Our friend Paul… And we deserve to call him “friend” after all we’ve featured him in four or five articles in this series so far… That’s a lot of exposure. He was never featured in a blog in his time. Now he’s on the Internet, Facebook, Twitter… Imagine! Anyway, he said something rather profound: “We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.” 2 Cor. 10:5 MSG. The NLT translation described his objective as knocking down “the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments… We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.”
A major obstacle Paul faced in introducing Christianity was centuries of Greek philosophical thought. Some of the ideas he fought will prove to be stubborn. Some came back with a vengeance. Who’d have thought evolution would resurface for example. Of course it’s generally believed Darwin originated the theory of evolution. But that’s not exactly true. Darwin popularised the theory of evolution by natural selection but the roots of the theory came from Greek philosophy. The idea dates back to centuries before Darwin. Three natural philosophers of the ancient world worked on the idea. They are Anaximander (c. 610 BC – c. 546 BC), Empedocles (495 BC – 435 BC) and Lucretius (99 BC – 55 BC). In other words the idea of evolution is over 2,500 years old.
Anaximander was a student of Thales. You know Thales don’t you… That’s the guy who said water was the basic element of creation. Anaximander was a scientific guy. He is considered the first true scientist. He’s also regarded as the founder of astronomy. He was as obsessed as Thales was in discovering the “one element” that constitutes all things. He ruled out water. He concluded it’s something called “apeiron” – an endless, unlimited primordial mass. Apeiron has been variously translated “the infinite” and “the boundless.” It’s not subject to age or decay; it perpetually yields fresh materials. It’s how everything we see is derived according to Anaximander. He believed the earth floats very still in the centre of “the infinite,” unsupported by anything. No pillars. He asserted the shape of the earth is cylindrical, like a drum; and that the diameter is three times its height. He was an earlier proponent of evolution (though not the theory of natural selection). Having observed fossils he claimed that animals sprang out of the sea long ago; that by some type of adaptation they evolved into what they are today. Humans he said spent the transition inside the mouths of big fish to protect themselves from earth’s climate until they had time to adapt to the emergence of dry land. He believed human species must have been born out of other animals because we’re too vulnerable and too reliant during infancy to survive otherwise.
The second philosopher who worked on evolution is Empedocles. Empedocles believed the universe is composed of four fundamental elements – earth, air, fire and water. These elements are indestructible and unchangeable he said. And please don’t mix up the name of the band, Earth, Wind & Fire with all this. That name came from the zodiac sign of the band leader, Maurice White. But the idea of earth, air, fire and water as fundamental elements became standard dogma – lasted two thousand years! That tells you how powerful those ideas were. According to Empedocles the four elements were influenced by two forces of attraction and repulsion – Love and Strife. They act as moving powers bringing about mixtures and separations. They caused the interplay of elements which formed the universe. Through this interplay, the earth gave rise to its inhabitants. The first living beings to emerge were some type of disembodied organs – monstrous creatures. Through ongoing process of attraction and repulsion the creatures we observe today emerged. It sounds crazy, but if we remove all the scary stuff – those monstrous creatures bit, what he’s saying is no different from the present theory of evolution – natural elements being acted upon by natural forces to create the world we know today.
Let’s look at the third philosopher, Lucretius. He also argued in favour of a theory of evolution and he laid out his theory in his opus, the poem De Rerum Natura – On the Nature of the Universe. It’s not your average poem so stop thinking about a quarter page poem. It’s a rather comprehensive exposition of Epicurean worldview. We’ve discussed that before. De Rerum Natura undertakes a full and complete naturalistic explanation of the physical origin, nature and structure of the universe. It’s divided into six books. The books deal with principles of atomism, the nature of the mind and soul, explanations about sensation and thought, the development of the world and phenomena; they also explain a variety of celestial and terrestrial phenomena. The universe described in the poem operates according to physical principles. It is guided by “fortuna” or chance and not by divine intervention of traditional Roman deities.
For Lucretius therefore the force responsible for life’s creations is chance. The earth he said gave birth to its creatures through a combination of the elements. But then he took the ideas of Empedocles further by claiming that a type of natural selection caused the monster-like creatures Empedocles spoke of to die off; that the creatures which survived did so based on their capacity for strength, speed, or intelligence. But he was sceptical about the claim made by Anaximander that land animals evolved from sea creatures, or that any specie could evolve out of another. These were the kinds of ideas Paul was battling with. Lucretius hated religion, or the concept of accountability in religion. He strangely believed the fear of death and of punishment after death is the cause of avarice, ambition and cruelty. He held religion responsible for monstrous atrocities. Throughout his work Lucretius attacked religion. He would however commit suicide at the age of forty-four, which is rather ironic given his epicurean credentials.
And it wasn’t just philosophy Paul battled with, he battled with culture as well. Which is why he wrote that “the tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they’re for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture.” 2 Corinthians 10:4 MSG. Not sure any modern Christian can fully appreciate the work of Paul. He was introducing completely novel stuff from the ground up. The tenets of Christianity are fairly well established today. It wasn’t so in the first century.
But what’s the position of Christian theology about these ideas? Christian theology talks about the creation of an “Adam.” It does not talk about the evolution of any species into Adam. There is no vertical evolution in Christian theology. But then it introduces a radical idea – spontaneous evolution. It’s what Paul was talking about when he wrote, “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creature.” 2 Corinthians 5:17. That means he’s a new species. In order to understand this you need to note that in Christianity man is a tripartite being – he is spirit, has soul, lives in a body. 1 Thessalonians 5:23. The spirit is the real you. It’s what gets born again. It’s why everything remains the same after you get born again – you don’t turn purple, you don’t change form. You retain the knowledge you had before rebirth, the memories you had, as well as your history. Your data is preserved. Yet the Bible says you’re a new creature and that old things have passed away. Which means there are certain legal and constitutional developments at rebirth. The technical name for the legal outcome is “righteousness.” The Bible says you’re “justified – that is acquitted of sin, declared blameless before God.” Romans 5:1 AMP. But the righteousness comes through faith, it’s not earned. Colossians 3:9.
You can’t earn salvation by doing good. Salvation is by faith in Christ Jesus. You have to believe in him who justifies the ungodly so that your faith is credited as righteousness. Romans 4:4-5.
We continue the series next week.
If you’ll like to receive Jesus into your life please pray this prayer: “Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Father please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.”
© Leke Alder | firstname.lastname@example.org.A major obstacle Paul faced in introducing Christianity was centuries of Greek philosophical thought. Click To Tweet According to Empedocles the four elements were influenced by two forces of attraction and repulsion – Love and Strife. Click To Tweet It wasn’t just philosophy Paul battled with, he battled with culture as well. Click To Tweet You can’t earn salvation by doing good. Salvation is by faith in Christ Jesus. You have to believe in him who justifies the ungodly so that your faith is credited as righteousness. Romans 4:4-5. Click To Tweet