“At the same time my reason returned unto me.”
Between the philosophical work of Thales of Miletus (c. 624 – c. 545) and Socrates (c. 470 BC – 399 BC), there was a series of important thinkers who debated what is ultimate reality. Thales argued that ultimate reality was water. Anaximenes of Miletus (c. 586 BC – c. 526) disagreed and substituted for water the idea of air for the arche. He taught the Universe is in constant motion, and matter changes through rarefaction and condensation. Rarefaction is the reduction of an item’s density, the opposite of compression. Condensation is the change of the physical state of matter from the gas phase to the liquid phase and the reverse of vaporization. Air is something that every living thing needs. If water can move on its own initiative, what about wind?
Another philosopher suggested that neither water, nor air, was the ultimate substance, but earth. Then someone suggested that fire was the ultimate substance.
Not to be outdone, it was suggested that there was not one, but four basic elements of ultimate reality: earth, air, fire, and water.
This theory of ultimate reality was disrupted when it was noted that if ultimate reality is earth, air, fire, and water, then it is the many, and not the one, which is ultimate reality. Monism gave way to pluralism. Pluralism gives diversity, but without unity. Therefore, there must be something beyond the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water that unifies them in harmony and gives them purpose, definition, and meaning. That Something, or Someone, beyond the four basic elements, is God. But God was not called God by the philosophers. That which was “beyond”, was called the Fifth Element. This is where the word “quintessential” comes from (quint [five], essence), representing the most perfect, or typical example of a particular person or characteristic.
A man named Anaximander (c. 610 BC – c. 540 BC) came up with the theory of the apeiron, from the Greek word meaning, “boundless”, “ageless”, “infinite”. Anaximander argued the apeiron is the arche of ultimate reality. An early proponent of science, Anaximander advocated an evolutionary view of living things, by teaching that earth floats unsupported. He held to a mechanical model of the sky. Water of rain came from evaporation.
Without honoring Him as such, Anaximander described God philosophically in His attributes.
Is the apeiron boundless? God has no boundaries.
Is the apeiron ageless? God has no beginning. It is eternal.
Is the apeiron infinite? God is not finite, but infinite.
Slowly men were beginning to think their way back to God. They were pursuing God.
The idea of monotheism is a late development for the Greek, but not for the Hebrew. The Hebrew begins with God. “In the beginning God created.” The Hebrews began with the arche, the apeiron. The irony of Greek philosophy, which influences so much of modern day thinking, is how arrogant it was in believing it was having “eureka” moments, or flashes of insight leading to philosophical discoveries.
The truth of the matter, is that the Greek philosophers were much like the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, who went mad until God restored his sanity, and his reason returned. The Greeks lagged centuries behind the children of Israel in understanding there is Something, rather, Someone, who brings together, in harmony, all the elements of the universe. As late as the third century BC, the Greeks still had a long way to go because their Ultimate Reality was still only an abstract idea, and not the personal God of Biblical revelation.
A lesson can be learned from history. Once a culture has lost, or abandoned the truth about God, it can take centuries of searching after Him to regain spiritual insight, and arrive back at ultimate truth and reality.
“Wasted years, wasted years, oh, how foolish
As you walk on in darkness and fear
Turn around, turn around, love is calling
Keeps calling me from a life of wasted years.”
When Jesus came, in matchless grace, He called to be one of His disciples a man named John, who wrote the gospel that bears his name.
Those who have studied the writings of John, concur that he wanted to reach the Greek community of his generation, and so began with a philosophical concept they could understand to make a transition to God incarnate. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men… 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth”” (John 1:1-4, 14).
To those who believe they are philosophically wise today comes this question. “Do you know my Lord?”
“Do you know my Jesus?
Do you know my Friend?
Have you heard He loves you,
And that He will abide till the end?”
If not, then ask the Lord to let your spiritual reason return to you so you can worship the Lord of Glory.
As the various philosophers explored their views with one another, tension grew. Some of the thinkers thought ultimate reality was a single essence like air, water, fire, or earth. Others thought the arche was pluralistic. So, what is the arche? It is monism, or pluralism?
The monist is the one who embraces monism which teaches that all reality is one. This leads to pantheism. There is unity but all diversity is simply a manifestation of the unity. This idea eventually coined a term for “God” as “THE ONE.”
The pluralist believed that reality could not be reduced to one single substance or essence. After all, there are four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Others expanded and included a multitude of elements, an infinite variety of seeds. Everything has a seed for its origin.
Democritus (born c. 460 BC – died c. 370 BC), an ancient Greek philosopher, spoke about atoms. He was a central figure in the development of philosophical atomism and of the atomic theory of the universe.
According to ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA,
“To account for the world’s changing physical phenomena, Democritus asserted that space, or the Void, had an equal right with reality, or Being, to be considered existent. He conceived of the Void as a vacuum, an infinite space in which moved an infinite number of atoms that made up Being (i.e., the physical world).
These atoms are eternal and indivisible; absolutely small, so small that their size cannot be diminished (hence the name atomon, or “indivisible”); absolutely full and incompressible, as they are without pores and entirely fill the space they occupy; and homogeneous, differing only in shape, arrangement, position, and magnitude. But, while atoms thus differ in quantity, differences of quality are only apparent, owing to the impressions caused on the senses by different configurations and combinations of atoms.
A thing is hot or cold, sweet or bitter, or hard or soft only by convention; the only things that exist in reality are atoms and the Void.
Thus, the atoms of water and iron are the same, but those of water, being smooth and round and therefore unable to hook onto one another, roll over and over like small globes, whereas those of iron, being rough, jagged, and uneven, cling together and form a solid body. Because all phenomena are composed of the same eternal atoms, it may be said that nothing comes into being or perishes in the absolute sense of the words, although the compounds made out of the atoms are liable to increase and decrease, explaining a thing’s appearance and disappearance, or “birth” and “death.”
In the debate between the Monist and the Pluralist the question of substance arose. What form does ultimate reality take? What was the nature of these unites of reality, be they singular, or plural? Are they physical and non physical?
CORPOREAL MONIST said that everything has a physical substance. Nothing exists except matter.
INCORPOREAL MONIST believed that all of reality was matter but it was spiritual, not physical. “The Force Be with You” concept; an infinite, qualitative, spiritual power with no dimension, weight, or space. Even when they spoke of air, fire, water, and earth, if it was not solid, it was incorporeal.