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

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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In this week's episode, we discuss the content of Gavin Hyman's interesting piece in the Cambridge Companion to Atheism entitled, "Atheism in Modern History." In his article, Hyman describes what he considers being an inextricable connection between atheism and modernity. He also explains how the English term "atheism" was first used in 1540 by Sir John Clarke in his translation of Plutarch's On Superstition, and was understood as "a denial of the intervention of divine providence, rather than a denial of the existence of God." It is only in the 18th and 19th centuries that the expression was used in a self-definitional way by French philosopher Denis Diderot, and by Charles Bradlaugh, a British parliamentary member who founded the National Secular Society in 1866.


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