Sunday, November 3, 2013

Criticism of a Citation from Saint Augustine's 'De Genesi ad litteram'

Last week I was engaged in a debate concerning polygenism. I criticized and ridiculed the scientific establishment more than once. In reaction one of my opponents cited Saint Augustine (argued from authority). The citation comes from Chapter 19 of “De Genesi ad litteram” (“A Literal Commentary on Genesis”). It was funny because if I recall correctly Galileo used the same citation to quiet his opponents. What I read from his use of this citation is that I was an ignorant peasant because I had criticized modern mainstream science. 

So now lets look at this citation and see if it holds up to critical reasoning and rational analysis. Be forewarned, I do not take too kindly to use of this quote in context to the 21st century. Recall Augustine lived at the end of the 4th century and beginning of the 5th century.

“Non-Christians know something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge they hold to as being certain from reason and experience."

Their assumed 'knowledge' was not put to the test. They thought that the Sun and stars orbited the Earth. Their elements were air, water, earth, fire and aether!!! Their categories (kinds) were destroyed and replaced by modern categories. They were certain that the Earth was flat. Only arrogant humans are certain of their scientific facts.  Their experiences were later proven to be lies. So you see there is an underlying contradiction here. Saint Augustine puts out a contradiction without even knowing it!!! Poof goes this entire citation. It has no value. 

"Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for a nonbeliever to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

Really? So instead we should hear you, Augustine, give five contradictory interpretations of Genesis 1? We should hear you reify space and time? We should hear you proclaim the axiom "Orbis judicat terrarum" (The verdict of the world is conclusive; the whole world cannot be wrong) in a time when all reputable scientists thought the Earth was flat? Should we just go along with the crowd or the high and mighty human apes with letters behind their names? Should we be embarrassed that God works miracles that cannot be explained or even argued in favor of using reason alone? And besides nonbelievers will always laugh the meaning of Sacred Scripture to scorn. So who cares?

The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.

Some of the writers of Sacred Scripture were unlearned men.

If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehood on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

They were mistaken in their fields and they still are. Their pages are full of statements of facts in an assumption, not facts.

fact, true fact, truth: Every minute detail of what actually is, was, happens, or happened irrespective of witnesses or observers; A detailed film clip of an actual event that conceptually includes every frame for that interval of the Cosmic Movie.

assumption, statement of the facts, scientific fact: A subjective statement from a witness concerning an event or an object. A statement of the facts is either a description of an object or a narrative, an objective listing (usually chronological) of a series of events. A particular interpretation of the evidence or of an observation. (synonyms: an opinion, a lie)

In science there is a distinction between true facts and a statement of facts.  A ball on a table is not the same as saying the ball is on the table.  Their statements of facts equate to their interpretations. At best a statement of fact is an opinion, at worst it is a lie. There is no authority in the scientific community to label a statement of facts as 'true' or 'false'.

Observation and extrapolation from experimentation is subjective. Clearly, science cannot depend on a human’s perception of truth for who is there to decree that one perception is better than the other? If science accepts just one then it must accept all without prejudice.  For a human ape with a personal agenda, truth is what suits the individual.  Truth is the most self-serving notion in history. Fortunately, truth takes on a distinct definition and meaning in context to Divine Revelation and Magisterium.

And reason calls for some criteria in order to judge whether the output is rational or irrational (e.g. a rational output has no ontological contradictions). And just what is reason? I am still waiting for my definition of reason. 

The only way to believe is via a stimulation effected by God via Christ Jesus

Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. 

You, Augustine, were reckless and incompetent in your interpretation of Genesis 1. Wherein one cannot speak one should pass over in silence.  Saint Jerome passed over Genesis 1 in silence.  

For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although ‘they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion’ (I Timothy 1:7).”

And neither did you in some matters. This citation of Saint Augustine is clearly out of context in the 21st century. It is straw.

We live in a time when scientists believe in and write about some of the most insane notions in history. Of course there will always be interpreters of Scripture who do not know what they are talking about, but this does not mean that we should just let modern mainstream science shove anything they want down our throats or be afraid to proclaim a miracle of God.

Some Catholic Christians need to mature and realize that not everything Saint Augustine says is fit for our 21st century context. And the same could be said about Saint Thomas Aquinas. Augustine and Aquinas are not God. They were holy men with great Faith but they are not even the greatest thinkers in history. They were clearly wrong and/or irrational in some of their statements. Just a couple of months before the end of his life Aquinas considered his writings as so much straw.  And I suppose he would not approve of all the decadent Thomistic systems that have appeared over the centuries.

It is good to keep things in perspective.

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