Dracil’s BlogJournal

April 22, 2008

St. Augustine on using the Bible against evolution

Took me a long time to dig this up again. There’s an incomplete quote that’s been floating around the Internet which is only 1/3 of the full quote. I think the full quote is more useful though:

“It often happens that even a non-Christian knows a thing or two about the earth, the sky, the various elements of the world, about the movement and revolution of the stars and even their size and distance, about the nature of animals, shrubs, rocks, and the like, and maintains this knowledge with sure reason and experience. It is offensive and ruinous, something to be avoided at all cost, for a nonbeliever to hear a Christian talking about these things as though with Christian writings as his source, and yet so nonsensically and with such obvious error that the nonbeliever can hardly keep from laughing.

“The trouble is not so much that the erring fellow is laughed at but that our authors are believed by outsiders to have held those same opinions and so are despised and rejected as untutored men, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil…How are they going to believe our books concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven when they think they are filled with fallacious writing about things which they know from experience or sure calculation?

“There is no telling how much harm these rash and presumptuous people bring upon their more prudent brethren when they begin to be caught and argued down by those who are not bound by the authority of our Scriptures, and when they then try to defend their flippant, rash, and obviously erroneously statements by quoting a shower of words from those same Sacred Scriptures, even citing from memory those passages which they think support their case, ‘without understanding either what they are saying or things about which they make assertions’ (I Tim. 1:7)” – St. Augustine in The Literal Meaning of Genesis

I think it’s clear why the most commonly quoted version only has the first paragraph. It’s a warning to Christians to respect non-Christians because Christians do not hold a monopoly on knowledge. This is universally appealing, as the quote can be used by both Christians and non-Christians alike. The second paragraph though, explains directly to Christians why exactly we need to heed the warning. The third paragraph rebukes those who do not heed the warning as damaging the Christian faith, and provides some scriptural basis for the entire quote. Again, something that would really only matter to Christians. On the other hand, I am sure it is something a lot of non-Christians have personally experienced in their dealings with conservative Christians.

So what’s so important about this quote? Why do I have this tagged evolution and creationism? It is because of who said this. St. Augustine is considered one of the early church fathers, as such, his view of the Bible is closer to the original interpretations than all the new interpretations people have come up with. In particular, his quote is an uncannily accurate description of the debate between Evolution vs. modern-day Creationism and Intelligent Design. Just as he said over 1500 years ago, this is one of those times where non-Christians (and actually a good majority of Christians as well) know something about the way the universe works that these Creationist Christians do not. Instead of learning about these things, we have these Christians throwing the Book at them. How often do we have a Creationist quoting from Genesis as if that was somehow all the evidence they needed? It’s ridiculous.

Because the Creationists insist on such a literal (which is actually different from the how Augustine defined “literal”) interpretation of the Bible, non-Christians who buy into their fallacy have to make a choice. Reject the reality of the world around them, or accept an obviously false interpretation of the Bible. The choice is easy. They throw the baby out with the bathwater and dismiss the entire Bible (I can imagine some conservatives who don’t agree with me whining about me equating the Bible with bathwater here).

This causes quite a problem. Because they have already been misled into thinking that the Bible must indeed be literally true, or else be entirely false, it will be hard from them to see that it is indeed possible to accept both evolution and Christianity without conflict. I have seen firsthand the harm this has done, as they lash out against those who are actually on their side in this debate. This may be a little patronizing, but I have a mental image of a cornered animal that has been mercilessly beaten over the head with a thick, heavy book for years, and has become distrustful of any who approach, even those who mean it no harm. Thankfully, most of the non-Christians that I have encountered have also been in the debate long enough or managed to keep their wits about them and come to realize that there is indeed a middle ground in the Crevo debate. The middle ground allows is Theistic Evolution, which allows Christians to accept the world and remain a true Christian at the same time.

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9 Comments »

  1. Theistic evolution is misleading. The Bible says that sin didn’t come into the world until AFTER Adam and Eve sinned. Sin implies killing and that kind of stuff. Well, if evolution was the way came about, then it’s not compatible with the Bible. Evolution says that man came about from killing and dominating every other species. The two don’t fit. Biblically, evolution, if a true theory at all, must happen AFTER man is formed.

    Check out answersingenesis.org. You might have heard it and already said no to it, but it’s got an excellent presuppositions argument that you can read up on.

    St. Augustine was then, this is now. We as Christians have evidence of creationism now, and it’s time to reclaim science. :)

    Comment by John — July 4, 2008 @ 10:20 am

  2. I agree that sin did come with Adam and Eve. However, I disagree that physical death also came with them. Rather I say it is spiritual death.

    I feel this interpretation (and yes, physical death is an interpretation as well) fits much better with the Bible and the reality of God’s Creation as we see it today.

    And yes, I know about AIG, and I disagree with their interpretations.

    Comment by dracil — July 4, 2008 @ 10:26 am

    • If it was only spiritual death, then why did Jesus have to physically die?

      Comment by Rod — April 23, 2013 @ 11:14 pm

      • What makes the cross for Jesus different than the cross for thousands of other Christians after Him? Was it the physical nature of it, or the spiritual?

        Comment by Philip Stephens — April 29, 2013 @ 3:17 pm

  3. This seems a fairly weird interpretation of Augustine given that he was a Neoplatonist and appears to have embraced design arguments for the existence of God.

    Comment by Dane — October 29, 2008 @ 3:42 pm

    • Augustine was a Neoplatonist at one time. He later abandoned that position in favor of his own interpretation of scripture. Don’t be too confused by the philosophical machinations of Christians as they try to interpret scripture that was there long before they came on the scene and will be there long after they are gone. All of scripture invites an interpretation. Our experience is necessarily narrower than what may be called for in areas that are out of our own particular domain of insight.

      You seem to have an assumption underlying your comment. That it is reasonable to believe the universe is better explained as a closed system without reference to a necessary Creator. My experience is that those who speak from this perspective, take this no God notion as a given, without feeling any need to explain to those of us who feel otherwise, why we should grand you the entire argument before we even begin the discussion.

      When modern scientists start an explanation from this perspective, they are starting with a philosophical position, and from that ground they proceed to interpret the data. The data didn’t dictate to them the philosophical ground on which they stand. Their scientific insight has far more to do with their focus on the observations and previous scientific discoveries, than some kind of vindication of their philosophical starting point. It is no more necessary to adopt the no God perspective because any number of modern scientists do, than it is to adopt the theistic perspective because of Newton, Pascal, Hugh Ross, Frances Collins, or any number of living scientists take or scientists past took the theistic view.

      What is called for is a frank admission that the philosophical starting point is for the most part tangential for many applications and where it is central it is a serious question that deserves to be addressed with the same objectivity as any other weighty consideration. It seems to me if there are those who are resolved to avoid the question at all costs, the objective approach is to create room for the opposite view point to interpret the data and to refrain from carping when they do. I don’t mean refrain from criticizing a bad interpretation of the data; I mean refrain from criticizing on the ground that it is undertaken from a theistic perspective unless you are willing to robustly engage this discussion. Not in the way that Sam Harrison, Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins has. But point for point, no resort to rhetorical tricks, straw men, guilt by association, unfairly defining the words of the apposing sides arguments or other logical fallacies. I mean a comprehensive peer review every bit as exacting philosophically as it is scientifically. Only then can the disambiguation between science and philosophy begin to be fully appreciated by those who are observing the discussion from the sidelines.

      If your tempted to say, “but there is no discussion to be had!” Then I rest my case. You have irrefutably proved my point.

      Comment by Eric — August 25, 2009 @ 8:55 am

  4. [...] [...]

    Pingback by Is creationism science? - Page 3 - SLUniverse Forums — April 15, 2009 @ 4:45 pm

  5. Evolutionists are not more objective than are young earth creationists. They are both zealously attached to their philosophical positions. Darwin was not a reluctant convert to agnosticism as one would assume from reading the Voyage of the Beagle, or The Origin of the Species. Far from being a reluctant convert he was a committed agnostic from his associations going back to his seventeenth year. If you doubt this I encourage you to read his notebooks from which he wrote. The truth of this is quite clear, and it is quite the opposite of what he wrote in his books. Young earth creationists love to advance the idea that they are the intelligent design custodians. They’re not, for the most part. Evolution and young earth creationism fail for the same reason; the scientific data suggests a better answer. Old earth creationism is a scientifically falsifiable theory which is rigorously defined to be testable and is doing quite fine thank you. This is not about arguing it is about science.

    The three models above, suggest that future scientific discoveries will vindicate their respective positions. I suggest that if you don’t believe the old earth creationism position, closely examine the three positions above, look at the scientific papers that are written over the next three weeks, three months or three years. Each of these will suggest a different complexion of discoveries. If young earth creationists are right studies will on balance suggest problems with the age of the universe. If the evolutionists are write, the case for design will be weaker, the evidence for information in places like DNA etc. will become less plausible, the case for the entropic principle will be less convincing, the evidence for the big bang will be less likely as Fredrick Hoyle suggested. Dr. Hoyle well understood the difficulty the big bang presented for scientific naturalism. That is why he tried to kill the idea by coining the term “big bang.” On the other hand if the entropic principle is more firmly supported, if more evidence for the big bang comes to light, if more evidence of information in the universe is identified then we should reasonably recognize that a bang needs a Banger, information needs an Informer, and fine tuning needs a Finer Tuner. These are direct predictions of the future discoveries directly flowing from the old earth creationism model. If you are inclined to disbelieve, I encourage you to let the future evidence speak for itself.

    Be intellectually honest. Commit now to letting the future scientific discoveries do your choosing for you. After all that is the test of a good scientific model. It predicts future scientific discoveries better than the alternatives do. With all due deference to Dr. Frances Collins and other bio-theists, I couldn’t have more respect for them, but they are not standing back and looking at the question with a broad enough inter-disciplinarian view. Every scientist believes the problems with evolution they see are largely addressed by specialists in related fields but they never require their colleagues to produce the goods. As a result they never quite get around to asking if their colleagues aren’t facing problems with evolution that are every bit as vexing as the ones they themselves encounter. They are honest men, for the most part; they simply put more faith in the consensus than the evidence. I don’t wish to be unduly harsh but when the question is about their conclusions all of the forgoing becomes germane.

    Resolve to believe the future discoveries. I will let science speak for itself, will you? Don’t take the coward’s way out and proclaim that any answer that requires the recognition of a Creator is out of bounds. That’s the question we are examining, and very clearly that approach is begging that question. If evolution or young earth creationism can prevail, they can do so on their merits without a leg up from this or any other logical fallacy.

    If you’re a scientist do good science. If you’re a bible scholar do honest exegeses, if you’re a theologian do consistent theology, if you’re a philosopher relentlessly search for truth. If you’re a simple Christian follow Christ’s example. Before we are finished however, no matter what our vocation, we should let the physics of this universe do its job to evoke the questions it was designed to raise; poignant and burning questions that go to the very hart of who we are. Why should the universe be the sort of place that is so amenable to our purposes? Why are we here for such a short time? Where do we come from, and where are we headed? If there is one God and Father of us all, and if we all do the job He’s set before us, we should arrive at the same place, which is at the foot of the cross.

    Comment by Eric — August 24, 2009 @ 2:46 pm

  6. Saint Augustine said that we are not expected to take the story of Genesis literally, and that God created the world “in seed”. Perhaps the fundamentalist creationists’ embarrassing position is one very tiny disadvantage of the translation of the Bible into English and other languages.

    Comment by John Price — April 20, 2011 @ 7:38 am


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