Augustine’s Origin of Species

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Regardless of what you think of Darwin’s work and the scientific theory he generated with it, we must all admit that his theories chave hanged the landscape of the discussion about the origin and purpose of both the world in general and us as human beings specifically.

Alister McGrath wrote an article that was published here in which he details an ancient theologians take on the Genesis creation narratives. Augustine of Hippo lived and wrote some 1,500 years before Darwin did, so it might be surprising that Augustine would have anything to say that could illumine our treatment of Darwin. Obviously, I think he did, which is why I’m posting this đŸ™‚

I would encourage you to check out the entire article if you’re interested in this topic, because it’s very well-written. But, if you don’t have time (or aren’t interested), here are two paragraphs which sum up McGrath’s main points.

Augustine draws out the following core themes: God brought everything into existence in a single moment of creation. Yet the created order is not static. God endowed it with the capacity to develop. Augustine uses the image of a dormant seed to help his readers grasp this point. God creates seeds, which will grow and develop at the right time. Using more technical language, Augustine asks his readers to think of the created order as containing divinely embedded causalities that emerge or evolve at a later stage. Yet Augustine has no time for any notion of random or arbitrary changes within creation. The development of God’s creation is always subject to God’s sovereign providence. The God who planted the seeds at the moment of creation also governs and directs the time and place of their growth.

This twofold focus on the Creation allows us to read Genesis in a way that affirms that God created everything from nothing, in an instant. However, it also helps us affirm that the universe has been created with a capacity to develop, under God’s sovereign guidance. Thus, the primordial state of creation does not correspond to what we presently observe. For Augustine, God created a universe that was deliberately designed to develop and evolve. The blueprint for that evolution is not arbitrary, but is programmed into the very fabric of creation. God’s providence superintends the continuing unfolding of the created order.

It’s interesting to me that 1,500 years before Darwin a theologian was anticipatorialy wrestling with the issues that Darwin’s theories would raise for theologians.

What do you think? Have you given much thought to this debate? Where do you stand on it?

For an overview of four of the most influential Christian positions see the following:

Young Earth Creationism

Day-Age Creationism

Gap Theory Creationism

Literary Framework Interpretation of Genesis


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