The Rational Tradition and Atomism
The New Atheism claims the existence of a ‘finer tradition’ of rational thought exposing throughout history the weakness of religious beliefs and so becoming the target for persecution. This chapter examines these claims, focusing on one area emblematic of the superiority of the ‘rational tradition’ in atheist polemic. Ancient atomism is characterised as an exemplar of rationalist prescience horrifying to the religious mind. Johnstone shows, however, that this is based on an approach to the history so selective as to become mythologizing. Here the development of atomism and its undoubted challenge to theism are examined in context. But, Johnstone argues doing so requires paying serious attention to both the forms of religious engagement with the concept and the ways in which historically its own rationality could be questioned.