The Creation/Evolution Debate-thoughts on a way forward

I am a Reader in the Russian Orthodox Church in Britain and Ireland. The particular Parish to which I am attached is an interesting one in that it was only relatively recently established.

Most Parishes of the the Russian Jurisdiction in Britain are generally made up of people either from Russia or CIS countries-which made up the former Soviet Union, or of Russian speakers from the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The Parish I attend is made up of mainly former Evangelicals-mostly Baptists-who have joined the Orthodox Church as part of their spiritual journey. There are only one or two members from Orthodox countries.

Fr Christopher. Knight in his up and coming book “Christianity and Science: An Eastern Orthodox View of the Science-Theology Dialogue”, points out the difference in attitude to science held by Western and Eastern Christians. These differences are not just restricted to science. The whole Eastern Orthodox mindset is very different from that of Western Christianity and part of my role has been to help facilitate that change of attitude as people leave the Western Church and immerse themselves into the Orthodox Church.

Invariably people bring “baggage” with them and coming from an almost fundamentalist position, part of that baggage can include Creationism verse Evolutionism.

In a podcast on Orthodoxy and Science, Archbishop Lazarus Puhalo, retired Bishop of Ottawa, pointed out that it was irrelevant how God created the world-God didn’t ask us our opinion, He just got on with it!

The modern attitude to the Creation vs Evolution debate, it seems to me, is extremely polemic, not just between Believers and Non-believers, but also between Believers themselves-one of the blogs on biologos was written by a minister who had been turned down by various churches because he was not a Creationist. This then can create difficulties for people who are being drawn to the Orthodox Church from an Evangelical position, because the Orthodox Church is not dogmatic on the matter of Creationism and Evolutionism. That is not to say that there are Orthodox Christians who are Creationists, I know that there are, but that there are two schools of thought on how to interpret Scripture, both named after senior Bishoprics in the Orthodox Church: There is the Antiochian School, which takes a literal view of Holy Scripture and also the Alexandrian School, which would interpret Holy Scripture more allegorically, especially when the accounts of Holy Scripture seem to differ from recorded history (eg in terms of Genesis 1 and 2, the Antiochian School would say “Yes, God did create the world in six periods of twenty four hours.”, whilst the Alexandrians would say “Yes, God did create the Heavens and the Earth, but we do not have an account of the methods He used, just a confirmation that He was responsible.” The Alexandrians would go on to say that Genesis 1 and 2 tells us about who the Creator is, not necessarily how He actually went about doing things.

In many ways, the people who come to us have been brought up to interpret Scripture in a certain way. Ask them what they believe about Genesis 1 and 2, and most likely you will be told that God created the world over a literal six day period. That is the way that they have been taught. Suggest to them that perhaps there might be other ways of looking at Genesis 1 and 2, and they could react in an unsatisfactory manner. This, I believe, is down to the way that Creation/Evolution debate has manifested itself.

Salvation is about faith in Christ, the Nicene Creed, which we confess every Sunday, states that we “Believe in One God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible”, but it does not state how God actually does that making. It would therefore become counter-productive if what is seen as a secondary issue but has been made to be a primary issue, becomes a means of stumbling, by being made so polemical.

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Science verses Religion

One of the most vociferous debates of the Twentieth Century it seemed to me, was the Creation verses Evolution Debate. A great deal of heat and noise was generated, usually by people, it appeared, who had an axe to grind and were more interested in scoring points against their opponents than in making informed and sensible thought provoking comments. It is, I suspect, easy to see this whole debate out of context-simply as a result of, and a reaction to and from, the publication of Charles Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species”. However, my guess is that this train of events came not out of the blue but as part of the intellectual development of the West.

The fifteenth century Renaissance and the Reformation and then the Enlightenment were moves which took people away in their thinking from Historical Christianity. One basically followed another. Indeed it could be argued that these events had their roots in the theological disputes of the 9th to 13th centuries. In effect they were movements which with hindsight seem to lead people away from God.

Coupled with this was the uncritical interpretation of Scripture-especially the first twelve chapters of Genesis by certain Christians, and an uncritical response by some of those who themselves were opposed to Christianity.

The sound-bite nature of the debate meant that any worthwhile and meaningful discussion was dumbed down and, as in many moral debates, the arguments were reduced to over simplified bullet points. The result was that Christians were portrayed in the popular press as reactionary and antediluvian (no pun intended) who ignored facts which, it was implied, proved that their faith was wrong. Science was the way forward and anyone who was not in sympathy with that idea was clearly an ignoramus.

Over-simplified statements continued to be made by both sides with the result that Science and Religion were portrayed as deadly enemies with no hope ever of reconciliation. Advocates on either side who dared to suggest that reconciliation could be achieved were mocked and sidelined. With the rise of Marxism,in the 20th century, which in its various forms, based on “Scientific Atheism”, not only physically conquered various countries but also intellectually permeated the thinking of a whole generation of students, the divorce between Science and Religion became, it seemed, absolute.

The rise of so-called “New Atheism” has picked up on this and has begun to utilise the situation and make it apparently more intellectually acceptable to reject religion in favour of science.

Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia has remarked that “Science tells us how, religion tells us why” and that perhaps is the best way forward-not seeing science and religion as competitors but symbiotic in helping us to understand the meaning of life.