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Adoptionism and biology: an interpretation of Darwinism?


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#1 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 05 March 2008 - 11:27 PM

Dear Owen and others,

A comment made in a discussion elsewhere in the forum caught my attention as potentially very interesting:

It strikes me that Darwinism is simply Arianism as applied to biology.


This is a connection I've not heard explicit mention of before, and I'll admit I am intrigued. There may be fruit for some interesting discussion on this.

INXC, Dcn Matthew

Edited by M.C. Steenberg, 08 March 2008 - 01:46 PM.
Modified from original form in another thread, to function better as the beginning of its own


#2 Owen Jones

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Posted 06 March 2008 - 02:07 AM

Arius, as I understand him, believed that Jesus was born a man and progressed to a state of divinity (perfection). Likewise, the whole point of evolution is that, through a progressive evolution, life is perfected.

The perfect ideal, the experience of it, or the expectation of it, is certainly a constant in human history and in most cultures and religions. With God out of the picture, that does not mean that the perfect ideal ceases to be a fundamental human experience and expectation. Darwinism is a symbolism. It is a symbolic form of the experience of an intra-mundane progression toward perfection. The psychology of the evolutionist is similar to that of Arius in that it is possible to achieve perfection in this world, absent a divine coupling or fusion with human nature. That is more like a case of moral striving. Darwinism is a moral system of striving for perfection on the species level.

#3 M. Partyka

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Posted 06 March 2008 - 02:35 AM

Arius, as I understand him, believed that Jesus was born a man and progressed to a state of divinity (perfection). Likewise, the whole point of evolution is that, through a progressive evolution, life is perfected.

Jesus is still both Son of God and Son of Man under Arianism. In its most concise form, Arianism simply teaches that the Son is not consubstantial with the Father -- i.e., the Father alone possesses the Godhead, whereas the Son is a created (yet somehow "divine") being.

The psychology of the evolutionist is similar to that of Arius in that it is possible to achieve perfection in this world, absent a divine coupling or fusion with human nature. That is more like a case of moral striving. Darwinism is a moral system of striving for perfection on the species level.

I wouldn't limit this psychology to just secular evolutionists, either. Pagans of many different faiths speak of some sort of inner divinity in which we all are supposed to share. I think one of the ways in which Christianity is unique among religions is in its denying that divinity is a natural property of humanity -- something we possess by default -- and its insistence that we can only participate in divinity through the God-Man Jesus Christ. No other religion, to my knowledge, claims that God came down and became one of us to establish the connection with our nature and provide us with the path to divinity. Instead, they all presume that connection is already there, and they give us ways in which we can (or ought to) utilize it.

#4 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 08 March 2008 - 01:44 PM

Dear all,

I have moved the above three posts to this new thread, created for the topic (and have modified the first, mine, so as to make it a more coherent introduction to this thread; one can examine the post's edit history to see how it looked in its original form). It seems that the thread these were originally found in, Creaton and evolutionary theory, is inextricably and inescapably bound up in conversation about whether various scientific points mean Genesis should be taken literally or figuratively, etc., and the present interesting topic didn't appear to have any hope of not being lost there. I've moved it here so it can be explored, with the express intention that conversation about the general merits of evolution, etc., will not be the focus of this thread; rather, a look at the ways in which the thought of Arius may or may not have some kind of connection to Darwinistic theories.

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#5 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 08 March 2008 - 01:50 PM

Above, Owen wrote:

Arius, as I understand him, believed that Jesus was born a man and progressed to a state of divinity (perfection). Likewise, the whole point of evolution is that, through a progressive evolution, life is perfected.


If this is what you meant by the connection, then I'm not in fact sure there is anything particularly 'Arian' about it. This more properly describes adoptionism: an interpretation of Jesus' divinity that long pre-dates Arius (fathers are condemning it as heretical as far back as the early second century). What you are suggesting seems in fact to be that Darwin presents an essentially adoptionist understanding of creation; though I'm not certain that this accurately reflects Darwin's thought (adoption into what? by whom? Proper adoptionism understands someone / something to the the 'adoptor').

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#6 Owen Jones

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Posted 08 March 2008 - 03:41 PM

You're right. I've confused the basic tenet of adoptionism with Arianism.

#7 Owen Jones

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Posted 08 March 2008 - 04:26 PM

So, I'm speculating, but my premise is that there is not an unlimited number of ways of thinking about things. And that there is nothing new under the sun. Which means that Darwinism is not something that just drops out of the sky, but that there are intellectual antecedents, not just because of direct historical influences, but because in the past people have had similar experiential conditions that led to similar concepts, because consciousness has a certain structure to it. And one constant concept would have to be the idea that perfection is not something that pre-exists but evolves and progresses over time, with history as the medium, if you will. In other words, history is a process of progressive movement from an archaic realm, advancing through stages, culminating in the present. This is the essence of Darwinism, and the implication is that we will continue to evolve and progress to a more, and more perfected state, biologically, until we overcome the need for more evolution because there will, at some critical point, no longer be a need for competition. This parallels certain Christian views of eschatology, on the one hand, and parallels the adoptionist view of Christ's divinity as something that does not pre-exist (what can that possibly mean?), but progresses over time.

#8 Owen Jones

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Posted 08 March 2008 - 04:28 PM

Taking the analogy one step further, Jesus' baptism is a case of "punctuated equilibrium."

#9 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 08 March 2008 - 04:39 PM

In the above, Owen wrote:

So, I'm speculating, but my premise is that there is not an unlimited number of ways of thinking about things. And that there is nothing new under the sun. Which means that Darwinism is not something that just drops out of the sky, but that there are intellectual antecedents, not just because of direct historical influences, but because in the past people have had similar experiential conditions that led to similar concepts, because consciousness has a certain structure to it. And one constant concept would have to be the idea that perfection is not something that pre-exists but evolves and progresses over time, with history as the medium, if you will. In other words, history is a process of progressive movement from an archaic realm, advancing through stages, culminating in the present. This is the essence of Darwinism, and the implication is that we will continue to evolve and progress to a more, and more perfected state, biologically, until we overcome the need for more evolution because there will, at some critical point, no longer be a need for competition. This parallels certain Christian views of eschatology, on the one hand, and parallels the adoptionist view of Christ's divinity as something that does not pre-exist (what can that possibly mean?), but progresses over time.


The idea of progression into perfection is a wholly Christian approach to created reality, rooted in the experience of the eschatological Christ in time in the incarnation. In Christianity, 'perfection' (teleiotes) is an eschatological, not protological, concept. It is what comes at 'the end' -- a point both explicit and obvious in the Greek term, which has as its root telos, 'end'. There is a general imbalance in the understanding of 'perfection' in many circles today (which we've discussed several times in the past here in the Community), which forces 'problems' onto the understanding of patristic approaches that the fathers themselves did not suffer. The idea that the created realm was 'perfect' at the beginning, when God created it, and somehow became 'imperfect' through distortion, is not only something that the fathers (and the early fathers in particular) do not support, but against which they argue explicitly. All creation is inherently imperfect, precisely because it created, and therefore growing / becoming. Its perfection is met in the eschatological Christ, in its telos.

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#10 Owen Jones

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Posted 08 March 2008 - 04:54 PM

When I referred to a pre-existing perfection, I was referring to the Orthodox dogma of the Trinity, not a state of pre-fallen nature.

Darwinism is predicated supposedly on the idea that the simple becomes more complex, however, it is a very attractive, appealing moral system, and what is involved is a progressive evolution, not just from the simple to the more complex, but from something that is less ordered, more chaotic, to something with greater form leading to something better, to the point where we can envision a day where man has evolved to the point where, as in Star Trek, we've figured out a way to not have to evolve anymore, because we have solved all of the problems that required evolution in the first place, e,g, competition for scarce resources. So we can eliminate war and poverty, etc. Darwinism's religious eschatology is what makes it popular, not its theory of origins.

The two strands of Darwinism are gradualism and, now, punctuated equilibrium (because the fossil record does not support gradualism).


So I look for equivalent structures and I find in Adoptionism a progressive evolution of Jesus the man into Christ the God, not some pre-existing Logos of perfection that enters flesh. And this is accomplished through a combination of Jesus' moral striving (gradualism) and God the Father's intervention -- in Baptism and Transfiguration -- which are equivalent to the neo-Darwinianist punctuated equilibrium.

#11 Father David Moser

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Posted 08 March 2008 - 05:11 PM

The idea of progression into perfection is a wholly Christian approach to created reality, rooted in the experience of the eschatological Christ in time in the incarnation. ... The idea that the created realm was 'perfect' at the beginning, when God created it, and somehow became 'imperfect' through distortion, is not only something that the fathers (and the early fathers in particular) do not support, but against which they argue explicitly. All creation is inherently imperfect, precisely because it created, and therefore growing / becoming. Its perfection is met in the eschatological Christ, in its telos.


I believe that the Fathers, in speaking of the consequences of the fall indicate that it was at this time that mankind - and hence all of creation - became subject to corruption. Corruption is essentially the breaking down of a complex thing into its component parts and a destruction of the underlying structure. With this though we could posit then that prior to the fall, all of creation, with man at its head was *naturally* moving towards perfection. This is why that concept (from chaos to order) is so deeply ingrained in our perception of the world. At the fall, however, man left the "path" of perfection and chose instead the path of corruption. Following the head, all of creation began to exhibit corruption and thus we see the "origin" of Einstein's second law of thermodynamics - the move of all systems to entropy (a state of equilibrium wherein energy disspiates from areas of large concentration to areas of lesser concentration until all is even). The second law of thermodynamics expresses the tendency of complex structures and systems (which focus energy in useful ways) when left to themselves, will fall apart until they reach a state of equilibrium (which we might say is chaos).

Fr David Moser

#12 Matthew Panchisin

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Posted 08 March 2008 - 05:17 PM

The idea of progression into perfection is a wholly Christian approach to created reality, rooted in the experience of the eschatological Christ in time in the incarnation. In Christianity, 'perfection' (teleiotes) is an eschatological, not protological, concept. It is what comes at 'the end' -- a point both explicit and obvious in the Greek term, which has as its root telos, 'end'. There is a general imbalance in the understanding of 'perfection' in many circles today (which we've discussed several times in the past here in the Community), which forces 'problems' onto the understanding of patristic approaches that the fathers themselves did not suffer. The idea that the created realm was 'perfect' at the beginning, when God created it, and somehow became 'imperfect' through distortion, is not only something that the fathers (and the early fathers in particular) do not support, but against which they argue explicitly. All creation is inherently imperfect, precisely because it created, and therefore growing / becoming. Its perfection is met in the eschatological Christ, in its telos.

INXC, Dcn Matthew


It is interesting to note here that it is not possible for Orthodox Iconographers to write if you will things like an Icon of the Immaculate Conception.

I mention this because ultimately there is a point when speaking of God or His "attributes" (I'm not sure that is the right word) that only transcendent statements or expressions can be made. In other words negative reflections can be lies and often distort man who is made in the image and likeness of God. Such a technique is often used these days for theological exploration I think which doesn't seem right.

In Christ,

Matthew Panchisin

Edited by Matthew Panchisin, 08 March 2008 - 05:55 PM.
Typos additional thought


#13 Victor Mihailoff

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Posted 09 March 2008 - 09:54 AM

If this is what you meant by the connection, then I'm not in fact sure there is anything particularly 'Arian' about it.



Arius, as I understand him, believed that Jesus was born a man and progressed to a state of divinity (perfection). Likewise, the whole point of evolution is that, through a progressive evolution, life is perfected.


I also assumed something else was meant for the connection between Arianism and Darwinism.

One dictionary definition of Arian: adj : of or relating to Arius or his doctrines esp. that the Son is not of the same substance as the Father but was created as an agent for creating the world.

It can then be conjectured that evolution was an agent for developing species. (If you believe in it, and I do not)

That was the connection I saw.

In Christ, Victor

#14 Fr. Gregory (Hallam)

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Posted 14 March 2009 - 11:32 AM

There is a faulty premise in the alleged connection between Darwinism and adoptionism, namely that there is a telos in evolution. There isn't. Evolution does not describe a movement towards perfection but rather the process whereby organisms adapt to ambient environments and predator challenges. One adaptation cannot be considered "superior" to another, nor should emergent complexity be confused with perfection. The most effective adaptations are sometimes the simplest.

There is another faulty assumption here; that the Incarnation or theosis can be either contended OR supported by naturalistic theories of organic morphology and function. This is a fairly basic category error. Incarnation and theosis are works of grace and human will and have no bearing on our genetics endowments .... and vice versa.

What one could and should claim here though is that a particular human trait (e.g. the disposition to violence in the defence of territory - having an evolutionary origin) can be transcended and transformed by that recapitulation of our humanity inherent in the Incarnation and our response. However, such a transformation may only incidentally feed back into the process of evolution. Certainly evolution does not compromise the Incarnation "in the other direction" as it were.

Just so you all know where I stand. I do not regard ANY truth characterised by a theory attempting to account for empirical data to be alien to or incompatible with Orthodoxy, (cf. St. Justin Martyr). Blessed Augustine's comment in his work on Genesis is apposite ...

"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 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. " (St. Augustine on Genesis)



#15 Owen Jones

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Posted 14 March 2009 - 12:12 PM

I'm always fond of hearing from my friend, Father Gregory. However, he has made a mistake regarding Darwin's own writings and intentions on the one hand, and has misconstrued my meaning regarding an equivalence between adoptionism and Darwinism on the other. The equivalence is an equivalence of symbols and experiences, not of content.

First, Darwin is very explicit in his book. He clearly states that natural selection is moving toward the perfection of mankind, and that this new theory (which is not new at all -- Aristotle dealt with it) will bring about a revolution in psychology that will aid in that movement toward perfection. He borrowed his theory (he explicitly acknowledges this in the text itself) from Herbert Spencer, who was the leading British Victorian economist of his day. So it is well grounded in, and motivated by an immanentized telos. It is representative of the experience of the desire for innerworldly (immanentized) fulfillment.

Second, that adoptionism and natural selection have an equivalency does not mean or intend to mean that there is an equivalency of content. But they symbolize the same desire for a progressive evolution toward a perfect world.

The Judeo-Christian experience of perfection is one of falling away from perfect beginning which is rectified by the Incarnation of Christ, His suffering, death, and rising from the dead, while the symbol of the Beginning in natural selection is one of incompleteness, imperfection.

The experience of a perfect world and a lack thereof and the tension in between the two is a human constant.

#16 Fr. Gregory (Hallam)

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Posted 14 March 2009 - 12:24 PM

There is a difference between Darwin and contemporary characterisations of evolution. For all his objectivity Darwin lay in thrall to 19th century notions of "progress." That should be our target, not the science.

On "falling away from perfection" Owen ... strictly this MIGHT be characterised as the post-Augustinian position of the west but the vast majority of the fathers, particularly in the east, regard humanity as a work in progress when created ... for example, we had the potentially for immortality but not the actuality at the beginning. This is of course why the Irenaean theodicy is much more in keeping with BOTH the Scriptures and contemporary scientific accounts of human development.

See here ...

Ancestral Sin and Salvation

#17 Owen Jones

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Posted 14 March 2009 - 12:58 PM

Yes, of course, you are right, FAther, being created Good, and being created Perfect are two different things, and I should have noted the distinction. But I was simply trying to highlight the distinction between the Beginning, according to Genesis, and the cosmogonic myth of Darwinism, which is clearly what it is. In the Beginning, for the Darwinist, there is unformed, chaotic matter, as in Genesis, and natural processes and randomness over time supplant the Creator. For something to be good, and perfected, requires time and random collision. Whereas in Genesis, the Beginning was Good, and there was, ahem, a devolution. That's not the end of the story, for us. But one thing at a time, please...

As for Darwin, there is tons of stuff here on that subject, which we went round and round about for eons it seems. There is a fallacy me thinks between trying to separate Darwin the scientist, who is this objective empiricist on the one hand, observing birds on the Galapagos and taking careful notes, and Darwin the good British liberal progressive on the other. It is the same fallacy of trying to separate the two strains of empiricism and mystical ideology of Renaissance and post Renaissance scientists who clearly state their purpose, which is to transform the elements of nature into something entirely new, such as turning lead into gold. This example simply serves as a type for turning the old human nature into a new human nature. The inheritors of this scientific revolution all now say that the stuff about changing lead into gold is irrelevant. It was just one of those scientific dead ends that we don't need to talk about. And yet they have not shed its underlying motive, which is to transform and perfect nature. At a certain level, every modern scientists is committed to turning lead into gold still.

And so, by the same token, one cannot separate Darwin the field biologist from Darwin the progressivist utopian ideologue. He clearly states that his observations mean little apart from the vantage point of Spencer's theory of natural selection. He was only accumulating data in search of a theory. And every "modern" biologist is wedded to the mystical aspects of the theory, despite their minor adjustments to it. The theory of Natural Selection as a theory of origins, and as a harbinger of future perfection of the races, is an example of an immanentized mysticism of innerworldly fulfillment. That in and of itself does not mean that each and every aspect of the science is wrong. But the theory is fundamentally unscientific. It's an ideology. Whenever you have a human controller, you have an ideology.

#18 Fr. Gregory (Hallam)

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Posted 14 March 2009 - 01:30 PM

I am not at all interested in Darwin Owen. Like him I am interested in whether this or another theory adequately describes a biological process and makes useful predictions about genetic development. My faith commitment to God as Creator of all that there is remains entirely untouched by these insights. As has so often been said, Genesis is not an alternative science text book.

#19 Owen Jones

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Posted 14 March 2009 - 02:16 PM

OK, let's take another case. Karl Marx accurately predicted the current global financial crisis. He said private banks would induce people to take on credit they would not be able to pay back, thus forcing the banks into insolvency requiring the government to nationalize them! So there is a certain empirical accuracy to Marx that we have to give credit to. But his theory of class conflict as the sine qua non of history is inherently bloodthirsty and totalitarian. Yes, there is some scientific accuracy in his writings, but it is irresponsible to say that we are not interested in Marx the theoretician, because of all of the damage it does. Same with Darwin. Or Freud, or any of the other great ideologues. If everyone is running around thinking like a Freudian or Marxist or Darwinist, without examining their theoretical premises, that's a problem that we can't simply say is irrelevant and walk away from.

I would say that this particularly applies to priests, who just assume that because we in the "pews" believe in God and Orthodoxy, we are not also holding contrary beliefs and assumptions that negate our Orthodox beliefs, these theoretical beliefs and assumptions having been absorbed through the educational system and the culture. I may be outwardly Orthodox, but if my life conforms to the theory of natural selection and survival of the fittest, then it is my Orthodox observances that are irrelevant. I will be living according to an unexamined theory that is fundamentally at odds with my Orthodox faith.

Another set of specific cases -- the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction. In the heyday of psychiatry, there was the belief that this new science could cure what ails society through psychoanalysis. This theory was applied to the treatment of alcoholism. The idea was that if the alcoholic could be brought to a level of analytical understanding of why he drank, then he would be relieved of the obsession and could go back to drinking normally. This is based on the Freudian theory of repression of childhood conflict that must be sexually based, that leads to neurosis. Of course, this does not work. But we are all Freudians now. Virtually everyone thinks in our society that if they can come up with an analytical understanding of their problems, then their problems will be solved. This applies across the board, but is especially devastating to alcoholics. When they try to apply Freudian analysis to their condition (whether or not they have even heard of Freud), it is a virtual death sentence.

So these bogus theories abound, and they are not irrelevant to our spiritual well being. Attempts to marry Darwinist theory with Christianity only lead to the victory of Darwinist theory over Christianity. That does not mean that we shouldn't study microbiology, but the study of microbiology and genetics is probably impeded by Darwinist dogma, rather than the other way around.

#20 Fr. Gregory (Hallam)

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Posted 15 March 2009 - 02:26 PM

Owen, you cast your net too wide and make non sequitur comparisons. The whole field of genetics and microbiology was opened up originally by Mendel but humans had been breeding animals to select for certain characteristics for millennia ... we just didn't understand the mechanics of the biological process. All that evolution brings to the table is observable and testable environmentally driven selection for certain traits that arise randomly through mutation over aeons (but in certain time periods much shorter periods as with moth colouring after the Industrial Revolution).

What don't you like about Darwin in the sense that you see it as antagonistic to Christianity? We are describing a biological process here not offering an alternative to a divine Creator. I know that atheist Darwinists make that illicit jump but theists who subscribe to evolution (such as myself) decline to join them in this phoney war.




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