Inquisitive Minds Podcast Critical Thinking on History, Religion, Politics and Culture

In this third episode dedicated to Tim Whitmarsh's book, Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World, we review his section on the Hellenistic Era where kings were sometimes worshiped as "gods". Some philosophers, however, were skeptical of such ideas and adopted an agnostic position toward the existence of gods. Epicureans, on the other hand,believed in gods but not in their involvement in the world, and since the gods were different in matter and not part of this world, they even thought that there existed a plurality of universes; a concept similar to what is now referred to as "multiverse".


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We continue our discussion of Whitmarsh's Battling the the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World. The second part of his book deals with the atheism in Classical Athens (5th-4th centuries BCE). In this episode, some important figures of that time period such as Thucydides (author of the Peloponnesian War), Protagoras, Democritus, Aristophanes, Euripides, Plato, as well as Anaxagoras, Diogoras of Melos, Socrates, and Theodorus of Cyrene and their impact on atheistic thought are reviewed.

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This week, we discuss a short important article written by Jim Baggott about the lack of evidence in theoretical physics. The problem, according to Baggott, is that much of theoretical physics has crossed the line from physics to metaphysics. Theoretical physicists are sometimes eager to try answer the big questions concerning the origins of the universe, the underlying structure of reality and the meaning of life. The theories that emerge from this pursuit are often speculative; they are not based on any observable and measurable evidence. This is precisely where lies the danger! Baggott rightly notes that "the purpose of science is to seek rational explanations and ultimately an understanding of empirical reality by establishing a correspondence between the predictions of scientific theories and the results of observations and measurements."

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This week on the Inquisitive Minds Podcast, we analyse Hector Avalos' book Fighting Words. The Origins of Religious Violence in light of the recent clash between Ben Affleck and Sam Harris on Real Time with Bill Maher (see clip here). The question was whether or not one can critique religion, especially when it promotes bad ideas. Believing that one's religion holds the truth over all others will inevitably lead to conflict. Some see religious pluralism as a way out of this impasse, but according to Avalos, religious pluralism can be good only if it is subservient to secular humanist values. It is truly the only way to bring about non-violent global peace. But how do we contend with the fact that religions often oppose secular humanism's view of the world? Can we truly reconcile religious pluralism and secular humanism? We tackle these and other questions in this week's podcast.

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In this last episode on atheism, we critique Gavin Hyman's idea that today's atheistic discourse is a reaction to modern theological conceptions of God, as expressed thought the work of 14th century philosopher and theologian, John Duns Scotus. In reality, Scotus' theological language is not modern; rather, it is a return to biblical notions about God. Duns Scotus rejected Aquinas' doctrine of analogy and God's ontology in favor of the idea that "being" is univocal to the created and uncreated. In the end, is sophisticated theological discourse too virtual in nature?

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In our series on atheism, we continue our review of Gavin Hyman's article, "Atheism in Modern History." René Descartes' Cartesian model was the rejection of Thomas Aquinas' theological method, where human reason was subject to the authority of divine revelation. Aquinas emphasized God's transcendence through analogical language; he believed that this was the only adequate way one could speak of the divine. Many philosophers, however, insisted on using rationalism and/or empirical sense data, even in the realm of theological inquiry. According to Hyman, modernity brought with it a "domestication of God", where the divine was now defined in quantitative terms, rather than with qualitative language. But Hyman also sees the shift from analogical language to a more "hypostatic" and representational conception of God, as the result of theological speculation in the 14th century C.E.

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