March 2, 2010

Evolution: A New Fundamentalism

Fr. Serafim Gascoigne

The theory of evolution has become a part of our everyday thinking and behaviour. In most people's minds, the word evolution is synonymous with progress and presupposes growth towards a better future. This progress is measured in terms of social, political, and religious growth or achievement and has become part of our everyday vocabulary – an integral part of how we act and think. All aspects of life are now modeled on evolution. For example, there is scientific evolution, a nihilistic philosophy which sees man as a piece of driftwood thrown up by time onto the shores of existence. There is social and political evolution that measures progress and human development in terms of the intellect and the amazing achievements of technology. And finally, there is religious evolution: religion that is evolving towards the “Omega Point” envisioned by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (d. 1955) or towards the “Age of the Spirit” anticipated in the works of Nikolay Berdyayev (d. 1948). Currently there is ecumenism, with its roots in the Masonic movement, which promotes evolution towards universal brotherhood under a supreme deity.

For many people, evolution is also synonymous with Charles Darwin and his theory of biological evolution. In fact for over a century Darwin's theory has been a basic element of scientific and cultural thought. Life, according to his theory of evolution, is ever moving from a preexistent form to a more complex – and therefore better – form. Although the factual evidence to support this view is virtually nonexistent, scientists nevertheless accept evolution as a priori in scientific research. Oddly enough, Darwin was not the actual inventor of the theory of evolution; evolutionary ideas and interpretations were being discussed in the second half of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries by such scientists as Denis Diderot (d. 1784), Benjamin Franklin (d. 1790) and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (d. 1829). I believe also that evolutionary ideas have been developing for much longer than we normally imagine and have, therefore, greatly influenced the development of western civilization. Blessed Justin (Popovich) of Serbia (d. 1979), in his book Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ, identifies Darwin's views with New Age Religion. To understand this, let us examine the historical perspective that preceded the emergence of Darwinism and in particular, the writings of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (d. 1860) and the influence his philosophy exerted on other evolutionary thinkers

An Historical Perspective

Western Christianity and consequently Western civilization promoted humanism from early times. The deviant theology of the Latin church readily provided the impetus for the cultivation of Humanistic thinking. From the first few centuries of Christianity in Rome, there was a rebirth of pagan Caesar worship, which in subsequent centuries was inappropriately transferred to the Patriarch of Rome, a process that eventually culminated in the anti-Christian doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope. The teaching about Papal supremacy over the Church (the Body of the God-Man Christ) inevitably replaced the God-Man as Head of the Church with a man, in the person of the Pope of Rome.

The belief in this doctrine later provided fuel for the Renaissance. Man, being at the center of the universe did not need God. The significance of this human idolatry was not simply political but cosmological, for man now became the focal point of theological thought, which in turn, fostered humanism. The Pope is the intermediary between God and man, and curiously enough does not have to be a priest, but can be a layman. It is not, of course the object of this article to examine the details of this degeneration in the concept of Church from a Divine-human community to a human-secular one. However we need to be aware of the historical development of humanism, in order to grasp the significance of its effect upon our thinking today.

In time, this humanistic idolatry gave rise to the divinization of science and civilization, and in our own time, the divinization of education, the main object of which is to illumine man without Christ. When the God-Man, that is Christ, is eliminated, man becomes the center of the universe. This is to fulfill the aspiration of Satan, who told our ancestors that they would become gods without God. Removing Christ from man, we produce the mechanistic man of the Empiricist philosophers, such as John Locke (d. 1704) and David Hume (d. 1776). According to these Empiricists, the nature of man is derived from the senses. Unfortunately, this new man of Empiricism proved very primitive and terribly boorish. So the next stage in history was to progress to man as intellect, building on the rationalistic philosophies of Rene Descartes (d. 1650) and culminating in Immanuel Kant (d. 1804).

But the true nature of man, argued Schopenhauer in the nineteenth century, is volition. Man's essence cannot be summed up in his senses or in his reason, since he is neither of these. Rather, he is foremost comprised of volition. Man as volition is the true man. For Schopenhauer, the nature of man is based on his will to live. However, individual wills produce strife and, therefore, only through the renunciation of self-desire can one find peace. Schopenhauer's philosophy was based on his study of Kant and, in addition, the mystical works of Hinduism and Buddhism, and the Western mysticism of Meister Eckhart (d. 1327) and Jakob Boehme (d.
1624). His book Die Welt als Wille and Vorstellung (The World as Will and Idea, 1819) greatly influenced Friedrich Nietzsche (d. 1900) and, later, Darwin. Nietzsche developed the ideas of Schopenhauer further by promoting man as an inferior being who aspires to the Uebermensch – “Superman” – of the future. The production of this Superman, according to Nietzsche, is the reason for the existence of the earth and the purpose of history. Superman represents the goal of human evolution.

Because of his exercise of creative power and his ability to rise above transient sensual pleasure, Superman is spiritual man. In today's language, he recognizes his own characteristic of creative-intuitive power as opposed to critical-rational power. He is the final stage in evolution. “What is ape to man? He is an object of laughter… This must be true for what man is to the Superman” (Thus Spake Zarathustra, 1891). In this worldview, man is nothing but the (missing!) link between animal and Superman. A grim product of the philosophy of the Superman was Dachau, for volition destroys compassion and conscience. Admittedly, the Nazi phenomenon was a perversion of Nietzsche's thought, but it is nonetheless the Superman concept that forms the basis for many fascist and socialist ideologies.

A Scientific Perspective

The historical advancement of evolutionary thought reached a watershed with Darwin's introduction of the theory of biological evolutionism. By placing evolution on a scientific footing, Darwin ensured its survival as an axiom of modern thought. Darwin and those of like mind directed their search for the new man among inferior creatures in order, using the animal kingdom as justification to create man without God. The outcome of these efforts was the reduction of the theory of evolution to a kind of religious fundamentalism. Time and again, Darwinism has been used to cover up scientific ignorance of how the wonders of the world could have been created. In America in the earlier part of this century, Darwinism was supported by such eminent figures as the paleontologist Henry Osborn (d. 1935), whose scientific opinion was greatly influenced by the discoveries of “Piltdown Man” (a hoax using a chimpanzee's skull and reluctantly recognized many years later by the British Museum, which had to change its display of the ascent of man) and “Nebraska Man” (another one using a pig's tooth).

The opinions of such eminent scientists as Osborn were based on the premise that, however wrong the current answers were to their views of evolution, they would stand until a better answer arrived. This scientifically untenable attitude is comparable to saying that a criminal defendant should not be allowed to present an alibi unless he can also show who in fact committed the crime. Such fundamentalism bases itself on a technique known as reductionism, the attempt to boil down complex systems or phenomena into simple terms or easily digestible facts, the ideal goal being to discover the lowest common denominator. (Incidentally, in the sphere of religion, the ecumenical movement is the embodiment par excellence of the philosophical application of reductionism.) The driving supposition here is that all living phenomena may be explained by molecular biology. According to reductionism, just one or two basic molecular causes account for all living phenomena. There is, indeed, no phenomenon in a living system that is not molecular, yet there is none that is only molecular either. The living cell is a system and, however much we study its constituent parts, these parts are not the cell in toto, but simply its characteristics. Knowing how reflexes work in an artist does not tell us about his style or his subject matter; the study of a telephone directory does not tell us about the richness of life in the city.

As the biologist Paul Weiss writes: “It is one thing not to the see the forest for the trees, but then to go on to deny the reality of the forest is a more serious matter; for it is not just a case of myopia, but one of self-inflicted blindness” (Beyond Reductionism: The Alpbach Symposium, London: Koestler & Smythies, 1972). Reductionism is still popular today, despite the fact that many scientists are uncomfortable with such a fundamentalist approach to scientific research. Because in the last three hundred years the scientific application of reductionism has been so successful in gaining control over the forces of nature, our present society is far more receptive to rational-mechanistic philosophies (e.g. Ludwig Feuerbach (d. 1872 – “We are what we eat”) than to other philosophies, simply because it considers such views innately “more scientific” than other alternatives.

Reductionism leads to a view of the universe as a great system of physical forces, and the mind with all its powers of imagination and creative insights as a mere by-product of these forces. Viktor Frankl in Vienna has concluded that reductionism has led to some of the major psychiatric disorders current in the world today (Beyond Reductionism). In fact, it has led to a new type of neurosis called the existential vacuum. If man is no more than the product of some chemical determinism, he then has no meaning. Frankl aptly describes reductionism as the nihilism of today. However, reductionism is not necessarily the view of all scientists. There are those such as Weiss and Von Bertalanffy, who are concerned with biological systems and organization. For example, Bertalanffy states:

“There is a non-random feature, perhaps at the very basis of natural order, which may well have to be taken ultimately into account by biological theorists. Where is the mind? If we dissect the brain, we don't find the mind. The brain is a system and is more than its constituent parts. We have to move from entities to qualities possessed by a system as a whole, which cannot be split up and located. We often think that when we have completed our study of one we know all about two, because two is one and one. We forget that we still have to make a study of ‘and'. At the molecular level, we study ‘and' – that is to say, organization" (Beyond Reductionism).

Again, the square is contained in the cube. It serves as its foundation and basis. However, if we say that the cube is nothing but a square, then we are shutting out a whole dimension, the third dimension. The blinkered vision of Darwin and the reductionists is ironically condemned by their mentor Schopenhauer: “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world” (Studies in Pessimism, 1851).

To be a true scientist, one has to have faith. To be objective without a hunch is not to be scientific, but to be technical. Such “objectivity” is characteristic of the technocrat, not the true scientist. This applies especially to modern medicine, in which doctors have become simple technicians, rather than physicians, regarding man as merely a biological machine. Such an approach in turn breeds discontent. People demand better results, more health and more security. They want a techno-kingdom on earth, which will replace the heavenly one. Here, especially we can see the inherent fundamentalism of current evolutionary thought; a blind faith in the inevitability of progress and the belief that things can only get better. As Hoelderlin (19th century) referring to political systems in his day, reminds us: “What has always made the state a hell on earth has been precisely that man has tried to make it his heaven”.

A Social Perspective

With its new found scientific credibility, evolution rapidly permeated all fields of inquiry, eventually resulting in a radically new social perspective. In the words of Theodosius Dobzhansky: “Evolution need no longer be a destiny imposed from without: it may conceivably be controlled by man, in accordance with his wisdom and his values”. Acclaimed by the American Academy of Sciences and St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary, he is billed as “the greatest evolutionist of our century and a lifelong Russian Orthodox” (P.E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial, Chicago: InterVarsity Press). While Dobzhansky's Orthodoxy is obviously nominal, he is beyond doubt a true believer in the New Fundamentalism: “Evolution is much more than a theory – it is a general postulate to which all theories, all systems henceforth must bow and which they must satisfy in order to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light which illumines all facts, a trajectory which all lines of thought must follow”.

In short, Evolution is the god we must worship. We are, therefore, basically passionate stone-age people who are capable of creating technology, but not controlling it. If humanity is to avoid extinction, it must summon up the political will to take control of evolution and make it in the future a matter of human choice, rather than blind selection. What concerns me is that the influence of evolutionary thinking in our lives is subtly hidden and thus taken for granted. It has gradually taken root in our collective subconscious. Thus, in schools it a “given” that man evolved from apes. Lax chronological interpretations and the assumption that things are improving all the time are handily used to gloss over the painfully evident deficiencies of the theory of evolution. For those who have accepted evolution – deficiencies or not -, God has become redundant. But it is precisely through the correct understanding of man that we come to know God. St. Gregory of Nyssa (395) confirms this when he says: “For it seems to me, the make-up of man is awesome and inexplicable, portraying many hidden mysteries of God in itself”.

What are the implications of evolutionism for Orthodox Christians?

Evolution has given rise to the dominance of the brain – the intellect. Paradoxically, one can be highly intelligent, yet stupid at the same time. But the evolutionists, man's intelligence puts him at the pinnacle of creation. It is his brain that is important and not his heart, since the latter is only a pump! Technology is founded upon intelligence, not the heart. But as Orthodox Christians, we know that without the heart, there is no morality. When Antichrist comes, he will find a planet of spiritual morons, a highly intelligent species which is nonetheless spiritually ignorant. Intelligence, according to St. Anthony of Egypt (d. 356) is the fear of God, not sophistry, clever argumentation, or learning (i.e., technology) per se. You may counter: “Did not God use evolution in His creation? I am willing, as a rational being and an Orthodox Christian, to accept theistic evolution, but not the ‘Big Bang' theory of the atheists”.

But in saying this, you are rejecting the miraculous creation of the universe. You are implying that suffering, sin and death are somehow intrinsic to God's creation, thereby refuting the Christian doctrine that man originally fell and continually falls through the spiritually destructive exercise of his own will. Again, you may say that you do not support the theory of evolution, that in fact, you do not believe in it. If this is true, then why do you subscribe to liberal thinking in education, child-rearing and health? Why do you have a passion for comfort- to reach out for the pill of pleasure? If you fail to lead an ascetic life, you are not an Orthodox Christian, but a hedonist, a crypto-evolutionist! Evolution is setting us up for a takeover by demonic forces which will be able to exploit our spiritual ignorance. And do not think that a knowledge of the Fathers, of theology, will help us. If we succumb to the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, psychologically and intellectually, we will not be able to resist these forces.

The Case for "Devolution"

The Orthodox standpoint - agreeable to true scientists who objectively acknowledge the inexorable reality of entropy - posits universal devolution: “The world doth wax old as doth a garment”. Civilization as we know it is declining, not progressing. We witness everyday the breakdown of morality and the falling away from the faith. But, nevertheless, secular society is confident and optimistic about the future, since we are becoming “gods” as Satan promised in the garden. We are becoming gods who can control our own destiny. Thus as early as 1933, John Dewey (d. 1952) could write: “If blind nature has somehow produced a human species with the capacity to rule the earth wisely, and if this capacity has previously been invisible only because it was smothered by superstition, then the prospects for human freedom and happiness are unbounded”.

Unfortunately, Dewey could not foresee the product of his educational philosophy- Homo technicus. Instead of being a demigod, Homo technicus as a species is, in fact, subhuman. He is subhuman since everything that is supernatural or spiritual has been ripped from him. His reasoning is based on Psychologie ohne Seele (“Psychology Without Soul”). This man has finally devolved to a totally materialistic life in which he can find satisfaction only in whatever is earthly and not heavenly. An officer of the Allied Forces, upon entering Dachau camp asked: “Where is God to allow such suffering?” A survivor answered him: “We know where God is, but where is man?”

The evolutionists are proud that they are not descended from Christ and His Heavenly Father, but from apes instead. They are perfectly able to become false gods, simply because they recognize no other God than themselves. “We want to be free. Evolution is the star that guides us”, they cry.

Our answer as Orthodox Christians must be: “Some glory in chariots and some in horses; but we will glory in the Name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 19:7).

Fr. Serafim Gascoigne is the Rector of Holy Protection of the Theotokos Orthodox Church in Seattle, Washington, a parish of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.