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Another excerpt from Voices of Unbelief, my current project. You may remember that one of my goals in this book is to fill in the 1400-year silence between Rome and the Renaissance that dogs most atheist anthologies. Sure, European atheism was mum during this time, for obvious reasons — but other cultures, including India, had flourishing atheistic schools of thought in philosophy and religion. One example is Jainism, a strong candidate for Best Religion on Earth. Read on:

The 6th century BCE was a time of great innovation in Hinduism, giving rise to diverse new schools of thought. Among these was Jainism, a nontheistic religion based on natural law, pacifism, and nonviolence toward all living things. Jainism rejects the idea that the universe was created or is sustained by supernatural beings and includes direct criticisms of supernatural belief in many of its texts.

Mahapurana is one of the most important Jain texts. Written primarily by the Acharya (religious teacher) Jinasena and finished by his student Gunabhadra in the 9th century CE, this text gives a thorough description of Jain tradition and belief, including what historian Vipan Chandra has called “the finest and most audacious ancient defense of atheism.” That famous passage, presented below, echoes the arguments of Epicurus and Diagoras and presages those of the 18th century Enlightenment.

Document: Acharya Jinasena, Mahapurana 4.16-31 (9th c. CE)

Some foolish men declare that Creator made the world.
The doctrine that the world was created is ill-advised, and should be rejected.

If God created the world, where was he before creation? If you say he was transcendent then, and needed no support, where is he now?

No single being had the skill to make the world—for how can an immaterial god create that which is material?

How could God have made the world without any raw material?
If you say he made this first, and then the world, you are face with an endless regression.

If you declare that the raw material arose naturally you fall into another fallacy, for the whole universe might thus have been its own creator, and have risen equally naturally.

If God created the world by an act of will, without any raw material, then it is just his will and nothing else—and who will believe this silly stuff?
If he is ever perfect, and complete, how could the will to create have arisen in him?
If, on the other hand, he is not perfect, he could no more create the universe than a potter could.

If he is formless, actionless, and all-embracing, how could he have created the world? Such a soul, devoid of all modality, would have no desire to create anything.

If you say that he created to no purpose, because it was his nature to do so then God is pointless. If he created in some kind of sport, it was the sport of a foolish child, leading to trouble….

If he created out of love for living things and need of them he made the world; why did he not make creation wholly blissful, free from misfortune?…

Thus the doctrine that the world was created by God makes no sense at all.

And God commits great sin in slaying the children whom he himself created.
If you say that he slays only to destroy evil beings, why did he create such beings in the first place?…

Good men should combat the believer in divine creation, maddened by an evil doctrine.

Know that the world is uncreated, as time itself is, without beginning and end, and is based on the principles [natural law], life, and the rest.

(From Voices of Unbelief: Documents from Atheists and Agnostics, coming from ABC-CLIO in August 2012.)

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.