On Charles Darwin
Only a few miles from here, near Paglesham on the River Crouch, sunk beneath the mud of the lonely Essex marshes, lie the remains of ‘The Beagle’. This was the ship on which Charles Darwin sailed to the Galapagos, as a result of which he came to write his best-known work. Today, 12 February 2009, this world (and I mean ‘this world’) remembers the bicentenary of the birth of the author of ‘The Origin of Species’.
The value of his evolutionary theory by ‘natural selection’ is still debated by Roman Catholics and especially by Protestants. Some of the latter have in recent years formed a creationist theory, in opposition to what is called ‘Darwinism’, and speak of the creationist concept of ‘intelligent design’. Orthodox Christians have not particularly been involved in this debate, since it grew up on a territory outside the Orthodox Church. Indeed, many Orthodox would say that both the Darwinian evolutionists and the anti-Darwinian creationists have missed the point. What are Orthodox views on the theory of evolution and the theory of creationism?
The Theory of Evolution
Firstly, we should note that this is only a theory, nothing more. Where it does not contradict our faith, there is no difficulty with it, where it does contradict our faith, then it is unacceptable. It was long ago rightly said that any conflict between science and religion can only be due either to bad science or else bad religion – or else both. The word ‘science’ (scientia) means ‘knowledge’ and we know that our knowledge of the world around us is minute and will never be very great. Similarly, our knowledge of religion, which is the knowledge of God, is also minute and will never be very great. From this we can conclude that there is much scope for misunderstanding.
Secondly, we should note that Darwin was an observer of creation, an Aristotelian, who watched the natural phenomena of the fallen world, he did not look to the essence of things, to what stands behind creation, only at the details of the fallen world as they are. This in itself limits the value and relevance of what he achieved. Darwin deliberately excluded a Creator from his observations. He had no concept of Providence, of a God of Love Who intervenes in creation with His guiding hand. For him the creation developed without God. Darwin’s intellect was God-less, whatever his heart may have been. Therefore his theory is of limited relevance to those who know through faith that such a God exists because it excludes the essential piece of the jigsaw. The fact is that Darwin’s theory is all about ‘how’ not ‘who’. If we first understand this limit, then we can obtain a better idea of the true worth and limits of his theory.
Thirdly, Darwin’s theory of the evolution of species contradicts the Church’s account of creation found in the Scriptures, in Genesis 1, 21, 24 and 25. Here it is quite clear that the first creatures were water-based, then came those which flew, then came land-based creatures. They were all created in succession and ‘after their kind’. In other words, there was no evolution of species, but the creation of many species, which means that a shark did not become an eagle and that an eagle did not become an elephant. Each species (‘kind’) was and is different. However, it is also clear that this account in no way excludes the process of adaptation (if you wish, ‘evolution’) within a species, whereby, for example, birds change colours or the shape of their beaks, and even more than that, according to their environments. Here, the discovery of DNA can perhaps begin to explain this process of adaptation, as Darwin observed it in the Galapagos.
Finally, and as a result of the above, where we cannot at all agree with Darwinism is the implicit concept that man descended from the ape. It is quite clear from the Church’s account of the creation of man that although the human body was made from ‘the dust of the ground’ (the chemical elements in the earth), the human-being was divinely inspired (Genesis 2, 7). From Genesis 1, 26 it is also clear that the creation of man was separate from the creation of animals. This is why the Church knows and believes that man has an immortal and eternal soul (Genesis 2, 7), having being made in ‘the image and the likeness of God’ (Genesis 1, 26). In other words human-beings are different from animals, just as plants are different from animals (Genesis 1, 11-12). We must respect the different phases of creation, the order of creation, something which all scientists also acknowledge.
Firstly, we should note that creationism is only a theory, nothing more. As we have said above, where theory does not contradict our faith, there is no difficulty, where it does, then it is unacceptable. The problem with creationism is that much of it is not based on observable phenomena. As we have also said, our knowledge of religion, which is about the knowledge of God, is minute and will never be very great. From this we can conclude that there is much scope for misunderstanding.
Secondly, we should note that creationists are in some sense Platonists, they start from belief in a Creator, with which we agree, but then they also state that they know how the Creator created. This rationalistic approach seems arrogant, for the fact is that we simply do not know how He created. We can never understand the Creator, because we are part of creation. It is good to have the big picture (God the Creator), but we also have observable facts which have to be taken into account. At best we can only theorise and speculate, which is rather irrelevant to our essential task of saving our souls. We can conclude that creationist theory is all about ‘who’ not ‘how’. If we first understand this, then we can obtain a better idea of the true worth and limits of this theory. Certainly, God is the Creator, but how He created will always remain beyond us. Moreover any religious theory about this is actually missing the point with fruitless and unprovable speculation. Any creationists are liable to become victims of the same theorising as the Darwinists.
Thirdly, in tending to make God almost into a magician, creationism overlooks the similarities in creation. Fish, birds, animals and human-beings all have much in common. Most have similar eyes, ears, noses, mouths and internal organs. The ‘higher’ the species, the greater the similarities. Thus, human-beings and chimpanzees not only have similar bodies, four limbs, external and internal organs and instincts in common, but they also a certain level of intelligence and similar reactions. Nevertheless, for Orthodox this does not mean that the human-being evolved from chimpanzees. It simply means that the human body has a model in the body of the chimpanzee. But for those who believe in God and the eternal and immortal soul, the human body is not the human-being.
Finally, all that the above indicates is that we were all created by the same Creator. In the similarities between ‘primates’ and human-beings, where atheist science sees an opportunity to deny the hand of God, we see an obvious opportunity to see the hand of God. There is no need to deny the obvious similarities between animal bodies and the human body. Indeed, the differences between human bodies and chimpanzee bodies are not great and we are told by the learned that about 98% of chimpanzee and human DNA is (unsurprisingly for us) exactly the same. The difference is that man has an eternal and immortal soul, animals do not. In other words, the difference is not in the physical or in the mental, but in the spiritual, not in the outward, but in the inward.
Darwin has been blamed for mush. Thus, today a Gallup poll announces that Western European countries are the most atheistic in the world, with only 14% of Estonians saying that religion is important to them, 17% of Swedes, 18% of Danes, 20% of Norwegians, 21% of Czechs and 25% of French etc. No doubt Darwin could also be blamed for this. He has already been blamed for the rise of Hitler, who decided that some human races were superior to other and that therefore ‘inferior’ races could be slaughtered like cattle. This was all part of ‘natural selection’ for Hitler. Darwin has been blamed for Lenin and Stalin, who decided that since human-beings are only animals, those who were undesirable among them (i.e. those who disagreed with their absurd pseudo-social and economic theories) could also be slaughtered in their masses. This too could be considered as part of ‘natural selection’ for them. What can we say to this?
Although Darwin personally lost his faith, none of the above can directly be blamed on him. Rather it should be blamed on Darwinism. Darwin himself was merely a representative of his own disbelieving and man-worshipping society and culture. Had Darwin lived in a society which believed in God, and not lived in a humanist, God-excluding world, where fallen man was idolised and his dubious ‘progress’ and ‘reason’ were worshipped, he would not have come to his theoretical conclusions. Darwin, like Hitler and Lenin after him, was the product of an evolutionary process that had already taken 800 years at his time. This was the evolution of Western rationalism, the reliance on fallen and fallacious human reason alone.
Darwin lost his faith, but we wonder if that faith had ever been real. If it had, surely he would have viewed creation, which he studied all his life, in a completely different light. That is his true tragedy – Darwin was a victim of Western evolution – the evolution of atheism. He would have done better to take a step back from the unChurched society and culture into which he was born and into the society and culture of the Church, heeding the minds of the three great scientists and men of knowledge whom we commemorate this day.
Archpriest Andrew Phillips
30 January/12 February 2009