Did theism beget atheism? Are we the 'redheaded step child, the black sheep"? I contend that theism is merely a failed form of science, as is alchemy, astrology, etc., in that theistic beliefs tried to answer the basic questions of life. As civilization evolved, some of the basic principals of nature began to be revealed, independent of theistic beliefs. Thus rational (and sometimes irrational) scientific inquiry began. So are we merely a child who has grown beyond our parent, never were related in the first place, or something else? Just some ponderings on my part.
I also think along the same lines you have written..
I tend toward the analogy of the child who has grown beyond his parent. Each generation carries a lot of baggage from the previous one. Traditions can be rather weighty constraints from which to break free. Especially if breaking away from one carries the risk of alienation of family, community, friends, etc. But ever so slightly, generation by generation, we as a species seem to inch our way forward from the constricting shackles of the past. And, for those who do inch forward, they always face the push back from the "conservatives" of the culture (dictionary definition of "conservative"). Kind of like the child who was raised in a very religious household by racists and homophobes. He may tone down the racism and homophobia, but still deeply believes in his faith, and still follows the dietary laws, sanctioned holidays, and other traditions that go along with it. Then, there are his children who will move ever so slightly from his traditions. And on it goes.
Just thinking out loud here. But could this not be tested easily enough.
Since there is no one universal religion among humans, if atheism developed out of theism one would expect it to be found in association with one particular kind of religion or to have some character that reflects the particular religion of its parentage.
So for example, there has been various periods in recent history where different societies have developed the science somewhat beyond other societies. At various points in history the Chinese, the Arabs and the Europeans have led in the sciences relative to other societies.
The Arabs and the Europeans I think make an interesting comparison, because I think one could argue that one led the other relative to the alignment that one had with the the concepts of Aristotle as apposed to Plato since both these societies have been affected by Greek philosophy. In fact one might argue that it was only the turning away Platonic philosophy and mysticism generally during what we now call the enlightenment (or age of reason) that European society finally rediscovered and implemented the ideas of Aristotle.
OTOH during the medieval period the Arabs were ahead of Europe in science but not only this, in spite of the mysticism foisted on them through Islam, in turning to the Greek classics they actually had a more realistic view of the world.
I am convinced that it is a realistic, rational view of the world that is a precursor and prerequisite for scientific advancement. For the last 500 years that has been more likely to be found in post enlightenment age European cultures (however as found in 'Guns, Germs and Steel' by Jarod Diamond there is more to European ascendancy during that period than just philosophy).
There are of course many atheists in China which is bounding ahead economically and soon no doubt, scientifically and militarily. Since they have a different religious history you cannot say that a particular religion is a precursor to atheism. It would be interesting to compare chinese atheism to western atheism .