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The Orthodox View of Evolution
Development, not evolution
“Orthodox evolutionism” and the patristic teaching
The patristic teaching on evolution
The state of nature before and after the fall
Science and Divine Revelation
The Nature of Man



A while ago the well-known magazine “Time” ran an article on new anthropological discoveries in Ethiopia, supposedly testifying to “that moment at the dawn of human history, 6 million years ago, when our ancient forebears – the chimpanzee apes – stood upright and began to walk, and when men and chimpanzees went their separate evolutionary ways”(!) Despite the fact that for many years now prominent scientists have struggled against the heresy of evolution, trying to prove that there is nothing scientific about it, that it is only a theory which requires as much faith as religion, – the heresy continues to flourish, having become firmly embedded in our educational system, so that it is boldly presented to our children under the guise of science, and is offered to society under the same guise on the pages of prominent magazines like “Time.”

It appears, however, that the heresy of evolution is alive and well not only in our schools and our society, but in the Church as well. The renowned spiritual writer of our times, the righteous Father Seraphim Rose, has often warned Orthodox Christians of the danger of believing in modern science, which often diverges from the teaching of the Holy Fathers. In 1974 Father Seraphim wrote a letter to the Greek theologian Alexander Kalomiros, asking him to present his views on the theory of evolution. Kalomiros’ extensive discourse shook Father Seraphim to the depths of his heart: not only did Kalomiros accept the theory of evolution, expounding on the “evolved beast” Adam, but declared even that “whoever rejects evolution – rejects the Holy Scriptures.” Such words, coming from the mouth of an eminent Orthodox theologian, forced Father Seraphim to sit down and write a response, in which he put forth his understanding of the matter, basing it solely on the teaching of the Holy Fathers. Without denigrating true science in any way, Father Seraphim shows that the theory of evolution is not a firmly proven scientific fact, but is accepted on faith, i.e. it is not so much a scientific theory as a false philosophical doctrine. In view of that notorious article in “Time,” it would be quite timely for us to become acquainted with the Orthodox view on evolution, scrupulously presented in the following wonderful opus by Father Seraphim Rose.


A response to A. Kalomiros


At last I am writing my reply to your letter on evolution. The question of evolution is an extremely important one for Orthodox Christians, for in it are involved many questions which directly affect our Orthodox doctrine and outlook: the relative worth of science and theology, of modern philosophy and patristic teaching; the doctrine of man (anthropology); our attitude toward the writings of the Holy Fathers (do we really take their writings seriously and try to live by them, or do we believe first of all in modern “wisdom,” the wisdom of the world, and accept the teaching of the Holy Fathers only if it harmonizes with this “wisdom”?); our interpretation of the Holy Scriptures and especially the book of Genesis. In what follows I will touch on all these subjects.


The theory of evolution: science or philosophy?


First of all, I am in full agreement with you when you say: “We should not mix up pure science with various philosophical theories, written in order to explain facts that had been discovered by science.” Facts (pure science) are one thing, while their explanation (philosophy) is another. I must tell you that I once wholly believed in evolution. I believed in it not because I thought about it a lot, but simply because “everyone believed it,” because it was a “fact,” and how can you reject “facts”? But then I began to think about this subject more deeply. I began to realize that quite often what is presented as “science” is by no means a fact but a philosophical theory, and I carefully began to distinguish between scientific facts and scientific philosophy. After many years I came to the following conclusions:

a) Evolution is not a scientific fact but a philosophy.

b) It is a false doctrine, invented in the West as a reaction to Catholic-Protestant theology and masking itself under the guise of science, in order to seem respectable and to deceive people who readily accept scientific facts; (in the West almost all contemporary false doctrines do the same; even “Christian Science” pretends to be scientific, likewise spiritism, various Hindu cults, etc.).

c) In many points it contradicts the teaching of the Holy Fathers.


A clear definition


Many of the arguments between “evolutionists” and “anti-evolutionists” are useless, for one basic reason: they are usually not arguing about the same thing. Each one of them means one thing when he hears the word “evolution,” and the other means something else; and they argue in vain, because they are not even talking about the same thing. Therefore, in order to be precise, I will tell you exactly what I mean by the word “evolution,” which is the meaning it has in all the textbooks on evolution. But first I must show you that in your letter you have used the word “evolution” to mean two entirely different things, but you write as if they were the same thing. You have failed here to distinguish between scientific theory and philosophy.

a) You write: “The first chapters of the Holy Bible are nothing else but the history of creation progressing and being completed in time… Creation did not come into being instantly, but followed a sequence of appearances, a development in six different ‘days.’ How can we call this progress of creation in time if not evolution”?

I answer: all that you say is true, and if you wish you can call this progress of creation “evolution” – but this is not what the controversy over evolution is all about. All scientific textbooks define evolution as a specific theory concerning HOW creations came to be in time: by means of the transformation of one kind of creature into another, “complex forms being derived from simpler forms” in a natural process taking countless millions of years (Storer, “General Zoology”). Later on, when you talk about the “evolved beast” Adam, you reveal that you believe in this specific scientific theory also. I hope to show you that the Holy Fathers did not believe in this specific scientific theory, even though this is certainly not the most important aspect of the doctrine of evolution, which more fundamentally is in error concerning the nature of man, as I will show below.

b) You say: “We all came into being by evolution in time. In our mother’s uterus each one of us was at first a single-cell organism… and finally a perfect man.” Of course everyone believes this, whether he is an “evolutionist” or an “anti-evolutionist.” But this has nothing to do with the doctrine of evolution which is being disputed.

c) Again you say: “Adam was of which race – white, Negro, red, or yellow? How did we become so different from one another when we are descendants of one single couple? Is this differentiation of man in different races not a product of evolution”?

I answer again: No, this is not what the word “evolution” means! There are very many books in the English language which discuss the question of evolution from a scientific point of view. Perhaps you do not know that many scientists deny the fact of evolution (meaning the derivation of all existing creatures by transformation from other creatures), and very many scientists state that it is impossible to know by science whether evolution is true or not, because there is no evidence whatsoever that can conclusively prove or disprove it. If you wish, in another letter I can discuss with you the “scientific evidence” for evolution. I assure you that if you look at this evidence objectively, without any preconceptions about what you will find in it, you will discover that there is not one piece of evidence for evolution that cannot equally be explained by a theory of “special creation.” Please be very clear that I am not telling you that I can disprove the theory of evolution by science; I am only telling you that the theory of evolution can neither be proved nor disproved by science. Those scientists who say that evolution is a “fact” are actually interpreting the scientific facts in accordance with a philosophical theory, while those who say that evolution is not a fact are likewise interpreting the evidence in accordance with a different philosophical theory. By pure science alone it is not possible conclusively to prove or disprove the “fact” of evolution. You should also know that many books have likewise been written about “the difficulties of the evolutionary theory,” which seems to be totally inexplicable if evolution is a “fact.”

Development, not evolution.

I wish to make very clear to you: I do not at all deny the fact of change and development in nature. That a full-grown man grows from an embryo; that a great tree grows from a small acorn; that new varieties of organisms are developed, whether the “races” of man or different kinds of cats and dogs and fruit trees - but all of this is not evolution: it is only variation within a definite kind of species; it does not prove or even suggest that one kind or species develops into another and that all present creatures are the product of such a development from one or a few primitive organisms. I believe that this is clearly the teaching of St. Basil the Great in his Hexaemeron, as I will now point out. No one, “evolutionist” or “anti-evolutionist, will deny that the properties of creatures can be changed; but this is not a proof of evolution unless it can be shown that one kind or species can be changed into another, and even more that every species changes into another in an uninterrupted chain back to the most primitive organism.

I will show below what St. Basil says on this subject, In Homily V of the Hexaemeron St. Basil writes: “How then, they say, does the earth bring forth seeds of the particular kind, when, after sowing grain, we frequently gather this black wheat?

St. Basil the Great, 16-th century.
St. Basil the Great,
16-th century.

This is not a change to another kind, but as if it were some disease and defect of the seed. It has not ceased to be wheat, but has been made black by burning.” This passage would seem to indicate that St. Basil recognizes some kind of a change in the wheat which is not a “change to another kind.” This kind of change is not evolution.

Again St. Basil writes (Hexaemeron, V): “Certain men have already observed that, if pines are cut down or burned, they are changed into oak forests.” This quote has been used to show that St. Basil believed (1) that one kind of creature actually changes into another (but I will show below what St. Basil actually teaches on this subject); and (2) that St. Basil made scientific mistakes, since this statement is untrue. Here I should state an elementary truth: modern science, when it deals with elementary facts, does indeed usually know more than the holy Fathers, and the holy Fathers can easily make mistakes of scientific facts; it is not scientific facts which we look for in the holy Fathers, but true theology and the true philosophy which is based on theology. Yet in this particular case it happens that St. Basil is scientifically correct, because it often in fact happens that in a pine forest there is a strong undergrowth of oak, and when the pine is removed by burning, the oak grows rapidly and produces the change from a pine to an oak forest in 10 or 15 years. This is not evolution but a different kind of change, and we will see now that St. Basil could not have believed that the pine is actually transformed or evolved into an oak.

Let us see now what St. Basil believed about the “evolution” or “fixity” of species. He writes: “There is nothing truer than this, that each plant either has seed or there exists in it some generative power. And this accounts for the expression ‘of its kind.’ For the shoot of the reed is not productive of an olive tree, but from the reed comes another reed; and from seeds spring plants related to the seeds sown. Thus, what was put forth by the earth in its first generation has been preserved until the present time, since the species persisted through constant reproduction” (Hex. V).

Again St. Basil writes: “The nature of existing objects, set in motion by one command, passes through creation without change, by generation and destruction, preserving the succession of the species through resemblance until it reaches the very end. It begets a horse as a successor of a horse, a lion of a lion, and an eagle of an eagle; and it continues to preserve each of the animals by uninterrupted successions until the consummation of the universe. No length of time causes the specific characteristics of the animals to be corrupted or extinct, but, as if established just recently, moves along with time” (Hex. IX).

It seems quite clear that St. Basil did not believe that one kind of creature is transformed into another, much less that every creature now existing was evolved from some other creature, and so on back to the most primitive organism. This is a modern philosophical idea.

I should tell you that I do not regard this question as being of particular importance in itself; I shall discuss below other much more important questions. If it were really a scientific fact that one kind of creature can be transformed into another kind, I would have no difficulty believing it, since God can do anything, and the transformations and developments we can see now in nature (an embryo becoming man, an acorn becoming an oak tree, a caterpillar becoming a butterfly) are so astonishing that one could easily believe that one species could evolve into another. But there is no conclusive scientific proof that such a thing has ever happened, much less that this is the law of the universe, and everything now living derives ultimately from some primitive organism. The holy Fathers quite clearly did not believe in any such theory - because the theory of evolution was not invented until modern times. It is a product of the modern Western mentality, and this theory developed together with the course of modern philosophy from Descartes onward, long before there was any scientific proof for it. The idea of evolution is entirely absent from the text of Genesis, according to which each creature is generated “according to its own kind, not “one changing into another.” And the holy Fathers accepted the text of Genesis quite simply, without reading into it any scientific theories or allegories.

Now you will understand why I do not accept your quotations from St. Gregory of Nyssa about the “ascent of nature from the least to the perfect” as a proof of evolution. I believe, as the sacred scripture of Genesis relates, that there was indeed an orderly creation in steps, but nowhere in Genesis or in the writings of St. Gregory of Nyssa is it stated that one kind of creature is transformed into another kind, and that all creatures came to be in this manner! I quite disagree with you when you say: “Creation is described in the first chapter of Genesis exactly as modern science describes it.” I believe you are mistaken, since according to the holy Fathers, modern science cannot attain to any knowledge at all of the Six Days of Creation. In any case, it is very arbitrary to identify the geological strata with “periods of creation.” There are numerous difficulties in the way of this na?ve correspondence between Genesis and science. Does modern science really believe that the grass and trees of the earth existed in a long geological period before the existence of the sun, which was created only on the Fourth Day? I believe that our interpretation of Holy Scripture should be bound up with no scientific theory, neither “evolutionary” nor any other. Let us rather accept the Holy Scriptures as the holy Fathers teach us, and let us not speculate about the how of creation. The doctrine of evolution is a modern speculation about the how of creation, and in many respects it contradicts the teaching of the holy Fathers.

Of course I accept your quotations from St. Gregory of Nyssa and I will certainly not deny that our nature is partly an animal nature, nor that we are bound up with the whole of creation, which is indeed a marvelous unity. But all this has nothing whatever to do with the doctrine of evolution concerning the derivation of all presently existing creatures from one or more primitive creatures through a process of the transformation of one kind or species into another. St. Gregory of Nyssa himself quite explicitly did not believe in anything like the modern doctrine of evolution, for he teaches that the first man Adam was indeed created directly by God and was not generated like all other men. In his book Against Eunomius he writes:

“The first man, and the man born from him, received their being in a different way: the latter by copulation, the former from the molding of Christ Himself; and yet, though they are thus believed to be two, they are inseparable in the definition of their being, and are not considered as two different beings…. The idea of humanity in Adam and Abel does not vary with the difference of their origin, neither the order nor the manner of their coming into existence making any difference in their nature” (I, 34).

And again: “That which reasons, and is mortal, and is capable of thought and knowledge, is called “man” equally in the case of Adam and Abel, and this name of the nature is not altered either by the fact that Abel passed into existence by generation, or by the fact that Adam did so without generation.”

Of course I agree with teaching of St. Athanasius which you quote, that “the first-created man was made of dust like everyone, and the hand which created Adam then, is creating now also and always those who came after him.” How can anyone deny this obvious truth of God’s continuous creative activity? But this general truth does not at all contradict the specific truth that the first man was made in a way different from all other men, as other fathers also clearly teach. Thus, St. Cyril of Jerusalem calls Adam “God’s first-formed man,” but Cain “the first-born man.” Again he teaches clearly, discussing the creation of Adam, that Adam was not conceived of another body: “That bodies should be conceived of bodies, even if wonderful, is nevertheless possible; but that the dust of the earth should become a man, this is more wonderful.”

Yet again, the divine Gregory the Theologian writes: “What of Adam? Was he not alone the direct creature of God? Yes, you will say. Was he then the only human being? By no means. And why? Because humanity does not only consist in direct creation. For that which is begotten is also human.”

And St. John Damascene, whose theology gives concisely the teaching of all the early Fathers writes: “The earliest formation of man is called ‘creation’ and not ‘generation.’ For ‘creation’ is the original formation at God’s hands, while ‘generation’ is the succession from each other made necessary by the sentence of death imposed on us on account of the transgression.”

And what of Eve? Do you not believe that, as the Scripture and holy Fathers teach, she was made from Adam’s rib and was not born of some other creature? But St. Cyril writes: “Eve was begotten of Adam, and not conceived of a mother, but as it were brought forth of man alone.”

And St. John Damascene, comparing the Most Holy Mother of God with Eve, writes: “Just as the latter was formed from Adam without connection, so also did the former bring forth the new Adam, who was brought forth in accordance with the laws of parturition and above the nature of generation.”

It would be possible to quote other holy Fathers on this subject, but I have not yet come to the most important questions raised by the theory of evolution, and so I shall now turn to some of them.

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