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Thu Jun 30 15:56:27 SAST 2016

Believe it, atheism is ancient

©The Daily Telegraph | 17 February, 2016 00:39
But "ancient atheism" was effectively written out of history when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the early fourth century. File photo
Image by: Gallo Images/iStockphoto

To its adherents, it is the antidote to centuries of ignorance and superstition, but to its detractors it is the product of latter-day decadence and materialism.

But a new Cambridge University study argues that atheism is in fact one of the world's oldest beliefs - long predating Christianity and Islam.

The belief that there were no gods was common in the ancient world, research by Professor Tim Whitmarsh, professor of Greek culture at Cambridge, concludes.

But "ancient atheism" was effectively written out of history when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the early fourth century, heralding a new era of state-imposed belief, says Whitmarsh in a new book, Battling the Gods, which collates evidence of atheism in the Greek city states.

The study breaks the widely assumed link between atheism and progress or modernity but also rejects the idea that faith is a natural, instinctive impulse.

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