Who come first the theist or the atheist

Discussion in 'Religion Archives' started by arauca, Dec 24, 2011.

  1. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member


    My proposition stands by default, post #2 falls.
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  3. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    I told you one cannot argue with an enlightened person.

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  5. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    And I said neither of us qualifies with that description.

    Your post fell several posts ago.

    Anything else on your mind?
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  7. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    If atheism is defined as disbelief in or the denial of the existence of god(s), (strong atheism in other words), then some concept of god(s) would have had to have already existed before anyone could express their disbelief in it. So I think that Wynn's post #2 is correct concerning strong atheism. It does seem to be kind of dependent on and emergent from religious belief in god(s).

    (That's also why strong atheism probably comes in multiple varieties, depending on what concept of god(s) an atheist happens to be denying.)

    On the other hand, if we define atheism simply as lack of belief in god(s), (weak atheism in other words), then if we make the plausible assumption that earlier hominids probably didn't have any distinct concept of god(s), then we can probably say that weak atheism in that minimalist sense is prior to theism.

    I doubt very strongly whether recognizably human beings as a group have ever entirely lacked superstition. (I suspect that religiosity in some inchaoate sense appeared pretty much simultaneously with spoken language.) But I'm inclined to agree with you that the earliest forms of religiosity, which likely predate the emergence of anatomically modern humans and may date back into the time of Homo erectus, might have been some variety (probably multiple varieties) of animism, a sense of uncanny powers residing in natural things and events, powers with wills and intentions much like people have.

    That wouldn't be the product of any big act of imagination or mythmaking. It would simply be the due to the default application of human social instincts that were elaborating to facilitate humans living and cooperating in groups. If human cognition was gradually becoming optimized to understand other people and their motivations, then it's likely that the same cognitive abilities would be applied to inanimate events too, and they would be interpreted as if they had human-like minds, wills and intentions as well.
  8. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    Refuting post #2, I said

    (a) animism precedes theism
    (b) Socrates was labeled an atheist for rejecting animism
    (c) atheism therefore precedes theism

    as proof of (b) I offered:

    I mean the latter - that you are a complete atheist.

    That is an extraordinary statement, Meletus. Why do you say that? Do you mean that I do not believe in the godhead of the sun or moon, which is the common creed of all men?

    I assure you, judges, that he does not believe in them; for he says that the sun is stone, and the moon earth. ​

    wynn withdrew, so I said post #2 falls by default.
  9. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Attempting to refute post #2. Attempting and accomplishing are two different things.

    I don't think that we actually know that, since these kind of ideas emerged in prehistoric times. But it's a plausible speculation.

    I don't think that's historically true. Socrates was unpopular with the popular democratic party in Athens for political reasons associated with the aftermath of the Peloponnesian War. The standard charge that was leveled at political enemies at the time was subversion of religious tradition. In Athens that centered around honoring Athena, the city's patron goddess. There was a huge temple dedicated to her up on the Acropolis that, in typically Greek fashion, doubled as the Athenian treasury. In classical Greece, religious festivals were patriotic as much as religious observances.

    I'm not sure how your (b) is relevant to that conclusion. The origins of religiosity are tens, and more likely hundreds of thousands of years earlier than Socrates. He's a comparatively modern figure from historical times. He lived about 2400 years ago. The Egyptian Pyramids were already ancient, about 2200 years old in his day. Sumerian religion with its well developed gods and goddesses had been around even longer, and prehistoric religion extends back almost endlessly into the past, into the realm of speculation basically, since we don't really have any hard evidence about how it started.

    Whether or not Wynn wants to continue arguing with you doesn't establish the truth or falsity of any speculations about the history of religion.

    I still think that it's true that strong atheism is subsequent to the rise of theism, which is essentially Wynn's point in post #2, if I understand it correctly.

    But I think that you are more likely correct if we are talking about weak atheism. Weak atheism in some minimalist sense probably does predate theism, since if we go back far enough into human origins, we are almost certain to encounter pre-linguistic hominids that didn't have anything like theistic beliefs. Certainly nothing that was shared socially. These pre-human hominids may well have had a well-established individual sense of the uncanny though. That creepy 'haunted-house' feeling might conceivably be the oldest stratum of religion, predating even the emergence of anatomically modern humans and fully developed spoken language.
  10. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    This view of the development of religion/theism may hold if we take for granted the Theory of Evolution.

    If we take for granted the Theory of Evolution, we take for granted that there is no God (or at least that God does not interact with humans).

    Thus resorting to such evolutionist explanations of religion/theism implies strong atheism.

    Strong atheism, however, can exist only as an opposition to theism - so theism must come first.

    So evolutionist explanations of religion/theism are internally illogical.
  11. Arioch Valued Senior Member

    @wynn --

    You say we can't empirically prove that infants don't believe in god? I say that we don't have to. God is a concept that is learned, newborn infants haven't had a chance to learn about god, therefore they don't know about the concept and by default can't believe in it.

    However, as I've said in other threads, we can go much farther than that. Belief in a god or gods is not some simplistic belief, it's a complex concept that has many prerequisites before it can come into fruition in the human mind(though the seeds of it can be planted much earlier). One of these prerequisites is belief in spirits, which is basically what animism is at it's core. Once that's accomplished you need agency detection(which is built into all of us), and not just any sort of agency detection software will do, you need hyperactive agency detection software that will assign agency to just about anything, even things that we know have no causative agent(from lightning strikes to a sudden downpour). Then you need something else, something which informs you that people other than yourself have different stores of knowledge, that they know things that you don't and that you might know things that they don't, we call this mental phenomenon the "theory of mind", and it is definitely a prerequisite for theism.

    Unfortunately for your position that we can't know that newborn infants are default atheists(meaning that they hold absolutely no beliefs on the matter), we do know that humans don't develop a theory of mind until they're three or four years old, sometimes later. This means that until they reach the age where they develop their theory of mind, where they realize that different people know different things, they can't develop a genuine theism, they simply lack the tools required to really believe in a god or gods.

    Ergo, you're wrong again.

    Who takes the theory of evolution for granted? It's tested rigorously on a daily basis and has been for more than a hundred and fifty years now. Not only that but it's passed every single test with flying colors.

    The fact that it works and produces should be enough evidence for you, it's certainly more evidence than any god has ever given any human.

    This is fairly self evidence. Look at all of the unanswered prayers and tell me that there's a god that interacts with humans. If there is then it can't be a christian god, who promised through Jesus that all of the faithful will have their prayers answered.

    Irrelevant and a red herring.

    Another irrelevant red herring.

    Irrelevant and completely wrong, according to some of the best philosophers and scientists in the world anyways. Of course, some troll on an internet forum could be right over all of these much better educated individuals who have studied and practiced in their fields for decades, it could happen that way. But it's incredibly easy for me to choose which one to bet on, I'll side with the people who have a long history of getting things right.

    You can attempt to argue away at reality with half-baked philosophy and your own twisted misunderstanding of logic all you want, but that won't change what reality is.
  12. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    While I can't know it with 100% certainty, I'm very confident that our understanding of human evolution (and biological evolution generally) is correct in its broad outlines. Filling in the details is still a work-in-progress.

    I don't think that follows. It's not particularly difficult to invent theories of theistic evolution and the history of religions provides numerous examples of them, from traditional Indian accounts of world-cycles of growth and degeneration, to the likes of Teilhard de Chardin. It's easily possible to imagine that God created (or otherwise guides) a universe that naturally develops in some meaningful direction, perhaps even towards some ultimate apotheosis.

    I don't think that accepting that mankind has a long evolutionary history necessarily implies strong atheism. Certainly not unless theistic belief has somehow become dependent on the truth of traditional cosmogonic myth.

    That being said, it isn't really a big issue for me, since I basically am a strong atheist when it comes to the traditional theistic deities.

    Well, to the extent that strong atheism is the denial of some concept or idea, the belief that's being denied will have had to have already existed so that the atheist can express disbelief in it. That just stands to reason.

    I don't see why that would be true. I think that the historical accounts of how religious ideas changed over time is probably the best way to approach these questions.

    I'll admit though, that it does kind of contradict more traditional faith-based accounts that have religious ideas suddenly appearing fully-formed as the result of divine revelation, or as somehow having been designed into humans by our supposed creator.

    Though if somebody was determined, it's easy enough to create a teleological-evolutionary theology in which God designed the universe so that intelligence inevitably evolves and grows ever more suited to ultimately knowing God. Those theologies have already been produced by people like Teilhard.
  13. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    Attempting to refute my proof, and accomplishing it, are two different things.

    You may not know it, but if you read Plato you would know what Plato wrote.
    Plato is not prehistory, nor is it speculation, it's an account, nor is it plausible, but the express statement that Socrates was accused of atheism for rejecting animism.

    What, that Plato wrote the words I cited? Yes, that is a historical fact.

    You are ignoring Plato. It really doesn't matter if Socrates even existed. The story shows that the character was accused of atheism for denying animism. That is a linchpin that can't be moved, because the statement is nailed to Plato. He expressly states that atheism was the charge for denying the animism of the day.

    You're not sure of the logic? I said:

    (a) Animism precedes theism.
    (b) Socrates denied animism and was labeled and atheist.
    (c) Therefore, atheism precedes theism.

    Suppose I said instead:
    (a) X precedes Y.
    (b) Z occurs with X.
    (c) Z therefore precedes Y.

    Post #2 falls because
    (1) wynn has no proof
    (2) I do
    (3) no one else has proof earlier than mine.

    Plato would have no insight into modern formulations. He was just addressing the very question that this thread purports to ask, in the day that it was relevant.

    The etymology is Greek. A Greek has spoken on the subject. Post #2 falls.

    Here's more of the text, to jog the memory:

    I have shown, Athenians, as I was saying, that Meletus has no care at all, great or small, about the matter. But still I should like to know, Meletus, in what I am affirmed to corrupt the young. I suppose you mean, as I infer from your indictment, that I teach them not to acknowledge the gods which the state acknowledges, but some other new divinities or spiritual agencies in their stead. These are the lessons which corrupt the youth, as you say.

    Yes, that I say emphatically.

    Then, by the gods, Meletus, of whom we are speaking, tell me and the court, in somewhat plainer terms, what you mean! for I do not as yet understand whether you affirm that I teach others to acknowledge some gods, and therefore do believe in gods and am not an entire atheist - this you do not lay to my charge; but only that they are not the same gods which the city recognizes - the charge is that they are different gods. Or, do you mean to say that I am an atheist simply, and a teacher of atheism?

    I mean the latter - that you are a complete atheist.

    That is an extraordinary statement, Meletus. Why do you say that? Do you mean that I do not believe in the godhead of the sun or moon, which is the common creed of all men?

    I assure you, judges, that he does not believe in them; for he says that the sun is stone, and the moon earth.
  14. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    We don't know that for sure, but it's a plausible speculation.

    I think that you are misunderstanding history there.

    So your argument is that belief in the existence of gods hadn't appeared yet in Socrates' time?

    The thing is, even if animism does predate theism, animism didn't just dissappear when theism made its appearance. There are still animists out there today. Our observing that contemporary animists still exist and saying things about them doesn't imply that theism doesn't yet exist.

    It's just common sense, if somebody is going to deny the existence of something, then the idea or concept of whatever they are denying must already exist. Somebody had to think up the possibility of gods before somebody else could deny their reality.

    Proof earlier than yours?

    Let's look at the text that you quoted. Socrates is presenting a (sort-of) defense at his trial.

    The charges were basically political and the charge of "atheism" was a pretext.

    That's basically what "atheism" meant in the classical Greek context. It typically wasn't a matter of belief so much as behavior. Atheism was something that people did. Basically, it was failure to pay proper honor to the city's patron deities, with which Athens and other Greek cities were identified. Atheism had political connotations and was something vaguely like a charge of disloyalty.

    But the relevant point for this argument is that Socrates speaks of "the gods which the state acknowledges", showing very clearly that the concept of gods already existed. That's not exactly surprising news and every historian of religion already knows that the ancient Greeks had numerous gods. We know that the Sumerians had a fully-formed pantheon of gods and goddesses 3,000 years before that. Nobody really knows how far back into prehistory the idea of gods and goddesses extends.

    Then there's some discussion between Socrates and the prosecutor about whether or not Socrates acknowledges any gods.

    I don't think that we should construe the phrase "believe in the godhead of the sun or moon" as a reference to animism. The sun and moon are heavenly beings, after all, and certainly not earthly. Many ancient peoples associated them or sometimes even identified them with some of their divinities. Socrates kind of suggests that by speaking of "the common creed of all men". The association of the heavenly bodies with divinities was certainly thousands of years old even in Socrates' day, prominently featured in Egyptian religion and already highly elaborated in Mesopotamian astral symbolism.
  15. Arioch Valued Senior Member

    @Yazata --

    But that's what animism is, the belief that things around you(including other humans) have "spirits" of some sort. Hence Aqueous is correct.

    And those religions were examples of animistic religions.

    Yes, and those associations were complex forms of animism.
  16. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    No, you simply accept that your understanding of creation was wrong, and move ahead. The Catholic Church (and others) have already acknowledged this.

    "Evolutionist" is a misnomer. There is no evolutionist, any more than there is a gravitationist, a special-relativist, or a Big-Bangist. To insinuate a false presumption of existence of the subject in order to predicate a conclusion is fallacy.

    Scientists explain religion by the evidence presented. Ancient religions are known by the artifacts of the societies that observed them. Modern religions are known by their teachings, and the historical legacy leading to those teachings.

    Because some religions repudiate teachings from history, archaeology, paleontology, geology, cosmology, biology, physics and/or chemistry (etc.), substituting instead superstition and false teachings, scientists are sometimes asked to demonstrate where the errors in such teachings lie.

    To this extent, scientists perform a function that is not only logical, but also helpful in curbing the deleterious effects upon congregations, especially students, that accompany the belief in false teachings.

    Both statements cited are thus false and this post falls in conjunction with post #2.
  17. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    I am not speaking to any of this.

    I am speaking to the literal text, nothing more.

    The word "atheist" appears in the text.

    It appears as a label for a person named Socrates who is charged by Meletus, in the last phrase of the excerpt, directed to the judges, with a charge of atheism, on account of failing to adhere to the animist belief in the sun and moon as gods.

    To say otherwise is false, if not disingenuous.
  18. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    Interestingly, if he were to pursue that argument, he would have to declare sun and moon worship as a form of theism. This was the irony Plato was driving at. But in today's context, the word "theist" has been whittled down, because of the polemics, such as we have here. Today it means something so different that it practically shocks the conscience of the theist to find himself forced to be on par with a sun and moon worshipper, so a kind of paradox opens up for them.

    And the background for their reaction is the failure to try to understand the time variability of not only languages but the underlying values and principles of the evolving societies. It's the same fallacy with trying to read the Bible literally, especially in a modern context, ignoring the ideas of the day that are sometimes referenced in the text.
  19. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Socrates paraphrased the indictment against him, saying:

    "I suppose you mean, as I infer from your indictment, that I teach them not to acknowledge the gods which the state acknowledges, but some other new divinities or spiritual agencies in their stead."

    Obviously Socrates, the prosecutors and Athenians generally were already familiar with the idea of the Greek gods and goddesses. That comes as no surprise at all to historians of Greek religion. There are many ancient references to the Greek gods and goddesses centuries earlier than Plato, such as Homer and Hesiod. It's just not plausible to argue that the concept of gods and goddesses hadn't yet appeared in Socrates' time.

    On the other hand the word "animist" doesn't appear anywhere in the quoted text.

    The reference to the sun and moon came up when Socrates was trying to answer the stronger charge that he was a total atheist who didn't honor any god. He slyly suggests that everyone accepts that the sun and moon are divine, without actually saying that he shares the belief. (It's not entirely clear whether or not he did.) The prosecutor jumps on it by telling the jury that Socrates believes that the sun and moon are just made of stone and earth.
  20. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    Does any of that matter?
    Look at what I was rebutting:
    Now do you understand?
  21. Arioch Valued Senior Member

    @Yazata --

    Both of your posts are irrelevant. Aqueous' rebuttal of Wynn's post still stands.

    Also, they're irrelevant because animism predates any sort of theism(as it predates civilization and god worship doesn't) and atheism predates theism as the first humans(before any of them worshiped any gods) were all born atheists.
  22. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member



    Strange, indeed, would be my conduct, O men of Athens, if I who, when I was ordered by the generals whom you chose to command me at Potidaea and Amphipolis and Delium, remained where they placed me, like any other man, facing death; if, I say, now, when, as I conceive and imagine, God orders me to fulfil the philosopher's mission of searching into myself and other men, I were to desert my post through fear of death, or any other fear; that would indeed be strange, and I might justly be arraigned in court for denying the existence of the gods, if I disobeyed the oracle because I was afraid of death: then I should be fancying that I was wise when I was not wise.​

    Socrates was the closest thing to a theist among them.
    He was declared atheist for rejecting the pantheon in favor of Theos.

    This was why I objected to post #2 - it disregards the root meaning of words.
  23. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Wynn appears to have just been pointing out that it's going to be awfully hard for somebody to deny the reality of something that they've never heard of.

    On the other hand, I don't see any problem at all with my lacking belief in an effectively infinite number of things that I've never heard of.

    In other words, think that Wynn was right about strong atheism, but wrong about weak atheism.

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