Augustine on Scripture and Natural Science

Somebody who calls themselves “Sirius Knott” has left a comment on my post about the “Collapse of a Texas ‘Quote Mine'” website, in which they say

You decry quote-mining and then you heartily endorse quote-mining Augustine [via Young who did not bother to critique Augustine’s comments in context but rather in light of the evolution debate which obviously never crossed Augustine’s mind] when it suits your purpose. I guess it’s only quote-mining if it supports the other guy’s position, huh?

Recognizing that the screen name “Sirius Knott” could be like “a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor” that Poe’s Law says is necessary for people not to mistake  “a parody of Fundamentalism . . . for the real thing,” it may still be worth taking the time for a response to this.

A couple points can be disposed of quickly:

  1. The Davis Young article is an exposition and discussion of Augustine, not a “critique.”
  2. Since the title of Young’s article is “The Contemporary Relevance of Augustine’s View of Creation,” it seems odd to try faulting Young for discussing Augustine with reference to today’s context.
  3. We can consider whether Young is guilty of “quote-mining” Augustine, but first we should be clear about what “quote-mining” is, and what it’s not. Just because Young quotes from Augustine does not mean that he was quote-mining. Quote-mining is not just quoting. Quote-mining is selectively taking words from someone outside of their context, and then presenting those words in a way that seriously distorts the source’s meaning, even to the extent of turning a writer’s words into the opposite of what the writer actually was saying when he or she used them in their context. Even though I rearranged what I quoted above from Poe’s Law to make it fit my syntax, I was not quote-mining then, because the meaning here is just the same as in the original.

Actual quote-mining can be demonstrated just the way Jeremy Mohn did on the site that he created on the “Collapse of a Texas ‘Quote Mine'”, where he painstakingly went point by point through the list of quote-mined items that McLeroy deceptively used to trick his colleagues on the Texas State Board of Education into voting for the amendments that he introduced to change the Texas science standards, and then Mohn presented the mined snippets with their original context restored, so that readers can see how the meaning of the quoted language had been changed by McLeroy when he removed those words from their original context.

If Sirius Knott sees quote-mining in Young’s article, he could demonstrate that by restoring the context that he believes would show that in Augistine’s text, the language quoted actually means something different from what it appears to mean in Young’s article, just as Mohn has done with McLeroy’s quote-mining.

Could Sirius Knott do that? I don’t see how. I have my own copy of the Augustine book, which I haven’t read in its entirety; but I have read enough to doubt that Sirius Knott could restore context that would show that Young was quote-mining.

But Mohn didn’t have to read the entire books (although he knows the Mayr book quite well) to show McLeroy’s quote-mining, which is very clearly seen by just looking at the local paragraphs from which McLeroy clipped out the phrases that he quoted.

Readers here can see for themselves. The entire Augustine chapter that I referred to in my post appears in the two pages below. The language that Young quotes which is also most often quoted by others is in paragraph 39. Here it is. Do you see language that was omitted from Young’s quoting and which, if restored, would change the meaning into something at odds with what it seems to mean, as presented in Young’s article?

augustine_p42augustine_p43
On the one hand there’s Augustine; and on the other, there’s some serious snot.

3 Comments

  1. Posted February 8, 2009 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    I really wouldn’t worry about Sirius, he’s really a fundamentalist in the truest sense of the term. He has a track record of proclaiming that he knows science better than actual scientists and blinds himself to any evidence that does not match his particular world view.

  2. Jack Boren
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Right now I’m disputing with him on another site about a verse which occurs during Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus about being born again, John 3:12 “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things.” ‘Knott’ somehow thinks this verse disproves evolution. When I said he’s just taking a verse out of context, he started talking about how I don’t understand the hermeneutical importance of taking into account the author’s meaning of the text, ie, God’s meaning. Apparently this meaning has been shared only with ‘Knott’ and perhaps a few others because I don’t think you’d find many people who think that while Jesus was having this conversation with Nicodemus he was really talking to 21st Century Americans about evolution.


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  1. […] For more information, one can consider going online and looking up an article under the name of "Augustine on Scripture and Natural Science" ( ) One can also go online to "Google Books" and read a signficant chunk of what […]

  2. […] For more information, one can consider going online and looking up an article under the name of "Augustine on Scripture and Natural Science" ( ) One can also go online to "Google Books" and read a signficant chunk of what […]

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