Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fr Seraphim Rose is wrong: a compendium of errors and an ongoing series.

Now, mind you, he's a nice guy, and he's right about a lot of things, but he's also horribly wrong about a lot of things, and you would do well to keep this in mind.

The first and most obvious is the creation of the world. The universe is 14 billion years old and the earth is 4.5 billion years old. Period. Complex organisms have been living and dying for several hundred million years. There really is no debate about this. However, his fanciful book on Genesis and creation would have you believe otherwise. Previous posts have more discussion of this. I have not read his book, so I cannot comment in specific detail on his errors.

Second, St Francis of Assisi is a pretty nice guy, too, and wholly undeserving of ham-fisted attacks. Prelest? Well, I never.

Finally, the fact he doesn't read Greek should be a big warning flag about any patristic reading he does. No Greek == not a theologian.

This will be an ongoing occasional series, though at times it will be more discursive. Part of the motivation is the dearth of sites that baldly state Fr Seraphim Rose is wrong.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Evolution, neo-patristic synthesis, Fr Seraphim Rose, etc

In which our plucky author puts his foot in it, since he baldly states Fr Seraphim Rose is wrong about many things.

The Church is not terribly likely to formally state anything with regard to evolution (or, at least, the universe being 14 billion years old, the Earth being 4.5 billion years old, complex life forms appearing hundreds of millions of years ago, and there being an apparent succession of life forms leading to what is present today - I don't want to get into ID vs natural selection and all that: as a shorthand, I will refer to that whole complex as "evolution" without any consideration of whatever nuance somebody who assents to that historical outline wants to make about neo-Darwinism or materialism). It would have to navigate very carefully between Scylla and Charybdis.

On the one hand, a lot of saints and elders (even modern ones) have implied a belief in a literal 6-day creation a few thousand years ago, and some modern ones even emphatically deny Darwinism by name (though in some cases it is evident that they are at least possibly denying the complex containing the -ism: ie, the assault on God, man as only an animal, etc). On the other hand, it's transparently obvious that the broad outline referred to above is simply the state of affairs. The universe is approximately 14 billion years old. The world is approximately 4.5 billion years old. If the Church were to rule against that proposition, well, we're told to "crucify our minds", but this is a bit much. God can certainly have done anything in any way which He desired, but to speculate that this includes embedding a consistent signal in the universe that it is approximately 14 billion years old and in the world so that it appears 4.5 billion years old (etc) seems a bit much. The Church cannot and will not support a view that is blatantly wrong (eg Fr Seraphim Rose's), no matter what traditionalists want to believe and how many holy modern elders they line up in a row to testify against it.

However, it certainly would not rule in favor of the "evolution" (as above), either. To do so, it would have to produce a hermeneutic capable of coping with the varied readings of Genesis (and a few other passages about death) and then dictate that hermeneutic is the correct one and should be followed. Such a decision would be far too constraining and would be quite easy to poke holes in. Plus, somebody would have to come up with it. There certainly isn't any kind of "neo-patristic synthesis" that could do that - not that I am a fan of that method. Certainly some of the Fathers are more or less open to the idea of some allegorical interpretations of Scripture that leave the historic details up to some question, but it would be an abuse to turn that into a consensus patrum, much more of an abuse than the usual attempts to form any synthesis on anything (like Fr Seraphim's). To do this properly, one has to stop plucking people out of their historical and cultural context, smashing them all together with a rolling pin, and trying to get them all to say the "same thing".

Even what people say in the last century or this century on evolution has to be contextualized. This isn't to say that certain modern elders and saints haven't been adamant that the world is on the order of 7521 years old or that their personal context should somehow cause us to deny that they said it. But what I mean is that the Church is multivalent, that there are different Orthodoxies in different times and places, and the different theologians in different times were responding to different concerns, and that their exact expression of those concerns is contingent on the various frameworks they were working in at the time. There are of course timeless fundamental truths they are attesting to at times, but there's a lot of other stuff, too. Every time I see an attempt at neo-patristic synthesis, the result is different, and of course no two modern scholars or theologians agree about everything - why should this be a problem? St Maximos doesn't always agree with St Gregory of Nyssa, and rather than smoothing over that difference, we should more fully understand what each of them says. All this is to say that a modern theologian need not try to agree with what is perceived as a synthesis of "all the saints and elders" in everything - not that this is to be done lightly, but one area where this may be warranted is one where they are making an empirical statement, empirical evidence is very strongly to the other side, and the issue is not one that "really matters". But, again, there are a ton of delicate hermeneutic issues, a lot of detail to work out, so the Church will not, of course, ever rule on this. However, would it be too much to ask for those in favor of the 7521-year-old Earth to stop impugning the Orthodoxy of those who disagree and think their holy modern elders are flat out wrong?