An Ancient Reason Why Christians Shouldn’t Believe In Creationism

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(H/T)

Ole St. Augustine and I don’t always see eye to eye on everything, but there are few in the history of the church who have had a more profound impact on the theology of the church than St. Augustine of Hippo.

Which mean if you call yourself a Christian, it’s probably important to pay attention to the things he said.

One of my favorite things St. Augustine ever wrote is his 5th century treatise On The Literal Meaning of Genesis.

Nearly a millennium and a half before Ken Ham took the stage with Bill Nye to defend what Ham portrays as the faithful Christian reading of Genesis – a literal 6 day creation – St. Augustine had some choice words for those who would one day call themselves “creationists.”

Given all the attention surrounding the debate last night and the response today, but more importantly in light of the fact that there are still countless Christian either convinced of the necessity of believing in creationism or who feel guilty having doubts about it, I thought it was the perfect time to share these words of wisdom from one of the greatest of the church fathers and the ancient reason he gives for why believe Christians shouldn’t believe in creationism.

I don’t want to ruin the quote for you, so I’ll just say this.

If he were alive today, Augustine wouldn’t be a big fan of Ken Ham.

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 non-sense 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 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 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.”

  • pastordt

    What a great quote! Thanks, Zack.

  • D Lowrey

    The problem with pointing out to a Young Earther who says they actually read their Bible is that no matter how much education they have…the damage to their intelligence has all ready been done by the wolves in sheep’s clothing who have misled them. My current roommate is like this and trying to point out the lies he believes is like looking at the wall and expecting an intelligent conversation from the wall board. It’s not going to happen. Why do you expect Ham and other leaders to keep this up? These false teachers love the money/power more than the truth.

  • http://www.andrewgilmore.net/ Andrew Gilmore

    Right, Zack, but the message of the Cross is foolishness to the unbeliever. Naturalists will always think of Christians as silly and simple-minded even if one were to allow for an old earth and that all life came from a single organism.

    How can Jesus be the son of God if there is no God?

    • Michael P

      Can you explain further?

      Sure, today’s Christians are thought of as crazy because they hold such hard lines to what you* need to believe (before you come to the cross) rather than acting out our love and showing it over time. The foolishness that Paul spoke of was because no one just unselfishly loved other people, not because of Genesis 1 and 2.

    • ZackHunt

      The earth is old and there is a God. I see no reason why those things should be in contradiction with one another – unless you twist the poetry of Genesis into a science…at which point you will have to explain why there are no more talking snakes in the world.

      I also don’t think Paul at all had in mind that because the cross is foolishness – in that kings should conquer, not be crucified – that therefore Christians should accept all foolishness – like creationism – as some sort of sign of faith.

      • http://www.likeawarmcupofcoffee.com Sarah Mae

        What part is poetry and what isn’t? Was there a flood? Was there a man named Abraham? Also, you believe the earth is old (not arguing for or against), but what about evolution – do you believe we were created in the image of God or did we evolve from apes/goo/molecules? Also, I think there can be evolution and a god, just not evolution (on a grand scale) and the God of the Bible.

        • MorganGuyton

          Why can’t we be created in the image of God through an evolutionary process that God utilized?

        • Jon

          Science is not incompatible with any if this. As long as we believe God made our first parents unique then there is no conflict. Perhaps we did come from goo “the dust of the earth” in an evolutionary process. Then with evolutionary developed humans with no soul, God decided to breath that soul into Adam and Eve making them unique new creatures.

          Typically in Biblical studies, prior to chapter 8 is seen as a genre that is not historical per se.

          • http://www.likeawarmcupofcoffee.com Sarah Mae

            I’m listening…I do want to understand all of this and how to make it make sense. I’m just having a hard time with it. If there was no flood, and the stories in the beginning are just stories…myths…poetry…what do I believe and what do I not believe? It makes the whole Bible seem pretty shaky and untrustworthy.

          • Joshua

            It seems clear that, for you, the words “stories…myths…and poetry” are all pejorative terms–in fact, you seem to use these words as if they are synonymous with “Lies.” You should try to deepen your understanding of these ideas, for it may be that real Truth is best approached, not by scientific data, but by “stories, myths, and poetry.”

    • Xenoman

      As a naturalist/secularist/atheist/what have you that was a Christian for a long time, I can honestly tell you that there are many of us who do not think of Christians as simple-minded. The elitist atheist is a stereotype just as bad as the ignorant Christian. Are there people in both camps that fit the stereotype? Absolutely, but no where near the majority do. And to defend against a stereotype with another one is a weak argument anyway.

      When I was a Christian I freely accepted the scientific explanation for the creation of the universe and earth. And despite being in an incredibly fundamentalist church org (united pentecostal), I accepted evolution too. Its not impossible or even wrong to believe that god and science can exist mutually, only the ignorant hardliners will tell you otherwise.

  • Nathan Hale

    Bingo, Augustine nailed it.

  • Rachel

    I’m just a humble mommy blogger, but I dared to take this on as one of the first posts on my new blog. It made me nervous, but so far lightening has not struck. Maybe if I’d known about this quote I wouldn’t have worried quite so much. I included the idea that I don’t think Jesus would have gotten swept up in this type of argument. Here’s the link (I guess I dare) http://leakingmommybrains.blogspot.com/2014/02/why-i-will-not-be-watching.html

  • Eric

    I’ve quoted that piece twice in the last 24 hrs. Each time someone has responded by saying that s/he doesn’t care about the words of man, but the word of God. Funny how that same iconoclastic skepticism doesn’t get extended to people like Ham. Instead, his words are basically taken to be identical to God’s, and thus his authority is conflated with God’s too. But s/he doesn’t care about man-made ideas. -.-

  • CKPS63

    Always loved this quote. For all his occasional flights of orthodox piety, Augustine was in many ways a rationalist — a typically pragmatic Roman who was thoroughly trained in rhetoric and natural science He was wise enough to know that sound theology must harmonize with observed fact and common sense, not be constantly at war with it.

  • http://alanrudnick.org/ Alan Rudnick

    Very on point. I blogged about the debate: http://www.alanrudnick.org/2014/02/05/bill-nye-crushes-creationist-debate/ check it out.

  • Lakers_fan_in_Minn

    Unfortunately, creationism to you is monolithic. Sadly, you are not alone in this lack of understanding. The creationism of Ken Ham is a Young Earth variety. Many more of us are creationists but believe in an Old Earth. See here for more explanation: http://www.signalmanpublishing.com/blog/news/old-earth-versus-young-earth-creationism/

  • Steve

    The important thing is for each to go to the Bible and not others… including Augustine.
    Ham is defending the faith. Good for him. More Christians should rather than rationalize why he should not and they will not!
    Granted we are imperfect and so is Ham but he is in the arena.
    Technology is on the side of God and continues to prove the truth in the bible or liberal atheist scientists would be proclaiming the errors on every news station 24/7. Lean not on your own understanding…..even when rationalizing what the bible says to fit modern precepts. It says what it says and is true or not. You decide for yourself as a Christian. But when you pick and choose what to believe you end up with something short of Christianity. Maybe you rationalize the virgin birth and Christ’s rising from the grave as well?……. Well then Christianity isn’t true and no wonder it is hard to understand why someone would defend the faith. God wants use to understand why we believe in Christ and the Bible and not just be lemmings but rather intelligent disciples and defenders like Hamm.
    Science has been wrong about almost every theory but continually corrects itself while maintaining expert status! Darwin’s “theory” failed by his own standards when the Cambrian era found most species formed simultaneously and the most simple first cell was more complicated the space shuttle (but happened by random accident). Yet we ignore that accepted fact and teach our kids evolution was true.
    Time for example is not constant and science cannot repeat or prove any of its assertions on God, the beginning of the universe, the origins of life, how DNA was started by accident in the first living cell….
    The Bible (original) is true and although I cannot explain it all, I will believe in it and the miracles of Christ.
    Those questions I cannot understand I will search to learn more about. So far the Bible has been 100%.

    • Jon

      You seem to fail to realize that Bishops like Augustine, literally alive at that time are the ones who collected the Bible and declared certain books. “Scripture”. Do without Augustine and his compatriots you would have no Bible.

    • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

      ‘Defending the Faith’ seems to have a lot in common with ‘advertising my floundering Bible amusement park.’

    • Steve C

      “Ham is defending the faith. Good for him. More Christians should rather than rationalize why he should not and they will not!”

      So the Christian “faith” consists of believing all animals are direct descendants of a group of animals that floated around in a wooden boat built by a guy who lived to be 950? That the Earth is only six thousand years old and man coexisted with dinosaurs despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary? I must have skipped over the Bible passages where Jesus addressed these issues and identified the ancient scriptures as science and history texts. Good thing Ken Ham is around to set people like me straight!

      • NavVet

        Bible doesn’t say that. Time is recorded from Gods perspective not from earth during the first week..

  • monk_87

    Really? The unbelievers know the creation origins from “experience and reason”? That’s an amazing concept. Maybe such a concept doesn’t actually militate against a biblical account of creation. Maybe St. Augustine did not intend it to. Context is revealing.

    The great saint continues in his treatise…

    “I have thought that each one, in
    keeping with his powers of understanding, should choose the
    interpretation that he can grasp. Where he cannot understand Holy
    Scripture, let him glorify God and fear for himself. But since the
    words of Scripture that I have treated are explained in so many
    senses, critics full of worldly learning should restrain themselves
    from attacking as ignorant and uncultured these utterances that have
    been made to nourish all devout souls. Such critics are like wingless
    creatures that crawl upon the earth and, while soaring no higher than
    the leap of a frog, mock the birds in their nests above.”

    “But more dangerous is the error of certain weak brethren who faint away
    when they hear these irreligious critics learnedly and eloquently
    discoursing on the theories of astronomy or on any of the questions
    relating to the elements of this universe. With a sigh, they esteem
    these teachers as superior to themselves, looking upon them as great
    men; and they return with disdain to the books which were written for
    the good of their souls; and, although they ought to drink from these
    books with relish, they can scarcely bear to take them up. . . .

    “When they [non-believers] are able, from reliable evidence, to prove
    some fact of physical science, we shall show that it is not contrary to
    our Scripture. But when they produce from any of their books a theory
    contrary to Scripture, and therefore contrary to the Catholic faith,
    either we shall have some ability to demonstrate that it is absolutely
    false, or at least we ourselves will hold it so without any shadow of a
    doubt. And we will so cling to our Mediator, in whom are hidden all the
    treasures of wisdom and knowledge, that we will not be led astray by the
    glib talk of false philosophy or frightened by the superstition of
    false religion”

    • Scott

      Thanks for finishing the quote. I’ve seen the original post several times lately and they always cut out those next few chapters/paragraphs. Not that I hold Augustine as anything special, but if you want to use someone as an example, don’t truncate their quote right before they contradict you.

  • John

    So, not meaning to be troll-like, but I do find it interesting that after pointing out that Augustine doesn’t always see eye to eye with you, that you then go on to say that Christians should view his words as important. I was wondering, what words of Augustine do you, personally, not see eye to eye with him on? And is the fact that you might not have Augustine in your fan club mean that you are as wrong as Ken Ham? Also, as a follow up, is it the fact that Ken Ham is a Young Earth creationist that would have Augustine not in his fan club, or the fact that Augustine believed that God created everything simultaneously and that the days of creation were a logical framework for believers to wrap their minds around when, at least to him, it didn’t take 6 days but rather that God is walking through the garden with Adam and Eve instantaneously after creation begins.

    All that said, again, I do not mean to sound troll-like (as much as that post might have sounded). The question marks are legitimate questions and not rhetorical ones, I truly want to know the answers to them and do not assume to know what answer will be given. I honestly want to know where the line is between lifting up a theologian as important and seeing them as so out of context they are irrelevant. Or, is there a line between the two? Do we lift them up even if they are contextually paradoxical? Thanks for reading this far and not coming to my home under the bridge with the largest BIlly Goat Gruff.

  • RWRMJ

    There’s still room for metaphor in the Creation account, just as Jesus used parables and metaphors. When Jesus said, ‘I am the door,” he didn’t mean he was made out of wood.

  • Greg Dill

    Science is merely man’s attempt to understand acts of nature that have historically always been attributed to acts of God. Both creationism and evolution are products of Enlightenment era thinking. The bottom line is this: God spoke and life began. How precisely this happened should be of little importance to us.

  • NavVet

    The six days and 16 billion years are the same…. You know that Zack? Time is relative, time is recorded differently within the Genesis… (Hebrew), First from Gods perspective, then days of man with Adam… Do you know Jubilees was written? The Zadokltes Essene’s from Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls knew this. They couldn’t reconcile the days prior to Wednesday because time couldn’t be observed from earth.. Dr. Gerald Schroeder, NASA physicist, Orthodox Jew did work on this Genesis, Big Bang, Time based on observations with the Hebrew text.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZfgIFuoIBs