David’s Death of Socrates
John W. Cowart
The Greek philosopher Socrates used a mule to argue for the existence of God.
It didn't work.
His enemies executed him anyhow. Made him drink poison hemlock.
The Hebrew prophet Isaiah used an ox and an ass in his reasoning about God's existence.
He got executed too.
They sawed him in half.
The martyrdom of Isaiah from a medieval illuminated manuscript
Me? As a fundamentalist Christian, I like to play it safe; when I talk about God's existence, I use a skunk for my argument.
That makes me smarter than Socrates. At least, ain't nobody thinks I'm worth executing.
Maybe it's just that no body wants to argue theology with a skunk.
When Socrates was on trial for his life in Athens, he pointed to a mule plodding past the Theater of Dionysus where the trial was held. He observed that mules never have baby mules. All mules are sterile. Mules are the offspring of female horses mated with male donkeys.
Therefore, the philosopher argued, every time you see a mule that proves the existence of at least one horse and one donkey. And since all life only springs from life, then those animals must have parents too.
Then the parents must have parents and so on an on till you come to an original source of life -- God.
When you see any effect, you know it must have a cause, and the First Cause of all effects is God, Socrates reasoned.
"Who in the world would believe in sons of gods if they did not believe in gods," Socrates asked? "That would be just as odd as believing in sons of horses or asses, but not in the horses or asses themselves!"
His enemies responded to his reasoning with a sophisticated argument of their own.
"Here, drink this. It won't hurt a bit," they said.
The prophet Isaiah also used an animal analogy to reason with people about God:
"The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider," Isaiah said (Isaiah 1:3).
Walt Disney movies and Reader's Digest magazine both understand the validity of Isaiah's observation. Every once in a while, both organizations display the story of some family going on vacation with their dog or cat. Somehow the animal gets left behind and makes it way over a thousand miles of rough terrain to arrive home.
A joyous reunion follows. Everybody hugs everybody. Tears flow.
The story, whatever the animal or the details, touches our hearts.
Deep down, we know exactly what the story teaches and with full hearts we rejoice.
If dumb animals hunger for Home and know how to get there, then why don't people recognize God who is our home?
Fact is, we do. We just hate to admit it.
A deep hunger and longing in the human heart manifests itself as a yearning for something. We desire something and we know what it is. We know that what we desperately seek is not something, but Someone.
We know this but sin keeps us from the desire of our hearts, the Desire of all Nations -- God. And we pretend that we are dumber than Isaiah's ox and that we don't really know.
Isaiah also addresses this false thinking:
"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1: 3 & 18).
In other words, God's message is, Come Home.
Jesus said, in the Father's house are many mansions -- not just buildings but homes -- being prepared for us.
Jesus' message is always, Welcome Home, Stranger!
So, Socrates' mule argues for God's being the First Cause of all effects. Isaiah's ox argues for God's being the answer to the yearning of our hearts.
What does Cowart's skunk argue for?
When I lived up in Maryland, I used to hike in the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge, a bird sanctuary where huge flocks of ducks gathered in marsh ponds during their migrations.
A park ranger there once explained that something was killing the baby ducks.
He said over zealous hunters had blasted most of the area's skunks. But because a favorite food of the skunks was snapping turtle eggs, now the ponds were overrun with snapping turtles and the favorite food of the turtles was duckling.
Skunks are vital to the food chain! No skunks, no ducks. Nothing left but hungry snapping turtles.
Skunks prove there is an order to creation.
The whole scheme of things fits together.
It's all balanced.
You could almost say it was planned.
A plan means a Planner. A design demands a Designer. A creation requires a Creator.
Theologians say that Socrates' mule illustrates an ontological argument for God's existence; Isaiah's ox illustrates an argument from man's universal desire for God; and Cowart's skunk illustrates a teleological argument.
St. Paul summed these ideas up when he said, "He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6).
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