Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A series on arguments for atheism: The Argument from Intellectual Progress

A redated post from about two years ago.

I found a page I had written on some arguments for atheism which I am not sure I have ever written spelled out as such, but seem to be implicit in a lot of people's thinking. Here's one, the Argument from Intellectual Progress:

1) Human thought has progressed from the earliest days of humanity until now.
2) In the infancy of the human race, humans believe that everything was divine: rocks, trees, etc.
3) Then humans believed in many gods but rejected the divinity of rocks and trees.
4) Then humans went from polytheism to monotheism with the rise of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, reducing the number of deities to one (or three-in-one, as the case might be.
5) At first these religions were accepted with a full-blown supernaturalism. More recently, even adherents of these religions have seen fit to modify their commitment to the supernatural. They acknowledge that the supernatural exists but are more reticent than their ancestors in attibuting things to the supernatural.
6) In the Eighteenth Century belief in God was reduced by the deists to a being who would up the universe like a watch. In the nineteenth century, after Darwin, atheism became a serious possiblity for many intelligent poeple. No in many educated groups, atheism is virtually taken for granted.
7) If we trace the logical conclusion of human thought, we will find that it is leading in the direction of the rejection of gods entirely. Perhaps in the 24th Century most people will be atheists, with a few theists hanging on in the outlying counties.

Of course I don't buy this argument, as I think it falls victim to Lewis's critique of chronological snobbery. But I would like to get some discussion on this.


Hallq said...

The polytheism-->monotheism arg't I've heard used in a joking fashion, "If one god is progress over many gods, isn't no gods progress over one god?" The argument that gets put forward seriously is more along the lines of, "In the history of science, there are many instances of supernatural explanations being overturned for natural ones, but no instances of natural explanations being overturned for supernatural ones. Therefore, probably everything has a natural explanation." As a probablistic argument the structure looks fine, though it assumes a lot, and (unlike many of my fellow atheists) I'm uneasy with the natural/supernatural distinction.

vjack said...

Since I view atheism as being a lack of theistic belief, I see little value in arguments for atheism. The only arguments necessary are those against religion. And yet, the reality of the matter is that no arguments against religion even need to be mounted. The theist making the belief claim bears the burden, and it is a burden which has hardly been met. All the atheist needs to point out is that the theist has provided no compelling rationale or evidence.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that this animism to polytheism to monotheism progression is not accurate. As far as we can tell, monotheism was one of the earliest religious beliefs, if not the earliest. However, I don't think this really addresses the substance of this atheist argument, but it does address its details. I wrote about this on my blog a little while ago: http://www.oregonlive.com/weblogs/religionblog/index.ssf?/mtlogs/olive_religion/archives/2007_03.html#243599

Blue Devil Knight said...

I think this argument (or, suite of arguments, really) lends support to atheism: not a knock-down argument standing alone, but part of a web of arguments that are consistent, coherent, and jointly sufficient to establish that atheism is reasonable.

Dawkins quip that everyone is an atheist wrt Zeus, and modern-day atheists just go one god further, while obviously a bit superficial and cutesy, is a brilliant little sound byte. It captures quite well where many atheists are coming from.

w said...

I guess I fail to see how this is an argument--i.e. a conclusion following from premises. If it is an argument "for atheism," shouldn't its conclusion be "Therefore atheism is true/probably true"?

Out of curiosity, which of these seven do you disagree with and why?

It seems you would probably agree with (1), but maybe conditionally (e.g. "progressed" in science and, perhaps, morality [think slavery and misogyny]). You might object that human thought has progressed in the area of religion.

(2) & (3) are empirical, and I don't think you would object to them, right?

(4) also seems to be an empirical matter, but maybe more controversial; it also seems to have some pretty good support.

(5) seems empirically true as well; do you disagree?

It appears that (6) is true as well and I'm not sure whether you would disagree.

(7), I guess is the most controversial. It seems to me, though, that even a Christian could agree to it. Even if most people are atheists, that wouldn't make atheism true, and it seems conceivable that most people could end up rejecting belief in a god.

I find myself believing all of the points, but I don't think of it as an argument. It says nothing about the truth or falsity of the existence of a god.

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

Please forgive the length of this.

It seems to me that Lewis's argument against "chronological snobbery" is no more universally applicable than Ockham's principle of parsimony-- sc., it is only valid (useful) in cases where the concept of "progress" does not apply.

With respect to the accumulation of knowledge about the universe, for example (better known these days as "science"), chronological snobbery -- at least in some guarded form -- is a reasonable approach. The Galilean model of local space is better than the Ptolemaic. Einstein's model of mechanics is better than Newton's, which is better than Aristotle's. And so on.

Is there, then, a real and valid progress from pantheism to polytheism to monotheism? It is hard for us, qua Christians, to say that there is not; how then shall we argue that the next step (to atheism) is not progress?

One obvious answer is to say "It's progress only as long as you're moving toward where you want to be; once you're there, continuing to move in that direction is counterproductive." But that presupposes knowledge of "where you want to be" -- which I take to mean not "the answer to the God question which I happen to like," but "the correct answer to the God question."

And here we are on a bit of a cleft stick, because if there were no God, it would not be necessary to invent Him. If, somehow, some absolutely and inarguably valid proof for the non-existence of God were to be published, then it would be the duty of every honest Christian to become an atheist*. We cannot simply say, then, "This is where we stop." We must give reasons why monotheism is better than both polytheism and atheism.

(* Lacking proof, I am in a sense an agnostic; I believe in the existence of God but do not know that God exists, and believe that any claim of knowing either way, save for those who have had some mystical experience, is fundamentally dishonest.)

But what reasons can we give? I've been following the Anderson-Hitchens debate with some interest, and noting that they are essentially talking past one another. It's rather like a Presidential "debate"; neither candidate really pays attention to what the other says, except as a "trigger" (in the algorithmic sense) to bring out his own talking points.

Amanda said...

I see no need to agree with point number 1. First, the word "progress" needs to be defined and that may be the hardest part. Until that is done, until the word "progress" is defined, a conversation on this topic can not truly be had. Although it may be interesting.

Ok, so my take on progress? To say that something is progressing is to presuppose where it is going. In other words, you must know where it is going in order to know whether it is getting closer or not. For us to say that we are progressing, is to assume the answer to the question. We have begged the question. We have done the impossible and haven't even pointed it out. Is it progress to believe in God? Then we are failing. Is it progress to not believe in God? Then we are succeeding. Here, presuppositions must be defined (as in most arguments) and, once again, it turns out that 1) the presuppositions determine your ending point, and 2) the presuppositions aren't actually arguable. In other words, for presuppositions to truly be presuppositions, you can't argue them. They are axiomatic. Such is the nature with dealing with all true philosophical questions. They are dilemmas because you've gotten so basic (i.e. to the foundations of life, and these foundations tend to be opaque).

However, with this impossible dilemma in mind, we should continue, if for no other reason than it's fun (and obviously carries weight/ramifications with whatever position you choose).

I also feel no need to accept science as the ultimate authority on anything. Why? There is no finite, ultimate authority on anything. I feel the need to seriously consider the claims of science. I love and respect science but it is not ultimate in its authority. It is made up of humans. Who trusts humans completely? Trust should be partial when it's in relation to something finite.

Again, the word "progress" has got to be defined. And why do we think things work so linearly? Purely because it is in our favor at this point in time?

Victor Reppert said...

It seems to me as if the argument needs the premise "therefore, the beliefs of previous generations are less likely to be true than the beliefs of subsequent generations.

As such it suffers from excessive generality, since while in some areas beliefs are more likely to be true the further we progress, it is less than perfectly clear that this is true in all areas. Particle physics, yeah, ethics, in spite of some areas in which we have progressed, not so sure.

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...


I have to disagree with this:

...while in some areas beliefs are more likely to be true the further we progress, it is less than perfectly clear that this is true in all areas. Particle physics, yeah, ethics, in spite of some areas in which we have progressed, not so sure.

I see a great deal of evidence for progress in ethics.

A good example: the Catholic church denouncing anti-Semitism.

A better, if slightly more complex, example: the Inquisition was based on the idea that "error has no rights." This was correct so far as it went, but missed the point that people who hold to errors still do have rights. Attack heresy, but that doesn't mean torture heretics. Recognizing this point is a huge ethical advance (as is the Protestant advance of not burning and "pressing" Catholics as heretics).

Better still: I see a clear advance from unlimited monarchy to the Magna Carta to the American Constitution and Bill of Rights, to the additional amendments that ended slavery and extended the franchise, and the right to public office, to all citizens. Each of these advances built on its predecessor, was possible only as a result of its predecessor, and is (to my mind) clearly ethically superior to its predecessor.

This is not to say that all changes are advancements (some are not) or that advances cannot be lost (they can), but that there is a long-term (many centuries) trend toward a more ethical society.

Naturally, I am inclined to believe that this advancement is powered rather significantly by monotheism in general and Christianity in particular, but I admit I am biased here.

J. Clark said...

I'll shake hands with Amanda and agree you must define progress. Without doing so anyone could subject history to their own design of progress. The claim for moral progress is foolishness. Though I don't adhere to the "we're going to hell in a hand basket" theory and that every former generation was better than the present one, I also don't hold to the we are better off than ever before. Good God, more people are murdered in U.S. cities daily than killed in Iraq daily which by even effeminate standards is a war. I don't know that you could even advance such an argument at all especially based on corporate proofs like the Catholic church publicly confessing that anti-semitism is wrong; this says nothing for if the people actually believe such. We also must not confuse technological progress with moral and ethical progress. I'm not sure much has changed in that arena. There is a great debate going on right now with Hitchens and Doug Wilson at http://www.ctlibrary.com/44877 In the words of Wilson: "On the question of morality, you say that you are "simply reluctant" to say that if religious faith falls, then the undergirding decency must fall also. But your behavior goes far beyond a mere "reluctance to concede." Your book and your installments in this debate thus far are filled with fierce denunciations of various manifestations of immorality. You are playing Savonarola here, and I simply want to know the basis of your florid denunciations. You preach like some hot gospeler—with a floppy leather-bound book and all. I know the book is not the Bible and so all I want to know is what book it is, and why it has anything to do with me. Why should anyone listen to your jeremiads against weirdbeards in the Middle East or fundamentalist Baptists from Virginia like Falwell? On your terms, you are just a random collection of protoplasm, noisier than most, but no more authoritative than any—which is to say, not at all."

Timmo said...


I think this is a pretty terrible argument, starting with the first line. 1) is a very, very vague statement. What does it even mean to say that human thought has progressed until now? How can we possibly draw substantive conclusions from this or make meaningful generalizations about the course of history? What is 'progress' and what criteria can we use to identify it?

Then the argument rehearses a perceived historical trend from animism, to polytheism, to monotheism, to deism, to atheism. I do not know if there really evidence that human beings are turning away from believing in supernatural beings -- the billions of non-naturalists in the world are evidence enough against that.

Plus, even more deviously, it is a highly euro-centric argument. People in Africa were not progressing beyond animism, nor were adherents to Shinto in Japan. Their belief-structures were destroyed by Western imperialism. And, Hindus who maintain that Brahman encompasses everything in the world will reject the idea that "human beings" have turned away from thinking of ordinary things like rocks and trees as something divine.

The argument comes down to this: because over time Westerners have become more naturalistic over time, naturalism is true. I have to say that this way of thinking is simply disgusting.

Anonymous said...

Theism, broadly defined, is just the belief in existence of at least one god. Contrasted with this is atheism: broadly defines, atheism is the absence of belief in the existence of any gods. Most disagreement over this comes from Christians who insist that atheism must be the denial of gods, or at least of their god. More absence of belief in gods is, they claim, properly labeled agnosticism - even though agnosticism has it's own definition. The broad definition of atheism is most accurate. It's not only the definition atheists use, but it's supported by most comprehensive, unabridged dictionaries. The superiority of the broad over the narrow definition lies in the fact that it allows us to describe a wider range of positions.

Anonymous said...

A rookie question: How do you re-post on blogspot? Any advice would be appreciated!:-)

Nullasalus said...

It's a bad argument, mostly because it relies on quite a lot of equivocation.

1) There's an implied dependency on a firm distinction between 'divine' and 'natural', or more properly 'natural' and 'supernatural'. Thus, once upon a time everything was supernatural, then just living things were, then just humans were, then just gods were, etc, and if you follow the graph line eventually nothing will be supernatural.

The problem is that there's never been such a firm distinction between the two, certainly not in any agreed-upon way. Natural events and things can take on supernatural aspects in particular situations (Say, having a prophecy of an earthquake), ostensibly supernatural situations can be viewed in a natural way (You can achieve things in, say, a Matrix scenario that seem as supernatural and magical as anything - but if it's taking place in a simulated reality, why can't you call it all natural?)

In other words, one foot of the argument is firmly grounded in little more than a casual subjective perspective. Maybe you can argue that there's a cultural movement in the direction of atheism (even that would be tricky), but there's no argument 'for' atheism here.

2) The other foot of the argument is rooted in misunderstandings about God and gods. 'People believed in many gods once upon a time, then fewer, until finally 1. And the next step after 1 is 0.'

First, you may as well argue that everyone's on the route to idealism or solipsism then, because once upon a time people believed in many different planes of reality (Various levels of hell, various levels of heaven, various realms of strange beings), until it became fewer and fewer, until finally 'just this universe', and inevitably that will be discarded too.

Second, there's a problem with casting theists as 'atheists about other people's gods'. I think Victor would agree that the God Calvinists describe is in some ways a very different God than the one he describes. Yet does that mean Victor doesn't believe in the God Calvinists do? That doesn't seem right. Likewise, I (as a Catholic) don't believe in typical depictions of the greek pantheon, or the norse pantheon, etc. However, I do believe in a lot of qualities shared between their view of the divine and my own - of a creation of the universe, an established and purposeful order and morality, judgment, etc. Obviously there are serious disagreements about the nature of the divine, but a belief IN the divine is shared, and singular.

So there's been no real dwindling in 'gods' either. Not in the way that's necessary for the argument to remain well-grounded.

3) As a side-note, the entire line of thought clashes with Peter Singer's philosophies, as he draws a whole lot of justification for tolerating given acts and attitudes from far back in human history. But if there's been a real progression in human thought, then it's a progression of ethics and morality as well - and an impetus to 'reach backward' means even worldwide atheism in the 24th century may yield worldwide theism in the 26th century.

4) As a final aside, one of the reasons for the perceived distinction between supernatural acts and natural acts has been the common supposition that anything supernatural can't be directly perceived. But 'natural' mechanism have proven sufficient for achieving some amazing things in practice (Computer simulations, quantum weirdness, etc) and theory (Think about what the Big Bang describes - all the universe compressed to a tiny point - and tell me if, emotionally, it sounds like a natural or supernatural event). These realizations were part of the motivation towards deism - along with a far older justification. Namely, if God is omniscient and omnipotent, there is no need for God to actively intervene in any situation - the events have been foreseen, and accounted for, well in advance. A deistic viewpoint is not a retreat of God, but a logical consequence of certain considerations of God's traits.

Basically, what's provided is not an argument 'for atheism'. It's a flawed rendition of history built around an optimistic (for atheists, I suppose) view of cultural development. Oddly enough, it also seems downright teleological - a progression of intellectual history towards a 'final belief'. One could imagine theists employing the same argument, with the assumption that any cultural atheism is an anomaly destined to die out and be swallowed up by monotheism.

Victor Reppert said...

I think the argument is pretty dismal myself. But doesn't it reflect a lot of what comes from out of the word-processors of many atheists?

Joel said...

Even granting the general structure of the argument, #4 is highly debatable. Judaism is significantly older than Islam and Christianity, that point makes it sound like they all came at about the same time. Now some will say that Judaism was originally poly/henotheistic and evolved into monotheism, but that's certainly not a settled matter.

The notion of progress is questionable too. Having a greater body of knowledge does not necessarily translate to greater INTELLIGENCE per se, and the case for moral progress is even shakier. The 20th century was amazingly bloody, and our current century is off to an unstable and uncertain start.

Ilíon said...

On top of which, "progress" is meaningless ... unless there is a goal towards which to progress, or at minimum, unless there is a standard to by which to measure and evaluate the so-called progress.

There is a vast difference between a experiencing mere state-change and making progress.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #1 is (somewhat) correct. Read Rodney Stark's newest book, Discovering God, namely ch.1, Gods in Primitive Societies. I don't have the book with me right now, though, so I'll hold off on saying anything else for now.

Solon said...

>>I see a great deal of evidence for progress in ethics.
>>a huge ethical advance
>>Better still: I see a clear advance from
>>clearly ethically superior to its predecessor.

None of that is correct, nor is there any ground for such claims. What there is progress toward is a particular view and stance (Christian mythology of divine souls transfigured into liberal-democracy and human rights) which is no more "ethically" justified than other stances. Hence not ethical progress, but progress toward power.

>>The notion of progress

The notion is quite clear on this post's subject: progress toward truth. Clearly revelation is not the implicit standard of truth there, scientific method is. As scientific method says it can't know that gods cause these things, but it can explain them otherwise, then the argument stands.

Nonetheless, the argument is typically complacent.


1. The true world -- unattainable but for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man; he lives in it, he is it.

(The oldest form of the idea, relatively sensible, simple and persuasive. A circumlocution for the sentence, "I, Plato, am the truth.")

2. The true world -- unattainable for now, but promised for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man ("for the sinner who repents").

(Progress of the idea: it becomes more subtle, insidious, incomprehensible -- it becomes female, it becomes Christian.)

3. The true world -- unattainable, indemonstrable, unpromisable; but the very thought of it -- a consolidation, an obligation, an imperative.

(At bottom, the old sun, but seen through mist and skepticism. The idea has become elusive, pale, Nordic, Konigsbergian)

4. The true world -- unattainable? At any rate, unattained, and being unattained, also unknown. Consequently, not consoling, redeeming, or obligating: how could something unknown obligate us?

(Gray morning, The first yawn of reason. The cockcrow of positivism)

5. The "true" world -- an idea which is no longer good for anything, not even obligating -- an idea which has become useless and superfluous -- consequently a refuted idea: let us abolish it!

(Bright day; breakfast: return of bon sens and cheer-fulness; Plato's embarrassed blush; pandemonium of all free spirits.)

6. The true world -- we have abolished. What world has remained? The apparent one perhaps? But no! With the true world we also have abolished the apparent one.

(Noon: moment of the briefest shadow; end of the longest error; high point of humanity; INCIPIT ZARATHUSTRA.')

Ilíon said...

How cool is this!?

A 'scientiste' (think of Miss Piggy, The Artiste) has deigned to share some scientism with us!

Oh! Happy Day!

Steven said...

I don't understand how anyone can know premises 2 and 3. Besides that, there are still some polytheistic religions alive and well, like Hinduism.

And I don't see how this argument proves anything. Even if human intellectual progress is going towards atheism (which it isn't), that doesn't prove atheism.

shiningwhiffle said...

This reminds me of the quote you see thrown around about how "you and I are both atheists, I just go one god further." I literally responded one time, "So, only pagans are theists?"

So, yeah, I agree this seems to be an important, if rarely-expressed, line in anti-theists' thinking.

But, to add to what Timmo has already said, even in the West no such pattern really holds. The ancient polytheists' god-count went up and down over time as new gods were added and old gods merged or dropped. The Christian Trinity is arguably a reversal of Judaism's more strictly monotheistic direction. Then Mormons expanded the pantheon astronomically (in Mormon theology, there are literally infinite gods and goddesses out there, and they reject the Trinity). Then of course you have the recent rise of neo-paganism.

So, yeah. This is false, and so what if it were true?

finney said...

A Christian myself, I tend to agree with BDK. This particular version of the argument isn't compelling to me, but the general picture these kinds of arguments paint is foreboding. If I hadn't other compelling reasons to be a Christian, this argument, or something like it, would have been influential.

To say that it's intellectual snobbery is an ad hominem criticism. The point may be seen as an argument about methodology in obtaining knowledge about the world. It does seem that religious belief is much less predictive than, and is subservient to, scientific methods of understanding the world. This is a very simple point. It is easily thwarted by other cumulative arguments, of course, but it's not exactly fallacious.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I agree with "w" there isn't really an argument, just some considerations about how the scope of the supernatural tends to get more restricted over time. The extreme end point of this restriction process is the null set.

BenYachov said...

To elaborate on BDK's insight. This "argument" is to an Atheist what Pascal's Wager is to a Theist.

In either case you already believe or disbelieve in God & the "argument" is merely a support or motivation to continue in either belief or non-belief.

Neither is a knockdown "proof" designed to move the other side.

PatrickH said...

"Dawkins quip that everyone is an atheist wrt Zeus..." is mistaken.

Christians are not atheists with respect to Zeus, they're Christians with respect to Zeus.

As for the claim that Christians do not believe in Zeus for the same reason Dawkins does not believe in God, well, that's wrong too. Unless Dawkins' stated reasons for not believing in God are bs. Which they very well may be.

I'm curious about why intelligent atheists seem to take the one god further pseudo-argument seriously at all. They don't seem to have done the reading, questioning, investigating to justify the "argument" at all, any more than have the "Courtier's Reply!" shouters. Heck, they're probably the same people.

But there are some questions the OGFers really ought to ask, at least once, maybe, when they have the time, maybe, please? It would be so nice to hear a real question really asked by an atheist.

The kind of question it would be soooo nice to hear: Do Christians disbelieve in Vishnu? How about the Tao? Is there a single stance that Christians take or are inclined to take or are expected or required to take as Christians toward Vishnu other than straight-up disbelief?

Some possible stances an atheist might think to ask Christians about....

Vishnu: a demon? Vishnu: an angelic being? Vishnu: the misidentified sustaining principle of the universe, i.e. the Logos? Vishnu: the impersonal sustaining principle of the universe misidentified as a personal figure? Vishnu: the Tao? Vishnu: something else inaccessible to Christians as non-Hindus and so something whose existence Christians genuinely refrain from taking any position at all?

Now, as a Christian, I don't claim to know what Vishnavites are even talking about when they refer to Vishnu, so I have no idea whether as a Christian I am to deny his existence. And I don't think atheists have any idea either.

All of those possible stances assert the existence of Vishnu in some way, or at least refrain from denial of existence. It does no good to say that Christians do deny the reality of Vishnu insofar as they deny Vishnu's fundamental or supreme deity. I assert the existence of all sorts of supernatural beings while denying them the title of supreme being, and that is enough for most atheists to put me in the theistic camp together with the Thorians, the Zeusines, the Pastafarians ... and the Vishnavites.

OGF types really should ask people more questions. Even theists like Christians and Vishnavites and all sorts of other interesting people in whom it might be worth while to show some interest. At least enough interest to ask them one question. Even two or three! Come on atheists! ONE QUESTION! You can do it.

Tony Hoffman said...

Yeah, I started to dash out my thoughts on the post but I then I did a little more reading and I see that Nusallas has pretty much covered what I would say.

This is a awfully vague and somewhat unintelligible post; what are your reasons for putting it out there again without modification to the previous comments? In other words, reading the comments here, isn't it obvious that you haven't defined your terms adequately the first time (supernatural comes to mind), and this is not really even an argument?

finney said...

As one might say, I believe in one more God than you do. When you know why I accept mine, you'll know why I rejected all the others.

Blue Devil Knight said...

"Christians are not atheists with respect to Zeus, they're Christians with respect to Zeus."

When I was a Christian, I didn't believe that Zeus, Athena, etc. existed. Perhaps other Christians have a different take.

The point is, there is a winnowing down of the supernatural that has happened, and the extrapolation is the null set.

Whether the extrapolation is justified is, of course, the key point of contention. I don't think it is, without a lot of further considerations.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Note I wrote that I liked that quip in 2007, and that even then I called it superficial and cutesy. It has become somewhat banal, but it still has some force. It isn't a deductive argument as much as a useful heuristic for those Christians who literally have trouble conceiving of how you could be an atheist. In practice, it is the most useful heuristic I have found for people with such blocks.

And they do exist, aplenty, in North Carolina. People have looked at me when I said I was an atheist, and literally not understood what I meant (e.g., one thought I was saying I was Jewish).

Anyway, I think Victor could have worded it better--there is a kind of historical induction over the history of restriction of scope of supernatural claims that makes for an interesting argument (inductive argument, incidentally).

Blue Devil Knight said...

To see the overall lack of usefulness of such arguments, just look up 'pessimistic induction' to see how silly it can get. Unfortunately I think Ben Yachov is largely right: many of these arguments are there to support what you already believe, and serve a kind of confabulatory role.

William said...

The usual argument against pessimistic induction is that is ignores that theory change is that of changes in a model of data, not a total revision of the data itself.

What is the relatively fixed data here? That people are often religious? How much is that changing?

rank sophist said...

Point one is obviously false to anyone who has studied the history of thought and/or culture for even a small amount of time. In many ideological and moral respects, the modern US is trailing well behind, for example, the ancient Greeks. Other B.C. civilizations, too. I recommend reading about Jainism and the other B.C. sects of India, and, of course, about the founding of Buddhism and Confucian thought. So, no; thought has not been on a progressive track. Scientific advancement is all we've got.

Point two is vulgar guesswork and generalization, like most of this argument. What little we know about pre-historic man does not prove this premise.

Point three is patently false. Nature-worshipping religions exist to this day. Shinto (dating back to around the same time Islam was founded) is a prime example.

Point four is even worse. Two of the biggest religions even today posit either no gods (Buddhism) or many gods (Hinduism). In fact, Hinduism, last time I checked, has as many followers as the entire atheist/agnostic/unaffiliated category in worldwide census reports.

Point five displays a complete ignorance of history. I recommend the writings of the early church fathers and the medieval Judaic, Islamic and Christian theologian-philosophers.

Point six is one of the biggest generalizations yet. Deism was popular among only a small group of people. Traditional Catholics, Muslims and Jews had no part in it. Plus, Buddhism and Hinduism were going on at the same time. Again, the conclusion could only be reached by someone completely ignorant of history.

So, in conclusion, history is a messy creature that defies attempts to streamline it. Anyone who buys the "progress narrative", whether they be religious or not, is deluding themselves. It's a myth that people use to make themselves feel better about contemporary society. World War I showed how false it was; World War II even more so.

Anthony Fleming said...

I'm wondering if this argument is based more on Western thought than intellectual progress from the whole human race. If not, then the henotheism of Hinduism is a problem for 3 and 4. It also ignores Theravada Buddhism which is more like an metaphysical atheism than any kind of theism.

Secondly, even if it is based in the west then Islam poses a different difficulty. They had philosophers that influenced Aquinas and yet they ended up going “backwards” from the thought progression. Instead of reasoning certain things about God they took on to strict and literal Koranic conception.

Also, many of the “progressions” being discussed here are not strictly based on thought progressions but also event progressions. Christianity in Greek culture is a good example of this. They already had the likes of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle and yet Christianity ended up having a major influence.

Anthony Fleming said...

I also have other issues with 4 and 5. First, as I already said, the change from polytheism to monotheism seems to be more event oriented, the Christian event, than strictly thought oriented.

I don't really see that #5 is that accurate though. In a sense, yes, we have become less superstitious. With less superstition comes less people who believe whatever they believe based on superstition. As a reverend, I can tell you that such belief is incredibly frustrating to the message of Christianity. Yet, I wouldn't say that lack of superstition necessitates atheism. There have been many great thinkers throughout the years that didn't seem very superstitious and yet still held belief in deities of some sort. One cannot help but think of the conversation between Socrates and STREPSIADES.

Lastly, progression of thought in relation to the concept of a divine reality (in whatever form it may be) does not necessitate negating the existence of a divine reality. This is where I find the “progression” really falls short.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anthony Fleming wrote: "I'm wondering if this argument is based more on Western thought than intellectual progress from the whole human race. "

Great point.

theistconfirmed777 said...

This is my issue... Education. With very little myself I can at least point out some basic flaws. Judaism leads to Christianity and Islam is not entirely monotheistic. There is basically one monotheistic religion but it's progression was denied by some and this denial was passed on to their offspring. First I'll talk about Islam. It was a polytheistic religion which had some members whom believed there was one God over the others Similar to the god Zeus over the other gods. The Qu'ran was said to have been written 20 some odd years before Muhammed but has one clear author. All the ideas in the Qu'ran were held by Muhammed and were from him. He had Christian influence from family and slaves and possibly even a Christian concubine. He had a somewhat monotheistic cousin Ibn who convinced him well enough that Islam was the one true religion then later converted to Christianity. One thing to think about that is a major hole for Muhammad's Islam is that prophets are without sin according to the Qu'ran. also according to the Qu'ran he "spat the words of the devil" in saying to a polytheistic religion "your gods are like high flying cranes."there is a sentence which follows which I have since forgotten. The two sentences imply Allah is ok with these other gods and thinks highly of them. This was self-reportedly the actions taken by Muhammed to convert through any means necessary. He supposedly corrected this by saying something to the affect of how could your gods be high flying cranes amongst Allah who is the greatest and has power over all. This correction made the converts hate Islam even more than before. This should snuff out intellectuals from Islam alone. Now to Judaism when the world was focused on God and their focus and worship was rewarded with a relationship between God and His people through His power. Judaism was born out of experience and would have continued had the world not fallen so far from what is needed into what is wanted. I myself am ashamed to say I'm too earthly but my strong belief was rewarded. While a strong atheist I turned to a last resort to help my grandfather. While in the hospital with several major organs failing and little time to live I broke down into a 2 1/2 hour prayer and feel asleep crying. The next morning I awoke to a message starting all his organs were MIRACULOUSLY in working condition and what was left was simply medicated. This baffled even the doctors with their infinite knowledge. Now to Christianity. We hold still the belief in God but His promise in the Torah, part of the Bible and the main religious text of Judaism, was to send His son to the people. When the Jews heard what was to be expected of the son of God they built a version of His son in their own mind. Stuck in this mental set of ideas they added to the descriptions provided by God they were unable to see Jesus as the soon because he didn't fit the description but the description he didn't fit was the idea the Jewish people had added themselves. The miracles seen and professed by the people in the era of Jesus were written down in historical text ethic was bound into a book for religion. People say there is no evidence but these people deny the religious texts only because they are not seen for the historical texts on religion which they truly are. The other historical texts backing the existence of the people in the Bible don't have the religious aspect of what happened in these people lives because they are historical books on what happened not why it happened where as the religious texts explain the why. It's like a text on Egyptian life then a text of religion in Egypt which explains why the things happened that did happen.

theistconfirmed777 said...

The problem is Egyptian gods and goddesses were supposedly among us and interacted with us and lead us but there is no archaeological findings of these beings which were supposedly mummified and buried and the coffins are not found empty either so there's no proof they were even buried so please don't try to say they are just as real because Jesus was recorded as being put in the burial place and was recorded by many to have been missing by the third day by many. Explain this historical witness. If history is no more than findings from an archaeological study how is the History of our american revolution any more real than the history of Jesus and the rest of the Bible. As far as authors there are clearly 25+ authors so you know the accounts are by separate witnesses.