My post asking, “Was Augustine a young-earth creationist?” inspired a lot of comments, though not the ones I was hoping for. Instead of someone knowledgeable coming along and answering my question, there debate over whether it mattered as well as a debate about young-earth creationism itself.
The fact that people seemed so willing to accept the premise that Augustine did think the earth was no more than 6,000 years old I’ll take as a small confirmation that my thinking was on the right track. In any case, I was re-reading H. Allen Orr’s review of The God Delusion and happened across a perfect example of why this matters (emphasis mine):
The result is The God Delusion, a book that never squarely faces its opponents. You will find no serious examination of Christian or Jewish theology in Dawkins’s book (does he know Augustine rejected biblical literalism in the early fifth century?), no attempt to follow philosophical debates about the nature of religious propositions (are they like ordinary claims about everyday matters?), no effort to appreciate the complex history of interaction between the Church and science (does he know the Church had an important part in the rise of non-Aristotelian science?), and no attempt to understand even the simplest of religious attitudes (does Dawkins really believe, as he says, that Christians should be thrilled to learn they’re terminally ill?).
Now… given that Augustine apparently believed the world was less than 6,000 years old, given that he took a pretty literalistic approach to Genesis 2 onwards, given that Augustine thought people in Hell would be tormented by literal eternal fire and a literal undying worm… shouldn’t we all be able to agree that it’s simplistic and misleading to say (without further elaboration) “but Augustine rejected literalism!” as a rebuttal to criticisms of Christianity?