Saturday, June 27, 2020

An Orthodox Christian View of the Theory of Evolution

In a discussion after a lecture on Orthodox Psychotherapy on 14 July 2009 in Tbilisi, Georgia, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos answered the following question from an attendee:

Question: What is your view of Darwin's theory of evolution? How did the world evolve?

Answer: This is a scientific theory that scientists study and on which they repeatedly express their views.

As Christians we know that God created the world and God made human beings and the universe. How this came about, let science tell us. We answer the question as to Who the creator of the world is, while science answers the question of what the world is.

There are different views even among scientists, who are divided into evolutionists, creationists and theists. The fundamental point, however, is that human beings are different from animals. Then we have another "evolutionary" theory within the Church, that human beings, starting from what they are now, can become gods by grace. This is the most important thing.

We know that all human beings have reason and are created in the image and likeness of God, and they develop a culture that cannot be found among animals. God may have made animals and the universe in the exact order as in the account of creation in six days, but each day may have been a very long period of time. We know the day and night from the rising and setting of the sun, but the sun was created on the fourth day of creation. Before the fourth day, day and night did not exist, so how were the days calculated? It is therefore commonly held that a day does not mean twenty-four hours, but a long period of time. St. Basil the Great, in his book interpreting the creation of the world, the well-known Hexaemeron, gives this sort of an explanation, that God gradually made the world over long periods of time. The most significant thing is that everything came about through God's creative energy.

As I have said already, this is not the real issue. What matters is that human beings, unlike animals and the rest of creation, have a soul that is in God's image and likeness. Through Christ's incarnation it is possible for us to experience spiritual evolution and to reach the point of being deified, of becoming gods according to grace.

I recently read a book written by a leading scientist in America, Francis Collins, who, together with Venter, is one of the two great scientists who in 2000 mapped DNA and announced the decoding of the human genome. Francis Collins is one of the very top scientists of our time. He wrote a book called The Language of God. He made a very profound study of the human genome, man's DNA. He writes in the book that he was an agnostic with no interest in God, then he became an atheist, and now he is a believer.

In this book one of the things he says is that human beings have some points in common with certain animals, but what is significant is that human beings are superior to all the rest. The book The Language of God, which is written in English, explains how, by studying DNA and the genes it contains, he saw God's wisdom.

We also know from biology that there are things in human beings which cannot be explained by their genes. For example, human beings and animals have 98.5 percent of their DNA in common: the difference is only1.5 percent. Yet the difference between human beings and animals is huge. This is not due to DNA but to the human soul. Human cells have 20,000 to 25,000 genes. The DNA of rice has 37,000 genes, more than a human being. The nematode worm has 19,000 genes, mustard weed 26,000 and human beings between 20,000 and 25,000. It is not genes that determine us. Human beings have something else, a soul.

I have studied contemporary biology, and I see there the great wisdom of God. You know, when a woman's egg is fertilized and the zygote is formed, it is invisible to the naked eye. The first cell, and each of those following, has 20,000 to 25,000 genes. Every gene, or every two or three genes, is responsible for producing one or more proteins. The largest cell in human beings is one thousandth of a millimeter, invisible to the naked eye. If you take a millimeter and divide it into 1,000 units, one and a half of these units is the size of a cell. And from this first cell a human being is created.

When one sees the whole microcosm that is within the cell, that every cell has a nucleus, cytoplasm and a cell membrane, and within this cell the copying of DNA takes place, then the transcription and production of proteins for the correct functioning of the cell and the health of the whole body, one is amazed. Each cell is a factory.

I read a book by a university professor, 600 pages long, called The Subcellular World, and the whole book discusses the cell, which is a biological workshop. God's wisdom fills us with amazement and wonder.

How could these things come about on their own? By chance? One would have to be very naive to believe that the whole world was created from a primary cell that came by chance to earth from space, as some people believe. It is more logical to believe that God created the universe than that all these things came about by chance.

The existence of God is, of course, a matter of spiritual experience. When all is said and done, however, we are amazed by the greatness of man and, most of all, by his spiritual development, that from being a rational human being he can become a god according to grace. The Church brings about this spiritual evolution.

From The Orthodox Church in the World, pp. 379-382.