Re: [asa] Augustine and Young Earth Creationism

From: Michael Roberts <>
Date: Sat Mar 03 2007 - 15:09:09 EST

One cannot say what the dominant view of the early church was on Genesis, some like Athenagoras thought it was a few thousand - 5500BC others were undecided on the length of days etc. None placed it at the centre but many held undogmatically to a youngish earth, along with egocentrism.

It is often claimed that until the geologists came along in c1800 the church held to a young earth. That was not the case. In a continuing project on the period from 1500 to 1850 or so, I found that most did not follow Ussher . Also many allowed a long time for the existence of Chaos(tohu va bohu) before creation in 6 days (poss more than 24 hr days), so from 1600 most accepted creation was older than 4000BC, by 1700 many were open to a little more time, and by 1770 many Christians allowed for deep time. What amazes me is that few Christians were vocal against geology until T Gisborne the first of the Anti geologists publ;ished a book in 1817 and then we have those around till most went extinct in c1855. (It resurfaced later in the century in the SDA and pre-LCMS Lutherans).

I have argued this and given the evidence in a paper in the Evangelical Quarterly in 2002 and in the chapter below which is about to be published

Genesis Chapter One and Geological Time from Hugo Grotius and Marin Mersenne to William Conybeare and Thomas Chalmers (1620 to 1825), March 2007 in Myth and Geology (Special Publication of the Geological Society of London)

To claim that the church was YEC is as absurd as criticising all before 1543 for not accepting heliocentricity or Darwin for not accepting genes


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Charles Carrigan
  Sent: Friday, March 02, 2007 10:38 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Augustine and Young Earth Creationism

  I have had some conversations on this topic with a theologian friend of mine who's Ph.D. is essentially in the history of theological ideas. I think his view on the matter would be that yes, probably most church leaders down through the ages would have thought that the creation was only a few thousand years old, based on the Genesis geneologies. They would not have had any knowledge to the contrary, and would have little reason to suspect otherwise. However, the more important question is would they have placed this "young age" of the creation at the center of Christian faith in terms of its importance? He says "no". The literal reading of the "days" of Genesis has not ever been a central tenent in the historical Christian faith. This seems very reasonable to me.

  For what it's worth to this discussion,

  Charles W. Carrigan, Ph.D.
  Assistant Professor of Geology
  Olivet Nazarene Univ., Dept. of Physical Sciences
  One University Ave.
  Bourbonnais, IL 60914
  PH: (815) 939-5346
  FX: (815) 939-5071

  "To a naturalist nothing is indifferent;
  the humble moss that creeps upon the stone
  is equally interesting as the lofty pine which so beautifully adorns the valley or the mountain:
  but to a naturalist who is reading in the face of the rocks the annals of a former world,
  the mossy covering which obstructs his view,
  and renders indistinguishable the different species of stone,
  is no less than a serious subject of regret."
            - James Hutton

>>> "Iain Strachan" <> 3/2/2007 3:21:48 PM >>>


  I wonder if anyone can comment on this.

  I am having quite a wearying debate via email with two YEC's whom I met via a work Christian group (on a science park .. one of them with a PhD in molecular biology). It started when one of them wrote a long email to everyone on the list about his recent discovery of Young Earth Creationism and all the fascinating and amazing stuff you could find on the AiG website (my heart sank!). Since then I've been trying to gently debate about all the pseudo-science that he's coming up with. I've pretty much refuted just about every argument he has thrown at me, usually by just pointing him at the relevant post on the Index to Creationist claims at Talk Origins. [ I did warn him that yes there are some militant atheists there but when people do science for the most part they are just trying to be honest]. I think his most spectacular own goal was talking about the "dinosaur blood and soft tissue" claims of YEC's. He sent me a link to an article from the Smithsonian magazine in which Mary Schweizer, who made the discoveries was interviewed. It turns out that Schweizer is a devout Christian, who is absolutely mortified at the way YEC'ers have misrepresented her work.

   He's admitted that most of the ideas he's come up with are non starters, but still is content to believe that there are other explanations and so it doesn't change his views. Recently, for instance one of them came out with the amazing observation that the ages of the patriarchs post-flood follow an exponential decay (he was really "blown away" by this - though they don't make a particularly convincing exponential curve). The other one piped up and said that this would fit in with the idea of accelerated radioactive decay during the flood, and the subsequent genetic damage caused decay to set in resulting in the decaying ages. I pointed out that not only would such a burst of radiation kill Noah et al instantaneously, but it would also probably vapourise the earth. But he still said it didn't change his views and that there were probably "other explanations" for the discrepancies (though he didn't give any).

  Recently I have tried to play the Augustine card, which pretty much like when Pim continually reminds Janice of it, has fallen on deaf ears. No response to Augustine's warning has come. I guess we all know the relevant quote:

  It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation." (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19-20, Chapt. 19 [AD 408])

  Emphasis mine as I was illustrating precisely what happened when the atheist population in my office stumbled upon Conservapedia and were whooping with delight on the entry of Kangaroos and how they originated in the middle east and possibly floated on matted vegetation all the way to Australia.

  However, as I say nothing has come of it. But in anticipating comebacks, I found on the Wikipedia entry on Augustine, that Wikipedia says that Augustine defended what would now be called Young Earth Creationism, in "City of God", citing the following quotation:

  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... 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." (Augustine, Of the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World's Past, The City of God, Book 12: Chapt. 10 [AD 419]).

  I can anticipate that, given that it's there for all to see on Wikipedia, that a YEC might seize on this quote of Augustine's to point out that he was a YEC, and I'm wondering if members of the list might speculate on how to respond to this. My thoughts are that Augustine wasn't talking about science, but was probably referring (by "mendacious documents") to other chronologies of ancient civilisations, which sometimes have the reigns of kings lasting thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands of years. I believe Augustine also wrote that Psalm 90:4 (a thousand years = a day) was linked with Genesis "the day you eat of the fruit you shall surely die", as a reason why Adam (and no other patriarch) reached 1000 (one day). Whether or not this is right, it seems to me that he was talking about inaccurate and exaggerated histories, and not about science.

  I'm wondering what peoples' thoughts on this are. Was Augustine a YEC? Not in the modern sense of the word I guess, but he did reckon the age of mankind at least by the chronology of scripture.

  I'll conclude by adding that whilst I made my comments on Conservapedia yesterday, I do not consider Wikipedia to be at all a reliable source of information. When I've looked up articles on things I'm expert in, I've found more than once there to be either straight factual errors, or extremely misleading statements. I corrected on of this (on the entry on Kalman filters) because a quite misleading statement was made, but it was quickly corrected by a know-it-all PhD student who wants to make himself look clever. Conservapedia is probably right that Wikipedia has a liberal bias (but that doesn't make it right to create a site that has an equally strong, if not more so, Conservative bias). I was always taught that two wrongs don't make a right. I'm wondering if Wikipedia is not being fair in associating YEC-ism with St. Augustine.

  After the game, the King and the pawn go back in the same box.

  - Italian Proverb

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Received on Sat Mar 3 15:10:41 2007

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