The first undoubted documents of philosophical atheism (following the narrower, modern definition) appear at the earliest in the mid to late seventeenth century. At some time around 1650 an anonymous manuscript appeared (probably in France) entitled Theophrastus redivivus which appears to be the oldest extant atheistic document; in the last quarter of the same century another anonymous manuscript, the Symbolum sapientiae was in circulation.
But how new is the New Atheism? It is said best in Ecclesiastes 1:9: "There is nothing new under the sun." To be sure, explicit and public atheism is a somewhat new phenomenon. But atheism, agnosticism, and good old-fashioned doubt have strong and lengthy histories worth learning. Because atheism is parasitic on theism and even more on Christianity, to learn the history of atheism is to learn the history of the church.
Between 1700 and 1750 thousands of atheistic clandestine manuscripts circulated across Europe (although still only read by a very small minority), and the controversy ignited by Pierre Bayle over the possibility of a society of virtuous atheists continued to rage, despite the fact that no (or barely any) avowed atheists could yet be identified. However, the first declared philosophical atheists would soon come forth.
Socrates was accused of hieracy on the basis that he inspired questioning of the state Gods. He disputed the accusation that he was a “complete atheist”, saying that he could not be a true atheist as he believed in spirits.
Atheism is the lack of belief in a deity, which implies that nothing exists but natural phenomena (matter), that thought is a property or function of matter, and that death irreversibly and totally terminates individual organic units. This definition means that there are no forces, phenomena, or entities which exist outside of or apart from physical nature, or which transcend nature, or are “super” natural, nor can there be. Humankind is on its own.
The atheist perceives that history, in every branch of science, in the plainly observable realities of life and in the processes of common sense there is no place for the picture of a God; the idea doesn't fit in with a calmly reasoned' and realistic view of life. The atheist, therefore dentes the assumptions of theism because they are mere assumptions and are not proved; whereas the contrary evidences, against the idea of theism, are overwhelming.
In the history of Atheism, no period is as complex and exciting as that time we know today as the Enlightenment. Cultural historians and philosophers consider this era to have spanned the eighteenth century, cresting during the French Revolution of 1789. It was a phenomenon which swept the western world, drowning in its wake many of the sclerotic and despotic institutions of l'ancien regime or old order, and helping to crystallize a new view of man and the roles of reason, nature, progress and religion.
American Atheists is not afraid to point out that which is true: religion is ridiculous. Mythology and religion are synonymous, and none is better than another. Religion is malicious, malevolent, and unworthy of respect.
The absurdity of saying that atheism is parasitic on religious beliefs is perhaps made most clear by considering what would happen if everyone ceased to believe in God. If atheism were parasitic on religion, then surely it could not exist without religion.
Most atheists see themselves as realists - their atheism is a part of their willingness to square up to the world as it is and face it without recourse to superstition or comforting fictions about a life to come or a benevolent power looking after us.