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Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity

David Sedley

Publication Year: 2008

The world is configured in ways that seem systematically hospitable to life forms, especially the human race. Is this the outcome of divine planning or simply of the laws of physics? Ancient Greeks and Romans famously disagreed on whether the cosmos was the product of design or accident. In this book, David Sedley examines this question and illuminates new historical perspectives on the pantheon of thinkers who laid the foundations of Western philosophy and science. Versions of what we call the "creationist" option were widely favored by the major thinkers of classical antiquity, including Plato, whose ideas on the subject prepared the ground for Aristotle's celebrated teleology. But Aristotle aligned himself with the anti-creationist lobby, whose most militant members—the atomists—sought to show how a world just like ours would form inevitably by sheer accident, given only the infinity of space and matter. This stimulating study explores seven major thinkers and philosophical movements enmeshed in the debate: Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Socrates, Plato, the atomists, Aristotle, and the Stoics.

Published by: University of California Press

Series: Sather Classical Lectures


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-11


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

This is the book of the Sather Lectures that I delivered at the University of California, Berkeley, in the fall of 2004. I shall therefore start by expressing my very warm gratitude to the Berkeley Department of Classics, both for taking a chance in inviting me to be the ninety-first Sather Professor of Classical Literature, ...

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pp. xv-xviii

The dining hall of my college—Christ’s College Cambridge—displays portraits of its most illustrious alumni. One pairing is of unique symbolic value. On the left is William Paley (1743–1805), author of the classic version of the Argument from Design. ...

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I / Anaxagoras

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pp. 1-30

The earliest western philosophers were the dazzlingly original Greek thinkers conventionally known as the Presocratics—a line-up which included such heterogeneous figures as Thales, Anaximander, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Zeno of Elea, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, and Protagoras. ...

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II / Empedocles

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pp. 31-74

In my first chapter, I identified in the writings of Anaxagoras what I take to be the first Greek manifesto of rational creationism. I concluded by suggesting that Anaxagoras’s own agenda was not essentially religious in motivation, but scientific: to exhibit the power of intelligence when it operates on matter to create the world ...

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III / Socrates

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pp. 75-92

To clear the way for this chapter’s protagonist, Socrates, I must start by explaining briefly why I do not believe that his approximate contemporary Diogenes of Apollonia is of major significance for our story, as has sometimes been thought. For Diogenes has been often credited with the earliest version of (roughly speaking) the Argument from Design, ...

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IV / Plato

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pp. 93-132

At the end of the previous chapter I noted how, long before he came to write the Timaeus, a dialogue best dated years, probably decades, after the Phaedo, Plato was already planning to vindicate the teleological style of cosmology of which his Socrates had approved but also despaired.1 ...

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V / The Atomists

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pp. 133-166

So far in our story the creationists have made all the running, culminating in Plato’s Timaeus, the ultimate creationist manifesto. Even if one faction of Plato’s heirs insisted that he had never meant to say that a discrete act of divine creation had ever taken place, this dialogue’s impact on such thinkers as Aristotle, ...

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VI / Aristotle

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pp. 167-204

Aristotle ( 384–322 B.C.) was Plato’s student for two decades before founding his own school. Is it more fruitful to think of his mature work as anti Platonist, or as that of an independent Platonist? Although this age-old question does not admit of final resolution, I am convinced with regard to my present topic, ...

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VII / The Stoics

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pp. 205-238

The Argument from Design has come to be the most celebrated member of a family of arguments aimed at demonstrating the existence of a creator god. Although I have now covered more than a century and a half of debate about creation, from Anaxagoras to Epicurus, extraordinarily we have met only one argument that might merit this title. ...

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Epilogue: A Galenic Perspective

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pp. 239-244

The most notable absentee from my story so far is Galen, the greatest and most lastingly influential doctor of antiquity, whose voluminous writings have in large part come down to us. I cannot here aspire to do justice to the huge contributions that Galen made to teleological argument.1 ...


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pp. 245-256

Index Locorum

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pp. 257-266

General Index

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pp. 267-269

Production Notes

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p. 291-291

E-ISBN-13: 9780520934368
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520253643

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Sather Classical Lectures