The implications of origins part 2 – Telos in a Baby’s Ear

In my previous post I argued that how we see our origins, where we and this universe comes from, have significant implications for how we see reality and live life, all-encompassing implications, both positive and negative. The reason this is important for keeping our kids Christians, as I said, is that our goal as Christian parents is to sell our kids on “real reality,” on existence as it really is, or in other words, as God created it to be. The lucky dirt people, as I called them, are those who see our origins in material chance, atoms that came together for no reason at all to “create” all that we see and experience. It is extremely easy, and I mean ridiculously easy, to persuade our kids that such a view of reality is totally absurd, because it is!

The consequences of the lucky dirt view are all negative, and I’ll focus on that more in the next post, but here I want to briefly focus on the positive effects of understanding the biblical view of our origins. I’ll do that with a story that highlights a concept called telos. It comes from ex-communist Whittaker Chambers, and his magisterial autobiography Witness:

My daughter was in her high chair. I was watching her eat. She was the most miraculous thing that had every happened in my life. I liked to watch her even when she smeared porridge on her face or dropped it meditatively on the floor. My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear—those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through my mind: “No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by immense design.” The thought was involuntary and unwanted. I crowded it out of my mind. But I never wholly forgot it or the occasion. I had to crowd it out of my mind. If I had completed it, I should have had to say: Design presupposes God. I did not then know that, at that moment, the finger of God was first laid upon my forehead.

Simple question: Why do ears exist? There is no need to answer, is there. Their purpose, or telos, is obvious to anyone with a second’s thought. Where does purpose, or telos, come from? Can lucky dirt produce it? Think about it for a moment: does chance produce anything other than chaos? If the material is all there is, if no God is responsible for existence, then somehow, some way (miraculously?) chance produces telos? I don’t think so. Purpose points us to the one who imbued his creation with purpose.

This leads me to one of the great ironies of Western history. The thinker who best understood and explained this concept was a pagan, of the Greek sort, Aristotle. What made this student of Plato so consequential was his powers of observation, and God’s revelation in creation spoke to him, although he knew it not. (He was no atheist, but he had no conception of Israel’s God.)

Telos in Greek means purpose, or the end of a thing. The why of its existence. As he keenly observed, all things that exist, exist for some reason that fulfills their purpose, their telos. He called this “the good.” What this means is that a thing has its highest meaning in the fulfillment off the purpose for which it was created. I believe that this observation is one of the most profound Christian insights ever attained, and that by a Pagan! He laid out this concept of telos in his four causes. For Aristotle the word cause meant why it is that a thing exists:

  1. Material Cause. What does a thing come from? The material cause of a table is the wood used to make it.
  2. Formal Cause. What is it? The formal cause of the table is the idea of the table in the mind of its maker. The idea has to exist in the mind before it potentially exists.
  3. Efficient Cause. What is the means by which it comes to be? The one who makes the table is its efficient cause.
  4. Final Cause. What is its purpose or end? The final cause or purpose of a table is to place things on it.

The lucky dirt people have to admit that the four causes are the basis of everything that humans create, but deny it applies to nature. In other words, the material cause is the only cause of all that exists! Like I said, absurd.

For parents who understand they need to raise their kids in a hostile secular culture differently, as “apologetic parents” if you will, this is powerfully persuasive good news. Like Whittaker Chambers seeing in his daughter’s beautifully exquisite ear, we can see that all things in nature exhibit the same powerfully, purposeful telos. Children want to know what “the good” is, and to distinguish the “real reality” from the lucky dirt lies the culture tries to sell them. This is just one of many reason why we as Christian parents never have to feel insecure about keeping our kids Christian in an increasingly hostile post-Christian culture.