I rather admire a certain kind of atheism. The atheism I admire is dissimilar to this 'fad-atheism' you see so many people claiming nowadays. The fad atheist is usually a stupid person, to be sure; they become atheists simply because they are impudent by nature and don't like being told what to do by anyone or anything. Or they become atheists because it is a way to rebel, or they think it will convince everyone that they are smart. This sort of person is lead about by their mediocrity, and seize upon with dull minds the genuine thoughts and sound questions philosophized by people of greater intellect. They have a terrible flaw, that most people would argue afflicts all people; they very willing and are even wont to accept and state as fact that which is not proven, or that which proves nothing, and even in some case willing to do the same for things which are quite simply false.
The famous logician Bertrand Russell, who was one of the greatest minds of the 20th century even had this flaw. In his history of western philosophy he stated that the Ephesians transformed 'Diana of the Ephesians' into the Virgin Mary, citing that Ephesus was the very place in which the title "Mother of God" was ratified by the Church. This a man who transformed philosophy and logic, a brilliant mathematician, and a historian, no less. Yet here he makes the most flippant and obvious of mistakes. Had he stated that Mary replaced Diana he would have been correct, in point of fact. The goddess Diana was completely done away with and another female took her place in the attention of the Ephesians, one who was not divine, one who did not require or demand worship, indeed one who was not to be adored. So dissimilar are the two cults and their objects and functions that there can be no confusion on the matter. The one was a cult of adoration addressed to a nature goddess, and the other was a cult of imitation, that of perfect obedience to God, whose object was a mortal woman.
Even further, what were the Ephesians doing? Were they indeed transforming Diana? Or were they not doing what they expressly stated they were doing and intended to do? Namely, to eradicate Diana, and divert their attention to a real and different object, a more pious example? Even if the Christian religion is as much myth as the Greek religion, we certainly know the latter to be the case; and the former is patently false, even defamatory. Aside from all this, it is no small thing to note that it was in Ephesus that Mary lived for a time, and the place can still be visited today. Yet, in spite of all this, and in spite of the considerable powers of intellect which were Bertrand's and his proficiencies in history, he makes a comment with such 'matter of fact' certitude that one must conclude he prefers what he desires to be true so strongly that he abandons fact. Even the atheist can see that what he says is not the case; and yet while I strain to think of another man in our own time who was or is as brilliant as Bertrand was, here he is with his back turned on truth.
And there are other such cases, especially when atheists try to debunk various pious stories. For instance, I saw one man try to replicate the miracle of St. Anthony where he went from reading scripture at the lectern and then instantly was in the choir loft singing. This man tried over and over to say that St. Anthony ran so fast that no one saw him and jumped to his station in the choir loft perhaps 18 ft. above the congregation, and then proceeded to try himself repeatedly. Complete stupidity, that man's idea and his actions. Can you imagine the stammering, bald, bespectacled man, running from the lectern trying to just 18 ft. in the air, until he was disheveled and sweat, his comb-over a muck. Either what was is said to have happened actually happened or it didn't happen at all. Both the atheist and the theist alike can point and laugh at these sort of fellows.
This flaw I was speaking of is all too common amongst fad atheists, and even sincere one's are susceptible to it. Perhaps, though, more ridiculous is the common insistence of fad atheists that you cannot disprove a negative. These atheist cocktail party philosophers readily offer this when asked to prove that God doesn't exist. Further, they state that the burden of proof is on the theist to show a God. But this is a stupid argument, because if that were the case then the atheist is stating that the fiduciary void of space cannot be proved. Further, the burden would certainly be upon them to prove that the void cannot be proved under the same set of rules if anyone asked them. That's a ridiculous proposition. And sincere informed atheists do nothing to correct their counterparts, their disciples if you will, when they employ this argument, because they don't mind if the waters are muddied, or the opposition stymied, for the very reason that the confusion might hide any inadequacies in their own, more genuine beliefs.
Also, there is that atheists demand a species of empirical proofs concerning God's existence which do not follow from the description of God. They want something measurable, in a word. But the definition of God is that he is infinite and therefore immeasurable. To demand a quantifiable proof for the existence of God is like demanding to be shown deer toes or chicken lips, otherwise you won't believe in chickens and deer. On this point, I too am an atheist. I am an atheist in so far as I do not believe that there is any quantifiable evidence for the existence of God that comes from His substance, nor for the existence of non-gods. You cannot say," Here is a measurable energy that is God. Here a finger of God. etc..." I do not believe in the existence of a God who is a sum of parts.
And this is the sort of atheism I fancy, namely that I am an atheist insofar that I do not believe in gods that are not God. Similarly, I do not believe in anything 'y' that is not 'y.' The Greeks had these sorts of atheists, if you can call them atheist. Modern atheists like to put their unjust hands all over certain historical figures and claim them for their own camp. A prime example being Epicurus and his Epicureans, the later cult. Only Epicurus wasn't an atheist. In fact, the existence of gods was very instrumental, even concomitant, in conveying his concepts of 'hedonai' (pleasure) and 'ataraxia' (tranquility). Epicurus simply believed that if gods did exist, they didn't have anything to do with us, because they lived in a perfect state beyond anything that can detract from perfect hedonai, one which we can strive to achieve through a pious sort of hedonism. His hedonism focused on higher forms of pleasure such as virtue, sobriety, health, wisdom, etc. By no means did Epicurus devise a philosophy that stated," There are no gods, therefore all morals are subjective. The highest good is whatever makes you feel good." Epicurus wasn't encouraging anyone to slake their thirst for pleasure with sex, gluttony, power, and wine. In fact, Epicurus was a vegetarian who was most amicable and mild in disposition, who believed that prudence was the source of all virtue, and therefore lived by a strict rule of moderation, abstinence from bodily pleasures, and deep friendship. This prompted him to devise his 'hedonistic calculus' which is similar to the 'approach-avoidance' conflict we see used in modern psychology today. I won't tarry too long on Epicurus, for the reason that this letter isn't about Epicurus.
However, Epicurus' philosophy was so similar to Christianity, that all the Epicureans converted to Christianity. They were very good ones, too. In fact, they played a role, I am told by an atheist analytic philosopher, in the establishment and popularity of monasticism, employing their commune style of life in their obedience to the Gospel. Not much survives of Epicurus' works, but even a cursory reading of his works will reveal to the inquirer numerous and undeniable parallels to Christianity. Epicurus and many of his fellow countrymen took up this form of atheism; we shall call it atheism since the atheists are so keen to call them atheists. They denied the Greek gods because there was nothing divine in them beyond their immortality, strengths and skills. They were bereft of any unwavering sort of virtue and displayed a horrendous vicissitude in character. It was obvious to any self respecting and educated Greek that these myths were myths in fact. And so, many of them devoted themselves to philosophy and the sciences, which at the time were mostly one and the same. It was an easy thing to do with Aristotle available to those who valued more highly the empirical proofs, if they could not be bothered with deities at all. And for those who simply could not be bothered with myths and valued reason, yet retained their piety, Plato was available to them as well. And there were many others as well, to whom the Greek could resort to in lieu of patronizing these inadequate Greek gods, so-called.
As time went on, a highly defined concept of what 'the good' must be was formed by the Greeks, by atheists and theists alike. They determined what God must look like, if he does exist, what characteristics would be necessary. Greek philosophers articulated vast and concise works on virtue and ethics, metaphysics and the like. Hereby, the Greeks made themselves ready to recognize God at his first appearance, should He appear. So, these toga clad philosophers and their rich boy patrons went on honing their powers of perceptive intellect. As a rule, these men knew they were worshiping something other than the thing which was named, and were content to observe holidays and various feast and other pieties.
It's not that they gave up on the notion of God, rather they gave up on the notion of gods which are necessarily false... or tried to in one fashion or another. Then, from the east came the Christ cult and the Hebrew God, who fit their ideas almost perfectly, like carts to horses. And these atheists were suddenly atheists no more. How could they deny this God who so resembled what they had through science, logic, and philosophy become aware of, when they had unto death defended their ideas concerning the same? The old gods could no more remain than darkness can remain when light is cast.
That's the big disconnect between the men atheists call their fathers and the atheists themselves. Generation after generation of Greek philosophers and intellectuals held fast to philosophies propounded by the greatest amongst them: Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and many others. They had every reason to reject the superstitions of their countrymen, but none to reject God himself. In a strange species of silence, they held their peace for a long time waiting for 'The Perfect' to appear. Yet, modern atheists, especially fad atheists, reject all notions of God. However, because of the philosophical nature of Christianity, it is known as the most logical of all religions. This, perhaps, is why atheists spend such great amount of time refuting Christianity as opposed to other forms of religious belief. And to be perfectly frank, it is why atheists bait and debate Protestant fearmongers who are afraid of philosophy and science... instead of debating Catholics and Orthodox who are well armed with philosophy. A very childish and cheap tactic aimed at soothing themselves.
In fact, Christianity itself is the sole continuance of philosophy, or at least western philosophy. The point of all this is that there is an impudent and juvenile form of atheism, and there is a truly preparatory and enlightened version of atheism; one that makes the soul ready. One cannot divorce theology from philosophy. It is something that remains till this day. There exists therefore a sort of rational atheism, short lived, which is ever ready to embrace God. However, these 'pure empiricists' as they call themselves are completely irrational, and wouldn't countenance a proof for the number two if you asked them to, if they really knew the implications of their professed beliefs.
"Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." ~Aristotle~