Atheism is the absence of the belief in God. The atheistic ideas have a long history. The first atheists were found in the fifth century BC. There were some tribes in Africa with no evidence of worshiping or sacrifices. The oldest documents describing atheistic philosophies were traced in the Vedic Age of India and ancient Greece. And only in the European Enlightenment it appeared as a system of beliefs recognized by modern society.
Religion in Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece was famous for its philosophers who tried to explain the world in a materialistic way. Diagoras of Melos was one of the first atheists; he openly stated that there was no God at all (Athenagoras). Aristotle, Plato and Socrates believed that the universe was never created because it was eternal. Aristotle wrote about spontaneous creation of life and Plato described nature and logos as one and the same. These first atheists were natural philosophers who explained natural phenomena using natural laws without common belief in gods. The reason of the belief was fear of unusual phenomena in nature.
The meaning of atheism was changed when Christianity became known. The early Christians were called atheists because they didn’t believe in the pagan Roman gods. In 381 AD, when Christianity became the state religion of Rome, the term atheism got its modern meaning. Since then, people who don’t believe in God have been called atheists.
Atheism and the Era of Enlightenment
Philosophers of Enlightenment gave atheism its modern shape. Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx, Comte, Nietzsche and Feuerbach emphasized the importance of a materialistic interpretation of society. The theory of evolution by Charles Darwin was the apogee of atheism. The process of natural selection described in his book The Origin of Species, showed that humans were related to other animals and therefore weren’t unique (Darwin 1859). It contradicted the Biblical story of the Creation.
Materialistic philosophy is the base of atheism. It means there are no supernatural forces and the nature exists by itself. Changing over the course of history, atheism today has the same meaning as it had at the beginning. In ancient Greece people became atheists looking for answers to explain the world around them. Nowadays, atheists say that there is no reliable evidence for a god, no reasons to believe in him because everything can be explained without the help of supernatural forces.
Athenagoras. A Plea for the Christians. Chapter 4. Retrieved from http://www.theologywebsite.com/etext/athenagoras/index.shtml#P2163_596868
Darwin, C. (1859). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. London: John Murray.