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[Tangentially Related:] Augustine and Origen in relation to YEC

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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: ‘After 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.’ Contra Celsum (Against Celsus) 1.19, Ante-Nicene Fathers 4:404.

Augustine: ‘Let 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. … 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.’ Augustine, Of the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World’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 influences—just like long-age compromise today, which is based on imposing long-age ‘science’ upon Scripture. Origen and Augustine belonged to the Alexandrian school, which was prone to allegorization, largely because of their neo-Platonic philosophy. They apparently couldn’t bear to have God’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 ‘moment’ or ‘instant’ (rega‘), if that’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.

Thank you scordova for calling attention to my Rivista di Biologia paper in your post #9. It can go a long way in explaining why I have rejected Darwinism in favor of the Semi-meiotic hypthesis (SMH) and, more recently, my Prescribed Evolutionary Hypothesis (PEH). They are two aspects of the same basic mechanism, the SMH being the mechanism by which the PEH was expressed. Thank you again. John Davison
Can I make this comment on the Church Fathers? It is patently inconsistent and dare I say ridiculous for a fundamentalist or evangelical to appeal to the Church Fathers when they do not accept the UNANIMOUS teaching of the Church Fathers on: (1) the Eucharist as the literal body and blood of Christ (2) the Eucharist as the sacrifice of Christ made present (3) the ministerial priesthood (4) a hierarchy of bishops, priests, and deacons (5) apostolic succession, that the bishops succeed the authority of the apostles (6) Baptism as conferring regeneration or "new life" where we are "born again" (7) that the Bible, Tradition, and Church authority (e.g. Ecumenical Councils) are inseparable authorities (there was no sola scriptura or Bible alone in the early Church) These are just some of the teachings found throughout all the Fathers. I am not sympathetic AT ALL with a fundamentalist or evangelical Christian young-earther who suggests they listen to the Church Fathers for one second. They do not. They reject ALL Christian teaching of the Church Fathers except the bare minimum of the Creeds -- and even there they do not believe in "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church" or "one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins" as it was understood by the Fathers, Creeds, and Councils. Only Orthodox and Catholics are consistent there. PLEASE read Anglican JND Kelly's Early Christian Doctrines, or the Lutheran (now Orthodox) Pelikan's The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (volume 1) if you don't believe me. Phil P PhilVaz
Sounds suspiciously close to the opening of Genesis: "...Let there be light..." Scott
DaveScot, Excellent point. My timeline was never meant to be descriptive, just anecdotal. Qualiatative
Light existed long before there were stars. The cosmic microwave background, the prediction that confirmed the big bang theory, is the remnant of the first light when the universe cooled enough so that matter coalesced and the universe became transparent to light. I thought everyone knew that. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_microwave_background_radiation DaveScot
I want to add that if the abovementioned sequence of events is indeed the meaning of Genesis then the perspective of the "day" changes and there is no reliance upon a 24-hour Earth day. Qualiatative
"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."
This is an idea that I have heard before, but I had never attributed it to a particular scholar. Although I am far from a YEC, I don't think Origen’s argument holds. It is possible that the timeline of events happened as follows: 1.) Big Bang 2.) Outgrowth of stars (e.g. light) and planets 3.) budding off of sun an moon from their progenitor planetary bodies The sequence of this timeline would correlate to the sequence of "days" (read: yom) in Genesis. Qualiatative
Just out of interest...how do OEC people explain Rom 5:12-21? arowell
I'm with Salvador in #2. "Even I, who am openly sympathetic to YEC feel AiG’s dogmatism is counter productive. (Agreed!) "It’s counter productive for AiG to be labelling fellow Christians.... (Agreed!) "...a fine example of what I consider the appropriate approach to YEC (similar to ID) is MIT PhD, Walter Brown and Barry Setterfield...." (Thanks for the info.) I am sympathetic to YEC, but in my opinion, ID offers support fairly and equally to all comers EXCEPT Neo-Darwinian materialists. ID says, "Look, this biological structure bears evidence of design," and stops right there. The focus is on evidence that we can examine. "Let's subject our observations to mathematical scrutiney. It stands up. Let's have the engineers look at it. It stands up." If YEC is the best explanation, what we *observe* with our own eyes does not negate it. Red Reader
Umm, I'm pretty sure that Augustine believed in creation ex nihilo, not out of pre-existing eternal matter. geoffrobinson
Guys, the earth is clearly billions of years old. Why try to change that? And worst of all--why use the bible to justify it? Usurper
I have twice seen Safarti represent the literal 6-day creation argument, and it is very compelling. If it was not 6 literal days, a huge amount of other problems arise that IMHO take far more effort to resolve than simply believe in a 6-day creation. Shane
Perhaps Biology keeps finding "complete surprises" for the same reason that physics, chemestry, geology and all the sciences do: They keep looking. It's only when you stop looking at the world around you that you stop being surprised. mje
As a former member of the Eastern Orthodox church, I can assert that they, at least, do not hold to a 6-day creation. At approximately the time of the councils, there were 5 important bishoprics, and of these only one - Rome - is not now eastern Orthodox. I don't know about Origen, but the point about Augustine is that he believed in the eternity of matter, uncreated. Perhaps he thought God made the world, but he used matter that was lying about, eternally present. This was the school of thought which he came from, as far as I have read. This is false, and I am gratified that he proved he had so shallow an understanding of God, because I consider both Augustine and Aquinas thoroughly discredited. No one should give a hoot what they said or thought. They both taught that in heaven the saved will enjoy the spectacle of the sufferings of the damned. This sort of dispiriting, diabolical trash has confused the minds of men long enough. Is it any wonder church history went the way it did? Is it any wonder Darwin said he couldn't understand why anyone would want the Christian message to be true? avocationist
Thanks Scordova I appreciate your reply Ill check out Johns post. WormHerder
You asked for my thoughts, and I would, rather than argue theology, encourage you to be skeptical, like a good scientist, of the inferences that Darwinists draw on your behalf when they present data proving their theory. It's becoming a common experience that they're often scientifically wrong.... It's tempting to think that similar genes and anatomy imply common descent. After all we see children looking like their parents. But can this be extrapolated universally? The answer is no. There are organism which share common traits, even DNA's and proteins, which cannot in anyway be attributed to common descent. We typically call this a convergence. For example the similarities of eye are not attributable to common descent alone, nor can it be (even Dawkins aknowledges this). We're seeing convergence even at the molecular level! And for your edification, John Davison has an excellent take on the convergence of sexual reproduction, which I delight to share with our IDEA chapters and which you might find some interest in: http://www.uvm.edu/~jdavison/dpaper.html Richard Sternberg rightly called such anomalies "Darwinian Epicycles". Perhaps rather than viewing these inversions as inherited copying errors, they may well be marks of common design, and may serve a yet-to-be discovered useful function. I've read in passing the pallindrome inversions in primates are being found to have function, and what will we do with inversions found between non-chimp primates and humans that don't exist in chimps? The thesis that these supposed similarites are proof of Darwinian evolution begins to break down, and common design becomes more compelling alternative explanation. Also, the junk DNA "proof" of Darwinism is beginning to fall apart as we see that the supposed copying errors are probably not errors at all. The "junk" label is evidence of their prejudice against design, not evidence that the DNA is actually junk.... Convergences at the molecular level has shown that similarity no longer implies common descent. The question then becomes are Darwinian mechanisms adequate to make an ape-like creature into a human and into a chimp. The answer is no. One still might accept common descent, but it would have to be pre-ordained. The reason? Population genetics, which had been hoped to rescue Darwinian evolution has ended up speeding it's rejection. Oh, the die-hards won't admit it, but behind closed doors many of them know Darwinian theory is dying... scordova
Guys I wonder if you can help me? I am a christian who is confused about how to interpret the origins account in Genesis. It seems ID is a broad umbrella as demonstrated in the 60 odd replies to Davescotts common descent post. I belive there are unique genetic events such as inversions,psuedogenes and telomere to telomere fusion such as seen in chromosome 2 which are common to some primates and humans-thereby establishing a link difficult to deny and not dependant on bone fragments. http://www.scienceandchristianbelief.org/articles/finlay.pdf So that information is on one hand while I have this quote from Dr Francis Schaeffer on the other: 'They say they are being more honest to reason,but in reality as they hold a split between the spiritual elements in the Bible and and the Bible's teaching in regard to space-time and the cosmos,they are the advocates of a new non-reason.They are the destroyers of the of the wholeness of life. No,such a Bible is neither what Christ sets forth,nor what is needed to withstand the secular,relativistic,humanism is the enemy of Christianity and the enemy of the freedoms we have had in the reformation countries.' (From a L'abri pamphlet). I suspect alot of people have jumped onto ID in the hope of reconcilling the data with the revelation -I realise that ID appeals to more people than those of a Judeo christian persuasion. Anythoughts? cheers. WormHerder
Midlife! Excellent. That would explain the crisis. Charlie
I'm surprised that no-one defends "middle-aged earth," the view that the earth is between 500,000 to 1,000,000 years old but doesn't look a day over 495,532. This is the "Dick Clark Earth" option. :-) fbeckwith
anteater, I think it was Hugh Ross's gang: http://www.reasons.org Bombadill
Remember which creationist organization openly praised the Dover decision. anteater
You hit the nail on the head, sal. Well put. Bombadill
Even I, who am openly sympathetic to YEC feel AiG's dogmatism is counter productive. I was an OEC 4 years ago until Paul Davies appeared in Nature, August 2002 and brought back variable speed of light on the table. It's counter productive for AiG to be labelling fellow Christians as "Old Earth Compromisers". Rather than appealing to theology and creeds as "proof" and ignoring very legitimate objections to YEC theory, it would be better for them to parallel the more modest example set forth by those within ID, where a hypothesis is offered for consideration, and where acceptance or rejection of a hypothesis is not equated with a persons moral character, as AiG is eager to do.... For what it's worth, a fine example of what I consider the appropriate approach to YEC (similar to ID) is MIT PhD, Walter Brown and Barry Setterfield. Their quality work has been given a negative to lukewarm reception by ICR and AiG, and hence I'm lukewarm toward AiG.... To see what a cutting edge YEC cosmology model looks like, go to: http://www.setterfield.org/quantumredshift.htm Salvador scordova
This post is spot-on. Whether the church fathers believed in "long" days or an old earth is totally irrelevant. They had nothing pushing them to long days or an old earth--so it would have been absurd for any of them to hold such a view. The relevant question is whether they held to literal 24 hour days in the Genesis account. Many of them did not, including Origen and Augustine. The fact that Origen never said that he thought the earth was 4.5 billion years old does not mean that, were he alive today, and was aware of the science, that he would be a YEC. In fact, if he were a YEC, it wouldn't be an AiG-type YEC, because, again, he did not affirm each day = 24 hours. Given that they were open to such views as one creation day = 1000 years (so that Adam did in fact "die" on the day he disobeyed, as God promised) suggests that, if they were alive today, at least some would be flexible towards the yom=age interpretation, which harmonizes special revelation with general revelation (science). Unlike AiG, the Church fathers were not dogmatic about any particular interpretation of the "days" of Genesis. When the AiG argues that the church fathers were not old earthers, they are employing a red herring. Let them try to argue whether the church fathers taught of a literal 144 hour creation. David Heddle

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