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Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity

Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity

Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity
    Book Description:

    The world is configured in ways that seem systematically hospitable to life forms, especially the human race. Is this the outcome of divine planning or simply of the laws of physics? Ancient Greeks and Romans famously disagreed on whether the cosmos was the product of design or accident. In this book, David Sedley examines this question and illuminates new historical perspectives on the pantheon of thinkers who laid the foundations of Western philosophy and science. Versions of what we call the "creationist" option were widely favored by the major thinkers of classical antiquity, including Plato, whose ideas on the subject prepared the ground for Aristotle's celebrated teleology. But Aristotle aligned himself with the anti-creationist lobby, whose most militant members—the atomists—sought to show how a world just like ours would form inevitably by sheer accident, given only the infinity of space and matter. This stimulating study explores seven major thinkers and philosophical movements enmeshed in the debate: Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Socrates, Plato, the atomists, Aristotle, and the Stoics.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93436-8
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. I Anaxagoras
    (pp. 1-30)

    The earliest western philosophers were the dazzlingly original Greek thinkers conventionally known as the Presocratics—a line-up which included such heterogeneous figures as Thales, Anaximander, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Zeno of Elea, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, and Protagoras. Our label “Presocratics” assumes that Socrates, who lived in the late fifth century B.C., initiated a new direction in philosophical thought sufficiently radical to mark off his predecessors and many of his contemporaries as jointly constituting a distinct group. While such demarcations inevitably oversimplify, for example by conferring spurious homogeneity on the group thus labelled,¹ one of my contentions in this book (chapter III)...

  6. II Empedocles
    (pp. 31-74)

    In my first chapter, I identified in the writings of Anaxagoras what I take to be the first Greek manifesto of rational creationism. I concluded by suggesting that Anaxagoras’s own agenda was not essentially religious in motivation, but scientific: to exhibit the power of intelligence when it operates on matter to create the world is to uncover the irreducible dualism of mind and matter that constitutes nature itself. As we pursue the story in this second chapter,¹ we will move into more overtly religious territory, in which named divinities take on the key roles. But, above all with the chapter’s...

  7. III Socrates
    (pp. 75-92)

    To clear the way for this chapter’s protagonist, Socrates, I must start by explaining briefly why I do not believe that his approximate contemporary Diogenes of Apollonia is of major significance for our story, as has sometimes been thought. For Diogenes has been often credited with the earliest version of (roughly speaking) the Argument from Design, that family of arguments which infer the existence of a providential god from the evidence of intelligent creation in the world.¹ And some of the most important arguments stemming from Socrates have been wrongly, in my view, reassigned to Diogenes.

    Diogenes, datable to the...

  8. IV Plato
    (pp. 93-132)

    At the end of the previous chapter I noted how, long before he came to write theTimaeus,a dialogue best dated years, probably decades, after thePhaedo,Plato was already planning to vindicate the teleological style of cosmology of which his Socrates had approved but also despaired.¹ I can now add that Plato did not need to wait for theTimaeus.For at the end of thePhaedoitself Socrates conveys to his audience a myth (107c1–115a8) which, whether or not Socrates himself realizes it (and he almost certainly does not), sketches what Anaxagorasshouldhave said.


  9. V The Atomists
    (pp. 133-166)

    So far in our story the creationists have made all the running, culminating in Plato’sTimaeus,the ultimate creationist manifesto. Even if one faction of Plato’s heirs insisted that he had never meant to say that a discrete act of divine creation had ever taken place, this dialogue’s impact on such thinkers as Aristotle, Epicurus, the Stoics, and Galen, with whom my remaining chapters will be mainly concerned, was never diluted or mediated by any such interpretative ploy. They all regarded it as creationist in the literal sense—that is, as describing the world’s origin in an intelligent creative act....

  10. VI Aristotle
    (pp. 167-204)

    Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) was Plato’s student for two decades before founding his own school. Is it more fruitful to think of his mature work as anti-Platonist, or as that of an independent Platonist? Although this age-old question does not admit of final resolution, I am convinced with regard to my present topic, the explanation of purposive structures in the world, that most can be learnt by emphasizing, rather than minimizing, Aristotle’s Platonic background and training.¹

    Aristotle is the greatest teleological thinker of antiquity, probably of all time, and his teleology takes us to the very heart of his physics,...

  11. VII The Stoics
    (pp. 205-238)

    The Argument from Design has come to be the most celebrated member of a family of arguments aimed at demonstrating the existence of a creator god. Although I have now covered more than a century and a half of debate about creation, from Anaxagoras to Epicurus, extraordinarily we have met only one argument that might merit this title. Having eliminated the minor Presocratic Diogenes of Apollonia from any claim to have articulated a version of it, we were left with Socrates, whom in Xenophon’sMemorabiliaI 4 we saw arguing that living beings are artifacts vastly superior to the inanimate...

  12. EPILOGUE: A Galenic Perspective
    (pp. 239-244)

    The most notable absentee from my story so far is Galen, the greatest and most lastingly influential doctor of antiquity, whose voluminous writings have in large part come down to us. I cannot here aspire to do justice to the huge contributions that Galen made to teleological argument.¹ Instead, my main reason for ending up with him is to invoke him as a commentator on what has gone before. Working in the second century A.D., Galen was not only a seminal scientist but also a significant philosophical thinker. He knew his way not just around the medical literature of earlier...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-256)
  14. Index Locorum
    (pp. 257-266)
  15. General Index
    (pp. 267-269)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 270-270)