The Ancient Greek and Early Church Fathers on Evolution

Mark Chenoweth is a theologian with a particular interest in St. Maximus the Confessor (700 AD) and St. Gregory of Nyssa (400 AD) who wrote about life on earth as a goal directed process as opposed to a series of divine miracles. Their ideas were very much in line with the ancient Greeks who have been greatly under-estimated by modern thinkers.

Here we hear Mark’s story of being drawn into evolutionary science and what implications this has for modern people.

Mark’s paper is called “A Maximian Framework for Understanding Evolution”.

LINK: A Maximian Framework for Understanding Evolution

Mark Chenoweth received his M.​Div.​ and Th.​M.​ from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and is an adjunct professor at St. John’s University in New York. His articles have been published in scholarly journals such as St. Vladimir’s Quarterly, and he is hoping to soon begin a dissertation on the theology of St. Maximus the Confessor.

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12 Responses

  1. Perry,

    1. Thank you very much for a wonderful and useful Evo2.0 book. I read it with pleasure and find it very useful and timely.

    2. You are right, the living organisms evolution is completely real and is carried out with the help of all five tools of the “Swiss Army Knife”. These tools probably are governed by some general nature law (“evolution pressure law”, EPL for brevity), giving us the purposeful process impression. (Just as the gravitation law operation “shows the goal” of any objects in the form of the Earth center, where they all “are tending” according to their mass measure :).

    3. This EPL is global throughout the evolution “depth” and it would be logical to assume that it reaches the very “bottom” also ensuring the very life creation, i.e. transition from physics with chemistry to biology.

    4. What is missing in Evo2.0? I will dare to suggest the references be supplemented with three important books – I. Prigogine, I. Stengers, Order Out of Chaos, Bantam, 1984 and “The Fatal Conceit”, The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1991. Have you read them?
    I would very much like to know your opinion on how true the following phrase (I called it “Prigogine-Hayek’s law” for brevity) conveys the main ideas of the books:
    There is a law that compels enough diverse and open systems with sufficiently many degrees of freedom and large enough gradients in the distribution of system parameters to self-organization and self-development.

    • Anatolii,

      For the benefit of other readers can you summarize these two books, and the main points they make?

      Personally I don’t think the word “law” is appropriate here. Maybe “principle” would be better but I understand what you mean and in my paper “Biology transcends the limits of computation” I do refer to it as a “new law of physics.”

      I believe what we are looking for is cognition. Or a messier, more baggage-laden word would be consciousness – to be understood in a broad sense of which we are uncertain. I’d like to hear your thoughts about the paper as this is my best articulation of this same problem that you are referring to here. It’s what Schrodinger was talking about in “What is Life” in 1943.

      • Perry,
        the details are in my “General Theory of Everything”, born just under the influence of these two books (and “Slaughterhouse number 5” by Vonnegut –
        OK, let it be principle/force/or even Power (as in the link above). The bottom line is that it is (in my opinion) just the biblical God – what makes rather complex and open systems with enough gradients in the parameters’ distributions to develop and create more and more complex structures and new gradients.
        I was born and spent half my life in the USSR and, as a graduate of Phystech (MITP – Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology), I retained a disregard for both religion and communist ideology, so the entire GTE since the beginning of the 90s was just an occasion for me to talk over a glass of beer with smart people (I never found radical objections ).
        But the idea did not let me go, and before reaching retirement age I decided to publish it in order to get rid of it ( ), for which I had to come up with an experimental scheme and to find a connection to my specialty – laser technology.
        Less than a year after the publication, I received the (next 🙂 Head Office Memo ( It convinced me that this law can change the various phase trajectories probabilities in a very wide range).
        …But even if we cannot say for sure now – what does “enough” and “rather” mean, what can we expect from the Bible authors, who had no gradients, no open systems, no entropy in their lexicon? It will probably take us at least months, if not years of experimentation to get it right.
        Perry, even if you have not read these books (it is natural – you were busy with music and acoustics in those years, and later they was not in your field of view), I ask you to speak as an engineer about my GTE.
        I will write about your article in the next comment.

      • About your very interesting article.
        Tere is one more important evidence for matter’s trend to self-ordering – . Taking it into account I propose the following hypothesis ( :
        life and the natural code arose as a manifestation of the law (EPL) connecting physics and chemistry in such a way that a sufficiently diverse system with many freedom degrees and gradients in the parameters’ distribution under various periodic effects of different nature energy flows is forced to generate more and more complex structures in the energy (coming from outside) dispersion process.
        What do you think about it?
        I’ll try to answer “The six open questions” from your article with its help:
        i. What is the origin of life?
        – Still not fully understood nature law/principle ( or EPL, aka God) driving open enough systems to development.
        ii. How is information created?
        – It is a natural part of a definite life development stage
        iv. How do agency and consciousness arise?
        They are natural parts of the next life development stage.
        Life is opposed to entropy, as well as is information. Matter needs consciousness for self-knowledge – so it creates it with the EPL help.
        v. Can artificial intelligence exhibit cognition?
        Why not? What if AI – the next matter self-cognition and development “aim”? Can the Earth center be named (before the gravity law formulation) “the aim of heavy bodies”?
        vi. What drives cancer’s ability to thwart nearly every therapy?
        Just that very EPL forcing “crazy” (cancer) cells fight for surviving.

        • Anatolii,

          This thing that you call “EPL” – what is the difference between your terminology and any number of other similar descriptions, i.e. “emergent property” or any number of alternatives for example Raju Pookottil’s “BEEM” or Schrodinger’s “Negentropy”?

          In all cases it’s a behavior we believe to have a definite cause; and yes, we give a name to it, but we don’t understand it.

          I find it very puzzling that you or anyone would equate this to “God.” No one with theological training would come to such a conclusion. This is, at the very least, quite an impoverished conception of what “God” means. You have defined this as a law connecting physics and chemistry.

          But God is not a law. God is the first cause and in the Christian understanding is outside of space and time.

          Back to the science – giving something a name is not the same as understanding it. As an engineer my question is “show me the money.” In other words, when you understand EPL sufficiently, you can build things that exhibit it, that do useful things for you, and people will buy them. So far we are very far short of doing anything like that, to the best of my knowledge.

          Though I will say, I have had quite a number of very accomplished scientists reach out to me this year with very interesting proposals about the origin of life and the nature of this thing that we are both trying to describe. Evolution 2.0 is definitely making progress.

          • 1. About “the difference” and “show your money”.
            The proposed hypothesis indicates the experiments’ direction that will allow (if confirmed) to clarify (up to quantitative thresholds) what “sufficiency” means in it both for the complexity (composition) and openness of the system ( energy flows’ threshold and the energies types).
            The simplest experiment of this kind is not much more complicated than the classic Miller experiment and consists of adding to it (in various combinations) the energy impacts periodicity, mineral (semiconductor) surfaces, and their wetting/drying with fresh/seawater, with or without irradiation with broadband light (experiment scheme is here – If with the same installation loading composition, it is possible to advance further in the obtained “broth” complexity (in terms of the diversity and/or reaction products’ molar mass), then the chances of confirming the hypothesis and elucidating new patterns of open systems’ development will be more.
            2. “But God is not the law. God is the first cause, and in the Christian understanding he is outside space and time ”
            Why can’t the nature law be the first cause of everything and everyone? And aren’t the nature laws outside space and time?
            I meant the biblical God – who
            “3. And God said,“ Let there be light, ”and there was light.
            4. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness…
            9 And God said,“ Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear. ” And it was so. “
            and which made the man “in the image and likeness” (that is, with the development pursuit) can and must try to understand the world and God.
            Simply 2-3 thousand years ago, people had neither the knowledge nor the terms for a more accurate description of the law driving development (for more details, If God allows himself to be investigated experimentally, he will simply give believers one more (experimental! 🙂 proof of his existence, won’t he?

            • 1. I welcome all who can demonstrate it.

              2. All of the natural laws I know of are part of space and time. Do you know of a specific exception?

              3. Christianity is empirical and historical. Example:

              • 1. If you do not have logical or physical arguments against my hypothesis, would you like to help in the implementation of the experiment I propose? After all, its possible positive result will confirm most of your article “Biology transcends the limits of computation” thoughts: EPL forces fairly open systems to look for ways of local decrease in entropy, fix the achieved level in the genetic code (life), then it constantly looks for new niches for itself and further development opportunities – up to the emergence of (human, and then – and artificial) consciousness. That is, due to this law (or such “God’s will”), the matter gets the possibility of self-knowledge. While I was working at the university, 4 of my attempts to publish something similar in biophysical journals failed. Now, as a pensioner, I have even fewer chances. Maybe we should try to publish a joint article?

                2. I propose not to beat off a piece of bread from philosophers, finding out what is more important in the law of nature – its meaning, form, or action, and what of three is space and time part, and what is outside of one or both :). Let’s better try to join forces and get a grant together to conduct an experiment? I am ready to share the rights to ready-made ideas and future inventions, which will certainly be made in the process.

                3. I agree. And, in my opinion, new experiments in the field of abiogenesis should only strengthen and enrich it.

                • Anatolii,

                  Unfortunately I cannot get actively involved in helping people solve Origin of Life. I have my hands full with submissions and related activities.

                  I think theoretical physics as well as philosophy have something to say about the nature of these laws. To the best of my knowledge they are all inside of space and time. Mathematics and logic are not.

                  • OK, let everything stay where it was :).
                    It’s a pity that I didn’t hear your opinion on the aforementioned books and that I wasted a lot of your precious time and left nothing in return …
                    Unless you, as a marketing guru, need information about a startup iXYt GmbH (I’m doing search engine optimization for their map – affiche with a Star Principle Score of around 150. Because of Covid, the entire off-line entertainment niche has been hit hard and now one can buy a large stake in a potentially billion-dollar business for a penny. For example, this is how (without advertising – they simply have no money for it) it looks today from the point of Google Search console view in Germany – What do you think of it?

                    • Anatolii,

                      I need you to be a little more patient. I did actually order the books and have looked at the Prigogene book, not any of the others yet. It’s an interesting treatment of thermodynamics and has a lot of philosophy and history of science stuff that’s very interesting. It doesn’t get to the bottom of how organisms generate negentropy. Any other comments I give you will be catch-as-catch-can.

                      Sorry, I’m not able to give marketing advice here.

  2. Perry,

    I apologize for the tactlessness. I am very interested in your opinion, as a person who has deeply and comprehensively studied the question of the origin of life, on the idea generated by these two books (and stubbornly living in me for almost 30 years). Please do not forget to share your thoughts with me after reading.

    If this idea is correct, then it is extremely unlikely that you will receive the code before 2026: it can only be obtained as a result of years of experimentation and analysis of their results. I would also very much appreciate your personal opinion on my January submission for Evo2 Prize( )

    Sorry also if you thought I was trying to get free marketing advice on iXYt GmbH ( rather than suggesting you consider investing in it. The chances of making money with it for an experiment are as illusory as for receiving a grant from the Templeton Foundation or from the Ukraine state. But the plant must try sprout, and which of sprouts or roots will survive – Head Office (or EPL decides 🙂 …

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