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.
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. 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!