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20 February 2016
Inside science

Seems like some academics have discovered atheism might have been prevalent in the ancient world – particularly during the Greek and Roman classical era. Atheism is not a modern phenomenon we are told – see for example http://phys.org/print374828340.html .. so what is new?

It seems like a book has been written on the subject. The consensus seems to be that the elevation of Christianity into an all encompassing imperial religion brought an end to a lot of things – including atheism. Christianity could not broach a rival and spent an awful lot of the Late Roman period in exorcising heresies, let alone in eradicating pagan ideas (or more secular atheistic views). This is nothing new as books on the subject have been written before. The difference here is that atheism itself is being discussed, rather than alternative ways of looking at the world.

How might we look at the subject from a catastrophist point of view? Presumably the gods were aspects of catastrophic events – but if the severity of such events had diminished to be virtually indistinguishable from your average natural disaster such as earthquakes and famines then the  whole idea of catastrophe inflicted by sky gods would have become irrelevant. It would have ended – or become so insignificant it may as well have ended. This appears to be a feature of the mid first millennium BC and gave rise not only to a suspicion the gods were not involved in catastrophic events (and even perhaps the idea the gods did not exist). It seems to coicide with revisionism, shall we say, such as the Buddha or Confucius, and the Greeks were not alone in changing their view about the gods. In the Roman period the pagan gods appear to have diminished into superstition – and some of this has been inherited into the modern world. The Romans embraced a lot of foreign pagan gods – but mostly one might think they had little faith in any of them. Is that atheism? It could be regarded as lack of faith in the old gods and the necessity of finding an alternative -which is where Christianity came in (originating out of Judaism, as Islam did a few hundred years later). Religions ruled like a rod of iron – and any semblance of atheism would have withered on the vine. The mid first millennium BC is a really interesting time as far as beliefs and mythology are concerned, but lots have been written on the subject. The problem is of course that catastrophists would assume the cycle of catastrophic events had come to an end (as envisaged by Velikovsky and others) and therefore a lack of catastrophism would result in an attempt to rationalise the past – and reinterpret catastrophe by denying catastrophe. In that sense atheism did thrive – an atheistic view of catastrophism rather than of pagan gods. The ability of gods to cause catastrophic events went out of the window – but is that a denial of the idea of god?

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