V0031645 Saint Augustine of Hippo. Line engraving by P. Cool after M.

Katharine Hayoe, the well-recognized climate scientist and Christian evangelical, recently posted on social media the below remarkable quote from St. Augustine of Hippo. Augustine was writing in The Literal Meaning of Genesis. It is worth remembering that not only does the rejection of science by many Christians—particularly in the modern day context of climate change—harm the planet over which we maintain stewardship as well as future generations, it can also cause Christians to be a stumbling block, undermining the very purpose of the Great Commission. St. Augustine says it best:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of the 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 a [non-believer] to hear a Christian 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 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.

St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Trans. John Hammond Taylor, S.J. in Ancient Christian Writers: the Works of the Fathers in Translation, ed. Johannes Quasten et al., vols. 41-42, 1.42-43. New York: Newman, 1982.

– Blake Hudson

Posted by Blake Hudson

Blake Hudson is a Professor of Law at the University of Houston Law Center. After graduating from the University of Montevallo, he attended Duke University, where he obtained his law degree from Duke Law School and his Masters in Environmental Science & Policy from Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. The views expressed here are not intended to reflect the views of the University of Houston.

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