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Bogoliubtsy
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« on: May 21, 2009, 04:43:17 PM »

The thread on the recent find of the "missing link" got me to thinking about evolution and "the fall". Belief in evolution, it seems, forces one to see the creation account of Genesis as a kind of metaphor rather than a literal or even semi-literal event. We were not literally made from dust, our physical bodies were not purposefully designed by God (unless, of course, you believe that the process of evolution leading up to man was God's round about way of achieving his final aim of creating us), and in terms of biology we are progressing as a species toward better and better adaptability and chances at survival- i.e instead of going from the possibility of perfection to "the fall" in the Garden of Eden, we're constantly progressing, at least physically.

That being the case- what are the current explanations of the Church in light of evolution? At what point in our evolutionary history were we "in the garden", so to speak. If the fall was not a single act (because evolutionarily it seems less and less a possibility) is it a metaphor for the disjointedness of human life, the feeling that something is "off" about human life, or for our sinful tendencies in general?

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« Reply #1 on: May 21, 2009, 04:47:53 PM »

. . .what are the current explanations of the Church in light of evolution?

Please, see the 'Compatibilist' section here: http://orthodoxwiki.org/Evolution#Compatibilist.
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« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2009, 04:51:53 PM »

Species may be evolving but after speaking to an agnostic physics major friend of mine, it seems to me that the universe as a whole is devolving?  He seemed to think our idea of a Fall fit in with some theory of physics. Sorry I can't remember what it was.

Even if evolution is proven to be true, I don't see why God breathing life (i.e. an immortal, reason-endowed, nous-possessing soul) in to dust is any different than God choosing some ancestor(s) and breathing life in to it (them). I believe that it is important to maintain though that at some point, one of them (whom the Church identifies as Adam, whether that was his name or not [given that Adam means man]) did in fact fall, and that the creation of man is the most important act of God's creation.
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« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2009, 05:13:35 PM »

Father, bless,

Even if evolution is proven to be true,

Biological evolution (defined, BTW, not as "progress" but as a change in the genetic makeup of populations) is proven to be true, to be an observable fact.

I don't see why God breathing life (i.e. an immortal, reason-endowed, nous-possessing soul) in to dust is any different than God choosing some ancestor(s) and breathing life in to it (them). I believe that it is important to maintain though that at some point, one of them (whom the Church identifies as Adam, whether that was his name or not [given that Adam means man]) did in fact fall, and that the creation of man is the most important act of God's creation.

I agree. A human being is only partially a biological being. We are animals and, as such, we evolve; but we are also spiritual beings, "nouses," something that is not a part of biological life.
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« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2009, 07:38:50 PM »

Species may be evolving but after speaking to an agnostic physics major friend of mine, it seems to me that the universe as a whole is devolving?  He seemed to think our idea of a Fall fit in with some theory of physics. Sorry I can't remember what it was.

Entropy?
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« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2009, 09:34:36 PM »

Father, bless,

Even if evolution is proven to be true,

Biological evolution (defined, BTW, not as "progress" but as a change in the genetic makeup of populations) is proven to be true, to be an observable fact.

Heorhij,

God bless you.

You could take what I wrote in two ways:

"Even if evolution is proven to be true" (it has been proven to true, but even so...)
"Even if evolution is proven to be true" (it has not been, but it might well be later...)

I'll leave it at that Wink  I'm not a scientist, so if you guys say the physical evidence proves it, fine, I am not qualified to talk about that.

What I have been concerned about though are the philosophical underpinnings of the theory--one of which being the idea that by evolving we are somehow getting better as a species (what "better" means of course is up for debate); or Social Darwinism and its resulting Eugenics, etc.  Also the idea of course that this is all a product of random chance, etc.
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« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2009, 10:36:41 PM »

Species may be evolving but after speaking to an agnostic physics major friend of mine, it seems to me that the universe as a whole is devolving?  He seemed to think our idea of a Fall fit in with some theory of physics. Sorry I can't remember what it was.

Entropy?
Central to the second law of thermodynamics.  I believe it's the observed fact that a closed system will degrade over time from a state of order to a state of disorder (i.e., a state of perfect heat equilibrium, aka heat death).
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« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2009, 10:43:06 PM »

So is the idea that at some point in our evolutionary history we became mankind after God "breathed" life into us and gave us a soul?
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« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2009, 10:49:10 PM »


Heorhij,

God bless you.

Thank you, Father.

What I have been concerned about though are the philosophical underpinnings of the theory--one of which being the idea that by evolving we are somehow getting better as a species (what "better" means of course is up for debate); or Social Darwinism and its resulting Eugenics, etc.  Also the idea of course that this is all a product of random chance, etc.

That certainly has nothing to do with science as such.
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« Reply #9 on: May 22, 2009, 12:33:36 AM »

St. Irenaeus tells us that God created man in a "spiritual infancy" so that he may grow and "become God as God became Man."  I think that it is not incompatible for one to accept evolutionary theory (not necessarily Darwinian evolutionary theory, mind you) and to be fully cognizant of our Orthodox fathers who, like St. Irenaeus, and unlike the Western Christians, taught that man was created in a young, non-perfected state for him to grow, i.e. evolve.  Of course, that didn't happen since the "ancestral sin" got in the way and thus Christ's Incarnation was an absolute necessity. 

We shouldn't treat evolution as the great bogeyman in the room.  If someone believes in a literal six day creation, fine.  If someone believes that creation took millenia and that there were several progressive stages, fine.  Either way, we need to be aware that the Eastern Fathers have always treated man as created in a puerile state, not a perfect  creation as Augustine posited.  Thus evolution can have both biological and spiritual meanings for our Orthodox faith.  The both...and approach always works!  Just mho.
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« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2009, 12:44:49 AM »

^ All good points, IMO. I do wonder though- now that the biblical vision of mankind's creation has been upset by an evolutionary view (at least in the literal sense), has the Orthodox Church reached consensus on God's role in evolution? I don't believe it has- this leads me back to my original question: "If the fall was not a single act (because evolutionarily it seems less and less a possibility) is it a metaphor for the disjointedness of human life, the feeling that something is "off" about human life, or for our sinful tendencies in general?"

Since humankind did not evolve into two solitary individuals, we must take the story of Adam and Eve as a metaphor...right? If so, then these two individuals did not "fall". If that is the case, then how do we understand this story?  Can the story be reduced to a metaphor for our human condition as I asked again in the paragraph above?
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« Reply #11 on: May 22, 2009, 01:04:46 AM »

If so, then these two individuals did not "fall". If that is the case, then how do we understand this story?

I think you're hinting at it, but there's no way to know how to understand it for certain.  I understand it to mean that humanity is full of deficiency in its divinity, but as to the actual "fall" itself, I have no idea what the place for it would be.
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« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2009, 01:34:31 AM »

If so, then these two individuals did not "fall". If that is the case, then how do we understand this story?

I think you're hinting at it, but there's no way to know how to understand it for certain.  I understand it to mean that humanity is full of deficiency in its divinity, but as to the actual "fall" itself, I have no idea what the place for it would be.

This is most likely not the Orthodox position, but I take it to mean basically the same thing that Buddhists mean in their understanding of the "First Noble Truth", that life is suffering. This suffering need not take brutal forms. It's not necessarily Hobbes's view that life is "nasty, brutish, and short", but that something in human existence is off kilter. It is that we are here for something, but something that is not "natural" to our nature (sin) hinders us from being in communion with it. I take the fall to be a metaphor for the disjointed state of our being that Christian theology, as well as other religions, have picked up on. In light of evolution it seems more plausible than two literal people literally losing the real possibility of communion with God. However, this denial of the literal story does not make the situation any less real or meaningful.
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« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2009, 02:05:38 AM »

In light of evolution it seems more plausible than two literal people literally losing the real possibility of communion with God. However, this denial of the literal story does not make the situation any less real or meaningful.

Right, but the question remains about the idea of a fall at a moment in time.  The evolutionary model seems to suggest that we have always been this way.  I mean Adam (everyman) continually rejects God as they did in the garden, but a fall at a moment in time seems less likely.
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« Reply #14 on: May 22, 2009, 07:44:40 AM »

This is most likely not the Orthodox position, but I take it to mean basically the same thing that Buddhists mean in their understanding of the "First Noble Truth", that life is suffering.

Not pretending to be a deep theologian, I think the difference with Buddhists is that we do not believe that life is suffering "by design." Man is not made to suffer. God does not want us to suffer (well, maybe a little bit, occasionally, for "educational" purposes). Suffering is a result of sin. When we completely get rid of sin, we will not suffer.

This suffering need not take brutal forms. It's not necessarily Hobbes's view that life is "nasty, brutish, and short", but that something in human existence is off kilter. It is that we are here for something, but something that is not "natural" to our nature (sin) hinders us from being in communion with it.

Precisely!

I take the fall to be a metaphor for the disjointed state of our being that Christian theology, as well as other religions, have picked up on. In light of evolution it seems more plausible than two literal people literally losing the real possibility of communion with God. However, this denial of the literal story does not make the situation any less real or meaningful.

That's pretty much how I see it, too. But what keeps troubling me is the idea of heritable sinfulness. As a biologist with some knowledge of the laws of heredity (my degree is actually in Medical Genetics), I understand that unless something changes the sequence of nucleotides in the DNA, a parent cannot pass an acquired trait to his/her progeny. Meanwhile, the whole body of patristic literature, as much as I know, is very enthusiastically developing this idea that Adam's sin made the human RACE (i.e. generations next after him) sinful or prone to sin (mortal, passionate etc.), sort of like from a source of water, if you contaminate it, you get only contaminated water.
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« Reply #15 on: May 22, 2009, 11:52:32 AM »

^ All good points, IMO. I do wonder though- now that the biblical vision of mankind's creation has been upset by an evolutionary view (at least in the literal sense), has the Orthodox Church reached consensus on God's role in evolution?

I don't think there is/will be a consensus because one is not required.  The Orthodox Church has never dogmatized about how God created which is the questions particularly Western Protestant Christians tend to dwell on.  There is so much emphasis in the mode that they seem to disregard the why.   For the Orthodox (and I think other Christians too if they were being honest) see creation as God's mercy manifested.  But Protestants typically want to know how God does everything so that it fits some preconceived paradeigm or schema.  It's frustrating.

The Orthodox church doesn't need to reach consensus on God's role in evolution because the Church has, wisely, never dogmatized on this.
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« Reply #16 on: May 22, 2009, 01:10:57 PM »

This is most likely not the Orthodox position, but I take it to mean basically the same thing that Buddhists mean in their understanding of the "First Noble Truth", that life is suffering.

Not pretending to be a deep theologian, I think the difference with Buddhists is that we do not believe that life is suffering "by design." Man is not made to suffer. God does not want us to suffer (well, maybe a little bit, occasionally, for "educational" purposes). Suffering is a result of sin. When we completely get rid of sin, we will not suffer.

When Buddhists speak about "suffering" (or better yet, "dissatisfaction"), they may mean one of two ideas: (1) the psycho-spiritual dissatisfaction you experience when you try to seek satisfaction or happiness from that which is impermanent; or (2) the inherent condition of all impermanent phenomena, a condition that lacks any inherent ability to provide total satisfaction or total happiness. Only nirvana is permanent, and thus "satisfactory". Thus, humanity is not forced or designed to experience dissatisfaction as the only option: the option for nirvana is always available.

There's a third type of "suffering" or "dissatisfaction" I forgot to mention. This is the dissatisfaction one experiences when one advances on the path to nirvana. An analogy would be the dissatisfaction a smoker experiences when he advances on the path to no-longer-smoking. This third type of dissatisfaction is invoked in the phrase "no pain, no gain". Shocked
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« Reply #17 on: May 23, 2009, 01:28:25 AM »

That's pretty much how I see it, too. But what keeps troubling me is the idea of heritable sinfulness. As a biologist with some knowledge of the laws of heredity (my degree is actually in Medical Genetics), I understand that unless something changes the sequence of nucleotides in the DNA, a parent cannot pass an acquired trait to his/her progeny. Meanwhile, the whole body of patristic literature, as much as I know, is very enthusiastically developing this idea that Adam's sin made the human RACE (i.e. generations next after him) sinful or prone to sin (mortal, passionate etc.), sort of like from a source of water, if you contaminate it, you get only contaminated water.

It seems to me that both you and Bogoliubtsy are leaning on biology/evolution to provide explanations or, at least, be relevant to questions that in general scientists don't claim to be able to answer or to address.

In the case of evolution vs. Adam & Eve, Evolutionary science sees a gradual development of the physical human form and its capabilities. But it doesn't address the point at which those hominids went from being animals to being human. That is, at some point, our ancestors possessed the self-awareness, language skills, and the moral sense of apes and monkeys. At some later point, they possessed the full human complement. Of course there are some radical materialists who deny there was any qualitative change to be explained/found. In that argument, there is no qualitative difference between an amoeba and a human--only a quantitative difference in complexity. But most people don't accept this even if they accept evolution--our physical forms may descend from amoebas and through monkeys but we see that at some point hominids stopped being unusually clever animals and became humans. But working from a fossil record, evolution can't identify when, where, or even how language 'started', much less self-awareness or moral nature.

So there is nothing in current evolutionary theory to conflict with the following scenario (note: I'm not arguing this scenario, simply pointing it out as one among multiple possibilities): at some point in the distant past, maybe about the time homo sapiens was differentiating from its predecessor, God chooses a mating pair of hominids and grants them a 'soul'--perhaps He does so by triggering the final set of mutions which give us a self-aware, linguisticaly capable forebrain, maybe its a separate event--this Adam and Eve are placed in a specifically designed environment. Things occur much as described in Genesis complete with an actual Fall. Afterwards, God returns the pair to the company of other hominids. Adam and Eve's own descendents intermingle with their cousins. Over time, hominids that lack that 'spark' die out and in the end only those humans who descend from Adam and Eve and possess that moral, spiritual nature are left to continue into historical times.

On the other hand, with regards, to Heorhij's comments about the 'heritability' of sinfulness: Yes, the Fathers often use the language of heredity to try to explain our Fallenness. But Orthodoxy generally understands that to be only a metaphor. Instead of thinking of it genetically, think of it in socio-economic terms. Let's say it's the ante-bellum south and my parents are slaves of Mr. X. If nothing changes, then I will be born a slave of Mr. X. But my parents manage to escape and flee to the north. Now when I'm born, I will be free man. It's not a 'genetic' thing that my parents pass on to me, but they do pass their 'state' on to me. In the same way (or in a sense in exactly the opposite way--St. Paul in fact uses the same image in reverse), Adam and Eve, when they were created (however one understands that), existed in a direct relationship to God. Through their own actions, they severed that relationship. And so when their children were born, their children were born into the same 'state' that Adam and Eve had achieved--they had no relationship to God. And that has been the 'natural' state of humanity ever since. And since God is the source of all goodness, existing in a state of separation from Him is what makes us inherently sinful. Christ offers us the opportunity to reestablish that relationship, to re-enter a state of communion with God (to sell ourselfs back to Mr. X), but that takes us farther afield.

Of course, the 'economic' model is as much a metaphor as the 'heredity' model. Any metaphor, if you try to press it too strictly, starts to show problems.
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« Reply #18 on: May 23, 2009, 02:39:50 AM »

So there is nothing in current evolutionary theory to conflict with the following scenario (note: I'm not arguing this scenario, simply pointing it out as one among multiple possibilities): at some point in the distant past, maybe about the time homo sapiens was differentiating from its predecessor, God chooses a mating pair of hominids and grants them a 'soul'--perhaps He does so by triggering the final set of mutions which give us a self-aware, linguisticaly capable forebrain, maybe its a separate event--this Adam and Eve are placed in a specifically designed environment. Things occur much as described in Genesis complete with an actual Fall. Afterwards, God returns the pair to the company of other hominids. Adam and Eve's own descendents intermingle with their cousins. Over time, hominids that lack that 'spark' die out and in the end only those humans who descend from Adam and Eve and possess that moral, spiritual nature are left to continue into historical times.

Another possibility is that Adam and Eve had the ability to ignite that 'spark' within other hominids with which they came into contact. This possibility would allow Adam and Eve to be the 'spiritual' father and mother of numerous humans, without being necessarily biological father and mother. The newly 'ensparked' humans could then interbreed with one another, without this interbreeding being incestual behavior.

The 'ensparking' could be seen as analogous to Holy Spirit baptism (though not equivalent). Thus, Adam, possessing this ability to 'enspark' other hominids, served as a type of Christ, through whom the Holy Spirit entered the world of humans. And perhaps Eve was the first hominid Adam 'ensparked', Eve being a type of Mary, who was the first human to follow Christ.
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