There is this atheist I correspond with (quite a bit, lately) who maintains there have always been atheists, even way back there in ancient times. He gave some examples. [19th comment]
His first was a character who was whining over some personal injustice, as if no godly person ever had to work his way through that. Of Diagoras, the "first atheist," Wikipedia says [2-4-2008] this: “He became an atheist after an incident that happened against him went unpunished by the gods." And that’s all on what formulated his point of view! Apparently he imagined God should be like Santa Claus, making sure nothing bad happens to anyone, and got bummed when life didn’t turn out that way.
This strikes me as thinking neither original nor profound for the man history records as the "first atheist." I swear, at times I am this close to changing my name to Tom Sheepandgoaticus. I'd be taken more seriously in the educated quarters, which, of course, is what I want.
The second atheist on his list fares even worse. On Critias, Wikipedia informs that he was “a leading member of the Thirty Tyrants, and one of the most violent…..Critias was a very dark person in Athenian history. After the fall of Athens to the Spartans, he blacklisted many of its citizens as a leading member of the Thirty Tyrants. Most of his prisoners were executed and their wealth was confiscated. He proved to be a tormented personality, displaying many complexes and much hatred”
Not really the type of guy you want to put in the Atheist Hall of Fame. Who’s next, Hannibal Lector?
The Lector reference, which Moristotle reckoned an "ominous thrust" and which I subsequently withdrew.....after all, was it really very sporting?....should not make one feel sorry for my sparring partner. Believe me, he can give as good as he gets. I'll score a point or two, which he'll graciously acknowledge, and then, while I'm strutting around like Hercule Poirot, he whacks me in the back of the head with a two-by-four!
Besides, it's not easy pulling in ancients to buttress your case. They're unpredictable. You try to make them behave and they just won't do it. Those Hebrews from the OT go through extensive screening before I allow them to set foot on my blog. They invariably have a skeleton or two in their closet.
A little more on Diagoras. He, says Wikipedia, "once threw a wooden image of a god into a fire, remarking that the deity should perform another miracle and save itself." Another source identifies the image as a wooden statue of Hercules, which the hungry atheist used as fuel to boil his turnips!
Of course, this type of occurrence (I realize this is only one of his arrows, not the whole quiver) in no way disparages God, but only a god represented by images. The Bible itself frequently uses the same reasoning.
Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of the hands of earthling man.
A mouth they have, but they cannot speak;
Eyes they have, but they cannot see;
Ears they have, but they cannot hear.
A nose they have, but they cannot smell.
Hands are theirs, but they cannot feel.
Feet are theirs, but they cannot walk;
They utter no sound with their throat.
Those making them will become just like them,
All those who are trusting in them. Ps 115:4-8
But my all-time favorite is a contest set up between Baal (always thought to dwell in statues) and Jehovah (never thought to dwell in statues) and their respective adherents. Elijah dresses a bull for sacrifice, and it is for those priests of Baal to persuade their god to consume the offering! For hours they plead and carry on and slash themselves, but to no avail. At length, Elijah begins to mock:
Call at the top of your voice, for he is a god; for he must be concerned with a matter, and he has excrement and has to go to the privy. Or maybe he is asleep and ought to wake up! 1 Kings 18:27
Elijah, we all know, was not an atheist. He was just a good 'ol boy having some fun at the statue's expense.