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What is interesting is that there was a de facto atheism prior to the 19th century among the deists. When one's "God" is either an impersonal Being unenvolved in the universe except to enable it ot exist, then one is for all intents and purposes an atheist. (Since even modern atheists accept the same thing and simply wouldn't call it God) Likewise if one holds, like Spinoza, a view that the universe is God (similar to the Stoics) then one is basically an atheist as well. Once again even modern atheists are often comfortable with these views.

While postmodernism does restore a spiritual dimension, it often does so in a fashion not unlike those 17th century figures. (Or the philosophical religions of late antiquity)

The point I'm trying to get at is that the distinction between the theists and the atheists is often very blurry at best. The real issue is whether there are personal interventionist Gods or not.

Clark, I'd agree. The Epicureans, who believed in gods but made them comfortably distant and utterly uninterested in human affairs, were regularly accused of being atheists. And Deism, in hindsight, looks like atheism without the benefit of the Big Bang theory and evolution to explain Creation and humankind.

On the other hand, defining the terms and limits of divine intervention gets tricky. Theology is uncomfortable with, for example, the idea of petitionary prayer, but practical religion doesn't make much sense without it.

The real debate in the atheism issue is less atheism per se, than the questioning of the general conception of God one finds in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. Afterall in Buddhism there isn't a "god" per se, except in the view that there are all sorts of demi-Gods. However lots of significant Buddhist texts, such as the Lotus Sutra, suggest that these Gods are more semi-falsehoods designed for the minds of children. i.e. the idea that the allegorical truth is higher and more correct than the literal truth. Basically a canonized form of mythic Criticism.

The one outlier is Hinduism, especially given the growing strength of fundamentalist Hinduism.

But by and large, it is that general conception of God by the Hebrews and modified by the Greeks that is the topic of debate.

Clark, that helps explain why strict atheism of the type discussed by McGrath is a largely European phenomenon. I think he may have made some remarks along those lines somewhere in the book, and he would probably agree with that line of thinking as in line with his view that strict atheism flourished in the historical circumstances of 19th-century Europe but has floundered in the 20th century.

It's striking how close Korihor's arguments in Alma 30 are to 18th and 19th century anti-clerical atheism.

I don't think it that uncommon, Ed, which was why I brought it up. Charges of atheism were rather common (look at Socrates). There were always several ways of dealing with it. The first is by purporting to follow the religion but really allegorizing away the significant parts. The other is to follow a kind of "double truth," such as we find in Islam around the 10th century. The last is to confront it head on. Korihor does the latter, and thus seems to parallel some of the 19th century figures.

Clark, do you know some specific examples of arguments similar to Korihor's prior to the 18th century? (I'm just curious, and you know way more about this than I do.)

Certainly, the idea that stories about the gods can serve as mechanisms of social control is at least as old as Plato's Republic, where the argument is made rather explicitly. Plato, of course, was anything but an atheist in the Huxley sense...

I've not read the original texts, but I believe Anaxogoras, Diagoras and Protagoras are typically considered the classic Greek atheists. As Nate points out, while Plato and Socrates might be considered de facto atheists and were criticized as atheists, they really weren't atheists in the way say Korihor appears to be.

Of course even Anaxogoras thought the original source of movement was God, although he denied what the Greeks generally called gods. He said that what the Greeks called gods were abstractions that had been anthropomorphized. Unfortunately we don't have any original texts of his writings on that.

The Epicureans of course had arguments quite similar to Korihor: "I declare that the vain fear of death and that of the gods grip many of us, and that joy of real value is generated not by theatres and ...and baths and perfumes and ointments, which we have left to the masses, but by natural science..." (Epicurean inscription)

The best overview of ancient atheism I've found is at the Encyclopedia of Religion and Science

Just to add to the above, since we don't have Korihor's view of things, only a secondary source biased towards the Nephite-Christian view, it may be somewhat like Plato. i.e. how Plato's enemies portrayed him and how Plato portrayed himself were different. For all we know Korihor accept a "God," but not the Nephite-Christian God/Christ.

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