Quite a few factors involving my faith, education, and upbringing put me within arm’s length of the vast array of science-and-religion discussion(s). I love them, actually; even the ones that are ridiculous and accomplish nothing except to further cement each groups’ polarized set of ideas are interesting to me. I like to think about the ways religion informs (and misinforms) science, and the ways science challenges, strengthens, and weakens religious thought. It’s one of the most telling threads to follow, I think, throughout all of human history. Our agreements and conflicts about spirituality and the study of the natural world have such deep roots, and continue to leaf out in new ways every decade. It’s part of being human, to wonder how the natural and supernatural, mind and physical body, interact. What they say about each other. What it’s possible to learn.

And again, I’m still reading Augustine’s Confessions–ha. Another lead-in to a great excerpt from the last half of this book, which turns out (I guess this is why I had put off reading it till I was 28) to be lengthy internal monologues/dialogues about things that,  even at the end of his long career in academia, still bother him. Like, for instance, all the different interpretations of the first two verses of Genesis 1. What? Not much has changed in the past 1,800 years?

Scientific discoveries have given us so much more to work with than Augustine had in 400AD/CE, and scriptural exegesis has marched onward as well, but I’m struck by the similarity of our positions. In Book XII, Augustine is focusing on Genesis 1:1-2, in which it’s said, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (NIV.) Augustine finds five or six different ways to interpret this account of origins, and tests them (and gets irritated at a few of them), but comes, in the end, to the conclusion that there aren’t enough facts to determine which interpretation(s) is/are what the original writer intended. (Moses, according to Aug.) He says:

“Thus when one man says to me: ‘Moses meant what I think,’ and another ‘Not at all, he meant what I think,’ it seems to me the truly religious thing to say: Why should he not have meant both, if both are true; and if in the same words some should see a third and a fourth and any number of true meanings, why should we not believe that Moses saw them all […] ?

“Certainly—and I say this fearlessly and from my heart—if I had to write with such vast authority [as Moses/the writer of Genesis] I should prefer so to write that my words should mean whatever truth anyone could find upon these matters, rather than express one true meaning so clearly as to exclude all others, though these contain no falsehood to offend me. This being so, I would not be so rash, O my God, as to believe that so great a man did not merit this gift at your hands. When he was writing these words he wholly saw and realized whatever truth we have been able to find in them—and much beside that we have not been able to find, or have not yet been able to find, though it is there in them to be found.”

This (reworded a bit) could be said in any discussion about the Genesis origins account today. Fascinating.