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Abstract

Atheism is skeptical towards gods, and atheology advances philosophical positions defending the reasonableness of that rejection. The history of philosophy encompasses many unorthodox and irreligious movements of thought, and these varieties of unbelief deserve more exegesis and analysis than presently available. Going back to philosophy’s origins, two primary types of atheology have dominated the advancement of atheism, yet they have not cooperated very well. Materialist philosophies assemble cosmologies that leave nothing for gods to do, while skeptical philosophies find conceptions of god to be too unintelligible or unsupported by evidence to warrant credibility. The origins and genealogies of these two atheologies are sketched and compared over many centuries down to present-day atheism, which still displays signs of this internecine divide between confident naturalists and agnostic skeptics.
Philosophy of religion and two types of atheology
John R. Shook*
Philosophy Department and Graduate School of Education, University at Buffalo, New York, USA
(Received 12 December 2014; final version received 12 April 2015)
Atheism is skeptical towards gods, and atheology advances philosophical positions
defending the reasonableness of that rejection. The history of philosophy encompasses
many unorthodox and irreligious movements of thought, and these varieties of unbelief
deserve more exegesis and analysis than presently available. Going back to philoso-
phys origins, two primary types of atheology have dominated the advancement of
atheism, yet they have not cooperated very well. Materialist philosophies assemble
cosmologies that leave nothing for gods to do, while skeptical philosophies find
conceptions of god to be too unintelligible or unsupported by evidence to warrant
credibility. The origins and genealogies of these two atheologies are sketched and
compared over many centuries down to present-day atheism, which still displays signs
of this internecine divide between confident naturalists and agnostic skeptics.
Keywords: atheism; agnosticism; theology; atheology; skepticism; materialism
Five centuries of European and American freethinking has resulted in the emergence and
flourishing of religious criticism, secular philosophizing, and skepticism towards gods.
Distinguishing and correlating the resulting forms of freethought, tracking disagreements
and alliances between them as carefully as describing their antagonism against religion, is
a project still under development. Secularists occasionally produce synopses about their
intellectual heritage, but they rarely overcome parochial instincts. Proud narratives about
reasons predestined ascendency and worshipful hagiography about bold atheists are
typical formats to the present day.
1
Telling unbeliefs side of the story was necessary, of
course. Although balanced philosophical accounts began appearing in the late nineteenth
century, the dominant religious perspective viewed disbelief as the result of nothing but
ignorance, irrationality, and immorality.
2
Atheisms defenders have frequently returned
those same crude accusations towards believers, perpetuating strident rhetoric that regret-
tably persists today.
This capacity for strident rhetoric, characteristic of New Atheism in our own times,
also gets directed at fellow nonbelievers. The mere existence of varieties of unbelief easily
distracts nonbelievers, who can perpetuate atheism vs. agnosticism diatribes when they
are not chastising religious narrow-mindedness. Polemics are typically conducted in the
absence of intellectual or historical perspective, unfortunately. Schisms have origins in
serious disagreements, to which atheism was never immune.
1. Atheist schisms
Only a broadly historical view, tracing diverse streams of mutually influential thought
across the religious-secular spectrum, can do justice to the development of distinctive
*Email: jrshook@buffalo.edu
International Journal of Philosophy and Theology, 2015
Vol. 76, No. 1, 119, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21692327.2015.1041547
© 2015 International Journal of Philosophy and Theology
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varieties of disbelief persisting today. Todays atheists appear to be among those least
aware of this fact.
According to some atheists, the model atheist is someone who cannot believe in
any gods for lack of good reasons to believe: the proper atheist is the epistemic
skeptic. Michael MartinsAtheism: A Philosophical Justification, for example, argues
that the fallacies inherent to arguments for god leave unbelief far more justified than
god-belief. Martin adds that atheism does not require science, nor does it entail
naturalism.
3
According to other atheists, the model atheist is a naturalist: an advocate of the
scientific worldview against religion. Julian BagginisAtheism: A Very Short
Introduction exemplifies this stance, saying that for most atheists, their atheism is
motivated at least in part by their naturalism, a belief that there is only the natural
world and not any supernatural one.He additionally claims that this form of naturalism
lies at the core of atheism.
4
Alex RosenbergsThe Atheists Guide to Reality, agrees with Baggini. He tells his
readers up front,
There is much more to atheism than its knockdown arguments that there is no god. There is
the whole rest of the worldview that comes along with atheism. Its a demanding, rigorous,
breathtaking grip on reality, one that has been vindicated beyond reasonable doubt. Its called
science. Science enables atheism to answer lifes universal and relentless questions with
evidence employing a real understanding of the natural world.
5
Atheists are evidently pulled in different directions. Does a robust atheism require whole-
hearted commitment to sciences worldview, or does it suffice to rely upon logic and
reason?
Naturally, one might reply that they are both part of atheism. But that answer has only
been generally acceptable among nonbelievers for the past century or so. This atheist
schism has a much longer history; the evident way that patch-work alliances are needed
only exposes how internal dissent still lurks beneath the surface.
This article explains how two primary forms of philosophical atheology, a skeptical
atheology doubting all religion and a materialist worldview to replace supernaturalism,
developed out of freethought in Europe after 1500. These two forms have older genea-
logies extending back to pre-Socratic philosophy. Revived during the Renaissance, their
divisive stances apart from each other as well as their opposition against religion have
animated the development of atheism in the West. Comprehending the current state of
atheism is not possible without acknowledging this long-standing internecine struggle
over its meaning and its message for the world. The notion that there is a singular belief
system attached to atheismis a myth. Atheism has a definitional identity, but atheism
would not ever be a definitive worldview.
2. Atheism and atheology
Atheology in general explores kinds of disbelief in religions and their unnatural beings,
explains how atheists sustain and encourage disbelief, and defends their engagement with
religion and religious aspects of society. Atheology includes the task of correctly identify-
ing and classifying the types of atheists and their atheisms. The field of secular studies is
the wider interdisciplinary area of research into the psychological, social, cultural, and
political phenomena associated with nonbelief and secularity.
6
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Having just the single word atheistin the English language to indicate the
condition of godlessness is an accident of linguistic heritage. The Greek word was
θεος –‘without god. Latin writers relied on a transliteration of this Greek word,
spelling it atheosor atheus. During medieval times, the term atheismuswas added
to mean atheism, as a label for the stance taken by an atheist. When vernacular words
in Italian, French, German, and English came into use by the sixteenth century to
convey the meaning of atheos, those words denoted someone who denies the exis-
tence of god. ChambersCyclopedia (1728) says that the atheist is apersonwho
denies the deity.By the end of the eighteenth century, linguistic usage had somewhat
shifted. The first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1771) offers this weaker and
hence broader definition: a person who does not believe the existence of a deity.The
Oxford English Dictionary recognizes these two ways to be an atheist. The primary
definition for atheist is: One who denies or disbelieves the existence of a god.OED
definitions offer close synonyms but they rarely stutter. Denying a things existence
means something a little different from disbelieving. The distinction between a person
believing that god does not exist and a person disinclined to believe that god exists is
quite real and must not be obscured.
The need for two alternative ways to distance oneself from the beliefs of others is not due
to an issue with the meaning of atheist, but rather with the meaning of belief.Ifyousay,I
believe X exists,while I say I believe that X does not existor I deny your belief,then we
are making opposed statements about the existence of X because I am effectively saying that
X does not exist. But when you say I believe X existsand I reply I do not share that belief
or Icannot have that belief,then our statements are only opposed about that belief, and not
about X, because I am not also affirming that X does not exist. Disbelieving isnot believing; it
is a stance of not sharing a belief of others, and a manner of withholding belief disbelieving
is an expression of dissent without going so far as to disagree. When the milder disbelieving
kind of atheism wishes to emphasize its lack of epistemic conviction, the modern term
agnostichas proven useful, as a later section explains.
The broader tradition of freethought exemplifies how bold thinkers have expressed
their skeptical dissent from orthodoxy to varying degrees, presenting available reasons
behind their disbelief in full awareness of argumentative strengths and weaknesses.
Atheism has much in common with freethought, but the history of freethought is far
wider than atheism. Freethought supplies the general aims and tactics for questioning and
criticizing religion, religious leadership, and any other authority relying on religion. Most
freethinkers over the centuries have remained religious to varying degrees; they typically
get accused of impiety, the other term besides atheistin the English language labeling
dangerous dissent, to indicate how far from orthodoxy one has deviated.
Freethought need not proceed through all the stages leading to atheism. Freethought
does not automatically involve rejecting scripture or defying Gods divinity (blasphemy),
discrediting religious authorities (anticlericalism), abandoning the true faith (apostasy), or
declining to believe Gods existence (atheism). Most of the history of freethought involves
core concerns such as philosophizing about God, humanity, and nature (forming potential
heresies), reforming religious practice and religious institutions (risking schisms), and
rearranging church-state politics (seeking religious liberties). Freethought raises chal-
lenges to conformist and conservative religion, but only a portion of freethought has
been devoted to impiety and irreligion: denying all religious claims, abandoning religion,
and encouraging disbelief in religion.
7
The destination of atheism is not the destiny of
freethought, but fears over atheism have determined the hostile agenda against all
freethought.
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As history attests, who gets called an atheist (and who admits to being an atheist) can
depend greatly on the geographical region and time period. Nevertheless, there are
underlying patterns to the dialogue between religion and irreligion. A stark choice
between regarding atheism as a hypothetical construct of theology, or as an independent
intellectual movement, is entirely unnecessary.
8
Atheology tells a more complex story.
3. Atheology and the gods
Atheology is about as old as philosophy. Indian thought, for example, encompasses
skeptical and atheist dissent from Hindu orthodoxies practically from its earliest recorded
times. Our story about western atheology begins its invention by the Greeks and perpe-
tuation by the Romans. In these beginnings of philosophy we can already discern two
distinct atheologies.
9
The earliest Greek philosophers from the sixth century BCE such as Anaximander and
Anaximenes offered cosmic philosophies assigning no evident role to anything divine or
supernatural. By contrast, a handful of presocratics such as Protagorus (c.490420 BCE),
along with Socrates (469399 BCE), explicitly refused to endorse any overarching cosmic
scheme, but they were accused by their communities of impiety towards the gods.
Protagorus is the first recorded religious skeptic in the west. According to Eusebius and
Diogenes Laertius, Protagorus wrote a treatise titled On the Godsstating his skeptical
view that nothing can be known of the gods, not even whether any exist.
Materialists were just as skeptical. The atomist Democritus (c.460370 BCE) and
Epicurus (c.341271 BCE) offered atheological arguments against popular anthropo-
morphic gods, reaching towards a complete atheism. They denied that the gods created
the cosmos (the gods instead exist within the cosmos). They denied that the gods are
unnatural (the gods are made of substances that make up the cosmos). They denied that
the gods can have their own eternality or immortality (the gods cannot be older than the
cosmos and they could decay away). They denied that the gods guide the cosmos (the
gods at most direct vast natural affairs for obscure purposes). They denied that the gods
care about humans (the gods are so busy, blessed, or blissful that human affairs cannot
interest them). They denied that the gods created humans (disinterested gods would not
bother, and nature has ways to create life). Finally, they denied that the gods communicate
with humans (distant gods do not send signs and revelations are spurious). These
materialists were not atheists in the strictest sense, as they agreed that higher beings can
exist in this world. However, by denying divine creation of the world or of humans,
denying divine unnaturality, eternality and immortality, and denying divine providence
over the destiny of nature or human beings, these materialists rejected core theses of
religion during their own times, and most other religions for that matter. The summa
atheologicaof the classical world was De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) by
first century CE Roman philosopher Lucretius. This work explains the Epicurean philo-
sophy in such naturalistic terms, materializing even the spectral gods that humans think
they perceive, that it achieved a complete atheist worldview.
10
A school for severe skepticism, Pyrrhonean skepticism, was reorganized by Sextus
Empiricus (c.160210 CE). Sextus included a section On Godsin his treatise Against the
Physicists which discusses various hypotheses about the human origins for fanciful ideas
about gods. A following section Do Gods Exist?skeptically argues that nothing can be
known about gods. Sextuss treatise Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Book 3, Section 3, presents
another brief but incisive atheology of arguments against the Dogmatists, those claiming
to know about the gods. He exposes the problems involved with trying to conceptualize a
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god, judging if a god makes an impression on anyone, and inferring the existence of god
from evidence. He also raises the problem of evil. Despite the resulting skeptical stance
according to reason, Sextus allows conformity to customary religious attitudes, presenting
us with the philosophical position that one can follow common opinion about the gods
and pursue pious religiosity with no further concern for whether anyone can know
anything about the gods.
11
The long medieval interregnum saw little discussion of atheology in its own right,
beyond the construction of theological arguments for the Christian supernatural creator and
some modest engagement with neoplatonism and classical skepticism.
12
The revival of
atheology proper in Europe occurs in the Renaissance, an era when the Greeks and Romans
were re-discovered and atomism and skepticism became more widely accessible.
13
The first
published work with atheistor atheismin the title appeared in 1552, in Latin: Guillaume
PostelsLiber de causis .. Contra atheos. Postel was interested in slandering a few heretical
reformers such as Rabelais, Aristotelians, and deists; ironically, he was later accused of
heretical atheism himself in the Inquisition.
The first work of atheology published by a European atheist who openly endorsed
atheism was probably by Giulio Cesare Vanini, De admirandis naturae reginae deaeque
mortalium arcanis (On the admirable secrets of nature, queen and goddess of all mortal
things, 1616). This work is both skeptical and materialist in design, but its long list of
disputes against scripture, theology, and gods existence are thinly argued and
unsystematic.
14
Vaninis writings were suppressed and he was burned at the stake in
1619. Very few examples of atheology by atheists admitting to atheism surfaced during
the seventeenth century, for obvious reasons. Both skeptics and materialists defying
scripture and theology almost invariably ensured that their writings affirm Gods exis-
tence. However, Biblical criticism was common among atheological thinkers, especially
deists and unitarians.
15
Leonardus Lessius does not mention Vanini or any other living atheist in his De
providentia numinis et animi immortalitate libri duo adversus atheos & politicos (On the
Providence of God and the Immortality of the Soul written against the Atheists and
Politicians, 1613). The politiciansto which the book title refers are Machiavelli and
his imitators, who never endorse atheism yet treat religion as a useful tool for sovereign
manipulation. Noting how atheists would not announce their impiety to the public,
Lessius reaches back to ancient philosophy to acquire atheist targets: sophists, atomists,
and satirists. The sophists are Diagorus of Melos and Protagorus of Abdera; the atomists
are Democritus, Epicurus, and Lucretius; and the satirist is Lucian. The Roman Stoic
Cicero provides many of Lessiuss arguments, borrowed from CicerosOn the Nature of
the Gods.
A decade later, Marin Mersenne was willing to name some contemporary names of
atheists in LImpiété des déistes, athées, et libertins de ce temps (The Impiety of the
Deists, Atheists, and Libertines of these Times, 1624). There is no mention of scandalous
satire against religious superstition, but Mersenne does identify one potential skeptic,
Pierre Charron, and two metaphysicians, the neo-Aristotelian Geronimo Cardano and the
scientific rationalist Giordano Bruno. All three atheistswere intellectuals of faith, but
their indictment of atheism was regrettably based, according to Mersenne, on an excessive
reliance on reason and philosophy. Mersenne himself followed his skeptical inspiration,
Sextus Empiricus, agreeing that faithful conviction need not be disturbed after one is no
longer troubled by (interminable) philosophical disputations over knowledge of god.
After throwing doubt upon revelation, what can philosophy still say about God? Fully
secular philosophy was hardly a possibility for Europe just yet and atheists made
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themselves scarce, but atheology was now everywhere. Using reason to discern a super-
natural Creator was nothing new; theology had shown the way centuries before. The real
danger, as theologians sensed, was relying on reason alone. And they did not have long to
wait for a robust atheology to fulfill their worst fears.
The great rationalist and atheologian of the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes,
skeptically questioned the Bible, declared theology devoid of sense, and derided meta-
physics as an abuse of language. He designed a reasoned materialism and an approach to
religion so comprehensive in his Leviathan (1651) that little about Christianity (or any
theism, or any deism as well) could be true. Hobbess scientific view of the cosmos was
materialist, his philosophical skepticism reduced faith to common opinion, and his
recommendations for controlling religion were Machiavellian. Hobbes permitted a
vague notion of a material god within nature to survive his skepticism, but theologians
could understand rejections of Christianity and justifications for philosophical atheism
when they read them. Despite theological contempt towards those daring to rationalize
atheism, a contempt so great that the very existence of an intellectual (yet so irrational!)
atheist was the object of intense skepticism, theologians suspected the rise of atheism
around them, and they certainly could not deny the existence of verifiable atheists among
philosophers of antiquity. A direct confrontation with atheism was required.
4. Atheology exposed
The term atheologywas brought into usage by Ralph Cudworth, the great Cambridge
philosopher of the late seventeenth century. Joining the revival of Platonism in Christian
thought during that period, Cudworth was particularly antagonistic towards upstart mate-
rialisms such as that of Thomas Hobbes. Understanding little about the new experimental
sciences, however, Cudworths published works during his lifetime focused mainly on the
classical pagan philosophies of Greeks and Romans, and his examinations of Hobbes
concerning morality were published after his death. Cudworth vaulted to prominence with
a single great work. In 1678, his defense of religion appeared, titled The True Intellectual
System of the Universe, with the subtitle Wherein All the Reason and Philosophy of
Atheism is Confuted and its Impossibility Demonstrated.
Chapter two of the first volume makes a series of accusations against atheism.
Cudworth first defines a system of Atheologyas Atheism swaggering under the
glorious appearance of philosophy.
16
In his view, setting aside the evident scorn, atheism
is the denial of religion, and atheology is the effort to rationally justify atheism by
constructing an intellectual worldview that lacks god or at least the one true god.
Cudworth was not deceived by those materialists and Stoics who labeled as gods
some important components of the natural cosmos. Atheism may think that gods can be
found in the natural world of matter, but that worldview is an atheology all the same for
Cudworth, since it has no place for Christianitys God. Atheism is not just another sort of
heretical dispute over what the divinity of god is like or how a god should be worshipped
and obeyed. A materialist atheology abandons religions god entirely. Cudworth therefore
regarded atheology as the greatest rival to true religion.
Cudworth could not find a fulfilling philosophy in the atheology of the pagan world-
views he surveyed, because he set a high standard for success. These worldviews had to
be rejected especially atomistic materialism due to their failure to account for the
worlds lawful order and their tendencies towards determinism, and their inabilities to
explain mind, freedom, and morality. Not Democritus, not even Aristotle only aspects of
Plato were able to pass Cudworths severe philosophical tests, so he could incorporate
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platonic themes into his own Christian theology. All the same, Cudworth treated atheol-
ogy as the construction of a rival philosophical system, and he presents each system as a
serious body of thought, worthy of careful dissection and intellectual refutation. His
explorations into the philosophies about nature crafted by the Greeks and Romans remain
valuable to this day.
Although Cudworth respected these nature philosophies enough to analyze them for
refutation, he had no respect for the typical atheist carried away by ignorance and folly:
Besides these philosophic Atheists, whose several forms we have now described, it cannot be
doubted, but that there have been in all ages many other Atheists that have not at all
philosophized, nor pretended to maintain any particular Atheistic system or hypothesis, in a
way of reason, but were only led by a certain dull and sottish, though confident disbelief of
whatsoever they could not either see or feel; which kind of Atheists may, therefore, well be
accounted enthusiastical or fanatical Atheists.
17
These irrational atheists lack any serious atheology, they have no excuse for their
fanaticism, and they deserve no protection from societys reproval and punishment
because their behavior is so reprehensible. Cudworths distinction between intellectual
and practicalatheism was widely applied, and its application was bound up with wider
political implications to dealing with radical dissent.
18
The next prominent use of the term atheologycame from the sharp pen of satirist
Jonathan Swift. Swifts meaning for atheology was quite different from Cudworths. In
1713 he published Mr. C nss Discourse on Free Thinking, put into plain English, by
way of Abstract, for the use of the Poor.Swift was no friend of religious toleration. He
detested the surfacing of heretical and blasphemous writings, and the publication in that
year of John Anthony CollinsA Discourse of Free-Thinking aroused Swifts angry scorn.
Swift equated free-thinking with atheology by writing that a brief complete body of
Atheology seemed yet wanting till this irrefragable discourse appeared.
19
Collins dis-
course of atheology, as Swift labeled it, was designed to primarily defend the principle
of free thought (an idea only a few decades old by them) and free speech (also a rather
new concept) for the advancement of reason. Like his good friend John Locke, Collins
was an Enlightenment figure convinced that people have the right to rationally judge what
should be believed and not believed. He wrote,
By Free-Thinking then I mean, The Use of the Understanding, in endeavouring to find out the
Meaning of any Proposition whatsoever, in considering the nature of the Evidence for or
against it, and in judging of it according to the seeming Force or Weakness of the Evidence.
20
What did Swift find so objectionable in this work of free-thinking? Swift established his
writing career and public fame by openly publishing his provocative thoughts on a wide
variety of moral, social, and political matters. Yet he disapproved of free speech for ideas
contradicting the ecclesiastical and ruling establishment. A minister himself, he regarded
discussion of theological issues as the exclusive domain of Church elites. Theological
disputation among bishops is hazardous enough. What Swift found far more dangerous is
the very idea of permitting laypeople, even educated scholars and philosophers such as
Collins, to openly question the foundations of Church authority, which directly leads to
questioning government authorities. In Swifts view, the rationalism, the deism, and the
denial of revelation advocated by Collins is a virulent atheism that must be silenced.
Collins impudent defense of the right to publicly speak about how to question religion is
a terrible anarchism that must be combated. Encouraging the free disputation of religion is
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not really any different, according to Swift and so many of his elite class of the day, from
encouraging a license to violate the law and solicit revolt.
Swift judged that these self-styled free thinkers,regardless of their philosophical pursuit
of reason, do not possess the right to disturb the mind and peace of the public, so they do not
deserve any intellectual response at all. There is no point to debating a book like Collinss,
since that effort would create the appearance of validating the very idea of free-thinking.
Swift uses scornful satire against Collins instead, in order to insinuate Swifts fears that free-
thinking inspires pointless conflict among the uneducated masses and diminished respect for
proper authorities, and hence it leads to reckless endangerment of the civil peace, causing
grave harm to the entire social order. Unlike Cudworth, Swift refused to acknowledge
atheology as a system of thought in the first place, since that would bestow far too much
intellectual credit. Instead, Swift equated defenses of atheism with depraved and chaotic free-
thinking, and treated free-thinking as destructively unacceptable free speech.
The causes and consequences of atheism were matters upon which Cudworth and Swift
could agree. Atheism is caused by excessive reliance on reasonings unguided by religion,
and atheism sends all but the most philosophical minds towards distempered rebellion
against morality and public order. However, atheology meant two different things for
Cudworth and Swift, and these alternatives have dominated discussion of atheism ever
since. Is atheism the acceptance of a worldview without god, so that atheology is the
construction of a nonreligious cosmological system? Alternatively, is atheism the single-
minded exaltation of reason, so that atheology is the rejection of anything, such as religion,
failing to meet reasons standards? These two contrary positions, even in their best light,
cannot be blended together, since they do not agree on how to challenge religion and how to
uphold atheism. An atheism requiring an affirmation of a systematic worldview is not the
same as an atheism expecting only dissent from religious doctrines.
Nonconformists and outright atheists in the intellectual world agreed in principle on
the value of reason, freethought, and religious criticism. Yet they disagreed about the best
philosophical course to take for leading atheism and developing an atheology. From the
seventeenth century down into the twentieth century these two atheologies, a worldview
atheologyand a rationalist atheology, were stridently opposed, each one accusing the
other of betraying freethought and reason.
Worldview atheology continued the philosophical project of building a natural cos-
mology based on science, unable to find in rationalist atheism enough resources to offer
an alternative to religion. Thomas Hobbes, La Mettrie, Baron dHolbach, and Ludwig
Büchner were among its prominent advocates. Under banners such as materialismor
naturalism, worldview atheism continued to advance science as not just a method
superior to religion, but capable of potentially knowing all reality. Rationalist atheism
tended to reject the label of atheismin order to reject worldview atheologys ambitious
agenda of disproving god by assembling a nonreligious materialism. Rationalist atheology
found science more reasonable than religion, but it emphasized sciences limitations too. It
held on to labels such as rationalism,skepticism,andagnosticismwhile rejecting
materialism in the course of doubting all religious, metaphysical, and cosmological
worldviews. This athelogical stance was adopted by several prominent nonbelievers,
including David Hume, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Henry Huxley, and Bertrand Russell.
5. Materialism
Cudworth discerned how Hobbes displayed similarities to Epicurean materialists theoriz-
ing how matter had a variety of forms, some visible and some invisible, including
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invisible beings that people call gods. HobbessLeviathan (1651) declares that reality can
only consist of material bodies.
21
This natural philosophy rejected the core metaphysical
and spiritual claims of Christianity, and it similarly rejected any dualistic metaphysics,
such as that of René Descartes. Hobbes regarded the existence of a supernatural realm
beyond this world, the existence of any immaterial beings, and immaterial souls or minds,
as matters beyond reasonable conception. He also denied any independent legitimacy to
religion or religious leaders. He skeptically denied religion as an authority, either over
intelligence or society. Revelation cannot arrive from any unnatural or spiritual being
(none exist) by immaterial means (none exist either), scripture is genuinely about god only
so far as reason permits, and scripture is regulative for conduct only so far as a lawful
commonwealth commands. Hobbes was willing to grant that natures order suggests an
all-powerful (yet material) god. All the same, he insisted that god could not be scienti-
fically approached, god is not even the proper subject of any area of knowledge, and the
human mind cannot comprehend hardly anything about this infinite being.
Hobbes was a freethinker, a rationalist, and a secular philosopher, which made him
skeptical towards religious claims and hopeful about replacing religious dogma and sacred
theology with natural philosophy, natural law, and civil politics. How could a scholar so
learned in Biblical interpretation, warmly agreeable with many of its ethical precepts, and
comfortable with intimate church-state relationships, be an atheist?
22
Nevertheless, cor-
rectly classifying Hobbes as the architect of a worldview atheology, designed not just to
elevate reason and science but also to replace almost everything religious in Christianity,
allows us to understand the kind of atheist he was. Hobbes had to deny being an atheist,
not merely for fear of punishment, but because he took an atheist to be someone who
denies gods existence, disrupts public worship, and disturbs civil authorities.
23
Hobbes
asserted that a material god exists, required a single form of public worship, and
condemned challenges to ecclesiastical power backed by government authority.
Religious faith was useful for the masses so long as the sovereign, not the theologians,
controlled religion. Like Swift, Hobbes understood the atheist as a dangerously unsound
freethinker, yet Hobbes was no theist either; he was a supreme atheologian.
Why would an atheologian permit any vestige of a god to stain an otherwise consistent
worldview? Worldview atheologies by their nature try to be inclusively syncretic where
they can. They frequently intermix scientific knowledge of their day with reasoned
ontology or metaphysics to round out a comprehensive system of reality. Many of these
systems regard materialismas too shallow, deterministic, or nihilistic, so denials of
materialism (or physicalism, etc.) are often heard, yet they remain worldview atheologies.
They typically try to accommodate, as far as possible, matters that religion had controlled,
without going as far philosophical theologys rationalization of religious dogma. In
Hobbess case, he was only willing to grant the bare possibility that a supreme material
being guided the cosmos from within, an admission consistent with his view that the
people would worship a god anyways, so religion about god should at least be thoroughly
rationalized. Philosophers from Giordano Bruno, Thomas Hobbes, and Baruch Spinoza
down to C. S. Peirce, John Dewey, and A. N. Whitehead all of them worldview
atheologists have applied the label of godto essentially natural realities while denying
that religion has superior knowledge about such matters. The title of pantheistor
religious naturalistmay apply to these thinkers, but all of them are within this tradition
of worldview atheology, since they expressly reject as unreal the nonnatural or transcend-
ing god(s) that religions assert, and they radically alter what form religiosity could take.
Accommodating any religious ideas and sentiments is out of the question for more
radical materialists. The first thorough work of atheology by an atheist after Vanini is
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impressive: Jean MesliersMémoire (1729). Despite Voltaires published extractin 1761,
which added passages to make Meslier appear like he was a pious deist like Voltaire, the
original lengthy volume was an exercise in nothing but atheism, covering core atheolo-
gical arguments with erudition.
24
Pursuing claims that science will not confirm god but it
will prove minds to be thinking material bodies, eighteenth century materialists such as
Julien Ofray de La Mettrie and Baron DHolbach did not pause at deism (like Voltaire) or
dualism (like John Locke). La Mettries book LHomme machine (Man the Machine,
1747) was in many ways the first treatise to be entirely materialistic and secular since
LucretiussOn the Nature of Things.
This tradition continued in next notorious materialist, Baron DHolbach, in his
anonymously published La Systeme de la Nature, ou Des loix du monde physique et du
monde moral (The System of Nature, or The Laws of the Physical World and Moral
World, 1770).
25
He formulated materialism to refute the design arguments and first cause
arguments for god, rule out divine action in the world, and suggest that life arose from
matter. Strict materialism during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries typically
involved an acceptance of determinism by natural laws. This determinism ruled out, in
many materialists minds, not only the immortal soul and gods providential guidance, but
free will as well. Because theological and metaphysical conceptions of moral agency and
free will had bonded them together, a materialist denial of free will seemed to deny that
morality is possible for humanity. (The way that materialism and atheism was associated
with hedonism and libertinism did not help.) The theological response to this situation,
that religion must serve as the guardian of morality, echoes down to our own times.
For many reasons, materialism made little headway before the early twentieth century.
The vast majority of freethinkers until then were content with unitarianism, deism,
sensationalist empiricism, or mind-body dualism not only in England, but across
Northern Europe. Into the nineteenth century, Germany (soon followed by France and
England) experimented with the idealist legacies of Leibniz and Kant, but a god almost
always had a place. The few philosophical systems omitting a supernatural god and an
immortal soul either stayed close to pantheism and/or idealism (such as F.W.J. Schelling,
G.W.F. Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, and F.H. Bradley), or preferred an empiricist and
historicist materialism (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, for example). A fully scientific
worldview enlivened Marquis de CondorcetsLEsquisse dun tableau historique des
progrès de lesprit humain (1795, published as Outlines of an Historical View of the
Progress of the Human Mind in 1796), along with his later writings, advanced the
atheological project of applying human sciences such as medicine, anthropology, and
sociology. Mary Wollstonecraft expected the scientific worldview to support her secular
stance in Vindication of the Rights of Man (1790) and Vindication of the Rights of Women
(1792). Her husband, socialist William Godwin, applied that stance in his Enquiry
Concerning Political Justice, and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness (1793).
Worldview atheology during the nineteenth century continued to advance this project
of understanding human society in entirely materialistic terms, exemplified by Herbert
SpencersSocial Statics (1851), along with his subsequent works assigning evolution a
central cosmic role. Scientific secularism was also advancing. Ludwig FeuerbachsThe
Essence of Christianity (1841) explained how religions essence resides in the feeling and
imagination of the human mind, and his Lectures on the Essence of Religion (1848)
proposed that gods are projections of psychological drives to personify nature.
As it happened, it was Germany that eventually produced the next great worldview
atheology. Ludwig BüchnersKraft und Stoff (Force and Matter, 1855) was just the first in
a lengthy series of volumes in which he elaborated a materialist philosophy. Matter and
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force are essentially connected, and that the total energy of the world must be constant;
therefore science teaches that nothing is generated anew, that nothing disappears, and that
the secret of nature lies in an eternal and immanent cycle in which cause and effect are
connected without beginning or end.
26
Büchners writings are replete with declarations
such as, Man is a product of nature in body and mind.
27
Taking a close interest in social
welfare and the advancement of science, he viewed himself principally as a freethinker,
and he founded the German Freethinkers League in 1881 to oppose the domination of the
Lutheran Church over society.
Worldview atheology in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries continued to
follow the schematic organization laid down by Büchner: appeal to science for the self-
sufficiency of nature, deny ultimate teleological ends to the world or to life, reject
vitalistic or mentalistic forces inexplicable by science, and tell humanitys story using
natural evolution and a history of cultures progress. Biologist Ernst Haeckel was the next
great German evolutionary atheologian, publishing his Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte
(The History of Creation, 1868) and then Die Welträthsel (The Riddle of the Universe,
189599). Chemist Wilhelm OstwaldsGrundriss der Naturphilosophie (Outline of
Natural Philosophy, 1908) advanced this broadly scientific materialism. In France, phy-
sician and sociologist Charles Letourneau told this kind of expansive story in Science et
matérialism (1891).
28
In England, the atheology of scientific humanist Julien Huxley during the mid-twentieth
century exemplifies this organization, as do the writings of Richard Dawkins today. In
America, this comprehensive naturalistic philosophizing arrived with George Santayanas
The Life of Reason: The Phases of Human Progress (190506) and John Deweys
Experience and Nature (1925). Later philosophers such as W. V. Quine in Word and
Object (1960) and Patricia Smith Churchland in Neurophilosophy (1986) have unrelentingly
compelled all existence to conform to scientific theorizing or face elimination. Worldview
atheologys confrontations with religion have received their updated expression in the books
of Antony Flew and Paul Kurtz towards the end of the twentieth century.
29
6. Skepticism
During the period 15001800, European skepticism as inherited from the Greeks took its
own path, largely separated from materialism. By 1800, the acceptability of scientific
knowledge to the philosophical skeptic was becoming conceivable, and the now-familiar
alliance between science and skepticism began to emerge. Before the Enlightenment,
philosophical skepticism involved serious doubt concerning knowledge of the external
world, and perhaps doubt about the capacities of reasoning faculties as well. Scientific
theorizing about invisible matters could only seem dubious at best for such skepticism,
and metaphysical speculating could not be encouraged at all.
The implications of extreme skepticism were taken most seriously. Renaissance
defenders of Aristotelian or Platonic systems grappled with skepticism and its implica-
tions for theology.
30
But Michel de Montaigne had foreseen both metaphysical philosophy
and sacred theologys downfall. His Apologie de Raimond Sebondin the first (1580)
edition of his Essais reproved all philosophical theorizing, and any theology reliant on
that theorizing, for exceeding the reach of human understanding. A century before
Cudworth, Montaigne appealed only to the basics of the Pyrrhonian skepticism relayed
by Sextus Empiricus to argue that no worldview, pagan or Christian, could enjoy rational
justification. This is a skeptical atheology indeed, and not the less impressive just because
Montaigne remained religious by appealing to faith alone.
31
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René Descartes similarly assembled components for a skeptical atheology in his
Meditations on First Philosophy (1641). Complex (and possibly circular) arguments
trying to demonstrate Gods existence, and consequent divine guarantees that human
observations of the world are reliable, permitted Descartes to justify scientific theorizing.
Even eighteenth century empiricism, firmly accepting the immediately perceivable world,
left little opportunity (or so it seemed then) for knowing anything behind it. Isaac
Newtons physics lent great credibility to empirical science, but much of philosophy
was slow to follow. Empiricism treated science instrumentally, not realistically (a strategy
pursued down to this day), while a realistic appreciation for lawful nature led through
deism on the way to materialism, so empiricism and materialism remained largely
separated.
32
The possibility of a united skeptical and materialist position, exemplified already in
Hobbes, is illustrated again in Denis Diderot. His Pensées philosophiques (1746) applies a
reasoned skepticism leading towards deism, while his Lettre sur les aveugles (Letter on
the Blind, 1749) refute all theological arguments for god in the course of defending the
self-sufficiency and deterministic fatalism of materialism. After three months imprison-
ment, Diderots atheism only grew, but his essays in the monumental Encyclopédie, ou
Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences (175172) veered over to a cautiously skeptical
approach instead, and his materialist views remain unpublished until after his death.
Diderot exemplifies the philosophical dilemma, not to speak of the political dilemma,
over whether to construct a fully materialistic worldview using the little knowledge
science could then provide, or to skeptically take apart the supports for theism using all
the resources of rationalist thinking.
33
David Hume, the Scottish empiricist and common sense realist (but not materialist),
was skeptical about more than revelations and tales of miracles. He wrote his Dialogues
Concerning Natural Religion (1779) to raise doubts about the capacity of any human
mind to know the ultimate causes of the world or supreme realities beyond the observable
realm. Humes atheology did not endorse atheism, since he took atheismto be knowl-
edge of a natural worldview without gods, yet he asserted that such knowledge is
impossible, leaving atheism an impossibility. Hume therefore refused to call himself an
atheist, since his skeptical stance did not develop a positive worldview about gods not
existing skepticism only shows that nonbelief can be reasonable. Humes far greater
concern was to affirmatively defend respect for intellectual freethought itself. In Part 1,
Humes character Philo (often speaking for Humes own views) raises those harsh
accusations against freethought and atheology, that they foolishly cause social disruption.
Philo quotes Francis Bacon, an earlier English empiricist and firm Anglican, as follows:
atheists nowadays have a double share of folly; for they are not contented to say in their
hearts there is no God, but they also utter that impiety with their lips, and are thereby
guilty of multiplied indiscretion and imprudence.
34
Philo immediately defends people
who intelligently question priests, the Church, and even God but Philo does not bring up
atheism again.
John Stuart Mills autobiography recounts how he was raised by his nonbelieving
father, James Mill, as a nonbeliever too. Having never accepted theism, the son rejected
the label of atheism just as his father did. John Stuart continued the empiricist tradition,
and when his philosophical mind turned to religion in a handful of essays, his atheological
criticisms of theology rejected atheism as well. The conclusion of his essay Theism,
published in the volume Three Essays on Religion in 1874 after Mills death, affirms
skepticism (spelled scepticismin England) but not atheism:
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..the rational attitude of a thinking mind towards the supernatural, whether in natural or in
revealed religion, is that of scepticism as distinguished from belief on the one hand, and
from atheism on the other: including, in the present case, under atheism, the negative as
well as the positive form of disbelief in a God, viz. not only the dogmatic denial of his
existence, but the denial that there is any evidence on either side, which for most practical
purposes amounts to the same thing as if the existence of a God had been disproved. If we
are right in the conclusions to which we have been led by the preceding inquiry there is
evidence, but insufficient for proof, and amounting only to one of the lower degrees of
probability.
35
Mill pointedly characterized atheism as the unreasonable position that gods existence can
be denied, or at least that no evidence exists for considering gods existence. Mill regarded
atheism in general as dogmatic. It is dogmatic to reject without reason a fair consideration
of the evidence, and it is dogmatic to confidently deny gods existence when the balance
of evidence only supports skeptical doubt.
Thomas Henry Huxley, the public advocate for evolution and freethought during the
late nineteenth century, carried the banner of skepticism by renaming it agnosticism. His
1889 essay Agnosticismrelates how he arrived at this new name, standing for an old
principle: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without
regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect, do not
pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.
36
Huxleys philosophical method of rationalist atheology, which he called agnosticism,
requires the freethinker to skeptically withhold assent from any metaphysical or theolo-
gical worldview where every natural worldview based on science gets lumped together
with unreasonable metaphysics about ultimate realities. By specifically rejecting materi-
alism right along with theism, Huxley widened the schism growing between scientific
knowledge and philosophical materialism. According to agnosticism, while a materialist
worldview surely needs science, scientific inquiry has no need for materialism. Indeed,
according to Huxley, science would be unreasonable and unwise to get involved with
metaphysical assertions about all reality and all-knowing denials of god, just as it must
stay aloof from affirming any god. No atheism at all follows from accepting reason and
science only agnosticism and agnosticism, according to Huxley, will forever be far
more reasonable than atheism.
Empiricists were not alone assigning the question of gods existence to that agnostic
status. Some post-Kantians on the Continent omitted a deity from their philosophical systems
while taking close interest in human religiosity. Prominent examples are Charles Renouviers
four-volume Essais de critique générale (185464), Ernst Cassirers three-volume
Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (192329), and Martin HeideggersBeing and Time (1927).
Bertrand Russell, sustaining British empiricism into the twentieth century, did call
himself an atheist on occasion. He arrived at disbelief in God in early adulthood, as his
autobiographical reflections recall.
37
Yet Russell did not philosophically endorse atheism
wholeheartedly. His philosophical loyalties rested with freethought, rationalism, empirical
skepticism, and science. He explicitly rejected materialism as metaphysically implausible,
despite its methodological utility for scientific research.
38
However, a firm alliance
between skepticism and science had emerged, because established scientific knowledge
can in turn be applied to reach skeptical verdicts against religious claims involving this
world. Regrettably, religions demand social conformity to creeds contradicting science. As
for creeds only about supernatural matters, they are not but they do not irrationally
contravene materialism, since materialism cannot be justified either. A purely personal
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religion, so long as it is content to avoid assertions which science can disprove, may
survive undisturbed in the most scientific age.
39
Russells considered thoughts on atheism and agnosticism are well expressed in a brief
address titled Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic? A Plea for Tolerance in the Face of New
Dogmas(1949). Russell acknowledges the philosophical way that atheismhas been
associated with allegedly demonstrable knowledge that no god exists. His own scientific
empiricism prevents an affirmation of that philosophical atheism. However, he does say
that the ordinary meaning to atheismonly involves reasonable disbelief in gods, not
knowledge of transcendent matters. He says of any gods: I do not think that their
existence is an alternative that is sufficiently probable to be worth serious consideration
and he says of his fellow rationalists, speaking popularly, I think that all of us would say
in regard to those gods that we are Atheists.
40
7. Coordinated atheology
Russell pointed the way for forging cooperation between skepticism and materialism.
Cooperation requires compromise, and a mutually beneficial compromise is available. The
rationalist atheology of freethinking skepticism has to admit that ordinary atheism is
simply the reasonable refusal to believe in gods, so agnosticism is a kind of atheism.
Skepticism benefits from this compromise by becoming the firmest basis for atheisms
tenet that disbelief in gods is reasonable for anyone.
For its part, worldview atheology has to surrender any notion that only the possession
of a scientific worldview could be sufficient for atheism. By modestly retreating to an
empirically scientific worldview only showing how there is no place for divine action in
the world, worldview atheology provides crucial support for rationalist atheologys view
that little or no evidence for a god has been found.
Russells coordinated atheology is well expressed by a contemporary skeptic, Michael
Shermer, who deftly expressed this unification: Modern skepticism is embodied in the
scientific method, which involves gathering data to test natural explanations for natural
phenomena.
41
On this view, where empirical science cannot go, ones worldview must
halt in intellectual humility. There can be no question of the scientific worldview engaging
in metaphysical speculation or making exaggerated claims about all of reality beyond the
supervision of empirical evidence. This cooperative teamwork between skepticism and
science cannot eliminate the distinction between an inability to believe in gods and an
ability to affirm a natural worldview.
The competitive divide between a skeptically agnostic rationalism and a scientifically
atheist naturalism can point to long traditions behind these opposed positions.
42
Those
interested in forging a coordinated atheology can also point to successful historical and
contemporary examples. These three alternatives would not subsume each other, and they
will continue to enliven the ongoing god debates. Those hoping to bypass the uneducated
polemics aroused on all sides by New Atheism, among nonbelievers and believers alike,
have three rich heritages to carefully consider.
Conflict of interest statement
The author declares that this research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial
relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
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Notes
1. George Jacob Holyoak, Englands principal secularist of the nineteenth century and the first
atheist historiographer of his movement, structured this optimistic genre in The Origin and
Nature of Secularism, claiming that secularism was inevitable as soon as reason was liberated
from religion and freethought reached its maturity. John B. BurysA History of Freedom of
Thought concurs with this dramatically victorious plot. At the other end of the twentieth
century, Gerald LaruesFreethought Across the Centuries is a recent example of this same
plot.
2. John CairnssUnbelief in the Eighteenth Century as contrasted with its Earlier and Later
History is a notably balanced work, but it had little company in civility. John Stuart Blackie
accused atheism of arising from every malevolent cause in The Natural History of Atheism,as
did Robert FlintsAnti-Theistic Theories. Adam Storey FarrarsA Critical History of Free
Thought in Reference to the Christian Religion is more thorough by comparison, and lends
religious dissent far more credit for reasoned argument. Only German readers had access to
fair accounts of unbelief in the early nineteenth century, such as J.A.H. TittmannsUeber
Supranaturalismus, Rationalismus und Atheismus.
3. Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, 470. Other examples in this genre of skeptical
atheology are Everett, The Non-Existence of God; and Shook, The God Debates.
4. Baggini, Atheism,4,5.
5. Rosenberg, The Atheists Guide to Reality, viii. See also Fales, Naturalism and Physicalism.
6. Current research in secular studies is well represented by the two volume collection
Atheism and Secularity, edited by Phil Zuckerman. On debates over social secularization,
consult Bruce, Secularization. On political secularisms stance, see Berlinerblau, How to Be
Secular.
7. The examples of freethinking deism, Unitarianism, and pantheism in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries are instructive; consult Waligorea, Christian Deism in Eighteenth
Century England; and Howe, For Faith and Freedom. Freethought and atheism in world
history is recounted by Bury, A History of Freedom of Thought; Robertson, A History of
Freethought; and Larue, Freethought Across the Centuries. See also Lange, The History of
Materialism; and Buckley, At the Origins of Modern Atheism. Surveys of England and
America are supplied by Berman, A History of Atheism in Britain; and Turner, Without God,
Without Creed. For France, see Kors, Atheism in France, 16501729.
8. See Wottons discussion of main alternatives in New Histories of Atheism.
9. See Thrower, The Alternative Tradition; and Bremmer, Atheism in Antiquity.Also consult
Vlastos, Theology and Philosophy in Early Greek Thought; and Morgan, Myth and
Philosophy from the Presocratics to Plato. On ancient India, see Raju, Structural Depths of
Indian Thought.
10. See Sanders, Epicurus and the Epicurean Tradition; and Gillespie and Hardie, The Cambridge
Companion to Lucretius.
11. Empiricus, Selections from the Major Writings on Scepticism; and Long, Hellenistic
Philosophy. See also Thorsrud, Sextus Empiricus on Skeptical Piety; and Bailey, Sextus
Empiricus and Pyrrhonean Scepticism.
12. See Lagerlund, Rethinking the History of Skepticism.
13. See Floridi, Sextus Empiricus; Paganini and Maia Neto, Renaissance Skepticisms; and Brown,
The Return of Lucretius to Renaissance Florence.
14. See Davidson, Atheism in Italy, 15001700,7374. On Vaninis atheism, and other
Renaissance figures skirting atheism, see Allen, Doubts Boundless Sea.
15. See for example Lucci, Scripture and Deism.
16. Cudworth, The True Intellectual System of the Universe, 175.
17. Ibid. 290.
18. See Zurbuchen, Religion and Society; and See note 7 above.
19. Swift, The Works of the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Swift, 193.
20. Collins, A Discourse of Free-Thinking, Occasiond by the Rise, 5 (italics in original).
21. Hobbes, Leviathan, chap. 34, sect. 2.
22. Martinich explores this question in The Bible and Protestantism in Leviathan.
23. Hobbes, Leviathan, chap. 31, sect. 2.
24. The complete English translation is Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of
Jean Meslier, trans. Mike Shreve.
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25. See La Mettrie, Man a Machine and Man a Plant. The complete translation of DHolbachs
The System of Nature is by H. D. Robinson. Mark Curren traces the impact of DHolbach in
France in Atheism, Religion and Enlightenment in Pre-revolutionary Europe.
26. Büchner, Force and Matter,2122. Consult Gregory, Scientific Materialism in Nineteenth
Century Germany.
27. Ibid. 239.
28. See Hecht, The End of the Soul.
29. See Flew, Atheistic Humanism; and Kurtz, The Transcendental Temptation.
30. See note 13 above.; and Sinnott-Armstrong, Pyrrhonian Skepticism. Broader perspectives on
skepticism, religion, and culture are provided in Laursen, The Politics of Skepticism in the
Ancients, Montaigne; and Zerba, Doubt and Skepticism in Antiquity and the Renaissance.
31. See Curley, Skepticism and Toleration: The Case of Montaigne; and Popkin, Michel de
Montaigne and the Nouveau PyrrhoniensAnn Hartle balances Montaignes humanistic ethos
against his skepticism, viewing Montaignes faith as humbly chastened by doubt, in
Montaigne and Skepticism.
32. See Guicciardini, Reading the Principia; and Yolton, Thinking Matter. Descartess relationship
with skepticism is too complex to outline here, but consult Curley, Descartes Against the
Skeptics; and Lennon, The Plain Truth.
33. On Diderot, see Brewer, The Discourse of Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century France;
Blom, A Wicked Company; and Fowler, New Essays on Diderot.
34. Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 15. See Lemmens, Humes Atheistic
Agenda: Philos Confession in Dialogues,12; and Russell, The Riddle of Humes Treatise.
Natural religion and natural theology presented shifting targets for skepticism before and after
Hume; consult Peterfreund, Turning Points in Natural Theology; and van der Zande and
Popkin, The Skeptical Tradition around 1800.
35. Mill, Three Essays on Religion, 242. Consult Rosen, Mill, chap. 12.
36. Huxley, Agnosticism43. See Lightman, The Origins of Agnosticism.
37. Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, 18721914, 36.
38. See for example RussellsIntroduction: Materialism, Past and Present,xix.
39. Russell, Religion and Science,9.
40. Russell, The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell,9192.
41. Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things, 16.
42. Primary atheological arguments from the skeptically rationalist tradition are surveyed in
ShooksRationalist Atheology.Typical arguments made in the scientifically naturalist
tradition are discussed in ShooksScientific Atheology.
Notes on contributor
John R. Shook is research associate in philosophy, and instructor of science education, teaching for
the online Science and the PublicEdM program at the University at Buffalo, since 2006. Also, he
recently became a lecturer in philosophy at Bowie State University in Maryland. From 2000 to 2006
he was a professor of philosophy at Oklahoma State University. His research areas include American
intellectual history, modern philosophy, philosophy of science, naturalism, history of unbelief and
secularism, and science-religion dialogue. Among his recent books are The Future of Naturalism
(co-edited, 2009), John Deweys Philosophy of Spirit (co-authored, 2010), and The God Debates: A
21st Century Guide for Atheists, Believers, and Everyone in Between (authored, 2010). He is also
co-editing the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Secularism.
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... In other words, do the causal histories of theistic beliefs provided by disciplines such as evolutionary psychology and the cognitive science of religion undermine their plausibility? Non-religious philosophers often point to the peculiar character of supernatural beliefs, which they argue renders them susceptible to evolutionary debunking arguments (Nola 2013;Griffiths and Wilkins 2015;Shook 2015). Philosophers who identify with a particular religious coalition (usually Judaism, Christianity, or Islam) commonly warn their interlocutors of the dangers of the genetic fallacy, pointing out that etiological accounts do not entail the falsity of religious beliefs (Johnson, Lenfesty, and Schloss 2014;Jong and Visala 2014;Eyghen 2016). ...
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This article offers a brief epidemiological analysis and description of some of the main cognitive (and coalitional) biases that can facilitate the emergence and enable the maintenance of a broad category of toxic traditions, which will be referred to here as “religious” belief-behaviour complexes (BBCs) or “theisms”. I argue that such BBCs played an “adaptive” role in the Upper Paleolithic and have continued to “work” throughout most of human history by enhancing the species’ capacity for material production and promoting its biological reproduction. However, today the theist credulity and conformity biases that surreptitiously shape these kinds of social assemblages have now become maladaptive in most contexts in the Anthropocene. In order to help address the pressing global challenges our species faces, such as extreme climate change, excessive consumer capitalism, and escalating cultural conflict, I commend the use of “prebunking” and other debiasing strategies in our attempts to reduce the toxicity of theisms in the body politic.
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Atheology is the intellectual effort to understand atheism, defend the reasonableness of unbelief, and support nonbelievers in their encounters with religion. This book presents a historical overview of the development of atheology from ancient thought to the present day. It offers in-depth examinations of four distinctive schools of atheological thought: rationalist atheology, scientific atheology, moral atheology, and civic atheology. John R. Shook shows how a familiarity with atheology's complex histories, forms, and strategies illuminates the contentious features of today's atheist and secularist movements, which are just as capable of contesting each other as opposing religion. The result is a book that provides a disciplined and philosophically rigorous examination of atheism's intellectual strategies for reasoning with theology. Systematic Atheology is an important contribution to the philosophy of religion, religious studies, secular studies, and the sociology and psychology of nonreligion.
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Jung's psychology proffers a sustained reflection on the traditional religious question of the relation of divine transcendence to immanence. On this issue his psychology affirms a position of radical immanence in its contention that the experience of divinity is initially wholly from within. Though this position remains on the periphery of religious and theological orthodoxy Jung is not alone in holding it among moderns. Paul Tillich adopts a similar stance with his controlling symbols of the divine as 'Ground of Being' and 'Depth of Reason'. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin understands divinity as the experiential energy of evolution itself working within nature and humanity toward greater configurations of universal communion as the basis of community. All of Jung's master symbols of individuation assume such an understanding of immanence uniting individual and totality. His psychology strongly suggests and contributes to the current emergence of a new religious sensitivity based on the awareness of the intra-psychic origin of all religions. In his later writings he held out such a position as a significant alternative to genocide. © 2015, The Society of Analytical Psychology.