Evolution & Orthodoxy

Question

I am a Roman Catholic considering conversion to the Orthodox faith. As part of my journey I am reading Not of This World—The Life and Teachings of Father Seraphim Rose. I am at a part in the book where there is a lot of “political” tension between hierarchs who are seeking after glory and fame and who are espousing suspect concepts. One such concept is that the Orthodox Church believes in evolution. The book that I am reading even goes so far as to say that the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) issued statements to Orthodox priests and laity that the Orthodox Church believes in evolution. Tell me, this isn’t true is it? The Orthodox Church doesn’t really believe in evolution does it?

I certainly hope that this isn’t a belief that is held by the Orthodox Church because I would hate to think that such an esteemed organization would believe that we have evolved from apes.


Answer

I might begin by stating that, if by evolution one is referring to the theories and teachings of Charles Darwin, the Orthodox Church surely does not subscribe to evolution in any manner. Orthodoxy firmly believes that God is the Creator of all things and that human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, are unique among all created beings. At the same time Orthodoxy is not literalist in its understanding of the accounts of creation in Genesis, and I have encountered writings by Orthodox Christians which attempt to balance the creation accounts with a certain ongoing—evolutionary, if you will—process which, on the one hand, affirms that while humans may have evolved physically under the direction and guidance and plan of the Creator, their souls could not have evolved any more than the powers of reasoning, speaking, or the ability to act creatively could have simply evolved. In such a scenario the Creator intervened by breathing His Spirit into man and giving him life, as stated in Genesis. Such thinking, however, while admitting the possibility that the Creator guided a process of physical evolution, is not identical with the theories of Charles Darwin, which in my limited understanding implies that man’s soul also evolved and denies the active participation on the part of the Creator. This poses a variety of questions and problems beyond the scope of your original question.

In short, then, Orthodoxy absolutely affirms that God is the Creator and Author of all things, that He is actively engaged with His creation, and that He desires to restore His creation to full communion with Himself through the saving death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This, unlike Darwinism, is not a matter of ideology but, rather, a matter of theology.

Orthodoxy has no problem with evolution as a scientific theory, only with evolution—as some people may view it—eliminating the need for God as Creator of All.

With regard to the “political tension” you encounter in the writing of Father Seraphim Rose and his statements about the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, I am unfamiliar with the book to which you refer. However, I would find it unbelieveable to imagine that the hierarchy of ROCOR would have ever issued a statement which claims that Orthodox Christianity believes in Darwinian evolution. It would seem that, if a group of hierarchs were, as you state in your email, “seeking after glory and fame and espousing suspect concepts,” they would find a more reliable way to achieve their goals than promoting belief in Darwinism which, even in scientific terms, is regarded as theory! If such a decree had ever been issued, I would be very curious to read it.

I hope this helps you—and I pray that your ongoing journey from Roman Catholicism to the Orthodox faith is filled with many blessings. The road can sometimes be a bumpy one, as Our Lord Himself promised, but stay the course!