Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thales of Miletus (c. 620 BCE – c. 546 BCE)

"The ancient Greek philosopher Thales was born in Miletus in Greek Ionia. Aristotle, the major source for Thales’s philosophy and science, identified Thales as the first person to investigate the basic principles, the question of the originating substances of matter and, therefore, as the founder of the school of natural philosophy. Thales was interested in almost everything, investigating almost all areas of knowledge, philosophy, history, science, mathematics, engineering, geography, and politics. He proposed theories to explain many of the events of nature, the primary substance, the support of the earth, and the cause of change. Thales was much involved in the problems of astronomy and provided a number of explanations of cosmological events which traditionally involved supernatural entities. His questioning approach to the understanding of heavenly phenomena was the beginning of Greek astronomy. Thales’ hypotheses were new and bold, and in freeing phenomena from godly intervention, he paved the way towards scientific endeavor. He founded the Milesian school of natural philosophy, developed the scientific method, and initiated the first western enlightenment. A number of anecdotes is closely connected to Thales’ investigations of the cosmos. When considered in association with his hypotheses they take on added meaning and are most enlightening. Thales was highly esteemed in ancient times, and a letter cited by Diogenes Laertius, and purporting to be from Anaximenes to Pythagoras, advised that all our discourse should begin with a reference to Thales (D.L. II.4).:

Thales made his money as a traveling merchant and accumulated enough money to support his work as a philospher and mentor in his later years.  When traveling to Egypt on a business trip he used angles and shadows to measure the height of pyramids.  He used similar triangles to calculate the distances of ships from shore.  He also was involved in the proof of the basic axioms of geometry.  He was the first to bring logical proofs into the study of geometry.

His philosphy was certainly not Christian. In fact, he reduced all reality to water, that's right water as god!  He believed that everything was filled with gods, an active power in the material things of the universe, empiricism.  The "look and see" exclusive reliance on observation also called the a posteriori way is seen in Thales, which of course rejects Biblical revelation.

The a priori way is also seen in Thales, which means "stop and think."  That is another means of humanism, in a sense, by placing man's mind and ability to think or observe above faith in God and His revelation by his Word.

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