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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Anglicanism: Just another word for paganism

Paul's background offers up insight into the reasons why God chose him to bring the Good News to the Gentiles. While studying under the rabbi Gamaliel provided Paul with a strong grounding in Jewish law and theology, it was his coming from Tarsus, an important university town renowned for its Stoic philosophy, that gave him a first-class education into the pagan mindset. Acts 17 records an incident in which Paul called upon this training.

While preaching and reasoning to the passers-by in an Athenian market-place a group of Stoics and Epicureans took him to task over Jesus and the resurrection. Luke only records a fraction of the debate, and despite his freely quoting Aratus, Epimenides and, quite possibly, Cleanthes, Paul nevertheless saw their philosophies as standing in distinct opposition to the Creator God of the Bible. Few Christians ever investigate precisely what these philosophies stood for, so some quotes from these ancient world-views would be of considerable aid to comprehend why Paul so unequivocally took issue with them.

The Epicurean belief was distinctly evolutionary. While gods may have indeed existed, they did not truly interact with the world. Equally certain was the Epicurean belief entertained no Creator God who used His wisdom, demonstrated by rapid and accurate completion of task, to bring nature and life into existence. Rather, large amounts of time, unfolding an uncountable number of material permutations upon permutations, eventually brought forth the world as we know it. Time and accident were the factors drawn upon to transform God into a superfluous hypothesis.

Lucretius, in his De rerum natura, states “When bodies are being born by their own weight straight down through the void, at quite uncertain times and places they veer a little from their course, just enough to be called a change of motion. If they did not have this tendency to swerve, everything would be falling downward like raindrops through the depths of the void, and collisions and impacts among the primary bodies would not have arisen, with the result that nature would never have created anything.”

Epicurus, in his Letter to Herodotus, lays out his belief in the eternity of matter, the epistemological prerequisite for materialism: “The atoms move continuously for ever...There is no beginning to this, because atoms and void are eternal.”

Central to any materialist account of origins is that life on earth is merely an outcome of probability. Lucretius states, “For so many primary particles have for an infinity of time past been propelled in manifold ways by impacts and by their own weight, and have habitually travelled, combined in all possible ways, and tried out everything that their union could create, that it is not surprising if they have also fallen into arrangements, and arrives at patterns of motions, like those repeatedly enacted by this present world.”

The Stoics, despite being materialists, held that there was one principle which permeated all of reality, Reason, which gave rise to everything else. If 'God' were mentioned it was rarely, if unambiguously ever, referring to a personal deity, let alone a Creator of the magnitude unveiled in the Bible.

Aetius, reporting on Stoic belief, states that they “made god out to be intelligent, a designing fire which methodically proceeds towards creation of the world, and encompasses all the seminal principles according to which everything comes about according to fate.”

Cicero relates how Chrysippus held that “divine power resides in reason and in the mind and intellect of universal nature..the world's own is the common nature of things..the force of fate and necessity.”

Both of these ersatz explanations remove God's presence as much as possible. By this I mean that theological considerations are weakened to the extent that a fully-blown materialism is the final result. While Epicureanism relied on chance as the universe's creative metaphysic, Stoicism embedded an ordering principle within nature that tamed chaos and directed it to complexity.

Luke's specific mention of these pagan philosophies and Paul's counter to them contains an important lesson for us today. These two counterfeits are perhaps the most logical replacements for the Christian Creator Jesus and both have resurfaced, not without, but within the Church. Leading theologians have stripped the pagan philosophies of their inherent atheism but taken on-board their ultimate reliance on chance, deterministic law and matter. According to their quasi-scientism, God, when he is presented, has brought together this faux trinity and allowed the universe to itself unravel from the Big Bang to the present.

John Polkinghorne, a greatly admired and quoted Anglican priest and physicist, has stated that "[n]ecessity is the regular ground of possibility, expressed in scientific law. Chance, in this context, is the means for the exploration and realization of inherent possibility, through continually changing (and therefore at any time contingent) individual circumstances. It is important to realize that chance is being used in this `tame' sense, meaning the shuffling operations by which what is potential is made actual. It is not a synonym for chaotic randomness, nor does it signify just a lucky fluke.... I am still deeply impressed by the anthropic potentiality of the laws of nature which enable the small-step explorations of tamed chance to result in systems of such wonderful complexity as ourselves."

He also argues that “[a]t the heart of evolution is the interplay between “chance” (the contingent detail of what actually happens) and “necessity” (the lawfully regular environment in which events occur). It takes place “at the edge of chaos,” where order and openness interlace. If things are too orderly, they are too rigid for anything really new to emerge. If they are too haphazard, nothing that emerged could persist.”
The evolutionary palaeontologist Simon Conway Morris, also a Christian, writes that “[f]or all this exuberance and flair [in evolution] there are constraints[but] there is also a patent trend of increased complexity.” He also states “[t]he complexity and beauty of ‘Life’s Solution’ can never cease to astound. None of it presupposes, let along proves, the existence of God, but all is congruent. For some it will remain as the pointless activity of the Blind Watchmaker, but others may prefer to remove their dark glasses. The choice, of course, is yours.”

As an aside, Morris is regarded, by some, as an expert on the Burgess Shale, despite admitting its fossil remains being so pristinely preserved “by as yet largely unknown mechanisms”. He writes that “the processes of rotting and decay have been largely held in abeyance so that the true richness of ancient life is revealed: not only are there animals such as trilobites and molluscs with tough, durable skeletons, but completely soft-bodied animals are also preserved. These remarkable fossils reveal not only their outlines but sometimes even internal organs such as the intestine or muscles.” Any chance the early chapters of Genesis provide an explanation, say, a worldwide flood destroying practically all life on the earth?

The perspicuous absence of any mention of Christ's role in the creation by these Christians makes their explanation no better than a pagan one. Particularly counter-productive, with respect to a truly Christian world-view, is the preponderate dependence of their explanation for the creation's existence on the creation itself. What principles are supposedly made manifest in the world are made to substantiate the world itself. That is, the marriage of chance and law, evolution, is entirely able to account for the world's and its occupants' being here.

No where to be seen is the direct link Paul and John make between the world and Christ the Creator. Both make it plain that the creation cannot be explained without Christ's visible input. If nothing that exists can be made without him, then nothing that does actually exist can have their ultimate existence put down to principles operating within the creation. If chance and necessity are sufficient, then Christ can be struck out with an Ockham resolve.

More worryingly is the attitude that the creation cannot directly point us to the Creator. No longer is it “in Christ all things consist” and that we can “attain to all riches of the full assurance of understanding”, but rather it comes down to a preference because nothing can, as Morris believes, prove the creation's ultimate dependence on Christ.

Whenever men subscribe to a metaphysical belief that it is principles upholding the creation, and not Christ, then Paul's daily reasoning in the marketplace against the pagans appears a futile exercise. It now seems that Stoic and Epicurean ideas have well and truly taken hold of Christian men's minds. If these non-Christian philosophies are representative of the church – and I believe they are – then the paganisation of the Church is almost complete.


sam drucker said...

This really is a degrading time for the Church.

What Jesus Christ set apart from the world has turned its back on a wonderful Creator, Lord and Saviour to seek the lead of the world in understanding.

It is a dog returning to its vomit.

Sam Drucker

Critias said...

Great post, John. Thanks. Shows how the typical evolutionary thinking Christian is up to his neck in the dung of materialist philosophy, which denies that the ground of all being is wisdom (that is, person), and says that it is material/the 'principle' of chance/the 'prinicple' of necessity, etc.

Eric said...

It seems that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it!

sam drucker said...

It is amazing to have, as it were, a bird's eye view of the path being pursued with all the snags and pits of the past recurring to the ruin of many.

Or, alternatively, we are like Pilgrim in Pilgrim's Progress encountering all those who wandered off along the way to The Celestial City.

Sam Drucker