Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2014
Our aim in scrutinizing the historical literature is to identify and assess the major forms of design argument. In the last chapter, we considered the design arguments available as of about 100 BCE, all of which were defended by the Stoics at one time or another. Now we’re going to glide over the next fifteen centuries or so, stopping only to scrutinize a single argument from the High Middle Ages. The reason for our haste is that the development of design arguments largely stagnated from the time of Cicero until the scientific revolution. This wasn’t for lack of interest in things divine. Rather, it is a consequence of historical forces that temporarily suspended the broader project of natural theology – the attempt to address questions concerning the existence and character of God on the basis of reason and experience. These historical forces center on Rome. In the fourth century CE, the Roman empire in effect converted to Christianity following the Emperor Constantine. As the last Roman emperor to rule over a united empire, Constantine moved the official capital to Byzantium, well east of the empire’s traditional seat of power in Italy. Not long after his death, the empire permanently split in two, and the two fragments followed very different intellectual trajectories with rather different perspectives on design arguments. For this reason, the intellectual history of design arguments through the following centuries is best told in two parallel stories, one for the Christian West and one for what would ultimately become the Islamic East.
Medieval arguments from the Islamic East
The eastern fragment of the Roman empire kept Greek philosophy and the Stoic interest in design arguments alive. Centered in Constantinople, it evolved into what we moderns call the Byzantine empire, which lasted until the fifteenth century CE. Though romanized, spoken Greek persisted there, and this doubtless helped to preserve Hellenic philosophy. It was from the Byzantine world that Greek philosophy made its way into Islamic culture. In the mid seventh century CE Arab armies began spreading Islam by force. In 641 CE they captured the city of Alexandria, whose vibrant intellectual life had survived the collapse of the Roman empire. This city’s rich collection of Greek and Roman philosophy – most prominently the works of Plato and Aristotle – thus found their way into Arabic translation, and provided a foundation for the development of Islamic philosophy.