Perhaps responsible for the philosophy of “positivism” was the French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798–1857) who shocked his religious parents by revealing to them that he had become an atheist. It was Comte and the system of thought that he developed that would so influence the well-known psychologist, and atheist, Sigmund Freud.
Comte believed that human ideas went through three stages: the theological (when the focus was on the supernatural), the metaphysical (when philosophy was the focus of thought), and the scientific (when one broke free from her early superstitions and speculations by coming to discover ‘positive truth’ by experiment and observation). The atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell would likewise develop a philosophy very similar to Comte’s. Russell would write:
“Whatever knowledge is attainable must be attained by scientific means; and what science cannot discover, man cannot know.” Such a statement, and belief, almost certainly does away with God, as God by definition an intangible being that cannot be verified by scientific investigation. Russell would also then take up a position known as ‘logical positivism.’ This said that only statements that could be verified by human senses had any meaning. Thus God’s existence was meaningless as it could never be tested by empirical observation.