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The Boston Symposia 

At the end of the second and beginning of the third centuries AD, Tertullian posed the question: what could Athens have in common with Jerusalem? The Academy with the Church? There is a city on earth established by Puritans as a Shining City on a Hill (Matthew 5:14), which is known as the “American Athens,” the city of Boston.

In 1636, six years after the city was founded, a new university was established there, the renowned Harvard University, which neighbors many other academic institutions, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology to Holy Cross Seminary, one of the leading spiritual academies of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and numerous technology and biotech companies, from Polaroid and Adobe to Novartis. It is in this atmosphere, where Athens and Jerusalem intersect, that we find Epiphany Church of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, located in the Roslindale area (963 South St., Boston, MA). Among the parishioners are a number of faculty and students of various universities and employees of the innovative companies of Boston and its environs.

At the initiative of the Priest Victor Boldewskul, the Parish Rector, the parishioners began organizing discussions in 2009 on interaction and mutual understanding between faith and science. The first parish symposium was held on May 9, 2002, and included three lectures: “Overview of the Problems of Science and Religion from a Pastoral Viewpoint,” by Fr Victor; “The View of Astronomy on the Bible and the History of the Creation of the World,” by astrophysicist Alexei Vikhlinin, and “The Search for Balance Between Faith and Science” by biologist Vladislav Zaraisky.

The Parish Rector expressed the opinion that the so-called contradictions between religion and science in today’s society are an obstacle in pastoral and missionary work. This false opposition of science and religion is aggressively propagandized in the mass media and in educational institutions, but, in Fr Victor’s opinion, the Orthodox Christian response to this cannot be reactionary.  In response to attacks from atheists, Orthodox apologists unfortunately often accept the debating rules set by their opponents. In an effort to properly rebuff them, like American Protestants they become like the caricatures of atheist propaganda, adopting the image of unscientific religious fanatics. Referring to the works of Bishop Alexander (Mileant), Fr Victor expressed his conviction that it is possible to accommodate respect for both scientific discoveries and Orthodox Christian teaching. In conclusion, Fr Victor expressed the hope that all areas of science would be illuminated by the Spirit of Truth and his conviction that the conditions for this exist thanks to the rebirth of the Russian Church.

Mr Vikhlinin read an illuminating lecture which shed light on the problem of accepting Biblical texts in various periods, and the prejudicial viewpoint of atheists on seeming scientific errors in Holy Scripture texts. He examined the question of the so-called Biblical number pi, comparing it with of the cunning questions posed to the Savior in the New Testament about the coin with the image of Caesar and of the seven men. The speaker discussed the universe after the Big Bang from an astrophysicist’s point of view, “without form and void,” in accordance with Genesis, that light was first thing to appear (cosmic microwave background radiation), and “the darkness,” the evening of the first day of Creation, which preceded the appearance of stars. He also referred again to Psalms 2:4, “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision,” in pondering the efforts of some atheists to disprove Scripture.

The parish hosted a second symposium was held on June 19, 2010, at which biology professor Sergei Mikhailovich Mirkin of Tufts University delivered a long lecture “What Is and What Is Not in the Genome,” in which he gave examples of the complicated molecular machines which exist in every cell of any known living organism.

Among the examples were the replication forks of DNA, the RNA polymerases and ribosomes, each of which presents an ever-growing level of complexity. Studying the protein known as the  beta-sliding clamp and the uniformity of its form among multi-celled and single-celled living organisms along with cardinal differences in their genetic code, the speaker expressed the thought that such complicated and exact structures, common among all celled forms of life on Earth, can be the result of a purposeful rather than haphazard evolution. A side-by-side comparison of the facts from contemporary science on biological evolution from the first celled forms of life to the emergence of man with the verses from the first chapter of Genesis, Professor Mirkin showed that there is a significant correlation between the epochs of evolution and the quotes from the Bible.

He also read a quote from a speech by President Bill Clinton read in 2000 in honor of the completion of the sequencing of the human genome: “Today, we are learning the language in which God created life. We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, the wonder of God's most divine and sacred gift.” In Professor Mirkin’s opinion, we can truly marvel at the complexity of the language used by the Lord, but can hardly aver that we fully understand this language.

The human genome and that of the chimpanzee (the primate that most resembles humans in many biological parameters) are 98% identical, and, according to the latest research, only three genes (from some twenty-four thousand human genes) are specific to mankind and absent from the chimpanzee. And yet how starkly different we are from the chimpanzee in a cultural and psychological sense. Professor Mirkin feels that this proves the futility of seeking to find our God-given soul in the genetic code, as this code merely displays the “ashes of the earth,” in which the “breath of life” was blown.

The discussion that followed, arbitrated by Alexei Vikhlinin, was energized by a boisterous scientific debate between the speaker and the neurobiologist Arseny Khakhalin, proving beneficial not only for the participants in the dispute but for the other parishioners. They also posed numerous questions regarding general principles of life from the point of view of biology and the relationship of these principles to the spiritual side of existence.

On Sunday, November 14, Epiphany Parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia will hold a third seminar titled “Faith and Science.” The previous lectures were on concepts relating to astrophysics and molecular biology, but this symposium will be devoted to a faith-based point of view.

The philosopher Anna Djintcharadze (Master of Philosophy, Higher School of Philosophy, Munich, Germany; doctoral candidate of philosophy at Sorbonne, France and Boston College, USA), read a lecture titled “Metaphysics as a Means of Survival: Theology and Quantum Theory,” which answered the question: is it possible that both Dionysius the Areopagite and Roger Penrose proposed one “Grand Unified Theory” between theology and science? 

Fr Victor will then mediate a discussion on the topic. Attendance is open for all interested. Streaming translation will be provided for Russian and English.