Fr. Seraphim of Plantina: In Origins, Like a Next Cyril Lucaris?

Cover for The Seraphinians: "Blessed Seraphim Rose" and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts

Fr. Seraphim of Plantina may be in the process of canonization, but I would like to make one further suggestion.

Fr. Seraphim was right to say that evolution, as it is found in the general culture, is not science but philosophy. My own experience in challenging people with anything remotely resembling intelligent design (admittedly, not of Orthodox origins), is that only biologists are socially capable of entertaining a scientific challenge to evolution. Among scientific illiterates, challenging evolution on scientific merits is not conceivable. It’s more or less blasphemy, and I can remember being in a liberal theology PhD program and finding that no other student had any real degree of scientific formation, but my having an M.S. (admittedly, in a discipline far from biology) and saying that evolution is not scientifically satisfying to me was not a conceivably legitimate thing to say.

However, I would take a look back in history at Cyril Lucaris, the subject of the biography Protestant Patriarch: The Life Of Cyril Lucaris, 1572-1638, Patriarch Of Constantinople. I have not read that biography, but I have studied his confession of faith… and as a graduate of Calvin University, I honestly find Cyril Lucaris to be more of a Calvinist than John Calvin. In regard to the what happens in the Eucharist, John Calvin actively concerns himself with the question of what St. John Chrysostom said (always in answering questions whose terms are set by the Reformation). Cyril Lucaris does not. He simply adopts John Calvin’s positions.

What was going on historically was that the Orthodox Church was being approached with an alien theology, that of Rome, and in searching for an answer to Roman overtures, turned to… the tools of Protestant polemics and apologetics, ending up further from proper Orthodoxy than Rome. And perceptive readers may have noticed that I refer to “Cyril Lucaris” but not “St. Cyril Lucaris,” because the Protestant Patriarch as he rightly was called was never canonized.

Maybe it is right to canonize Fr. Seraphim, but one of his liabilities was that he turned almost entirely to importing non-Orthodox Protestant theology, including giving a young earth virtual “Article by which the Church stands or falls” status, and the importing of Creation Science, a Protestant belief and praxis whose entirely non-Orthodox origins are documented in Evangelical Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

I have discussed some of this at length. However, here I would like to point out two things:

  1. Fr. Seraphim of Plantina was right to observe that in broader culture, evolution is not really a scientific theory; it is philosophy, and I would more specifically state that it goes further than most philosophy. People treat scientific challenge to evolution as inconceivable blasphemy, and while people can understand, perhaps in hostility, that some people do not accept abortion and gay rights as morally legitimate, the concept of scientific dissatisfaction with evolution is inconceivable blasphemy.

  2. While an uncreated or old universe is occasionally condemned by the Fathers alongside other of what were considered philosophical opinions, the position of drawing a line in the sand at a young earth is an entirely Protestant import to the best of my knowledge. I am not aware, nor have I heard, of any patristic document that is primarily concerned with defending a young earth of either six thousand or seven and a half thousand years. It’s a Protestant import worthy of Cyril Lucaris.

    Furthermore, Creation “Science” is not science, or even dissident science. Creation “Science” is neither more nor less than a Protestant belief and praxis that was unknown among the Fathers and would only be formed by Evangelicals trying to battle evolution as science. Also, it’s a pretty good rule of thumb that anything with “Science” in its name probably isn’t science.

Fr. Seraphim of Plantina was by any account a significant figure in the life of the Orthodox Church, and he is right more specifically to say that evolution isn’t culturally a scientific theory; it is deeply entrenched philosophy. However, in my opinion his response was entirely to raid the Protestant armory for Christian weapons against the attack, and in my opinion this is a move worthy of the Protestant patriarch Cyril Lucaris.

Furthermore, it has been observed that attempts to fight heresy have often resulted in heresy. Apollonaris, who has a heresy named after him (that Christ had a human body but the Word simply replaced the soul), was one of the people who struggled against Arianism, and St. Athanasius apparently welcomed him as a fellow warrior fighting against the same enemy and on the same team. (But St. Athanasius was wrong.)

If Fr. Seraphim is canonized as a saint, I would really like to see a verdict that he was right to see evolution as culturally being philosophy and not science, and that it was wrong to raid signature traits of today’s Protestant armory, somewhat like it was wrong of Cyril Lucaris to raid signature traits of his day’s Protestant armory and trying to fight heterodox teaching by fighting out of other heterodox teaching. And maybe that his attempts to fight heresy were rooted in different heresy.

Side note: Some people may ask why I have been open to intelligent design when I condemn Creation Science. I presently recognize that the more recent intelligent design was promoted as a second approach by the Protestant Discovery Institute.

The best I can say for that is that I now have a big question mark for most of intelligent design; however I have been driven away from evolution by attempts to recruit me by evolutionary apologists.

The fossil record does not show, as Darwin would have predicted, slow changes that gradually accumulated to make big differences, but long periods of stability interrupted by abrupt appearance (and perhaps disappearance) of species reflecting major changes, without preserved intermediate forms in most cases. What evolutionary recruiters have told me is that there is little incentive to change when things are steady, but a big incentive when things are chaotic. My response to that is to say that as a math major, it reads as statistical nonsense to me that a breeding population can acquire and sustain beneficial changes at any rate sufficient to meet a perhaps increased incentive to change.

Statistically speaking, any mutation in general has at least a 90% chance of being harmful, and much less than 10% chance of being beneficial. A new species forming in an eyeblink would require the uncommon event happening so rarely that you would be more likely to win the lottery every day for the entirety of a 120 year life. Or even more rare than that. New species happened far more often to make this believable as chance.

What I have been told by people trying to recruit me to evolution is that making beneficial changes is easy, and Indian prostitutes have evolved HIV resistance in one generation. (My response to that is incredulity, because this makes about as much sense to me statistically as a claim of young earth makes to a paleontologist.)

As an additional side note, I would mention something that evolutionists have never been brought up in my experience: scientific constants in physics. What I have never heard any physicist challenge is that the physical constants such as the speed of light, the charge of elementary particles, and so on, seem remarkably fine tuned just as we would need for human life to be possible. Again we are talking about winning lottery tickets numerous times in a row, in terms of statistical believability. The best response I’ve gotten is no contest to the possibility of human life being ludicrously unlikely, but no explanation either, just a random ludicrous impossibility.

For further reading, I would invite reading of The Seraphinians: “Blessed Seraphim Rose” and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts, and if you’re interested Origins Questions: Creation, Evolution, Intelligent Design, and Orthodoxy!

Author: C.J.S. Hayward

C.J.S. Hayward is an Orthodox author and Renaissance man with master's degrees bridging math and computers (UIUC) and theology and philosophy (Cambridge). His most prized work is what he writes in Eastern Orthodox, Christian theology and apologetics. Readers of apologists like C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and Peter Kreeft, contemporary Orthodox authors such as Met. KALLISTOS Ware, and classic authors like St. John Chrysostom will find much food for spiritual reflection.