Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is opposition to literalism about the Genesis chronology a defensive reaction to Darwinian evoluton?

This is from a Catholic source.

A lot of people would like you to believe that, but the fact is that the Fathers of the Church did not insist on 6 24 hour periods around 4004 B. C. Augustine, as orthodox a Christian as ever walked this earth, opposed the hyper-literal reading.

I wish skeptics would learn to be more skeptical.


SE said...

Are you saying Augustine didn't believe Adam and Eve were actual people, created as the Genesis account describes?

There are many Christians, after all, who believe in an old earth while still rejecting biological evolution.

Victor Reppert said...

From what I understand, Augustine had a theory that bore some similarities to evolution, but surely would not have denied the involvement of intelligent design in the natural history of the world.

He did think that Adam and Eve were a single individual pair, unlike C. S. Lewis, who speculated that some early set of humans might have fallen as a group. But even on evolution, some pair of humans had to be the first to exist, although I suppose there could have been multiple evolutionary lines producing the first humans.

This Wikipedia page makes Augustine an advocate of the Framework Interpretation of Genesis.

The idea of "accepting evolution" gets a little tricky, since for some you aren't a good evolutionist if you all for divine involvement at any point. Do you mean species change over time, or species change over time with no direct divine involvement. There's a big difference.

Edward T. Babinski said...


Paul Seely points out that Augustine and other early church fathers were fairly literal concerning some verses in Genesis, like the one that goes, "The spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters [lit. Heb. tehom]"

From Augustine to Aquinas, the tehom of Gen. 1:2 was understood to be a "sea." [St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis Vol. 1, (New York: Newman Press, 1982), 35; Aquinas, Summa, Vol. 10, 95.]

No modern, professional Hebrew scholar would admit the meaning "cloud" into Gen. 1:2. [Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Waco: Word Books, 1987), 16 says "primeval ocean"; Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary of the Book of Genesis Part 1 (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1961), 24 says, "primeval world-ocean"; See also S.R. Driver's astonishment and rejection of "such free use of the Hebrew language" when the concordists of his day tried to say that tehom meant "cloud," in "The Cosmogony of Genesis," Andover Review (Dec 1887): 641-2.]

It was not until the advent of modern geology-astronomy that the tehom of Gen. 1:2 was interpreted as a cloud of water vapor in our modern day conception of space.

Edward T. Babinski said...


Augustine did not say how long a "day" of creation was, but he did make a few statements concerning the length of time the Scriptures said Adam and Eve's offspring had been around:

"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 [since the creation of Adam and Eve]." AUGUSTINE CITY OF GOD BOOK XI p. 232

As to those who are always asking why man was not created during these countless ages of the infinitely extended past, and came into being so lately that, according to Scripture, less than 6000 years have elapsed since He began to be, I would reply to them... AUGUSTINE CITY OF GOD BOOK XI p. 233

"...those antediluvians lived more than 900 years, which were years as long as those which afterwards Abraham lived 175 of, and after him his son Isaac 180, and his son Jacob nearly 150, and some time after, Moses 120, and men now seventy or eighty, or not much longer, of which years it is said, 'their strength is labor and sorrow.'" AUGUSTINE CITY OF GOD BOOK XV p. 295

Of course Augustine also argued for a literal Adam and Eve; a literal Noah, ark and flood; that men did not exist on the other side of the earth; babies were in Satan's grip and desperately needed baptizing; and women were weaker than men when it came to resisting sin and ought to subordinate themselves to men.

Augustine also argued Paul was right to say that celibacy was the ideal, and all Christian should ideally be celibate. (When asked how the human race could survive if humans ceased to copulate, he said, that would be good too, since it would hasten Christ's second coming.)

That Augustine! *striking my hand against my knee*

Steven Carr said...

So when did Augustine think Adam and Eve were created by God, based on his reading of the Bible? Just a few thousand years previously?

And does anybody take Augustine's reading of Genesis seriously nowadays?

Take the word 'Beginning', in the phrase 'In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth'

Is Augustine not just talking nonsense when he says that this word 'beginning' means 'the Son'?

At least the literalists try to use some sort of rationality in their arguments, rather than resort to the bizarre exegesis that Augustine came up with.

Matthew said...

There actually were some theologians who dated the creation of the universe 15 billion years ago, based on his interpretation of Genesis.

It's not the way I would read it, but it's interesting.

Hiero5ant said...

In all seriousness -- given the amount of ink spilled over what to an outsider seems the trivial doctrinal spat of physical vs. spiritual resurrection, how comfortable (on a scale of 1 to 10) would any christian reader of this blog be when it came to chastising a "hyper-literal" reading of the texts which say Jesus was a real human being who was crucified and rose again, in whatever form?

Comfortable, not in the sense that you think such a reading is the most accurate account of what the authors thought, and not comfortable in the sense you believe that's what's likely to have happened. I mean, comfortable in the rest of your faith if you required as much interpretive elasticity in those reports as non-YECs need for Genesis.

This was a dealbreaker for me in my deconversion, but I'm genuinely interested in seeing if there's a range of views on this.

Rob G said...

What's important here is not whether St. Augustine's individual view is correct or not, but whether he and other Fathers were "hyper-literalists." It's plain that at least some were not. Thus there is no patristic consensus on a literal reading of Genesis, and likewise there are no conciliar or official doctrinal pronouncements on it either.

So re: the question "Is opposition to literalism about the Genesis chronology a defensive reaction to Darwinian evolution?", the answer is no. As SE states, it's entirely possible to be an anti-Darwinian and an old-earther.