The Russian Orthodox Church called Wednesday for an end to the “monopoly of Darwinism” in Russian schools, saying religious explanations of creation should be taught alongside evolution.
Liberals said they would fight efforts to include religious teaching in schools. Russia’s dominant church has experienced a revival in recent years, worrying rights groups who say its power is undermining the country’s secular constitution.
“The time has come for the monopoly of Darwinism and the deceptive idea that science in general contradicts religion. These ideas should be left in the past,” senior Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion said at a lecture in Moscow.
“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.”
An American Orthodox theologian I know writes privately to express his concern:
It is simply and categorically incorrect to imply that the theory of evolution is mutually exclusive with Orthodox theology. the heart of which is the Orthodox affirmation of the communion of the uncreated with the created in the person of Christ. This is also a pastoral matter, since I’ve encountered many who feel that they have to choose between the theory of evolution (or, more generally, science) and their faith. Just because some are using the theory of evolution as an anti-religious attack does not mean that we as Orthodox are obliged to reject the theory of evolution: that is more identity politics and, hence, idolatry, than real theology. Metropolitan Hilarion should know that the Russian Orthodox Church does not speak on behalf of all Orthodox.
Agreed. One does not have to affirm Darwinism in all its particulars to be bothered greatly by the false choice Met. Hilarion presents here, i.e., saying that one has to choose between either Orthodox Christianity or evolution. That is a sure way to undermine the faith. As Templeton Prize winning evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala has said, he has seen Christian students in his classes lose their faith because they believed, wrongly, that one had to choose between evolutionary science or Christianity. This is a tragedy. US Orthodox theologian Maria Gwyn McDowell, whose adult children are scientists, issues an open letter to Met. Hilarion, challenging him on this issue. Powerful excerpt below the jump — and an update:
Orthodoxy does not posit knowledge of God against knowledge of the world. Rather, Orthodoxy allows me to see the world as a locations God’s awesome creativity and mystery. Through the world (informed by Orthodox theology), I see a God who created so that all humanity (indeed, all creation!) might be in communion with God. This same God became Incarnate, bringing all matter (molecules, atoms, protons, neutrons, the waves and particles that is light!) to fullness and communion in God through Christ, by the Spirit. The book of Genesis remains among my favorite books to read. Unlike certain types of Protestantism, the Orthodox tradition does not teach me to read the creation stories as literal history standing in contradiction to geology, biology, or astrophysics. Instead, the Church teaches me to see in the text a God who participates in creation, who brings it abundant life, and calls humanity to protect and care for creation by participating in its flourishing.
This point of biblical literalism is extremely important. Orthodoxy is not, and has never been, a literalist tradition. Our theologians approach scripture as allegory, analogy, as typology, as story and narrative, poetry and prose. Our interpretation of scripture allows room for knowledge gleaned from science, philosophy, sociology and psychology. This does not mean that any of these disciplines override our firm belief as Orthodox that scripture reveals to us the living God who continues to work in and through the world. But our balanced approach allows us to understand that knowledge of God and God’s creation is not limited to a single, literal interpretation of scripture. Unfortunately, this is precisely the approach taken by defenders of creationism or Intelligent Design, that scripture must be literally true in its historical details. This erroneous understanding of the complex texts of the bible, an understanding with little knowledge of scripture’s context, results in a false choice: faith OR science. If we Orthodox suddenly decide that knowledge of God’s world cannot include science, then we put our children in an untenable position where they must choose between knowledge of the world God created and the study of its magnificence, and an interpretation which denies the witness of their God-given senses, their God-given mind, in the name of a narrow, literal interpretation of scripture.
Having said this, there are certainly theories posited by scientists which are incompatible with Orthodoxy. However, they are usually theories which also stretch beyond the bounds of good science. Just as biblical literalists force scripture to say more than it actually says about creation, so do some scientists say more about God than actual science allows. Any use of science by communists to “disprove” God must be addressed as a distortion of scientific research. Such criticisms are leveled against U.S. scientists who seem to think that science proves atheism (Dawkins, etc.). We are privileged in the U.S. to have scientists such as Gayle Woloschuk whose research is well respected among biologists, and whose Orthodox faith carefully informs the limits of her scientific claims. These are the people we should be listening too, not biblical literalists whose view of scripture and God’s work in creation is generally incompatible with Orthodoxy. And as any Orthodox scientist freely admits, we have a great deal of work to do in order to balance our faith with the findings of science. But we should not be afraid of this work, hiding in comfortable biblical interpretations which blind us to the our ever-expanding knowledge of God’s creativity. We must be unafraid to enter into the world God has made, to seek to understand and rejoice in God’s creation.