The Wildlings are already here. Awaiting the White Walkers

Machine assist­ed translation

Mutations are caused by «orig­i­nal sin», and this is con­firmed by the graph of the reduc­tion of longevi­ty «after the Flood», agri­cul­tur­al tech­nol­o­gy is «vio­lence against the earth», the Orthodox answer to this is «rejec­tion of GMO», and Russia is defend­ing itself against over­pop­u­lat­ed neigh­bors by «mil­i­tary means». And no, these the­ses do not belong to some obscu­ran­tist sec­tar­i­an. They were pre­sent­ed by the Director of the Vavilov Institute of General Genetics. Alexander Kudryavtsev, cor­re­spond­ing mem­ber of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The pre­sen­ta­tion of Kudryavtsev has been made on March 14, 2023 at some low-notice the­o­log­i­cal con­fer­ence. Mass media noticed it only two weeks lat­er. Scholars were shocked. «I first thought it was a fake,» aca­d­e­mi­cian Alexei Khokhlov and bioin­for­mati­cian Alexander Panchin wrote with­out col­lu­sion, react­ing to the obscurantism.

It may seem like no big deal that some sci­en­tist has fall­en under the influ­ence of reli­gious myths and dis­cuss­es them with like-mind­ed church­men. Especially since sovi­et mil­i­tant athe­ism remains a thing of the past, and reli­gious sci­en­tists no longer sur­prise any­one. Still, this case is a land­mark. Kudryavtsev heads a key research insti­tute that was cre­at­ed to pro­vide sci­en­tif­ic sup­port for exact­ly those activ­i­ties that his report calls «vio­lence against the earth» and which he deems unac­cept­able to Orthodoxy. That is, in fact, he states that his pro­fes­sion­al work is inap­pro­pri­ate for him for reli­gious reasons.

Kudryavtsev’s pre­sen­ta­tion does not mere­ly express his per­son­al reli­gious expe­ri­ences and reflec­tions, to which every­one is enti­tled, but gross­ly dis­torts the sci­en­tif­ic method, tak­ing com­plete­ly uncrit­i­cal­ly the text of a reli­gious myth as the source of quan­ti­ta­tive sci­en­tif­ic data. Such Biblical lit­er­al­ism is not gen­er­al­ly adopt­ed even among the­olo­gians. This is an exam­ple of a dan­ger­ous trend gain­ing momen­tum in Russia: reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism invades the ter­ri­to­ry of sci­ence, puts it at its ser­vice, sub­sti­tutes it, and ulti­mate­ly leads to a pseu­do­sci­en­tif­ic jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for militarism.

Science and Religion

Science and reli­gion have a long his­to­ry of an uneasy rela­tion­ship. Since ancient times, reli­gion has claimed to hold the absolute truth on a wide range of issues. Its author­i­ty has been rein­forced by the spe­cial, sacred sta­tus of reli­gious texts and rit­u­als, which were con­sid­ered social­ly unac­cept­able to chal­lenge. The diver­gence of the sacred rules and their under­stand­ing repeat­ed­ly led to reli­gious wars. It was there­fore clear to many in antiq­ui­ty that reli­gious claims to absolute truth were not suf­fi­cient­ly ground­ed and were agree­ments whose dis­putes could be dan­ger­ous to people.

Over the cen­turies, prin­ci­ples of reli­gious tol­er­ance have evolved that help peo­ple of dif­fer­ent faiths to coex­ist. Science has also played a role in devel­op­ing these prin­ci­ples. The exper­i­men­tal sci­en­tif­ic method, com­bined with the rules of log­i­cal judg­ment, allowed sci­ence to become a reli­able ref­er­ee of judg­ments about the prop­er­ties of the phys­i­cal world. Unlike reli­gion, sci­ence does not claim to pos­sess absolute truth, but pro­vides a method to sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly increase the reli­a­bil­i­ty of our judg­ments and to get rid of mis­un­der­stand­ings, pre­con­cep­tions, and superstitions.

In its infan­cy, European exper­i­men­tal sci­ence was not opposed to Christian reli­gion, but rather grew out of it as a spe­cial kind of reli­gious­ly blessed activ­i­ty to inves­ti­gate the world designed by the Creator. This inves­ti­ga­tion has revealed, how­ev­er, that many state­ments of sacred reli­gious texts, if tak­en lit­er­al­ly, come into direct con­tra­dic­tion with the sci­en­tif­ic find­ings. These con­tra­dic­tions have repeat­ed­ly led to con­flicts between sci­ence and reli­gion. Yet the­olo­gians were already well aware that a lit­er­al­ist inter­pre­ta­tion of sacred texts is the most prim­i­tive pos­si­ble and often only pre­vents us from grasp­ing their true meaning.

There is noth­ing new for the­olo­gians that many reli­gious texts and proverbs must be under­stood alle­gor­i­cal­ly, metaphor­i­cal­ly, and allu­sive­ly. Otherwise con­tra­dic­tions arise not only with sci­ence, but also with every­day com­mon sense, and, of course, between reli­gious tra­di­tions. This is evi­dent also to those who study sacred texts from a sci­en­tif­ic stand­point. Linguistics, seman­tics, his­to­ry and even com­put­er sci­ence tell us that mean­ings are not con­tained direct­ly in texts, but are active­ly recon­struct­ed from them by read­ers based on their life and cul­tur­al expe­ri­ences. And so, in dif­fer­ent soci­eties and in dif­fer­ent con­texts, the same words can car­ry dif­fer­ent mean­ings. Only a per­son far removed from mod­ern cul­ture can inter­pret poet­ry in the same lit­er­al­is­tic sense that one inter­prets account­ing doc­u­ments, and under­stands para­bles and leg­ends as ency­clo­pe­dic descrip­tions of events. Understanding that reli­gious texts are often writ­ten in alle­gor­i­cal lan­guage and orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed for bear­ers of a cul­ture very dif­fer­ent from our own elim­i­nates, in the vast major­i­ty of cas­es, the direct con­tra­dic­tions between these texts and the sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly estab­lished facts.

Spheres of influence

As a result, reli­gion and sci­ence have sep­a­rat­ed domains of influ­ence. Science has pri­or­i­ty in mak­ing judg­ments about the phys­i­cal world around us, about objec­tive real­i­ty. Religion can­not invade this ter­ri­to­ry and dic­tate answers that can be ver­i­fied exper­i­men­tal­ly. At the same time, reli­gions and oth­er belief sys­tems that do not assume the pos­si­bil­i­ty of objec­tive exper­i­men­tal ver­i­fi­ca­tion deter­mine what is called reli­gious lib­er­ty. This includes, in par­tic­u­lar, ques­tions of val­ues, pur­pos­es, and mean­ings in life, which every­one is free to decide in his or her own way, as long as this does not con­flict with the free­dom of oth­ers. The famous philo­soph­i­cal Hume’s law states that an «ought» can not be derived from an «is». This bound­ary pre­vents sci­ence from undu­ly encroach­ing on the ter­ri­to­ry of faith.

The divi­sion of spheres of influ­ence between sci­ence and reli­gion helps to explain the phe­nom­e­non of believ­ing sci­en­tists, per­plex­ing to many athe­ists: how can a bib­li­cal account of the cre­ation of the world in six days be com­bined in one head with a the­o­ry about the evo­lu­tion of the uni­verse and life over bil­lions of years? Religion does indeed con­tra­dict sci­ence if one reads its claims lit­er­al­is­ti­cal­ly and takes them as reports of sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly ver­i­fi­able facts. However, an alle­gor­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tion of sacred myth, cou­pled with the under­stand­ing that it has a poet­ic style and was cre­at­ed in a very dif­fer­ent cul­ture, helps to smooth out most of the contradictions.

Finally, the divi­sion of spheres of influ­ence also has the ben­e­fi­cial con­se­quence that sci­ence, being insen­si­tive to reli­gious dif­fer­ences, enables the use its ter­ri­to­ry for con­struc­tive inter­ac­tion between the hold­ers of dif­fer­ent beliefs. Whenever these bound­aries are vio­lat­ed from one side or the oth­er, there is a con­flict between sci­ence and reli­gion, with the threat of inter­re­li­gious clash­es as well.

Herein lies the dan­ger of reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism, which vio­lates this divi­sion and exalts one reli­gion as the absolute source of truth, often accom­pa­nied by a lit­er­al­ist inter­pre­ta­tion of all the lan­guage con­tained in its sacred texts. Fundamentalism takes us back to the era of the reli­gious wars that pre­ced­ed the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.

Awakening Fundamentalism

Many peo­ple used to think that reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism can be found nowa­days only in some aggres­sive cur­rents of Islam known for their ter­ror­ist activ­i­ties. However, the germ of fun­da­men­tal­ism lurks in any reli­gion or ide­ol­o­gy, and it is always ready to strength­en itself as soon as civ­il soci­ety’s con­trol weakens.

The appeal of fun­da­men­tal­ism is that it jus­ti­fies and legit­imizes the uncon­di­tion­al pow­er of the true believ­ers, plays on their ego and cat­a­stroph­i­cal­ly sim­pli­fies all com­plex social issues by divid­ing soci­ety into friends and foes. Instead of free­dom, diver­si­ty and explo­ration of the world, fun­da­men­tal­ism offers sub­or­di­na­tion, uni­for­mi­ty and war.

Fundamentalists of dif­fer­ent reli­gions some­times form quite strong sects that pose a threat to soci­ety. This is why the neu­tral ter­ri­to­ry of objec­tivist sci­ence sep­a­rat­ing them from each oth­er is so impor­tant. Where sci­ence is weak, we see per­se­cu­tion for insult­ing the feel­ings of believ­ers, exe­cu­tions for ties with jinn, and direct inter­re­li­gious clash­es that reach the lev­el of geno­cide. It is the civic respon­si­bil­i­ty of sci­en­tists, espe­cial­ly believ­ers, to main­tain the sep­a­ra­tion of poten­tial­ly con­flict­ing fun­da­men­tal­ist forces and to pro­tect the reli­gious neu­tral­i­ty of sci­ence from them.

There is a large per­cent­age of non-believ­ers among sci­en­tists who know that ethics, mean­ings, and val­ues can be drawn not only from tra­di­tion­al reli­gions. However, the mere fact of belong­ing to a par­tic­u­lar faith as a source of val­ue is not in con­flict with pur­su­ing sci­ence. It is quite a dif­fer­ent mat­ter, how­ev­er, when a sci­en­tist, with all his sci­en­tif­ic regalia, takes the posi­tion of reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism, breaks through the bor­der, and allows reli­gion, in its lit­er­al­ist form, to enter the ter­ri­to­ry of sci­ence, arbi­trar­i­ly mix­ing objec­tive­ly estab­lished facts and pat­terns with mytho­log­i­cal ones. This is how the inter­ests of sci­ence, enlight­en­ment, and peace on earth are betrayed.

Religiously motivated pseudoscience

All this we observed in the report of A.M. Kudryavtsev, cor­re­spond­ing mem­ber of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In the graph, which he demon­strat­ed to the audi­ence, the fan­tas­tic lifes­pans of leg­endary bib­li­cal char­ac­ters were pre­sent­ed as objec­tive his­tor­i­cal facts. From them the con­clu­sion was drawn that the human lifes­pan is his­tor­i­cal­ly decreas­ing. And this, in turn, was linked to the the­sis of the accu­mu­la­tion of muta­tions under the influ­ence of sins com­mit­ted by peo­ple. All of this is in fla­grant con­tra­dic­tion with sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge. This means that the direc­tor of an aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tute is guid­ed not by sci­en­tif­ic argu­ments, but by reli­gious super­sti­tion. It is super­sti­tion, because the lit­er­al­ist inter­pre­ta­tion of the bib­li­cal Book of Genesis does not find strong sup­port even among the major­i­ty of theologians.

Life span graph of bib­li­cal char­ac­ters. A screen­shot from the video record­ing of A.M. Kudryavtsev’s report. As it was clar­i­fied in RAS Commission against pseu­do­science, the orig­i­nal source of draw­ing is the cre­ation­ist biol­o­gy text­book of S.J. Vertjanov (Moscow: the Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra, 2012, p. 238). This text­book has repeat­ed­ly been sub­ject­ed to dev­as­tat­ing crit­i­cism, see, for exam­ple, the arti­cle by Elistratovs in «Наука и перспективы» No. 2, 2016.

It is impos­si­ble to know Kudryavtsev’s per­son­al motives that led him to make such state­ments. Among reli­gious schol­ars, of course, not every­one is sat­is­fied with alle­gor­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tions of bib­li­cal texts. Some hope over time to com­bine a more or less lit­er­al under­stand­ing of the Bible with sci­en­tif­ic data and see this as a chal­lenge to their intel­lect. Some see this dis­crep­an­cy as an incom­pre­hen­si­bil­i­ty of the Creator’s plan and a chal­lenge to their faith. Such peo­ple are always faced with a choice in each par­tic­u­lar case: whether to give pref­er­ence to sci­ence or reli­gion. And for them the choice in favor of one actu­al­ly excludes the other.

By push­ing a lit­er­al­ist inter­pre­ta­tion of the bib­li­cal text into sci­ence, A.M. Kudryavtsev brings the dis­cus­sion down to the same prim­i­tive lev­el as the anec­do­tal argu­ment of mil­i­tant athe­ists that «Gagarin flew to heav­en but did not see any God». At this lev­el the con­ver­sa­tion ceas­es to be not only sci­en­tif­ic, but even the­o­log­i­cal. And since this unsci­en­tif­ic rea­son­ing is nev­er­the­less passed off as sci­en­tif­ic, it should be clas­si­fied as pseudoscientific.

This kind of false­hood, unless it is the result of the deep­est mis­un­der­stand­ing, vio­lates both sci­en­tif­ic and Christian ethics. It mis­leads believ­ers into think­ing that mod­ern sci­ence con­firms a lit­er­al­ist under­stand­ing of the Scriptures. To those who trust the state­ments of sci­en­tists about sci­ence, it mis­leads them into giv­ing false infor­ma­tion under the guise of science.

And, as usu­al, trou­ble does not come to us alone. Religious-sci­en­tif­ic fal­lac­i­es are accom­pa­nied in the report by pure­ly sci­en­tif­ic ones. For exam­ple, Kudryavtsev informs that it takes exact­ly one hectare of arable land to feed one per­son and there­fore over­pop­u­la­tion on the Earth began exact­ly in 1987, when the num­ber of mankind exceed­ed 5 bil­lion. However, archae­o­log­i­cal data show that the amount of arable land per per­son at dif­fer­ent times and in dif­fer­ent regions var­ied by more than an order of mag­ni­tude. At the same time, Kudryavtsev declares all the mod­ern tech­nolo­gies that increase crop yields to be «vio­lence against the land», although the insti­tute he heads is named after its first direc­tor, N.I. Vavilov, who did so much for the sub­se­quent green rev­o­lu­tion in agri­cul­ture. It turns out that in his report, Kudryavtsev actu­al­ly renounces both sci­ence in gen­er­al and the spe­cif­ic sci­en­tif­ic goals for which his insti­tute was established.

What goals and mean­ings does it pro­claim, based on its reli­gious motive? Nothing new — the usu­al for any fun­da­men­tal­ist call for war. Russia, he says, still has a reserve of arable land for pop­u­la­tion growth, while its neigh­bors — China and Europe — are already over­pop­u­lat­ed, and this alleged­ly makes it inevitable for Russia to go to war to pro­tect its liv­ing space. Such a far-reach­ing con­clu­sion is based on the arbi­trary fig­ure of 1 hectare per per­son. The slow­down in world pop­u­la­tion growth is ignored: the fig­ure of 20 bil­lion peo­ple in the near future appears in the pre­sen­ta­tion, although demog­ra­phers pre­dict growth to 11-12 bil­lion, with a sub­se­quent decline. The devel­op­ment of agri­cul­tur­al tech­nol­o­gy is not accept­ed as a solu­tion under the pre­text of «vio­lence to the land». But war is seen as the solu­tion. Such is Orthodox fundamentalism.