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Evolution as a viable component in the creation of life


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#41 Theophrastus

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 07:47 PM

I think that there is a confusion being made here between the concept of 'development' which is a concept used heavily by the Fathers; and evolution, the modern scientific theory.

The first concept of the Fathers always is based on the understanding that divinely created nature develops according to the parameters of its own nature. One nature doesn't become another. The whole point of the second theory however precisely is that one nature becomes another. Even the way it sees nature is radically different (this is an extremely important point in order to see the difference between the two) for the first sees each distinct nature as being a divinely integrated unit. The second though begins from the starting point that distinct things are in ever flowing flux so that each nature is only a pause on the way towards something else.

So -to reconcile these two ways of seeing creation you are first going to need to start with the contradiction between the two. Personally- and I could be wrong here- I'm not sure of the point of holding to a theory which one has to reverse as to its own self defined meaning. Why not just start with something else instead?

In Christ- Fr Raphael

Evolutionary theory doesn't speak in terms of "nature" (as in "human nature" or "animal nature"), whereas Patristic theory does, so one can't claim that evolutionary theory and Patristic theory are necessarily incompatible. Evolutionary theory speaks about individual organisms, which contain genetic information. The organism's genetic information, in general, doesn't change all that much. The greater change occurs when two organisms mate and give birth to new individuals with new genetic information.

"Nature", in Patristic theory, points to something unchanging. In modern Western science, there is no such recognition of anything un-changing in that fashion, because such a thing would not be scientifically measurable.

#42 Michael Stickles

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 08:40 PM

Evolutionary theory doesn't speak in terms of "nature" (as in "human nature" or "animal nature"), whereas Patristic theory does, so one can't claim that evolutionary theory and Patristic theory are necessarily incompatible.


I'm afraid that's a bit of a non sequitur. Just because evolutionary theory does not speak in terms of "nature" (in the Patristic sense), that does not mean that its claims do not conflict with such a view.

Among other things, current evolutionary theory proposes that apes and men evolved from a common ancestor (call it a proto-hominid, or P-H for short). Patristically, it would be unacceptable to say that the nature of man is the same as the nature of apes. Therefore, evolutionary theory is necessarily in contradiction with the Fathers, for if the nature of P-Hs is the nature of man, that nature changed ("became another" in Fr Raphael's terms) in the line leading to apes; if it is the nature of apes, it changed in the line leading to men; if something else, it changed in both lines.

The only way I see to possibly avoid that, would be to claim that at some point in the evolution from P-H to men, the nature of ape or P-H was replaced with the nature of man. But that doesn't sound like it would pass Patristic muster either (I haven't got a specific reference at the ready). If you've got an alternative theory that would (or even might), by all means bring it forth.

#43 Theophrastus

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 08:55 PM

The only way I see to possibly avoid that, would be to claim that at some point in the evolution from P-H to men, the nature of ape or P-H was replaced with the nature of man.

Most Christians who accept some form of evolution would take that exact position: the "nature" of the ancestral primate, was replaced with the "nature" of humanity, at some point in the evolutionary process. In biblical terms, this point would correspond to when God placed His image and likeness into the first human being. Since the Patristic sources did not have any knowledge of evolutionary theory, then one would not expect them to directly address this possibility, but I don't see where such a possibility is necessarily contrary to the Patristic sources.

#44 Anna Stickles

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 11:28 PM

The Fathers rejected the theory of the transmigration of souls, ie the theory that the souls of fallen men could come back into animal bodies. To support the theory of evolution is to say that human souls were at one time dwelling in animal bodies. (Either this or we must say that at some point a human being, soul and body, was born from and raised by an animal and while Genesis may not be literal, I see absolutely no evidence anywhere in the Bible or Christian writings of any kind that say man was born from animals. What I see is that God made man and raised him and took care of him as his parent. )

Also, as far as I know, (and maybe those who know better can comment) it is taught that human souls are not considered to be created individually by God in the same way that Adam was. Rather, a child is begotten, soul and body together as the offspring of their parents' souls and bodies -- not just the body is the offspring of those parents. Otherwise God would have to breathe his breath into each new body that was formed. But rather we are told that we were all (as human persons, not just as bodies) contained within the first man and spawned from him. So if souls beget like souls, and we postulated that a human body was at some point in history born from an ape, one would then have the ridiculous problem of the soul of an ape existing in a human body. One can see then how important the integrity of each nature within itself is. God made each kind of soul compatible with and intimately connected to each type of body.

from City of God bk 12 ch 25

For whereas there is one form which is given from without to every bodily substance,- such as the form which is constructed by potters and smiths, and that class of artists who paint and fashion forms like the body of animals,- but another and internal form which is not itself constructed, but, as the efficient cause, produces not only the natural bodily forms, but even the life itself of the living creatures, and which proceeds from the secret and hidden choice of an intelligent and living nature,- let that first-mentioned form be attributed to every artificer, but this latter to one only, God,

. Whatever bodily or seminal causes, then, may be used for the production of things, either by the cooperation of angels, men, or the lower animals, or by sexual generation; and whatever power the desires and mental emotions of the mother have to produce in the tender and plastic fotus corresponding lineaments and colors; yet the natures themselves, which are thus variously affected, are the production of none but the most high God.


Augustine's point here, which is repeated elsewhere in the Patristic witness, is that it is this 'internal form' or 'inner essence' of things that makes them what they are, and it is this inner essence that produces both the bodily form and the type of life of any given creature, not the genetic material. Rather, the genetic material itself is a product of and takes its form from the inner essence.

As far as I understand it, this is what is meant when we speak of what makes each nature unique- this inner power/energy (undetectable by scientific instruments) giving form and unity to that nature. Considering the second part of the quote, I would say that variations in the genetic material would be considered a secondary cause that merely allows variation in the basic forms already determined, just as do other material and environmental factors.

The major contention between modern scientific theory and the Christian witness is what the efficient causes are. Modern evolutionary theory recognizes no efficient causes except the material ones. They don't believe in any other power. The Patristic writers not only teach God as the efficient cause of natures, but also recognize that this nature itself is a power that is, as Fr Raphael says above, cohesive and unifying.

It's a matter in both cases of working form observable phenomena. The scientists working from observation of the material world. The Christian spiritual teachers working from their observations of the spiritual world and it's interactions with the material. These spiritual observations then have become part of the Patristic tradition of how the world works. The Philokalia, St Maximos the Confessor, St Gregory of Palmas and many of the other writers in the Christian ascetic tradition mention these things.

#45 Jesse Dominick

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 11:59 PM

ive seen people argue that claiming contention between Patristic Orthodoxy and evolutionary theory is a false dichotomy between the material and spiritual worlds - that evolution is simply material claims, and thus we obviously can't expect it to have a spiritual dimension, and thus there is no contradiction. however, the problem is that science does not recognize this limit and therefore claim ignorance, but it instead seeks to fully explain the world through material means. this is where the contention comes in.

#46 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 12:26 AM

A viable component in the CREATION of life? Hmmmm.

Evolution does NOT explain, justify, permit, or even fathom the act of CREATION. At best it is a theory about what happened AFTER Creation, but comes nowhere close to being a "component" OF creation, or tell us the WHY of Creation. Of course it is probably redundant to state in this community that the very word "creation" implies an active "Creator", there can be no creation without a purposeful Creator. Blind chance simply cannot "create", no matter how many zeros you use after the 1.

Whether or not evolution is a "viable" process for non-human life, I leave to better minds than mine. But I would submit that evolution is simply unnecessary for humanity. I have no problem with God creating Man "from the dust". Why is this any more fantastic than the Frankensteinian scenario of lightening striking a primordial soup, providing the 'spark of life'? Sorry that is far too great a leap of faith for this particular Pooh.

Herman the non-leaping Pooh

#47 Speros

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 12:28 AM

OK, I'll bite - Where, exactly, does Christ explicitly declare that there is an "animal world" in man?


Jesus says we have a spiritual nature in addition to our physical nature.

#48 Speros

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 12:31 AM

For the record, Darwin definitely believed that the evolution of particular species was an impersonal process, initiated by a Creator but then left on its own recognizance, and explicitly rejected the notion that species were immutable. There's no "need" for God to breathe the breath of life into Man in that model-- just something to "start" the process by which man emerges from pre-existing life forms that were at some point NOT man, not rational being at all. It might as well be an alien species that seeded here. In fact, that's precisely the conclusion that certain prominent evolutionary biologists have come to.

We really should be clear on this: Darwin explicitly rejected the model of divinely created nature that Father Raphael has set forth. What that implies about the value of his work as a whole is not entirely clear to me at this point, but I think it behooves us to acknowledge that essential point of distinction.

In Christ,
Evan


Are you being fair to Darwin?

With respect to the theological view of the question. This is always painful to me. I am bewildered. I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us... On the other, I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance... The lightning kills a man, whether a good one or bad one, owing to the excessively complex action of natural laws. A child (who may turn out an idiot) is born by the action of even more complex laws, and I can see no reason why a man, or other animals, may not have been aboriginally produced by other laws, and that all these laws may have been expressly designed by an omniscient Creator, who foresaw every future event and consequence.
http://www.talkorigi...e/3/part10.html


According to Darwin, God may have foreseen the dawn of man, allowing evolution to unfold according to his plan.

#49 Michael Stickles

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 03:04 AM

Actually, Evan is being entirely fair to Darwin. Take the individual points he made.

"Darwin definitely believed that the evolution of particular species was an impersonal process, initiated by a Creator but then left on its own recognizance," - sounds a lot like "I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance...".

"and explicitly rejected the notion that species were immutable." - well, that's kinda obvious.

"There's no "need" for God to breathe the breath of life into Man in that model-- just something to "start" the process by which man emerges from pre-existing life forms that were at some point NOT man, not rational being at all." - compare to "I can see no reason why a man, or other animals, may not have been aboriginally produced by other laws, and that all these laws may have been expressly designed by an omniscient Creator, who foresaw every future event and consequence."

"It might as well be an alien species that seeded here. In fact, that's precisely the conclusion that certain prominent evolutionary biologists have come to." - this is not speaking to what Darwin himself believed, merely something not excluded by his theory.

"We really should be clear on this: Darwin explicitly rejected the model of divinely created nature that Father Raphael has set forth." - here is the only place you could quibble, since if Darwin wasn't familiar with that model, it might be more correct to say that he implicitly rejected it. But reject it he did, as that model expressly rules out transitions from one kind to another:

...philosophical and theological thinking had come to such a firm understanding of the basic integrity of nature (ie each nature develops according to its own intrinsic characteristics but one nature cannot become another; so a dog is born, grows, develops, etc. but in so doing it doesn't become a cat since its own nature is defined by its characteristics of being a dog).

... Each nature is distinct and maintains its basic integrity in reflection of the Divine creation. In other words the integrity of each created nature is a reflection of the Divine unchangeability (basic stability of characteristics) but also of the character of the Divine relationship with creation.



#50 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 02:23 PM

Jesus says we have a spiritual nature in addition to our physical nature.


Speros, could you please provide a quote from scripture? I'm not necessarily arguing against what you've said here. It's just that it would be better to understand Christ's words from the scriptural context.

Thanks.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#51 Evan

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 03:06 PM

"We really should be clear on this: Darwin explicitly rejected the model of divinely created nature that Father Raphael has set forth." - here is the only place you could quibble, since if Darwin wasn't familiar with that model, it might be more correct to say that he implicitly rejected it. But reject it he did, as that model expressly rules out transitions from one kind to another:


Michael,

Thanks for keeping me in bounds here-- my language was less than precise. I haven't any evidence that Darwin was familiar with the model put forth as such-- but insofar as he did not think species immutable, I think it's not unfair to say that he reached conclusions incompatible with that model.

That doesn't mean that we should disregard everything that he had to say-- but we do need to come to terms with what he did in fact say.

In Christ,
Evan

#52 Owen Jones

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 05:15 PM

It's helpful to actually read what Darwin said, including in one's research his numerous post-scripts in which he explains his thinking and some of his influences. Some very definitive points should be made. The theory of evolution is not and cannot be a scientific theory of origins of anything. First of all, because there cannot ever be a scientific theory of origins. We cannot know how or why anything exists from scientific observation. Darwin borrowed the theory from Herbert Spencer. Most intellectual historians get this just backwards, blaming Spencer (i.e. social Darwinism) for a misuse of Darwin. Spencer was making a case for 19th Century British liberal economics. Darwinism is, among other things, a political stance, based on the belief in an inexorable progression in history from the primitive and barbaric to the advanced and civilized, from the superstitious to the rational, etc. This case can only made if the universe is infinite in time and space, a logical absurdity.

Darwin said that current day geology refuted his theory, but that geology was in its infancy and future discovery would no doubt confirm the theory. Has it really?

Darwin's argument is aesthetic. He says that God could not possibly have created nature in its present diversity. He could only have breathed life into existing evolved beings. He likes his aesthetic vision better, says it is "ennobling." In the same context he says that his theory will lead to a revolution in the science of human psychology, which prediction as turned out to be true, only with very negative effects. All modern psychology focuses on motivated, grounded in primordial instincts that come into conflict with civilized norms of behavior, this causing inner conflict, resulting in various neurotic obsessions, etc. Nothing in modern psychology addresses the question of orientation.

While Hitler and the SS never explicitly cited Darwin as a proto-Nazi to my knowledge, a number of Nazi "intellectuals" did. It is quite clear what the social ramifications are of Darwinism, when one assumes that all life can be reduced to the slogan of survival of the fittest.

One could go on in detail about the scientific, political/social, philosophical and theological deficiencies of Darwinism. But one other point. It's nothing new really. Plato addresses "Darwinism" in the Symposium (which is also a very entertaining read). And Aristotle dispenses with evolution as a theory of origins quite magnificently in a few short sentences -- having to do with the insurmountable problem of infinite regression.

#53 Evan

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 07:21 PM

In the interest of fairness to Darwin, he did express discomfort at the notion of man taking evolution "into his own hands," as it were:


"With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature."

From "The Descent of Man," Volume I (emphasis added)

In Christ,
Evan

#54 Antonios

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Posted 08 January 2011 - 08:10 AM

I believe St. Basil makes some interesting observations in his book Hexameron suggesting the begetting off all of physical creation from a common, primordial Seed.

#55 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 08 January 2011 - 02:16 PM

Darwin's comments were interesting. Although I've heard from hundreds of evolutionists I've never actually read anything from Darwin himself.

What is obvious first off is that he is a fairly typical intellectual, scientific thinker of the time he lived in. From what he writes he has a moral bent to him, as Speros points out, that is humane and which reflects the moral concerns of his time & society. But this is set, also typically, in a secular context. In other words his thinking, even if it seems unfair to point it out, is not Church inspired. And if it had been Church inspired probably no one would have heard of Darwin a hundred years later! So it is the fact that his thinking very much reflects the secular moral and intellectual concerns of his time, and takes its logic a step further, which accounts for his continuing influence & fame. As all admit: he is the father of evolutionary thinking.

For any of its moral bent though which could perhaps be reconciled to Christianity in some way, the quote above also shows the typical contradiction evident in most all modern secular thinkers. That is: Darwin by sentiment or intuition clings to an understanding of man's behaviour which involves a moral element of sympathy. From what he writes, this sympathy is rooted in the social life of man. However he then situates man (and this is what his fame after all rests on) within the larger context of natural laws which are completely impersonal. Why or how then man should have any sympathy for his fellow man is left unexplained since obviously Darwin's most famous point concerns how impersonal natural laws as he sees these have affected man. Perhaps then (likely this was so if he reflected in any way the behaviour sought for by most Victorians) Darwin personally sought to be kind & considerate & sympathetic. Perhaps towards those in his company he was a gentle man. But still for all that his ideas, as Owen points out, do have a lethal side to them that future generations, far less inhibited by moral qualms, would point out and which would directly affect the lives of many. Darwin probably would have shuddered in horror at the consequences, but future social engineers of the 20thc would take the implications of a whole set of ideas based on impersonal natural law, and create a brave new world where only the fit would be permitted to survive.

Now maybe Darwin's insights about the process of natural law are correct. Maybe we're just presently in too humane an age (post WWII) so that at present the focus on Darwin is restricted to what is strictly scientific and is kept away from ideas of social engineering (although these ideas seem very much at work in the area of psychology nowadays). But for all that there still seems no good reason to assume that in the future some brave soul will not again take up the social implications of Darwin 's evolution; that he will have the 'revelation' that all that holds man back from ultimate projects of social engineering is 'out moded values from the past' (throughout the radical Bolshevik period these were called 'bourgeois values' to imply that humanitarian values were implicitly anti-progressive & decadent).

Not only then should we as Orthodox consider the scientific aspect of Darwin and evolution, and seek to respond scientifically to it. There is also an ongoing challenge for the Orthodox or anyone Christian or moral, to develop a theological response to the amoral aspect of evolution.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

Edited by Fr Raphael Vereshack, 08 January 2011 - 02:37 PM.


#56 Owen Jones

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Posted 08 January 2011 - 02:34 PM

The great irony is that secular progressives who ridicule anyone who is critical of Darwinian evolution as being stupid fundamentalists, also criticize the idea of competition leading to widespread social improvement. They also consider racism to be the worst sin, whereas Darwinism is inherently racist. The original full title? On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Species in the Struggle for Life. Can you imagine anyone writing such a thing today and getting away with it? No publisher would touch it. I predict there will be a sea change in ideas one day when Darwin becomes persona non grata by his current disciples, much like the infatuation with Jung disappeared when his true biographical details came out.

There are several intellectual fixations that dominate "modern" thinking that are inherently in conflict with Christian faith, and until these get swept away, Christianity will suffer from a lack of intellectual cred in the minds of most people. And the primary fixation is the idea of progress in history, which has many manifestations, including Darwinism. If people could just have a flash point in their heads that life is not about the world getting better and better, it would create one of those paradigm shifts that trendy intellectuals love to talk about. The fact that there is no progress in history, only progress made by the soul toward its ultimate destination shall we say, and it is quite easy to demonstrate this simply and logically, but it doesn't phase people at all because a fixation is very hard to dislodge, when your whole life and concept of self is built around it.

#57 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 08 January 2011 - 02:54 PM

Owen Jones wrote:

The great irony is that secular progressives who ridicule anyone who is critical of Darwinian evolution as being stupid fundamentalists, also criticize the idea of competition leading to widespread social improvement. They also consider racism to be the worst sin, whereas Darwinism is inherently racist. The original full title? On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Species in the Struggle for Life. Can you imagine anyone writing such a thing today and getting away with it? No publisher would touch it. I predict there will be a sea change in ideas one day when Darwin becomes persona non grata by his current disciples, much like the infatuation with Jung disappeared when his true biographical details came out.



This is why I think that presently, in reaction to the social experiments of the 20th c (Bolshevisim, Nazism, and its results of WWII) we are in a 'humane' version of the evolutionary view of society. In other words the focus right now is on how we're evolving to become a more progressive, open, tolerant, and humane society.

But any sense of humanity is contradictory to the fundamental point of evolution, since its central 'insight' is that all things are controlled by impersonal natural laws. We will be extremely protected indeed if one day some charismatic earth shaker doesn't again recognize the full implications of the ideas of social evolution (ie that they don't give a hoot about people's 'humane sentiments') and launch us all once again into some brave new world.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#58 Evan

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Posted 08 January 2011 - 05:49 PM

Darwin's comments were interesting. Although I've heard from hundreds of evolutionists I've never actually read anything from Darwin himself.

What is obvious first off is that he is a fairly typical intellectual, scientific thinker of the time he lived in. From what he writes he has a moral bent to him, as Speros points out, that is humane and which reflects the moral concerns of his time & society. But this is set, also typically, in a secular context. In other words his thinking, even if it seems unfair to point it out, is not Church inspired. And if it had been Church inspired probably no one would have heard of Darwin a hundred years later! So it is the fact that his thinking very much reflects the secular moral and intellectual concerns of his time, and takes its logic a step further, which accounts for his continuing influence & fame. As all admit: he is the father of evolutionary thinking.

For any of its moral bent though which could perhaps be reconciled to Christianity in some way, the quote above also shows the typical contradiction evident in most all modern secular thinkers. That is: Darwin by sentiment or intuition clings to an understanding of man's behaviour which involves a moral element of sympathy. From what he writes, this sympathy is rooted in the social life of man. However he then situates man (and this is what his fame after all rests on) within the larger context of natural laws which are completely impersonal. Why or how then man should have any sympathy for his fellow man is left unexplained since obviously Darwin's most famous point concerns how impersonal natural laws as he sees these have affected man. Perhaps then (likely this was so if he reflected in any way the behaviour sought for by most Victorians) Darwin personally sought to be kind & considerate & sympathetic. Perhaps towards those in his company he was a gentle man. But still for all that his ideas, as Owen points out, do have a lethal side to them that future generations, far less inhibited by moral qualms, would point out and which would directly affect the lives of many. Darwin probably would have shuddered in horror at the consequences, but future social engineers of the 20thc would take the implications of a whole set of ideas based on impersonal natural law, and create a brave new world where only the fit would be permitted to survive.

In Christ- Fr Raphael


Father, bless:

I can't help but think of Nietzsche in this context. Having read many of his works as a college student, I came ultimately to the conclusion that Nietzsche would have personally abhorred the Nazis and regarded them as barbaric, nationalist thugs, unworthy of the title of "ubermenschen" that they claimed for themselves in various propaganda materials. That's not to say, however, that Nietzsche's arguments don't lend themselves to the purposes that the Nazis sought to carry out.

Darwin's sympathy for his fellow men to me bespeaks nothing more or less than that he was made in the image and likeness of God and that he had not so deliberately hardened his heart that he couldn't discern some very basic precepts of the natural law which even those who have never heard the Gospel (and it seems fairly clear that Darwin was ignorant of the faith "once and forever delivered to the saints") should be able to respond to. As you say, however, and as we've seen, and continue to see, not all are so responsive.

In Christ,
Evan

#59 Speros

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Posted 08 January 2011 - 06:20 PM

Speros, could you please provide a quote from scripture? I'm not necessarily arguing against what you've said here. It's just that it would be better to understand Christ's words from the scriptural context.

Thanks.

In Christ- Fr Raphael


The idea that we can have eternal life assumes that something within us lives on when the physical body passes away. Jesus, in arguing against the Sadducees, said that God is the God of the living.

#60 Speros

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Posted 08 January 2011 - 06:21 PM

I am not a "secular progressive." I don't see how a discussion on evolution can be fruitful when buzz words like that are used. There are many traditional Christians who accept evolution as God's method of creation.




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