GREEK AND ROMAN THEISTIC ARGUMENTS

GREEK AND ROMAN THEISTIC ARGUMENTS

The first question that confronts us as we enter upon the discussion is the preliminary inquiry: What had been done already in the way of theistic argument, and in what condition did the Christian Church find this argument when it first began to develop a system of apologetics? And from the conditions of ancient thought, or, at least, from what we know of it, this resolves itself into the question: How far had the Greek philosophers advanced by means of speculative thought toward a conscious theism, and by what means did the various individuals and schools among them seek to prove the existence of the Divine? The answer to this inquiry will involve a brief examination of the contributions of the pre-Socratic philosophers (especially Anaxagoras), Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, the Epicureans, Cicero, and the Hellenizing Jews of Alexandria.
 

The thought of Greece before the time of Socrates, from the very nature of its problem, and the material at its disposal, yields us but little that can, without doing violence to the facts, be construed as bearing on the theistic argument. The search of these early philosophers was, indeed, for an ἀρχή, but their interest in the inquiry, as a perusal of the extant fragments of their writings will prove, was pre-eminently cosmological. They strove to discover the eternal ground of all things, but it was a principle to account for the phenomena of physical nature that they sought, and they had not attained to a realization of even a rude form of the theistic problem.

 All they sought for was a primary substance which should satisfy the needs of a rudimentary physical science, which would enable them to co-ordinate the scanty data which they had accumulated from their contact with the world in which they lived, and to whose secrets they seem at times, in spite of their limited knowledge, to have come very close. And even granting that the problem involved in their search for the ἀρχή was at bottom identical with that of theism, they attempt to give no proof or argument for their conclusions with regard to it. They are as yet merely seers, who report the vision that comes to them as they gaze upon the stress and strain and ever-changing spectacle of earth's phenomena. 

Even the teleology of Anaxagoras (often mentioned as the germ of the theistic argument) gives us nothing more than a poet's dream, expressed, as Diogenes Laertius informs us, in a "lofty and agreeable style."[2] "Nous," Anaxagoras tells us, "is infinite and self-ruled, and is mixed with nothing, but is alone, itself by itself.... It has all knowledge about everything, and the greatest strength; and Nous has power over all things, both greater and smaller, that have life. And Nous had power over the whole revolution, so that it began to revolve in the beginning.... And Nous set in order all things that were to be and that were, and all things that are not now, and that are, and this revolution in which now revolve the stars and the sun and the moon and the air and the æther that are separated off."[3] This, however, amounts to no argument, and it is extremely doubtful whether Anaxagoras ever meant anything more by his Nous than Empedocles did by his Love and Strife, of which it was the historical successor, and we may safely, I think, endorse the judgment of Aristotle when he says that "Anaxagoras, also, employs mind as a machine" (i.e., as the Laurentian MS. indicates, as a theatrical deus ex machina) "for the production of the cosmos; and when he finds himself in a perplexity as to the cause of its being necessarily so, he then drags it in by force to his assistance; but, in the other instances, he assigns as a cause of the things that are being produced, everything else in preference to mind (Nous)."

 This criticism will, I am confident, apply fully as well to any apparent theism in the other pre-Socratic writers,[5] so that we shall be justified in assigning to them as their part in the development of the theistic argument, the mere undefined feeling and growing conviction of a permanent behind the changing, a "one" behind the "many." We find the natural deep and practical piety of Socrates reinforcing itself with a very full and complete statement of a teleological argument, based upon final cause, or adaptation of means to ends. 

It is in the Memorabilia[6] that we get the clear statement of this, and, therefore, it is a Socratic teaching which can, fortunately, be definitely distinguished from the Platonic treatment of the subject. "But which," he asks, "seemed to you most worthy of admiration, Aristodemus—the artist who forms images void of motion and intelligence, or one who has the skill to produce animals that are endued not only with activity, but understanding?" Then as Aristodemus answers, "The latter," Socrates proceeds to a detailed description of the adaptations of the eye, ear, teeth, mouth and nose to their several uses, and concludes with the question: "And canst thou still doubt, Aristodemus, whether a disposition of parts like this should be a work of chance, or of wisdom and contrivance?" He also argues in like manner from the existence of intelligence in man, the soul, and the general adaptability of man's powers and conditions to the furthering of his life. 

This argument to design has appropriately been called "peculiarly the Socratic proof,"and to his treatment of it, so in keeping with the practical, sturdy common-sense of the man, nothing essential or important, except in multiplication of applications and details, has been added since his time. In the opinion of the writer, however, Socrates, so far as one can judge from his recorded utterances, developed merely the form of the Argument to Design, but it cannot be positively asserted that he used it as a theistic argument. In the Memorabilia it is always "the gods" to which the argument leads, and the worship of them that he urges. 

He may have had a more theistic conception, but the context warrants no further meaning of θεός than the generic one of an object of worship—in this case the national gods. In the Apology "ὁ θεός" is used almost invariably of the local divinity of the oracle at Delphi, and of the "daemon" which, at the instigation of the Delphian divinity, as he was convinced, guided his actions. The present writer is strongly of the opinion that much violence has been done the words of Socrates by translators and interpreters, and that this fact will account for much of the alleged theistic teaching which is, without warrant, ascribed to the Athenian sage.

The contribution of Plato to the theistic argument was, characteristically, the form of the "Ontological proof" which has been called "Idealogical." This process is a very natural development for Plato's Dialectic.[8] Once divide the universe, as he did, into the two classes of permanent existence and transient phenomena, and identify the former with the ideas (which are nothing else than universals, each of which expresses the essence of many phenomena), and it is a very easy process to conceive of these ideas themselves being united in another more inclusive idea, and so, by a process of generalization, to reach at length the "Idea of Ideas"—the absolute Idea, in which lies the essence of all in the universe. Thus from any one fact of beauty, harmony, etc., 

the human mind may rise to the notion of a common quality in all objects of beauty, etc.: "from a single beautiful body to two, from two to all others; from beautiful bodies to beautiful sentiments, from beautiful sentiments to beautiful thoughts, until, from thought to thought, we arrive at the highest thought, which has no other object than the perfect, absolute, Divine Beauty."

The "ideas," too, and especially the "Good" or "absolute Idea," have in them a teleological element, "since the Idea not only states as what, but also for what a thing exists."

 The absolute Idea is not only the first principle of the universe, but also its final purpose, and thus we have indicated in various places a teleological argument. Traces of other forms of the theistic argument have been detected in Plato's writings, but none of them are at all explicitly developed, and one cannot but feel that some writers on the subject have claimed altogether too much for Plato's theology

The poetical and allegorical form into which he so constantly throws his discussion makes it extremely difficult to determine his exact position, especially on such a subject as his theology, in which he is constantly adapting his metaphysical doctrines to the prevailing polytheistic religious ideas; and at the same time this method of expression gives a good opportunity for the collection of isolated quotations which may support almost any theory. The religious character of Plato's philosophy is, as Zeller says, to be found much more on the moral than on the scientific side, and hence he was content to leave the more exact formulation of such arguments as these to his successors.

 As to the results to which this method led him, the statement of Zeller, in view of the many conflicting opinions, seems satisfactory: "In everything that he states concerning the Divinity the leading point of view is the idea of the Good, the highest metaphysical and ethical perfection. As this highest Idea stands over all ideas as the cause of all being and knowing, so over all gods, alike hard to find and to describe, stands the one, eternal, invisible god, the Framer and Father of all things."Of the personality of God Plato had no conception, and it would be a very difficult undertaking to prove from his extant works that he was, in any real sense of the word, a theist. Of the three divisions of the speculative sciences—physical, mathematical and theological—Aristotle makes the last the "most excellent," "for it is conversant about that one amongst entities which is more entitled to respect than the rest."

 It is to the discussion of this subject in Book XI. that the greater part of the Metaphysics leads up. He has established in the previous portions of the work the two substances which he calls "natural or physical"—namely, matter and form—and now he proceeds to justify the hints he has given of a third substance which is "immovable." It has been customary to divide this discussion of Aristotle into several formal theistic arguments,but in the opinion of the writer the text of the Metaphysics does not lend itself readily to any such cut and dried arrangement of its argument. Aristotle does, indeed, to avoid the absurdity of an endless regress, argue from the κινούμενα and the κινοῦντα of the physical World to a πρῶτον κινοῦν which is a pure ἐνέργεια, ἀκίνητον, ἄνευ ὕλης, and hence foreign to all the passivity and contingency of matter; concludes from motion in the world that there must be a First Mover; and asserts the actuality of the eternal as opposed to potentiali