17 August 2012
Athanasius is best known for his defense of the divinity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea in 325. But Arianism was not his only target. Whenever he recognized a false, threatening teaching, contrary to the truth of Scripture, he engaged it with argument. In this passage from On the Incarnation of the Word, he countered the Epicureans, who claimed that everything was matter and that the universe was the result of blind natural forces. Though Athanasius wrote 15 centuries before Darwin, his challenge to materialism anticipated one of the arguments raised today against evolutionary theory—that natural selection is not conducive to variety but to the exclusive dominance of a few powerful species. By Athanasius’ light, the finely-tuned intricacy of nature’s diversity testified to the design and superintendence of a Creator.
[T]hey [the Epicureans] deny that there is any Mind behind the universe at all. This view is contrary to all the facts of experience, their own existence included. For if all things had come into being in this automatic fashion, instead of being the outcome of Mind, though they existed, they would all be uniform and without distinction. In the universe everything would be sun or moon or whatever it was, and in the human body the whole would be hand or eye or foot. But in point of fact the sun and the moon and the earth are all different things, and even within the human body there are different members, such as foot and hand and head. This distinctness of things argues not a spontaneous generation but a prevenient Cause; and from that Cause we can apprehend God, the Designer and Maker of all.1
Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation, ed. and trans. C. S. M. V. (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1993), 26-27. In other editions, see ch. 1, §2
article adapted from Kairos Journal
First Baptist Church of Perryville is located on Rt. 40, one and a half miles east of Rt. 222.