The Workman

Each of these things demonstrates the existence of the workman. Do not visible things and the faculty of seeing and light demonstrate Him? And the existence of male and female, and the desire of each for conjunction, and the power of using the parts which are constructed, do not even these declare the workman?

If we do not yet see the workman, let us consider the how we understand sensible objects. We simply receive impressions from them. Even so, we also notice particulars about them, and subtract something, and add, and compound by means of them greater and lesser ideas. In fact, we infer information we can apply to other things. Is not even this sufficient to move some men, and to induce them not to forget the workman? If not so, let them explain to us what it is that makes each several thing, or how it is possible that things so wonderful and like the contrivances of art should exist by chance and from their own proper motion?

In this Chapter Epictetus tells us that through everyday observation, we can see order in the universe. We have the steady motion of the planets; we have the cycle of water that allows for agriculture far away from any lake or river; we have any number of seemingly miraculous natural phenomena that prove beneficial to mankind.

This observation of how nature works, Epictetus tells us, shows signs of intelligent design. The idea that chance might have configured everything, might have imposed order on the universe is an incongruous thought. It is interesting to note that a slight change in the laws of physics would perhaps destroy our universe and create an environment completely inhospitable to humanity or any other form of life. The great physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton believed that the mind of God could be discerned in science. Indeed, it was the prime motivation for his work. It is a little known fact that Newton wrote more about God and religion than he did about science. (See Gale E. Christianson's "In the Presence of the Creator, Isaac Newton and His Times.")

Epictetus says that should anyone doubt the existence of the "workman" simply ask him to explain how else such order could come about. This, of course, was before the advent of Darwinian theory of evolution. Yet even this theory leaves room for a God who could set in motion such processes to bring about his will in the universe.

Chapter 6:

  1. On Providence
  2. The Workman (6a)
  3. The Rational Facility (6b)
  4. Backyard Magnificence (6c)
  5. Exercise Your Will! (6d)
Stoicism and Christianity Index

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This is a translation and explanation of the first book of the Discourses of Epictetus. His words are in regular text, comments are in bold.

Biographical Information on Epictetus

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