(Originally posted in February of 2011 – refreshed in 2015 – Updated in 2021)
In a recent interview by Dinesh D’Souza (President of Kings College at the time, as well as being a favorite author of mine) of physicist Stephen Barr (Professor of Particle Physics at the Bartol Research Institute and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Delaware). What was otherwise a good interview and overview of philosophical naturalism’s metaphysical positions in contradistinction to true science and religion’s metaphysical outlook, took a historical turn for the worse when Augustine was used as defense in the “old-earth/young-earth” debate.
(Thank you for Uncommon Descent’s link to my story!)
In this next portion you will hear the portion of the interview I wish to weigh in on. We pick up the conversation as it happens coming in from the break:
The problem with Dr. Barr’s summation is that he has failed to take into account that people’s views on matters change over time. (This wasn’t intentional… we are finite beings and cannot know all things to bring to bare in conversation.) For instance, R.C. Sproul (evangelical scholar, professor, and President of Ligonier Ministries) mentioned that through most of his teaching career he accepted the old-age position. However, late in his career he changed his position to that of the young earth creationists.
ST. AUGUSTINE (PART 1)
Similarly, Augustine, early in his life, was very allegorical in his attempt to interpret and define Scripture and events in it. Later however, he changed his position in much the same way Dr. Sproul did. Therefore, to quote Sproul or Augustine as old-earth creationists supporting the views of professor Barr would not do the position justice.
An example of Augustine’s allegorical uses comes from the journal Church History by way of Mervin Monroe Deems (Ph.D., past Samuel Harris Lecturer on Literature and Life at Bangor Theological Seminary, Maine) in which he points out Augustine’s use of allegory in interpreting “paradise” in Genesis:
To put this closing remark in slightly updated English, it reads as follows:
To be clear, Augustine was still holding to the literal meaning in the Genesis narrative even during his use of allegory in rendering extra meaning to the idea of paradise in Genesis. Again, professor Deems:
And this is key, as Professor Benno Zuiddam (Benno Zuiddam is research professor [extraordinary associate] for New Testament Studies, Greek and Church History at the faculty of Divinity at North West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa) points out,
The professor points out as well that from Augustine’s City of God, we can begin to see this literalism in the evolution of his responses to pagans. Dr. Zuiddam asks:
An example of this can be seen here with Augustine himself saying:
Non-literalist Professor James Barr (Professor of Hebrew Bible at Vanderbilt University and former Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford University in England) in a letter to David C.C. Watson, 23 April 1984 wrote this:
As one can see from here and following the links to the larger articles, Dr. Stephen Barr may want to revise his position on some of the church fathers and their views in regards to the age of the earth and hence creation. A good resource for reading their thoughts on the matter — the early church fathers that is — can be FOUND HERE.
 Tas Walker, “Famous evangelical apologist changes his mind: RC Sproul says he is now a six-day, young-earth creationist,” Creation Ministries International, published May 21st, 2008, found at URL:
Allegory is primarily a method of reading a text by assuming that its literal sense conceals a hidden meaning, to be deciphered by using a particular hermeneutical key. In a secondary sense, the word “allegory” is also used to refer to a type of literature that is expressly intended to be read in this nonliteral way. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is a well-known example of allegorical literature, but it is doubtful whether any part of the Bible can be regarded as such. The parables of Jesus come closest, but they are not allegories in the true sense. The apostle Paul actually used the word allegoria, but arguably this was to describe what would nowadays be called “typology” (Gal. 4:24). The difference between typology and allegory is that the former attaches additional meaning to a text that is accepted as having a valid meaning in the “literal” sense, whereas the latter ignores the literal sense and may deny its usefulness altogether. Paul never questioned the historical accuracy of the Genesis accounts of Hagar and Sarah, even though he regarded them as having an additional, spiritual meaning as well. Other interpreters, however, were often embarrassed by anthropomorphic accounts of God in the Bible, and sought to explain away such language by saying that it is purely symbolic, with no literal meaning at all. It is in this latter sense that the word “allegory” is generally used today.
Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Gen Ed., Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), cf. Allegory, 34-35.
 Mervin Monroe Deems, “Augustine’s Use of Scripture,” Church History Vol. 14, No. 3 (Sep., 1945), 196. Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Society of Church History (Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3160307) (emphasis added).
 Saint Augustine, City of God (New York, NY: Image Books, 1958), 288; or, Book XIII, 21 (emphasis added).
 Mervin Monroe Deems, “Augustine’s Use of Scripture,” Church History Vol. 14, No. 3 (Sep., 1945), 188-189 (emphasis added).
 Benno Zuiddam, “Augustine: young earth creationist — [How] theistic evolutionists take Church Father out of context,” Creation Ministries International, published October 8th, 2009, found at URL (emphasis added):
 Benno Zuiddam, “Adjust the lighting was dark,” Reformatorisch Dagblad (Reformed Daily), published April 15th, 2009, found at URL:
(will need Google to translate).
 Henry Morris, “The Literal Week of Creation,” ICR, found at URL:
THREE OLD EARTH CHURCH FATHERS
This is an update to respond not in the intended spirit of unity in the Body of Christ – but in response to the misinformation that CONTINUES to permeate this debate. The article posted in an Apologetics group on Facebook was this one:
The short answer is “yes,” when good church history is shared within the debate. When bad points of history are inserted into the debate, a pause and reflection and secondary debate needs to be undertaken. (you can enlarge the picture below by clicking it. It is just to show I have the books some of the following quotes are coming from.)
ANSWERS IN GENESIS notes the following, “[Augustine] believed that God created everything in an instant and that He described it for us as being completed in six normal days for the sake of our understanding.” They continue with the quote:
Continuing, AIG notes:
- “Augustine believed the genealogies given in Genesis to be literal chronologies and that the pre-Flood patriarchs lived to be around 900 years” — The City of God, Book 15, Chapters 11–12 (read here)
- He also stated, “Unbelievers are also deceived by false documents which ascribe to history many thousand years, although we can calculate from Sacred Scripture that not 6,000 years have passed since the creation of man” — Augustine, The City of God, translated by G. G. Walsh and G. Monahan (1952), Book 12, Chapter 11, p. 263. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press.
One summary of Augustine’s work the writer comments: “Interestingly, Augustine supports a young earth or at least a young humanity view, believing man was created 5000 years previously” (Whole Reason – scroll down to 4 Books 11-14: The Origins of the City of God)
One must remember that Augustine believed, wrongly, that all six days of creation happened on one day. But he did not ascribe long ages before or after that, that we know. Don Batten adds to this thought: “Even Augustine cannot remotely be used in support of old-earth beliefs. Even though he allegorized the Days of Creation (and lots of other passages—he was no Hebrew scholar), he tried to compress the days into an instant, which is diametrically opposite to what long-agers claim!”
In another critique of James Mook’s chapter in the young earth creationist book, Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth, Dr. John Millam admits the following:
- By my own research, none of the fathers taught an old earth.
And Dr William Dembski opines as well:
- Let me concede that young earth creationism was largely the position of the church from the Church Fathers through the Reformers
WORKING ON UPDATE