On Faith and Science
March 18, 2009
St. Cyril of Jerusalem
St. Anthony’s Monastery
Ἤδη δὲ οὔτε ἡ γνῶσις ἄνευ πίστεως, οὔθ᾽ ἡ πίστις ἄνευ γνώσεως.
Clemens Alexandrinus (Strom. 5.1.3)1
Dear Brother in Christ,
Although you chose to remain anonymous you are known to God, to Whom we pray for illumination from above and strength to do His will.
Thank you kindly for sharing your thoughts on why, in your opinion, my book does not deserve to be on the shelves of the monastery’s bookstore, because of alleged errors contained in it.
I cannot hide the pain and the sadness that I experienced, that an Orthodox monk has found errors with my book, errors serious enough not to recommend its reading by Orthodox Christians.
Truthfully, I was in a daze, having nightmares, that I was living in the Dark Ages, and I was standing before the Grand Inquisitor, pressured to recant the evils advocated in my book. Padre, per caritá! This is Orthodoxy and 21st century!
I was preparing to respond to you at length, defending the positions you criticize, when I came across an article written by Protopresbyter Dr. Georgios Metallinos, which addresses the issues raised in your notes.
I enclose it, thinking that you will accept the authority of this theologian, who certainly ranks among the top living Greek Orthodox theologians of our times. But if you take exception to his writings, I would be glad to adduce further witnesses in my defense.
Below I include your three comments, followed by comments by Fr. Metallinos’ in italics and my own comments and other quotations.
In your first comment you seem to object to the following paragraph in my book 2:
According to our understanding the Bible is not a scientific textbook, therefore we are not to take every geographic, historical, and scientific detail as error free, and we should not read it that way.
You seem to believe that the Holy Scripture is free from any kind of error (which I call “the erroneous principle of biblical inerrancy”), yet you do not provide your explanation of a few examples cited immediately after the above paragraph. Here they are:
The Holy Scriptures seem to follow the view that God created a stationary, flat earth, with the heaven being a dome over it, and the sun and the moon circling around it (Ps. 104); that He created the universe in six 24-hour days, some 10,000 years ago; and that He took mud to form man out of it, and woman out of his rib.
Please support the objective truthfulness of these biblical statements or assumptions, and many other similar, apparently unscientific statements, like references to, ‘the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens being closed” (Gen. 8:2) or the “shutting in the sea with bars and doors” (Job 38:8.10). Are we to take literally the monsters Behemoth (Job 40:15), whose “bones are tubes of bronze, and his like bars of iron” (v. 18), and Leviathan (Job 41:1, see also Ps. 104:26)? Is he real? “His sneezings flash forth light, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn. Out of his mouth go flaming torches; sparks of fire leap forth. Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke, as from a boiling pot and burning rushes. His breath kindles coals, and a flame comes forth from his mouth” (Job 42:18-21)? Read carefully the Prooimiakos Psalm 104 (103 LXX) and tell me how scientific are the lines, “who hast stretched out the heavens like a tent, who hast laid the beams of thy chambers on the waters” (vv. 2b-3a) and “Thou didst set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be shaken” (v. 5). Read also Proverbs 8:27-29 and tell me how factual are these verses: “When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command.” Also Isaiah 45:12: “I made the earth, and created man upon it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.”
This is what Fr. Metallinos says on the subject of understanding and using the Holy Scripture as an authority on any human endeavor (from the three quotes I underlined in the article I sent you):
 Thus the Holy Scripture and the works of the Holy Fathers (the scientists of the faith) may contain scientific errors, as they relate to the findings of the natural sciences which are continuously reappraised.
 God teaches in the Scripture the truth about Himself and not (the scientific knowledge) about creation.
 Thus as concerns scientific subjects there is a possibility of a change of opinion based on the new findings.
 The problem with religion starts from the acceptance of the sacred books (e.g. Holy Scripture or Koran) as scientific text[s].
 In Orthodoxy, when it is Orthodoxy, there cannot be a case of Galileo.
“The Gospels,” says St. Augustine, “do not tell us that our Lord said, ‘I will send you the Holy Ghost to teach you the course of the sun and moon;’ we should endeavor to become Christians, and not astronomers.” So it is with the Mosaic account of creation. Its purport is not to teach geology, physics, zoology, or astronomy, but to affirm in the most simple and direct manner the creative act of God and His sovereignty over all creatures. Its object is not to anticipate any of the truths of science or philosophy, but to guard the chosen people of God against the pernicious errors and idolatrous practices which were then everywhere prevalent.3
This is your second note:
Man was created by God; he did not evolve slowly over time from a previous “common ancestor.” (pg. 90)
There is no way to get around the teaching than [sic] evolution puts forth that man “evolved.”
This is fundamentally incorrect. The quote of St. [Gregory of] Nyssa does not seem to apply here as a support to the compatibility of the 2 explanations.
Simply put, the Holy Bible and the teaching of the Fathers is the truth, inspired by the Truth. Evolution was a great error written by a man.
You did not explain, Father, why the statement, “Evolution and creation are not seen by us as two opposite theories of how the world came about, but one and the same described from two different perspectives” “is not at all correct.” I provide two examples, but you did not refute them. I don’t think you can!
Apparently, you believe that evolution is a godless theory devised by atheists to tear down belief in God. It has been used that way, but it does not have to, and it does not oppose religion and enlightened understanding of the Holy Scripture. It may be a surprise to you, but as much as creation of the world by God is Orthodox, creationism (the literal interpretation of Genesis and of the Scripture in general) is unorthodox! (God does not have “two hands,” but He has a Son and a Holy Spirit.)
Fr. Metallinos provides concrete answers on the subject of evolution, quoting from St. Basil the Great (PG 29, 36B and 29, 1164) and St. Gregory the Theologian (PG 44, 72B and 44, 148C), to the effect that both accept an evolutionary course in creation.
Specifically, Fr. Metallinos states:
 Basil the Great does not expect [to receive] from Scripture all the answers, deeming the scientific research indispensable.
 Theology waits patiently the progress of science for the comprehension of its theological tenets.
 Theology does not oppose the scientific position, about the age of man on earth, for example.
 The theologians accept the freedom of scientific research…
 “Science offers a more certain way toward God than religion”4.
God, according to St. Augustine as well as according to St. Gregory of Nyssa, first created matter in an elementary or nebulous state. From this primordial matter—created ex nihilo [from nothing]—was evolved, by the action of physical laws imposed on it by the Creator, all the various forms of terrestrial life that subsequently appeared. In this process of evolution there was succession, but no division of time. The Almighty completed the work He had begun, not intermittently and by a series of special creations, but through the agency of secondary causes—by the operation of natural laws and forces—causales rationes [causal reasons]—of which He was the Author.5
And this is your third and final note:
Indeed science in many instances supports the biblical witness. But the faith of the Church does not stand or fall on whether God created the world in six solar days, or on whether “the earth was established above the waters,” as the psalm says, or on any area other than that of faith and morals. In those other areas the Holy Scripture may be wrong, as the Fathers who took it to the letter may also be wrong. Even the sacred and inspired writers used whatever human knowledge was available to them. We too use whatever knowledge we have today. Our faith remains the same, resting on a Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
Our faith cannot be challenged by science, because if any of its findings is true it will find acceptance by the Church.
The truths of faith and the truths of science belong to different categories indeed, but notwithstanding this fact they can never come into conflict. The truths of science are of the natural order, while the truths of faith belong to an order which is supernatural. Both have God for their author, and as He cannot contradict Himself, and as truth cannot be opposed to truth, so the truths of faith never can be at variance with the certain conclusions of science.6
Draw, my dear brother in Christ, your conclusions, based not on fundamentalism, dogmatism, fanaticism, and “biblicalism,” but on the truth, no matter where it comes from. The truth is never our enemy. But if it challenges our beliefs, instead of finding fault with science we should perhaps re-check the foundation of our religious beliefs and revise them!
Someone said, The purpose of the Holy Scripture and of the Church is to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go. Let’s leave that to science.
The last quote from St. Augustine reminds us of something profound that he has written, on which I very humbly invite you to prayerfully ponder upon and meditate, my dear brother in Christ:
If we come to read anything in Holy Scripture that is in keeping with the faith in which we are steeped, capable of several meanings, we must not by obstinately rushing in, so commit ourselves to any one of them that, when perhaps the truth is more thoroughly investigated, it rightly falls to the ground and we with it. 7
The following illuminating, pertinent quote comes also from the pen of the same saint:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertions. [1 Timothy 1.7].8
My hunch is that you are a convert from a fundamentalist Protestant denomination, and your conversion is not complete, because you don’t have the Orthodox phronema, and you don’t reflect the freedom the children of God enjoy.
It takes a great man to admit his error. I do not ask for apologies: just for your order to place a much-needed book on the shelves of your monastery bookstore, with the blessings of the Very Reverend Archimandrite Elder Ephraim.
- For neither is there knowledge without faith, nor faith without knowledge.
- Download the study "Faith and Science" from The Heavenly Banquet that is referred to here (PDF).
- J. A. Zahm [Roman Catholic Priest and Professor of Physics at Notre Dame University], Bible, Science, and Faith, John Murphy & Co., Baltimore 1894, pp. 33-34—the indented quotations, with page numbers refer to this book.
- quoting Paul Davies, professor of theoretical physics
- Zahm, p. 76
- Zahm, p. 7
- A.C. Crombie, The History of Science from Augustine to Galileo, Dover Publications, New York 1995
- De Genesi ad litteram [The Literal Meaning of Genesis], Ancient Christian Writers, Newman Press, 1982, vol. 41, pp. 42-43
17 thoughts on “On Faith and Science”
For citing Fr George so often as proof text, I find the support quite underwhelming that he in any way agrees with your position on evolution; particularly that is represents one of two views of reality. I also find it highly distasteful, especially considering the Lenten season, that you would bring such a correspondence to the public light, simply in order to defend your own character and views. What do the Fathers tell us about this?
I agree that it’s silly to believe in a flat earth and generally to consider the Holy Bible a science manual. You are also right that the Protestants have a peculiar understanding of both Creation and science, which they call “scientific creationism” and which actually not only is not scientific, but also has nothing to do with the Orthodox understanding of Creation.
However, none of these things make the theory of evolution Orthodox (more on that later, if I have the time).
I also agree with the above commenter that what you cite from Fr. Metallinos does not support what you say about evolution. I also find it hard to believe that Fr. Metallinos embraces evolutionism. (You might want to ask him personally.) What I don’t agree with is the tone of that comment. Our tradition is to discuss doctrinal differences openly and the Great Lent is a time as good as any other to do so.
“My hunch is that you are a convert from a fundamentalist Protestant denomination, and your conversion is not complete, because you don’t have the Orthodox phronema, and you don’t reflect the freedom the children of God enjoy.”
The audacity of this priest! Who do you think YOU are!?
The only real question here is how could anybody possibly think that the majesty of Orthodox Christianity have anything in common with the ‘bob-tailed’ theory of evolution? And We needn’t even point to the sophistication or depth of Holy Scripture or theology to take this position. Simply put: evolution, or survival of the fittest, has it that modern man is at the apex of things so far, and the forerunner of still better things to come. Nonsense! How is it that this supposed system of survival has given rise to a creature that quite clearly is going to destroy itself and everything in its path? In that sense, we can only agree that if we were once a pack of apes, then a pack of apes is what we should have remained; and no amount of philosophy, science, medicine or technology should convince us otherwise.
Editor’s note: The following is from e-mail:
I had a few thoughts with regard to your letter to St. Anthony’s regarding evolution. You seem to accept science as a method of inquiry which can explain all things. But science limits itself to material phenomena and explicitly rejects any explanations which incorporate any kind of metaphysics. For a very enlightening explanation of the rise of science and how destructive its rejections of metaphysics is, I highly recommend The Eclipse of Man and Nature (also published as the Rape of Man and Nature) by the Orthodox writer Philip Sherrard.
Also, on the subject of evolution, I would highly recommend Genesis, Creation, and Early Man by Fr. Seraphim Rose.
Thank you for your strong rejection of the heresy of ecumenism which is attempting to destroy the Orthodox church.
Thanks you for your words of support concerning ecumenism, and for your suggested readings on our topic of discussion.
It seems you have not read the Mini Study on “Faith and Science” contained in my book, which gave rise to the discussion. In it I quoted the Orthodox position, as worded by the mouth of the Church, St. Gregory Palamas, that there are two kinds of knowledge, natural knowledge and supernatural knowledge. In the same paragraph I quoted Father George Metallinos, who similarly speaks of the knowledge of the uncreated, addressed by faith, and the knowledge of the created, addressed by science. In the last paragraph I added: “Science is by definition limited to the study of the material world and can neither ascertain nor examine (“scientifically”) the things that pertain to the immaterial world.”
A Blessed Lenten period,
I own three books published by Fr. Emmanuel: “Preaching Another Christ”, an amazing and spot-on critique of the heresy of Protestantism (written by St. Theophan the Recluse and translated by a personal friend of mine) and which I have loaned and even purchased for friends and family, “Jesus Fallen?”, which I have perused but have yet to read, and “The Heavenly Banquet”, the book in question. I admit I have not read every word of this book, but what I have is excellent in describing and explaining the Orthodox Liturgy.
However, I still agree with and would like to say “thank you” to the anonymous monk at Saint Anthony’s Monastery for picking up on this glaring problem present in the book (and also on this website). St. Ignatius Brianchaninov says, “When even part of a meal has been poisoned, all of the food is thrown away. The dish is carefully washed, and only then is more food put into it for serving at the table. Food that has been tainted with poison can be called poison itself.”
It is possible to be Orthodox in one area, standing firm against Eccumenism, and un-Orthodox in another, adherence to Evolution. God help me as I fight this same struggle and work to become Orthodox in every area of my life and thoughts.
I would like to hear arguments by Orthodox scientists that refute evolution.
See if my next post clarifies certain concerns you have.
“Science answers the question of how beings and created things were made and created. Theology answers the question of what is the aim and end of creation… Let Science occupy itself with the aged earth and the aged heaven. We, as theologians and clerics, look for that ‘blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2:13).” (“Orthodox Theology and Science” by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos, August 21, 2010, http://alopsis.gr/afieroma/af-orthodox-theology-and-science-the-rev-metropolitan-of-nafpaktos-and-st-vlassios-hierotheos/)
Dear Fr Emmanuel,
I tried to read all the letters posted and i gather you support evolutionary theory. Science and religion are not apposed to each other as many think. They both are seeking the truth in different realms however. Religion tell us what happened. Science can tell us how it happened. Take Noah’s ark for example. Some would say it is not scientifically accurate because you could never get two of every kind of animal we see today in that ark. However science shows us how this is possible. What if you had two cats with the full genome to produce a lion, puma, panther, tiger, ect. Of this one “kind” you get a variety of species. This is actually what we see today, variation of a species not evolution. Darwin was observing variation of a species and proposed evolutionary theory of which he said he had no proof. Yes Darwin said his theory had no proofs. Today evolution masquerades as true science when in fact it is pseudo science. In Genesis the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit agreed to create according to their kind. That is why Jesus Christ did not turn stones into bread on the mount of temptations. If He had He would have broken his promise to the other two. Again He created according to their kind when He feed the 5 thousand, fish became more fish and bread more bread. It’s also why He took the dust of the earth and made eyes for the blind man because we were created from dust of the earth. I hope this helps in the discussion. I am an Orthodox Christian and have a Biology and Chemistry degree and i do not believe in the pseudo science of evolution. Blessings Theodore Mills
I highly venerate your struggle, I’ve purchased all your books and look forward to most of your posts. But on this subject I vehemently disagree with you and ask you to please consider the words of the Holy Fathers on Holy Scripture and evolution.
St. Sophronius of Jerusalem ca. 560-638
But is not only on this point that the deranged err and go astray from the straight road (such impiety would be intolerable in comparison with [the other] evils), but they also make myriads of other statements contrary to the Tradition of the Apostles and the Fathers. They throw out the planting of Paradise, they do not want Adam fashioned in the flesh, they object to the moulding of Eve from him, they reject the utterance of the snake… (Synodical Letter 2.4.3: Profession of Creation)
St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662
I believe, therefore, that if the meaning of the whole of Divine Scripture is properly and piously smoothed out, the disagreements perceived on the literal level of the text will be seen to contain nothing contradictory or inconsistent. (Ambigua to John, Ambiguous 21)
St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359
That the world has an origin nature teaches and history confirms, while the discoveries of the arts, the institution of laws and the constitution of states also clearly affirm it. We know who are the founders of nearly all the arts, the lawgivers and those who established states, and indeed we know what has been written about the origin of everything. Yet we see that none of this surpasses the account of the genesis of the world and of time as narrated by Moses. And Moses, who wrote about the genesis of the world, has so irrefutably substantiated the truth of what he writes through such extraordinary actions and words that he has convinced virtually the whole human race and has persuaded them to deride those who sophistically teach the contrary. Since the nature of this world is such that everything in it requires a specific cause in each instance, and since without such a cause nothing can exist at all, the very nature of things demonstrates that there must be a first principle which is self-existent and does not derive from any other principle.
Where can we learn anything certain and true about God, about the world as a whole, and about ourselves? Is it not from the teaching of the Holy Spirit? For this teaching has taught us that God is the only Being that truly is – the only eternal and immutable Being – who neither receives being from non-being nor returns to non-being; who is Tri-hypostatic and Almighty, and who through His Logos brought forth all things from non-being in six days or, rather, as Moses states, He created them instantaneously. For we have heard him say, ‘First of all God created heaven and earth’ (Gen. 1:1). And He did not create them totally, empty or without any intermediary bodies at all. For the earth was mixed with water, and each was pregnant with air and with the various species of animals and plants, while the heavens were pregnant with various lights and fires; and so with the heavens and the earth all things received their existence. Thus first of all God created the heavens and the earth as a kind of all-embracing material substance with the potentiality of giving birth to all things. In this way He rightly rebuts those who wrongly think that matter preexisted on its own as an autonomous entity.
After this initial creation. He who brings forth all things from non-being proceeds as it were to embellish and adorn the world. In six days He allotted its own proper and appropriate rank to each of His creatures that together constitute His world. (Topics of Natural and Theological Science and on the Moral and Ascetic Life: One Hundred and Fifty Texts, 1, 21-22)
A post-Darwin perspective…
St. Hilarion Troitsky 1889-1929
Christianity requires a humble awareness. My forefather, Adam, was perfect, but I, mankind, introduced only sin and corruption. The Church calls us to humility when it calls Adam our ancestor. But evolution? Descent from the ape? No matter how modestly we rate ourselves, it is impossible not to think with a certain pride: “After all, I am not an ape; after all, progress is manifest in me.” Thus, by calling the ape our ancestor, evolution feeds human pride. If we compare ourselves to the ape we can be proud of our progress, but if we think of sinless Adam, outward progress losses its value. The progress is external, but it is also a sophisticated sin. If mankind is steadily progressing forward, then we can hope in ourselves. We create ourselves. But the Church says the opposite: “We could not become incorrupt and immortal had not the Incorrupt and Immortal One first become the same as we are.” Believing in the incarnation means confessing that without God, all of mankind is nothing.
Throughout the ages, the Church carries the ideal of deification. This ideal is very high, but it demands very much from man. It is unthinkable without the incarnation; it demands first of all that man be humble. Mankind is renouncing this high ideal, and has no need of the incarnation of the Son of God. An infinitely depreciated ideal of life allows man to talk of progress, and gives him the opportunity to be proud of his accomplishments. These two series of ideas make up two different worldviews: that of the Church, and that which is not of the Church. The worldview that is not of the Church—descent from the ape, progress, having no need of and denying the incarnation—is pride. Accepting the incarnation is inseparably bound with humility. Pride wars with the incarnation, as with something unneeded. (Hieromartyr Hilarion [Troitsky], Works in Three Volumes [Moscow: Sretensky Monastery, 2004], 3:294)
I don’t believe I have said anywhere that humans have descended from the apes.
I follow the truth, whenever I can find it.
Check our next post.
You mention wanting to talk to Orthodox Christian scientists. Please try getting in touch or reading the works of biologists Oana and Alexandru Iftime. One of their books on evolution was translated into Greek, which I assume you’re familiar with. Unfortunately, I can only find online texts in Romanian, and none in English. Perhaps if you try to search online in Greek, you can find something.
Unfortunately, if you pick and choose the parts of evolution theory you like and discard the others, as in “no, man is not evolved from other primates,” you can’t call yourself evolutionist. It’s a bit like when people call themselves Orthodox, but only espouse and confess those parts of Orthodoxy that don’t make them look uncool in front of their non-Orthodox friends. (I know, I’ve been there too.)
Οανα Ιφτιμε, Αλεξανδρου Ιφτιμε, Η Θεωρια Της Βιολογικης Εξελιξης Και Η Ορθοδοξια, Ορθοδοξος Κυψελη, Θεσσαλονίκη, 2013
This is the book in Greek.
If you do not believe man descended from the apes which is the evolutionary theory. Then what do you mean by I believe in evolution. What is evolution to you?
Brothers and Sisters,
a blessed Lent to you all.
Evolutionary theory does not teach that Homo sapiens sapiens descends from apes. It teaches that modern man and modern apes may have descended from a common ancestor, long ago.
If we are going to stand opposed to something so vehemently, we should first learn what it is actually presenting, especially before criticizing and dismissing it.
For a good read: https://www.skeptic.com/downloads/top-10-evolution-myths.pdf
The arrogance is astounding. The monastery is absolutely correct in not allowing such material in their bookstore. Today those believing in evolution are the ones living in the dark ages. Certainly, we today have less faith than the Fathers of old. Even the way you interpret the Scriptures comes from an atheistic point of view and academia. Perhaps you should read the “Law of God” so that you too can believe in the True Faith the way the faithful monks do at Saint Anthony’s.
As there was no death before the Fall of Man, evolution is impossible.