Little has been written about the Orthodox viewpoint on Evolution. Why? Primarily because it is not a question that concerns the Church, but rather concerns the various forms of Protestantism outside the Church. Interestingly, the controversy on the theory of evolution also concerns Catholicism less – for the reason that Catholicism, until recently anyway, has conserved more of the sense of the Church than the various Protestant sects.
Thus, unlike Protestant groups, Orthodox are not obsessed with the Old Testament (except for the Psalter), for we see the Old Testament through New Testament eyes, the eyes of the Church. Orthodox are more interested in saving our souls than abstract arguments like how long did each of the Six Days of Creation last and what was the nature of Noah’s Flood. Nevertheless, since we live in a world where secularist, that is, post-Protestant, culture prevails, we have to have answers to such questions.
This is all the more the case when on the fringes of the Orthodox Church we can find individuals influenced by both Evolutionism and Creationism. Thus, the largely Episcopalian-oriented and modernistic St Vladimir’s Seminary in the OCA has looked favourably on Evolutionism, similarly modernists in the Greek Archdiocese in North America or individual modernists of the Paris School or the notorious provocateur and now discredited Deacon Andrei Kurayev in Moscow. On the other hand, under the influence of evangelical ‘missionaries’ working in Russia in the 1990s, some recent converts in Russia (and also in Greece) have fallen under the influence of Creationism.
Does this mean that mainstream Orthodox take an intermediate stance between Creationism and Evolutionism, somewhat like many modernistic Catholic intellectuals? No. Evolutionism (and it is only a theory) is simply anti-Orthodox; it is the atheist product of nonsensical Darwinism (‘man descended from the ape’), which, amoral from the start, soon turned immoral and evil, into Communism and Nazism (‘the survival of the fittest’ i. e. those who hold our atheist ideology or belong to our master-race); since man is merely an intelligent ape, he can be slaughtered by the million, just as we slaughter millions of animals in abattoirs.
The fundamental ideology of Evolutionism is atheism. As Bible-practisers (rather than mere Bible-believers), Orthodox believe in Creation. However, we dislike all ‘isms’ (which are always manmade, not Godmade). Thus, we dislike the literalism and fundamentalism of Creationism. And if we were to use an ‘ism’ to describe ourselves, it would certainly not be ‘Creationism’, but ‘Creatorism’. We believe in the Creator, not in Creation, which is merely the Creator’s handiwork. We confess ‘I believe in One God the Father, the Almighty, Who created the heaven and the earth’, not in ‘One Creation’.
And mention of the Creed should remind us that is the Creed that we confess; everything else is not a dogma. Thus, if Orthodox disagree with what I say below about the Six Days of Creation or Noah’s Flood, that is fine. All I am doing is putting forward suggestions, not dogmatizing what in the end is only opinions. Opinions which in no way contradict the Scriptures (something that modernists constantly do) must be looked at. The Book of Genesis is like a telescope and enfolds all the ‘prehistory’ of mankind into a few chapters and pages, therefore there is room for interpretations and therefore controversy. For example, the Book of Genesis does not contain dates – we can only suggest them. Here we should be careful not to fall into putting scientific theories above Biblical facts.
The first common controversy is what is meant by ‘a Day’ in the Six Days of Creation, 24 hours – or more – or less? The answer to this is we do not know. Apart from St Ephraim the Syrian, who says precisely 24 hours, no Church Father seems to be bothered by such a question. In fact, all we can say is that each day, before the creation of sun and moon on the fourth day, may have lasted exactly 24 hours, but equally may have lasted a split second or else short periods of perhaps thousands of years.
Why must we answer thus? Because we do not know, all we know is that God is Almighty and therefore can do anything. To limit God is mere human rationalism. In general, our feeble human understanding cannot understand what it is meant by a day; together with the Fathers, we would do better to think of ‘Six Acts of Creation’ rather than ‘Six Days’. The Holy Scriptures, and in general the Holy Fathers, are not interested in Chronology, but in facts. God created everything; that is what is important, the when and the how are unknown to our over-tidy and over-inquisitive minds.
When was the world created? We do not know from the Scriptures because they do not say, except that it was five and a half ‘days’ before God made man. However, the Church, not the Scriptures, does give the symbolic date of 5,508 BC – that is, 5,500 years (five and a half ‘days’) before the Birth of Christ) for the date of the Creation. Thus, symbolically, the date of the Creation is five and a half days before the date of the creation of man, who had to wait 5,500 years until his ‘re-creation’ through the Birth of Christ. Some people take all this literally and that is fine because no modern theory can actually and irrefutably contradict.
However, if you prefer modern scientific theories (which are only ever-changing hypotheses) and prefer to believe in billions of years, that is also OK. The age of the universe is not a Church dogma. Nevertheless, a symbolic date does not necessarily mean an unreal date. Given the fact that all techniques of scientific dating have been put into doubt by facts such as that rocks created only 210 years ago by volcanic eruptions have been ‘scientifically’ dated as hundreds of millions of years old, no ‘scientific’ dating can be trusted. The fact is that the universe may have been created in 5,508 BC. Of course, if you prefer to think otherwise, that is fine. It will not endanger the salvation of your soul, which is our only basic concern.
We believe that Noah’s Flood took place. The Bible says so (Genesis 5-10; Matt. 24, 37; I Peter 3, 20; 2 Peter 2, 5 and elsewhere) and indicates that it took place in the fourth millennium BC, between about 3,300 and 3,500 BC. Moreover some 140 different human cultures affirm it, from the very garbled Gilgamesh version of the Flood to the perhaps far more interesting Australian Aborigene version. However, there are difficulties of interpretation – above all was the flood local or universal? Again, there is no Church dogma on the matter and we can believe as we wish. However, I believe, like most Orthodox, that it was universal and this for many reasons.
First of all, if the Flood were only local (and archaeologists like Woolley long ago confirmed that naturally there were local floods in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago), why spend a century building a massive Ark (the largest vessel in world history until the 19th century), why not simply walk away, as Lot did from Sodom? Why were all the animals (except for sea creatures), the whole gene pool of the then animal world (and so of all modern breeds), taken into the Ark, as also the whole gene-pool of humanity (Genesis 10, 1) ? If the Flood had only been local, that would have been unnecessary. Why do the Scriptures speak of the destruction of all humanity and all creatures (Genesis 6 ,7 and 7, 21-22), if they do not mean that?
How else do we explain sedimentary layers thousands of feet deep, fossil graveyards, fossil fuels, the destruction of the dinosaurs, frozen mammoths, glaciations and the ice caps of the Poles, the deepening of the oceans and the raising of the mountains (Ps 104, 8), continental shelves, the later continental drift and separation of continents and so separation of languages after the Tower of Babel, if there was not a universal Flood? All these phenomena witness to the pre-diluvian world, proof of Noah’s Flood, as witnessed to also by countless folk traditions.
Moreover, recent research has suggested that many antediluvian civilizations existed before the Flood, and their remains can be found under the seas as ‘underwater kingdoms’. Folklore from all around the world has always spoken of earlier, pre-diluvian civilizations, such as Atlantis, and they are spoken of in the Book of Genesis (5 and 6, 1-4) before Noah, including a civilization of giants. Archaeologists confirm them, as they also confirm post-diluvian civilizations, of which Western civilization is one, although in the case of Orthodox civilization, it would be clearer to speak of a post-Resurrection civilization.
In other words, we are saying that a universal flood confirms all that has been found on earth. The homing instincts of animals would have directed them to enter the Ark, given that they had a century to gather from the single continent or Pangaea (‘dry land’ – Genesis 1, 10) where they lived. There would have been no problems feeding and caring for them in the huge Ark if they hibernated and the animals would have no problems breathing when the floods rose over the then in any case much lower mountains as the atmosphere would have been raised above sea level.
The amount of water required for such a flood would be explained by the pre-diluvian water vapour canopy over the earth collapsing (Genesis 7, 4) and ‘all the fountains of the great deep’ bursting forth (Genesis 7, 11), water under the earth, breaking. The only reason why none of this could not have happened fewer than six thousand years ago is ‘scientific’ dating, which we know can be be inaccurate by billions of years. Here science, that is, the microscopic amount of human knowledge and understanding, is irrational, as it is built on countless flimsy, hypothetical theories, which are constantly changing. The Bible, however, deals with facts. Only our interpretations vary.