Was Augustine mistaken?


#1

A quote from St Augustine

“But if they are able to establish their doctrine with proofs that cannot be denied, we must show that this statement of Scripture . . . is not opposed to the truth of their conclusions.” He urges us to change our interpretation of Scripture, not because Scripture is to be ruled by science, but because no two truths made by God will contradict one another. All truth comes from God, whether discovered by science or by the Church in its interpretation of Scripture. The first question we must ask is whether a particular scientific theory is well-founded. If it is, then we must make sure we don’t read the Bible in a manner that contradicts sound knowledge of nature."

Kenneth J Howell is high in his praise of St Augustine and his approach to science. (article in The Rock)

The problem is becoming slowly apparent that the evolution of man and the doctrine of original sin will inevitably collide. Science has been fairly clear in revealing a polygenic origin of human beings. That is rapidly leaving the realm of hypothesis and becoming solid theory. If true then man arose in groups from pre-man and that makes EDEN an unlikely scenario. The events surrounding the creation of homo sapiens perfectus and the subsequent descent into the species homo sapiens sinnerus imperfectus is becoming increasingly more unlikely. It would appear on the face of the evidence that man arose from pre-hominids as a totally natural creature with a brain able to finally comprehend its own reality and with that extant creature God chose to begin an intimate relationship with his creation.

That man is perfect as he is, is not in question here. Man comes well equipped with what seems to be a built in original or inherited flaw which is the ability to deceive not just those around him but himself as well. Our ability to create our own reality (in our minds) is an ongoing stumbling block to our relationship with our Creator since we can (if wished) make God disappear from our reality and in that way begin to create our own unique hell on earth (and probably in eternity as well).

The soul is equally not in question. If God begins a relationship, He will give the means to make that permanent.

If all of this is right in as much as we can now determine, was St Augustine a man of his time and right as far as he knew and is he now wrong in light of current science?

Popes Pius XII, John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have indicated that evolution appears to be a solid scientific theory, " as long as it does not conflict with Adam and Eve" Is this a position that the Vatican can sustain without becoming dogmatic and unyielding?

Note that there is no question about God as Creator and source of creation. In that I firmly believe. Intelligent Design is not as the ID literalists insist but that the entire design was written into the laws of the energy/wave/matter that instantly appeared in the “Big Bang”.

The discussion here is:

  1. Does evolution as a scientific theory and therefore most likely true as far as we know, conflict with scriptural interpretation and;
  2. Is it time for a serious discussion between the Church and Science as to the ramifications of this theory on Genesis and the doctrine of original sin and
    3 Is it time for the church to reevaluate the doctrine of original sin and man’s “fall from grace”

No, you may not burn me at the stake for heresy. Taint allowed in Texas.


#2
  1. Does evolution as a scientific theory and therefore most likely true as far as we know, conflict with scriptural interpretation and;
  2. Is it time for a serious discussion between the Church and Science as to the ramifications of this theory on Genesis and the doctrine of original sin and
    3 Is it time for the church to reevaluate the doctrine of original sin and man’s “fall from grace”
  1. Depends on who you ask. The Church has made no pronouncements either way; all we are required to believe regarding Creation is a) God did it; b) man was created in God’s image; c) Adam and Eve are real – regardless of how that played out historically; d) man fell as a result of his free choice to disobey God; and e) all mankind is stained by original sin.

  2. How is this possible? There is no universal organization that represents all of “Science” as there is a universal Church. Furthermore, there is no unified view among scientists, let alone anything more than theories about the origin of the universe and of life.

  3. The Church doesn’t “reevaluate” doctrine. Some doctrines are developed and expounded upon, but there is no change made to the fundamental teaching at its heart. The Church teaches that A, B, C, D, and E are true – if science appears to contradict it, then one of two problems is at work: either the science is wrong, or we don’t fully understand the manner in which the Church’s teaching is true.

Think about it: science is based on obvservation; the Church is based on revelation. Even if one could say there is an authority called “Science”, which one is more reliable?

Peace,
Dante


#3

If it is supposed that Genesis gives an in any way historical account of either man or original sin, then yes, it is (over)time to re-evaluate that approach.

What is more important in the here and now is the fact of original sin, not its origin.


#4

The Church doesn’t “reevaluate” doctrine. Some doctrines are developed and expounded upon, but there is no change made to the fundamental teaching at its heart. The Church teaches that A, B, C, D, and E are true – if science appears to contradict it, then one of two problems is at work: either the science is wrong, or we don’t fully understand the manner in which the Church’s teaching is true.

Think about it: science is based on obvservation; the Church is based on revelation. Even if one could say there is an authority called “Science”, which one is more reliable?

Peace,
Dante

This argument presumes two points that may be wrong.
Augustine himself proposes that if science offers substantial proof of its claim then the Church is obligated to reassess its doctrinal position. By this statement alone St Augustine has said that while God is absolute truth, man may not be right and may have to correct.

The second point is that the Church has been promised Jesus will always be with it. God also promised the Israelites He would always be with them but did promise they would always get the whole truth all the time. One might say God gave the Israelites “wiggle room”.

Standing on revelation arguments would not be permissible in the court of truth since anyone can claim doctrinal revelation with impunity. God does not strike anyone down for misuse of doctrinal authority when they are wrong.

By definition, if science finds a hypothesis to stand the test of experimentation then it becomes theory and factual. This argument does not affect my original question since it relies on extant belief systems that may or may not be reliable in reality.

If man cannot trust that sustainable observations are true then we are in deep trouble. If someone publishes an observation that proves doubt in the original studies then science is back to square one. If the hypothesis stands against attempts to disprove it then it becomes more reliable at fact. Facts are truth and God is truth so the two cannot war with one another. Jesus Himself stood some of the Hebrew “doctrines” on their ear. What makes us any different when it comes to making doctrine. Augustine himslef cautions us on this topic. (original post)


#5

I beg to differ.

The Eden “myth” lets US off the hook. We are homo-defectus since Adam and Eve did something wrong. Not my fault, blame it on the first couple!

If the basic flaw is deception (self deception) then change becomes personal. This flaw is in me as a natural consequence of my genetic heritage; therefore I bear a personal responsibility to correct the situation. C.S. Lewis calls it like it is. God will not stand for it. He wants us perfect or as perfect as we can get and He will dog us until we get it right. Once we let Him into the house (soul) he is determined to get it clean and fit to live in. As long as we can lamely claim it is someone else’s problem we can retard the cleaning process.


#6

I quote your very words:

Is it time for the church to reevaluate the doctrine of original sin and man’s “fall from grace”

IF:
1.) You want to clain infallibility, but
2.) You find yourself having to back track.

Then either you have got to adopt the fundamentalist approach and pretend that the world is not as it is, or else you have got to play with semantics to try and hide your red face.


#7

The use of the quote is disingenuous. That was from another post I was quoting from.

Infallibility of any human statement requires extreme caution. The fact that I question St. Augustine’s doctrine of original sin does not mean that I question all tenets of the Catholic Faith. The Nicene Creed sums up it all up nicely.

Doctrine comes from man’s study of scripture and his interpretation of it as far as he is able to interpret it. That is debatable in my mind and I stand ready to defend my position as far as I am able as well as concede the point if someone can show me where I am wrong. That is not “having it both ways” but asking a debatable question that I am honestly seeking an answer to.


#8

The trouble is that the Catholic Church does not limit itself to the Nicene Creed when declaring something to be infallibly taught. In fact, since it doesn’t like having its authority questioned at all, most things are deemed to have been infallibly defined.

Where, for instance, does the Assumption appear in the Nicene Creed?

(Even the Anglican Church wouldn’t be entirely happy about having the reality of original sin questioned; although it might be more laid back when it came to dogmatising about its origin - you will also hear the word heresy being less freely thrown about than it is on this site.)


#9

On the OP…and your view, seemingly;

If man is traced to a group of branching out humanoids, who in turn are traced to a group, and in turn traced to a ‘family’ and eventually one or two individuals, ** how is that a collision with Genesis?**

Is it your position that a common descent ancestor(s) discounts Genesis?

Just curious…

:cool:


#10

Because that is not how different species evolve. If species A splits into two sub-groups A1 and A2, and they become geographically separated, over time group A1 will evolve, and become species B whilst at the same time gropup A2 will separately evolve and, under different environmental constraints, become species C.


#11

The infallible teaching of the Church are just that - infallible. These teachings are not something man made up but are God’s teaching reveled to man through his Church. Doctrines of the Catholic Church do not just come from mans study of scripture and his interpretation of it. I don’t recall that the Church ever said that everything Augustine wrote was infallible.

The Church has stated infallibly the doctrine of original sin. While scientists continue to study and theorize about the evolution of mankind I have read nothing that scientists can “prove” that would contradict any doctrine of the Church.

The Church has not infallibly stated by what process or timeline the world was created because God has not chosen to reveal that yet. It has taught - though I don’t think it has “raised” that teaching to the level of doctrine - that the it is silly to believe that the world was created 6000 or 10000 years ago because it has been scientifically disproved. The Church does infallibly teach that God created it however it actually happened.

So to answer your original thread title of “was Augustine mistaken?” My answer is possibly and so what?


#12

There in lies the problem. Homo sapiens sapiens arose as a population. Now it can be argued even biologically that somewhere and somewhen, the necessary mutations arose in an individual that put the human brain over the top and started the group toward extant humans. But that genetic change had to be spread through out the population or it would have simply been a blink in the time line.
Now we have a population of “thinkers”. Does God pull two of them out of the population and set them up in Eden where they are supposed to be His pets? That doesn’t seem like something God would do. Note that Genesis goes on without catching its own contradiction. Cain slays Abel and is forced away and goes to live in the land east of Eden where he marries and fathers his own line. Marries who? If there is a fellow group of Homo out there to team up with, did they get souls but no test?

Genetic intelligent research suggests that man’s first “brain power” was first put to use in the art of mating and that seems reasonable since the main thrust of evolution is to promulgate one’s own gene pool. Man gets better at the mating game by using brain power to literally “create” an image of better genes to increase his apparent, but not real, fitness. Now this seems at first glance to be a terrible evolutionary scheme, but it is great one since the trait becoming fixed is no longer brawn but brain.

At the end of this process, when the brain is finally “fit”, God steps in and begins interaction with his creation. For lack of a more compelling argument, that interaction forms the soul of man.


#13

That’s an interesting point. This appears to be your main argument and I’d like to hear what others have to say about it. I am reluctant to give up monogenism, but as an Anglican I don’t have as many problems with polygenism as an orthodox Catholic would (in other words, whatever status Pius XII’s encyclical Humani Generis has for Catholics, it obviously has nothing more than a certain mild claim to respect for Anglicans).

However, I do have some comments about some ancillary arguments you make (and one nit-picking bit of Latin pedantry!).

If true then man arose in groups from pre-man and that makes EDEN an unlikely scenario.

Or rather, “Eden” would be a state experienced by different groups of early humans at different times, which would mean that either there were several Falls, or that one group fell and that this fallen culture came to dominate the world. (If you read Gen. 3 and Gen. 4 non-literally you can read them as supporting this view–“Abel” would then not literally be the child of the first sinners but would be an unfallen group of humans slaughtered and dispossessed in prehistoric times by his fallen “brothers.”)

The events surrounding the creation of homo sapiens perfectus and the subsequent descent into the species homo sapiens sinnerus imperfectus

Please, just to keep us Latin-lovers happy: homo sapiens peccator imperfectus!

is becoming increasingly more unlikely.

Apart from the bad Latin this is a confused sentence (sorry for the tone–I’ve just been grading essays!). I don’t take the narrative in Gen. 1-11 (I would argue that the “Fall story” actually continues through the Tower of Babel) literally, so if that’s what you’re talking about I don’t find it earth-shaking. If you mean that there was no such descent then I don’t think there is any reason for such a conclusion.

It would appear on the face of the evidence that man arose from pre-hominids as a totally natural creature

What is a “totally natural creature”? And how would scientific evidence tell us anything about the subject? If humans could be something other than “natural creatures,” how would this show up in the scientific evidence?

with a brain able to finally comprehend its own reality and with that extant creature God chose to begin an intimate relationship with his creation.

That man is perfect as he is, is not in question here. Man comes well equipped with what seems to be a built in original or inherited flaw which is the ability to deceive not just those around him but himself as well.

How do we know that the first humans had this “capacity,” or rather that they had the tendency to use their minds for this purpose? I would also not say that this is the only manifestation of “original sin” in humans–there are a number of others, and the classical Augustinian focus on desire “curved in on itself” (which also plays a major role in Buddhist and some other non-Christian accounts of the human condition) has a lot to be said for it.

You have raised some thoughtful points. Thanks!

Edwin


#14

Augustine should not be esteemed by anyone.

And this country is headed for incredibly dark times no matter what happens:

youtube.com/watch?v=vHXe7x5pzD4


#15

What argument can ever be made to that?

Infallibility is perfect because it says so.

Well, The doctrine of original sin came about through the writings and arguments of St Augustine himself and was accepted by the early church council. So Augustine is central to the issue.

I won’t argue against infallibility since it is its own absolute defense. Now I will say that to heed Church direction is a win-win situation because one takes it for granted that there are groups that argue these issues and give the best answers for the times.

Note that I pose a question here for discussion and debate. I do not claim absolute knowledge or “revelation” nor infallibility. The questions are, how Augustine formed his doctrine and whether his arguments stand up against what is now known by science.

Over the centuries, God has put up with bad popes, bad priests and bad Christians. Jesus promised us He would be with us until the end of the world. He didn’t promise us that we would ever be continuously right.

I dare say, that Annanias and Caiphas had dogma and infallibility on their side when they carried out the plan to silence the Nazarene. And we all know how that worked out.


#16

That’s a bad misinterpretation of the classical Christian doctrine.

If the basic flaw is deception (self deception) then change becomes personal.

I don’t see that deception vs. distorted desire makes any difference. Or if it does, it works the other way–if I am naturally made so as to deceive myself, the situation is hopeless. How would I know I wasn’t deceiving myself? I think you are throwing together a number of different points, and the argument would benefit from separating them out and discussing them one by one. I see at least three different issues in this thread:

  1. polygenism vs. monogenism and its implications for original sin
  2. Deception vs. desire as the basic human “flaw”
  3. Whether or not this basic “flaw” is part of humanity from the beginning or whether it is something that happened to human beings after becoming sentient and after God established a relationship with the first human beings.

This flaw is in me as a natural consequence of my genetic heritage; therefore I bear a personal responsibility to correct the situation. C.S. Lewis calls it like it is. God will not stand for it.

Sure, but that’s not relevant to the issues you are raising. Lewis (though not necessarily a monogenist) clearly believed in original sin. He didn’t think this lessened human responsibility. Nor have most Christian theologians historically. This is a claim modern people have come up with in order to beat up on original sin, as far as I can see.

Your position appears to me to be frankly Pelagian, and yes, I think that’s heresy. Sin is not simply an individual choice. This may not suit a self-improvement program, but I think it’s the most convincing account of the human condition.

Edwin


#17

My apologies, I was indulging in a bit of bugs bunny word play (sinnerus). It has been many years since my last latin class.

The fall I talk about is the biblical descent from perfection into imperfection by original sin. This is arguable since it becomes apparent that man’s movement intellectually is an ongoing ascent no matter how much we stumble and even retrogress periodically. Now, in all fairness, I attribute that ascent not to man’s own initiative, but to God’s interaction with his creation. Jesus gave us the tools to become more than we were in 1AD just as his Father gave the Israelites the tools to become more than they were in and before Egypt.

Why just tools and not absolutes? Free will is the simple answer. Man must be free to actively and deliberately chose God. It’s in the original contract. To use the old metaphor, if you set a bird free and it doesn’t come back, it was never yours in the first place. If it does, it is yours forever.

There is evidence that man is different from every other creature due to this God directed evolution of our character. Man alone of all the animals will put his own life in jeopardy for another species. Natural altruism has its limits and usually stops at the species line. On the negative side, we deeply retain the original advanced primate ability to deceive even ourselves. Only a primate would be able to be trapped by putting seeds and fruit in a gourd where he can get an open hand in but can’t get the closed hand out. The primate gets a firm belief in his mind that he can get the closed hand out and thus is frozen by his own belief.

Finally, and this is definitively conjecture, your theory of group guilt may be closer to right than you think. If(theoretical if here) homo sapiens sapiens was the cause of the extinction of homo sapiens neanderthalis and if neanderthalis also had a share in God’s life then we have indeed been our brother’s murderer. Neanderthalis archeology shows they were a caring race and maintained individuals into post productive years. Their graves suggest a belief of further life beyond the grave.

There are things to be learned from Genesis. To me, I see the deceit and self deceit in the symbol of the fig leaf. As man began to see himself as he really was, he began to cover his nakedness with false reality and began to delude himself that this covering could fool God.


#18

The question I have is why would science and religion clash over original sin? This is an area that science cannot by its very nature ask any questions about. If it is because science could one day find out that there was never an Adam then I think we would have a long time to wait (invention of time machine:D ).

Concerning science and religion conflicting over Scripture, the only way that would occur is if someone uses Scripture for what it was never meant to be and that is a science journal. The first few chapters reveal certain truths through a story or a then current belief of creation. Those undeniable truths are: God created the universe out of nothing, all mankind has a single source in Adam, Adam fell which brought about original sin, and the institution of the Sabbath and seven day week.

None of those can be reputed by science for none are scientific questions. Concerning the method of creation (taking 6 days and was done not that long ago (6000bc) shown in the old testament that can be disputed by science and rightfully so.

In the scriptures, storys or legends were used to express truths. The truths are important not the story and legends.

A perfect example of this is the Big Bang theory. There is a lot that we can know about what happen as long as the theories of physics hold. But there is a certain amount of time between the explosion before the laws of physics came into play. That period is thus inexcessible to science under the current laws. Also science cannot answer questions such as where did this singularity come from or why did it explode?

I guess what I am saying is that science is the study of nature only where religion or theology is the study of everything else. So by definition they cannot conflict with each other.

Emite


#19

I can only re-quote St. Augustine himself here.

A quote from St Augustine

“But if they are able to establish their doctrine with proofs that cannot be denied, we must show that this statement of Scripture . . . is not opposed to the truth of their conclusions.” He urges us to change our interpretation of Scripture, not because Scripture is to be ruled by science, but because no two truths made by God will contradict one another. All truth comes from God, whether discovered by science or by the Church in its interpretation of Scripture. The first question we must ask is whether a particular scientific theory is well-founded. If it is, then we must make sure we don’t read the Bible in a manner that contradicts sound knowledge of nature."

Apparently Augustine himself considers that science and religious doctrine would sometimes clash.

Both Science and Religion have the same goal and that is truth. Since both are characterized by human striving both have the possibility of human misunderstanding or human error. Now the immediate argument is that God prevents human error in religion but that argument may not hold due to free will. While he gives us tools and guidelines we have to feel our way and accept that we may be wrong or only half right some of the time. Both pure science and pure religion would never be in conflict simply because they would be considered and decided in a methodical process that could eliminate human frailty.

My feeling is that if St Augustine were alive today he would be an active participant in this debate and would be a positive force in shaping the ultimate outcome. This in no way automatically assumes he “would be on my side”. He might offer counter arguments that would make me change the premise or even cast aside as a failed idea. What I doubt he would do is disappear behind a wall of infallibility and doctrinal finality. It wasn’t his way.

St. Augustine was a strong force in the developments that led to the Council of Nicea and many of the ancient doctrines we have today and in his writings we see a scholar and a thinker. His own writings tend to assure us that if presented with solid proof he would adjust what was required and then add more to the understanding, not just knuckle under.

So, if man is proven to be natural development of nature and is marked by certain natural frailties that were innate at the time of God’s initial interaction with us then man was never in a position to be perfect and to lose that perfection by some original sin. If that is true then it may change the way and the tone of God’s interaction with us is perceived. If God is working to make us perfect rather then punishing us for some far distant transgression then that is a radically different way of looking at God.


#20

The ideas you have to look at that were current at the time were based upon the Bible in many areas for they did not have anything else with that type of authority. The 7 days of creation was basically a universal belief in Europe all the way up to Darwin for there was no proof otherwise. The flat earth theory was accepted all the up to Columbus and the idea of the earth being the center of the universe was it until Galileo. Why because there was no better belief offered at the time.

Also back then the Bible was taken literally in all matters (Spiritual and Physical). Augustine is 100% correct that truth cannot conflict truth because God does not lie.

But that being said, original sin is revealed doctrine as well as all of us having a common ancestor. And to be honest if you look at the evidence, there is not anything that truly debuncks that in science. Especially when you look at the genetic evidence, the archealogical evidence (humanity came out of Africa and migrated to the rest of the world which means that humanity had a common source), and many concepts in evolution concerning how mutations occur.

If the main difference of Adam from the rest of the primates was a superior intelligence which allowed him the ability to see and think of things in a different way and have the ability to know the existence of God and worship him. This would have given him an incredible edge over the others because of the creativity and intelligence to work through problems.

All that I am saying is that science and religion asks different questions about the universe. Science asks What and How while religion asks Why. For example the existence of the universe: Science asks the questions: What is the universe and what laws does it follow? and How is it here and how does it work? While religion asks the question: Why is it here and why is it the way that it is?


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