Evolution, Creation and the Hidden Cause

wmapRecent pop culture presented a debate between a scientist and a fundamentalist Christian over evolution and creation. The Christian, a Biblical literalist, holds to the idea of a “young creation,” a universe that is roughly 6,000 years old – this – based on calculating from the Biblical record. It is the most extreme form of Biblical literalism – one in which the appearances of the universe to be much older must be themselves understood as “effects” of how God created the world. God created a universe that only looks 14 billion years old.

There is a strong strain within some Orthodox circles that is deeply skeptical of evolutionary theories. Any account of the world that dismisses the existence of God, or seeks to disregard God as Creator, feels like an attack on the most basic tenets of the faith. Thus, it is not unusual to see sympathy for anti-evolutionist efforts.

There are deep theological flaws in all of this – both in the anti-evolutionist Christian positions and in the ill-informed attempts by scientists to undermine the Christian Scriptures.

A Tutorial on Creation

Classical Christianity holds that God created the universe from nothing. The universe had a beginning – it has not always existed. It’s existence is not necessary. The fathers are quite clear that all things that are not God Himself are created: space, time, matter, energy, all beings, etc.

The Biblical account of creation portrays God speaking all things into existence with the words: “Let there be light!”

And now we begin to engage in theological reflection. What does it mean to say that God created? How did He create? How did God cause the universe? It is at these questions that theological reflection enters into silence. For the nature and work of God’s causation cannot be known. They are not objects or works within the universe that can be observed and studied. We can see the effects of causation, but not causation itself. In the language of Orthodox theology we may say that God causelessly causes. 

It is the teaching of the Church that God cannot be known. He is utterly transcendent, beyond observation and all knowing. It is also the teaching of the Church that the God-Who-Cannot-Be-Known made Himself known in the God-Man, Jesus Christ. What we know of God, we know through Christ.

No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (Joh 1:18 NKJ)

But saying that Christ has made God known, is not the same thing as saying that Christ has now brought the nature of God’s causation into the world of phenomena. The God who cannot be known remains hidden, except as He chooses to reveal Himself in Christ.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

This renders the creative work of God opaque to His creation. We may see its effects but cannot pass beyond those effects to gaze at the cause, for the Christian teaching is that God Himself is the Cause.

An early Soviet cosmonaut famously announced from orbit that he did not see God. Nor will any work or effort of science. It would be perfectly consistent for human science to study and research, theorize and “prove,” and do so without a necessity of mentioning God. Perhaps unique within the opaque universe is the simple fact of its beginning.

That the universe has a beginning is perhaps the greatest “discovery” of modern science. And this was achieved by fairly simple observation. Prior to the 1920’s, it was generally accepted that the universe was static and had “always” existed. The universe was the definition of “what is.” But through the work of Edwin Hubbell and other physicists, it was established that the universe is not static – it is moving – and it is moving in all directions – expanding. The simple arithmetic of this movement is that the universe was moving from a single point, a beginning. And again by simple math, that single point can be calculated at roughly 14 billion years in the past.

This was deeply problematic for some. Here was straight, clear, observable evidence of a beginning. And, as work has continued in physics, a beginning from nothing! There have been many efforts to posit models other than “universe from nothing,” but they remain (and will remain) within the realm of pure theory.

But Christians cannot point to a point of origin as evidence of the Cause, only as evidence of an origin. At that point, we must stand shoulder to shoulder with those who do not believe and simply wonder. For it is in our wonder that we encounter Jesus to whom the Apostles bare witness that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

We meet the Cause within history itself and only know about the Cause because He Himself has told us. We report the story of His resurrection, and His continual presence among us, but never in such a way that He becomes a mere cause, an inert effect with which we may convince those who do not see. God will not be argued.

There are many who want a God who will be argued, a God who will take His place on the playing field of human debate. God as a cause among the causes becomes useful for the human project (whatever we imagine it to be). But ultimately such a God is no God at all, just a god surrounded by the many gods, not the One, but one of many.

For the literalists, God is the cause of the Bible and the Bible is the great effect by which all causes may be explained. But even here they err, making of the Bible what the Church never received. The Word became flesh (not paper). And the Word is to Scripture what He is to the universe. Even in the Scriptures He remains hidden, the Causeless Cause. Documents, stories, poems, legends and tales, histories, doctrinally-shaped accounts, letters and apocalypse, all revealing their very human hands, and yet His word.

You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. (Joh 5:39 NKJ)

And they testify much like the Big Bang. We stand even at the edge of the Scriptures and wonder.

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1Co 2:14 NKJ)

And this is the true character of theology. We know the unknowable God. This both makes us shout from the rooftops and remain mute. For we proclaim the Causeless Cause, who has come among us. And because we know Him we see Him and proclaim Him. But you cannot see Him until you know Him. The universe and creation reads like a parable.

And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. (Mat 13:10-13 NKJ)





About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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148 responses to “Evolution, Creation and the Hidden Cause”

  1. Logan Avatar

    Interesting tidbit on the Soviet astronaut, Yuri Gagarin…I have read that Gagarin never said the words attributed to him and that he was in fact an Orthodox Christian. Irony knows no bounds!

  2. Brad Avatar

    Thank you for the words. Humbling, encouraging, full of wonder

  3. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Young Earthers like Ken Ham teach that God is a trickster who made things appear old.

    They base their dating on the flawed work of Bishop Ussher who did not recognize that the Genesis genealogies are regnal, not generational. They cannot be used to count generations because they are king lists and some kings listed in Genesis 4, 5, 10 and 11 ruled simultaneously.

    At the back of all the Answers in Genesis books there are 12 Affirmations and Denials. Affirmation XII claims that the diversity of languages and skin color came about as a result of divine judgment at the Tower of Babel.

    XII. We affirm that all people living and dead are descended from Adam and Eve…and that the various people groups (with their various languages, cultures, and distinctive physical characteristics, including skin color) arose as a result of God’s supernatural judgment at the Tower of Babel…”

    They fail to recognize that whether the earth is billions of years or only 6000 years old, there is a gap of time between Adam and Eve and the first biblical rulers listed in Genesis 4 and 5. If the earth is 4.5 billion years, and the oldest human fossils are about 3.6 million years, we have a gap of millions of years between Adam and Eve and Cain (Gen. 4) and Seth (Gen. 5). If the earth is 6000 years, and Cain and Seth lived about 5000 years ago, we have a gap of about 1000 years. So, whether one holds a young earth position or an old earth position, there is a gap of time between Genesis 1-3 and Genesis 4:17-5.

    They fail to understand the context of Genesis 4:1. “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have gotten/gained (qa-nithi) a man with the help of the Lord.” Genesis 4:1, The Hebrew Study Bible

    The human knew Havva his wife, she became pregnant and bore Kayin. She said: Ka-niti (Qanithi)/ I have gotten a man, as has YHWH. Genesis 4:1, The Schocken Bible, Vol. 1

    Qany(ty) or Qan-itti comes from Nilo-Saharan languages like Luo, Oromo and ancient Egyptian. These languages share many phonemes with ancient Akkadian, the language of Nimrod’s kingdom. The Akkadian itti, as in itti šarrim, means “with the king” or “for the king.” It is attached to the names of royalty. Even today the Oromo of Ethiopia and Somalia attach itti to names: Kaartuumitti, Finfinneetti and Dimashqitti. That itti is associated with Nilotic rulers is evident in the name of the great Egyptian queen Nefertitti.

    Kain has many linguistic equivalents: Qayan, Cain, and Kahn, as in Genghis Kahn. All the words mean the same thing: king. Eve says that she has gotten a “king” with the help of YHWH. Some might interpret this as a messianic reference.

  4. Robert Bearer Avatar
    Robert Bearer

    Alice, not all “young earthers” derive their chronology from Bishop Ussher. Some use the Septuagint. Some admit the points you make, but still argue for a relatively young earth. (See Fr. Seraphim Rose on Genesis and the Origins of Man, which contains his extensive anlysis of what the Fathers had to say and his extended exchanges with Kalomiros).

    The fact that God would have created things “full grown” and fully function would not be an act of deception, such creatures would necessarily appear to have “age.” Think: if Adam was created full grown in an instant, even he would appear to be 20 or 30 and in a sense he would be. So it is with all complex beyond belief creatures, which must have been formed by their Creator with their design in mind and their components made at once in order to function and live

    You might find it interesting to read what a Jewish scientist at the Technion has to say in this field: Gerald Schroeder, The Science of God. Also, Russell Humphries, Starlight and Time using Relativity to discuss two different time scales: man’s from Earth; and God’s from the edge (so to speak) of the speed-of-light expanding universe.

    Theologically and anthropologically it is important to wrestle with the fact that we believe that it is by sin that death entered and that that death is the last enemy to be overcome and that all of creation has been sujected to death because of Man’s sin. A billions of year’s old earth and a system driven by surival of the fittest in the face of death is an enemy to this perspective and undermines the Gospel in its fullness, or so it seems to me, and more so after reading Fr. Seraphim’s tome.

    Christ is in our midst.
    Robert Bearer

    P.S. By the way, as an aside regarding the perenial argument of which came first the chicken of the egg? It’s rather obvious: the chicken, without which the egg could not be warmed and hatch let alone be fed and learn what it needs to grow to maturity.

  5. fatherstephen Avatar

    Fr Seraphim was a good monk. A holy man. He was not a patristics scholar nor a theologian. I think his work on all of this to be mistaken. With deepest respect.

  6. Jeremiah Avatar

    I usually stay away from these kinds of arguments because they distract us from what is important. If one side of the debate (old earth or young earth) finally “won” their argument with absolute empirical evidence that no one could deny, how much would change?

    We would still believe in the God-man Jesus, we would still teach the Trinity, we would still partake in the body and blood of Christ, we would still believe that all things that exist were created and are held in existence through Christ our God.

    I prefer to let the scientists and pseudo-scientists try to duke it out. As Fr Stephen mentioned here, it wasn’t even popular scientific belief that the universe had a beginning until the 1920’s…that was less than 100 years ago. How much more will science change and how much more will we learn in the next 100 years? So much will be debunked, and most existing theories will be abandoned or greatly modified to account for new discoveries.

    Science is wonderful, but the more we learn the more we find out that God and His creation are beautiful mysteries that invite us into the depths to go “further up and further in.”

  7. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Any account of the world that dismisses the existence of God, or seeks to disregard God as Creator, feels like an attack on the most basic tenets of the faith

    “Feels like an attack on the most basic tenets of the faith”? It is an attack on the most basic tenets of the faith. From the beginning Darwin and his allies wanted to create and propagate a philosophical and sociological paradigm to replace the Christianity they knew. That was a driving force behind their work. It still is.

    I don’t hold to young earth creationism for all of the reasons and more that you mention. However, I think you article perpetuates a false idea that there are only two ways of looking at the debate. Young earth creationists and materialists are simply mirrors of each other and both are wrong.

    A great span of time does not negate God’s creative power and activity nor does it make it mechanistic. A great span of time does nothing to prove the scientistic materialism nor make scientists into the arbiters of what is right and wrong.

    The moral and anthropological premises on which modern evolutionary theories are based are fundamentally at odds with the Christian understanding. So we must also question the conclusions they come to no matter how accurate certain aspects of their data may be.

    I have no doubt that there is an appropriate and accurate way to account for the data and be in accord with the revealed truth in the Church that goes much deeper than any of the facile and ideological stupidities in current vogue.

    I have yet to see it, only some tantalizing hints.

  8. guy Avatar


    i still have all my post-modern concerns about the dogmatism that comes with science as though such is immune from the epistemological fallibility with which all human endeavors are fraught. But that aside, my concern after reading your post is the sort of influence scientific opinion seems to have over religious believers. Why should we even feel some sort of obligation to conform our opinions to current scientific opinion? Scientific consensus about causation and even the age of the earth could still change. Should Christians of the future feel any sort of tug to adapt their theologies to sound compatible with those changes?

    i strongly resonate with what you’re saying here–the entire debate is founded on presuppositions that Christians shouldn’t accept. But it seems to me, so is this feeling of needing to appear scientific. (Why treat science as so privileged? Should we feel equally obliged to conform our theological views to the latest economic theories or political theories?)


  9. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Ken Ham and AiG do not even know of Seraphim Rose, and Rose’s work does not represent the Orthodox view, if there is an “Eastern Orthodox” view. Rose believed in a catastrophic worldwide flood and insisted that this is the view of the Church Fathers and the teaching of the Church until modern times. I’m not sure that this can be proven. Certainly St. John Chrysostom recognized that God preserved the line of Cain. (He was brilliant!)

    Rose’s book on Genesis demonstrates an inconsistency in his thought. He criticizes “some Protestant fundamentalists” for taking Genesis literally, but then attempts to demonstrate that the Church Fathers also interpreted Genesis literally. How can Rose regard American Fundamentalism as a misguided while regarding the literalism of some Church Fathers as exemplary? St. Augustine did not hold to six consecutive 24-days.

    Fr. Seraphim argued that evolution is an essential piece in the developing one-world religious synthesis of the coming Antichrist. If that is true, there are many Orthodox who have bought into the anti-Christ synthesis, including well-informed Orthodox bishops and Metropolitans. Metropolitan Nicholas of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki is an example. He studied Physics in Greece, attended Harvard, and M.I.T. where he received his Masters of Arts and Masters in Science, and a Ph.D in Biomedical Engineering.

  10. John Avatar

    I am a lover of science and I find much compelling about the scientific consensus on the origins of the universe. That said though, I am troubled by some aspects.

    First, if sin and corruption entered the world through Adam as St. Paul tells us, how could we actually have a universe that reaches its present state through corruption, in that death is a necessary part of evolution?

    Second, science tells us that, while the most recent common ancestor of humans lived 5000-10,000 years ago, our Mitochondrial Eve lived more than 100,000 years ago, and Y-chromosomal Adam may have lived 2-3 times further back than that. If mankind has no single common ancestor like a tree, but rather is more like a collection of interconnected webs, what can we say about Christ being the New Adam? Doesn’t that foundational image totally break down? In short, St. Paul’s image of Christ as the New Adam and his reversal of sin’s corruption completely depends on all mankind being related in a linear fashion.

    Not trying to be a Devil’s Advocate here; I really struggle with this aspect of evolutionary theory and I have not read a good explanation that doesn’t consist of “the Fathers were ignorant”. I realize the Fathers were not 21st century scientists, but I really can’t buy into that as a legitimate argument when so much of our theology is steeped in such imagery.

  11. Greg Avatar

    A very excellent and much needed post Father. The idea that Christianity is deeply opposed to the basic realities revealed by the physical and biological sciences has done tremendous and permanent spiritual harm to many, many people.

  12. […] A good blog by Fr Stephen Freeman on this topic […]

  13. Tess Avatar


    AIG most assuredly know about Fr. Seraphim Rose. AiG has a review of his book on their website. The review gives it high praise and they appear to use his book as proof that they are right because of the quotes of the Fathers.

    (I am no fan of Ken Ham and I have not yet read Fr Seraphim’s book. I am just an Orthodox Christian who happened to watch the debate and then googled for Orthodox View and happened to find Fr. Seraphim’s book in the AiG website.)

  14. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for the intelligent article that reminds us of the wonder of all that is so far beyond our understanding.

    That said, I cannot resist this opportunity to suggest an alternate understanding of the chicken-egg dilemma, as mentioned by Robert Bearer above. Please bear with me.

    It is quite possible that the egg came first (actually, probable, in my opinion). We might consider that God may have created in an evolutionary fashion, allowing His creatures to “evolve” into their fullness. (I respect those who choose to reject this possibility but the reality is that we cannot understand how God created, as Fr. Stephen explains so well.)

    If this is the case, then at some point in the evolving process, there were two “almost chickens” among the many chicken-like creatures living at that point in history. They mated to create a fertilized egg containing the first “true chicken” – which was, of course, laid and warmed to hatching by its almost-chicken mother.

    This presumes that it is possible for us to define “chicken-ness” so precisely that we could differentiate between the genetically almost-chickens and the genetically true chicken. Of course we cannot do this – especially since God created quite a number of varieties of chickens and we do not know which would be considered “true” chicken.

    I realize that it sounds like I am spouting silliness here. However, I do so for a reason. It is, in my mind, quite possible that God created humans in a similar fashion. At earlier stages of primate development, there may have been human-like creatures, i.e. created beings that shared many traits in common with what we consider “man” but that were not yet fully human, i.e. they had not yet developed brains that were ready to house the level of consciousness that made them able to choose their own wills over God’s (the essential sin of Adam and Eve).

    At some point, this consciousness “developed” (by which I mean that God made it so, in His own mysterious-to-us process by which He creates). From a place of innocence and natural unity with the Father, shared by all creatures that are not able to choose, the first true human being(s) “chose”, and hence the Fall.

    It makes no difference whether earth’s creation occurred in one earth day or millions: there was a point of choosing and we fell. It was not just one wrong historical choice that ruined everything for all humans to come. It was a type of choosing that our early parents began and countless generations have taught to their children and their children’s children such that we humans have come to believe that our way is The Way.

    It is from this “original sin” that we have been offered salvation. Praise God in Christ Jesus our Savior.

    (BTW, please note that I am not presenting any of this as an argument for any particular scientific theory. I am simply noting one way that an evolving sort of creation would be consistent with what Genesis teaches us. I do not pretend to know how God created the universe anymore than anyone else does. Nor do I feel a need to know – for God is God, and I am not.)

  15. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Tess the idea that science is God and salvation not necessary had done much more harm. I stress again the argument is NOT about science and anti-science but about whether science is practiced within a mechanistic, deterministic perception or within a sacredotal understanding that not only acknowledges God as Creator but incarnate Lord and King.

    For all the short comimgs in Fr Seraphim, he makes that clear. Forgive me Father but your post does not. It seems to me to partake rather too much of the two storey understanding which surprises me.

  16. guy Avatar

    “It seems to me to partake rather too much of the two storey understanding which surprises me.”

    Now that’s the first time i actually felt like i understood the one/two-story reference. And i agree.

  17. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Guy, I agree. It is not nor should it be EVER about adapting the faith to worldly trends of science but evaluating the methodology and findings of science from the perspective of the Church.

    The truth does not lie in particular points of data but the cosmology within which the data is selected, prioritized and interpreted.

    The cosmology of the modern evolutionists is false as is the cosmology of the thelogical literalists.

    All life is an expression of being and even so-called inanimate matter shares in that life and not passively. It is constantly coming into existence as the living God reveals His presence in all and through all. Our priestly function allows us to recognize and cooperate with Him in thanksgiving and the function of our true intellect.

    This is not an abstract construct. Evolution as it is commonly understood and taught is at odds with that consciously and irrevocably. Young earth creationism serves the same set of fallacies buying into the false dichotomies of modernism.

    There is no debate between them just another entertainment to distract us.

  18. fatherstephen Avatar

    Michael, et al
    I fervently deny the suggestion of “two-storey” in what I have written. Instead, I think there is a denial on your part of the true nature of apophatic theology. There is within the mechanistic view a kind of “one-storey” version of the universe (the first storey without God). The fundamentalists want a two-storey universe, but the the second storey in charge of explaining the first storey, no matter how they see the furniture arranged.

    I certainly do not mean to separate God from the universe – rather I rightly affirm that God makes Himself known in the God/Man Christ Jesus. And through Christ and the purification of the heart we can know God. I would add that we can glimmer the deeper truth of creation than can be discerned by unaided reason. You could even posit a “science” (I’m sure Met. Hierotheos would like that term) of an apophatic approach, a “knowledge” rooted in the greater experience of the Church. But largely that “science” is wordless and cannot be shared from the purer heart to the less pure heart, for it’s not that sort of knowledge. It is for that reason that I do not think that there will ever be a Christian science of the sort that Michael suggests.

    I do think there could and should be a believing science that recognizes the wonder of all things and properly regards creation for what it is. But an atomic particle will behave as an atomic particle behaves regardless of whether it’s observed by a believer or non-believer. The believer, truly pure in heart, will understand something that the other will not, but still might not be able to translate that in a manner that we would recognize as “science.”

    Science, particularly as cosmology, tends to overreach, in seeking to explain everything for it tries to give words to what it does not know and will not know, for it is not made known in that manner.

    Science is essentially techne, not gnosis. It is not mystical participation.

    I think that what I have offered, if read and understood rightly, is a proper account of the hiddenness of God. That same hiddenness gives rise to many mistakes – it is a “parable” that both reveals God and hides Him, that enlightens one and darkens another according to the heart.

    My take on Fr. Seraphim is that he engaged with his best efforts in what he perceived as a culture struggle, and that he waged the war well and with every resource he had. I personally think that he occasionally missed in his analysis of the nature of the enemy within the culture, and drew battle lines in the wrong places from time to time. It doesn’t make him entirely wrong, but creates a narrative of the battle that becomes more problematic. The battle has shifted and reveals things to be slightly other than he imagined. But I think this is something we are all subject to – myself included.

    But the apophatic character of God and His opacity in creation is, I think, a matter of dogma and not opinion. What I have offered here are observations and conclusions drawn from that dogma.

    I think that the “debate” between evolution and creationism is generally drawn in caricature of both science and theology. I live in a science city and know many top level people in a number of fields, many of them are believers. They and their science is not the caricature that I hear Michael describing. They have no anti-God, anti-creation, mechanistic, etc., take on the universe. It’s not part of their science or part of their agenda. They are not the enemy.

    My effort here has been to introduce proper reflection on the relationship between God and creation and the nature of God as Cause. If there is something about it that seems in error, then please point it out. But generalities about my place in the “debate” is importing things that I’ve not said or simply not listening to what I’ve said.

    Michael, what you have said viz. inanimate matter (I’m not certain I would ever call matter inanimate), must be apophatically known. You could not tell anyone how you know that. I agree with you and believe that our priestly function does indeed allow us to cooperate and offer it up. But again, I have to stand where I stand and offer it in wonder, seeing what I see, but not able to convince someone else yet of what I see. This is not a two-storey experience, but a one-storey experience. But the nature of the one-storey world is emphatically bound up in its allegorical and many-layered character.

    How have I said anything else?

    I have been traveling and speaking in Mississippi this week and fly home tomorrow. I hope to have time during my layover to pick up the conversation. May God bless.

  19. fatherstephen Avatar

    A note sent to me by a friend offered an insight on the “early Soviet cosmonaut” mentioned in the article. It is said that he denied saying he had not seen God – but this statement was the creation of Krushchev. This link is of interest.

  20. Tess Avatar



    All I did was correct Alice. Answers in Genesis is well aware of Father Seraphim’s book. The evidence is on their website in the form of a positive review.

    You’ve completely lost me with your reply as that has nothing to do with what I said. Or if it did, It’s lost on me.

  21. robert Avatar

    “And now we begin to engage in theological reflection”

    And we should add, “never the twain shall meet.”

  22. Dino Avatar

    Father said:

    But an atomic particle will behave as an atomic particle behaves regardless of whether it’s observed by a believer or non-believer.

    I think we could use this as a basis to answer what two people here (Robert Bearer and John) – and surely more who haven’t mentioned it – asked concerning the Theological paradox of a ‘Pre-Fall Death’
    However, I will try to shift the answer to the experience of the Saints who encountered the Uncreated God. That is the basis for answering. As Elder Sophrony says, at that time (in union with God -being in the Uncreated Light) man has the awareness that he is eternal/infinite/cosmic; not just in the sense that he will never die, but somehow even that he has always existed… (an utter freedom from death in both time directions through communion with the One Who Is and Was and is Coming)
    So, no matter how Adam and Eve came into existence (and into being able to “choose” as Mary described that ‘critical point’), prior to the Fall and while having given the ability to freely choose, while in a Light-filled state of Grace,
    what they observed would behave as what they observed behaves regardless of whether it’s observed by a believer or non-believer.

    However, they would have been observing everything through God’s Light – i.e. potentially free from death.
    But, death (return to nothing) is an inherent part of createdness (from nothing); it is only not there when beings that can “choose” God (Life) do exactly that. So, when man doesn’t choose in God’s direction (ie: the Fall) then the death that wasn’t there for him while in the state of Grace (of being eternal/infinite/cosmic) is suddenly revealed as always having been there… It was an uneccessary potentiality up to that (at least for Man that is – and maybe for everything he channeled that Life of Grace towards), but after that it becomes a most ingrained certainty. This does makew death feel as the most unatural natural thing for us all.

  23. Agnikan Avatar


    “This was deeply problematic for some. Here was straight, clear, observable evidence of a beginning. And, as work has continued in physics, a beginning from nothing!”

    A common interpretation of the Big Bang theory is that it posits that the universe “banged” from “nothing”, but that is actually incorrect. The theory states that the universe expanded from a “singularity”, which is an infinitely small, dense, and hot point. A singularity is also thought to be present at the center of each black hole.

    Now, where our Big Bang singularity came from, is an open question, but not essentially different from the question of why there is anything at all.

  24. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Sorry Tess, doing it on my cell phone. I should have addressed my comment to Greg who said: A very excellent and much needed post Father. The idea that Christianity is deeply opposed to the basic realities revealed by the physical and biological sciences has done tremendous and permanent spiritual harm to many, many people.

  25. Silouan Avatar

    Creation ex nihilo isn’t eternal, because it is not complete in and of it-self or free from every necessity, but is temporal, subordinated to laws, causally dependent, and changing. It would be a contradiction to suggest that which is eternal or without beginning is also temporal.

    That creation ex nihilo is not eternal but temporal rationally suggests it has a beginning, but to say we know when that beginning is absurd and actually reduces the very mystery of creation whose origin is in the eternal thought will of God. There is not a “time” that God eternally decided to realize His will.

    A beginning I’m certain, but it is beyond my measure to know when that beginning was because its origin is of a spiritual order, so if it is said that the big bang is the beginning it will be shown that it is casually dependent with proceeding conditions and causes etc.

  26. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    It would be helpful to unpack the term “evolution” and this was not done in the Ham-Nye debate and rarely is it done in these discussions.

    There are four key aspects: mutation, adaptation, common ancestry of apes and humans, and natural selection. The first two are factual and can lead to traits that are both beneficial and not so beneficial. Common ancestry of apes and humans is theory and not well supported by the physical evidence. Natural selection does seem to happen, but cannot be taken as a “law” of genetics, since there are numerous cited cases of creatures that are thriving but are not especially well adapted to their environments.

  27. Fr. Marty Watt Avatar
    Fr. Marty Watt

    I’ve often wondered if the creation accounts are describing not how the universe came into existence, but why the universe/cosmos is decaying. It seems to be more a story of how death and corruption entered the cosmos. The first couple of chapters of Genesis talk of the creation – how things were before the fall. The remainder of the Scriptures are the description of the efforts of God to restore creation, culminating in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    But I could be wrong.

  28. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    But an atomic particle will behave as an atomic particle behaves regardless of whether it’s observed by a believer or non-believer.

    I think that can be disputed because the influence of experimenter’s bias is statistically measurable and significant even in double-blind research studies. People tend to find what they want to find. There is no such thing as objectivity. There is only honest or dishonest attempts to limit and account for bias. Most of science today is completely with out the honesty.

    However, it is not the behavior that is the real crux of the matter. It is the matrix of thought, philosophy and belief that interprets the behavior, describes the inter-relationships with other behaviors and more importantly how the information is used.

    If one approaches science and the data produced by science from the Christian paradigm, the results will be far different than from a materialistic paradigm.

    As long as science is practiced, taught and applied from a materialistic philosophy it will produce anti-human conclusions and results because it begins with those assumptions and even the wonder at the fabric of creation that is observed is qualitatively different.

    Anyone who has studied the pattern of evolutionary thought from Darwin on cannot help but notice the anti-Christian and anti-human bias that drives it. The moral and anthropological assumptions and desires at its heart are wholly incompatible with Christian belief. They went looking for ‘evidence’ to bolster their desire to do without God. They still largely are.

    I can’t help but think that there is in the pursuit of science more than a bit of the evil one’s temptation of Jesus in the desert to fall down and worship me and I will give you all of the kingdoms of the earth.

    The argument that science is technique really begs the question as well. The life and the focus of the people doing the technique is invested in what they do for good or for ill. It is impossible for human beings to do otherwise. Machines and other technologies can lessen the effect by removing some of the human, but they cannot take it away entirely. To think otherwise is to fall into the materialist mechanistic approach to creation.

    I know matter is not inanimate for a lot of reasons that can be communicated. They were communicated to me by my parents. My father, in particular, went on to build an amazing career of service in public health based upon his knowledge that life, i.e. God is everywhere present and fills all things connecting us to each other and everything else in creation. My mother was a dancer who, through her dance, healed people because of her knowledge of the interconnection of life and rhythm and the unique heart of each person. The results testified to the veracity of their understanding. “By their fruits….”

    I know that matter is not inanimate from the consistent testimony across time among traditional cultures that it is not. I know that matter is not inanimate because of St. Maximus the Confessor. I know that matter is not inanimate from the testimony of quantum physics. I know that matter is not inanimate from my own experience. There could be intuited a sort of evolutionary theory based on that but it would not be the mechanistic nonsense we have today.

    What cannot be learned from quantum physics is the nature of the life and vitality than is observed. That knowledge is traditioned. Just as is the assumption that the material world is either without God or separate from God is an unprovable assumption that is traditioned through our educational systems.

  29. mushroom Avatar

    Beautiful. Thank you, Father Stephen.

  30. aka Avatar

    The issue for Christian creationists is not about science and it’s not about the creation accounts in Genesis. It’s about Genesis 2:17 and 3:3, Romans 5, and 1 Corinthians 15:21 and what natural selection (survival of the fittest and death of the least fit) from the start of life does to the theory of salvation/atonement. It is a theological problem they have, not a scientific one, and most Christians who believe in evolution focus only on the creation accounts as if that is the core of their creationist coreligionists’ concern. “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” does not answer that theological question. Adam can be a metaphor, an icon, even a myth on his own, but it’s tough to do when the reality of Christ’s salvific death is meant to address the real problems caused/inherited by a real person. It’s not that the OT has to be literal and can’t be metaphorical or poetic (at least for most Protestants, traditionally), it’s when the reality of the NT is called into question by its reliance on a metaphor it (the NT) understands as real.

    Of course, once you say something is only a metaphor, it stops being a very useful metaphor. It becomes a simile, it becomes ‘not real’, not really.

    In fact, the reality of death prior to Adam and Eve’s sin is also not the real problem, the issue at the end of the day is about how the Bible is read and how it is or is not authoritative in the church.

  31. Robert Bearer Avatar
    Robert Bearer

    Thanks to our brother Dino who has begun to address the issue that has troubled me–and which our brother John said troubled him: how we reconcile evolution by natural selection over extended periods of time with St. Paul’s teaching that sin entered the world through one man and death by sin. In his same epistle to the Romans, the Apostle also teaches that all a creation yearns for the manifestation of the sons of God for it was made subject to vanity . . . by reason of Him Who hath subjected [it] in hope.

    It occurred to me as I wrestled with this overnight that, rather than assuming (as I always have) that the “subjection to vanity” came after/as a result of Adam’s and Eve’s sin (ours, that is, for we all have sinned and continue to sin after the similitude of Adam), there is another way to see it. Might it not be that creation was subjected to vanity from the beginning in light of the sin (i.e. the turning away from God) that was inevitable (and known by God the Holy Trinity when He said “Let us make Man in Our image and after Our likeness”–when the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world? Biological death still entered the world, but because of sin “foreseen” so to speak, not post facto chronologically. Futhermore, the death warned of by the Lord God to Adam, “in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die (or in the Hebrew “dying thou shalt die”) is spiritual as well as biological death and the conscious knowledge of it as a separation from God for which we ourselves are responsible and “to blame” and not He.

    This rationalization would allow people like me to admit of more extended periods of time as we measure it from the begnning of creation to the creation of Man–the “six days” if you will before the beginning of history, which starts with Man and somewhat to experience relationships concsciously, remember them and pass them on and to in some sense glimpse the future.

    This said, I think our brother Michael and I share the concern that the dominance of the materialistic view of the cosmos and our place in it that underlies Darwinism is anti-thetical to the Gospel. It ignores the discrepancies in many dating systems, whether radiometric, geoloci or botanical. It presume certain things about the fossil record and refuses to admit problems seen in the record itelf. There have been egregious instances of fraud and concealing of evidence so the theory may be held as “proven.”

    I appreciate our sister Alice’s effort to list four important aspects of “evolution.” I would hope we will remember that mutuations have virtually always determintal, while adaptations are generally helpful. Both occur within species, however, and neither has ever mean shown to lead to the creatoin of new species. This is the problem with our sister Mary’s suggeestion that the chicken came from two “near-chickens.” It sounds good, but does not stand up to the rigorous investigation of irreducible complexity in living organizms from the level of every cell to the systems and organs that comprise a living being.

    As Christopher Cardinal Shoenburn (and others) have pointed out, the fact is “evolution” or Darwinism is not science but philosophy. It speculates about things which cann cannnot be tested by hyposteheses which are subject to falsification, which the business of science. But rather than presenting itself as philosphical speculation, it mascquerades as science and says it must be believed as if it were an indipustable fact. And all the while at its root it has as its purpose to explain the world and our place in it in purely materialistic terms and exclude every consideration of God. But such exclusion is the very defintion of sin that by the grace of God Whom it denies brings exile and death lest we liver forever in that sad state.

    Christ is in our midst,

  32. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Fr. Marty,
    Genesis 1 speaks of how God established order after the earth was formed. First the Ruach (breath of God/Spirit of God) moved over the chaotic deep. Then God spoke and there was light. Without light there can be no life on earth. Then we see a pattern of binary distinctions which characterize the created order: light separated from darkness; waters above from waters below, and dry land from seas. Then we find a hierarchy in the created order beginning with the plants which require the Sun for growth. Binary distinctions again between the sun and moon, the sun being the greater light (the binary worldview is not a dualistic worldview). Then birds, sea creatures, beat of the land, and finally humans made fully in the image of God from the beginning. The oldest human remains date to about 3.8 million years and were fully human. Humans appeared suddenly and unheralded on the surface of the earth.

  33. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Paul considered the fixed order of creation to be a code which speaks of God’s eternal power and divine nature, so that nobody has an excuse (Roms. 1:20).

  34. CJ Avatar

    Alice, you said:

    “Paul considered the fixed order of creation to be a code which speaks of God’s eternal power and divine nature, so that nobody has an excuse (Roms. 1:20).”

    Was this in response to the question about how to reconcile evolution with the belief that death entered with sin? If so, can you expand on how it’s relevant to that question?

  35. akareprobus Avatar

    As RLB noted more succinctly, if “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men” (Romans 5:12) then evolution by natural selection undermines the theological narrative of Scripture. Orthodox don’t get off so lightly either by having a broad patristic authority and allegorical/typological readings of Scripture to appeal to. Pascha being about Christ trampling down death by death, and the idea that death is what has caused sin, well, the same fact of evolution undermines the narrative.

    That is, unless “death” is understood in the way even most literalists explain Adam and Eve not dying after eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God said, “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”. The explanation is usually a combination of “death entered the world for the first time, meaning Adam and Eve and their posterity would all die eventually”, but that’s not what God said. He said they would die that day. The explanation usually given is that they died “spiritually”, they were as dead as a branch cut off from the vine – still looking alive, but not. With this understanding, we can see the creation of Adam and Eve as being the creation of them as fully human with body, soul, and spirit – rather than only body and soul like animals. Thus, “spiritual death” did nt exist in the world before Adam and Eve’s fall because there were no spirits at all prior to Adam and Eve – even if there were precursors to modern humans who had begotten Adam and Eve, even if “Adam” and “Eve” referred to a growing spiritual ability developing in humanity, referred to collectively as “Adam and Eve” rather than in discreet individuals. This would allow the death inherent and necessary in natural selection to have existed prior to Adam and Eve (or “Adam and Eve) without contradicting what Paul tells us about the entrance of “death” (spiritual death) into the world through Adam/”Adam”.

    (And this is apart from understanding Adam – and all people and events in the Scripture – as representing me and my own spiritual history and struggle, as the story of every person’s spiritual history.)

  36. Dino Avatar

    Robert, CJ, aka, and John,
    awaiting Father Stephen’s answer on the subject of reconciling the existence of death and corruption prior to Man’s Fall (which made creation “subject to vanity”), I would draw your attention to Saint Athanasius the Great who understands createdness as constantly being under the threat of death – right from the start, ‘from the foundation’…
    Man was, of course, granted the possibility – he was created for this – of overcoming this for all of creation cooperating with Grace.
    Also the Fall’s status as universal was only established by St Paul in the light of Christ. His starting point is the Saviour, Christ. St Paul’s ‘direction’ is not the one usually associated with Christianity, (a kind of chronological sequence from a perfect pre-fallen state, to a one-event Fall), and then to a salvation that comes in the year 33. For him, Christ is the first true human being, and Christ is the image of God and the model for Adam…
    “Adam’s humanity is a provisional copy of the humanity that is in Christ”
    St. Paul sees Adam as a kind of beginning – the beginning of a ‘death-bound’ mode of life, where it should have been a beginning of a ‘death-free’ life…

  37. Dino Avatar

    well said on spiritual death…

  38. Greg Avatar

    “Anyone who has studied the pattern of evolutionary thought from Darwin on cannot help but notice the anti-Christian and anti-human bias that drives it. The moral and anthropological assumptions and desires at its heart are wholly incompatible with Christian belief. They went looking for ‘evidence’ to bolster their desire to do without God. They still largely are.”

    To grasp how ahistorical and one dimensional this is, turn to the 19th century Anglican champion of Darwinism, Aubrey Moore, who saw evolutionary development as a return to a properly Christian understanding of creation. Readers who are interested in a thoroughly integrated discussion of materialism, science and Christianity could do no better than to visit (the Orthodox theologian) David Bentley Hart’s Existence of God.

    Virtually all Orthodox intellectuals and most theologians have affirmed the factual correctness of biological evolution: Yannaras, Louth, Bulgakov, Ware, Hart, etc. We have cranks of course but this seems to be a fundamentalist phenomena on the margins of blog comments.

    I have seen so many people’s faith destroyed by anti evolution nonsense. No Orthodox person is compelled to deny the basic reality of the physical world around us.

  39. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Romans 1:20 tells us that Paul undertood that there was a fixed order in Creation: clock like motion of constellations, solar arc, moon phases, fixed stars. Also horotely, that is genetic boundaries or “kinds” (essences). This feature of creation speaks of God’s nature and power and therefore also reveals Christ’s nature and power to those who diligently seek Him through study of the order of Creation.

  40. Dino Avatar

    I think that Romans 1:20 speaks far more of the Maximian “Logoi” as the ‘order’ in Creation, even if as a basic ‘teleology’, instead of a chronological order though….

  41. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I have no problem, the more I contemplate it, with the notion that there was death in the rest of the created order prior to our fall.

    There is clearly inherent in the Orthodox understanding that life ‘after its kind’ is designed to brought to a higher perfection by the action of God’s grace and mercy.

    None of that is in the slightest compatible with the materialist notion that kinds change due to the self-organization of matter into more complex and more sentient forms due to random processes.

    Even noted atheist’s such as Thomas Nagel recognize the great difficult that such a process has in light of the growing understanding of the sheer volume of information contained in the genetic code and the rather nasty problem that evolution based on philosophical naturalism has no way to account for consciousness especially since it seems that consciousness can be seen as an evolutionary disadvantage.

  42. aka Avatar

    Entropy used to be considered the fool-proof argument against the possibility that evolution to higher orders or more complex life could take place. Unfortunately, entropy on the macro scale is different than on the micro scale. That is, entropy will often decrease (more organization) in local ways because it increases entropy more generally.
    From ‘Answers for Creationists’ by Phil Plait:

    “4) “Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove evolution?”

    No. The creationist argument assumes the Earth is a closed system, such that energy cannot escape or enter. But the Sun is the main source of energy for the Earth. This allows more order to be created, and for entropy to be locally lowered in some cases.”

    Entropy acts in odd ways in modern physical cosmology, currently and far in the past.

  43. marybenton Avatar

    I do not see any problem with there being death prior to the Fall. If physical death is what was under consideration, then the fact that people still undergo physical death since Christ’s Resurrection would essentially put Christianity out of business.

    I am not as educated as many of you in such matters but it seems to be that physical death in a natural part of God’s creation. It is a problem for the “Adam and Eve” in us because we want to make ourselves eternal. We defy the bodily death by asserting that we want to be gods and do it our way. Very different from the eternal life that comes from union with Christ.

    The first is a disobedience masquerading as the answer to our human dilemma. The second is an obedience to Truth that is our salvation. C.S. Lewis sums all of this very nicely in “Out of the Silent Planet”. The rational Hrossa did not mind being unbodied at the end of their lifespans – for they were obedient. Weston and Devine (and Ransom, at first) had a great terror of death.

  44. guy Avatar

    If physical death is not a result of the fall, then i definitely do not understand the Orthodox view of the fall like i thought i did. (And as it was taught to me in catachumen classes.)

  45. marybenton Avatar

    Note to Michael et al,

    I took an excellent course in genetics and evolution at a Catholic college nearly 40 years ago. I was never taught that there was anything anti-Christian about Darwin’s theory nor did I find my faith threatened by it.

    I also think it would be a hard argument to make that consciousness is an evolutionary disadvantage (the higher reasoning and complex communication abilities that come with our brains give great advantages for survival if properly used).

    I realize you might be referring to the “consciousness” which is the soul, which I/we believe was created to continue beyond death of the physical brain. Although science cannot account for this – neither can science really account for anything existing. Science cannot tell us what anything really is or where it came from in the ultimate sense.

    I remember being in a high school science class and asking “what is matter?” The answer? What everything is made of. I was not satisfied. 🙂

  46. aka Avatar

    Interesting and perhaps scandalous that “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men” (Romans 5:12) might be understood as being as real as Adam & Eve’s death “on that day” they ate of the tree and of our resurrection in Christ through baptism. Real, spiritual, but delayed in fulfillment. Not sure that can be found in the Fathers or the Tradition of the Church, and how we do theology without patristic precedent is as major a problem for Orthodox as (in)errancy was for Protestantism.

  47. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mary Benton: the observation that consciousness was not an evolutionary advantage came from an atheist commenting on the holes in current evolutionary theory as is happening with some frequency.

    Thomas Nagel, for one, has called into question the philosophical viability of evolutionary thought.

    But, hey, I’m just a fringe fundamentalist.

    I just happen to believe that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God and that each created thing is made after its own kind. I find both of those foundational understandings of the Orthodox faith massively violated by modern and classical evolutionary thought.

    I also happen to imagine, I guess, the virulent attacks against all belief in God coming from many who support evolution.

    Ah, well, I’ll just go back to my hut in the woods and won’t no more bother you folk with my archaic and out moded beliefs.

    We are simply talking past each other. I have too much respect for Father Stephen and most of the other commentators to continue.

    I am unable to adequately communicate a position that is neither anti-science nor anti-evolution in part because the massive confusion that exits over what that word even means.

    Come Lord Jesus!

  48. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton


    I’m not sure what I said that offended you – but certainly that was not my intention and I’m sorry if I did so.

    I thought we were engaged in friendly dialogue from somewhat different perspectives. Despite our differing perspectives, I respect your views and comments. Please forgive me.

  49. Robert Avatar

    A clash between the Christian faith and science only exists when the theory of evolution is conflated with or used as incontrovertible proof for atheism (often in the form of materialism – the material universe is infinite and ultimate existence). But such a conflation is a misunderstanding and misuse of science. And it makes for terribly bad theology – for the Christian and the atheist(even the denial of God’s existence is theology). This is because theology proper, communion with and study of God, falls outside the bounds of scientific method and knowledge. To put it another way: science cannot be used to proof or disproof atheism nor Christian faith.

  50. David Kontur Avatar
    David Kontur

    Father Stephen –
    Great post!! In Genesis there are actually 2 separate “Creation Stories” – one from the Yahwistic Tradition (first story) and one from the Elohistic tradition (2nd which includes story of the fall). Scripture scholars have been able to show how even these stories borrow from surrounding creation myths. But, there is a very important difference in these stories – they clearly communicate theological truths –
    1. That there is only one God (the sun, moon, stars are created – surrounding cultures saw these as gods),
    2. That the One God created everything that exist
    3. That what God creates is good
    4. That we created in God’s image and likeness
    5. That there is a fundamental disruption in the communion that God intended for humans with Him, with each other, and with the rest of creation (the fall).
    Based on many posts that Father Stephen has already made regarding time we cannot just see creation as one point in time (sometime long ago) but as something that is happening this very moment – God is continually creating and sustaining His creation).

    I don’t want to let science off the hook here either – there also seems to be a “fundamentalism” among some scientist in which they over step the bounds of the science they so ardently claim to be speaking for. Science can only tell about what, and to some degree how, but can never answer the question of “Why?” When it tries to move in trying to explain why = it has move from science to philosophy. There is a big difference from the scientific theory of evolution and the philosophy of “social darwinism.”

  51. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Tess, I teach at a Christian School that is YEC. I was hired when I was still Anglican. I assure you that had I been Orthodox I would not have been hired. This same school sends the sophomore class to Ham’s Creation Museum each fall and all the books on Genesis and creation in the school library were donated by Ham’s organization. If AiG quotes from Seraphim Rose, it is not out of respect for Orthodoxy.

  52. fatherstephen Avatar

    I ask patience of our commenting community. I’m in the process of writing a response (with care). There are very good thoughts here and valid concerns all around. I welcome my Archbishop today for a visit. He will be ordaining a man to the priesthood tomorrow. Thus my attentions will be with him.

    Robert, very good point viz. science. The opacity of the universe with regard to God’s causation gives opportunities to those who would deny him – as did the parables of Christ. “Hearing they might not hear.” They bear witness to the state of their heart and it is primarily their hearts that we should attend to.

  53. Dino Avatar

    I cannot recall who makes this point, but it is quite relevant:
    Man’s/Adam’s creation was actually not completed in Genesis, it was only completed on the Cross, when Christ uttered ‘it is finished’

  54. Dean Avatar

    I don’t want to put words into Michael’ s mouth…but since he signed himself out of the discussion I’ll note this. I don’t believe that you offended him. I think he was responding to an earlier comment about fundamentalist bloggers on the fringe (I actually think that pejorative statements like that are not helpful). You two and your comments mean a lot to me as do the others who post on this site. Looking forward to father’s further comments after this important weekend for his church.

  55. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mary, you did not offend me. I am not offended. I am sad, deeply sad that the discussion never got beyond the false dichotomy of creationism vs science. I am distressed at my own failure to adequately communicate the deeper issues concerning the philosophy that gave rise to the modern evolutionary paradigm and the damaged it has done and the danger it presents.

    Greg, who consigned me to the fundamentalist fringe is reacting out of the the false dichotomy. The trouble is that being stuck there tends to make science too important and too authoritative on matters beyond what it can be legitimate.

    God forgive me a sinner.

  56. Steve Lewis Avatar
    Steve Lewis

    Everyone’s got a false dichotomy. They don’t always match up.

  57. Greg Avatar

    Michael, the phrase “fundamentalist fringe” did not occur in my comment, but I apologize if anything negative came across as directed at you and ask for your forgiveness – the statement I did make was meant to be very general, though it seems to me generally accurate. I have also withdrawn from the comments as I find I cannot constructively (or at least in a Christian manner) engage with some of the baldly untrue assertions that are being made about basic science concepts.

    And yes, scientism is a real problem but not the subject of Fr. Stephen’s essay. Again, I cannot recommend Dr. Hart’s book strongly enough, since it really does explore both sides of this particular divide from a classical Christian perspective with a great deal of insight and rigor.

  58. Catholic facing east Avatar
    Catholic facing east

    Quick note on:

    “Affirmation XII claims that the diversity of languages and skin color came about as a result of divine judgment at the Tower of Babel.”


    “We affirm that all people living and dead are descended from Adam and Eve…and that the various people groups (with their various languages, cultures, and distinctive physical characteristics, including skin color) arose as a result of God’s supernatural judgment at the Tower of Babel….”
    (Alice C. Lindsey quoting Bishop Ussher on February 6, 2014 at 5:32 pm)

    As Alice points out, Bishop Ussher (of whom I know very little about, it must be said) appears to have missed the significance of a much earlier allusion to “animal skins” which hints at what Adam & Eve will look like after their expulsion from paradise (Gen 3:21). The author of Genesis is quick to point out that the cherubim and flaming sword guarded the way to the tree of life(*) (Gen 3:24). Such glaring omissions would seem not to be limited to young earthers.

    The entire bible then, is predicated on a personal encounter with the divine person. Take this out of the conversation and you are left with only a dry narrative — into which one may insert any clause, idea, or philosophy. To quote Peter Ainsworth:

    “…the evolution of the universe described by the inflationary model seems natural from the standard temporal perspective, it looks highly unnatural from the reversed temporal perspective.”
    (Cosmic inflation and the past hypothesis, 2007)

    Everywhere we look there are unmistakable signs of our divine origin. Most especially in divine liturgy and in the saints.

    Ho hum.

    Christ is in our midst!

    (*) The incarnate logos

  59. Tess Avatar


    I never said they were accepting, respectful or agreeable to Orthodoxy, you said they didn’t know about the book. They do know about the book. That’s all I’m saying is that the book is known to Answers in Genesis and unless AiG runs, supports, owns the Christian school you taught at, you cannot assume that just because the school didn’t know about the book that AiG and Ken Ham do not. The book *is* reviewed on the website. It is *not* an endorsement for Orthodox Christianity but a “proof point” for them that Christianity has always promoted and accepted a literal 6 day creation.

    And one more thought, just because *that* Christian school rejected Orthodoxy, does not mean that *all* Protestant Churches view Orthodox Christianity in the same negative light. But that is not the topic of this blog post.

    You stated that Ken Ham and AiG did not know about the book. I stated that they did (and I’ll give you the link if you want). Neither of those statements have anything to do with accepting Orothdoxy or the school that you work for.

  60. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Thanks for correcting me on that, Tess. I read almost nothing at the AiG website. What I know about Ham’s version of Genesis I regard as unbiblical.

    You are right that Orthodoxy may not be regarded in a negative light by Christian School families and administrators. There are a few Orthodox students at my school, mostly from Syrian families that are not active in church. The Doctrinal Statements of the typical Evangelical Protestant schools, which faculty and parents must sign, are very general so as to accommodate a wide range of Christians.

  61. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Dino, the Creed states that all things, both visible and invisible, were made through Him. We affirm that Christ is the Logos, by Whom and through Whom all things were created and declared “good” by the Father. The human race was created complete in the beginning. The Blood of Jesus is eternal and that means the benefits of His blood are are not bound by time and space.

    Here are a number of links to different perspectives on the Ham-Nye debate: http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2014/02/ham-nye-debate-another-false-choice.html

  62. […] this topic: MYSTAGOGY: Orthodox Bishop Answers 4 Questions on Science and the Theory of Evolution Evolution, Creation and the Hidden Cause[bless and do not curse]|[bless and do not curse]Glory to Go… __________________ Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one […]

  63. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    “The human spirit is led by the Spirit of Christ to knowledge of God, existential knowledge, so that the very word ‘knowledge’ denotes, not abstract intellectual assimilation, not rational understanding, but entry into divine being, communion in being.” (from St. Silouan the Athonite, by Archimandrite Sophrony)

    Let us join together in seeking this knowledge in which there can be no debate – only love. (The rest are but interesting questions.)

  64. Scott Morizot Avatar

    Creation in a universe where God is truly “everywhere present and filling all things” would inherently look “natural” and, to one who wished to perceive it that way, random. Those who look for an “unnatural” creation seem to be looking for an external God “intervening” in “natural” processes.

    I’m a son and nephew of two geneticists/biologists and know many others. I find no conflict between evolution and Christian belief. I find no conflict between astrophysics and Christian belief.

    Even as written in the Genesis accounts, I find the perspective of those who find the “fall” as a point in time affecting all creation and introducing death … odd. After all, the serpent already existed. Clearly the other cities did as well. And the angels had long since fallen. The potential for spiritual death and its impact on reality has been with creation from the beginning of time. We are not being restored to some edenic paradise from which we’ve fallen. We are being brought into communion with God. We are becoming participants in the life of God. We are, in a sense, becoming God.

    That is salvation. Nothing less.

  65. Dino Avatar

    yes indeed, but, that does not change the fact that Christ word’s on the Cross: “it is finished” is the actual completion, the true perfection of man (as was planed from the start yet was derailed along the way).
    The maximian ‘Logoi’ of things, all have the one Divine Logs at heart:

    Father Stephen explains this far better in this:

  66. […] (Emphasis added) I used to play Devil’s Advocate for young earth creationism: Did Adam have a navel? If so, didn’t he appear deceptively to have a mother? If not, didn’t he weirdly not look like use? Did the first tree have rings? What would a tree be like without rings? But if the first tree had rings, didn’t it appear deceptively to be X years old, where X is the number of rings? […]

  67. Tom Avatar

    Hi all,

    I’ve been interested in the Orthodox take on evolution and the historicity of Adam/Eve for a while. So thank you Fr Stephen for addressing this and everyone for the great comments. I knew many Orthodox accepted an evolutionary view of human origins. The problem is the only position I’ve heard on Adam/Eve is that these MUST be viewed historically, an actual couple whose sin precipitated mortality and decay into the world. I was surprised to hear David Hart argue this. And of course, it’s throughout the ancient fathers, i.e., that Adam and Eve were a literal couple, the first human beings, and so head, of the race, whose sin made us mortal and brought on decay.

    Fr Stephen, is viewing humanity as created mortal, and Adam/Eve as figurative of humanity’s decent into sinfulness but not in the traditional sense as first hominids who immortal before their fall and then mortal after it…is this compatible with Orthodoxy?

  68. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Adam (Hadam – the Blood) and Eve (Havah – the Birther) are best understood in the cultural context of the people from whom Abraham and we receive this tradition. Abraham’s ancestors came out of the Nile Valley according to Gen. 10.

  69. […] Stephen Freeman recently wrote an interesting post entitled ‘Evolution, Creation and the Hidden Cause’, which is quite interesting and has generated an equally interesting discussion in the comments […]

  70. Fr Aidan Kimel Avatar

    I’m surprised that no one has yet invoked C. S. Lewis’s *Out of the Silent Planet*. The sentient races on Malacandra have not fallen into sin, yet are mortal. But they do not fear death, nor is their communion with God broken. Perhaps Lewis has shown us the way forward.

    IMHO, Orthodoxy must come to grips with the historical reality that physical death long predated the emergence of the human race on earth. Not to do so is to push Orthodoxy to the intellectual fringes and condemn it to replaying, over and over again, the Scopes monkey trial. The Church has nothing to fear from the truth.

    I have spoken to Orthodox theologians on this question, and asked them why they have not publicly addressed it. They responded that it is dangerous for them to do so. “Whom do you fear?” I asked. “Our fellow Orthodox.” I am delighted that Fr Stephen has stepped forward on his popular blog and invited open discussion of this controversial issue.

  71. Phil Avatar

    Fr Aiden,

    Mary Benton actually did already invoke that excellent book– up above she wrote: “C.S. Lewis sums all of this very nicely in “Out of the Silent Planet”. The rational Hrossa did not mind being unbodied at the end of their lifespans – for they were obedient. Weston and Devine (and Ransom, at first) had a great terror of death.”

    : )

  72. guy Avatar

    Does the Church have anything to fear from being pushed to the intellectual fringes?

  73. Brian Avatar

    While it is true that the Church has nothing to fear from the truth, I do not think it is the case that “Fr Stephen has stepped forward on his popular blog and invited open discussion of this controversial issue.”

    The essence of this post is the third paragraph:

    “There are deep theological flaws in all of this – both in the anti-evolutionist Christian positions and in the ill-informed attempts by scientists to undermine the Christian Scriptures.”

    He has not opened the debate. He is showing that the debate is entirely beside the point.

  74. PJ Avatar

    If anyone is interested in a paper on the problem of polygenism by a Catholic priest (and friend of mine), drop me a line at philipryan (DOT) primeau (AT) gmail (DOT) com. The priest is a sharp and thoughtful man — theologically orthodox yet scientifically informed — and his paper attempts to synthesize evolutionary science with the traditional Christian account of human origins.

    From his conclusion:

    “When we consider all these factors, the following scenario seems most satisfying to me. Homo sapiens were near extinction around 50,000 years ago. When they were small enough to be confined to one small area probably somewhere in East Africa,God took the occasion to somehow bring them
    together and hominize and grace them all at whatever age they were, all at once. Through infused knowledge, they were immediately aware of who they were. They were also intimately aware of God, and quite “naturally” believed in Him and loved Him. At some point in the not so distant future, however, probably sooner rather than later, a leader among the group disobeyed God, somehow being tempted by Satan. Somehow, then, the whole group was swayed to consent to this act, though not forced. At that point, they were all fallen, and all their descendents would inherit original sin instead of being mediated grace through their parents. One could object here that the multitude that consented to the sin did not inherit the sin from the leader. In reality this poses no problem, however, since even in the traditional account, Adam falls into sin through being influenced by Eve and not through inheriting her sin. In this scenario, the same phenomena is simply multiplied among the members of the group. Lastly, if it seems likely that not all would have consented to the act of disobedience, one can consider how often human beings make decisions within groups and as a group. If one adds to this the weight of a leader deciding in one direction, it becomes more understandable how the whole group could have fallen.”

    I don’t agree all of his premises or conclusions, but it’s a worthwhile paper, if a bit technical at places.

  75. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    PJ, That’s called the “bottleneck theory.” It is speaking about “modern” humans, not archaic humans.

  76. PJ Avatar

    I appreciate many of Kalomiros’ insights, but this is the sort of nonsense I simply can’t stand:

    “The Augustinian theology of Western Christianity could not accept the idea of change or evolution of any kind, in any species, because it would mean that the eternal archetypes of the species in the mind of God, of necessity, were also subject to change and, therefore, not eternal. The pagan philosophical idea of eternal archetypes is one of the heretical presuppositions in Augustinian theology. Another closely related heretical presupposition of Augustine is the teaching that the uncreated energies of God–His creativity, prescience, providence, and will, for example–are the uncreated divine essence itself. For Augustine, and for the pagan philosophers, God is actus purus, or pure energy. So evolution of the species not only meant changeability in the archetypes that are eternally part of God’s uncreated energy/essence, but it also meant changeability in the divine essence itself. And if change takes place in God, He is not eternal and changeless by nature. Indeed, then, He is not God. For the West, therefore, evolution was tantamount to proof of the nonexistence of God, that is, God as He had been imagined by the West. Thus, Western Christianity, in its classic tenets, was bound to a kind of philosophical or, one might even say, ontological fixity of the species.”

    What’s ironic is that Fr. Seraphim Rose hurls the exact opposite accusation at the bogeyman of the west. He claims that the west was ripe for the heresy of evolutionism because of its Thomistic commitments!

  77. PJ Avatar


    It’s more than simply a population bottleneck. That point represents an unprecedented and unaccounted for cultural explosion. An “evolutionary leap” — of the mind. Tools that had remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years suddenly began to increase in sophistication. Art suddenly became common. Artifacts multiplied exponentially. Clear signs of the religious sensibility are manifested. This is called the “big bang of consciousness.” Our ancestors suddenly become “like us,” not just in appearance, but in behavior. As my friend writes, “This date seems also to coincide with a period in which we see a clear transition in the species homo sapiens from advanced hominid behavior to clear modern behavior, involving complex tools and burial, art, and language, not observed before this time.”

    But I’m not doing justice to the paper. If you’re interested in this question, please read it.

  78. Tom Belt Avatar


    I’m a bit confused. You read Fr Stephen’s comment (that “there are deep theological flaws in all of this – both in the anti-evolutionist Christian positions and in the ill-informed attempts by scientists to undermine the Christian Scriptures”) as closing debate on the issue because it’s entirely beside the point. I read it quite the opposite. If there are deep theological flaws in the two extreme positions (and I agree with Fr Stephen that there are), then there must be theological peace found in some other mediating position. Does Fr Stephen feel there’s no debate to be had over whether or not Adam/Eve’s historical place as the first of our species is theologically significant, or how we’re to understand Paul’s view of death in Rom 5 if mortality preceded human sinfulness? These are really beside the point?


  79. Brian Avatar


    Perhaps not, but they do not seem to be the purpose of his post. It is the comments that opened the debate, not IMO, Fr. Stephen.

  80. Dino Avatar

    Father Stephen has addressed the point that man’s creation – derailed in Genesis – was only ever finished on the Cross, in his post: “The Death of God and the Transfiguration of Man”

    [in Genesis] God does not stand back, look at man and say, “It is good.” Indeed, God stands back, looks at man and says, “It is not good…”

    the work of man’s creation is not accomplished in the fact of the Incarnation. It is not until the Cross, and the moment of His death that Christ says, “It is finished!”

  81. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Attend to Father’s insights.

  82. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Thanks, PJ. Technological advances did accompany the dispersion of modern humans over the face of the earth. Some of those were the Ainu, the builders of the great shrines like Biblical On (Heliopolis). The problem I wish to address is the idea that archaic humans (3 million years ago) were somehow not fully human. That is an inaccurate portrayal.

  83. PJ Avatar


    What defines “human”? That’s the million dollar question. My priest friend would definitely argue that the hominids of 3 million years ago were not “fully human.” We’re not simply talking about about technological advances. Around 50,000 years ago, our ancestors began to ACT in a manner that was markedly different from how they had acted for countless generations. He quotes Nicholas Wade: “Anatomically modern humans, people whose physical remains resemble the skeletons of people today, become common 100,000 years ago. But they showed no sign of the advanced behaviors that emerged 50,000 years later, probably made possible by the evolution of language.” Send me an e-mail. Even if you don’t agree with everything in the paper, you’ll surely enjoy it.

  84. JWM Avatar

    Part of the confusion in the western intellectual tradition is the conflation of “causeless cause” or “unmoved mover” with God the creator. We have to be careful with Bulgakov but take a look at his excellent description in the first chapter of “The Bride of the Lamb”. The view of God as first cause, in Aristotle or Aquinas, leads to scientism and eventually atheism because the starting point is a depersonalized “diety” instead of a Trinity.

  85. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    What defines human? As an anthropologist I look at anatomical features such as walking upright, human dentition, opposing thumbs, and artifacts such as stone or bone tools, and evidence of human ingenuity such as the control of fire. the size of the brain cavity is not a determinant because there can still be complexity of thought. Complexity of thought is related more to observation and contemplation of fixed binary features in the order if creation. In fact, the complexity of all living organisms evidenced in the Cambrian explosion was apparently triggered by binary features. See this: http://biblicalanthropology.blogspot.com/2013/07/does-binary-feature-signal-greater.html

  86. PJ Avatar


    Aquinas view of God is not Aristotle’s, and even his understanding of God as “first cause” is usually misunderstood.

  87. aka Avatar

    IMHO, Orthodoxy must come to grips with the historical reality that physical death long predated the emergence of the human race on earth.

    I don’t think Orthodoxy must do anything of the sort, though I think we should. Not being comprehensively prescriptive about much, I don’t think Orthodoxy should start with evolution and creation.

    That said, I think it is extremely important that such questions and tentative answers as there are be brought out into the open. Prof. Peter Bouteneff’s “Beginnings” does that, the ACCS volume on Genesis edited by Fr. Andrew Louth does that, and the compilation of materials by the late Fr. Seraphim Rose published by his former monastery provides a different sort of reflection on other parts of the Orthodox and patristic corpus. I’m sure there is more to the conversation, and I welcome further resources.

    However, as noted above by myself and others, this question touches on the very nature of salvation in a way that the geocentric passages in the Bible did not, in ways the overturning of patristic era science used in their theological analogies did not. It should not be done with too contemporary a view as to ‘what science shows us’ given the fact science does not claim for itself infallibility or a closed canon. What we need is not further commentary on how God could have created the world through evolution or how the creation narratives in Genesis aren’t about science, etc. We need theological reflection on what Genesis 2:17 and 3:3, Romans 5, and 1 Corinthians 15:21 mean if death existed prior to Adam and Eve’s Fall (whether they were real historical figures or whether they are allegorical or metaphorical). That is the theological reason traditional Christians opposed Darwin’s teaching.

    Following this is how a possible change in understanding about how we approach the Bible and the Fathers and Tradition. Or, perhaps, it’s just a teachable moment whereby we all learn a little more about how the Church as a whole has approached the Bible, Fathers, and Tradition in light of science or new information.

    (Given the Orthodox understanding of allegory, typology, and the icon, I don’t think one need jettison the traditional image of the Garden and Adam and Eve even if a successful Orthodox theological understanding of death before the Fall is put forward and received. In fact, accepting multiple understandings of the same event, topic, etc. seems to be a hallmark of Orthodoxy theology.)

  88. Robert Bearer Avatar
    Robert Bearer

    Dear to Christ, John,

    Back on February 6 you wrote: ” . . . science tells us that, while the most recent common ancestor of humans lived 5000-10,000 years ago, our Mitochondrial Eve lived more than 100,000 years ago, and Y-chromosomal Adam may have lived 2-3 times further back than that.”

    I found this 5,000-10,000 years ago statment re common ancestor quite interesting and intriguing. Can point us to a source, where I can look into it further?

    Thank you for the information.

    P.S. I do agree with our brother, Brian, that our comment have gone in a different direction from Fr. Stephen’s original post for which I beg your forgiveness, Father, though I am learning a good deal from the discussion.

  89. fatherstephen Avatar

    Well, I’m learning a great deal from my work on an answer to some of the questions raised. It’s turned into an article. I’m discovering the it is hard to say clearly what I want to say, much less to say it in a way that others will hear what I’m saying. Thus your prayers and patience.

  90. dino Avatar


    I read your friends interesting paper on reconciling polygenism and Theological anthropology, he considers many (wild and not so wild) possibilities, yet I was surprised he leaves out the possibility that God took one person at a certain critical time in polygenistic evolution and placed him in Eden conferring a soul, and all His gratuitous gifts of grace and then the rest of Genesis carries on from that.

  91. Fr Aidan Kimel Avatar

    JMW: ‘Part of the confusion in the western intellectual tradition is the conflation of “causeless cause” or “unmoved mover” with God the creator. We have to be careful with Bulgakov but take a look at his excellent description in the first chapter of “The Bride of the Lamb”. The view of God as first cause, in Aristotle or Aquinas, leads to scientism and eventually atheism because the starting point is a depersonalized “diety” instead of a Trinity.’

    This argument fails to consider the radical difference between Aristotle and Aquinas on creation from out of nothing. Aristotle rejected the possibility; it made no rational sense to him (as indeed it does not). Aquinas, on the other hand, asserted the creatio ex nihilo and from it inferred the transcendent unknowability of the Creator. Aquinas was well aware that to speak of God as creator or cause of the universe was a form of apophatic speech. He certainly did not think of divine causality as a enmeshed with creaturely causality. It belongs to a different order altogether, just as God himself transcends all of creation.

    What does God “cause”? He causes things to be, to exist. Fr Stephen’s expression “God causelessly causes” captures, I think, the view of Aquinas.

    For my own reflections on divine causality with reference to the origin of the universe, see my two blog series: “God in Science and “Double Agency.

  92. Umi Avatar

    This is not an Orthodox source, but the author, Michael Heiser, has at times ended up with Orthodox-ish conclusions when he examines Biblical texts both contextually and with an expertise in ancient Hebrew:

    Essentially, he states an interesting case for the possibility of Adam and Eve being historical people in light of current genomics. Thought some might be interested reading.

  93. Robert Bearer Avatar
    Robert Bearer

    Fr. Aidan, bless.

    I agree–that the Angelic Doctor was doing his best to speak apophatically. Remember that in the end, while serving the Liturgy he had a vision by reason of which he also said that all he had written was as straw and so he finished his written work and entered, as it were, silence. Not suprising, I suppose since he had been quiet as a student and, as a result, mocked by his peers as a “dumb ox”–whose bellowing, said his teacher. St. Albert the Great, would one day be heard round the world.

    ‘m sure, too, that as he has time Fr. Stephen will have important things to say. May God bless his contemplation and its fruit.

    Christ in in our midst.

  94. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    “There are two fundamentally different battles raging in the current debates about evolution. The first pits nearly the entire scientific community against creationists, who believe that they are upholding the veracity of Scripture by denying that evolution happened at all. The second battle concerns not the fact of evolution but the standard neo-Darwinian explanation of it, and the issues at stake are primarily philosophical and scientific.”–American physicist Stephen M. Barr

  95. Anna Avatar

    Father, bless!

    I have not read everything, but here I am, ready to give my proverbial two cents.

    Michael Baumann wrote:

    “I just happen to believe that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God and that each created thing is made after its own kind. I find both of those foundational understandings of the Orthodox faith massively violated by modern and classical evolutionary thought.”

    I strongly agree and I also see no need to either confirm or disprove evolutionism, as long as honest scientists admit that their theory is far from being proven, but simply the one that fits the evidence best. Best, in this situation, means only relatively well.

    The problem, of course, is the age of the earth (or rather of the whole cosmos). Scientific conclusions in this respect make it embarassing for an educated person to support the idea of a young cosmos. However, a young cosmos (or at least a young life on earth) is the simplest solution to the problem of (animal) death before the Fall of Adam and Eve. A young earth which appears old need not be the work of a trickster god (I can’t even capitalize God in this situation). Someone mentioned the creation of Adam, which was created as an adult and not as a newborn baby. Also, there are many instances, of which I only mention now lenses and mirrors, which produce the appearance of a thing in a place where it is not. I see no reason why the Fall would not act like such a perception-distorting device and produce the appearance of an older universe. This is, of course, a stretch and a speculation; but being an educated person, I find it difficult to affirm the possibility of a young cosmos with simplicity.

  96. […] some of Father Stephen Freeman’s gravamen in his recent essays here and […]

  97. Nicole Avatar

    My objections to evolution as a functional theory will still function if divorced from my faith entirely. It’s a simple matter of intellectual honesty. Physics, chemistry, and astronomy do not have room for the “randomness made the world” principle, if one is honest. It simply does not work. It would be easier to defend my position if I was an atheist because no one could accuse me of starting from a religious assumption. But on a mere philosophical basis, evolution falls apart. I don’t care if the earth is this or that age, but what passes for “education” on these matters is deceptive and very unfortunately biased into an absurd position.

  98. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    You make a good point, Nicole. There is more “fixedness” in the order of creation than Neo-Darwinians are willing to acknowledge. The fixed stars, the solar arc, the 12 moon phrases the clock like motion of the constellations and the genetic boundaries of kinds/essences (horotely, a word the ancient Greek Philosophers derived after Horus, the fixer of boundaries, currents, winds, time, space and the horizons). The New-Darwinian view is not based on sound information, but on atheist indoctrination. That is why it is called “scientism” and many scientists, including some who believe in aspects of evolution, call is “folly.” See Austin L. Hughes’ The Folly of Scientism.

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