St. Augustine on Science and Scripture

One of the many abuses of science is Christians trying to prove Scripture with science.  There are many well-meaning Christians who both use Scripture to validate their pet theory but also then try to use their pet theory to validate Scripture. Scripture needs no validation other than what the Lord has provided (Luke 16:29-31).  After all, there is no guarantee just because a Christian came up with the theory that it is correct.  If the theory is undermined and hope is put in it rather than in Scripture, people’s faith can be undermined.  As St. Augustine says:


Usually, even a non-Christian knows 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 he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel 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. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of 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. 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 falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? 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. 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.” (1 Tim. 1:7)

-St. Augustine of Hippo (The Literal Meaning of Genesis Book 1 Chapter 19 Paragraph 39)-

Thus it is important that we get our facts straight and not over interpret Scripture or science, which St. Augustine does after this very warning in this ironically named work by reading Genesis allegorically in order to fit his philosophical predilections.  Science is trying to understand things as they are and how they work.  Scripture tells us the why.

Scripture is about Jesus (John 5:39).  That is the primary mission and use of Scripture to tell us about Him (John 20:30-31).  Historical accounts, facts, and figures are used in Scripture and hence may impinge on science, as in the case of Creation and archeology verifying the events, places, and people of the Scriptures.  However, Scripture is not a science textbook.  It tells us things happened, but not how they happened.  Likewise science has nothing to say to us about divine revelation and only talks about things as they are.  One should not hold up science as above Scripture, or use it to prop up Scripture. To say nothing of the philosophical and theological issues with trying to explain miracles with science, which will be a topic of a future post (spoiler: Job 38-41).  Rather Scripture and science work together, one showing us divine special revelation, the other showing us what God has revealed in nature.

For more discussion on this topic read the excellent LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations report “In Christ All Things Hold Together”.

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