Atheism is as natural as religion, new research suggests, casting doubt on the notion that humans are pre-programmed to believe in gods.

A new study from the University of Cambridge has found that, contrary to popular beliefs, large swathes of the ancient world did not believe in gods

Extensively taken from history books, many atheists actually flourished in polytheistic societies – those that worshiped multiple deities – according to a new book.

The claims, made in Battling the Gods by Greek culture professor Tim Whitmarsh, cast doubt on the idea that we are wired to believe in a higher power – referring to “religious universalism.”

Professor Whitmarsh, Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge, also opposes the idea that atheism is a modern phenomenon.

He said, “These early atheists were making what seem to be universal objections to the paradoxical nature of religion – that it asks you to accept things that are not intuitively there in your world.

“The fact that this happened thousands of years ago suggests that forms of unbelief can exist in all cultures, and probably always have.

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“We tend to see atheism as an idea that has only recently emerged in secular Western societies.”

He suggests that atheism was not only common in ancient Greek or Roman societies, but rather flourished then more than it does now.

The “Age of Atheism” alone came to an end, he suggests, when generally tolerant societies were replaced by imperial forces that demanded the acceptance of one true God.

He added: “The idea of ​​a priest telling you what to do was foreign to the Greek world.”

Using around a thousand years of writings to prove his theory, some of the texts he cites date back to around 570 BC.

But he concludes that this neither proves nor disproves the truth of atheism itself.

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