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The Bible – St Augustine on Science and Scripture

The earliest portrait of Saint Augustine in a ...

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Another little aside from our regularly scheduled programming. I found this from somewhere – I think it was Twitter or my RSS feed but can’t find the link – if it was via you, please step forward to claim your cash prize (please note: “cash prize” may be moon-speak for “link back”). The quote was found on Pib’s Home on the Web:

St Augustine said:

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 hold 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 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. 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 and 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 assertion. [1 Timothy 1.7]

- This translation is by J. H. Taylor in Ancient Christian Writers, Newman Press, 1982, volume 41.

So what is St Augustine saying here? Bear in mind that this was written by a man who lived from 354-430 AD and yet it is as true now as it was then. He is saying that Christians would be foolish to challenge scientists with the alleged science found in the Bible. He puts forward the view that if you try to correct someone by mistakenly using the Bible as a foundation for the correction when it pertains to their field, they are far less likely to believe anything else you say about the Bible.

The quote comes from The Literal Interpretation of Genesis and is of note to all the Young Earth Creationists and to those who mistakenly believe that the Bible can be used to show that much of our scientific knowledge can be found there. St Augustine was a prolific writer, a thinker and philosopher and also appears to have been a very down to earth speaker. For example, as he lay dying a man came to him to ask that he lay hands on his son to cure him. St Augustine replied that if he had any power to cure the sick, he would surely have applied it on himself first. He is now on my “to read” list.

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4 Comments

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