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

This last episode on Whitmarsh's Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World focuses on atheism in the Roman Empire. The rise of Rome brought with it the belief that the Empire's existence was the result of a divine mandate. Some opposing voices were raised against this idea of divine providence. Atheistic arguments circulated through various doxographies written mostly by people opposing non-believers. These texts give us insight into how disbelievers argued somewhat successfully against theistic perspectives. As Rome embraced Christianity, rulers such as Theodosius I (379-395 CE) established that it was now insufficient to simply adopt the right religion; one also needed to adhere to the right theological position on the right religion. Codex Theodosianus goes as far as treating "heresy" (which was now clearly understood as an incorrect theological position) as crime against the state. According to this law, "any crime committed against divine religion is treated as an aggression against everyone".

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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 start a series of podcasts discussing Tim Whitmarsh's, Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World. In this episode we will discuss how the ancient Greek world differentiated between the sacred and the profane, despite the fact that people embraced polytheism. We will also note that Greeks did not consider their texts as sacred, certainly not in the sense Jews, Christians and Muslims understand their own scriptures. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey were not sacred texts even if they are comprised of divine characters; these are rather to be understood as myth. We will end our podcast with an important note on the concept of "mimesis" and how such a practice could be understood as a "battle with the gods" (theomachy), a way to contest their very existence.

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In this last episode dedicated to Phil Zuckerman's book Living the Secular Life, we discuss the concept of "aweism". Zuckerman recognizes that theists, atheists, and agnostics do not understand everything about life; there are still "mysteries" about the world and the universe that one cannot yet grasp. What is life's purpose? How do we understand our place in the universe? Accordingly, Zuckerman says that "a lack of belief in God does not render this world any less wondrous, lush, mystifying, or amazing... One need not have God to feel and experience awe. One just needs life."

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Secular societies are sometimes perceived by certain religiously minded people as hell on earth. But according to Phil Zuckeman, in his most recent book, The Secular Life, the current state of the world shows that it is among the most secular societies that one can find the greatest levels of equality, social harmony, peacefulness, civility, prosperity, and freedom. In opposition to this state of affairs, most religiously oriented societies have the greatest levels of poverty, oppression, chaos, immorality, insecurity, destitution, and inequality in the world.

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Some people see secularism as a positive personal orientation which focuses on the here and now, and is concerned with people and nature, life and existence. This week, we continue our discussion of The Secular Life by Phil Zuckerman. In his book, Zuckerman notes that George Jacob Holyoake was the first person to coin the term "secularism" in 1851. Holyoake defined secularism as "a code of duty pertaining to this life, founded on considerations purely human, and intended mainly for those who find theology indefinite or inadequate, unreliable or unbelievable. Its essential principles are three: (1) The improvement of this life by material means. (2) That science is the available Providence of man. (3) That it is good to do good. Whether there be other good or not, the good of this present life is good, and it is good to seek that good."

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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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This week's podcast is dedicated to the social impact of atheism. Some people today are "coming out" as atheists and speak about how religion has negatively affected their lives. They also advocate for a complete separation of government and religion. In the past few years, we have seen the rise of what some call the "New Atheists". Often labelled as radical and outspoken, these individuals have made a tremendous impact on the lives of millions people through their writings; for example, just think of the influential works of the famous "Four Horsemen": Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris. Many other prominent writers, bloggers, and vloggers have now followed their lead. But what exactly is atheism? How does it differ from theism and other forms of beliefs or non-beliefs? These are some of the questions we address in this episode.
 
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