The Great Apostasy is generally considered a bad idea. Christianity, therein imbibed a whole draught of Greek philosophy which needed the Restoration to clean it up. Indeed, in the Nag Hammadi Library they not only found the writings of all kinds of extra New Testementy stuff, but Plato’s Republic. As I read Christian theology (admittedly, my reading in Theology is more about its relation to Darwin than the stuff stalking the hallways of Mormon Theology these days (and the fact that I even used the word Mormon Theology shows how out of touch I am with Mormon Studies discourse)), anyway, as I was saying, as I engage with Christian theology, I can’t help but notice, that there is a big pile of extraneous ideas from Greek thought. Many of these ideas came right out of Plotinus, the great heathen Neo-Platonist (and I mean heathen in its most kind and respectful sense). Not that I don’t think the Greeks are chalk full of good ideas, I just don’t consider it revelation as such.
Let me explain.
The restoration spiffed up a lot of this stuff that was gumming up Christianity and we got back a whole slew of great doctrines that had been jettisoned when Plato was the cool kid on the block. We got things back like the embodiment of God and the preexistence, not to mention the ordinances of salvation and the Priesthood. Great stuff that just flat-out disappeared. Nevertheless, as we see the restoration unfold, and make no mistake I think it is still unfolding, there is yet some of that Greek philosophy splashed here and there, willy-nilly, that I think needs some attention.
I think this is important because, I think the war with Darwinism has at its roots in Platonic ideas that crept into Christianity with the above shenanigans marking out the Great Apostasy. This is how it worked in broad outline: Plato believed that every idea had its analogue in a place called the world of forms. (If you haven’t heard Plato’s illustration of this in the allegory of the cave, crack open his Republic Book VII and read the opening paragraphs.) The forms exist in a world of archtypes where every form exists and there is a single entity for each. So there is a form for triangles, for chairs, for dogs, cats, doors etc. If you can have a thought about it, then pretty much there is a form for it floating about in Formland (a place that actually exists somewhere, he thought). Also note, even though there is a form for doors, there is not a form for blue doors, secondary qualities don’t get new forms.
So this form world exists and along comes a creator God known as the demiurge, who, while not omniscient, is not a bad sort and creates a world based on the forms. A great idea in theory, but in practice left much to be desired. Now, enter Plotinus who argues that all the forms have to be represented in the creation (which is a complicated affair with The ONE (something with the three omnis that sits around contemplating itself) shattering off a piece of itself resulting in the creation with this world in the bargain) and, add some thinking from early Church Fathers and out pops the idea that all of creation was embedded in a Great Chain of Being. This included the idea that every species is a reprehensive of the Platonic forms and that they all exist and can be lined up loosely from trees, to worms, to dogs, to people, to angles, to God. Viola, we have a new Christian doctrine that insists that species are immutable because they represent all the species there are, and there is no such thing as something in-between two species. This ordering and categorization into a hierarchy of forms is the Great Chain of Being, which as slipped into our heritage by stealth.
There it is, the Great Apostasy in action. From Plato to your door, via old school Christianity. And, the weird thing is there are still people arguing this immutability of species. I can still remember a certain instructor who drew a cat spirit on the chalkboard (you could tell it was a spirit because it was made of dots) and a dog spirit on the board and said, “There are cat spirits and there are dog spirits, but there is nothing in between.” He was specifically refuting evolution. QED. Ignoring the fact that Shasta the Liger (a species known for their power in magic) from the Hogle Zoo was sitting stuffed in the entrance to the Bean Museum at BYU. So this Cat-spirit/Dog-spirit argument did not seem very convincing to me.
Now I know its source of this doctrine: The Greeks. If it were not for such Greek influences it’s unlikely that this idea would have slid into Christianity. Darwin would have had a much easier go of it and Christianity might have embraced evolution by natural selection with warmth and joy. All would be well in the world. Well, I simplify, maybe there would have been no biology since a big activity in the early years was in identifying species and discovering missing ones–but I digress.
So is this idea of the Great Chain of Being, which was such a force in keeping religion and science at odds, really a part of the Gospel? Why should we keep this silly idea that has a genealogy right out of bits and pieces we don’t embrace at all (My apologies to Mormon Neo-Platonists who will no doubt raise their fists at me). Don’t get me wrong I love Plato and I might even be a Platonist when it comes to Mathematics (I haven’t decided yet). But this doctrine really has been influential in dismissing Darwin. I hear people all the time say, “Oh I believe in evolution within a species, but not between them.” Why not? We know now that species are just certain strings of DNA. Nothing’s really marking out species but a certain distance between DNA types reflected in phenotypes (how a species looks). But species are derived from DNA. This idea that species are somehow sacrosanct real entities, is right out of Plato. It’s not part of the restoration as far as I can see.
There is the reading from Genesis about ‘Kinds’ but there is no reason to translate this to species. It means (as far as the two Hebrew scholars I asked) pretty much what we mean in English by kind, and you could use it in everything from meaning species, “Noah brought two of every kind on the Ark” to “There are many kinds of insects.” So this word can mean everything from taxonomic levels like Orders (butterflies and moths) to varieties (Chihuahuas and Great Danes).
So why keep this bit of Greek thinking in our conception of the universe? It’s no longer thought important in science, and holding on to it seems like giving into a bit of the Great Apostasy at the expense of all of modern biology.