator who by His Word “spoke” all things into being and called them good. Mankind has a special place in Creation: He called us “very good”. We once lived in Eden, an age of innocence. Then we became self aware and lost our innocence, and began to choose evil. Thus we lost Eden; now the doors are shut, and death gets us all, and no matter how hard we try, we can’t go back again. The only way is forward. Genesis is the history of mankind, indeed of each one of us.

Our religion explains the mystery, insofar as we can understand it: God granted us free will in order to create beings like Himself, who can know the joy of freely choosing what is good -if we will have it. When we went astray… well, read the Anaphora Prayer from the Liturgy of Saint Basil which sums it up far better than I can.

Now, back to the interesting quotation from Patriarch Kirill at the beginning of this Post:

Art as a means “of examining the world and mankind” 

Did you know: In Genesis 1, when it says God called His world “good”, the Hebrew טוב” בבראשית א’ can just as easily be translated God called the world “beautiful”, and mankind “very beautiful”.

I had never paid much attention to that till I read Patriarch Kirill’s words. I had never thought of art, painting, music in that way. Dostoevsky wrote “Beauty will save the world,” And Keats: ”’Beauty is truth, truth beauty’ – that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”. I’ve always thought that was kind of silly. Maybe I’ve been missing something.

I am no expert in these matters, only a participant, so I’ll have to speak personally again.

But, yes, now that I think of it, music and iconography music have drawn me into Reality in a way that neither science nor religion have. I love music with a passion and find it inexplicable why it affects me as it does, takes me to places that cannot be described in words. As perhaps a strange example, as I write this I am listening to a recording by my favorite jazz pianist *, which by its juxtaposition of chord and rhythm is lifting my soul or sometimes just making me glad still to be alive. Surely there is music in Heaven.

  • Just for the record, I also listen to much classical music and good music from “the old days” – George Gershwin! who ws before my time. (Tonight my wife and I are going to watch “Sound of Music” for the I-don’t-know-how-many-th time.)  However, I rarely listen to religious music except in church. It strikes me the same way as do icons when they are (mis)used only for decorative purposes. Does anyone else here present have the same reaction, or is it only me?

The following is from an article in The Moscow Times * (September 24, 2014) which both describes and quotes what Patriarch Kirill said. I’ll say a little about this afterwards.

  • This newspaper has fled from Russia lest they get shut down or the staff arrested. It now publishes from The Netherlands.

Speaking at an Orthodox festival on Wednesday, the head of the Russian Church told journalists that some forms of contemporary culture “show some horrors, some nonsense, idiocy,” state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported.

According to the Patriarch, art should be a thing of beauty and harmony, as opposed to “filth and stupidity under the guise of art… The purpose of [such] art is not to advance humankind … but to destroy [it],” he was quoted as saying. “Proponents of modern and experimental art would have us believe that anyone who fails to understand the genre is simply “unenlightened,” the patriarch said.

Despite the perils of modern art, however, there is always someone willing to applaud it, and anyone who doesn’t understand it is described as “unenlightened,” the patriarch added.

To illustrate his point, he described attending a symphony in Chicago. What began as a “wonderful concert” quickly devolved into a cacophony of sound after an announcer told the crowd that the symphony would play some “experimental music.” As the patriarch described it: “Everyone sat. Their faces tense, their eyebrows pursed with the desire to understand what was happening … But no one wants to be the one to say ‘the emperor has no clothes.’ Everyone was too afraid.”

Now, it may be only because we come from an older generation, but that certainly describes how my wife and I have felt at the Milwaukee Symphony. We’ve noticed that they put the contemporary cacophonous pieces first, so we have to endure them in order to get to the good music. If they put them at the end of the program, I suspect people would quietly get up and leave.

Art reflects culture, but it also creates culture. The chief purpose of art, as well as of science and religion, should be to bring us to the Truth in whichever way, at whatever level they can.

Of course, styles of painting and music change and advance * over the years. I’m sure Mozart would be entirely perplexed by the music I’m listening to right now – or Rembrandt by Monet or modern photography. However, all a guy has to do is take a couple of clicks on the computer, and here will come dirty images which denigrate women and create evil desires in men.

  • Except for our blessed Orthodox iconography. In some places it took a sentimental turn for a couple of centuries, but it has now returned to normal.

Here are two examples of what the Patriarch called the “nonsense” of some modern artwork, both orange:

1) About sixty years ago I walked into the Art Institute of Chicago. There on the wall was a large painting consisting entirely of three light orange stripes of various shades with no particular texture that I could detect – which had won Second Prize in some contest! Really? I could have produced it in my garage with a paint roller.

Courtesy of WUWM

2) The sculpture at the east end of Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, facing out on our beautiful blue Lake.

Art creates culture, but it also reflects culture. I have thought for many years that much of today’s dissonant, bizarre music and painting and sculpture reflects a culture which has gone dissonant and bizarre, has lost its roots.

Here is something by Stravinsky, based on the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah.

Any questions?

I suppose it’s possible that this will seem normal music to some future generation. I hope not.

There! The old man has spoken. And I have agreed with His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia! This time.

Next Week: American Christian Nationalism

Week after Next:  The above may take two Posts. We’ll see.

3 thoughts on “475. Science, Religion and Art: Patriarch Kirill said it right.

  1. Great post Father: thank you!
    I wonder if you have come across “The Wood – an outline of Christianity” by Sister Penelope?
    She was an Anglican nun and a friend of CS Lewis.
    She suggests that there may have been a long period of time between verses 1 & 2 of Genesis ch.1.
    It was not creation ex nihilo, since the earth and the water were already there.
    Perhaps the chapter describes the reestablishment of life on earth after a global catastrophe.
    Compare the reestablishment of life after the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883.
    There was darkness, and then light began to filter through.
    The sky became visible again.
    Then the island restablished itself, and vegetation began to grow again.
    At length the ash clouds dissipated and the sun became visible again.
    Fish and birds were the first living creatures to return, followed by animals swimming (or floating on logs?).
    Finally man comes back.
    This is the order of events in Genesis ch.1 !
    Note too that Gen 2:4 refers to “the day that the Lord God made the earth & the heavens” – not “the six days “. 😉

  2. Father, bless.

    I, too, am struck by music the same way. A beautiful song can move me to tears. Additionally, I rarely listen to religious music outside of divine services. It’s why I don’t like listening to Christian contemporary music – if it’s just there as a placeholder for music as entertainment, it’s meaningless.

    I am REALLY looking forward to your next post. I read the first few sentences of the deleted post and I have been waiting for more on it.

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