The Grand Design: A Discussion with Stephen Hawking in his Absence, written by the renowned Bulgarian Orthodox apologist, Valentin Velchev, will be published in Russia in 2022. The Bulgarian edition of this book was met with great interest by Bulgarian scientists and theologians and has already gone through four printings.
—Mr. Velchev, the premise of your book is a debate with the late Stephen Hawking and his views on the world and the philosophy of science. How was this premise formed and why did you choose Hawking as your opponent?
—When Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow published their bestselling The Grand Design in 2010, it had the effect of a large boulder being dropped into the previously quiet swamp of Christianity vs. atheism polemics. I remember that that book had Christians, Muslims, Jews and other believers in an uproar, at first in Hawking’s native Great Britain and later in the whole world.
The goal of the modern science has been reduced to finding a naturalistic (materialistic) explanation of the world and man at any cost
—It should be noted that atheists have cleverly managed to reformulate the goals of science, so currently science is not searching for an objective truth; its goal has been reduced to finding a naturalistic (materialistic) explanation of the world and man at any cost. Following this paradigm, both authors posited that natural laws can sufficiently explain the creation of all types of matter “without the need for God,” as Hawking put it.
In reality, the naturalistic approach has always been overly reductive and simplistic, reducing everything to a random interaction of atoms that formed stars, galaxies and living creatures, eventually resulting in development of man’s brain. However, according to this approach all material structures, from cosmic systems down to atoms, will at some point disintegrate, producing radiation and neutrinos. It is no surprise that this nihilistic philosophy did not in any way contribute to the development of science, culture or art, since according to it all those activities are simply side effects of evolution and are just as meaningless as human life, nature, and the cosmos.
Only a few months later, also in 2010, I published my book Faith and Science that pondered the same issues, but from an entirely different angle. Initially, I tried to define the line between consciousness and blind chance—that is, to find the criteria that would allow us to distinguish between consciously formed signals and objects from those originated by chance or by laws of nature. For instance, such criteria can be used to determine whether certain electromagnetic waves have the characteristic traits of a message from an alien civilization or to establish that such waves were simply sent by a hitherto unknown cosmic entity. Besides, we can use such criteria to determine whether the canals on Mars were artificially built or whether they originated as a result natural processes,1 etc. When I applied the obtained criteria to the Universe, genetic program, and living organisms, I was surprised to find that those incredibly complicated structures had all the markings of the actions of a conscious agent, while the possibility of blind action by the laws of nature was totally out of the question!
After reading Hawking and Mlodinov’s book, I decided to revise Faith and Science so that it would argue with the statements posited by those two authors. To achieve this purpose, I had to shorten some sections, revise others, and add several new chapters, so as a result The Grand Design: A Discussion with Stephen Hawking in his Absence can definitely be considered to be a new book. It was published by the St. Clement of Ohrid University of Sofia in the fall of 2018. By the end of 2021 it had gone through three printings. The fourth revised and amended edition was published in early 2022, and will be available in Bulgarian and Russian in electronic format.
The book has been reviewed by Christo Gagov, professor of Biology; Georgi Kapriev, professor of Philosophy; Veniamin Peyev, Doctor of Theology; and Martin Paraliev, Doctor of Physical Sciences (currently employed by the Swiss Academy of Sciences). I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Paraliev for helping me with the accurate presentation of mathematical formulae.
In the spring of 2017, about a year before my work on The Grand Design was finished, I told one publisher of Orthodox literature about the book and he referred me to Ms. Katalina Sybeva (director of Antea Agency). He said that she knew Stephen Hawking’s agent. I talked to her on the phone and we agreed that I would write the summary of the book (no more than thirty pages), and she would then pass it on to Hawking’s agent when she met him in October at the International Book Fair in Frankfurt, Germany.
Unfortunately, on the very day that I finished the book the media reported that Hawking had passed away (March 14, 2018).
The text was ready as planned but a few days before the fair we found out that the English translation hadn’t been done properly, so I called Ms. Sybeva and asked her to tell Hawing’s agent that I would send the text to him as soon as the translation was finalized. Later, I decided to finish the book first and then send my letter to Hawking, but unfortunately on the very day that I finished the book the mass media reported that Hawking had passed away (March 14, 2018).
—What did Bulgarian scientists think about your book? It is a well-known fact that most of them are materialists…
—To be honest, I expected a severe confrontation, mainly from biologists (or perhaps astronomers, cosmologists, science philosophers, etc.). However, all those scientists who had studied the arguments I presented in the book, gave me a warm and hearty welcome and said that my ideas were absolutely right.
The book was a great success. After its presentation at the University of Sofia, I received invitations from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the Plovdiv Union of Scientists. In the summer of 2019, I was specifically asked to make presentations about the book at two major international scientific conferences. The first one was attended by scientists from Switzerland, Germany, Great Britain, the USA and Canada, while the participants of the second conference included scientists from Russia, Israel, Serbia and other countries. I made a brief presentation entitled Is It Possible to Present a Scientific Argument for the Existence of God that was based on the text I had prepared for Stephen Hawking.
Two years ago, the Russian translation of the same text was sent for review to The Problems of Philosophy, one of the most prestigious philosophy journals in the world (the journal is published by the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of Russia). My work essentially offers a new concept of the creation of the Universe, life and man. This new paradigm can be empirically verified by physical, cosmological and biological approaches. It took mathematicians several years to check the proof of Fermat’s last theorem (by Andrew Wiles) and Poincare’s conjecture (by Grigori Perelman), so it is quite likely that as much time will be needed by the scientists of the Russian Academy of Sciences to review my work.
Naturally, I understand that Russia has many world-renowned scientists and I am looking forward to having a public discussion after the book is published in Russian. But as I’ve mentioned earlier, no arguments refuting my theory have been set forth so far. On the contrary, it has been warmly received in the academic circles.
—Many Christian theologians attempt to reconcile science and theology in so-called theistic evolution theory. Do you think it is possible?
—First, I’d like to note that besides evolution of organisms, Charles Darwin’s theory can also be applied to inanimate objects. In this context, it may be viewed as a universal naturalistic paradigm that is used to explain self-arrangement of matter on the increasingly advanced structural levels. However, I should emphasize that this paradigm has no empirical confirmation that would allow us to consider it a “scientific theory.” (See link in the footnote2)!
Darwin’s evolutionary paradigm is still an “unconfirmed hypothesis”.
—Indeed, when we interpret Holy Scripture, we should consider scientific postulates only if they have been proven. For example, Christian exegesis has no problems with the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics or the notion that the cell is the main structural and functional unit of organisms. However, as I noted earlier, Darwin’s evolutionary paradigm is still an “unconfirmed hypothesis,” so we shouldn’t even try to reconcile Orthodox theology with it!
For those who are unfamiliar with apologetics, I can explain that theistic evolution (that is the reconciliation you’re asking about) is a concept alleging that God created matter with an immanent ability to develop from simpler to more complex forms in both the physical and biological environments. Therefore God simply guided and controlled the processes of natural evolution (although His direct involvement was rarely required) to create the Universe, Earth, animals, and man.
This theory has many variations, but its adherents primarily agree that evolution as a whole is the result of natural causes—that is, it follows the same (or very similar) mechanisms that were explained in Darwin’s theory. On the other hand, God had to interfere at least on several stages of evolution: first, when matter was created, then when the genetic code was developed, and then again during the shift to the higher plant and animal taxonomic groups. It is particularly important that God supposedly descended to Earth to light the spark of human consciousness in some species of our simian ancestors!
I must note at the very beginning that the doctrine of theistic evolution is not a scientific theory. Moreover it cannot even be considered a theological concept. From the Christian standpoint, God created matter from absolute nothingness, thereby violating one of the fundamental laws of nature—that is, the law of conservation of energy.3 However, the implication of divine interference even on a single stage (and this theory implies it on several stages) would automatically exclude such a concept from the list of scientific theories.4
As far as theology is concerned, the concept of theistic evolution presupposes ignoring the fundamental tenets of Christian ethics and anthropology, thereby opening the floodgates to the acceptance of the co-called gender ideology:
Abortion wouldn’t be a sin because it occurs when the embryo repeats the developmental phases of our predecessors, i.e. invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptilians, etc. (according to Haeckel’s biogenetic law);
if we ignore (or interpret metaphorically) Genesis 1:27 that says that God created a man and a woman, there would be no obstacles to blurring the boundaries of gender and believing that there can be dozens of gender identities;
same-sex marriages would be possible because Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (Genesis, 2:24) is just a phrase from a nice fable, etc.
From the dogmatic standpoint, the problem is even more serious. Werner Gitt, a German professor of informatics, notes that the theistic evolution presents the Almighty as the author of the evolution strategy that is full of suffering, cruelty and death, thereby distorting His benevolent nature. Moreover, it even depicts Christ’s redemption as a meaningless feat. In the struggle for existence, animosity, aggression and murder facilitate survival of the fittest and as such lead the proto-people to progress. That is why “the progeny of apes have no need for the Savior.”5
St. John of Damascus said that the allegoric interpretation of Paradise was part of an early heretical teaching that was contrary to the Church’s position.
St. John of Damascus said that the allegoric interpretation of Paradise was part of an early heretical teaching that was contrary to the Church’s position. Note that if we view the initial verses of the Book of Genesis figuratively or metaphorically, as the proponents of theistic evolution do, these verses can be interpreted in many ways at the reader’s discretion. This leads us to ecumenism, as adherents of many religions as well as all sorts of esotericists, occultists, theosophists, freemasons, etc., are also quite successful at interpreting the Bible metaphorically and allegorically to support their own teachings.
One famous theologian said, “If you try to change the theory of Creation in any way, you will change all other aspects of the Christian faith.”
When I just started studying the theology of the Orthodox Church, I was impressed by the fact that the holy fathers advocated the well-balanced model of the theory of Creation that avoided the extremities we observe today, such as scientific creationism of the Protestants and so-called theistic evolution eventually adopted by Catholicism. Considering all that, I can confidently say that my arguments are based exclusively on the foundation that was laid centuries ago by the prominent scholars and apologists of the Orthodox Church!
To sum up, the concept of theistic evolution contradicts not only science but the entire Christian belief system and as such it must be identified as a totally heretical doctrine!
—Yes, but as far as I know some modern-day Christian theologians are staunch supporters of theistic evolution. What does the Bulgarian Orthodox Church think about it?
—I must admit that I haven’t seen any statements of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church that dealt with theistic evolution. However, it is a well-known fact that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church is very conservative,6 so it is unlikely that any of its clergy could approve of such a liberal theory. I know at least two documents that demonstrate, albeit indirectly, that such an idea is unacceptable for Bulgarian Orthodoxy. (I will provide certain quotes from these documents to be as accurate as possible).
For example, Declaration of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church on the Council of Crete (2016) clearly states that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church is absolutely against any type of ecumenism(!) and has always openly held the opinion that the text of The Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World must be thoroughly revised. Since Patriarch Bartholomew superciliously ignored the request of the Bulgarian archpriests and didn’t revise this document, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church refused to participate in the Council of Crete and later the same decision was made by three other Local Orthodox Churches. Below is the quote from the Synod’s statement:
“During the meeting on June 1, 2016 (Minutes of the Meeting No. 12) the Holy Synod had unanimously decided to suggest postponement of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church so that the work to prepare it could be continued.” Otherwise, the Holy Synod noted, the Bulgarian Patriarchate would not participate in the Council.
Later on, similar suggestions had been voiced by the Holy Synods of other Local Orthodox Churches that were to participate in preparation for the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church. The organizers of the Holy and Great Council on Crete disregarded those suggestions. The following four autocephalous Local Churches said that they wouldn’t be participating in the Council: Bulgarian Orthodox Church (decision dated June 1, 2016), Antiochian Patriarchate (decision dated June 6, 2016), Georgian Orthodox Church (decision dated June 10, 2016), and Russian Orthodox Church (decision dated June 13, 2016).
The following conclusion was made at the end of the document:
The Council on the island of Crete is neither Great, nor Holy, nor Pan-Orthodox.
1) This is due to the non-participation in it of a number of Local autocephalous Churches, as well as the accepted organizational and theological mistakes. Despite this, we respect and value the efforts of all the organizers and participants in it.
2) Careful study of the documents adopted at the Crete Council leads us to the conclusion that some of them contain discrepancies with Orthodox Church teaching, with the dogmatic and canonical Tradition of the Church, and with the spirit and letter of the Ecumenical and Local Councils.
3) The documents adopted on Crete are to be subject to further theological consideration for the purpose of amending, editing and correcting, or replacing with other (new documents) in the spirit and Tradition of the Church.7
The second document is The Position of the Center for Systematic Theology of Veliko Tarnovo University regarding the Istanbul Convention that was the foundation of the corresponding resolution of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
Our best theologians offered their professional opinions reflecting the true Orthodox standpoint with respect to the Istanbul Convention. It is summarized in four main paragraphs:
“I. The Istanbul Convention makes it possible to introduce new definitions of man and establish new values that contradict our Christian identity as men and women, our Christian tradition as people, and our ability as a society (which saved Jews during the World War II) to protect the weak from any form of violence. Some articles of the Convention (e.g. Article 3.b, Article 4, paragraph 2, Article 6.6, paragraph 1, etc.) introduce “gender” not only as a social sex, but as a sexual identity in general.
II. The notion of gender is quasi-scientific and is a part of gender identity ideology that alleges that gender is an entirely social construct.
III. The Istanbul Convention and the underlying models of social behavior, moral instructions and laws represent a challenge against Orthodox Christianity as “a traditional religion of the Republic of Bulgaria” (Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria, Article 13 ).
IV. In the Orthodox paradigm, the only possible implementation of sex as a source of life is family, the marriage of a man and a woman.”8
Since the Bulgarian Church doesn’t accept ecumenism and gender ideology, it won’t accept the theory of theistic evolution, either
This clearly shows that since the Bulgarian Church doesn’t accept ecumenism and gender ideology, it won’t accept the theory of theistic evolution theory, either!
—Does it mean that in your book you drew a line between conservative and liberal theology that is perhaps unnoticeable at a cursory glance? Do you believe that liberal theology is a threat to Orthodoxy?
—Exactly! I wouldn’t say that this line is unnoticeable, though. It may be so for the general readership, but it is very clear for theologians and apologists.
As to the second question, I should note that as a result of the mass inculcation of “liberal humanistic theology” in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a new wave of “renovationism and reform” has already swept through a significant section of the western Protestant world, which proves that the processes of deviating from the Christian system of values has been going on there systematically and intentionally in the course of the last fifty or one hundred years to say the least.
By the mid-twentieth century, at the urging of the feminist movement, the first “female priests” were ordained, initially in the Lutheran Church and later in the Anglican. However, the ideologists of sexual revolution are not content with this “partial success,” so they carry on, demanding the Church’s blessing of cohabitation and/or “same-sex marriage” (since “God loves everybody”), which devalues the Christian notion of family. The success of these first steps (even though some people think that they are insignificant) opens the floodgates to subsequent deconstruction of several fundamental principles of the Christian faith.
The lack of resistance to the onslaught of the liberal circles of Western Europe and the USA allowed them to introduce their gender ideology into a very wide spectrum of Protestant denominations. Over a fairly short period of time, the pulpits and managing positions of the majority of the Protestant communities were occupied not only by gays and Lesbians but even by “priests” of all 30+ “social sexes”. Today, conservative Protestant communities are just islets in the ocean of denominations that do not consider homosexuality and transgender identity to be a sin.9
It is well-known that Patriarch Bartholomew is especially close to the so-called ultra-liberals like Hilary Clinton, Barak Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and many others, who, judging by the actions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, are clearly set on turning it into a ”Trojan horse” that would enable them to introduce the concepts of radical feminism and gender ideology into Orthodoxy.
It should be noted that Patriarch Bartholomew has always followed the path of globalism and ecumenism. For example, he believes that Orthodoxy should effectively facilitate the solution of the political, economic and ecological problems of this world. He is an active participant in Orthodox/Catholic, Orthodox/Islamic and Orthodox/Judaic dialogue. He represents the Ecumenical Patriarchate in numerous ecumenical forums that are obviously aimed at establishing “a single world religion”.
At the world inter-faith conference, Religions for Peace, which he organized in Italy in 1994, Patriarch Bartholomew not only called for the reconciliation of Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and representatives of pagan religions but also urged them to “unite and make joint efforts in the name of the spiritual principles of ecumenism, brotherhood and peace, as we are all one in the Spirit of One God”. Just recently, Religions for Peace carried out their tenth World Assembly in Lindau, Germany. More than nine hundred delegates from more than a hundred countries got together “to give a boost” to the multi-confessional cooperation. At this forum, Patriarch Bartholomew unambiguously stated that the unification of religions was necessary because “it is impossible to achieve anything if we work separately”!10
Ecumenism undermines Christ’s redemption, for if all religions lead to salvation, then His death on the cross was absolutely meaningless
You understand, of course, that ecumenism undermines Christ’s redemption—for if all religions lead to salvation, then His death on the cross was absolutely meaningless! (You can learn about what has been happening in the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the last one hundred years by following the link provided in the footnote11).
—Finally, if the teacher of the Law of God reads the Bible to children, telling them about God’s miraculous creation of Adam and Eve, while Darwin’s evolutionary theory is taught to them in biology classes, wouldn’t it cause a cognitive dissonance in Bulgarian school children? Can your book help solve this issue?
—It is customary in the Bulgarian educational system to present Darwin’s teaching as a scientifically proven theory, but as I mentioned earlier, the evolutionary paradigm had always been an unconfirmed hypothesis. I’ll give you just a couple of examples from the last two or three years, when the leading scientists acknowledged that all their efforts to explain the world as a consequence of the laws of nature had totally failed. For a example, the article Escaping Cosmology’s Failing Paradigm12 no longer refutes the fact that no cosmological model can explain the creation of the Universe. As a result, Avi Loeb, Harvard’s leading astronomer, had to seriously (and not just as an exotic approach) consider the possibility of the existence of a sentient creator in Was Our Universe Created in a Laboratory?13 (Naturally, it had to be some alien civilization, for God is taboo in Western science!)
S. Joshua Swamidass admits that genetics is not at variance with Adam and Eve being the universal ancestors of all people.
In his most recent book The Genealogical Adam and Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry, S. Joshua Swamidass, senior lecturer of the University of Washington, admits that genetics is not at variance with Adam and Eve being the universal ancestors of all people (“God could have created Adam from dust and Eve from Adam’s rib, so the first human couple essentially didn’t have parents”). In reality, Swamidass offers a hybrid model stating that a certain part of humanity originated from simian ancestors. Nevertheless, the accompanying proof that, independently from them, people can also originate from a single purely human couple, is a serious breakthrough. In other words, as Swamidass himself admits, the scientists cannot disprove the Biblical story of Adam and Eve from whom all modern people descended in the recent past (approximately ten thousand years ago).14
NASA scientists are already inviting priests to discuss existential issues,15 and even though it sounds paradoxical I also expect that when the James Webb Space Telescope starts sending pictures of the most ancient galaxies,16 all scientific discussions will be completely transferred to the domain of religion, because it will be impossible to defend naturalistic theories (See Note )!
The curriculum of Religion: Orthodoxy for the lyceum classes of Bulgarian schools includes lessons on Biblical and patristic accounts of God’s creation of the world. The Grand Design refers to the latest scientific discoveries in cosmology, astronomy, physics and biology described in the most prestigious scientific journals, publications and textbooks in the field of natural science and philosophy of science. As such, students will have access to extensive theoretical and empirical material on evolution/creation, which will allow them to hold meaningful scientific discussions that will develop their analytical and abstract/logical thinking skills. I truly believe that this will give them a greater chance of becoming ingenious and critically thinking individuals as opposed to having blind acceptance and repetition of unconfirmed ideas, which is not conducive to any progress in teenagers’ learning abilities.
—Where can our readers buy The Grand Design: A Discussion with Stephen Hawking in his Absence?
I hope that my book will be useful for believers, atheists and agnostics who wish to understand the mysteries of the world creation.
—As far as I know, the book is available in bookstores throughout Bulgaria through the publishing house of the University of Sofia. Besides, LIBRUM offers a colorful illustrated edition and delivery by mail. The book is also available in electronic format. Moreover, a significant part of the text is available for reading online for free. I hope that this book will be useful not only for Christians interested in apologetics, but for all believers, atheists or agnostics who wish to understand the mysteries of the creation of the world and find the answer to the eternal question of the meaning of life!
Readers in Russia can get the Russian translation of the book from the LIBRUM publishing house by following the link provided in Note17. The book is available in both hard copy and electronic format. However, since ordering the hard copy requires considerable mailing expenses, we would be happy if any publishing house decided to publish the book in Russia. We can be reached at email@example.com.