Numerous new books have recently been published in Russia that criticize the theory of evolution. For the most part these are the translated works of American Protestant “Creationists.” In so far as Darwinism was well established in schools and institutes as a favorite theory of the Soviets, this rush is understandable. However, we must determine whether the point of view of the Protestant fundamentalists is simply Christian or whether it has sectarian roots not necessarily true to Orthodox thought. These Creationists are not just arguing against an atheistic understanding of the process of evolution but, more generally, against the very possibility of evolution itself. For them, the pre-human world is no older than six literal days. The Earth is incapable of evolutionary development, even in response to a call from the Creator.
This position is not new; it was present in the thought of ancient Greece as well as in India — this yearning to reduce our understanding of matter to a notion of non-being. Only the spirit lives and acts, while the material world is nothing more than shackles for this life of the spirit.
However, in Christian tradition, the fundamental dualism of the philosophy of antiquity (dualism between spirit and matter) was changed to a different one — dualism between the created and the Creator (Who alone is uncreated). This united created matter and created spirit in one category, and, while the created human soul is of prime importance, there is no basis for the denial of the importance of the body. Not only the human soul, or angels, are capable of joyful obedience to the voice of God, but, as the Psalmist says, also the mountains, rivers, and waters. In pagan cosmologies inert matter dampens and counteracts the Spirit, and there can not be a constructive dialogue between them. But in Genesis we see no war between God and chaos, the world being obedient to the Creator, responding to His word, and there is no reason to transpose into the Bible the pagan idea of “theomachistic” matter.
In the Book of Genesis God names every creature and by this naming calls every creature from the abyss of non-being. In the lovely expression of St. Philaret of Moscow, the creative “Word articulates all creatures into being.” What we see here in Genesis is a dialogue. The call produces a response to God’s life-giving action. “The earth germinates, but it does not sprout that which it has but transforms that which it does not have, as much as God gives the strength to act,” wrote St. Basil the Great. The seeds of life are not found in the earth; rather, “God’s word creates beings” and plants these in earth, which, in turn, germinates them. Earth is unable to be fertile by itself, yet there is no reason to downplay its role: “Let the earth bring forth by itself without having any need of help from without.” While life proceeds from earth, the very life-giving ability of matter is a gift of the Creator.
On the one hand, biblical thinking is very much unlike the alchemy of Oparin’s materialism that follows the recipe of the sorcerer in Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra: “serpent of Egypt is bred now of your mud by the operation of your sun, so is your crocodile.”
On the other hand, unprejudiced reading of Scripture makes one notice a certain degree of activity that created matter has. It is not written that “God created grass,” but, “Let the earth bring forth grass.” Later on, God is depicted not as simply creating life out of nothing but as calling on waters so that they may “bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life.”
Of all the living creatures, God creates only man in a special way, not by way of commanding the earth or the waters. Earth’s ability to respond is apparently finite: earth is unable to bring forth man. The crucial transition between animal and man occurs not by way of God’s command but by His direct act. Even this creation of the “physiological vessel” capable of accommodating human conscience and freedom is not the end of the creation of man: a second stage of the biblical anthropogenesis follows — the “breathing in” of the spirit of life.
The emergence of life in the Book of Genesis is both evolutionary (as earth is producing plants and simple organisms), and also a “leap towards life,” occurring by the order of God.
God calls the Earth to a synergy, to a creativity that is indicative of the God-given internal creative abilities of the Earth. Different stages in the history of Creation open with God’s call upon “earth.” The world, being called to growth and development, acts in cooperation with God. This theme of cooperation of God and His creation appears in the Bible long before the creation of man. The fact that the earth in response to the Word is producing life indicates that it is not merely a lifeless substance, out of which an external action is “molding life,” overcoming inert matter. The Bible is unlike the Vedanta, and matter in it is not a synonym of death and non-being.
This is how St. Basil is describing this creative response in his Homily V: “See how, at this short word, at this brief command, the cold and sterile earth travailed and hastened to bring forth its fruit, as it casts away its sad and dismal covering to clothe itself in a more brilliant robe, proud of its proper adornment and displaying the infinite variety of plants.”
Roots of Western Creationism
Why did a part of the Protestant world resurrect the pagan attitude that matter is “passive” and make this into a principle of its faith? There are, it seems to me, three reasons for that.
1. The first one comes from a peculiar tradition of Western Christianity. A clear biblical depiction of the gradual calling into being of the different levels of being was obscured by an imprecise Latin translation of the phrase from Sirach 18:1 “He that liveth for ever Hath created all things in general,” where the Greek koine means “together,” linked together, but the Latin translation was “simul” in the Vulgate, meaning, “God created everything simultaneously” rather than “everything was created by God.” This quote from the Vulgate is closely linked to resistance against evolutionary views in the West. . . .
St. Augustine was thus already sure that God “created all simultaneously.” This view became part of tradition in Western schools of theology and so was inherited by the Protestants. It is ironic that a phrase from an “uncanonical” book still affects the thinking of those who otherwise reject these books of Scripture.
2. A strong reason is needed for a statement taken from a deuterocanonical book to be accepted by those who treat these books merely as apocryphal. This second reason is found in the Protestant principle of “salvation by faith alone,” rejection of synergy (a biblical word, 1 Cor. 3:9). The result is denial that man takes an active part in his salvation by God. Salvation is seen solely as a gift; man is only notified that his sins are paid for by the sacrifice of Christ.
If even man can not be a creator, can not act in synergy with God, how can this quality exist in the pre-human world? This is how a Seventh-Day Adventist textbook opens its criticism of the theory of evolution: “Even Paul the Apostle could not be righteous through his own efforts. He knew the perfect ideal of the law of God, but could not live accordingly.” Next, it turns out that “Calvary is overturning the theory of evolution in the most decisive manner.” The same textbook states with disapproval that “more and more Christians accept the atheistic evolutionary theory, according to which God has used an evolutionary process in creating the world.” It is unclear why people who accept that “God has used . . .” are called atheists.
3. Yet even this doctrinal reason fails to explain why these anti-evolutionary views, which are in scandalous disagreement with the views of modern science and knowledge, are not just kept as private convictions or in the obscurity of seminaries but are so persistently disseminated. The reason for the persistence of the fundamentalists, which makes this not merely a privately held belief, is social.
It is only in our current situation of fin de siecle (the end of the age) that it became possible to come into open conflict with scientific data. At the end of this century statements contrary to science have become fashionable. Astrologers, fortunetellers, magicians, and other occultists are free to say the most bizarre things. It seems that people are tired of scientific sobriety and responsibility and are ready to accept anything — “Why not?” The purest form of voluntarism and irrationality takes the place of argumentation: “This is what I feel! This is so exciting!” This massive ecstasy by irrationality makes also Protestant literalness completely into sellable goods.
Orthodoxy and Science
Orthodoxy has neither a textual nor a doctrinal basis to reject evolutionism. Neither does it make sense for Orthodox Christians to indulge the current fashion of irrationality (since any irrationality, in the end, will favor occultism and will work against the Church). Before beginning, it should be said that it is more a novelty than a tradition among the Orthodox to disclaim evolution.
First of all, according to the views of the theologians of the very traditionalist Russian Church Abroad, “the Days of creation should be understood not literally (“For a thousand years in Thine eyes, O Lord, are but as yesterday that is past, and as a watch in the night.”) but as periods!”
Secondly, the idea of evolution, given its separation from its atheist interpretation, is discussed quite positively in works by Orthodox authors. Prof. John M. Andreev, having rejected the idea that man evolved from monkey, says: “In everything else, Darwinism does not contradict the biblical teaching on the creation of living things because evolution does not address the question of who created the first animals.”
Professor of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, Archbishop Michael (Mudyugin) writes: “The process of evolution of the organic world belongs to the category of phenomena in whose description in the Bible and in the pages of any biology textbook it is easy to see an amazing degree of similarity. The biblical terminology itself fits into the same surprising coincidence — it is said: “Let the water bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life.” “Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle and creeping things, and beast of the earth after his kind.” Here the verb “bring forth” points to the link between distinct phases in formation of the animal world, moreover, to the connection between nonliving and living matter.”
Professor Alexis I. Osipov, of the Moscow Theological Academy supposes: “For theology, both the creationist and evolutionary hypotheses are permissible, in principle. That is with the condition that in both cases the Lawgiver and the Creator of the world is God. All existing species He could create either by “days,” at once and in final form, or gradually, in the course of “days” to “bring them forth” from water and earth, from lower forms to the highest by way of laws that He built into nature.”
Professor of St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary in New York, Fr. Basil Zenkovsky also emphasized the biblical “creative potential” of the earth: “It is clearly stated in the text of the Bible that the Lord gives an order to the earth to act with its own strength . . . This inherent creative activity of nature, “elan vital” (in the expression of Bergson) — the aspiration to life, helps to understand an indisputable fact of evolution of life on earth.”
One of the leading authors of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate in the 1960’s and 70’s, Archpriest Nicholas Ivanov was in agreement with the idea of evolutionary development: “The act of the creation of the world and its shaping are manifestations of God’s omnipotence, His will; yet, for Nature, the realization of His will is a long and gradual process, an act of maturation that takes place in time. Numerous transient forms can appear during the process of development, sometimes merely serving as steps in emergence of the more advanced forms, that are linked to eternity.”
Professor N. N. Fioletov, who took part in the Local Council of 1917-1918, thought that “in itself the idea of evolution appears not to be alien to the Christian conscience, or in contradiction with it.”
In 1917, hieromartyr archpriest Michael Cheltsov, touching on the question of the relationship between Christianity and science, wrote: “Deeper and more-thoughtful and spiritual explanation and understanding of many places of the Bible have contributed not a little towards the overcoming of animosity between science and religion. It sufficed to read the biblical account of the creation of the world to realize that the Bible gives no support to understanding of the days of creation as 24-hour intervals, and the wall between biblical accounts and scientific data on the indefinitely long period of Earth’s existence prior to the appearance of mankind collapsed.”
Before that, it was V. S. Solovyev, who showed the way of direct Christian interpretation of the idea of evolution: “If I were facing the task of pointing out parallelisms between modern science and the Mosaic world view, I’d say that his [Moses’s] vision of the origins of life is similar to the theory of directed evolution.”
Vladimir Solovyev clearly expressed the philosophical basis of this theory, developed in biology by L. Berg and Teilhard de Chardin: “The fact that the highest forms and types of creation appear or are revealed after the lowest does not mean that they are the product or creation of the simplest forms. The level of being is not the same as the order of appearance. Higher, more positive, and complete images of being metaphysically existed prior to the lower ones, even when they appear or are revealed after these. This does not deny evolution: evolution can not be denied; it is a fact. But to claim that evolution is able to fully create higher forms from lower, and, in the end, from nothing — means putting logical nonsense under the cover of this fact. Evolution of the lower levels of being can not, by itself, produce the higher ones, yet it produces the material conditions or provides the proper environment for the coming or the revelation of the higher type. Thus, each appearance of the higher level of being is, in a way, a new creation: the type of creation, of which the least of all can be called “creation from nothing.” First of all, the old type is forming as the material basis for the new one, and, second, the proper positive content of the new type does not appear fresh from non-being but merely steps into the new sphere of existence, (in due time) into the world of things. Conditions are the result of the evolution of nature, while that which is revealed comes from God.”
Later on, evolutionary theory was not considered “anti-biblical” or “atheistic” by the philosopher I. N. Ilyin, (The Six Days of Creation. Paris), by the Serb theologians Fr. Stephan Lyashevsky and Prof. Lazarus Milin, by the famous Romanian priest and theologian Demetrius Staniloae, and by Bishop Basil (Rodzianko).
[Translator’s note: similarly non-literalist commentary on Genesis was made in the 19th century by St. Philaret (Drozdov), Metropolitan of Moscow.]
Inconsistency of Protestant Creationist Views
Acceptance of the arguments of Protestant Creationists by Protestant-influenced Orthodox preachers is a clear innovation, while a calm attitude towards evolutionism is an established tradition of orthodox academic theology. Perhaps the best known writer who criticized the very idea of evolution was the late hieromonk Fr. Seraphim (Rose).
His first argument: evolution implies a change of generations. A change of generations implies death. The heart of the matter is this: if death existed prior to the creation of man and his fall, we would have to say that death was present in the world prior to human sin. But death is a consequence of sin, and of human sin in particular. As there was no sin in the pre-human world, it is theologically impossible to suggest the presence of death there either.
But if, on the contrary, the pre-human world knew death, this would indicate that “contrary to biblical faith,” the Universe suffered a fall not through man. So, was there death in the pre-human world? I would say that both of these alternative answers are incorrect.
Here we must contemplate the meanings of the words death and sin as applied to man and to animals and plants. The word death is full of uniquely human tragic meaning. Can we really apply this word, with its human implications, to the non-human world? Death is, for humans, a tragedy, something that clearly “should not happen.” It is not surprising that in Russian philosophy the human fear of death is perceived as empirical evidence of our “otherworldly” origin and destination: if man appeared as a result of natural evolution and of the struggle for survival, he would not find so repulsive that which is “natural.” Death has entered the human world through sin — this is certain. Death is evil and was not created by God — this is also an axiom of biblical theology.
It seems to me there is only one possible conclusion that can be drawn from this: the “death” of animals is not similar to human death. If we say “Socrates died,” the meaning and implications of this are quite dissimilar to such expressions as the “death of a dog” or the “death of a star” or the “death of a chair.” Animals terminate their being, “died,” but in application to them, this word is used in a metaphoric sense, and termination of the physiological processes in, say, a monkey, is not the same thing as human death. Animals did cease to exist in the pre-human world. But this is not death — in theology and philosophy we can not discuss the phenomenon of death in the non-human world.
Yes, death is a consequence of sin. But what is sin? It is the violation of the will of the Creator. Can we be sure that the death of animals is a violation of the Creator’s will? Did God create animals for immortality? Was it His will to make them the communicants of eternity? Did He offer them the Bread of Life and the Eucharist?
If not, then the temporal finiteness of animal (and plant, bacterial, and fungal) life is not a violation of the design of the Creator, and is neither a sin nor a distortion of the Creator’s will. If Holy Communion is the only Bread of Life, and yet, obviously, we do not see animals receiving it in churches, this Bread, and this Eternity — are not meant for them. The death of animals is not a violation of the Divine will also because the Bible does not promise eternity to this world in general either; only humans inherit eternity, and the words of the Saviour in Mat. 25:34, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” are addressed to them, and not to animals or other living beings. The rest will burn away, and if upon the new creation (not resurrection, but creation of the “new earth and new heavens”) God will want to plant animals there too, they will appear as well, but they will not necessarily be the “immortalized” animals of our current world.
God did not create animals for immortality — and this is why there is no violation of the will of God, no sin — in their departure from existence. St. Augustine wrote, “Animals were created mortal.” Prior to him, a similar view is characteristic of St. Methodius of Patara.
“There is usually similarity between the one that produces something and the product. God is immortality, life, and incorruption: a man is a creature of God, and, being produced by immortality, man is immortal as well. This is why God has directly produced man, while He gave orders to the air, earth, and waters to produce the other types of animals . . . and while animals received the ability to live from air, Adam received it from the immortal Being, for He breathed into him the breath of life.”
Not being a violation of the Divine will, the death of animals does not imply some defect in the goodness of the original, created world. It is only after the only creature that truly is made in the image and likeness of the Creator, man, himself steps down to the level of the animal world and makes himself subject to the laws of the struggle for existence, life and death, that are present in the pre-human world — this is when we see the violation of the will of God. It seems that we got used to equalizing ourselves to animals too much — to the extent that non-Christians make out of it reasons to justify their own passions and lawlessness, while Christians are inclined to extend the gifts of the Holy Spirit, granted to them, to the animal world . . .
Besides, can we describe the behavior of animals in terms of “sin” and “virtue”? If the word sin is inapplicable to descriptions of animal life, a related word, death, can not be strictly applied to them either, in the sense derived from human existence.
The Fathers clearly say that sin has entered the world through man and that only man can sin in the world (for the present we are not discussing the angelic beings). St. Methodius asks: “What other evil act, besides what is happening among men, can you find? All the other creatures by necessity obey the Divine will, and none of them can do anything beyond what it was created for.” This means that there is no evil in the animal world, and the death of animals, unless humans cause it, is not an evil, because animals have no freedom in that.
It can be pointed out that the “struggle for survival” can be given, in God’s plan, a positive and pedagogic sense — at least St. Augustine says that witnessing the struggle for life among animals may serve a human as an example of how he himself should struggle for his spiritual salvation.
The second argument of Orthodox anti-evolutionists is built around some patristic texts that deny the existence of sufferings and death in the Garden of Eden. According to patristic tradition, there not only man but also animals were in a blessed state, and there, suffering and death, implied by the process of evolution, are theologically untenable.
This argument against evolution is also weak.
First, the Garden of Eden was certainly not the whole world. Paradise is not the synonym of the world prior to the Fall. Eden did not involve all of the world — rivers that water the Garden, in which man is placed, are flowing from Eden. Neither is that Garden and Eden one and the same thing. “And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed” (Gen. 2:8).
Linguistic analysis shows that the Hebrew word gan comes from the verb ganon, to protect. Similarly, in English garden — a protected and enclosed place — is related to the verb guard. Other languages also have this link between garden and protection — in French, jardin and the verb garder, to protect, and in German — Garten.
This is not only an enclosed Garden, but the man placed there is given the task of “keeping it” (“And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it,” Gen. 2:15). The garden near Eden is a protected place — to keep against what? To keep the world safe from man, or to keep the man safe from the world? Man gave protection to the garden, or the garden gave protection to man? Eden means “joy”; from it flowed the river for the watering of this “paradise” — the “garden” that was planted at Eden (“paradeison an Eden”), and while the “paradise” was meant for man to live in and to keep him (man), Eden was meant to give joy. Man did not enter Eden but was in a garden by Eden.
So Scripture is not saying that the rest of the world lived according to the laws of the Garden of Eden. And while the Bible is not describing directly the world beyond it, this “kept” zone is perceived in opposition to the wild, unkept one — to the point of the need for protection. From whom was this protection and separation meant? As we know, it did not protect against spiritual danger, such as the Devil. There were perhaps some non-spiritual threats to the newly-created man, for the protection against which he is taken from the rest of the world and placed in a sort of “cradle,” having strict spatial limits according to the four rivers.
It is quite possible that beyond these borders of Eden, the laws of struggle for existence already worked at that time. God is warning man that he shall die if he eats of the tree (“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” Gen 2:17). And if God spoke just so — it means that the experience of death was known to people (more exactly — the observation of the death of others). Man could have been familiar with the meaning of it from observing the death of animals. And this then means that death existed in the pre-human world, in the world of animals.
Yet man was, for the time being, protected from all of it, and only by his sin did he destroy the protection of the Garden of Eden and did the laws of the external world, of Darwinian biology, then gush into the world of man.
The connection of sin and death is dogmatically established by the words of the Apostle Paul (“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned,” Rom. 5:12). Sin came through man: through human sin, death fell upon humans. However, it does not at all follow from this that prior to Adam’s sin animals were immortal.
Orthodox opponents of evolution do not take another thing into account: Eden is not only limited in space, but also in time. Not only is the Garden of Eden not the whole world, but it was planted after the creation of man. Already after the Six Days, by a special act did God plant the garden at Eden and place there Adam, whom He had created. An already-created man is placed into the specially-planted garden (“And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed,” Gen. 2:8. “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it,” Gen. 2:15), — man is “taken,” selected (as Levites were “selected” from other tribes), and the garden of Eden is not a place of our origination, but our destination.
According to the Bible, upon his creation, man was taken from the world where he was created; he was moved from nature, into the garden.
Perhaps man needs to be protected from the world in which he was created; perhaps that world contains something destructive, something that is not sin and not moral evil (this is still a pre-Fall world), perhaps there is something in the laws and cycles of the greater world that is good for that world but dangerous for man. Maybe there is something there without which the development of the world all the way to pre-human times was impossible — but that man must be exempt from, now that this type of growth has reached its limits.
The world can not produce new things without the decay of the old. Life can not grow without constant renovation and leaving something outside of its limits, the limits of life. The world knows no building up without destroying. But this is only in the cosmos — and not in the world of man. Man must be protected from this — and such protection can only come from the One above the world, the Creator of it. Having rejected Him, we came down and became part of the world in which all the pagan philosophers saw inevitable unity of good and evil, birth and death. Yes, the human world has radically changed as a result of our sin. But must we believe that the non-human and pre-human world was different prior to that? Could it be that by his sin, Adam erased that border of grace that separated and super-naturally kept him from the rest of the world?
The world into which Adam was placed, the garden at Eden, may have been free from animal death — but this is not necessarily the case with the world from which he was taken. We need not confuse the point of destination with the point of origination. The Serbian theologian Fr. Stephen Lyashevskij wrote that death was absent only in Eden. Upon the creation of man, “a new world has appeared in Paradise, where blood no longer flowed before the face of immortal Adam, and violent death among the animals has disappeared, for God has given everyone in Paradise grass and fruits, and all the animals were obedient to man.”
The atmosphere of grace into which the first man was lead embraced Eden. But we do not know what the world was like beyond the borders of Paradise, as the Bible speaks nothing in detail about the world prior to, or outside of, Eden. Making guesses about this world based on what we think of Eden is hardly correct.
The third argument of the opponents to evolution is based on Gen. 1:30, “And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein [there is] life, [I have given] every green herb for meat: and it was so.” It means, in their eyes, that prior to the human fall, the world had no carnivores, and this means that scientific theories are in direct conflict with the Bible.
The main question here is, where were these words pronounced, and when? The Book of Genesis speaks about the creation of man twice, in the first and the second chapters, and one of the traditionally complicated tasks of biblical exegesis is the coordination of these two stories. Did the Creator speak to Adam prior to creating Eden — or after, and in Paradise? If we take these words as said at Eden, there is no conflict with science, as science can study only the world outside of Eden.
The concept of evolution and the associated disappearance of animals is thus not in conflict with either the letter or the sense of Revelation. The Scriptures do not describe the details of the development of life, and we have no reason to be in conflict with science over this.
The same thing can be said about Church Tradition, and a number of the ideas in the natural philosophy of antiquity and of the Middle Ages that we see in Medieval commentaries on the Six Days have no bearing on our confession of faith. That St. Basil made use of the encyclopedic knowledge of his day and age does not mean that the natural sciences of the forth century must be sanctified by the name of the great saint and be forever enshrined as part of Orthodox theology — rather, that the faith-driven attempts at a “churching” dialogue with the world of secular thought and knowledge is blessed by the example of the great Cappadocian Father. Likewise, St. John of Damascus also included some views of the science of his time in his “Precise Exposition . . . ” — but this only means that Orthodox thought is interested in knowledge of the God-created world as well. From the fact that Fathers did let into their works the data of contemporary science, does not at all follow that we must be enemies to our contemporary science.
As to the details of biogenesis, in the nineteenth century Count A. K. Tolstoy already wrote — (from the “epistle to M. Loginov on Darwinism”)
“Sposob, kak tvoril Sozdatel’
Chto schital On bol’e kstati
Znat’ ne mozhet predsedatel’
Komiteta po pechati.”
(“The way, how the Creator worked, and what He considered to be better, can not be known to the chairman of the censorship committee.”)
Three features are inherent in the biblical account of Creation:
1. Life appears (as the rest of the world) gradually.
2. The world is capable of responding to God’s call.
3. Without the guiding Reason, evolution by itself would lead nowhere.
[Translator’s note: Given that God is omnipresent, and the Holy Spirit is “everywhere and fillest all . . . the Giver of Life,” the world simply can not exist “by itself,” as our world and everything in it exists by God.]
Matter is not eternal, it is created, and thus it needs an external push. And precisely because it is created by this push, matter keeps the creative stimulus. And therefore the world is capable of movement and development. However, the balancing judgment is true and different: although the world is capable of development, it receives the creative impulses from without.
The transition from one kingdom to another in the Bible is depicted as inexplicable by the internal development of the world. This discontinuity is produced by the will of the Creator.
The very essence of the process of the unfolding of Creation remains the same regardless of the speed with which it happens. The view of some, that if we extend the process of Creation in time, “God will become unnecessary” is as naive as that of others who think that creation in anything more than six regular days diminishes the glory of the Creator. We must only remember that nothing stood in the way or limited the creative action, and everything happened according to the will of the Creator. We do not know whether this will consisted in creating the world in one moment, or in six days, or six thousand years, or billions. For “who can number . . . the days of eternity?” (Sirach 1:2).
In Orthodox theology, those questions that are essential and in which no dissent is allowable are put in this particular way: what does it mean, “for the sake of us men and for our salvation?” Besides such dogmas, there are also certain private theological views, theologoumena, that:
* have no direct soteriological application,
* are not explicitly condemned by a Church council,
* are not leading, in their logical development, towards some conflict with established dogmas of the Church teachings on faith, and
* may differ from the opinion of some Fathers yet still have foundation in at least some other testament of the Church Tradition.
Such private theological opinions can conflict with each other. Besides quoting the famous expression of St. Paul in 1 Cor. 11:19 (“For there must also be heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you”), the history of the Church knows a number of such opinions.
Theologically, the idea that evolution is unacceptable to an Orthodox way of thinking can be proven only if it can be shown that the idea that a change of generations existed in the pre-human world outside Eden can damage the conscious participation of a Christian in the salvific Mysteries of the Church.
In accepting a given interpretation of the Scriptures, it is useful to ask the question, why am I leaning towards accepting this interpretation? Also, in rejecting some interpretation, a precise motivation is needed: what do I find unacceptable in it? And in condemnation of some interpretation, the question should be even more precise: what is harmful to the cause of salvation, in the opinion that I am condemning?
Views and opinions of radical creationists can not be accepted because they use scientific data in an arbitrary and non-objective way, by which they produce fair objections from those who are professionally involved in science. There is a real danger here that a biologist, having read some arrogant creationist book, will apply the word “rubbish” to Christianity in general.
I was recently invited to give several lectures at the department of biology at Moscow State University. Normally, I easily establish contact with students during lectures at MSU, but here the coolness of the auditorium surprised me. After the first lecture, I asked my hosts about the reasons for such a strange reception. “Oh, excuse us, Fr. Andrew . . . we didn’t warn you,” they said, “that a week before, some American Baptists were here, and they tried to persuade our audience that there was no evolution and that the world was created in six days. But our students (not to mention professors) noticed how they manipulated and misused scientific data, lining up some evidence and suppressing other. Maybe the students decided that this approach to the data of their science is common to all you Christians — and saw you as a colleague of those American dilettantes.” At the next lecture, I talked about the other way of understanding the first chapters of Genesis, and contact with the audience was regained, and they were very receptive to discussion of the Gospels and Orthodoxy.
So I have a missionary interest in not accepting the views of extreme anti-evolutionists and in trying to find a possible evolutionary understanding of the Six Days. I have no personal problem in believing that God created the world at once or in six days, nor do I have a problem in saying something that is, a priori, unacceptable to an audience (and I have to do this very often), but it is not good pastoral practice to lay on people burdens that are too heavy. Yes, there are, in Christianity, instances of a necessary “sacrifice of reason,” but I think that such a “sacrifice” is better offered to the dogma of the Trinity, rather than to a “dogma” of the precise number of hours of creation.
Finally, it’s useful to look closely at our own, internal motives leading us to accept this or that view. A popular hobby of far too many people in our parishes, monasteries, and even seminaries — is to prove to each other their “arch-Orthodoxy.” Towards this goal, denunciation of “heretic evolutionists” is a very suitable means. But if a man is interested not in acquiring the reputation of a super-Orthodox among like-minded friends but in trying to lead people who are still far from the Church towards Her doorstep — it may be better to reject the joy of feeling one’s own strictness or of finding and condemning another “heretic.”