Atomism: Natural Philosophy and Lucretius

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  • 0:05 Definition of Atomism
  • 1:28 Writings of Lucretius
  • 2:32 Unhappiness from Fear
  • 3:21 The Universe
  • 4:11 No Afterlife
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will discuss the theories of the Roman philosopher, Lucretius. As it focuses on Lucretius and his works, it will highlight his belief in atomism and his famous poem, 'On the Nature of Things.'

Definition of Atomism

From its inception, Christianity has been diametrically opposed to the religions of ancient Rome. In other words, it seems they've agreed on nothing. However, there is one thing they have in common. Their belief systems are diametrically opposed to the works of the Roman philosopher, Lucretius, and his belief in atomism. Before we find out why the beliefs of ancient Rome and Christianity both stand in opposition to Lucretius, let's first explain atomism.

Christianity and Roman religions agreed on almost nothing, but both opposed the beliefs of Lucretius.

Atomism is the belief that simple, indivisible particles are the basic components of the universe. These basic components are called atoms, hence the name atomism. Although this may sound very modern, atomism finds its roots in ancient Greece and was heralded by the philosopher Epicurus. Epicurus took atomism and made it applicable to human life.

He purported atoms, which are the building blocks of all nature, exist and function without the intervention of celestial gods or outside forces. In other words, neither the Greek gods of Mt. Olympus nor any other gods are calling the shots when it comes to nature. Of course, this an affront to the belief in the supernatural, but it is mild in comparison to the works of Lucretius.

Writings of Lucretius

Lucretius, who was born sometime around 99 BCE, took Epicurus' philosophy, now known as Epicureanism, and sort of injected it with anti-religion steroids. He did this in his famous writing, De rerum natura, translated, On the Nature of Things. In this historical piece, Lucretius made some very wild claims for the time in which he lived. Although very little is known about the man himself, his works were ahead of his time, and still help define modern day theories of natural law.

As we learn about Lucretius' beliefs, we'll focus on three things. First, he theorized unhappiness comes from fear of the gods. Second, he hypothesized that the universe was not made by any supernatural being. Third, he claimed there was no life after death. Now any one of these would put him at odds with most religions. Put them all together and you can see why Lucretius was a thorn in the flesh of those who believed in the supernatural.

Unhappiness from Fear

Lucretius believed that unhappiness stemmed from fear of the gods.
Unhappiness From Fear
On the Nature of ThingsHuman life lay foul before men's eyes, crushed into the dust beneath religion's weightSatisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days (Psalm 90:14).

Although Lucretius never came out and denied the existence of gods, he believed religion brought bondage to man.

The Universe

This brings us to our next point. Lucretius believed the universe was not made by any supernatural being. Not only does this one go against the Bible's words, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1)., it also flies in the face of the mythology of Rome, which held the universe was brought into order by a family of gods.

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