Intelligent Design

Misreading St. Augustine

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I don’t often find myself siding with a “Gnu Atheist” against one of their most brilliant critics – especially when the Gnu Atheist in question is none other than Professor Jerry Coyne, and the critic is Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart, the author of Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies who recently penned a biting online critique of the New Atheists entitled, Believe It or Not (First Things, May 2010). Readers will recall that on several occasions, I have written posts critical of Professor Coyne’s views, but this time I have to say that Coyne is right and Hart is wrong. It’s as simple as that. Hart’s errors, some of which relate to St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.), exhibit the same kind of shoddy scholarship found in the writings of theistic evolutionists who cite Augustine in support of their views.

Regular readers of Uncommon Descent will be aware that David Bentley Hart is not a fan of Intelligent Design theory, which he disparaged as “an argument from personal incredulity” in a mostly positive review (First Things, January 2010) of Professor Richard Dawkins’ book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. When I read Hart’s review, I was disappointed at his failure to grasp the abductive logic which underlies the case for ID: the inference to intelligent design is only made after alternative explanations have been methodically ruled out. But in Hart’s defense, it might be argued that he was talking about matters outside his field of expertise.

This time, however, David Bentley Hart has been caught with his pants down, making several egregious blunders on matters relating to his own specialty: theology.

In Part II of a recent six-part interview with Simon Smart in Baltimore on “The New Atheists and an Ugly God”, at 2:04 in the video, Smart put the following question to Dr. Hart on the character of God in the Old Testament:

“Certainly, ah, I wondered about this part though: Dawkins and Hitchens especially attack the God of the Old Testament as a moral monster. How do you respond to those criticisms? Because even, ah, Christians, if they read the Old Testament, find it strange and troubling…”

Hart replied (and here I’m quoting him verbatim):

Well… what’s the news here? I mean that’s the..uh is that, uh, Dawkins and – and- and Hitchens both hold up these stories and- and Dawkins especially, say, “Well, of course, people take – The Bible is supposed to be understood as a moral guide. When in Christian history, wh- before …- well, it may be true in certain fundamentalist circles – we- we- we breed every kind of exotic [tuts audibly] flora here, so … But all the Church Fathers, uh, you know, say, “Well, of course, we read this allegorically,” and they didn’t – and that doesn’t mean reading it as if you believed that there were messages encoded secretly in the text. It’s just that the ancient understanding was that it serves as a spiritual text to the degree that the mind of Christians read it and allegorize in relation to the- the truth that they believed was revealed in Christ … But, you know, all the Church Fathers, all the great medieval theologians, they were quite aware that, that, er, God often, of course they, not “the God of the Old Testament” as if there’s only one to pick – you know, the God of the prophets, many of the prophets, is quite, is much more, uh, uh, urbane, let’s say, [embarrassed laugh] than uh, than some of the Patriarchal narratives … Uh, this is no surprise, and- and it’s only if you think that the history of Christian exegesis takes the Bible, say, as a verbatim – the way a very pious Muslim fundamentalist is expected to understand the Koran – as a verbatim, uh, sort of set of oracles from God, that that’s a problem. If you do impose the sort of, the sort of clod-hopping modern sense that “Well, it must be that whatever the intention of the author was is what the text means, and that’s how it’s always been,” not only Christians, but pagans and Jews in antiquity, wouldn’t have known what you were talking about. That’s just not how texts were read. That’s not how they were understood. Augustine says this in The Confessions: “The intentions of the author of Genesis differ – perhaps entirely – from what a Christian is to make of them.” (Bold emphases mine – VJT.)

Yes, folks, he really did say it exactly as I have transcribed it.

Commenting on these remarks of Hart’s in a recent post entitled David Bentley Hart on the Gnus, Professor Jerry Coyne wrote:

People like this irk me far more than fundamentalist Bible-thumpers, for they should know better.

Indeed, Hart should know better. Let’s have a look at his blunders, before we proceed to discuss their relevance for Intelligent Design.

Egregious Blunder Number 1: Misquoting St. Augustine, making him out to say exactly the opposite of what he actually said

This is a pretty embarrassing mistake for a theologian to make. Apart from St. Athanasius, it would be difficult to think of any Christian, after the death of the apostles, who had more influence on the history of the Church than St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430). Here’s how David Bentley Hart quotes St. Augustine in The Confessions:

Augustine says this in The Confessions: “The intentions of the author of Genesis differ – perhaps entirely – from what a Christian is to make of them.”

And here’s what St. Augustine actually said in his Confessions Book XII chapter 31, paragraph 42:

42. Thus, when one [person] shall say, “He [Moses] meant as I do,” and another, “Nay, but as I do,” I suppose that I am speaking more religiously when I say, “Why not rather as both, if both be true?” And if there be a third truth, or a fourth, and if any one seek any truth altogether different in those words, why may not he [Moses] be believed to have seen all these, through whom one God has tempered the Holy Scriptures to the senses of many, about to see therein things true but different? I certainly, – and I fearlessly declare it from my heart – were I to write anything to have the highest authority, should prefer so to write, that whatever of truth any one might apprehend concerning these matters, my words should re-echo, rather than that I should set down one true opinion so clearly on this as that I should exclude the rest, that which was false in which could not offend me. Therefore am I unwilling, O my God, to be so headstrong as not to believe that from You this man [Moses] has received so much. He, surely, when he wrote those words, perceived and thought whatever of truth we have been able to discover, yea, and whatever we have not been able, nor yet are able, though still it may be found in them. (Bold emphases mine – VJT.)

In this passage, St. Augustine:
(a) affirmed that Moses was the author of Genesis;
(b) declared that Moses may well have intended the words of Genesis to have multiple meanings;
(c) suggested that Christians had not yet discovered all of these meanings;
(d) asserted that Moses explicitly perceived and thought (i.e. intended) all of the true meanings of the words of Genesis – including those that still remain hidden to us today.

This is completely the opposite of what Dr. Hart claimed St. Augustine said.

Egregious Blunder Number 2: Asserting that people in antiquity did not believe in interpreting a text in accordance with the intentions of the author

David Bentley Hart declares:

If you do impose the sort of, the sort of clod-hopping modern sense that “Well, it must be that whatever the intention of the author was is what the text means, and that’s how it’s always been,” not only Christians, but pagans and Jews in antiquity, wouldn’t have known what you were talking about.

Not one scintilla of evidence is cited by Dr. Hart for this bald assertion.

Unfortunately for Dr. Hart, the “clod-hopping modern” position he pooh-poohs just happens to be the official teaching position of the Catholic Church. And since the Eastern Orthodox Church’s understanding of the meaning of Scripture is nowhere listed among the theological differences dividing the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, I can only conclude that the following passages, which are taken from The Catechism of the Catholic Church, also represent the teaching of the Orthodox Church, to which David Bentley Hart belongs.

109 In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way. To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words.75

110 In order to discover the sacred authors’ intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current. “For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression.”76

111 But since Sacred Scripture is inspired, there is another and no less important principle of correct interpretation, without which Scripture would remain a dead letter. “Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written.”77 (Bold emphases mine – VJT.)

Refs.
75 Cf. Dei Verbum 12.1
76 Dei Verbum 12.2
77 Dei Verbum 12.3

Going back to the Vatican II document Dei Verbum, cited by the Catechism, I found almost the same wording in chapter III, section 12, as well as the following supporting footnotes:

6. St. Augustine, “City of God,” XVII, 6, 2: PL 41, 537: CSEL. XL, 2, 228.
7. St. Augustine, “On Christian Doctrine” III, 18, 26; PL 34, 75-76.
8. Pius XII, loc. cit. Denziger 2294 (3829-3830); EB 557-562.
9. cf. Benedict XV, encyclical “Spiritus Paraclitus” Sept. 15, 1920:EB 469. St. Jerome, “In Galatians” 5, 19-20: PL 26, 417 A.

Thus the Catholic Church – and by implication, the Orthodox Church, to which David Bentley Hart belongs – clearly teaches that the meaning of Scripture consists in what the human authors intended to affirm, and that this meaning is also what God wanted to reveal to us through their words. What’s more, the footnotes to the Vatican II document Dei Verbum show that this teaching goes back at least to the time of Saints Augustine and Jerome – in other words, back to the fourth centry A.D. I think I’d call that “antiquity.” Wouldn’t you?

Egregious Blunder Number 3: Asserting that all the Church Fathers allegorized the passages in Scripture where God seems to behave like a moral monster

In his interview, Simon Smart put the following question to David Bentley Hart: “Dawkins and Hitchens especially attack the God of the Old Testament as a moral monster. How do you respond to those criticisms?” Dr. Hart responded by making a sweeping assertion:

But all the Church Fathers, uh, you know, say, “Well, of course, we read this allegorically,” and they didn’t – and that doesn’t mean reading it as if you believed that there were messages encoded secretly in the text. It’s just that the ancient understanding was that it serves as a spiritual text to the degree that the mind of Christians read it and allegorize in relation to the- the truth that they believed was revealed in Christ. (Bold emphasis mine – VJT.)

This is breathtakingly ignorant. Let me begin with a passage often cited by “Gnu Atheists” when attacking the Old Testament: the story (2 Kings 2:23-24) of how the prophet Elisha cursed a band of youths who mocked him for his baldness, and of how two bears suddenly came out of the woods and tore 42 of the youths to pieces.

The earliest Christian writer to discuss the morality of God’s actions in this passage was Tertullian (c. 160-220 A.D.), in his work Against Marcion, Book IV, chapter XXIII. Marcion (85-160 A.D.) was a second century heretic who wanted to jettison the Old Testament, since he believed that the teachings of Jesus were incompatible with the God of the Old Testament, and that the God of the Old Testament was a different person from the God of the New Testament. In the passage below, Tertullian responds to an objection of Marcion’s, that Christ loved little children, whereas the wicked God of the Old Testament sent bears to kill little boys for mocking Elisha:

But see, [Marcion says], Christ loves the little ones, and teaches that all who ever wish to be the greater, need to be as they; whereas the Creator sent bears against some boys, to avenge Elisha the prophet for mockery he had suffered from them. A fairly reckless antithesis, when it sets together such diverse things, little children and boys, an age as yet innocent, and an age now capable of judgement, which knew how to mock, not to say, blaspheme. So then, being a just God, he did not spare even boys when disrespectful, but demanded Honour to old age, and more particularly from the younger: but as a kind God he loves the little ones to such a degree that in Egypt he dealt well with the midwives who guarded the child-bearing of the Hebrews, which was in peril through Pharaoh’s edict. So here too Christ’s disposition agrees with the Creator’s. But now for Marcion’s god, who is opposed to matrimony: how can he be taken for a lover of little ones? The whole reason for these is matrimony. One who hates the seed must of necessity detest its fruit. (Bold emphases mine – VJT.)

Tertullian, when confronted by the heretic Marcion about this passage where God sends bears to kill 42 boys, did not allegorize it away. Instead, he accepted its literal meaning, and defended God’s behavior as morally justified.

The reader may be wondering how St. Augustine interpreted this troubling Biblical passage. It turns out that he, too, interpreted it literally, in his Exposition on Psalm 47:

Recollect the Gospel, where they crucified the Lord, and you will find Him crucified in the place of Calvary. Furthermore, they who deride His Cross, by devils, as by beasts, are devoured. For this also a certain Scripture signified. When God’s Prophet Elisha was going up, children called after him mocking, “Go up thou bald head, Go up thou bald head:” but he, not so much in cruelty as in mystery, made those children to be devoured by bears out of the wood. (2 Kings 2:23-24) If those children had not been devoured, would they have lived even till now? Or could they not, being born mortal, have been taken off by a fever? But so in them had no mystery been shown, whereby posterity might be put in fear. Let none then mock the Cross of Christ. (Bold emphases mine – VJT.)

Here, St. Augustine treats the Biblical passage literally, declaring that the children were killed by God, not as an act of cruelty, but in order to show future generations that God punishes those who mock Him.

I could go on here, and discuss how the literal historicity of this passage was universally accepted Christian theologians as diverse as Matthew Henry and John Wesley, until the late 19th century, but I think readers get my drift. I might add that Jewish commentators also accepted the historicity of this passage (see the article on Elisha). Some of these commentators faulted Elisha for yielding to his anger in cursing the boys; but others insisted that they were not boys, but young men. It should be noted that John Wesley held the same view.

Let’s return to St. Augustine. In his work Contra Faustum, St. Augustine records a disputation he had with Faustus, the Manichean Bishop of Milevis. The Manicheans were dualists, and like Marcion, they rejected much of the Old Testament, arguing that the books of the Old Testament contained a badly distorted picture of God. In Contra Faustum Book XXII, paragraph 4, Faustus charges:

4. These books, moreover, contain shocking calumnies against God himself. We are told that he existed from eternity in darkness, and admired the light when he saw it; that he was so ignorant of the future, that he gave Adam a command, not foreseeing that it would be broken; that his perception was so limited that he could not see Adam when, from the knowledge of his nakedness, he hid himself in a corner of Paradise; that envy made him afraid lest his creature man should taste of the tree of life, and live for ever; that afterwards he was greedy for blood, and fat from all kinds of sacrifices, and jealous if they were offered to any one but himself; that he was enraged sometimes against his enemies, sometimes against his friends; that he destroyed thousands of men for a slight offense, or for nothing; that he threatened to come with a sword and spare nobody, righteous or wicked. The authors of such bold libels against God might very well slander the men of God. You must join with us in laying the blame on the writers if you wish to vindicate the prophets. (Bold emphasis mine – VJT.)

St. Augustine replied to the charge that the God of the Old Testament is a moral monster in Contra Faustum Book XXII, paragraph 79:

79. Let no one, then, be so daring as to make rash charges against men, not to say against God. If the service of the ministers of the Old Testament, who were also heralds of the New, consisted in putting sinners to death, and that of the ministers of the New Testament, who are also interpreters of the Old, in being put to death by sinners, the service in both cases is rendered to one God, who, varying the lesson to suit the times, teaches both that temporal blessings are to be sought from Him, and that they are to be forsaken for Him, and that temporal distress is both sent by Him and should be endured for Him. There was, therefore, no cruelty in the command, or in the action of Moses, when, in his holy jealousy for his people, whom he wished to be subject to the one true God, on learning that they had fallen away to the worship of an idol made by their own hands, he impressed their minds at the time with a wholesome fear, and gave them a warning for the future, by using the sword in the punishment of a few, whose just punishment God, against whom they had sinned, appointed in the depth of His secret judgment to be immediately inflicted. That Moses acted as he did, not in cruelty, but in great love, may be seen from the words in which he prayed for the sins of the people: “If You will forgive their sin, forgive it; and if not, blot me out of Your book.” The pious inquirer who compares the slaughter with the prayer will find in this the clearest evidence of the awful nature of the injury done to the soul by prostitution to the images of devils, since such love is roused to such anger. We see the same in the apostle, who, not in cruelty, but in love, delivered a man up to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Others, too, he delivered up, that they might learn not to blaspheme…

[S]uch was the intention of Moses, the servant of God, when he cut down with the sword the makers and worshippers of the idol; for his own words show that he so entreated for pardon for their sin of idolatry as to ask to be blotted out of God’s book if his prayer was not heard.

St. Augustine here affirmed the literal historicity of the events that the Gnu Atheists commonly refer to as Biblical atrocities, but added a twist: the terrible punishments that the Israelities suffered in these incidents ensured their forgiveness in the hereafter.

Relevance for Intelligent Design

St. Augustine is often cited by theistic evolutionists (see here) as a theologian whose mindset was hospitable to the modern neo-Darwinian theory of evolution. Unfortunately, theistic evolutionists who make these claims are guilty of the same carelessness as Dr. David Bentley Hart: they haven’t read St. Augustine’s own writings on the subject. Instead, they’ve read essays and scholarly commentaries instead of sitting down and reading the texts themselves. If they did that, they would discover that St. Augustine expressly taught that the world was 6,000 years old (City of God, Book XII, chapter 12); that creatures of all kinds were created instantly at the beginning of time; that Adam and Eve were historical persons; that Paradise was a literal place; that the patriarch Methusaleh actually lived to the age of 969; that there was a literal ark, and that the Flood covered the whole earth; and that he vigorously defended all of these doctrines against skeptics in the fourth century (yes, they existed back then, too), who scoffed at them. The curious reader can confirm what I have read by consulting St. Augustine’s City of God Book XIII and Book XV.

Concluding Advice

Let me finish with a piece of advice for Dr. Hart: if you’re going to defend Christianity, do it intelligently. Don’t misquote sources that even skeptics can check for themselves, and don’t gild the lily. Please portray the past accurately, warts and all.

28 Replies to “Misreading St. Augustine

  1. 1
    Graham says:

    St. Augustine expressly taught that the world was 6,000 years old

    vjtorley: do you believe that ?

  2. 2
    nullasalus says:

    If they did that, they would discover that St. Augustine expressly taught that the world was 6,000 years old; that creatures of all kinds were created instantly at the beginning of time; that Adam and Eve were historical persons

    My understanding is that Augustine also thought that there were no ‘days’ of creation, but that all was created instantaneously – and thus he treated Genesis as involving heavy allegory. He also argued, if I recall right, that our reading of the Bible was to be informed by science where appropriate – and at Augustine’s time, there was just not much that could inform.

    I also understand that the skeptics Augustine was confronting were general ones – the way someone who believed in the greek pantheon may be a skeptic of Christianity.

    Either way: I know of no TEs who suggest that Augustine himself advocated theistic evolution. What they argue is that Augustine is a good example of a church father who read Genesis in a way that was not strictly literal. Insofar as Augustine rejects the idea of days of creation, that seems correct.

  3. 3
    CannuckianYankee says:

    null,

    Why do you suppose then that the TEs consider that having a non-literal approach to days in Genesis leads a modern thinker (not Augustine) to consider Darwinian evolution? Am I misreading them?

    Old Earth Creationists don’t appear to accept that what is translated as “day” (Yom) in Genesis is a literal 24 hour period, yet they don’t exactly arrive at Darwinian evolution as a given when they interpret it that way.

  4. 4
    nullasalus says:

    CY,

    Why do you suppose then that the TEs consider that having a non-literal approach to days in Genesis leads a modern thinker (not Augustine) to consider Darwinian evolution? Am I misreading them?

    Beats me. I’m not defending their arriving at ‘Darwinian Evolution’, and numerous TEs would accept a kind of evolution that most people – ID proponents included – may recognize is not darwinian. (If evolution is preordained and ultimately guided for the purpose of producing particular results, then is it still Darwinian? The answer seems to be ‘no’.)

    I think the only thing most TEs tend to note with Augustine is the allegorical interpretation of some aspects of Genesis. I imagine some would argue that said interpretation affirms something they affirm wholly, even as they affirm evolution. (Again, the Darwinian part is dicey, but there you have it.)

    I was thinking of bringing up the OECs actually, precisely because they could be said to be working off a similar understanding.

  5. 5
    CannuckianYankee says:

    null,

    My question was not intended to assume your views. It was just a question in response to your understanding of Augustine.

    I’ve read a lot of Hugh Ross’s work – particularly with his theology, and I think while he doesn’t take a literal approach to days, he does take a literal approach to scripture in general. I think in his view, the key is in understanding what is intended to be literal and what is not intended to be literal. I think this is also the approach of most YECs, although they differ with their interpretation of “Yom.”

    And of course, the common difference with some TEs seems to be in allegorizing everything, which is clearly not Augustine’s view at all, and yet he apparently did not view God as a “moral monster.” It seems to me that the TE intent in allegorizing is to somehow defend God, who really doesn’t need any defending. I take it that’s your view as well?

  6. 6
    nullasalus says:

    CY,

    My question was not intended to assume your views. It was just a question in response to your understanding of Augustine.

    No, no. It’s all good. I’m just giving where I think the TEs are coming from. In Augustine they do have a church father taking Genesis as something other than literal. Yes, it’s still far afield from what TEs believe nowadays (or OECs for that matter), but they’re not pursuing his specific believe, but his approach to interpreting Genesis.

    It seems to me that the TE intent in allegorizing is to somehow defend God, who really doesn’t need any defending. I take it that’s your view as well?

    I think motivations go beyond defending God – they’re wide and varied. Sometimes a person just wants to defend their pet view, not God. Honestly, I can’t make heads or tails of what Hart is saying in this particular piece, and I haven’t read his books, so I won’t comment on that. I’m actually not aware of many TEs trying to ‘allegorize’, say… God commanding this or that act of sacrifice or violent punishment. I don’t doubt they’re doing it – that lunatic, Dowd, shows just how much people are willing to reinvent Christianity – but until I see it and grok it clearly, I won’t say much.

  7. 7
    CannuckianYankee says:

    null,

    When I say “TE” in this context, I guess I’m referring to Hart in his statement and not to all TEs, although I have come across such allegorizing among several others in that camp, and to be fair, in other camps as well. I attended a rather liberal Christian College in Pennsylvania in the 1980s, so I came across many different views and interpretations.

  8. 8
    Steno says:

    Augustine believed God made ‘all things at once’ because he read the latin translation of the apocrapha wrongly.
    http://creation.com/augustine-.....reationist
    His latter work on the Literal Meaning of Genesis tended to be more literal in terms of days 4-6.
    He believe in the rationes seminales, where God planted potential ‘seeds’ in the earth that would actualise later. McGrath believes this latter idea supports TE, but I think it is problematic. Athanasius Kircher believed in the inorganic plastic theory for fossil formation that seems similar to Augustine’s rationes seminales. Steno believed fossils were of organic origin from the Noahic Flood.
    There was a strong milenial edge in the Church Fathers beliefs holding that earth’s history would be 6000 years reflecting the 6 days of creation. i.e. 1 day of creation = 1000 years of history. Because they used the LXX they thought Christ would return about 500AD at the end of 6000 years, followed by a 1000 years of rest (day 7).

  9. 9
    vjtorley says:

    nullasalus

    Thank you for your posts. Unfortunately there are some theistic evolutionists who have claimed that St. Augustine was an evolutionist. See the following:

    Abusing Theology: Howard Van Till’s “Forgotten Doctrine of Creation’s Functional Integrity” by Dr. Jonathan Wells

    Did the Church Fathers consider the principle of evolution? by Taylor Marshall (March 20, 2009)

    St. Augustine and Evolution by Lewis Loflin

    Augustine’s Origin of Species by Dr. Alister McGrath

    St. Augustine’s theory of rationales seminales was, as Steno correctly points out, most emphatically not an evolutionary one. The “rational seeds” were all made according to their separate kinds, at the beginning of time.

  10. 10
    Mung says:

    “Certainly, ah, I wondered about this part though: Dawkins and Hitchens especially attack the God of the Old Testament as a moral monster.…”

    Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God

  11. 11
    Mung says:

    Good stuff VJT. Thanks.

    And I love the “Relevance to Intelligent Design” idea!

    Traditionally, there are four senses of Scripture, which are outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 115-119:

    Making Sense Out of Scripture: the Four Best Kept Secrets in Biblical Studies Today

    I was asked by a friend to write something explaining the four meanings of Holy Scripture as taught by St. Thomas: namely, the historical (or literal), the allegorical, the tropological (or moral), and the anagogical. I am glad to comply with this request, because I am convinced that the crisis in the Church today is due in large part to the failure to interpret Holy Scripture as God intended and as the Church has consistently understood it.

    The Four Meanings in Holy Scripture

  12. 12
    Mung says:

    David Bentley Hart is also the author if Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies

    I can’t recall whether he addresses the moral argument, and the index is proper names not subjects.

    But here’s what he writes about Augustine and interpretation that I could find:

    When he [Galileo] appealed to the church father’s to Augustine in particular, in defense of his claim that the scriptures ought not to be regarded as a resource for scientific descriptions of reality, he was entirely in the right. The ancient and mediaeval church had always acknowledged that the Bible ought to be read allegorically in many instances, according to the spiritual doctrines of the church, and that the principle truths of scripture are not confined to its literal level, which often reflects only the minds of its human authors. Origen, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssas, Augustine – all denied that, for instance, the creation story in Genesis was an actual historical record of how the world was made (Augustine did write what he called a “literal” interpretation of Genesis, but it was not literal in any sense a modern fundamentalist would recognize). And figures as distant from one another in time as Augustine and Aquinas cautioned against exposing scripture to ridicule by mistaking the Bible for a scientific treatise.

  13. 13
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Mung,

    Thanks for the links. I’ve read Copan’s article, and it’s a very comprehensive discussion of the subject.

    As regards St. Augustine: Hart is simply wrong; Galileo mis-read the true meaning of St. Augustine’s writings, and nearly everyone has followed him since. Hart is, it seems, replying on a mistaken “pro-Galileo” interpretation of Augustine’s writings, which was popularized by Professor Ernan McMullin, in particular in his essay, “Galileo on Science and Scripture,” in The Cambridge Companion to Galileo, ed. Peter Machamer (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 271-347. An incomplete online copy of his essay can be viewed here:

    http://books.google.com/books?.....38;f=false

    For a succinct summary of Professor McMullin’s principles, I would recommend Professor Craig Boyd’s article, Using Galileo: A Developmental and Historical Approach.

    For a more correct interpretation of St. Augustine’s exegetical principles, see this essay by Dr. Gregory Dawes:

    Could There Be Another Galileo Case?

    I wrote about Aquinas’ and Augustine’s exegetical principles here:

    http://www.angelfire.com/linux.....omas3.html

    Thank you once again.

  14. 14
    PaV says:

    VJT:

    This is Book XII, Chapter XI, in its entirety:

    There are some, again, who, though they do not suppose that this world is eternal, are of opinion either that this is not the only world, but that there are numberless worlds or that indeed it is the only one, but that it dies, and is born again at fixed intervals, and this times without number; but they must acknowledge that the human race existed before there were other men to beget them. For they cannot suppose that, if the whole world perish, some men would be left alive in the world, as they might survive in floods and conflagrations, which those other speculators suppose to be partial, and from which they can therefore reasonably argue that a few then survived whose posterity would renew the population; but as they believe that the world itself is renewed out of its own material, so they must believe that out of its elements the human race was produced, and then that the progeny of mortals sprang like that of other animals from their parents.

    As I read this, my distinct impression is that St. Augustine is saying that those who believe in a regenerating world (“Big Bang” followed by “Big Crunch”, followed by “Big Bang”, etc., to put into a modern perspective) “must” then also believe that animals, and then humans, came about strictly via the “elements” left behind after the destruction of the prior world.

    I don’t know about you, but this seems to me to be a direct repudiation of theistic evolution. That is, there is NOTHING in the elements that allows them, all by their little-old selves, to refashion the life existent in a prior world. But, of course, this is exactly what TEs say, is it not?

  15. 15
    PaV says:

    An additional thought: where Augustine adds the distinction between believing that animals could refashion themselves from remnant elements and having to also believe that humans arose from their animal forebears, it seems to me to suggest that Augustine would have had to say, at the very least, that Adam was created “specially”–which, again to me, seems to then open up the door to the idea of a series of “special creations” (that is, if mankind is created “specially” in time, then why could other animal ‘kinds’ not have been “specially created” in time as well?

  16. 16
    tragic mishap says:

    Genesis 1 has little or nothing to do with a young earth conclusion. The “yom” thing was a device used by old-earthers to argue the Bible allows for an old earth.

    But if you had asked Augustine why he believed in a six thousand year old earth (roughly), he would have cited the genealogies in Gen 5 and 11 as well as the ages of the other patriarchs in Genesis, not Genesis 1. That’s where the number comes from after all. The only reason Genesis 1 is even mentioned at all is because there are so many Christian old-earthers now.

  17. 17
    Mung says:

    Egregious Blunder Number 2: Asserting that people in antiquity did not believe in interpreting a text in accordance with the intentions of the author

    I don’t find this one so difficult to believe.

    For example, we have people today who think that when Jesus said, “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies run for the hills,” that he actually meant this for people who weren’t going to come along for a couple thousand more years. Same thing with the book of Revelation.

    Have people changed that much?

  18. 18
    CannuckianYankee says:

    Mung at 10,

    Good reference for Copan’s book. I downloaded a copy to my kindle a couple of weeks ago and have read a couple of chapters. Very insightful. Hopefully I will find time to finish reading it with all the other reading I have planned. 😉

  19. 19
    vjtorley says:

    Mung (#17)

    You wrote: “We have people today who think that when Jesus said, ‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, run for the hills,’ that he actually meant this for people who weren’t going to come along for a couple thousand more years.”

    Jesus was the author of those words. Either He meant to refer to an event within the lifetime of His hearers (the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70) or He meant to refer to a future event. I’m inclined to believe the former. But whichever way He meant it, both sides can agree that it’s what Jesus meant that matters. And if Luke, who recorded His words, was inspired by the Holy Spirit, then we can also say that whatever he meant in writing down those words is what they actually mean. (To say, as some modernists do, that God meant one thing and Luke, with his first-century mindset, meant another, is tantamount to saying that God used poor old Luke as an unwitting tool, which is not very nice.)

    Whichever way you slice it and dice it, this saying of Jesus only goes to confirm that we should interpret a text in accordance with the intentions of the author.

  20. 20
    vjtorley says:

    tragic mishap

    I’m afraid I can’t agree with your reding of Genesis 1. The article, The meaning of yôm in Genesis 1:1–2:4 by Francis Humphrey, convincingly demonstrates that it means a day, not an era of time.

    St. Augustine actually believed that all things were created instantaneously at the beginning of time, and that the days were not periods of time but stages in God’s enlightenment of the angels about the works that He had made. So if Augustine believed that man was 6,000 years old, he would have said the same for the world.

  21. 21
    PaV says:

    vjt:

    St. Augustine actually believed that all things were created instantaneously at the beginning of time, and that the days were not periods of time but stages in God’s enlightenment of the angels about the works that He had made.

    Where, exactly, is this found? I looked through books you linked through looking for a title that might apply to creation, and didn’t see one. Can you give some exact chapters? Thanks.

    Also, I was hoping you might comment on my two previous posts and its implications for “theistic evolution”.

  22. 22
    vjtorley says:

    Hi PaV,

    Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. Aquinas discusses St. Augustine’s views on creation, and gives some explicit textual references, in his Quaestiones Disputatae de Potentia Dei Q. IV article II, at http://dhspriory.org/thomas/QDdePotentia.htm#4:2 . For example, in his De Genesi ad litteram, iv, 34, he states that all the works of the six days took place at the same time.

    For more on St. Augustine’s views on creation, see http://books.google.com/books?.....38;f=false

    and scroll back to page 74.

    Sorry. Have to go to work now. Be back later.

  23. 23
    nullasalus says:

    VJTorley,

    Unfortunately there are some theistic evolutionists who have claimed that St. Augustine was an evolutionist.

    The claim seems to be that Augustine believed that God in essence planted certain ‘seeds’ in nature, and from those seeds certain creative developments were able to take place. That’s not quite evolution by itself, certainly not an evolution as most TEs would posit it, but fair enough.

    Regardless, I still note that Augustine clearly regarded Genesis 1 as containing allegory – and the allegorical reading of Genesis by him and others is the point I’ve seen TEs make when arguing for a TE rendition of Genesis. Yes, Augustine still believed in a 6000 year old earth. But he did not take those “days” literally, nor did he view God’s acts of creation as successive. Further, given that Augustine made at least some interpretations of the bible conditional on extra-biblical knowledge (scientific seems like it would qualify), it does seem the TEs are right to make use of Augustine, at least to a point.

  24. 24
    vjtorley says:

    PaV

    I’ve finally tracked down the references you wanted. They’re fiendishly difficult to get hold of online, as they come from a work of St. Augustine’s which, 1600 years after he wrote it, is still not available online in English, even though most of his other works are available online (see http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/ ). The work I’m referring to is his De Genesi ad Litteram. Latin and Italian translations are available online, but not English.

    For St. Augustine’s views on the days of creation, you might like to have a look at this article :

    The Days of Creation according to St. Augustine by Msgr. John F. McCarthy. In the article you can find the following extract:

    It is, furthermore, his studied opinion that all the matter in the universe was created at the same instant of time. Thus, the formless matter mentioned in verse two is understood to have had a certain priority of origin but not of time over the specific things mentioned in the succeeding verses. Matter and form are divided in the account, but they were created simultaneously. 18 While admitting that for God to make something incomplete and then to complete it has nothing reprehensible in it, St. Augustine sees the “six days” as a distribution only of narrative and not of time. 19 Thus, in his view, God “created all things together” (Ecclesiasticus 18:1), but separated them into six days in the account for those who could understand only piece by piece. 20 So the six days of the creation account are presented in the order in which they are known to the blessed angels, having before and after in the connection of the creatures but simultaneity in the effectiveness of the Creator.” 21It is, furthermore, his studied opinion that all the matter in the universe was created at the same instant of time. Thus, the formless matter mentioned in verse two is understood to have had a certain priority of origin but not of time over the specific things mentioned in the succeeding verses. Matter and form are divided in the account, but they were created simultaneously. (18) While admitting that for God to make something incomplete and then to complete it has nothing reprehensible in it, St. Augustine sees the “six days” as a distribution only of narrative and not of time. (19) Thus, in his view, God “created all things together” (Ecclesiasticus 18:1), but separated them into six days in the account for those who could understand only piece by piece. (20) So the six days of the creation account are presented in the order in which they are known to the blessed angels, having before and after in the connection of the creatures but simultaneity in the effectiveness of the Creator.” (21)

    ….

    St. Augustine made several unsatisfactory attempts to find a chronological explanation of the six days of creation in Genesis 1 while he was working on his intellectual interpretation of its literal sense. But he wondered why it should have taken Almighty God six days to effect the creation, and he opted instead for the simultaneous creation of the whole world. He puzzled over the creation of light on the first day, if the sun, the moon, and the stars came into place only on the fourth day. What would such a light-source be and how could its encircling a formless, unsolidified earth for two days have been able to cast the shadow of night? (28) Not having found a satisfactory solution to this question, he considered the possibility that the light created on the first day was a spiritual light, coming after darkness in the sense that the minds of angels were enlightened and formed by their Creator from the supernaturally unformed state of their natural knowledge, so that their natural knowledge of their own nature is referred to as evening of the first day, and the elevation of that knowledge to the vision and praise of the Light which is God Himself is referred to as morning of the first day. (29)

    Here are the footnotes, with references to St. Augustine’s works:

    18. De Genesi ad litteram, I, 15-16.

    19. De Gen. ad litt., II,15; IV, 32; imperf. lib., 7.

    20. De Gen. ad litt., IV, 33.

    21. De Gen. ad litt., IV, 35.

    28. De Gen. ad litt., V, 1.

    29. De Gen. ad litt., IV, 21.

    Hope that helps.

  25. 25
    vjtorley says:

    PaV

    Here is what St. Augustine thought about the creation of living things, according to the same article at http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt47.html :

    In Augustine’s view, the text of Genesis is saying that in the beginning the ground received from God the (passive) power to produce plants, so that the things that would come into being over the spread of time were, so to speak, in the ground as in the “roots of the ages.” Thus, since all the kinds (naturae) of plants and trees were contained in the first creation, from which God rested, from then on moving and governing through the passing years those very same things which He had created, He then proceeded to plant all the things which are being born even until now. (89)

    But Augustine does not maintain that the various things described as made by God during the six days of creation appeared full-blown in the first instant of time. Rather, he says, when God made all things together, He made them “hiddenly” and in the secret recesses of nature, (98) that is, potentially and causally, so as to become visible over the due course of time. (99) Augustine is here treating principally but not exclusively of living things, as he describes their existence in the first instant of creation: they were made in seed, (100) not meaning the seed which they themselves produce, but in primordial packages, (101) in the causal order as the seeds of future things. (102) They are causal reasons (causales rationes) instilled by God into the things themselves. (103) Thus was the earth given a certain power to produce (producendi virtus), (104) an invisible inner potency to be unfolded over the ages, (105) not without creative divine interventions and not without the guidance of God’s providence. (106)

    References:

    89. De Gen. ad litt., V, 4.

    98. De Gen. ad litt., VI, 1.

    99. De Gen. ad litt., VI, 4.

    100. De Gen. ad litt., VI, 5.

    101. De Gen. ad litt., VI, 6.

    102. De Gen. ad litt., VI, 11.

    103. De Gen. ad litt., VII, 22.

    104. De Gen. ad litt., VIII, 3.

    105. De Gen. ad litt., VIII, 8.

    106. De Gen. ad litt., IV, 12; VI, 14.

    Three things are evident here:

    (i) the earth’s capacity to produce living things was a purely passive one – in response to God’s creative command;

    (ii) God still had to intervene;

    (iii) according to St. Augustine, these seeds were made according to their species. St. Augustine is not envisaging common descent.

    As regards the creation of man and the higher animals, St. Augustine’s favored theory was that the seeds of all these creatures were made at the very beginning of time. Later on, God formed these creatures, and (in man’s case) infused a rational soul. So the work of Genesis 2 came after the work of Genesis 1.

    If you have a look at the Google book reference to Fr. Copleston’s History of Philosophy (scroll back to p. 74), you can find out more about St. Augustine’s theory of “rational seeds”. Personally I don’t buy it, because the notion of creating a purely passive potency at the beginning of time makes no philosophical sense. Everything that exists has some active properties. Nothing can be totally passive, as Augustine evidently thought the seeds were.

    I should add that according to Fr. Copleston, St. Augustine held that the seeds created at the beginning were not just those of the first plants and animals, but those of every plant and animal that would ever exist. They were all created germinally, at the beginning of time. Sounds bizarre? I think so too.

    By the way, sorry for the duplication in my last post.

  26. 26
    vjtorley says:

    nullasalus

    I hope my last two posts answered some of your questions. I may write more on the subject later.

  27. 27
    francisaddison says:

    It seems to me you have been quite anxious to jump on DBH. It must have been hard to insert all those little pauses and uh’s, etc. Reading your transcription was much more difficult than actually listening to him. Why did you include all those? He was confident in what he said and I did not perceive an embarrassed laugh.

    On top of that, he is not wrong.
    He asserts, “The intentions of the author of Genesis differ – perhaps entirely – from what a Christian is to make of them.” And you say this is the complete opposite?

    The opposite of DBH’s statement would be, “The intentions of the author are the mostly-maybe exactly-the same as what a Christian is to make of them.”

    However, Augustine does not say that opposite statement. Augustine says there can be multiple meanings and they may all be true. Augustine does not say that those multiple meanings would not oppose one another. They can, in fact. It is an ancient idea held by augustine and by DBH. Two opposing ideas, even if apparently opposite may, in fact, both be true. They are sometimes called antinomies.

    You attempt to point out another fault of Hart’s by providing what you think is proof of a literal reading/understanding of the text by the ancients.

    Yet, you are wrong that Tertullian and Augustine are doing this…and for several reasons:

    1. The Catechism is talking about the intention of the author of the text. This could be an original author or redactor. The author and redactor might intend a literal reading or an allegorical reading. You then say,
    “clearly teaches that the meaning of Scripture consists in what the human authors intended to affirm…”
    The quote of Augustine earlier did not say this and the Catechism does not say this. It does affirm that the author is important and his meaning significant…however, it can be interpreted interpreted “in the light of the same Spirit…” This is far from saying the exact same meaning. Do you think Isaiah intended to be talking about Jesus Christ when he spoke of Emmanuel? Or that the author of Genesis intended the 2nd Adam when he wrote about the first?

    Perhaps the author of the OT text you cite in your 3rd critique (kings) was describing an actual situation in which he saw a bear tear apart the boys. The intention of the author was to describe the bear tearing apart the boys and read this as God justly punishing them. The author did not intend to be talking about the ‘children’ Marcion equates them with. So Tertullian points out the error of misreading the word, but describes the just judgement of God for Tertullian’s contemporary, Marcion. Did the original author intend this. NO! the original author intended to talk about his time…that is a literal/author intention.

    Augustine does the same: takes the author’s intention and applies it to Christ: “Let none then mock the Cross of Christ.”

    This is allegory…this is reading into the text. That is why we do not follow the ‘letter’ but the ‘spirit’ as the Catechism right says and you wrongly interpret.

    On top of that, historical-critical study has shown that most authors of the OT were not describing literal situations but already doing a whole admixture of things…and the OT develops in a way that redactors and new authors are constantly applying and interpreting anew.

    And I am curious if you have actually understood DBH’s critique of ID?

  28. 28
    vjtorley says:

    Graham (#1)

    In answer to your question, I believe in an old Earth and an old universe. I’m aware, of course, that the word “yom” in Genesis 1 means “day”, not “period of time”, and I’m also aware that the early Church Fathers, including Origen and St. Augustine, believed in a cosmos less than 10,000 years old. Nevertheless, the evidence for an old Earth is overwhelming: there are multiple coverging lines of evidence from the sciences.

    Personally, I believe that Professor William Dembski’s proposed solution in The End of Christianity is the most likely one: that the days are days from a “God’s-eye” point of view, and that they represent the order in which He planned creation, as opposed to the chronological order in which it was executed – which is why the days in Genesis don’t match up with the fossil record. The framework hypothesis conveys something of this point, although Professor Demsbki’s statement of this idea is much more robust, as he makes it explicit that the six days are an objective feature of creation: they really do represent the Divine plan for making the world, and are not just a literary device.

    Sorry for my delay in answering. Hope that helps.

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