Baron Paul Heinrich Dietrich D'Holbach
leading figure of the French Enlightenment, D'Holbach is probably the
first modern thinker to declare himself explicitly an atheist--as
opposed to being called an atheist by one's enemies. At his
Paris home, D'Holbach entertained such luminaries as Denis Diderot,
David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Joseph Priestley, and even Benjamin
Franklin. D'Holbach wrote some 400 articles for Diderot's Encyclopedie, a mammoth reference work slyly crammed with ideas contrary to orthodoxy.
In his own words: "If we go back to the beginning we shall
find that ignorance and fear created the gods, that fancy, enthusiasm
or deceit adorned them, that weakness worships them, that credulity
preserves them and that custom, respect and tyranny support them, in
order to make the blindness of men serve their own interests."