Early Greek Philosophy and the Early Church
Forms of the argument go way
back in western classical tradition.
Perhaps we should begin where it all begins - with the early Greeks. The pre-Christian Stoics believed that the
order and harmony of the cosmos demanded explanation (Emerton 1989, p.
129). In 45 BCE the Roman lawyer Cicero
in his book The Nature of the Gods presented both sides of the argument. Speaking for the Stoic's who favored a
teleological view he posed the question, "When we see a mechanism such as
a planetary model or a clock, do we doubt that it is the work of a conscious
intelligence? So how can we doubt that
the world is the work of the divine intelligence?" (2.97)
The Atomists (who were in the
Epicurean camp) disagreed. Cicero
presents their view as well, "The world is made by a natural process,
without any need of a creator...Atoms come together and are held by mutual attraction." No intelligent designer need be
postulated. And if there were an
intelligent designer, the atomist Lucretius adds, the world in some respects is
really badly designed (Emerton, p. 130).
When we read of these two contesting points of view from all the way
back in 45 BCE (!) today's conversations feel like déjà vu - all over
The early church eagerly took
up the idea of nature as a witness to God,
Tertullian even spoke in terms of a double revelation in "God's two
books" the book of nature and the Bible (Emerton, p. 131). Nature's design - as seen in the order and
beauty of the heavens, the anatomy and physiology of living creatures, and the
suitability of the environment to support life - became and has continued to be
for Christian theology a pointer to God.
Contributed by: Dr. Anna Case-Winters