• VoidDetector
    70
    Atheism older than Christianity or Islam, but Romans erased it from history, new study finds.

    While looking at much older religions than Christianity, like Zoroastrianism. I recalled that atheism is far older than Christianity as described above.

    Why didn't humans stop at atheism? What went wrong?
  • BrianW
    658
    Why didn't humans stop at atheism? What went wrong?VoidDetector

    I feel like 'atheism' is the wrong word to use considering our inclinations to believe in supernatural (beyond the norm and unlike the norm) phenomena is and has been an intrinsic part of our thoughts and emotions because part of seeking to learn what we don't know is expecting to find that which we don't know. Perhaps 'supernaturalism' is a better fit.
  • Inis
    243
    I feel like 'atheism' is the wrong word to use considering our inclinations to believe in supernatural (beyond the norm and unlike the norm) phenomena is and has been an intrinsic part of our thoughts and emotions because part of seeking to learn what we don't know is expecting to find that which we don't know. Perhaps 'supernaturalism' is a better fit.BrianW

    "Pagan" is another word.
  • hachit
    134
    Because even though atheism is old there were religious established. Atheism would have been blasphemy and given the death penalty. Aristotle is one example of this. But untill a culture were atheism was not persecuted it could never get a footing
  • BrianW
    658


    I think it's close but not quite because paganism also involves a kind of deism.
  • Inis
    243
    I think it's close but not quite because paganism also involves a kind of deism.BrianW

    It seems more like polytheism. What am I missing?
  • BrianW
    658
    What am I missing?Inis

    I'm just saying that even before belief in gods, there was belief in supernatural phenomena e.g. spirits, angels, demons, elementals, etc. Aren't such beliefs also contrary to atheism?
  • Mariner
    344
    If a new study found it, it must be true.

    Sounds a bit superstitious to me, but to each his own.
  • VagabondSpectre
    1.3k
    What does atheism have to do with superstition? @BrianW

    In my view, atheism is mainly the rejection of superstition. There have always been atheists, but apparently (according to superstition) rejecting superstition is very bad luck and demands retribution.

    Superstitions which go out of their way to target detractors just so happened to have been successful...
  • hachit
    134
    no, athisim is a beleve there is no God or gods. Your talking about the different variations of atheism. The Potagorians and the alchemist were both famous atheist groups. One was math focused while the other was (for lack of a better turm) chemistry focused. It like the 3 or 20 (depending who you talk to) schism's of Christianity. Try to think of it like this, X has a set of people in a group and each is individualistic. Each with with there personal ideas, but they all share idea Y. As long as thay have idea Y they belong to the group.
  • BrianW
    658
    In my view, atheism is mainly the rejection of superstition.VagabondSpectre

    Yeah, that's my point; that superstition superseded atheism, and that the presence of superstition contradicts atheism in some way.

    Your talking about the different variations of atheism.hachit

    My point is, even before theism (or organised religions) there was a kind of universal (maybe even objective) acceptance of superstition. Also, the modern day version of atheism is different from the ancient version primarily because of that point. That is, ancient atheism had an acceptance of superstition and its related paradigms, including what were the origins of spiritualism and religions, and that makes it different from what we now understand as atheism.
  • Bitter Crank
    7.3k
    It is certainly possible that that some people in the ancient world (3000 years ago) did not believe in the gods, but how much evidence do we have for their non-theism? The linked article didn't really say much.

    It seems like the monotheists in the ancient world were mostly offended by people believing in other gods (Baal, for instance) rather than being offended by people who believed in no gods.

    I haven't read it, but Catherine Nixey wrote The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World. The Christians and 2000 years haven't left much for us. Is there evidence cropping up about atheism in the ancient world?
  • Terrapin Station
    7.8k
    Why didn't humans stop at atheism? What went wrong?VoidDetector

    For one, it's not as if everyone had the same beliefs but decided to change.

    Two, you can't assume that there are never political or control motivations for belief endorsement.

    The article explains that atheism was basically "written out of history" as best as the Romans were able to do so.
  • Tzeentch
    217
    Is it me, or does the article not provide a link to the study? Suspicious.
  • Terrapin Station
    7.8k


    It appears to be from a 2015 book by Tim Whitmarsh, who is a professor of Greek Culture and a Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge. The book is called Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World.
  • Josh Alfred
    98
    Not only is Atheism older than theism, it is far more ubiquitous in the animal kingdom.

    Once you can achieve a sentient state where you can question, "who made the world" you can rightly, though not necessarily, conclude, "a being did this". Who this being was and is today is no more than a built construct of the supposed being.

    You can have so many different forms of theism, so that there is a god for nearly the source of everything in the world.

    Dawkins put it right in his idea/meme, "god of the gaps." When you do not have an explanation for something, you may excuse it to be caused by a higher being. Schopenhauer said, doing this is, "Explaining an unknown with an even more unknown." There's really no sense in it. To just simply admit, "I don't know" was not enough for the myth makers in our civilization.
  • Pattern-chaser
    801
    Why didn't humans stop at atheism? What went wrong?VoidDetector

    Nothing "went wrong". We have had religion for a very long time. Atheism cannot have developed until there were Gods being worshipped, so that atheists could not-believe in them. The article is full of assertions, presented entirely without evidence:
    The belief that there were no gods was common in the ancient world, research by Prof. Tim Whitmarsh, professor of Greek culture at Cambridge, concludes.

    But “ancient atheism” was effectively written out of history when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire after the reign of Constantine in the early fourth century, heralding a new era of state-imposed belief, says Whitmarsh in a new book, Battling the Gods, which collates evidence of atheism in the Greek city states.

    The study breaks the widely assumed link between atheism and progress or modernity but also rejects the idea that faith is a natural, instinctive impulse.
    I assume the book contains some evidence or justification? :chin: For now, this is nothing more than the usual emotional and irrational attack that atheists make on religion. <yawn>
  • Pattern-chaser
    801
    Not only is Atheism older than theism, it is far more ubiquitous in the animal kingdom.Josh Alfred

    I can't quite see how we could have developed atheism before theism. How could we not-believe in God(s), when we had yet to recognise Gods in the first place? And I think you'll find that the majority of animals do not have religious or atheistic feelings. Unless you have some sort of justification to offer for this odd pair of assertions? :chin:

    To just simply admit, "I don't know" was not enough for the myth makers in our civilization.Josh Alfred
    Nor for you, it seems! :smile: :smile: :smile:
  • Josh Alfred
    98


    I have for some time thought that Athiesm is not just the denial of god, like the denial of the property red, but rather the absence of thinking of the color red, not thinking of a god. Maybe there is another term for this, with a definition more fitting than Atheism.
  • Pattern-chaser
    801
    Before we believed in Gods - if there was such a time? - we would not have thought of Gods, so we would have the "absence of thinking of" Gods that you surmise. But, as far as we know, religion and supernatural belief has been with us since we started to think, which is quite a while now. :wink: It seems to me you're stretching things a bit, to go back to before we believed in God(s), so as to observe that we were then atheists.

    I'm sorry, but your conclusion looks to me like you're clutching at straws. If we were going to develop a new way of thinking next week - let's call this new way "gurt" - would we currently be "agurtic"? No, we wouldn't, we'd just be being silly, trying so hard to find new evidence to show how marvellous and true our own current beliefs actually are. :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :yikes:
  • Rank Amateur
    1.5k
    not sure it is possible to articulate the thought about not thinking about God, without thinking about God. There may well be an infinite set of things we have not thought about yet, none of which, by definition, we could articulate.
  • Tzeentch
    217
    First of all, it's rather terrible journalism (granted I have come to expect nothing less these days) to put a rousing title above an article and then refer to a book without even mentioning some of the reasoning behind the conclusion. If I had to read an entire book every time a journalist makes some wild claim, I would have a day job sifting through speculation and hastily-drawn conclusions...

    However, I found the following video on YouTube of the author discussing his book: Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World

    The author is clearly a lot more careful in his conclusions than the posted article would have one assume. The author refers to the ancient Greeks and to schools of thought like Epicureanism, pointing out ideas which he terms 'atheistic'. The author's definition of atheism seems to have more to do with the denial of a anthropomorphic, omnipresent, omnibenevolent (etc.) God, and not denial of everything 'Divine'. I'd say such use of the word 'atheist' is rather liberal, and hardly correlates to the disposition of the average modern atheist. Considering his reason for writing the book seems to be to provide atheism with a degree of historical authority, it is rather misleading. Calling these ancient Greek philosophers atheistic carries about as much meaning as calling Buddhists atheistic. In both cases they have absolutely nothing in common with the average 'modern atheist' (insofar as there is such a thing).
  • TheMadFool
    3k
    I don't know sounds interesting. I did a bit of thinking and as far as God or any claim is concerned we have 4 states

    0. Never even considered it
    1. Affirm the claim (theism)
    2. Deny the claim (atheism)
    3. Reserve judgement (agnostic)

    I think the author is referrring to the 0 state of all knowledge, specifically about God. It doesn't equate with atheism because the former is totally unaware of God and arguments for/against while the latter is closely acquainted with such.
  • Terrapin Station
    7.8k


    0 is one common definition of atheism, though. It's variously called implicit, negative, weak or soft atheism.
  • SophistiCat
    714
    The "study" is actually a book:

    Tim Whitmarsh, Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.

    Here is the author's presentation: Battling the gods

    And a (favorable) review from a classicist: Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2016.06.20
  • Pair o'Ducks
    6
    So, basically, this study provides us with the insight that (1) the Abrahamic religions were not the first theistic religions and (2) people have historically not agreed on the presence, properties or relevance of supposed deities meddling in their personal lives?

    Somehow I feel I have been deprived of the epiphany I expected, reading the title.
  • SophistiCat
    714
    Somehow I feel I have been deprived of the epiphany I expected, reading the title.Pair o'Ducks

    Yeah, the title is odd: it's supposed to sound provocative, but how is what it ostensibly asserts even controversial?

    The author's thesis is stronger than that: he argues that atheism was a "thing" in the ancient world, not just a few individual exemplars.
  • Pair o'Ducks
    6
    The author's thesis is stronger than that: he argues that atheism was a "thing" in the ancient world, not just a few individual exemplars. — SophistiCat

    And I am quite interested to read the examples that the author supplies, from a historical perspective. It just does not appear, to me, as a claim that requires extensive argumentation (but perhaps I am biased, because I live in a predominantly atheist country). It certainly does not warrant the kind of enthusiasm that the journalist purports.
  • Rank Amateur
    1.5k
    I would amend to this decision tree

    1. Are you aware and do you understand the concept of theism ?
    1a - no = unaware, ignorant of issue, uninterested, outside having a position

    1b. yes

    2. Do you agree with the concept?

    2a - yes = theist
    2b - no = atheist
    2c - neither agree or disagree = agnostic
  • Bitter Crank
    7.3k
    I don't feel like reading a book about ancient atheism at the moment, but the publisher's description of Tim Whitmarsh, Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015 says among other things

    ... Homer’s epic poems of human striving, journeying, and passion were ancient Greece’s only “sacred texts,” but no ancient Greek thought twice about questioning or mocking his stories of the gods. Priests were functionaries rather than sources of moral or cosmological wisdom. The absence of centralized religious authority made for an extraordinary variety of perspectives on sacred matters, from the devotional to the atheos, or “godless" ...

    So, it sounds more like "anything goes" than "atheism" per se. From what I've read of the Greek gods, they were quite mockable, even if one believed in them. At least in some narratives there was nothing austere and distant about them.

    But we don't have a lot of documents from the ancient world and most of what one can say about the ancient world is going to rest on slender supports. Further, this book is about Greece -- not the Egyptians, not the Babylonians, not the Etruscans, et al.

    Before we believed in Gods - if there was such a time? - we would not have thought of Gods, so we would have the "absence of thinking of" Gods that you surmise.Pattern-chaser

    I agree. It's like finding disbelievers in quantum mechanics back in the 17th century. If it didn't exist yet, how could there be disbelief?

    Anyway, we can't talk about belief or disbelief without some sort of evidence. Prior to writing there is only "object evidence" and we don't know what those objects, like the "Willendorf Venus", meant to their creators. Maybe it was magic, maybe it was religion, maybe it was art, maybe it was... who the hell knows? Archeologists famously assume a religious function for anything that isn't otherwise clear.
  • Pattern-chaser
    801
    and most of what one can say about the ancient world is going to rest on slender supports.Bitter Crank

    :up:

    [The rest of your post is good stuff too. :wink: ]
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