One day, I walked into my 7th, 8th and 9th grade Sunday school classroom and asked a simple question: do you believe in evolution? The room fell utterly silent. Students looked at their hands, cast little sidelong glances at one another. They fidgeted and fumbled, but not one of them spoke.
These kids attend science class, and they have teachers that they trust, and those teachers have told them that evolution is real. At the same time, they live in a nation where science and Christianity see themselves as mortal enemies: either there is a God in a heaven, or there is science. Our kids have been given the impression that they must choose between science and religion — and I’m kind of happy to say that the kids in my classroom didn’t want to choose. They wanted to study science, but they didn’t want to walk away from the Holy Church that they love.
They know that Orthodoxy is old school and traditional, and they assume that one cannot simply smile up at an Orthodox Sunday school teacher and admit one’s belief in evolution — not without getting an earful about Satan’s science.
That’s a tension they might be willing to sit with in those middle school years, and perhaps they’re ok with that tension in high school. But someday, probably in college, a large number of them will declare that they cannot simply ignore science, and will feel less and less connected to the Church, because they assume that the Church is opposed to science.
But here’s the thing:
There is no official Orthodox doctrine on evolution, except that we do assert with absolute certainty that God created everything from nothing. We could not accept a teaching that made the creation of the earth somehow free of God; we know that He created us and everything in this world. The details of that creation, however, are open to discussion.
There are many Orthodox Christians who find that evolution is compatible with the Orthodox understanding of creation, and there are many Orthodox Christians who find that it is not. It’s open to discussion.
Our kids need to know that. We certainly don’t want them leaving the Church over a misunderstanding of Church teaching.
What’s more — we need to be raising our children to be scientists. In a world where science is pushing frontiers of genetic discovery and human beings are becoming capable of things that were imaginable only in science fiction novels, we are going to need scientists with good ethics and some humility. We should be praying that Orthodox Christianity will continue to supply this world with wise scientists who want to see good works accomplished, without ever sacrificing our humanity and our humility before God.
For many reasons, we should be raising our children to see that science, when applied properly, is the study of God’s wonderful creation. Like everything else, we must use it to glorify God, to serve others, and to celebrate the gifts He has sent us.
I sat down with my friend, Alisa Rakich Brooks, who is writing a new series of Orthodox children’s books that frame science in just this beautiful way. From their earliest years, parents can present science to our children in a way that feeds faith and the intellect at the same time. We had a great conversation about these topics, and I’ve posted it on Ancient Faith so that you can join in.
Alisa’s wonderful book — the first in a seven-part series — is available at Sebastian Press. The second book is coming out soon!