Stephen Greenblatt's book "The Swerve, How the World Became Modern" recounts the history, the rediscovery and the influence of an ancient.
The poet Titus Lucretius, according to St Jerome, was born in 94 BC, went insane and killed himself at age forty. Since that time, his epicurean poem On the Nature of Things continues to fascinate due to the remarkable similarity of ideas to many modern beliefs. Stephen Greenblatt (1) recently observed that, "at the core of the poem lay key principles of a modern understanding of the world. The stuff of the universe, Lucretius proposes, is an infinite number of atoms moving randomly through space, ... colliding, hooking together, forming complex structures, breaking apart again, in a ceaseless process of creation and destruction.... There is no master plan, no divine architect, no intelligent design. All things, including the species to which you belong, have evolved over vast stretches of time. The evolution is random, though in the case of living organisms involves a principle of natural selection. That is, species that are suited to survive and to reproduce successfully endure, at least for a time; those that are not well suited die off quickly. But nothing--form our own species to the planet on which we live to the sun that lights our days--lasts for ever. Only the atoms are immortal." (2)
For Lucretius only atoms and void exist. Like many moderns he embraced materialism, rejected the existence of God and the afterlife, and any religious belief.
The ethics of the Epicureans is also found in modernity: to appreciate pleasures for these are good; avoid pain for this is bad. What we call modernism is actually ancient, promoted by Epicurus who got these ideas from the more ancient philosophy of Democritus--atomism. One slight difference is that Democritus's atomism is deterministic whereas the atomism of Lucretius and Epicurus is random.
Does modern thinking and even much of modern science assume an Epicurean cosmology and metaphysics? Metaphysical claims are claims that cannot be empirically verified or experimentally falsified, and are beyond the realm of empirical science.
The influence of Epicurean metaphysics impacts education. Parents spend thousands to send their children to universities, hoping that they will be educated, only to discover that they become atheists.
For Christians the atheistic Epicurean philosophy was
and continues to be repulsive. Historically, Galileos statement of atomism created a conflict...