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Thread: Before Darwin, was deism or atheism the most reasonable position?

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    Veteran Member Cheerful Charlie's Avatar
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    For at least a century before Darwin, educated people in Europe, especially England knew evolution had happened. It was well discussed, investigated and debated as to how it occurred. Darwin merely discovered the important principle that explained how evolution worked. One key to that understanding was the discovery that the earth was immensely old by people such as Charles Lyell, whose books Darwin took with him on his voyage of the Beagle. Lots of pieces of the evolution puzzle were being worked out. Which is why Wallace also put the pieces together similarly to Darwin. Demonstrating the discovering the roots of evolution was inevitable. There was so much work being done on evolution, had Darwin and Wallace never existed, somebody else would have sooner or later come up with natural selection.
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    Atheism actually dates back to ancient Greece and Rome in the West (see Battling the Gods by Tim Whitmarsh). They made some arguments that were very much the same as those we're familiar with now. I'd say at least some of their reasons were indeed cogent. Atheism itself dates back even earlier to ancient India, with the Carvaka philosophy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mcc1789 View Post
    Atheism actually dates back to ancient Greece and Rome in the West (see Battling the Gods by Tim Whitmarsh). They made some arguments that were very much the same as those we're familiar with now. I'd say at least some of their reasons were indeed cogent. Atheism itself dates back even earlier to ancient India, with the Carvaka philosophy.
    “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.”

    ~ Seneca the Younger Roman Philosopher 1st century A.D.

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    Atheism was always the most rational position, b/c even the most minimalist deism is logically inconsistent, presuming that the world must have a creator but somehow a creator could exist without it's own creator.

    OTOH, I think Dawkins is correct that the ToE really put the last intellectual nail in the coffin of theism. The flawed argument from design was still by far the best psuedo intellectual argument for a creator. That argument already suffered from fatal logical flaws, but the ToE came along and directly refuted one of it's core premises, which is that there is no process other than a goal-driven mind that can produce a complex thing that serves some function.

    It is easier to fool oneself into buying into a logically flawed argument structure or accepting premises that are baseless but not known falsehoods, than fool oneself by accepting a premise that is a known falsehood. The ToE forced deists and all theists to do the latter, which made any form of theism too intellectually dishonest for many, and thus lead to the rise of secularism where there are not only increasing non-theists, but a majority of label-only "theists" who don't really take the idea of God seriously.

    The religious fundies are quite correct to resist and fear the ToE. "Moderate" theists who pretend they accept evolution are lying to themselves either about their theism or what evolution logically implies.

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    Quote Originally Posted by skepticalbip View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by mcc1789 View Post
    Atheism actually dates back to ancient Greece and Rome in the West (see Battling the Gods by Tim Whitmarsh). They made some arguments that were very much the same as those we're familiar with now. I'd say at least some of their reasons were indeed cogent. Atheism itself dates back even earlier to ancient India, with the Carvaka philosophy.
    “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.”

    ~ Seneca the Younger Roman Philosopher 1st century A.D.
    Apparently it was really said by someone else, possibly Edward Gibbon.https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:S...seful.22_Quote

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    Veteran Member skepticalbip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mcc1789 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by skepticalbip View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by mcc1789 View Post
    Atheism actually dates back to ancient Greece and Rome in the West (see Battling the Gods by Tim Whitmarsh). They made some arguments that were very much the same as those we're familiar with now. I'd say at least some of their reasons were indeed cogent. Atheism itself dates back even earlier to ancient India, with the Carvaka philosophy.
    “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.”

    ~ Seneca the Younger Roman Philosopher 1st century A.D.
    Apparently it was really said by someone else, possibly Edward Gibbon.https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:S...seful.22_Quote
    Interesting... the writer of that piece can't find the quote in Seneca's writings or in Edward Gibbon's writings but prefers to credit Gibbon or maybe someone unknown who assumed from a misreading Gibbon's witings that it was a quote from Seneca.

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    Industrial Grade Linguist Copernicus's Avatar
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    I think that the Greek philosophers and religions were strongly influenced by Indians and Persians even before Alexander invaded their territory. Hinduism and Buddhism also generated atheistic and materialistic movements that were denigrated by believers, e.g. the Charvaka and Lokayata traditions in India.

    Non-materialist skeptics, i.e. most skeptics, have tended to be deists--believers in immaterial forces and causes that likely had nothing to do with conventional ideas about personal deities. Samuel Clemmens (Mark Twain) was a good example of a deist skeptic, but his sort of deism was very popular with prominent individuals since at least revolutionary times.

    I was never impressed with Dawkins' somewhat parochial perspective on the role of Darwin in creating a kind of watershed moment for atheism. Belief in common descent through some unknown process was already widespred when he came along. What Darwin did was provide a clearer alternative to the Argument from Design that was the prevailing point of view among European theologians, scientists, and philosophers of his time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus View Post
    I think that the Greek philosophers and religions were strongly influenced by Indians and Persians even before Alexander invaded their territory.
    This is absolutely true. Consider the life of Democritus:

    Democritus spent the inheritance which his father left him on travels into distant countries, to satisfy his thirst for knowledge. He traveled to Asia, and was even said to have reached India and Ethiopia.

    It is known that he wrote on Babylon and Meroe; he visited Egypt, and Diodorus Siculus states that he lived there for five years. He himself declared that among his contemporaries none had made greater journeys, seen more countries, and met more scholars than himself. He particularly mentions the Egyptian mathematicians, whose knowledge he praises. Theophrastus, too, spoke of him as a man who had seen many countries. During his travels, according to Diogenes Laërtius, he became acquainted with the Chaldean magi. "Ostanes", one of the magi accompanying Xerxes, was also said to have taught him.

    After returning to his native land he occupied himself with natural philosophy. He traveled throughout Greece to acquire a better knowledge of its cultures. He mentions many Greek philosophers in his writings, and his wealth enabled him to purchase their writings. Leucippus, the founder of atomism, was the greatest influence upon him. He also praises Anaxagoras.
    I.e.he traveled widely around the world, and within Greece, to gather knowledge.

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    David Hume came up with a speculative and primitive version of the theory of evolution almost a priori in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. So, in my view, the reasonable position for a clever and well educated person at that time would be atheism rather than deism, even if we accept the (probably specious) claim that some alternative to design was necessary to avoid deism.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tammuz View Post
    "An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: ‘I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.’ I can’t help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." - Richard Dawkins
    I guess it depends on what is satisfying to you. If you like neat answers, then no, it's not satisfying. But if you like a mystery, and an ongoing, ever challenging puzzle, you would love this quote.

    I'm happy with the universe being possibly ultimately unexplainable, or with the realizations that humanity might not ever get very far in solving it completely.

    What I'm most unsatisfied with is that so much of humankind desperately clings to a need for everything to fit neatly into human narratives.
    The Authoritarians

    GOP and Trump supporters will not be able to say they didn't know. Vote in numbers too big to manipulate.

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