Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Augustine and the Limits of Knowledge

About two and a half years ago, I wrote this post about Augustine and his famous work City Of God.  Unfortunately, at the time, I was reading a copy I had borrowed from the library and I never really got more than halfway through it before I had to return it.

Several months ago I purchased my own abridged version of City Of God and finished it.  To my annoyance, some of the parts that were cut out, based on the brief descriptions of their content, looked like they would be of interest to me and I shall have to see if I can find the full version online so I can read them.

At any rate, one of the things that provided me some amusement was reading what Augustine got so horribly wrong, particularly when he spoke with such authority and assurance about the Earth. 

Thus, in Book XVI, Chapter 17, Augustine declares that "Europe and Africa together take up one half of the world and Asia the other."

Augustine evidently did not know how vast Asia was, as he writes of an Assyrian ruler who "subdued the whole of Asia except India."  Evidently, the ancient Japanese, Chinese, Koreans and Indonesians erased their conquest by the Assyrians from their historical records!

Our learned Christian scholar, in Chapter 9, also dismissed "the nonsense about their being antipodae, that is to say, men living on the far side of the earth, where the sun rises when it sets for us...that is utterly incredible."

He goes on to add "it does not follow that the other hemisphere of the earth must appear above the surface of the ocean; or if it does, there is no immediate necessity why it should be inhabited by men.  First of all, our Scriptures never deceive us, since we can test the truth of what they have told us by the fulfillment of predictions; second, it is utterly absurd to say that any men from this side of the world could sail across the immense tract of the ocean, reach the far side, and then people it with men sprung from the single father of all mankind."

So, by adhering to closely to his holy book, Augustine effectively rules out the existence of Australia and the Americas and the people who inhabited them, sprung from common human ancestors, though of course not a Biblical Adam.

I'll have more on Augustine's City Of God to add in the coming days.

1 comment:

Infidel753 said...

Worth remembering and reminding people about, since today many religionists are equally full of serene certainty concerning matters that they're equally full of ****** about.

He couldn't even get right the things he should have known. No Assyrian ruler ever conquered Iran, which was certainly part of Asia known to western people at that time. (Maybe he thought Cyrus the Great was Assyrian?)

I dread to imagine what he thought the planets and stars were.