Augustine and Evolution


If I may give some advice to those Christians who are of sharp intellect, and are devoted to the issues surrounding the interpretation of the Bible, specifically the first two chapters of Genesis.

Perhaps it may be wise to take the path of Augustine of Hippo, who opted neither for literalism nor compromise. What I mean by compromise, is attempting to reconcile scripture with prevailing scientific theories. This may be dangerous, because it could result in falling behind scientifically.

Let me give you an example. In the Middle Ages, Ptolemy’s model of the universe was widely accepted, so much so that Christians began to assert that this is the model that scripture teaches. However, what happened when the likes of Galileo refuted Ptolemy’s model? Christians did not see this as Galileo refuting Ptolemy, but instead as Galileo refuting scripture. And in this way, the church fell behind in science for many centuries.


Perhaps it may be wise to take the path of Augustine of Hippo, who opted neither for literalism nor compromise.

Augustine had a very literal/historical view of the creation narratives; where he strayed from the literal, it was precisely because the literal was in conflict with general observations of the world and he compromised.

For a few examples: Augustine understood the world to be created <6,000 years before his time [City of God, 12.10], that Adam was created immediately, body and soul by God, not born of parents [On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis, 6.6(10)], and that the entire world was flooded killing all that was not on the Ark [City of God, 15.27].

One of the only places he does stray from the literal/historical understanding is the timespan in which the world was created. Rather than the six-day creation, he posits an instantaneous creation of all things [<6,000 years prior to his writings]. He does this because the order of creation in some cases does not tally with what is observed naturally, and because of the differences in the accounts from Gen. 1 and Gen. 2.


Just to be clear, Galileo didn’t refute anything. He presented a theory and that’s it. A theory that has been presented before, by the way.

And his theory was based on arguments which some were kind of weird, such as saying that the tides were evidence that the earth is rotating.

Proof, as they are presented to us nowdays, came centuries after his death.


Yeah, I know.


Well, I didn’t say you had to follow Augustine’s exact positions. Also, didn’t Augustine say that the creation account was revealed in this manner because the Israelites would not have understood creation happening in a single moment? If so, then it doesn’t seem like it was a simple case of compromise.


Saint Augustine, doctor of the church, and a Bishop defined several doctrines for the Church. Very intelligent man.

Do you know what hermeneutics is?

But what’s your point, I am struggling to understand it.


Biblical interpretation has developed and changed over time. We have exegesis and hermeneutics. Within the second, there are several models. It’s a big topic in theology.


Let’s say that people begin to interpret the first two chapters of Genesis in a manner that heavily supports the theory of evolution, this interpretation in the future may eventually be espoused with great zeal. However, in the future, scientists may discover new evidence which leads them to propose an alternative theory to evolution, maybe even refute or replace the current theory of evolution. And so religious people will once again fall behind in science, because an outdated theory (in that hypothetical future) will be considered to be dogmatic by them.


Are you talking hermeneutics or exegesis.

But you need to understand , regardless, that science describes the how, and theology / the Bible/ religion describes the why.

It’s not their job to cross over and explain the other field , although they do share much in common.


Can you explain the difference please?

I know.


Best you research both hermeneutics and exegesis , and the different models before we have a discussion on Biblical interpretation.
Also on the different roles of science and religion in interpretation of stuff like the origins of the world, etc
Christian Biblical interpretation.

Its a huge area of theology and questions like this need to follow a model to enable the flow of interpretation


I made this thread, because I saw a lot of threads recently pop up on attempting to reconcile Genesis 1 & 2 with evolution.


Yes and until people start approaching it with the correct lens, it’s always going to be a betta fish fight in a glass bowl. As you can see :scream_cat::tropical_fish:

I personally can’t understand why it is so polarised. Reject evolution, we are rejecting God’s creation.


That last line is totally false. What I’m seeing here is an ongoing effort to say the Bible was written by primitives who knew nothing. That is false. God is the author of Scripture and He has all knowledge. He could have told the ancient writers: “In ages long past, men lived like animals and looked like animals and thought like animals, but after many ages, men came to be as you are today.” but He didn’t.

Science is not restricted to religious people. I study the latest science news almost daily. And evolution has no practical scientific use.


So if someone asked you if you wanted to know how glaxies are created or who invented beer or how birds migrate or how the continents were formed…you’d say: ‘Nah, all that information has no practical scientific use’. And you would prefer to remain ignorant.

But I guess your response should be: ‘Well, galaxy formation and how birds migrate and how continents are formed doesn’t contradict my fundamental interpretation of Genesis, so I don’t care about them.’

Honesty is always the best policy, Ed.



I am shocked - shocked - that you would put words in my mouth. You know, stuff I never said.

Ed :slight_smile:


Not another thread about to start on evolution vs creation…


No. Of course… uh, you’re right.


I like one of the explanations St. Augustine gave in his “Literal Meaning of Genesis.”

In Book 6 on the creation of man, he explains the idea that the six days represent not literal days, but a scheme or plan of creation. The actual creation during those “days” was instantaneous and of things in potency and causation, but not necessarily their final visible form which would be shaped later over time. For example, he places the actual formation of man’s body after the seventh day (thus, the second creation account):

St. Augustine

There can be no doubt, then, that the work whereby man was formed from the slime of the earth and a wife fashioned for him from his side belongs not to that creation by which all thing were made together, after completing which, God rested, but to that work of God which takes place with the unfolding of the ages as He works even now.

I like this explanation because it also works nicely with concepts like an old universe, the big bang, and evolution–ie God created all things at once in potency (the big bang) and then formed them over time (old universe, evolution).


St. Thomas raised the basic question: What does Christ mean to a world made by God in perfect order and disrupted by original sin? All the Summa attempts to answer that question, an answer that has been satisfactory for centuries: Christ has restored the original order of the world. Christian theology has described the religion of order, and its doctrines are about a return to original order. Then Copernicus jolted man from the center of the universe.

The modern worldview generated by scientific developments is quite different from the presupposition of medieval Christianity—a world created by God in perfect order and disrupted by original sin. God is no longer the God of a static world order but a God of a world in the process of becoming.

Augustine and St. Thomas had a clear advantage to the modern theologian. They did not have to disconnect from a systematic formulation of Christian doctrine that was very closely related to a cosmology that is no longer accepted. However, how does a Christian today relate a Christology to any current worldview given the postmodern view that any worldview can only be tentative? The more durable doctrines of salvation will be independent of cosmology.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit