The Creation of Heaven and Earth: Re-Interpretation of Genesis I in the Context of Judaism, Ancient Philosophy, Christianity, and Modern Physics

By George H. Van Kooten | Go to book overview

DESIGN IN NATURE: SOME COMMENTS
FROM THE ANCIENT PERSPECTIVE

JOHN DILLON

I found René van Woudenberg's paper most stimulating when I heard it, and I have been very glad to have had a chance to read it over subsequently. At the time, I recall commenting that what is at issue between Darwin and such modern followers of his as Richard Dawkins, on the one hand, and a critic such as Michael Behe on the other, resembles to some extent—though on a very much more sophisticated plane—the ancient conflict between an atomist such as Democritus and a partisan of purposive divine creation such as Plato.

George van Kooten has asked me to expand on this for the publication of the proceedings of our conference, and I am glad to do so, even if, perforce, only briefly and superficially. What I had in mind was this. In the period of Plato's youth, during the last quarter of the fifth century BCE, the philosophers Leucippus and Democritus had developed a radical theory of cosmology, involving the theory that the whole complexity of the world as we know it is made up of nothing more than combinations of 'atoms'—minimum units of matter—in motion in an infinite void. There is an infinite number of atoms—somewhat confusingly, of a number of different shapes and sizes'—moving at random in this void, and, over an infinite extent of time, they hook up with each other in a great many different combinations, ultimately to produce the great variety of entities, and levels of entity—that is to say, not just inanimate objects, but living things, and conscious intelligent subjects—that we observe to exist. In our world there is no purpose to any of this, though ineluctable laws of nature do arise later, to govern the actions of the various materials formed, once they have been formed. Even human consciousness and free will is to be explained— though the explanation, as we have it, is the later contribution of the philosopher Epicurus, who took up the atomist theory a century after Democritus, at the end of the fourth century—by the postulation of

1 The reason for this, in Democritus' mind, was that one had somehow to explain
the different degrees of consistency and solidity of existent things, but it is a postulate
that generates at least as many problems as it purports to solve.

-263-

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