Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Article excerpt

It is not so much Hawking's squawkings about God and science that are the problem - though one wished he did not appear to think that either phenomenon told one anything significant about the other - but rather the failure of our education system to engage with the ancient Greeks. Their finest thinkers sorted the matter out 2,500 years ago, long before Christianity ever appeared on the scene.

The first Greek philosophers like Thales (c. 580 bc) were really physicists, trying to describe, organise and explain the universe and all its contents. They gave accounts of natural phenomena like stars, planets, weather, plants, animals and man, and asked questions about whether and how the universe began, what it was made of, why it changed and so on. Thales apparently took the view that water was the first principle, from which everything sprang and to which it returned. For Anaximander, an abstract 'infinite' was the origin of all things, and the cosmos a conflicting cycle of 'coming-to-be' and 'perishing' according to laws of nature. Heraclitus saw the world in terms of constant change, but not conflicting change. Opposition was built into the natural order of things. …

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