George Demacopoulos and Orthodox Creationists

Today on Twitter George Demacopoulos, a well-known professor of Orthodox theology at Fordham, criticized Orthodox creationism:

I would guess, however, that it actually has more to do with certain presentations of Orthodox theology than a copying of Protestant fundamentalist polemics. You will often hear anti-evolutionists support their position by saying “according to Orthodoxy, God created everything good.” For some reason, a lot of American Orthodox love to emphasize that creation is good, which (based simply on my experience) is likely something imported from outside than taken over from Protestants. It is important to note that there were quite a few attacks on the Origin of Species from Greek theologians in the 19th century, though there was never an official condemnation from the Church (Nicolaidis, Science and Eastern Orthodoxy, p. 181). And slightly more recently, St. Paisios criticized it. Finally, there are not a few creationists in today’s Russian Orthodox Church. So there is no lack in non-American origins of Orthodox attacks on evolution. Further, it is noteworthy that creationism (superficially) appears to be the position taken in some patristic works (most notably, St. Basil’s Hexameron). For these reasons, I will have to disagree with Demacopoulos that American Protestant fundamentalism is the source of anti-evolutionism.

I do agree, though, with Demacopoulos that Orthodox creationism is not as faithful to tradition as it claims to be. One Church Father who is often used to justify completely literal interpretation, St. John Chrysostom (which is probably why Demacopoulos mentions him in another tweet), says this: “We interpret some passages by the letter, others with a meaning different from the literal, others again as literal and figurative” (In Ps. 9, 4; cited in C. Kannengiesser, Handbook of Patristic Exegesis, vol. 1, p. 171). The Philocalia of Origen, which was compiled by Gregory the Theologian and Basil the Great, also undermines the idea that the Fathers were all strict literalists.

Anti-evolutionists are not totally wrong, however. Evolution in its materialistic form, which is so often how it’s presented, should be rejected. All Christians must believe that humans have an immaterial, immortal soul.

Sources

Charles Kannengiesser, Handbook of Patristic Exegesis (Leiden: Brill, 2004).

Efthymios Nicolaidis, Science and Eastern Orthodoxy: From the Greek Fathers to the Age of Globalization (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2011).

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