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Evolution is the popular name for a set of scientific theories which aim to explain the apparent similarity of different species and the appearance of complex species later in the fossil record. In short, evolution means that all life on earth shares a common ancestry which can traced back to a single species. Orthodox Christians have divergent views on how to react to this development in science.

In general Orthodox responses can be grouped into two large categories, which we might label Compatibilism and Incompatibilism.

Compatibilists hold that science and theology are compatible and view them as complementary revelations of God. As God is the source of both his specific revelation of himself in the Christian faith and the source of the general revelation of himself in nature, the findings of science and theology cannot really contradict; the contradictions must be merely apparent and a resolution possible which is faithful to the truth of God's revelation.

Incompatibilists hold that science can be incompatible with faith. They usually argue either that science is philosophically based on a kind of naturalism or that God's specific revelation is infallible and therefore trumps the findings of human reason in the case of any conflict between them. This is often based on a suspicion of human reason to arrive at reliable conclusions in the first place.

The development of modern science dates to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, so no ecumenical council has ever addressed how to integrate it with divine revelation in a coherent and consistent worldview. As a result, there is not a dogmatic treatment examining how to resolve conflicts, whether apparent or real, when scientific findings appear to contradict divine revelation. Many early fathers were happy to use the primitive science of their day to divine purposes, perhaps suggesting to modern Christians a compatibilist resolution to the question. Other fathers, however, clearly see conflicts and contradictions which they resolve in favor of their understanding of Christian revelation.

Fathers of the Church


  • Bouteneff, Peter, Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives. Baker Academic, 2008. Provides Scriptural and patristic background for discussions of the doctrine of creation. Bouteneff is Assistant Professor of Dogmatic Theology at St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary. Andrew Louth writes: "Bouteneff presents a carefully researched and scholarly reading of early Christian readings of the creation account in Genesis. What emerges is a range of interlocking insights into God's creative purpose and the human place in the cosmos. Genesis 1–3 is seen as neither a myth nor an outdated scientific account, but a poem of creation, yielding deeper meanings upon closer ponderings. Bouteneff unveils the often surprising riches of our patristic inheritance witha rare intelligence and passion." ISBN 0801032332
  • Farley, Fr Lawrence, In the Beginning: The True Message of the Genesis Origin Stories. Ancient Faith Publishing, 2018. ISBN 9781944967390. Compatibilist
  • Reardon, Fr. Patrick Henry, Creation and the Patriarchal Histories: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Genesis. Conciliar Press, 2008. ISBN 9781888212969
— According to the review by Fr. Hans Jacobse, editor of OrthodoxyToday.org, the author writes that the structures of philosophical materialism (evolutionary theory and its flip-side, scientific creationism), both miss the point; that Genesis reveals that the creation is logo-centric -- it was created by the Word of God, and it is held together by the Word of God's power. The word of Scripture, then, is primarily a literary text, not history (itself a narrative) or a scientific tract.
  • Rose, Fr Seraphim, Genesis, Creation, and Early Man — Contains a detailed examination of Patristic cosmology and anthropology as contrasted to the theory of evolution. Incompatibilist
  • Woloschak, Gayle, Beauty and Unity in Creation: The evolution of life. (Minneapolis: Light and Life, 1996) — Primer on the relationship between evolutionary biology and Orthodoxy by a scientist. ISBN 1880971275 Compatibilist




See also

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