Skip to comments.Taking Physicist Stephen Barr to Task for His Mischaracterizing Saint Augustine's Stance ...
Posted on 02/12/2011 2:14:52 PM PST by SeanG200
In this post I take Physicist Stephen Barr to task for his misquoting Saint Augustine's position on the dating of God's creation -- e.g., old or young earth"
The problem with Dr. Barrs summation is that he has failed to take into account that peoples views on matters change over time. For instance, R.C. Sproul (evangelical scholar, professor, and President of Ligonier Ministries) mentioned that through most of his teaching career he accepted the old-age position. However, late in his career he changed his position to that of the young earth creationists.
For most of my teaching career, I considered the framework hypothesis to be a possibility. But I have now changed my mind. I now hold to a literal six-day creation, the fourth alternative and the traditional one. Genesis says that God created the universe and everything in it in six twenty-fourhour periods. According to the Reformation hermeneutic, the first option is to follow the plain sense of the text. One must do a great deal of hermeneutical gymnastics to escape the plain meaning of Genesis 12. The confession makes it a point of faith that God created the world in the space of six days. [emphasis in original, indicating these words are part of the Confession] (pp. 127128).
Similarly, Augustine, early in his life, was very allegorical in his attempt to interpret and define Scripture and events in it. Later however, he changed his position in much the same way Dr. Sproul did.
(Excerpt) Read more at religiopoliticaltalk.com ...
As Augustine became older, he gave greater emphasis to the underlying historicity and necessity of a literal interpretation of Scripture. His most important work is De Genesi ad litteram. The title says it: On the Necessity of Taking Genesis Literally. In this later work of his, Augustine says farewell to his earlier allegorical and typological exegesis of parts of Genesis and calls his readers back to the Bible. He even rejected allegory when he deals with the historicity and geographic locality of Paradise on earth.
Nonsense. Whoever wrote this doesn’t know what “ad litteram” meant to Augustine and exegetes of his time. It meant taking what was obviously meant literally literally and what was obviously meant figuratively figuratively. It did not mean taking Genesis 1-11 literally as a science textbook as science is understood today. Augustine could not have conceived of doing such a thing. (Mainly because he does not live today.)
The Bible says God has hands and feet. The literal sense of that is that these are metaphorical feet and hands. To take the scripture literally is not to say that God has material hands and feet like we do. To take it literally (to the letter) is to recognize that some parts of it are obviously literal.
So the issue is which parts are to be taken which way.
This author needs to show evidence that Augustine held a young-earth interpretation of Genesis. He can’t because there is none.
To claim that Augustine shifted to young-earth position late in life because he wrote a commentary on Genesis “ad litteram” is nonsense.
Augustine may have changed his mind on whether this or that passage should be taken more or less figuratively, but that general fact doesn’t say beans about what he did with Genesis 1-11. Let’s see some specific evidence of a young-earth or six 24-hour-days-Augustine.
It don’t exist.
To take it literally (to the letter) is to recognize that some parts of it are obviously figurative and other parts are obviously literal.
I agree — I believe, given the evidence that is verifiable, and does not make assumptions, that the earth can be indeed young.
The most interesting thing is that now to believe in an old earth, you have to believe in 200 million year old blood cells surviving unfossilized inside of bone. (Scientific American, December 2010 issue article “Dinosaurs - Blood from Stone”)
Can vast mountain ranges and valleys be completed in “short” times? Well, we have seen islands appear and disappear in the ocean in months, mountains explode, and the resulting flooding from denuded hillsides cause massive canyons in just days.
What about the “instrumental” measurements that point to long dates? This assumes (1) the material was not created with built-in amounts of the substance used to “measure” dates and (2) The process rates do not change.
I am not sure of dates (derived from biblical) because they include suppositions - like the fact that ancient geneaologies often skip generations, and of course the problem of IF there any gaps in our ability to string together dates they exist. I speculate it was not high on God’s list to make sure we knew the history to the day of the creation. I mean at some point, you have to leave enough in doubt so as to allow mankind some room for free will to operate.
What if, for example, our universe were constructed such that it was always possible to KNOW the past actions? There would be no unsolved crimes! And there would essentially be no age in which God allows mankind free will.
“literal hands and feet”.
I wish you could have used a better illustration (there are many) to make your point, because this one is not a good example.
May I ask you a few questions?
Do you believe in the classical definition of what the Trinity entails?
I.E. That God is The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost? All three, yet *one* God? I.e it’s hard to understand, but all are fully God, but there is One God.
Did the Godhead fully dwell in Jesus?
Col 2:9For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
So, my question is - Did Jesus, and Does Jesus have hands and feet? I think so. Does God the Father or the Holy Spirt have hands and feet? I think not.
I really struggled understanding the Trinity until I found the verse Romans 1:20 ...I had read that it was impossible to understand the Trinity (Godhead). That it was a mystery.....Here is what Romans 1:20 says about that.
For since the creation of the world Gods invisible qualitieshis eternal power and divine naturehave been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
So I began to try to understand the Trinity as shown to us in the creation, and things got a LOT clearer.
Before you say things like that, you should examine the evidence yourself. Augustine was quite plainly a young-earth creationist, as shown by the following quote from City of God 12:10:
Let us, then, omit the conjectures of men who know not what they say, when they speak of the nature and origin of the human race. For some hold the same opinion regarding men that they hold regarding the world itself, that they have always been. Thus Apuleius says when he is describing our race, "Individually they are mortal, but collectively, and as a race, they are immortal." And when they are asked, how, if the human race has always been, they vindicate the truth of their history, which narrates who were the inventors, and what they invented, and who first instituted the liberal studies and the other arts, and who first inhabited this or that region, and this or that island? they reply, that most, if not all lands, were so desolated at intervals by fire and flood, that men were greatly reduced in numbers, and from these, again, the population was restored to its former numbers, and that thus there was at intervals a new beginning made, and though those things which had been interrupted and checked by the severe devastations were only renewed, yet they seemed to be originated then; but that man could not exist at all save as produced by man. But they say what they think, not what they know.
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. And, not to spend many words in exposing the baselessness of these documents, in which so many thousands of years are accounted for, nor in proving that their authorities are totally inadequate, let me cite only that letter which Alexander the Great wrote to his mother Olympias, giving her the narrative he had from an Egyptian priest, which he had extracted from their sacred archives, and which gave an account of kingdoms mentioned also by the Greek historians. In this letter of Alexander's a term of upwards of 5000 years is assigned to the kingdom of Assyria; while in the Greek history only 1300 years are reckoned from the reign of Bel himself, whom both Greek and Egyptian agree in counting the first king of Assyria. Then to the empire of the Persians and Macedonians this Egyptian assigned more than 8000 years, counting to the time of Alexander, to whom he was speaking; while among the Greeks, 485 years are assigned to the Macedonians down to the death of Alexander, and to the Persians 233 years, reckoning to the termination of his conquests. Thus these give a much smaller number of years than the Egyptians; and indeed, though multiplied three times, the Greek chronology would still be shorter. For the Egyptians are said to have formerly reckoned only four months to their year; so that one year, according to the fuller and truer computation now in use among them as well as among ourselves, would comprehend three of their old years. But not even thus, as I said, does the Greek history correspond with the Egyptian in its chronology. And therefore the former must receive the greater credit, because it does not exceed the true account of the duration of the world as it is given by our documents, which are truly sacred. Further, if this letter of Alexander, which has become so famous, differs widely in this matter of chronology from the probable credible account, how much less can we believe these documents which, though full of fabulous and fictitious antiquities, they would fain oppose to the authority of our well-known and divine books, which predicted that the whole world would believe them, and which the whole world accordingly has believed; which proved, too, that it had truly narrated past events by its prediction of future events, which have so exactly come to pass!
Christians were universal in rejecting old-earth beliefs prior to the modern age. I challenge you show show me a SINGLE EXAMPLE of a Christian writer prior to 1600 A.D. giving an opinion in favor of the earth being greater than 10,000 years old. I've made this challenge before and feel increasingly confident making it. Go ahead and try to find even a single example for the compromise views of those who claim to be Christians, but do not believe in the Bible.
Outstandingly perceptive insight, Houghton M! Thank you oh, so very much!
Plus I haven't seen any evidence that Augustine shifted to a "young-earth position late in life" either.
The original poster wrote: "[Augustine's] most important work is De Genesi ad litteram. The title says it: On the Necessity of Taking Genesis Literally."
To me, here it seems the poster is taking the title too literally; that is, in a rather "reduced" form; i.e., "to the letter; exactly." But is this actually how God communicates with us?
Plus, does the poster mean the other great Augustinian "communications" to us, which seek to articulate his own personal experiences of "direct" divine communication, and the self-transformation that can occur as a result i.e, the Confessions and The City of God are chopped liver?
It seems one ought to read the entire corpus before deciding what one specific title might have meant to Augustine....
Thank you so much, Houghton M., for your excellent essay/post!
The hands and feet of Jesus nailed to the cross were anything but metaphorical. The whole point and purpose of the biblical texts is to make known God's direct involvement with creation and salvation; past present, and future. That includes becoming man in the most literal sense of the word, as well as creating all matter out of nothing in the most literal sense of the word.
Select Saint Augustine's quote(s) regarding creation are a favorite for those who bash young earth proponents. Seems a bit out of place for them to seek out a theologian for comment when theologians are, you know, only "pie in the sky" dreamers.
How long did it take for the continents of South America and Africa to split apart and separate to where they are today? What hypothetical process was involved?
Have you ever considered they were formed that way? Or that during the creation, there was a time when the plates were much looser, and the current drift rate or < 1 inch/year was MUCH higher?
This whole assumption that geologic forces continue at the rates we observe normally has been proven wrong time after time.
If we know anything, it’s that geologic changes are very periodic, sudden, and huge. Yes, there are execeptions, like wind weathering, and sediment deposition, but these are not the processes that create mountains and move continents.
It’s more important to KNOW the quality of information, than the information, itself. Thinking that something is FACT when it’s even only 99.9 percent sure is not a goo thing. Good textbooks (in some sciences) can be used as doorstops 5-20-30 years later because of the advance of our understanding.
This should be the difference between religion and science:
One should REQUIRE faith, and the other should ABHOR it.
(that is, a good believer should not require exact proof, whereas a good scientist should never take as proof something he cannot prove, or another has not proven, and should only lean on statistics as a shakey branch)
HERE ARE A FEW RESPONSES TO YOUR POSITION I WROTE (not yelling, merely emphasis):
Is the Bible Allegorical, or Literal?
Although some view the Bible as allegory, I believe a literal interpretation is the only interpretation that does justice to the facts [for example, see links when you get to letter two]. There are several reasons for accepting the Bible literally. The Bible purports to be the Word of God (by the way, no other text in history makes this statement). Over and over we find such phrases as the Word of the Lord came unto Moses, God spoke, thus saith the Lord.
When God spoke, it was in real-life situations, not in a mythological never-never land as in the mythical narratives. The Bible views itself as a non-fiction book. When the writers cite other persons or events in Scripture, they cite them as real, not imaginary, or allegorical, as in myths. For example, Jesus referred to Jonah (Matthew 12:39) as a sign of his resurrection. The write of Hebrews cites many great Old Testament men and women of faith (Hebrews 11) as examples to the believer. Nowhere is the story of Abraham or Samson looked at in any way but factual.
The nature of God, as revealed in the Bible, makes it clear that He has the ability to communicate with people. Since God created mankind for the purpose of establishing a relationship, it naturally follows that He would use an understandable method. Consequently, we do not need to look for some strange hidden meaning to what Scripture says for it is very plain. There is no double-talk or weasel-wording in Scripture. The message is clear. This leads to another question that need to be explained
Is Everything in the Bible to be Taken Literally?
When I say that I take the Bible literally, I do not mean that figurative language is absent from the Bible. However, to interpret figuratively we must find good reason in the passage to justify doing this. Some types of writing by their very nature tend to exclude the possibility of figurative language. These include laws, historical writings, and philosophical writings. For example, Martin Luther was like a bull in a china shop.
A good rule for interpretation is, If the literal sense makes good sense, seek no other sense lest you come up with nonsense. The words of a given text should be interpreted literally if possible. If not possible, one should move to figurative language. Usually there are clue in the text or context itself, unlike myth.
Sometimes there will be a definition explaining the metaphor. For example, when the Book of Revelation speaks of the dragon (Revelation 12:9), the dragon is defined to the reader. Knowing the culture to which the text was written also will help, for the more one knows about language and thought forms of a particular period, the better chance one will have to determine how to interpret a given passage (for instance, John 8:58).
Many have built a straw-man argument out of the teaching of literal interpretation, alleging that we have to take everything in the Bible literally, e.g., the trees of the field shall clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12). The Bible contains definite types of figurative language, including metaphor, simile, hyperbole, and anthropomorphism. But all of these are easily detectable and separable from the literal text itself.
This is the entire prelude to your questions on the Bible and contradictions in its text. You brought up Genesis 1 and 2. This is a great example of a contradiction that seems apparent, but upon careful study using the rules of language, you will see that in fact it is speaking of the same creation event. I will send it along next, till then, God bless.
Another aspect that has Ancient Jewish poetry in the throes of modern culture is that of the Genesis debate is it historical narrative or poetry. In other words, is the creation story merely Jewish poetry, or is it considered to be a narrative. Dr. Boyd, professor of Hebrew Masters College, has put together a statistical model that shows by the use of finite verbs in a particular text if it is or isnt poetry. There are four finite verb forms in Hebrew: preterite, imperfect, perfect, and waw-perfect (DeYoung et al, 2005, p.160). compiling these verbs and comparing them to Jewish scripture one can see (see fig. 2 [ed. Vardiman, Snelling, Chaffin, et. al. 2005, p. 653]) which of the verbs are used in classic examples of both poetry and narrative traditions.
While this discussion has no immediate bearing on the scientific community, it does add a tool that can now be tweaked and refined to give a graphic view of what constitutes poetry and narrative in both scripture and ancient Yiddish traditions. Genesis stands out with the above model as more narrative than poetic, the literal interpretation of Genesis is an in house debate within the Jewish and Christian communities (see fig. 9 [ed. Vardiman, Snelling, Chaffin 2005, p.667]).
Another view of this poetic versus narrative tradition imbedded within Jewish culture is viewed side-by-side (see fig. 8 [ed. Vardiman, Snelling, Chaffin 2005, p.662]).
The above examples of graphs are a great way to connect ancient Jewish culture and traditions with todays youth. It is modern man and his tools looking at ancient man, both history and poetry walking hand-in-hand.
(FROM — all graphs can be seen: http://www.scribd.com/doc/48713772/Poetry)
However, if a claim is made that the general age of the earth is a matter of religious faith, then we have an area where science and theology overlap. The vast majority of relevant scientific measurements suggest that our earth is billions of years old. Some interpretations of the Bible suggest that the earth is only thousands of years old. I am told by those who interpret the Bible thusly that I am of bad faith if I believe the earth to be billions of years old.
I understand that all scientific theories are ultimately based on empirical observations which are inductive in nature. Because of this I am fully aware that all theories are only possibly true, and that no scientific belief can rationally be held to be certain.
Because it is impossible for anyone to be certain of any scientific fact I believe that it should not be a goal of science to seek the truth for truth's sake. It would be like trying to climb to the top of a mountain which has been proven to be unclimbable. The purpose of science should be the search of information that we can make use of in our material existence. If we believe that gravity behaves in a certain way and that it remains constant in its effect, then we can make planes and rockets and buildings that work the way they are supposed to. It may be that gravity doesn't always behave the way we expect, or that it didn't in the past, but those beliefs don't appear to be as helpful to us. If we assume the speed of light has been constant since the beginning of the universe, then we can use that information to determine how large our universe is and how long ago it got started. If we assume the entire universe is ~6,000 years old then we have to wonder why we see light that appears to have been traveling to us for billions of years, or assume that the speed of light has been changing over time, or that God decided to trick us into believing that the universe is billions of years old by creating photons in the middle of space.
Believing that the earth was created ~6,000 years ago is of no help to us scientifically or materially. For all we know the earth could have been created last Tuesday. That would be an interesting and potentially valid theory, but it would be of little or no use to us materially.
The only potential use that belief in a young earth could have is if it would intensify a person's belief in the complete inerrancy of the Bible. But this is a hoped for spiritual result. Such a belief may help a person's walk with Christ, and a person's walk with Christ may be more important than his daily walk to work, but until a person dies, if he has to walk to work, then it behooves him to know enough about the laws of physics to do so safely, e.g. don't cross the street while cars are in the intersection or you might get squished.
Assuming that the earth is billions of years old and that geologic processes occur at certain rates, variable yes but within reasonable bounds, may ultimately help us predict when the next earthquake will hit a certain area. Or it may allow us to build buildings that are strong enough to handle earthquakes that are reasonable to expect, and not overbuild to handle the types of earthquakes that would have had to occur to cause Africa and South America to separate to where they are in ~6000 years.
Is it the Christian thing to do to allow people to live and work in houses and buildings that would be decimated if the earth moved several inches in one day? Would it be the Christian thing to do to force everyone to huddle in fortified bomb shelters because a ~6000 year earth implies that we will be constantly under threat of massive earth movements? Neither. The Christian thing to do is look at the evidence which suggests that the earth is billions of years old, and then go and build buildings that can tolerate the vast majority of quakes that can be reasonably expected given the geological evidence we see all around us.
interesting reply — some comments
1) I don’t think the only 2 choices are earth = 5 Billion OR earth = 6,000 years.
2) God created Adam fully grown, did he mean to “trick” us by doing that? Why then would be “tricking” us to create a fully formed earth? it is WE who are ASSUMING age from just the appearances.
3) Do not suppose I believe in a younger earth to satisfy some biblical timeline.
I believe in a younger earth because I don’t think life on earth could have been so lucky and the environment so stable to support life over millions and millions of years, given the nature of the universe...It’s very hostile to life. We live in a very, very slender area under the curve.
4) Empirical Observations — Have you read about the double slit experiment, and the problem we have discovered that merely observing something can change it’s behavior? Quantum Theory shows us that there IS a limit to our observing the universe and deducing it’s operation....it’s like the “spririt” world of science, except it’s provable everyday in the lab - and it’s very upsetting.
5) Do not misunderstand - There are lots of things we know about well enough to use and predict, and still have NO understanding of the basic mechanisms that underly it’s operation — Foe example, gravity.
Somewhat similar to a monkey who has determined he can push a button and watch tv......just because the can reliably make the tv operate, does not mean he understands in the least what is involved in the operation thereof.
God doens’t need to “trick” us — we are plenty good enough at deceiving ourselves and each generation thinks it know the ultimate truth, like the last.
I think there is a famous quote: “Science moves forward one funeral at a time”.
Certainly, human history does not go back further than 6,000 years, and in any case. the Greeks were wrong to deny that the world —and history had a beginning.
Agreed. The earth could have been created last Tuesday. I also realize there are variations on the young earth theory. For example there are those that believe the universe may be billions of years old (in order for astronomy to make sense), but that the earth itself is only 6,000 years old. Or that the earth is 10,000 years old or something maybe as much as one or two orders of magnitude more than 6,000 because of different ways of interpreting the Bible to work back to the date of Genesis. The 4-5 billion year old date has the advantage over all other theories in that is matches up with most of the data collected to date.
"2) God created Adam fully grown, did he mean to trick us by doing that? Why then would be tricking us to create a fully formed earth? it is WE who are ASSUMING age from just the appearances."
It could be that Adam was created fully grown, in which case there was no one around to trick. Having not yet tasted of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge he would not be curious about his origins. This is not the case with thousands of humans who have access to the latest astronomical equipment and the curiosity to use it.
Or it could be the case that Adam was the first creature to be given a soul, at which point he was "newly created" as a child of God just as it is said of those who are "born again".
To be honest I have one major concern with old earth creationism. If the evidence is to be believed then there have existed a rather large number of various species that lived and behaved almost exactly as early homo sapiens. If the evidence is to be believed the neanderthals and the "hobbit" like folk, etc. crafted tools, were artists, and showed respect in various ways for their dead. The question could be asked: How could God be good if He would allow entire species to die out even those who are seemingly capable of being ensouled? That's a tough question, but one that I am willing to be an open one for now.
I believe in a younger earth because I dont think life on earth could have been so lucky and the environment so stable to support life over millions and millions of years
We are finding life living in extremely hot, extremely cold, extremely poisonous, etc. environments. If the archaeological evidence is to be believed then life survived massive die-offs, in fact seemingly flourished soon after major extinction events.
Have you read about the double slit experiment
I agree with you here. Empirical data is inductive data which can never bring certainty. The fact that our observation of events seems to affect them means there is even less of a chance that we can gain absolute certain knowledge through the scientific method. However, we can arrive at certain beliefs which appear to hold true for the vast majority of situations we encounter, e.g. F=mA (for large objects), E=mc^2, etc.
There are lots of things we know about well enough to use and predict, and still have NO understanding of the basic mechanisms
Agreed. There's a short story where a priest believes that radio works because the signal is being carried by the fluttering of the wings of innumerable tiny angels. That may in fact be the case. Science doesn't have to know why, just what. And it helps if the "what" can be described in the form of a simple mathematical formula.
God doesnt need to trick us we are plenty good enough at deceiving ourselves and each generation thinks it know the ultimate truth, like the last.
I believe that most scientists are humble enough to know that they don't yet know "the ultimate truth". However, I do believe they can get full of themselves especially when they claim that they are the only sure way to the truth. It is a wonder to me how scientists can be so unaware of their intellectual heritage. Are they aware, for example, that one of the great founders of modern thinking on empiricism was David Hume? Are they aware that he was most likely a closet atheist, and therefore someone who most atheistic scientists would find good company? Are they also aware that he was fully cognizant of the limitation of knowledge gained through induction as is all scientific knowledge? Are they aware that Hume provided a rather convincing philosophical argument against causation, one of the foundation stones of the scientific method? Sadly, the answer to all of those questions is 'No'.
I think there is a famous quote: Science moves forward one funeral at a time.
There's a Smiths song called 'Pretty Girls Make Graves.' There's probably some truth to that, but still, who doesn't like pretty girls?
If you read “The Science of God” and other books by the author Gerald L. Schroeder, he posits that Adam was when man gained a soul.
What makes us human is not our thumb, our self-awareness (you can easily embarrass a cat), but what we know we are not. We long for immortality, for purpose and meaning. Our soul is where this resides, IMHO.
We are created in the image of God, and God is triune - Body,Spirit,Soul.
To say God is not “good” because somehow there are lifeforms similar in statue that may / may not have had a soul is to set one’s self up to judge God, a dangerous role. And who is to limit God to say that these are not the “other sheep” spoken of? If you believe in classical Christianity, it is only Jesus who, by a person’s relationship with, salvation comes. Romans 1 says that no man has an excuse, because even if no missionaries made it to the “hobbit’s” island, God himself would give each soul what he required, if he only would embrace the truth. Romans 1 answers a lot of questions about the so called “hermit in a cave that never heard” about God.
With regard to the Greeks being wrong about there not being a beginning to the universe: the essayist seems to be conflating the concept of an ever-existing universe with a universe that has existed for a long time. The two concepts are entirely different. So even if the essayist can show that the Greeks were wrong in their thoughts regarding the universe, it doesn't necessarily follow that those of us who believe that the universe has been around for billions of years are equally wrong.
Cool. So then I have nothing to worry about.
Answer: 4.54 billion
Question: What is the age of the earth in years, Alex?
Alex: Correct for $400.
glad you have faith in the answers, to two decimal places. I don’t.
Nether do I believe in 250 million year old blood cells. So I tend to think the earth is younger, or else I have to participate in cognitive dissonnance
What I mean is the one can posit a world no older than 6.,000 years and provide a reasonable explanation of things as they are. I have never had any problem with reconciling the Bible and an ancient world. But so much of evolutionary studies have had the object of discrediting the Bible and by positing a prehistory so ancient that it is virtually the same as “forever,” In my opinion, Genesis presents to us a mystery, something as mysterious as Revelation. I am the Alpha and the Omega. The Bible describes the history of the relationship of God to man, and man as he is—right now. And that relationship had a beginning and it will end. The flaw of the Darwinists was that they were among those who wanted that relationship broken, and the result of their efforts can be seen in the last 100 years. The Greek Myth of Icarus comes to mind.
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