St. Augustine’s Deference to Science and Reason

I just finished reading Francisco J. Ayala‘s Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion and came across this quote from St. Augustine‘s [AD 354-430] The Literal Meaning of Genesis. I find it extremely profound and relevant to the modern-day creation/evolution debate:

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 the 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 writer 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.

If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

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 those 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 assertions.

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One Response to St. Augustine’s Deference to Science and Reason

  1. I think this is an excellent representation of why we as Christians must not simply sit back and say, "Well, in the end, our origins aren't really what matters so anyone can think what they will. The real important things are regarding salvation.". That is what I would have said just minutes ago before reading this post and the one a few before it on why the debate over creationism matters. I have long since given up my YEC/OEC ideas in favor of EC after watching an excellent lecture (but unfortuanately I can't remember why by) on the topic of integrating his Christian faith and his scientific career, specifically regarding the topic of origins. I am now reading through your blog years later as I am realizing the extent to which many Christians around me disregard the idea of evolution and, as St. Augustine said, lead those more intelligent to believe the scripture to be full of falsehoods. Thank you for your excellent blog!

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