March 16, 2010 Length: 55:29
In the 5th part of his series on Charles Darwin, Fr. Thomas talks about the relationship of this Darwinian Revolution and natural science in general to the issue of Orthodox Christian theology.
In series Darwin and Christianity
This is the fifth of my reflections on the Darwinian revolution, and I’m using Darwinism as a kind of symbol for science generally, natural science generally, and to use that as a way of reflecting on the relationship between natural science and Orthodox Christian theology. As you know, those of you who have listened to the first four of my reflections, there are several things that I always say right up front, right from the beginning. Number one is that these are very tentative reflections, that they’re just introductory; they’re the kind of reflections that go through my own mind as a priest for 46 years and a teacher of theology. When we deal with natural science generally and when we deal with the Darwinian revolution, particularly the issue of evolution and the origin of species and so on, how do we go about thinking about these things? I always say from the beginning that these are just reflections. They’re certainly not answers; it’s more a case of raising questions, and that’ll be definitely the case in the reflection today. I want to really raise some what I consider to be really important questions in this whole area.
But I also want to say from the beginning again, underline what I said before, and that is that I personally am very unhappy when you hear people speak about science and religion or evolution and religion, how does religion relate to science. I just don’t like that term “religion,” when we are speaking actually about Orthodox Christianity and Orthodox Christian theology. I think—and I’ve said this before and I want to say it again—that it’s really wrong to think that there is such a thing, maybe using Darwinian terms, a “genus” called religion under which there are various “species” that you can list, like Christianity, or Orthodox Christianity, Catholic Christianity, Protestant Christianity; Judaism, Reformed Judaism, Liberal Judaism; Islam, Sunni Islam, Shiite Islam; Buddhism, Vajrayana Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism; Hinduism.
All these things are not simply species of some kind of genus called “religion” in the sense that they are somehow the same thing and just different forms of that very same thing. Certainly Orthodox Christianity would reject that absolutely. It’s not as if we’re talking about a dog, and then you say, “Well, here’s a collie and there’s a chihuahua and there’s a St. Bernard and there’s a boxer and there’s a Labrador and there is a cocker spaniel, and they’re all types of a thing called dog.” So that you have Buddhism and Hinduism and Judaism and Islam and Christianity in its various forms as just different kinds, different species of the same thing called religion. I don’t think that that is at all helpful, and I don’t think that it is—it’s not even accurate. It’s simply not true. It just should not be done that way, because the things that are categorized under “religion” or “religions” are often radically, radically different—radically different.
Certainly Christianity is radically different from Judaism in the sense that Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah of Israel and that this Messiah of Israel is in fact God’s own divine Son who was born on earth as a real human being from the Virgin Mary. Well, you couldn’t get anything further apart than that. Or Islam, that does believe that Jesus of Nazareth was born of a virgin, but absolutely rejects that he was crucified, and absolutely rejects that he is divine; that Allah is alone God: he has no consort, he does not beget, there is none who is begotten, and there is the denial, basically, of the Godhead of the Holy Trinity, which is also denied by Judaism in all its forms.
Now, Buddhism as a religion—called a religion; it’s more like a philosophy. You have Gautama Buddha, more like a natural philosophy even than a religion. Buddhism is non-theistic. There is no god in Buddhism. There’s certainly no personal god. There’s no god to be prayed to. There’s no god who intervenes at all in human affairs and so on, which would be very similar to Platonism or Hellenism or Plotinian philosophy, where there is a theos, a god, but it would be more like the god of what we call today Deism, the god who is sort of behind everything but doesn’t interact, is not prayed to, is the one who maybe started the whole thing up but once it starts it’s on its own or something like that. These are really very, very different things—very different things.
So I would really urge everyone that I could possibly urge—anyone that I could try to convince of this point, I would try to convince them—let’s not do it that way. Certainly as Christians, let’s not do it that way. Certainly as Orthodox Christians, let’s not do it that way. Let’s do it this way. There is natural science. There is Darwinism. There are forms of evolution that scientists argue about how to understand things. Generally speaking, it is true that the overwhelming majority of scientists believe in evolution in one form or another. They don’t believe that the world is six to ten thousand years old; they believe it’s millions and billions of years old.
And they do believe that from perhaps a unicellular appearance of life or however that happened, that there is an evolution and a process and a growth into different kinds of beings, beginning with what we would call plant types of beings, cellular beings, into animal types of beings who are sensate; then you have fish types of beings and bird types of beings and crawling beasts types of beings; finally even you get to those forms of animals—tigers and lions and giraffes and then chimpanzees and apes and gorillas and whatever—and then perhaps in that very same process in some sense or other, you come to a mammal that’s called Homo sapiens that’s called human.
And that, because of how the brain developed and so on the human beings have certain characteristics that other species do not have: self-consciousness, consciousness of death, freedom, the ability to speak and to interact and to produce culture and literature, to produce morality and ethics, and to have big, huge arguments, not only about whether there is a God and if there is a God what God is like, but to have big, huge arguments about what is good and what is bad; what is right, what is wrong; what is true, what is false. This is something that we can just observe and people can say, “Well, yeah, there is such a thing as human beings,” and now we have to understand how those human beings relate to all the other beings and the other beings that we know about, that we can study under microscopes and in laboratories and by taking fossil remains and by looking at skeletons and studying bones and analyzing brains and all that kind of thing. That simply exists.
So the question would be: how does Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox Christian theology relate to that? How would Orthodox Christians even go about thinking about those kind of things? That would be a kind of question that we would really want to very seriously ask. So it’s not about “science and religion”; it’s about natural science and the truths of science or the hypotheses of science and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or God’s Gospel in Jesus Christ, that is witnessed to in the 27 writings that we call the New Testament that themselves interpret the Hebrew Scriptures and the whole saga and drama and history of Israel and Judah and what we find spoken about in what Christians call the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures—how does that, that New Testament witness, what we would call the scriptural witness of the New Testament, the Gospel, and how that’s been interpreted through the centuries just down to the present day in Orthodox Christianity, which is very different from other forms of Christianity—how would Orthodox Christianity relate to natural science, and then, specifically, to various elements in natural science, like, for example, the theory of evolution, or the theory of relativity—general relativity, specific relativity, of Einstein, for example—or quantum physics or genetics or whatever it would be.
Here I just want to interrupt myself to make one point because of an email I got. Someone emailed me and said, “Why are you so critical of the term religion? It is in the Bible, after all.” And that particular person was reading probably the King James Bible, perhaps the RSV, where you have in the holy Scripture a couple of times the word “religion” is used. “Religion” would be the Greek word thrēskeia, which literally means a kind of reaching up or a grasping up, and that is, of course, a word that was used in the Roman empire, religio in Latin, which means the relatedness of things or how things are interconnected. So there was the use of the term “religion” [it] did exist, which was distinguished from philosophy, because it had to do with the gods and the activity of the gods and so on. But what is so interesting in the New Testament that that term is never used for what we would call theology. The only use that I can find it in the English translation of the Bible—I’m reading the RSV now—it’s in James. It’s the last verse of the first chapter of James’ epistle, which says:
If anyone thinks he is religious (thrēskos in Greek, thrēskeia being religion) and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from this world.
So religion, even in this particular verse, it isn’t so much a theological use as a moral or an ethical use. It says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled” or “pure and undefiled religion” or “true religion, religion that is not stained before God and the Father.” This means before God and the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one, true, and living God is this: “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” It might even be that what the author is saying here is that, if there are religions, the only ones that Christians would be considered as pure and undefiled before God, before the God of Jesus, before God the Father, would be a religion that consists in visiting orphans and widows in their affliction and keeping oneself unstained from the pollutions and corruptions of the fallen world. So it would affirm the care of the poor and the needy.
Orphans and widows in holy Scripture, it’s almost a technical term. If you read the psalter, for example, it will always speak about the orphans and the widows; or the prophets. The most harsh words of the prophets against the people is that they do not care for the orphans and the widows. It’s very interesting that those who accepted the Gospel of the crucified Christ, the very first proof that they had that that was their belief was their care for the poor and the needy, for the disenfranchised, for the orphan, for the widow, for the fatherless, for those who have no protection, because the orphan and the widow had no protection. There was no modern American care for orphans and widows, even how poor it may be; it just didn’t exist. If it wasn’t done personally and privately by people, the orphan and the widow simply perished.
Certainly in the law of Moses, the care for the orphan and the widow was a command of those who believed that God had delivered the people out of Egypt, constituted them as his own people, his own chosen ones, and their proof that they belonged to him was how they treated the orphan and the widow, and even the sojourner, even the stranger and the alien in the land; they had to be treated the same way that God’s people were, if they people of God were really the people o f God. Read the law of Moses, and you’ll see that that’s true.
Read Deuteronomy; read Numbers: you’ll see that God is telling them that the orphans and the widows of all peoples have to be taken care of. Of course, in those very same books, the people of Israel are ordered to slaughter women and children and everybody else of the idolators, because, of course, the whole point of the Mosaic law is the worship of the one, true, and real God, and following the commandments of the one, true, and real God and not worshiping gods that are no gods, particularly idolatrous gods or fertility gods, who absolutely require immoral behavior on the part of those who claim to believe in them.
So this fight [of] the true God against the false gods is pretty violent and bloody in the Old Testament. That even might be something that we might think about when we think of evolution, when we think of the evolution of human people, beings in their relationship with God, because if there are evolutionary processes and growth and development, or what we simply call history, then you see that there really is development among human beings of their understanding of things. Anybody who would read the Old Testament and see how it culminates in what Christians call the New Testament would really see what a development there was, if we want to use the no-no word, what an evolution there is in the understanding even of the God, Yahweh, the one, true, and living God, who begins as one of the fertility gods, who has a harvest feast for his people and then ends up being the God who brings the people out of Egypt, then he ends up being the historical God who really deals with Israel and who is the God, the only God who is a real God, and then he’s confessed as the Creator of heaven and earth.
You see, in the Old Testament itself that it almost seems that the God, the Most High God, in the beginning of the Bible, is simply one of the gods. They would call it henotheism rather than monotheism, that there’s a bunch of gods, and there’s one of them who’s a top god. But then it evolves to the point where the top god is the only god, and the other gods are no gods at all. Then it comes to the point where that top god is the God who constitutes Israel, brings them out of Egypt, gives them the Law that they are to command, and then it’s that very same God who promises to have a kingdom through David, his king, and his seed and so on; it’s the same God, to jump over a lot, who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the One whose Son Jesus is, who is then the Savior and the Redeemer of the whole world, and the One by whom, through whom, for whom, and in whom all things were made from before the foundation of the world. That’s what Christians come to believe, certainly Orthodox Christians.
What we want to see here is that, if you’re using religion in sociological terms, then there certainly are various religions involving things, simply meaning those that have to do with the gods. But even as the great historian of religion, Mircea Eliade, said in his long, detailed studies of human religions, he said, “God is a late-comer in religion on the planet earth.” You have all kinds of sacrifices and deities and powers and suns and moons and thunders and all that kind of stuff in the religions, and then finally you get to God, and then finally you get to one God, for Christians. Then you get to the fact that the one God is the Father of Jesus Christ who is God from God, and then there is the Spirit of this one God. Then you come to the dogma of all dogmas for Orthodox Christians: the Godhead of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And then you have all of the moral and ethical teachings that go along with that particular theological view. Then, of course, you have that theological view which in our time has to engage what we call now modern natural science, particularly science in the last couple of hundred years of human history, the science after Galileo, the science after Newton, the science after Copernicus, the science after Kepler, and then nowadays, of course, the science after Darwin, the science after Einstein. You have this evolving, developing of human thought and understanding in the area of science as well as what you could call, sociologically, religion.
But here, we don’t want to plop all religions together, and I’m sure scientists wouldn’t want us to put all science together, either. I’m sure scientists would say, “Hey, you’ve got to be more careful when you speak about science. You can’t just say Science with a capital S. Which science? Whose science? Which theory? What theory.” Especially if nowadays we’re thinking of evolution, the theory of evolution as a case study. Intelligent Design people also claim to be scientists, and the evolution-er defenders say, “They’re not real scientists!” or “They’re poor scientists” or “They’re scientists that violate the rules of science!” because science has its rules. You weigh, you measure, you study, you look, you observe, and you draw hypotheses, and you go wherever the truth leads you, and you don’t bring in extraneous theories, and you certainly don’t bring in theories that are contained in books that are usually sociologically called religious books, like a Bible, like Genesis; you just don’t do that if you’re a scientist, that’s all. You just don’t do it.
Well, those are the kind of things we could get into, but, having said that, what I’d like to do now for the next few minutes is just to say some things about Orthodox Christianity which I think would be methodologically absolutely essential if we’re going to meditate or reflect on Orthodox Christian theology and modern natural science, whether it’s evolution or relativity or physics or biology or whatever that science may be—archaeology, paleontology, geology, zoology, whatever -ology it would be—what about theology? What about metaphysics? What about that which is not following the norms and the rules of natural science? Because, of course, theology would not be following the rules and the norms of natural science. It would have to deal with them, but it would certainly be another phenomenon, another exercise in human life which is different from natural science.
So what I would like to do now is just to say a few things about Orthodox Christian theology, particularly as it would relate, as an example, to the theory of evolution. First of all, what I would like to say about this is that I do believe, honestly, that when you read books about science and religion and then you read books about God and science, there is a huge problem—I would almost say an insurmountable problem—in that area for Orthodox Christians, because it seems to me—here again, I have to say: it’s just my personal opinion, I could be totally wrong, I’m just sharing my thoughts, there’s nothing dogmatic here at all, certainly not the teaching of the Orthodox Church or anything else—but when you read books about God and evolution, for example, you have to ask the question: What kind of God are these people talking about? What is this God that they’re talking about? What kind of God is it? Who is this God, if you can call God a “who”? You could even raise the question: How is God? What is God like, or how does God act, or how do you think that God acts? which underlies how you might relate that God to science or to natural science.
Here my intuition is, my opinion is, that the God that is spoken about in so many of those books and talked about on TV shows and you find in debates and, I don’t know, films even and so on—who was the God of the Scopes trial, for example, for those who were believers in God? Which then will beg the question: If these people are claiming to be Christians, how do they interpret the Bible? We’ll get to that next time. The next time I’d like to deal particularly with the Bible and what the Bible is relative to natural science, but today we just want to introduce that by saying: Where does the concept of God come from that you’re using as the God that you’re talking about when you’re trying to relate to the testimonies of science, what the science is claiming to hold as true?
If I’m reading science, and the science [is] claiming to hold this is true or that is true or that is true or this is true, evolution is true, the theory of relativity is true, certain genetical teachings are true, and then I say, “Well, gee, what does all that have to do with God?”—not religion, certainly not religion. I would say not even Christianity, because Christianities are so different; the understandings of God among Christians are so various, contradictory to each other. You have Deists and you have Unitarians and you have Trinitarians and you have Modalists and you have all kinds of people’s concepts about God. Here I think that it would be absolutely critically important to unpack and to explain very clearly who and what and how and why is the God that you’re talking about, when you are relating that God to what science seems to be dealing with and seems to be saying about what is true within its own realm.
Having said that, I think that in most of the books that I’ve read, even those written by Christians and even sometimes by Orthodox Christians, people who claim to be Orthodox Christian thinkers and so on, I honestly do not believe that there is care enough expended or put forth about defining the God that you’re talking about, first of all. Then what really seems to happen, practically—and again I could be wrong on this—is that you have Deistic views of God and then very simplistic, incredibly oversimplified views of the so-called Christian God or the biblical God which seems to make that God mainly into a God who makes everything to happen the way it happens and is just doing that all the time in the created order.
Let me go over that again. It seems to me that we have to understand what this God is like and that the two choices which seem to be put in front of people by those who are somehow believing in God… Now, if a person is an atheist, they’re just an atheist, and why they’re an atheist, that can be millions of kinds of reasons. Of course, the claim is that some people are atheists because of modern science, because modern science simply has no room for God or there’s no need for that hypothesis, as Laplace said to Napoleon when Napoleon asked, “Where is God in your theory?” he said, “I have no need for any hypothesis of God.” And then some people go a step further and say, “In fact, my thesis even destroys any kind of belief in God, because you don’t need a God any more.”
Well, if you would say that’s the case, then what is the God that you don’t need any more? Here I think that the two choices that are usually given in the books that I’ve looked at and that I’ve read and the discussions that I’ve thought about is you have the kind of believers in God who would generally be called Deists. Deists, or perhaps Unitarians. These kind of people would usually think of God as some kind of supreme power that sort of starts up everything. Sometimes it’s called the Great Watchmaker or something like that: he just makes the watch and lets it tick on according to its own laws.
Whatever you might call that, whatever label you might want to use, that kind of a God would be a kind of power, a power of origination, a power that maybe gets everything started, the power behind the Big Bang or something like that, or the power that brings into being somehow or another the first little cell that then evolves into all the various millions of kinds of species and genuses of plant, animal, and human beings that we know—but those kind of believers in God would not believe that God is interfering, so to speak, or acting within a human life at all. Once he gets it started, he gives it a kind of an autonomy, maybe not even an autonomy, maybe an anarchy. He just lets it go whatever way it’s going to go and lets it fight its own way out and lets it evolve and develop in any way that it’s going to develop. It seems to me that that could be kind of the views that people would have.
Another type of Deistic person might say, “Well, God starts it all, and he kind of implants laws in it all, and then these laws work themselves out on their own, so to speak, because they are natural laws given to nature by God himself.” Then there would be a question of: Is there a design in it? Is there a purpose in it? Is it going anywhere? Is there a teliology; does it have an end, does it have a goal? Can you speak of higher forms of existence in life because of the way the thing unfolds? and so on. But the thing about this particular theory is: God is not directly involved in this at all in the sense of interfering or in the sense of overcoming the law of nature or breaking into it in any way whatsoever in any surprising manner and that there would be no need for that to happen but that God isn’t the kind of God at all that would do that kind of thing.
So some of the more atheistic writers, like Dawkins and Hitchens, those type of people, they would say, “Well, that’s the kind of God that Einstein believed in. That’s the kind of God that is mentioned seven times in the Origin of Species of Darwin.” It’s kind of a God as the catch-term for the power behind all these things, but it certainly wouldn’t be a God that you worship and adore. It would not be a God that you would pray to and ask for his help and interference. It would not be a God who is a living, active God in the Christian understanding of that word, interacting with human beings on the planet earth in any way. Those kind of gods would be very—gods who are phased out by modern science. You don’t need to have the sun and the moon any more because you know these things are not God. You don’t have to think that when it’s thundering, the gods are roaring or that God is making it thunder or something like that. You just know that thunder is some kind of natural activity when you have static electricity in the universe and in the atmosphere and whatever. Earthquakes are not caused by God; it’s how the whole thing was working itself out, came to the point where the planet earth shifts around under the surface and causes tsunamis and earthquakes and so on by platelets or whatever they’re called.
But then there’s another kind of a God that’s very popular in the literature that is opposed to this kind of God, and that would be the God who seems to be doing everything that happens. Christians are among these kind of people, at least some Christians are, who, when it says in Scripture, “No leaf falls from the tree or no bird from the air without the hands of God being involved,” well, they think what that means is God decides now, “I’m going to make that leaf fall,” God decides now, “I’m going to make that bird die,” God decides now, “I’m going to make that guy, driving his car on a Pennsylvanian road, hit and kill a deer, but I’m going to decide also as God that, of the four deer that ran across the street, only one of them is going to get hit, because I, God, have decided that, and I have made that happen right now. However, if the driver had thought to pray to me, maybe I would have made the deer swerve, and the driver wouldn’t have hit it, and he would have said, ‘Oh, thank God! I didn’t hit the deer. God got the deer out of the way or made me slam on my brakes’ or whatever it is.”
But in that particular view, that kind of a God would be literally a God who is making everything happen that happens. In that view it would mean there’s nothing that you could simply call “natural.” Everything that is natural only appears to be natural, but in fact there’s a supranatural God behind the scenes pulling all the strings. It’s kind of like a divine machinery operator who’s making everything happen as it happens and so on. Then you could also say that these gods in these kind of writings are gods primarily of the philosophers, even philosophers who may use the Bible as a certain way of interpreting things.
I would say here that a lot of the Christian thinkers are following, as a matter of fact, Aristotle more than they’re following Isaiah the Prophet or our Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament. They have the God as the Supreme Being or God as the Uncaused Cause or God as the Prime Mover or God as the Intelligent Designer. Well, those are all Platonistic, Hellenistic philosophical categories. You never hear any words like that in the Bible, for example. Read the Bible; show me where you have Uncaused Cause. Show me where God is called the Supreme Being. Show me where God is immutable and unchanging, where God is the one, the good, and so on. Those are all philosophical categories. They may be more or less accurate, and in a certain sense they may be true, maybe even applicable to the biblical God, but only in a secondary way.
Now, be all that as it may, and I’m sure that I have confused you enough right now with this, but I’ll let it go; I’m trying to stir things up. So what I’m really trying to do here now is to ask you the question: When you think of God and you think of natural science, what kind of God do you think of? How do you think God is? What do you think God is like? How do you think God acts? How do you envision God? Do you have a concept of God? What is that concept, and where does it come from, and where did you get it? Those are incredibly important questions.
Here I want to say another thing, and this is all by way of introduction and stirring it up. One thing that really strikes me in this literature—the so-called “science and religion” literature or the “God in science” literature—is that Christ and him crucified and Christ as God’s Son and God’s eternal divine Logos and Christ the Messiah of Israel who is Jesus of Nazareth who is the human incarnation as a human being in human flesh of the divine Logos and Christ who reveals God ultimately and fulfills all of the activities of God in all of God’s actions toward his creation, including the act of creation itself, is the one who fulfills all of God’s action by being crucified and put to death on a cross, by being killed, by being murdered, by being reviled, spit upon, beaten, treated violently, cast out of the city, put out of human life, and just murdered, and murdered legally by religion—the Jews, so to speak—and politics—the state, so to speak, the Romans—Israel and the Gentiles collide together against the Lord and against his Christ and so on—I don’t see what we would call in my trade that I used to work in the Christocentricity of the God that is usually the God that people conceive of when they’re speaking about God in science.
For Christians, there is no God but the God of Jesus, and that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. That God is the God who intervenes and acts in human history, but he’s not the God who is doing everything. He’s the God that’s dealing with the creation to which he gave freedom, certainly when human beings appear on the planet earth, and who, when he gave reason and intelligence and morality and a sense of good and evil, right and wrong, God is dealing with those kind of people. And he is not violating their freedom, and he is trying to deal with it, but he cannot violate it once it exists. You can have all kinds of debates how it comes to be, whether it comes to be at the end of a long chain of evolutionary activity among the animal and mammalian world, or how God intervenes to make a kind of a jump from a chimpanzee to a human being or whatever, how you interpret that, but the point I want to make now is not that, at least not yet.
The point I want to make now is: if you are a Christian, if you are an Eastern Orthodox Christian, if you are a Christian who has the interpretation of the Old Testament that is given in the 27 books of the New, if you are a Christian who has the interpretation of the New Testament as held in the Orthodox catholic Church tradition through the holy Fathers, through what is taught at the Ecumenical Councils, through what is worshiped in the liturgies of Orthodox churches—if you are that kind of a Christian, then you cannot think of any reality at all, and certainly not the reality of the Godhead, of divinity, of God, without Jesus Christ and him crucified, and therefore, without the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, without the doctrine that Jesus of Nazareth is really divine and really human, without the conviction that for God to save the world and to bring to fruition this creation that he himself has made from the beginning, that you need Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, you need the blood and the violence of the Old Testament, you need the war between the people of Yahweh and the Canaanite gods, you need all that blood, you need all that we read about in the Bible, the most violent and bloody book ever written, you need all that struggle, you need that warfare, you need to have generation after generation of God interacting with his people.
Here is what I would say would be the unique thing about the Christian God. The Christian God is neither the Deistic God, the Unitarian God, but the Christian God is neither some kind of a guy, a human being writ large, so to speak, in the heavens, who is simply manipulating everything that happens in creation including human beings’ behavior according to his own sovereign laws according to the way he himself wants to do, without any real synergistic input on the part of creatures virtually at all. That the only thing that the creatures can do would be to revolt against God and get crushed, or else simply be the mindless instruments of God even against their own will, because there’s irresistible grace and God is deciding everything. Well, I think if you read the Bible as the Bible is written and certainly as the Bible is interpreted in the Eastern Orthodox Church, that’s not the way God is.
He’s neither of those two kinds of gods, in the holy Scripture, certainly the God who is the Father of Jesus Christ, the God who is God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity, one in essence and undivided, one of whom has become the Man Jesus and lived on the earth and was a Jew and was part of human history and was part of Jewish history and was even produced by the Old Testament where, through decades and generations of struggle of people with God—and even the word “Israel” means “the one who struggles with God”; that’s what the word means: the one who fights with God. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel because he strove with God, and God had to fight with his own people and he had to smash them and let them go into exile and all that stuff.
So God does act, God does intervene, but he’s not some kind of God who is in control over everything, deciding everything and designing everything according to the ends that depend strictly and only on him. If that were true, if that were the teaching, I can’t stand bumper stickers, for example [that read] “God is in control,” because if he’s in control, he’s doing a pretty messy job. But God is not a controller God. God is not a tyrant God. God is not a despotic God. God is love. God is mercy. God is truth. God is wisdom. And he wants human beings to participate in that same truth, that same wisdom, that same goodness, and to do so freely.
Therefore that God had to run the risk of evil and sin and suffering and death, and therefore that God had to find people to interact with him. He had to find Abraham. He had to find Isaac and Jacob, who struggled with him. He had to deal with the twelve tribes of Israel and had a hard time with them, and luckily he had Joseph. Then he had to find Moses, and that Moses had to deal with him. But he couldn’t constrain things; he couldn’t control things. He could only find people who would interact with him to bring about his design which in fact is requiring all of this contestation and struggle and warfare, in spiritual warfare, in physical warfare, in idolatries and betrayals and apostasies and exiles and prison camps and razings of Jerusalem and all that kind of stuff. Why would God go through all of that if he could just make everything nice from the beginning? Why couldn’t he have done it otherwise?
And even when you read things about Intelligent Design, the Intelligent Designers, even if you take their view of God, it would be a God that you would say, “Well, what kind of a design did he do? What kind of a God… Yeah, he designed all right. He designed a world where there would be a Judas who would betray his Son and get him nailed to a cross and to be murdered. Oh, wonderful plan, isn’t it?” But that has to be taken seriously by the Christians when they speak of God.
Then it’s that kind of God that they have to bring into relationship with natural science, not some kind of Platonistic, Hellenistic God, not some kind of pagan God, but the Holy Trinity God, the God of incarnation, the God of crucifixion, the God who enters history, the God who becomes a first-century Jew, the God who dies on the cross, the God who goes into the realm of chaos and death in order to bring the love and the peace of God there, the God who promises love and peace only in an age to come and not in this world which is still corrupted and ruled by all the alien, irrational forces of the universe, of the elemental powers that the scientists in fact are trying to study and come to terms with. Nowadays you even have these uncertainty principles in science. The laws don’t seem to be as strict and as unchangeable as Newton taught that they were.
But, in a word, the God that Christians have to bring to the debate with science is the God of Jesus, the God really of the Bible, which involves this incredible interaction between God and his creatures. Now, the Christian God is certainly not the Deistic God. The Christian God is definitely involved. The Christian God can enter into nature. The Christian God can even, when it’s necessary for his divine plan, overcome the laws of nature, so to speak, or reveal the higher aspects of the law of nature that we don’t even know about, like, for example, a Virgin conceiving and bearing a Son by the activity of divine power. Yeah, Christian God is a God who breaks into human life, but he is certainly not a God not involved in human life, nor is he a God who makes everything happen that happens in human life.
There is evil, there is apostasy, there is rebellion—that is part of God’s providential plan, but God doesn’t cause it. God doesn’t cause evil. There is evil. God creates beings who would be evil. God creates strife in the universe. God definitely created animals that eat each other. I mean, if you read the Bible, if you’re a Christian you’ve got to believe that. God definitely created—I don’t know—killer whales who grab their trainer by their ponytail, drag her into the water, and she dies. Just happened in the news. God is the God of the world where there’s earthquakes and fires and storms and terror, and we can pray to the God to deliver us from these things and we believe that he can if he wants to, but we do not believe that he’s causing all those things by his divine will as a kind of sovereign God who is Lord over everything in creation, every breath, every act, every tree, every leaf, every minute of every day. That is simply ridiculous; that’s ridiculous.
That’s certainly not the biblical teaching, because the biblical Orthodox Christian teaching is that there is a providence that involves human evil and human freedom. And there is a providence in which the world has gone wacky and kooky because human beings don’t know how to handle it, that we’ve lost control of it. We’re the ones who’re supposed to control it, and we’re supposed to do so in obedience to God. And there is a God that is to be obeyed, and there is a God to be prayed to, and there is a God to be worshiped and adored, but this God is neither the Deistic God of philosophers nor the mechanistic, magical God of pagans. It’s a different kind of a God.
My only appeal today and my only appeal right now would be this. If there are Orthodox Christian believers who are going to engage natural science, ask yourself this question: What God is it that you bring to that debate? What God is it? What is that God like? And here I would say, if you’re an Orthodox Christian believer, it better be, to use Orthodox liturgical symbolism, the God of the trikiri and the dikiri. I like to say that. When our bishops serve the Divine Liturgy, they hold two candlesticks: one is a triple candle, and one is a double candle. The triple candle is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the double candle is that the Son of God is also the Son of Man, that’s God’s Son has become human; he’s the Son of Mary.
So we believe in Father, Logos, Word, Wisdom, Power of God, and Spirit of God. And we also believe in the Incarnation, the real incarnation of God becoming human and living in this world at a certain moment of time, at a certain moment in history, entering into the world by being born of a Virgin. Yeah, that’s a wonder; that’s a miracle, but it isn’t any more or less of a miracle than the creation of the world in the first place. But Christians would always remember that the One born of a Virgin is the One by whom all things were made. He’s the One who created the very ages. He is the Logos of God in the mind of God in which every being in all of creation is a human and a created creaturely animal or plant expression. In other words, all that exists exists in the divine, super-essential mind of God that we can’t even imagine, and that that Logos, that meaning to all things, the truth of all things, the life of all things, has become the Man Jesus Christ, and he is the way, he is the truth, he is the life, he is the wisdom, he is the Logos, he is the Word, he is the Power.
Then there is the Spirit of God, the breath of God, that if God were to withdraw that breath, there would be no creation at all and there would be nothing to study. There would be no plants and animals and species and genuses or anything else for Darwin or anyone else to even look at, because they come into existence by the hand of that God. But they’re corrupted, they’re messed up, they’re out of whack; things have gone kooky. That’s the biblical teaching, and that’s the world the scientists look at and try to come to terms with, and that is the world that Christians believe God not only created but sustains and intervenes in and struggles with and fights with and tries to overcome all the false gods and elemental powers and all the madness that human beings and demons and everything produce in God’s good creation.
And that God is not only the God who creates and who sustains and who intervenes, but he is the God who chooses Israel, and then finally he’s the God who sends his only-begotten Son who is divine into this world. For what purpose? To be beaten, spit upon, ridiculed, mocked, and killed and put to death. What does that tell us about evolution? What does that tell us about the survival of the fittest? What does that tell us about the blood of tooth and fang and claw that the poets speak about in the natural world? What does that tell us about predator animals and extinct species and dinosaurs and brontosaurus and tyrannosaurus rex and all? What does God tell us about all that kind of stuff, if indeed that stuff is proven to be really true?
What does that God tell us, not the God that we have invented, not the God of philosophers, but the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the God of fire, the God of violence, the God who says, “You enter the kingdom of violently” and “The kingdom of God suffers violence” and “The violent person takes it by force,” and the God who becomes humble and meek and gives himself over unto death and gets smashed on the cross and dies in a tomb and then is raised from the dead in glory and is revealed in the transfigured glory of God himself and promises that an age will come when that transfigured glory of God will fill the whole of creation, but in the meantime those who belong to that God have to take up their cross and suffer on this world and shed their blood and have their bodies broken together with him? That’s the God that the Christians believe in, and I think it’s about time that someone, somewhere, began bringing that God to the debate of God and natural science, and not some other kind of God.
So my only plea today, my only hope today, is that at some point, some time, some place, Orthodox Christian thinkers and theologians and people generally who live their lives, especially those in the scientific community, would ask the question about Jesus Christ as the center of God’s revelation and the Holy Trinity as the great trinitarian understanding of the Godhead and divinity itself, because those elements seem to be completely absent from the debate.
Here I’ll just end with a story. Once I had to go, when I was Dean of St. Vladimir’s, to a meeting in Constantinople, sponsored by the Ecumenical Patriarchate on religion and science. It was the most amazing thing that I observed there. Perhaps that’s why I’m saying the things I’m saying right now so strongly. At that meeting, the only people, the only two people who ever mentioned Christ and the cross and his death on the cross as a factor in understanding the relation of Christianity with science were two medical doctors. No theologian who spoke at that meeting, all of whom were Orthodox, mentioned Christ and him crucified at all in their talk. Then three Greek Orthodox theologians were appointed to make up a statement on behalf of the conference. They wrote a five-page statement never mentioning Jesus Christ, when they were debating God and science.
You could ask: What did they mention, then? You know what they mentioned? They mentioned human beings made in the image and likeness of God and the fact that in Genesis everything is created by God and that God made everything and that what scientists study is what God made and that God’s logos is in everything and so on. They said that, and they said that at the end of the world the whole of creation will be the kingdom of God and it’ll be filled with divine glory because we believe in theosis and everything will be deified and glorified and sanctified, and therefore scientists should really be believers because what they’re dealing with is really holy because it was created by God and it’s filled with the divine energies and that ultimately [it] will find its fulfillment at the end of the age.
But they never said how! They never said through God choosing Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses and the slaughter and the beasts and the cows and the temple sacrifices and the prophets and the razing of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile and then the coming of the final time and then the Virgin conceiving and bearing a Messiah, and that he comes into the world and he is the truth about everything including science, but he gets nailed to the cross, he gets rejected, he gets killed, his body is broken, his blood is shed, he has to die and then he’s raised from the dead, and that in him then all that God has made will be saved and sanctified ultimately but only through this violent, terrible activity of God in struggle with his own creation from the very beginning in the garden of Eden all the way to the garden of Gethsemane and the mountain of Golgotha where the Son of God by whom, for whom, through whom, in whom, and toward whom all things were made is actually smashed and put to death at the hands of his creatures, like some dog in a pit. That’s never mentioned.
My only plea today would be: When are we going to start mentioning that? When is the God that we bring to the debate going to be the Christian God and not the God of “religion” or the God of philosophers or the God of pagans, or even the God of the Jews who do not see Jesus as their Messiah, and certainly the God of Islam, or the many gods of Hinduism and the supra-philosophical god of monotheistic Hinduism, or the non-god, pantheistic, atheistic vision of Buddhism? When is it going to be the Christian God? That’s the only thing I want to ask today.
If I’ve done nothing else today, I want to just say this. If ancient Christians, Eastern Orthodox Christians, the Christians of the Scripture and the Ecumenical Councils and the Church Fathers, if those those Christians, we Christians, are engaging natural science as believers in God, it better be that our God is the God of the Bible, the Scriptures, the sacraments, the saints, the services of the Church, the suffering God, the crucified God. It better be that God; otherwise, our debate with science is skewed from the beginning and has absolutely no hope of being a real debate about God, certainly the God of the Orthodox Christians, and the natural scientists, whomever they be, believers or unbelievers.
So that’s the question. Who is the God that we’re talking about when we debate the issue of God and natural science?