Contemporary discussion on Augustine

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Contemporary discussion on Augustine

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins, a scientist and an atheist, differs from Augustine in many aspects, but in particular the belief about Original Sin. Dawkins believes in evolutionary biology, meaning that he believes that humans (homo sapiens) are evolved through the process of natural selection. “Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is the only workable explanation that has ever been proposed for the remarkable fact of our own existence, indeed the existence of all life wherever it may turn up in the universe. It is the only known explanation for the rich diversity of animals, pants, fungi and bacteria.” Therefore he does not think that the account of the Fall in Genesis 3 is an actual event, as opposed to Augustine. This is because if humans emerged from less sophisticated animals, it is impossible to decide a certain point when humans begin to possess moral consciousness, or ‘will’ in Augustine’s words. This makes a literal belief in Adam and Eve’s rebel makes no sense. He argues that even if the account is a myth, it is not reasonable to believe that everyone is doomed simply because they descend from Adam and Eve. “What kind of ethical philosophy is it that condemns every child, even before it is born, to inherit the sin of a remote ancestor?”  Moreover, as far as biological sciences are concerned, nothing other than DNA can be passed on to the next generation, therefore the idea that the effects of the First Sin is passed down the generation does not make sense. Dawkins goes on to argue the idea that God should wish to restore human nature by killing Jesus on the cross is sado-masochistic.

Ian Barbour

Ian Barbour is a theologian and he generally accepts Augustine’s ideas even though he does disagree with him occasionally. He agrees with Augustine that the basis of marriage should be friendship instead of lust. Since he is also a scientist, he believes in the evolution theory. However, he believes that the Bible should not be read literally, therefore opposing Augustine’s view that the Fall was an actual event in history. He believes that Genesis 3 should be read as a story about humans’ use of their potential and relationship with the world. He does not agree with Dawkins either, as he believes that even though it is difficult to decide a certain moment when humans possess moral consciousness, ‘suffering, conflict, and death long preceded the advent of humanity.’ He believes that Fall and redemption can be seen as continuing processes in everyone’s individual life. They are part of humans’ life journeys.

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Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud is known as the ‘Father of Psychology’. His understanding of sexuality differs vastly from Augustine. Augustine links sex to sin, as in every sexual intercourse lust (concupiscence) is involved; therefore sexual intercourse should only be for the purpose of reproduction. Augustine once said that ‘men should go to their task with reluctance’. While Freud agrees that many human disorders can be traced down to sexual problems, Freud argues that sex is an important and pleasurable part of the natural relationship men and women enjoy in a marriage and so it is not a sin. In ...

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