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Archive for August 11th, 2003

Published posthumously, Genesis, Creation and Early Man is a compendium of the writings of Blessed Seraphim of Platina dealing with the patristic interpretation of Genesis 1-11 and the wider topic of evolution.

Hieromonk Damascene Christenson, editor of Blessed Seraphim’s writings and author of his biography, provides a detailed preface describing the origin of these writings. Much of it was composed and delivered as part of an “Orthodox Survival Course” given in the late seventies and early eighties at St. Herman Monastery to new American Orthodox converts. This course was intended to give them a grounding not only in the content of the Faith, but in the development of the Christian mind.

This preface is followed by an introduction by Phillip E. Johnson, well-known critic of evolution. Dr. Johnson had contact with Fr. Seraphim, before the latter’s blessed repose, and knew of and admired his work. His recommendation of Fr. Seraphim’s writings on these topics is strong and full. Fr. Seraphim was gifted both with a brilliant mind, and a submissive one.

The remainder of the book is divided into five parts: a patristic commentary on Genesis 1-11 (alone worth the purchase of the book), a detailed critique of evolution and an explanation of the relationship between the Faith and true science and the dangers of evolutionary philosophy, a third part detailing the patristic dogma of creation, followed by the final two parts of questions and answers on matters of evolution and patristic dogma and selections from Blessed Seraphim’s correspondence which touch on these matters as well.

This central body of the book is followed by an epilogue in which Hieromonk Damascene details the dangers of so-called “theistic, or Christian, evolution.” And to the entire work are appended excerpts from Fr. Seraphim’s notes on science, evolution and Christian philosophy, an outline of proposed studies dealing with evolution and patristic doctrine, a transcript of Fr. Seraphim’s last talk on creation and evolution (given just weeks prior to his death), a critique of radiometric dating by famed scientist Curt Sewell, and, finally, an annotated bibliography on the various topics covered in this 700-plus page book. There are subject and scriptural indices as well.

Having read the entire book one comes away with some pretty clear points: Faith and true science are eminently compatible; Faith and evolution are not. Along with other well-known scientists, Fr. Seraphim utilized expertly Phillip Johnson’s “wedge”: revealing the dichotomy between the fact of science and the faith of evolution. Evolution is not science, it is philosophy, belief in which takes a leap of faith from fact to interpretation. The faith of evolution, then, banks on an etiology that necessitates nothing but time and chance. This faith is antithetical to the Faith of Christianity. Not even theistic evolution can successfully wed the two. It is a simple tale of two masters; and Fr. Seraphim contends one cannot serve both.

While scientific minds may gravitate towrds Dr. Michael Behe’s writings, or those of Dr. Johnson, theological minds will find Blessed Seraphim’s patristic commentary and his expert criticism of evolutionary philosophy more than amenable to their faith. For those too embarrassed to accept the biblical and patristic (though, Fr. Seraphim clearly contends, not fundamentlist) dogma of creation, this will provide enough stiffening agent to the theological backbone to wed reason and doctrine. Even those unpersuaded by Fr. Seraphim’s critique will nonetheless find they have somewhat less confidence in their previous position.

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That Hideous Strength, Chs. 5-9

This passage, in which Mark is asked to write fictitious news articles to mold and shape public opinion toward favoring N.I.C.E. (shades of the New York Times!), was striking, and carries the theme from last week’s entry:

This was the first thing Mark had been asked to do which he himself, before he did it, clearly knew to be criminal. But the moment of his consent almost escaped his notice; certainly, there was no struggle, no sense of turning a corner. There may have been a time in the world’s history when such moments fully revealed their gravity, with witches prophesying on a blasted heath or visible Rubicons to be crossed. But, for him, it all slipped past in a chatter of laughter, of that intimate laughter between fellow professionals, which of all earthly powers is strongest to make men do very bad things before they are yet, individiually, very bad men.
That Hideous Strength, p. 130

And this passage, in which there is discussion among the Company organized against N.I.C.E. about whether they ought dissovle themselves:

“I am the Director,” said Ransom, smiling. “Do you think I would claim the authority I do if the relation between us depended either on your choice or mine? You never chose me. I never chose you. Even the greate Oyeresu whom I serve never chose me. I came into their worlds by what seemed, at first, a chance; as you came to me–as the very animals in this house first came to it. YOu and I have not started or devised this: it has descended on us–sucked us into itself, if you like. It is, no doubt, an organisation: but we are not the organisers.”
That Hideous Strength, p. 198

Here again is drawn the theme of sin and redemption. This is not some great and romantic epic in which heroes and villains are clearly known by visage or accoutrement. This is the battle of the universe which takes place in a million and one daily humdrum decisions.

But note the symptomatic arena in which this battle takes place. On the one hand, Ransom’s Company is very much Incarnational. Ransom has tasted paradise, and therefore incorruption works its physical way through his body. Yet, the redemption he bought in Perelandra was not without price, and he bears the physical sign of that in his heel, a painful wound that always bleeds.

On the other hand is the anti-Incarnational N.I.C.E. Theirs is a bodiless Head (where as in Christianity Head and Body are always joined in synergistic union). Theirs is a gnosticism that would alternately reduce humankind to mere matter, then reduce them further to mere intelligence. No body. No spirit. No union.

This same battle is that which is played out in our world. We have the choice day by day to affirm and live the Gospel of Incarnation–the sacrament that sanctifies soul and body. We serve a God who has united, in the Person of His Son, human nature and divine nature. In that union is our salvation. The antichrists around us, those who deny this union, reduce us to biochemical processes of sexual function, appetite, and stimulus and response. Here I am, nothing but flesh. But this house is empty and swept clean. Alternatively, the heresy of gnosticism plays its cards here, too. We have ideals, something like mental secret handshakes, the miasmic fog of semi-faith which divorces knowing from being. If we belch the right rhetoric, if we mimic the proper verbal allegiances, we, too, may consider ourselves “in the club.” But this verbal flatulence is empty of body; we may think what we want, we may subsume humanity under labels and causes, we may find our place in the “tensive center.” But this feast is merely the illusion of bread and wine. The hunger still remains.

Rest assured, this battle is nothing so great and glorious as those mythic lines from Homer, or the icy grey bleakness of the Norse Ragnarok. It is little more than the imperceptible turn from one allegiance to the consideration of another. The blurring of the line between dogma and soulcare. The removal of discernment from love. The failure to recognize the holy side of mercy. The relaxation in one’s soul of boundaries once held dear. One never knows the corner has been turned, not because there is no corner, but because the process is so imperceptibly singular in its segments.

There is no vast middle in this battle. There is Christ and there is the denial of Christ. One cannot serve two masters. We understand this, but we never quite experience its reality till we recognize ourselves on the other side whence we’ve come. And when we retrace the journey, wondering how we got here, we see all the mindless, inattentive acts, all the semi-conscious choices, and we understand, it is in the unseen, quiet moments of daily life that we choose and unchoose our destiny.

Someone, nearer to us than our very selves, has said: What I say to you all I say to everyone, “Watch, therefore. For you do not know at what hour the Son of Man will return.”

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