"The solution is to be found through the sanctification of the parents. Become saints and you will have no problems with your children." Father Porphyrios , Wounded By Love

Friday, July 18, 2008

Orthodoxy & Evolution


If your teenagers or children are enrolled in public school, chances are, they're learning about evolution - and more specifically, that we, as humans, evolved from apes, monkeys, and chimps. What is your response as parents? Does this discussion arise in your homes? Yesterday, on our visit to the Zoo, I was discussing this with an 11 year old boy, from a devout Orthodox family...but, he was pretty convinced that this "theory" he learned in school was factual. Here are a few ways to tackle the challenge:

1. If monkeys evolved into humans, why are there still monkeys in the world? It doesn't make sense that some monkeys would become human over time but not all of them.

2. If humans were once monkeys, who do we say our Lord, Jesus Christ was and is? Was He too once a monkey?

(This is crazy and quite blasphemous, but should get the point across) The answer is, of course not! Jesus became man, like us, while remaining fully God. In this way, He shows us what it means to be perfect and made in God's image without sin, revealing to us our potential to share in His holiness.

The animals, although created by God for man, were not made in the image and likeness of God. Rather, as St Basil writes in his Oration on Creation, we are called to work in harmony with the animals, with love and thankfulness for the assistance they provide us. For example, there is a reason a horse can run faster than us, or that animals have fur for the winter, and claws for food. We need them, as they need us. For more examples, look at the lives of St Gerasimos and the Lion, St Herman of Alaska and the bear, or St Mamas the lover of animals. You might be surprised to discover experiences of deer entering the Church, birds singing the Divine Liturgy, and a lion who appeared to bury St Mary of Egypt.

Lastly, our rich Orthodox tradition teaches that before the fall, the animals lived without fear of man, aggression against one another, or violence. It was only after the fall that man witnessed animals scurrying away from them. Even so, we can find God's all-powerful authority over His creation and in return, the obedience of the animals to Him, through examples like Jonah and the whale, David and the Lions, Christ and His choice donkey, and God's taming of the animals at the feet of our Orthodox martyrs during their sufferings.

*Clarification* Yes, it is true, the world and its state continues to evolve, adapt and change. Man arrives at new theories, various species are being discovered and cloned, and medicines developed. However, to Orthodox Christians, God is central to the equation, always, as Creator and Lord. Our anthropology, or understanding of the human, is defined by Christ and perfected in Christ alone. We understand who we are, by understanding who He is.

19 comments:

Liz in Seattle said...

Lovely comment, above. Charming. Happy deleting ;-)

I'm looking forward to reading your blog! We left homeschooling four years ago, when we determined that schooling outside the home really was better for our boys (long, extremely complicated story). I'm fine with that now, but it took awhile! But we're still actively involved in their educations, volunteering lots in the classrooms, discussions over dinner, my hubby is the Scoutmaster of our Orthodox Scout troop, etc.

Anyway, I just wanted to pass on our methodology for teaching evolution/creation. If it works for you, great! If not, great!

We've taught our boys (11.5 and 6.5) that ultimately, God's methods don't matter so much as knowing two things: the Who, and the Why. Who, obviously is God. The Why is love, pure and simple. The rest are interesting questions to ponder, but ultimately we must work on our own salvation before anything else.

A humble opinion from a Northwest mom who loves hearing about how other families approach teaching and learning in their homes. Keep up the good work!

::Sylvia:: said...

I like the question of why there are still monkeys in existence, I never thought of that (DUH!). Thanks for a great post!

Elenie said...

That one's from my father-in-law...he's full of good responses!

Anonymous said...

I would encourage you to consider that there is no dogmatic position (at least that I am aware of) that requires the Orthodox Christian to reject science. In fact one of the most accessible summaries of why evolutionary theory is so important was written by an Orthodox Christian:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nothing_in_Biology_Makes_Sense_Except_in_the_Light_of_Evolution

Anonymous said...

I am not sure what happened with the previous post, but the proper link can be found by googling for "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution". I consulted with two Orthodox priests: both affirmed the view that evolution and Orthodox Christianity are compatible.

Also, I wanted to answer your questions:

1) Evolution occurs by at least two mechanisms that we understand: natural selection and genetic drift within a subpopulation. You would never expect to see uniform evolution in the way that you describe: that is just a misunderstanding of both biological history and evolutionary theory.

2) This seems like a non sequitur. Orthodox Christians believe that Christ was both God and man; that is independent of how man was, if you will, created.

Let me pose a different question to illustrate how the question posed is not relevant: Would it be better to argue that man was from dirt as one of the two creation stories in Genesis recounts? Does this mean Christ was dirt? I think the problem is in posing deliberately provocative questions that in many respects are orthogonal to the question at hand.

I am responding in a spirit of concern: teaching kids falsehoods to protect their faith is a sure way to drive them away from the faith when they learn the truth. I was raised in a fundamentalist/evangelical background and experienced this myself. Orthodoxy offers both Christian truth and a lens to understand the Scriptures that is very different from what fundamentalists offer. Let's bring up our kids as good Christians and fully educated children that are able to understand the reality of God's world and the penetrating insights of science. There need be no conflict between the two.

Elenie said...

Greetings to the "anonymous" poster! I welcome your comments and kindly ask you to re-read my post as I never claimed Orthodoxy was against science. In fact, we are called to harmony with the earth, and have been given an intelligent brain to arrive at
many medicines, cures, and theories. What is Orthodox is to give God all the credit for this,
and not pride our own sinful selves for such advancements.

This particular post however, was to counter the arguement that man evolved from ape, which is simply heresy. We in no way were ever apes, and will never be.

As St Basil stated so powerfully, we were created to stand on two feet rather than four, so that our position is facing upward towards the heavens to praise our awesome Creator with thanksgiving and worship that is due to Him alone.

Ryan said...

I was wondering if there is a book or position paper about home schooling and privet schooling over and against public schooling. I come out of a background that was strongly against public education because they believed that it was militantly anti-Christian and that no child, no matter how well prepared, was equiped to withstand such indoctrination due to the fact that the children would spend much more time at school with athiest teachers and ciriculum than they ever would with the parents after the parents come home for work. I don't know if there is a statistic that documents the atrition rate of Orthodox Christian children in public schools. But I have come to realize that it is wrong to force this view on others or judge them for sending their children to public school. I lived in Greece and all education was public. But I guess the idea is the Greece is a Christian nation so that the school should inculcate Orthodoxy. I do not think this is the case. Greece is becoming more secular with pornography sold from kiosks on the streets. I think some serious minded Orthodox in Greece aught to get together to form an alternative educational system of privet schools or a home school network and a genuinely Orthodox curriculum. Evolution seems to highlight this subject. Though I refuse to take a stand between the Compatabilists and the Incompatabilists. Orthodoxy is the absence of one-sidedness. Any resources?

Natalya said...

I don't think you fully appreciate the "poison" pill of Creationism you are giving your children. I too was raised in a fundamentalist/evangelical with creationism as a tenant of belief. Once I learned the truth about evolutionary theory, it nearly wiped out any faith I had in a god because creationism and Christianity had been so intricately woven together. It's been a long road back and I had to find faith again this time in the Orthodox Church. Do I still believe in evolution? Yes. I also believe in gravity, electromagnetism and atoms. Don't stuff your god in a box and make him do stupid tricks. Be honest with your children (and yourself) and they will respect you for being human. Remember, you believe *because* you have faith, not because someone created a formula from rocks or DNA that proved beyond all doubt that God exists. That will *never* happen.

Ryan said...

I am still waiting patiently for a response about Orthodox home schooling networks.

Concerning evolution, young earth or old. As a Protestant pentecostal I always believed in evolution, or at least old earth. My senior year in University I had to write a lengthy theory paper about Architectural philosophy with a faculty advisor. I chose a history of art and architecture professor I had had as a freshmen. She was surprised to find my paper strewn with references to evolution being the work of God primarily through the hard work (labor) of man, bringing humanity to the next spiritual level. Apparently as a freshmen I had been opposed to evolution. As I began to approach a more serious faith I turned away from the gnostic/sophetic form of spirituality I joined an ultra conservative Protestant Church and my ideas about evolution went back toward creationism. But this took mostly the form of a healthy skepticism. How, for instance, does the first fish to try to form a symbiotic relationship with a shark by cleaning his teeth avoid getting killed? The relationship would never have begun let alone develop into a full evolutionary inter-specie symbiosis.

I also wrestled with how the earth or universe or both could be both old and young. There is a grandeur in the evolutionary 40 billion year panorama. And though I thought about it as an embarrassment, there is also a grandeur in the idea of a young earth story. Imagine the "Genesis Project" from Star Trek: the Wrath of Kahn. If humans can imagine mankind one day creating an entire solar system in less than a day, what is so hard about imagining God doing it?

In the end I have adopted a stance of radical skepticism to both theories. I am content that all theories are provisional description of a reality that has an intoxicating depth of interdependence of causes and conditions within and surrounding all phenomenon. Think of flower. Think of all the factors that give rise to it's birth, life, and death. Think of all the factors that give rise to these factors. There is an endless co-creative process that gives rise to everything. I know I know, I lost you at Star Trek. Forget about it.

Elenie said...

Hi Ryan,
Sorry about not responding sooner to your question concerning home-schooling. I have never come across a position by the Orthodox Church, or a paper per say, banning public schools. Several Bishops have only emphasized the need for us to find schools that put Christ first if we are indeed sending our kids to school away from the home. As you probably know, the public system has changed quite a bit by removing God completely, along with any Christian morals or ethics.

See the other related blog posts and the blog list for homeschooling references and families.

Concerning the discussion on Creation...all things are possible with God, so acceptance of our limits and His greatness can be the first step towards illumination.

Anonymous said...

God Bless you and your family Elenie. Your Orthodox Christian attitude about what no one can dispute is just a “theory” on the origins of life (“evolution”) is wonderful and refreshing. A great work that documents the many flaws in the “evolution” theory and how it is clearly contrary to the teachings of the Fathers of the Church is “Genesis, Creation and Early Man” by Father Seraphim Rose (you can google it to find where to purchase it). The “evolution” theory requires much faith to believe it and this book does an excellent job of elucidating this. Adherents of the “evolution” theory spread it with religious zealotry within the secular schools and attempt to degrade as ignorant and backwards anyone who dares speak up against it. It is of paramount importance for parents and their children to learn the truth about the “evolution” theory and the Church’s teachings -- Fr. Rose’s book should be required reading for all Orthodox Christians.

Palestine Christian

Peter said...
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Peter said...
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Peter said...
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Peter said...
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Orthodox Education said...

Greetings Peter, and all those who wish to comment in this section...

I welcome you, and everyone, under the condition that you please consider:

This blog is a simple attempt to offer real activities to engage our Orthodox youth....and get them thinking.

It is not the place for theological dissertations, nor a blog for the ultimate answer in Orthodoxy. All resources are welcome, and none of us are canonized Saints.

Having said that, if you feel strongly about the topic of evolution, and would like to share more information..please post your email and ask others to contact you. This is not the place to spend hours trying to convince others....please be so kind to find a scholarly journal for that.

With love and sinfulness,
Elenie

Peter said...

@Elenie

I do not believe that any of my comments claimed to be theological theses, ultimate answers or attempts at persuasion. I sent a simple response to previous comments, in line with the subject matter, providing certain pointers (e.g. on the question about 'monkeys') including actual links for those interested. What got me to write a 2-min reply was chiefly the anonymous post who promotes the late fr. Rose's book 'Genesis/Early Man' as 'essential reading' when it is full of Protestant fundamentalist pseudo-science and cacodoxies (the introduction is written by one of the greatest liars in history for which I gave proof). As for the purpose of your blog, I do not see how the anonymous comment relates; and yet it remains undeleted.

Jeffrey Howard said...

Do modern theories of evolution necessarily have to conflict with the Christian belief that God created man? The Bible after all is not a book of natural science.

Unknown said...

Jeffrey,

No. No need for a conflict. God had no desire to communicate modern science to ancient people who could not possibly understand it anyway. What is amazing is how compellingly the Bible's creation account speaks to men and women from vastly different times, communicating God's word with equal conviction, regaurdless of the listener's worldview.

Ryan

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