googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Augustine was a Young-Earth Creationist!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Augustine was a Young-Earth Creationist!

Unfortunately there are many Christians who believe in evolution. Many in this category only believe because they were taught in school that “evolution is a fact.” A few others, however, are more firmly committed to evolution – even “militant” about it. Folks of this stripe are a little more studied and practiced in their arguments. In their attempts to reconcile evolution with Scriptures, one subject they will inevitably raise is an appeal to certain church patriarchs with Augustine perhaps being the most often cited.

By way of example, I found this interesting excerpt from a site called SMSC Resources:

It is often overlooked by ‘Young Earth’ advocates that, even before Darwin published his Origin of Species in 1859, scientists as well as Christians holding a high regard for the Bible, accepted that the Earth was very old indeed. Early Church Fathers such as Origen (born c. 185 AD) and Augustine (354-430 AD), long before modern geology developed, had understood the references to ‘days’ as intended by the writer in a figurative manner:

"What man of intelligence, I ask, will consider as a reasonable statement that the first and the second and the third day, in which there are said to be both morning and evening, existed without sun and moon and stars, while the first day was even without a heaven? … I do not think anyone will doubt that these are figurative expressions." [Origen]
"Christians should not talk nonsense to unbelievers … Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world … 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." [Augustine]
Most old-earth creationists or theistic evolutionists who appeal to the church fathers, handle their quotes a little more carefully than we see here. SMSC Resource's characterization of the beliefs of Origen and Augustine is grossly misleading. Admittedly, Origen, Augustine, and a few others did hold “non-literal” views the days in Genesis, which is precisely what makes them so popular among old-earth Christians. It gives them great comfort while advancing their own “non-literal” views of Genesis. In the broader context of all of their writings, however, the understanding of Scriptures held by the church fathers are not at all similar to modern, old-earth views. To suggest that Augustine and others accepted the notion that earth was “very old indeed”, as suggested above, is patently false.

First, it should not be forgotten that the opinions of the church patriarchs are not Scripture. The Scriptures are not dependent on the interpretations of the church fathers but rather their opinions must be validated by Scripture. Even if the patriarchs held the views being attributed to them, that does not make modern, old-earth theories correct Secondly, I would also ask why “non-literal days” must necessarily mean “millions of years”? Augustine believed, rather, that everything was created in an instant. Consider the following quote from his work, Confessions:

Thus, they have their successions of morning and evening, partly hidden, partly plain. For they were made from nothing by thee, and not from thyself, and not from any matter that is not thine, or that was created beforehand. They were created from concreated matter--that is, matter that was created by thee at the same time that thou didst form its formlessness, without any interval of time. Yet, since the matter of heaven and earth is one thing and the form of heaven and earth is another thing, thou didst create matter out of absolutely nothing (de omnino nihilo), but the form of the world thou didst form from formless matter (de informi materia). But both were done at the same time, so that form followed matter with no delaying interval.

We can see in this passage that Augustine did not ascribe long ages to the days of creation. He believed that God created matter and then formed it instantaneously into the heavens and earth “without any interval of time.” To him, the “days” did not represent long periods of time. Instead, he believed the “days” were merely an unfolding of events that historically all happened in a single moment.

Augustine would also be at odds with many modern theologians concerning the age of the earth. The idea of an old earth did not begin with Lyell or Darwin. The Greeks, Egyptians, and other cultures also believed in an old earth with many thousands of generations. Augustine commented on their beliefs (source: City of God):

In vain, then, do some babble with most empty presumption, saying that Egypt has understood the reckoning of the stars for more than a hundred thousand years. For in what books have they collected that number who learned letters from Isis their mistress, not much more than two thousand years ago? Varro, who has declared this, is no small authority in history, and it does not disagree with the truth of the divine books. For as it is not yet six thousand years since the first man, who is called Adam, are not those to be ridiculed rather than refuted who try to persuade us of anything regarding a space of time so different from, and contrary to, the ascertained truth?

In other places, Augustine also spoke matter-of-factly about the Flood. He referred to it as a “deluge of universal water” which he acknowledged rose to 15 cubits above the highest mountain, that the Ark preserved the various manners of beasts, and where “every living thing which could not naturally live in water perished.”

Again, regardless of whatever respect should be due Augustine, it cannot be stressed enough that he was merely a man and not even a prophet or apostle. His opinions were merely his opinions and not doctrine. Even so, old-earth Christians should not find any comfort in his writings. The irony is that old-earth Christians would appeal to his writings when he so clearly spoke out against the old-earth beliefs of his own day! He stated outright that people who advance long ages in opposition to the truth of Scripture should be ridiculed! Quotes like those made by SMSC Resource above are examples of “quote-mining” at its worst. Augustine is no friend to these modern compromisers; Augustine was a young-earth creationist!


The Palaeobabbler said...

Hey again,

The point of mentioning Augustine is usually only to show a non-literal interpretation as part of Christian tradition. The point is strengthened by the fact that he is pre-scientific. The age of the Earth is not theology, so turning to early Christians or even Scripture is foolish. The early Church Fathers were young Earth believers, but as I said in a previous blog, this was due to their reaction against prevailing contemporary views that creation was eternal. Their only way to attempt to provide a date for the beginning was to use genealogies. What other methods were available?

People who attempt to read millions of years into Scripture are misguided, it is not there, but its absence tells us nothing about its veracity.

RKBentley said...


Thanks again for visiting. I think I addressed your point in my post. Many old-earth Christians exploit Augustine's "non-literal" view of the days in Genesis to give credibility to their own "non-literal" views of Genesis. You might be a little more honest when citing Augustine (BTW, I wasn't referring to you specifically in my blog) but you can see that the quote I cited was an extremely dishonest representation of Augustine's beliefs.

Augustine's non-literal interpretation was a minority opinion among the Church patriarchs. Even so, he believed in a miraculous, recent, super-natural creation. His understanding of Genesis is much closer to my beliefs than yours. He was a young-earth creationist.

God bless!

The Palaeobabbler said...

The use of Augustine (and many others) as an example of non-literal interpretation is not exploitation on our behalf. It is a natural counter to the false claims of "conservatives" that they are staying true to tradition. The early church was divided on the issue, but did not see it as the big deal we now make of it.

His views of creation (particularly his concept of the dormant seeds) sit well with theistic evolution. All Christians believe that there is a miraculous aspect to creation, not just YECs. YECs simply believe that the miraculous is the most obvious part. Augustine did indeed believe in a recent creation, but the motives behind his young Earth views are not the same as modern YECs. Augustine cannot be championed by YECs as the point of YEC is not primarily the young age of the Earth, but their belief that a limited literalistic interpretation of Genesis is the correct one, which the young Earth views stem from. Augustine did not hold these views.

The quote you gave did have me reeling a bit. There are people on both sides who say things they know little about. Francis Collins even goes as far as to declare that Augustine would be a theistic evolutionist if he were around today.

God bless!

Anonymous said...

Genial post and this fill someone in on helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you for your information.