Augustine's Origin of Species

How the great theologian might weigh in on the Darwin debate.
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This year marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th of the publication of his On the Origin of Species. For some, such as Richard Dawkins, Darwinism has been elevated from a provisional scientific theory to a worldview—an outlook on reality that excludes God, firmly and permanently. Others have reacted strongly against the high priests of secularism. Atheism, they argue, simply uses such scientific theories as weapons in its protracted war against religion.

They also fear that biblical interpretation is simply being accommodated to fit contemporary scientific theories. Surely, they argue, the Creation narratives in Genesis are meant to be taken literally, as historical accounts of what actually happened. Isn't that what Christians have always done? Many evangelicals fear that innovators and modernizers are abandoning the long Christian tradition of faithful biblical exegesis. They say the church has always treated the Creation accounts as straightforward histories of how everything came into being. The authority and clarity of Scripture—themes that are rightly cherished by evangelicals—seem to be at stake.

These are important concerns, and the Darwin anniversaries invite us to look to church history to understand how our spiritual forebears dealt with similar issues.

Letting Scripture Speak

North African bishop Augustine of Hippo (354–430) had no skin in the game concerning the current origins controversies. He interpreted Scripture a thousand years before the Scientific Revolution, and 1,500 before Darwin's Origin of Species. Augustine didn't "accommodate" or "compromise" his biblical interpretation to fit new scientific theories. The important thing was to let Scripture speak ...

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