The City of
Graeme Hunter on the Most Challenging Thought Experiment of All Time
Around the beginning of the seventeenth century, daring provocateurs invented the most challenging thought experiment of all time: Try to conceive of a world in which there is no God. Mainstream thinkers quickly became aware that this project had "gone viral," as we would say nowadays. In 1623, long before there was a single documentable atheist in the known world, the philosopher and scientist Marin Mersenne guessed that there were over 50,000 of them in Paris alone.
That sounds less strange once you realize that atheism meant something vaguer back then than it does today. Then it meant having false opinions about God, not denying his existence altogether. There were plenty of people with false opinions, but none yet so extreme and deluded as to say there was no God.
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Graeme Hunter is a contributing editor to Touchstone and Research Professor of Philosophy at Dominican University College in Ottawa. He is the author of Radical Protestantism in Spinoza's Thought (Ashgate).
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