John Wilkins wonders when atheism began.
Over a number of beers, the discussion turned to the question when it became possible to be an atheist. De Sade lived at a time when public atheism was just beginning its run. Prior to that, it was hard, if not impossible, to be an atheist, largely because the very idea of denying all gods hadn’t yet come up.
John uses the memetics analogy with evolution and suggests that it’s hard to develop a new idea if it is too far from the old ideas – because it can’t interbreed. Ideas need to evolve gradually over time or they die out like a fatal mutation. Before the enlightenment, the idea that there might not be gods never came up – and if it did, people would have thought it a crazy idea because they couldn’t imagine a world without gods.
Speaking of crazy ideas, this came to me this morning while I was reading Visions of Sin,
You either got faith or you got belief in something that’s true