A large lake with mountains in the background

Is Everything Made of Water?

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Excuse the bizarre title and bear with me; it’ll make sense in a minute. This is my first Friday Philosophy post, and each week I’m going to be looking at a key idea from a renowned philosopher. We’ll start back in 620BC, which was the approximate birth date of Thales of Miletus, an ancient Greek philosopher considered by many to be the founder of natural science.

Who Was He?

Thales came from the seaport of Miletus in Ionia, which is modern-day Turkey. He is a presocratic philosopher, which as you may be aware is the name given to philosophers who were philosophising before Socrates. We don’t have any of Thales’ writing, but he is referenced in works by Aristotle and Herodotus which is how we know about his thinking.

What’s the Big Idea?

Thales is regarded as the founder of natural science because of the way he speculated about the natural world, and specifically about water. He deduced that because water can be heated to form vapour and frozen to form ice – it can take the form of a solid, a liquid, or a gas – it is therefore the substance underlying all matter in creation. That may not totally make sense to our modern minds, but we can appreciate the depth of insight.

My Reflections

The idea that there is a single underlying principle or substance to the universe is quite profound. It’s interesting that Thales also believed that the mind of the world is God and that God pervades all things.Β His speculations about the natural world led him to adopt these theological positions despite the fact that he was more interested in investigating nature than appealing to the Homeric gods of his contemporaries.

I do believe Thales was onto something. I believe in the omnipresence of God, and that God is both transcendent (beyond) and immanent (within) creation. Perhaps Thales was among the first men on Earth to consider the principle of God’s immanence – an idea that many philosophers and spiritual thinkers have arrived at, including the Apostle Paul, who said of God, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).


Next week we’ll be looking at a big idea by another presocratic philosopher, Pythagoras. If you’d like to receive an email for each new post, please consider subscribing. Thank you for reading!

18 comments

  1. Hi Steven!

    I loved this one – you know my interest in science.

    Bacteria can be grown in a petri dish of agar which provides food and water so they are not dependent on a host like viruses are but the host of the virus itself is made of water.

    I found the link below helpful and I hope you don’t mind me pointing it out?

    https://www.britannica.com/topic/immanence-divine-attribute

    Peace and love to you and all your followers,

    Dinos

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I too appreciated learning of Thales. This is probably happenstance, but Miletus, near Ephesus, is the site of the long, poignant blessing-and-farewell (Acts 20) from Paul to the shepherds at Ephesus. I wouldn’t suggest that Paul chose that site because of any history with Thales, but the status of Ephesus in the ancient world is well known, and it’s interesting to think about nonetheless. The Greek world’s philosophies (cf. Paul’s Athens words that you referred to) would have extended in general terms to such a great city.

    As for the history of “immanence,” wouldn’t you say the Hebrews had some of that, too? Some things that come to mind:
    * The story of Jacob’s ladder (“surely the LORD is in this place) and also his wrestling with the man (some level of theophany seems to have been understood).
    * The song of Miriam that indicates a sense of God’s direct intervention and deliverance
    * Many Psalms. Ps. 124, for instance, attributed to David, has the LORD “on our side,” and “our help is in the name of the LORD.” And there’s always Ps. 23.

    Just off the top here, do you feel this is a different kind of faith that does not rise to “immanence” of Thales several hundred years later?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Brian,

      Many thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      Yes, I agree with your point about immanence. To attribute the idea to Thales as some kind of discovery would probably be misguided. As you suggest, it’s quite likely that Hebrews (and others?) were thinking of these things before the Greek philosophers were. So thank you for pointing that out! I apologise for my lack of historical clarity.

      Peace and blessings,

      Steven

      Like

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