Disbelief and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or spiritual beings are not products of modern age. Atheism thrived in societies including Ancient Greece and pre-Christian Rome, a University of Cambridge Professor said.
In his book titled, "Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World," Prof. Tim Whitmarsh studied how ancient people thousands of years ago did not believe in God or deities, challenging the theory that humans are naturally predisposed to believe in supernatural powers or gods.
"Early societies were far more capable than many since of containing atheism within the spectrum of what they considered normal," Prof. Whitmarsh said.
Atheism Not Influenced By Modernization
With the development of industries, science and technology, many believed that the diversion of belief from God or deities were driven mainly by modern mass education and scientific breakthroughs.
The study challenges two assumptions between those who believe in gods, and those who are atheists. One of these is that atheism is a product of modernization and a modern point of view. Many people think that disbelief in God came about in recent years because people learned more about modern life especially in Western societies.
Prof. Whitmarsh, however, argued that despite being written in most parts of history, atheism thrived in ancient societies. He cited evidences that would prove atheism is an ancient belief which can be traced to the works of Greek thinkers like Xenophanes of Colophon (570 BC). Xenophanes is known for his disapproval of the traditional view of gods. In his poems, he attacked the Homeric and Hesiodic anthropomorphic descriptions of deities, which clearly shows disbelief in supernatural beings.
Religious universalism states that people are naturally predisposed and "wired" to believe in gods.
"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," Prof. Whitmarsh explained.
"The fact that this was happening thousands of years ago suggests that forms of disbelief can exist in all cultures, and probably always have," he added.
Old As The Hills
The study argues that disbelief is actually "as old as the hills". There are many instances in history showing that ancient people, even before modernization emerged, did not believe in deities and gods. Aside from Xenophanes, Plato in the fourth century BCE said that non-believers were not the first to have had this view about the gods.
Atheism in ancient history has largely gone unwritten until it disappeared when Rome adapted Christianity in the fourth Century BCE. The rest, on how most of the world believed in gods, religions and deities, is history.
Prof. Withmarsh explained that his book is not intended to prove or disprove the truth of atheism.
"I do, however, have a strong conviction - that has hardened in the course of researching and writing this book - that cultural and religious pluralism, and free debate, are indispensable to the good life," Prof. Whitmarsh adds.
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