Intelligent Design Philosophy

David Sedley’s Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity

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Sedley dust jacket David Sedley

Another fascinating book I’m finding hard to put down is David Sedley’s masterful treatment of ancient Greek debates about intelligent design, Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity (University of California Press, 2008). What Sedley means by “creationism” is not the Henry Morris / ICR / AIG variety, although philosophically of course there is conceptual overlap. Rather, as he puts it,

What I intend by creationism is…the thesis that the world’s structure and contents can be adequately explained only by postulating at least one intelligent designer, a creator god. (p. xvii)

The existence of such debates outside the historical sphere of biblical authority, Sedley argues, is of more than passing interest, and provides his main motive for writing the book. His aim, he notes,

is to use history in order to shed new light on the debate [between design and materialism]. However, at no point will I address the issue of biblical authority, which has explicity bulked so large in the modern era but has virtually no counterpart in the ancient pagan debate. My interest is in the arguments for and against divine creation and the appeals that were made to its explanatory power. In classical antiquity, these were formulated and deployed by a series of leading philosophers, nearly all of whom agreed, at least tacitly, that settling the issue is fundamental to establishing a proper relationship with the divine, and hence to the quest for human happiness. (p. xvi)

More about the book from the University of California Press here.

8 Replies to “David Sedley’s Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity

  1. 1
    JPCollado says:

    If the Greeks debated “creationism” then ID critics should put to rest the unfounded assertion that any dissent from darwinism is necessarily biblically-based.

  2. 2
    Ekstasis says:

    JP,

    Excellent point. The Materialists have conjured up a version of history and thinking that humanity, once free from the bonds of religion and belief in God, would drop all such nonsense such as ID and creationism (as defined by the author, as opposed to biblical creationism), along with all the other accompanying useless or malevolent beliefs.

    Is a small bell going off in anyone else’s head? Is this all not reminiscent of the brilliant French philosopher, Rousseau, who in the 18th century opened our eyes to the fact that individuals are born pure in the state of nature, and then corrupted by society and its horrible institutions? It all sounded oh-so-good, but like sweet fruit that turns to ashes in your mouth (JFK), it ended with Madame Guillotine.

    And now, our Materialist friends paint a somewhat similar picture. No God or religion = wonderful freedom in the natural state. But along comes this book that, surprise surprise, ancient philosophers argued about the same things. What, human reason alone would arrive at ID? This is stupefying!! Has PZ been alerted? Will Dawkins take a break from peddling atheism to take a fresh look? Hmmm.

  3. 3
    StephenB says:

    PN:

    JP:
    EK:

    Agreed. This is the most natural argument in the world. Did someone put us here or did it just happen? As others have pointed out, something has to be eternal. Either a self existent God always existed or matter always existed. You can’t get something from nothing.

  4. 4
    DaveScot says:

    StephenB

    Did someone put us here or did it just happen?

    For me the operative word is “happen”.

    If I became aware of myself as a conscious observer/participant in the universe one time then that proves it’s possible. What can happen once can and probably will happen again.

    Thus I really tend to discount the atheist belief that consciousness is an accident, a one-time event, and when you check out, take the old dirt nap, you’re gone forever. That’s an irrational conclusion. The rational conclusion is that what happens once will, given enough time and opportunity, happen again.

  5. 5
    DaveScot says:

    Paul

    I don’t really care for the demarcation between design and materialism like they must somehow logically be separate.

    The thing about materialism over the course of human inquiry, is that the domain of the known material universe keeps expanding because we keep discovering new forms of material.

    Right now, physicists and cosmologists are puzzling over something known only as “dark energy” which they think is 10 times more abundant in the universe than the material which makes up our bodies, our planet, our sun, our galaxy, and everything else we can see or detect in some fashion.

    Just several years ago if you’d said there’s an unseen, unfelt force in the universe that exists everywhere, permeates everything, and there’s 10 times as much of it as anything felt or seen, then this force you spoke of would be labeled “supernatural” and you’d be labeled a paranormal crank for supposing it existed.

    But today we think we detected this force through gravitational anomaly and it’s no longer supernatural but rather a valid avenue of scientific inquiry.

    So I hesitate to draw stark lines between natural and supernatural. Today’s supernatural force is tomorrow’s natural force. “Materialism” expands and/or is modified to accomodate new knowledge. So-called materialists are as guilty as anyone else of falsely painting materialism into a corner from which it cannot escape. Every time it appears to be neatly boxed into a corner like that it turns around and busts a hole in the wall and gets out of the box. We should learn from our mistakes, not repeat them.

  6. 6
    StephenB says:

    —–Dave: “If I became aware of myself as a conscious observer/participant in the universe one time then that proves it’s possible. What can happen once can and probably will happen again.”

    —–“”

    Thus I really tend to discount the atheist belief that consciousness is an accident, a one-time event, and when you check out, take the old dirt nap, you’re gone forever. That’s an irrational conclusion. The rational conclusion is that what happens once will, given enough time and opportunity, happen again.”

    Yes, that makes sense. I think your argument is unassailable.

  7. 7
    StephenB says:

    —–Dave: “I don’t really care for the demarcation between design and materialism like they must somehow logically be separate.”

    I hope that someone takes the time to stretch out on this subject sometime. The ancient Greeks did propose some sort of a rational principle in nature that was nevertheless impersonal.

    On the other hand, I don’t understand how you get design without “intentionality,” which, it would seem, requires personhood. I find this subject utterly fascinating. I come down on the side of equating design with personhood, but I would like to hear more from those who disagree. How does nature plan for itself?

  8. 8
    johnnyb says:

    DaveScot –

    I think the difference is that “materialism” refers to things which operate entirely according to non-creative acts. That’s the divide. The materialists don’t like the idea of something which is truly able to be creative, but instead want to reduce it to non-creative forces.

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