Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society
Science is Based on a Materialist View of the World

Open reply to an open letter by archpriest Boris Pivovarov

Dear Boris Ivanovich!

Passions over the open letter of 10 academicians to the President of the country are not dying down. One side represents them as a pitiful bunch of renegades, latter-day atheists, some kind of vestiges, and speak of a plot by "dark forces" thirsting for revenge against the Church. They even talk about some sort of commission. The truth is, the author of these lines has not been able to find out what sum each of us received.

The other side supports the content of the letter and recognizes that the penetration of the ROC into the schools and now also into the Higher Accreditation Commission [VAK] is a violation of the Russian Constitution and represents a danger to the integrity of the country. V. Glazychev, the head of the Commission for Regional Development and Local Self-Government of the Public Chamber, completely independently of the academicians noted: "The furious intrusion of the Church into all government affairs instead of engaging in parish affairs, is excessive".

Recently in an interview with A. Solzhenitsyn a correspondent of the magazine Spiegel, who also knew nothing about the academicians' letter, said the following: "It seems to us that it (the ROC - Eh.K.) is again turning into the state church that it was a century ago (Izvestiya, 24 July 2007). Supporters of the Church whom I have quoted have preferred not to take note of this statement as well as a number of substantive statements of the "letter of the ten". Essentially the objections from representatives of the Church and their supporters come down to the assertion that the academicians have not read the Constitution well, that the Church is not violating the basic law, that the introduction of the "Principles of Orthodox Culture" into the schools pursues a single goal, raising the cultural level of the people, that the pitiful bunch of atheists are trying to preserve a materialistic world view while the Orthodox are a overwhelming majority in the country, etc. It is true it is not understandable that if a pitiful bunch of representatives of dying atheism really comprising a negligible minority of the country's population published the open letter to the President it could have organized such a powerful campaign. Wouldn't it have been better to take no note of the letter? It is as if everything is not at all happening as representatives of the Church describe it.

It seems to me that the "letter of the ten" was written in parliamentary terms. I cannot say that the statements of our opponents and their supporters kept to similar expressions. This is especially with respect to the Orthodox banner carriers who are demanding that Academician V. L. Ginzburg be hauled into court. It is interesting, why in this case has the ROC not found the words to condemn blatant extremists? Won't these people raise the spirituality of the public?

Dear Boris Ivanovich, you expected that I, "as an honest scientist", would react to the publications you mentioned with "detailed responses". But why just these? Just because you like them? It was demonstrated to me personally that at least two of the three, to put it politely, are not convincing. But what about the storm of publications, the stream of discussions and publications, the letters for and against which were splashed in many newspapers and on the radio, television, and the Internet? It is physically impossible to respond to this amount. Nevertheless, I have done my bit: I have taken part in discussions on the radio four times and once (via telephone) at a roundtable in Komsomol'skaya Pravda. Alas, what I said on the telephone is somewhat different from the text which appeared in the newspaper, and not for the best.

But right now I would like to turn to your statement about the fact that in the spring of this year at the General Meeting of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences [SO RAN] I "tried to push Siberian scientists to [make] an organized statement against the educational activity of the Russian Orthodox Church but did not receive support for this undertaking". Such a statement seems quite strange. Let's try and look into how it was in fact. Having found out about the decisions of the World Russian People's Conference in Moscow on Education (the introduction of the "Principles of Orthodox Culture" into schools and a new scientific discipline, theology, in the VAK) before the General Meeting of the SO RAN and considering this action by the ROC a violation of the Constitution (if only regarding the equality of various religions before the law), I shared my thoughts with the participants of the General Meeting. I noted in the process that it would be completely possible introduce "The History of the Religions of the World" in the schools, a subject which every cultured person ought to know, instead of the "Principles". On the other hand, this would not encounter any objections from the representatives of other faiths which for some reason the ROC has forgotten about. The textbook (its exact name is "Religions of the World") has already been prepared by the RAN's Institute of History.

The reaction to my speech by those present in the room was most receptive. In his speech Academician G. Sakovich expressed himself in the same terms, that the History of Religions course ought to be part of a course in the history of human society and religion - "in such cases this would not seem so odious". Academician A. Derevyanko suggested not making a decision on this issue inasmuch as, in his opinion, the appeal of the Russian Conference is not a document. He noted at the same time that the decision of the Russian Conference is in conflict with the Constitution. Academician A. Derevyanko then said, "I will always fight the teaching of Orthodoxy in our schools". In a word, Boris Ivanovich, you have no grounds to say that the Siberian scientists did not support me. There was no speech against me. And anyone who wants to find my speech and the description of the discussion about the issues which I raised can find them in Nauka v Sibiri [Science in Siberia] N? 13 (all issues of the newspaper are accessible on the Internet at the website of the Siberian Branch). It is evident from the published report that the General Meeting of the SO RAN was concerned about the actions of the ROC. Well, read NVS N? 13 for why a firm resolution was not adopted.

You called our open letter "an anti-clerical petition". Other representatives of the ROC who have spoken in the mass media are in solidarity with this statement. I would like to know, where does this comes from? Where do you find an anti-clerical sentiment of the academicians? There is none!

In the letter to the President it is clearly written that we respect the feelings of believers and do not set a fight with religion as our goal. I will permit myself to quote of the last phrases of the letter: "…We cannot remain indifferent when attempts are made to cast doubt on scientific knowledge, remove a 'materialist view of the world' from education, and undermine the knowledge accumulated by science with faith".

I will try to show that these are not simply words. At one of the press conferences in Moscow Metropolitan Kaluzhsky and Borovsky Kliment lamented that up to now Darwinism has been taught in the schools although there is already "an excellent substitute". He suggested as such a substitute…the biblical theory of the origin of the world. A strange substitute. If we accept it we have to reject not only the Theory of Evolution but all scientific knowledge about the organization of our world. They suggest that we believe that the world was created 6,000 years ago and to throw scientific data about the age of the Earth (about 4,500,000,000 years!) in the scrap heap. Is the myth about the divine creation of man really able to cancel our knowledge about the long and difficult path of the evolution of our ancestors, a path which has been reliably documented with the data of paleontology, comparative anatomy, and molecular genetics? And, finally, the most important thing: science explains HOW our world developed and us along with it, and WHY the world is organized this and no other way. Religion cannot give answers to these questions, it explains everything with the wisdom of the Creator (including the creation of numerous disease-causing organisms!). So creationism can hardly be considered a reliable substitute for evolutionism.

But how is one to assess the reply of Patriarch Aleksiy II which has become famous, "… If someone wants to think that he is descended from an ape, let him also think so, but not force it on others". You will agree, Boris Ivanovich, the cited statements of Church hierarchs cannot be considered other than an intrusion in the competence of science and, at the same time, in government education programs. By the way, for accuracy, Darwin never stated that Man was descended from apes; it was only made about common ancestors. One often hears the idea of alternative education from Church leaders. In other words, let's give children two pictures of the creation of the world on an alternative basis: divine creation and evolution. I am only afraid that with such an approach the teachers will lose their minds, not to mention the children.

I do not understand why the phrase that all the achievements of modern world science are based on a materialist view of the world offended you so much. Alas, it is a fact. And if feeble efforts arise to abolish Soviet textbooks "suffused with the spirit of materialism" then, however strange it may seem, children study natural science subjects in all civilized countries with exactly the same textbooks with the same hateful spirit of materialism. If you think that we are mistaken about the role of materialist science in contemporary civilization then, please, try to cite even one example proving otherwise, that a non-materialist world view has made its contribution to modern scientific and technical progress. So far you have not cited and will not cite any arguments except the repeated label of "dogmatic atheism".

I think that today that the strongest aversion from the Church to scientific results with respect to Darwinism (evolutionism) comes from creationism. About a year and a half ago a group of scientists (including the author of these lines) published an open letter about the first "monkey trial" in Russia (Izvestiya, 20 March 2006). A statement of 38 outstanding scientists, Nobel Prize laureates who have made an enormous contribution to the development of science, is quoted there. It is appropriate here to quote an except from this letter: "It follows from experience that evolution ought to be understood as a process of random mutations and natural selection guided not by anyone or thought out in advance. This is the basis of modern biology and the role of evolution has been strengthened by the results of DNA research. On the other hand, the theory of 'creationism' is fundamentally unscientific. It cannot be verified like other scientific theories inasmuch as it is based on faith and assumes the intervention of supernatural forces". Insofar as I can judge not just the 10 authors of the letter to the President but the 38 Nobel Prize laureates who signed the appeal are also atheists.

Let's now talk about the articles of Izvestiya observer Boris Klin (24.07.2007), Bishop Saratovsky Longin (Izvestiya, 30.07.2007), and the discussion materials in Rossiyskaya Gazeta with Public Chamber member V. Glazychev and Archpriest V. Chaplin which caught your fancy.

Honestly, I did not notice the great detail here along with the serious arguments against the "anticlerical petition". B. Klin's article is simply surprising. It turns out that "theology is no worse than the other humanities" because if, for example, you compare theology with history then "any historical monograph contains unprovable versions, assumptions, and hypotheses". A quite free interpretation of history. History as a science is built on proven facts. A historical monograph built on the arsenal mentioned by B. Klin cannot be regarded as scientific in any way and in no way proves the scientific nature of theology.

The following excerpt shows that the observer was hasty and not did not analyze very well when he wrote "No science can prove that one cannot kill or steal. It can confirm the profitability of stealing with mathematical accuracy. But people believe that God prohibits murder and they do this through legal standards". But what about the crusades, St. Bartholomew's Night, and the Inquisition? Tell me, are these matters of long-past days? But the shameful war of NATO countries (Christians!) against Serbs and the fratricidal war of Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq, etc. etc. have occurred in our time.

The article of Bishop Saratovsky and Vol'sky Longin contains several disputable unproven statements, and digs at the authors of the letter and at the same time at such "wretched" dissidents as Nobel Prize laureate S. Weinberg. "The fact that the Church itself, the fact of its existence, inconveniences some representatives of the Soviet atheistic school of science should not cause any surprise at all". In my opinion, it is appropriate to note here that "the Soviet atheistic school of science" fits quite well into world science. Hence "some representatives" should have been generalized to the entire world scientific community.

About the Church inconveniencing the authors of the letter, the bishop is being clever. We have never and in no way plan to influence the internal affairs of the Church and in fact we made special note in the letter that we have no plans to fight religion. But there are things which we consider impermissible. We clearly specified what does not suit us but have not received reasoned explanations to the questions we posed from either Longin or other ROC figures. "…The concept of 'separation of church and state'", writes the bishop, "means only one thing: the Church does not engage in governmental affairs and does not participate in governing the country, and the government has no part in governing the Church. And that is all!" It is hard not to agree with this. Is that only what is in fact happening? The Higher Accreditation Commission (VAK) is a government body given the functions of controlling the level and quality of the training of specialists in the country. How are we to assess the long multi-year siege of the VAK by ROC representatives with a demand to put theology on the list of scientific disciplines? Isn't this really interference in government affairs? The resolution of the World Conference mentioned in the "letter of the ten" is only the latest line of this long history. By the way, the VAK has expert findings of specialists which demonstrate that the ROC demand is violation of the Constitution. And all the same the Church continues to insist on theology as a scientific discipline.

But how are we to assess the repeated attempts by the ROC to introduce religion in the schools? Isn't this really interference in government affairs?

The truth is, they reply to us that the Church is suggesting (this is the verb that Longin uses) the introduction of "The Principles of Orthodox Culture" exclusively for the sake of "giving our children an idea about culture". For some reason the fact that this subject has already been introduced in 12 oblasts of the country, evidently exclusively "in accordance with the workers' wishes", is not advertised very much.

I think that there is hardly any need to comment on the discussion between V. Glazychev and V. Chaplin. Each has defined his position and neither changed his mind.

Boris Ivanovich, like many other ROC supporters, you are trying to convince the public that the ten authors of the letter are almost the last atheists and that even among today's scientists a majority are believers. Alas, this is an attempt at wishful thinking. Of course believers are encountered even among scientists, but they are immeasurably fewer than atheist scientists. I do not say this without any proof. I know the sentiments of the scientific community well.

In the letter to the President we quote the statement of Nobel Laureate S. Weinberg: "The experience of being a scientist makes religion completely irrelevant. Most scientists I know simply do not think about it very much. They don't think about religion enough to qualify as practicing atheists". (New York Times, 23 August 2005). The majority of our scientists are such atheists. And your sympathizers are wrongly frightening the people with atheism. It is not necessary to picture contemporary atheists as the 1925-era "militant godless" who sacked churches and killed priests. The difference between you, Boris Ivanovich, and atheist scientists is only that for you God exists; we agree with Laplace who once replied to Napoleon that he did not need such a hypothesis. As regards morality, you will agree that there are many highly moral people among nonbelievers. And, on the other hand, one can find many amoral people among believers. I would say that in our time the morality of an individual is not determined by whether or not he believes in God but by the level of his culture.

You reproach us for not finding space in our letter for the problem of the moral education of children and youth. I agree that this is a very important problem for society. It is just impossible to comprehend the incomprehensible. But our letter is not about this. All the same, I want to note that the problems of culture, education, and morality trouble us no less than they do you. Two years ago we appealed to the Russian government with an open letter. It is very strange that you did not notice this.

Until we learn to respect our past, as long as cultural monuments are torn down, as long as the government closes its eyes to the fact that television spreads mysticism, depravity, and violence (moreover young people can get a great deal - and not the best - from the Internet), as long as poor-quality pop music and Ksyushas [translator's note: an apparent reference to notorious Russian talk show host Ksenia Sobchak] are examples for imitation, there is no use talking of morality. Of course, the Church can make its own contribution to the revival of public morality. Only it not necessary to think that mass instruction in religion will be any sort of panacea which would revive the spirituality of our society.

Recently attempts were made to demonstrate to the public that numerous eminent scientists who have already died were deeply religious people. Not long ago in connection with the letter of the ten academicians such an attempt was made by the deputy of the Sretensk Monastery Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), who published statements of eight eminent scientists (I. Pavlov, A. Einstein, Ch. Darwin, A. Becquerel, J. J. Thomson, M. Born, L. Pasteur, and N. Bekhtereva. who is still alive) demonstrating their religiousness in issue N? 31 of the weekly magazine Argumenty i Fakty. All this was presented as "A Response to the Letter of Scientists Against ROC Influence" under the broad-brush headline of an Albert Einstein quote "Science without religion is lame!" [Translator's note: the rest of the quote is, "But religion without science is blind"]. I know that Academician N. Bekhtereva has become a believer in recent years. It is not excluded that L. Pasteur was a believer. Nevertheless, he lived in the 19th century. I am not going to start wasting time on clarifying the issue of A. Becquerel's, J. J. Thomson's, and M. Born's attitude toward religion, although I have grave doubts of their devotion to a religion. As regards the first three, they were convinced atheists, for which there is an enormous quantity of documented confirmation. I do not know whether it was intentional or through ignorance, but this is a falsification.

As regards Academician I. P. Pavlov he treated believers with patience and understanding (if we are not talking about people of science): "There are many shady, uneducated people in the world who investigate natural phenomena and social life quite poorly and are without any strong moral reliance on enlightenment or education. Religion and faith in God are to a certain degree the moral support for their lives". Continuing this thought, this was his attitude toward believing scientists: "But how can physiologists believe when it is already clear that mental activity can be studied by natural science methods? That souls, as such, do not exist in isolation from the human brain? An enormous number of recollections, reports, correspondence, etc. about Pavlov have been published by his colleagues, close friends, relatives. In these materials, beginning with a letter to his wife, S. V. Karchevskaya (11 September 1880) "I do not believe in God myself and never pray…" he repeatedly counts himself among atheists. Another thing is known: in the years when the Church was persecuted the atheist Pavlov repeatedly spoke out for it. You will agree that the dark portrait of an atheist thug thinking only of how to destroy the Church does not describe Pavlov.

Now about Darwin. He really was a believer ("I do not think, however, that the religious feeling was ever strongly developed in me", he wrote in his autobiography) but he broke with religion and became an atheist. [Translator's note: several sources state that he became an agnostic, but not an atheist]. In the same autobiography he wrote: "There is nothing more remarkable than the dissemination of religious disbelief or rationalism, during the second half of my life". The case of Darwin, the scientist and atheist, is quite atypical. Usually atheist scientists simply take no note of religion. The majority of the authors of our letter belong to this category.

About the religiousness of Einstein described by Archimandrite Tikhon, let us cite a fragment of a quote ascribed to Einstein by him: "I believe in God as in a personality and can conscientiously say that in my life I have not been atheist for a minute". But now expressions which belong to Einstein: «I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures… Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts". In his creative autobiography published in 1945 Einstein writes, "…Although I was a son of entirely irreligious parents I arrived at deep religiosity which, however, ended abruptly at age 12. Through the reading of popular science books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The direct consequence of this was a fanatical freethinking combined with conclusions that youth is intentionally deceived by the state; this was a shocking conclusion. Such experiences gave rise to disbelief in any sort of authorities and a skeptical attitude toward beliefs and convictions in the social sphere around me. This skepticism has never left me…".

Until recently the author of these lines had never had occasion to turn to representatives of the Church. At the same time it has not once turned to me about "the correction of a biofield" or about the swindler G. Grabovoy. There have been many requests. After the publication of the "letter of the ten", Deacon Andrey Kurayev, who defended the interests of the Church most actively, turned to me with the problem of the "number of the Devil", 666. I mention this because my example is characteristic of a contemporary atheist scientist. If there are such atheists such as supporters of the ROC describe then I ought not to have answered the request or to have answered with sneers and threats. In fact I have replied to the point to every cleric who turned to me and even helped. I can add that I have never tried to turn believers against the Church. This is the typical portrait of a contemporary atheist (in a recent publication in Moskovskie Novosti [Moscow News] contemporary atheism was called "enlightened atheism").

The actions of the ROC itself induced us to depart from our rules and speak not against the Church but against a dangerous development of events capable in our opinion of leading to the breakup of the country.

We in no way concern ourselves with the internal affairs of the Church. But there are things which we consider impermissible. Attempts by the ROC to introduce theology into a government body, the VAK, and the ROC's desire to introduce "The Principles of Orthodox Culture" into the schools as a required subject are among them. Our position is that in the conditions of a multi-faith country supra-religious decisions need to be sought to avoid possible conflicts on religious grounds. I can say that there is already resentment from the ROC against the police "siding with them" (that is, with us - Eh. K.). and the co-chairman of the Russian Council of Muftis Nafigulla Ashirov, who declared that he does not like Christianity in the schools and priests in the army.

That is why we suggest introducing the subject "Religions of the World" in all schools instead of the "Principles". By the way, the experts of the Council of Europe came to a similar conclusion, that in conditions that have developed in Europe a course is needed in the history of the main religions of the world. This would promote the creation of respect for peoples of other faiths.

And now about theology. Scientists know that all science is international. Our physics, chemistry, biology, etc are in no way different than these sciences in other countries. But what about theologians, the number of which corresponds to the number of religions, since they often enter into conflict with one another?

By the way, in the discussion which has raged about our letter Church representatives said that theology exists in all universities of the world. Accordingly, it is not clear why it would not be in our universities. I must say that I have especially interested myself in this question at recent international conferences. What did I find out? There actually exist universities where theology is taught. However, it is absent in a majority of universities, which I told my opponents. Subsequently this argument was not cited by Church representatives.

Boris Ivanovich, to tell the truth, your statement that in the fight against pseudoscience I, without recognizing the difference between faith and superstition, periodically attack the Orthodox Church, was a complete surprise to me. I do not want to excuse myself, but there is some kind of misunderstanding. I investigate large-scale swindlers who operate in the name of science and try to get into the State's pocket, and from time to time I expose the swindlers around medicine. In my opinion, I have not dealt with superstition, to say nothing about faith.

I wanted to end this letter here but the co-chairmen of the Council of Muftis in Russia Nafigulla Ashirov and Mukaddas Bibirsov and also a number of Islamic social figures inserted themselves in our dialog with you and your supporters: "It breathed with the spirit of a medieval Inquisition which in fact the academics were warning against. Labels like "enemies of Russia" were used. In their intolerance the clerics themselves have also confirmed that the academics were right!" Muslims noted in our letter what the Russian Orthodox Church did not want to see: it is impossible to ignore the interests of other faiths. This might end badly.

Where is the solution? It seems to me that the ROC should change tactics, calm down, and cease attempts to intrude in the government, to learn to live in the world and mutual respect with other faiths, and at the same time with the atheists who in spite of the statements of ROC supporters not at all so few in our country as the Church would like, and do not represent the shadiest part of the population of our country.

Ehduard Kruglyakov, Academician of the RAN

Translated by Gary Goldberg