Thursday, June 28, 2007

Augustine on Christians spouting bad science

Wes Elsberry, as many of you know, is an elder statesman both at Panda's Thumb and at The National Center for Science Education (NCSE.) Over the years we have argued, early-on acrimoniously, about level playing fields and Popperian falsifiability. In addition, I have been a critic of the NCSE, primarily because I believe they misrepresent the Vatican's view on evolution—effectively (in my opinion) presenting the Vatican's acceptance of a theistic evolution as a general papal endorsement of the theory. Over time we have, I would say, at least learned to interact graciously.

This is just a big hat tip—in a post on his blog he has a full quote from St. Augustine, one that I've been searching for:

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.

Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram: 1.19.39 translated by J.H. Taylor, Ancient Christian Writers, Newman Press, 1982, volume 41. (Emphasis added)

He wasn't the greatest theologian of the first millennium for nothing.

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