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Ephesians 2,12 - Greek atheos


Religion · Nontheism · Antitheism
Metaphysical naturalism
Weak and strong atheism
Implicit and explicit atheism


History of atheism


Against God's existence
Against atheism


Famous atheists · State atheism
Discrimination and persecution

Atheism portal ·

The history of atheism, depending on how one defines the term, can be dated to as early as the 6th century BC, or as recently as the late 18th century AD. The word atheism itself was not coined until the 16th century.[1]

The earliest possible examples of atheism involve Eastern religions such as Jainism, Buddhism and Taoism, which do not include a deity. These date back to the 6th century BC, but there is some dispute over whether these religions can be classified as atheistic, in the sense of denying the existence of gods, as many other branches of these religions do incorporate deity worship. In some such religions, the question of the existence of gods is considered to be unimportant rather than a question which can be answered one way or the other. This stance can be better described by the neologism apatheism.

Atheism can also be traced to Ancient Greece in the 5th century BC. Diagoras of Melos is often referred to as "The First Atheist", and other men who claimed to be atheists include Theodorus of Cyrene and Euhemerus. Epicurus and Lucretius, who are often described as atheists, believed that the gods existed but that they were unconcerned with human affairs: a position better described as Deism than atheism. Protagoras espoused a position which we would describe today as agnosticism, stating that "With regard to the gods I am unable to say either that they exist or do not exist."[2] At the time, however, atheism was a capital offense in Greece - it was the crime for which Socrates was executed, though he denied the charge. It is therefore possible that some individuals may have concealed their true beliefs.

In Medieval and Renaissance Europe, instances of atheism are rare. The existence of arguments put forward to demonstrate God's existence by Aquinas, Anselm and others suggests that non-belief was not unheard of, but few records of it are known.

Modern atheism did not begin until the Enlightenment. In addition, the French Revolution increased the spread of atheism in Europe.[3] Baron D'Holbach's book The System of Nature was the first publication which explicitly denied the existence of God. Other atheists from this time included the philosopher David Hume. Others denied being atheists (heresy and blasphemy were capital offences) but held materialistic, empiricist, broadly deistic views; these include Voltaire, Thomas Hobbes, Thomas Paine, John Locke, Immanuel Kant and Benjamin Franklin.

Militant Atheism and Atheistic Communism

The atheism in communist regimes has been and continues to be militant atheism and various acts of repression including the razing of thousands of religious buildings and the killing, imprisoning, and oppression of religious leaders and believers.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10] The theory of evolution played a prominent role in regards to atheistic communism.[11]

It has been estimated that in less than the past 100 years, governments under the banner of communism have caused the death of somewhere between 40,472,000 to 259,432,000 human lives.[12][13][14][15][16][17] Dr. R. J. Rummel, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii, is the scholar who first coined the term democide (death by government). Dr. R. J. Rummel's mid estimate regarding the loss of life due to communism is that communism caused the death of approximately 110,286,000 people between 1917 and 1987.[18]

See also

External Links

Recommended Reading

  • Dimitry Pospielovsky, (December, 1987), A History of Marxist-Leninist Atheism and Soviet Antireligious Policies, Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 0312381328
  • Dimitry Pospielovsky, (November, 1987), Soviet Antireligious Campaigns and Persecutions (History of Soviet Atheism in Theory and Practice and the Believers, Vol 2), Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 0312009054
  • Dimitry Pospielovsky, (August, 1988), Soviet Studies on the Church and the Believer's Response to Atheism: A History of Soviet Atheism in Theory and Practice and the Believers, Vol 3, Palgrave Macmillan, hardcover: ISBN 0312012918, paperback: ISBN 0312012926


  2. Cicero, De Natura Deorum
  12. The Black Book of Communism
  13. The Black Book of Communism
  15. Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Twentieth Century Hemoclysm
  16. Memory and Ideology
  17. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression

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