Monday, October 6, 2008

Atheism: A History

“Atheist” was once a term levied against Christians for it was used to mean one who didn’t ascribe to the Roman gods or the religion of the Roman emperor. Thus Christians who held to belief in one God versus the polytheism of the Romans were accused of being atheists. It is ironic in light of how atheists and Christians are on opposite spectrums in worldview thinking today. Atheism as a philosophy of the non-existence of God came about much later in history. Purportedly it began as a worldview foundation assault to weaken the Church in Western civilization during the transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Era. The world was fighting the Church organization through politics, military attacks, and internally through the Reformation. However, atheism began to take shape in response to the oppressive nature of the Church of that era. Just the same, it was still not a total disregard for belief in God for its proponents only sought to change the nature of the Church’s involvement in society verses eradicating it all together. In time though atheism began to take shape in elite philosophical circles and a worldview began to develop that separated itself entirely from Christianity. Many philosophers, writers, and artist began to depict a world without God, without absolutes, without God based morality. Atheism was birthed.


To be Continued.

34 comments:

Kevin DeGraaf said...

a world without God, without absolutes, without God based morality

How many times do I and others need to point out that atheism does not imply a lack of absolute, objective morality?

Don't your "Ten Commandments" prohibit bearing false witness? It's been explained to you over and over that objective nontheistic morality is not only possible, but demonstrably superior to theistic morality. Why do you continue to lie (bear false witness) in the face of this evidence?

Karla said...

I said a lack of God based morality. Meaning that morality being founded God being the infinite reference point. I didn't say no morality at all. This is precisely why I said "God based" instead of just "morality." Meaning the philosophical foundation of theism or Christianity versus the practice of morality itself.

Kevin DeGraaf said...

(1) You said, in this post, that atheism posits a world "without absolutes". (2) You have consistently stated in past posts that you don't think that morality aside from God is possible (and, consequently, that atheists are actually just using theistic morality without calling it such).

We have shown you a great deal of evidence contradicting both of these assertions, yet you refuse to consider them. You recycle this argument from morality without showing any signs of having digested the opposing arguments. That's why we're frustrated.

Karla said...

I have stated many times that I do not believe morality to be exclusive to Christianity only that the philosophical foundation is best explained by Christianity versus the worldview of atheism. In practicality both live by moral standards even if they see them stemming from different foundations. Even Nietzsche maintained that the philosophical foundation was absent from atheism and he liked that. Atheism today is different from Nietzsche's version. I hadn't gotten that far in my history of atheism discussion.

Regardless, my post wasn't about the moral argument. It was only giving a brief history of atheism as a worldview. I wasn't really planning to go into a moral argument.

Karla said...

Oh, and when I said "absolutes" I was speaking in general.

Kevin DeGraaf said...

I have stated many times that I do not believe morality to be exclusive to Christianity only that the philosophical foundation is best explained by Christianity versus the worldview of atheism. In practicality both live by moral standards even if they see them stemming from different foundations.

Isn't that what I just said? I said that you believe "that atheists are actually just using theistic morality without calling it such"; in other words, you believe that morality must necessarily be philosophically founded on Christianity and that we somehow understand that but refuse to admit it. Again, this has been refuted.

Oh, and when I said "absolutes" I was speaking in general.

So you don't think that atheists accept any kind of absolutes, in general? What could you possibly mean by that?

the worldview of atheism

As we've explained, atheism is not a worldview. Please stop projecting theism-as-a-worldview for a moment and try to understand how this works. Atheism just means "without theism". It is not a worldview or a philosophy, just a position on a single issue.

By itself, atheism doesn't necessarily imply freethought, rationalism, and the rejection of supernatural claims. It's simply a rejection of theism.

Of course, many of us who are atheists (because we decided to be freethinkers) build positive worldviews out of the same general elements: freedom, democracy, reason, empiricism, secular humanism, etc. If you have a problem with these building blocks, address them directly instead of referring to an nonexistent uniform "atheist worldview".

Karla said...

I know there is not one definitive way of thinking that all atheist share, but not believing in God sets one on a course of a way of thinking that is different from the thinking of those who does believe in God. If God is the starting place for some then certain things will follow. If nature is the starting place for others than certain things will follow. I'm not trying to box all atheists into one mold. I am trying to understandt he majorities positions on things based on their "no God" foundation.

Even amongst Christians we don't have the exact same worldview. There are some things that most certainly will be the same, but then there is also freedom for differences.

If God does exist and atheists thinking is patterned after His non-existence then they really aren't thinking freely at all. If they are thinking in truth then they are thinking freely or at least as freely as possible. But thinking in contradiction to truth isn't freedom it's bondage. The thing is we both think we are in truth but we can't both be right.

fatblue said...

Karla,

Atheism is not a cultural movement. I'm an atheist because I don't believe in god.

The only reason that atheists pay attention to religion is because you guys do scary things like send our country to war, burn people at the stake, and commit genocide. You censor and punish people who don't agree with you.

Samuel Skinner said...

"I know there is not one definitive way of thinking that all atheist share, but not believing in God sets one on a course of a way of thinking that is different from the thinking of those who does believe in God. If God is the starting place for some then certain things will follow. If nature is the starting place for others than certain things will follow. I'm not trying to box all atheists into one mold. I am trying to understandt he majorities positions on things based on their "no God" foundation. "

That isn't true. For theists, you have people ranging from the Jains who disdain violence to the Thugees who commit ritual murder... and they are both from the same country!

Atheists range from the Epicureans (who had an entire philosophy for life) to the existentialists (who claimed that such an endevor was point less).

Rationalists may cluster together, but atheists? Never. NOTHING follows from bare theism or bare atheism.

"If God does exist and atheists thinking is patterned after His non-existence then they really aren't thinking freely at all. If they are thinking in truth then they are thinking freely or at least as freely as possible. But thinking in contradiction to truth isn't freedom it's bondage. The thing is we both think we are in truth but we can't both be right."

Actually, you can be wrong and free- it is just easier for others to control you.

As it is, only one of us has falsible beliefs.

Karla said...

"Actually, you can be wrong and free- it is just easier for others to control you."

Religion can be controlling. I don't think anyone should control how another thinks. I think thinking should only be "controlled" per se by a person's love for truth. Meaning that media, church, politics, culture, etc. shouldn't usurp peoples freedom to think. It happens, but the only way to guard against that is to choice to line your thinking up with truth. Once you have grasped truth both intellectually and experientially all the other things competing to control ones thinking falls short of that goal.

My husband is a pastor and even he tells his congregation that he doesn't want them to believe something just because he says it. He wants them to take everything before the Lord and learn from God how to identify truth and not to accept truth from a person even if it's a pastor without having that confirmation from God about a matter. We want people to think for themselves. That's something that has been largely lost in our culture in and outside of the church. Schools don't teach kids how to think they tell them what to think.

Karla said...

fatblue, I don't think anyone has burned anyone at the stake for centuries. Also I don't think any Christian today would condone such an action unless they were psychotic or something. I was taught in the university that the colonist who were burning people at the stake were messed up from hallucinogens in mushrooms that grew in the area. That doesn't excuse their bizarre behavior, but millions of Christians would never do such a thing so I don't know why you are judging the whole by the despicable acts of a few from centuries ago.

CyberKitten said...

karla said: Atheism as a philosophy of the non-existence of God came about much later in history.

Actually atheism dates back at least to the Ancient Greeks. It's not exactly a new idea....

fatblue said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fatblue said...

"I don't think anyone has burned anyone at the stake for centuries."

The point to be made is that Religion deprives rational thought. People use 'god's will' as motivation to function emotionally rather than logically.

The motto of the Nazi was 'Gott Mit Uns' ('God With Us') and they identified themselves as Christian. They didn't burn people at the stake, but point is still the same, -emotional behavior happens under the guise of religion.

"I was taught in the university that the colonist who were burning people at the stake were messed up from hallucinogens in mushrooms that grew in the area."

Did the colonist's burn people at the stake? I doubt that the source of whatever information you're trying to share here is legitimate. Where is it documented that this happened? Please share your sources/references. What university did you attend?

Do you believe that murderous, close-minded, bigoted religious activity is limited to "[...] the despicable acts of a few from centuries ago"?

People who are emotional are not predictable and it bothers me that groups of emotional people (religion) will have the power that a group has.

fatblue said...

"If God does exist and atheists thinking is patterned after His non-existence then they really aren't thinking freely at all. If they are thinking in truth then they are thinking freely or at least as freely as possible. But thinking in contradiction to truth isn't freedom it's bondage. The thing is we both think we are in truth but we can't both be right."

Is it just me? That paragraph is the most confusing paragraph I have ever read. Are you Bruno Schulz or what?

Samuel Skinner said...

"fatblue, I don't think anyone has burned anyone at the stake for centuries. Also I don't think any Christian today would condone such an action unless they were psychotic or something"

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/dec/09/tracymcveigh.theobserver

Not quite at the stake, but definately burning alive.

"Did the colonist's burn people at the stake? I doubt that the source of whatever information you're trying to share here is legitimate. Where is it documented that this happened? Please share your sources/references. What university did you attend?"

The hallucinagins are an explanation for why the girls acted so oddly. It doesn't explain the trials though- there are large numbers of cases were people were affected in such a way in Europe.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dancing_mania

"Do you believe that murderous, close-minded, bigoted religious activity is limited to "[...] the despicable acts of a few from centuries ago"?

People who are emotional are not predictable and it bothers me that groups of emotional people (religion) will have the power that a group has."

http://www.gayagenda.com/2008/07/florida-principle-guilty-of-gay-witch-hunt/

"Is it just me? That paragraph is the most confusing paragraph I have ever read. Are you Bruno Schulz or what?"

She is arguing that freedom only occurs when you have an understanding of your world. Technically this is freedom of potential (be all you can be), rather than freedom of action.

Karla said...

Response to fatblue:

“The point to be made is that Religion deprives rational thought. People use 'god's will' as motivation to function emotionally rather than logically.”

Truth is the most rational way of thinking. If you are in truth you are thinking rationally and logically if you are not in truth you are not thinking in this manner.

Yes people do miss use saying “God’s will” does a miss use a reflection on God or on mankind?

Emotions are a part of us, but we shouldn’t be ruled by them. This is taught in the Bible.


”Did the colonist's burn people at the stake? I doubt that the source of whatever information you're trying to share here is legitimate. Where is it documented that this happened?”

I was thinking of the Salem witch trials. They weren’t exactly colonist I guess, but I meant the early settlers. But I was told that it was possible not proven solid, but possible, that mushrooms had a lot to do with the witch scare and why they were reacting so harshly and superstitiously. It was more a response of fear than anything else. But if you want to judge it as wrong you need a standard by which to judge it. So you kind of pull the rug out from under your argument if there is no external standard of right and wrong, good and evil.

”Do you believe that murderous, close-minded, bigoted religious activity is limited to "[...] the despicable acts of a few from centuries ago"?”

No, but I’m not an advocate of religion. I am an advocate of knowing the Lord in truth. There’s a big difference.

”People who are emotional are not predictable and it bothers me that groups of emotional people (religion) will have the power that a group has.”

Are atheists exempt from being ruled by their emotions? Have they mastered their emotions? Are their no crimes and injustices incurred by atheists? Surely history says differently.

Karla said...

"Actually atheism dates back at least to the Ancient Greeks. It's not exactly a new idea...."

Ah, but they weren't atheists in the true sense of the word. They didn't accept Greek polytheism, and were thus declared atheist even though they still maintained the existence of a supreme being. Same with the first atheists during the French Revolution for they were really deist such as Voltaire and Rousseau they were fighting against the corruption in the church, but they never became strict atheist denying the existence of God. True atheism of not believing in any God or any supernatural beings developed shortly thereafter.


"Is it just me? That paragraph is the most confusing paragraph I have ever read."

Sorry for my lack of clarity. My point is that free thinking only comes when your thinking is lined up with reality.

CyberKitten said...

karla said: Ah, but they weren't atheists in the true sense of the word. They didn't accept Greek polytheism, and were thus declared atheist even though they still maintained the existence of a supreme being.

That's not my understanding of it. Some Greek philosophers - Socrates included I think - did not believe in *any* God whether from their own pantheon or a supreme being. Some believed in one God rather than many but, as you rightly pointed out, this did not make then Atheists in the modern sense even if they were accused of it by their contemporaries.

karla said: Same with the first atheists during the French Revolution for they were really deist such as Voltaire and Rousseau they were fighting against the corruption in the church, but they never became strict atheist denying the existence of God.

Some of the French Enlightenment thinkers were indeed Deists - but others including the Baron D'albach were very outspoken atheists in the fully modern sense and caused some considerable shock with their questioning of Gods existence rather than just attacks on the corrupt church. It can easily be argued that modern atheisim started with the French 'Philisopes'.

karla said: True atheism of not believing in any God or any supernatural beings developed shortly thereafter.

As with most beliefs there are anticedents of atheism going back to the beginning of recorded history. Widespread atheism that 'dares speak its name' is a modern phenomena - dating back a mere 350 years or so but given time it could probably be a very widespread belief (or lack thereof).

Karla said...

I have not yet read of any Greek philosophers that were atheists in the true sense of the word. Socrates still maintained a higher power even though he didn't define much about that idea.

Yes D'Holbach was an atheists as was Marquis de Sade. I am reading a chapter on the French Revolution now. I hadn't gotten that far in the book I am reading that's giving a history of atheism. The French Revolution did produce atheism and it the modern atheism is relatively new to society.

It looks like from what I can tell that atheism in the true sense of the term developed out of the reaction to the corrupt church and went beyond just being a reaction.

I am not sure though that it will spread as you say. We'll have to wait and see.

I think atheism will only exists for as long as the Church isn't doing it's full job. When the Church enters the fullness of what is available to Christians to walk in with integrity and love at the core and the supernatural as a norm I don't think there will be many atheists. I'm not saying everyone will become Christians, but they will know there is a God. It will be evident. I'm sorry on behalf of the Church that it hasn't been and that there has been corruption and religion in the Church.

I really appreciate all you talking with me about these things.

Mike said...

This is a great discussion - I love learning, and I am learning through this dialogue...

I have a question; is it possible that many of the experiences and claims of 'church' members are really part of the totality of our Earthly life - and on the other side, is it possible that many of the experiences and claims of 'atheists' are potentially part of this life interacting beyond the limitations of this world..?

Not sure if that made sense, but I guess at the center of my question is a greater question; who decides what is supernatural/miraculous versus strictly natural? And how do we decide? What allows us to measure it, or analyze it, or make a quality (and final) decision about how to categorize it?

I am aware of many claims of supernatural and miracles by Doctors, politicians, etc. - folks that are well educated and arguably well reasoned - but I'm also aware of incredible discoveries that seem to explain many of the experiences and claims as being constrained by the laws of nature.

What are the fundamental differences between Theists and Atheists? All this talk of freedom, and truth and other buzz words seem somewhat useless to me; as it is easy to determine that a person's worldview filters their version of reality and all it entails - but what method could we employ to test all of this, and potentially sway each other, if any..? MM

CyberKitten said...

Mike said: What are the fundamental differences between Theists and Atheists?

Theists believe in God. Atheists don't.

That's it.

Of course the really interesting question is *Why* they do... or don't.... [grin]

Mike said...

Cyberkitten, you got me... ;) I love it, so simple, yet so true... That was good..!

Sometimes we make things more complex than they need to be don't we..?

Are there particulars that we both agree on however? As to your question; good question... Why..? MM

Karla said...

Much follows the starting place of the non-existence of God or the existence of God and what sort of God. If no God you have one set of views about where morality comes from and what it's all about. If God then you have a different set of views. That's just one example.

CyberKitten said...

karla said: I think atheism will only exists for as long as the Church isn't doing it's full job.

Oh, I don't think that atheism is merely a failing of the church to get its point across. The existence of God is not obvious. It is certainly open to interpretation and dispute - hence the variety of belief & non-belief in the world. Atheism stands on its own in this regard - it is merely a sceptical position regarding the God question.

karla said: I really appreciate all you talking with me about these things.

As long as things remain civil (and interesting) I shall continue visiting and debating things here.

mike said: Are there particulars that we both agree on however?

Possibly.....

karla said: Much follows the starting place of the non-existence of God or the existence of God and what sort of God.

Indeed. Where you start from can determine where you end up on lots of issues.

fatblue said...

Karla,

You are giving me a headache.

"Emotions are a part of us, but we shouldn’t be ruled by them. This is taught in the Bible."

It teaches you to have 'faith', to 'pray', to 'believe' etc.etc.. Say what you like, but the Bible 'teaches' a lot of wacky emotional stuff.

"So you kind of pull the rug out from under your argument if there is no external standard of right and wrong, good and evil."

Concepts of right and wrong are culturally defined, -so what. People from Christian culture excuse themselves from having desctructive and poorly thought out ideas of 'right' and 'wrong' because, like you, they 'know the Lord'.

"I am an advocate of knowing the Lord in truth. There’s a big difference."

Either way, your all about _knowing_ stuff that doesn't verifiably exist.

"Are their no crimes and injustices incurred by atheists?"

Religious culture is used to authorize injustice. There is not a culture of athiesm like that. The pastor at my grandma's church preached that: 'It is God's plan for us to invade Iraq and fight the devil there'. Athiests don't get together and say those things.

I'm going to take some aspirin for my headache now.

Karla said...

Cyberkitten, I promise to always be civil. In fact I try to make it a rule to avoid a discussion regressing into an argument for that is not helpful to anyone nor respectful. I always aim to be respectful, honest, and eager to learn.

Karla said...

"Athiests don't get together and say those things."

Fatblue, I don't say those things either.

fatblue said...

I never accused you of saying those things. You wrote "Are atheists exempt from being ruled by their emotions?", and so I elaborated on the point that religion allows people to behave badly.

Something else needs to be brought up here and I'm surprised that it hasn't been mentioned yet. The period of time when religion ruled the western world is known as the Dark Ages. When the church began to lose power the Age of Enlightenment followed.

historical truth:
More religion = bad things
Less religion = good things

Karla said...

I wasn't responding out of feeling accused. Just mentioning it.

As for the Dark Age's that's a lot of revisioned history and not truth. The arts flurished -- look at the grand archeticture of those days, there were many parson-naturalist who were pastors who did science before the word was coined, and it prepped society for science to develope. Science came out of western Christianized society. Many of the early scientist and great contributors were Christians or at the very least were theists. Also even today 40% of scientist have religous beliefs and 40% consider themselves atheists and 20% agnostic. If science was the way to atheism it's not working. It's not proving there is no God. I think most atheist agree that science hasn't proved that. They just don't agree on the faith they employ to make the leap from science to disbelief in God.

fatblue said...

This image is from Constantine's Arch http://sights.seindal.dk/crop/8143/640x480+486+36.jpg
This image is from Trajan's Column http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/57/RomansoldiersvsDacianwarriors.jpg

Constantine's Arch appeared at the beginning of the dark ages and it is not a great technical achievement compared to pre-dark ages roman and greek sculpture.

Here's another terrible piece from the romanesque (made over a thousand years after the arch): http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b7/Maria_laach_teufel_schriftrolle.jpg

A thousand years of Dark Age thinking didn't help sculpture to 'flourish' all that much, did it?

Don't forget, most of the people living in Europe those days were un-educated serfs. Art during the dark ages was nearly limited to portraits of church officials and aristocracy, cathedrals, and biblical depictions. You might think that it was a 'flourishing of the arts', but not many other people think so and I don't think its very exciting.

The church produced its cathedrals with a big wallet and a small brain because Europe forgot how to produce concrete during the Dark Ages.

"Many of the early scientist and great contributors were Christians..." Like who? What scientific achievement did the church make in the dark ages?

"Science came out of western Christianized society." I could say that porn and firearms came out of western Christianized society. Its illogical to think that those things should be credited to the church just because the church was there.

Off the top of our head, we all know that the church harmed science _after_ the dark ages. It famously censored Galileo. Giordano Bruno needed the resouces of the church to pursue his studies, but when it was found out that he was not a christian he was burned alive at the stake by christians. Do you think it was safe to practice science that might undermine church doctrine?

Please start citing your references. Why should I believe all of the statistics that you throw up?

fatblue said...

Have you ever read a science book? A real science book that does not teach creationism?

Karla said...

Science isn't a threat to Christianity. So many of the stories that are cited as proof of the Church attacking science in the Modern Era are false. It's given our culture Christian and non-Christian the idea that the two are at odds when really they are not.

No, I have not read science books outside of my high-school and college text books. I've read books about the debate between evolution and creation and intellegent design. I've read books about different aspect of science and the philosophy of science. I'm more into philosophy and history than I am into science. I was an English major with an American History minor. Though I try to add new things to my reading all the time.

CyberKitten said...

karla said: Science isn't a threat to Christianity.

No it isn't - though some certainly *perceive* it to be a threat. Science is only a threat to belief when they clash in areas of dispute - like (of course) Evolution. But this is only a problem for those who have a literal interpretation of The Bible. Many Christians have no issue at all with Darwin.

karla said: So many of the stories that are cited as proof of the Church attacking science in the Modern Era are false.

Examples?

karla said: It's given our culture Christian and non-Christian the idea that the two are at odds when really they are not.

They probably don't need to be as much as some people perceive them to be. Mostly they operate in completely different spheres. Its normally when they overlap that you get problems. Also Science tends not to have that much to say on Faith issues for obvious reasons.