Athens’ Atheists: Tim Whitmarsh on Religious Doubt in Ancient Greece

February 1, 2016

Host: Lindsay Beyerstein

In ancient Greece, did everyone unquestioningly believe in the gods of Olympus? Was there no one in classical Athens to write the equivalent of “The Zeus Delusion”? According to our guest this week, the Greeks’ religious beliefs were as varied and nuanced as they are today. Tim Whitmarsh is a classicist and professor of Greek Culture at University of Cambridge. In his newest book, Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World, he explores the skeptical aspects of ancient history that are often left out of common retellings.

Like so many other cultures, ancient Greece went through its own periods of enlightenment and reform, times when religion and irreligion, and superstition and rationalism, coexisted. Whitmarsh argues that we moderns shouldn’t be so quick to tie the ancient Greeks to their mythology, because along with the myths and gods there is a rich history of secularism, critical thinking and even atheism.