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A Few Key Figures in the History of Atheism

Part of the Atheism For Dummies Cheat Sheet

The history of atheism is filled with important figures — people who have thought outside of the religious box of their times and often used their eloquence and intellect to convince other to do so as well. Some have also distinguished themselves as moral or intellectual heroes in the great issues of their day. This list introduces a few of the biggest and best names in the history of atheism.

  • Epicurus: Greek philosopher. Felt that fear of the gods is the greatest obstacle to human happiness, and that human happiness is good.

  • Lucretius: Roman philosopher who described (and preferred) a world without gods, then wrote a 7,400-line poem about it.

  • Jinasena: Ninth-century Indian teacher who railed against intelligent design theory before it had a name.

  • *al-Rawândî: Ninth-century Islamic philosopher who called Muhammad a liar — out loud.

  • Chang Tsai: Eleventh-century Chinese philosopher who said heaven doesn’t have a mind, and if we had one ourselves, we’d notice that.

  • Jean Meslier: Eighteenth-century French Catholic atheist priest. Yes, you read that right.

  • Baron d’Holbach: Eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinker, writer, enabler.

  • Ernestine Rose: Courageous nineteenth-century social reformer, abolitionist, feminist, atheist.

  • Robert Ingersoll: Great nineteenth-century agnostic orator.

  • Bertrand Russell: Hugely important twentieth-century atheist philosopher, teapot maker.

  • Madalyn Murray O’Hair: First president of American Atheists, plaintiff in the lawsuit that ended organized Bible readings in US public schools, designated atheist bogeyperson for the late twentieth century.

  • Richard Dawkins: Renowned evolutionary biologist, current designated atheist bogeyperson.

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