Not everyone in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had the capacity to defeat the church in war or even in politics. An increasinly important alternative strategy now emerged---attacking the ideas on which the church was based.
For an increasingly numerous and articulate group within Western culture, the best way to reduce the excessive influence of the church was to undermine the credibility of its teachings. While some saw the attraction of atheism as lying in what it proposed, most saw its appeal in its ability to weaken, perhaps even destroy, the institution of the church.
Paradoxically, the historical origins of modern atheism lie primarily in an extended criticism of the power and status of the church, rather than any asserted attractions of a godless world.
Adapted from Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism, p. 11.