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About the Book

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III


Part V

Part VI

Part VII



Part II: Nature as Part of the Kingdom of God

Chapter 2

Man Within Nature

     THIS CHAPTER IS concerned with the history of man's attitude towards Nature. There was a strong tendency a few years ago, especially among fundamentalists, to turn their backs completely upon the study of anything too closely associated with the physical world, on the grounds that man's life was essentially a spiritual one. As we shall try to show, man's attitude towards the natural order passed through a series of stages of development of which the first saw him as a very real person in a very personalized universe, and the last of which, the modern one, has tended more and more to equate man with a completely depersonalized natural order, giving him no essentially unique status within it, and to all intents and purposes annihilating the concept of the soul.
     Early in history, the universe was full of gods; at the last, the universe has no God at all. In rebellion against this tendency, Bible-believing Christians went to the other extreme by dismissing the physical world as having virtually no importance in the mind of God. The present earth and heavens were under judgment and would pass away in any case, whereas man was to abide forever. In fact, to some extent Nature was hostile, being not infrequently a tool of destruction in the hands of Satan. But this is a recent development, and to my mind a most unfortunate one. As we shall try to show in the next chapter, it is not the biblical view at all. There is something to be learned by considering in a very broad outline how man's opinions have changed -- and why -- with respect to his relationships with Nature and the relationship of Nature to God. For the sake of convenience in this brief historical survey, we shall use the term World View to signify the various forms that man's philosophy of Nature has assumed in the course of its development to the present day.
     Very briefly, the earliest structured pagan World View was that of the Babylonians, and it was a mystical one. This was challenged by the Greeks who inherited it but later replaced it with a rational one. In the

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course of the next thousand years circumstances led to the development of the Medieval World View, which for the lack of a better term, may be called a spiritual one. Then followed the Renaissance, the break-up of Christendom, and the gradual eclipse of the dominance of theology over the other realms of knowledge. In due course a new World View has appeared, which is essentially a materialistic or mechanical one. Let us trace these stages of development a little more precisely.
     Probably the best single treatment of the early Babylonian view of man's relationship with the rest of the Universe is that presented in a volume edited by H. and H. A. Frankfort entitled The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man. (49) This is a series of papers written by experts in their own fields which outline the "philosophy" of these people who created the earliest great civilizations in the Middle East including the Sumerians, the Babylonians and Assyrians, the Egyptians, and the Hebrews. These studies are based on an examination of the literature of the ancient world, a literature which is surprisingly revealing in this respect.
     In a nutshell, if we exclude the Hebrews, all these people held essentially the same view of the universe. Nature is animate and full of spiritual presences. The universe is a giant State composed of a hierarchy of powers which express themselves through the forces of Nature and which are quite personal and vastly superior to man. There are frequent conflicts between the powers, but a kind of political balance of forces is achieved because it was to the benefit of all concerned to compromise at times. Man inevitably became involved in these wranglings, but always totally at the mercy of the hierarchy. Man is thus part of this giant State, but he is a very insignificant member and most of the time under sufferance. Because of his weakness, the idea of dominating Nature simply did not occur to him and the best he could hope to do to gain some measure of security was to use trickery or flattery, perhaps better known to us as magic or "worship," or to enter into contract with some spiritual power who had an "in" with the government.
     Man's attitude towards Nature was essentially not that of a superior creature to inferior things (as ours is), but of an inferior creature to superior beings. The forces of Nature were Wills, the characteristics of things were characters. As one can influence people by persuasion, so one sought to influence the forces of Nature. The Nile was annually reminded of its obligations to fructify the land of Egypt, but the idea of building a dam to ensure that this happened would be entirely repugnant -- one might even say sacrilegious --

49. Frankfort, H. and H. A., The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man, Umiversity of Chicago Press, 1948.

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unless some special agreement had been reached with the river beforehand.
     In such an atmosphere the use of magic is reasonable. But magic is not science because it is predicated on the assumption that man's relationship with the forces of Nature is an I-thou relationship. Science is based upon a me-it relationship.
     Because this attitude is so different from our own, it is necessary to labour over it a little. H. Frankfort put it this way:

     The Universe did not, like ours, show a fundamental bi-partition into animate and inanimate, living and dead, matter. Nor had it different levels of reality: anything that could be felt, experienced, or thought had thereby established its existence, was part of the cosmos. In the Mesopotamian Universe everything, whether living being, thing, or abstract concept -- every stone, every tree, every notion -- had a will and a character of its own.
     World order, the regularity and system observable in the Universe could accordingly be conceived of in only one fashion: an order of wills. The Universe as an organized whole was a Society, a State.

     It is very difficult today to establish laws of human conduct because human beings have wills of their own. Nor did these ancient people look for laws of behaviour in the universe as we do today. They looked for signs and omens with the same kind of apprehension that a slave may watch for signs of approval or disapproval from a very powerful master. Even animals at times had more power than man: and of course earthquakes, thunder and lightning, mighty floods and eclipses, were over-powering in their willful destruction and terrifying aspects. One does not investigate such things objectively: one tries either to keep out of the way or to establish friendly relations.
     The Greeks inherited this mystical World View, but when they began to examine Nature more closely, they came to the conclusion that the law and order which was apparent everywhere could not possibly result from the government of a vast hierarchy of beings who were everlastingly arguing and squabbling among themselves. With remarkable daring the Ionian philosophers rejected the old pantheon as an explanation of what went on in Nature entirely, and sought for other principles of operation to account for the uniformities which seemed to them to characterize all natural law. They replaced mysticism with reason and boldly challenged the universe to submit to logical analysis.
     Unfortunately, Greek society was still essentially a slave society and manual labour was not considered a worthy occupation for an

50. Ibid., p.149.

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educated man. Philosophy was, therefore, allowed to blossom profusely without being subjected to the very necessary pruning of experimental verification. What was reasonable was accepted as true even when the premises were doubtful. Consequently, a great number of different schools of thought sprang up and soon reached mutually contradictory conclusions. So in the course of time men began to question, perhaps as Pilate did, whether truth was attainable at all. The great confidence which marked the earlier philosophers that man could storm into heaven and take over the reins of government of the universe thus to become its lord instead of a very insignificant citizen was replaced by a very general skepticism which did not even have the old mystical beliefs to compensate for the loss of a positive faith.
     The virility of the Greek culture passed and what was inherited by the Romans was only a pale reflection of the original. Within a few centuries barbarians were hammering at the gates of Rome and it seemed that the old paganism was completely dead and about to be buried. The Christian church looked on with apprehension as the end of the world seemed about to come. It was then that Augustine wrote his great treatise, The City of God, in order to assure the saints that while the things of the world were temporal indeed, the things of God were eternal and that they should set their hopes in heaven and not upon earth. There followed that long period of cultural decay and darkness during which time the light of God seems almost to have been eclipsed in Europe, being confined in small isolated communities that did little more than guarantee the preservation of the Word of God, and had little contact with the barbarian world around them.
     But slowly there emerged a united Christendom as community was joined once more to community, and some degree of security for life and limb, and freedom of travel was achieved. Learning flourished again in the larger cities and the Church assumed the dominant role in directing and maintaining intellectual life. Great teachers appeared who sought to gather together once more all the wisdom and learning of the past, striving to create a synthesis of the old baptized with the new. Such men as Thomas Aquinas succeeded to a remarkable degree in creating a single World View with which to clothe men's minds, with what in time appeared to be a complete understanding. Within the fabric of this garment were the threads of every line of study or field of inquiry then available. Theology became the queen ruling the other sciences and, rightly or wrongly, maintaining the unity of knowledge and the integrity of the structure of the World View.
     But while this World View was rational (granted its premises), it was really a "spiritual" World View. Everything in Nature was in one

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way or another under God's jurisdiction. How ever great a man's misfortunes might be, he could still look upon them as part of God's will and upon himself as a creature of God's special concern. In fact, so completely was Nature looked upon as being subject to God that it was scarcely subject to law at all, and all kinds of miracles were not only possible but likely to happen in the ordinary course of events. Nothing was incredible.
     Gregory the Great tells a tale of a holy man that is typical of what men, during the Middle Ages, thought took place daily. He speaks of his subject as one whom he knew personally, and tells without comment of the daily round of miracles which he experienced. On one occasion he found himself face to face with a deadly serpent. Fearlessly he held out his hand to the serpent and said, "If thou hast leave to smite me, I do not say thee nay." Such was his confidence that God was Lord also of the serpents. And note here also that Gregory refers quite naturally to the serpent, not as "it," but as "him." (51)
     Whatever we may feel about the superstition of those days, most of us have to admit that this spiritual World View may well have made the social injustices of the day much less difficult to bear. It is surprising how much injustice and suffering a man will endure if he has the feeling that he has some significance as an individual, at least to God if not to man. Each man had a map, and on this map he could, as it were, pinpoint his position and say, "This is where I am." To this extent he was not "lost" -- even if we may argue now that his map was a faulty one. It surprised no one that saints like St. Francis of Assisi could commune with Nature and preach the Gospel to animals. Such was this spiritual World View.
     But then a series of events occurred which shattered this garment of understanding and left men toying with the fragments. The fall of Constantinople and the scattering of learned Greeks who took refuge in Europe, the invention of gunpowder which brought an end to the power of feudal lords, the development of printing which made possible the dissemination of knowledge in a new way, and the discovery of the New World which opened up vast new horizons -- all these brought to an end the beautiful simplicity of the Medieval synthesis. Knowledge increased by leaps and bounds, and specialization became inevitable. The older ideal of a totality of studies under the guardianship of theology, which had constituted the older universities, was sacrificed to

51. Gregory, quoted by John H. Randall Jr., The Making of the Modern Mind, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, revised edition, 1940, p.30.

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a new concept of learning which saw little need for a World View and put greater emphasis upon knowledge than upon wisdom.
     This process of fragmentation continued to develop to the point where institutes of higher learning could justify their title of being universities only by reason of the juxtaposition of colleges and the simultaneity of lectures. They had become, in fact, multiversities. Although many of the newer universities were founded by religious bodies who sought to restore the unity of knowledge, the ideal was achieved only for a short period of their history until once more the accumulation of knowledge seemed to render the ideal unattainable. Losing the Christian conception of the university and concentrating more and more on the task of increasing knowledge in specialized areas, college and universities relegated Christian philosophy to the periphery while science, in its widest sense, assumed the position of central importance. Such a divorce led at first to indifference and then inevitably, it seems, to hostility to the Christian view. And when this happened, Christians became increasingly suspicious of studies which it seemed could be pursued without reference to faith in God. Withdrawing from the arena and attempting to set up their own institutions Christians tended to lose their voice and their influence in the circles of higher education.
     Meanwhile, it was slowly becoming apparent in the secular world that the loss of the unity of knowledge was detrimental. And efforts began to be made to pull the strands together again and create a new synthesis. This did not appear to be too difficult in the realm of physics and chemistry where universal laws were apparent from the first, but in the life sciences the situation was different. It was with great enthusiasm, therefore, that the new theory of evolution was welcomed as the universal cement which might once more put the pieces together. It is this concept which prompted the title of Julian Huxley's book Evolution: The Modern Synthesis
(52) and which formed the subject matter of his Huxley Memorial Lecture before the Royal Anthropological Society in 1950. In this he said, (53)

     Meanwhile, some system of belief is necessary. Every human individual and every human society is faced with three overshadowing questions: What am I, or what is man? What is the world in which I find myself, or what is the environment which man inhabits? and, What is my relationship to that world, or what is man's destiny? Men cannot direct the course of their life until they have taken up an attitude to life; they

52. Huxley, Sir Julian, Evolution: The Modern Synthesis, Harper Brothers, New York, 1942.
53. Huxley, Sir Julian, "New Bottles for New Wine: Ideology and Scientific Knowledge," in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol.80, parts1 and 2, 1950, p.16.

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can only do that by giving some sort of answer to these three great questions; and their belief-systems embody that answer. Thus one of their functions is to allow men to settle down to the business of existence by giving them a sense of direction or significance, a stability of attitude.

     The object of his paper was to propose that evolution should form the basis of this new belief-system. He feared that it had not yet done so, and said "Further, in so far as an effective new belief-system must have a religious aspect, it will doubtless need to wait for the appearance of a prophet who can cast it into compelling form and shake the world with it." What Augustine did for the Early Church in his City of God, and Thomas Aquinas did for the Medieval Church in his Summa Theologica, this new prophet of evolution was expected to do for modern man. But what does this new World View do to man? The universe is now depersonalized completely, even to the extent that no official interest is shown in a great First Cause. And with this depersonalization has gone all justification for looking upon the soul of man as having any transcendental significance. Man is merely a part of the physics and chemistry of Nature. His functions alone have any importance and while he may achieve greatness so long as his functions have value (for Hitler, for example, the value of a woman consisted of her function as a bearer of children), the moment such functions cease, the individual has no further meaning for his society. And since there is no heaven to follow, his value as a person has ceased altogether. This is the price which has to be paid for a materialistic World View.
     It is not too surprising that many Christians began to question the value of studying Nature at all if the study of it led to such a tragic philosophy of life. Accordingly, it tended to be neglected and no longer to be regarded as a realm in which God had an interest. Yet for all this, there is a certain feeling which every Christian has, especially for the living elements of Nature, that they are in some way God's special creatures like themselves. It was this spirit which inspired the founding of such societies as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals, for example.
     It is interesting to note how non-Western man and Western man have each handled the sense of alienation from Nature. Non-Western man, feeling that he was somehow left out, personalized Nature in order to make it more like himself, and therefore more intelligible and more approachable. He saw the relationship as a personal one, which is what totemism reflects. Western man, plagued with the same feeling of alienation, has tried to bridge the same gap by depersonalizing himself.

54. Western man apparently never did develop any kind of totemistic beliefs. see Alfred C. Andrews, "The Bean and Indo-European Totemism," American Anthropologist, vol.51, Apr.-June, 1949, p.274-290. Heraldry is not considered a form of totemism, according to Lord Raglan, "Totemism and Heraldry," in Man (Royal Anthropological Institute), Aug., 1955, p.128.

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     This is, of course, a disaster for the individual, as it is for society. Man becomes a thing and is, in fact, annihilated as man -- to use Leslie Paul's apt phrase. (55) E. L. Mascall thought that the psychological disorders which are so common and so distressing a feature of our time are to be traced to this cause. (56) We first of all denied the spiritual aspect of the natural order (which non-Western man has never done), and then in a desperate attempt to insert ourselves back into it, we have been driven to deny the spiritual aspect of human nature. One mistake leads to another.
     Except where the influences of Western man have been strongly felt, the rest of the world still continues for the most part to look upon Nature as the Babylonians did -- with a certain mystical reverence, sometimes with envy but probably more often with apprehension. This is particularly true of primitive people, as Levy-Bruhl has shown. (57)
     It was also true of the Hebrews, though in a significantly different way. Paul Tournier put it this way: "The fundamental distinction made by us between the organic world and the inorganic world is scarcely present in the Bible. In the Bible there is but one world."
(58) Scripture is full of animation, especially the Psalms. The floods clap their hands, the thunder is the voice of God, the little hills skip like rams, and everything that has breath is called upon to join with man in the worship of the Creator. Thus the animation of Nature is there, and things are given wills, except only that they might unite in a chorus of praise to the Almighty. The close bonds between man and Nature are not predicated on the argument that man is part of Nature, but that both are part of the kingdom of God. This is the relationship from God's point of view as revealed in Scripture.
     Although the Christian and Nature share this citizenship, it remains true that compared with other creatures the Christian is still a very inferior being. Even as a child of God he is subject to all kinds of unnatural passions and impulses, to all manner of sickness, to errors of judgment, and a multitude of weaknesses which compare him very unfavorably with the rest of God's creatures in Nature. Is he, then, an inferior citizen because of the Fall? Scripture says not. In one particular respect he is set in a class by himself and lifted far above the rest of Nature and close to the throne of God. The possession of a single faculty assures him this superiority. What is this single faculty?

55. Paul, Leslie, Annihilation of Man, Harcourt Brace, New York, 1945, see especially pp146-161.
56. Mascall, E. L. The Importance of Being Human, Columbia University Press, 1958, p.19.
57. Levy-Bruhl, Lucien, How Natives Think, L. A. Clare, Allen and Unwin, London, 1926.
58. Tournier, Paul, A Doctor's Casebook in the Light of the Bible, translated by E. Hudson, Good News Publishing, Westchester, 1llinois, 1959, p.22.

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Note on Romans 8:21, 22:

"Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now."

     It is sometimes held that this passage has reference to the whole of Nature -- as though it, too, groaned, waiting for the redemption of man. Undoubtedly Nature is afflicted somewhat by man in his unredeemed condition, but I do not think the strict canons of interpretation will permit us to understand this passage in such a wide sense.
     The original Greek is found exactly here as in two other passages, namely, Mark 16:15 and Colossians 1:15, where it clearly refers to the human race as a whole. the Gospel is to be preached throughout the world and the Lord Jesus Christ heads up the whole race of man by reason of His being its Firstborn.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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