This is taken from Paul Blackham's comment here but it's too good to leave in the blog's underbelly:
"Several years ago I had some conversations about the kind of world we live in: what are the most ‘natural’ assumptions to make about it? As you can imagine this got nowhere because what appears to be ‘natural’ is already determined by our inner convictions, the state of our heart, the framework of our minds, our spiritual state.
Some people I spoke to, including atheists and Christians, genuinely believed that the most ‘natural’ assumptions to make about the world are that it is almost a ‘neutral’ or ‘value-free’ or ‘meaning-less’ environment in which the actors [humanity and if applicable god/gods/demons/angels etc] play. Thus the meaning comes from the players, from the things they say and do, whereas the stage itself has no message as such. Some of the Christians did concede that an indirect knowledge of the existence, power and wisdom of ‘God’ might be derived from the ‘stage’ but that no substantial or saving or personal knowledge of ‘God’ was available from the stage itself. Needless to say the atheists and agnostics tend to be more aggressive than that, arguing that there is nothing at all in the whole universes that has any intrinsic meaning, nothing beyond religious humans/documents that speak of the Person and Work of Christ, no ‘bare facts’ that tell the gospel story.
It would not be too hard to trace the genealogy of these assumptions and that view of the universe to the Enlightenment split between fact and meaning, the attempt to start from an ‘objective’ or ‘value-free’ view of reality. That is precisely what the early modern writers were trying to do and they explicitly speak about excluding ‘tradition and theology’ from all observation. [The contrast with Jonathan Edwards is amazing, when we consider when he is writing and observing the world around him.]
Now, obviously, with this kind of assumption will make us read not only ‘nature’ but also history in a particular way. If the world is essentially either devoid of meaning [atheists/agnostics] or else the meaning is ambiguous or of limited value [a non-specific deity who is powerful and wise etc] then it is easy to see how ancient people would be regarded. They are too early in the labourious upward climb of science/progressive religion/ethical development/civilisation. If there is no meaning [as the atheists suggest] then the only knowledge to be gained is the ‘brute facts’ of the mechanisms of the universe and because the ancients had clouded such knowledge with mythology and religion their grasp of such things was at best basic but more likely completely absurd. For those who accept the basic framework but allow ‘God’ to be another player who has ‘intervened’ in the mechanical system, then yes, perhaps ‘God’ was able to somewhat boost the progress of his own religious group, introducing hints of further heights on the long road ahead, whilst ensuring that the people at the current stage of development kept their minds fixed on the stage they were at.
So, now we are at our current stage [final?] of the progress we can look back on those on the lower slopes in antiquity and with affectionate congratulations applaud those who were able to glimpse beyond the slope they were climbing to the fog-shrouded heights of the mountain. It was good that they did that, and perhaps the glimpses of the higher slopes encouraged them on, but ultimately all they were required to do was labour on up the specific slope they were on.
However, what if the world is radically different than that?