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177 Conclusion Granville Henry notes in an early chapter of his book Christiainity and the Images of Science that Pythagoras and his school were not acquainted with the possibility of fractions as multiple ways to subdivide the number one without losing the sense of “one” as the first prime number. For them, “one” was the only number that was simple and undifferentiated; all other numbers like “two” were composed of parts—for example, two “ones.” 1 According to Henry, this was the origin of the common belief among the philosophers of antiquity that perfection is to be found in what is simple, without differentiation into parts. What has parts, after all, can fall apart and would have to be put together again by an outside agency. For that matter, whatever has parts necessarily owes its current existence to an outside agency. As Aristotle phrased it, whatever is moved is moved by another. 2 From here it was an easy inference for Thomas Aquinas and other medieval thinkers to think of God as in the first place simple, without parts. Aquinas, to be sure, in his description of the three divine persons as together one God, one corporate reality, had in his hands by implication a new understanding of unity or the One as unity in diversity of parts or members. But insofar as he implicitly separated his understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity from his overall philosophical scheme for the Godworld relationship in the Summa Theologica, 3 for Aquinas the notion of 1. Granville C. Henry, Christianity and the Images of Science (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 1984), 40–41. 2. Aristotle, Physics, bk. VII, chap. 1 (241b24), in The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon (New York: Random House, 1941), 340. 3. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Benzinger, 1948), I, qq. 27–43. 178  Conclusion the One as undifferentiated or without parts remained unchallenged. In similar fashion, through much of the early modern period the philosophical notion of the One as undifferentiated unity was not challenged. As I have pointed out elsewhere, reference to the One shifted from the Creator God of biblical revelation to the individual Self as ordering principle of its multiple experiences. 4 But the underlying presupposition that the One is a higher-order individual entity that transcends the Many as their ordering principle remained unchanged. The individual Self was assumed to transcend everything that it experienced. Similarly, through the early modern period political life in the West was dominated by the idea that the One (e.g., the king) must be above the Many (the ordinary citizens) to properly govern the State. Only in the bold experiment with more democratic forms of government in the American and French Revolutions of the late eighteenth century did the idea of democracy in political life begin to take hold in the minds of people around the world. Yet even then some measure of elitism remained. In the United States, for example, for many years after the War of Independence only white, male property owners could vote and run for office. Likewise, looking around the world in the twenty-first century, one quickly sees that a democratic way of life in civil society remains more an ideal to be striven for than an actual achievement. Yet at least in academic circles, the philosophical notion of the One as a differentiated as opposed to an undifferentiated unity has been steadily gaining ground. In the natural sciences, for example, a delicate balance between top-down and bottom-up causation, the reciprocal influence of the One on the Many and the Many on the One, seems to be more and more accepted by scientists. The strict reductionists are certainly correct in affirming the need for bottom-up causation at all levels of existence and activity within nature, but top-down causality, at least in the form of “information,” seems to be also necessary for the understanding of how order evolves out of apparent chaos. Thus, as these natural scientists see it, the whole is in some way more than simply the sum of its parts. A newly emergent form of order and intelligibility within an organism seems to set constraints on the continued activity of the organism’s component parts or members even as the component parts or members provide the infrastructure for the original emergence and continued survival of the higher-order form of existence and activity for the organism as a...


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Subject Headings

  • Causation.
  • Cosmology.
  • One (The One in philosophy).
  • Many (Philosophy).
  • Philosophical theology.
  • Providence and government of God.
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