Even though the Greeks found his interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve far too literal, Augustine was no diehard biblical literalist. He took science very seriously and his 'principle of accommodation' would dominate biblical interpretation in the West until well into the early modern period. God had, as it were, adapted revelation to the cultural norms of the people who had first received it. One of the psalms for example, clearly reflects the ancient view, long outmoded by Augustine's time, that there was a body of water above the earth that caused rainfall. It would be absurd to interpret this text literally. God had simply accommodated the truths of revelation to the science of the day so that the people of Israel could understand it; today, a text like this must be interpreted differently. Whenever the literal meaning of scripture clashed with reliable scientific information, Augustine insisted, the interpreter must respect the integrity of science or he would bring scripture into disrepute. And there must be no unseemly quarreling about the Bible. People who engaged in acrimonious discussion of religious truth were simply in love with their own opinions and had forgotten the cardinal teaching of the Bible, which was the love of God and neighbour. The exegete must not leave a text until he could make it 'establish the reign of charity', and if a literal understanding of any biblical passage seemed to teach hatred, the text must be interpreted allegorically and forced to preach love. (From: The Case for God , page 122.)
I have admired Armstrong's writing for a long time and this book, published last year, does not disappoint. She introduced the idea of mythos and logos in her earlier book, The Battle for God . Logos is broadly what we would understand scientific thought to be. Mythos is the parallel truths found in religious experience. Fundamentalists and atheists both tend to confuse the two. The Case for God develops this theme in more detail.
This paragraph interrupts a discussion of Augustine's idea of original sin. It shows Augustine, with most exegetes from the three main monotheistic faiths, understands scripture must be interpreted afresh in every age. Those who claim it has a plain meaning are not aware they are interpreting the text as much as everyone else. This dishonesty falsifies faith and is used as an excuse to persecute minorities by labeling them as sinners.