Early Atheists

Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,858
New Delhi, India
My choice for the first atheist goes to Parameshthi Prajapati (I hope I remember the name correctly, I will check) who said in RigVeda that Gods are later to the creation of the world:

Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation?
The Gods are later than this world's production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?

By fifth century, there were many, The Charvāks, Ajivakas, Mahāvira Jain, Buddha, and in later times Sāmkhya philosophy, Kanāda of the Indian atomic hypothesis, Jaimini of Poorva Mimāmsa philosophy. Āḷāra Kālāma, a Sāmkhya philosopher was a teacher of young Buddha.
 
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Aug 2019
571
North
Ok but is it true that non materialistic principles are able to have an effect on natural world, no matter if it is considered real or not real in this particular case? If something which exists is depending on observer and his mind to exist that is the case. If so that is divine attribute as i see it, but more in the sense of deism than theism.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in other words. Right?
 

heavenlykaghan

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
4,510
Ok but is it true that non materialistic principles are able to have an effect on natural world, no matter if it is considered real or not real in this particular case? If something which exists is depending on observer and his mind to exist that is the case. If so that is divine attribute as i see it, but more in the sense of deism than theism.
I don't know what you mean by "principle", because I already told you that mahayana Buddhists do not talk about any governing laws which is unchanging, self existing, and operate outside of conditioned arising.

That the mind can affect the natural world is an observable fact, a person intends an action and it WILL affect the physical world. I do not see how that is deism or even religion. It is materialistic determinists who seem to rely on faith and play with definition when they try to explain it away with materialist determinism; how thoughts are created by matter has not been scientifically pinpointed.

With that said, I don't know why you are using western terms and ideas such as Deism which only makes sense in the Christian European context. Buddhist do not talk about a God, creator, or a first cause period. The doctrine of emptiness and dependent origination are saying our ideas of causation and time are conditioned and ultimately defiled. You do not need to believe in a god to talk about the mind being real; that's just western idealism.

Buddhism doesn't talk about deism or theism, it talks about Karma. So your actions and mental intentions affects reality (however ultimately, the entirety of samsara, including karma is a defilement that is constructed). However, your mind is also conditioned by what you observe (forms). There is no metaphysical reality outside of the mind, and many schools of Buddhism (such as early Yogacara) is largely epistemological in nature, not ontological. Zen follows this line of thought and does not talk or speculate about things which are not experienced (not even reincarnation and karma, which most other Buddhists believe in).

Most schools of Buddhism are religious in someways however (in that they believe in rituals, deities, and mediums), only early Buddhism and early Zen can be considered non-theistic with the later even falling under secular.

Neo-Confucianism is purely secular, but also talks about mind being the only thing that is real. However, for them, only moral and epistemology matters, not ontology. The Ming thinker Wang Yangming is a perfect example of a non-materialist athiest. He frequently attacks popular superstitions and believes in the dead and gods. As far as he is concerned, a pure heart is the basis of existence. Everything, including God/gods are irrelevant and disappear when the mind is pure.
In a contemporary Korean Confucian's refutation of Christianity, the former argued that the Confucian sage is pure, morally upright, and has good intention because of his pure nature, while Christians are still selfish. The reason is that a Confucian sage does good things purely out of their good intention's sake, while a Christian does good things because they fear God and the punishment of hell. Hence the Christians are not truly pure, while a pure heart takes precedence over God or any creator.
 
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Sep 2019
404
Slovenia
Well wikipedya says about Wang Yangming: He held that objects do not exist entirely apart from the mind because the mind shapes them. He believed that it is not the world that shapes the mind, but the mind that gives reason to the world. Therefore, the mind alone is the source of all reason. He understood this to be an inner light, an innate moral goodness and understanding of what is good. In order to eliminate selfish desires that cloud the mind's understanding of goodness, one can practice his type of meditation... this is similar to the practice of Zen meditation in Buddism.

As i said i see this more like deism. Why? Because attributes of divine like non-personal principles are put in to the supposed nature of human mind.
 

heavenlykaghan

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
4,510
Well wikipedya says about Wang Yangming: He held that objects do not exist entirely apart from the mind because the mind shapes them. He believed that it is not the world that shapes the mind, but the mind that gives reason to the world. Therefore, the mind alone is the source of all reason. He understood this to be an inner light, an innate moral goodness and understanding of what is good. In order to eliminate selfish desires that cloud the mind's understanding of goodness, one can practice his type of meditation... this is similar to the practice of Zen meditation in Buddism.

As i said i see this more like deism. Why? Because attributes of divine like non-personal principles are put in to the supposed nature of human mind.
This is not deism, because your mind is the source of reason, not God. I don't see any aspect of this which is divine, on the contrast, it is purely based on experience and morality. God is subordinate to your innate moral goodness; which is an objective one strives for to experience based on moral ideals, not a metaphysical speculation. In both Zen and Wang Yangming, the focus is on relevance, not existence. Whether god exist is an irrelevant question, because it isn't directly related to mundane facts and hence not talked about.
In Madhyamaka and Yogacara, the mind and matter are conditioned upon each other, and hence neither are the first causes.
 
Oct 2017
382
America ??
Most religions were founded long before modern science developed, which is only about half a millennium old at most & before that had a very gradual & marginal development, so lacked the technologies & methods & thus the knowledge modern science has revealed, which while proudly maintaining agnostic status about religious mysteries, unfortunately seems to not only be agnostic about any form of afterlife consciousness, but to even disprove it! Now that’s a freakin morbid scary revelation! How cruel nature is!
I certainly do hope humanity manages to find more convincing evidences of afterlife in the future, but as of now that’s all it can remain, a hypothetical hope.

 
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Feb 2019
631
Thrace
Most religions were founded long before modern science developed, which is only about half a millennium old at most & before that had a very gradual & marginal development, so lacked the technologies & methods & thus the knowledge modern science has revealed, which while proudly maintaining agnostic status about religious mysteries, unfortunately seems to not only be agnostic about any form of afterlife consciousness, but to even disprove it! Now that’s a freakin morbid scary revelation! How cruel nature is!
I certainly do hope humanity manages to find more convincing evidences of afterlife in the future, but as of now that’s all it can remain, a hypothetical hope.

Brian Cox makes a similar argument here from 1:23:00 till 1:26:00


But even if consciousness or an aspect of it is a 5th force of nature, the after-life people imagine is still implausible. The more you damage the brain, the more of a vegetable you are, forgetting who your mother is, who you are, how to speak and so on (depending on which part you damage). So the idea that if you damage the whole thing somehow all your mental faculties comeback together because of that sounds like wishful thinking to say the least.
 

sculptingman

Ad Honorem
Oct 2009
3,673
San Diego
The Ruling class of most societies would most likely have featured a great many atheists.

Just because a leader pays lip service to Gods is no reason to believe he or she honestly believes the con.


Henry II prostrating himself over Becket's murder was almost certainly an act of political expediency and not one of Faith.
Henry the VIII Clearly was not concerned over Catholicism being in any meaningful sense the "true faith" despite his recognition that religion was useful for authoritarian rule.- co-opting the role of the Pope for himself.

Anyone well enough educated and widely enough traveled ( the Patricians, the Aristocracy ) certainly would have noticed that different peoples believe different things and each is JUST as certain of their beliefs being the only valid ones.
Anyone long enough lived would have noted no actual miracles ever happening- the wicked going unpunished and the virtuous unrewarded, all with equal randomness.

Just as homosexuals closeted their predilections for fear of social ostracization- Atheists would have concealed their lack of faith and cloaked their cynical vying for power in the verbiage of faith, the same way presidential candidates are forced to in the US of today.

Many writing of Ancient Greeks and Romans hint at individual's doubts of religious veracity- and smack of the same kind of metaphorical usage that, Say, Einstein was known for, often referring to a God he does not actually envision as a God at all, but as simply the nature of reality.

Constantine literally used his conversion to Christianity to undermine Christian's tenet of non-violence, co-opt what was clearly a popular movement, AND undermine the influence of the eastern orthodox church in one fell swoop. Anyone here honestly believe he was worried about having to answer for his actions to any God or Gods?

That Romans so often succumbed to fads of Mithraism, Cults of Isis, Christianity and other exotic religious traditions argues that most sophisticated Romans took a much more Smorgasboard mentality to the idea of religion and is reminiscent of today's tendency in the west for the Semi-atheist quasi religious popularity of Buddhism, Hinduism, and other foreign religions. A trendiness that belies a pretty well established attitude of western ennui towards religious absolutism.

There have always been atheists.
They just never formed a community within the cultures in which they lived.
 
Nov 2016
1,343
Germany
Henry the VIII Clearly was not concerned over Catholicism being in any meaningful sense the "true faith" despite his recognition that religion was useful for authoritarian rule.- co-opting the role of the Pope for himself.
If I understand you correctly, you're assuming Henry VIII was an atheist. May I ask what led you to this opinion? That he considered Catholicism useful to rule a people cannot be the sole reason, for that does not necessarily exclude his belief in a God - or does it? According to your logic, he had 81 alleged heretics burned only because they endangered his authority as ruler, and not because they allegedly betrayed the true faith. But can you prove that?

Simply categorically saying that he and so many other people in the past were atheists is very daring, because you can't prove it in any case except there is a clear atheistic statement.
 

sculptingman

Ad Honorem
Oct 2009
3,673
San Diego
If I understand you correctly, you're assuming Henry VIII was an atheist. Your reasoning suggests this assumption. May I ask what led you to this opinion? That he considered Catholicism useful to rule a people cannot be the sole reason, for that does not necessarily exclude his belief in a God - or does it? According to your logic, he had 81 alleged heretics burned only because they endangered his authority as ruler, and not because they allegedly betrayed the true faith. But can you prove that?

Simply categorically saying that he and so many other people in the past were atheists is very daring, because you can't prove it in any case except where there is a clear atheistic statement.
He was raised to believe ( or at least ACT like he believed) that the Catholic faith was the one true faith.

Is there any evidence to support the idea that he 'believed' that? No. Like any other king or nobleman, he paid deference to the church because the church was a multinational power that had significant influence on the hoi polloi- and whose actions could rally his barons and earls to thwart his rule. They also held considerable property and wealth. ( how pious of them )

He went along with the church in so far as it suited his purposes- but when he wanted YET another divorce- and the Pope would not grant an annulment ( the only divorce the church allowed ) he had finally had enough and made one of the boldest moves in history- he simply kicked the catholics entirely out and NAMED them a "false" religion. Then named HIMSELF the head of the New church . He obviously could not just come out and SAY the it was all poppycock- because MOST people wanted to believe in God, and because the promise of heaven for the good and punishment for the wicked after death was clearly one way of keeping the desperately poor from seeking some portion of justice in the here and now.

So- explain to me how he could have honestly believed in God- and thrown out the only church he had ever known? He was not a conscientious objector to the corruption of the church as was Martin Luther. - He created a replacement church almost exactly the same in every respect of pomp, liturgy, and dogma... its just he replace the Pope, with himself.
He also seized all Church property and wealth and put it in his own pocket.

Given what the church taught him to believe- how do you imagine he could have reconciled those actions ( including the murder of his wives on false witness ) with a God from whom he "honestly" believed he would have to face judgement?

The only rational explanation of his actions is that no matter what he SAID publicly- he never for a moment believed there was any actual God who would condemn him for usurping the throne of St. Peter.

It had only been 17 years since Luther's 95 theses... There was a growing movement of distrust of the Catholic Church's corruption of power. Henry Saw an opportunity to kick the Catholics out so he could do as he pleased. He did NOT adopt the more "pure" perspective of the Luther- who I think honestly believed he was "Fixing" a broken faith. Henry instead kept all the stained glass and gold encrusted pomp- the only thing he did was offer these positions of power to men cynical enough to grab for them. ( they, too, likely never seriously thought they would be judged by God for their actions )

The notion that people of long ago were substantively less intelligent or more gullible than people are today is false. They were just as clever. And just as limited.
There have Always been folks who simply did not fall for the con of religion- It was simply socially more damaging to admit such things in the past.
And think about it- Most atheists in the west still celebrate Xmas by giving gifts.... to outside observers they might appear to be believers.

It is the Assumption that people believe that is an unsupported arrogance.

For example- George Washington went to church- but he never took communion. His priest stopped him one day after church and asked him why and he said he did not believe Jesus was God- nor did he believe that the wafer turned into his body.
The Priest pointed out that he was a public figure and that his not taking communion was noticed by the congregation ans set a bad example. Washington nodded and said he understood the priest's concerns. And he never again went to church.

Was Washington a believer? Or was his and other founding father's expressed 'deism' just the more socially acceptable way to say you didn't believe in the "church". Or was it just a stepping stone on the path from the beliefs they were raised with, yet slowly abandoned, piece by piece, as they matured?

Just the fact that Islam would specify death for any who rejected their faith is proof that all thru history people have lost faith.

Even Mother Teresa admitted in her own diaries that she did not actually believe- she went thru the motions hoping she could regain it.

The self serving actions of far too many kings, popes, cardinals and aristocrats are ample proof they never really feared heavenly judgement.
 
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