Atheism – RationalWiki

Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.

Atheism (from the Greek a-, meaning “without”, and theos, meaning “god”) is the absence of belief in the existence of gods.[1]Theos includes the Abrahamic YHWH(s), Zeus, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and every other deity from A to Z[2] (and 0-9,!, “, #, $ or any other character, obviously). For the definition of atheism, the terms “God” and “a god” are used interchangeably as there is no difference between a monotheistic deity and a polytheistic pantheon of deities when it comes to complete disbelief in them.[1] This also has the deliberate intent of ignoring the privileged position Yahweh has held in English grammar. Most atheists also do not believe in anything supernatural or paranormal (someone like this would be considered a naturalist, or even a materialist).[1]

We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.

Tied up with some of the more awkward aspects of defining the term “atheist” is the question of what god, or type of god, is being denied.[1] This is particularly important for those who claim that atheism is supported by evidence (more specifically, the lack of evidence for a theistic case).[1]

If the god being denied is the interventionist God, which most theists hold to exist, then the argument against the existence of this being is easy; the lack of any demonstrable interventions demonstrates the god’s lack of existence. In this case, absence of evidence is evidence of absence. However, if the god being denied is of a less interventionist, or deist, type god, then the above argument regarding evidence doesn’t work. Indeed, the only possible “evidence” for a deist god is the very existence of the universe, and most sane people don’t tend to deny the universe exists. On the other hand as said “evidence” is simply asserted and isn’t testable in any way, it is a lot less than wholly convincing and we return to “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

Whether atheism also requires a person to disbelieve in all other forms of magic, or ghosts, or psychic powers is also a question. These are not “gods” in the conventional sense at all, but they are still supernatural entities or powers. More “hardline” atheists would insist that disbelief in all things supernatural is mandatory for the label of “atheist.” They would argue that this follows from the fact that atheism is a rational position, and that therefore atheists should take rational positions on other matters also. What does and what does not constitute a “god” in the case of atheism can often be very subjective; the definition could be restricted to monotheistic “creator” gods, or expanded to include all supernatural entities, or used to describe only things that are worshipped or idolised. The variables that arise when trying to perfectly codify “atheism” are numerous, and this is fitting with its position as specifically a lack of belief.

However, atheism only makes sense in the context of the ubiquity of religion and theistic belief worldwide. If religions didn’t exist, atheism wouldn’t exist and any discussion of the subject would be inherently meaningless – the world doesn’t feature books, internet debates and billboard campaigns saying that it’s fine to disbelieve in Bertrand Russell’s celestial teapot precisely because few, if any, people believe in the teapot. Therefore a working, albeit still slightly subjective, definition of what constitutes a “god” can be developed based on the beliefs of self-declared religions of the world. As a thought experiment we can conceive of a religion that achieves literal overnight success by promoting some god, Athkel,[4] who will become a worldwide phenomenon tomorrow. An atheist would simply not believe in Athkel tomorrow, despite the fact they had no belief in him/her yesterday because it is a self defined religious deity.

There are many ways to describe different types of atheism and some of these are explained below. These shouldn’t be read as factions or sects within atheism in the same way as denominations and sects within religion, Protestant/Catholicism in Christianity, Sunni/Shia in Islam, and their multiple sub-groups for example. One does not “join” a group of implicit atheists. Instead of being sects that dictate people’s beliefs, these should be taken as models to, at least roughly, describe people’s beliefs and their attitudes towards belief itself. There are many similarities, all of which are included in the blanket term “atheist.” However – as is typical in atheist thought – not all atheists consider these divisions particularly relevant, worthwhile, or meaningful.

The commonality among these various modes of atheism is the statement that no god or gods created natural phenomena such as the existence of life or the universe. Instead, these are usually explained through science, specifically without resort to supernatural explanations. Morality in atheism is also not based on religious precepts such as divine commandments or revelation through a holy text – many alternative philosophies exist to derive or explain morality, such as humanism.

Implicit atheism is simply the state of not believing in any gods.

Explicit atheism is a conscious rejection, either of the belief in gods or of their existence. Explicit atheists can be weak or strong atheists, but all strong atheists are explicit atheists.

Weak atheism (sometimes equated with “pragmatic atheism” or “negative atheism”) describes the state of living as if no gods exist. It does not require an absolute statement of God’s non-existence. The argument is based on the fact that as there is no evidence that gods, spatial teapots or fairies exist, we have no reason to believe in them. This argument could also be classified as extreme agnosticism, or “agnostic atheism” – as it is an acknowledgment of the lack of evidence but acting as if there were no gods.

Pragmatic atheists, however, are frequently reluctant to make outright statements like “Gods (or fairies) do not exist”, because of the great difficulties involved in proving the absolute non-existence of anything – the idea that nothing can be proved is held in the philosophy of pyrrhonism. Consequently many pragmatic atheists would argue that the burden of proof does not lie with them to provide evidence against the extraordinary concept that gods exist. They would argue that it is up to the supporters of various religions to provide evidence for the existence of their own deities, and that no argument is necessary on the atheist’s part.

Christopher Hitchens put it another way when he said: “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

Strong atheism (sometimes equated with “theoretical atheism”) makes an explicit statement against the existence of gods. Strong atheists would disagree with weak atheists about the inability to disprove the existence of gods. Strong atheism specifically combats religious beliefs and other arguments for belief in some god (or gods), such as Pascal’s Wager, and argument from design. These arguments tend to be geared toward demonstrating that the concept of god is logically inconsistent or incoherent in order to actively disprove the existence of a god.[5] Theological noncognitivism, which asserts the meaninglessness of religious language, is an argument commonly invoked by strong atheists.[note 1] In contrast, weak atheist arguments tend to concentrate on the evidence (or lack thereof) for god, while strong atheist arguments tend to concentrate on making a positive case for the non-existence of god.

An apatheist has no interest in accepting or denying claims that a god or gods exist or do not exist. An apatheist considers the very question of the existence or non-existence of gods or other supernatural beings to be irrelevant and not worth consideration under any circumstances.

In short: they simply don’t care. (Well, OK, they care enough to give themselves a name – so that people explicitly know what it is they don’t care anything about. But that’s it.)

Antitheism is, perhaps surprisingly, technically separate from any and all positions on the existence or non-existence of any given deity. Antitheism simply argues that a given (or all possible) human implementations of religious beliefs, metaphysically “true” or not, lead to results that are harmful and undesirable, either to the adherent, to society, or – usually – to both. As justification the antitheists will often point to the incompatibility of religion-based morality with modern humanistic values, or to the atrocities and bloodshed wrought by religion and by religious wars. Religious moderation as compared to religious extremism is an example of theistic anti-theism, also known as dystheism. Dystheism also encompasses questioning the morals even of a deity you believe in, e.g. choosing to obey commandments on nonviolence over calls to violence from God, despite them both being clearly put forward by this alleged giver of all morals.

Post-theism is a form of atheism that doesn’t so much reject theism as render it obsolete, that belief in God belongs to a stage of human development now past. The word stems from the Latin post “behind, after, afterward” + Greek theos “god” + -ist.

Though the belief system is independent from organized religions, some post-theists posit a specific religion as formerly useful. A most notable example is Frank Hugh Foster, who in a 1918 lecture announced that modern culture had arrived at a “post-theistic stage” in which humanity has taken possession of the powers of agency and creativity that had formerly been projected upon God. Another instance is Friedrich Nietzsche’s declaration that “God is dead.”

We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty humans, and then blames them for His own mistakes.

Not all atheists are “disaffected with religion” some were just never raised with or indoctrinated with religious beliefs in the first place. Hence a substantial number have nothing to become disaffected with. However, in areas where religious belief is essentially taken as normal, there is a high chance that a person will have been religious before “coming out” as an atheist. As the term “atheist” only really means something in the context of ubiquitous religious belief, being disaffected or unconvinced by religion is certainly a factor in most, if not all, people who declare themselves as an atheist. As has been said previously, there is debate in the atheist community and not all atheists would agree with all of these reasons or even consider them relevant to atheism.

One of the major intellectual issues regarding disenchantment with religion is the fact that most world religions insist that all other faiths are wrong. While some moderate believers may like to take a stance that “all religions are right, they’re just different interpretations”, it’s undeniable that heresy and apostasy are looked down upon very harshly in many faiths. This suggests the possibility that no religion is right, and further suggests that, because the vast majority of believers in any faith are born into it, being a member of the “correct” group or “the elect” is merely an accident of birth in most cases. There is also historical evidence that organized religion, while professing a peaceful moral code, is often the basis for exclusion and war as well as a method to motivate people in political conflicts. The enmity among different religions and even among sects within the same religion adds credibility to this idea.

Other reasons may be more directly to do with a religion or its specifics – namely (1) the evils that the concept of religion has produced over the ages, (2) the hypocrisy of professed believers and religious leaders who exhort their followers to help the poor, love their neighbors and behave morally but become wealthy through donations to the church and carry love for certain neighbors to an immoral extreme as defined by their own professed religious beliefs, and (3) the contradiction between talk of a loving god and a world in which children starve to death and innocent people are tortured and killed. Issues with religion may arise due to the nature of fundamentalists – insisting that their holy texts are literally true. This leads to attempts by such fundamentalists to undermine education by censoring scientific knowledge that seems to contradict their beliefs. Intelligent design is a prominent case of this (see Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District). Often this doesn’t sit well with moderate believers and especially those who may be on the verge of losing their faith, especially when the evidence provided by daily experience suggests that there may be no events that cannot be explained by common sense and scientific study.

Other issues that atheists have with religion involve the characteristics of supposed gods. Atheists sometimes view the idea that a supreme all-knowing deity would have the narcissistic need to be worshiped, and would punish anyone for worshiping a different god (or none at all), to be perverse.

Lastly, formerly religious atheists often report to have had their belief system unsettled by lack of evidence supporting the notion of the supernatural.

Arguments related to the burden of proof deal with whether atheists must disprove theism or theists must prove theism. Conventionally, the burden of proof lies with someone proposing a positive idea – or as Karl Popper fans would put it, those who are proposing something falsifiable. By this standard, atheists have no need to prove anything, and just need to render arguments for the existence of God as non-compelling. However, the ubiquity of religion in society and history have often shifted the burden of proof to atheists, who must subsequently prove a negative. Assuming that God exists is known as presuppositionalism and has always been a key tenet of Christian apologetics but is usually rejected by more sensible scholars. The absurdity of being asked to prove a negative is demonstrated in Bertrand Russell’s teapot thought experiment – where no matter how hard you look, you can’t thoroughly disprove the belief that a teapot is out there in space, orbiting the sun somewhere between Earth and Mars. This sort of presuppositional thinking is illogical, so asking an atheist to disprove God is an unreasonable request.

Occam’s razor can also be invoked as a guide to making the fewest assumptions, and assuming God exists a priori is a major assumption that should be avoided. Combining these thoughts to lay the burden of proof on theists indicates that without supporting evidence, the default position on God must be either weak-ish atheism or agnosticism rather than theism. Proponents of atheism argue that the burden of proof has not been met by those proposing that a god exists, let alone the specific gods described by major religions.

If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide to prove that they should value it? If someone doesnt value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic?

Logical arguments try to show that God cannot possibly exist (at least as described). Barring any escape hatch arguments like Goddidit, some properties of God are not compatible with each other or known facts about the world, and thus a creator-god cannot be a logically consistent and existent entity. These arguments are heavily dependent on the use of common descriptions of the Abrahamic God as a target: things such as omnipotence, omnipresence, and omnibenevolence. As a result, they are not as useful in trying to refute the claims of, say, neopaganism, and are also vulnerable to the tactic of moving the goalposts by changing the descriptions of God.

The omnipotence paradox postulates that true omnipotence is not logically possible or not compatible with omniscience. This is primarily a logical argument based on the general question of whether an omnipotent being could limit its own power – if yes, it would cease to be omnipotent; if no, it wouldn’t be omnipotent in the first place. Hence the paradox that shows, through contradiction, that God cannot exist as usually described.

Other logical arguments try to prove that god is not compatible with our scientific knowledge of reality. The Problem of evil states that a good god wouldn’t permit gratuitous evil, yet such evil occurs, so a good god does not exist.[6] The argument from design is often given as proof of a creator, but it raises the following logical question: if the world is so complex that it must have had a creator, then the creator must be at least as complex and must therefore have a creator, and this would have to have had a more complex creator ad infinitum. Also, the argument from design does not offer evidence for any specific religion; while it could be taken as support for the existence of a god or gods, it doesn’t argue for the Christian God any more than, say, the Hindu pantheon.

While believers hasten to point out that their gods don’t need to follow logic, let alone the known laws of physics, this is really a case of special pleading and doesn’t so much prove anything itself. Atheists therefore tend to reject these counters to the logical arguments as they mostly beg the question of a creator’s existence and, very arbitrarily, plead that a creator can be exempt from the same logic that was used to “prove” its existence.

I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs.

At the root of the worldview of most atheists is evidence, and atheists point out that sufficient evidence for the existence of gods is currently very lacking, and thus there is no reason to believe in them. Evidential arguments are less ambitious than logical arguments because, rather than proving that there is reason not to believe in a god, they show that there is no reason to believe in a god (See Burden of proof above). It is important to remember that what constitutes sufficient evidence can be quite subjective, although rationalism and science do offer some standardization. Various “holy books” exist that testify to the existence of gods, and claim that alleged miracles and personal experiences all constitute evidence in favor of the existence of a god character of some sort. However, atheists reject these as insufficient because the naturalistic explanations behind them (tracing authors of the holy texts, psychological experiments, and scientific experiments to explain experiences, and so on) are more plausible – indeed, the very existence of plausible naturalistic explanations renders the supernatural explanations obsolete. In addition these books make claims for a variety of faiths, so to accept the Bible’s stories as evidence, one would also have to accept as evidence the miracle stories from other religions’ holy books.

Atheists often cite evidence that processes attributed to a god might also occur naturally as evidential arguments. If evolution and the big bang are true, then why would a creator god have needed them?[7] Occam’s razor makes theistic explanations less compelling.

“God”, “immortality of the soul”, “redemption”, “beyond” Without exception, concepts to which I have never devoted any attention, or time; not even as a child. Perhaps I have never been childlike enough for them?I do not by any means know atheism as a result; even less as an event: It is a matter of course with me, from instinct. I am too inquisitive, too questionable, too exuberant to stand for any gross answer. God is a gross answer, an indelicacy against us thinkers at bottom merely a gross prohibition for us: you shall not think!

Many atheists argue, in similar vein to the born-again Christian who “just knows” that God exists, that the day-to-day experience of the atheist demonstrates quite clearly that God does not. This is because they have an image in their heads of what this “God” would have to look like, viz., an entity in the vein of the God of the Old Testament who runs around zapping entire cities, turning people into pillars of salt, and generally answering people’s prayers in flashes of fire and brimstone or, answering prayers for the victory of a given football team but not answering those made on behalf of starving children in the third world.

Nobody knows for sure how many clergy members are secretly atheists (or are secretly on the fence, with serious doubts about their religion). But almost everyone I’ve spoken with in Clergy Project strongly suspects that the numbers are high.

Studying religion in depth during training for clerical work can lead a person to examine religious ideas critically. The study of Christian theology will include the whole of the Bible, and include historical background which can lead to rational doubt. [9] [10]

In 2011, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason launched a confidential support group for clergy who no longer believe, the Clergy Project, and by December 2012 the group had almost 400 members. One of the founders of Clergy Project is Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who was an evangelical preacher for nineteen years before becoming an atheist.[11] Gretta Vosper is openly atheist as a minister and her congregation supports her.

Freethought Blogger Greta Christina articulates a possible effect of clergy openly leaving Christianity on their parishioners’ beliefs. The more traditional position of clergy is that they are somehow endowed with answers to all questions of faith. If these trained religious authorities start saying they have no answers to normal “Crises of Faith”, even more if some of them suggest the most reasonable answer is atheism, lay Christians will find continuing with their belief more difficult. [12] It is worth noting, however, that modern clergy trained in most US or UK universities are discouraged from claiming to be exempt from such crises of faith, and to encourage people to share a “journey of spiritual discovery”. Perhaps atheism must simply be accepted as an outcome of that endeavor.

Because atheism is effectively a lack of inherent religious or political ideology, there is very little that unifies all atheists.

That said, atheists do tend to fit a certain profile.

Specific research on atheists conducted in 2006 suggests that the true proportion of atheists is 2%[13][14][15] to 4% in the United States, 17% in Great Britain and 32% in France. A 2004 Telegraph poll found that 44% of Britons believed in a god, 35% did not, and 21% did not know.[16]

According to a 2012 WIN-Gallup International poll, 13% of the world identifies as “atheist”, 23% identifies as “not religious”, and 59% identifies as “religious”; these results were 3% more “atheist”, 9% less “religious”, and 6% more “non-religious” than 2005. Of note, in the United States 13% fewer people identified as “religious”.[17]

Many studies have shown that groups with higher intelligence or more education have significantly more atheists.[18] A recent meta-analysis of 39 eligible studies from 1927 to 2002 was published in Mensa Magazine, and concluded that atheists are more likely to be of higher intelligence than their religious counterparts.[19]The American Sociological Association found that higher intelligence was linked with atheism and liberal political ideology.[20] According to an article in the prestigious science journal Nature in 1998 the belief in a personal god or afterlife was very low among the members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Only 7.0% believed in a personal god as compared to more than 85% of the general U.S. population.[21] A 2012 WIN-Gallup International poll found that people with college education were 16% less likely to describe themselves as religious than those without complete high school education.[17] A survey conducted by the Times of India in 2015 revealed that 22% of IIT-Bombay graduates do not believe in the existence of God, while another 30% do not know.[22] According to a Harvard survey, there are more atheists and agnostics entering Harvard University, one of the top ranked schools in America, than Catholics and Protestants. According to the same study, atheists and agnostics also make up a much higher percentage of the students than the general public.[23][24] This may suggest that the more intelligent subjects are more unlikely to believe in god or supernatural powers. An alternative interpretation is that having completed the kind of education that makes you likely to do well in IQ tests is also likely to have either divested you of religiosity or at least made you less susceptible to the kind of beliefs in a personal god which characterise Christian fundamentalism. Yet another possibility is that those with more education are simply more likely to have thought seriously about religion and scrutinized the things they were brought up to believe; the higher intelligence among atheists may simply be because those who achieve high levels of education tend to be smarter than average (meaning that it’s not so much that smart people are atheists as that atheists tend to be smart people). If so, then if atheism were to become mainstream, we could expect the average age of atheists to go down, eventually approaching the average age of religious people.

The Programme for International Student Assessment notes that the best education is present in China and Singapore, while the poorest is present in Peru, Colombia, Qatar and Indonesia.[25] China is noted for having an atheist majority[26] and Singapore is noted for having a religious majority of Buddhists.[27] Peru and Colombia have an overwhelming religious Catholic Christian majority[28][29] and Qatar and Indonesia have an overwhelming religious Islamic majority.[30][31] Clearly differing cultures and focuses within those religions influence these circumstances, but the presence of such a clear trend also suggests a given society’s focus on religious teaching may have a strong effect of its own.

Education professor Yong Zhao asserts that the reason why countries with such differing religious attitudes succeed, while countries with other differing religious attitudes fail, is simply due to the excessive workload and testing present in the Confucian cultural circle, the students within which make for outstanding test takers.[32]

Studies have shown that groups with more income have significantly more atheists. A 2012 WIN-Gallup International poll found that people in the highest quintile of income were 17% less likely to describe themselves as religious than the bottom quintile.[17] This is likely because those with more education tend to have higher incomes.

A recent study published in the Annals of Family Medicine suggests that, despite what some may think, religiousness does not appear to have a significant effect on how much physicians care for the underserved.[33]

The Pew Research Center (2014) reports that in the US:[34]

Whites continue to be more likely than both blacks and Hispanics to identify as religiously unaffiliated; 24% of whites say they have no religion, compared with 20% of Hispanics and 18% of blacks. But the religiously unaffiliated have grown (and Christians have declined) as a share of the population within all three of these racial and ethnic groups. [….] Among respondents who identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, fully 41% are religiously unaffiliated, and fewer than half (48%) describe themselves as Christians. NonChristian faiths also are represented in the gay community at higher rates than among the general public, with 11% of gay, lesbian and bisexual respondents identifying with faiths other than Christianity.

The Pew report also reported that 57% of “unaffiliated” were male and 43% were female.

Atheists are becoming more numerous but also more diverse. White middle-class men such as Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens no longer define the movement. One blogger argues that

Other atheists [Who?] strongly disagree and want to see the atheist movement focus on philosophical arguments against religion and pseudoscience.[35]

African American atheists are a small minority (2% of the American population) facing severe prejudice.

In most African-American communities, it is more acceptable to be a criminal who goes to church on Sunday, while selling drugs to kids all week, than to be an atheist who … contributes to society and supports his family.

Despite this black atheists are getting together in online groups and giving each other confidence, also online groups progress to arranging offline meetings. [36] Atheists of color frequently feel they have different priorities from white atheist groups; they may be allied to faith groups that help poor blacks and fight racial discrimination. Atheists of color also form their own groups focusing more on economic and social problems their communities face and hope general atheist groups will focus more on these issues in the future. Sikivu Hutchinson is one of many atheists of color campaigning against injustice faced by poor people, black people, LGBT people, women and other oppressed groups. [37][38]

Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it, too?

There has been a long history of rational people who have not accepted superstitious or magical explanations of natural phenomena and who have felt that “gods” are not necessary for the working of the world. The Eastern philosophy of Buddhism is broadly atheistic, explicitly eschewing the notion of a creation myth. In the Western world, there have been atheists almost as long as there has been philosophy and writing. Some of the most famous thinkers of the ancient world have been critical of belief in deities or eschewed religion entirely – many favouring logic and rationality to inform their lives and their actions, rather than religious texts. Democritus, who originally conceived of the atom, hypothesized a world without magic holding it together. Critias, one of the Thirty Tyrants of Athens, preceded Marx when he called religion a tool to control the masses.

Perhaps the best example of an explicitly atheistic ancient philosophy is the Charvaka school of thought, which originated in India in the first millennium BCE. The Charvakas posited a materialistic universe, rejected the idea of an afterlife, and emphasized the need to enjoy this life.[40]

Modern atheism in the Western world can be traced to the Age of Enlightenment. Important thinkers of that era who were atheists include Baron d’Holbach and Denis Diderot. The Scottish philosopher David Hume, though not explicitly avowing atheism, wrote critical essays on religions and religious beliefs (his most famous being a critique of belief in miracles), and posited naturalistic explanations for the origins of religion in The Natural History of Religion as well as criticizing traditional arguments for the existence of God in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

Not until recently, however, did the term known as “atheism” begin to carry its current connotation. In an increasing number of countries around the world it is a neutral or unimportant label. The nation of New Zealand, for example, has thrice elected an agnostic woman (Helen Clark) as Prime Minister, followed by its current agnostic leader (John Key). Several Prime Ministers of the UK have been atheists, including Clement Attlee, and the current deputy PM, Nick Clegg. Also, the former Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, is openly atheist, and at least one other former Australian PM was atheist. However, in more religious areas such as the United States or Saudi Arabia the term carries a heavy stigma. Indeed, prejudice against atheists is so high in the United States that one study found that they are America’s most distrusted minority.[41]

The reason for such attitudes towards atheists in these nations is unclear. Firstly, there is no stated creed with which to disagree (except perhaps for “strong” atheists, whose only belief is that there are no gods). Nor are atheists generally organized into lobbies or interest groups or political action committees (at least none that wield massive power), unlike the many groups that lobby on behalf of various religions. And yet an atheist would be the least likely to be elected President of the United States. According to the American Values Survey, about 67% of all voters would be uncomfortable with an atheist president, and no other group including Mormons, African Americans, and homosexuals would lose so much of the potential vote based on one single trait alone.[42][43] One potential reason for this is that in the United States, Christian groups have managed to push and implant the concept that without religion there can be no morality – often playing to people’s needs for absolutes and written rules – absolute morality is presented as something inherently true and achievable only by believers.

The mistrust of atheism is often accompanied by snarl words, straw man arguments and various other myths and legends in order to denigrate the idea of disbelief in established gods.

Fundamentalist Christians have a penchant for revising history to suggest that the bad acts of atheists are due to lack of belief in a god (usually the Christian God). Attempts by fundamentalist Christians to associate Hitler,[note 4] Stalin[note 5], and any number of terrible characters with atheism indulge the association fallacy and would be laughably trivial were the smear not so effective at influencing uncritical thinkers.

Atheism is a religion in the same way as ‘off’ is a television station.

One of the widest misconceptions, often used as a strong criticism, is that atheism is a religion. However, while there are secular religions, atheism is most commonly defined as “no religion.” To expand the definition of “religion” to include atheism would thus destroy any use the word “religion” would have in describing anything. It is quite often pointed out that calling atheism a religion is akin to stating that the act of not collecting stamps is a hobby, or that being unemployed is an occupation. Following from this, atheists do not worship Charles Darwin or any other individual. Although some think that atheism requires evolution to be a complete worldview,[44] there is no worship of anything or anyone in atheism, and acceptance of evolution isn’t exclusive to atheists for that matter there is no necessity for an atheist to accept the evidence for evolution (Stalin is a good example: he rejected Darwinian evolution, promoting Lysenkoism instead, and he consistently purged evolutionary biologists in favor of Lysenkoists). By definition, if atheists worshiped Darwin as a god, they wouldn’t be atheists. Basically, “atheism” is a word for a negative. However, this leads to a few semantic issues.

This confuses the religious because they are used to terms of religious identity being a declaration of allegiance to a view, rather than of separation from. This confusion then leads them to assert that a denial of their religion must be an avowal of another. They then do things like declare the so-called New Atheists as hypocrites for denigrating religion while sticking to an unstated one of their own, or declare that because science has an epistemology and religion has an epistemology, therefore science is just another faith (when religion’s problem is that science’s epistemology provably works much better than religion’s).

Atheism is actually a religion indeed, much like “not collecting stamps” might be called a hobby, or “not smoking” might be called a habit.

A standard response is to note that if atheism is a religion, then “bald” is a hair color, “not kicking a kitten” is a form of animal abuse, and so on. Another is to note that if the definition of religion was expanded enough to legitimately include atheism say, by defining a religion as “any philosophy on life” then practically everything in the world would be a religion, such as socio-economic policies or views on equality. (British law has come close to finding this in employment discrimination cases.)

A new movement of atheist churches appears to be developing (such as Sunday Assembly and Oasis), but what they do is not worship; rather, they are places where like-minded people get together on Sunday mornings to have fun, celebrate life and whatever. This is a relatively new phenomenon, and its prospects for the future are unclear.[46]

Atheists, as a whole, are not a unified group, so accusation that “atheists” are doing x, y and z hold little water. In fact, a disaffection with organized religion, and the potential for groupthink, is what causes many believers to abandon faith and come out as atheists. It doesn’t follow that such individuals would happily join another organised group. Debate within the atheistic community is robust debates even about whether there is even an “atheistic community” at all, for instance and the fact that this debate exists presupposes no dogmatic mandate (or at least not a widely followed one) from an organized group. It does follow from this lack of organisation that there is no atheist equivalent of the Bible, Koran, or other holy text. There are, of course, atheist writings, but one does not need to adhere to opinions held by, say, Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens to be considered an atheist. Some atheists will actively oppose what these kinds of authors do and say. In fact, some atheists wish they could believe.[47]

Believers sometimes denigrate atheists on the grounds that they “hate God.” This, however, makes no sense. It is not possible for atheists to “hate God”, as they don’t believe in any god, and one cannot hate something they don’t believe in. People who make such assertive claims towards atheists are confusing atheism with misotheism.

What I’m asking you to entertain is that there is nothing we need to believe on insufficient evidence in order to have deeply ethical and spiritual lives.

Morality is one of the larger issues facing the world, and many religions and believers openly express the notion that they have the monopoly on deciding, explaining, and enforcing moral judgments. Many religious people will assume that since morals rise from (their) god, without (their) god one cannot have morals. Contrary to the claims of such people, “no gods” does not equal “no morality.” There are strong humanistic, cultural, and genetic rationales for the existence of morality and ethical behavior, and many people, not just atheists, recognize this fact.

Some atheist groups are doing charitable work traditionally done by religious organizations like funding scholarships as an alternative to faith-based scholarships[48] and at least one atheist group volunteers to do environmental protection work.[49]

Indeed, it could be argued that accusing atheists of having no morals is sometimes a psychological projection from people who have themselves not developed healthy intrinsic moral sensibilities and responses, and for whom, theoretically (and sometimes by their own admission), an external written code such as that in the Bible is the only thing stopping them from being a psychopathic criminal. As an adage quoted by blogger Valerie Tarico goes: “If you cant tell right from wrong without appealing to an authority or a sacred text, what you lack is not religion but compassion.”[50]

Typical examples of this trope invoke either Hitler (whose supposed atheism is itself rather dubious) or some of the genocidal communist dictators (mainly Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot). Setting aside the dubious Godwin’s Law example(s), using Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot as examples of the immoral consequences of atheism have the common weakness that it is far from clear that it was their atheism (rather than, say, their political ideologies and/or ruthless ambitions) that caused their murderous actions. This is in stark contrast to the numerous and varied examples of the very explicit use of religion to justify killing, maiming, raping, enslaving or otherwise mistreating your fellow man, including notorious instances of deities outright ordering such behaviour in sacred, religious texts, with the Old Testament YHWHs command to exterminate the Amalekites being just one, horrendous case in point.

There have been attempts by psychologists and social scientists to investigate whether atheists are more or less moral than religious believers. Many of these experiments have been inconclusive, finding no difference.[51] A study of almost 1200 children published in 2015 found children raised in religious households were less altruistic than those from non-religious households.[52]

This attitude has even been used to justify hate and discrimination, and is the reason why atheists are so distrusted in the US.[53]

In the US, where criticism of atheism is common, it often works well for politicians and evangelists to compare atheism to the “evils” of communism, or even to Communism itself. These “evils” are not inextricably fused with the values of atheism in reality. Although most orthodox Marxists are atheists (Marxism treats religion as a “false consciousness” that needs to be eliminated), the atrocities wrought by Stalin and others were not on account of their being atheists, but on account of their being totalitarians and authoritarians: just like Hitler’s crimes against humanity weren’t on account of him believing in God. Additionally, there have been many anti-communists who were atheists or agnostics, such as Ayn Rand and the computer pioneer John von Neumann. In North Korea, one of the only 5 countries where communism still exists (the others being China, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba), it is mandatory to believe that the Kim dynasty consists of people with superhuman powers.

Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply an admission of the obvious. In fact, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a “non-astrologer” or a “non-alchemist.” We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.

Atheism and agnosticism are not entirely mutually exclusive, and atheists are not “actually agnostic because no one can ever know whether God exists.” This is a highly contested point among religious believers and atheistic philosophers alike, as most, if not all, thinking atheists would happily change their minds given the right evidence, and thus could be considered “agnostic” in this sense. However, this conflates the ideas of belief and knowledge. Atheism is a statement of a lack of belief, and not a lack of knowledge – which is often accepted on all sides of the theistic debate. Atheism takes the position that it is rational to think that gods don’t exist, based on logic and lack of evidence. Agnostics, on the other hand, state that the lack of knowledge cannot inform their opinion at all. There are agnostic atheists, who can be either weak or strong. It is at least logically possible for a theist to be an agnostic (e.g., “I believe in a pantheon of lobsterish zoomorphic deities, but cannot prove this with evidence, and acknowledge and embrace that my belief is rooted in faith”)but it is markedly difficult to find anyone who will fess up to such a position.

I decided to give up on being an atheist because I discovered that I had nothing to say during a blowjob.

One difficulty with the term “atheism” is that it defines what its adherents do not believe in, rather than in what they do believe in. The lack of positive statements of belief has led to the fact that there is really no overarching organisation that speaks for atheists (some would regard this as a good thing, keeping atheism from becoming an organised religion) and has led to the comparison that organising atheists is like “herding cats”, i.e., impossible. It is possible that the only thing which does really unite atheists is a lack of belief in gods; thus an overarching organisation to represent them would be physically impossible.

Primarily because of the prevalence of extreme discrimination against atheists, people have tried to come up with more positive terms or campaigns to get the godless philosophy noticed and respected. This allows atheists to feel more united and happy with their beliefs (or lack of), but has also led to organisations that will help them in situations, such as legal cases, where individuals couldn’t do it on their own. The most prominent examples:

To date, none of these alternative descriptions seems to have taken hold a great deal and the term of choice for most people remains “atheist.” “Freethinker” is probably the term with most support, as it dates back at least to the 19th Century. “Naturalism” may be the second most popular, although the name may lead people to confuse it with naturism or with some kind of eco-hippy ideal. “Bright” is the most recent term invented, and as a result is currently the most controversial and divisive. Supporters of the Brights movement see it as a positive and constructive redefinition (on par with the re-branding of homosexuality with the word “gay”, which until then primarily meant “happy” or “joyous”) while its detractors see it as nothing more than a shameless attempt to turn atheism into an organized religion, and the use of “bright” as a cynical attempt to appear more intellectual, and by implication to make their opponents seem less so.

In some contexts words such as “rationalist” and “skeptic” may also be code words for “atheist.” Although not all atheists need to be rationalists, and not all rationalists need to be atheists, the connection is more in the method a person uses to derive their beliefs rather than what their beliefs actually are.

As in the quote above, some who have expressed criticism of religion, among them Richard Dawkins, have pointed out that the word atheism enforces theism as a social norm, as modern languages usually have no established terms for people who do not believe in other supernatural phenomena (a-fairyist for people who do not believe in fairies, a-unicornist, a-alchemist, a-astrologer, etc).

With the existence of deities being central belief of almost all religious systems, it is not surprising that atheism is seen as more threatening than competing belief systems, regardless of how different they may be. This often manifests in the statement that “freedom of religion doesn’t include freedom from religion”. It is also important for theists that the political hierarchy, the priesthood, should do their utmost to discourage dissent – as true believers make better tithe givers. Most religious codes are more than a bit irritated with those who do not believe. The Bible, for example, includes clear ad hominem attacks on non-believers, such as The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm14:1 and Psalm53:1), while the penalty for apostasy in Islamic law is death – and this is still endorsed today.One author has proposed a correction to Psalm 53, as follows:[56]

The fool hath said in his heart, “I know there is a God, and just one God. I know his name, I know his mind and his plans for me. I have a personal relationship with God’s son. I know where we came from and what happens after we die. I know if I merely believe in God I shall live forever in paradise. And all I have to do is pray to God, and all my wishes will come true.”

In the USA the increased public visibility of atheism – what some commentators call the “New Atheism”, seen in the popularity of books like The God Delusion – has brought renewed energy to the debate between believers and non-believers.[57] As part of that debate, some believers have put considerable effort into trying to stop what they think of as the irresponsible promotion of atheism. Their efforts range from material that has academic pretensions to arguments that are plainly abusive, focusing on “smacking” atheists with PRATT arguments regarding how great the Bible isn’t is – and, of course, a heavy bias towards their own religion being true.[58] What these arguments tend to have in common is that they are less about providing arguments for religious belief and more about keeping atheists quiet, with questions such as “don’t you have anything better to do than talk about the God you don’t believe in?” or arguing that “faith is better than reason so shut up”.[59] It’s not entirely unexpected that this would be the thrust of several anti-atheist arguments after all, according to several Christians in influential positions, even the mere knowledge that atheism exists can be dangerous.[60]

Atheists may view the Bible and other religious works as literature, fiction, mythology, epic, philosophy, agit-prop, irrelevant, history, or various combinations thereof. Many atheists may find the book repulsively ignorant and primitive, while other atheists may find inspiration from certain passages even though they don’t believe in the supernatural events and miracles mentioned in the Bible. Many atheists see religious works as interesting historical records of the myths and beliefs of humanity. By definition atheists do not believe any religious text to be divinely inspired truth: in other words, “Dude, it’s just a book” (or, in some cases, a somewhat random collection of different books).

There are several types of evidence to support the idea that “it’s just a book.” Textual analysis of the various books of the Bible reveals vastly differing writing styles among the authors of the individual books of the Old and New Testaments, suggesting that these works represent many different (human) voices, and not a sole, divinely inspired voice. The existence of Apocrypha, writings dating from the time of the Bible that were not included into official canon by Jews or Christians (and peppered with mystical events such as encounters with angels, demons, and dragons), further suggests that “divine authorship” is not a reliable claim. Within Christianity, there are even differences among sects regarding which books are Apocrypha and which are included in the Bible, or which are included under the heading “Apocrypha”, indicating that they constitute holy writings but are not meant to be taken as literally as the other books. The Book of Tobit, for example, is included in the Catholic Bible but considered Apocrypha by Protestants and is wholly absent from the Jewish Bible.

Another problem with the “divine authorship” of the Bible is the existence of texts that pre-date it but contain significant similarities to certain Biblical stories. The best-known among these is the flood story, found in numerous versions in texts from across the ancient Middle East, including the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, which bears textual similarities with the Biblical account. Another such story with apparent Babylonian origin is that of the Tower of Babel. It has been suggested that some of these stories were appropriated by the Jews during the Babylonian Exile.

Studies of the history of the Bible, although not undertaken with the intent of disproving it (in fact, many Biblical historians set out to prove the Bible’s veracity), shed light on the Bible’s nature as a set of historical documents, ones which were written by humans and were affected by the cultural circumstances surrounding their creation. It should be noted that this type of rational discourse neither proves nor requires an atheistic worldview: one can believe that the Bible is not the infallible word of God either because one adheres to a non-Judeo-Christian religion or because one is a Christian or Jew but not a Biblical literalist. These criticisms of Biblical “truth” serve mainly to counter the arguments of fundamentalists, who are among atheism’s most vociferous critics.

Atheists and the nonreligious face persecution and discrimination in many nations worldwide. In Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Kuwait, Pakistan and Jordan, atheists (and others) are denied free speech through blasphemy laws. In Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan being an atheist can carry the death penalty. In many nations citizens are forced to register as adherents of a limited range of religions, which denies atheists and adherents of alternative religions the right to free expression. Atheists can lose their right to citizenship and face restrictions on their right to marry. [61][62] In many parts of the world atheists face increasing prejudice and hate speech like that which ethnic and religious minorities suffer. Saudi Arabia introduced new laws banning atheist thought in any form; there a Muslim expressing religious views the government disliked was falsely called an atheist, sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. In Egypt young people talking about their right to state atheist ideas on television or on YouTube were detained.[63]

In most (if not all) Islamic theocracies, being an atheist can mean prison or even execution. In Bangladesh notably atheists risk murder. The Center for Inquiry is raising money to get atheists and sometimes their families out of countries where their lives are in danger. See Saving Freedom Saving Lives for more information.

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