Any Eastern Orthodox Here?

Eastern Orthodox catechumen here, will be baptised in two months from now. Any others (cradle, catechumens, or full converts) and what do you think on the age of the earth and evolution and why?

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I guess I qualify as not quite a catechumen; the closest Orthodox parish to me is – using the most critical measurement – $50 away from me (it’s actually toss-up; there’s a mission that’s three miles closer than an established church but four minutes longer travel time). I’ve been soaking up an online catechumen course and listening to Fr. John Behr and others. I’m already baptized – Trinitarian baptism at a Pentecostal church when I was first in college (three times submerged, three seconds each time).

That said, I come at this issue not from the point of view of the science but rather from the text. When I learned Hebrew and started reading the Tanakh (Masoretic text primarily, but sometimes the Leningradensis and the Dead Sea scrolls [via the modern Hebrew script; I’m too out of practice to read those directly). Given the various literary genres in Genesis it was pretty evident that trying to calculate the age of the Earth was an exercise in folly, a point magnified by the fact that among ancient commentators were some who held that the Earth was ancient§ far beyond the few thousand years one might arrive at from the bare text. So when I encountered evolution and its hundreds of millions of years, the age of the Earth was just not an issue.

So I have no problem with seeing the Earth as billions of years old, and thus none really with evolution, which my mind always links to God’s command “Bring forth!” in Genesis.

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§ I can’t recall the source, but one ancient commentator asserted that the Earth must be “a million million” years old to match the Divine Dignity.

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I am an Orthodox Christian and a scientist. I am certain the earth has existed for millions of years, and I take a sceptical view of the biologist’s paradigm of Darwinian evolution. I do not know what specific question(s) you may have, so I will not give a detailed reply (however please feel free to ask).

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If you are on Facebook, look for the groups Celebrating Creation by Natural Selection and Answers to Answers in Genesis. These groups actively support the compatibility of mainstream science (very ancient universe; ancient earth; evolution; etc.) with a deep respect for scripture. Its members are from a wide variety of church tradition (and some outside such traditions). At least two of the very active members are Orthodox.

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I am not Eastern Orthodox myself, but one of my favourite writers is: Mr. Robin Mark Phillips.

Mr. Phillips has written a series of three articles where he critiques Ken Ham’s approach to science:

Hi David_Lee. It took me a moment to realize you were not referring to “Answers in Genesis,” but to “Answers to Answers in Genesis.” Glad to see your response. Take care.

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Welcome OAL. While not orthodox myself, I appreciate the long and ancient history of the orthodox churches. Noting that, a vigorous approach to “The Scientific Method” is a common thread for many of us at this forum. Enjoy your day!

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OAL, one item I forgot to mention…the BioLogos website has great resources on this topic; a great place to start with questions.

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Good articles. The debate itself is worth watching because it gets so widely referenced, but I found it agonizing to listen to since as the article noted Ham didn’t actually address the question and Nye didn’t respond to points Ham made.

This quote in the second article jumped out at me because it states something that I’ve said here (and elsewhere) repeatedly:

Ham and friends try to treat the creation narrative as a modern scientific treatise, yet can only do so at the expense of the text itself.

Ham seems blithely unaware that his view of the Bible is only possible in the world of the Enlightenment… The text of the Bible is stripped from its context where it floats in heavenly neutrality, waiting for clear-minded and unbiased interpreters like Ham to seamlessly and easily apply it to modern science. Thus the Bible ceases to be an ancient text, and therefore ceases to really say anything other than what we want it to say.

That’s a quote within a quote; the article is citing Brad Kramer’s article ‘I’m a Christian, and Ken Ham Doesn’t Speak for Me’.

It resonates with a point made over and over by Michael Heiser; this is from one of his podcasts where he goes through the book of Exodus – initially he’s addressing the issue of impossibly large numbers; the last two paragraphs are key here:

“For the original biblical world, literate readers in that world were expecting this [extreme inflation of numbers]; they knew exactly what was going on with these inflated numbers. It was a familiar way of history writing for them. They would not have felt deceived, since the point wasn’t mathematical accuracy but ultimately glorification of the king or the military leader, or the deity behind those guys. A precise count wasn’t even in the picture for either the writers or their original readers. Everybody knows what’s going on, everybody sort of knows the rules of the game, they know the rhetorical rules of the genre – literate readers know what the writers are doing. It conforms perfectly to their expectations, but it doesn’t conform to ours at all.
So we have a decision to make: are we going to let the Bible be what it is, or are we going to wish it were something that it wasn’t, or isn’t, and was never intended to be. Do we bend it to our will, our expectations.
And again I think this is another area where I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when you do that, when you make the Bible conform to your expectations, the way you would do things, you make it vulnerable, you make it an easy target. If you let it be what it is and try to understand it the way the writers were thinking and the way the readers were thinking about what they received from the writers there’s a coherence to it.”

The talk is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5O2bJLdijXY; this portion is around 1:25. The particular podcasts starts about 41:50.

One comment on his whole series on Exodus so far: every now and then he’ll make a point about the text and I’ll have an “Aha!” moment because his point serves to make sense out of something in Orthodox theology.

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Your focus on Exodus this Lent is clearly paying off. :smiley:

This can clearly be seen in Chronicles. The number of soldiers is a reflection of how good or bad a particular king was (in the eyes of the Chronicler).

The size of Asa’s army is equal to the combination of the armies of the two kings who preceded him. This information might have been written off as coincidence, were it not for the same phenom-enon repeating itself in regard to Jehoshaphat:

180,000 + 400,000 + 580,000 = 1,160,000

Rehoboam + Abijah + Asa = Jehoshaphat

(Neriah Klein, “The Chronicler’s Code: The Rise and Fall of Judah’s Army in the Book of Chronicles”)

But yes! What wasn’t a problem for them, shouldn’t be a problem for us.

Although I think it might even be possible that the original census in Numbers was correct, but that we have misunderstood the word “eleph”, translated here as “thousand”. It can also mean “military squad”, which would amount to something like 15 men.

This also makes the most sense of e.g. Joshua 7:3-5. Joshua sent three eleph of soldiers to Ai. The men of Ai routed the Israelites and killed 36 of them. 36 of 3.000 is not a big deal. But 36 out of 45 certainly is!

Additionally, there is the number of 22.273 firstborns (Numbers 3:43). With such a low number, every family would need to have had around 50 children!

The only thing that doesn’t add up to this is Exodus 28:25-26. It could be a later scribal update to align the census with the law of Exodus 30:11-16, or to “correct” the wrong amount of silver. At that time, eleph would have lost its meaning of military squad.

For more, see Recounting the Census: A Military Force of 5,500 (not 603,550) Men.

Yet, as you mention, even if the 600.000 figure is original, it is not a problem.

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Can anyone answer a questiom I have about EO? Are there recognized communicable and incommunicable attributes between God and human beings?

My understanding is that EO is similar to the main branches of Christianity regarding these attributes.

The word אֶלֶף (eleph) doesn’t necessarily indicate any number, it has more to do with order. So in military terms it would be best rendered as “company”, where a company is however many men a captain has following him. In non-military terms it can be a family, which also vary in size and may include servants; when Abraham parted ways with Lot all those with Abraham could be called אֶלֶף in either sense.
Interestingly in the plural it can refer to a pair of oxen yoked to draw a cart, or to a herd of cattle.

Some English plus ancient Hebrew humor: related to אֶלֶף is the word אַלּוּף, which can be used to mean “captain”. The word is pronounced just like “aloof”, which is often an apt description of a captain.

At any rate, I looked into that some time back, and while it’s an entertaining idea it doesn’t hold up: the context is wrong and the totals don’t work.

Another option is to take “one thousand” symbolically; by standard ancient numerology that is ten times ten times ten which indicates superb completeness, but that has its own issues.

Or “thousand” could serve as it did elsewhere in the ancient near east, as a “bragging term”, thrown in to make something impressive. It’s a form of hyperbole that was common (in one of the kings lists the writer used ten thousand instead).

Nice article.

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Shall I start a new topic about this? Because this is really interesting, but kinda off topic.

I think the article you linked covers all the issues, so I’m just going to leave it there and say, as a good number of scholars do, that this is a problem with no certain solution except that hyperbole in some matter is involved.

Of course there are other issues about the Exodus, for example the fact that no one really knows what route they took. But I don’t find any of them big enough to burn up time on since there’s not really any theology that rests on one view or another.

So . . . Off-Topic2

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This discussion seems to have been quickly hijacked into a general discussion of Creation by people who are not Orthodox. Perhaps the question itself is back-to-front. If you are a catechumen, then you are learning what it means to be a Christian according to the Orthodox Church. So, the place to begin with is what the Orthodox Churches teach about Creation. Only then does it make sense to specifically ask other Orthodox Christians what they believe in the light of the Orthodox position.

A catechumen should either know this, or be asking questions about this, so they do know what the Orthodox churches believe. Ask your catechist or ask whatever AI you use. I used AI and discovered within seconds the answer to this question, although your catechist may be able to give a more personalized answer.

In the links that follow, it appears that the Orthodox churches teach that the Creation stories tell spiritual truths, not scientific ones. As with the Western churches, there is a degree of obfuscation in saying this; at least that is my reading of the following links:

How are we to interpret Genesis? | Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral (stgeorgegreenville.org)

Orthodox Perspectives on Creation - Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America - Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (goarch.org)

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The EOC also continues to discuss the various outlooks on science and faith, including the various responses to biological Darwinian evolution.

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From Fr. John Behr I got the understanding that the Creation accounts in Genesis are considered true enough that they can be adapted to the prevailing worldview in order to get the message across. He notes that down the centuries various theologians have attempted not just to interpret the Creation account in light of current worldviews but to tie its interpretation to their worldview, and that sadly some of their followers have insisted that the Creation accounts have to be interpreted according to the “ancient science” of those predecessors. He makes the point that we shouldn’t just repeat what the Fathers have said but should endeavor to discover how they would have presented their themes today – something I take as being an aspect of a living faith.

For more detail on his view, there’s this:

which I think is accessible by anyone, not just scholars at participating institutions or paid members.

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I like this one, especially the note that the Cappadocians likened Creation as establishing a palace where God is the King – that complements the fact that the first Creation account is a temple inauguration account.

This line was especially helpful:

We may say that the cosmos provides the stage upon which humankind moves from creation to deification.

That there is a purpose to Creation is often overlooked!

Then there’s a piece that reminded me of C. S. Lewis, who said much the same thing in different words:

If we move to the direction of deification, our human nature, progressing towards God, will somehow carry the created material world with it.

It also fits a point made by a recent scholar (I’m blanking on the name) that the burden under which Creation is groaning is precisely us in our fallenness.

Good article.

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I am not sure that this is Behr’s view; at least not precisely. The critical question is what is meant by “true”? “True” appears to be theological truth; a theological stance separated from a literal meaning. A typical explanation involves reference to this or that indigenous creation myth in which the bearer declares, "I don’t know that this actually happened, but I know that it is “true”. “True” here means that it speaks to a value that the tribe wishes to affirm, considered separately from a literal understanding. It’s a myth in the technical sense of the term.

The thrust of the paper appears to be that the theological truths conveyed by the Creation stories in Genesis can sit loosely with regard to the scientific theories of origins of their day. This detachment might give them immunity to the progress of scientific knowledge, perhaps. But I wonder.

Do the theological “truths” actually exist in such detachment from the scientific theories of the day? As an example, take into the account the declarations of faith found in the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian definitions. How are we to understand the Trinity and the nature of Christ? In the Nicene Creed, the Father and Son partake of the same “ousia” or “substance”. Such categorization comes from the philosophy of Aristotle, for whom reality is divided into “substance” and “accidents”. Substance is the essential nature of being, while accidents are the outward form in which substance presents. But is this really the way in which we construe reality today? Of course, some philosophers with their heads in the clouds want to say “yes”. But in a modern worldview, we cannot get away from the accidents. The body in which you present to the world is made up of certain physical characteristics, like skin color, height, body-build, etc. These factors are often determined by DNA. DNA has a serious effect on who you are.

The problem is that the Christian Faith originated in a Semitic culture where identity is attached to physical accidents. Everlasting life is achieved through resurrection of the body, not a supposed immortal soul. Early Christianity was hijacked by Greek culture. The preponderance of Aristotelian philosophy in the Christian faith has some very distorting effects, including the defense of an Earth-centered cosmos maintained by Aristotle, (contrary to what many proponents of the Galileo Myth assert), and the scandal of the persecution of Galileo. The Christian Church was fractured by debates over the nature of God and Christ which had their origins in Greek philosophy/science.

So, I don’t think that theology and science can sit so loosely together as some propose.