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"Why an Orthodox Christian cannot be an evolutionist" essay by S.V Bufeev


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#1 Aaron R.

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Posted 20 April 2012 - 12:58 PM

Hi

I wanted to share this most excellent short essay from Buveef S.V. Called "Why I Orthodox Christian cannot be a evolutionist"

http://creatio.ortho...ot_english.html

Kind regards

Aaron

#2 Nicolas Bertrand

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Posted 20 April 2012 - 05:53 PM

Dear Aaron,

The title of the article sadden me a little. Its content also. Is there is not room in our beautiful faith for different opinions on this matter?

If caught up in a discussion with creationist, I will share with them the idea of radical constructivism: knowledge is acquired not by observation of a fixed and set ontological reality, but built by the cognizing subject. Radical constructivism is a beautiful epistemology which enables one to transcend the debate between creationist and evolutionist in a spirit of peace, love and respect.

Christ is risen!

Nicolas

#3 Jonathan Gress

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Posted 21 April 2012 - 09:32 PM

Does radical constructivism imply there is no objective truth? Then I think there is a problem from the Orthodox point of view.

To me what seems more promising comes from philosophy of science, particularly the idea of the necessary falsifiability of scientific theories (Karl Popper). No matter how well supported by evidence, a scientific theory can never be treated as absolute truth, since we must always allow that it can be falsified by some evidence that may turn up in the future. In this way, scientific knowledge is qualitatively different from dogmatic truth, which, by faith, we do not allow to be falsifiable.

#4 Owen Jones

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Posted 22 April 2012 - 07:41 PM

The article is pretty good in speaking to Orthodox Christians, although even when speaking to Orthodox Christians, I think it is best to confront Darwinism on its own terms, because most Christians today, including most Orthodox Christians, pick and choose what they want to believe, and if we put Darwinism simply on the basis of faith in the Church's witness, then we will only be preaching to the choir. While the author does address some of the insurmountable scientific problems with Darwinism, it is primarily based on the Genesis presentation of Creation. But Darwinism is not a theory of origins even though it claims to be, whether or not Genesis or Christianity ever existed. It is quite easy to demonstrate this. It does not have to be taken on faith. Regarding scientific demonstration, there are two kinds. One is based on repeat observation and measurement. The other is based on thought experiments -- i.e. thinking things through to their logical conclusions as well as their logical antecedents in a rational way. Neither method supports Darwinism. It's important to know that evolution as a theory not only of development but of origins has been around a very, very long time. All Darwin did was update it to conform to the theories of mid-19th Century liberal British economic theory, and then he called it biological rather than social evolution. But the reason why both Plato and Aristotle and some of the Church Fathers also addressed the issue is because they were responding to evolutionary theories that existed already.

#5 Nicolas Bertrand

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 07:18 PM

Dear Jonathan,

Radical constructivism does not implies that there is no truth, but it does implies that us men are not able to reach it by our own means. Our perception and our very action of observing are defining the very representations of the world we are building. We are like ants: our comprehension of the world is limited. And furthermore, our very activity in trying to understand the world will shape any understanding we can come to. Only God is all knowing!

Beside a vague familiarity with the name and the fact he was a philosopher, I did not know Karl Popper. It is nice to link his name with the meta-pessimistic induction of science. :-)

To go back quickly to the creationist-evolutionist ideas, let me conclude with writing from Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, from the online Orthodox cathechism:

We shall not compare the biblical story of creation with modern scientific theories of the origin of the universe. The protracted dialogue between science and theology has not yet come to any definitive conclusions about the connections between biblical revelation and scientific developments. It is, however, very clear that the Bible does not aim to present a scientific account of the origin of the universe, and it is rather naive to polemicize on the biblical narrative understood in its literal sense.


http://orthodoxeurop...ge/10/1.aspx#19



In Christ,

Nicolas

#6 Jeremy Troy

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 09:28 PM

A note on this "radical constructivism" business: so far as I can tell, this position is almost certainly unacceptable from an Orthodox point of view.

Ever since at least Plato's Theatetus, it's been understood that in order to know something, the thing known must be true. For example, I can perfectly well believe that I have $1,000,000 in the bank, but I can't know that I have $1,000,000 in the bank because it isn't true. If I were to find out later on that I do not have $1,000,000 in the bank, I might say "I thought I knew it, but it turns out that I didn't." So, I can believe things that are false, and I can believe that I know things that are false, but I can't know things that are false. Now, you say that "our perception and our very action of observing are defining the very representations of the world we are building." Well that's almost certainly true, but the contents of those representations can't count as knowledge unless they match up with the way the world is (ie, unless they are true).

In its strongest version, your position that all knowledge is constructed by the knower requires either that the world changes according to our mental representations of it, or that everything is already true of the world (including contradictions) so that our beliefs automatically count as knowledge. It should be clear why neither of these two alternatives is acceptable from an Orthodox standpoint.

The traditional way to think about knowledge has always been as some sort of interface between a knowing subject and the way the world is. It is, therefore, neither radically constructed nor forced upon us. It would even be misleading to say that our beliefs are radically constructed, since rational people form their beliefs on the basis of evidence. This is reminding me of a tendency that I've seen among Orthodox people to think that as long as their theology is Orthodox, everything else in their philosophy can be as wildly post-modern as they like. Orthodox theology does not fit comfortably with anything post-modern whatsoever.

#7 Jonathan Gress

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 10:24 PM

Thanks, Jeremy. That seems to be correct. Knowledge entails objective truth; without objective truth, we can only talk about beliefs, not knowledge. Beliefs may very well be radically constructed; knowledge cannot, since in order to be knowledge at all, it must correspond to an objective reality which is not radically constructed by the knower.

However, I think at this point we can raise the problem of how we get knowledge at all. This, I think, is where naive scientism fails us. Popper must be right that consistent application of the scientific method entails that no scientific theory be absolutely true; we can never fully commit ourselves to a belief in a theory while remaining honest scientists. Yet instinctively we do wish to attribute truth to our theories. The epistemological leap must consist in a kind of faith.

At this point we can distinguish between rational and irrational faith, which Jeremy brought up near the end of his post. As I believe St Cyril of Jerusalem stated (quoted in the beginning of Met Philaret of Moscow's catechism), faith in a broad sense is functionally necessary for everyday life (he uses the example of the mariner who commits himself to belief in the safety of his vessel amid stormy seas, without necessarily being absolutely certain of it). Faith might, however, be either rational or irrational, i.e. it may exist in the presence or absence of supporting evidence. Rational faith, nevertheless, is distinguishable from Popperian acceptance of the validity of a scientific theory. The honest and consistent scientist accepts that a theory stands because it has not yet been falsified, but he declines to commit himself fully to a belief in a theory, i.e. a declaration that the theory is actually true.

A scientist might argue that he can offer a kind of provisional belief in the truth of a theory: since evolution has not yet been falsified, it is, for our purposes, true. But I'm not sure this really holds up epistemologically. If you state that something is true, but then follow that by admitting the possibility that it is false, you seem then to acknowledge that you have no way of actually knowing that the thing is true. To state that you know something, you must affirm that your belief about that thing corresponds to an objective truth that you have not constructed yourself. If a scientist does that, however, he betrays the scientific method; if not, he admits that science has not in fact led him to the truth.

As some of you might be able to tell, I am not trained in philosophy, so I'd be grateful for any corrections to my argument (offered in a constructive spirit of course).

#8 Jesse Dominick

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 02:00 AM

Dear Jonathan,

Radical constructivism does not implies that there is no truth, but it does implies that us men are not able to reach it by our own means. Our perception and our very action of observing are defining the very representations of the world we are building. We are like ants: our comprehension of the world is limited. And furthermore, our very activity in trying to understand the world will shape any understanding we can come to. Only God is all knowing!

Beside a vague familiarity with the name and the fact he was a philosopher, I did not know Karl Popper. It is nice to link his name with the meta-pessimistic induction of science. :-)

To go back quickly to the creationist-evolutionist ideas, let me conclude with writing from Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, from the online Orthodox cathechism:




In Christ,

Nicolas


thats interesting, because Met. Hilarion has also said this:


Darwin’s theory contradicts Biblical revelation, because this theory proposes to us … that man developed from some kind of animal state by way of gradual evolution to the point that people have reached now. The Biblical picture is quite different. The Bible states that God created man perfect, and that the imperfection of today’s human life is bound up first of all with sin. -- interview by Dmitry Didrov and Dmitry Gubin, Temporarily Open, ATV, May 1, 2009 [in Russian]



#9 Aaron R.

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 04:25 AM

thats interesting, because Met. Hilarion has also said this Darwin’s theory contradicts Biblical revelation, because this theory proposes to us … that man developed from some kind of animal state by way of gradual evolution to the point that people have reached now. The Biblical picture is quite different. The Bible states that God created man perfect, and that the imperfection of today’s human life is bound up first of all with sin. -- interview by Dmitry Didrov and Dmitry Gubin, Temporarily Open, ATV, May 1, 2009 [in Russian] :


Excellent quote brother.

#10 Zosimas

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Posted 25 April 2012 - 12:48 AM

Christ is Risen!
I humbly suggest to those here the ever-so-excellent and quotable Genesis, Creation, and Early Man by Fr. Seraphim of Platina. His argument, as far as I follow it, is that (and I'm picking my words quite carefully here) essentially, the theory of evolution is scientific philosophy, thus being relegated to human opinion. He sets out, with the patristic witness behind him, why evolution is fundamentally A) False B) Philosophy, not science and C) Incompatible with Orthodoxy. I submit that it is and essentially humanist dogma. It is guided precisely by the philosophy/"idea" of human progress of the Enlightenment. It is difficult in our modern times to hold such an opinion, but that does not make it any less anti-Christic; for indeed humanism is part and parcel of the philosophy of anti-Christ and we are called to resist it to death in all its forms, and defend the faith.

#11 Aaron R.

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 01:25 PM

Christ is Risen!
I humbly suggest to those here the ever-so-excellent and quotable Genesis, Creation, and Early Man by Fr. Seraphim of Platina. His argument, as far as I follow it, is that (and I'm picking my words quite carefully here) essentially, the theory of evolution is scientific philosophy, thus being relegated to human opinion. He sets out, with the patristic witness behind him, why evolution is fundamentally A) False B) Philosophy, not science and C) Incompatible with Orthodoxy. I submit that it is and essentially humanist dogma. It is guided precisely by the philosophy/"idea" of human progress of the Enlightenment. It is difficult in our modern times to hold such an opinion, but that does not make it any less anti-Christic; for indeed humanism is part and parcel of the philosophy of anti-Christ and we are called to resist it to death in all its forms, and defend the faith.


Well said brother.

#12 Owen Jones

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 02:01 PM

You're all wrong! But all seriousness aside, at least one of the problems with all of the arguments I have seen above about "epistemology" and science is that they are attempts by Orthodox people to make arguments based on non-Orthodox and mostly modernist preconceptions.

Let's take a look at "knowing subject." The Fathers would never have used this kind of terminology. It is derived from Rene Descarte, who was a good mathematician and a very lousy philosopher. I am not a "knowing subject" of an object of cognition, I am a participant in the reality of which I speak. This necessarily involves a paradox. I cannot talk about reality from some kind of Archimedian perspective that is extrinsic to it, and this includes God as well as material objects and processes. Reality is paradoxic in its structure.

So my perspective on reality has some effect on the reality, since I am part of that reality. Now, before you throw up your hands and say that is relativism! consider that we are partakers of the Divine Nature. So with respect to spiritual reality, which is not some totally distinct reality from material reality, I have a role in shaping spiritual reality based on my participation in it and on my perspective on it. Spiritual reality is not some objective thing, and neither is God for that matter. I am not a knowing subject who can "know" God as an object of cognition. That does not mean I can't know anything. It means that my knowledge is of another order than, say, knowing a chair. Although not totally, as Plato points out, because how do I know that something is a chair? Because somebody told me it was a chair? Because it has a likeness to other chairs? Have I done research on all chairs to be able to come up with a rational conclusion that that is a chair? Is chair just a name for something that cannot be universalized. Or is there something called "chairness" that that particular chair represents? If so, where does chairness exist? This dilemma is really a way of exposing the problem of stating what a human being is in any kind of objective terms. And therefore God. Not because we are dependent on God. But because we share in the Divine Nature.

As for Fr. Seraphim, I hope he did not say what has been summarized as his argument, because it would be very poorly reasoned. It would be correct in pointing out that Darwinism is an example of the idea of human progress in history, which we should reject as Orthodox, although it is important to explain why it should be rejected and not assume that just by asserting something as true makes it true. But to dismiss it as mere opinion implies that the opposite of opinion is some kind of objective truth which is just as much an idea grounded in the humanistic idea of progress in history and should also be rejected by Orthodox. You can say the same thing about Orthodoxy you see -- it is mere opinion. It is one Church's opinion among many opinions. That line of reasoning doesn't get you anywhere.

Unfortunately, Fr. Seraphim got lazy, shall we say, and ended up in the position that Genesis 1 and 2 are literally true in every respect, but also that the earth was only, what, 6,000 years old, as if somehow these constitute defenses against Darwinism.

It would be better for us to a) respect philosophy, or better put, philosophizing in the classical sense, as a science and b) to respect theologizing as a science and better understand their respective methods and realize and understand that the methods of "modern science" are narrowly limited and do not take into account the fullness of reality, including Divine Reality, which includes the nature and the causes of things that exist. You can, for example, examine a rose and understand all of its biological processes down to the molecular level but you still do not know what a rose is or how it got here in the first place, or why.

Now, back to Darwin. The problem is that it is not science, either in the modern sense, or the philosophical sense, or the theological sense. It is an example of historical progressivism (an ideology) as applied to biology. It does not explain the origins of anything, although everyone including Darwin assumes that it does. Even if there were some kind of process of development. Even if it could be shown that animals evolved from salimanders to humans, it does not even begin to explain origins because you cannot just keep pushing back the question of origins in an infinite regress. And it does not even begin to tell you what a human being is, why a human being exists, or how, or for what purpose, even though it claims that humans that are produced by evolutionary processes have a certain "nobility" as Darwin claimed. So what you find, if you follow Darwin's arguments closely, is that they are essentially aesthetic arguments, only a perverted or twisted aesthetic that involves alienation from Divine Reality. Darwin, I would suggest, is unwittingly honest in his self-assessment, in that he is really making an aesthetic argument. And we as Orthodox should also recognize that the Orthodox "argument" is an aesthetic one as well. Not an argument over "objective truth."

#13 Owen Jones

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 02:02 PM

You're all wrong! But all seriousness aside, at least one of the problems with all of the arguments I have seen above about "epistemology" and science is that they are attempts by Orthodox people to make arguments based on non-Orthodox and mostly modernist preconceptions.

Let's take a look at "knowing subject." The Fathers would never have used this kind of terminology. It is derived from Rene Descarte, who was a good mathematician and a very lousy philosopher. I am not a "knowing subject" of an object of cognition, I am a participant in the reality of which I speak. This necessarily involves a paradox. I cannot talk about reality from some kind of Archimedian perspective that is extrinsic to it, and this includes God as well as material objects and processes. Reality is paradoxic in its structure.

So my perspective on reality has some effect on the reality, since I am part of that reality. Now, before you throw up your hands and say that is relativism! consider that we are partakers of the Divine Nature. So with respect to spiritual reality, which is not some totally distinct reality from material reality, I have a role in shaping spiritual reality based on my participation in it and on my perspective on it. Spiritual reality is not some objective thing, and neither is God for that matter. I am not a knowing subject who can "know" God as an object of cognition. That does not mean I can't know anything. It means that my knowledge is of another order than, say, knowing a chair. Although not totally, as Plato points out, because how do I know that something is a chair? Because somebody told me it was a chair? Because it has a likeness to other chairs? Have I done research on all chairs to be able to come up with a rational conclusion that that is a chair? Is chair just a name for something that cannot be universalized. Or is there something called "chairness" that that particular chair represents? If so, where does chairness exist? This dilemma is really a way of exposing the problem of stating what a human being is in any kind of objective terms. And therefore God. Not because we are dependent on God. But because we share in the Divine Nature.

As for Fr. Seraphim, I hope he did not say what has been summarized as his argument, because it would be very poorly reasoned. It would be correct in pointing out that Darwinism is an example of the idea of human progress in history, which we should reject as Orthodox, although it is important to explain why it should be rejected and not assume that just by asserting something as true makes it true. But to dismiss it as mere opinion implies that the opposite of opinion is some kind of objective truth which is just as much an idea grounded in the humanistic idea of progress in history and should also be rejected by Orthodox. You can say the same thing about Orthodoxy you see -- it is mere opinion. It is one Church's opinion among many opinions. That line of reasoning doesn't get you anywhere.

Unfortunately, Fr. Seraphim got lazy, shall we say, and ended up in the position that Genesis 1 and 2 are literally true in every respect, but also that the earth was only, what, 6,000 years old, as if somehow these constitute defenses against Darwinism.

It would be better for us to a) respect philosophy, or better put, philosophizing in the classical sense, as a science and b) to respect theologizing as a science and better understand their respective methods and realize and understand that the methods of "modern science" are narrowly limited and do not take into account the fullness of reality, including Divine Reality, which includes the nature and the causes of things that exist. You can, for example, examine a rose and understand all of its biological processes down to the molecular level but you still do not know what a rose is or how it got here in the first place, or why.

Now, back to Darwin. The problem is that it is not science, either in the modern sense, or the philosophical sense, or the theological sense. It is an example of historical progressivism (an ideology) as applied to biology. It does not explain the origins of anything, although everyone including Darwin assumes that it does. Even if there were some kind of process of development. Even if it could be shown that animals evolved from salimanders to humans, it does not even begin to explain origins because you cannot just keep pushing back the question of origins in an infinite regress. And it does not even begin to tell you what a human being is, why a human being exists, or how, or for what purpose, even though it claims that humans that are produced by evolutionary processes have a certain "nobility" as Darwin claimed. So what you find, if you follow Darwin's arguments closely, is that they are essentially aesthetic arguments, only a perverted or twisted aesthetic that involves alienation from Divine Reality. Darwin, I would suggest, is unwittingly honest in his self-assessment, in that he is really making an aesthetic argument. And we as Orthodox should also recognize that the Orthodox "argument" is an aesthetic one as well. Not an argument over "objective truth."

#14 Jonathan Gress

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 02:09 PM

I'm not sure about equating Darwinism and progress. Some people interpret Darwinian theory to imply progress, but many biologists would deny that one implies the other. For example, the idea of dysgenics, that less advanced organisms may sometimes propagate at the expense of more advanced organisms, is quite compatible with Darwinism, and biologists would argue that this has occurred, e.g. among organisms that live in caves without light and which eventually lost their eyes as a result. The key assumption in Darwinism is not a belief in progress, but methodological naturalism, i.e. an explanation of the origin of species that involves only natural laws and natural causation, without direct Divine intervention or causation.

I'm not sure it's right to say Darwinism doesn't explain anything. To me it explains a lot. The only thing it doesn't explain is itself, i.e. it doesn't explain why the laws of nature are such that mutation and natural selection can result in organisms such as ourselves.

#15 Owen Jones

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 03:11 PM

If Darwinism does not argue in favor of a doctrine of historical progress I don't know what does. His theory comes from Herbert Spencer who represents the peak of 19th British liberal economics, which argued that social progress is the result of natural selection due to competition. On the other end of the spectrum, Marx wanted to dedicate Das Capital to Darwin.

You really have to go read what people actually said at the time, not just look at Darwinism in the abstract.

Darwinism as a theory of origins assumes an infinity or absoluteness of time and space. To have any progression, that's what you have to have. And Darwinism represents a progression from the simple (and primitive) to the complex and superior. That is why it is predicated on the theory that some races are superior to others, because they had progressed further.

But to have any progression, you have to have infinity in time and space. But if time and space are created things, as all Orthodox know them to be, then there is no progress, because the end will be just like the beginning: nothing. But mid-nineteenth century Victorian liberalism is based on the theory of infinite social progress. All Darwin did was apply that theory to biology. Without the theory of infinite social/historical progress, which in turn depends on the theory of absolute Space (Newton) Darwinism completely collapses. There is no infinite progression or infinite regress, which is what Darwinism requires, and therefore it cannot be a theory of origins as he claims. It can potentially be a theory of development, although there are all kinds of problems with that as well.

#16 Aaron R.

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Posted 27 April 2012 - 01:35 AM

Unfortunately, Fr. Seraphim got lazy, shall we say, and ended up in the position that Genesis 1 and 2 are literally true in every respect, but also that the earth was only, what, 6,000 years old, as if somehow these constitute defenses against Darwinism.


."


“Science is weak about these prehistoric things in a way that has hardly been noticed. The science whose modern marvels we all admire succeeds by incessantly adding to its data. In all practical inventions, in most natural discoveries, it can always increase evidence by experiment. But it cannot experiment in making men; or even in watching to see what the first men make.
But he cannot watch the Missing Link evolving in his own backyard. If he has made a mistake in his calculations, the airplane will correct it by crashing to the ground. But if he has made a mistake about the arboreal habitat of his ancestor, he cannot see his arboreal ancestor falling off the tree. He cannot keep a caveman like a cat in the backyard and watch him to see whether he does really practice cannibalism or carry off his mate on the principles of marriage by capture. He cannot keep a tribe of primitive men like a pack of hounds and notice how far they are influenced by the herd instinct.
If he sees a particular bird behave in a particular way, he can get other birds and see if they behave in that way; but if be finds a skull, or the scrap of a skull in the hollow of a hill, he cannot multiply it into a vision of the valley of dry bones. In dealing with a past that has almost entirely perished he can only go by evidence and not by experiment. And there is hardly enough evidence to be even evidential. Thus while most science moves in a sort of curve, being constantly corrected by new evidence, this science flies off into space in a straight line uncorrected by anything.”
- G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man}

#17 Aaron R.

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Posted 27 April 2012 - 01:59 AM

I posted this video on another thread but thought it is very relevant to this thread.
Father Petroniu from Mount Athos-Creationism vs Evolution



#18 Zosimas

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Posted 27 April 2012 - 02:49 PM

As for Fr. Seraphim, I hope he did not say what has been summarized as his argument, because it would be very poorly reasoned.


I may not have done justice to Fr. Seraphim's writings, but I gave my own synopsis of what I gleaned from his magnificent book. You could go read it yourself and make your own conclusions!

But to dismiss it as mere opinion implies that the opposite of opinion is some kind of objective truth which is just as much an idea grounded in the humanistic idea of progress in history and should also be rejected by Orthodox. You can say the same thing about Orthodoxy you see -- it is mere opinion. It is one Church's opinion among many opinions. That line of reasoning doesn't get you anywhere.



I admit I didn't choose my words carefully here. Instead let me rephrase: " It is difficult in our modern times to hold to such a doctrine." For that is what it is, as far as I understand Patristics. If the Patristic witness is against humans somehow evolving from animal life, be it monkeys or otherwise (because that is what Evolution is make no mistake) then I have to say I am with the Patristic witness.

Unfortunately, Fr. Seraphim got lazy, shall we say, and ended up in the position that Genesis 1 and 2 are literally true in every respect, but also that the earth was only, what, 6,000 years old, as if somehow these constitute defenses against Darwinism.



If he was so lazy, then why would he take the time to present the Patristic concensus against evolution? Why not simply denounce it and go about his life? Instead, he spent much time and energy defending the faith from pseudo-science and humanist philosophy. If that is lazy, then we should all get more lazy.

#19 Owen Jones

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Posted 27 April 2012 - 02:58 PM

Only lazy in the sense that if you wish to reach a "modern" audience, both inside and outside the Church, on the subject of evolution, I think it is important to confront Darwinism on its own terms and point out how it falls apart, quite apart from what one believes regarding Genesis. In other words, it is important to fully lay out how and why Darwinism is pseudo-science. Perhaps Fr. Seraphim did that. I apologize for not having read this particular work of his.

On the other hand, he has the most important statement he ever made, which is in the introduction to "Nihilism," in which he states that Truth is a realm. This in many ways encapsulates the Orthodox vision, the Orthodox way.

#20 Jonathan Gress

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Posted 27 April 2012 - 07:52 PM

“Science is weak about these prehistoric things in a way that has hardly been noticed. The science whose modern marvels we all admire succeeds by incessantly adding to its data. In all practical inventions, in most natural discoveries, it can always increase evidence by experiment. But it cannot experiment in making men; or even in watching to see what the first men make.
But he cannot watch the Missing Link evolving in his own backyard. If he has made a mistake in his calculations, the airplane will correct it by crashing to the ground. But if he has made a mistake about the arboreal habitat of his ancestor, he cannot see his arboreal ancestor falling off the tree. He cannot keep a caveman like a cat in the backyard and watch him to see whether he does really practice cannibalism or carry off his mate on the principles of marriage by capture. He cannot keep a tribe of primitive men like a pack of hounds and notice how far they are influenced by the herd instinct.
If he sees a particular bird behave in a particular way, he can get other birds and see if they behave in that way; but if be finds a skull, or the scrap of a skull in the hollow of a hill, he cannot multiply it into a vision of the valley of dry bones. In dealing with a past that has almost entirely perished he can only go by evidence and not by experiment. And there is hardly enough evidence to be even evidential. Thus while most science moves in a sort of curve, being constantly corrected by new evidence, this science flies off into space in a straight line uncorrected by anything.”
- G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man}


I love Chesterton, but I think his criticism here is only half-right. It's true that we can't directly observe our hypothetical common ancestors with chimps. But our hypotheses about, say, our ancestors' habitat can make predictions about where we expect to find their remains. For instance, if our earliest ancestors evolved on the African savannah, we expect to find their bones in that region, and indeed the oldest hominid fossils are found there. But if they had been found, say, in the mountains of northern Iran, where Eden is located (according to the archeologist David Rohl), then the hypothesis would have to be considered false, pending new evidence. So even without direct observation, Darwinian hypotheses concerning our origins are falsifiable in the Popperian sense.




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