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#1 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 03 May 2006 - 09:08 AM

Dear All,

What is the Orthodox response to the theory of evolution? Are we committed to a literal interpretation of the Biblical account of creation, or can we accept it as symbolic narrative (Adam=mankind, one day=several millenia etc.)? If someone suggests that nature is very wasteful and cruel, not to mention arbitrary with respect to the value of the individual organism as demonstrated in the process of natural selection, is our only response that this is a fallen world, or may we see the process others would describe as blind and instinctual as being instead a purposive and meaningful process in which the Creator actively participates?

Sorry about the long questions and the tendency to answer them myself (!); I would genuinely like to hear some Orthodox responses...

A related topic: any opinions on the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin?

(I think we may have we discussed all this before, but it keeps coming up for me, and anyway topics like this surely don't 'end'...)

In Christ
Byron

#2 Dcn Alexander Haig

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Posted 04 May 2006 - 06:53 PM

This may seem (and is!) dodging the question but surely where we came from is less important than where we are going. Remember that in the Creed we say: "I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and all things visible and invisible". We do not define how He did it, all we know is we, and all of Creation, were made by Him.

With love in the Risen Christ

Alex

#3 Theopesta

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Posted 04 May 2006 - 11:53 PM

Dear brother byron,

may my thought is very poor beside all of you but just I suggest that the homilies of st.Basil about the 7 days of creation have many answers on what you want.

also: in the scripture

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth"

"(AKJV) And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."

"(AKJV) So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them."

"(AKJV) And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."

"(AKJV) And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed."

#4 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 05 May 2006 - 05:18 AM

Dear Alex,

Thank you for your response, which I perceive as only partially "dodging the question"; in fact what you say is quite spot on, namely that we are not told how God creates (performs miracles, orders daily life according to His wisdom etc.), but that He does these things. One obvious but nevertheless frightening thing I'm slowly coming to realise, is that I'm not in charge of the definitions of e.g. good and evil, Divine Will etc. God and man are ultimately both inscrutable to human reason.

Nevertheless, the paragraph which prompted my initial question was the following:

If the Creator were conscious of Himself, He would not need conscious creatures; nor is it probable that the extremely indirect methods of creation, which squander millions of years upon the development of countless species and creatures, are the outcome of purposeful intention. Natural history tells us of a haphazard and casual transformation of species over hundreds of millions of years of devouring and being devoured. The biological and political history of man is an elaborate repetition of the same thing. But the history of the mind offers a different picture. Here the miracle of reflecting consciousness intervenes -- the second cosmogony [ed. note: what Teilhard de Chardin called the origin of the "noosphere," the layer of "mind"]. The importance of consciousness is so great that one cannot help suspecting the element of meaning to be concealed somewhere within all the monstrous, apparently senseless biological turmoil, and that the road to its manifestation was ultimately found on the level of warm-blooded vertebrates possessed of a differentiated brain -- found as if by chance, unintended and unforeseen, and yet somehow sensed, felt and groped for out of some dark urge. [Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflectionsp. 339]

Jung sees human consciousness as the very purpose of the process of biological evolution. Behind this idea is the further notion implied at the beginning of the above paragraph, that God needs human consciousness in order to become more conscious Himself! Of course nothing could be further from our Orthodox understanding that God is not only omniscient, but also knows each of us personally better than we can ever dream of knowing ourselves...nevertheless, in the spirit of philosophical integrity, I think an Orthodox understanding of the place of bilogical evolution and especially the development of human consciousness as it is mooted by biologists would be interesting and important to think about.

In Christ
Byron

#5 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 05 May 2006 - 01:04 PM

For myself evolution as it usually presents itself is problematic mainly because of its intellectual & philosophical baggage. Many examples of this could be given but let's just point for now to the example of your quote from Jung. Of course Jung expresses his point in his own way but the overall point is still familiar- an autonomous creation (autonomous from God- although with Jung, God seems needy; without man He is incomplete!) and man involved in a historical movement of consciousness and culture towards an increasing understanding of this autonomy. In effect this is what I think modern theories of evolution involve and where they become most problematic for us.

A related problem caused by this perspective on creation- that it is constantly evolving towards greater self-realization in a particular sense- is that its understanding of nature is completely open-ended. Each part of creation must come to the same point of self-understanding or at least be involved in this. How radically different from the Patristic understanding where each species is defined by the logos of its own nature. Here we see nature moves towards the telos (end or aim) of its own distinctive nature; not as consciousness so much (or at least not consciousness defined as autonomous self-realisation. Remember that one of the most influential concepts given to us by this way of thinking is alienation; ie the as of yet unrealised nature) as finding its life in Christ.

These are I think some of the main problems of the modern idea of evolution for us. But we also are confused at times equating what is something close to gnosticism with the Patristic understanding of the telos of each nature and also its adaptability. Here I think a lot of work needs to be done to understand what the difference between the two really comes down to.

At times we make a great effort to harmonise these two ways of seeing creation and man. What we need to ask ourselves though I think is whether evolution without its intellectual baggage is really evolution any longer? On the other hand any one of these intellectual philosophies is capable of movement itself; evolutionists do question themselves at times and get outside the box. So in this sense evolution and the wider type of science it is part of is capable of following hallways which lead to a deeper understanding of creation.

Repeating a theme being heard on some other threads recently- even if we see something as being deeply problematic we have to ask about the wisdom of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We (I myself at one time also) may get quite 'radical' about this. But we need to also ask ourselves what good we really accomplish through this approach.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#6 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 06 May 2006 - 03:22 PM

Dear Sr Theopesta,

It's nice to hear from you again! Thank you for pointing me in the direction of St Basil's homilies on Genesis. I have found the Hexaemeron on the web here. I assume this is the work you are referring to. From an as yet very superficial cursory glance, St Basil appears to be defending a non-allegorical reading of Genesis. Of course it is impossible for a Christian to depart from what the Bible clearly teaches about creation - nor do I wish to. Certainly also, my own educational background (mostly in science and the humanities) leaves me now needing to familiarize myself with the work of Church Fathers who addressed these questions in their different historical context so long ago. What did they actually say? What is the consensus patrum on this issue? Please pray for me that I may find time to study this important topic, and not fall into illusion concerning it.

Dear Fr Raphael,

You raise some very important and interesting philosophical points, not all of which - I confess with some embarrassment - are very clear to my understanding. It might help me if you could clarify and 'unpack' a little, f.e. what is meant by

A related problem caused by this perspective on creation- that it is constantly evolving towards greater self-realization in a particular sense- is that its understanding of nature is completely open-ended. Each part of creation must come to the same point of self-understanding or at least be involved in this. How radically different from the Patristic understanding where each species is defined by the logos of its own nature. Here we see nature moves towards the telos (end or aim) of its own distinctive nature; not as consciousness so much (or at least not consciousness defined as autonomous self-realisation. Remember that one of the most influential concepts given to us by this way of thinking is alienation; ie the as of yet unrealised nature) as finding its life in Christ.

It sounds to me as if what is being suggested here, is that the evolutionistic philosophical perspective, what you refer to as the "intellectual & philosophical baggage" of evolution theory, paradoxically reduces the particularity of each organism or species to a general 'rule' regarding the inevitable - given enough time and natural selection - evolution of all living beings in the direction of increased consciousness; this, in stark contrast to the Patristic understanding of each living being gradually moving towards the aim of its own distinctive nature (logos) by finding its life in Christ, the Logos (how shall I understand this? I'm getting images of fish, birds and trees becoming Christian!). Also, are you saying that the concept of 'alienation' as the yet-unrealised nature of living beings is qualitatively a different one from the concept of e.g. growth in the image and likeness?

I hope I haven't caused more confusion with these questions. I will be away from my PC until next Friday, so if this thread continues in the meantime, I look foprward to reading more next week!

In Christ
Byron

#7 Theopesta

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Posted 06 May 2006 - 07:44 PM

Dear venerable Br. byron,
yea exactly I mean the hexameron of st. Basil, may be it is simple in this advanced world, but I think the pure heart and mind of our fathers make their simple words prevail over the most brilliant scientists who not feel with GOD and who is this GOD? what he can make to give?




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