I'm just finishing the book Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Hecht for my Humanist book club. One thing that impressed me, other than the author's depth and breadth of knowledge, was just how much the new atheism looks like the old atheism. I found 13 recurring ideas in the book that might just represent the core of atheism.
The main thesis seems to be that the nature of doubt reflects the nature of belief and vice versa. When doubters crave knowledge, belief yields to rationalism. When cosmopolitan life exposes believers to rival faiths, dogma yields to tolerance but leaves doubters craving meaning. (Enter Humanism?)
In honor of International Blasphemy Day I've paired some of my favorite modern atheist quotes with others from antiquity, some of which (Thales, Heraclitus, Diogenes, Aristotle, Cisero and Sextus) I found in Hecht. The comparisons are stunning!
I've used Hecht's classifications where provided, mainly to link philosophers with their movements, whether or not the ideas presented here are representative of either. It's a dense book, but well worth it. Oversimplification here may be inevitable.
Blasphemy #1: Rationalism
Everything and nothing is sacred; everything and nothing is profane.
There are no miracles; awe is just mystery without the ignorance.
Discovery trumps revealed faith; prophesy is hearsay.
Immortality is a narcissistic fantasy.
Blasphemy #5: Atheism
Determined faith is wishful thinking.
Faith calls for resignation of the will.
Rival faiths are mutually contradictory; sectarian dogma is internally inconsistent.
Blasphemy #8: Antitheism
Divine intervention is a nepotism fantasy; there is no ultimate meaning or plan.
Certainty licenses coercion; compulsory faith is often insincere and obscurantist.
Blasphemy #10: Humanism
Compassion is a human quality; faith calls for acquiescence to an arbitrary moral code.
The incorporeal is immaterial; where there is no mass there is no substance.
Blasphemy #12: Secularism
Civil law trumps religious law; reason is the common currency of civil society.
Blasphemy #13: Freethought
Faith calls for suspension of the intellect.