Clerical Quackery 6 – Physics versus Metaphysics in Ancient Greece – 2 – Plato

This is the 26th in a series of posts dealing with what I call “the God Lie”, the 6th in a subseries dealing with “Clerical Quackery”, and the 2nd in the sub-subseries (!) dealing with “Physics vs. Metaphysics in Ancient Greece”, i.e., dealing with skirmishes and battles that occurred in Ancient Greece in the war between science and religion (or between realism and mysticism), a war that has been waged for at least 2500 years and continues today (e.g., in the war between the “modern world” and “Muslim supremacists”).

Early in ancient Greece (as I outlined in the previous post) one side of this war was taken by the superstitious Greek “rabble”, their clerics, and other “metaphysicists” (or more accurately, ‘mystics’), including Homer, Hesiod, Heraclitus (partially), and Pythagoras (completely). On the other side were the first few physicists (i.e., those who tried to understand ‘nature’; Greek, phusis), including Thales (“water is the cause of all things”), partially Xenophanes (“…all is but a woven web of guesses”), Anaxagoras (who suggested the Sun is a “red-hot stone”, rather than a god), Protagoras (“concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not…”), and Democritus (“by convention there is color, by convention sweetness, by convention bitterness, but in reality there are atoms and space”).

Approximately 400 years after Homer and Hesiod, Socrates (469–399 BCE) seems to have tried to stay neutral in the war between science and religion, but he managed to offend the religious rabble and their clerics – who have always been eager to kill for their cause (perhaps because, beneath all their bluster, they know they’ve bought into a bill of goods, i.e., the God Lie). Yet, whatever the cause, after a trial that mocked justice, Socrates was found guilty and executed. The official verdict was:
Socrates is guilty of not believing in the gods in which the state believes, but brings in other new divinities; he also wrongs by corrupting the youth.
After Socrates’ execution, of course the battle between science and religion continued, with the next two primary combatants being the two most famous Greek philosophers, namely, Socrates’ student Plato (c.428–c.348 BCE) and Plato’s student Aristotle (384–322 BCE). As I plan to outline in the next post, Aristotle unfortunately engaged in some (useless) metaphysical speculations but also contributed a little to physics (including meteorology), quite a bit to biology (a branch of phusis), and a lot to logic. For this post my goal is to at least outline some of the subterfuge promoted by Plato, who was a mystic – arguably, the most evil mystic the world has even known (using ‘evil’ in the sense of harm done to humanity). That is, it was Plato’s “Forms” into which later tyrants (including “Saint” Constantine, Muhammad, al-Wahhab, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Khomeini) poured their concrete for the foundations of their abominations, including various versions of Christianity, Islam, Fascism, and Communism.

Before trying to explain what I mean, however, I should point out a complication about the word ‘existence’ that Plato apparently never appreciated and that has subsequently caused considerable confusion throughout the world, especially among the religious. This confusion has arisen because the word ‘existence’ has multiple meanings. In what follows (except for cases in which I trust that my meaning will be obvious), I’ll distinguish two meanings for ‘existence’ by using the expanded phrases “exists in reality” versus “exists only as an idea”.

By “exists in reality” I’ll mean that some type of measurement can be made on the subject and that independent observers generally agree on the results. For example, I expect that most observers would agree that, e.g., the Empire State Building “exits in reality”. On the other hand, by “exists only as an idea” I’ll mean that such measurements aren’t possible – although, in such cases, it might be possible to measure associated brain waves, but I’ll then describe the brain waves as “existing in reality” (as electro-chemical signals within someone’s brain), without meaning to confirm that what is being thought about also exists in reality. As illustrations, there’s no evidence to support the assumption that God (or any god) exists (or has ever existed) in reality, but meanwhile, there’s no doubt that various gods exist and have existed as ideas – otherwise, I wouldn’t be wasting so much time writing about the God Lie (which, fundamentally, is the lie that any god has ever existed in reality).

In ancient Greece, enormous confusion arose (and persists in religious people to this day!) because so many otherwise-brilliant people didn’t (and foolish and/or uneducated religious people still don’t) distinguish between what exists in reality and what exists only as ideas. Unfortunately for the world, the distinction between the two meanings for ‘existence’ never penetrated Plato’s thick skull. [By the way, but maybe not entirely incidentally, ‘Plato’ was his nickname, meaning ‘broad’ or ‘thick’, suggested to refer to the size of his forehead!]

Plato as an Aspiring Mathematician
To try to uncover possible reasons why Plato managed to cause the world so much trouble, it might be useful to explore Plato’s background. In that regard, Aristotle mentions that Plato (born of a wealthy Athenian family with genetic lineage to the famous Athenian legislator, Solon, c.630–c.560 BCE) was first a student of Cratylus, a disciple of Heraclitus. As I mentioned in the previous post, Heraclitus was the Ionian who studied under Thales and who is famous for his ideas of the Logos [which is used in the New Testament and which probably was an idea that he or Thales adapted from the Egyptian idea of Ma’at or Zarathustra’s idea of Asha] and is famous for his idea “the attunement of opposite tensions” [which became known as “the dialectic”, which Hegel (1770–1831) promoted to try to find a synthesis of a thesis and its antithesis and which Marx (1818–83) used to formulate his dialectic materialism]. Heraclitus is also famous for his statements, “all is flux; nothing stays still… nothing endures but change” – a concept that apparently caused Plato a great deal of anxiety, resulting in his imagining ideal things (called “Forms”) that never change.

After serving in the military from 409–404 BCE (during the war between Athens and Sparta) Plato apparently decided to become a playwright (which presumably explains why Plato expounded his philosophy via dialogues). Thus, in Hermes and Plato (partially available at Google books) Edouard Shure (1841–1929) states:
At the age of twenty-seven he [Plato] had written several tragedies and was about to offer one for competition. It was about this time that Plato met Socrates, who was discussing with some youths in the gardens of the Academy. He was speaking about the Just and the Unjust, the Beautiful, the Good, and the True. The poet drew near to the philosopher, listened to him, and returned on the morrow and for several days afterwards. At the end of a few weeks, his mind had undergone a complete revolution… Another Plato had been born in him, as he listened to the words of the one who called himself “the one who brings souls to birth.” The important thing, he (Socrates) said, was to believe in the Just and the True, and to apply them to life. Plato had received from Socrates the great impulse, the active male principle of his life, his faith in justice and truth. He was indebted for the science and substance of his ideas to his initiation into the Mysteries, and his genius consists in the new form, at once poetic and dialectic, he was enabled to give to them.
How Plato became “initiated” into the above-mentioned “Mysteries” seems unclear. After what was essentially the murder of Socrates, Plato probably distrusted the Greek “rabble” and their clerics, and left Athens. Thus, as given in The History of Science and Religion in the Western Tradition – An Encyclopedia:
Soon after Socrates' death in 399 BCE, Plato apparently left Athens for Megara [a city in Attica, Greece], where he visited Euclides (450–380 BCE), founder of the Megarian school [and another of Socrates’ students, who was present at his death and who famously and importantly rejected arguments by analogy]; Cyrene [a Greek colony in what is now Libya], where he visited the mathematician Theodorus (c.460–390 BCE) [famous for what’s now called “the Spiral of Theodorus”]; and Italy, where he visited the Pythagorean Philolaus (c.470–390 BCE)…
It therefore appears that, soon after Socrates’ death, the erstwhile playwright Plato immersed himself in the field of (pure) mathematics.

Relative to Plato’s “Theory of Forms”, it’s relevant to point out an important distinction between “pure” vs. “applied” mathematics. Applied math has been “the queen of science” ever since the first cave-woman divided the available meat into an appropriate number of portions and told her man to go out and get a half dozen more logs for the fire! Subsequently, applied math was used by architects, bureaucrats, engineers, etc. to build irrigation systems and dwellings, divide property, and collect taxes. Pure math, on the other hand, caught the attention of the first metaphysicist who noticed that 1 + 1 = 2, no matter the things being counted (pieces of meat, logs, taxes, stars, whatever); that is, pure math is an abstraction from reality. To this day, applied math continues to be the fundamental tool used in all branches of science, and pure math (which isn’t a branch of science) continues to be “merely” an abstraction – albeit sometimes extremely useful (e.g., in the formulation of general relativity, quantum mechanics, particle physics, and string theory).

Not incidentally, a hint of differences in mental attitudes of people who pursue pure math vs. science is available from relatively recent data about members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Thus, although I consider it disgraceful that 7% of NAS members “believe in a personal god” (because members of the Academy are charged with conveying their collective opinion to the U.S. Congress based on evidence, and yet, 7% believe in the existence in reality of “a personal god”, even though, in reality, there’s zero evidence to support such an opinion!), but for present purposes, it’s more interesting to note that “the highest rate of belief in god was found among mathematicians (14.3%)” – and if some of them are pure mathematicians (as they probably are) they shouldn’t even be members of the National Academy of Sciences! The result suggests that, to this day, pure math continues to be a fertile field for mystics, i.e., those who have yet to develop the critically important habit of basing their ideas, opinions, and beliefs on evidence – which was Plato’s fatal error.

Plato apparently concluded that (pure) mathematics (which includes the study of the geometry of perfect, idealized forms) leads to knowledge of “the truth”, not just in mathematics. Thus, in his most famous book, The Republic, Plato wrote (bk. VII):
… the knowledge at which geometry aims is knowledge of the eternal, and not of aught perishing and transient… Geometry will draw the soul towards truth, and create the spirit of philosophy, and raise up that which is now unhappily allowed to fall down.
Approximately two decades after Socrates’ execution and after visiting and (no doubt) learning from the leading (pure) mathematicians around the Mediterranean Basin, Plato returned to Athens and established his own school (the original “Academy”, derived from the name of the man, Academos, who had formerly owned the land on which Plato’s school was established). The motto of Plato’s Academy was reportedly: “Let no one unversed in geometry enter here.”

Plato the Mystic
Just what “truth” Plato claimed he discovered via math, he purposefully shrouded in mystery: apparently he was “an initiate” in the Pythagorean (or other) “Mysteries”, details of which he apparently swore not to reveal. Thus, in the Seventh Letter of his Epistles (i.e., “letters”) Plato wrote:
There does not exist, nor will there ever exist, any treatise of mine dealing therewith [of the Mysteries], for it does not at all admit of verbal expression like other studies, but as a result of continued application to the subject itself and communion therewith, it is brought to birth in the soul on a sudden [in an “epiphany”, from Greek epiphaninein, meaning ‘reveal’] as light that is kindled by a leaping spark, and thereafter it nourishes itself.
Plato adds that such secrecy is necessary in order not “to expose [the Mysteries] to unseemly and degrading treatment”, and in his book Phaedo, he claims:
Whoever goes uninitiated and unsanctified to the other world will lie in the mire, but he who arrives there initiated and purified will dwell with the gods.
As for just what these Mysteries were (permitting one to “dwell with the gods”), it’s a long story – one that I plan to describe in at least a little detail in a later post dealing with one aspect of the creation of Christianity. Here I’ll give just a very brief introduction.

In general, the Mysteries about how to enter “the spirit world” are as old as stone-age use by shamans of hallucinogenic plants (or “psychotropic substances” or “entheogens”, a Greek word meaning “becoming divine within”) and as old as the first instance of any of a variety of brain disorders, including epilepsy and schizophrenia (originally called “sacred diseases”), which in turn can be caused by, e.g., genetic anomalies, physical trauma, or chemical imbalances in the brain. From the time that writing first became available (in about 3000 BCE, with one of the first records being a recipe for making beer!), reports are available about the use of “mind-warping drugs”, including the Hindu’s soma, the Zoroastrian’s homa, and as readers can find from the internet, Wasson and colleagues have proposed that “a psychoactive brew from mushrooms” was probably used for induction into the “Eleusinian Mysteries” (at Eleusis, a city near Athens) by the ancient Greeks, possibly including Plato.

But whatever the cause might have been (drugs or trauma or…), the result was that Plato “went mystic”, causing humanity an enormous amount of harm, comparable to the harm caused by (the epileptic?) “Saint” Paul (the real founder of Christianity) and by (the brain-damaged?) Muhammad. In his famous cave analogy, Plato leaves no doubt that he (egotistically and even maniacally) considered himself to be the one who climbed out of the cave and saw “the true nature of reality” in the full light of day, while the rest of us mere mortals were left behind in the fire-lit cave, trying to make sense of shadows on the walls.

Plato’s Forms
As already illustrated, Plato said he wouldn’t write about the Mysteries, but apparently he did give lecture about them, and from the “lecture notes” of Plato’s most famous student, Aristotle, it appears that Plato pursued the craziness promoted by Pythagoras. An example is the following, copied from Aristotle’s Metaphysics (bk. 1, pt. 6):
After the systems we have named [developed by Pythagoras and others] came the philosophy of Plato, which in most respects followed these thinkers, but had peculiarities that distinguished it from the philosophy of the Italians [i.e., the Pythagoreans and the Eleatics]. For, having in his youth first become familiar with Cratylus and with the Heraclitean doctrines (that all sensible things are ever in a state of flux and there is no knowledge about them), these views he [Plato] held even in later years. Socrates, however, was busying himself about ethical matters and neglecting the world of nature as a whole but seeking the universal [in] these ethical matters, and fixed thought for the first time on definitions; Plato accepted his teaching, but held that the problem applied not to sensible things but to entities of another kind – for this reason, that the common definition could not be a definition of any sensible thing, as they were always changing [consistent with what Plato had learned of the thoughts of Heraclitus]. Things of this other sort [fixed things], then, he called Ideas [or Forms], and sensible things, he said, were all named after these, and in virtue of a relation to these; for the many existed by participation in the Ideas [or Forms] that have the same name as they. Only the name ‘participation’ was new; for the Pythagoreans say that things exist by ‘imitation’ of numbers, and Plato says they exist by ‘participation’, changing the name. But what the ‘participation’ or the ‘imitation’ of the Forms could be, they left an open question.

Further, besides sensible things and Forms he [Plato] says there are the objects of mathematics, which occupy an intermediate position, differing from sensible things in being eternal and unchangeable, [differing] from Forms in that there are many alike, while the Form itself is in each case unique. Since the Forms were the causes of all other things, he thought their elements were the elements of all things. As matter, the great and the small were principles; as essential reality, the One; for from the great and the small, by participation in the One, come the Numbers. But he agreed with the Pythagoreans in saying that the One is substance and not a predicate [or description] of something else; and in saying that the Numbers are the causes of the reality of other things, he agreed with them…
In his book On the Soul (bk. I, pt. 2), Aristotle described Plato’s views more succinctly:
Again he [Plato] puts his view in yet other terms: Mind is the monad [unity, i.e., 1], science or knowledge the dyad [i.e., 2] (because it goes undeviatingly from one point to another), opinion the number of the plane [3], sensation the number of the solid [4]; the numbers are by him expressly identified with the Forms themselves or principles, and are formed out of the elements…
It seems appropriate to add a few comments about what poor-old Plato was apparently trying to do, namely, trying to identify “the fundamental stuff behind reality”.

As I mentioned in the prior post, for approximately 200 years prior to Plato people speculated about such “fundamental stuff”. Thus, first Thales (c.624–c.545 BCE) claimed it was water; subsequently, Anaximander (c.610–c.546 BCE) claimed it was something indefinite, which he called apeiron; Anaximenes of Miletus (c.585–c.528 BCE) claimed it was air; Heraclitus (c.535–c.475 BCE) claimed it was fire (which may have been symbolic for “change”); Anaxagoras (c.500–c.428 BCE) claimed it was nous (God’s thoughts); others claimed it was various combinations (e.g., earth, air, water, and fire) and processes; and Democritus (c.460–c.370 BCE) claimed it was atoms and space. Plato apparently adopted Pythagoras’ claim that the “fundamental stuff behind reality” was ideas or “Forms”, which could be represented by numbers. Incidentally, today, most physicists would probably say that “the fundamental reality” (at least in our universe) is that “energy exists and exchanges”, whatever energy might be!

As for more details about Plato’s Theory of Forms, it’s unfortunately difficult to find a concise summary in Plato’s works – because Plato apparently never wrote anything concisely! In particular (as I partially reviewed in an earlier chapter), in The Republic Plato pretends that Socrates is discussing various ideas with a variety of other people, and from the resulting “dialogues”, some idea of Plato’s Forms is available. The following pieces are illustrative.
First… let me remind you of the distinction… between [on the one hand] the multiplicity of things that we call good or beautiful or whatever it may be and, on the other hand, Goodness itself or Beauty itself and so on. Corresponding to each of these sets of many things, we postulate a single Form or Real Essence, as we call it.
With this, Plato is apparently proposing that, because there are a number of cases of, e.g., “good”, therefore (according to Plato), there is such a “thing” as Good (with a capital “G”, no less!), which has the property (unsurprisingly!) of “Goodness”. Thereby, he apparently didn’t appreciate that ‘goodness’ is subjective and depends on the subject’s objectives. Even more strangely, Plato proposed that this ideal “Good” actually exists (not just as ideas but in reality!) – and even worse, that “the Good” is what “believers” call ‘God’ – and still worse, that if people didn’t believe him, then they should be executed!

Now if readers think that Plato couldn’t have been so dumb and so horrible as I’ve suggested, then I invite them to read the junk that Plato wrote. Below, I’ll comment on a tiny percentage of his writings, mostly from his most notorious book, The Republic. To start, what follows is a sample of Plato’s illogical, despicable, despotic writings, to which I’ve added some notes in brackets.
It [Goodness] is the cause of knowledge and truth. [What nonsense! “It {Goodness}” isn’t “the cause of knowledge” or “truth”. Knowledge is gained by people trying to understand. Closed-system truth is defined by whoever concocts the game (e.g., games of poker, baseball, pure math, or various religion). Open-system truth is what people try to determine – and it’s apparently done best by applying the scientific method.] And so, while you may think of it [Goodness] as an object of knowledge [What stupidity! Who considers “Goodness {or goodness} as an object of knowledge”? “Goodness” is a descriptor used to describe some object or process, e.g., Plato’s thinking is the opposite from “goodness”!], you will do well to regard it as something beyond truth and knowledge and, precious as these both are, of still higher worth… [Objects of knowledge] derive from the Good not only their power of being known, but their very being and reality; and Goodness is not the same thing as being, but even beyond being, surpassing it in dignity and power.
There’s so much drivel in Plato’s final sentence, above, that it’s difficult to know where to start criticizing it! But starting with the first claim, consider: “{Objects of knowledge} derive from the Good… their power of being known.” Hello? Suppose my “object of knowledge” is how to correct Plato’s dumb statements. I suppose that they do have some “power of being known”, but this power isn’t “derive{d} from the Good.” Their “power of being known” is derived from so many people, over so many centuries, failing to see that what Plato is peddling is pure bunk; therefore, the “power” is derived not from anything good but from ignorance, gullibility, acquiescence to authority, etc., none of which is beneficial to the continuation of humans, i.e., it’s derived from what most humans consider to be evil, not good. Then there’s “Goodness is not the same thing as being.” Duh. Who said it was? And then the finale: “[Goodness is] even beyond being, surpassing it in dignity and power.” Hello? Pray tell what “beyond being” means? Does Plato mean it’s just an idea? If so, then how does an idea surpass “being” “in dignity and power”? I know a lot of ideas that aren’t dignified at all (funny how easily so many examples come to mind when reading Plato!), and as for the “power” of such ideas, apparently Plato never thought about how wimpy such ideas would be if the Sun’s power switched off!

As I wrote in an earlier chapter, it’s easy to imagine how one person’s mind can “go around the bend” as badly as Plato’s did (especially if he used mind-warping drugs), but what’s so amazing is that so many people (over so many centuries!) followed him around the same bend. The source of his leaps over logic seems to be simply his use of a capital letter. Thus, what he does, first, is play some grammatical games, starting with a perfectly good adjective (similar to ‘red’, as in “the red barn”). Next, he turns the adjective into a noun (as in “the barn’s redness is fading”). Then, he uses it as a subject – complete with a capital letter (“Yet, the Redness persists!”). Once he has the capital letter, he then gives this “noun” any attribute he desires: “For this Redness is the best of colors: the color of the most beautiful roses and sunsets, the color that transmits heat throughout the universe, the color that gives power to blood, and therefore – as must be obvious to all – Redness is the supreme color, chosen by the gods themselves”! Then, still worse, in The Republic Plato takes the next horrible step in his idiocy, which in this case would be: “People who refuse to recognize Red to be the supreme color should be executed.”

Now, I’m certainly not the first person to criticize Plato’s nonsense. One of the most penetrating criticisms is contained in a story about the Greek philosopher Diogenes (c.400–c.325 BCE), the most famous of the Cynics (the one who, readers might remember, was famous for wandering around Athens, “searching for an honest man”). The following is quoted from David Quinn’s webpage:
Plato was discoursing on his Theory of Ideas [or Forms] and, pointing to the cups on the table before him, said while there are many cups in the world, there is only one ‘idea’ of a cup, and this ‘cupness’ precedes the existence of all particular cups.

"I can see the cup on the table," interrupted Diogenes, "but I can't see the ‘cupness’.”

"That's because you have the eyes to see the cup," said Plato, "but", tapping his head with his forefinger, "you don't have the intellect with which to comprehend ‘cupness'."

Diogenes walked up to the table, examined a cup and, looking inside, asked, "Is it empty?"

Plato nodded.

“Where is the ‘emptiness’ that precedes this empty cup?" asked Diogenes.

Plato allowed himself a few moments to collect his thoughts, but Diogenes reached over and, tapping Plato's head with his finger, said, "I think you will find: here is the ‘emptiness’."
I don’t know if, in the subsequent ~2400 years, anyone clobbered Plato’s Theory of Forms so well as Diogenes did!

Plato’s Ideas About Souls, Gods, and Creation
Now, although it’s essentially impossible to show details about any of Plato’s ideas without quoting pages and pages of rambling “dialogue”, I’ll try to get by with just sketching his ideas about souls and gods, etc. In an earlier chapter, starting on p.16, I already went through the idiocy of Plato’s hypothesis about souls – as well as some of the horrible consequences, because so many Christians, Muslims, etc. adopted the same nonsense. In summary, Plato took huge leaps past logic to “demonstrate” (or more likely, to copy from Pythagoras – who in turn seems to have copied the idea from Zoroastrian priests, who in turn may have copied the idea from Egyptian or Indian priests!) that humans have “souls” that “existed before we were born” (because we know the “ideal Forms” without ever experiencing them while we’re alive). He concludes the idiocy with his asinine statement:
So now there is no longer any difficulty in stating expressly that… concerning all the stars and the moon, and concerning the years and months and all seasons, [no] other account [can] be given than this… namely, that, inasmuch as it has been shown they are all caused by one or more souls, which are good also with all goodness, we shall declare these souls to be the gods…
As for Plato’s proposal of how his principal god allegedly created everything, I expect that, without reading Plato’s junk for themselves, readers would have difficulty believing that anyone could propose such nonsense. Therefore, as a sample, consider Plato’s following “explanation” (as given in his book Timaeus) of how his God created everything (and why!), to which I’ve again added the notes in brackets.
Let me tell you then why the creator made this world of generation. He was good [Define ‘good’! ‘Good’ is a value, and values can be measured only with respect to some objective. What was your god’s objective? Was he bored and wanted to watch how ant-like people struggle to survive? Does he get his kicks from watching people suffer? Was he into voyeurism and just wanted to watch? And if so, how can you describe your wimpy, sadistic, voyeuristic god as ‘good’?], and the good can never have any jealousy of anything. [Oh come off it! Someone (such as you) can be jealous of a person who can think clearly – and that would be good!] And being free from jealousy [Really? Or is your god jealous of people who have the fortitude to struggle to survive in the face of their inevitable death?], he desired that all things should be as like himself as they could be. [You mean that your egotistical god (desiring that “all things should be as like himself as they could be”) is such a wimp that he couldn’t make it easier for people to survive? Is that ‘good’?]

This is in the truest sense the origin of creation and of the world [according to the egomaniac Plato], as we shall do well in believing the testimony of wise men: God desired that all things should be good and nothing bad, so far as this was attainable. [Do you mean that there are some things that your god is powerless to do? Don’t you worry that your god will reprimand you for describing him as a wimp?] Wherefore also finding the whole visible sphere not at rest [What “visible sphere”? Do you mean that there was something here before god? Who or what created it? And for that matter, who created your wimpy god?], but moving in an irregular and disorderly fashion, out of disorder he brought order, considering that this was in every way better than the other. [So, your god only cleans up messes – sort of like your mother? Yah, I can believe that: your mother is your god. But the question is: who will clean up the mess you’re now making?]

Now the deeds of the best could never be or have been other than the fairest [Define ‘fairest’! It’s another value judgment – with meaning only relative to some goal. Was your god’s goal that all the gods would have the same (voyeuristic) view of the people? That would be fair! Why should it be only your god who gets to watch people have sex?!]; and the creator, reflecting on the things which are by nature visible [Do you mean that your wimpy god can’t see things in the infrared or ultraviolet?!], found that no unintelligent creature taken as a whole was fairer than the intelligent taken as a whole [What a crazy use of the word ‘fairer’! Do you mean ‘better’? And if you mean ‘better’, then again I’d ask: measured against what objective? For example, for those creatures living in the oceans, then much better than to have the ‘intelligence’ that you claim to possess is to have gills!]; and that intelligence could not be present in anything which was devoid of soul. [Oh, do tell! And what data, pray tell, support your speculation that living things have ‘souls’? Oh, sorry, I forgot: you don’t have a clue what the word ‘data’ means, do you? Okay, then, let’s see where your wild speculation about the existence of ‘souls’ leads you.] For which reason, when he was framing the universe [So, now, you have your god just ‘framing’ the universe! Someone or something else created it (I presume), and your god just puts a frame around it!], he put intelligence in soul [Oh neat! In an unknown, unspecified, thing called ‘soul’ (whose existence in reality isn’t supported by a shred of data), your god manages to stuff ‘intelligence’ into it. If he (and you) wouldn’t mind some advice, I’d suggest that such a move wasn’t a very intelligent thing to do!], and soul in body [Oh great: inside bodies, your god stuffs an undefined, unmeasured, hypothetical thing called ‘soul’ that contains some unspecified type of ‘intelligence’ – to do what, breathe underwater? And I wonder if your god has the intelligence to see that you’re just bandying about meaningless words, conveying no information, and demonstrating zero intelligence?], that he might be the creator of a work which was by nature fairest and best. [‘Fairest’ for what? ‘Best’ for what? (Besides possibly lulling people into ‘thinking’ that you know what the devil you’re talking about.)] Wherefore, using the language of probability, we may say that the world became a living creature truly endowed with soul and intelligence by the providence of God. [The “language of probability”? Somebody’s gotta be kidding! And all of this total nonsense resulted in your proposing that the world “became a living creature truly endowed with soul and intelligence”? The world is living? In what sense do you use the word ‘living’? In what sense do you use the word ‘intelligence’? Other living things reproduce. Does the world? Other living things try to continue to live. Does the world? ‘Intelligence’ means “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” Does the world do that? Do you feel no constraint, whatsoever, in your choice of words?!]

This being supposed [Ah! So, all the above was just a supposition, as in, “Let’s pretend.” And yet, later, you’ll propose that people who don’t believe in your god should be executed! But if it’s all just pretend, then who but an idiot – or better, an egotistical maniac – would propose to kill people who refuse to play your game of make believe!], let us proceed to the next stage: In the likeness of what animal did the Creator make the world? [Hello? If your god is just now creating the world, what’s with the animals? Where did they come from? Where do they live? I mean, it’s one thing to put the cart in front of the horse, but this is ridiculous: as yet, there are no horses!] It would be an unworthy thing to liken it [the world] to any nature which exists as a part only; for nothing can be beautiful which is like any imperfect thing [What astounding nonsense! The nutcake Plato is claiming that something “which exists as a part only” is imperfect. Duh. How about an atom of someone’s body. Is the atom “imperfect”?! In addition, he’s saying that something that exists only as a part can’t be beautiful. Who in hell is he to say what’s beautiful? I say that the part of my daughter’s hair glistening in the Sun is beautiful – and to be blunt, I don’t give a damn if anyone disagrees with me.]; but let us suppose the world to be the very image of that whole of which all other animals both individually and in their tribes are portions. [You’re imagining that the world is the image of all animals? Boy, you have one powerfully weird imagination!] For the original of the universe contains in itself all intelligible beings [Oh? Do tell! But first, pray tell, what the devil do you mean by “the original of the universe”?! Is this one just a replication of “the original”? Where did “the original” come from? And this “original” contains all intelligible beings? Are you and I and everyone else in “the original of the universe”? And, just out of idle curiosity: where did you say the data are that support your crazy idea?!], just as this world comprehends us and all other visible creatures. [Hello? This world “comprehends us”? ‘Comprehends’ in the dictionary sense of “to grasp mentally; understand”? Have you considered seeing a psychiatrist?] For the Deity, intending to make this world like the fairest and most perfect of intelligible beings [Your god made the world an intelligent being? Bizarre!], framed one visible animal comprehending within itself all other animals of a kindred nature. [Plato: if you’re not just clowning around, you really otta have your head examined.]

Are we right in saying that there is one world, or that they are many and infinite? [I have a suggestion: why don’t you seek some data, rather than just continue with your wild speculations.] There must be one only, if the created copy is to accord with the original. [It’s astounding that a single sentence can contain so much stupidity! It means, obviously, that it’s possible to make only one photocopy of any document. Thanks a lot, Plato: you just decimated by Xerox and Toshiba stocks!] For that which includes all other intelligible creatures cannot have a second or companion; in that case there would be need of another living being which would include both, and of which they would be parts, and the likeness would be more truly said to resemble not them, but that other which included them. In order, then, that the world might be solitary, like the perfect animal, the creator made not two worlds or an infinite number of them; but there is and ever will be one only-begotten and created heaven. [Although, come to think of it, what’s really astounding is why any sane person would ever have paid any attention to the stupidities that Plato produced. And so, given that this crap is the basis of Christianity and Islam, it seems reasonable to question the sanity of Christians and Muslims!]

Now that which is created is of necessity corporeal, and also visible and tangible. [Really? I can create ideas (just as you obviously can) none of which need be “corporeal” or “visible and tangible”. And in your case, the ideas are definitely not sensible!] And nothing is visible where there is no fire [Hello? Have you ever seen a piece of ice?!], or tangible which has no solidity [Hello? Have you ever felt the wind and rain on your face?], and nothing is solid without earth [Hello? Have you ever gone skating on ice, i.e., frozen water?]. Wherefore also God in the beginning of creation made the body of the universe to consist of fire and earth. [Hello? What was burning – besides your other brain in “the original universe”?] But two things cannot be rightly put together without a third [I guess Plato was into group sex!]; there must be some bond of union between them. And the fairest bond [I wonder if he meant to write “the fairest blonde”!] is that which makes the most complete fusion of itself and the things which it combines; and proportion is best adapted to effect such a union. [Maybe that means he likes women of particular sizes and proportions!] For whenever in any three numbers, whether cube or square, there is a mean, which is to the last term what the first term is to it; and again, when the mean is to the first term as the last term is to the mean – then the mean becoming first and last, and the first and last both becoming means, they will all of them of necessity come to be the same, and having become the same with one another will be all one. [Wow! Talk about kinky sex! And wouldn’t you know that he’d try to squeeze some math into his machinations?!]

If the universal frame had been created a surface only and having no depth, a single mean would have sufficed to bind together itself and the other terms; but now, as the world must be solid [imagine how it would have shaken up poor Plato if he had learned that most of the Earth (including the oceans and the Earth’s interior) is liquid!], and solid bodies are always compacted not by one mean but by two [now, there’s a bizarre theory that fortunately no longer pollutes the world!], God placed water and air in the mean between fire and earth, and made them to have the same proportion so far as was possible (as fire is to air so is air to water, and as air is to water so is water to earth); and thus he bound and put together a visible and tangible heaven. [Damn, but that’s gotta be close to the craziest gibberish ever concocted!] And for these reasons, and out of such elements which are in number four, the body of the world was created, and it was harmonized by proportion, and therefore has the spirit of friendship; and having been reconciled to itself, it was indissoluble by the hand of any other than the framer.
Sorry, but that’s all of Plato’s crap on the creation of the world that I can take. Yet, I should give credit where credit is due. Thus, Plato accomplished what many would consider to be impossible: he managed to make the Bible’s creation myths look good!

And then there’s Plato’s crazy “proof” of the existence of each person’s “immortal soul”, given in The Republic (bk. X), in an alleged discussion between Socrates & Glaucon:
Are you not aware, I [allegedly Socrates] said, that the soul of man is immortal and imperishable?

He [Glaucon] looked at me in astonishment, and said: No, by heaven: And are you really prepared to maintain this?

Yes, I said, I ought to be, and you too – there is no difficulty in proving it.

I see a great difficulty; but I should like to hear you state this argument of which you make so light.

Listen then.

I am attending.

There is a thing which you call good and another which you call evil?

Yes, he replied.

Would you agree with me in thinking that the corrupting and destroying element is the evil, and the saving and improving element the good?

Yes. [Really? What about that which corrupts and destroys viruses? Care to define ‘evil’ and ‘good’?]

And you admit that every thing has a good and also an evil; as ophthalmia is the evil of the eyes and disease of the whole body; as mildew is of corn, and rot of timber, or rust of copper and iron: in everything, or in almost everything, there is an inherent evil and disease?

Yes, he said. [Come off it! It depends on the definitions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’.]

And anything which is infected by any of these evils is made evil, and at last wholly dissolves and dies?

True. [No it’s not! For example, we who want to live describe that which threatens our lives to be evil, but such a description is subjective. A virus, in and of itself, isn’t evil; it, too, just “wants” to survive. To the virus, that which threatens it (e.g., modern medicine) is evil!]

The vice and evil which is inherent in each is the destruction of each; and if this does not destroy them there is nothing else that will; for good certainly will not destroy them, nor again, that which is neither good nor evil.

Certainly not. [What garbage! First, it isn’t necessarily correct that “the vice and evil which is inherent in each is the destruction of each”; for example, there are a huge number of causes of the destruction of humans (from floods to earthquakes), none of which reflect inherent vices and evils of humans. Second, we humans might describe as “good”, for example, that which kills some dangerous virus, but for the virus, our “good” is its “evil”!]

If, then, we find any nature which having this inherent corruption cannot be dissolved or destroyed, we may be certain that of such a nature there is no destruction?

That may be assumed. [Well, it may be, but it would certainly be stupid to do so! For example, as far as is known, an iron atom has a number of “inherent corruptions” (in that its electrons would merge with the protons in its nucleus, except for the need to preserve the electrons’ angular momenta, and its protons would repel one another, destroying the nucleus, except for the strong, attractive, nuclear force. Yet, although we find that the iron atom “having this inherent corruption” does not dissolve or self-destruct, the iron nucleus can be destroyed, e.g., by bombarding it with neutrons. Consequently, since at least one such case exists (although no doubt there are thousands more!), it’s incorrect to say “we may be certain that of such a nature there is no destruction.”]

Well, I said, and is there no evil which corrupts the soul?

Yes, he said, there are all the evils which we were just now passing in review: unrighteousness, intemperance, cowardice, ignorance. [Depending on what might be meant by the undefined word ‘soul’!]

But does any of these dissolve or destroy her? – and here do not let us fall into the error of supposing that the unjust and foolish man, when he is detected, perishes through his own injustice, which is an evil of the soul. Take the analogy of the body: The evil of the body is a disease which wastes and reduces and annihilates the body; and all the things of which we were just now speaking come to annihilation through their own corruption attaching to them and inhering in them and so destroying them. Is not this true?

Yes. [No: not only is it untrue, it’s meaningless!]

Consider the soul in like manner. Does the injustice or other evil which exists in the soul waste and consume her? Do they by attaching to the soul and inhering in her at last bring her to death, and so separate her from the body?

Certainly not. [What nonsense! Suppose (in contrast to these word games) one considers only those concepts corresponding to things and processes whose existence (in reality) can be measured, e.g., rather than ‘soul’, consider ‘character’, and as an instance of ‘character’, consider “the ability to get along with others”, measures of which can be defined and made. Then, obviously this measure of a person’s “soul” (i.e., “the ability to get along with others”) can, in fact, be “corrupted” (or diminished or impaired), e.g., if the person is a murder, thief, philanderer, etc.]

And yet, I said, it is unreasonable to suppose that anything can perish from without through affection of external evil which could not be destroyed from within by a corruption of its own?

[And so on this rambling nonsense continues, not worth that paper it’s written on and certainly not worth reading in more detail, leading to Plato’s:]

…But the soul which cannot be destroyed by an evil, whether inherent or external, must exist forever, and if existing forever, must be immortal?


That is the conclusion, I said; and, if a true conclusion, then the souls must always be the same, for if none be destroyed they will not diminish in number. Neither will they increase, for the increase of the immortal natures must come from something mortal, and all things would thus end in immortality.
Plato’s idiocy about “immortal souls” (quoted above) is obviously just word games. In reality, the “souls” that Plato postulates exist not in reality but only as ideas – and illogical, nonsensical ideas at that! As Thomas Jefferson wrote (when he was 71 years old) in his 5 July 1814 letter to John Adams (his friend and also a former president):
Having more leisure… for reading, I amused myself with reading seriously Plato’s Republic. I am wrong, however, in calling it amusement, for it was the heaviest task-work I ever went through. I had occasionally before taken up some of his other works, but scarcely ever had patience to go through a whole dialogue. While wading through the whimsies, the puerilities, and unintelligible jargon of this work, I laid it down often to ask myself how it could have been that the world should have so long consented to give reputation to such nonsense as this?
Plato’s Utopia
Actually, though, Plato’s “whimsies, puerilities, and unintelligible jargon” leads him to much worse than his speculations about souls and gods: ideologue that he was, it led him to promote a horrible dictatorship, as I’ll outline below. In what follows, though, I won’t add detailed, sarcastic comments. Instead, in the main, I’ll let Plato’s evil (his idiocy), which follows by deduction from his bizarre, unverified and unverifiable assumptions, speak for itself. In the main, I’ll just group his ideas under the listed headings.

1. Plato’s proposal that, in the republic that he is designing, ideas will be censored. In particular, attempting to address the problem of evil, Plato proposed that God would be depicted only as good. The following is from The Republic, bk. II, with the dialogue allegedly between Socrates and Adeimantus:
Then the first thing [allegedly said by Socrates] will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad; and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorized ones only. Let them fashion the mind with such tales, even more fondly than they mould the body with their hands; but most of those which are now in use must be discarded…

But which stories do you mean, he said; and what fault do you find with them? [Adeimantus allegedly asks.]

A fault which is most serious, I [allegedly Socrates] said; the fault of telling a lie, and, what is more, a bad lie.

But when is this fault committed?

Whenever an erroneous representation is made of the nature of gods and heroes – as when a painter paints a portrait not having the shadow of a likeness to the original.

Yes, he said, that sort of thing is certainly very blamable; but what are the stories which you mean?

First of all, I said, there was that greatest of all lies, in high places, which the poet told about Uranus, and which was a bad lie too – I mean what Hesiod says that Uranus did, and how Cronus retaliated on him. The doings of Cronus, and the sufferings which in turn his son inflicted upon him, even if they were true, ought certainly not to be lightly told to young and thoughtless persons; if possible, they had better be buried in silence. But if there is an absolute necessity for their mention, a chosen few might hear them in a mystery, and they should sacrifice not a common [Eleusinian] pig, but some huge and unprocurable victim; and then the number of the hearers will be very few indeed.

Why, yes, said he, those stories are extremely objectionable.

Yes, Adeimantus, they are stories not to be repeated in our State; the young man should not be told that in committing the worst of crimes he is far from doing anything outrageous; and that even if he chastises his father when does wrong, in whatever manner, he will only be following the example of the first and greatest among the gods.

I entirely agree with you, he said; in my opinion those stories are quite unfit to be repeated…

… all the battles of the gods in Homer – these tales must not be admitted into our State, whether they are supposed to have an allegorical meaning or not. For a young person cannot judge what is allegorical and what is literal; anything that he receives into his mind at that age is likely to become indelible and unalterable; and therefore it is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts.

There you are right, he replied; but if any one asks where are such models to be found and of what tales are you speaking – how shall we answer him?

I said to him, You and I, Adeimantus, at this moment are not poets, but founders of a State: now the founders of a State ought to know the general forms in which poets should cast their tales, and the limits which must be observed by them, but to make the tales is not their business.

Very true, he said; but what are these forms of theology which you mean?

Something of this kind, I replied: God is always to be represented as he truly is, whatever be the sort of poetry, epic, lyric or tragic, in which the representation is given.


And is he not truly good? and must he not be represented as such?


And no good thing is hurtful?

No, indeed.

And that which is not hurtful hurts not?

Certainly not.

And that which hurts not does no evil?


And can that which does no evil be a cause of evil?


And the good is advantageous?


And therefore the cause of well-being?


It follows therefore that the good is not the cause of all things, but of the good only?


Then God, if he be good, is not the author of all things, as the many assert, but he is the cause of a few things only, and not of most things that occur to men. For few are the goods of human life, and many are the evils, and the good is to be attributed to God alone; of the evils the causes are to be sought elsewhere, and not in him.

That appears to me to be most true, he said.

Then we must not listen to Homer or to any other poet who is guilty of the folly of saying that two casks Lie at the threshold of Zeus, full of lots, one of good, the other of evil lots, and that he to whom Zeus gives a mixture of the two Sometimes meets with evil fortune, at other times with good; but that he to whom is given the cup of unmingled ill, Him wild hunger drives o'er the beauteous earth… he must say that God did what was just and right, and they were the better for being punished; but that those who are punished are miserable, and that God is the author of their misery – the poet is not to be permitted to say; though he may say that the wicked are miserable because they require to be punished, and are benefited by receiving punishment from God; but that God being good is the author of evil to any one is to be strenuously denied, and not to be said or sung or heard in verse or prose by any one whether old or young in any well-ordered commonwealth. Such a fiction is suicidal, ruinous, impious.

I agree with you, he replied, and am ready to give my assent to the law.

Let this then be one of our rules and principles concerning the gods, to which our poets and reciters will be expected to conform – that God is not the author of all things, but of good only.

That will do, he said.

And what do you think of a second principle? Shall I ask you whether God is a magician, and of a nature to appear insidiously now in one shape, and now in another – sometimes himself changing and passing into many forms, sometimes deceiving us with the semblance of such transformations; or is he one and the same immutably fixed in his own proper image?

Then it is impossible that God should ever be willing to change; being, as is supposed, the fairest and best that is conceivable, every god remains absolutely and for ever in his own form…

Then, although we are admirers of Homer, we do not admire the lying dream which Zeus sends to Agamemnon…

These are the kind of sentiments about the gods which will arouse our anger; and he who utters them shall be refused a chorus; neither shall we allow teachers to make use of them in the instruction of the young, meaning, as we do, that our guardians, as far as men can be, should be true worshippers of the gods and like them.

I entirely agree, he said, in these principles, and promise to make them my laws.
2. Plato’s mistaken ideas about heroism and his advocacy of lying (from The Republic, bk. III, allegedly a dialogue between Socrates and Adeimantus):
Such then, I said, are our principles of theology – some tales are to be told, and others are not to be told to our disciples from their youth upwards, if we mean them to honor the gods and their parents, and to value friendship with one another.

Yes; and I think that our principles are right, he said.

But if they are to be courageous, must they not learn other lessons besides these, and lessons of such a kind as will take away the fear of death? Can any man be courageous who has the fear of death in him?

Certainly not, he said. [What a horrible, moronic conclusion! The exact opposite is closer to the truth. Courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to face one’s fears. If one is unafraid of death (e.g., deluded into imagining “life-after-death”), then it takes no courage to face death. The result is the crazy Muslim’s cry: “We love death!” What’s courageous is to do what one decides is necessary with full recognition that the result might be the end of one’s existence. As I wrote in the previous post: If you've been brainwashed into believing in a beneficent afterlife, then following clerical orders, it's logically impossible to risk your life and be a hero. What Plato is promoting is not “courage” but a way to dupe followers to blindly risk their lives to protect the rulers.]

And can he be fearless of death, or will he choose death in battle rather than defeat and slavery, who believes the world below to be real and terrible?


Then we must assume a control over the narrators of this class of tales as well as over the others, and beg them not simply to but rather to commend the world below, intimating to them that their descriptions are untrue, and will do harm to our future warriors.

That will be our duty, he said.

Then, I said, we shall have to obliterate many obnoxious passages, beginning with the verses [from Homer, said by Achilles]

I would rather he a serf on the land of a poor and portionless man than rule over all the dead who have come to naught…

Neither ought our guardians to be given to laughter. For a fit of laughter which has been indulged to excess almost always produces a violent reaction.

So I believe.

Then persons of worth, even if only mortal men, must not be represented as overcome by laughter, and still less must such a representation of the gods be allowed.

Still less of the gods, as you say, he replied.

Then we shall not suffer such an expression to be used about the gods as that of Homer when he describes how

Inextinguishable laughter arose among the blessed gods, when they saw Hephaestus bustling about the mansion. On your views, we must not admit them…

Again, truth should be highly valued; if, as we were saying, a lie is useless to the gods, and useful only as a medicine to men, then the use of such medicines should be restricted to physicians; private individuals have no business with them.

Clearly not, he said.

Then if any one at all is to have the privilege of lying, the rulers of the State should be the persons; and they, in their dealings either with enemies or with their own citizens, may be allowed to lie for the public good. But nobody else should meddle with anything of the kind; and although the rulers have this privilege, for a private man to lie to them in return is to be deemed a more heinous fault than for the patient or the pupil of a gymnasium not to speak the truth about his own bodily illnesses to the physician or to the trainer, or for a sailor not to tell the captain what is happening about the ship and the rest of the crew, and how things are going with himself or his fellow sailors.

Most true, he said.

If, then, the ruler catches anybody beside himself lying in the State, any of the craftsmen, whether he priest or physician or carpenter, he will punish him for introducing a practice which is equally subversive and destructive of ship or State.

Most certainly, he said, if our idea of the State is ever carried out…
3. Plato’s advocacy of communism (from The Republic, bk. III):
Then let us consider what will be their way of life, if they are to realize our idea of them. In the first place, none of them should have any property of his own beyond what is absolutely necessary; neither should they have a private house or store closed against any one who has a mind to enter; their provisions should be only such as are required by trained warriors, who are men of temperance and courage; they should agree to receive from the citizens a fixed rate of pay, enough to meet the expenses of the year and no more; and they will go and live together like soldiers in a camp. Gold and silver we will tell them that they have from God; the diviner metal is within them, and they have therefore no need of the dross which is current among men, and ought not to pollute the divine by any such earthly admixture; for that commoner metal has been the source of many unholy deeds, but their own is undefiled. And they alone of all the citizens may not touch or handle silver or gold, or be under the same roof with them, or wear them, or drink from them. And this will be their salvation, and they will be the saviors of the State. But should they ever acquire homes or lands or moneys of their own, they will become housekeepers and husbandmen instead of guardians, enemies and tyrants instead of allies of the other citizens; hating and being hated, plotting and being plotted against, they will pass their whole life in much greater terror of internal than of external enemies, and the hour of ruin, both to themselves and to the rest of the State, will be at hand. For all which reasons may we not say that thus shall our State be ordered, and that these shall be the regulations appointed by us for guardians concerning their houses and all other matters?

… The regulations which we are prescribing, my good Adeimantus, are not, as might be supposed, a number of great principles, but trifles all, if care be taken, as the saying is, of the one great thing – a thing, however, which I would rather call, not great, but sufficient for our purpose.

What may that be? he asked.

Education, I said, and nurture: If our citizens are well educated, and grow into sensible men, they will easily see their way through all these, as well as other matters which I omit; such, for example, as marriage, the possession of women and the procreation of children, which will all follow the general principle that friends have all things in common, as the proverb says…
4. Plato’s further advocacy of political lies and his proposals that philosophers would rule and that humans would be bred and appropriately educated for their roles (from The Republic, bk. V & VI, allegedly a dialogue among Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus)
I mean, I replied, that our rulers will find a considerable dose of falsehood and deceit necessary for the good of their subjects: we were saying that the use of all these things regarded as medicines might be of advantage.

And we were very right.

And this lawful use of them seems likely to be often needed in the regulations of marriages and births…

I said: Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils – nor the human race, as I believe – and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day. Such was the thought, my dear Glaucon, which I would fain have uttered if it had not seemed too extravagant; for to be convinced that in no other State can there be happiness private or public is indeed a hard thing…

Inasmuch as philosophers only are able to grasp the eternal and unchangeable, and those who wander in the region of the many and variable are not philosophers… [And therefore his philosophers grasp nothing, since nothing is eternal and unchangeable!]… And are not those who are verily and indeed wanting in the knowledge of the true being of each thing, and who have in their souls no clear pattern, and are unable as with a painter's eye to look at the absolute truth and to that original to repair, and having perfect vision of the other world to order the laws about beauty, goodness, justice in this, if not already ordered, and to guard and preserve the order of them – are not such persons, I ask, simply blind?

… Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all – they must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.

What do you mean?

I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be allowed; they must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the den, and partake of their labors and honors, whether they are worth having or not.

But is not this unjust? he said; ought we to give them a worse life, when they might have a better?

You have again forgotten, my friend, I said, the intention of the legislator, who did not aim at making any one class in the State happy above the rest; the happiness was to be in the whole State, and he held the citizens together by persuasion and necessity, making them benefactors of the State, and therefore benefactors of one another; to this end he created them, not to please themselves, but to be his instruments in binding up the State.

True, he said, I had forgotten.

Observe, Glaucon, that there will be no injustice in compelling our philosophers to have a care and providence of others [Oh, the poor philosophers!]; we shall explain to them that in other States, men of their class are not obliged to share in the toils of politics: and this is reasonable, for they grow up at their own sweet will, and the government would rather not have them. Being self-taught, they cannot be expected to show any gratitude for a culture which they have never received. But we have brought you into the world to be rulers of the hive, kings of yourselves and of the other citizens, and have educated you far better and more perfectly than they have been educated, and you are better able to share in the double duty. Wherefore each of you, when his turn comes, must go down to the general underground abode, and get the habit of seeing in the dark. When you have acquired the habit, you will see ten thousand times better than the inhabitants of the den, and you will know what the several images are, and what they represent, because you have seen the beautiful and just and good in their truth. And thus our State which is also yours will be a reality, and not a dream only, and will be administered in a spirit unlike that of other States, in which men fight with one another about shadows only and are distracted in the struggle for power, which in their eyes is a great good. Whereas the truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst.
5. And if you don’t buy into it, if you don’t believe in Plato’s gods, then Plato prescribed the punishment (from his last book, the Laws, bk. X, allegedly spoken by “The Athenian Stranger”):
After the prelude shall follow a discourse, which will be the interpreter of the law; this shall proclaim to all impious persons: that they must depart from their ways and go over to the pious. And to those who disobey, let the law about impiety be as follows: If a man is guilty of any impiety in word or deed, any one who happens to present shall give information to the magistrates, in aid of the law; and let the magistrates who first receive the information bring him before the appointed court according to the law; and if a magistrate, after receiving information, refuses to act, he shall be tried for impiety at the instance of any one who is willing to vindicate the laws; and if any one be cast, the court shall estimate the punishment of each act of impiety; and let all such criminals be imprisoned. There shall be three prisons in the state: the first of them is to be the common prison in the neighborhood of the agora for the safe-keeping of the generality of offenders; another is to be in the neighborhood of the nocturnal council, and is to be called the "House of Reformation"; another, to be situated in some wild and desolate region in the centre of the country, shall be called by some name expressive of retribution.

Now, men fall into impiety from three causes, which have been already mentioned, and from each of these causes arise two sorts of impiety, in all six, which are worth distinguishing, and should not all have the same punishment. For he who does not believe in Gods, and yet has a righteous nature, hates the wicked and dislikes and refuses to do injustice, and avoids unrighteous men, and loves the righteous. But they who besides believing that the world is devoid of Gods are intemperate, and have at the same time good memories and quick wits, are worse; although both of them are unbelievers, much less injury is done by the one than by the other. The one may talk loosely about the Gods and about sacrifices and oaths, and perhaps by laughing at other men he may make them like himself, if he be not punished. But the other who holds the same opinions and is called a clever man, is full of stratagem and deceit – men of this class deal in prophecy and jugglery of all kinds, and out of their ranks sometimes come tyrants and demagogues and generals and hierophants of private mysteries and the Sophists, as they are termed, with their ingenious devices. There are many kinds of unbelievers, but two only for whom legislation is required; one the hypocritical sort, whose crime is deserving of death many times over, while the other needs only bonds and admonition.

In like manner also the notion that the Gods take no thought of men produces two other sorts of crimes, and the notion that they may be propitiated produces two more. Assuming these divisions, let those who have been made what they are only from want of understanding, and not from malice or an evil nature, be placed by the judge in the House of Reformation, and ordered to suffer imprisonment during a period of not less than five years. And in the meantime let them have no intercourse with the other citizens, except with members of the nocturnal council, and with them let them converse with a view to the improvement of their soul's health. And when the time of their imprisonment has expired, if any of them be of sound mind let him be restored to sane company, but if not, and if he be condemned a second time, let him be punished with death.
Which, then, is surely the lowest to which any student has ever sunk: in the above, Plato in essence argues that his teacher, Socrates, deserved to die! And perhaps recognizing what he had done, he decided (for the first time?) to put his words not in the mouth of Socrates but in the mouth of “the Athenian Stranger”.

In overview, in The Republic the ideologue Plato describes his utopia, i.e., what he considers to be an “ideal” government, complete with philosophers (such as him, of course) as rulers and with censorship, indoctrination, breeding humans for assigned roles, infiltrators and informants, and prosecution (including execution) of “deviants” – just as in Orwell’s 1984. Similar to all ideologues, Plato was certain that he knew best how others should live their lives. During the subsequent 2400 years, tyrants have instigated concepts similar to those in Plato’s Republic to create their own utopias (for themselves!), including all Christian and Muslim theocrats and Communist and Fascist dictators. Indeed, The Republic is still the blueprint used by the collusions of clerics and dictators in many Muslim countries, the worst examples being in Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Which brings to mind another important paragraph in the letter from Jefferson to Adams (referenced above), since it demonstrates that Jefferson saw some of the horrors that were caused by the adoption of Plato’s ideas by the Abrahamic religions. To this Jefferson quotation, I’ve added a few notes in brackets and the italics.
In truth, he [Plato] is one of the race of genuine sophists, who has escaped the oblivion of his brethren, first by the elegance of his diction, but chiefly by the adoption and incorporation of his whimsies into the body of… Christianity [and all the Abrahamic religions]. His foggy mind is forever presenting the semblances of objects which, half seen through a mist, can be defined neither in form nor dimensions. Yet this, which should have consigned him to early oblivion, really procured him immortality of fame and reverence. The Christian priesthood… [and earlier, Jewish clerics, and later, Muslim clerics] saw in the mysticism of Plato materials with which they might build up an artificial system which might, from its indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power, and pre-eminence…
But Jefferson apparently couldn’t foresee how much worse Plato’s plague would harm humanity. As Jefferson wrote (essentially on his deathbed, declining an invitation to attend the 4th of July celebration in 1826):
May it be to the world, what I believe it will be (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all), the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form, which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion.

All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.
Yet, as we now know, subsequent ideologues [such as Marx, Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and various ayatollahs (such as Khomeini), would-be caliphs (such as bin Laden) and other demagogues] arose, “booted and spurred, ready to ride [the mass of mankind] legitimately, by the grace of God [or some other phantom of Plato’s fictitious Forms]”, trampling human rights, fanatically trying to create their own utopias, similar to the one described in Plato’s horrible book, The Republic. In fact, if it weren’t for the existence of the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and other, similar, damnable “holy books”, I would classify The Republic as the most horrible book ever written – or, as a minimum, down there with other trash, such as Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto, Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Khomeini’s Islamic Government, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Milestones.

All such books are similar, because all are written by ideologues with thoughts imprisoned by their own versions of Plato’s Forms, committed more to the closed-system “Truth” of their ideas than to the idea of open-system “truth”. For example, the (Shiite) leader of the Iranian revolution and subsequent dictator Khomeini wrote regarding Plato: “In the field of divinity, he [Plato] has grave and solid views…” Sure he did: as solid as his fictitious Forms! In addition, similar to Platonic megalomaniacs before and since (such as Lenin and bin Laden), Khomeini proposed: “Establishing the Islamic state world-wide belongs to the great goals of the revolution.” Currently, members of the (Sunni) Muslim Brotherhood vigorously (but surreptitiously) apply their own version of Plato’s Forms, with one of their goals being:
The process of settlement [in Western nations]… a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God's religion is made victorious…
I expect that Plato would have enthusiastically supported members of the Muslim Brotherhood – and Jefferson would have forcefully deported them!

[To be continued…]



Clerical Quackery 5 – Physics versus Metaphysics in Ancient Greece – 1 – Homer to Socrates

Well, sorry, but after struggling with this post for two weeks, I decided to alter my earlier plans. This is the 25th in a series of posts dealing with what I call “the God Lie” and the 5th in the subseries of posts dealing with “Clerical Quackery”. In the previous post, I tried to show at least a little about how Persian (or Zoroastrian) ideas seeped into Jewish thoughts, as revealed in the Old Testament (OT, or more accurately, in the Jewish Tanakh) as well as in other apocryphal (viz., “hidden”) Jewish literature, such as the Book of Tobit, and in other Jewish literature, such as the (banned) Book of Enoch. In summary, over a period of about two centuries from the time that Cyrus the Great (who reigned from 559–530 BCE) permitted the Hebrews to return from Babylon to their homeland until the army of Alexander the Great (who reigned from 336–323 BCE) defeated the Persians, the ruling Hebrew clerics modified their Yahweh from the original, jealous, vengeful, tribal, mountain god into Zarathustra’s universal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent… creator god of righteousness and justice. But during those two centuries, the ruling Hebrew clerics (later called the Sadducees, who ruled the Jews on behalf of the Persians) didn’t adopt other aspects of Zoroastrianism, such as life- and judgment-after-death and a speculated, apocalyptic “end of time”, after which one or more saviors (Saoshants or Saoshyants) would create paradise on earth.

What I advertised that I’d do for this post is at least outline how, during the next two centuries (when the Jews were ruled by the Greeks), the conversion of Judaism into Zoroastrianism was essentially completed, at least among Jewish religious sects such as the Pharisees and the Essenes. Even the ruling Jewish sect (the Sadducees) apparently accepted Zoroastrian ideas of life- and judgment-after-death, and apparently did so for a very practical reason: to try to maintain political (and financial) control over the Jewish people. In fact and to the same end, the Jewish clerics went even further than the Zoroastrians: they mimicked the Greek idea of martyrdom, but modified it, promising eternal life in heaven for those killed defending clerical power – an idea that was subsequently promoted by Christian and Muslim clerics and that, still today, pollutes the world as a horrible tactic of Islamic terrorism. But, readers should take heart: this too will pass. History teaches that all religious sects (and all religions) come and go, because all rely on dogma (metaphysical speculations) rather than on scientifically established principles; therefore, Christianity and Islam, too, will eventually pass away.

My advertised plan, also, passed away. I abandoned it not only because the ideas that flowered in Ancient Greece have been so important to Western civilization [so important that it seemed “sacrilegious” (!) to try to include them only as an introduction to resulting changes in Judaism] but also because I felt obliged, in these posts dealing with Clerical Quackery, to try to outline how Greek clerics, profiting from superstitions of the Greek “rabble”, stomped on the flowers of the greatest thoughts of ancient Greece. Consequently, I plan to delay my advertised plan to show Greek-inspired changes to the religion of the Jews, and in this post, I’ll begin to provide an (admittedly) ridiculously brief review of some of the revolutionary ideas that blossomed in ancient Greece, ideas that were subsequently buried for approximately 1500 years (thanks to the efforts of damnable Greek, Jewish, Roman, Christian, and Muslim clerics) until the seeds were regenerated, resulting in the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution.

As I mentioned in an earlier chapter, many possible reasons (or combinations of reasons) might explain why, as Goethe said, “Of all peoples, the [ancient] Greeks dreamt the dream of life best.” Possible reasons include:
1) As in ancient Sumer, but for a different reason (namely, not that civilization was just starting, but because the mountainous terrain led to relative isolation), essentially independent city-states developed and later competed; thereby, different thoughts, actions, governments, etc. were explored and developed in the different cities; and/or

2) The ancient Greeks were seafarers (because, as with the Phoenicians, the limited natural resources of their land and the mountainous terrain forced them to explore, expand, trade, and raid); thereby, they were exposed to many different ideas from many different cultures (including the Minoans, Egyptians, Babylonians, and Persians); and/or

3) Until very late in ancient Greece (namely, the time of Alexander of Macedonia), no single ruler became dictator (such as Sargon, Hammurabi, and dozens of other tyrannical rulers, including the kings of Egypt, Assyria, Judea, and Israel); thereby, the competences of the people were better able to blossom; and/or

4) Individual Greek raiders, traders, and leaders became wealthy and could afford the luxury of taking time to think and of hiring other-than-clerics to educate their children (the most famous example of which is King Philip of Macedonia, who hired Aristotle to tutor his son, subsequently called “Alexander the Great”); thereby, some children were spared indoctrination in religious balderdash; and/or

5) The Greek clerics didn’t become so wealthy and powerful as the clerics in Egypt, Israel, and Mesopotamia (because the Greek clerics couldn’t so easily feed off the wealth provided by the land to the Greek rabble); thereby, try as the clerics did (e.g., by stimulating the rabble and their political leaders to restrict “dissidents and atheists”, by burning their books and with arrest, exile, and execution), yet the Greek clerics had more difficulty than Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Hebrew clerics leeching off the people, and/or

6) The Greeks had Homer!
The significance of Homer is that, from the 8th Century BCE until Greece fell to Rome in 146 BCE (and, in fact, even for centuries during Roman rule), the primary “narrative” of the Greeks (and the Romans) was the stories attributed to Homer, the most famous of which are contained in the two books that survived, i.e., The Iliad and The Odyssey, arguably the two greatest stories ever told. As a result, and in contrast to the Hebrews during the same time period who heard, retold, and incorporated into their personalities the OT tales of Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Lott, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Ruth, David, Solomon, et al., the Greeks internalized Homer’s tales of Achilles, Agamemnon, Hector, Ulysses, Penelope, Telemachus, et al.

And what astounding differences there were (and are) between the narratives of the ancient Greeks and the ancient Hebrews, differences in depictions of the people, their gods, and their “holy men”. In the Hebrew tales, the unambiguous hero is their god, Yahweh, the secondary cast of alleged heroes included the [fake] prophets, and the only significant “honorable” feature of the principal people (as depicted by the clerical storytellers) was their obedience to God, i.e., to the clerics. As a few examples of the claimed, admirable behaviors of the Hebrew “heroes” (as I’ve detailed in earlier chapters and in earlier posts in this series):
• The “heroic” Noah was a drunken lout who had zero concept of justice,

• The “heroic” Abraham pimped his sister-wife, raped his slave girl, and in his deranged religious state, he was willing to murder his son,

• The “heroic” Lot should have been shot (if guns had been available) for offering his two daughters to be raped by a mob,

• The “heroic” Jacob cheated his brother out of his inheritance,

• The “heroic” Joseph enslaved the Egyptians,

• The “heroic” Moses and Joshua were maniacal murders, and so on, including

• The “heroic” King Solomon was a sex maniac, and his father, the despicable, “heroic” King David had a man killed to acquire his wife (Bathsheba), with whom he was having an adulterous affair.
It might be suggested that some Hebrew women (e.g., Sarah, Hagar, Rachel, Ruth…) were depicted as heroines, but it can be argued that their principal “heroism”, also, was their obedience (to their husbands, to their masters, to the clerics, and of course, to Yahweh). All of which are examples of the hideousness that can occur when “the winners” (in this case, the Jewish clerics) get to write, promote, and sanctify their society’s “history”.

In Homer’s tales, in contrast, people were depicted as heroes for their honesty, for their nascent humanism, and for their bravery, courage, fortitude, and tenacity [sometimes (e.g., Ulysses and his wife Penelope) using trickery to survive] – while the clerics are depicted as clueless cowards, the prophets as con men, and the gods as fickle, despicable, tyrants! The following quotations are illustrative [in which, however, there is a complication, namely, the quotations are from a translation (by Samuel Butler) of Homer’s books written in Latin; as a result, the Greek gods are identified with their Roman names, e.g., instead of identifying the chief (Greek) god and his wife as Zeus and Hera, they are identified as Jove (or Jupiter) and Juno, respectively]:

1) People Depicted as Heroes
a. Honesty, etc.
Hateful to me as the gates of Hades is that man who hides one thing in his heart and speaks another. [The Iliad, bk. IX]

Ill deeds do not prosper, and the weak confound the strong. [The Odyssey, bk. VII]

Men live but for a little season; if they are hard, and deal hardly, people wish them ill so long as they are alive, and speak contemptuously of them when they are dead, but he that is righteous and deals righteously, the people tell of his praise among all lands, and many shall call him blessed. [Said by Ulysses’ wife, Penelope, in The Odyssey, bk. XIX]

Therefore the fame of her excellence will never perish, and the immortals will fashion among earthly men a gracious song in honor of faithful Penelope. [The Odyssey, bk. XXIV]
b. Bravery, etc.
Always to be bravest and to be preeminent above others. [The Iliad, bk. V]

Of men who have a sense of honor, more come through [the battle] alive than are slain, but from those who flee comes neither glory nor any help. [The Iliad, bk. XV]

I too shall lie in the dust when I am dead, but now, let me win noble renown. [The Iliad, bk. XVIII]

There is one omen, and one only – that a man should fight for his country. [Contained in a speech by Hector, the greatest warrior of the Trojans, The Iliad, bk. XII]
c. Nascent humanism:
Then Agamemnon [the most powerful of the Greek kings] spoke, rising in his place, and not going into the middle of the assembly. “Danaan heroes,” said he, “servants of Mars, it is well to listen when a man stands up to speak, and it is not seemly to interrupt him… [The Iliad, bk. XIX]

Have respect, therefore, to your own consciences and to public opinion… [The Odyssey, bk. II]

There is no accounting for luck; Jove [aka Zeus] gives prosperity to rich and poor just as he chooses – so you must take what he has seen fit to send you, and make the best of it. [The Odyssey, bk. VI]

Moderation is best in all things… [Menelaus in The Odyssey, bk. XV]
2) Cowardly, clueless clerics and useless seers and prophets:
Seer of evil, you never yet prophesied smooth things concerning me, but have ever loved to foretell that which was evil. [Agamemnon’s criticism of the cleric (and alleged “seer”) Calchas, The Iliad, bk. I]

Consider, therefore, whether or no you will protect me. [The cowardly cleric Calchas’ plea to Achilles to protect him from Agamemnon’s wrath, The Iliad, bk. I]

Hector [the Trojan hero] looked fiercely at him [who had interpreted “a sign”, dealing with the flight of a bird] and said, “Polydamas, I like not of your reading [of this ‘portent’]. You can find a better saying than this if you will. If, however, you have spoken in good earnest, then indeed has heaven robbed you of your reason… you bid me be ruled… by the flight of wildfowl. What care I whether they fly towards dawn or dark, and whether they be on my right hand or on my left?” [The Iliad, bk. XII]

“My mother [Penelope] does indeed sometimes send for a soothsayer and question him, but I give his prophesying no heed.” [Said by Telemachus, Ulysses’ son, The Odyssey, bk. I]

“Go home, old man, and prophesy to your own children… I can read these omens myself much better than you can; birds are always flying about in the sunshine somewhere or other, but they seldom mean anything… You may preach as much as you please, but we shall only hate you the more.” [The Odyssey, bk. II]

Ulysses looked sternly at him [the priest] and answered, “If you were their sacrificing priest, you must have prayed many a time that it might be long before I got home again…. Therefore you shall die.” [The Odyssey, bk. XXII]
3) The stumblebumb, despicable gods:
Uncontrollable laughter arose among the blessed gods. [The Iliad, bk. I, which brings to mind something that the all-powerful Yahweh was apparently powerless to do: laugh!]

Ofttimes in my father’s house have I [Achilles] heard you glory in that you alone of the immortals saved the son of Saturn [or the son of the Greek god Cronus, viz., the Roman god Jove (aka Zeus)] from ruin, when the others, with Juno, Neptune, and Pallas Minerva would have put him in bonds. [The Iliad, bk. I, describing how the gods fought among themselves, where (again) Juno was the Roman goddess (Greek, Hera) who was Jove’s (i.e., Zeus’) wife – and was among the conspirators who tried to put Jove (Zeus) “in bonds”!]

“My own three favorite cities,” answered Juno [Jove’s wife], “are Argos, Sparta, and Mycenae. Sack them whenever you [Jove] may be displeased with them. I shall not defend them and I shall not care.” [The Iliad, bk. IV; showing that the gods didn’t really care about people.]

Asius the son of Hyrtacus in his dismay cried aloud and smote his two thighs. “Father Jove,” he cried, “of a truth you, too, are altogether given to lying.” [The Iliad, bk. XII]

Now the other gods and the armed warriors on the plain slept soundly, but Jove was wakeful, for he was thinking how to do honor to Achilles… In the end he deemed it would be best to send a lying dream [italics added] to King Agamemnon. [The Iliad, bk. II; showing that the gods were liars – just as Yahweh is reported to be, at 1 Kings 22, 19–23]

Neptune, lord of the earthquake, spoke, saying, “Father Jove, what mortal in the whole world will again take the gods into his counsel? See you not how the Achaeans [the Greeks] have built a wall about their ships and driven a trench all round it, without offering hecatombs [sacrifices] to the gods? The fame of this wall will reach as far as dawn itself, and men will no longer think anything of the one which Phoebus Apollo and myself built…” [The Iliad, bk. XIV; showing that the Greek gods were as jealous of human accomplishments as was Yahweh (recall the Tower of Babel incident).]

Father Jove, of all gods you are the most malicious. We are your own children, yet you show us no mercy in all our misery and afflictions. [The Odyssey, bk. XX]
But although Homer thereby promoted personal honor, individualism, and skepticism (especially of the clerics and their gods), and even nascent humanism, it’s unfortunately true that Homer’s stories were mired in the supernaturalism of his time, which was centuries before halting progress was made understanding natural processes. In fact, centuries later, the damnable, Greek clerics (who profited from stimulating superstition among Greek cowards and ignoramuses, i.e., “the rabble”) managed to almost destroy the advances made by subsequent honorable skeptics, individualists, and humanists, contributing to the eventual downfall of Greece.

Illustrative of Homer’s promotions of superstition is the following (from The Iliad, bk. I), in which Achilles is listening to the imagined goddess Minerva (allegedly his mother) advising him not to challenge Agamemnon:
And Minerva [aka Thetis] said, “I come from heaven, if you [Achilles] will hear me, to bid you stay your anger. Juno [Jove’s (i.e., Zeus’s) wife (aka Hera)] has sent me, who cares for both of you alike. Cease, then, this brawling, and do not draw your sword; rail at him [Agamemnon] if you will, and your railing will not be vain, for I tell you – and it shall surely be – that you shall hereafter receive gifts three times as splendid by reason of this present insult. Hold, therefore, and obey.”

And Achilles’ answer to the imagined Minerva: “Goddess,” answered Achilles, “however angry a man may be, he must do as you command him. This will be best, for the gods ever hear the prayers of him who has obeyed them.”
The above is as bad as similar nonsense in the Bible. Other examples of Homer’s supernatural silliness include:
All things are in the hand of heaven, and [the god] Folly, eldest of Jove’s [Zeus’] daughters, shuts men’s eyes to their destruction. She walks delicately, not on the solid earth, but hovers over the heads of men to make them stumble or to ensnare them. [Agamemnon in The Iliad, bk. XIX]

The immortals know no care, yet the lot they spin for man is full of sorrow; on the floor of Jove’s [Zeus’] palace there stand two urns, the one filled with evil gifts, and the other with good ones. He for whom Jove… mixes the gifts he sends, will meet now with good and now with evil fortune; but he to whom Jove sends none but evil gifts will be pointed at by the finger of scorn, the hand of famine will pursue him to the ends of the world, and he will go up and down the face of the earth, respected neither by gods nor men. [Achilles in The Iliad, bk. XXIV]

All men have need of the gods. [The Odyssey, bk. II]
Yet, Homer, himself, countered some of the superstition with statements such as the following, this one attribute to Zeus, himself:
See now, how men lay blame upon us gods for what is after all nothing but their own folly. [The Odyssey, bk. I]
Of course, Homer wasn’t the only ancient Greek who promoted supernaturalism. The most famous of the early mystics was Hesiod, who lived at approximately the same time as Homer and who unfortunately wrote “the bible” of the ancient Greeks, Theogony (literally, “the genesis of the gods”), with its famous (balderdash!):
Verily at the first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-sure foundations of all the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus, and dim Tartarus in the depth of the wide-pathed Earth, and Eros (Love), fairest among the deathless gods, who unnerves the limbs and overcomes the mind and wise counsels of all gods and all men within them. From Chaos came forth Erebus and black Night; but of Night were born Aether and Day, whom she conceived and bore from union in love with Erebus. And Earth first bare starry Heaven, equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods. And she brought forth long Hills, graceful haunts of the goddess-Nymphs who dwell amongst the glens of the hills. She bore also the fruitless deep with his raging swell, Pontus, without sweet union of love. But afterwards she lay with Heaven and bare deep-swirling Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys.
And although the above is unadulterated balderdash, it flows more smoothly, speaks more of love, and therefore, I enjoy reading it more than the balderdash of the Bible’s Genesis!

Moreover, Hesiod took nascent humanism further than Homer had. In general, Homer’s gods (similar to all gods) were (and are) deifications of existing customs, as if looking at one’s customs through binoculars – held the wrong way! Thus, Homer’s gods reflected his time’s warrior culture, led by chief warriors such as Agamemnon and Achilles, and even above the gods was assumed to be (capricious) Fate. Hesiod, on the other hand, was apparently not a warrior but a farmer, and he assumed that above the gods was some natural order: not Fate, but Right or Truth or Justice (similar to earlier ideas of the Egyptians of Ma’at, the Hindus of Ritam, and Zarathustra’s Asha). For example, in his book Works and Days, Hesiod wrote:
…lay up these things within your heart and listen now to Right, ceasing altogether to think of violence. For the son of Cronus [Zeus] has ordained this law for men, that fishes and beasts and winged fowls should devour one another, for Right is not in them; but to mankind he gave Right which proves far the best. For whoever knows the Right and is ready to speak it, far-seeing Zeus gives him prosperity; but whoever deliberately lies in his witness and forswears himself, and so hurts Justice and sins beyond repair, that man’s generation is left obscure thereafter.
Anyway, between the two of them, Homer and Hesiod thereby defined and enlisted followers in the mystics’ side of a war that started in ancient Greece and that has subsequently raged for more than 2500 years. It’s the war between realists and mystics, or between naturalists and supernaturalists, or (literally) between physicists [i.e., those who study “natural things” (i.e., Greek, phusika, from Greek phusis, meaning ‘nature’)] and metaphysicists [i.e., those who study things ‘after’ or ‘beyond’ (meta-) ‘nature’ (phusis), i.e., those who study the (nonexistent!) “super-natural”], or (equivalently) between scientific-humanists and unscientific-antihumans (aka “theists”), or between facts and faith, or most simply, between science and religion.

In this post, however, I won’t try even to outline the war between science and religion. It was well summarized by Robert Ingersoll:
For ages, a deadly conflict has been waged between a few brave men and women of thought and genius upon the one side, and the great ignorant religious mass on the other. This is the war between Science and Faith. The few have appealed to reason, to honor, to law, to freedom, to the known, and to happiness here in this world. The many have appealed to prejudice, to fear, to miracle, to slavery, to the unknown, and to misery hereafter. The few have said “Think.” [Although, for reasons described elswhere, I wish Ingersoll had written, instead: “The few have said ‘Evaluate’!”] The many have said “Believe!”
Instead of trying to outline the war, I’ll try just to sketch a few of the skirmishes that occurred in ancient Greece, with the goal of showing (in later posts) how the results of those skirmishes impacted Judaism (and subsequently, Christianity and Islam). And for this post, to try to succinctly outline centuries of skirmishes in the resulting war in ancient Greece (a war that countless historians have spent their lifetimes studying!), perhaps most efficacious would be to quote statements by some of the combatants, whom I’ll only briefly introduce.

Homer & Hesiod
Little is known about “the blind poet” Homer; in fact, there’s a possibility that, similar to Moses, he may never have existed; instead, his name may have become associated with poems that were maintained orally for centuries (from the time of the Trojan war, which occurred roughly when Moses allegedly lived, ~1200 BCE). If Homer existed, he may have been just one of the most entertaining “balladeers”. In contrast, there’s little doubt that Hesiod existed, and his books validate that he was an accomplished poet, knowledgeable as he could be (for his time) about astronomy and husbandry, and a great teller of tall tales!

Although Hesiod’s Theogony became the “bible” for superstitious Greeks, defining relations among the gods and their roles, he was also criticized, rebuked, and ridiculed. For example, from the Seven Sages (c.650–c.550 BCE; i.e., from that general time period but from unattributed authors) there is:
Hesiod might as well have kept his breath to cool his pottage [his soup or stew].
Just imagine if a similar saying had developed about Moses, e.g., “Moses might as well have saved his threats to scare away the crows.” If so, the world might have been saved from 2500 years worth of biblical balderdash!

Xenophanes & Heraclitus
Both Hesiod and Homer were penetratingly criticized by both Xenophanes (c.570–c.480 BCE) and Heraclitus (c.535–c.475 BCE), both of whom were Ionians (i.e., living in Greek colonies on the coast of what is now western Turkey). Xenophanes was one of the greatest of the early Greek philosophers, a skeptic and a physicist. Most unfortunately, only fragments of his writings remain; one (Fragment 11) states:
Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods all things that are a shame and a disgrace among mortals – stealings and adulteries and deceivings of one another.
Heraclitus is famous for his idea of the Logos (subsequently used in Christianity as “the Word”) and for his amazingly perceptive statements: “All is flux; nothing stays still”, “Nothing endures but change”, and his even more amazing (Tao-like):
The opposite is beneficial; from things that differ comes the fairest attunement; all things happen by strife and necessity. People do not know how what is at variance agrees with itself. It is an attunement of opposite tensions, like that of the bow and the lyre.
Heraclitus’ assessments of Homer and Hesiod are similarly famous:
[Homer] should be turned out of the lists and whipped.

Hesiod is most men’s teacher. Men are sure he knew very many things, a man who did not know day or night!
Actually, though (as pointed out by Cedric Whitman in his book Homer and the Heroic Tradition), once they accepted the silly idea of gods, Homer and Hesiod (and others, similarly) were essentially forced to depict their gods as “stumblebums”, because of a fundamental, logical inconsistency in the assumed characteristics of all gods. Thus, whereas the gods of ancient Greece were depicted as extrapolations of real, heroic figures (such as Achilles, Agamemnon, et al., who bravely faced death) and whereas the gods were considered immortal, therefore, they couldn’t be similarly heroic. Consequently, the depictions of the gods were paradoxical – and the gods were therefore ridiculed! As Ursula DeYoung wrote, quoting Whitman:
Obviously one of the most salient characteristics of the gods is their immortality. This grants them eternity, invincibility, omniscience, foreknowledge. But it also deprives them of the key to human tragedy: the constant fear and possibility of death. Therefore, when a poignant human drama is played out on the divine level, it simply cannot possess the same gravity as it does for humans. No wound is fatal, and thus there can be no real fear for oneself or others. Through their invincibility, all divine wounds are quickly healed and often laughed at. In the endless seasons on Mount Olympus, all fights are of necessity merely transient, all anger temporary. Because of their eternal existence, all dilemmas are soon solved. As a result, when the actions of men are mirrored by the gods, “what is starkest tragedy on earth is often imaged in heaven as a light and sometimes slapstick comedy.” Many scholars believe that Homer realized this and “as a balance to the tremendous solemnity of his hero… thrust the gods into the ridiculous postures they sometimes assume.”
Similar can be said (and should be said!) about all immortal gods: if any of them ever existed (but, of course, none of them ever have!) all of them would have necessarily been wimps compared with heroic humans who had (and have) the courage to face their own extinction, i.e., those who rejected (and reject) the oxymoronic concept of “life after death”. Stated differently, all those who adopted (or still adopt), without a single shred of supporting evidence, the delusion – the craziness! – of “an afterlife” (including the Maccabees, the alleged Jesus, the alleged “perfect-man” Muhammad, all religious “martyrs”, and all “modern” Muslim suicide bombers) couldn’t (and can’t) be heroes. All were (and are) as wimpy as their gods. If you've been brainwashed into believing in a beneficent afterlife, then following clerical orders, it's logically impossible to risk your life and be a hero.

Xenophanes summarized the silliness of the Greek gods as follows:
If cattle and horses, or lions, had hands, or were able to draw with their feet and produce the words which men do, then horses would draw the forms of gods like horses, and cattle like cattle, and they would make the gods’ bodies the same shape as their own.
Although Xenophanes thereby rejected the anthropomorphic gods of Homer and Hesiod (i.e., the gods of the Greek rabble and their clerics), he unfortunately postulated a god similar to Zarathustra’s (and, therefore, similar to the revised Yahweh of the Jews) and a god similar to the god that Aristotle adopted approximately two centuries later. Fragmentary descriptions of Xenophanes’ god include the following:
God is one, the greatest of gods and men… resembling mortals neither in body or mind… By effortless thought He controls all things with his mind… With all of his being, He sees and thinks and hears… He always remains in the same place, motionless; it is not fitting for him to chase now here, now there.
But in spite of such nonsense as the above, Xenophanes had the brilliance to add a statement (translated by the 20th century philosopher Karl Popper and to which I’ve added the italics) that’s as powerful today as it was more than 2500 years ago:
But as for certain truth, no man has known it, nor will he know it – neither of the gods nor yet of all the things of which I speak. And even if by chance he were to utter the final truth, he would himself not know it, for all is but a woven web of guesses.
In modern terms, the critically important concept that Xenophanes apparently realized (a concept that, once realized, exposes all organized religions as the shams that they are) can be expressed as follows. For closed systems (such as games, all religions, and pure mathematics), ‘truth’ is whatever it’s defined to be (for example, in poker it’s true that a flush always beats a straight, in all religions their dogma is taken as true, and in propositional math, it’s true that, e.g., 1 + 1 = 2). On the other hand, for open systems (including all of reality!), truth can be approached only asymptotically (e.g., the principles of mechanics, evolution, thermodynamics, etc., may be true – but then again, someone may yet show how such principles need to be corrected, to get closer to “the truth”). In fact, in reality, even 1 + 1 = 2 needn’t be true; e.g., one black hole plus another black hole yields how many black holes?! Therefore, in reality, all religions are just closed-system word-games.

Thales, Anaximander, & Democritus
Actually, in ancient Greece even before Xenophanes’ time, the “web of guesses” about “the truth” began to be woven to try to understand not only the gods but also “natural things”. The first to do so seems to be Thales (c.624–c.545 BCE), born approximately 50 years earlier than Xenophanes, and the founder of the Ionian school (subsequently attended by Anaximander, Xenophanes, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, and others). Thales is commonly called the first Greek philosopher, even “the first philosopher”, but one should be skeptical about such attributions, since anyone who “loves wisdom” is by definition a philosopher, and as illustrated in earlier posts in this series, there are written records of Egyptian and Mesopotamian “wisdom literature” from more than 2,000 years before Thales.

Thales is also credited with founding geometry and predicting an eclipse, but more likely (I suspect) is that he learned about both from the Mesopotamians or Egyptians. Thus, as I plan to illustrate in another “appendix” for my book, the Babylonians had been using, for example, what is commonly called “Pythagoras’ theorem” for more than 1,000 years before Thales (and before Pythagoras!). Also, without benefit of Newton’s laws, predicting eclipses (a capability achieved by both the Egyptians and Mesopotamians approximately 1,000 years earlier than Thales) required amassing huge databases from centuries of observations, which Thales certainly couldn’t have done on his own. That Thales could have traveled to Mesopotamia, for example, to learn about when the next eclipse would occur, seems quite likely, since such travel was common: witness that in the year before Thales died, Persia conquered all the Greek cities in Asia Minor (in 546 BCE).

In any case, Aristotle’s description of Thales as the first Greek physicist seems appropriate. Prior to Thales, brilliant people were obviously extremely successful studying, understanding, and manipulating “natural things” (to control fire, forge metals, make tools, use wheels, and build homes, temples, sailing ships, etc.), but the metaphysicists of the world (that is, the mystics of the world) were the only ones who claimed knowledge of how all the pieces of the world (and even of the universe!) fit together and evolved. [Mystics claim the luxury of not requiring that their speculations be constrained by data!] In general, for thousands of years within each culture, generation after generation retold the metaphysicists’ resulting myths, no doubt adding refinements to satisfy changing tastes and customs. Thales, in contrast, proposed what, at least to the Ancient Greeks, seemed to be a totally new idea; according to Aristotle (who lived about 250 years later), Thales proposed: “Water is the cause of all things…”

The historical record shows that the Ancient Greeks were, if not startled, then at least greatly stimulated by Thales’ proposal that “water is the cause of all things…” Thereby, he gained the reputation as the first Greek physicist. But just as Thales reputations as a mathematician and philosopher seem to be exaggerations, his contributions to physics should probably be similarly discounted, because for at least the previous 2,000 years, both Mesopotamian and Egyptian mystics had proposed that “In the beginning… water”. Therefore, it’s possible that Thales was doing little more than what the Hebrews were doing at the same time (e.g., in the construction of their genesis myths), i.e., borrowing ideas from Egyptians and/or Mesopotamians.

Now, granted that a modern person’s first reaction to the speculation that “water is the cause of all things” is probably something similar to “get real” or “ya gotta be kidding” (demonstrating criticism, skepticism, and even cynicism), but second thoughts should include at least the following. First, because no original writings by Thales have been found, it’s difficult to know what he meant. But if he’s given the benefit of doubt, it’s clear that water is the “cause” of much (clouds, rains, rivers, erosion, filling of the seas) and certainly water is essential for much (including essentially all life on Earth). Second, modern minds shouldn’t hastily judge Thales without considering the “mind set” of his time: today, the speculation “water is the cause of all things” doesn’t pass “the snicker test”, but in his day, when essentially everyone in every community was certain that the gods caused everything, it would take a courageous genius to say: “No, I don’t think so; I see no justification for the speculation that the gods cause everything; instead, I propose that water is the cause of all things.”

Further, though, Aristotle reported that Thales’ more complete speculation was: “Water is the cause of all things, and all things are filled with gods.” It’s easy to imagine an ancient Greek’s reaction to Thales’ proposal, e.g., “How could Zeus and Hera and the rest of the gods be inside everything? They’re up on Mt. Olympus!” As to what Thales might have meant, that, too, seems unknown. Yet, if he’s again given the benefit of doubt, his proposal appears to deal not only with the fundamental “stuff” of the universe (i.e., water) and the fundamental process of the universe (i.e., “water is the cause of all things”) but possibly also contains a new concept about “the gods”. Thus, prior to Thales, all gods had “personalities” (Zeus was a tyrant, Yahweh was vengeful, etc.); in contrast, Thales proposed that the gods were in everything, from the stars, to the grass, to cow dung! Thus, rather than accept the views of Hesiod or Homer that the various gods controlled everything, Thales might have been proposing that all things contain their own causal relationships, i.e., that processes evolve of their own “nature” rather than because of the “will” of the external, eternal gods.

Support for the possibility that, with his statement “all things are filled with gods”, Thales was proposing an entirely different perspective of “the gods” can be found from subsequent events. Thus, if the above was Thales’ idea and if this idea is coupled with the already referenced dissatisfaction with the gods as described by Homer and Hesiod, then perhaps the following statements can be seen as consequences of Thales’ proposal:
Xenophanes (c.570–c.475 BCE): “She that they call Iris [the goddess of the rainbow] is likewise a cloud” [where the significance of ‘likewise’, according to the historian John Burnet, was that Xenophanes had been listing other phenomena, pointing out that they are natural processes, having nothing to do with the mystics’ gods],

Heraclitus (c.540–c.480 BCE): “God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, surfeit and hunger”, and

Pindar (c.518–c.438 BCE): “What is God? Everything.”

And then, jumping ahead approximately 2,000 years (!), there is from Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677), “Besides God, no substance can be granted or conceived” (a conclusion for which he was expelled from Judaism) and from the philosopher George Santayana (1863–1952, of “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” fame): “My atheism, like that of Spinoza, is true piety towards the universe and denies only gods fashioned by men in their own image to be servants of their human interests.”
But questioning such descriptions, one can ask: Why use the word ‘God’ to describe ‘everything’? We already have perfectly good descriptions of ‘everything’ (e.g., “nature” or “the universe”), and to communicate with Nature, we needn’t pay surcharges to power-mongering con artists, posing as supernatural shaman and pretending to know the unknown!

Yet, beyond what Thales may have meant by “all things are filled with gods”, of much greater importance for humanity is what he started. Thus, what happened next in ancient Greece (perhaps because the mystics didn’t realize what was going on, failing to perceive the threat to their con games) was that other physicists began to express their skepticism with criticism of his proposal. Now, granted that it wasn’t particularly significant that Thales proposed an alternative to the then-current ideas about gods and that his idea was met with skepticism and criticism. Many others (both before and after him) proposed alternatives that were similarly met with criticism and skepticism. Examples include the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten, who (approximately 600 years earlier than Thales) proposed that there was only one God – an idea that the still-powerful, old-guard of Egyptian clerics eventually squelched. Also, possibly there was a Jewish fellow by the name of Jesus (ben Pandera?) who (approximately 600 years after Thales) seems to have promoted the Gnostics’ idea that the Jewish god, Yahweh, was the “evil god” who made matter and not the “good god” who made light, an idea that was met with so much skepticism and criticism by the ruling Jewish clerics that they approved his execution – rather than point out to him that E = mc^2 and, therefore, that matter and light are the same!

But such speculations about “the supernatural” (by Akhenaten, Zarathustra, Homer, Hesiod, Ezra, Jesus, Muhammad…) are of no value to humanity (save for those who use such speculations as a part of religious con games), not only because such speculations contain no information but also because they can’t be tested. On the other hand, Thales’ idea that “water is the cause of all things” had the potential to be tested. Now, nascent engineers had (of course) been testing their theories (about how to control fire, smelt metal, construct shelters, boats, etc.) for at least the prior 10,000 years (!), but how to test proposals such as “water is the cause of all things” was apparently unclear. During the next few centuries after Thales, methods of testing speculations began to be developed, by such brilliant ancient Greek scientists as Thales’ student Anaximander (c.610–c.546 BCE, one of whose students was Pythagoras), Anaxagoras (c.500–428 BCE), and the “father of modern medicine”, Hippocrates(c.460–377 BCE ).

Unfortunately, such budding scientists as Anaximander, Anaxagoras, and Hippocrates also introduced wild speculations of their own. For example, Anaximander criticized Thales’ proposal not because of new experimental results but because of the proposal’s illogic: he pointed out that water was wet and therefore couldn’t explain its opposite, i.e., dryness. He then introduced his own speculation that the “fundamental stuff” of which everything is made is apeiron, something that [conveniently (!)] “explained” opposites but that was proposed to be imperceptible [and therefore extremely difficult to study experimentally (!)]. Others proposed that the “physics” of everything was “air” or “fire” or some other “thing”, that there was more than one “fundamental thing” (such as earth, air, fire, and water), and that there were various fundamental processes controlling interactions among these “things” (such as circular motions, various whirling motions, mind or “nous”, and even love). If readers desire further information, they might want to search on the internet for ideas proposed by Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Pythagoras, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and others, all of whom lived during the next two centuries after Thales.

Actually, among all such speculations in ancient Greece, some amazingly perceptive ideas were “hit upon” – consistent with the principle that, if you throw enough darts, eventually a few may hit the dartboard! For example, Anaximander (c.610–c.545 BCE) came close to proposing a theory of evolution, approximately 2300 years before Darwin! He stated that humans were: “like another animal, namely a fish, in the beginning.” Also, Democritus [c.460–c.370 BCE, who is generally credited with the idea of atoms (where a is a negating prefix, similar to the English ‘un’ or ‘in’, and tomb is to ‘cut’ or ‘divide’, so ‘atom’ literally means ‘un-cuttable’ or ‘in-divisible’)] stated: “by convention there is color, by convention sweetness, by convention bitterness, but in reality there are atoms and space.” In general, though, most of the speculations were totally bizarre, such as those by Pythagoras, who was a real “nut case”.

Although I haven’t explored the following in depth, I get the impression that the religion Pythagoras started in a Greek colony in southern Italy was an early version of Christianity, promising immortality for his followers. Before his time, the Greeks had Homer’s tales about immortality (as described in The Odyssey), but such immortality wasn’t a state to be desired. For example, when Ulysses found Achilles among the dead, Achilles described his immortality as follows: “Rather would I live on ground as the hireling of another… than bear sway among all the dead that be departed.” That is, “the Homeric tradition” among the Greeks – even among Greek “nobility” – was that life (even as a slave) was far better than “life after death”. Pythagoras’ vision of “life-after-death” was much more appealing.

Relatively little is known about Pythagoras (c.580–c.500 BCE), because he left no written record – apparently because recording his ideas was “against his religion”. As can be found on the internet, indications are that he met with Thales, studied under Thales’ student Anaximander (Darwin’s forerunner!), traveled to Egypt (and while there, possibly became a priest and essentially certainly was exposed to Egyptian speculations about “the immortal soul”), then traveled (possibly as a prisoner) to Babylon (where he probably learned what we call “Pythagoras’ theorem”!), and then returned to southern Italy, where he led a group that used mathematics to “purify the soul” (so they could reunite with their idea of God).

Apparently it’s unknown where Pythagoras got his wild ideas about “cleansing his soul” for the sake of its “immortality”, but similar ideas were prevalent in Egypt for ~2,000 years. In addition, perhaps in Persia he became aware of Zarathustra’s ideas. Thus, the second century (CE) Roman satirist Apuleius in The Defense, Section 1, Part 1 (translated by H. E. Butler) wrote: “Many hold Pythagoras to have been a pupil of Zoroaster, and, like him, to have been skilled in magic.” In addition, maybe Pythagoras learned about “transmigration of the soul” (through various life-forms) from the Hindus (or from hearing about them). Illustrative of Pythagoras’ ideas about the “transmigration of the soul” are the report by Xenophanes (his contemporary, of “woven-web-of-guesses” fame) that Pythagoras “once heard a dog howling and appealed to its master not to beat it, as he recognized the voice of a departed friend.”

On the other hand, rather than obtain his ideas from the Hindus, perhaps Pythagoras improvised on some ideas of other Greek religious “cults”. In particular, at about the same time as Pythagoras (and for approximately 1,000 years earlier!) the Dionysus cult [worshipers of “the god of wine and revelry”, Dionysus (Greek) or Bacchus (Roman), who similar to Jesus was the alleged son of the "father god" Zeus and a mortal woman (Semele)] reportedly worked themselves into frenzy until they felt that Dionysus entered their bodies, sharing his immortality with them. Thereby, for little more than the price of a few jugs of wine, the masses of poor and simple people (“the rabble”) could gain immortality and “oneness” with their god. [Ideas not too dissimilar to methods pursued by members of most Christian sects (seeking “oneness” with Jesus, the alleged son of Yahweh), although most Christians pursue the goal more solemnly, e.g., rather than drink wine, they drink their god’s blood (!), eat his body (!), sing their songs, and pay their tithes.] Meanwhile, in contrast to preaching in both contemporary Dionysus and subsequent Christian cults, Pythagoras apparently preached that the route to immortality was through leading an ascetic life, enriched with music and (his idea of) science, a route later followed by some Christian monks.

Presumably, it was Pythagoras’ experience with music (he might have played the lyre since he was a boy) that sent him off on his “numbers kick”. At first, his hypotheses were firmly rooted in experimental results: he found musical harmony when there were certain whole-number relations between lengths of musical strings. But from those sound (!) results, he leapt into wild speculations, first about relationships between numbers and human concepts [such as justice and marriage – leading him and/or his followers (including Plato) to conclude, for example, that justice is the number four and that marriage is the number seven!] and then into numerical and geometrical relationships for essentially everything, e.g., “fire is composed of twenty-four right-angled triangles surrounded by four equilaterals [and] air is composed of forty-eighty triangles surrounded by eight equilaterals.” Whatever! Of course such ideas are nothing but wild speculations, but just-as-crazy stuff abounds (and is considered to be “the Truth”!) in all religions.

There are hints that Pythagoras abandoned his craziness in “pure mathematics” by a result found in “applied mathematics”. By “numbers”, he and his followers meant whole numbers and their ratios, and it was the “rational numbers” that, according to their speculations, were the foundation of the universe. But when he or one of his followers evaluated the length of the hypotenuse of the simplest imaginable right-angle triangle (or the diagonal of a square), of base and height of unit length, then according to “Pythagoras’ theorem” (discovered ~2,000 years earlier by the Mesopotamians!), the length is the square root of two, an irrational number approximately equal to 1.414213562… where “…” means the digits never end, which probably blew “the faithful” away!

The consequences of the discovery of irrational numbers seem to be unknown. Stories persist that Pythagoras had the discoverer (the destroyer of his “number theory”) killed; what is known is that Pythagoras’ ideas continued to be promoted for more than a century in the school he founded. For example, Plato visited Pythagoras’ school in about 390 BCE – and was mentally infected by Pythagoras’ numerology. Yet, although Pythagoras was a “nut case” (as was Plato), he did make some useful contributions: I suspect that he “shook up” the clerics of other cults with his frequently repeated saying, “Reason is immortal; all else [is] mortal”, he deserves credit for his attempt to explain “things” using numbers (which can be said to be the beginning of theoretical physics), and even I agree with his statement: “The most momentous thing in human life is the art of winning the soul to good or to evil” – if only one has the wisdom to distinguish good from evil (a challenge later taken up by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle).

Anaxagoras & Protagoras
Now, although I certainly don’t claim much knowledge about the ancient Greeks (my career was in the physical sciences, not history!), yet from the sources that I have looked at (mostly on the internet), it appears that clashes between the critics and the mystics developed roughly as follows. In the main, the new speculations about nature (i.e., about ‘physics’), proposed during the approximately 100 years between Thales and Anaxagoras, developed first in Greek colonies in what is now Turkey (by followers of Thales), mostly during the time when those Greek colonies where ruled by Persia. The Persians conquered the “Ionian” Greek colonies in 546 BCE (about the time of Thales’ death) and ruled during the next 50 years, until the Athenians helped the Ionians revolt in 498 BCE. That overthrow was, however, only temporary: the Persians regained control in 496 BCE, and during the next seventeen years, political control of Asia Minor vacillated between the warring Persians and Athenians, until the Athenians finally defeated the Persians in 479 BCE.

With the defeat of the Persians, when he was about 20 years old, Anaxagoras moved from Asia Minor (where the ideas of the physicists were developed) to Athens (where the ideas of the metaphysicists were still entrenched), he began to teach the new ideas (probably one of his students was Socrates), and thereby, he became the pioneer Athenian philosopher (after whom followed Protagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and many others). Sometime during this fifth century BCE, the Athenian clerics began to see the dangers of the cats that had been let out of the Greek colonial bags, namely, criticism and skepticism. That is, the mystics saw that criticism and skepticism, when applied to the mystics’ speculation about the gods, threatened the privileged positions that the con-artist clerics had grabbed: such “authorities” (in balderdash!) sometimes tolerate a few questions, but rarely tolerate questions that might undermine their financial well-being!

Some appreciation for why the clerics might have reacted negatively to the physicists can be gained from Part 30 of Aristotle’s (history) book The Athenian Constitution, which describes how ancient Athens was ruled. In particular, with the following (to which I’ve added the italics) Aristotle describes how the Athenians were governed in about 400 BCE:
These were the recommendations of the committee; and when they had been ratified, the Five Thousand elected from their own number a hundred commissioners to draw up the [revised] constitution. They, on their appointment, drew up and produced the following recommendations. There should be a Council, holding office for a year, consisting of men over thirty years of age, serving without pay. To this body should belong the Generals, the nine Archons, the Amphictyonic Registrar (Hieromnemon), the Taxiarchs, the Hipparchs, the Phylarch, the commanders of garrisons, the Treasurers of Athena and the other gods, ten in number, the Hellenic Treasurers (Hellenotamiae), the Treasurers of the other non-sacred moneys, to the number of twenty, the ten Commissioners of Sacrifices (Hieropoei), and the ten Superintendents of the mysteries.
I’d be willing to bet my paycheck (if I had one!) that all those “Treasurers… of the gods”, “Commissioners of Sacrifices”, and “Superintendents of the mysteries” didn’t want to risk losing their paychecks by gambling with the upstart physicists!

One of the most important examples of the metaphysicists’ (or mystics’) reactions to the physicists occurred in the case of the fellow who brought teachings of Thales’ school to Athens, i.e., Anaxagoras. He wrote a book entitled On Nature, but only fragments of it have been found (copies were probably destroyed by the clerics). He taught that sun was a “red-hot stone… larger than the Peloponnesse [the southern peninsula of Greece]”, that the moon merely reflected the sun’s light, and solar eclipses were caused by the moon. Understandably, such teachings were received poorly by those in power in Athens, who “believed” that the sun and moon belonged to “the dominion of the gods”. Therefore, in about 450 BCE, the Athenian legislature made it illegal to teach new theories about “the things on high”, and Anaxagoras was imprisoned. [From about 500 BCE onward, the democratic Athenian legislature was controlled by “the rabble” (who, in turn, were manipulated by clerics and oligarchs) – just as most democracies were controlled for centuries in most Western countries and just as today the legislatures are similarly controlled (to varying degrees) in India, Pakistan, Israel, Turkey, and the United States by “the rabble”, who in turn are manipulated by clerics and the press (both, in turn, controlled by those with money).]

No doubt such censorship wasn’t the world’s first battle in the war between science and religion (surely similar censorship was practiced for thousands of years in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, and India), but the censorship of Anaxagoras appears to be the first serious constraint on freedom of speech that occurred in ancient Greece. Subsequent to his arrest, Anaxagoras was pardoned by his friend (and perhaps his former student) Pericles, who was a military and political leader in Athens and who became the first Athenian commander in the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, which started in 431 BCE – and continued for 27 years! And as Anaxagoras and after him Protagoras (c.485–c.415 BCE) and Socrates (469–399 BCE) learned, during or near wartime is an inauspicious time to criticize core beliefs of citizens indoctrinated in clerical balderdash.

Protagoras (an agnostic and the first of the Sophists, i.e., “teachers of virtue”) is most famous for his statement: “Man is the measure of all things, of the things that are, that they are, and of the things that are not, that they are not”. His agnostic statement that got him into even more trouble with the rabble and their ruling clerics is from his book On The Gods: “Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not or what sort they may be, because of the obscurity of the subject and the brevity of human life.” The result was the first known instance of official “book burning”. Further, according to DeYoung:
Protagoras… was put on a trial as a result of statements similar to those of Xenophanes, managed to escape, and then ironically drowned in doing so.
Subsequently there was Socrates, who is still considered by some to have been the wisest person who ever lived (although I question if such people have considered the wisdom of Confucius, the Buddha, Heraclitus, Epicurus, and many others, including Bacon, Spinoza, Goethe, and many more, including even Thomas Jefferson and Robert Ingersoll). Socrates got into even more trouble with the Greek rabble and their clerical taskmasters than Anaxagoras and Protagoras; in the end, they had him executed for treason.

Unfortunately, there’s no record of anything Socrates wrote; therefore, what we know about his thoughts is contained in reports by others, and most of these reports are from his student Plato. The problem with Plato’s reports is that he had his own “axe to grind”; so, it’s hard to know which ideas reported to be Socrates’ are actually Plato’s. Yet, if the editors of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations confirmed all their references (an assumption I’ll never check!), then the few statements attributed to Socrates do reveal astonishing ideas, as appropriate today as 2500 years ago. For example, about 500 years after Socrates, the Roman philosopher Diogenes Laertius wrote:
Often when looking at a mass of things for sale, he [Socrates] would say to himself, “How many things I have no need of!”
Also, about 400 years after Socrates, the Roman philosopher Plutarch gave the following as statements by Socrates:
I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.

There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.

I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.
And approximately 600 years after Socrates, the Roman writer Apuleius wrote:
Is not Socrates said actually to have urged his followers frequently to consider their image in a glass, that so those of them that prided themselves on their appearance might above all else take care that they did no dishonor to the splendor of their body by the blackness of their hearts; while those who regarded themselves as less than handsome in personal appearance might take especial pains to conceal the meanness of their body by the glory of their virtue? You see; the wisest man of his day actually went so far as to use the mirror as an instrument of moral discipline.
I don’t know if this last quotation accurately reflects what Socrates said; I have seen, however, that the same idea is contained in one of the fables attributed to Aesop (6th Century BCE).

Plato (c.428–c.348 BCE) provides the following information about Socrates, as if Plato were quoting Socrates. And even if these ideas are not from Socrates, the quotation provides an interesting look at what it must have been an “intellectual” ~2500 years ago in Greece.
When I [Socrates, according to Plato] was young… I was tremendously eager for the kind of wisdom which they call the investigation of nature. I thought it a glorious thing to know the causes of everything, why each thing comes into being and why it perishes and why it exists… [I was] always agitating myself with such questions as these: Do heat and cold, by a sort of decay, bring about the growth of animals, as some people say? Is it the blood, or air, or fire by which we think? Or is it none of these, and does the brain furnish the perceptions of hearing and sight and smell, and do memory and opinion arise from these, and does knowledge come from memory and opinion when they have attained fixity? And then I tried to find out how these things perish, and I investigated the phenomena of heaven and earth until finally I made up my mind I was by nature totally unfitted for this kind of investigation…

Then one day I heard a man reading from a book, as he said, by Anaxagoras, that it is the mind [“nous” or “God”] that arranges and causes all things. I was pleased with this theory of cause, and it seemed to me to be somehow right that the mind should be the cause of all things, and I thought, “If this is so, the mind in arranging things arranges everything and establishes each thing as it is best for it to be. So, if anyone wishes to find the cause of the generation or destruction or existence of a particular thing, he must find out what sort of existence, or passive state of any kind, or activity is best for it. And therefore in respect to that particular thing, and other things too, a man need examine nothing but what is best and most excellent; for then he will necessarily know also what is inferior, since the science of both is the same.”

As I considered these things I was delighted to think that I had found in Anaxagoras a teacher of the cause of things quite to my mind, and I thought he would tell me whether the earth is flat or round, and when he had told me that, would go on to explain the cause and the necessity of it, and would tell me the nature of the best and why it is best for the earth to be as it is; and if he said the earth was in the center, he would proceed to show that it is best for it to be in the center; and I had made up my mind that if he made those things clear to me, I would not yearn for any other kind of cause.

And I had determined that I would find out in the same way about the sun and the moon and the stars, their relative speed, their revolutions, and their other changes, and why the active or passive condition of each of them is for the best. For I never imagined that, when he said they were ordered by intelligence, he would introduce any other cause for these things than it is best for them to be as they are. So I thought when he assigned the cause of each thing of all things in common he would go on and explain what is best for each and what is good for all in common. I would not have given up these hopes for much money, and I seized the books very eagerly and read them as fast as I could, that I might know as fast as I could about the best and the worst.

My glorious hope… was quickly snatched away from me. As I went on with my reading I saw that the man made no use of intelligence, and did not assign any real causes to the ordering things, but mentioned as causes: air and ether and water and many other absurdities… But it is most absurd to call things of that sort causes… Whoever talks in that way is unable to make a distinction and to see that in reality a cause is one thing, and the thing without which the cause could never be a cause is quite another thing. And so it seems to me that most people, when they give the name of cause to the latter, are groping in the dark, as it were, and are giving it a name that does not belong to it. And so one man makes the earth stay below heavens by putting a vortex about it, and another regards the earth as a flat trough supported on a foundation of air; but they do not look for the power which causes things to be placed as it is best for them to be placed, nor do they think it has any divine force, but they think they can find a new Atlas more powerful and more immortal and more all-embracing than this, and in truth they give no thought to the good, which must embrace and hold together all things.
It’s doubtful if we’ll ever learn if the above is an accurate reflection of Socrates’ thoughts or if they are Plato’s way to try to give more authority to his own ideas, deceiving readers into thinking that they originated from Socrates. In any event, the ideas glaringly demonstrate an error that we should always try to avoid but to which most of us succumb [I may be doing it in this post!]: seeking only information that supports our preconceptions.

Such an error seems especially embarrassing if made by Socrates (or even by Plato), because Plato’s description of how Socrates probed issues with questions, questioning people to uncover their assumptions, is still known as “the Socratic method”, and such questioning has (unfortunately) become identified as the most important characteristic of “critical thought”. I added the adverb “unfortunately”, because the most important characteristic of critical thought is not to probe assumptions (and especially, not to probe definitions) but to rely on evidence, which was a critically important failure of essentially all of even the best of the ancient Greeks – save “the father of modern medicine”, Hippocrates, (somewhat) and (certainly) save “the father of mechanics”, Archimedes. In contrast to them, as shown in the above quotation, Socrates (or Plato) didn’t seek what knowledge might be gained from data (from the universe around them) but sought support only for the preconception that everything was “for the good”.

Further, beyond the fundamental failure of essentially all Greek philosophers to evaluate their thoughts against evidence, the above quotation demonstrates Socrates’ (or Plato’s) failure to check even his definitions and premisses. Thus, behind the goal of seeking “the good, which must embrace and hold all things together” is the glaringly unsubstantiated premiss that there is “a purpose” behind natural processes. What evidence supports such an assumption? What was the purpose behind, for example, the death of so many Minoans by the tsunami that followed the eruption of the island of Thera in about 1600 BCE? Was “the purpose” to kill all the homosexuals?! Besides, what definition is adopted for “the good”? I hope Plato wouldn’t have minded too much if I had vehemently disagreed with his definition of “the good”, which he provides elsewhere in his writings and which includes the ideas that philosophers (such as he) should be the rulers (!) and that those who didn’t “believe” in his god should first be imprisoned, and if they still didn’t “believe” after a “re-education” program, then such “atheists” should be executed – horrible ideas later adopted by Christian and Muslim clerics.

Actually, though, I’m skeptical that the above illustration (of seeking confirmations for preconceptions) accurately reflects Socrates’ method of seeking knowledge, because it’s not the method that he apparently used in other inquiries. Apparently, his other inquiries were not attempts to understand the rest of nature (viz., physics) but attempts to understand human nature, in general, and in particular, ideas about justice, bravery, beauty, and similar. He did this by talking to people (apparently to essentially everyone he could), thus trying to understand human thoughts by seeking data from all available sources. [In a sense, then, he wasn’t a physicist but a psychoanalyst or psychiatrist.]

Many examples of his inquiries are available in the many “Socratic Dialogues” (available on the internet), written by Plato (and therefore probably reflecting Plato’s opinions). Socrates’ fundamental concept seems to have been that the best that anyone can do is to pursue truth, even while he apparently recognized Xenophanes’ point that, in reality, truth can never be attained. As a result of Socrates’ many inquiries of many people, he was considered a “trouble maker” and eventually indicted with the charge:
Socrates is guilty of not believing in the gods in which the state believes, but brings in other new divinities; he also wrongs by corrupting the youth.
He was found guilty and sentenced to death (by drinking a poison made from hemlock) – not just for what he thought, but for how he stimulated others to think. The famous 1787 painting by Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825) of Socrates reaching for the poison while still holding discussions is shown below.

In an earlier chapter, I reviewed some details about Socrates’ trial; in a subsequent post, I plan to comment more about his (in my opinion, unwise) choice of “martyrdom”. In the next post, continuing to explore physics and metaphysics in ancient Greece, I’ll address influences of Socrates’ death on Plato and influences of Socrates’ ideas on Aristotle. In later posts, I’ll turn to the influences of Aristotle on the two greatest philosophical groups in ancient Greece (the Epicureans and the Stoics) and to the (unfortunate) influence of Plato’s ideas on subsequent religions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

[To be continued…]