Darwin and Christianity - Part 1
January 20, 2010 Length: 52:32
What is the relationship between the concepts of natural selection and Christian theology? Fr. Tom begins a series of reflections on Charles Darwin and what he has learned in his research may surprise you!
One of the glaring weaknesses in my own life when I was working, officially working, as a Professor of Theology at St. Vladimir’s Seminary… a glaring weakness of mine was my virtually total ignorance of natural science: of physics and chemistry and biology and archaeology and all of the -ologies there that make up the scientific world. And of course, when I was a young fellow and a student in High School already, we had a biology teacher in our High School [and] his name was Dr. Turver—he had a PhD actually, but he was teaching High School in Endicott, New York—and he was an atheist and he was an evolutionist and he would delicately bring up those issues as much as he could… he wasn’t a very delicate man. But he kind of survived in that village of Endicott teaching those things and we sort of looked at him, listened, understood, misunderstood and life went on. And then when I continued my education I was virtually totally in the area that they usually call ‘Humanities’: languages, history, theology, philosophy; that was what I studied. That’s what I was interested in. And except for anecdotal, purely casual, popular understandings of things scientific I was pretty ignorant; like completely and totally ignorant. And, I have to say right now, I still am. I still am very ignorant about scientific things.
But one of the things that I decided to do in the last few years, last several years—well, since I retired, actually—but more recently in recent years when I’ve had a little more time, was that I wanted to read more, to study more, to learn more about science. About natural science, about particularly the issue of evolution and what’s called the Darwinian Revolution that really changed our whole vision of reality in the middle there of the nineteenth century. And then of course all the battles that are going on nowadays about historicity and theology and understanding the Bible and the Bible’s relation to science and how we are to understand God and how the place of the crucified Christ fits in the midst of all of that. And, especially, how we would interpret the Bible [and] how we would interpret particularly the Genesis accounts of Creation. When I was teaching dogmatic theology I had a list—which, in due time, I’ll probably read on the radio—of what I considered to be the absolute dogmas of Orthodox Christianity that are connected with the Genesis story. But still, there was the whole issue of understanding all of this.
And then of course I realised, because I am living in the modern world, what a subject this is for a clash: for violence, for passion, for vitriolic and gut reactions and accusations and so on. Since I retired I read an autobiography of a man who was a Protestant minister and a Bible translator, then he became an Orthodox priest and so on, and in this book, which is not at all about science or evolution or anything, but the very beginning of the book and the whole leitmotif through the whole book of this elderly priest—probably older than I am now—was that the scourge or the devil of our time was Darwinism, was that theory of evolutionism. It caused all the problems… and of course in some sense there’s a truth to that, that even in the so-called ‘Social Darwinism’ where the theory of Darwin and natural selection were applied to humanity and human history, which kind of gave the right of Nazis and Communists to kill of those who they thought were inferior and to have a kind of directed evolution by the power structures that could simply destroy those that they thought were unfit. Because you had, of course, Spencer’s idea of the survival of the fittest, which was not originally a Darwinian term, although he did speak about it in his later writings.
But in any case, all of this is in the air and it’s around and it created a lot of strife within the Orthodox Church as well. I mean, one of the main figures of our time is Father Seraphim Rose, the Hieromonk Seraphim Rose who was a monk out in the St. Herman Brotherhood in Platina. He died about twenty-seven, twenty-eight years ago. Father Seraphim and his disciples and his co-workers were violent opponents to evolution and to modernism generally, almost [opposed] to using the intellect for anything other than learning how to be humble before God, the human mind. So there were these huge clashes that existed in various ways and a lot of mutual incrimination and accusation between Orthodox thinkers and Orthodox people and popular people; even jurisdictions of Orthodoxy had their own glossary of calling the others, you know, “mindless retards” and the others calling the other ones “liberal heretics” and all kinds of… the air was filled with all this awful stuff.
And no-one at all who is alive in this world and can see clearly and can think somehow accurately can deny that the issue of natural science and physics and biology and chemistry and archaeology and genetics and all that area and the area of Christian theology, Christian faith, the Gospel of God in Jesus, that there’s huge issues there. Huge challenges, huge difficulties, that have somehow or other to be treated properly. Honestly, humbly, purely, truly, charitably, civilly, responsibly, rationally. I mean, this has to be done. And my own personal feeling is that it may be being done in more recent times a lot better than it was done even twenty-five years ago or thirty years ago, certainly before that. There was the famous Scopes trial and then, in our own time, we had the trial in Dover. And then you have in our time of course the movement of Intelligent Design and that’s a very complicated movement made up of all different kinds of thinkers.
And of course right now, if anybody saw the movie by Ben Stein called Expelled, which I would definitely recommend to any person out there who’s interested in the issue of natural science and particularly the issue of evolution and natural selection and what’s going on in our country today; they definitely should see, maybe a couple of times, the movie by Ben Stein, Expelled, speaking about how teacher and professors in universities who don’t go along with what is now the dogmatic position of evolutionary understanding, that they just get expelled from their positions. They just get fired. That they can’t get hired; they can’t get tenure. So if people spoke about the Inquisition of Christians against natural scientists—and of course, everybody does, like you have the book by Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, where he’s a total proponent of Darwinism but also of atheism, a missionary of atheism—we know that this clash is there, it’s right in front of us and we have to deal with it in some particular way, how to understand these things.
And I have to honestly say, I’ll say it right up front and I’ll try to reflect on this several times—I’m not sure how many reflections I’ll make, probably four or five or six, I’m not sure, this is the first one, just to kind of get us started —but I do think so many issues are raised about Christian faith, about Christian theology. Not only the relation of the Gospel of Christ to science, but the relation of the Gospel of Christ to Christianity itself, because of the Christian divisions. Because of the fights and everything that goes together with the people who claim to be Christians.
But then you have the whole issue of Christ and religion. And one of the things that I’m going to comment on again and again is: I think that it’s absolutely ridiculous to speak about ‘science and religion’. I think you’ve got to speak about what science and what religion. And then when it comes to religion I’m going to argue very strongly that Christianity is not a religion. Religion is a natural phenomenon of people trying to make sense of the universe as they understand it and even as they understand what they understand scientifically in the places where they live. Religion is sort of a human phenomenon. It’s a construction of fallen man in some sense and we’ve got to speak about the Fall. I think I’ll make one whole reflection at some point on how do we understand the Fall of Adam and Eve? What does that all mean? You know, how is it to be understood? Or at least let’s get the issues on the table so we can talk about it properly and to treat the issues properly.
But in any case the real issue is when people speak about the ‘literal interpretation of the Bible’ or ‘religion versus science’… Well, I think that we have to say right from the get-go that that is not the way that, at least in my opinion, true Christians should approach the issue. I don’t think Christians should approach the issue at all that way. It’s got to be approached by the Gospel of God in Christ Jesus and then how that is connected to the Scripture as a whole and then how that vision relates to philosophy, science, art and everything else in the worlds in which we live. Because there’s always this element of apologia in Christianity from the earliest time. Apologia means you do an apology, but not an apology like asking forgiveness or saying, “I’ve done something wrong,” [but] the old technical meaning of the term apologia, which means you give a defence, you give an answer. You say why you believe what you believe and you answer any question that anyone will address to you. You try to make a response responsibly, charitably, gently, as it says in the Holy Scripture, “for the hope that is in you.” You know, this is a very important part of Christianity, you not only have didaskalia which is ‘teaching’ and homologia which is confessing the faith, and martyria which is witnessing or testifying to the faith, diakonia which is serving people in the light of our faith but we have apologia where you have to try to make a defence or give a good answer.
And here I would just like to read, as we get started on this enterprise here, the line from the first letter of Peter in the New Testament Scriptures where this is what it says:
Now, who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right? But even if you do suffer for righteousness sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. (1 Peter 3:13-15)
And then he says:
Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15)
I want to read that again:
Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you.
So we’re supposed to be prepared and ready to give an answer when people ask us questions. So if they say: “Hey, you’re a Christian. You even claim to be an ancient Christian; you claim to be an Orthodox Christian, which means a true Christian. You claim to have right belief and right worship and understanding of the Bible. What do you think about Darwinism? What do you think about evolution? What do you think about humanity’s relationship to the other creatures, the plants and the animals and so on? What do you think about the scientific findings of our time? What do you think about the fossil record? What do you think about genetics and embryology and all those kind of things? What do you think about everything that we now know? What do you think about DNA? I mean, how does that all relate to your faith? Does it destroy your faith; does it crush your faith? Is it compatible with your faith? What’s the interaction?” And we have to be ready to do that. And, hopefully, I hope to serve that cause; I hope to serve that end on these radio talks.
And let’s be clear from the beginning, right up front, not to give an answer. Not to solve the problem, but to try to contribute to formulating an answer. I don’t have any answers, I honestly don’t. I do not have answers. I have inklings, I have insights, I have thoughts, I have opinions, I have problems, I have questions, but really, honestly, I don’t have answers. I don’t have clear convincing answers. Oh, I have some stuff that I’m really convinced about and that will come out in the subsequent reflections and I hope to be able to practice what the Apostle tells us to do in Ephesians, to try to speak the truth in love. And here I hope it would be in love. And I hope that what I would say would be the truth, but I’m not guaranteeing at all that it is the truth. It may not be the truth. I may be wrong. I may be wrong. And I know the complexity of the issue. And I know the violence of the various sides and I know the… you know, by now I do know! And I’ll tell you in a minute why I think I do know at least all the configurations of these particular problems, if not all at least the central ones.
But I want it to be clear: I’m not going to give quote unquote ‘the Orthodox answer to evolution’ [or] ‘the Orthodox answer to modern science’. I’m not going to do that. I’m only raising issues, making comments, making suggestions, sharing convictions and hoping that you, the listeners, especially those of you who work in science out there and especially those of you who work in theology out there, you know the priests and the pastors, the committed people, the people who go to Bible study, activistic people, I sure hope that one of the fruits—in fact I would be perfectly satisfied if it was the only fruit of these reflections—is that there would be a deeper, truer, more honest, less prejudiced, less ideologic, more charitable, more rational, more responsible discourse between Christian theology, and here I’ll be specific: Orthodox Christian theology, the faith of the scriptures and the Fathers and the Councils and the canons and the Liturgy and the sacraments and the icons and the saints, that theology, what does that theology tell us? How does it form us to respond to science? In general, how does it form us, enlighten us, illumine us to respond to the claims of various theories of evolution; the Darwinian one, the one of natural selection? This I believe is what I’d like to do: to further and foster a real deep serious non-ideological, non-aggressive, no culture war type of thing; a real dialogue, discussion, debate on these burning issues.
And here I’ll let something else out of the bag right from the beginning: you know, in one of the sources that I’ve been involved in in the last two years or so, and very intensely in the last year and a half, says that—I believe it was in a teaching course, The Great Courses teaching CDs that I got on: The Joy of Science, taught by a certain Professor Robert M. Hazen from George Mason University and Carnegie Institute of Washington, where he quoted somebody, I can’t remember who now and I don’t have it in front of me, but I’m pretty sure that’s where I got this—he said that the Darwinian Revolution and the publication of The Origin of Species, that book and the subsequent Darwin books, particularly The Descent of Man, is “the greatest engine for atheism in our time”; the greatest engine for disbelief and the rejection of Christianity.
And here I’d like to say clearly: I’m not interested in the rejection of religion. Religion is a terrible thing. I think we should all reject religion, even in the name of Christ we ought to reject religion. But Christ, theology, Christian theology, what we believe to be the truth, what we Christian Orthodox believe to be the truth, this claim is that the greatest engine for atheism, for rejecting all of that, is modern science and particularly the Darwinian Revolution. Now, it may be that that’s true. I think I would agree maybe that even is true, you know, because, gee, it’s all over the place, it’s in popular culture, it’s in movies, it’s in articles, it’s in classrooms; it’s everywhere. You can’t get away from it.
As I’ll say in a minute, I got really inspired to do this by going to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh with two of our little grandchildren last summer, a year ago in June, not this last June but 2008, and looking at all those dinosaurs there and having my two kids being totally interested in all of that, my grandchildren—one of them particularly, we call him Little Einstein—they’re dealing with that all the time. And we have to make a response, you know? Many of us have people very close to us… I myself have one of my grandsons right now is being greatly tempted by not only atheism or agnosticism or deism, but he’s having real trouble with Orthodox Christianity as he understands it—and he’s a teenager—because of everything that he learns in school, particularly in the scientific classes. And he’s a scientifically inclined boy.
So we’ve got to work on this because it may very well be true, I believe even in some sense it is true, that the greatest engine for atheism in our time is modern science. And not only Darwin but Einstein, the theory of relativity, quantum theory and so on. Now, some people think that modern science is coming around to be much more compatible with mysticism, spirituality and theology than it was twenty years ago or fifty years ago or even a hundred years ago or a hundred-and-fifty years ago when Darwin wrote The Origin of Species. But whatever the case, it’s with us.
But here I want to say, right from the beginning, that in thinking about these things all my life—and, like I said, never really engaging science except in college classes and popular journals and things like that, never really studying it—but all my life, having dealt all my life in Church and theology and in seminary and in teaching I always felt that “a great engine” for modern atheism in the Western world, and forgive me for saying it this way, but one of the greatest engines for atheism in our time [that] may even rival Darwinism, is the stupidity of Christians. Of the misuse of the Bible, of all the wars and silly theological arguments and the development of all kinds of absolutely un-Biblical things within the Christian faith, you know, the way things developed through history. And even more in recent times: Protestantism generally tried to rediscover the ancient faith but it didn’t rediscover the ancient faith, it made a brand new one that was absolutely more unacceptable in many, many ways than what they thought they were fighting against.
And when you think of the Reformation and the Counterreformation and the growth of the modern Papacy and the authority of the Church of Rome and when you think of Inquisitions, when you think that the Roman Catholic Church condemned Copernicus and Galileo and Teilhard de Chardin, only to rehabilitate them later by saying, “Oops! We made a mistake.” And that violence against those who disagreed with the Christian faith as these churches understood them; I mean, even in Calvin’s Geneva they burned Servetus at the stake. And the Orthodox were not immune to this either: the Old Believer Protopope Avakum in Russia was buried alive by the Church. Gennadius of Novgorod, a bishop in Russia, burned heretics at the stake.
Now, whatever we say about Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennett and whomever, the modern atheists, I don’t think they’re out to burn any of us at the stake although they wish that we would be atheists like them. But there’s no—thanks be to God!—there’s no violence about it. But we have to be right upfront and say that Christians were very violent, very… I wouldn’t even use the term ‘intolerant’, I would say just disrespectful. And even betraying their own Christianity, where the Lord says: love your enemy, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Christians aren’t supposed to kill anybody. Christians are supposed to be the people who get killed, you know? Christians are supposed to stand for their truth and let the others kill them, not burn people at the stake and put them in jail and put them in chains and God knows what.
Well, this happened in history and we cannot deny it. We Christians must not deny it. That happened. And so, when we get all bent out of shape nowadays, even seeing Ben Stein’s movie Expelled, we should think about the people that Christians in the past ‘expelled’, maybe for no good reason; maybe for no real reason. And maybe because they themselves were not able to explain their own faith properly: to integrate the truths of the natural world with the truths of the divine world of God Almighty and the revelation of Jesus Christ. So it’s an awful issue. It’s a painful, painful issue. But it is an issue that has to be dealt with.
Now, I got into this somehow—I’ve always wanted to do it— but as I mentioned earlier, what happened so to speak historically, that thinking about these things and saying, you know, I’ve got to get into this, I’ve got to learn more, I’ve got to find out what’s going on, I’ve got to see what’s happening, because I knew that there were those who said you can’t have evolution in any form whatsoever. There is no such thing as a Christian evolutionist; Seraphim Rose claimed that. On the other hand Teilhard de Chardin was a Christian, a Jesuit, he had a whole theory trying to integrate science and theology. Probably he failed, I think he did fail in many ways: the scientists said, “He’s not sufficiently scientific,” [and the] theologians said his theology was garbled. I always wondered what would happen had he been really knowing, not simply Latin scholasticism, but had he been really knowing patristic theology of the earliest ages, what he would have come up with. However he’s violently attacked by Seraphim Rose too. And so is Theodosius Dobzhansky: Theodosius Dobzhansky, whom I will speak about later, is a Russian Orthodox Christian in America. He actually even received an honorary doctorate from St. Vladimir’s Seminary in 1973, and he was a thoroughgoing scientific evolutionist, he was a geneticist, he was probably the main figure in the so-called evolutionary synthesis when genetics and biology got connected together with natural science. But anyway, he claimed to be an Orthodox Christian all his life. And he did not see, at least he personally did not see, that there’s a real conflict in the essence of the Orthodox Christian faith and the belief in the Gospel of Christ and what he was studying as a biologist and a geneticist. However, Theodosius Dobzhansky was also attacked by Seraphim Rose in his book Genesis, Creation and Early Man. So here you have Orthodox Christian attacking Orthodox Christian and so on.
So I was familiar with all of these things, but in June of 2008—that’s a year ago, not this past June but a year ago—as I mentioned, I went to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, the Museum of Natural Science, I think that’s what it’s called, or Natural History. And they have all of these things there of course that you would imagine in a modern American Museum—actually it was Carnegie Museum of Natural History—you have the big dinosaurs replicated, you have images of so-called emergence of humans, you have kind of trees of how people think the evolutionary process developed, you have exhibits of coal mines, because in Pittsburgh they’re on the coal mine, so they’re showing how coal became coal by the fossilisation of vegetation and so on. So you have all the things that you would find in a modern scientific museum. So I went there with the children, my grandson and my grand-daughter, we went there and we went around, and as we were leaving I saw in the bookstore a book called Charles Darwin: His Life and Times. And it was called “a shrewd guide to the life of a scientific genius” written by a man named Cyril Aydon. And it was a kind of popular but very well written, just a biography as well as a scientific development of Darwin himself, the man. What was this man like? How did he get in to what he did? How did his own life develop? Who were his relatives? What were his influences? How come he drew the conclusions that he drew? How did he feel about the conclusions that he was drawing? And then, of course, how was it received by the people of his time? How was it received by the scientific community, that at first disregarded it and then attacked it for the most part… How was it received by the church community of England, the Church of England? And there’s the famous debate after The Origin of Species between Wilberforce the bishop, a very famous bishop who was very prominent in stopping the slave trade and Thomas Huxley, who’s often called Darwin’s bulldog. Because Darwin, we’ll see, didn’t fight very much himself; he stayed on the sidelines; he was shy and he was sick. But Huxley got right out there and fought and I want to tell you a little bit about that when we… in due time, you know, during these days. But in any case, I bought that book and I read it. And then I thought: I’ve got to learn more.
So I went to the library, I got more biographies about Darwin. There’s a great two volume by Janet Browne; Browne is a good one. Then I wrote to The Teaching Company, you know there’s kind of an outfit that gives classes on science and, well, they give classes on everything: you can get the history of Catholicism, there’s not much about Orthodoxy in The Teaching Company, maybe some day there will be, but they have about music, Bach, Shakespeare, God knows what, they have courses. They get college professors and they read their courses and you can buy them on DVD and look at them or you can buy them on CD and listen to them. I bought them on CD because I can’t sit and watch because I don’t have time for that, but I drive around a lot, so I could listen. So I bought several. I bought three, actually. I bought one simply general one called The Joy of Science. It has five parts and about fifty lectures including not only physics and chemistry and all this, but including biology, natural origins and so on. It’s by Robert M. Hazen from George Mason University. We’ll see, if you look at the movie by Ben Stein, you’ll see one of the scientists was expelled from George Mason University actually, because of not holding the party line on Darwinism and evolution. Because we have to speak also at some point about this movement called Intelligent Design.
But anyway, I got that one, and then I got, I decided that I should learn more about Einstein and relativity theory and the quantum revolution, and it’s called Modern Physics for Non-Scientists and it’s taught by a Professor Wolfson from Middlebury College. This doesn’t have anything to do at all with Darwinism or anything but it does have to do with science. And certainly Darwin and Einstein are probably the two biggest names of our time that have moulded and shaped modern thought. I mean, Einstein in the area of physics, I mean, he turned over the Newtonian world which was so certain and so secure. And it’s so fascinating, quantum physics and relativity theory. In fact, my own opinion is [that] it helps us much better to understand certain things in theology, for example, what happens to people when they die. But that’s another story.
But then I bought a series of lectures called The Darwinian Revolution. Twenty-four lectures. And I must have listened to these at least ten times, over and again, and then going to other sources that are mentioned in these lectures. I’ll just quickly tell you what’s in here, and I would really beg you, if you could possibly afford it and have a chance, get the CDs, get the course from The Teaching Company called The Darwinian Revolution. These are the topics of the lectures: The Meaning of Evolution, The Way It Used to Be, Theories of Evolution in the 18th Century, Fossils and Catastrophism, Theories of Evolution Just before Darwin, Why Evolution Was Rejected before Darwin, Darwin’s Conversion to Evolution, What’s in On the Origin of Species?, How Origin Fared among Scientists, The Religious Reaction to Darwinism, The Social Implications of Evolution, Evolution and Heredity. And then the low-point: A Nadir for Natural Selection, then the Groundwork for Recovery and then Human Evolution. Then there’s a whole talk on the Scopes trial and what that was all about. Then there’s the issue of Lamarckian Inheritance, because Lamarck was one of the first teachers of evolution; evolution was on the scene much before Darwin, as a matter of fact, as we’ll see. Evolution and Molecular Biology, The Rise of Biblical Creationism, Tinkering with Evolutionary Theory, The Heritage of Eugenics, Intelligent Design and then the last lecture is called Adding Things Up. And, very interestingly, the one on the Evolutionary Synthesis, it deals with this Theodosius Dobzhansky, the Russian Orthodox man whom I mentioned.
Now, what is so interesting—to me anyway—about these talks is the man who gives them. The man who gives them. His name is Frederick Gregory and he’s the Professor of History of Science at the University of Florida where he taught for thirty years. He’s an elderly gentleman by now. But his biography is very interesting because this Frederick Gregory holds an undergraduate degree from Wheaton College in Illinois where he studied mathematics. Now, Wheaton College is one of the premier evangelical Christian colleges in the USA. Anyone who knows anything about Christianity in America knows the importance and the significance and the centrality of Wheaton College. He certainly went there because he was an evangelical Christian. Then it says “he graduated with a seminary degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.” Now, Gordon-Conwell in New England is one the premier evangelical theological schools. So this man, Professor Gregory, went to Wheaton College and to Gordon-Conwell Seminary, where he got a degree, a Master of Divinity or whatever it was at the time, the seminary degree. Then he obtained a Masters Degree in History of Science from the University of Wisconsin. The he earned a PhD in the History of Science from Harvard University. Then he began studying the history of science and he’s the one who writes this book, and I can tell you, he sticks to his topic. He speaks about the Darwinian Revolution, but he speaks of its interaction with the church and Christianity and what he calls ‘religion’ and Biblical interpretation of his time; he does do that. And then in the end, his adding up, he thinks that what is really necessary is a real debate between theologians and philosophers and artists and then all kind of scientists and all sciences and believers and non-believers to really come together to try to see what they can see. Now, he never reveals what his own faith commitment is, and I don’t think it’s proper for me to guess what it is on the radio, but in any case whatever it is he’s certainly sympathetic to those who believe in God and in Christ and are trying to engage this topic. He seems, at least, to be incredibly sympathetic, especially at the end and especially on some of the things that he says about Darwin’s inter-relationship with the Christianity of his time.
And I’ll get to that later when I speak about Darwin’s life and his own development, because I do want to reflect simply on the person of Darwin, but I also want to reflect on the Christianity in which he lived. What was going on in the Church of England when he was alive? What kind of teachings were being done? What was happening in the church? And then we have to speak about his wife and his family, because his father was a thoroughgoing atheist who nevertheless tried to convince him to become a minister, a pastor in the Church of England, we’ll get to that! And his wife was a very devout person, very devout and she went to the Church of England all the time, but she was a Unitarian at the same time, she didn’t believe in the Trinity. But she was a communicant in the Church of England. Even just those things can tell you something about the scene… but we’re going to look at it more in detail later. But what we want to do is to see the person of Darwin. Who was this man and what was going around at the time in his world, in his experience, in his life? What formed him? What was his own religious—I hate that word, honestly, I like to say his own theological or evangelical—education? How did he himself understand the Holy Scriptures? What was he taught? I think that we need to get into that in some depth.
But I would definitely recommend to anyone who wants to follow what we’re going to do here in some serious deep way, a responsible way, to try to get access to these lectures called The Darwinian Revolution by Professor Frederick Gregory. Then I would suggest reading some biographies of Darwin—there are many out there: the one by Aydon; the one by Browne, Janet Browne—certainly to read those things. But there are other things: other things that really should be read.
For example, if we’re really interested in this, we have to read the Seraphim Rose book Genesis, Creation and Early Man, where he has almost a hundred pages on evolution, on science and the Holy Fathers and evolution and so on. And a basic critique of the evolutionary model and so on. That should be really studied; it really must be done if we’re honest and we want to hear everything we’ve got to do it. Phillip Johnson, who wrote Darwin on Trial, he wrote a little promotion of this book, but I think he didn’t agree with Seraphim actually, in fact I’m sure he didn’t agree with him, because Phillip Johnson held some kind of evolutionary theory but just not the Darwinian one. But Phillip Johnson’s book Darwin on Trial—which I did read, probably ten years ago or whenever it first came out I remember getting it and reading it and then putting it aside as I was doing my duties—that’s something to be read.
Then I think also to be read are some of the, you know, there are other Orthodox authors who write on this. There’s Theodosius Dobzhansky’s essay in 1973 in the quarterly about evolution and about faith in God. There’s other things elsewhere: Fr. Theodore Bobosh wrote a book called Questioning God about Genesis. He’s a pastor in Dayton, Ohio. Professor Bouteneff, Peter Bouteneff of St Vladimir’s just published a book this last year called Beginnings, where he studies the interpretations of the Genesis accounts in the earliest Christian writers, the early Christian Fathers—saints and heretics!—of the early Christian movement, how they interpreted the Genesis story. So there’s material there to be read.
There’s another book that I would definitely recommend, not just for this topic but just generally for our time, called The Making of the New Spirituality. It’s by a man named James A. Herrick, The Making of the New Spirituality, where Herrick puts together all the various movements of the last couple of hundred years that produce the modern Western world in which we live, which on the one hand is very religious, and mystical and spiritual and people are into all kinds of stuff from ‘channelling’ to I don’t know what and on the other hand can be very atheistic and very scientistic and so on. And he has a whole chapter in the book called ‘Evolution and Advancement: Darwin’s Spiritual Legacy” and it’s a pretty long part of the book, let me just tell you exactly how many pages it is: it’s from page 118 to page 150 so it would be more the 30 pages long, right?
So there are writings and I’m sure that you folks have read, some of you, have probably read five times as much as I have because the material on this issue is just endless. Also I would just recommend another book that I found, you know, real tough to read but certainly worth reading: it’s a book called Creation and Evolution: A Conference with Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo. The foreword is by the Cardinal Christoph Schnborn, the man who edited the new Catholic catechism. And we know that Benedict and the Catholic Magisterium now are promoting some certain type of education and John Paul II did reinstate the good name of Teilhard de Chardin—he didn’t accept his theory, and that’s not the point, the point is: can a person really deal with it?—but the Pope, who is himself a scholar, a Biblical scholar and a theologian, he had these conferences where he invited scientists and theologians and believers to discuss creation and evolution and this book has been published just a few years ago. Let me tell you exactly when it was published: it’s by Ignatius Press that publishes a lot of Benedict’s material, but it was published in 2007. So it’s very recent.
So, there’s all kinds of material that has to be read. But I can just tell you what I have read, primarily for what I’m going to say after today: I tried to read On the Origin of Species, it was very difficult for me to read but I tried to read through it. But I listened to those lectures many times, both The Joy of Science and The Darwinian Revolution. I’ve read biographies of Darwin, I’ve read Fr. Seraphim Rose, I’ve read the other fellows of our time—mostly fellows, I don’t know any women who write on this topic, at least in the Orthodox Church—but you know, Fr. Bobosh, Fr. Bouteneff, certainly Seraphim Rose again, I mean, Fr. Damascene, others, Phillip Johnson. I’ve seen the film of Ben Stein, which everybody should see. I also saw that special on PBS called Darwin’s Darkest Hour when he was agonising about whether or not to publish his findings: as we’ll hear later, when he became convinced of what he saw he wrote a letter to his friend Thomas Hooker and he said, “When I see what I see and I believe that it’s true,” he said, “and when I think of publishing it,” he said, “I feel like a murderer.” Because he knew how much he would challenge conventional beliefs of his time, particularly those of his wife. The rest of his family were pretty much atheists, but he loved his wife dearly and she was a believer, albeit a Unitarian. But in any case, these are the kind of resources that I’ve been through.
Now, the other thing that I do have to say on my own behalf, is that I’ve studied theology all my life, I mean, I dealt with Genesis, I dealt with theology, I dealt with all kinds of issues here and I had teachers who did and I went through seminary and I studied and whatever… And so this has been in my life all my life. But I can say it’s only been [seriously?] in there for the last few years.
But one more thing, before I end today, and that is that in recent years there emerged in the Orthodox Church out of Russia a beautiful Akathistos hymn called ‘Glory to God for All Things’. I would definitely recommend that you get this Akathistos prayer and read it and pray it. If you want it sung you could order it from Transfiguration Monastery here in Ellwood City; we have recorded [it] on a CD, our singing of this Akathist. I’m doing the reading; the nuns are doing the singing with a bunch of college students. It’s not professionally musically great but you can hear the Akathistos. Father Patrick Kinder, also in the Antiochian Church, I believe it’s St. Ignatius Church in Wisconsin, his church also published a CD singing this hymn. I think there are other churches doing that too, other choirs doing it. But in this marvellous Akathistos hymn you have this in the Seventh Ode, this is what the author, who I’ll tell you about in a minute, wrote, he said:
In the wondrous blending of sounds it is your call we hear, O God;
in the harmony of many voices and the sublime beauty of music,
and the glory of the works of great composers,
you lead us to the threshold of the Paradise to come,
and to the choir of angels.
All true beauty has the power to draw the soul toward you,
and to make it sing in ectasy: hallelujah!
So he’s praising artists and musicians. Then it continues, in the Ikos:
The breath of your Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets, scientists;
the power of your supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of our laws,
who reveal the depths of your created wisdom.
Their works speak unwittingly of you,
how great you are in your creation,
how great you are in man.
And then you have the Glories:
Glory to you, showing us your unsurpassable power in the laws of the universe.
Glory to you for all nature is filled with your laws.
Glory to you for what you have revealed to us in your mercy.
Glory to you for what you have hidden from us in your wisdom.
Glory to you for the inventiveness of the human mind.
Glory to you for the dignity of human labour.
Glory to you for the tongues of fire that bring inspiration.
Glory to you, O God, from age to age.
So he claims that the breath of the Holy Spirit is inspiring not only artists and poets, but scientists. And he says that they reveal the unsurpassable power in the laws of nature: they show how all nature is filled with God’s laws, they show that he has revealed “what you have revealed in your mercy and hidden in your wisdom”.
And this man who wrote this Akathist was a bishop, a Metropolitan named Tryphon Turkestanov. He probably wrote this around the 1930s. He was hunted by the Communists; he never was put in a concentration camp, but he was imprisoned a couple of times. He was a great friend of St. Tikhon the Patriarch and St. Elizabeth the Grand Duchess. Actually, he tonsured St. Elizabeth and he consecrated her monastery of Martha and Mary in Moscow. He was a learned man: he knew many languages, [he] had a theological education, but was a monk and a bishop.
Well, why I mention this is because just about the time that I visited the Museum in Pittsburgh I decided to do some research about the man who wrote the Akathistos, this Metropolitan Tryphon. Actually, the name Archpriest Grigori Petroff is probably a penname, a pseudonym. Certainly it’s absolutely certain now that this Akathistos was written by Metropolitan Tryphon. Well, anyway, I wrote to my friends in Russia, one in particular, a former student of mine, and asked him to find me whatever he could find about Metropolitan Tryphon: who the man was, what he did, how he lived and what I could find out about this Akathistos hymn. So my friend sent me a couple of books. And when I was reading through these books—there’s one by a Hieromonk Afinogen, published I think in 2001—and this is what I discovered in this book about Metropolitan Tryphon, the author of this Akathistos. The author writes:
As we have already spoken, the bishop was raised in the spirit of the Optina desert. He was a disciple of the Elder Ambrose. The Optina desert has preserved, almost to the present, the best traditions of Orthodox monasticism. In his soul his deep religiosity was interwoven with a love for his homeland: for its history, for its literature and for its art. At the same time he distained narrow nationalism. He highly praised and understood the cultures and cultural treasures of other people.
And then here’s the sentence that jumped off the page when I read it in Russian; he said:
Among the geniuses of humanity that the bishop counted: Darwin, Newton, Shakespeare, Beethoven.
And then the author writes:
Darwin’s name witnesses to the breadth of views of Metropolitan Tryphon, since many of his clerical contemporaries, among them those of high spiritual culture, regarded this name of Darwin with suspicion and even contempt. At the same time the Metropolitan never considered Darwinism a theory which offers the complete explanation of life. On this score it is helpful to refer to his own pronouncements on life, where he clearly delineates the limits of science and religion.
And they use that term ‘religion’ there which, as you know, I don’t like.
Now, this is a quotation of Metropolitan Tryphon, the author of the Akathistos. He said:
Christ is life. The familiar and operative term ‘life’ is not at all a simple phenomenon. When Darwinism recently brought to the fore the question of ‘life’, tried to formulate its essence in precise terms, subjecting it to specific laws, it turns out that even in its biological sense, ‘life’ is one of the most impenetrable mysteries. All scholars halted before this problem of ‘life’ as before a massive locked door. To describe this process as a chance movement of atoms or electrons; to say that living cells of the body possess a consciousness, still falls very far short of explaining what ‘life’ is. All scientific theories can have meaning only as more or less satisfying descriptions of a living process, the source of which apparently lies beyond the boundaries of this life itself. Old Testament Jewish religion affirmed that the source of cosmic life: the Earth, plants, animals, humans and all, lies in God. That is, in an independent entity who has no prior origin. As the true image of God, as God Incarnate, Jesus Christ in this biological sense has the full justification to declare about himself: “I am the life.”
So the Metropolitan says if we’re going to study natural life we’ve got to study theological life, we’ve got to study Jesus Christ who is the life. And then we’ve got to see, what does Jesus bring to our knowledge about the life of all things? The life of animals, plants, fish, and certainly the life, the biological life, of human beings and the supra-biological life, the spiritual life, the life which is “life indeed”.
So I was inspired by this writer of the Akathist that I so much love, that he was sympathetic to Darwin’s project. That he was sympathetic to this man who studied life so assiduously and so carefully. Who knows what the Metropolitan knew about Darwinism? And of course, it was all brand new, and who knows what the Russians knew? And of course there was that movement in Soviet Russia of Darwinism, we might talk about that later, perhaps.
But in any case, for today, what we want to say is simply this: we are obliged to engage these things. We are obliged to study them. We are obliged to study [the] theology of our Christian Orthodox Church and the teachings of other churches and other Christians as well. I would like to even say we are obliged not only to study the ancient faith, but we’re obliged to study the contemporary American Christian fundamentalist faith. I like to say, we have Ancient Faith Radio here, we don’t have American Fundamentalist Radio here, but we do have American faith here, because we’re Americans. And we do have ancient fundamentalism to deal with too.
So there are issues here, just tremendous issues. But the question is: how would a person who believes in the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, with all of its Scriptures and saints and Fathers and canons and icons and teachings and dogmas and everything that it has, how would we interpret natural science generally and the Darwinian teaching in particular? And so we’re going to try to engage that in several reflections—I don’t know how many, but in several—in the days and the weeks still to come. May God Almighty help us.
"AFR is a high-quality Orthodox oasis on the Internet. Its shows are well-made and insightful. It also does not push this or that jurisdiction, instead focusing on the message of Orthodoxy as a whole."