Last week I started analyzing a book written by Ian Taylor called In the Minds of Men. At least for chapter 1, Taylor discusses the supernatural and the history of people who believed in it. He unjustly mixed belief in the supernatural with belief in near-death experiences where people see heaven or hell. I'm a testimony that I believe in God and all that he makes clear in the Bible. I doubt many NDE stories. It looks like today, I will consider the historic figures that he listed and discuss their beliefs in the other world.
Socrates believed in an afterlife. He couldn't put a name to what he believed but he knew it was out there and he knew it was not the Greek pantheon of gods.
Plato also believed in God but also believed in reincarnation. His religion took a more pantheistic turn.
Protagoras was an atheist. To him, man was the measure of all things.
Aristotle took a more deist approach that lived on in Benjamin Franklin. God is there but he's like an absentee landlord. He made the world and all its creatures, but he left them to run at their own pace. He gave all people organs with a build-in purpose to develop according to plan. This was not chance, but still God is not actively involved other than in getting the ball rolling.
Plato and Socrates believed because of revelation. Plato had come in contact with Old Testament writings in Alexandria and was exposed to the correct God. He believed in this sixth sense of knowledge that cannot be described in human language. This is not the kind of knowledge that saves from hell. Direct belief in God's promised Messiah saves from hell. We're not sure if Plato achieved a correct understanding of that or not.
Aristotle based his knowledge completely on experience. He had to experience something to know it. He had very little time for revelation.
Democritus took the original philosophies of Thales, et. al., and developed the atom theory. The ancients believed that creation could be broken down to its elements of water, air, earth, and wind. Based on that idea, Democritus believed that all matter could be broken down to indivisible atomic elements unseen to the naked eye. This paved the way for the periodic table of the elements and has been built upon. Looking at the space within an atom, this theory leaves no real room for the supernatural, at least not empirically.
Constantine fought for Rome at the Milvian Bridge. He saw a sign in the heavens of the Chi-Rho, the first two letters in Christ and a symbol for the Christians. A voice said to fight under that sign. From that point on, Christianity was legalized and got to enjoy peace for about 1000 years. Plato had a very muddled understanding of Christ. I don't know if he completely accepted it, but he was not against it. Constantine had a very good understanding of theology and a supernatural experience, but he still followed the Arian Christology that was declared a heresy under his own rule. He did not fully accept Christ's deity. It goes to show that even if these visions do exist, they do not necessarily signify salvation or even someone's integrity. Even king Saul prophesied.
But Plato most likely had a life free of any signs or wonders, and I'm certain he would have accepted the real Christ with his full deity had he been completely exposed to it. He was certainly a better scientist than Constantine. The latter was simply a good politician. It is possible to doubt in the veracity of someone's supernatural vision and still believe in all the supernatural activity that God makes clear in his Word.
From Constantine, the world mostly took Plato's paradigm. Augustine loved Plato, even to his detriment. Many of Plato's wonderful ideas about form and reality did pave the way for gnostic sentimentality to creep into the church, and this was when people really started to avoid sexuality and to deny their bodies in the confusion that visual matter was not important or even evil. It is true that God's unseen world is much more substantial than what we can see, but he did give us physical bodies, a planet, and sent Jesus in a physical body. God is more important, but he does place importance on the body and natural biological functions. It is just not godly to take on a complete monasticism when God's gifts are to be enjoyed and used to populate the earth.
The 1200s came, and people began to read more Greek manuscripts. The Church began to imbibe more Aristotelian philosophy that was sold by the Islamic scientists who made all the technological advancements. Ian Taylor has a lower view of Thomas Aquinas than I have. I don't like him as much as RC Sproul does, but he was a true believer who really did try to honor God. Sadly, he tried to reconcile the irreconcilable: Biblical supernaturalism with Aristotle's naturalism. They cannot completely mix. He basically opened God's revelation to be scrutinized by human reason. He decided that neither the supernatural nor the natural can be tested, so he accepted both. This cannot happen.
This is what opened the church to become more focused on man and what he can do to attain salvation rather than simply trust the Christ gave the Church salvation completely free. He solidified the 7 sacraments which have a lot of basis in truth but places too much import on human action. They started turning their backs on Augustinian theology and moved toward Pelagian theology. They went from being complete sinners in need of salvation to basically good people who can succeed with the right education. The Bible teaches the former. It is against the later. We are woefully lost and corrupt without God's grace. There is nothing alright about us without him.
Just the same, the Church took on the "man-is-basically-good" paradigm and began to develop legalistic rituals without explaining their meaning, and they integrated secular science in with their dogma. When people were able to start reading the Bible for themselves after the time of Gutenberg, this started a riot on Wittenberg that shattered the unity of Christ's church until the time Christ returns to put Humpty back together again.