A View from the Other Side: Science and Religion in Russia

A View from the Other Side: Science and Religion in Russia

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I was born in 1924 in St. Petersburg(which was, at the time, Leningrad).  I completed the high school in June, 1941, for two days prior to the attack of Germany on my country and enrolled in the Medical Institute.  Leningrad was soon fully besieged by enemies; however, educational study in the Institute continued all the winter 1941-1942, though in very difficult conditions.

In April, 1942, the Institute was evacuated from besieged Leningradthrough the ice of the Ladoga Laketo the Caucasus, and there in June, 1942, I was called-up to the Red Army.  After appropriate preparation I was directed to the field Army.  From August, 1943, until May, 1945

I served as Commander of a Medical Platoon in an offensive rifle battalion.  For the battle services I was awarded with three military award decorations.  Only in 1954 I could continue my study in the Medical Institute.  Since 1959, I have served at the Sechenov Institute of the Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry, Russian Acad. Sci., now as a leading research fellow.  In 1968, I received my Ph.D. for a thesis “Mechanisms of High Oxygen Pressure Toxic Action” – the theme concerning a problem of rescue of people from having an accident with submarines.  Now the areas of my scientific interests include:  comparative and age physiology of respiration and blood circulation, especially the problems of connections between the heart and breathing rhythms, the problems of the human population’s rise and fall, and especially the evolutionary aspects of the origin of belief, including the descent of various religious branches.

Now I speak for researchers and scientists in St. Petersburga rate of lectures “History and the present State of Mutual Relationshipsbetween Science and Religion in Russia.”  For this purpose I have received a grant from the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (Berkeley,CA).

As a significant event in my life, I think the participation in the Haverford Workshop “Interpreting Evolution: Scientific and Religious Perspectives” in the summer of 2001, where the extreme impression was made on me by the freedom of discussions of complex and vexed questions.  Such a freedom has not yet received sufficient distribution in my country.

To stimulate and to cause such a freedom of discussions, I think, is a principal objective of my rate of lectures.  I should frankly admit that to make freedom of discussion is very and very difficult.

Consider this:

According to known historical reasons the problems of communications and interrelations between Science and Religion were not only freely discussed in our Country during many decades, but moreover, they were under the full interdiction.  Exclusively dominating in Russia, pseudomarxist ideology supposed only the rough and uneducated criticism in relation to the Religion.  Therefore, the level of knowledge in this area is extremely low now in the greater part of several generations even of the most educated people.  The broad propagation of the religious concepts beginning in Russia in the last years is far behind from being conducted on the enough high level and cannot satisfy the ideological needs of the well advanced in other relations people – of the scientists, professors, and students of higher educational institutes.

Scientific scope

The facts exist which are uniformly and reliably recognized both by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Medical Science.  The fact rigidly established and statistically confirmed is the existence of the connection between the Religion and the condition of health and duration of the person’s life.  The religious people are ill less, suffer from the diseases easier, and live longer than non-religious ones.  The participation of the priests and other servants of the church in the treatment of the patients and in taking care of them brings a doubtless favor.  Modern physiology has achieved certain successes in scientific explanation of these phenomena.

As we already have told, our Country more than seven decades (1917-1989) lived under the exclusive domination of the pseudomarxistic philosophy.  Our ideologists have applied huge gains in order to “root out” the religious “prejudices” from the people’s consciousness.  One of the main arguments for this “rooting out” was Karl Marx’s word “the Religion is the opium of the people.”  Now we can see how Marx was deeply correct though he did not suspect all the depth of his correctness – you see, he did not know about the existence in the brain of normal healthy people the special receptors for opium and about the cells synthesizing substances similar to opium-endogenous opioid peptides. Without these receptors and synthesis of the natural endogenous opioids not only could the person not maintain the pain sensations and other worldly everyday troubles, but they also could not even completely control the working of his vitally important internal organs.

It is necessary to see that the opioid peptides action, as well as placebo (imitative medicine) action, and also the medical hypnosis or suggestion actions have an essential likeness with the curative effects, with which the religious person has after their praying to God or to the priest.  These effects can be extremely powerful.  It is known how Ivan Pavlov describes a behavior of the dog, to which a painful electrical irritation of a skin was put by his master as a conditional stimulus signaling the receiving of food:

“…We have reached a terrible current, but nevertheless the response always has remained the same. Any painful response was not present, all time there was only positive food response.  We could burn a skin, punch it, but the response on it was only as on the food. We have tested the pulse and breathing in our dog and have not found the slightest modifications. These conditions signify the dog did not feel any pain. The response on pain was readdressed now. The painful irritation was now only the occasion to the excitation of appetite.”

When this experiment was shown to Charles Sherrington, the first physiologist of the England, he has told: “Now I have understood why Christian martyrs could suffer from the sorrows.”  And the Christians maintained the terrible sorrows smiling.  Here is an example of actually mysterious phenomena, which Science can explain.  Does it signify the possibility of the explanation of all the complicated problems of the Religion by means of problems of Science?

This question is part of a broader problem about a possibility of a reduction of problems from a higher level to problems of a lower level.  For example:  is it possible to explain the behavior of the person only by interactions between neurons of its brain or even simply by operation of certain chemical transmitters on the receptors of his neurons? Among the supporters of a possibility of such reduction there are a lot of well-known scientists.

Religious Scope

The nowadays-existing Russian Orthodox Religion was adopted from the Byzantiumin the end of the first millenium AD.  After that the economical and geopolitical opposition between Rome and Constantinople has caused the separation of the Uniform Christian Church on Eastern and Western branches.  Some divergences in the doctrine and in ritual have become an occasion for the full and deep split.  One of these divergences was the main Western judgement that the Holy Spirit, as one from three persons of the Trinity, proceeds from the Son as well as from the Father.  The Byzantine theologians considered that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father only.  Byzantines have found the inclusion by Western Christians of new words in the text of the Nicene Creed as rough violation.  The Western Christians have accused the Byzantines in a heretical omission of these words.  These differences brought them to the long split.  The infamous Fourth Crusade plundered and destroyed Constantinople in a 1204, overthrew the Byzantine Christian emperor and installed there a Latin Patriarch submissive to the Pope.  All of this created such a bad position in the relations between East and West, that all further attempts of reunion of churches were doomed on the failure.  After that, the East, at first Byzantine, and then the Russian Orthodox Church have come to use all their forces in order to underline their differences with the West, their opposition to the Western heresy.

Since then the Russian Orthodox Church with identical indignation rejects all Western innovations, even such different, and that is possible, quite reasonable, as the Gregorian calendar (“the Papal invention”) and Darwin’s developmental doctrine (“the heretic fiction”).

Science and Religion Dialogue

In the Western countries, during the centuries, the accents in mutual relations between Science and Religion were placed sometimes on the site of interaction, sometimes in the site of antagonism.  It could seem that antagonism must not exist because their aims are precisely different.

You see both the purposes and problems in Science and Religion are various.  They both answer the important questions, which are set to itself by mankind.  But these questions are different.  Science tries to give or can already give the answers to all problems relating to the connections between various forms of material movements:  sub- and supramolecular, chemical, physical, biological, etc.  Science put the questions of a type What? When? How? In what way?  The answers to the questions of a type Why? For what? With what purpose? are outside the Science possibilities.  Such questions are named in the scientific communities as “teleological ones.”  But the people always have an interest in these questions and Religion undertakes attempts to answer just them.  Therefore Religion existed and will exist eternally.  It has both the serious scientific substantiation, and the large practical significance.

The problems of a type “Whether God really exists?” and “Which of the various Religious confessions is true?” have not any relations to Science; they are decided by each one for itself only personally and cannot be discussed here.