Atheism
Overview
Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief
Belief
Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.-Belief, knowledge and epistemology:The terms belief and knowledge are used differently in philosophy....

 in the existence of deities
Existence of God
Arguments for and against the existence of God have been proposed by philosophers, theologians, scientists, and others. In philosophical terms, arguments for and against the existence of God involve primarily the sub-disciplines of epistemology and ontology , but also of the theory of value, since...

. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities
Deity
A deity is a recognized preternatural or supernatural immortal being, who may be thought of as holy, divine, or sacred, held in high regard, and respected by believers....

. Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist.
Atheism is contrasted with theism
Theism
Theism, in the broadest sense, is the belief that at least one deity exists.In a more specific sense, theism refers to a doctrine concerning the nature of a monotheistic God and God's relationship to the universe....

,
which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.

The term atheism originated from the Greek (atheos), meaning "without god", which was applied with a negative connotation to those thought to reject the gods worshipped by the larger society.
Quotations

The inhabitants of the earth are of two sorts: Those with brains, but no religion, And those with religion, but no brains.

Al-Ma'arri|Abu'l-

A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism; but depth in philsophy bringeth men's minds about to religion.

Francis Bacon|Sir Francis Bacon, Essays, 16, "Of Atheism"

Atheism leaves a man to sense, to philosophy, to natural piety, to laws, to reputation; all which may be guides to an outward moral virtue, though religion were not; but superstition dismounts all these, and erecteth an absolute monarchy, in the minds of men.

Sir Francis Bacon, Essays, 16, "Of Superstition"

ATHEISM: A godless religion that retains all the dogmatic posturing of the faiths it so confidently denies, with few of the consolations.

Rick Bayan|Rick Bayan, The Cynic's Dictionary, unidentified ISBN/edition, unidentified chapter/page

Encyclopedia
Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief
Belief
Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.-Belief, knowledge and epistemology:The terms belief and knowledge are used differently in philosophy....

 in the existence of deities
Existence of God
Arguments for and against the existence of God have been proposed by philosophers, theologians, scientists, and others. In philosophical terms, arguments for and against the existence of God involve primarily the sub-disciplines of epistemology and ontology , but also of the theory of value, since...

. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities
Deity
A deity is a recognized preternatural or supernatural immortal being, who may be thought of as holy, divine, or sacred, held in high regard, and respected by believers....

. Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist.
Atheism is contrasted with theism
Theism
Theism, in the broadest sense, is the belief that at least one deity exists.In a more specific sense, theism refers to a doctrine concerning the nature of a monotheistic God and God's relationship to the universe....

,
which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.

The term atheism originated from the Greek (atheos), meaning "without god", which was applied with a negative connotation to those thought to reject the gods worshipped by the larger society. With the spread of freethought
Freethought
Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or other dogmas...

, skeptical inquiry, and subsequent increase in criticism of religion
Criticism of religion
Criticism of religion is criticism of the concepts, validity, and/or practices of religion, including associated political and social implications....

, application of the term narrowed in scope. The first individuals to identify themselves as "atheist" appeared in the 18th century.

Atheists tend to be skeptical
Skepticism
Skepticism has many definitions, but generally refers to any questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere...

 of supernatural
Supernatural
The supernatural or is that which is not subject to the laws of nature, or more figuratively, that which is said to exist above and beyond nature...

 claims, citing a lack of empirical evidence. Atheists have offered various rationales for not believing in any deity. These include the problem of evil
Problem of evil
In the philosophy of religion, the problem of evil is the question of how to explain evil if there exists a deity that is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient . Some philosophers have claimed that the existences of such a god and of evil are logically incompatible or unlikely...

, the argument from inconsistent revelations
Argument from inconsistent revelations
The argument from inconsistent revelations, also known as the avoiding the wrong hell problem, is an argument against the existence of God. It asserts that it is unlikely that God exists because many theologians and faithful adherents have produced conflicting and mutually exclusive revelations...

, and the argument from nonbelief
Argument from nonbelief
The argument from nonbelief is a philosophical argument against the existence of God, specifically, the God of theism...

. Other arguments for atheism range from the philosophical to the social to the historical. Although some atheists have adopted secular
Secularism
Secularism is the principle of separation between government institutions and the persons mandated to represent the State from religious institutions and religious dignitaries...

 philosophies,
there is no one ideology or set of behaviors to which all atheists adhere.

Although in Western culture
Western culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization or European civilization, refers to cultures of European origin and is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and...

 atheists are usually irreligious
Irreligion
Irreligion is defined as an absence of religion or an indifference towards religion. Sometimes it may also be defined more narrowly as hostility towards religion. When characterized as hostility to religion, it includes antitheism, anticlericalism and antireligion. When characterized as...

, some are spiritual
Spirituality
Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop...

.
Moreover, atheism also figures in certain religious and spiritual belief systems, such as Jainism
Jainism
Jainism is an Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice emphasize the necessity of self-effort to move the soul towards divine consciousness and liberation. Any soul that has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state...

, Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

, Hinduism
Hinduism
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

, and Neopagan movements
New religious movement
A new religious movement is a religious community or ethical, spiritual, or philosophical group of modern origin, which has a peripheral place within the dominant religious culture. NRMs may be novel in origin or they may be part of a wider religion, such as Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism, in...


such as Wicca
Wicca
Wicca , is a modern Pagan religious movement. Developing in England in the first half of the 20th century, Wicca was popularised in the 1950s and early 1960s by a Wiccan High Priest named Gerald Gardner, who at the time called it the "witch cult" and "witchcraft," and its adherents "the Wica."...

.
Jainism
Jainism
Jainism is an Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice emphasize the necessity of self-effort to move the soul towards divine consciousness and liberation. Any soul that has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state...

 and some forms of Buddhism
God in Buddhism
The refutation of the notion of a supreme God or a prime mover is seen by many as a key distinction between Buddhism and other religions. In Buddhism the sole aim of spiritual practice is the complete alleviation of stress in samsara, called nirvana...

 do not advocate belief in gods,
whereas Hinduism
Hinduism
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

 holds atheism to be valid, but difficult to follow spiritually.

Since conceptions of atheism vary, determining how many atheists exist in the world today is no easy task.
According to one estimate, about 2.3% of the world's population are atheists, while a further 11.9% are nonreligious
Irreligion
Irreligion is defined as an absence of religion or an indifference towards religion. Sometimes it may also be defined more narrowly as hostility towards religion. When characterized as hostility to religion, it includes antitheism, anticlericalism and antireligion. When characterized as...

. According to another, rates of self-reported atheism are among the highest in Western nations, again to varying degrees: United States (4%), Italy (7%), Spain (11%), Great Britain (17%), Germany (20%), and France (32%).

Etymology

In early ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

, the adjective ' onMouseout='HidePop("56533")' href="/topics/Privative_a">privative ἀ-
Privative a
In Ancient Greek grammar, privative a is the prefix a-  that expresses negation or absence . It is derived from a Proto-Indo-European syllabic nasal *, the zero ablaut grade of the negation *ne, i.e. /n/ used as a vowel...

 + "god") meant "godless". It was first used as a term of censure roughly meaning "ungodly" or "impious". In the 5th century BCE, the word began to indicate more deliberate and active godlessness in the sense of "severing relations with the gods" or "denying the gods". The term ἀσεβής () then came to be applied against those who impiously denied or disrespected the local gods, even if they believed in other gods. Modern translations of classical texts sometimes render as "atheistic". As an abstract noun, there was also (), "atheism". Cicero
Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

 transliterated the Greek word into the Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 . The term found frequent use in the debate between early Christians
Early Christianity
Early Christianity is generally considered as Christianity before 325. The New Testament's Book of Acts and Epistle to the Galatians records that the first Christian community was centered in Jerusalem and its leaders included James, Peter and John....

 and Hellenists
Ancient Greek religion
Greek religion encompasses the collection of beliefs and rituals practiced in ancient Greece in the form of both popular public religion and cult practices. These different groups varied enough for it to be possible to speak of Greek religions or "cults" in the plural, though most of them shared...

, with each side attributing it, in the pejorative sense, to the other.

The term atheist (from Fr. ), in the sense of "one who denies or disbelieves the existence of God",
predates atheism in English, being first found as early as 1566,
and again in 1571.
Atheist as a label of practical godlessness was used at least as early as 1577.
The term atheism was derived from the French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 , and appears in English about 1587.
An earlier work, from about 1534, used the term atheonism.
Related words emerged later: deist in 1621,
theist in 1662,
deism
Deism
Deism in religious philosophy is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the...

in 1675,
and theism
Theism
Theism, in the broadest sense, is the belief that at least one deity exists.In a more specific sense, theism refers to a doctrine concerning the nature of a monotheistic God and God's relationship to the universe....

in 1678.
At that time "deist" and "deism" already carried their modern meaning. The term theism came to be contrasted with deism.

Karen Armstrong
Karen Armstrong
Karen Armstrong FRSL , is a British author and commentator who is the author of twelve books on comparative religion. A former Roman Catholic nun, she went from a conservative to a more liberal and mystical faith...

 writes that "During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the word 'atheist' was still reserved exclusively for polemic
Polemic
A polemic is a variety of arguments or controversies made against one opinion, doctrine, or person. Other variations of argument are debate and discussion...

 ... The term 'atheist' was an insult. Nobody would have dreamed of calling himself an atheist."
In the middle of the seventeenth century it was still assumed that it was impossible not to believe in God;
atheist meant not accepting the current conception of the divine.

Atheism was first used to describe a self-avowed belief in late 18th-century Europe, specifically denoting disbelief in the monotheistic
Monotheism
Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one and only one god. Monotheism is characteristic of the Baha'i Faith, Christianity, Druzism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Samaritanism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.While they profess the existence of only one deity, monotheistic religions may still...

 Abrahamic god.
In the 20th century, globalization
Globalization
Globalization refers to the increasingly global relationships of culture, people and economic activity. Most often, it refers to economics: the global distribution of the production of goods and services, through reduction of barriers to international trade such as tariffs, export fees, and import...

 contributed to the expansion of the term to refer to disbelief in all deities, though it remains common in Western society to describe atheism as simply "disbelief in God".

Definitions and distinctions

Writers disagree how best to define and classify atheism,
contesting what supernatural entities it applies to, whether it is an assertion in its own right or merely the absence of one, and whether it requires a conscious, explicit rejection. A variety of categories have been proposed to try to distinguish the different forms of atheism.

Range

Some of the ambiguity and controversy involved in defining atheism arises from difficulty in reaching a consensus for the definitions of words like deity and god. The plurality of wildly different conceptions of god
Conceptions of God
The God of monotheism, pantheism or panentheism, or the supreme deity of henotheistic religions, may be conceived of in various degrees of abstraction:...

 and deities leads to differing ideas regarding atheism's applicability. The ancient Romans accused Christians of being atheists for not worshiping the pagan
Paganism
Paganism is a blanket term, typically used to refer to non-Abrahamic, indigenous polytheistic religious traditions....

 deities. Gradually, this view fell into disfavor as theism came to be understood as encompassing belief in any divinity.

With respect to the range of phenomena being rejected, atheism may counter anything from the existence of a deity, to the existence of any spiritual
Spirituality
Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop...

, supernatural
Supernatural
The supernatural or is that which is not subject to the laws of nature, or more figuratively, that which is said to exist above and beyond nature...

, or transcendental
Transcendence (religion)
In religion transcendence refers to the aspect of God's nature which is wholly independent of the physical universe. This is contrasted with immanence where God is fully present in the physical world and thus accessible to creatures in various ways...

 concepts, such as those of Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

, Hinduism
Hinduism
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

, Jainism
Jainism
Jainism is an Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice emphasize the necessity of self-effort to move the soul towards divine consciousness and liberation. Any soul that has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state...

 and Taoism
Taoism
Taoism refers to a philosophical or religious tradition in which the basic concept is to establish harmony with the Tao , which is the mechanism of everything that exists...

.

Implicit vs. explicit

Definitions of atheism also vary in the degree of consideration a person must put to the idea of gods to be considered an atheist. Atheism has sometimes been defined to include the simple absence of belief that any deities exist. This broad definition would include newborns and other people who have not been exposed to theistic ideas. As far back as 1772, Baron d'Holbach
Baron d'Holbach
Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach was a French-German author, philosopher, encyclopedist and a prominent figure in the French Enlightenment. He was born Paul Heinrich Dietrich in Edesheim, near Landau in the Rhenish Palatinate, but lived and worked mainly in Paris, where he kept a salon...

 said that "All children are born Atheists; they have no idea of God."
Similarly, George H. Smith
George H. Smith
George Hamilton Smith is an American author, editor, educator and speaker.-Biography:Smith grew up mostly in Tucson, Arizona, and attended the University of Arizona for several years before leaving without a degree; he relocated to Los Angeles during 1971. With the help of libertarian editor Roy A...

 (1979) suggested that: "The man who is unacquainted with theism is an atheist because he does not believe in a god. This category would also include the child with the conceptual capacity to grasp the issues involved, but who is still unaware of those issues. The fact that this child does not believe in god qualifies him as an atheist."
Smith coined the term implicit atheism to refer to "the absence of theistic belief without a conscious rejection of it" and explicit atheism to refer to the more common definition of conscious disbelief.
Ernest Nagel
Ernest Nagel
Ernest Nagel was a Czech-American philosopher of science. Along with Rudolf Carnap, Hans Reichenbach, and Carl Hempel, he is sometimes seen as one of the major figures of the logical positivist movement....

 contradicts Smith's definition of atheism as merely "absence of theism", acknowledging only explicit atheism as true "atheism".

Positive vs. negative

Philosophers such as Antony Flew
Antony Flew
Antony Garrard Newton Flew was a British philosopher. Belonging to the analytic and evidentialist schools of thought, he was notable for his works on the philosophy of religion....

,
and Michael Martin
Michael Martin (philosopher)
Michael L. Martin is an American philosopher and professor emeritus at Boston University. He obtained his PhD from Harvard University in 1962....

,
have contrasted positive (strong/hard) atheism with negative (weak/soft) atheism. Positive atheism is the explicit affirmation that gods do not exist. Negative atheism includes all other forms of non-theism. According to this categorization, anyone who is not a theist is either a negative or a positive atheist.
The terms weak and strong are relatively recent, while the terms negative and positive atheism are of older origin, having been used (in slightly different ways) in the philosophical literature and in Catholic apologetics.
Under this demarcation of atheism, most agnostics
Agnosticism
Agnosticism is the view that the truth value of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—is unknown or unknowable....

 qualify as negative atheists.

While Martin
Michael Martin (philosopher)
Michael L. Martin is an American philosopher and professor emeritus at Boston University. He obtained his PhD from Harvard University in 1962....

, for example, asserts that agnosticism entails negative atheism, most agnostics see their view as distinct from atheism, which they may consider no more justified than theism or requiring an equal conviction.
The assertion of unattainability of knowledge for or against the existence of gods is sometimes seen as indication that atheism requires a leap of faith
Leap of faith
A leap of faith, in its most commonly used meaning, is the act of believing in or accepting something intangible or unprovable, or without empirical evidence...

.
Common atheist responses to this argument include that unproven religious propositions deserve as much disbelief as all other unproven propositions,
and that the unprovability of a god's existence does not imply equal probability of either possibility.
Scottish philosopher J. J. C. Smart
J. J. C. Smart
John Jamieson Carswell "Jack" Smart AC is an Australian philosopher and academic who is currently Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Monash University, Australia...

 even argues that "sometimes a person who is really an atheist may describe herself, even passionately, as an agnostic because of unreasonable generalised philosophical skepticism
Philosophical skepticism
Philosophical skepticism is both a philosophical school of thought and a method that crosses disciplines and cultures. Many skeptics critically examine the meaning systems of their times, and this examination often results in a position of ambiguity or doubt...

 which would preclude us from saying that we know anything whatever, except perhaps the truths of mathematics and formal logic."
Consequently, some atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins
Clinton Richard Dawkins, FRS, FRSL , known as Richard Dawkins, is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author...

 prefer distinguishing theist, agnostic and atheist positions along a spectrum of theistic probability
Spectrum of theistic probability
Popularized by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, the spectrum of theistic probability is a way of categorizing one's belief regarding the probability of the existence of a deity.- Atheism, theism, and agnosticism :...

—the likelihood that each assigns to the statement "God exists".

Definition as impossible or impermanent

Before the 18th century, the existence of God was so universally accepted in the western world that even the possibility of true atheism was questioned. This is called theistic innatism
Innatism
Innatism is a philosophical doctrine that holds that the mind is born with ideas/knowledge, and that therefore the mind is not a 'blank slate' at birth, as early empiricists such as John Locke claimed...

—the notion that all people believe in God from birth; within this view was the connotation that atheists are simply in denial.

There is also a position claiming that atheists are quick to believe in God in times of crisis, that atheists make deathbed conversion
Deathbed conversion
A deathbed conversion is the adoption of a particular religious faith shortly before dying. Making a conversion on one's deathbed may reflect an immediate change of belief, a desire to formalize longer-term beliefs, a desire to complete a process of conversion already underway, or a subconscious...

s, or that "there are no atheists in foxholes
Atheists in foxholes
The statement "There are no atheists in foxholes" is an aphorism used to argue that in times of extreme stress or fear, such as when participating in warfare, all people will believe in or hope for a higher power.-Origin:...

."
There have however been examples to the contrary, among them examples of literal "atheists in foxholes."

Philosophical concepts

The broadest demarcation of atheistic rationale is between practical and theoretical atheism.

Practical atheism

In practical or pragmatic
Pragmatism
Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition centered on the linking of practice and theory. It describes a process where theory is extracted from practice, and applied back to practice to form what is called intelligent practice...

atheism, also known as apatheism
Apatheism
Apatheism , also known as pragmatic atheism or as practical atheism, is acting with apathy, disregard, or lack of interest towards belief or lack of belief in a deity. Apatheism describes the manner of acting towards a belief or lack of a belief in a deity; so applies to both theism and atheism...

, individuals live as if there are no gods and explain natural phenomena without resorting to the divine. The existence of gods is not rejected, but may be designated unnecessary or useless; gods neither provide purpose to life, nor influence everyday life, according to this view.
A form of practical atheism with implications for the scientific community
Scientific community
The scientific community consists of the total body of scientists, its relationships and interactions. It is normally divided into "sub-communities" each working on a particular field within science. Objectivity is expected to be achieved by the scientific method...

 is methodological naturalism—the "tacit adoption or assumption of philosophical naturalism within scientific method
Scientific method
Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of...

 with or without fully accepting or believing it."

Practical atheism can take various forms:
  • Absence of religious motivation—belief in gods does not motivate moral action, religious action, or any other form of action;
  • Active exclusion of the problem of gods and religion from intellectual pursuit and practical action;
  • Indifference—the absence of any interest in the problems of gods and religion; or
  • Unawareness of the concept of a deity.

Ontological arguments

Theoretical (or theoric) atheism explicitly posits arguments against the existence of gods, responding to common theistic arguments such as the argument from design or Pascal's Wager
Pascal's Wager
Pascal's Wager, also known as Pascal's Gambit, is a suggestion posed by the French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist Blaise Pascal that even if the existence of God could not be determined through reason, a rational person should wager as though God exists, because one living life...

. Actually the theoretical atheism is mainly an ontology, precisely a physical ontology.

Epistemological arguments

Epistemological atheism argues that people cannot know a God or determine the existence of a God. The foundation of epistemological atheism is agnosticism, which takes a variety of forms. In the philosophy of immanence
Immanence
Immanence refers to philosophical and metaphysical theories of divine presence, in which the divine is seen to be manifested in or encompassing of the material world. It is often contrasted with theories of transcendence, in which the divine is seen to be outside the material world...

, divinity is inseparable from the world itself, including a person's mind, and each person's consciousness
Consciousness
Consciousness is a term that refers to the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts. It has been defined as: subjectivity, awareness, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood, and the executive control system of the mind...

 is locked in the subject
Subject (philosophy)
In philosophy, a subject is a being that has subjective experiences, subjective consciousness or a relationship with another entity . A subject is an observer and an object is a thing observed...

. According to this form of agnosticism, this limitation in perspective prevents any objective inference from belief in a god to assertions of its existence. The rationalistic
Rationalism
In epistemology and in its modern sense, rationalism is "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification" . In more technical terms, it is a method or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive"...

 agnosticism of Kant
Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher from Königsberg , researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy and anthropology at the end of the 18th Century Enlightenment....

 and the Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

 only accepts knowledge deduced with human rationality; this form of atheism holds that gods are not discernible as a matter of principle, and therefore cannot be known to exist. Skepticism
Skepticism
Skepticism has many definitions, but generally refers to any questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere...

, based on the ideas of Hume
David Hume
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment...

, asserts that certainty about anything is impossible, so one can never know the existence of a God. The allocation of agnosticism to atheism is disputed; it can also be regarded as an independent, basic worldview.

Other arguments for atheism that can be classified as epistemological or ontological
Ontology
Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations...

, including logical positivism
Logical positivism
Logical positivism is a philosophy that combines empiricism—the idea that observational evidence is indispensable for knowledge—with a version of rationalism incorporating mathematical and logico-linguistic constructs and deductions of epistemology.It may be considered as a type of analytic...

 and ignosticism
Ignosticism
Ignosticism or igtheism is the theological position that every other theological position assumes too much about the concept of God and many other theological concepts...

, assert the meaninglessness or unintelligibility of basic terms such as "God" and statements such as "God is all-powerful." Theological noncognitivism
Theological noncognitivism
Theological noncognitivism is the argument that religious language, and specifically words like "god", are not cognitively meaningful. It is sometimes considered to be synonymous with Ignosticism.-Overview:...

 holds that the statement "God exists" does not express a proposition, but is nonsensical or cognitively meaningless. It has been argued both ways as to whether such individuals can be classified into some form of atheism or agnosticism. Philosophers A. J. Ayer
Alfred Ayer
Sir Alfred Jules "Freddie" Ayer was a British philosopher known for his promotion of logical positivism, particularly in his books Language, Truth, and Logic and The Problem of Knowledge ....

 and Theodore M. Drange reject both categories, stating that both camps accept "God exists" as a proposition; they instead place noncognitivism in its own category.

Metaphysical arguments

One author writes:

Logical arguments

Logical atheism holds that the various conceptions of gods
Conceptions of God
The God of monotheism, pantheism or panentheism, or the supreme deity of henotheistic religions, may be conceived of in various degrees of abstraction:...

, such as the personal god
Personal God
A personal god is a deity who can be related to as a person instead of as an "impersonal force", such as the Absolute, "the All", or the "Ground of Being"....

 of Christianity, are ascribed logically inconsistent qualities. Such atheists present deductive arguments against the existence of God, which assert the incompatibility between certain traits, such as perfection, creator-status, immutability
Immutability (theology)
Immutability is the doctrine of classical Christian theism that God cannot change; this has been variously interpreted to mean either that God's nature cannot change but that God can, or that God himself cannot change at all...

, omniscience
Omniscience
Omniscience omniscient point-of-view in writing) is the capacity to know everything infinitely, or at least everything that can be known about a character including thoughts, feelings, life and the universe, etc. In Latin, omnis means "all" and sciens means "knowing"...

, omnipresence
Omnipresence
Omnipresence or ubiquity is the property of being present everywhere. According to eastern theism, God is present everywhere. Divine omnipresence is thus one of the divine attributes, although in western theism it has attracted less philosophical attention than such attributes as omnipotence,...

, omnipotence
Omnipotence
Omnipotence is unlimited power. Monotheistic religions generally attribute omnipotence to only the deity of whichever faith is being addressed...

, omnibenevolence
Omnibenevolence
Omnibenevolence is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "unlimited or infinite benevolence". It is often held to be impossible, or at least improbable, for a deity to exhibit such property along side omniscience and omnipotence as a result of the problem of evil...

, transcendence
Transcendence (philosophy)
In philosophy, the adjective transcendental and the noun transcendence convey the basic ground concept from the word's literal meaning , of climbing or going beyond, albeit with varying connotations in its different historical and cultural stages...

, personhood (a personal being), nonphysicality, justice
Justice
Justice is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics; justice is the act of being just and/or fair.-Concept of justice:...

 and mercy
Mercy
Mercy is broad term that refers to benevolence, forgiveness and kindness in a variety of ethical, religious, social and legal contexts.The concept of a "Merciful God" appears in various religions from Christianity to...

.

Theodicean
Theodicy
Theodicy is a theological and philosophical study which attempts to prove God's intrinsic or foundational nature of omnibenevolence , omniscience , and omnipotence . Theodicy is usually concerned with the God of the Abrahamic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, due to the relevant...

 atheists believe that the world as they experience it cannot be reconciled with the qualities commonly ascribed to God and gods by theologians. They argue that an omniscient
Omniscience
Omniscience omniscient point-of-view in writing) is the capacity to know everything infinitely, or at least everything that can be known about a character including thoughts, feelings, life and the universe, etc. In Latin, omnis means "all" and sciens means "knowing"...

, omnipotent
Omnipotence
Omnipotence is unlimited power. Monotheistic religions generally attribute omnipotence to only the deity of whichever faith is being addressed...

, and omnibenevolent
Omnibenevolence
Omnibenevolence is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "unlimited or infinite benevolence". It is often held to be impossible, or at least improbable, for a deity to exhibit such property along side omniscience and omnipotence as a result of the problem of evil...

 God is not compatible with a world where there is evil
Problem of evil
In the philosophy of religion, the problem of evil is the question of how to explain evil if there exists a deity that is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient . Some philosophers have claimed that the existences of such a god and of evil are logically incompatible or unlikely...

 and suffering
Suffering
Suffering, or pain in a broad sense, is an individual's basic affective experience of unpleasantness and aversion associated with harm or threat of harm. Suffering may be qualified as physical or mental. It may come in all degrees of intensity, from mild to intolerable. Factors of duration and...

, and where divine love is hidden from many people.
A similar argument is attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

.

Reductionary accounts of religion

Philosophers such as Ludwig Feuerbach
Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach
Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach was a German philosopher and anthropologist. He was the fourth son of the eminent jurist Paul Johann Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach, brother of mathematician Karl Wilhelm Feuerbach and uncle of painter Anselm Feuerbach...


and Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud , born Sigismund Schlomo Freud , was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis...

 argued that God and other religious beliefs are human inventions, created to fulfill various psychological and emotional wants or needs. This is also a view of many Buddhists
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

.
Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement...

 and Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels was a German industrialist, social scientist, author, political theorist, philosopher, and father of Marxist theory, alongside Karl Marx. In 1845 he published The Condition of the Working Class in England, based on personal observations and research...

, influenced by the work of Feuerbach, argued that belief in God and religion are social functions, used by those in power to oppress the working class. According to Mikhail Bakunin
Mikhail Bakunin
Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin was a well-known Russian revolutionary and theorist of collectivist anarchism. He has also often been called the father of anarchist theory in general. Bakunin grew up near Moscow, where he moved to study philosophy and began to read the French Encyclopedists,...

, "the idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, in theory and practice." He reversed Voltaire
Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

's famous aphorism that if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him, writing instead that "if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him."

Alternatives

Axiological, or constructive, atheism rejects the existence of gods in favor of a "higher absolute", such as humanity
Human nature
Human nature refers to the distinguishing characteristics, including ways of thinking, feeling and acting, that humans tend to have naturally....

. This form of atheism favors humanity as the absolute source of ethics and values, and permits individuals to resolve moral problems without resorting to God. Marx and Freud used this argument to convey messages of liberation, full-development, and unfettered happiness.

One of the most common criticisms of atheism has been to the contrary—that denying the existence of a god leads to moral relativism
Moral relativism
Moral relativism may be any of several descriptive, meta-ethical, or normative positions. Each of them is concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures:...

, leaving one with no moral or ethical foundation,
or renders life meaningless and miserable.
Blaise Pascal
Blaise Pascal
Blaise Pascal , was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic philosopher. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father, a tax collector in Rouen...

 argued this view in his Pensées
Pensées
The Pensées represented a defense of the Christian religion by Blaise Pascal, the renowned 17th century philosopher and mathematician. Pascal's religious conversion led him into a life of asceticism, and the Pensées was in many ways his life's work. "Pascal's Wager" is found here...

.

Atheist existentialism

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre was a French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the leading figures in 20th century French philosophy, particularly Marxism, and was one of the key figures in literary...

 identified himself as a representative of an "atheist existentialism
Atheist existentialism
Atheist existentialism or atheistic existentialism is a kind of existentialism which strongly diverged from the Christian works of Søren Kierkegaard and has developed within the context of an atheistic worldview....

"
concerned less with denying the existence of God than with establishing that "man needs ... to find himself again and to understand that nothing can save him from himself, not even a valid proof of the existence of God."
Sartre said a corollary of his atheism was that "if God does not exist, there is at least one being in whom existence precedes essence, a being who exists before he can be defined by any concept, and ... this being is man."
The practical consequence of this atheism was described by Sartre as meaning that there are no a priori rules or absolute values that can be invoked to govern human conduct, and that humans are "condemned" to invent these for themselves, making "man" absolutely "responsible for everything he does".

Academic Rhiannon Goldthorpe suggested that some of Sartre's writing was "pervaded by a 'Christian atheism' in which ancient beliefs still feed the imagination and the sensibility of the most hardened skeptic".
Academic Stephen Priest described Sartre's perspective as "an atheistic metaphysics".
Sartre translator Hazel Barnes wrote of Sartre: "The God he rejects is not some vague power, an unknown X which would account for the origin of the universe, nor is it an ideal or a mythus to symbolize man's quest for the Good. It is specifically the God of the Scholastics or at least any idea of God as a specific, all powerful, absolute, existing Creator."

History

Although the term atheism originated in 16th-century France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, ideas that would be recognized today as atheistic are documented from the Vedic period
Vedic period
The Vedic period was a period in history during which the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, were composed. The time span of the period is uncertain. Philological and linguistic evidence indicates that the Rigveda, the oldest of the Vedas, was composed roughly between 1700–1100 BCE, also...

 and the classical antiquity
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

.

Early Indic religion

Atheistic schools are found in early Indian thought and have existed from the times of the historical Vedic religion
Historical Vedic religion
The religion of the Vedic period is a historical predecessor of Hinduism. Its liturgy is reflected in the mantra portion of the four Vedas, which are compiled in Sanskrit. The religious practices centered on a clergy administering rites...

.
Among the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy; Samkhya
Samkhya
Samkhya, also Sankhya, Sāṃkhya, or Sāṅkhya is one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy and classical Indian philosophy. Sage Kapila is traditionally considered as the founder of the Samkhya school, although no historical verification is possible...

, the oldest philosophical system do not accept God and the early Mimamsa
Mimamsa
' , a Sanskrit word meaning "investigation" , is the name of an astika school of Hindu philosophy whose primary enquiry is into the nature of dharma based on close hermeneutics of the Vedas...

 also rejected the notion of God.
The early Mimamsa not only did not accept God but asserted that human action itself was enough to create the necessary circumstances for the enjoyment of its fruits.
The thoroughly materialistic and anti-theistic philosophical Cārvāka
Carvaka
' , also known as ', is a system of Indian philosophy that assumes various forms of philosophical skepticism and religious indifference. It seems named after , the probable author of the and probably a follower of Brihaspati, who founded the ' philosophy.In overviews of Indian philosophy, Cārvāka...

 (also called Nastika or Lokaiata) school that originated in India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 around the 6th century BCE is probably the most explicitly atheistic school of philosophy in India, similar to the Greek Cyrenaic school. This branch of Indian philosophy is classified as heterodox
Nastika
Āstika exists") and Nāstika are technical terms in Hinduism used to classify philosophical schools and persons, according to whether they accept the authority of the Vedas as supreme revealed scriptures, or not, respectively...

 due to its rejection of the authority of Vedas
Vedas
The Vedas are a large body of texts originating in ancient India. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism....

 and hence is not considered part of the six orthodox schools of Hinduism, but it is noteworthy as evidence of a materialistic movement within Hinduism.
Chatterjee and Datta explain that our understanding of Cārvāka philosophy is fragmentary, based largely on criticism of the ideas by other schools, and that it is not a living tradition:


"Though materialism
Materialism
In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

 in some form or other has always been present in India, and occasional references are found in the Vedas, the Buddhistic literature, the Epics, as well as in the later philosophical works we do not find any systematic work on materialism, nor any organized school of followers as the other philosophical schools possess. But almost every work of the other schools states, for refutation, the materialistic views. Our knowledge of Indian materialism is chiefly based on these."


Other Indian philosophies generally regarded as atheistic include Classical Samkhya
Samkhya
Samkhya, also Sankhya, Sāṃkhya, or Sāṅkhya is one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy and classical Indian philosophy. Sage Kapila is traditionally considered as the founder of the Samkhya school, although no historical verification is possible...

 and Purva Mimamsa
Mimamsa
' , a Sanskrit word meaning "investigation" , is the name of an astika school of Hindu philosophy whose primary enquiry is into the nature of dharma based on close hermeneutics of the Vedas...

. The rejection of a personal creator God is also seen in Jainism
Jainism
Jainism is an Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice emphasize the necessity of self-effort to move the soul towards divine consciousness and liberation. Any soul that has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state...

 and Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 in India.

Classical antiquity

Western atheism has its roots in pre-Socratic
Pre-Socratic philosophy
Pre-Socratic philosophy is Greek philosophy before Socrates . In Classical antiquity, the Presocratic philosophers were called physiologoi...

 Greek philosophy
Greek philosophy
Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BCE and continued through the Hellenistic period, at which point Ancient Greece was incorporated in the Roman Empire...

, but did not emerge as a distinct world-view until the late Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

.
The 5th-century BCE Greek philosopher Diagoras
Diagoras of Melos
Diagoras "the Atheist" of Melos was a Greek poet and sophist of the 5th century BCE. Throughout antiquity he was regarded as an atheist. With the exception of this one point, there is little information concerning his life and beliefs. He spoke out against the Greek religion, and criticized the...

 is known as the "first atheist",
and is cited as such by Cicero
Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

 in his De Natura Deorum
De Natura Deorum
De Natura Deorum is a philosophical dialogue by Roman orator Cicero written in 45 BC. It is laid out in three "books", each of which discuss the theology of different Roman and Greek philosophers...

.
Critias
Critias
Critias , born in Athens, son of Callaeschrus, was an uncle of Plato, and a leading member of the Thirty Tyrants, and one of the most violent. He was an associate of Socrates, a fact that did not endear Socrates to the Athenian public. He was noted in his day for his tragedies, elegies and prose...

 viewed religion as a human invention used to frighten people into following moral order.
Atomists
Atomism
Atomism is a natural philosophy that developed in several ancient traditions. The atomists theorized that the natural world consists of two fundamental parts: indivisible atoms and empty void.According to Aristotle, atoms are indestructible and immutable and there are an infinite variety of shapes...

 such as Democritus
Democritus
Democritus was an Ancient Greek philosopher born in Abdera, Thrace, Greece. He was an influential pre-Socratic philosopher and pupil of Leucippus, who formulated an atomic theory for the cosmos....

 attempted to explain the world in a purely materialistic
Materialism
In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

 way, without reference to the spiritual or mystical. Other pre-Socratic philosophers who probably had atheistic views included Prodicus
Prodicus
Prodicus of Ceos was a Greek philosopher, and part of the first generation of Sophists. He came to Athens as ambassador from Ceos, and became known as a speaker and a teacher. Plato treats him with greater respect than the other sophists, and in several of the Platonic dialogues Socrates appears...

 and Protagoras
Protagoras
Protagoras was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher and is numbered as one of the sophists by Plato. In his dialogue Protagoras, Plato credits him with having invented the role of the professional sophist or teacher of virtue...

. In the 3rd-century BCE the Greek philosophers Theodorus Cyrenaicus
Theodorus the Atheist
Theodorus the Atheist, of Cyrene, was a philosopher of the Cyrenaic school. He lived in both Greece and Alexandria, before ending his days in his native city of Cyrene. As a Cyrenaic philosopher, he taught that the goal of life was to obtain joy and avoid grief, and that the former resulted from...


and Strato of Lampsacus
Strato of Lampsacus
Strato of Lampsacus was a Peripatetic philosopher, and the third director of the Lyceum after the death of Theophrastus...


also did not believe gods exist.

Socrates
Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

 (c. 471–399 BCE), was accused of impiety
Impiety
Impiety is classically a lack of proper concern for the obligations owed to public religious observation or cult. Impiety was a main Pagan objection to Christianity, for unlike other initiates into mystery religions, early Christians refused to cast a pinch of incense before the images of the gods,...

 (see Euthyphro dilemma
Euthyphro dilemma
The Euthyphro dilemma is found in Plato's dialogue Euthyphro, in which Socrates asks Euthyphro: "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?"...

) on the basis that he inspired questioning of the state gods
State religion
A state religion is a religious body or creed officially endorsed by the state...

.
Although he disputed the accusation that he was a "complete atheist",
saying that he could not be an atheist as he believed in spirits,
he was ultimately sentenced to death
Trial of Socrates
The Trial of Socrates refers to the trial and the subsequent execution of the classical Athenian philosopher Socrates in 399 BC. Socrates was tried on the basis of two notoriously ambiguous charges: corrupting the youth and impiety...

. Socrates also prays to various gods in Plato's dialogue Phaedrus
and says "By Zeus" in the dialogue The Republic
Republic (Plato)
The Republic is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato around 380 BC concerning the definition of justice and the order and character of the just city-state and the just man...

.

Euhemerus
Euhemerus
Euhemerus was a Greek mythographer at the court of Cassander, the king of Macedon. Euhemerus' birthplace is disputed, with Messina in Sicily as the most probable location, while others champion Chios, or Tegea.-Life:...

 (c. 330–260 BCE) published his view that the gods were only the deified rulers, conquerors and founders of the past, and that their cults and religions were in essence the continuation of vanished kingdoms and earlier political structures.
Although not strictly an atheist, Euhemerus was later criticized for having "spread atheism over the whole inhabited earth by obliterating the gods".

Atomic materialist Epicurus
Epicurus
Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher and the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism.Only a few fragments and letters remain of Epicurus's 300 written works...

 (c. 341–270 BCE) disputed many religious doctrines, including the existence of an afterlife
Afterlife
The afterlife is the belief that a part of, or essence of, or soul of an individual, which carries with it and confers personal identity, survives the death of the body of this world and this lifetime, by natural or supernatural means, in contrast to the belief in eternal...

 or a personal deity
Personal God
A personal god is a deity who can be related to as a person instead of as an "impersonal force", such as the Absolute, "the All", or the "Ground of Being"....

; he considered the soul purely material and mortal. While Epicureanism
Epicureanism
Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based upon the teachings of Epicurus, founded around 307 BC. Epicurus was an atomic materialist, following in the steps of Democritus. His materialism led him to a general attack on superstition and divine intervention. Following Aristippus—about whom...

 did not rule out the existence of gods, he believed that if they did exist, they were unconcerned with humanity.

The Roman poet Lucretius
Lucretius
Titus Lucretius Carus was a Roman poet and philosopher. His only known work is an epic philosophical poem laying out the beliefs of Epicureanism, De rerum natura, translated into English as On the Nature of Things or "On the Nature of the Universe".Virtually no details have come down concerning...

 (c. 99–55 BCE) agreed that, if there were gods, they were unconcerned with humanity and unable to affect the natural world. For this reason, he believed humanity should have no fear of the supernatural. He expounds his Epicurean views of the cosmos, atoms, the soul, mortality, and religion in De rerum natura ("On the nature of things"),
which popularized Epicurus' philosophy in Rome
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

.

The Roman philosopher Sextus Empiricus
Sextus Empiricus
Sextus Empiricus , was a physician and philosopher, and has been variously reported to have lived in Alexandria, Rome, or Athens. His philosophical work is the most complete surviving account of ancient Greek and Roman skepticism....

 held that one should suspend judgment about virtually all beliefs—a form of skepticism known as Pyrrhonism
Pyrrhonism
Pyrrhonism, or Pyrrhonian skepticism, was a school of skepticism founded by Aenesidemus in the 1st century BCE and recorded by Sextus Empiricus in the late 2nd century or early 3rd century CE. It was named after Pyrrho, a philosopher who lived from c. 360 to c. 270 BCE, although the relationship...

—that nothing was inherently evil, and that ataraxia
Ataraxia
Ataraxia is a Greek term used by Pyrrho and Epicurus for a lucid state, characterized by freedom from worry or any other preoccupation.For the Epicureans, ataraxia was synonymous with the only true happiness possible for a person...

 ("peace of mind") is attainable by withholding one's judgment. His relatively large volume of surviving works had a lasting influence on later philosophers.

The meaning of "atheist" changed over the course of classical antiquity. The early Christians were labeled atheists by non-Christians because of their disbelief in pagan gods.
During the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, Christians were executed for their rejection of the Roman gods in general and Emperor-worship in particular. When Christianity became the state religion of Rome under Theodosius I
Theodosius I
Theodosius I , also known as Theodosius the Great, was Roman Emperor from 379 to 395. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and the western halves of the Roman Empire. During his reign, the Goths secured control of Illyricum after the Gothic War, establishing their homeland...

 in 381, heresy
Christian heresy
Christian heresy refers to non-orthodox practices and beliefs that were deemed to be heretical by one or more of the Christian churches. In Western Christianity, the term "heresy" most commonly refers to those beliefs which were declared to be anathema by the Catholic Church prior to the schism of...

 became a punishable offense.

Early Middle Ages to the Renaissance

The espousal of atheistic views was rare in Europe during the Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...

 and Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 (see Medieval Inquisition
Medieval Inquisition
The Medieval Inquisition is a series of Inquisitions from around 1184, including the Episcopal Inquisition and later the Papal Inquisition...

); metaphysics
Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

, religion and theology were the dominant interests.
There were, however, movements within this period that forwarded heterodox conceptions of the Christian God, including differing views of the nature, transcendence, and knowability of God. Individuals and groups such as Johannes Scotus Eriugena
Johannes Scotus Eriugena
Johannes Scotus Eriugena was an Irish theologian, Neoplatonist philosopher, and poet. He is known for having translated and made commentaries upon the work of Pseudo-Dionysius.-Name:...

, David of Dinant
David of Dinant
David of Dinant was a pantheistic philosopher. He may have been a member of, or at least been influenced by, a pantheistic sect known as the Amalricians. David was condemned by the Church in 1210 for his writing of the "Quaternuli" , which forced him to flee Paris...

, Amalric of Bena
Amalric of Bena
Amalric of Bena was a French theologian, after whom the Amalricians are named.-Biography:He was born in the latter part of the 12th century at Bennes, a village between Ollé and Chauffours in the diocese of Chartres....

, and the Brethren of the Free Spirit
Brethren of the Free Spirit
The Brothers, or Brethren of the Free Spirit, was a lay Christian movement which flourished in northern Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries. Antinomian and individualist in outlook, it came into conflict with the Catholic Church and was declared heretical by Pope Clement V at the Council of...

 maintained Christian viewpoints with pantheistic
Pantheism
Pantheism is the view that the Universe and God are identical. Pantheists thus do not believe in a personal, anthropomorphic or creator god. The word derives from the Greek meaning "all" and the Greek meaning "God". As such, Pantheism denotes the idea that "God" is best seen as a process of...

 tendencies. Nicholas of Cusa
Nicholas of Cusa
Nicholas of Kues , also referred to as Nicolaus Cusanus and Nicholas of Cusa, was a cardinal of the Catholic Church from Germany , a philosopher, theologian, jurist, mathematician, and an astronomer. He is widely considered one of the great geniuses and polymaths of the 15th century...

 held to a form of fideism
Fideism
Fideism is an epistemological theory which maintains that faith is independent of reason, or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths...

 he called docta ignorantia
De Docta Ignorantia
De docta ignorantia is a book on philosophy and theology by Nicholas of Cusa , who finished writing it on 12 February 1440 in his mother-town of Kues, Germany.Earlier scholars had discussed the matter, e.g....

("learned ignorance"), asserting that God is beyond human categorization, and our knowledge of God is limited to conjecture. William of Ockham
William of Ockham
William of Ockham was an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher, who is believed to have been born in Ockham, a small village in Surrey. He is considered to be one of the major figures of medieval thought and was at the centre of the major intellectual and political controversies of...

 inspired anti-metaphysical tendencies with his nominalistic
Nominalism
Nominalism is a metaphysical view in philosophy according to which general or abstract terms and predicates exist, while universals or abstract objects, which are sometimes thought to correspond to these terms, do not exist. Thus, there are at least two main versions of nominalism...

 limitation of human knowledge to singular objects, and asserted that the divine essence
Essence
In philosophy, essence is the attribute or set of attributes that make an object or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity. Essence is contrasted with accident: a property that the object or substance has contingently, without...

 could not be intuitively or rationally apprehended by human intellect. Followers of Ockham, such as John of Mirecourt
John of Mirecourt
John of Mirecourt was a Cistercian scholastic philosopher of the fourteenth century, from Lorraine. He was a follower of William of Ockham; he was censured by Pope Clement VI.-References:...

 and Nicholas of Autrecourt
Nicholas of Autrecourt
Nicholas of Autrecourt was a French medieval philosopher and Scholastic theologian....

 furthered this view. The resulting division between faith and reason influenced later theologians such as John Wycliffe
John Wycliffe
John Wycliffe was an English Scholastic philosopher, theologian, lay preacher, translator, reformer and university teacher who was known as an early dissident in the Roman Catholic Church during the 14th century. His followers were known as Lollards, a somewhat rebellious movement, which preached...

, Jan Hus
Jan Hus
Jan Hus , often referred to in English as John Hus or John Huss, was a Czech priest, philosopher, reformer, and master at Charles University in Prague...

, and Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

.

The Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 did much to expand the scope of freethought and skeptical inquiry. Individuals such as Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer whose genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance...

 sought experimentation as a means of explanation, and opposed arguments from religious authority. Other critics of religion and the Church during this time included Niccolò Machiavelli
Niccolò Machiavelli
Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an Italian historian, philosopher, humanist, and writer based in Florence during the Renaissance. He is one of the main founders of modern political science. He was a diplomat, political philosopher, playwright, and a civil servant of the Florentine Republic...

, Bonaventure des Périers
Bonaventure des Périers
Bonaventure des Périers was a French author.He was born of a noble family at Arnay-le-duc in Burgundy at the end of the fifteenth century....

, and François Rabelais
François Rabelais
François Rabelais was a major French Renaissance writer, doctor, Renaissance humanist, monk and Greek scholar. He has historically been regarded as a writer of fantasy, satire, the grotesque, bawdy jokes and songs...

.

Early modern period

The Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 and Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

 eras witnessed a resurgence in religious fervor, as evidenced by the proliferation of new religious orders, confraternities, and popular devotions in the Catholic world, and the appearance of increasingly austere Protestant sects such as the Calvinists. This era of interconfessional rivalry permitted an even wider scope of theological and philosophical speculation, much of which would later be used to advance a religiously skeptical world-view.

Criticism of Christianity
Criticism of Christianity
Throughout the history of Christianity, many have criticized Christianity, the church, and Christians themselves. Some criticism specifically addresses Christian beliefs, teachings and interpretation of scripture...

 became increasingly frequent in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially in France and England, where there appears to have been a religious malaise
Malaise
Malaise is a feeling of general discomfort or uneasiness, of being "out of sorts", often the first indication of an infection or other disease. Malaise is often defined in medicinal research as a "general feeling of being unwell"...

, according to contemporary sources. Some Protestant thinkers, such as Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...

, espoused a materialist philosophy and skepticism toward supernatural occurrences, while the Jewish-Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza
Baruch Spinoza
Baruch de Spinoza and later Benedict de Spinoza was a Dutch Jewish philosopher. Revealing considerable scientific aptitude, the breadth and importance of Spinoza's work was not fully realized until years after his death...

 rejected divine providence
Divine providence
In Christian theology, divine providence, or simply providence, is God's activity in the world. " Providence" is also used as a title of God exercising His providence, and then the word are usually capitalized...

 in favour of a panentheistic naturalism. By the late 17th century, deism
Deism
Deism in religious philosophy is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the...

 came to be openly espoused by intellectuals such as John Toland who coined the term "pantheist". Despite their ridicule of Christianity, many deists held atheism in scorn. The first known explicit atheist was the German critic of religion Matthias Knutzen
Matthias Knutzen
Matthias Knutzen was a German critic of religion and the author of three atheistic pamphlets. In modern Western history, he is the first atheist known by name and in person.- Life :...

 in his three writings of 1674. He was followed a half century later by another explicit atheist writer, the French priest Jean Meslier
Jean Meslier
Jean Meslier was a French Catholic priest who was discovered, upon his death, to have written a book-length philosophical essay promoting atheism. Described by the author as his "testament" to his parishioners, the text denounces all religion.-Life:Jean Meslier was born in Mazerny in the Ardennes...

.

Knutzen and Meslier were in turn followed by other openly atheistic thinkers, such as Baron d'Holbach
Baron d'Holbach
Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach was a French-German author, philosopher, encyclopedist and a prominent figure in the French Enlightenment. He was born Paul Heinrich Dietrich in Edesheim, near Landau in the Rhenish Palatinate, but lived and worked mainly in Paris, where he kept a salon...

 and Jacques-André Naigeon
Jacques-André Naigeon
Jacques-André Naigeon was a French artist, atheist philosopher, editor and man of letters best known for his contributions to the Encyclopédie and for reworking Baron d'Holbach's and Diderot's manuscripts....

.
The philosopher David Hume
David Hume
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment...

 developed a skeptical epistemology grounded in empiricism, undermining the metaphysical basis of natural theology.
The French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

 took atheism and anti-clerical deism outside the salons and into the public sphere. A major goal of the French revolution was a restructuring and subordination of the clergy with respect to the state through the Civil Constitution of the Clergy
Civil Constitution of the Clergy
The Civil Constitution of the Clergy was a law passed on 12 July 1790 during the French Revolution, that subordinated the Roman Catholic Church in France to the French government....

. Attempts to enforce it led to anti-clerical violence and the expulsion of many clergy from France. The chaotic political events in revolutionary Paris eventually enabled the more radical Jacobins
Jacobin Club
The Jacobin Club was the most famous and influential political club in the development of the French Revolution, so-named because of the Dominican convent where they met, located in the Rue St. Jacques , Paris. The club originated as the Club Benthorn, formed at Versailles from a group of Breton...

 to seize power in 1793, ushering in the Reign of Terror
Reign of Terror
The Reign of Terror , also known simply as The Terror , was a period of violence that occurred after the onset of the French Revolution, incited by conflict between rival political factions, the Girondins and the Jacobins, and marked by mass executions of "enemies of...

. The Jacobins were deists and introduced the Cult of the Supreme Being
Cult of the Supreme Being
The Cult of the Supreme Being was a form of deism established in France by Maximilien Robespierre during the French Revolution. It was intended to become the state religion of the new French Republic.- Origins :...

 as a new French state religion. Some atheists surrounding Jacques Hébert
Jacques Hébert
Jacques René Hébert was a French journalist, and the founder and editor of the extreme radical newspaper Le Père Duchesne during the French Revolution...

 instead sought to establish a Cult of Reason
Cult of Reason
The Cult of Reason was an atheistic belief system established in France and intended as a replacement for Christianity during the French Revolution.-Origins:...

, a form of atheistic pseudo-religion with a goddess personifying reason. Both movements in part contributed to attempts to forcibly de-Christianize France. The Cult of Reason
Cult of Reason
The Cult of Reason was an atheistic belief system established in France and intended as a replacement for Christianity during the French Revolution.-Origins:...

 ended after three years when its leadership, including Jacques Hébert
Jacques Hébert
Jacques René Hébert was a French journalist, and the founder and editor of the extreme radical newspaper Le Père Duchesne during the French Revolution...

 was guillotined by the Jacobins. The anti-clerical persecutions ended with the Thermidorian Reaction
Thermidorian Reaction
The Thermidorian Reaction was a revolt in the French Revolution against the excesses of the Reign of Terror. It was triggered by a vote of the Committee of Public Safety to execute Maximilien Robespierre, Antoine Louis Léon de Saint-Just de Richebourg and several other leading members of the Terror...

.

The Napoleonic era
Napoleonic Era
The Napoleonic Era is a period in the history of France and Europe. It is generally classified as including the fourth and final stage of the French Revolution, the first being the National Assembly, the second being the Legislative Assembly, and the third being the Directory...

 institutionalized the secularization of French society, and exported the revolution to northern Italy, in the hopes of creating pliable republics. In the 19th century, atheists contributed to political and social revolution, facilitating the upheavals of 1848
Revolutions of 1848
The European Revolutions of 1848, known in some countries as the Spring of Nations, Springtime of the Peoples or the Year of Revolution, were a series of political upheavals throughout Europe in 1848. It was the first Europe-wide collapse of traditional authority, but within a year reactionary...

, the Risorgimento
Italian unification
Italian unification was the political and social movement that agglomerated different states of the Italian peninsula into the single state of Italy in the 19th century...

 in Italy, and the growth of an international socialist
Socialism
Socialism is an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy; or a political philosophy advocating such a system. "Social ownership" may refer to any one of, or a combination of, the following: cooperative enterprises,...

 movement.

In the latter half of the 19th century, atheism rose to prominence under the influence of rationalistic
Rationalism
In epistemology and in its modern sense, rationalism is "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification" . In more technical terms, it is a method or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive"...

 and freethinking
Freethought
Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or other dogmas...

 philosophers. Many prominent German philosophers of this era denied the existence of deities and were critical of religion, including Ludwig Feuerbach
Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach
Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach was a German philosopher and anthropologist. He was the fourth son of the eminent jurist Paul Johann Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach, brother of mathematician Karl Wilhelm Feuerbach and uncle of painter Anselm Feuerbach...

, Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher known for his pessimism and philosophical clarity. At age 25, he published his doctoral dissertation, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which examined the four separate manifestations of reason in the phenomenal...

, Max Stirner
Max Stirner
Johann Kaspar Schmidt , better known as Max Stirner , was a German philosopher, who ranks as one of the literary fathers of nihilism, existentialism, post-modernism and anarchism, especially of individualist anarchism...

, Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement...

, and Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a 19th-century German philosopher, poet, composer and classical philologist...

.

Since 1900

Atheism in the 20th century, particularly in the form of practical atheism, advanced in many societies. Atheistic thought found recognition in a wide variety of other, broader philosophies, such as existentialism
Existentialism
Existentialism is a term applied to a school of 19th- and 20th-century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual...

, objectivism
Objectivism (Ayn Rand)
Objectivism is a philosophy created by the Russian-American philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand . Objectivism holds that reality exists independent of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception...

, secular humanism
Secular humanism
Secular Humanism, alternatively known as Humanism , is a secular philosophy that embraces human reason, ethics, justice, and the search for human fulfillment...

, nihilism
Nihilism
Nihilism is the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value...

, anarchism
Anarchism
Anarchism is generally defined as the political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, or alternatively as opposing authority in the conduct of human relations...

, logical positivism
Logical positivism
Logical positivism is a philosophy that combines empiricism—the idea that observational evidence is indispensable for knowledge—with a version of rationalism incorporating mathematical and logico-linguistic constructs and deductions of epistemology.It may be considered as a type of analytic...

, Marxism
Marxism
Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry that centers upon a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis and critique of the development of capitalism. Marxism was pioneered in the early to mid 19th...

, feminism
Feminism
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Its concepts overlap with those of women's rights...

,
and the general scientific and rationalist movement.

Logical positivism and scientism
Scientism
Scientism refers to a belief in the universal applicability of the systematic methods and approach of science, especially the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints...

 paved the way for neopositivism, analytical philosophy, structuralism
Structuralism
Structuralism originated in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague and Moscow schools of linguistics. Just as structural linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance in linguistics, structuralism...

, and naturalism
Naturalism (philosophy)
Naturalism commonly refers to the philosophical viewpoint that the natural universe and its natural laws and forces operate in the universe, and that nothing exists beyond the natural universe or, if it does, it does not affect the natural universe that we know...

. Neopositivism and analytical philosophy discarded classical rationalism and metaphysics in favor of strict empiricism and epistemological nominalism
Nominalism
Nominalism is a metaphysical view in philosophy according to which general or abstract terms and predicates exist, while universals or abstract objects, which are sometimes thought to correspond to these terms, do not exist. Thus, there are at least two main versions of nominalism...

. Proponents such as Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these things...

 emphatically rejected belief in God. In his early work, Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was an Austrian philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. He was professor in philosophy at the University of Cambridge from 1939 until 1947...

 attempted to separate metaphysical and supernatural language from rational discourse. A. J. Ayer asserted the unverifiability and meaninglessness of religious statements, citing his adherence to the empirical sciences. Relatedly the applied structuralism
Structuralism
Structuralism originated in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague and Moscow schools of linguistics. Just as structural linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance in linguistics, structuralism...

 of Lévi-Strauss
Claude Lévi-Strauss
Claude Lévi-Strauss was a French anthropologist and ethnologist, and has been called, along with James George Frazer, the "father of modern anthropology"....

 sourced religious language to the human subconscious in denying its transcendental meaning. J. N. Findlay
John Niemeyer Findlay
John Niemeyer Findlay, known as J. N. Findlay, was a South African philosopher.-Education and Career:...

 and J. J. C. Smart
J. J. C. Smart
John Jamieson Carswell "Jack" Smart AC is an Australian philosopher and academic who is currently Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Monash University, Australia...

 argued that the existence of God is not logically necessary. Naturalists and materialistic monists such as John Dewey
John Dewey
John Dewey was an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform. Dewey was an important early developer of the philosophy of pragmatism and one of the founders of functional psychology...

 considered the natural world to be the basis of everything, denying the existence of God or immortality.

The 20th century also saw the political advancement of atheism, spurred on by interpretation of the works of Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement...

 and Engels
Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels was a German industrialist, social scientist, author, political theorist, philosopher, and father of Marxist theory, alongside Karl Marx. In 1845 he published The Condition of the Working Class in England, based on personal observations and research...

. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, there was increased religious freedom for religious minorities, which lasted for a few years. While the Soviet Constitution of 1936 guaranteed freedom to hold religious services, the Soviet state under Stalin's policy of state atheism
Religion in the Soviet Union
The Soviet Union was the first state to have as an ideological objective the elimination of religion and its replacement with atheism. To that end, the communist regime confiscated religious property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in schools...

 did not consider education a private matter; it outlawed religious instruction
Religious education
In secular usage, religious education is the teaching of a particular religion and its varied aspects —its beliefs, doctrines, rituals, customs, rites, and personal roles...

 and waged campaigns to persuade people, at times violently, to abandon religion.
Several other communist state
Communist state
A communist state is a state with a form of government characterized by single-party rule or dominant-party rule of a communist party and a professed allegiance to a Leninist or Marxist-Leninist communist ideology as the guiding principle of the state...

s also opposed religion and mandated state atheism
State atheism
State atheism is the official "promotion of atheism" by a government, sometimes combined with active suppression of religious freedom and practice...

,
including the former governments of Albania,
and currently, China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

,
North Korea
North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea...

,
and Cuba
Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

.

Other leaders like E. V. Ramasami Naicker (Periyar), a prominent atheist leader of India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, fought against Hinduism
Hinduism
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

 and Brahmins for discriminating and dividing people in the name of caste
Caste
Caste is an elaborate and complex social system that combines elements of endogamy, occupation, culture, social class, tribal affiliation and political power. It should not be confused with race or social class, e.g. members of different castes in one society may belong to the same race, as in India...

 and religion.
This was highlighted in 1956 when he arranged for the erection of a statue depicting a Hindu god in a humble representation and made antitheistic
Antitheism
Antitheism is active opposition to theism. The etymological roots of the word are the Greek 'anti-' and 'theismos'...

 statements.

In 1966, Time
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

magazine asked "Is God Dead?"
in response to the Death of God theological movement, citing the estimation that nearly half of all people in the world lived under an anti-religious power, and millions more in Africa, Asia, and South America seemed to lack knowledge of the one God.

In 1967, the Albania
Albania
Albania , officially known as the Republic of Albania , is a country in Southeastern Europe, in the Balkans region. It is bordered by Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, the Republic of Macedonia to the east and Greece to the south and southeast. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea...

n government under Enver Hoxha
Enver Hoxha
Enver Halil Hoxha was a Marxist–Leninist revolutionary andthe leader of Albania from the end of World War II until his death in 1985, as the First Secretary of the Party of Labour of Albania...

 announced the closure of all religious institutions in the country, declaring Albania the world's first officially atheist state,
although religious practice in Albania
Religion in Albania
The most common religions practiced in Albania include Islam and Christianity. There is a strong unifying cultural identity which has been solidified historically by the common experience of struggling to protect their culture in the face of various outside conquerors...

 was restored in 1991. These regimes enhanced the negative associations of atheism, especially where anti-communist sentiment was strong in the United States, despite the fact that prominent atheists were anti-communist.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall
Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall was a barrier constructed by the German Democratic Republic starting on 13 August 1961, that completely cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin...

, the number of actively anti-religious regimes has reduced considerably. In 2006, Timothy Shah of the Pew Forum
Pew Research Center
The Pew Research Center is an American think tank organization based in Washington, D.C. that provides information on issues, attitudes and trends shaping the United States and the world. The Center and its projects receive funding from The Pew Charitable Trusts. In 1990, Donald S...

 noted "a worldwide trend across all major religious groups, in which God-based and faith-based movements in general are experiencing increasing confidence and influence vis-à-vis secular movements and ideologies."
However, Gregory S. Paul
Gregory S. Paul
Gregory Scott Paul is a freelance researcher, author and illustrator who works in paleontology, and more recently has examined sociology and theology. He is best known for his work and research on theropod dinosaurs and his detailed illustrations, both live and skeletal...

 and Phil Zuckerman consider this a myth and suggest that the actual situation is much more complex and nuanced.

The religiously motivated terrorist events of 9/11 and the partially successful attempts of the Discovery institute
Discovery Institute
The Discovery Institute is a non-profit public policy think tank based in Seattle, Washington, best known for its advocacy of intelligent design...

 to change the American science curriculum to include creationist ideas, together with support for those ideas from George W. Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

 in 2005, all triggered the noted atheist authors Sam Harris
Sam Harris (author)
Sam Harris is an American author, and neuroscientist, as well as the co-founder and current CEO of Project Reason. He received a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Stanford University, before receiving a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA...

, Daniel C. Dennett, Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins
Clinton Richard Dawkins, FRS, FRSL , known as Richard Dawkins, is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author...

, Victor J. Stenger
Victor J. Stenger
Victor John Stenger is an American particle physicist, outspoken atheist, and author, now active in philosophy and popular religious skepticism....

 and Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Eric Hitchens is an Anglo-American author and journalist whose books, essays, and journalistic career span more than four decades. He has been a columnist and literary critic at The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Slate, World Affairs, The Nation, Free Inquiry, and became a media fellow at the...

 to publish books that were best sellers in America and worldwide.

A 2010 survey found that those identifying themselves as atheists or agnostics are on average more knowledgeable about religion than followers of major faiths. Nonbelievers scored better on questions about tenets central to Protestant and Catholic faiths. Only Mormon and Jewish faithful scored as well as atheists and agnostics.

Atheism 3.0 is a movement within atheism that does not believe in the existence of God, but says that religion has been beneficial to both individuals and society, and that eliminating it is of lesser importance than other things that need to be done.

Demographics

It is difficult to quantify the number of atheists in the world. Respondents to religious-belief polls may define "atheism" differently or draw different distinctions between atheism, non-religious beliefs, and non-theistic religious and spiritual beliefs.
A Hindu atheist would declare oneself as a Hindu, although also being an atheist at the same time.
A 2005 survey published in Encyclopædia Britannica
Encyclopædia Britannica
The Encyclopædia Britannica , published by Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., is a general knowledge English-language encyclopaedia that is available in print, as a DVD, and on the Internet. It is written and continuously updated by about 100 full-time editors and more than 4,000 expert...

found that the non-religious made up about 11.9% of the world's population, and atheists about 2.3%. This figure did not include those who follow atheistic religions, such as some Buddhists.

A November–December 2006 poll published in the Financial Times
Financial Times
The Financial Times is an international business newspaper. It is a morning daily newspaper published in London and printed in 24 cities around the world. Its primary rival is the Wall Street Journal, published in New York City....

gives rates for the United States and five European countries. The lowest rates of atheism were in the United States at only 4%, while the rates of atheism in the European countries surveyed were considerably higher: Italy (7%), Spain (11%), Great Britain (17%), Germany (20%), and France (32%).
The European figures are similar to those of an official European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

 survey, which reported that 18% of the EU population do not believe in a god.
Other studies have placed the estimated percentage of atheists, agnostics, and other nonbelievers in a personal god as low as single digits in Poland, Romania, Cyprus, and some other European countries,
and up to 85% in Sweden, 80% in Denmark, 72% in Norway, and 60% in Finland. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics
Australian Bureau of Statistics
The Australian Bureau of Statistics is Australia's national statistical agency. It was created as the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics on 8 December 1905, when the Census and Statistics Act 1905 was given Royal assent. It had its beginnings in section 51 of the Constitution of Australia...

, 19% of Australians have "no religion", a category that includes atheists. Between 64% and 65% of Japanese are atheists, agnostics, or do not believe in a god.

An international study has reported positive correlations between levels of education and not believing in a deity, and the EU survey finds a positive correlation between leaving school early and believing in a God.
A letter published in Nature
Nature (journal)
Nature, first published on 4 November 1869, is ranked the world's most cited interdisciplinary scientific journal by the Science Edition of the 2010 Journal Citation Reports...

in 1998 reported a survey suggesting that belief in a personal god or afterlife
Afterlife
The afterlife is the belief that a part of, or essence of, or soul of an individual, which carries with it and confers personal identity, survives the death of the body of this world and this lifetime, by natural or supernatural means, in contrast to the belief in eternal...

 was at an all-time low among the members of the U.S. National Academy of Science, 7.0% of whom believed in a personal god as compared with more than 85% of the general U.S. population, although this study has been criticized for its stringent definition of belief in God.
An article published by The University of Chicago Chronicle that discussed the above study, stated that 76 percent of physicians believe in God, more than the 7% of scientists above, but still less than the 85% of the general population.
Another study assessing religiosity among scientists who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Association for the Advancement of Science
The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization with the stated goals of promoting cooperation among scientists, defending scientific freedom, encouraging scientific responsibility, and supporting scientific education and science outreach for the...

 found that "just over half of scientists (51%) believe in some form of deity or higher power; specifically, 33% of scientists say they believe in God, while 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power."
Frank Sulloway
Frank Sulloway
Frank J. Sulloway is a visiting Scholar in the Institute of Personality and Social Research at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Visiting Professor in the Department of Psychology....

 of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT has five schools and one college, containing a total of 32 academic departments, with a strong emphasis on scientific and technological education and research.Founded in 1861 in...

 and Michael Shermer
Michael Shermer
Michael Brant Shermer is an American science writer, historian of science, founder of The Skeptics Society, and Editor in Chief of its magazine Skeptic, which is largely devoted to investigating pseudoscientific and supernatural claims. The Skeptics Society currently has over 55,000 members...

 of California State University
California State University
The California State University is a public university system in the state of California. It is one of three public higher education systems in the state, the other two being the University of California system and the California Community College system. It is incorporated as The Trustees of the...

 conducted a study which found in their polling sample of "credentialed" U.S. adults (12% had Ph.Ds and 62% were college graduates) 64% believed in God, and there was a correlation
Correlation
In statistics, dependence refers to any statistical relationship between two random variables or two sets of data. Correlation refers to any of a broad class of statistical relationships involving dependence....

 indicating that religious conviction diminished with education level.
An inverse correlation
Correlation
In statistics, dependence refers to any statistical relationship between two random variables or two sets of data. Correlation refers to any of a broad class of statistical relationships involving dependence....

 between religiosity and intelligence
Religiosity and intelligence
The topic of religiosity and intelligence pertains to relationships between intelligence and religiosity, the extent to which someone is religious...

 has been found by 39 studies carried out between 1927 and 2002, according to an article in Mensa
Mensa International
Mensa is the largest and oldest high-IQ society in the world. It is a non-profit organization open to people who score at the 98th percentile or higher on a standardised, supervised IQ or other approved intelligence test...

 Magazine
.
These findings broadly agree with a 1958 statistical meta-analysis
Meta-analysis
In statistics, a meta-analysis combines the results of several studies that address a set of related research hypotheses. In its simplest form, this is normally by identification of a common measure of effect size, for which a weighted average might be the output of a meta-analyses. Here the...

 by Professor Michael Argyle
Michael Argyle (psychologist)
Michael Argyle was one of the best known English social psychologists of the twentieth century. He spent most of his career at the University of Oxford, and worked on numerous topics...

 of the University of Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

. He analyzed seven research studies that had investigated correlation between attitude to religion and measured intelligence
Intelligence quotient
An intelligence quotient, or IQ, is a score derived from one of several different standardized tests designed to assess intelligence. When modern IQ tests are constructed, the mean score within an age group is set to 100 and the standard deviation to 15...

 among school and college students from the U.S. Although a clear negative correlation was found, the analysis did not identify causality but noted that factors such as authoritarian family background and social class may also have played a part. Studies of the proportion of prison convicts without religious training place the percentage at about 1/10 of 1%.

Atheism, religion, and morality

Association with world views and social behaviors

Sociologist Phil Zuckerman analyzed previous social science research on secularity and non-belief, and concluded that societal well-being is positively correlated with irreligion. His findings relating specifically to atheism include:
  • Compared to religious people, "atheists and secular people" are less nationalistic
    Nationalism
    Nationalism is a political ideology that involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms, i.e. a nation. In the 'modernist' image of the nation, it is nationalism that creates national identity. There are various definitions for what...

    , prejudiced, antisemitic, racist
    Racism
    Racism is the belief that inherent different traits in human racial groups justify discrimination. In the modern English language, the term "racism" is used predominantly as a pejorative epithet. It is applied especially to the practice or advocacy of racial discrimination of a pernicious nature...

    , dogmatic, ethnocentric
    Ethnocentrism
    Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one's ethnic or cultural group is centrally important, and that all other groups are measured in relation to one's own. The ethnocentric individual will judge other groups relative to his or her own particular ethnic group or culture, especially with...

    , close-minded, and authoritarian.
  • In the US, in states with the highest percentages of atheists, the murder rate is lower than average. In the most religious US states, the murder rate is higher than average.

Atheism and irreligion

People who self-identify as atheists are often assumed to be irreligious
Irreligion
Irreligion is defined as an absence of religion or an indifference towards religion. Sometimes it may also be defined more narrowly as hostility towards religion. When characterized as hostility to religion, it includes antitheism, anticlericalism and antireligion. When characterized as...

, but some sects within major religions reject the existence of a personal, creator deity
Creator deity
A creator deity is a deity responsible for the creation of the world . In monotheism, the single God is often also the creator deity, while polytheistic traditions may or may not have creator deities...

.
In recent years, certain religious denominations have accumulated a number of openly atheistic followers, such as atheistic
Atheist Jew
Jewish atheism is practiced by atheists who are ethnically, and to some extent culturally, Jewish. Because Jewishness encompasses ethnic as well as religious components, the term "Jewish atheism" does not necessarily imply any kind of contradiction...

 or humanistic Judaism
Humanistic Judaism
Humanistic Judaism is a movement in Judaism that offers a nontheistic alternative in contemporary Jewish life. It defines Judaism as the cultural and historical experience of the Jewish people and encourages humanistic and secular Jews to celebrate their Jewish identity by participating in Jewish...


and Christian atheists.

The strictest sense of positive atheism does not entail any specific beliefs outside of disbelief in any deity; as such, atheists can hold any number of spiritual beliefs. For the same reason, atheists can hold a wide variety of ethical beliefs, ranging from the moral universalism
Moral universalism
Moral universalism is the meta-ethical position that some system of ethics, or a universal ethic, applies universally, that is, for "all similarly situated individuals", regardless of culture, race, sex, religion, nationality, sexuality, or any other distinguishing feature...

 of humanism
Humanism
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

, which holds that a moral code should be applied consistently to all humans, to moral nihilism
Moral nihilism
Moral nihilism is the meta-ethical view that nothing is moral or immoral. For example, a moral nihilist would say that killing someone, for whatever reason, is neither inherently right nor inherently wrong...

, which holds that morality is meaningless.

Divine command vs. ethics

Although it is a philosophical truism, encapsulated in Plato's Euthyphro dilemma
Euthyphro dilemma
The Euthyphro dilemma is found in Plato's dialogue Euthyphro, in which Socrates asks Euthyphro: "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?"...

, that the role of the gods in determining right from wrong is either unnecessary or arbitrary, the argument that morality must be derived from God
Divine command theory
Divine command theory is the meta-ethical view about the semantics or meaning of ethical sentences, which claims that ethical sentences express propositions, some of which are true, about the attitudes of God...

 and cannot exist without a wise creator has been a persistent feature of political if not so much philosophical debate.
Moral precepts such as "murder is wrong" are seen as divine law
Divine law
Divine law is any law that in the opinion of believers, comes directly from the will of God . Like natural law it is independent of the will of man, who cannot change it. However it may be revealed or not, so it may change in human perception in time through new revelation...

s, requiring a divine lawmaker and judge. However, many atheists argue that treating morality legalistically involves a false analogy
False analogy
-The Argument from Analogy:The process of analogical inference involves noting the shared properties of two or more things, and from this basis infering that they also share some further property...

, and that morality does not depend on a lawmaker in the same way that laws do.
Other atheists, such as Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a 19th-century German philosopher, poet, composer and classical philologist...

, have disagreed with this view and have stated that morality "has truth only if God is truth—it stands or falls with faith in God."

There exist normative ethical systems
Normative ethics
Normative ethics is the study of ethical action. It is the branch of philosophical ethics that investigates the set of questions that arise when considering how one ought to act, morally speaking...

 that do not require principles and rules to be given by a deity. Some include virtue ethics
Virtue ethics
Virtue ethics describes the character of a moral agent as a driving force for ethical behavior, rather than rules , consequentialism , or social context .The difference between these four approaches to morality tends to lie more in the way moral dilemmas are...

, social contract
Social contract
The social contract is an intellectual device intended to explain the appropriate relationship between individuals and their governments. Social contract arguments assert that individuals unite into political societies by a process of mutual consent, agreeing to abide by common rules and accept...

, Kantian ethics, utilitarianism
Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism is an ethical theory holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes the overall "happiness", by whatever means necessary. It is thus a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined only by its resulting outcome, and that one can...

, and Objectivism
Objectivism (Ayn Rand)
Objectivism is a philosophy created by the Russian-American philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand . Objectivism holds that reality exists independent of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception...

. Sam Harris
Sam Harris (author)
Sam Harris is an American author, and neuroscientist, as well as the co-founder and current CEO of Project Reason. He received a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Stanford University, before receiving a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA...

 has proposed that moral prescription (ethical rule making) is not just an issue to be explored by philosophy, but that we can meaningfully practice a science of morality
Science of morality
Science of morality can refer to a number of ethically naturalistic views. Historically, the term was introduced by Jeremy Bentham . In meta-ethics, ethical naturalism bases morality on rational and empirical consideration of the natural world...

. Any such scientific system must, nevertheless, respond to the criticism embodied in the naturalistic fallacy
Naturalistic fallacy
The naturalistic fallacy is often claimed to be a formal fallacy. It was described and named by British philosopher G. E. Moore in his 1903 book Principia Ethica...

.

Philosophers Susan Neiman
Susan Neiman
Susan Neiman is an American moral philosopher, cultural commentator, and essayist. She has written extensively on the juncture between Enlightenment moral philosophy, metaphysics, and politics, both for scholarly audiences and the general public...


and Julian Baggini
Julian Baggini
Julian Baggini is the author of several books about philosophy written for a general audience. He is the author of The Pig that Wants to be Eaten and 99 other thought experiments and is co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Philosophers' Magazine...


(among others) assert that behaving ethically only because of divine mandate is not true ethical behavior but merely blind obedience. Baggini argues that atheism is a superior basis for ethics, claiming that a moral basis external to religious imperatives is necessary to evaluate the morality of the imperatives themselves—to be able to discern, for example, that "thou shalt steal" is immoral even if one's religion instructs it—and that atheists, therefore, have the advantage of being more inclined to make such evaluations.
The contemporary British political philosopher Martin Cohen has offered the more historically telling example of Biblical injunctions in favour of torture and slavery as evidence of how religious injunctions follow political and social customs, rather than vice versa, but also noted that the same tendency seems to be true of supposedly dispassionate and objective philosophers. Cohen extends this argument in more detail in Political Philosophy from Plato to Mao, where he argues that the Qur'an
Qur'an
The Quran , also transliterated Qur'an, Koran, Alcoran, Qur’ān, Coran, Kuran, and al-Qur’ān, is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God . It is regarded widely as the finest piece of literature in the Arabic language...

 played a role in perpetuating social codes from the early 7th century despite changes in secular society.

Dangers of religions

Some prominent atheists—such as Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these things...

, Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Eric Hitchens is an Anglo-American author and journalist whose books, essays, and journalistic career span more than four decades. He has been a columnist and literary critic at The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Slate, World Affairs, The Nation, Free Inquiry, and became a media fellow at the...

, Daniel Dennett
Daniel Dennett
Daniel Clement Dennett is an American philosopher, writer and cognitive scientist whose research centers on the philosophy of mind, philosophy of science and philosophy of biology, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He is currently the Co-director of...

, Sam Harris
Sam Harris (author)
Sam Harris is an American author, and neuroscientist, as well as the co-founder and current CEO of Project Reason. He received a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Stanford University, before receiving a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA...

, and Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins
Clinton Richard Dawkins, FRS, FRSL , known as Richard Dawkins, is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author...

—have criticized religions, citing harmful aspects of religious practices and doctrines.
Atheists have often engaged in debate with religious advocates, and the debates sometimes address the issue of whether religions provide a net benefit to individuals and society.

One argument that religions can be harmful, made by atheists such as Sam Harris, is that Western religions' reliance on divine authority lends itself to authoritarianism
Authoritarianism
Authoritarianism is a form of social organization characterized by submission to authority. It is usually opposed to individualism and democracy...

 and dogma
Dogma
Dogma is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization. It is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from, by the practitioners or believers...

tism.
Atheists have also cited data showing that there is a correlation between religious fundamentalism and extrinsic religion
Psychology of religion
Psychology of religion consists of the application of psychological methods and interpretive frameworks to religious traditions, as well as to both religious and irreligious individuals. The science attempts to accurately describe the details, origins, and uses of religious beliefs and behaviours...

 (when religion is held because it serves ulterior interests)
and authoritarianism, dogmatism, and prejudice.
These arguments—combined with historical events that are argued to demonstrate the dangers of religion, such as the Crusades, inquisition
Inquisition
The Inquisition, Inquisitio Haereticae Pravitatis , was the "fight against heretics" by several institutions within the justice-system of the Roman Catholic Church. It started in the 12th century, with the introduction of torture in the persecution of heresy...

s, witch trials
Witch-hunt
A witch-hunt is a search for witches or evidence of witchcraft, often involving moral panic, mass hysteria and lynching, but in historical instances also legally sanctioned and involving official witchcraft trials...

, and terrorist attacks—have been used in response to claims of beneficial effects of belief in religion.
Believers counter-argue that some regimes that espouse atheism
State atheism
State atheism is the official "promotion of atheism" by a government, sometimes combined with active suppression of religious freedom and practice...

, such as in Soviet Russia, have also been guilty of mass murder.

See also

Further reading

  • Stenger, Victor J. (2007). God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist. Amherst, NY: Prometheus. ISBN 1-59102-481-1
  • Walters, Kerry (2010). Atheism: A Guide for the Perplexed. New York: Continuum. ISBN 978-0-8264-2493-8


External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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