10 December 2007

Saint Augustine and Evolution

In Lecture 25 (Evolution, the answer to the biological explosion) I already mentioned Augustine of Hippo as a man of the Church who did not see a contradiction between the Biblical account of the origin of the world and scientific insight.

I now came across a quote from his work The Literal Interpretation of Genesis that should give the defenders of creationism something to think about: One of the most venerated "Fathers of the Church" defends science against blind interpretation of the Bible. Here is what Saint Augustine had to say in 408 AD:

"It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation."

(The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20, Chapt. 19 [AD 408]; found in the Wikipedia entry for Augustine.)

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