Like North Americans in general, most Orthodox Christians believe the evolution debate is over, that "science" won, and that the views once held by the Church have been dismissed as an analogy of centuries past. Generally this conclusion is based on three ideas: firstly, that the Church never really addressed the question of creation vs. evolution, since it was not as advanced as science is today, secondly that science has proven the evolutionary theory according to the standards of modern science, and thirdly (and most importantly), that there is nothing in the evolutionary worldview that contradicts the Orthodox Faith, or that some sort of compromise is possible - evolution with "God in it", as people often suggest.
On the contrary, however, evolution is hardly a "done deal", and the question of evolution vs. creation cuts to the very heart of the Orthodox worldview. Those who accept it as somehow compatible with Orthodox Christian teaching, or who see the question as irrelevant, should consider the following:
1) The Witness of the Church Fathers contradicts evolutionary theory. A multiplicity of Church Fathers - most notably St. Basil the Great - specifically reject the Greek philosophical basis of the ancient world that accepted an early version of the theory of evolution. How could the early Fathers speak with any authority on something that is scientifically so inaccessible to them? The same way most elements of Orthodox Truth came to be known by mankind: by the direct revelation of God. The alternative explanations could only be that (a) the Church Fathers made up these accounts (i.e. they lied, and are unreliable), or (b) they tried to express poetically something they did not understand - suggesting that the Church Father have less to offer us than we have to offer them, contradicting the very idea of orthodoxy. These arguments are copiously covered in the book Genesis, Creation, and Early Man by Righteous Father Seraphim Rose, from St. Herman Press.
2) Evolution is a Scientific Theory - Not a Scientific Fact. When secular science discovered the theory of evolution, it realized it had found a necessary concept to fill a philosophical void which says that since God could not have created the universe, some alternate theory - any theory - is needed to explain it. The scientific community has always accepted evolution as a theory; those who religiously accept it as a fact skip over huge gaps that the theory has in itself - often out of a zealous but misguided opposition to Judaeo-Christian belief. The whole question of the "missing link" - the links between species of animals and man in the theoretical evolutionary chain - is a classic example of some in the scientific community refusing to play by their own rules. Many of these arguments are outlined in the lecture entitled Creation vs. Evolution by Hieromonk Ambrose (formerly Father Alexei Young), available from Holy Cross Monastery in Wayne, West Virginia.
3) Evolutionary Theory is Incompatible with Orthodoxy - and Opposed to It. The whole point of Christ's Death and Resurrection was to redeem us from the consequences of the Fall: this underscores the idea that our human condition, according to the Orthodox worldview, is worse now than it was at one time, not better. The idea of Social Darwinism - that our world societies are improving, and that we are moving toward a fundamentally more perfect state of the human race - contradicts the prophetic witness of the scriptures and the Fathers that this world will culminate in the rule of Antichrist, not in an earthly utopia. The timeline of evolutionary history (which requires a great stretch of the scientific imagination, even for those opposed to the Faith) fundamentally contradicts the witness of the scriptures and the Church Fathers. Those who suggest there is some common ground either have not read the Fathers, or are uncomfortable with the choice before them.
Orthodox Christians who find themselves not knowing what to believe on the evolution question must accept the fact that the question itself is a critical one, especially as one faithfully seeks to form ones mind in keeping with the Holy Fathers of the Church. For those who take this question seriously, a serious reading of the Church Fathers, ancient and modern, is an important first step; the resources listed above are a good place to start. - FrG+
Materials on Orthodoxy, Evolution, and Creation can be ordered from:
St Herman Press, 10 Beegum Gorge Rd., P.O. Box 70, Platina CA, 96076
Holy Cross Monastery, RR2 Box 2343, Wayne WV, 25570
(Write to either address for a catalogue, or log on to their websites)