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Ancient Atheists

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I posted these links in another thread that I asked to be closed so thought I would put them in a thread of it's own in case anyone wanted to discuss it. Over the years I have heard members state that in the past all men were religious which I thought was limited in perspective of how history actually was. 

https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/disbelieve-it-or-not-ancient-history-suggests-that-atheism-is-as-natural-to-humans-as-religion

 

People in the ancient world did not always believe in the gods, a new study suggests – casting doubt on the idea that religious belief is a “default setting” for humans.

 

Early societies were far more capable than many since of containing atheism within the spectrum of what they considered normal

Tim Whitmarsh

Despite being written out of large parts of history, atheists thrived in the polytheistic societies of the ancient world – raising considerable doubts about whether humans really are “wired” for religion – a new study suggests.

The claim is the central proposition of a new book by Tim Whitmarsh, Professor of Greek Culture and a Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge. In it, he suggests that atheism – which is typically seen as a modern phenomenon – was not just common in ancient Greece and pre-Christian Rome, but probably flourished more in those societies than in most civilisations since.

As a result, the study challenges two assumptions that prop up current debates between atheists and believers: Firstly, the idea that atheism is a modern point of view, and second, the idea of “religious universalism” – that humans are naturally predisposed, or “wired”, to believe in gods.

The book, entitled Battling The Gods, is being launched in Cambridge on Tuesday (February 16).

“We tend to see atheism as an idea that has only recently emerged in secular Western societies,” Whitmarsh said. “The rhetoric used to describe it is hyper-modern. In fact, early societies were far more capable than many since of containing atheism within the spectrum of what they considered normal.”

“Rather than making judgements based on scientific reason, these early atheists were making what seem to be universal objections about the paradoxical nature of religion – the fact that it asks you to accept things that aren’t intuitively there in your world. The fact that this was happening thousands of years ago suggests that forms of disbelief can exist in all cultures, and probably always have.”

The book argues that disbelief is actually “as old as the hills”. Early examples, such as the atheistic writings of Xenophanes of Colophon (c.570-475 BCE) are contemporary with Second Temple-era Judaism, and significantly predate Christianity and Islam. Even Plato, writing in the 4th Century BCE, said that contemporary non-believers were “not the first to have had this view about the gods.”

Because atheism’s ancient history has largely gone unwritten, however, Whitmarsh suggests that it is also absent from both sides of the current monotheist/atheist debate.  While atheists depict religion as something from an earlier, more primitive stage of human development, the idea of religious universalism is also built partly on the notion that early societies were religious by nature because to believe in god is an inherent, “default setting” for humans.

Neither perspective is true, Whitmarsh suggests: “Believers talk about atheism as if it’s a pathology of a particularly odd phase of modern Western culture that will pass, but if you ask someone to think hard, clearly people also thought this way in antiquity.”

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/feb/17/atheism-has-ancient-roots-claims-new-study

 

“Rather than making judgments based on scientific reason, these early atheists were making what seem to be universal objections about the paradoxical nature of religion – the fact that it asks you to accept things that aren’t intuitively there in your world. The fact that this was happening thousands of years ago suggests that forms of disbelief can exist in all cultures, and probably always have.”

In the fourth century BC, he points to Plato, as the philosopher imagines a believer chastising an atheist: “You and your friends are not the first to have held this view about the gods! There are always those who suffer from this illness, in greater or lesser numbers.”

“We may balk at his disease imagery,” writes Whitmarsh, “but Plato was surely right in his general point. There have been many throughout history and across all cultures who have resisted belief in the divine.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/atheism/history/ancient.shtml

First atheist writers

Most histories of atheism choose the Greek and Roman philosophers Epicurus, Democritus, and Lucretius as the first atheist writers. While these writers certainly changed the idea of God, they didn't entirely deny that gods could exist.

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https://www.jewishindependent.ca/atheism

Then along came Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World. As the May/June 2017 Biblical Archaeology Review notes, “In clear prose, Whitmarsh explores the history of atheism from its beginnings in ancient Greece in the eighth century BCE through the fourth century CE, when Christianity was adopted as the state religion of the Roman Empire. Whitmarsh says up-front that he is not interested in proselytizing atheism – but rather in studying its first thousand years. He argues that the history of atheism is an issue of human rights because denying the history of a tradition helps to delegitimize it and paint it as ‘faddish.’”

In reading this book, I came to understand, as Stephen Greenblatt is quoted on the back cover as saying, that “atheism is as old as belief. Skepticism did not slowly emerge from a fog of piety and credulity. It was there, fully formed and spoiling for a fight, in the bracing, combative air of ancient Athens.” And I agree with Susan Jacoby’s comments – also cited on the back cover – that it “is a pure delight to be introduced to people who questioned the supernatural long before modern science provided physical evidence to support the greatest insights of human reason.”

-has-a-long-history/

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Liquid Gardens

Very interesting and makes sense if you think about it.  There really isn't much of an 'atheist tradition' to keep any writings about it present and collected as there is for religions and their traditions.  Plus, although I don't know this, I don't know if there really was much to write about atheism during the historical periods that the major religions were founded other than that atheists existed.  It seems like that the majority of atheistic arguments are counters to theistic claims, the basic argument supporting atheism is very basic, where's the evidence.

I like the challenge to the idea that religion is somehow the 'default' for our psychology also.  Outside of the fact that a psychological default like this obviously has nothing to do with what the truth of the matter is, in a way I think there's an argument to be made that at least rationally/intellectually non-belief is actually the default.  I should see if Plato says more than in the quote above, but that's along the lines of what the typical 'counter' is to atheists from theists, that atheists are unenlightened, untouched by grace, or as Plato puts it 'diseased'.  All that's missing there is the rational argument against their position; perceived character flaws has little to do with whether atheists are wrong or not, hopefully Plato recognized that.  They don't seem to act like they are flabbergasted how anyone can come to that conclusion, it's not like they're acting like someone said the sun was blue or something.  Christianity especially seems to understand why the atheistic argument makes sense from a reasoning standpoint, there'd be no reason to try to massively caulk their 'argument' with 'faith' otherwise.

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HandsomeGorilla
Posted (edited)

Anyone who thinks religion is the 'default' has been culturally conditioned, plain and simple

Ideally, we'd all start as blank slates, in my opinion 

Edited by HandsomeGorilla
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Will Due
5 minutes ago, Liquid Gardens said:

where's the evidence.

 

4 minutes ago, HandsomeGorilla said:

Ideally, we'd all start as blank slates

 

And then experience is factored in. Which induce choice.

 

 

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29 minutes ago, Liquid Gardens said:

Very interesting and makes sense if you think about it.  There really isn't much of an 'atheist tradition' to keep any writings about it present and collected as there is for religions and their traditions.  Plus, although I don't know this, I don't know if there really was much to write about atheism during the historical periods that the major religions were founded other than that atheists existed.  It seems like that the majority of atheistic arguments are counters to theistic claims, the basic argument supporting atheism is very basic, where's the evidence.

Agreed, and I do not think it was a movement in so much as it was a way of living one's life. I am surrounded by religions and churches yet live my life without conflict for having my perspective so don't see how some equate that all men were religious. Intellectively speaking we are not so different from people in ancient times so for me do not see it as a modern concept and if people then like now question the validity of religions then to me they would likely be represented in the ancient populations.

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docyabut2

no in the past  the Ancient Atheists beliefs we were of the gods, and not , but not a invisible god . 

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1 hour ago, Will Due said:

 

 

And then experience is factored in. Which induce choice.

 

 

Experience is personal, evidence is not so if you make a choice by experience there is no requisite for evidence. If your choice is based on evidence then personal experience may have no value especially if it is biased

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third_eye

As was the same for "king"

From the humble valleys to the riverbanks then to the world... 

~

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Will Due
Posted (edited)
28 minutes ago, closed for business said:

Experience is personal, evidence is not so if you make a choice by experience there is no requisite for evidence. 

 

Yes, that's when faith cuts in.

 

28 minutes ago, closed for business said:

If your choice is based on evidence then personal experience may have no value especially if it is biased

 

And alternatively, if your choice is based on evidence then personal experience may have the greatest value especially when it is un-biased.

 

 

Edited by Will Due

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6 minutes ago, Will Due said:

Yes, that's when faith cuts in.

Faith only works with belief and personal experience if you have evidence you don't need faith you have facts.

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Will Due
Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, closed for business said:

Faith only works with belief and personal experience if you have evidence you don't need faith you have facts.

 

The fact of personal faith experience is all the evidence that's needed, to know what to believe.

 

 

Edited by Will Due

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47 minutes ago, Will Due said:

 

The fact of personal faith experience is all the evidence that's needed, to know what to believe.

 

 

Not sure how you can demonstrate that position with objective evidence if all you can show are words

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Will Due
5 minutes ago, closed for business said:

Not sure how you can demonstrate that position with objective evidence if all you can show are words

 

How the fact of personal faith experience is the evidence to know what to believe, is only demonstrable in a person's own experience. 

 

 

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psyche101
20 minutes ago, Will Due said:

How the fact of personal faith experience is the evidence to know what to believe, is only demonstrable in a person's own experience. 

Every time you describe faith you describe self delusion. Do you see a difference between the two?

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psyche101
5 hours ago, closed for business said:

I posted these links in another thread that I asked to be closed so thought I would put them in a thread of it's own in case anyone wanted to discuss it. Over the years I have heard members state that in the past all men were religious which I thought was limited in perspective of how history actually was. 

https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/disbelieve-it-or-not-ancient-history-suggests-that-atheism-is-as-natural-to-humans-as-religion

 

People in the ancient world did not always believe in the gods, a new study suggests – casting doubt on the idea that religious belief is a “default setting” for humans.

 

Early societies were far more capable than many since of containing atheism within the spectrum of what they considered normal

Tim Whitmarsh

Despite being written out of large parts of history, atheists thrived in the polytheistic societies of the ancient world – raising considerable doubts about whether humans really are “wired” for religion – a new study suggests.

The claim is the central proposition of a new book by Tim Whitmarsh, Professor of Greek Culture and a Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge. In it, he suggests that atheism – which is typically seen as a modern phenomenon – was not just common in ancient Greece and pre-Christian Rome, but probably flourished more in those societies than in most civilisations since.

As a result, the study challenges two assumptions that prop up current debates between atheists and believers: Firstly, the idea that atheism is a modern point of view, and second, the idea of “religious universalism” – that humans are naturally predisposed, or “wired”, to believe in gods.

The book, entitled Battling The Gods, is being launched in Cambridge on Tuesday (February 16).

“We tend to see atheism as an idea that has only recently emerged in secular Western societies,” Whitmarsh said. “The rhetoric used to describe it is hyper-modern. In fact, early societies were far more capable than many since of containing atheism within the spectrum of what they considered normal.”

“Rather than making judgements based on scientific reason, these early atheists were making what seem to be universal objections about the paradoxical nature of religion – the fact that it asks you to accept things that aren’t intuitively there in your world. The fact that this was happening thousands of years ago suggests that forms of disbelief can exist in all cultures, and probably always have.”

The book argues that disbelief is actually “as old as the hills”. Early examples, such as the atheistic writings of Xenophanes of Colophon (c.570-475 BCE) are contemporary with Second Temple-era Judaism, and significantly predate Christianity and Islam. Even Plato, writing in the 4th Century BCE, said that contemporary non-believers were “not the first to have had this view about the gods.”

Because atheism’s ancient history has largely gone unwritten, however, Whitmarsh suggests that it is also absent from both sides of the current monotheist/atheist debate.  While atheists depict religion as something from an earlier, more primitive stage of human development, the idea of religious universalism is also built partly on the notion that early societies were religious by nature because to believe in god is an inherent, “default setting” for humans.

Neither perspective is true, Whitmarsh suggests: “Believers talk about atheism as if it’s a pathology of a particularly odd phase of modern Western culture that will pass, but if you ask someone to think hard, clearly people also thought this way in antiquity.”

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/feb/17/atheism-has-ancient-roots-claims-new-study

 

“Rather than making judgments based on scientific reason, these early atheists were making what seem to be universal objections about the paradoxical nature of religion – the fact that it asks you to accept things that aren’t intuitively there in your world. The fact that this was happening thousands of years ago suggests that forms of disbelief can exist in all cultures, and probably always have.”

In the fourth century BC, he points to Plato, as the philosopher imagines a believer chastising an atheist: “You and your friends are not the first to have held this view about the gods! There are always those who suffer from this illness, in greater or lesser numbers.”

“We may balk at his disease imagery,” writes Whitmarsh, “but Plato was surely right in his general point. There have been many throughout history and across all cultures who have resisted belief in the divine.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/atheism/history/ancient.shtml

First atheist writers

Most histories of atheism choose the Greek and Roman philosophers Epicurus, Democritus, and Lucretius as the first atheist writers. While these writers certainly changed the idea of God, they didn't entirely deny that gods could exist.

Ive posted this link a while ago when debating Walker regarding belief defaults. It's good information. 

The one thing I find as puzzling is that it stated that many think of atheism as a new thing. I never thought that myself. 

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closed for business
1 minute ago, Will Due said:

 

How the fact of personal faith experience is the evidence to know what to believe, is only demonstrable in a person's own experience. 

 

 

Yes Will it is subjective non-transferable evidence to an individual and because it is yours only you can experience it and all you can demonstrate with is words.( Not trying to be hard on you just talking) As well attested here in the forum words don't mean the same things to all people so how your intention is perceived may not have the value you intend and couple that with skepticism you end up with a real problem trying to demonstrate "that evidence" that in person can only express in face, hand expressions while speaking about it so there is nothing real or tangible to express.

 There are some people that have limited opportunities to have experiences for one or many reasons and will assume the experiences of others and make them their own but have still not had your personal experience. I remember a warning one time given by a pastor who said second generation Christians were at risk because they did not have a personal experience with god but had been raised in a home of parents that had had an experience so extra effort should be made for that child to have the experience of god that the parents did. What I saw was a trend to make them conform even if it was in words and acts only till you hit the door and they relax their performance. Now I am not saying all but there is a significant percentage that keep religion and life in different pockets and are still good people.

Ever hypnotize a chicken

 

people can be every bit as easy for suggestion

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Likely Guy
52 minutes ago, psyche101 said:

Every time you describe faith you describe self delusion. Do you see a difference between the two?

I have faith in the good of human nature, not religion, though I may be wrong on some occasions. Not often.

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Likely Guy

The real 'ancients' were too predisposed with putting food on the table (if they had one) and warmth in the hearth to care about 'God Things'.

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psyche101
19 minutes ago, Likely Guy said:

I have faith in the good of human nature, not religion, though I may be wrong on some occasions. Not often.

Yes, well that will bite from time to time. Wills talking about his space god though. I think that's a different matter myself. One where ones own imagination provides 'facts'.

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Hammerclaw

Does anyone have a list of contemporary, extant, hunter-gatherer societies and ancient societies and civilizations that do not and did not believe in some form of the supernatural? 

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closed for business
2 minutes ago, Hammerclaw said:

Does anyone have a list of contemporary, extant, hunter-gatherer societies and ancient societies and civilizations that do not and did not believe in some form of the supernatural? 

Hi Hammer, no I don't and I have not been suggesting that, it has always been an individual choice for people to not believe or question the accepted norm. I am sure we could go back to Hss/Neanderthal interactions or other Hss and find ( not saying there is evidence of those exchanges just using it as a reference) groups that did not share their myth/lore so personally I think that those cultures were likely more accepting of differences as they depended on each other to survive. If you don't believe and are the best hunter who's really going to beef about it.:lol:

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Hammerclaw
Posted (edited)
57 minutes ago, closed for business said:

Hi Hammer, no I don't and I have not been suggesting that, it has always been an individual choice for people to not believe or question the accepted norm. I am sure we could go back to Hss/Neanderthal interactions or other Hss and find ( not saying there is evidence of those exchanges just using it as a reference) groups that did not share their myth/lore so personally I think that those cultures were likely more accepting of differences as they depended on each other to survive. If you don't believe and are the best hunter who's really going to beef about it.:lol:

The Bible, itself, confirms the existence of Atheists (Only a fool has said in his heart there is no God.) My point is they are exceptional and quite the contrary defines societies as a whole. Even Bolshevist Marxists couldn't impose Atheism by force, only indoctrinate their own  young in it, with mixed results. Understand, my definition of Atheism is the rejection of, or lack of all spiritual beliefs.

Edited by Hammerclaw

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closed for business
Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Hammerclaw said:

The Bible, itself, confirms the existence of Atheists (Only a fool has said in his heart there is no God.) My point is they are exceptional and quite the contrary defines societies as a whole. Even Bolshevist Marxists couldn't impose Atheism by force, only indoctrinate their own  young in it, with mixed results. Understand, my definition of Atheism is the rejection of, or lack of all spiritual beliefs.

I am not sure how you see what I have said to mean large scale when all I have be referring to is individuals.  Yes I do understand how you are using atheist  but will add that there was a large revolution in atheist philosophy in Asia in the sixth century bc that was far more successful than the more recent attempts of cultural atheism. 

 Walker has started a similar thread and just gave a reply there that would be in keeping with my response to you and will not rewrite it here as the 2 threads may get merged and if not will go into a more detailed response

Edited by closed for business
not sure but did it anyway

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Hammerclaw
2 hours ago, closed for business said:

I am not sure how you see what I have said to mean large scale when all I have be referring to is individuals.  Yes I do understand how you are using atheist  but will add that there was a large revolution in atheist philosophy in Asia in the sixth century bc that was far more successful than the more recent attempts of cultural atheism. 

 Walker has started a similar thread and just gave a reply there that would be in keeping with my response to you and will not rewrite it here as the 2 threads may get merged and if not will go into a more detailed response

Any philosophy not completely devoid of spiritualism or other unprovable beliefs doesn't qualify under my personal definition, not even Jainism. My posts have been in general, not specifically directed at you. 

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