Ancient Atheists and Humanists

Many are under the impression that atheism and humanism are modern concepts. Nothing could be further from the truth. While humanism as a movement is recent, its concepts are not - and there probably have been atheists ever since the first person decided to worship the sun. I am quite fascinated by this continuous thread of skepticism running throughout the history of religious belief. Given that, throughout much of history, non-believers in the state religion were dealt with terminally, not to mention that clearly atheistic works were often destroyed, it is not surprising that few of their writings remained intact to this day. Nevertheless some exist, and here is a collection of some quotes from various writers either about atheism, or exhibiting clearly atheistic ideas.

Xenophanes, c.570 – c.475 BCE

"But if cattle and horses and lions had hands
or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do,
horses like horses and cattle like cattle
also would depict the gods' shapes and make their bodies
of such a sort as the form they themselves have."

"Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the gods all sorts of things that are matters of reproach and censure among men: theft, adultery, and mutual deception."

Ajita Kesakambali, 6th century BCE

"There is no such thing as alms or sacrifice or offering. There is neither fruit nor result of good or evil deeds... A human being is built up of four elements. When he dies the earthly in him returns and relapses to the earth, the fluid to the water, the heat to the fire, the wind to the air, and his faculties pass into space. The four bearers, on the bier as a fifth, take his dead body away; till they reach the burning ground, men utter forth eulogies, but there his bones are bleached, and his offerings end in ashes. It is a doctrine of fools, this talk of gifts. It is an empty lie, mere idle talk, when men say there is profit herein. Fools and wise alike, on the dissolution of the body, are cut off, annihilated, and after death they are not."

Protagoras, ca. 490 – 420 BCE

"With regard to the gods I am unable to say either that they exist or do not exist."

Euripides, 480–406 BCE

"Doth some one say that there be gods above? There are not; no, there are not. Let no fool, Led by the old false fable, thus deceive you."

Prodicus of Ceos ca.465 – 395 BCE

"It was the things which were serviceable to human life that had been regarded as gods"

Democritus, ca.460 – 370 BCE

Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion.

Everything existing in the universe is the fruit of chance and necessity.

I would rather discover one scientific fact than become King of Persia.

Aristophanes (ca. 448–380 BCE)

"Shrines! Shrines! Surely you don't believe in the gods. What's your argument? Where's your proof?"

Epicurus, 341 – 270 BCE

Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?