Monday, 10 June 2013

Understanding God's Word through His Creation - 5

The Literal Meaning of Genesis – An Early Church Father Speaks the Truth

Christian obscurantism is hardly new. Augustine of Hippo noted much to his displeasure that not a few Christians were bringing disrepute onto the Christian movement by a similar pattern of behaviour:

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. [40]
It is depressing to realise that over 1500 years have passed since Augustine wrote this, and Christians today are still peddling nonsense in the name of Christ. When you see people declaring that the Earth is 6000 years old, or that the geological strata were laid down by a global flood, or that humans and dinosaurs co-existed, it’s hard not to get frustrated and angry, since this sort of science denialism does lead to a crisis of faith for believers who are scientifically literate.

What’s even worse is to see an earlier generation of Christadelphian writers critically engage with the best scholarship of the day without recoiling in horror from mainstream science because it contradicted a literal reading of Scripture. In the nearly 100 years since Walker provided our community with a perfect approach to approach the problem of reconciling the Bible and modern science, we’ve arguably gone backwards, as demonstrated by the steady infiltration of special creationism and Biblical literalism into the community. 

This article first appeared on my Facebook page here


40. Augustine De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim (The Literal Meaning of Genesis)