Jonathan Sarfati has a piece at Answers in Genesis titled “ID theorist blunders on Bible: Reply to Dr William Dembski.” In it he remarks (quoting me):
Misrepresenting the Church Fathers
Dr William Dembski [WD]: “Let me concede that young earth creationism was largely the position of the church from the Church Fathers through the Reformers.”
This makes a pleasant change from progressive creationist Hugh Ross, who has long claimed that most of the church believed in long creation days. See the articles under Church Fathers and Reformers for documentation.
WD: “(though there were exceptions, such as Origen and Augustine).”
This is simply not true.
Origen: Ã¢â‚¬ËœAfter these statements, Celsus, from a secret desire to cast discredit upon the Mosaic account of the creation, which teaches that the world is not yet ten thousand years old, but very much under that, while concealing his wish, intimates his agreement with those who hold that the world is uncreated. For, maintaining that there have been, from all eternity, many conflagrations and many deluges, and that the flood which lately took place in the time of Deucalion is comparatively modern, he clearly demonstrates to those who are able to understand him, that, in his opinion, the world was uncreated. But let this assailant of the Christian faith tell us by what arguments he was compelled to accept the statement that there have been many conflagrations and many cataclysms, and that the flood which occurred in the time of Deucalion, and the conflagration in that of Phaethon, were more recent than any others.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Contra Celsum (Against Celsus) 1.19, Ante-Nicene Fathers 4:404.
Augustine: Ã¢â‚¬ËœLet us, then, omit the conjectures of men who know not what they say, when they speak of the nature and origin of the human race. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Augustine, Of the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the WorldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Past, De Civitate Dei (The City of God), 12(10).
Dembski (like many others, who have apparently only read secondary literature on this matter) has confused their uncertainty about the length of the creation days with rejection of a young earth, which they unambiguously affirmed. And their rejection of literal days was not based on the text, but on outside influencesÃ¢â‚¬â€just like long-age compromise today, which is based on imposing long-age Ã¢â‚¬ËœscienceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ upon Scripture. Origen and Augustine belonged to the Alexandrian school, which was prone to allegorization, largely because of their neo-Platonic philosophy. They apparently couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t bear to have GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s creative acts in time, so they allegorized the days to an instant. Of course, this is diametrically opposite to what long-agers claim! But there was a perfectly good Hebrew word available for Ã¢â‚¬ËœmomentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ or Ã¢â‚¬ËœinstantÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ (regaÃ¢â‚¬Ëœ), if thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what God had intended to communicate in Genesis 1.
For the record, I have read the primary literature. Origen explicitly questioned the order of days by asking how the sun and moon could be created on day four when light was created on day one and yet depends on such heavenly bodies for its existence. Likewise, Augustine, in his Literal Commentary on Genesis, speaks of a simultaneous creation (by the way, Augustine was never part of the Alexandrian school — he did not write in Greek and his command of the Greek language was poor). Neither of these is therefore a Young Earth Creationist position as it is understood today, which requires a strict face-value interpretation of Genesis (six exact 24-hour days). And even though strictly speaking they held to a recent Earth (thousands rather than billions of years old), it seems that the liberties they were willing to take with Genesis could easily lead to further liberties regarding the age of the Earth, especially when the findings of the best science of the day are factored in. Although hypotheticals are always difficult to assess, I think a case could be made that the younger, more philosophical, Origen could have been open to this possibility, though the later Origen, who devoted himself solely to biblical studies may not have (I’m not an Origen scholar, but that’s my best guess).
As for Augustine, Sarfati and his colleagues at AiG need also to factor in the following remark by Augustine (again from his Literal Commentary on Genesis):
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men…. Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by these who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.
If Augustine were alive today and followed his own advice here, where would he come down on the age of the Earth, especially since his hermeneutic of Scripture was not that of today’s Young Earth Creationists (cf. Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine)? If the Old Earth Creationists cannot co-opt Augustine (and I never said that they could), neither can the Young Earth Creationists.