Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ancient philosophy and ID II

I've had two interesting responses to my last post so I thought I'd promote them here just in case they would otherwise be missed.

First, A C Grayling responded to my initial post:
Thanks for your interesting comments. Two points in brief: Thales and the majority of his successors did not claim that their views were divinely inspired, nor did they rely on sacred texts as the source of their insights, nor did they claim that those insights required to be believed for 
soteriological purposes of some kind. This connects to the
second point: which is that when the ancients spoke of ‘god’ or ‘gods’ (as in
Thales’ case referring to the powers of life, movement, reproduction, magnetism etc to be observed in different natural phenomena) - or, as often, ‘logos’ (the principle of order, reason, underlying structure, etc as for the Stoics) - they emphatically did not mean anything like the conception of a personal deity which makes exigent moral demands and communicates them in detail to the world, requiring submission and worship, and punishing the hubris of questioning creation - which of course is precisely what the classical tradition is all about. As this suggests, ‘god’ is practically a homonym across these two very different contexts, and the philosophical idea of ‘logos’ and the rest is not a religious one. This is the key point. - Good wishes - Anthony Grayling
And then Catherine Osborne responded to Grayling:
Responding now to Anthony's comment, it doesn't seem to me that the personal God that you've just invoked -- the one that is involved in moral commands and salvation--has got anything whatever to do with the points in Augustine and so on about optimism about human science latching onto the truth. That tradition, which believes in the possibility of intelligent design and hence intelligent understanding of the intelligent design because we are equipped to understand, comes from the teleology (teleological accounts of the universe and of the relation of human reason to the goodness built into the world) that is endemic in ancient thinking, especially in Aristotle and Plato. That comes through to Augustine by way of his reading of the classics: I doubt any of it comes from anything in Christianity as a religion of personal salvation. So if you want to say that "god" is a term with two meanings, surely it's you who's equivocating?
Thanks to both.

1 comment:

ACGrayling said...

Hello Catherine: good to hear from an old friend and former colleague. There are two different things in play: teleology and intelligibility. I think the latter is an assumption of all the Greeks from Thales on, and the former is made especially salient in Aristotle, though discernable elsewhere as you say. In importing as much as possible of use from Greek thought into Christianity from Augustine onwards, the doctors of the church - Augustine among them - were pretty careful to distance themselves from materialism (including the form it took in early Stoicism) or better: naturalism, so that references to 'gods' as in Thales and Stoics who spoke of fire or nature as the 'divine' did not at all suggest to Augustine and his ilk that they were dealing with anything like their conception of deity. Hence my point: that what Augustine and the Christian tradition means by 'god' and what occurrences of the terms thus translated from Greek denoted are quite different things. Apologists who try to co-opt the Greek philosophers to the religious tradition of which Christianity is an exemplar accordingly equivocate. - Best regards - Anthony