A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Atheists
ATHEISTS, those who do not believe in the existence of a God, but attribute surrounding nature and all its astonishing phenomena to chance, or to a fortuitous concourse of atoms: This is called speculative Atheism. Professing to believe in God, and yet acting contrary to this belief, is styled practical Atheism. The name of Atheist is composed of two Greek terms, and signifying without God, and in this sense the appellation occurs in the New Testament. Ephes. ii. 12. Without God, (or Atheists) in the world. Plato distinguishes three kinds of Atheists. 1. Those, who deny the existence of the gods absolutely. 2. Those, who deny their interference in human affairs. 5. Those, who admit both, but conceive them indifferent to human crimes. The first of these, however, are the only Atheists in the strict and proper sense of the word. The latter are rather practical Atheists; and the evidences of a Deity are so numerous and strong, that many have doubted the existence of a real Atheist. Some, however, in most countries, have avowed the principles. In the seventeenth century, Benedict Spinosa, a Jew of Amsterdam, was its noted defender ; and Lucillo Vanini, an Italian of eccentric character, was condemned and executed 1616 at Toulouse, for his Atheistical tenets, which he and eleven others had undertaken to disseminate all over Europe. In the early days of the French revolution, the leading members of the convention endeavoured to suppress all religion, except the worship of their tutelary goddess Liberty; and for this purpose they shut up the churches, abolished the Sabbath, and inscribed upon the burying grounds, "Death is an eternal sleep."
Lord Bacon says, that "a smattering in philosophy may lead a man into Atheism, because he looks no farther than second causes; but by diving deeper into it, he will behold the chain of them linked together, which will certainly bring him back to God and providence."
- Ency. Brit. Buck's Theol. Dict.