Monday, May 03, 2010

Basic Ideas 4: Where Plato was Wrong

If you’ve read my blog you’ll notice that I’m an admirer of many of the ideas of Plato provided that they are reinterpreted to match the Christian worldview. However, there were areas where Plato was seriously wrong. One of these areas has to do with Creation. As Nancy Pearcey discusses in greater detail in her book Total Truth Plato believed that spirit and matter had both preexisted eternally and that spirit was associated with goodness and order and matter was associated with evil, intractability, and insufficiency. This simply isn’t the case. And Plato’s view led to a variety of negative results, especially in the Middle Ages. The emphasis of some early Christians on asceticism and the rise of the monastic movement as an ascetic phenomena as well as the improper belief that full time preaching of the gospel, either as a missionary or a pastor, is somehow the only really holy occupation or vocation are all negative fallout that came the idea the spiritual is good and the material is bad. Pearcey describes Plato’s view led to a “two-story” view of reality in which spirituality was superior and material or worldly things were inferior.
The biblical view of reality contrasts sharply with this idea. When God created the heavens and the earth He created them out of nothing. Matter is not eternal and did not exist before God created it. This ought to be obvious from a scientific point of view because what we know about matter now is that it simply isn’t the sort of thing that can be around for an eternity. If the universe had been around for an infinite period of time, it would already be cold and atoms would be equally spaced out in the emptiness of space. This is because universes run down. They become less organized and lose energy as time goes by. All matter behaves this way. Happily, God is not matter and God is the sort of thing that can exist eternally, indeed outside of time. God created time and the time space continuum as well as matter. Matter has been under His total and complete control from the very beginning. When God created the universe, He pronounced it to be good. Later, because of human sin, evil entered into the world and that evil brought about by human sin resulted in the world experiencing futility. When God created the world it was good, but after mankind sinned God cursed the world and it began to function in an imperfect way. Instead of merely bearing edible fruits and seeds, some plants began to bear poisonous thorns and to create toxic chemicals. Instead of animals living on the herbs of the field, some animals began to live by eating other animals. The entire way the world functions was affected as a result of mankind’s fall into sin. Naturally the greatest effect was on mankind himself. Human sin affects every part of our being. It does affect our material bodies, and it also affects our immaterial soul or spirit. Escaping from sin does not merely involve escaping from matter. It requires an escape from our immaterial personage as well or the transformation of that personage. As a result, we can’t escape from sin by merely avoiding certain things or having an ascetic lifestyle. Instead, the only escape from sin is through the transforming power of God made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We’ll talk more about that later. For now, it’s enough to point out that Plato was incorrect in believing that the material world was inherently evil because of its materiality. By contrast, Aristotle was also in a sense in error in acting as though the material world was entirely good and that every impulse, act, or pattern within that world was always for the good and fully in accord with the design and purpose of each thing. Thomas Aquinas, though he does talk about sin, sometimes seems to over emphasize the goodness of the natural world when he discusses the function and design of mankind and the elements of the natural world. Plato went too far one way, Aristotle and Aquinas went too far in the other in not taking into account the effects of the fall.

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