Casual Discussion Science Forum @scivillage
Did Zeus Exist? - Printable Version

+- Casual Discussion Science Forum @scivillage (//www.scivillage.com)
+-- Forum: Culture (//www.scivillage.com/forum-49.html)
+--- Forum: Religions & Spirituality (//www.scivillage.com/forum-124.html)
+--- Thread: Did Zeus Exist? (/thread-101.html)



Did Zeus Exist? - C C - Oct 17, 2014

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/did-zeus-exist/

GARY GUTTING: "...Further, as this civilization developed the critical tools of historiography and philosophy, Zeus’s reality remained widely unquestioned. Socrates and Plato criticized certain poetic treatments, which showed Zeus and the gods in an unworthy light. But they never questioned the very existence of the gods, and Socrates regularly followed the dictates of his daimon, a personal divine guide. There were many questions about the true nature of the divine, but few about its existence.

Why did belief in the gods persist in spite of critical challenges? What evidence seemed decisive to the ancient Greeks? [...] Most of us do not find our world so filled with the divine, and we may be inclined to dismiss the Greeks’ “experiences” as over-interpretations. But how can we be so sure that the Greeks lived in the same sort of world as we do? What decisive reason do we have for thinking that for them divinity was not a widely and deeply experienced fact of life? If we cannot eliminate this as a real possibility, shouldn’t we hold a merely agnostic position on Zeus and the other Greek gods, taking seriously the possibility that they existed but holding that we have good reason neither to assert nor deny their existence?

Let’s consider some objections...."



RE: Did Zeus Exist? - Yazata - Oct 19, 2014

(Oct 17, 2014 02:48 PM)C C Wrote: GARY GUTTING: "...Further, as this civilization developed the critical tools of historiography and philosophy, Zeus’s reality remained widely unquestioned.

Xenophanes certainly questioned the traditional anthropomorphic Greek deities. Parmenides seems to have reconceptualized the divine as something like the Hindu Brahman.  Many of the Greek philosophers produced (kinda) materialistic and naturalistic philosophies that didn't make any explicit appeal to divine powers and agencies.

Certainly it wasn't always healthy to challenge a city state's traditional religious observances. In ancient Greece these were patriotic as much as they were religious and had strong political overtones. One demonstrated solidarity with the state by participating in its ceremonies.

Quote:Socrates and Plato criticized certain poetic treatments, which showed Zeus and the gods in an unworthy light.  But they never questioned the very existence of the gods, and Socrates regularly followed the dictates of his daimon, a personal divine guide.  There were many questions about the true nature of the divine, but few about its existence.

I think that's true. There were often rationalistic intellectuals in Greco-Roman antiquity who expressed skepticism about the supernatural, but most people seemed to accept the reality of the strange and the uncanny. For most people in antiquity, the world was filled with signs and wonders, portents of hidden unseen realities.

Quote:Why did belief in the gods persist in spite of critical challenges?

There wasn't any tradition of naturalistic rationalism in ancient times that could list successes like modern science's, and use them to justify the worldview that made that success possible.

In ancient times, atoms were just as speculative, just as much the product of imagination, as daimons. Ancient lore was filled with reports of extraordinary and miraculous events, so theories that we sneeringly reject today seemed to the ancients to perhaps have some empirical justification.

Quote:What evidence seemed decisive to the ancient Greeks? [...] Most of us do not find our world so filled with the divine, and we may be inclined to dismiss the Greeks’ “experiences” as over-interpretations. But how can we be so sure that the Greeks lived in the same sort of world as we do?

The ancient Greeks lived in the same world that we do. The difference is that they didn't always conceptualize it the same way we do.

Quote:What decisive reason do we have for thinking that for them divinity was not a widely and deeply experienced fact of life?

Most of the ancients thought that it was.

Quote:If we cannot eliminate this as a real possibility, shouldn’t we hold a merely agnostic position on Zeus and the other Greek gods, taking seriously the possibility that they existed but holding that we have good reason neither to assert nor deny their existence?

I can't exclude the possibility that any of the ancient deities existed with absolute certainty. But I'm inclined to think that the likelihood that they existed (and presumably still exist, they were immortals after all) is so small that I feel confident in dismissing it. (I think about the Judeo-Christian-Islamic 'God' in the same way.)

I'm a little more accepting of the concept of the supernatural, because it's more along the lines of another name for the mysterious and unknown, and doesn't try to prejudge what this category will turn out to contain.