I’M AN EVOLUTIONIST!
I have a confession to make: I’m an evolutionist! I know this statement is hardly a headline, but when it is made by a Christian priest, perhaps it might turn a curious eye. Now that I did it, an explanation—or a “confession,” as I introduced it—should follow. After all, a good Christian, let alone one who is supposed to lead the faithful to the truth, should not be making such public statements lightly.
There is no opposition between the theory of evolution and Christianity. Opposition arises when the theory of evolution is presented as negating the existence of God, or when Christianity is presented as believing in the literal interpretation of the Bible.
Answer to an atheist evolutionist
Why do otherwise normal and respectable scientists turn to philosophy? Stepping outside one’s field of expertise, combined with cockiness and scorn, is often a formula for failure.
Case in point: Olivia Judson, evolutionary biologist at Imperial College in London, and guest editorial columnist of New York Times (Jan. 1, 2006). The anti-religious bias certain scientists have, of the kind displayed by Mrs. Judson, does not let them be as objective (scientific) and detached about religion, as they ought to be, and as they are when it comes to science. This is regrettable and not becoming of a true scientist. What follows below is a short “rebuttal” to her article, “Why I’m Happy I Evolved.” 1
Humans are products of a special creation, though not separate from other living beings. We did not need to sequence the genome to know that human beings are part of the animal world. This is common knowledge. So what new understanding did modern science bring to us, about who we are? That we are not unlike chimpanzees?
Indeed human beings are “the product of a special creation.” Yes, of a creation, and a special one at that. And it is not “forces” that “produced” us—nor a “Force,” not even an “Intelligence”;—but a Being Who, besides creating us, endowed us with special gifts that only He possesses, yet shares them in some way with us, having created us in His image and after His likeness.
Although we are “part of the riot of nature,” we stand apart (some say this is the meaning of human). Failure to recognize this observable fact shows the spiritual obfuscation an electronic microscope can cause—when contaminated by cockiness and hubris. (That’s OK; even these are unique human characteristics.) When one is “glad” (Oops! Another unique human characteristic!) to admit that nothing separates him (her in this instance) from a chimpanzee, at least one understands that the feelings are not mutual (such is the abyss separating us, humans, from the rest of the “riot”).
By plain observation we know that we are made of the same “flesh and bone” as any other mammal, and that indeed we are “part of the riot of nature.” At the same time we realize that, in so many other ways, we are not: we have something else weightless, invisible, which we call spirit. This seems to escape the full attention of Mrs. Judson. When “knowledge” is limited to the observable and measurable material world, we are indeed left impoverished of our uniqueness on this earth.
Mrs. Judson tells us that she is “proud” to be “part of the riot of nature.” (Yes, isn’t she? Nature, I mean.) Well, one is proud of his or her achievements. There is very little pride in being blond or tall or human. But if you do achieve something (and only humans achieve), such as graduating first in your class, or you get that sought-after position, you did it not because of genes alone, but because of hard work, determination, drive. These are unique traits of the human species.
I suppose it is not one’s fault if, according to the religious education one has received, he/she views God as capricious, unfair, partial, unjust. Such erroneous notions about the deity would naturally drive someone to find “solace” and “relief” in other more “consoling” (?) thoughts, that all this variegated existence, all this multiform “riot of nature” came from nowhere, exists for no reason at all, and disappears inexorably into non-existence, because there is nothing or no one else to “move” it, as Aristotle would say, or move towards It, as we Christians say.
Mrs. Judson could not possibly fathom how close she is to the truth when she speaks of “forces” being responsible for the creation of her beloved “riot of nature” (hey, humor is good, and uniquely human). We, Orthodox Christians, call such forces with an almost identical name, “energies”: uncreated, divine energies, acting in the finite world, creating, sustaining, guiding, giving life, movement, intelligence. Although Mrs. Judson’s “forces” are produced by evolution itself, the divine energies act in nature exactly the same way. Can it possibly be that we are speaking of the same thing, using a different name, and having a different understanding of it?
Mrs. Judson is so close to the truth—and then so far away from it! She just sees with a blurred vision. She notes that human beings are “remarkable,” but she falls short of calling them unique. She correctly touches upon one of our most human characteristics, that of compassion, sympathy, kindness, goodness. Mrs. Judson does not tell us where they come from; what “evolutionary forces” produced them, and why are they manifested only in human beings.
I have a question: When man paints a Mona Lisa, builds a Parthenon, writes an Iliad (you can tell I’m Greek), composes a Grande Polonaise Brillante in E flat major (my wife is Polish), visits the sick (a unique human characteristic, Mrs. Judson seems to be impressed by), says “I love you” (or “Kiss me, I’m Greek”), smiles, dances the syrtaki—according to an evolutionary biologist’s analysis, which is the instinct that drives man to these activities?
Fr. E.H./Jan. 1, 2006
18 thoughts on “I’M AN EVOLUTIONIST!”
Dear FR. H
Are you saying that divine energies evolved man from a single cell primordial ooze to an Ape to man/ If so i could not disagree more. Like i stated before. Evolution is pseudo science. Here’s the entire quote from Darwin. ” Evolution is just a theory an I have no proofs, I did not think they would make a religion out of it.” All the bones that they are theorizing from can be placed in a bread box. There are way more proofs against evolution. I need not go into them here, because they are readily available on the internet. The other important point besides pseudo science is the issue of things being created from their “kind’. As i stated before God only creates things according to their kind. Adam was from the earth and eve was formed from his rib according to his kind. Scientifically speaking the rib is the only part of the human body which is capable of regenerating itself. Apes become different species of apes and men become different species (races) of men. What we see is variation of a species not evolution. This falsehood has crept into some areas of the Orthodox Church clergy. I know of an article by a Russian Orthodox priest who believe this falsehood. He was attempting to reach out and bring Russian atheist into the Church by melding these two together. His intentions were good but the way he was going about it was not. Blessings Theodore
I know you are a good priest and believe in all the Orthodox Dogmas, which is why it is supremely problematic for us to believe in Evolution. It is a Dogma of the Orthodox Church that “sin came through death” and “through one man.” Sin is the result of man choosing death in an otherwise deathless and incorruptible creation. (I used to believe that Evolution was compatible with Orthodoxy too…mainly because this phrase was repeated over and over without much thought or analysis).
However, Evolution requires that death occurs BEFORE sin. Not only that but there must be thousands if not millions of occurrences of death before the “creation” of man. This is utterly incompatible with our Orthodox Dogma, our anthropology, and our understanding of the incorruption of paradise and man before the Fall of man (sin).
If one believes in Evolution he must explain how death came before sin and how that can be compatible with Christian dogma.
Scientifically speaking, in recent times two separate discoveries have been made of dinosaur bones that still have soft tissue (bone marrow). This is an impossibility if these creatures have been dead for even one million years. There is ample evidence that dinosaurs (“dragons” in the Bible) have existed within the last 5,000 years (evidence from all over the world in fact) and into the late Middle Ages. How do we explain this if dinosaurs are hundreds of millions of years old? (They have tried to explain this by the presence of iron – but see this article – https://creation.com/dinosaur-soft-tissue).
At any rate, scientific explanations will come and go, but how is it that death was in the world before sin if indeed sin is the cause of death, according to Christian dogma? If sin is NOT the cause of death, we then have a completely different religion on our hands!
Very well stated. Also need to add that God clearly states in His Word that man was “created” from the dust of the ground. Woman was formed using the rib of man.
Dear Fr Emmanuel
I respectfully disagree with the idea that evolution (in any form) is compatible with Orthodox Christianity. Plain and simply, it defies logic, and if anything is going to mean anything, then it would first want to be logical.
1). Only God (the Un-created) is infinite; yet, evolution must have it that creation, by constantly moving forward, and having no reason to stop, is also infinite. This can not be so. At best, creation can be indefinite, and while indefinite is still certainly ‘large’, it also necessarily has an end. This end precludes the possibility of evolution.
2). Something is logical because it’s true, and not true because it’s logical. This places truth first. Evolution, however (i.e. the constant shift to bigger and better things) posits (consciously or not) that something comes first and moves towards truth; but how can something move towards truth or something better, without truth or better being pre-conceived or pre-existing ideas, which come before the thing that is supposedly moving towards it?
3). God (the Un-created) is Truth. Creation is therefore, at best, a symbol or an image of God. In order to know Truth, then, we must GO BACK to the Un-created, but never forward; for the latter – i.e. going forward into matter – only participates in a move away from God/Truth.
4). Evolution believes that the higher comes from the lower. This, however, is impossible. God (the Higher) came first and then creation (the lower) came after, and yet evolution would have us believe that creation was first and then God evolved from that.
5). Certainly, God the Creator, may have used a process or stages in creating the world(s). This, however, isn’t evolution, for every created thing unavoidably represents a degradation of some kind. For instance, before creation, there was just God and His perfect, un-created state. However, once creation occurred, there was both God and something that was not God. While this ‘not God’ was once called The Garden or Paradise, we can not escape the fact that it wasn’t as perfect as God. After all, there was a serpent in it! Thus, creation or form, no matter how good it can be, is always a degradation and never an improvement in the way that Orthodox Christianity values things. The school of rationality, which denies God, and which evolutionism belongs to (even if it thinks it acknowledges God), certainly calls many things improvements, and yet its value systems are skewed.
Dear Fr. Emmanuel:
Are you suggesting that the soul “evolved?”
If evolution is true, death would have to exist before the fall. It takes more faith to believe in evolution than it does to believe in creation.
Dear Fr. Emmanuel,
I found it refreshing to read your article. I also am an Orthodox Christian who accepts evolution and the rest of the established consenses in the natural sciences.
I have your books Heavenly Banquet and Jesus:Fallen? and find them both extremely erudite and a pleasure to read.
Surely, your brief comment was a pleasure to read (a departure from many others).
May the Lord whose Birth we are liturgically anticipating be with you.
Humbly, Fr. Emmanuel
Death before sin. I read this somewhere: God knew we would sin. He knew we would need to die. Sin entered the world through man. Just not on a linear timescale- it was before his existence. So God allowed the same freedom in the evolutionary process as he allowed in human will. So evolution can be compatible with Orthodoxy.
I have loved your provocative and truthful work for so many years but I am perplexed at why so many Christians are accepting evolution at a time when so many evolutionary biologists are questioning it. No, you will not hear this in the news but have to read scientific journals. The Royal Society meeting in London underscored these concerns. The theory…and it is still a theory is replete with deficiencies, particularly its core ‘faith’ that there is creative power in the natural selection mechanism. The press and academia keep propping it up, but several respected atheistic evolutionary biologists are calling for major overhauls to the theory. I know Stephen Meyer of Intelligent Design fame may be considered biased but read his two latest books and go to some of the not so friendly sources he quoted and I think your mind will be changed. The books are Darwins Doubt and Theistic Evolution. I think you will find a compelling case that the theory of Evolution would be defunct if it were not for atheists controlling the media and academia.
Thank you for your input. I accept what science accepts. If scientists will no longer support the theory of evolution I will be with them. My faith is in Jesus Christ and His holy Church, not in evolution.
Yikes, Father. Why trust men in lab coats over the Holy Fathers? Surely you know that many Holy Fathers have deemed this teaching unacceptable. Surely you are familiar with Blessed Fr. Seraphim Rose’s work “Genesis, Creation, and Early Man” in which he translates and delivers us the patristic witness on this topic. I urge you to repent of this horrible nonsense and return to the teaching which has been handed down. Orthodox Christians do not preferentially trust “scientists” over the Saints, because an Orthodox Christian is not ashamed of the Gospel. An Orthodox Christian trusts the Saints as our guides to salvation. Please repent, Father.
With love in Christ,
Dear Fr. Hatzidakis,
Let me start by saying that I accept standard natural scientific views about the age of the earth (old, not young), and limited evolutionary biology. When evolutionary biology is exaggerated beyond its legitimate domain, then problems quickly arise. That is why the term “evolutionism” is needed, i.e. for those who elevate evolutionary biology into a kind of religion-substitute worldview.
When I first saw the title of your article, I thought it was just click bait. I sincerely couldn’t have imagined an Orthodox Priest professing such a view, let alone actually holding it! Then I read the article & see you were serious, however, based on a simple misunderstanding.
I believe the writings of Fr. Doru Costache can help you clarify: https://aiocs.net/creation-or-evolution/ There are two quite different terms you seem to be conflating: evolution & evolutionism. Fr. Costache instead clearly distinguishes them.
A biologist is a natural scientist, yet by definition, an “evolutionist” is an ideologue. Thus, for an Orthodox Priest to call themselves an ideologue still sounds dissonant.
Please consider changing the title to something like “I accept biological evolution.” Little would be controversial or offensive about that.
Yours in Christ,
[ ev-uh-loo-shuh-nist or, esp. British, ee-vuh- ]
1 a person who believes in or supports a theory of evolution, especially in biology.
2 a person who supports a policy of gradual growth or development rather than sudden change or expansion.
I think I’ve commented on this issue before, but seeing that title which is a confession of faith in evolutionism (in all caps, no less) is too disturbing for me to let it slide. The other commenters make some good points, which I’ll summarize.
First, there is absolutely no need to profess evolutionism as an Orthodox Christian, or even as a scientist. Evolution is a theoretical model of how the variety of life appeared, and is the best that contemporary mainstream science has to offer, at least from its own standpoint. However, honest scientists will be able to point out what is hard science and what is implicit (or even unaware/unconscious) assumption, and what are the holes and weak points of this model.
Second, believing in Creation, the Orthodox dogma, is different from belief in creationism. Creationism is a highly speculative, pseudo-scientific doctrine developed by American Protestants. One can easily reject this brand of creationism along with evolutionism and still profess Creation, the Orthodox way (the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed). Unfortunately, when Fr. Seraphim Rose wrote about the dogma of Creation according to the Holy Fathers, was also influenced by the Protestant creationists.
Third, and most importantly, do we no longer believe that through sin death entered the world? It’s true that St. Paul doesn’t mention animal death, but it’s also true that Adam and Eve never ate animals in Eden. Also, for evolutionists humans are just one more evolved animal, who appeared after many generations of less evolved primates.
Also, in the USSR and the other former communist countries, evolutionist propaganda was part of the atheist propaganda, of crushing Orthodox faith especially in children and young people. Nowadays, Orthodox Christians are shamed into not admitting they believe “backwards”, “fundamentalist” tenets such as Creation (as opposed to evolution), the reality of hell, the sinfulness of homosexuality. I would like to believe there is no active propaganda behind this. It could be just the Zeitgeist, but this is no better because it means the spirit of the times is antichristic.
I would like to cite the words of Fr. Daniel Sysoev, of blessed memory, a hieromartyr of our times. Fr. Daniel was like an apostle in his missionary zeal that both reacquainted Russians with their Orthodox faith, rebutted ecumenism and other heresies, and led to the baptism of thousands of atheists and Muslims, as well as Protestants and others. He was shot in church by a Muslim man. The following is an excerpt from an interview and the question Fr. Daniel replies to is what should one believe about the new passports, which some believed to be the seal of the antichrist:
“But why does satan spread these things [theories about the seal of antichrist]? Because, when the true antichrist comes, all these persons who are afraid of receiving the seal will receive the true seal willingly. Because they will look for the seal where it isn’t [in the wrong place]. They will look for the seal in the technical means, which in fact are not necessary for the antichrist. The devil wishes to act in such a way that when the true enemy comes, people will no longer be afraid.
But St. Hippolytus says thus:
What will people say, receiving the faith of the antichrist? They will say — I renounce God, the Creator of heaven and earth, His only-begotten Son, the Holy Spirit, the holy Church and I surrender myself to you.
It looks like St. Hippolytus was right. The main thing now is how he gains ground — through renouncing the creation of the cosmos. Is not evolution a preparation for the coming of the antichrist? Of course it is a preparation, especially theistic evolution. When they say that God created with the help of evil, of death — this leads to antichrist. The affirmation that Christ is not the only path to God, this is the path to antichrist. The affirmation that there is salvation outside the Church — this is the path to antichrist. The affirmation that our purpose is here, on earth, as the Apostle Paul says, when they will say there is peace and security, then the disaster will come — here, this is the path to antichrist. The path to antichrist is in ideology, not in technology. This is truly a diabolical substitution — to replace the actual problem of consent [to antichrist] with technical devices.
I say this, that in a spiritual sense many people have already shared in the ideas of the antichrist. The idea that there is only one God, but there are many paths — this is already an antichristic idea. But nobody writes against these ideas. Nobody fights against this thing. …” (my translation)
I hope the ideas of Fr. Daniel provide food for thought.
Axios to your comments, Anna! And memory eternal Priest Martyr Evangelist Daniel !
I enjoyed your article and appreciate the attempt to reconcile the chasm created by the needless arm-wrestling you mentioned. Everything is reactionary, driven by humanity’s desire to justify itself, yet nothing driving these causes of reaction can refute our faith. Many of these comments criticizing you, as I’m sure you are aware, stem from a dangerously misunderstood reading of modern evolutionary theory. Just as materialist scientists are plagued by circular reasoning, many Christians are as well. I would love to see an article by you walking through the points of evolutionary theory and commenting on them through spiritual parallelism; not explaining them in spiritual terms, but rather showing how they don’t actually “refute” anything we believe. Thank you, Father.