I remember the fossilized trees, the trunks, which we saw in Mytilene. They’ve been there for fifteen million years. They made a great impression on me! And that is prayer – to see the fossils and to glorify the greatness of God (Elder Porphyrios).i
Recently, in the esoteric world of Orthodox Christian science, something of an intellectual flurry erupted following a Reuters report which quoted an influential Russian Orthodox Archbishop as saying: "Darwin's theory remains a theory. This means it should be taught to children as one of several theories, but children should know of other theories too." Reuters went on to interpret the Archbishop's remarks "that one species could evolve into another had never been proved.” Children “should know about the religious picture, the creation of the world, which is common to all the monotheistic religions," he said." ii
Interestingly, reading the official speech of the Archbishop entitled Current Challenges to global peace: secularism and religious worldview released by the Moscow Patriarchate,iii shows that it fails to mention Darwin or evolution and does not contain the quotes attributed to the Archbishop. However, the Reuters report does provide a chance to reflect on the issue of evolution as it does pertain to the relationship of science and religion, the understanding of the Church founded by Christ as well as the deleterious effects of a misguided interpretation of God's intervention in the world. iv
A personal caveat. My reflection, spiritually, will be from a pastoral theological perspective and scientifically from the viewpoint of behavioral science, specifically psychology. It is my view that any commentary on the issue of science and religion, and specifically in this case, evolution, has to be based on an understanding of the Church founded by Christ, sanctified by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, circa 2000 years ago, continually in existence to the present day and, as Christ instructed His apostles, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Mt 28: 18-20). The core of Christ's revelation about God and His creation, including mankind, is found in the teachings and tradition of the Orthodox-Oriental-Catholic Apostolic Churches. Also, any reflection on science must be based on veridical science, that is to say, what science truly is.
The Church of Christ
After the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles at Pentecost (Acts 2), the twelve and the seventy and their successors spread out from Jerusalem throughout the Roman Empire and even beyond, preached Christ and ordained overseers-elders (episkopoi-presbyters) for the various communities of Christians. McGuckin (2004) also notes that “in certain large cities such as Rome, Antioch and Alexandria, a movement toward a single overseer [a Bishop-Patriarch] happened more quickly than elsewhere. . . after the fourth century. . . .Presbyters [Priests] came more and more to have charge of smaller churches separate from the cathedral.” Zizioulas (2001) notes that the early Church saw herself as “mystical and sacramental.” Thus “each Church and each Bishop was. . . not part of a whole but the whole itself . . . .Each bishop is a successor of all the apostles and of Peter himself." According to Zizioulas, the Eucharist is the center of the unity of Christians and thus a necessity, but it is not sufficient for understanding the meaning of Church. It has always been understood that the unity of the one Eucharist must also be accompanied by the unity of doctrine or orthodoxy. This twofold unity in understanding the Church is essential. (Morelli, 2010).
Tradition then Sacred Scripture
The title of Fr. John Breck's (2001) seminal book Scripture in Tradition magnificently summarizes the Orthodox position on the relation between Tradition and Scripture. He writes: "The Eastern Church Fathers stressed the fact that the Bible is not sui generis but that it was born and shaped within a community of faith. The primary influence in the formation of the New Testament canon was . . . the profoundly positive experience of the living God, who reveals Himself and continues to act for the salvation and glorification of His people." Ironically this is told to us by Sacred Scripture itself. Consider the words of St. Paul: "I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you" (1 Corinthians 11:2). St Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. . . ." (2:19,30). St Luke instructed his readers: "Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, [bishops and priests] to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son.” (Acts 20:28). Following St. Paul and St. Luke these traditions, oral first and then written, were passed from the apostles to their successors, the bishops and priests. All we have in the Church, its oral tradition, written tradition (Holy Scripture), Holy Mysteries, prayers, teachings of the Church Fathers and saints, holy councils, icons, architecture, music, all proclaim the glory and mind of Christ. As I pointed out in a previous paper (Morelli, 2009), "collectively they are the Mind of the Church." Thus all interpretation of Sacred Scripture must conform to the mind of Christ and His Church.
The Consequence of Separation from the Church of Christ
Protestant communities of the West have abandoned the ancient Sacred Traditions of the Church founded by Christ on His Apostles. (Morelli, 2010). Some communities have altered and redefined the fundamental teaching of Christ to conform to the secular culture, while other reform communities have embraced an individualistic fundamentalist interpretation of Christ's teachings based on Sacred Scripture alone (sola scriptura). Noted church historian Jaroslav Pelikan (2005) explains that: "The Bible now became, in a way that it had not been before, a doctrine in its own right. The sole authority of the Bible stood as the line of demarcation between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism." May I add, a boundary between Protestantism and Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christianity as well. Pelikan goes on to say, "One of the most notorious illustrations of its authority. . . was the famous "Scopes trial" of July 1925 over the teaching of evolution. . . ." The trial affirmed the veridicality of the literal interpretation of the creation story in Genesis and forbade the teaching of evolution in the public schools of Tennessee.
The Orthodox position: spiritual perception
As noted above, the mind of Christ and His Church is inimical to a literal and personalistic interpretation of Scripture. The Orthodox spiritual and theological position is brilliantly exposited by Staniloae (2003) when he writes: "Man, says St. Maximus [the Confessor, c.580-662 AD] "has the absolute need for these two things, if he want to keep the right way to God without error: the spiritual understanding of Scripture and the spiritual contemplation of God in nature.” Fr. Dumitru Staniloae is very firm in his understanding of the centrality of spiritual perception by those who are members of Christ's Body, the Church. He writes: "The spiritual understanding of Scripture is a permanent tradition of the Eastern spiritual writing. In this context, St. Maximus also has the sternest words for those who can't go beyond the literal meaning of Scripture in a fleshy (literal) way:
He who doesn't enter into the divine beauty and glory found in the letter of the law falls under the power of the passions and becomes the lave of the world, which is subject to corruption. . .he has no integrity but what is subject to corruption.
Another Spiritual Father of the Church, St. Diadochos of Photiki, tells us: “No one, however, can come to fear God completely [with the soul purified and made malleable] unless he first transcends all worldly cares; for when the intellect reaches a state of deep stillness and detachment, then the fear of God begins. . .purifying it with full perception from all gross and cloddish density, and thereby bringing it to a great love for God’s goodness” (Philokalia I). This attitude is phrased in a contemporary ethos by Fr. John Breck (2001) who points out that in the Orthodox Church all scriptural exegesis must take place inside the embrace of the ecclesial community. He goes on to say: "This is the conviction, shared universally by patristic tradition, that one cannot interpret the scriptures faithfully or accurately unless one lives in accordance with them." Fr. John goes on to reference the holy Apostle and Evangelist John (2Jn 1:4): "I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father." Then Fr. John goes on to say: "Or in the words of the apostle Paul, to have "the mind of Christ," we must live "in Christ." In St. Paul's own words (1Cor 2:16): "For who has known the mind of the Lord, that He will instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ."
What better way to summarize this section than to quote the influential Russian Orthodox Archbishop (Alfeyev, 2002) noted above:
There have been some notable attempts to reconcile Scripture with modern science, among them the theological-evolutionist theory of Teilhard de Chardin. It is however quite clear that the Bible does not aim to present a scientific account of the origin of the universe, and it is rather naive to base one's arguments on a literal understanding of the biblical narrative. Scripture regards all of history from the perspective of the interrelationship between the human and the Divine. The authors of biblical stories often used metaphorical and symbolic language and. . . inevitably rely on the scientific knowledge of their own time. . . .
What Lossky (1957) declares about the antinomy of unity-trinity, that is the relationship of the Persons of the Holy Trinity, is certainly applicable to science and scripture: "Revelation sets an abyss between the truth which declares and the truths which can be discovered by philosophical speculation." In fact, this Orthodox position is encapsulated in one sentence by Roman Catholic priest, scientist and theologian, Fr. Stanley Jaki, (2006) who clarifies that the scriptures do not teach ". . .how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven."
What is science?
Science is simply a technique to understand the laws of the [God] created world. A basic postulate of science is that empirical events are governed in some lawful order.v The sciences are named after the events they are studying. Greatly simplified: physics, for example, studies particles; chemistry studies atoms and molecules; biology studies living organisms; psychology studies behavior. Science is not a static process; it changes as new investigative and evaluation methodologies are discovered. The application of statistical probability underlies all the mathematics of science research. Strictly speaking, theories or models are never 'proven.' Based on statistical probability they are either supported or not supported. Among those who do the work of science, i.e., scientists, the minimal probability level that allows a conclusion that a predicted outcome supports a theory is that it must not have a chance of occurring 5 out of 100 times, that is to say 5%.vi Generally, science has three interrelated goals: measurement and description; understanding and prediction; and application and control. Generally, the scientific process follows a certain outline (Morelli, 2006). This includes the hypothesis; data methods and collection, also known as the experiment proper; data analysis; data interpretation and conclusion; and the implication for future research, including modification of the initial hypothesis.vii
First a hypothesis is formed. A hypothesis is a specific prediction about the relationship between variables that are to be studied. These must be observable (empirical) and be measurable. The first step is to operationally define the variables. An operational definition posits the operations or actions which will be used to measure or control the variables. For example, in studying the relation between intelligence (IQ) and professional success, an operational definition of intelligence may be the IQ score on a valid and reliable IQ test such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-IV). The operational definition for professional success may be gross annual salary.
Going back over half a century, MacCorquodale & Meehl (1948) made a distinction (at least in behavioral science) between variables which they termed hypothetical constructs from those they termed intervening variables. Hypothetical constructs have surplus meaning, although in a given experiment they will be given a specific operational definition as in the example of IQ given above. Intervening variables are summaries of empirical observations of input or output conditions. For example, the intervening variable of drive, or motivation, may be tied into an input factor such as the time of prior food deprivation.
A hypothesis must be testable and be able to be disproved, that is to say, it must be falsifiable. As pointed out in Morelli (2006), a non-falsifiable hypothesis predicts all outcomes. If the range of prediction is so broad that it lacks the ability to be disconfirmed it will be useless. For example, I doubt any pilot would want to fly with my weather model if it predicts wind-speeds between 0 and 600 mph with precipitation ranging from 0 to 100% and temperature ranging between -5000 and +5000 F. My model (on earth at least) would be 'always' right, practically speaking, no weather condition on earth could disconfirm it. It can immediately be seen that for all intents and purposes its predictions are so broad as to be useless. However, if my predictions are precise, then they are testable and it can be seen if they are useful. If I predict 2 inches of rain in San Diego on a specific day and time, such a prediction is potentially testable and either confirmable or disconfirmable using statistical calculations. Any rain measure greater that 2 inches or less than 2 inches would not lend support to my model. If a wind speed of 20 to 25 mph was predicted, then any number below 19 or above 26 falsifies it. This model would be useful for pilots flying aircraft, on earth. Thus, this is a good hypothesis because it is falsifiable.Another principle - hypotheses must be parsimonious, or simple. All things being equal, simple hypotheses are preferred over more complex ones. A model with three parts is preferred over a model with four parts, unless the fourth part is demonstrated to be necessary in making the prediction.viii As noted above, the usefulness of a theory must also be considered. If I develop a complex mathematical model of mass, gravity, and acceleration, and using this model I send a rocket to the moon and back, my theory is quite useful.
It should also be noted that enough information about experimental procedures must be given so that the experiment can be replicated by other researchers. The ability of the experiment to be replicated is one of the essential criteria of its 'value.'
When I taught University Introductory Psychology I made a heuristic distinction between what I called Type I science and Type II science. Another way is to distinguish investigation in terms of how data is collected and analyzed as depicted in the model below in endnoteix.
Type I science
Type I Science is conducted in a temporal sequence. I form an hypothesis, as in the example above, that intelligence is related to success: specifically, that more highly intelligent individuals will achieve more economic success. My operational definition of intelligence is IQ score and of success is annual salary. (This is a greatly simplified illustration, mainly to aid non-science trained readers.) For example, I may take a sample of children age 10, give them the WISC-IV to get a measure of their intelligence and 20 years later when they attain the age of 30 record their annual salary. This comprises the third, or data collection, step. The fourth step is to analyze the data and report the conclusions. Say my hypothesis was supported, the annual salary of high IQ children was statistically significantly higher than children lower in IQ. I then want to interpret and discuss the meaning of the experiment and suggest possible follow-up experiments.
Enough information about the experimental procedure must be given so that the experiment can be replicated by other researchers. As previously noted, the ability of the experiment to be replicated by other researchers is one of the essential criteria of its 'value.'
It should be mentioned that in Type I Science events which occur in the 'future' are predicted, such as the salary of the subjects 20 years later.
Type II science
Type II Science is similar to Type I Science except that it studies variables which have occurred in the past, and makes hypotheses and predictions about variables which follow, i.e., which may be discovered in the present (but have occurred in the past, e.g., a fossil). A paleontologist may make a fossil discovery, then predict, say based on geological factors, what type of fossil may be found in the next time period. The discovery would have to be consistent with what would be predicted by the model. Some evolutionary science experiments fall into my Type II category. Quasi-science, such as naturalistic observations (so popular in animal shows on television) and correlational studies also fall into the Type II category.
The evolution of Evolution
In a perspicacious insight biologist researcher Carl Safina said about "Darwinism': "By propounding “Darwinism,” even scientists and science writers perpetuate an impression that evolution is about one man, one book, one “theory.” [In psychology, may I add, such "sacred fetishes" as Freud and Jung]. The ninth-century Buddhist master Lin Chi said, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” The point is that making a master teacher into a sacred fetish misses the essence of his teaching. So let us now kill Darwin."x In his article he encapsulates where the field is today:
Equating evolution with Charles Darwin ignores 150 years of discoveries, including most of what scientists understand about evolution. Such as: Gregor Mendel’s patterns of heredity (which gave Darwin’s idea of natural selection a mechanism — genetics — by which it could work); the discovery of DNA (which gave genetics a mechanism and lets us see evolutionary lineages); developmental biology (which gives DNA a mechanism); studies documenting evolution in nature (which converted the hypothetical to observable fact); evolution’s role in medicine and disease (bringing immediate relevance to the topic); and more.
All of what can be labeled evolution research fits into my heuristic descriptions of science research categories (Type I-II) or the McKirnan's 'Observation-Measurement' distinction model referenced in Endnote ix. What is done in the evolutionary sciences today is multifaceted in both research methodology and design. Broadly speaking, most processes studied by evolutionary science, such as adaptation, natural selection and mutation occur over time intervals too long to be directly observed. Exceptions are single-cell organisms, such as bacteria, viruses or RNA molecules, which multiply rapidly in the laboratory. However, what is common to all is that in order to be accepted by the scientific community and to be worthy of acceptance by the general population the research must conform to the highest standards of technique and evaluation of the day. It is enough to describe evolution as it is understood today. Over billions of years simple self-replicating carbon-based molecules, a precursor of life-forms, changed into single-cell organisms. This was succeeded by the proliferation of species which are encountered in the fossil records and which exist on earth today.
This process involves the changes in the genetic composition of a population during successive generations as a result of natural selection, mutation, genetic sharing among different organisms (e.g. viruses) acting on the genetic variability among organisms, and resulting in the development of a new variety or species.It is beyond the scope of this paper to go into the details of the myriad evolutionary science studies. Enough to affirm that there is a substantial body of research literature which meets the highest standards of scientific evaluation as is known at the present day.
Thus the next step is for us to return to the ultimate beginning of all: God. God is above and beyond all creation. God, to quote from the Anaphora prayer of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as used in the Eastern Orthodox Church, is: "ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever existing and eternally the same."
God is Truth
Ezra records the speech of Zerubbabel to King Darius. Zerubbabel, who was of the lineage (Mt 1: 12) of Christ, is also a figure of Christ because he "began to speak about truth." (1Ez 4: 34). While his words are in the context of the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile, as a figure of Christ his speech is applicable to truth in general and the truth of God's laws of nature as well: "But truth endures and is strong forever, and lives and prevails forever and ever. With her there is no partiality or preference, but she does what is righteous instead of anything that is unrighteous or wicked. All men approve her deeds, and there is nothing unrighteous in her judgment. To her belongs the strength and the kingship and the power and the majesty of all the ages. Blessed be the God of truth!" [emphasis mine]. He ceased speaking; then all the people shouted, and said, "Great is truth, and strongest of all!"" (1Ez 4: 38-41).
Lossky (1957) describes creation as not being "a truth of a philosophical order," but rather an act of faith. He points out: "The creation is a work of [God's] will and not of nature; and it is in this sense that St. John of [Damascus] opposes the creation of the world to the generation of the Word." Lossky goes on to say: "The creature is thus, by virtue of its very origin, something which changes, is liable to pass from one state to another. . . .God was under no necessity of any kind whatsoever." I consider this to be a beautiful summary that evolution can be part of God's plan for His creation. Later, Lossky writes: "Christian theology, . . . is able to accommodate itself very easily to any scientific theory of the universe, provided that this does not attempt to go beyond its own boundaries and begin impertinently to deny things which are outside its own field of vision."
As previously pointed out (Morelli, 2006), the author of Genesis writes that God made man in His image. "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion. . . over all the earth. . . ." (Genesis 1:26). McGuckin (2004) explains that various Greek Fathers defined the term "image" by relating it to Adam's naming of the animals, thereby linking an attribute of the image of God in man to "mankind's dominion over the created order." In other words, the patristic exegesis highlights the different characteristics which man possesses over the animals, such as understanding, rationality and intelligence, to conclude that these characteristics define in some measure the term "image of God."
The boundaries of man's intelligence are to study and discern the laws of nature, while affirming that God created the cosmos and its laws, that is to say, nature. This means that we affirm that "the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”(Ps 18:1).Intelligence vs. intellect (Nous)
Earlier in this paper I discussed the necessity of understanding Scripture in unity with the Church and with spiritual perception. The translators of The Philokalia, (Palmer, Sherrard, & Ware; 1979,1981,1985,1995), translate the Greek word nous as intellect. Unfortunately, for the English speaking reader this translation is confusing because we have another word, intelligence, which is quite different in meaning than nous. Intellect, for the translators, is "the highest faculty in man. . . it understands the divine truth by means of immediate experience, intuition or 'simple cognition'. . . it dwells in the depths of the soul. . .the innermost aspect of the heart. . . ." It is the source of the spiritual perception. On the other hand, intelligence is defined as the capacity of the mind-brain to acquire and apply knowledge using thought and reason. It is this intelligence which is related to our being created in God's image. It is by intelligence that we do science; it is by the nous that we perceive and proclaim that the heavens are able to declare God's glory. Christians are not just counseled to use their intelligence; it is commanded by God Himself. Put bluntly, we are required either to be scientists, or at the very least to respect science.
As Zerubbabel said: "Blessed be the God of Truth.” There cannot be any contradictions in truth. Jesus himself told us: ". . . the truth will make you free.” (Jn 8: 32). Our holy Church Spiritual Father St. Ilias the Presbyter points out: “Mercy and truth precede all the other virtues.” (Philokalia III). The virtue of truth must be practiced in both the created and the spiritual domains and there cannot be any antinomies. Anything perceived to conflict would be because, as St. Paul so aptly describes, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood." (1Cor 13: 12). In both creation and the spiritual world, only in truth can God be worshipped. As Jesus told the Samaritan Woman: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (Jn 4:24). All Christians and all scientists would do well to heed the words of St. Ilias the Presbyter (Philokalia III) “Truth without humility is blind. That is why it becomes contentious: it tries to support itself on something, and finds nothing except rancour.”
Eschewing Western Philosophy
For the most part the Christian East has been inimical to Western philosophical tradition, especially Aristotelian Scholastic rationalism. (Staniloae, 2003). Commenting on St. Paul's confidence in Christ "the assurance of things hoped for, “(Heb 11:1) Paul Evdokimov (1998) points out that for those in the Eastern Church this means:
Give up your puny reason and receive the Word." It is a transcendence toward evidence, toward the hidden reality that reveals itself. It suppresses all demonstration, all intermediaries, all abstract notions of God, . . . .The insufficiency of the proofs of God's existence is explained by a fundamental fact: God alone is the criterion of His truth, God alone is the argument for His Being. In every thought concerning God, it is God who thinks Himself in the human mind. That is why we can never prove His existence rationally nor convert another by arguments, for we can never do so in the place of God.
Evdokimov goes on to emphatically point out: ". . . God is the sole argument for His existence. . . ." Tatakis (2007) informs us that this spiritual perception is achieved through spiritual practices such as hesychasm, emphasizing stilling the senses, watchfulness, wakefulness and attention to God. This is how St. Isaac the Syrian (Brock 1997) describes it: "What watering is to plants is exactly the same as continual silence for the growth of spiritual knowledge." This can be seen most clearly in the reluctance of the Eastern Church Fathers to seek the "proof of God's existence," which is ever so popular in the Christian West. St. Gregory Palamas states: "As for me, I hold that our holy faith, above all sensible and intelligent things, is a vision of our heart in a special manner because it surpasses all the intellectual abilities of our soul." (Tatakis, 2007). Tatakis explains that "Instead of seeking a causal specification, a rational proof for the existence of God, the Palamite sees God, lives "in God." . . . [God Himself] is infinite and indescribable. . . the God whom the mystic now sees is a divine energy, not a divine essence. But only those who have pure eyes can see God in this way. . . ."
The Non-overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) Principle
In the 20th Century, paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould came on the scene. In 1997 he developed a model called "Non-Overlapping Magisteria. (NOMA)." While certainly not an affirmation of the "assurance of things hoped for" (Heb 11:1) expounded by St. Paul, it is an exposition from a scientific viewpoint of the thesis that there is a total chasm between science and religion. Our holy Church Fathers would be quite comfortable with his premise. He writes (2002): "the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty)."
It's all about interpretation
Gould's thesis has come under critique from his own colleagues, in this case fellow evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. Although singling out the Roman Catholic Church, Dawkins writes:
I respectfully disagree with Dr. Dawkins' interpretation of the same examples he cites. If I may, I will borrow from the Western Church a conceptual set not used in the Eastern Church: Natural-Supernatural. God created the laws of nature, that is to say the totality of the created cosmos, from the sub-atomic to mankind. Our beautiful Psalm 103, said daily in the Eastern Church at Vespers, beautifully echoes God's ordinary actions in nature:
More generally it is completely unrealistic to claim, as Gould and many others do, that religion keeps itself away from science's turf, restricting itself to morals and values. A universe with a supernatural presence would be a fundamentally and qualitatively different kind of universe from one without. The difference is, inescapably, a scientific difference. Religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims.
The same is true of many of the major doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. The Virgin Birth, the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary [in the Orthodox tradition, the Dormition and translation into Paradise of the Theotokos], the Resurrection of Jesus, the survival of our own souls after death: these are all claims of a clearly scientific nature. Either Jesus had a corporeal father or he didn't. This is not a question of "values" or "morals"; it is a question of sober fact. We may not have the evidence to answer it, but it is a scientific question, nevertheless.
Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, thou art very great! Thou art clothed with honor and majesty, who coverest thyself with light as with a garment, who hast stretched out the heavens like a tent, who hast laid the beams of thy chambers on the waters, who makest the clouds thy chariot, who ridest on the wings of the wind, who makest the winds thy messengers, fire and flame thy ministers. Thou didst set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be shaken. Thou didst cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. . . .," etc.
God’s actions occur in everyday life in nature because He is the creator of nature and does with nature as He Wills. On the other hand, the same examples cited by Dawkins: the conception of Our Lord by the Holy Spirit, Our Lord's bodily Resurrection are supernatural events, outside of the laws of nature. However, such events follow a set of laws, also according to God's Will. In fact, they are extra-ordinary, by definition not usual or ordinary, not common, and surely not meant to be scientifically studied or understood. Such extra-ordinary supernatural intervention by God in nature would also include other events surrounding Our Lord's earthly life, such as His Transfiguration, His bodily appearance to the Apostles after the Resurrection, the action of the Holy Spirit, descending on the Apostles as tongues of fire. It includes, of course, the infrequent but Holy Spirit-enlivened miracles of the Saints.
God exists outside of time and space. Time and space exist for His creation and thus for us. For God, all eternity is but a single moment. In the words of Evdokimov (1997), God is "the eternal present."
A possible helpful analogy
As the well known proverb goes 'all analogies limp.' When teaching university psychology classes. I used to draw a picture on the blackboard to explain experimental psychologist Tolman's (1948) "Sign Learning," which might be useful as an analogy to help understand the relation between God, who is 'above' time, so to speak, and mankind who exists within time. Picture a car approaching a curve on a foggy road with little visibility. The only thing visible to the driver is the few feet in front of the car and a road sign: Curve ahead. Another car (unseen to the driver of the first car) is stuck on the road immediately beyond the curve. Now picture that you are directly above the entire roadway in a helicopter with a fog-piercing lens. For you, the entire scene below is instantaneous. But the drivers of the cars do not see what is coming up in time. The analogy fails because time is unfolding for the helicopter pilot also. But this example, though highly imperfect, gives a sense, a notion of seeing 'more' from above, by analogy the Divine view, than can be seen from below, the view of mankind in time.
Human Pride: Telling God his Creation Limitations
Who are we to tell God with what kind of laws to govern His creation? I fail to understand how God can be limited by the limits of our own finite intelligence. If God chooses to have sub-atomic, atomic, molecular or more complex particles, organelles or organisms join together in some particular way, so be it. If chemistry, mathematics, physics and organization out of stochastic (probability distribution) blending are involved in the process as God's way of bringing about His created cosmos (and earthly life, including mankind's physical development), that is His domain not mine nor that of the rest of mankind. As Lossky (1957) informs us: "St. Maximus [the Confessor], who is here reproducing the thought of St. Gregory of Nyssa: 'Being, which has had its origin in change—-says the latter—-retains an affinity with change.'"
The Origin and vocation of creation
It is with spiritual perception that we can speak of the origin and vocation of creation. God created the world from nothing. He set the laws of His creation, that is to say the laws of nature. It is the work of those who do the work of science by God's gift of intelligence: astronomers, biologists, chemists, evolutionists, paleontologists, physicists, psychologists, to name but a few, to discover these laws. But as Lossky (1957) informs us: "it was created in order to participate in the fullness of the Divine Life.—-this is its vocation."
Humility, perfection and creation
St. Isaac of Syria (Wensinck, 1923) reflects on God's love of mankind and all creation. This great saint asks: ". . . what is perfection?" He answers: "Depth of humility. . . ." He later goes on: “The burning of the heart unto the whole creation, man, fowls, and beasts, demons and whatever exists. . . " Although created in time, God has willed His creation to be eternal; what He ordains will not cease. We know this by His own Word: "The Lord reigns; He is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength. Yea, the world is established; it shall never be moved;" (Ps 92: 1).It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out (Pv.25: 2)
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Dawkins, R. (2002). When religion steps on science's turf: The alleged separation between the two is not so tidy. Free inquiry magazine, 18, 2. http://www.secularhumanism.org/fi/index.htm
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i I wish to thank Daniel Buxhoeveden for pointing out the Elder's spiritual perception. (http://www.cas.sc.edu/socna/index.html)
v From the standpoint of Orthodox tradition, any way the Cosmos functions is the handiwork of God: As the psalmist (18:1) says: "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork."
vi A simple example: I hypothesize that I have a coin which always comes up tails. I do an experiment. I toss it twice and twice it comes up tails. This would be expected by chance alone. So my theory and prediction is 'not supported.' If, however, I toss it 100 times and 95 out of the 100 it comes up tails, scientists would say, there is now 'support' that my coin is biased; it is biased to come up tails.
Another helpful figure:
viii In a previous article (Morelli, 2006), I discussed the problem of circular reasoning and reification: Say a reporter is describing a grisly murder. He makes the off-handed comment, "Someone has to be crazy to commit a crime like that." When asked how he knew anything about the perpetrator's sanity, the reporter points to the gravity of the crime to conclude, "Only somebody crazy would do something like that." Unfortunately many well-meaning people (and even some psychologists) think this way. . . .circular reasoning is so subtle that not even the therapist or patient sees it. The technical term which applies to these flawed practices is reification. The word reify derives from the Latin word res or "thing." To reify means to treat an abstract concept as if it had material existence. Say I perform a simple experiment. I hold a rock and predict that the rock will fall to the ground because of "zak." I drop the rock; it falls to the ground as predicted. I now conclude that it fell because of "zak" and thus I have proved that "zak" exists. Not only is this circular reasoning, but the principle of parsimony also comes in to play. What extra did "zak" add to the theory of "falling bodies" that the Theory of Gravity did not already predict? Nothing? So this 'thing' called "zak" is un-needed.
I should also point out that the misapplication of "Darwinism" to the political and social arena is likewise to be rejected. In the 19th and 20th Centuries this so-called "Social Darwinism" was applied to groups, nations and races. Wealth, genetics, and power were considered "proof" of natural superiority and fittest for survival. Fascism, Nazism and such evils as abortion and eugenics (selective breeding and even justification of killing the physically and mentally unfit) looked to this false "Darwinism" for justification. Not only is this 'poor' or actually 'non-science,' but totally morally condemnable for Christians. For all mankind is made in God's image and called to be like Him and are good in His eyes—-and all mankind should be viewed as good by ourselves as well.
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V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.
He is the Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion.
Fr. Morelli is also Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.
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