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144. Jan. 24/Feb. 6, 1974. Blessed Xenia of Petersburg

Dear Brother in Christ, Alexey,
Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ in Whom rejoice!

Here are some more notes on evolution, specifically your chapters which we are returning herewith.

II. Chapter on the “context”: too broad, and in the wrong place. The study should begin with a “bang” (after the Preface, which should be written last), and most logical is to start with “Early Man” itself, so the reader can see what is being talked about. The “Context” offers a history of different strands of Humanism whose importance to the subject of evolution is not clear at the beginning. In any case these pages are too broad and general, and distract the reader’s attention from the central point.

III. “Science as a Fetish” and “Early Man”: the points are good (we’ll have more detailed criticism later when we see how they fit into the whole study); but here we’ll give a word of advice: try as much as possible not to “play your hand” too much or too soon. The Preface will already make it clear enough that you are against evolution: but all the way through, and especially in the “scientific” chapters, you should be as “objective” and serene as possible, omitting in particular any comments that might show how you “feel” about what you are presenting or criticizing (such as the “heavens no” on p. 5 which I’ve marked) — such comments will have an adverse effect on those who aren’t convinced yet, giving them the impressions that you are just hostilely disposed to evolution from the beginning, and therefore you are not open to whatever “truth” it might contain. Remember that from the beginning (that being the character of our times and its mentality) the burden of proof is on you, and the majority of readers will not sympathize with any disparaging comments. Your basic tone in these chapters should not be: “I’m going to show you how ridiculous evolution is,” but rather: “Let’s look at this question seriously and soberly, one point at a time, being as fair as possible to evolutionists, and see just what they believe and how much sense it makes.” Actually, there are probably very few “convinced evolutionists” among Orthodox believers, but very many who just “go along” with the intellectual current, but still do have some nagging doubts about evolution which they just can’t explain to themselves. For them you should be making the greatest possible clarification of this whole issue.

III. B.: Further study of “Early Man” seems the logical next step. Presumably your conclusion at the end of this chapter will not be: “Evolution is proved false and special creation true,” but rather: evolution, presented popularly as “fact” and “truth,” has no coercive scientific evidence whatever to support it. All the supposed “proofs” of evolution can equally be used to “prove” another theory, depending on your presuppositions. Here you should set down in summary form all the major “proofs” of evolution (preferably quoting some major evolution textbook, or perhaps Encyclopedia Britannica — the 11th edition lists 8 evidences), showing that they presuppose a whole philosophy of nature which is not at all derived from “proofs” but from the intellectual climate of the age. (See, for example, the enclosed booklet, p. 67.) Here you should also have some quotes from evolutionists themselves showing how they realize that there is no actual coercive proof of evolution; but that it “makes more sense,” or “the alternative is unthinkable” — i.e. God’s creation; or other similar quotes. And when you thus quote evolutionists “against themselves,” as it were, you should be careful not to “pounce” on them and say “Aha, they disprove themselves” — but rather continue in a serene tone, not taking maximum advantage of their admissions — because you are going to let all their self-incriminating evidence speak for itself, until it piles up and at the end becomes absolutely self-evident, and then your own summation of this evidence will be very powerful!

And then, here is where you should give the intellectual “context” of evolution, but much more specific than your ch. II. It is too much for most readers to understand the whole movement of Humanism, etc.; besides which, they are still not disposed to think you are giving them the real story about it. It would be good to quote an authoritative, objective source at this point. So: enclosed find 5 pp. of quotes from a good textbook on modern “intellectual history.” The author is himself “modern” and believes in evolution, and so does not have your “prejudices”; yet he is quite precise and aware on the whole. These excerpts show accurately the change from the Newtonian mechanistic universe to, the evolutionary universe of our times. Some quotes like these, perhaps with a few comments in between, may be all you need to establish the “intellectual climate” in which evolution developed.

Now you are ready to enter the area of philosophy and theology: for the lack of strict scientific proof of evolution means that these questions basically are not scientific, but come from faith. At the same time you disengage yourself from the dead-end of trying to “disprove” evolution: by science it can be neither proved nor disproved; it is a question of a different order than science.

IV, V: I don’t know what or how much you planned to write on “Orthodox evolutionists” and Teilhard, but I think it might be possible to combine them in a single chapter called “Christian evolutionism.” (Rather in the same way that, in our “charismatic” article, we combined testimony from Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox charismatics — both because the testimony of all groups reinforce each other, and because there is really no difference between them; so also, “Orthodox evolutionism” is exactly the same as “Catholic evolutionism.”) This also would give more punch to the section which I am compiling to follow the Patristic quotes, and which might be called, effectively I hope: “Latin Scholasticism: the Theological Foundation of Christian Evolutionism’.”

In such a chapter on “Christian evolutionism,” a basic thing to show will be that adding “God” to evolution does not at all change its basic philosophical-theological outlook and intent. God becomes a deus ex machina for saving evolution when the absurdity of believing in it without God, as a pure chance process, becomes too evident. Thus, quoting Dobzhansky and others, you can show how they believe in the same naturalistic universe, without God’s interference, as do the atheistic evolutionists: the denial of God’s Providence, etc.

As to the climax to this section: Teilhard de Chardin as extremely symptomatic of the “spirit of the age” — a “religious” thinker has come into fashion, favored even by Julian Huxley and the Soviet Union! (I’ll send some material from Russia on Teilhard.) You might look at Lecomte DuNoüy also, since the Greek Archdiocese article mentions him together with T. de С.; I have a feeling it will be easier to find good quotes from him!

An important part of this “Christian evolutionism” chapter: quote T. de C. (the passage quoted by Dobzhansky at the end of his article) on evolution as absolutely “universal” — by this time the mere quoting of this passage will already show the reader how much such a view is dependent on simply absorbing the “spirit of the times.” This quote shows the blind faith of some “religious” figures in the latest current of scientific faith; and it offers an exact parallel (which you should by all means take advantage of!) to the blind faith of Alexander Pope in a different scientific faith: his adoration of Newton and his mechanical-deist universe of perfect order, which was mocked a century later by Voltaire in Candiele, a satire on the “best of all possible worlds” (the phrase is Leibniz’, but it sums up the faith of the whole 17th and 18th century philosophical “establishment”). Popes words are “jingly” and will catch your readers unawares and perhaps make them begin to see that one should not place so much faith in any scientific philosophy-faith.

Alexander Pope, “Essay on Man”:

All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body Nature is, and God the soul,…
All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good:
And, spite of pride, in erring reasons spite,
One truth is clear, whatever is, is right.

And in another place in Popes works:

Nature and Natures laws lay hid in night:
God said, Let Newton be! and all was Light.

Voltaire mocked this philosophy because it had become out of date•, and thus your reader is warned, the suggestion is made: maybe evolution too is such a passing faith that will become out of date one day, or is already becoming so! And this inevitably happens if Christian philosophy accepts the philosophy of the “spirit of the age,” which comes and goes. In general it will be a good idea to contrast the Newtonian universe with the evolutionary: this contrast will give the reader probably all the intellectual “context” of evolution he needs, and in a very painless way, without forcing him to understand the whole history of modern thought. Many people simply aren’t aware that there has ever been a “science” that wasn’t “evolutionary,” and the contrast between Newton and evolution shows how one scientific theory gives way to the next. Thus you will undermine the scientific “faith” of your readers! (In our theological section, we will also be quoting St. Basil the Great and Fr. Michael Pomazansky on this subject.)

By the way, the thought occurs to me that the spiritual tone of Fundamentalism’s opposition to evolution is actually based more on the Newtonian universe than Christianity! Undoubtedly Archbishop Ussher was a convinced Newtonian! — you should look into that. The climax of the whole article will then be in presenting the Orthodox theology of creation — Adam, which is totally independent of all scientific fashions.

For Orthodoxy DOES NOT FOLLOW THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE AGE, rather Orthodoxy has its own philosophy based on Revelation. (The Holy Fathers have a complete theology of the origin of man and creation which) This Revelation is not bound up with any intellectual fashion that passes away. It is a doctrine not modified with every passing philosophy, not bound up with either the static universe of perfect harmony of Newton (which departed from Orthodoxy by making the universe purely naturalistic — and evolution is actually just the present philosophy of the naturalized universe divorced from God and His action), nor with the “developing” universe of T. de C. and other fashionable thinkers today. Orthodox philosophy is NOT OF THIS WORLD; but it is THE ANSWER to the vain speculations of modern man, and certainly the answer to a mankind filled with the “spiritual malaise” D. [Dostoyevsky] perceives.

Above all, the whole study should be as simple and as much to the point and as “objective” as possible. If one accepts the principle of objectivity, and believes in the Holy Fathers — then the whole study, even in a very low key, should gradually build itself up to a devastating and convincing conclusion.

By the way, in your “scientific” chapters I hope you have a good account of the “carbon dating system” and whatever “evidence” there is for “millions of years”; also, you must be prepared for answers in several points of the “history of mankind” — how do you explain Neanderthal Man, for example? (I’ve just found an Orthodox pamphlet on this subject, written 25 years ago, which views him as the descendant of Cain.)

We’ve received Fr. Neketas’ newest comments on evolution, where he tries to identify antievolutionism with the sectarian fringe. Why such pointless comments? One senses that he somehow feels unsafe on evolution, is somehow threatened by anti-evolutionism. Actually, he only confuses more those people who are already uncertain enough what to believe about evolution.

And then yesterday we received from the “Zion Orthodox Hermitage” a copy of the letter to Fr. Neketas which you had already showed us, together with an article which we hadn’t seen, called “The Creation Narrative.” Seeing the quote from St. Hippolytus on page 1, we looked forward to some patristic documentation. But alas, the author doesn’t come through with this, and he turns out to be quite vague on the whole subject himself! In the next to last paragraph of p. 2 he quite losses himself in wild “speculations” which are not only unscriptural (I’ve never heard of anyone who threw dinosaurs in before the six days of creation) but are also doctrinally unsound (the suggestion that there could have been evil in the visible creation before Adam’s transgression). In a word, the author is quite naive, and in his fear that “science might be right” about the “millions of years” he already has quite a lot in common with many present-day evolutionists. (Same viewpoint is in the enclosed booklet.) We look forward to your objective presentation of the proof or lack of it concerning the “age of the earth” and man.

It is time to get this out. Pray for us.

With love in Christ our Saviour,
Seraphim, monk

P.S. Why don’t you think of printing in a format something like the enclosed booklet? It could be “popular”! We could make the cover and give some other help.

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