Hello,On of the reasons that I'm a less interesting blogger these days is that I've gotten more cautious about making big statements without being really, really sure I know what I'm doing. However, pulling together what I think I had in mind, here are a couple notes.
I see that this is an older post, but some of the comments are recent, so hopefully the OP will see this comment.
Can you provide any sources to document this claim:
"Aquinas and Augustine both seem to agree that it is not only possible but indeed likely that the history and cosmology of Genesis are not literally true."
Thank you and God bless.
A key phrase in what I said is "the history and cosmology of Genesis are not literally true." Augustine and Aquinas were learned in the natural philosophy of the ancient world, and according to this the cosmology in Genesis was far more obviously primitive than its history. Genesis seems to indicate a basically flat world with a domed sky overhead: God separates the waters and the waters above are called the sky. Ancient natural philosophy had determined that the earth was spherical and developed a detailed model of the orbits of the heavenly bodies around the earth which allowed them to make highly accurate calculations of eclipses, conjunctions, etc.
Augustine is probably the easier call here. In his Confessions, Augustine talks about how he was originally turned off from Christianity by what he saw as the Bible's bad cosmology and by scientific claims put forward by Christians:
In Confessions Book 5, Ch 3-5 he talks about his early flirtation with the Manichees. One of the things that he says consistently held him back was that the Manichees consistently made claims about astronomy which Augustine knew to be untrue. He struggled with how he could believe them in deeper things when they didn't even know this, and he hopes that when one of the famous Manichee teachers comes to town, this fellow will be able to explain it all, but the teacher turns out to be a clever speaker but as ignorant as the rest.
This leads Augustine to make the general observation:
Whenever I hear a brother Christian talk in such a way as to show that he is ignorant of these scientific matters and confuses one thing with another, I listen with patience to his theories and think it no harm to him that he does not know the true facts about material things, provided that he holds no beliefs unworthy of you, O Lord, who are the Creator of them all. The danger lies in thinking that such knowledge is part and parcel of what he must believe to save his soul and in presuming to make obstinate declarations about things of which he knows nothing.
Much of the interesting stuff the Augustine has to say on the topic of reconciling Genesis and science is in his Commentary on the Literal Meaning of Genesis, which is not entirely available online, though here's a good chunk of it. Galileo quoted extensively from this in his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina. From that we get:
It is likewise commonly asked what we may believe about the form and shape of the heavens according to the Scriptures, for many contend much about these matters. But with superior prudence our authors have forborne to speak of this, as in no way furthering the student with respect to a blessed life-and, more important still, as taking up much of that time which should be spent in holy exercises. What is it to me whether heaven, like a sphere surrounds the earth on all sides as a mass balanced in the center of the universe, or whether like a dish it merely covers and overcasts the earth? Belief in Scripture is urged rather for the reason we have often mentioned; that is, in order that no one, through ignorance of divine passages, finding anything in our Bibles or hearing anything cited from them of such a nature as may seem to oppose manifest conclusions, should be induced to suspect their truth when they teach, relate, and deliver more profitable matters. Hence let it be said briefly, touching the form of heaven, that our authors knew the truth but the Holy Spirit did not desire that men should learn things that are useful to no one for salvation.This, I think, basically amounts to saying that the literal cosmology in Genesis is inaccurate, but that that's not the important message, which is what I'd say in regards to the chronology as well.
I haven't read all of Augustine's commentary on Genesis, but he does think through some interesting things that immediate proposed themselves to the ancient mind such as:
How can God create light before he creates a source of light?
How can he create something, yet have it be formless?
He also seems to take an overall approach of "if the description turns out to contradict science, then it was obviously never meant to be taken literally". For example:
38. Let us suppose that in explaining the words, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and light was made,” one man thinks that it was material light that was made, and another that it was spiritual. As to the actual existence of “spiritual light”65 in a spiritual creature, our faith leaves no doubt; as to the existence of material light, celestial or supercelestial, even existing before the heavens, a light which could have been followed by night, there will be nothing in such a supposition contrary to the faith until un-erring truth gives the lie to it. And if that should happen, this teaching was never in Holy Scripture but was an opinion pro-posed by man in his ignorance. On the other hand, if reason should prove that this opinion is unquestionably true, it will still be uncertain whether this sense was intended by the sacred writer when he used the words quoted above, or whether he meant something else no less true. And if the general drift of the passage shows that the sacred writer did not intend this teaching, the other, which he did intend, will not thereby be false; indeed, it will be true and more worth knowing. On the other hand, if the tenor of the words of Scripture does not militate against our taking this teaching as the mind of the writer, we shall still have to enquire whether he could not have meant something else besides.He also comes back to his point about ignorance of science creating scandal:
39. 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 non-sense 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 the 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.”
(Needless to say, I'm kind of a fan of this line of thinking.)
Aquinas is a bit harder to pin down. Obviously, he sees the world as spherical, etc., that was simply a given at his time. But he seems to me less eager to step quickly away from traditional interpretations of scripture than Augustine. (I'd appreciate thought from more accomplished readers of Aquinas than myself.) So, for instance, in Summa I 74.2 he discusses the question of whether the seven days of creation were seven days or one (he describes Augustine as holding that the seven days were actually one day with seven aspects.) He seems to make the case that both of these positions are possible to hold, but perhaps to lean more towards the seven day idea than Augustine's.
In discussing creation in Summa I 65-74, it seems to me that Aquinas is at least open to some level in creativity in how he takes the Genesis creation account to be true. For instance, in Summa 1, Q97 he holds that it was in the nature of man's unfallen body to die (on the theory that mortality is a part of a creature nature and humanity's nature did not change) but that the effect of the unfallen soul upon the body was such that it kept it from dying. In Summa I, Q96, Art. 1 he argues that even before the fall predators still ate meat, killing other animals in order to do so, because the fall would not have changed the nature of predators.
The big philosophical issue which was in play as to the age of the universe in Aquinas's time was whether the material world was without beginning, which Aristotle had held. Obviously, Christianity teaches that the world was created by God, but some Christians argued that the world having always existed was not inconsistent with God having created it, since God is, after all, constantly holding the world in existence through the active exercise of His will. Aquinas did not accept that argument, so in that sense he sided with an account of world history more like that in Genesis, though I'm not clear whether he had a strong opinion as to the age of the world (or whether that mattered.)
I hope that helps and I would strongly encourage those more knowledgeable than me to weight in.