The Knowledge of God amongst the Early Pagans

Chapter 1 After the Flood, by Bill Cooper

So that we may bring the subject we are about to study into its proper perspective, we must first allow that many of our preconceptions regarding ancient man are mistaken. It is commonly supposed, for example, that the nations if the world became aware of the God of Genesis only after they were evangelised by Christian missionaries. Only since the translation of the scriptures into their own language, it is assumed, did they become conscious of the Creation and the God who created it. It is further supposed that early pagan man can have had no concept of a divinity higher than that of an idol, because it is impossible to come to a knowledge of the one true God without that knowledge being given through the direct revelation of His Word, and so on. Popular thought seems never to have considered the possibility that pagan man was indeed aware of God and of His attributes and power, and that this awareness had existed and flourished for centuries without any recourse at all to the scriptures. So it is with something of a surprise that we meet with exactly that, a profound knowledge and appreciation of an eternal and almighty Creator God, His fatherhood of the human race and His infinite attributes in the writings of various historians in the ancient world and amongst the teachings of the earliest philosophers. It is of the utmost importance that we familiarise ourselves with this truth as we begin our investigations into the Table of Nations itself and the knowledge amongst the pagan nations of those patriarchs and events that are so familiar to us from the Genesis record.

So profound was the concept and knowledge of God amongst certain pagan peoples in the ancient world, and in particular the Greek and Roman worlds, that a controversy eventually arose and was to rage for many centuries between those who propagated and preserved that knowledge of God as the Creator, and those who sought to destroy it by attributing the creation of the universe to purely natural forces. The marked similarity between that pagan controversy and the controversy that rages today between creationists and evolutionists is surprising and we shall be examining that controversy in this chapter.

But first we must understand something of the sheer profundity of the pagan philosophical concept of the one true God. We meet with it in places as distant from each other as the world is wide, and among cultures as socially and politically diverse as those of ancient Greece and China. For example, it is from the writings of the Taoist Lao-tzu, who flourished in the China of the 6th century BC, that the following profound statement concerning the existence and some of the attributes of God is taken:

‘Before time, and throughout time, there has been a self-existing being, eternal, infinite, complete, omnipresent Outside this being, before the beginning, there was nothing.’ (1)

It was clearly from no copy of Genesis that Lao-tzu could possibly have derived such an awareness of God. But then as other pagan philosophers from different cultures altogether were to add their convictions to that of the Chinese sage Lao-tzu, (and that takes no account of all those who lived before him), it becomes immediately obvious that no such copy was necessary. It would seem that, contrary to most of the assumptions of modern psychology on the matter, the knowledge of God is in fact and indeed innate within the human soul. It is a built-in awareness that may well be awakened and perfected with the reception of God’s Word, but it is certainly something that exists quite independently of a knowledge of scripture. That is not to say that it was admitted to or proclaimed equally by all men in the ancient world. Many, of course, denied it just as they deny it today, for alongside every Lao-tzu who proclaimed the existence of God in the world of ancient China, there was a Kuo-Hsiang ready to dispute it:

‘I venture to ask whether the creator is or is not. If he is not, how can he create things? The creating of things has no Lord; everything creates itself.’ (2)

But such exceptions gloriously prove the rule. For the existence of the Creator to be denied by one philosopher, it first has to be expounded by another, and the question that interests us here is where did that knowledge come from? If not from scripture, which was unknown to these peoples, then from where? If not from Christian missionary teachers who did not yet exist, then from whom? For, imperfect as the concept of God may have been among the early pagans, it was nevertheless very real, often profound, and can only have been founded upon a body of knowledge that had been preserved amongst the early races from a particular point in history.

What that point in history was may become evident as our study proceeds and as we meet with the families of humankind dispersing from a single point around the globe. But that it was profound and in many ways inspiring, can hardly be denied, as the following ancient text from Heliopolis in Egypt testifies:

‘I am the creator of all things that exist…that came forth from my mouth. Heaven and earth did not exist, nor had been created the herbs of the ground nor the creeping things. I raised them out of the primeval abyss from a state of non-being…’ (3)

It would not be overstating the case to say that the Egyptian concept of a divine creation of the universe was so strongly held that throughout Egypt it governed every sphere of thought and action, political, educational, philosophical and so on. And it is also noteworthy to consider that there is no record anywhere amongst the vast amount of literature to be recovered from ancient Egypt, that suggests that this view was ever challenged. Nowhere in all the long history of Egypt do we find that a philosopher arose who was prepared to propagate the notion that the universe came into being through the agency of non-divine forces and processes. There were indeed other types of heretic and dissident, notably the pharaoh Akhnaten who sought to bring all Egypt under the persuasion that there was but one god instead of the many that the Egyptians worshipped, but this was hardly atheism or a materialist concept that denied the place and reality of the Creator. (4) On the contrary, it was an effort, albeit an unsuccessful effort ultimately, on the part of Akhnaten to clear away much of the theological dross and debris that had obscured by his day the purity of the concept of such a Creator.

Curiously, we meet with the same lack of challenge to the creationist view almost throughout the ancient literate world. For example, we encounter this same absence of atheism or materialism in both Mesopotamia and early Israel, where records make no mention at all of any materialist thinker even by way of condemnation or refutation, save perhaps the solitary biblical observation that, ‘the fool hath said in his heart, there is no God’. (5) This, of course, presupposes the existence of such fools at the time the statement was written, ca 1000 BC, yet not a shadow of a controversy has come down to us that so much as hints that the prevailing creationist view was ever challenged or even questioned in the ancient Middle East, so strongly was it held to in that region of the earth at least. And that is a notable fact that no one, to my knowledge, has ever sought to examine. (6) Indeed, in every major culture throughout the ancient world of which we have any record, the overwhelming consensus was that the universe had been created by often a single and usually supreme divine being (even in notoriously polytheistic cultures). But more remarkably, each culture was capable of expressing a view of the Creator that was not always perverse even though it flourished in the midst of an aggressive and thoroughly perverse paganism. For example, amongst the early Greeks we have in the Theogony of Hesiod (8th century BC) an account of the creation of the world that bears unmistakable and remarkably close similarities with the Genesis account:

‘First of all the Void came into being …next Earth …Out of the Void came darkness …and out of the Night came Light and Day…’ (7)

And yet it is immediately obvious upon reading the whole of the Theogony that Hesiod did not get his information from the book of Genesis. This is evident from his debased view of the Creator alone. But even though Hesiod’s debased view may have been typical, and indeed understandable, for one who lived in a thoroughly pagan society, it was by no means a view that was shared by all his fellow pagans. Xenophanes, for example, who lived some two centuries after Hesiod, held an altogether loftier view of the Creator and in a most inspiring passage sought to redress the theological balance:

‘Homer and Hesiod attributed to the gods all the things which among men are shameful and blameworthy–theft and adultery and mutual deception…[But] there is one God, greatest among gods and men, similar to mortals neither in shape nor in thought …he sees as a whole, he thinks as a whole, he hears as a whole …Always he remains in the same state, changing not at all …But far from toil he governs everything with his mind.’ (8)

Xenophanes, typically, would have known the names of all the Greek gods as well as the multitude of functions that they were thought to serve. Yet, significantly, and it is a most significant point, he did not attempt to name or identify the God of whom he now spoke and whom he clearly admired. This God was not a Zeus or a Hermes. This God was ineffable, and His ineffability was a concept that was to persist in Greek thought for as long as Greek philosophy itself was to persist. The concept of this ineffable Creator God permeated the thought of Plato, for example, who sought to replace Hesiod’s perverse concepts of the Creation with a more reasonable one, based no doubt upon philosophical concepts far more ancient than Hesiod’s and certainly far more profound:

‘Let us therefore state the reason why the framer of this universe of change framed it at all. He was good, and what is good has no particle of envy in it; being therefore without envy, he wished all things to be as like himself as possible. This is as valid a principle for the origin of the world of change as we shall discover from the wisdom of men…’ (9)

Note the echo from Genesis: ‘And God saw that it was good.’ We may also note here that Plato had discovered this concept from the wisdom of philosophers who had gone before him, and that it was therefore not something that originated in Plato’s thought alone. We can say though that, with the advent of Plato’s refined and carefully reasoned model of the Creation together with his (and Xenophanes’) higher concept of the Creator, it would seem that the classical Greek model of origins was changed for all time. Never again was it to revert to the divine capriciousness of the many Hesiodic gods for an explanation of the universe. The creationist concept of the ancient world was rather to become, under Plato’s inspiration and that of his pupils, more ‘scientifically’ and logically based, with its firm belief in a single and almighty Creator. However, in its wake, something far more serious than the earlier Hesiodic misconception was to occur.

It is with some irony that whilst the philosophically nurtured concept of the Creator was undergoing in ancient Greece such a profound shift towards a greater appreciation of His nature and attributes, there was taking place at the same time and in the same land the birth of another and hitherto unheard of concept amongst the Greeks, atheism. We simply do not know how atheism came to be born in ancient Greece, for, as we have seen, it was virtually an unheard of concept even in the most pagan cultures of the ancient world. But given the timing of its advent along with that of a higher concept of the Creator, which is of an equally mysterious source historically speaking, it would seem that the atheism of ancient Greece was conceived to directly oppose the burgeoning concept amongst the philosophers of a single supreme and omnipotent Deity. It is significant, no doubt, that no such concept as atheism arose earlier to deny the lesser pagan gods of Hesiod’s philosophy. But with its advent we see the first beginnings of the great controversy that was to rage for centuries between those who held to the now reasonably argued belief in a Creator, and those who utterly denied it.

Thales of Miletus (ca 625-545 BC) is usually credited with having been the first materialist philosopher among the Greeks. But it is very doubtful that Thales was a materialist at all. All that we know of Thales comes to us through later writers, Aristotle the most notable amongst them, and he simply described him as the ‘founder of natural philosophy’. (10) It is upon little more than the strength of this one remark by Aristotle that the case against Thales rests. But against that must be set the aphorisms that are attributed by others to Thales, such as: ‘Of existing things, God is the oldest–for he is ungenerated.’ The world is the most beautiful, for it is God’s creation …Mind is the swiftest, for it runs through everything…, and so on. All of which are classic creationist sentiments.

But Thales did have a pupil named Anaximander (ca 610-540 BC), and it is to him that we must look for the first recorded challenge to creationism from the materialist school. We must be careful, though, in assuming Anaximander to have been the very first materialist thinker amongst the Greeks, for the view held by Anaximander was nothing less than a fully developed theory of evolution. From Plutarch’s pen we hear Anaximander propounding that, ‘…originally, humans were born from animals of a different kind… ‘ (12) and so on, the creative principle that brought the universe into existence being held to be entirely impersonal and ‘natural’. This argument, of course, has a somewhat familiar ring to it in our own century, but we must ask ourselves whether it is likely that such a fully fledged evolutionary model of origins can have sprung from a single mind and in such a mature state, especially from a thinker who was an immediate disciple of the creationist Thales. Or is it more likely that, for many years prior to Anaximander, there was at least some kind of materialist challenge developing perhaps even underground amongst certain thinkers in Greece, and that Anaximander simply plucked the baton from an unknown predecessor’s hand? The laws of the time suggest strongly that such was the case, and our knowledge of just how the modern concept of evolution was nurtured and developed by a succession of thinkers across several centuries, virtually demands that we assume a similarly prolonged development in Greek materialist thought.

The evidence, such as it is, that is contained in the laws of ancient Greece against blasphemy and impiety, makes it certain that there were blasphemers and impious men to be legislated against, and such laws invariably prescribed death as the penalty for such a crime, the famous Socrates himself having finally fallen foul of such laws. And Plato, who was later to discuss in depth exactly how he thought the impious might be more effectively legislated against in the ideal city-state, (13) paints for us a picture of the condition of things in his own day, but speaks of the materialists as if they were an unlikely new breed of thinkers who had only just arrived on the scene:

‘Some people, I believe, account for all things which have come to exist, all things which are coming into existence now, and all things which will do so in the future, by attributing them either to nature, art, or chance.’ (14)

…going on to tell us how these thinkers define the gods as ‘artificial concepts’ and ‘legal fictions’. He names the trend for what he thought it to be, a ‘pernicious doctrine’ that ‘must be the ruin of the younger generation, both in the state at large and in private families’. (15) Unfortunately, Plato declines to name the thinkers who were responsible for this state of affairs and against whom he is contending. But this in turn only adds strength to the suggestion that atheism as an idea was more generally and anciently held, and more widespread amongst Plato’s own contemporaries, than either the records of the time or Plato himself would lead us to believe. But whoever they were, Plato was to offer them a mightily effective challenge through his own refined creationist model of origins, for whatever the materialists proposed, Plato’s model was of a higher concept altogether. For him, the Creator turned chaos into order simply because it was His good nature, and His good pleasure, so to do. He loved order rather than chaos, and to ensure the maintenance of that order everything He created was made according to an eternal and flawless pattern, Plato’s justly famous Theory of Forms. But the real importance of Plato’s model of origins for our enquiry is that it effectively silenced the materialist school for the next fifty years or so, that is until the time when Epicurus was to lay down his own counter-challenge to the creationist model. Aristotle had evidently already attempted to find some middle ground between the idealist Plato and his materialist opponents, but this did little or nothing to modify the scale of the philosophical provocation of what Plato had proposed.

Epicurus felt bound to oppose it, and he laid down his challenge around the close of the 4th century BC with a cosmology whose effects were to reverberate throughout the coming Roman world for many centuries to come. Indeed, it still survives in the elements of several modern philosophies.

The challenge issued by Plato’s model of origins was met by Epicurus at every point, even on those more mundane matters that had merely to do with the city-state and jurisprudence. But in particular, Epicurus argued that it was insufficient to contend for the divine creation of the universe, as Plato did, from the assumption of a well-ordered cosmos, simply because the cosmos, in Epicurus’ eyes, was not well-ordered. (16) It had culminated from a long, perhaps infinite, series of accidents resulting from the random jostling of atoms. But then, ever the sophist, Epicurus shrewdly shifted the ground a little so that any rebuttal from the creationist camp would need to take on board an added complication and consequently be more difficult to propound, for in spite of his unabashed materialism, Epicurus was careful to acknowledge the existence of the gods! He relegated them to a place of complete ineffectuality and disinterest in the cosmos, but he avoided an outright denial of their existence. Apart from the fact that he had to beware of the still-standing laws of the time against impiety and blasphemy, Epicurus knew that outright atheism is easily refuted by any philosopher with an eye for controversy, and the fact that few men in any age are outright atheists anyway would ensure scant support for his views. But, if the existence of the gods is acknowledged at the same time in which the divine creation of the universe is denied, then the arguments against the Epicurean view become infinitely more complex, affording the materialist with the subsequent ability to change ground at will. Such sophistry, of course, was entirely in keeping with the character of Epicurus who was roundly criticised for it on more than one occasion:

‘Epicurus himself used to do the same thing. For instance, he saw that if those atoms of his were always falling downwards by their own weight, their motion would be fixed and predetermined, and there would be no room for free will in the world. So casting about for a way to avoid this determinism, which Democritus had apparently overlooked, he said that the atoms, as they fell, just swerved a little!’ (17)

However, the acknowledgement of the existence of the gods did have the virtue of imparting to Epicurus control of the field and the ability to state the terms under which the ensuing controversy was to be fought. Or so he vainly hoped, for far from seeing creationism off the proverbial field, Epicureanism merely served to rally the creationist camp towards a better definition of its views, and the school of thought which raised itself to meet the challenge of Epicurean materialism was the Stoic school, founded by Zeno in ca 308 BC.

As events were to prove, Stoicism was to become a very effective challenge indeed in the pagan world against materialism in any guise or form, and that challenge was brought about by a most significant development. This development began with a far more profound concept of the Creator than had hitherto prevailed in Greek thought, whether that of Hesiod, of Xenophanes or even of Plato. Indeed, the incipient and lightly veiled atheism of Epicurus’ philosophy was now answered by the Stoics in the most compelling terms, with Chrysippus giving it perhaps its most persuasive voice:

‘If there is anything in nature which the human mind, which human intelligence, energy and power could not create, then the creator of such things must be a being superior to man. But the heavenly bodies in their eternal orbits could not be created by man. They must therefore be created by a being greater than man …Only an arrogant fool would imagine that there was nothing in the whole world greater than himself. Therefore there must be something greater than man. And that something must be God.’ (18)

This may be a good place to briefly reflect upon the somewhat mysterious source of such endearingly plain logic, a plainness of logic indeed that is quite uncharacteristic of Greek philosophy. What processes of thought can conceivably have led from the grotesque parodies of human corruption that one sees in the older Hesiodic creation model of the Greeks amongst beings that passed for ‘gods’, to the majestic and undeniably sublime concept of a supreme and omnipotent Deity that was now being voiced by Chrysippus and his colleagues? (19) The Christian faith had yet to be born, its influence on Greek thought still lying some centuries into the future. So could it perhaps have been through the agency of the recently Hellenized Jews who, albeit they horrified the orthodox of their faith by mingling much of Judaism with Greek thought and practices, unwittingly carried with them into the Greek camp an inherent knowledge of the God of Genesis in a kind of theological Trojan horse? The answer is no, for apart from the fact that one can hardly claim that Jewish philosophical thought was any less complex and sophistic than that of the Greeks, there are also strong historical and chronological grounds for denying Jewish influence in the sphere of Greek philosophy at this particular point in history.

The Greeks, it appears, first made contact with Judaism as early as the year 587 BC, when Greek mercenaries assisted the armies of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in the investing and destruction of Jerusalem. Along with the mercenaries, of course, would have been a smaller army of civil servants, spies and so on, many of whom during the long and enforced hours of leisure doubtless spent their time in philosophical discussion. But to suggest that this would have included the taking on board of Jewish thought is quite beyond the realms of probability. The Jews were invariably viewed with a poorly disguised contempt by the Greeks throughout their centuries of contact with one another, to the extent that many Jews found it politic to become Greek, or Hellenized, in order to survive at all. (20) The persecution of the Jews under Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163 BC), and his determined attempt to expunge the Jewish faith altogether, is perhaps the most telling episode regarding the often mutual hostility that existed between the orthodox of either side. It has to be admitted, of course, that the Jewish Torah, which naturally included the book of Genesis, was translated into Greek in the year 250 BC, some seventeen years before Chrysippus became head of the Stoic school in 233 BC. But even the remarkable translation of Genesis into Greek did not take place until fifty-eight years after the foundation of the Stoic school by Zeno in 308 BC. So clearly Stoicism as a philosophy owed nothing to the book of Genesis, and the philosophical path that the Stoics trod in order to arrive at their conclusions must therefore remain a mystery to us.

However, apart from the new and lofty concept voiced by Xenophanes, Plato and Chrysippus of the Creator of the universe, another concept was to follow which, in the hands of Chrysippus and his colleagues, was to lend the voice of the Stoic school an almost irresistible authority. It was the concept of ‘evidence from design’, an argument for that divinely inspired intent and purpose which was observable throughout the universe and which convinced the Stoic, as it convinces the creationist of today, of the scientific and philosophical correctness of his model. Refined and brilliantly expressed by Paley at the beginning of the last century, the importance of evidence from design was not lost on earlier classical theorists who were quick to give it its permanent setting in the idea of creationism. A later Stoic, the Roman Cicero, was to give the concept perhaps its highest expression in pre-Christian times, and his words are worth quoting at a little length:

‘When you see a sundial or a water-clock, you see that it tells the time by design and not by chance. How then can you imagine that the universe as a whole is devoid of purpose and intelligence when it embraces everything, including these artifacts themselves and their artificers? Our friend Posidonius as you know has recently made a globe which in its revolution shows the movements of the sun and stars and planets, by day and night, just as they appear in the sky. Now if someone were to take this globe and show it to the people of Britain or Scythia would a single one of those barbarians fail to see that it was the product of a conscious intelligence?’ (21)

With these beautifully simple words, Cicero gives voice to an idea which even today is the most difficult for the materialist to refute, for it is nigh impossible to explain away convincingly, say, the indescribable complexity of living organisms, or even merely parts thereof, as the product of blind chance or accident. But Cicero was not just giving voice to one of creationism’s most forceful ideas for its own sake. He was doing so by way of refuting the Epicurean notions of Lucretius, the Roman materialist poet and a contemporary of his, whose book (22) Cicero mentions in a letter to his brother Quintus in February 54 BC, and which he says was written ‘with many highlights of genius, but with much art’. (23) Cicero’s own dialogue, On the Nature of the Gods, was written some ten years later in ca 44 BC specifically as a rebuttal of Lucretius, and it is between Cicero and Lucretius that the controversy rages, with both sides using arguments which are still very familiar to us today.

One of those arguments concerned the trustworthiness or otherwise of the senses when it comes to deducing the validity of evidence from design. How, for example, can we be sure that we interpret that evidence correctly through our senses? This, for the Stoic, was the fatal weakness in the Epicurean argument which, as Lucretius stated it, runs:

The nature of phenomena cannot be understood by the eyes. Lucretius said this not because he believed the eyes themselves to be at fault, but because it was a failing of the mind to perceive things correctly or accurately through the senses. In fairness to Lucretius, he did go on to qualify this statement, recognising that this dictum, though it appeared to answer the creationist on a philosophical level, could not usefully be translated into everyday experience, for: (24) “This is to attack belief at its very roots–to tear up the entire foundation on which the maintenance of life is built. If you did not dare trust your senses so as to keep clear of precipices and other such things to be avoided and make for their opposites, there would be a speedy end to life itself.” (25)

But such sophistry was to cut no ice at all with the Stoic Cicero. It smacked too much of that special pleading for which Cicero, as an advocate in law, had little patience. For if our reasoning powers could be trusted to interpret what our senses were telling us on a day to day basis when it came to such vital matters as personal safety and survival, then they could surely be trusted to interpret less vital phenomena such as evidence from design in the universe around us, which spoke so eloquently and forcefully of the universe having been created by an infinite and omnipotent intelligence. As a creationist, the Stoic Cicero simply could not appreciate the Epicurean viewpoint of Lucretius:

‘In the heavens there is nothing accidental, nothing arbitrary, nothing out of order, nothing erratic. Everywhere is order, truth, reason, constancy …I cannot understand this regularity in the stars, this harmony of time and motion in their various orbits through all eternity, except as the expression of reason, mind and purpose …Their constant and eternal motion, wonderful and mysterious in its regularity, declares the indwelling power of a divine intelligence. If any man cannot feel the power of God when he looks upon the stars, then I doubt whether he is capable of any feeling.” (26)

To Cicero’s mind, it was the greatest irony that a thinker like Lucretius who bleated most about his unshakeable faith in the innate powers of matter to create itself and arrange itself into a meaningful and purposeful order without any outside aid or influence, found himself unable to trust that same matter when it came to perceiving or even explaining this fact! It matters not, it seems, how eloquently one may fulminate against creationism, charging it with every superstition under the sun, if one then declares that the reasoning powers of him who so fulminates cannot be trusted. Whether expressed in ancient times or in modern, it is still a case of shooting oneself in the philosophical foot, and it has effectively disarmed the materialist cause at every turn. It bedeviled the 18th century Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, whose philosophy in a nutshell stated that it was only reasonable to believe in God. But as we know that God does not exist, then our reasoning powers cannot be trusted. What Hume, along with every other materialist philosopher, was really trying to say, of course, was that no one’s reasoning powers could be trusted but his own, thus making himself the only sure point of reference in the universe. But such was the philosophical mess into which this led him, that Kant, the inheritor of Hume’s mantle, once painfully lamented the fact that:

…”it remains a scandal to philosophy and to human reason in general that the existence of things outside us must be accepted merely on faith, and that if anyone thinks good to doubt their existence, we are unable to counter his doubts by any satisfactory proof.” (27)

No creationist could have expressed the materialist’s dilemma more concisely, and Kant has highlighted a phenomenon that has not only ensured throughout history that creationism would always hold the higher ground when it came to the expression of simple logic, but which also led out of sheer frustration to the birth and rigours of the empiricist school of thought in the 1920s. But there is another element in the controversy that has also persisted down the ages concerning the part that chance might have played in the successful arrangement of matter whether animate or inanimate. The pagan Greeks had taken the argument down to the atomic level, and instead of the desperately sought-after simplicity of arrangement that was so necessary to the materialist’s cause, they found only a greater and more mind-boggling complexity, which again only added to their difficulties in attempting to explain the allegedly accidental creation and mindless existence of the universe. Again, we turn to Cicero for a judgment on the scene:

‘Is it not a wonder that anyone can bring himself to believe that a number of solid and separate particles by their chance collisions and moved only by the force of their own weight could bring into being so marvelous and beautiful a world? If anybody thinks that this is possible, I do not see why he should not think that if an infinite number of examples of the twenty-one letters of the alphabet, made of gold or what you will, were shaken together and poured out on the ground it would be possible for them to fall so as to spell out, say, the whole text of the Annals of Ennius. In fact I doubt whether chance would permit them to spell out a single verse!’ (28)

Now where have we heard that analogy before? This argument, which was the Roman equivalent of today’s monkeys and typewriters tapping out the works of Shakespeare, has endured simply because it has always proved to be unanswerable by the materialist in any but the most strained and unlikely terms. Though even this argument was hardly new in Cicero’s day, but seems to have been merely part and parcel of the already ancient creationist armoury of vexing philosophical questions that the materialist could never satisfactorily answer.

The Epicurean school, through Lucretius, did attempt’ to wreak a vengeance of sorts, for Lucretius went on to specify an idea that threatened to provide a stumbling-block to classical (i.e. pagan) creationism. Conceding the fact that the materialist’s perception of the universe was marred somewhat by the alleged inability of human reason to perceive correctly the nature of the physical universe, Lucretius claimed that creationism likewise had a chink in its philosophical armour when it came to explaining the earth’s place in the universe. The classical perception of the universe amongst the Greeks was that it was geocentric, the stars, planets and everything else revolving around a fixed and immovable earth. And Lucretius assumed, wrongly, that this was crucial to the creationist view. It gave a fixed point of reference to the universe, and it was a philosophical concept that allowed the teaching of absolute values. Lucretius, therefore, attempted to introduce a more relativistic framework by claiming that the earth was not fixed at all, but moved in an infinite space that possessed no centre. This was to counter the Stoic’s view of a finite universe whose outer bounds were equidistant from the earth:

‘It is a matter of observation that one thing is limited by another. The hills are demarcated by air, and air by the hills. Land sets bound to sea, and sea to every land. But the universe has nothing outside to limit it.’ (29)

shrewdly going on to make his point that:

‘There can be no centre in infinity.’ (30)

With these ludicrously simple statements, Lucretius had put forward an idea that was truly revolutionary but for which he has received scant acknowledgement from historians of any hue. He did not develop the idea into that of a strictly heliocentric universe, as Copernicus was later to do, but he did depart radically even from the view of his materialist colleagues, for they too held that the earth was fixed and the universe revolved around it. Lucretius had hoped to rob the creationist camp of the finest weapon in its armoury, the argument for an ordered and hence designed universe, by introducing the concept of randomness, aimlessness and sheer relativism. But he was disappointed, for even his materialist peers were unable to follow him down that particular path. Ironically, this had nothing to do with the fact that the Greeks and Romans of the time were ignorant in any way. On the contrary, they were great observers, and the virtue of the geocentric model lay in the fact that it complied with all the observed facts of contemporary science. Indeed, few theories in the history of science have ever enjoyed such overwhelming and indisputable proofs as those which once graced geocentrism. And that, in this present age that virtually worships the concept of empiricism, has to be one of the greatest ironies of all.

To add to the irony, and contrary to all expectations from the materialist camp, when the Copernican revolution finally did arrive in the 16th century, it did not mean the end of creationism for a very good and simple reason. In creationist terms, it matters not a jot whether the earth revolves around the sun or the sun around the earth. For whichever model of the universe is the correct one, the question still remains –Who created it? How did it come into existence and whence came its astonishing degree of order and complexity? These are questions that have been asked by men since the beginning of time. And one of them, named Lucilius, had worked out the answer for himself without any help from either Christian or Jew, attributed the design, creation and maintenance of the universe to that Creator who:

‘…is, as Ennius says, “the father both of gods and men”, a present and a mighty God. If anyone doubts this, then so far as I can see he might just as well doubt the existence of the sun. For the one is as plain as the other. And if this were not clearly known and manifest to our intelligence, the faith of men would not have remained so constant, would not have deepened with the lapse of time, and taken ever firmer root throughout the ages and the generations of mankind.’ (31) (Emphasis mine)

It is Lucilius’s ‘generations of mankind’ that now must occupy our attention, for with his profound statement this present chapter must draw to a close. But what Lucilius was referring to is the fact that alongside even the very worst aspects of paganism in the ancient world, there was preserved a definite knowledge of God. The value of this lies in the fact that this knowledge existed (and still exists) quite independently of Genesis amidst cultures that were and are entirely antagonistic towards the concept of one God, the Creator of all things. We shall now encounter this same knowledge in the early genealogies and historical records of the early pagan nations, and note that their testimony is unexpected to say the least when we consider what the modernist school has been claiming all these years.


1. Lao-tzu, Tao-te-ching, tr. Leon Wieger. English version by Derek Bryce. 1991. Llanerch Publishers, Lampeter. p. 13.

2. Clarke, John. 1993. Nature in Question, Earthscan, p. 24.

3. My paraphrase of Wallace Budge’s literal translation in The Gods of the Egyptians. Vol. 1. Dover. New York. 1969. pp. 308-313.

4. There is a superb account of the Akhnaten heresy in: Eliade, Mircea. 1979. A History of Religious Ideas: From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries. Coffins. London. Vol. 1. pp. 106-109.

5. Psalm 14:1.

6. Not that such a task would be easy. One scholar, David Berman (author of A History of Atheism in Britain. Routledge. London. 1988), complains that atheism is hard enough to detect even when records, as for the last four centuries, are to be had in plenty. By the very nature of things, the task would be nigh hopeless when it comes to the woefully sparse, and doubtless sometimes heavily censored, records of the ancient world.

7. Hesiod, Theogony, (tr. Norman Brown, 1953). Bobbs-Merrill Co. New York. p. 15.

8. Barnes, Jonathan. 1987. Early Greek Philosophy. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth. p. 95-97.

9. Plato. Timaeus and Criteas. (tr. Desmond Lee, 1965). Penguin Classics, Harmondsworth. p. 42.

10. Barnes, p. 61.

11. ibid., p. 68.

12. ibid., p. 73.

13. Plato. The Laws, (tr. Trevor Saunders, 1970). Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth. pp. 408-447.

14. ibid., p. 416.

15. ibid., p. 417.

16. Lund, Erik. A History of European Ideas C. Hurst & Co. 1976?. pp. 61-62.

17. Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods, (tr. Horace McGregor, 1988). Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth.

18. ibid., p. 130.

19. An excellent discussion of the development of (pagan) Greek theology is given in: Murray, Gilbert. 1925. Five Stages in Greek Religion. Oxford.–Murray traces the development of the primitive, anthropomorphic gods of Greece up to the concept of the First Cause, or Creator of the Stoics. The last chapter of the book, pp. 241-267, contains a particularly illuminating translation of Sallustius’s On the Gods and the World.

20. This is very well documented in the apocryphal books of the Maccabees, and especially in: Josephus. (tr. Whiston). Pickering & Inglis. London. 1960. pp. 250-289 and 607-636 (Against Apion).

21. Cicero, p. 159.

22. Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe. (tr. Ronald Latham.

1951). Penguin Classics, Harmondsworth. 23. ibid. p. 9.

24. ibid., p. 142.

25. ibid., p. 146.

26. Cicero, pp. 144-145.

27. Stroud, Barry. 1984, The Significance of Philosophical Skepticism. Oxford University Press. p. 141.

28. Cicero. p. 161.

29. Lucretius. p. 56.

30. ibid., p. 58.

31. Cicero, p. 124.

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