Evolutionary theorists have a very difficult time suggesting a mechanism for life. How do plain chemicals – minerals and dissolved substances – combine in a manner that constitutes a living thing? In fact, why would they? I have no interest in discussing the pro’s and con’s of evolutionary theory. It is not interesting to me if you think Darwin was wrong or the devil incarnate. I want to think about some other things.
Those other things can be seen first in the questions already asked. How do minerals and substances combine in a manner that constitutes a living thing? Among the reasons that science is propelled to seek life somewhere other than the earth is to find out whether life is an earth-only phenomenon or, actually common, something that happens many times and places under certain conditions. I should say that if that is true, I am not troubled by it.
But the matter of origins is interesting, both as science and as theology. For though we see crystalline structures in some minerals, we do not see biological structures. The “shape” of living things is interesting in and of itself.
Secondly, the question of “why” would this happen, is simply non-Darwinian. It is impossible to have survival of the fittest as an explanation of how a primordial soup becomes a living cell. It does not become a “fitter” soup.
Of course, science is unable to answer “why.” The only “plausible” scientific answer to “why” is absurd. “Why” is the language of theology.
Both questions, “how,” and “why,” are complicated by a third thing: the tendency towards beauty. For there is a movement discerned in the rise of creation and that movement is a consistent transformation of inert materials into the wonderful order of beauty. Of course, beauty is already present in many ways within inert materials themselves – but that beauty is transformed into something that transcends their lifeless form. For the reality of living things takes on purpose and direction and an ordered existence, all of the things that human beings perceive as beauty.
These questions are addressed in the teachings of the Christian faith, particularly as outlined in the writings of St. Maximus the Confessor. Drawing on numerous strands within the Tradition, he wrote about the logoi of all things. Scripture says that all things were created “through the Logos” (Word). Christ is the Logos made man. But all things are not only made through Him, but they have within them their own logos, which is, in some manner, a reflection and participation in the Logos (Christ God). These logoi (plural) are what give things their shape, order, purpose, form, direction, end, etc. It is an account that says the universe has at its most fundamental level, a spiritual meaning and purpose. One could even say (in the words of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople), “The whole world is an icon.”
Another way of saying this is that every created thing tends towards the Logos. This is the inner-meaning of a universe that tends towards Beauty, order, goodness, etc. Nothing has altered the essential meaning of God’s declaration in the beginning of creation, “It is good [beautiful].”
This must also be understood as we think about ourselves and other people. Though we may speak of human beings as “fallen” (a phrase that occurs nowhere in the Scriptures), the “Fall” is not a change in the fundamental goodness of creation or human beings. Human nature remains good. What we are (the meaning of “nature”) is essentially good. The “Fall” simply describes a brokenness on account of which we are hindered from living in accordance with our nature. Something impedes us from being what we truly are.
The coming of Christ (the Logos) is the summoning and restoration of the unity between all creation and its Logos. Every created thing is drawn to Christ – for their nature is a reflection of Christ. He is the Who that calls to the What of all things.
Thus, in His presence, the blind see, the lame walk, the poor are set free, etc. This is because seeing, walking and freedom are inherent to our nature. In His presence, things (and persons) become what they truly are.
The efforts of salvation (if I might so call our cooperation with God’s grace) are never to become something other than what we are, but to be what we truly are. And this differs from the achievement-oriented message of our culture. The culture would have me be the most successful economic unit that I can. God would have me become truly human. The path towards our true humanity is revealed to us in the commandments of Christ.
The words of the Word, are verbal expressions of the logoi of all things. The actions of the Logos are a dramatic presentation of the truth of existence. Jesus the Christ is what it looks like to be truly human. The truly human person, as icon of the Logos, is a summary of the universe, both in general and particular. St. Maximus expresses this by saying that man is the “microcosm” (the world in miniature) of all things.
All of the disciplines of the Orthodox life, when practiced in their proper manner, are not efforts to efface our humanity but to become truly human, to be more fully alive as the icon of the Logos. The image of being transformed into the image of Christ is misunderstood when it is treated in a moralistic manner, “What would Jesus do?” Mere behavior is not the same thing as true union and transformation. We are to become like Christ, not simply act like Christ.
This is the true tendency to Beauty that marks us all.