The Universe And Everything

So where did Western man get this idea of a lawfully ordered universe? From Christianity. ~Dinesh D’Souza

I’m generally a big fan of anything that mocks atheism and offers up an apology for Christianity. However, the apologies that try to frame the issue in terms of “Christianity is really great because it gave us X,” rather than making a defense of the truth of the Gospel, would leave me rather cold even if they weren’t marred with error. Among the Western non-Christians and pre-Christians who perceived the orderliness of the universe and attributed it to the design of a creating divinity or at least organising and ordering demiurge were Plato, Aristotle, Philo (who was heavily influenced by Platonism) and the early Stoics. Elaboration on the doctrine of creation ex nihilo is a contribution of Christian theology, but the ideas of natural law and the ordering of the universe predate Christianity by centuries. Obviously.

So it is rather painful to read things like this:

Christians were the first ones who envisioned the universe as following laws that reflected the rationality of God the creator. These laws were believed to be accessible to man because man is created in the image of God and shares a spark of the divine reason.

This could be the point where we delve into the vexed question of what constitutes “Hellenistic Judaism” and note the Platonic and Stoic influences on the Johannine community mediated through Philo, whence the world-famous Logos theology of Alexandria came. That would begin to make clear how early Christian theology, especially in the Gospel of St. John, was concerned to appropriate the language of philosophical Hellenistic Judaism to express and explain the Incarnation. We could then talk about the further Hellenisation of early Christianity, making the necessary nods to the enormous legacy of Origen in trying to reconcile Platonism and Christianity, and mention the struggle in the first four centuries of the Church to adapt the logic and metaphysics of Greek philosophy for apologetic purposes. We could discuss the enduring impact of the Stoic idea of logoi in medieval Christian epistemology, and the way in which elements of Stoicism shaped Christian language about the rational ordering of the world.

Christian civilisation certainly did nourish scientific inquiry, or at the very least created the philosophical and intellectual framework in which such inquiry could operate, but an integral part of that civilisation was the pre-Christian heritage of Greek philosophy. The culture of late antiquity is inconceivable without the interaction of Christianity and classical culture, as is much of the philosophical heritage of medieval Christendom. It is to the credit of Christian theology that it made use of Greek philosophy, but on this particular point it is the Greeks we owe for their understanding.

Update: I had forgotten that the inspiration for D’Souza’s poorly informed commentary was the release of an entire book on a subject that, if his article is any indication, I doubt he understands very well: What’s So Great About Christianity?