The Quotable Augustine: Distinctively Catholic Elements in His Theology

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Firstly, in defence of his own position, Galileo suggested that physical truths that are properly demonstrated need not be subordinated to Scripture; secondly, that the onus is upon those who hold a stated theoretical proposition false to show that it is false, and not the other way around. The first position here gives a degree of independence to science and offers support to methodological naturalism; although, unlike modern secular science, Galileo was seemingly not advocating that theoretical science should be independent of Christian faith.

We may note, however, that the very ability to undertake operational science arises out of revealed theological commitments, i. There is insufficient space to discuss this fully here, but I would note that within an Augustinian scheme there is a dependency upon divine grace that allows us to read nature accurately. From this Augustinian doctrine, Reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper held that the regenerated and unregenerate mind would reach different conclusions about science and the natural world. The Christian mind, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, would maintain a commitment to Scripture and view the present condition of the world as fallen, while the unregenerate mind would not accept Scripture and see the present condition of the world as normal.

John Cavadini at “Augustine: Theological and Philosophical Conversations"

For Kuyper, though, there were two exceptions to this division; one was in terms of direct sensory observations; the second in terms of use of formal logic such as mathematics. In much of the sciences and in mathematics there could be agreement because of a common grace that is retained by humanity, even in an unregenerated state, but only if there is a commitment to objective truth by all. A belief in common grace then allowed Kuyper to recognize that the non-believer may retain at least some capacity to study the world.

Harrison has also suggested that Galileo maintained that science was possible because the inner light of the image of God was not completely extinguished by the Fall, and that human beings retain a capacity for logic and mathematics figure 3. The ability to do operational science, then, is grounded and dependent upon Judeo-Christian commitments that arise out of revealed theology. Despite recognition of the dependency of human reason upon God, Galileo was wrong to suggest that operational science need not be subordinate to Scripture.

This is because a literal reading of Scripture as well as a number of Christian doctrines support and provide justification to operational science.

Chapter 1: The Making of a Christian Realist

Scriptural precedence then offers a degree of freedom to human reasoning. His second argument also effectively asserts the priority of science and places the church in a subordinate position in relation to the claims of theoretical science. Instead, from Augustine, Christians may hold a theoretical proposition false if it conflicts with revealed faith, without having to show that it is false.


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Instead Protestants place authority in Scripture. Alvin Plantinga has further argued that Christians may move beyond methodological naturalism where appropriate and undertake theistic or Augustinian science; that is where knowledge gathered from faith may inform science.

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As noted, while theistic evolutionists and old-earth creationists are quick to point creationists to lesson 1, they do not go on to carefully elaborate other lessons in the Augustinian text. Augustine in fact considers this to be more dangerous than the problem of uneducated believers speaking nonsense in the sciences. 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.

Turning away in disgust from the unattractive wheat field, they long for the blossoms on the thorn. For they are not free to see how sweet is the Lord, and they have no hunger on the Sabbath. And thus they are idle, though they have permission from the Lord to pluck the ears of grain and to work them in their hands and grind them and win-now them until they arrive at the nourishing kernel.

From this I think Christians need to be robust and fair in response and not be intimidated by the demands of secular science and institutions.

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However, one may wonder whether theistic evolutionists and progressive creationists sometimes seem to esteem secular reasoning too highly and seek to re-interpret Scripture in light of the perceived needs of secular theoretical science. As discussed, Augustine would not have supported this, holding in balance both the symbolism and the literal-historical reading. But we also need to be careful about judging fellow Christians and using pejorative language, which may divide; instead we need to argue our case with respect towards fellow believers even if in a firm manner.

Augustine warns us not to be ashamed in the face of secular theoretical science, but be strong and stand firm in valuing the text of Genesis and what it means for Christian believers. Trying to bring out the meaning of Scripture Augustine likens to the gathering, threshing, and winnowing of wheat. Theistic evolutionists and progressive creationists should be more careful in how they use it against creationists because there is a danger of taking it out of its own context. Superficially it seems an easy tool to use against opponents, but the wider context points in other directions that are distinctly challenging for all of us.

So what lessons are there? Firstly, that all of us should work and study hard to get to grips with what secular scientists believe, but also to accurately represent the position of other Christians we might disagree with and present our case in a respectful manner.


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We should also avoid trivial matters, although Augustine thought defence of the age of the earth was important. Secondly, holding to a ruling paradigm in science may later prove to be a false enterprise. Thirdly, we may draw a distinction between theoretical science that often arises out of pagan beliefs and philosophy, and operational science that may be demonstrated in real time.

Christians are under no obligation to accept the former if it is contrary to Scripture, even as we accept the latter. Science is often seen to have priority over revealed faith, even among some Christians working in science. This error needs to be acknowledged and addressed.

Chapter 1: The Making of a Christian Realist

Fourthly, that we should not be faint hearted or afraid to defend the text of Scripture, even in its literal sense, in the face of pressure from secular science. We have supplied this link to an article on an external website in good faith. But we cannot assume responsibility for, nor be taken as endorsing in any way, any other content or links on any such site. Even the article we are directing you to could, in principle, change without notice on sites we do not control. This article is from Journal of Creation 27 2 —77, August Browse our latest digital issue Subscribe.

Further Reading The early church believed Genesis as written How has Genesis 1—11 been understood throughout history? Creation in-depth: Creation and the Church Fathers. Related Media. References and notes Alexander, D. Monarch, Oxford, ; and Lennox, J. Return to text. Alexander, ref. Lennox, ref.

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See, for instance, Sibley, A. Creation 26 3 —, Taylor, J. Other Augustine references are taken from Schaff, P. McMullin, E. Hart, Weed, J. Taylor, ref. Also see Augustine, De Genesi ad Litteram , 1. Augustine, De Genesi ad Litteram , 1. See also Taylor, ref. For instance Augustine, De Genesi ad Litteram , 1. Also The City of God , Augustine, The City of God , See also Zuiddam, B.

Creation 24 1 :5—6, Augustine, De Genesi ad Litteram , 2. Hart Weed, J. See Hart Weed, ref.

For instance: Augustine, De Genesi ad Litteram , 2. Augustine, De Genesi ad Litteram ,1. She disagrees with McMullin on the point of Augustine and Catholic authority.