Science and the Sacred

Science and the Sacred

What Would Augustine Think of Darwin?


If St. Augustine of Hippo were alive today to read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, would he consider it the faith destroying work that many evangelical Christians accuse it of being? 

In his article “Augustine’s Origin of Species,” Alister McGrath looks at Augustine’s theological writings, especially his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis, to determine what he might have contributed to the modern debate over evolution. 


Even though it was written almost 1500 years before Darwin’s famous book, The Literal Meaning of Genesis provides useful insight into the debate over the interpretation of Genesis.  Augustine cautions us not to place too high of an importance on a particular reading of the Genesis account:

“In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in
Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways
without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we
should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side
that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines our
position, we too fall with it.”


The problem of Genesis, according to Augustine, is not the authority of the text itself but how we should interpret it.  The Church should not rush to ground itself on a single interpretation, as it has done in the past regarding Genesis.  Doing so could prove disastrous, especially if that one intrepration cannot stand in light of modern scientific discoveries.

Augustine may or may not have agreed with a strictly evolutionary view of creation, though he did believe that creation was a continual process. Either way, his insight into this debate that still continues nearly 1600 years later is not that he had found the authoritative interpretation of the passage, but that he realized that its interpretations can change, and should not be allowed to compromise our faith.  In this regard, McGrath is right to say this big issue needs more of the “patient, generous, and gracious reflection” that Augustine promoted.

For more readings on science and religion, be sure to check out the Featured Readings at

Comments read comments(3)
post a comment

posted May 15, 2009 at 9:06 pm

Given Augustine’s views on just war theory, I’m afraid that he would have considered Darwin an existential threat to the one true faith, so Darwin would have to be proscribed.

report abuse

Howie Motz

posted May 19, 2009 at 9:44 am

The thrust of Darwinism then and now was to show how life was and is Godless. Formed with out God. Living without God. Most important, progressing, (evolving) without God.
Good science easily defeats the Godless view of creation. But that kind of science is actively fought against by the controlling establishment.
Good Christianity says mankind is declining. Not progressing (evolving) toward, in-depend from God, eternal life.
So good scientists are left with a decision. Serve the quest for 100% truth. Or serve the over ridding earthly authority.
I’d say, as the Lord said: “Choose ye this day whom you shall serve.”

report abuse

Brian Forbes

posted November 29, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Alister McGrath didn’t study that book very closely. He cherry picked the quote. Take a look at what it says only a few paragraphs later:
“…a man is not in any difficulty in making a reply according to his faith … to those who try to defame our Holy Scripture. … when they produce from any of their books a theory contrary to Scripture … either we shall have some ability to demonstrate that it is absolutely false, or at least we ourselves will hold it so without any shadow of a doubt. …let us choose [the doctrine] which appears as certainly the meaning intended by the author. … For it is one thing to fail to recognize the primary meaning of the writer, and another to depart from the norms of religious belief.”

So the real question is not if evolutionists can mock us with our own leaders, but if Jesus interpreted it literally when he talked about God making them male and female, and about the flood. Or if God interpreted it literally in Ex. 20:11 when he wrote with his own finger that he made the world in 6 days. Or if the author of Heb. 11 knew anything about how to interpret Genesis. Or if it’s ok that death came before sin, or plants before the sun. There are theological issues here, my friend, and faith requires that we reject the words of those who would “defame the Holy Scriptures”.

report abuse

Previous Posts

We're Moving
Science & the Sacred is moving to our new home on The BioLogos Foundation's Web site. Be sure to visit and bookmark our new location to stay up to date with the latest blogs from Karl Giberson, Darrel Falk, Pete Enns, and our various guests ...

posted 8:00:00am Dec. 11, 2009 | read full post »

Shiny Scales, Silvery Skins, and Evolution
  Source: Physorg.comIridescence -- a key component of certain makeup, paints, coatings of mirrors and lenses -- is also an important feature in the natural world. Both fish and spiders make use of periodic photonic systems, which scatter ...

posted 8:00:00am Dec. 09, 2009 | read full post »

A Stellar Advent Calendar
Looking for a unique way to mark the days of the Advent season? The Web site offers an Advent calendar composed of images from the Hubble Telescope, both old and new. Each day, from now until the celebration of the Nativity of Christ, ...

posted 8:00:00am Dec. 09, 2009 | read full post »

Belief, Guidance, and Evolution
Recently BioLogos' Karl Giberson was interviewed by Marcio Campos for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo's Tubo De Ensaio (i.e. "Test tube") section. What follows is a translated transcript of that interview, which we will be posting in ...

posted 8:00:00am Dec. 08, 2009 | read full post »

Let's Come at this From a Different Angle
Every Friday, "Science and the Sacred" features an essay from a guest voice in the science and religion dialogue. This week's guest entry was written by Peter Enns. Enns is an evangelical Christian scholar and author of several books and ...

posted 8:00:00am Dec. 04, 2009 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.