My attention was recently drawn to this critique of physicist Stephen Barr’s comments on church father Augustine (354-430 CE). Barr, a frequent critic of intelligent design, argues that Augustine did not take the Genesis account literally. This site argues, more plausibly in my view, that Augustine aged, he became more drawn to literal accounts of events in Scripture.
None of which would matter except that Augustine is often misused as a poster boy for bashing literalism, as Thomas Aquinas is misused by Catholic Darwinists as opposed to the idea that design can be detected in nature.
The point everyone seems to miss is this: We don’t know what Augustine or Aquinas (or Aristotle) “would have” thought, if they had been given the information available today. It’s the nature of history that they were not given it, and were reasoning from what they knew.
Recently, I was writing some science material for children, and found myself reflecting on this very subject. Before the advent of the microscope, who would have believed the germ theory of disease? The idea of “miasma” (bad air seeping around) would sound naturally more plausible and less hallucinatory) than “little bugs, too small to see”. What changed was that the little bugs were observed. After that, anyone making a decision about what to believe had to contend with new information.
New information can radically change debates, and invoking the old authorities as a talisman will not work.