Before the development of science, people didn’t think scientifically. Pre-Newton, most common people still held to some folk ideas intellectualised by Aristotle when they asked about why things fell to the ground when you let them go. Yet on most of the ideas that we now take for granted, the average Jean in the fields just chalked up “scientific phenomena” under the “things we don’t know about” column. For all our advancement by the way, that column is relatively un-touched. It is still as awe-inspiringly long as it was in the 1500s. The rise of geology and the sense that the world was older than we were didn’t really give us new information (most of the early stuff was wrong), it gave us a new way to question. Reading Darwin’s Origin of the Species today you are struck by how he was a fine, creative mind but the theory was patently incomplete. He didn’t give us new answers so much as offer us new questions. This new line of questioning, asking things we had never thought to ask, has lead to some fine advancements in our yet very incomplete understanding of how biological entities change over vast spans of time through mutation.
All this preamble is to say: claiming that before Darwinism, the vast majority of Christians believed Genesis 1 and 2 to be literal (where literal is used to mean scientific) is anachronistic.
My humble and brilliant friend who comments here under the unforgiveably nerdy handle “Greymalkin” offered me this quote from the Irish Augustine in the 6th Century.
‘Although it is said that the whole creation was arranged in the course of six days, this does not refer to the succession of days in an interval of time, but to the sequence of [God’s] acts. For he who subsequently told the story divided in speech what God did not divide in the perfection of his works. For God created at once all of the things which he made, when by a single act of will he arranged the manifold diversity of all the species. In that single act of will he caused all things to come into existence at once, outside time; and since their creation he does not cease to rule over them throughout time’.
Within this paragraph is a stunningly complete theology of revelation and the action of God in time. It is also totally above any questions of “how”. Augustinus Hibernicus gets added to the big Valhalla style warehouse in the sky for legends of the church that defy the contemporary expectations of them.
Your Correspondent, Met a Corkonian once who didn’t ride a unicycle to work