Great Chain of Being and the Pagan Origins of Evolution

by Peter Salemi

Many Atheists believe that because Christians believe in Creation and God, that means we are still in the "dark ages." Apparently belief in Evolution means we are progressive and think the way modern people think, and that we should break the shackles of the ancient belief of God. Really? What does history reveal about who really is archaic in their belief, and did the belief in the Bible propel us into the modern age.

Step back into the nineteenth century, and understand what was commonly believed about creation. Before evolution became popular, creation was the accepted scientific model of the universe and of humans. However, it was a type of creationism that few of us would recognize and no biblical creationist did or would endorse. The creation model was not from the Bible!

The concept was known as the Great Chain of Being, patterned not after Moses but after Plato. According to this concept the Almighty had created a great ladder or chain of living things, from single celled organisms all the way up to humans, each organism being a bit more complex than the one below it. All of nature fit into this ascending scale. Like the keys on a piano, each organism was discrete but a bit higher in the organization and more complex than the one below it. Just as there are no missing keys on a piano, there could be no spaces or gaps in this ladder (no extinction). This Great Chain of Being looked much like an evolutionary progression, but it was static. Each organism was created by the Almighty in its particular slot and did not evolve upward.

"This idea of a great chain of being can be traced to Plato's division of the world into the Forms, which are full beings, and sensible things, which are imitations of the Forms and are both being and not being. Aristotle's teleology recognized a perfect being, and he also arranges all animals by a single natural scale according to the degree of perfection of their souls. The idea of the great chain of being was fully developed in Neoplatonism and in the Middle Ages" (Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy, p. 289 (2004)).

Neoplatonism has been very influential throughout history. In the Middle Ages, Neoplatonic ideas were integrated into the philosophical and theological works of many of the most important mediaeval Christian, and Jewish thinkers. It is easy to see how this concept of the great chain of being influenced the creation model of the time.

This details a strict, religious hierarchical structure of all matter and life, believed to have been decreed by God. The chain starts from God and progresses downward to angels, demons (fallen/renegade angels), stars, moon, kings, princes, nobles, men, wild animals, domesticated animals, trees, other plants, precious stones, precious metals, and other minerals (see Arthur O. Lovejoy (1964. First published 1936), The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press).

Lebenow writes, "It is obvious that in the Great Chain of Being we are dealing not with biblical concepts but with pagan Greek philosophy." (Bones of Contention, p.94).

This misunderstanding of the biblical account of creation helped pave the way for the acceptance of evolution as the only viable alternative. It is not unusual for people to begin with a wrong idea of what the Bible teaches, reject that view, and then reject the entire Bible because "the Bible is unscientific." This is what Darwin did!

Lebenow continues, "Most people today believe that Darwin disproved biblical creationism and proved evolution. The Darwinian Revolution, one of the most significant revolutions of all time, is generally thought to be the establishment of the concept of evolution on a solid, empirical base. Not so. In the words of Harvard biologist Ernst Mayr, the Darwinian Revolution was actually a philosophical revolution from a theistic worldview to a worldview in which God was not involved in any way...Darwin did not reject biblical creation; he knew nothing about it. Even though he studied for the ministry at Cambridge, it is obvious from his writings that he did not have a clue as to what the Bible actually taught regarding Special Creation" (ibid, p.94, emphasis added). So it was really a question of worldviews not scientific facts. This led to the belief in evolution.

So, "The concept of the Great Chain of Being by its very nature became a 'setup' for evolution. All one had to do was to change that static chain to a dynamic one, with the forms gradually evolving upward from one into another, and one had the basic evolutionary scenario. That philosophical preparation explains why evolution was accepted so rapidly after the publication of Darwin's Origin." (ibid, p.95). So the whole basis of evolution is founded on this pagan concept!

The idea that life sprang from non-living matter is much older than Darwin and his Theory of Evolution. ARISTOTLE, the embodiment of all that the ancient world knew of natural science, expressly taught that the lower forms of life sprang spontaneously from the moist earth. Such ABSURDITIES continued to be taught by Darwin and the evolutionists today.

Today, we now know by observation and experimentation what the Bible has been teaching all along, that life only comes from life and after its own kind. Scientific experiments confirm time and again what the Bible says about creation all along. "And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

"And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.

"And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

"And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good." (Gen 1:21-22, 24-25).

The Italian, REDI, in 1668 took the first important step toward the refutation of this old pagan doctrine. By placing gauze over a jar of meat that prevented flies from depositing their eggs on the meat. He thus prevented the hatching of maggots which people thought had sprung spontaneously as "new life" from dead matter. From this time onward it became gradually understood that, at least in the higher forms of life, life can come only from life.

After the microscope was invented in 1683, the masterly work of Tyndall and Louis Pasteur showed that this "Law of Biogenesis" held true for the smaller forms of life also.

Today the great LAW OF BIOGENESIS which states that life can come only from life is recognized everywhere. Countless experiments have shown that God and the exactness of the BIBLE were RIGHT AFTER ALL! It has been rightly said that all science has come, or is in the process of coming, into agreement with God's revealed truth - the Bible! Curiously, the Theory of Evolution claims to operate without the need of miracles. What could be a greater miracle than that the dead give rise to the living!

God has ordained no law which commands the non-living matter of His Creation to give rise to life. Therefore dead matter never will by itself produce life; nor will it cooperate with man if he attempts to have it do so. Creation witnesses that God exists!

Who is still in the dark ages? The evolutionist that believes in the pagan superstition of "spontaneous generation," or the people who believe in God and the proven law of biogenesis?

More Negative Effects

The Great Chain of Being was responsible for even more mischief. It allowed for the endorsement of slavery. When the nations of Africa and the East were opened up and world trade routes developed, western Europe learned about the many "savage" tribes that inhabited large portions of the earth. The differences in culture and language of these "savages" was proof to the chauvinistic western Europeans that these strange peoples were inferior races. The "savages" were fitted in the Great Chain of Being above the apes and below the Europeans.

The Bible says all humans are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26, 27; 9:6) and Paul declared "And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth" (Acts 17:26). All people are equal before God. 1 Timothy 1:10 lists "slave traders" (andrapodistes) with murderers, adulterers, perverts, liars and other evil people. Paul also encouraged Philemon to free his escaped slave Onesimus (Philemon 16), and ordered masters to treat their slaves in the "same way" as they were treated, and not to threaten them (Ephesians 6:9). Such practice would see the end of slavery. The antislavery forces in the USA were influenced by William Wilberforce (1759–1833), who tirelessly fought for 50 years against slavery in Britain, basing his opposition on biblical morality. Wilberforce realized that the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28 did not extend to fellow humans. >Because of their tireless efforts, Britain not only abolished slavery, but used her gunboats to enforce the ban on other nations—i.e. she imposed her morality on others! A new book Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves by Adam Hochschild (2005) explains more. Thomas Sowell: "The anti-slavery movement was spearheaded by people who would today be called 'the religious right' and its organization was created by conservative businessmen. Moreover, what destroyed slavery in the non-Western world was Western imperialism."' Would the evolutionists endorse slavery and call it "survival of the fittest" today? It was the Christians that made men free! Who are the civilized and who are the savages?

Christians and Science

And then there is the question of science. It was Christianity that broke through the ancient pagan beliefs of repeating historical cycles (thus accepting that progress was possible) and animism (which allowed natural objects to be scrutinized and studied). And as any good student of the history of science knows, it was practicing Christians like Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler and Newton who laid much of the foundations of modern science.

The historians of science, point out that the basis of modern science depends on the assumption that the universe was made by a rational Creator. An orderly universe makes sense only if it were designed and created by an orderly Creator (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:33). So where the Bible is silent, the only way to find out how His creation works is to investigate, not rely on humanly-created philosophies, as did the ancient Greeks.

Christian philosophers linked rationality with the empirical, inductive method. One such person was Robert Grosseteste (ca. 1165-1253), a Franciscan bishop and the first chancellor of Oxford University who first proposed the Inductive, experimental method, an approach to knowledge that was further advocated by his student Roger Bacon (1214-94), also a Franciscan monk, who asserted that "all things must be verified by experience." Bacon was a devout believer in the truthfulness of Scripture, and being empirically minded, he saw the Bible in the light of sound reason and as verifiable by experience. Another natural philosopher was William of Occam (or Ockham, 1285-1347), another Franciscan monk, who, like Bacon, argued that knowledge needed to be derived inductively.

Almost three hundred years later another Bacon, Francis Bacon ( 1561-1626), gave further momentum to the inductive method by actually recording his experimental results. He has been called "the practical creator of scientific induction." In the context of rationality he stressed careful observation of phenomena and collecting systematic information in order to Understand nature's secrets. His scientific interests did not deter him from also devoting time to theology, for he also wrote treatises on the Psalms and on prayer.

By introducing the inductive empirical method guided by rational procedures, Roger Bacon, William Occam, and Francis Bacon departed to a considerable degree from the ancient Greek perspective of Aristotle (384-322 B.C. ). Aristotelianism, which had a stranglehold on the world for fifteen hundred years, held that knowledge was only acquired through the deductive processes of the mind; the inductive Method, which required manual activity, was taboo. Physical activities were only for slaves, not for thinkers or freemen. Complete confidence in the deductive method as the only way of arriving at knowledge and understanding was also a view widely held by Christian monks, and theologians until the arrival of Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, William Occam, and Francis Bacon. Even after these empirically minded thinkers had introduced their ideas, the scholastic world, for the most part, continued to adhere to Aristotle's approach to knowledge hence why they used the Great chain of being in the creation model. (quotes from Under the Influence, by Alvin Schmidt, pp.219-220).

Even when Bacon and Occam "broke with Aristotle's perspective by advocating the inductive method, the natural philosophers and scholastics within  Christendom clung to it...and even saw Bacons views as heretical, and in 1278 it imprisoned him for 14 years" (ibid, p.221). Continued resistance to the inductive method "delayed not only the arrival of science, but also its progress." "Science Could never have come into being among the animists of central or southern Africa or many other places in the world because they would never have begun to experiment on the natural world, since everything-whether stones or trees or animals or anything else-within it contained living spirits of various gods or ancestors."

"Had this major paradigm shift from Aristotle's pantheistic theory to a rational-inductive approach not occurred with men like Grosseteste, Buridan, the Bacons, William Occam, and Nicholas of Oresme, and later with men like Copernicus, Vesalius, Kepler, and Galileo, who from their knowledge of Scripture knew they were not investigating the divine in nature, there would be no science today. They saw themselves as merely trying to understand the world that God had created and over which he told mankind to have 'dominion' (Genesis 1:28 NKJV). This paradigm shift is another example of Christianity's wholesome impact on the world." (ibid, p.221, emphasis added). Yet today evolutionist are trying to tell the world, religion, especially Christianity holds us back from scientific progress when history tell us the exact opposite. The question arises who is really holding back the world from progress?