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Atheism – Wikipedia

Atheism is, in the broadest sense, the absence of belief in the existence of deities.[1][2][3][4] Less broadly, atheism is the rejection of belief that any deities exist.[5][6] In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities.[1][2][7][8] Atheism is contrasted with theism,[9][10] which, in its most general form, is the belief that at least one deity exists.[10][11][12]

The etymological root for the word atheism originated before the 5th century BCE from the ancient Greek (atheos), meaning “without god(s)”. In antiquity it had multiple uses as a pejorative term applied to those thought to reject the gods worshiped by the larger society,[13] those who were forsaken by the gods, or those who had no commitment to belief in the gods.[14] The term denoted a social category created by orthodox religionists into which those who did not share their religious beliefs were placed.[14] The actual term atheism emerged first in the 16th century.[15] With the spread of freethought, skeptical inquiry, and subsequent increase in criticism of religion, application of the term narrowed in scope. The first individuals to identify themselves using the word atheist lived in the 18th century during the Age of Enlightenment.[15] The French Revolution, noted for its “unprecedented atheism,” witnessed the first major political movement in history to advocate for the supremacy of human reason.[17] The French Revolution can be described as the first period where atheism became implemented politically.

Arguments for atheism range from the philosophical to social and historical approaches. Rationales for not believing in deities include arguments that there is a lack of empirical evidence,[18][19] the problem of evil, the argument from inconsistent revelations, the rejection of concepts that cannot be falsified, and the argument from nonbelief.[18][20] Nonbelievers contend that atheism is a more parsimonious position than theism and that everyone is born without beliefs in deities;[1] therefore, they argue that the burden of proof lies not on the atheist to disprove the existence of gods but on the theist to provide a rationale for theism.[21] Although some atheists have adopted secular philosophies (e.g. secular humanism),[22][23] there is no one ideology or set of behaviors to which all atheists adhere.[24]

Since conceptions of atheism vary, accurate estimations of current numbers of atheists are difficult.[25] According to global Win-Gallup International studies, 13% of respondents were “convinced atheists” in 2012,[26] 11% were “convinced atheists” in 2015,[27] and in 2017, 9% were “convinced atheists”.[28] However, other researchers have advised caution with WIN/Gallup figures since other surveys which have used the same wording for decades and have a bigger sample size have consistently reached lower figures.[29] An older survey by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 2004 recorded atheists as comprising 8% of the world’s population.[30] Other older estimates have indicated that atheists comprise 2% of the world’s population, while the irreligious add a further 12%.[31] According to these polls, Europe and East Asia are the regions with the highest rates of atheism. In 2015, 61% of people in China reported that they were atheists.[32] The figures for a 2010 Eurobarometer survey in the European Union (EU) reported that 20% of the EU population claimed not to believe in “any sort of spirit, God or life force”.[33]

Writers disagree on how best to define and classify atheism,[34] contesting what supernatural entities are considered gods, whether it is a philosophic position in its own right or merely the absence of one, and whether it requires a conscious, explicit rejection. Atheism has been regarded as compatible with agnosticism,[35][36][37][38][39][40][41] and has also been contrasted with it.[42][43][44] A variety of categories have been used to distinguish the different forms of atheism.

Some of the ambiguity and controversy involved in defining atheism arises from difficulty in reaching a consensus for the definitions of words like deity and god. The plurality of wildly different conceptions of God and deities leads to differing ideas regarding atheism’s applicability. The ancient Romans accused Christians of being atheists for not worshiping the pagan deities. Gradually, this view fell into disfavor as theism came to be understood as encompassing belief in any divinity.

With respect to the range of phenomena being rejected, atheism may counter anything from the existence of a deity, to the existence of any spiritual, supernatural, or transcendental concepts, such as those of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Taoism.[46]

Definitions of atheism also vary in the degree of consideration a person must put to the idea of gods to be considered an atheist. Atheism has sometimes been defined to include the simple absence of belief that any deities exist. This broad definition would include newborns and other people who have not been exposed to theistic ideas. As far back as 1772, Baron d’Holbach said that “All children are born Atheists; they have no idea of God.”[47]Similarly, George H. Smith (1979) suggested that: “The man who is unacquainted with theism is an atheist because he does not believe in a god. This category would also include the child with the conceptual capacity to grasp the issues involved, but who is still unaware of those issues. The fact that this child does not believe in god qualifies him as an atheist.”[48] Implicit atheism is “the absence of theistic belief without a conscious rejection of it” and explicit atheism is the conscious rejection of belief.For the purposes of his paper on “philosophical atheism”, Ernest Nagel contested including mere absence of theistic belief as a type of atheism.[49] Graham Oppy classifies as innocents those who never considered the question because they lack any understanding of what a god is. According to Oppy, these could be one-month-old babies, humans with severe traumatic brain injuries, or patients with advanced dementia.

Philosophers such as Antony Flew[51]and Michael Martin have contrasted positive (strong/hard) atheism with negative (weak/soft) atheism. Positive atheism is the explicit affirmation that gods do not exist. Negative atheism includes all other forms of non-theism. According to this categorization, anyone who is not a theist is either a negative or a positive atheist.The terms weak and strong are relatively recent, while the terms negative and positive atheism are of older origin, having been used (in slightly different ways) in the philosophical literature[51] and in Catholic apologetics.[52]Under this demarcation of atheism, most agnostics qualify as negative atheists.

While Martin, for example, asserts that agnosticism entails negative atheism,[38] many agnostics see their view as distinct from atheism,[53][54]which they may consider no more justified than theism or requiring an equal conviction.[53]The assertion of unattainability of knowledge for or against the existence of gods is sometimes seen as an indication that atheism requires a leap of faith.[55][56]Common atheist responses to this argument include that unproven religious propositions deserve as much disbelief as all other unproven propositions,[57]and that the unprovability of a god’s existence does not imply equal probability of either possibility.[58]Australian philosopher J.J.C. Smart even argues that “sometimes a person who is really an atheist may describe herself, even passionately, as an agnostic because of unreasonable generalized philosophical skepticism which would preclude us from saying that we know anything whatever, except perhaps the truths of mathematics and formal logic.”[59]Consequently, some atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins prefer distinguishing theist, agnostic and atheist positions along a spectrum of theistic probabilitythe likelihood that each assigns to the statement “God exists”.

Before the 18th century, the existence of God was so accepted in the western world that even the possibility of true atheism was questioned. This is called theistic innatismthe notion that all people believe in God from birth; within this view was the connotation that atheists are simply in denial.[61]

There is also a position claiming that atheists are quick to believe in God in times of crisis, that atheists make deathbed conversions, or that “there are no atheists in foxholes”.[62]There have however been examples to the contrary, among them examples of literal “atheists in foxholes”.[63]

Some atheists have doubted the very need for the term “atheism”. In his book Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris wrote:

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.

Pragmatic atheism is the view one should reject a belief in a god or gods because it is unnecessary for a pragmatic life. This view is related to apatheism and practical atheism.[65]

Atheists have also argued that people cannot know a God or prove the existence of a God. The latter is called agnosticism, which takes a variety of forms. In the philosophy of immanence, divinity is inseparable from the world itself, including a person’s mind, and each person’s consciousness is locked in the subject. According to this form of agnosticism, this limitation in perspective prevents any objective inference from belief in a god to assertions of its existence. The rationalistic agnosticism of Kant and the Enlightenment only accepts knowledge deduced with human rationality; this form of atheism holds that gods are not discernible as a matter of principle, and therefore cannot be known to exist. Skepticism, based on the ideas of Hume, asserts that certainty about anything is impossible, so one can never know for sure whether or not a god exists. Hume, however, held that such unobservable metaphysical concepts should be rejected as “sophistry and illusion”.[67] The allocation of agnosticism to atheism is disputed; it can also be regarded as an independent, basic worldview.[68]

Other arguments for atheism that can be classified as epistemological or ontological, including ignosticism, assert the meaninglessness or unintelligibility of basic terms such as “God” and statements such as “God is all-powerful.” Theological noncognitivism holds that the statement “God exists” does not express a proposition, but is nonsensical or cognitively meaningless. It has been argued both ways as to whether such individuals can be classified into some form of atheism or agnosticism. Philosophers A.J. Ayer and Theodore M. Drange reject both categories, stating that both camps accept “God exists” as a proposition; they instead place noncognitivism in its own category.[69][70]

Philosopher, Zofia Zdybicka writes:

“Metaphysical atheism… includes all doctrines that hold to metaphysical monism (the homogeneity of reality). Metaphysical atheism may be either: a) absolute an explicit denial of God’s existence associated with materialistic monism (all materialistic trends, both in ancient and modern times); b) relative the implicit denial of God in all philosophies that, while they accept the existence of an absolute, conceive of the absolute as not possessing any of the attributes proper to God: transcendence, a personal character or unity. Relative atheism is associated with idealistic monism (pantheism, panentheism, deism).”[71]

Some atheists hold the view that the various conceptions of gods, such as the personal god of Christianity, are ascribed logically inconsistent qualities. Such atheists present deductive arguments against the existence of God, which assert the incompatibility between certain traits, such as perfection, creator-status, immutability, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, transcendence, personhood (a personal being), nonphysicality, justice, and mercy.[18]

Theodicean atheists believe that the world as they experience it cannot be reconciled with the qualities commonly ascribed to God and gods by theologians. They argue that an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God is not compatible with a world where there is evil and suffering, and where divine love is hidden from many people.[20]A similar argument is attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism.[73]

Philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach[74]and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud have argued that God and other religious beliefs are human inventions, created to fulfill various psychological and emotional wants or needs, or a projection mechanism from the ‘Id’ omnipotence; for Vladimir Lenin, in ‘Materialism and Empirio-criticism’, against the Russian Machism, the followers of Ernst Mach, Feuerbach was te final argument against belief in a god. This is also a view of many Buddhists.[75]Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, influenced by the work of Feuerbach, argued that belief in God and religion are social functions, used by those in power to oppress the working class. According to Mikhail Bakunin, “the idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, in theory and practice.” He reversed Voltaire’s aphorism that if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him, writing instead that “if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.”[76]

Atheism is not mutually exclusive with respect to some religious and spiritual belief systems, including Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Syntheism, Ralism,[77] and Neopagan movements[78]such as Wicca.[79]stika schools in Hinduism hold atheism to be a valid path to moksha, but extremely difficult, for the atheist can not expect any help from the divine on their journey.[80]Jainism believes the universe is eternal and has no need for a creator deity, however Tirthankaras are revered that can transcend space and time[81]and have more power than the god Indra.[82]Secular Buddhism does not advocate belief in gods. Early Buddhism was atheistic as Gautama Buddha’s path involved no mention of gods. Later conceptions of Buddhism consider Buddha himself a god, suggest adherents can attain godhood, and revere Bodhisattvas[83]and Eternal Buddha.

Apophatic theology is often assessed as being a version of atheism or agnosticism, since it cannot say truly that God exists.[84] “The comparison is crude, however, for conventional atheism treats the existence of God as a predicate that can be denied (God is nonexistent), whereas negative theology denies that God has predicates”.[85] “God or the Divine is” without being able to attribute qualities about “what He is” would be the prerequisite of positive theology in negative theology that distinguishes theism from atheism. “Negative theology is a complement to, not the enemy of, positive theology”.[86]

Axiological, or constructive, atheism rejects the existence of gods in favor of a “higher absolute”, such as humanity. This form of atheism favors humanity as the absolute source of ethics and values, and permits individuals to resolve moral problems without resorting to God. Marx and Freud used this argument to convey messages of liberation, full-development, and unfettered happiness.[68] One of the most common criticisms of atheism has been to the contrary: that denying the existence of a god either leads to moral relativism and leaves one with no moral or ethical foundation,[87] or renders life meaningless and miserable.[88] Blaise Pascal argued this view in his Penses.[89]

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre identified himself as a representative of an “atheist existentialism”concerned less with denying the existence of God than with establishing that “man needs… to find himself again and to understand that nothing can save him from himself, not even a valid proof of the existence of God.”Sartre said a corollary of his atheism was that “if God does not exist, there is at least one being in whom existence precedes essence, a being who exists before he can be defined by any concept, and… this being is man.”The practical consequence of this atheism was described by Sartre as meaning that there are no a priori rules or absolute values that can be invoked to govern human conduct, and that humans are “condemned” to invent these for themselves, making “man” absolutely “responsible for everything he does”.

Sociologist Phil Zuckerman analyzed previous social science research on secularity and non-belief, and concluded that societal well-being is positively correlated with irreligion. He found that there are much lower concentrations of atheism and secularity in poorer, less developed nations (particularly in Africa and South America) than in the richer industrialized democracies.[93][94]His findings relating specifically to atheism in the US were that compared to religious people in the US, “atheists and secular people” are less nationalistic, prejudiced, antisemitic, racist, dogmatic, ethnocentric, closed-minded, and authoritarian, and in US states with the highest percentages of atheists, the murder rate is lower than average. In the most religious states, the murder rate is higher than average.[95][96]

People who self-identify as atheists are often assumed to be irreligious, but some sects within major religions reject the existence of a personal, creator deity.[98]In recent years, certain religious denominations have accumulated a number of openly atheistic followers, such as atheistic or humanistic Judaism[99][100]and Christian atheists.[101][102][103]

The strictest sense of positive atheism does not entail any specific beliefs outside of disbelief in any deity; as such, atheists can hold any number of spiritual beliefs. For the same reason, atheists can hold a wide variety of ethical beliefs, ranging from the moral universalism of humanism, which holds that a moral code should be applied consistently to all humans, to moral nihilism, which holds that morality is meaningless.[104] Atheism is accepted as a valid philosophical position within some varieties of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.[105]

Philosophers such as Slavoj iek,[106] Alain de Botton,[107] and Alexander Bard and Jan Sderqvist,[108] have all argued that atheists should reclaim religion as an act of defiance against theism, precisely not to leave religion as an unwarranted monopoly to theists.

According to Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma, the role of the gods in determining right from wrong is either unnecessary or arbitrary. The argument that morality must be derived from God, and cannot exist without a wise creator, has been a persistent feature of political if not so much philosophical debate.[109][110][111]Moral precepts such as “murder is wrong” are seen as divine laws, requiring a divine lawmaker and judge. However, many atheists argue that treating morality legalistically involves a false analogy, and that morality does not depend on a lawmaker in the same way that laws do.[112]Friedrich Nietzsche believed in a morality independent of theistic belief, and stated that morality based upon God “has truth only if God is truthit stands or falls with faith in God.”[113][114][115]. For Immanuel Kant the reason for adjusting to rules comes in its value as: ‘Categorical Imperatives’, that contain in itself the reason to be fulfilled.

There exist normative ethical systems that do not require principles and rules to be given by a deity. Some include virtue ethics, social contract, Kantian ethics, utilitarianism, and Objectivism. Sam Harris has proposed that moral prescription (ethical rule making) is not just an issue to be explored by philosophy, but that we can meaningfully practice a science of morality. Any such scientific system must, nevertheless, respond to the criticism embodied in the naturalistic fallacy.[116]

Philosophers Susan Neiman[117]and Julian Baggini[118](among others) assert that behaving ethically only because of divine mandate is not true ethical behavior but merely blind obedience. Baggini argues that atheism is a superior basis for ethics, claiming that a moral basis external to religious imperatives is necessary to evaluate the morality of the imperatives themselvesto be able to discern, for example, that “thou shalt steal” is immoral even if one’s religion instructs itand that atheists, therefore, have the advantage of being more inclined to make such evaluations.[119]The contemporary British political philosopher Martin Cohen has offered the more historically telling example of Biblical injunctions in favor of torture and slavery as evidence of how religious injunctions follow political and social customs, rather than vice versa, but also noted that the same tendency seems to be true of supposedly dispassionate and objective philosophers.[120] Cohen extends this argument in more detail in Political Philosophy from Plato to Mao, where he argues that the Qur’an played a role in perpetuating social codes from the early 7th century despite changes in secular society.[121]

Some prominent atheistsmost recently Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, and following such thinkers as Bertrand Russell, Robert G. Ingersoll, Voltaire, and novelist Jos Saramagohave criticized religions, citing harmful aspects of religious practices and doctrines.[122]

The 19th-century German political theorist and sociologist Karl Marx called religion “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”. He goes on to say, “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”[123] Lenin said that “every religious idea and every idea of God is unutterable vileness… of the most dangerous kind, ‘contagion’ of the most abominable kind. Millions of sins, filthy deeds, acts of violence and physical contagions… are far less dangerous than the subtle, spiritual idea of God decked out in the smartest ideological constumes…”[124]

Sam Harris criticizes Western religion’s reliance on divine authority as lending itself to authoritarianism and dogmatism.There is a correlation between religious fundamentalism and extrinsic religion (when religion is held because it serves ulterior interests)[126] and authoritarianism, dogmatism, and prejudice.[127]These argumentscombined with historical events that are argued to demonstrate the dangers of religion, such as the Crusades, inquisitions, witch trials, and terrorist attackshave been used in response to claims of beneficial effects of belief in religion.[128]Believers counter-argue that some regimes that espouse atheism, such as the Soviet Union, have also been guilty of mass murder.[129][130] In response to those claims, atheists such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have stated that Stalin’s atrocities were influenced not by atheism but by dogmatic Marxism, and that while Stalin and Mao happened to be atheists, they did not do their deeds in the name of atheism.[132]

In early ancient Greek, the adjective theos (, from the privative – + “god”) meant “godless”. It was first used as a term of censure roughly meaning “ungodly” or “impious”. In the 5th century BCE, the word began to indicate more deliberate and active godlessness in the sense of “severing relations with the gods” or “denying the gods”. The term (asebs) then came to be applied against those who impiously denied or disrespected the local gods, even if they believed in other gods. Modern translations of classical texts sometimes render theos as “atheistic”. As an abstract noun, there was also (atheots), “atheism”. Cicero transliterated the Greek word into the Latin theos. The term found frequent use in the debate between early Christians and Hellenists, with each side attributing it, in the pejorative sense, to the other.[13]

The term atheist (from Fr. athe), in the sense of “one who… denies the existence of God or gods”,[134]predates atheism in English, being first found as early as 1566,[135]and again in 1571.[136]Atheist as a label of practical godlessness was used at least as early as 1577.[137]The term atheism was derived from the French athisme,[138] and appears in English about 1587.[139]An earlier work, from about 1534, used the term atheonism.[140][141]Related words emerged later: deist in 1621,[142]theist in 1662,[143]deism in 1675,[144]and theism in 1678.[145]At that time “deist” and “deism” already carried their modern meaning. The term theism came to be contrasted with deism.

Karen Armstrong writes that “During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the word ‘atheist’ was still reserved exclusively for polemic… The term ‘atheist’ was an insult. Nobody would have dreamed of calling himself an atheist.”

Atheism was first used to describe a self-avowed belief in late 18th-century Europe, specifically denoting disbelief in the monotheistic Abrahamic god.[146]In the 20th century, globalization contributed to the expansion of the term to refer to disbelief in all deities, though it remains common in Western society to describe atheism as simply “disbelief in God”.

While the earliest-found usage of the term atheism is in 16th-century France,[138][139] ideas that would be recognized today as atheistic are documented from the Vedic period and the classical antiquity.

Atheistic schools are found in early Indian thought and have existed from the times of the historical Vedic religion.[147]Among the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, Samkhya, the oldest philosophical school of thought, does not accept God, and the early Mimamsa also rejected the notion of God.[148]The thoroughly materialistic and anti-theistic philosophical Crvka (or Lokyata) school that originated in India around the 6th century BCE is probably the most explicitly atheistic school of philosophy in India, similar to the Greek Cyrenaic school. This branch of Indian philosophy is classified as heterodox due to its rejection of the authority of Vedas and hence is not considered part of the six orthodox schools of Hinduism, but it is noteworthy as evidence of a materialistic movement within Hinduism.[149]

Chatterjee and Datta explain that our understanding of Crvka philosophy is fragmentary, based largely on criticism of the ideas by other schools, and that it is not a living tradition:[150]

Though materialism in some form or other has always been present in India, and occasional references are found in the Vedas, the Buddhistic literature, the Epics, as well as in the later philosophical works we do not find any systematic work on materialism, nor any organized school of followers as the other philosophical schools possess. But almost every work of the other schools states, for refutation, the materialistic views. Our knowledge of Indian materialism is chiefly based on these.

Other Indian philosophies generally regarded as atheistic include Classical Samkhya and Purva Mimamsa. The rejection of a personal creator God is also seen in Jainism and Buddhism in India.[151]

Western atheism has its roots in pre-Socratic Greek philosophy,[154][155] but atheism in the modern sense was nonexistent or extremely rare in ancient Greece.[156][157][155] Pre-Socratic Atomists such as Democritus attempted to explain the world in a purely materialistic way and interpreted religion as a human reaction to natural phenomena,[152] but did not explicitly deny the gods’ existence.[152] In the late fifth century BCE, the Greek lyric poet Diagoras of Melos was sentenced to death in Athens under the charge of being a “godless person” () after he made fun of the Eleusinian Mysteries,[156][157][152] but he fled the city to escape punishment.[156][157][152] Later writers have cited Diagoras as the “first atheist”,[158][159] but he was probably not an atheist in the modern sense of the word.[157]

A fragment from the lost satyr play Sisyphus, which has been attributed to both Critias and Euripides, claims that a clever man invented “the fear of the gods” in order to frighten people into behaving morally.[160][157][161][157][155] This statement, however, originally did not mean that the gods themselves were nonexistent, but rather that their powers were a hoax.[155] Atheistic statements have also been attributed to the philosopher Prodicus. Philodemus reports that Prodicus believed that “the gods of popular belief do not exist nor do they know, but primitive man, [out of admiration, deified] the fruits of the earth and virtually everything that contributed to his existence”. Protagoras has sometimes been taken to be an atheist, but rather espoused agnostic views, commenting that “Concerning the gods I am unable to discover whether they exist or not, or what they are like in form; for there are many hindrances to knowledge, the obscurity of the subject and the brevity of human life.”[162][156]

The Athenian public associated Socrates (c. 470399 BCE) with the trends in pre-Socratic philosophy towards naturalistic inquiry and the rejection of divine explanations for phenomena.[152][153] Aristophanes’ comic play The Clouds (performed 423 BCE) portrays Socrates as teaching his students that the traditional Greek deities do not exist.[152][153] Socrates was later tried and executed under the charge of not believing in the gods of the state and instead worshipping foreign gods.[152][153] Socrates himself vehemently denied the charges of atheism at his trial[152][153][163] and all the surviving sources about him indicate that he was a very devout man, who prayed to the rising sun and believed that the oracle at Delphi spoke the word of Apollo.[152] Euhemerus (c. 300 BCE) published his view that the gods were only the deified rulers, conquerors and founders of the past, and that their cults and religions were in essence the continuation of vanished kingdoms and earlier political structures.[164] Although not strictly an atheist, Euhemerus was later criticized for having “spread atheism over the whole inhabited earth by obliterating the gods”.[165]

The most important Greek thinker in the development of atheism was Epicurus (c. 300 BCE).[155] Drawing on the ideas of Democritus and the Atomists, he espoused a materialistic philosophy according to which the universe was governed by the laws of chance without the need for divine intervention (see scientific determinism).[166] Although Epicurus still maintained that the gods existed,[167][155][166] he believed that they were uninterested in human affairs.[166] The aim of the Epicureans was to attain ataraxia (“peace of mind”) and one important way of doing this was by exposing fear of divine wrath as irrational. The Epicureans also denied the existence of an afterlife and the need to fear divine punishment after death.[166] In the 3rd-century BCE, the Greek philosophers Theodorus Cyrenaicus[159][168] and Strato of Lampsacus[169] did not believe in the existence of gods. The Roman philosopher Sextus Empiricus held that one should suspend judgment about virtually all beliefsa form of skepticism known as Pyrrhonismthat nothing was inherently evil, and that ataraxia is attainable by withholding one’s judgment. His relatively large volume of surviving works had a lasting influence on later philosophers.[170]

The meaning of “atheist” changed over the course of classical antiquity.[157] Early Christians were widely reviled as “atheists” because they did not believe in the existence of the Graeco-Roman deities.[171][157][172][173] During the Roman Empire, Christians were executed for their rejection of the Roman gods in general and Emperor-worship in particular.[173][174] When Christianity became the state religion of Rome under Theodosius I in 381, heresy became a punishable offense.[174]

During the Early Middle Ages, the Islamic world experienced a Golden Age. Along with advances in science and philosophy, Arab and Persian lands produced outspoken rationalists and atheists, including Muhammad al Warraq (fl. 9th century), Ibn al-Rawandi (827911), Al-Razi (854925), and Al-Maarri (9731058). Al-Ma’arri wrote and taught that religion itself was a “fable invented by the ancients”[175] and that humans were “of two sorts: those with brains, but no religion, and those with religion, but no brains.”[176] Despite their being relatively prolific writers, little of their work survives, mainly being preserved through quotations and excerpts in later works by Muslim apologists attempting to refute them.[177] Other prominent Golden Age scholars have been associated with rationalist thought and atheism as well, although the current intellectual atmosphere in the Islamic world, and the scant evidence that survives from the era, make this point a contentious one today.

In Europe, the espousal of atheistic views was rare during the Early Middle Ages and Middle Ages (see Medieval Inquisition); metaphysics and theology were the dominant interests pertaining to religion.[178] There were, however, movements within this period that furthered heterodox conceptions of the Christian god, including differing views of the nature, transcendence, and knowability of God. Individuals and groups such as Johannes Scotus Eriugena, David of Dinant, Amalric of Bena, and the Brethren of the Free Spirit maintained Christian viewpoints with pantheistic tendencies. Nicholas of Cusa held to a form of fideism he called docta ignorantia (“learned ignorance”), asserting that God is beyond human categorization, and thus our knowledge of him is limited to conjecture. William of Ockham inspired anti-metaphysical tendencies with his nominalistic limitation of human knowledge to singular objects, and asserted that the divine essence could not be intuitively or rationally apprehended by human intellect. Followers of Ockham, such as John of Mirecourt and Nicholas of Autrecourt furthered this view. The resulting division between faith and reason influenced later radical and reformist theologians such as John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, and Martin Luther.[178]

The Renaissance did much to expand the scope of free thought and skeptical inquiry. Individuals such as Leonardo da Vinci sought experimentation as a means of explanation, and opposed arguments from religious authority. Other critics of religion and the Church during this time included Niccol Machiavelli, Bonaventure des Priers, Michel de Montaigne, and Franois Rabelais.[170]

Historian Geoffrey Blainey wrote that the Reformation had paved the way for atheists by attacking the authority of the Catholic Church, which in turn “quietly inspired other thinkers to attack the authority of the new Protestant churches”.[179] Deism gained influence in France, Prussia, and England. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza was “probably the first well known ‘semi-atheist’ to announce himself in a Christian land in the modern era”, according to Blainey. Spinoza believed that natural laws explained the workings of the universe. In 1661 he published his Short Treatise on God.[180]

Criticism of Christianity became increasingly frequent in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially in France and England, where there appears to have been a religious malaise, according to contemporary sources. Some Protestant thinkers, such as Thomas Hobbes, espoused a materialist philosophy and skepticism toward supernatural occurrences, while Spinoza rejected divine providence in favor of a panentheistic naturalism. By the late 17th century, deism came to be openly espoused by intellectuals such as John Toland who coined the term “pantheist”.[181]

The first known explicit atheist was the German critic of religion Matthias Knutzen in his three writings of 1674.[182] He was followed by two other explicit atheist writers, the Polish ex-Jesuit philosopher Kazimierz yszczyski and in the 1720s by the French priest Jean Meslier.[183] In the course of the 18th century, other openly atheistic thinkers followed, such as Baron d’Holbach, Jacques-Andr Naigeon, and other French materialists.[184] John Locke in contrast, though an advocate of tolerance, urged authorities not to tolerate atheism, believing that the denial of God’s existence would undermine the social order and lead to chaos.[185]

The philosopher David Hume developed a skeptical epistemology grounded in empiricism, and Immanuel Kant’s philosophy has strongly questioned the very possibility of a metaphysical knowledge. Both philosophers undermined the metaphysical basis of natural theology and criticized classical arguments for the existence of God.

Blainey notes that, although Voltaire is widely considered to have strongly contributed to atheistic thinking during the Revolution, he also considered fear of God to have discouraged further disorder, having said “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”[186] In Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), the philosopher Edmund Burke denounced atheism, writing of a “literary cabal” who had “some years ago formed something like a regular plan for the destruction of the Christian religion. This object they pursued with a degree of zeal which hitherto had been discovered only in the propagators of some system of piety… These atheistical fathers have a bigotry of their own…”. But, Burke asserted, “man is by his constitution a religious animal” and “atheism is against, not only our reason, but our instincts; and… it cannot prevail long”.[187]

Baron d’Holbach was a prominent figure in the French Enlightenment who is best known for his atheism and for his voluminous writings against religion, the most famous of them being The System of Nature (1770) but also Christianity Unveiled. One goal of the French Revolution was a restructuring and subordination of the clergy with respect to the state through the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Attempts to enforce it led to anti-clerical violence and the expulsion of many clergy from France, lasting until the Thermidorian Reaction. The radical Jacobins seized power in 1793, ushering in the Reign of Terror. The Jacobins were deists and introduced the Cult of the Supreme Being as a new French state religion. Some atheists surrounding Jacques Hbert instead sought to establish a Cult of Reason, a form of atheistic pseudo-religion with a goddess personifying reason. The Napoleonic era further institutionalized the secularization of French society.

In the latter half of the 19th century, atheism rose to prominence under the influence of rationalistic and freethinking philosophers. Many prominent German philosophers of this era denied the existence of deities and were critical of religion, including Ludwig Feuerbach, Arthur Schopenhauer, Max Stirner, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche.[188]

George Holyoake was the last person (1842) imprisoned in Great Britain due to atheist beliefs. Law notes that he may have also been the first imprisoned on such a charge. Stephen Law states that Holyoake “first coined the term ‘secularism'”.[189][190]

Atheism, particularly in the form of practical atheism, advanced in many societies in the 20th century. Atheistic thought found recognition in a wide variety of other, broader philosophies, such as existentialism, objectivism, secular humanism, nihilism, anarchism, logical positivism, Marxism, feminism,[191] and the general scientific and rationalist movement.

In addition, state atheism emerged in Eastern Europe and Asia during that period, particularly in the Soviet Union under Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, and in Communist China under Mao Zedong. Atheist and anti-religious policies in the Soviet Union included numerous legislative acts, the outlawing of religious instruction in the schools, and the emergence of the League of Militant Atheists.[192][193] After Mao, the Chinese Communist Party remains an atheist organization, and regulates, but does not forbid, the practice of religion in mainland China.[194][195][196]

While Geoffrey Blainey has written that “the most ruthless leaders in the Second World War were atheists and secularists who were intensely hostile to both Judaism and Christianity”,[197] Richard Madsen has pointed out that Hitler and Stalin each opened and closed churches as a matter of political expedience, and Stalin softened his opposition to Christianity in order to improve public acceptance of his regime during the war.[198] Blackford and Schklenk have written that “the Soviet Union was undeniably an atheist state, and the same applies to Maoist China and Pol Pot’s fanatical Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in the 1970s. That does not, however, show that the atrocities committed by these totalitarian dictatorships were the result of atheist beliefs, carried out in the name of atheism, or caused primarily by the atheistic aspects of the relevant forms of communism.”[199]

Logical positivism and scientism paved the way for neopositivism, analytical philosophy, structuralism, and naturalism. Neopositivism and analytical philosophy discarded classical rationalism and metaphysics in favor of strict empiricism and epistemological nominalism. Proponents such as Bertrand Russell emphatically rejected belief in God. In his early work, Ludwig Wittgenstein attempted to separate metaphysical and supernatural language from rational discourse. A.J. Ayer asserted the unverifiability and meaninglessness of religious statements, citing his adherence to the empirical sciences. Relatedly the applied structuralism of Lvi-Strauss sourced religious language to the human subconscious in denying its transcendental meaning. J.N. Findlay and J.J.C. Smart argued that the existence of God is not logically necessary. Naturalists and materialistic monists such as John Dewey considered the natural world to be the basis of everything, denying the existence of God or immortality.[59][200]

Other leaders like Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, a prominent atheist leader of India, fought against Hinduism and Brahmins for discriminating and dividing people in the name of caste and religion.[201]This was highlighted in 1956 when he arranged for the erection of a statue depicting a Hindu god in a humble representation and made antitheistic statements.[202]

Atheist Vashti McCollum was the plaintiff in a landmark 1948 Supreme Court case that struck down religious education in US public schools.[203] Madalyn Murray O’Hair was perhaps one of the most influential American atheists; she brought forth the 1963 Supreme Court case Murray v. Curlett which banned compulsory prayer in public schools.[204] In 1966, Time magazine asked “Is God Dead?”[205] in response to the Death of God theological movement, citing the estimation that nearly half of all people in the world lived under an anti-religious power, and millions more in Africa, Asia, and South America seemed to lack knowledge of the Christian view of theology.[206] The Freedom From Religion Foundation was co-founded by Anne Nicol Gaylor and her daughter, Annie Laurie Gaylor, in 1976 in the United States, and incorporated nationally in 1978. It promotes the separation of church and state.[207][208]

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the number of actively anti-religious regimes has reduced considerably. In 2006, Timothy Shah of the Pew Forum noted “a worldwide trend across all major religious groups, in which God-based and faith-based movements in general are experiencing increasing confidence and influence vis–vis secular movements and ideologies.”[209]However, Gregory S. Paul and Phil Zuckerman consider this a myth and suggest that the actual situation is much more complex and nuanced.[210]

A 2010 survey found that those identifying themselves as atheists or agnostics are on average more knowledgeable about religion than followers of major faiths. Nonbelievers scored better on questions about tenets central to Protestant and Catholic faiths. Only Mormon and Jewish faithful scored as well as atheists and agnostics.[211]

In 2012, the first “Women in Secularism” conference was held in Arlington, Virginia.[212] Secular Woman was organized in 2012 as a national organization focused on nonreligious women.[213] The atheist feminist movement has also become increasingly focused on fighting sexism and sexual harassment within the atheist movement itself.[214]In August 2012, Jennifer McCreight (the organizer of Boobquake) founded a movement within atheism known as Atheism Plus, or A+, that “applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime”.[215][216][217]

In 2013 the first atheist monument on American government property was unveiled at the Bradford County Courthouse in Florida: a 1,500-pound granite bench and plinth inscribed with quotes by Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Madalyn Murray O’Hair.[218][219]

“New Atheism” is the name that has been given to a movement among some early-21st-century atheist writers who have advocated the view that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.”[220]The movement is commonly associated with Sam Harris, Daniel C. Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Victor J. Stenger, Christopher Hitchens, and to some extent Ayaan Hirsi Ali.[221] Several best-selling books by these authors, published between 2004 and 2007, form the basis for much of the discussion of “New” Atheism.

In best selling books, the religiously motivated terrorist events of 9/11 and the partially successful attempts of the Discovery Institute to change the American science curriculum to include creationist ideas, together with support for those ideas from George W. Bush in 2005, have been cited by authors such as Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, Stenger, and Hitchens as evidence of a need to move toward a more secular society.[223]

It is difficult to quantify the number of atheists in the world. Respondents to religious-belief polls may define “atheism” differently or draw different distinctions between atheism, non-religious beliefs, and non-theistic religious and spiritual beliefs.[224] A Hindu atheist would declare oneself as a Hindu, although also being an atheist at the same time.[225] A 2010 survey published in Encyclopdia Britannica found that the non-religious made up about 9.6% of the world’s population, and atheists about 2.0%, with a very large majority based in Asia. This figure did not include those who follow atheistic religions, such as some Buddhists.[226] The average annual change for atheism from 2000 to 2010 was 0.17%.[226] Broad estimates of those who have an absence of belief in a god range from 500 million to 1.1 billion people worldwide.[227][228]

According to global Win-Gallup International studies, 13% of respondents were “convinced atheists” in 2012,[229] 11% were “convinced atheists” in 2015,[27] and in 2017, 9% were “convinced atheists”.[28] As of 2012[update], the top 10 surveyed countries with people who viewed themselves as “convinced atheists” were China (47%), Japan (31%), the Czech Republic (30%), France (29%), South Korea (15%), Germany (15%), Netherlands (14%), Austria (10%), Iceland (10%), Australia (10%), and the Republic of Ireland (10%).[230]

According to the 2010 Eurobarometer Poll, the percentage of those polled who agreed with the statement “you don’t believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force” varied from a high percentage in France (40%), Czech Republic (37%), Sweden (34%), Netherlands (30%), and Estonia (29%); medium-high percentage in Germany (27%), Belgium (27%), UK (25%); to very low in Poland (5%), Greece (4%), Cyprus (3%), Malta (2%), and Romania (1%), with the European Union as a whole at 20%.[33] In a 2012 Eurobarometer poll on discrimination in the European Union, 16% of those polled considered themselves non believers/agnostics and 7% considered themselves atheists.[232]

According to a Pew Research Center survey in 2012 religiously unaffiliated (including agnostics and atheists) make up about 18% of Europeans.[233] According to the same survey, the religiously unaffiliated are the majority of the population only in two European countries: Czech Republic (75%) and Estonia (60%).[233]

There are another four countries or regions where the unaffiliated make up a majority of the population: North Korea (71%), Japan (57%), Hong Kong (56%), and China (52%).[233]

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 30% of Australians have “no religion”, a category that includes atheists.[234]

In a 2013 census, 42% of New Zealanders reported having no religion, up from 30% in 1991.[235] Men were more likely than women to report no religion.

According to the World Values Survey, 4.4% of Americans self-identified as atheists in 2014.[236] However, the same survey showed that 11.1% of all respondents stated “no” when asked if they believed in God.[236] In 1984, these same figures were 1.1% and 2.2%, respectively. According to a 2014 report by the Pew Research Center, 3.1% of the US adult population identify as atheist, up from 1.6% in 2007; and within the religiously unaffiliated (or “no religion”) demographic, atheists made up 13.6%.[237] According to the 2015 General Sociological Survey the number of atheists and agnostics in the US has remained relatively flat in the past 23 years since in 1991 only 2% identified as atheist and 4% identified as agnostic and in 2014 only 3% identified as atheists and 5% identified as agnostics.[238]

According to the American Family Survey, 34% was found to be religiously unaffiliated in 2017 (23% ‘nothing in particular’, 6% agnostic, 5% atheist).[239][240] According to the Pew Research Center, in 2014, 22.8% of the American population does not identify with a religion, including atheists (3.1%) and agnostics (4%).[241] According to a PRRI survey, 24% of the population is unaffiliated. Atheists and agnostics combined make up about a quarter of this unaffiliated demographic.[242]

In recent years, the profile of atheism has risen substantially in the Arab world.[243] In major cities across the region, such as Cairo, atheists have been organizing in cafs and social media, despite regular crackdowns from authoritarian governments.[243] A 2012 poll by Gallup International revealed that 5% of Saudis considered themselves to be “convinced atheists.”[243] However, very few young people in the Arab world have atheists in their circle of friends or acquaintances. According to one study, less than 1% did in Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Jordan; only 3% to 7% in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Palestine.[244] When asked whether they have “seen or heard traces of atheism in [their] locality, community, and society” only about 3% to 8% responded yes in all the countries surveyed. The only exception was the UAE, with a percentage of 51%.[244]

A study noted positive correlations between levels of education and secularism, including atheism, in America.[95] According to evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber, atheism blossoms in places where most people feel economically secure, particularly in the social democracies of Europe, as there is less uncertainty about the future with extensive social safety nets and better health care resulting in a greater quality of life and higher life expectancy. By contrast, in underdeveloped countries, there are virtually no atheists.[245]

In a 2008 study, researchers found intelligence to be negatively related to religious belief in Europe and the United States. In a sample of 137 countries, the correlation between national IQ and disbelief in God was found to be 0.60.[246] Evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber states that the reason atheists are more intelligent than religious people is better explained by social, environmental, and wealth factors which happen to correlate with loss of religious belief as well. He doubts that religion causes stupidity, noting that some highly intelligent people have also been religious, but he says it is plausible that higher intelligence correlates to rejection of improbable religious beliefs and that the situation between intelligence and rejection of religious beliefs is quite complex.[247]

In a 2017 study, it was shown that compared to religious individuals, atheists have higher reasoning capacities and this difference seemed to be unrelated to sociodemographic factors such as age, education and country of origin.[248]

Statistically, atheists are held in poor regard across the globe. Non-atheists, and possibly even fellow atheists, seem to implicitly view atheists as prone to exhibit immoral behaviors ranging from mass murder to not paying at a restaurant.[249][250][251] In addition, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center publication, 15% of French people, 45% of Americans, and 99% of Indonesians explicitly believe that a person must believe in God to be moral. Pew furthermore noted that, in a U.S. poll, atheists and Muslims tied for the lowest rating among the major religious demographics on a “feeling thermometer”.[252]

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Atheism – Wikipedia

What is Atheism? | American Atheists

Atheism is one thing: A lack of belief in gods.

Atheism isnot an affirmative belief that there is no god nor does it answer any other question about what a person believes. It is simply a rejection of the assertion that there are gods. Atheism is too oftendefined incorrectly as a belief system. To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.

Older dictionaries define atheism as a belief that there is no God. Clearly, theistic influence taints these definitions. The fact that dictionaries define Atheism as there is no God betrays the (mono)theistic influence. Without the (mono)theistic influence, the definition would at least read there are no gods.

While there are some religions that are atheistic (certain sects of Buddhism, for example), that does not mean that atheism is a religion. To put it in a more humorous way: If atheism is a religion, thennot collecting stamps is a hobby.

Despite the fact that atheism is not a religion, atheism is protected by many of the same Constitutional rights that protect religion. That, however, does not mean that atheism is itself a religion, only that our sincerely held (lack of) beliefs are protected in the same way as the religious beliefs of others. Similarly, many interfaith groups will include atheists. This, again, does not mean that atheism is a religious belief.

Some groups will use words like Agnostic, Humanist, Secular, Bright, Freethinker, or any number of other terms to self identify. Those words are perfectly fine as a self-identifier, but we strongly advocate using the word that people understand: Atheist. Dont use those other terms to disguise your atheism or to shy away from a word that some think has a negative connotation. We should be using the terminology that is most accurate and that answers the question that is actually being asked. We should use the term that binds all of us together.

If you call yourself a humanist, a freethinker, a bright, or even a cultural Catholic and lack belief in a god, you are an atheist. Dont shy away from the term. Embrace it.

Agnostic isnt just a weaker version of being an atheist. It answers a different question. Atheism is about what you believe. Agnosticism is about what you know.

In recent surveys, the Pew Research Center has grouped atheists, agnostics, and the unaffiliated into one category. The so-called Nones are the fastest growing religious demographic in the United States. Pewseparates out atheists from agnostics and the non-religious, but that is primarily a function of self-identification. Only about 5% of people call themselves atheists, but if you ask about belief in gods, 11% say they do not believe in gods. Those people are atheists, whether they choose to use the word or not.

A recent survey fromUniversity of Kentucky psychologists Will Gervais and Maxine Najle found that as many as 26% of Americans may be atheists. This study was designed to overcome the stigma associated with atheism and the potential for closeted atheists to abstain from outing themselves even when speaking anonymously to pollsters. The full study is awaiting publication inSocial Psychological and Personality Sciencejournal but a pre-print version is available here.

Even more people say that their definition of god is simply a unifying force between all people. Or that they arent sure what they believe.If you lack an active belief in gods, you are an atheist.

Being an atheist doesnt mean youre sure about every theological question, have answers to the way the world was created, or how evolution works. It just means that the assertion that gods exist has left you unconvinced.

Wishing that there was an afterlife, or a creator god, or a specific god doesnt mean youre not an atheist. Being an atheist is about what you believe and dont believe, not about what you wish to be true or would find comforting.

The only common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods. Some of the best debates we have ever had have been with fellow atheists. This is because atheists do not have a common belief system, sacred scripture or atheist Pope. This means atheists often disagree on many issues and ideas. Atheists come in a variety of shapes, colors, beliefs, convictions, and backgrounds. We are as unique as our fingerprints.

Atheists exist across the political spectrum. We are members of every race. We are members of the LGBTQ* community. There are atheists in urban, suburban, and rural communities and in every state of the nation.

We have more than 170 affiliates and local partners nationwide. If you are looking for a community, we strongly recommend reaching out to an affiliate in your area.

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What is Atheism? | American Atheists

Atheism – Britannica.com

Atheism, in general, the critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or spiritual beings. As such, it is usually distinguished from theism, which affirms the reality of the divine and often seeks to demonstrate its existence. Atheism is also distinguished from agnosticism, which leaves open the question whether there is a god or not, professing to find the questions unanswered or unanswerable.

The dialectic of the argument between forms of belief and unbelief raises questions concerning the most perspicuous delineation, or characterization, of atheism, agnosticism, and theism. It is necessary not only to probe the warrant for atheism but also carefully to consider what is the most adequate definition of atheism. This article will start with what have been some widely accepted, but still in various ways mistaken or misleading, definitions of atheism and move to more adequate formulations that better capture the full range of atheist thought and more clearly separate unbelief from belief and atheism from agnosticism. In the course of this delineation the section also will consider key arguments for and against atheism.

A central, common core of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is the affirmation of the reality of one, and only one, God. Adherents of these faiths believe that there is a God who created the universe out of nothing and who has absolute sovereignty over all his creation; this includes, of course, human beingswho are not only utterly dependent on this creative power but also sinful and who, or so the faithful must believe, can only make adequate sense of their lives by accepting, without question, Gods ordinances for them. The varieties of atheism are numerous, but all atheists reject such a set of beliefs.

Atheism, however, casts a wider net and rejects all belief in spiritual beings, and to the extent that belief in spiritual beings is definitive of what it means for a system to be religious, atheism rejects religion. So atheism is not only a rejection of the central conceptions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; it is, as well, a rejection of the religious beliefs of such African religions as that of the Dinka and the Nuer, of the anthropomorphic gods of classical Greece and Rome, and of the transcendental conceptions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Generally atheism is a denial of God or of the gods, and if religion is defined in terms of belief in spiritual beings, then atheism is the rejection of all religious belief.

It is necessary, however, if a tolerably adequate understanding of atheism is to be achieved, to give a reading to rejection of religious belief and to come to realize how the characterization of atheism as the denial of God or the gods is inadequate.

To say that atheism is the denial of God or the gods and that it is the opposite of theism, a system of belief that affirms the reality of God and seeks to demonstrate his existence, is inadequate in a number of ways. First, not all theologians who regard themselves as defenders of the Christian faith or of Judaism or Islam regard themselves as defenders of theism. The influential 20th-century Protestant theologian Paul Tillich, for example, regards the God of theism as an idol and refuses to construe God as a being, even a supreme being, among beings or as an infinite being above finite beings. God, for him, is being-itself, the ground of being and meaning. The particulars of Tillichs view are in certain ways idiosyncratic, as well as being obscure and problematic, but they have been influential; and his rejection of theism, while retaining a belief in God, is not eccentric in contemporary theology, though it may very well affront the plain believer.

Second, and more important, it is not the case that all theists seek to demonstrate or even in any way rationally to establish the existence of God. Many theists regard such a demonstration as impossible, and fideistic believers (e.g., Johann Hamann and Sren Kierkegaard) regard such a demonstration, even if it were possible, as undesirable, for in their view it would undermine faith. If it could be proved, or known for certain, that God exists, people would not be in a position to accept him as their sovereign Lord humbly on faith with all the risks that entails. There are theologians who have argued that for genuine faith to be possible God must necessarily be a hidden God, the mysterious ultimate reality, whose existence and authority must be accepted simply on faith. This fideistic view has not, of course, gone without challenge from inside the major faiths, but it is of sufficient importance to make the above characterization of atheism inadequate.

Finally, and most important, not all denials of God are denials of his existence. Believers sometimes deny God while not being at all in a state of doubt that God exists. They either willfully reject what they take to be his authority by not acting in accordance with what they take to be his will, or else they simply live their lives as if God did not exist. In this important way they deny him. Such deniers are not atheists (unless we wish, misleadingly, to call them practical atheists). They are not even agnostics. They do not question that God exists; they deny him in other ways. An atheist denies the existence of God. As it is frequently said, atheists believe that it is false that God exists, or that Gods existence is a speculative hypothesis of an extremely low order of probability.

Yet it remains the case that such a characterization of atheism is inadequate in other ways. For one it is too narrow. There are atheists who believe that the very concept of God, at least in developed and less anthropomorphic forms of Judeo-Christianity and Islam, is so incoherent that certain central religious claims, such as God is my creator to whom everything is owed, are not genuine truth-claims; i.e., the claims could not be either true or false. Believers hold that such religious propositions are true, some atheists believe that they are false, and there are agnostics who cannot make up their minds whether to believe that they are true or false. (Agnostics think that the propositions are one or the other but believe that it is not possible to determine which.) But all three are mistaken, some atheists argue, for such putative truth-claims are not sufficiently intelligible to be genuine truth-claims that are either true or false. In reality there is nothing in them to be believed or disbelieved, though there is for the believer the powerful and humanly comforting illusion that there is. Such an atheism, it should be added, rooted for some conceptions of God in considerations about intelligibility and what it makes sense to say, has been strongly resisted by some pragmatists and logical empiricists.

While the above considerations about atheism and intelligibility show the second characterization of atheism to be too narrow, it is also the case that this characterization is in a way too broad. For there are fideistic believers, who quite unequivocally believe that when looked at objectively the proposition that God exists has a very low probability weight. They believe in God not because it is probable that he existsthey think it more probable that he does notbut because belief is thought by them to be necessary to make sense of human life. The second characterization of atheism does not distinguish a fideistic believer (a Blaise Pascal or a Soren Kierkegaard) or an agnostic (a T.H. Huxley or a Sir Leslie Stephen) from an atheist such as Baron dHolbach. All believe that there is a God and God protects humankind, however emotionally important they may be, are speculative hypotheses of an extremely low order of probability. But this, since it does not distinguish believers from nonbelievers and does not distinguish agnostics from atheists, cannot be an adequate characterization of atheism.

It may be retorted that to avoid apriorism and dogmatic atheism the existence of God should be regarded as a hypothesis. There are no ontological (purely a priori) proofs or disproofs of Gods existence. It is not reasonable to rule in advance that it makes no sense to say that God exists. What the atheist can reasonably claim is that there is no evidence that there is a God, and against that background he may very well be justified in asserting that there is no God. It has been argued, however, that it is simply dogmatic for an atheist to assert that no possible evidence could ever give one grounds for believing in God. Instead, atheists should justify their unbelief by showing (if they can) how the assertion is well-taken that there is no evidence that would warrant a belief in God. If atheism is justified, the atheist will have shown that in fact there is no adequate evidence for the belief that God exists, but it should not be part of his task to try to show that there could not be any evidence for the existence of God. If the atheist could somehow survive the death of his present body (assuming that such talk makes sense) and come, much to his surprise, to stand in the presence of God, his answer should be, Oh! Lord, you didnt give me enough evidence! He would have been mistaken, and realize that he had been mistaken, in his judgment that God did not exist. Still, he would not have been unjustified, in the light of the evidence available to him during his earthly life, in believing as he did. Not having any such postmortem experiences of the presence of God (assuming that he could have them), what he should say, as things stand and in the face of the evidence he actually has and is likely to be able to get, is that it is false that God exists. (Every time one legitimately asserts that a proposition is false one need not be certain that it is false. Knowing with certainty is not a pleonasm.) The claim is that this tentative posture is the reasonable position for the atheist to take.

An atheist who argues in this manner may also make a distinctive burden-of-proof argument. Given that God (if there is one) is by definition a very recherch realitya reality that must be (for there to be such a reality) transcendent to the worldthe burden of proof is not on the atheist to give grounds for believing that there is no reality of that order. Rather, the burden of proof is on the believer to give some evidence for Gods existencei.e., that there is such a reality. Given what God must be, if there is a God, the theist needs to present the evidence, for such a very strange reality. He needs to show that there is more in the world than is disclosed by common experience. The empirical method, and the empirical method alone, such an atheist asserts, affords a reliable method for establishing what is in fact the case. To the claim of the theist that there are in addition to varieties of empirical facts spiritual facts or transcendent facts, such as it being the case that there is a supernatural, self-existent, eternal power, the atheist can assert that such facts have not been shown.

It will, however, be argued by such atheists, against what they take to be dogmatic aprioristic atheists, that the atheist should be a fallibilist and remain open-minded about what the future may bring. There may, after all, be such transcendent facts, such metaphysical realities. It is not that such a fallibilistic atheist is really an agnostic who believes that he is not justified in either asserting that God exists or denying that he exists and that what he must reasonably do is suspend belief. On the contrary, such an atheist believes that he has very good grounds indeed, as things stand, for denying the existence of God. But he will, on the second conceptualization of what it is to be an atheist, not deny that things could be otherwise and that, if they were, he would be justified in believing in God or at least would no longer be justified in asserting that it is false that there is a God. Using reliable empirical techniques, proven methods for establishing matters of fact, the fallibilistic atheist has found nothing in the universe to make a belief that God exists justifiable or even, everything considered, the most rational option of the various options. He therefore draws the atheistical conclusion (also keeping in mind his burden-of-proof argument) that God does not exist. But he does not dogmatically in a priori fashion deny the existence of God. He remains a thorough and consistent fallibilist.

Such a form of atheism (the atheism of those pragmatists who are also naturalistic humanists), though less inadequate than the first formation of atheism, is still inadequate. God in developed forms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is not, like Zeus or Odin, construed in a relatively plain anthropomorphic way. Nothing that could count as God in such religions could possibly be observed, literally encountered, or detected in the universe. God, in such a conception, is utterly transcendent to the world; he is conceived of as pure spirit, an infinite individual who created the universe out of nothing and who is distinct from the universe. Such a realitya reality that is taken to be an ultimate mysterycould not be identified as objects or processes in the universe can be identified. There can be no pointing at or to God, no ostensive teaching of God, to show what is meant. The word God can only be taught intralinguistically. God is taught to someone who does not understand what the word means by the use of descriptions such as the maker of the universe, the eternal, utterly independent being upon whom all other beings depend, the first cause, the sole ultimate reality, or a self-caused being. For someone who does not understand such descriptions, there can be no understanding of the concept of God. But the key terms of such descriptions are themselves no more capable of ostensive definition (of having their referents pointed out) than is God, where that term is not, like Zeus, construed anthropomorphically. (That does not mean that anyone has actually pointed to Zeus or observed Zeus but that one knows what it would be like to do so.)

In coming to understand what is meant by God in such discourses, it must be understood that God, whatever else he is, is a being that could not possibly be seen or be in any way else observed. He could not be anything material or empirical, and he is said by believers to be an intractable mystery. A nonmysterious God would not be the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

This, in effect, makes it a mistake to claim that the existence of God can rightly be treated as a hypothesis and makes it a mistake to claim that, by the use of the experimental method or some other determinate empirical method, the existence of God can be confirmed or disconfirmed as can the existence of an empirical reality. The retort made by some atheists, who also like pragmatists remain thoroughgoing fallibilists, is that such a proposed way of coming to know, or failing to come to know, God makes no sense for anyone who understands what kind of reality God is supposed to be. Anything whose existence could be so verified would not be the God of Judeo-Christianity. God could not be a reality whose presence is even faintly adumbrated in experience, for anything that could even count as the God of Judeo-Christianity must be transcendent to the world. Anything that could actually be encountered or experienced could not be God.

At the very heart of a religion such as Christianity there stands a metaphysical belief in a reality that is alleged to transcend the empirical world. It is the metaphysical belief that there is an eternal, ever-present creative source and sustainer of the universe. The problem is how it is possible to know or reasonably believe that such a reality exists or even to understand what such talk is about.

It is not that God is like a theoretical entity in physics such as a proton or a neutrino. They are, where they are construed as realities rather than as heuristically useful conceptual fictions, thought to be part of the actual furniture of the universe. They are not said to be transcendent to the universe, but rather are invisible entities in the universe logically on a par with specks of dust and grains of sand, only much, much smaller. They are on the same continuum; they are not a different kind of reality. It is only the case that they, as a matter of fact, cannot be seen. Indeed no one has an understanding of what it would be like to see a proton or a neutrinoin that way they are like Godand no provision is made in physical theory for seeing them. Still, there is no logical ban on seeing them as there is on seeing God. They are among the things in the universe, and thus, though they are invisible, they can be postulated as causes of things that are seen. Since this is so it becomes at least logically possible indirectly to verify by empirical methods the existence of such realities. It is also the case that there is no logical ban on establishing what is necessary to establish a causal connection, namely a constant conjunction of two discrete empirical realities. But no such constant conjunction can be established or even intelligibly asserted between God and the universe, and thus the existence of God is not even indirectly verifiable. God is not a discrete empirical thing or being, and the universe is not a gigantic thing or process over and above the things and processes in the universe of which it makes sense to say that the universe has or had a cause. But then there is no way, directly or indirectly, that even the probability that there is a God could be empirically established.

Read more here:

Atheism – Britannica.com

atheism r/atheism – reddit

Recently, there have been a lot of folks whining about how they got their feelings hurt because this sub is too critical of their religion….and naturally, they resort to blasting us as being a “hate sub” who engages in “hate speech” against the religious.

This couldn’t be more incorrect.

Criticizing priests for raping children is not hate speech.

Blasting the Catholic church for covering for pedophiles for decades is not hate speech.

Blasting folks for still donating to an organization that admits that it has, for decades, covered for pedophiles is not hate speech.

Being the first to shout “fuck militant Islam” after a terrorist attack is NOT hate speech.

Telling the world that Nazis are fucking scum and deserve the guillotine after a Nazi shoots up a mosque is NOT hate speech.

Hate speech is when a Christian pastor claims gays should be executed for simply being gay.

Hate speech is when a Catholic compares gay folks to pedophiles while protecting actual pedophiles within the ranks of the church.

Hate speech is saying that all atheists are immoral and deserve to be shunned for their beliefs.

If folks would learn the difference between harsh criticism and hate speech, maybe they wouldn’t be so butthurt by this sub.

edit: yes, I agree with many comments pointing out that its always appropriate to say fuck Nazis.

See more here:

atheism r/atheism – reddit

History of atheism – Wikipedia

Atheism (derived from the Ancient Greek atheos meaning “without gods; godless; secular; denying or disdaining the gods, especially officially sanctioned gods”[1]) is the absence or rejection of the belief that deities exist. The English term was used at least as early as the sixteenth century and atheistic ideas and their influence have a longer history. Over the centuries, atheists have supported their lack of belief in gods through a variety of avenues, including scientific, philosophical, and ideological notions.

In the East, a contemplative life not centered on the idea of deities began in the sixth century BCE with the rise of Jainism, Buddhism, and various sects of Hinduism in India, and of Taoism in China. Within the astika (“orthodox”) schools of Hindu philosophy, the Samkhya and the early Mimamsa school did not accept a creator deity in their respective systems. The Vedas of Ceylon admitted only the possibility that deities might exist but went no further. Neither prayers nor sacrifices were suggested in any way by the tribes.[2]

Philosophical atheist thought began to appear in Europe and Asia in the sixth or fifth century BCE. Will Durant, in his The Story of Civilization, explained that certain pygmy tribes found in Africa were observed to have no identifiable cults or rites. There were no totems, no deities, and no spirits. Their dead were buried without special ceremonies or accompanying items and received no further attention. They even appeared to lack simple superstitions, according to travelers’ reports.

In the East, a contemplative life not centered on the idea of deities began in the sixth century BCE with the rise of Jainism, Buddhism, and various sects of Hinduism in India, and of Taoism in China. These religions offered a philosophic and salvific path not involving deity worship. Deities are not seen as necessary to the salvific goal of the early Buddhist tradition, their reality is explicitly questioned and often rejected. There is a fundamental incompatibility between the notion of gods and basic Buddhist principles, at least in some interpretations.[3]

Within the astika (“orthodox”) schools of Hindu philosophy, the Samkhya and the early Mimamsa school did not accept a creator-deity in their respective systems.

The principal text of the Samkhya school, the Samkhya Karika, was written by Ishvara Krishna in the fourth century CE, by which time it was already a dominant Hindu school. The origins of the school are much older and are lost in legend. The school was both dualistic and atheistic. They believed in a dual existence of Prakriti (“nature”) and Purusha (“spirit”) and had no place for an Ishvara (“God”) in its system, arguing that the existence of Ishvara cannot be proved and hence cannot be admitted to exist. The school dominated Hindu philosophy in its day, but declined after the tenth century, although commentaries were still being written as late as the sixteenth century.

The foundational text for the Mimamsa school is the Purva Mimamsa Sutras of Jaimini (c. third to first century BCE). The school reached its height c. 700 CE, and for some time in the Early Middle Ages exerted near-dominant influence on learned Hindu thought. The Mimamsa school saw their primary enquiry was into the nature of dharma based on close interpretation of the Vedas. Its core tenets were ritualism (orthopraxy), antiasceticism and antimysticism. The early Mimamsakas believed in an adrishta (“unseen”) that is the result of performing karmas (“works”) and saw no need for an Ishvara (“God”) in their system. Mimamsa persists in some subschools of Hinduism today.

The thoroughly materialistic and antireligious philosophical Crvka school that originated in India with the Brhaspatya-stras (final centuries BCE) is probably the most explicitly atheist school of philosophy in the region. The school grew out of the generic skepticism in the Mauryan period. Already in the sixth century BCE, Ajita Kesakambalin, was quoted in Pali scriptures by the Buddhists with whom he was debating, teaching that “with the break-up of the body, the wise and the foolish alike are annihilated, destroyed. They do not exist after death.”[4]Crvkan philosophy is now known principally from its Astika and Buddhist opponents. The proper aim of a Crvkan, according to these sources, was to live a prosperous, happy, productive life in this world. The Tattvopaplavasimha of Jayarashi Bhatta (c. 8th century) is sometimes cited as a surviving Carvaka text. The school appears to have died out sometime around the fifteenth century.

The nonadherence[5] to the notion of a supreme deity or a prime mover is seen by many as a key distinction between Buddhism and other religions. While Buddhist traditions do not deny the existence of supernatural beings (many are discussed in Buddhist scripture), it does not ascribe powers, in the typical Western sense, for creation, salvation or judgement, to the “gods”, however, praying to enlightened deities is sometimes seen as leading to some degree of spiritual merit.

Buddhists accept the existence of beings in higher realms, known as devas, but they, like humans, are said to be suffering in samsara,[6] and not particularly wiser than we are. In fact the Buddha is often portrayed as a teacher of the deities,[7] and superior to them.[8] Despite this they do have some enlightened Devas in the path of buddhahood.

Jains see their tradition as eternal. Organized Jainism can be dated back to Parshva who lived in the ninth century BCE, and, more reliably, to Mahavira, a teacher of the sixth century BCE, and a contemporary of the Buddha. Jainism is a dualistic religion with the universe made up of matter and souls. The universe, and the matter and souls within it, is eternal and uncreated, and there is no omnipotent creator deity in Jainism. There are, however, “gods” and other spirits who exist within the universe and Jains believe that the soul can attain “godhood”; however, none of these supernatural beings exercise any sort of creative activity or have the capacity or ability to intervene in answers to prayers.

In Western classical Antiquity, theism was the fundamental belief that supported the legitimacy of the state (the polis, later the Roman Empire). Historically, any person who did not believe in any deity supported by the state was fair game to accusations of atheism, a capital crime. For political reasons, Socrates in Athens (399 BCE) was accused of being atheos (“refusing to acknowledge the gods recognized by the state”).[9]

Christians in Rome were also considered subversive to the state religion and persecuted as atheists.[10] Thus, charges of atheism, meaning the subversion of religion, were often used similarly to charges of heresy and impiety as a political tool to eliminate enemies.

The roots of Western philosophy began in the Greek world in the sixth century BCE. The first Hellenic philosophers were not atheists, but they attempted to explain the world in terms of the processes of nature instead of by mythological accounts. Thus lightning was the result of “wind breaking out and parting the clouds”,[11] and earthquakes occurred when “the earth is considerably altered by heating and cooling”.[12] The early philosophers often criticized traditional religious notions. Xenophanes (6th century BCE) famously said that if cows and horses had hands, “then horses would draw the forms of gods like horses, and cows like cows”.[13] Another philosopher, Anaxagoras (5th century BCE), claimed that the Sun was “a fiery mass, larger than the Peloponnese”; a charge of impiety was brought against him, and he was forced to flee Athens.[14]

The first fully materialistic philosophy was produced by the atomists Leucippus and Democritus (5th century BCE), who attempted to explain the formation and development of the world in terms of the chance movements of atoms moving in infinite space.

Euripides (480406 BCE), in his play Bellerophon, had the eponymous main character say:

Doth some one say that there be gods above?There are not; no, there are not. Let no fool,Led by the old false fable, thus deceive you.[15]

A fragment from the lost satyr play Sisyphus, which has been attributed to both Critias and Euripides, claims that a clever man invented “the fear of the gods” in order to frighten people into behaving morally.[16][17][18][17][19] This statement, however, originally did not mean that the gods themselves were nonexistent, but rather that their powers were a hoax.[19]

Aristophanes (ca. 448380 BCE), known for his satirical style, wrote in his play the Knights:”Shrines! Shrines! Surely you don’t believe in the gods. What’s your argument? Where’s your proof?”[20]

In the fifth century BCE the Sophists began to question many of the traditional assumptions of Greek culture. Prodicus of Ceos was said to have believed that “it was the things which were serviceable to human life that had been regarded as gods”,[21] and Protagoras stated at the beginning of a book that “With regard to the gods I am unable to say either that they exist or do not exist”.[22]

In the late fifth century BCE, the Greek lyric poet Diagoras of Melos was sentenced to death in Athens under the charge of being a “godless person” () after he made fun of the Eleusinian Mysteries,[23][17][17][24][25] but he fled the city to escape punishment.[23][17][24] Later writers have cited Diagoras as the “first atheist”,[26][27] but he was probably not an atheist in the modern sense of the word.[17] Somewhat later (c. 300 BCE), the Cyrenaic philosopher Theodorus of Cyrene is supposed to have denied that gods exist and wrote a book On the Gods expounding his views.

Euhemerus (c. 330260 BCE) published his view that the gods were only the deified rulers, conquerors, and founders of the past, and that their cults and religions were in essence the continuation of vanished kingdoms and earlier political structures.[28] Although Euhemerus was later criticized for having “spread atheism over the whole inhabited earth by obliterating the gods”,[29] his worldview was not atheist in a strict and theoretical sense, because he differentiated that the primordial deities were “eternal and imperishable”.[30] Some historians have argued that he merely aimed at reinventing the old religions in the light of the beginning of deification of political rulers such as Alexander the Great.[31] Euhemerus’ work was translated into Latin by Ennius, possibly to mythographically pave the way for the planned divinization of Scipio Africanus in Rome.[32]

The most important Greek thinker in the development of atheism was Epicurus (c. 300 BCE).[19] Drawing on the ideas of Democritus and the Atomists, he espoused a materialistic philosophy according to which the universe was governed by the laws of chance without the need for divine intervention (see scientific determinism).[33] Although Epicurus still maintained that the gods existed,[19][33] he believed that they were uninterested in human affairs.[33] The aim of the Epicureans was to attain ataraxia (“peace of mind”) and one important way of doing this was by exposing fear of divine wrath as irrational. The Epicureans also denied the existence of an afterlife and the need to fear divine punishment after death.[33]

One of the most eloquent expressions of Epicurean thought is Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things (1st century BCE) in which he held that gods exist but argued that religious fear was one the chief cause of human unhappiness and that the gods did not involve themselves in the world.[34][35] The Epicureans also denied the existence of an afterlife and hence dismissed the fear of death.[36]

Epicurians denied being atheist but their critics insisted. One explanation for this kind of crypto-atheism, is that they were afraid of persecutions.

Epicureans were not persecuted, but their teachings were controversial and were harshly attacked by the mainstream schools of Stoicism and Neoplatonism. The movement remained marginal, and gradually died out by the end of the Roman Empire.[citation needed]

The ancient world was not all roses for atheists though. After some drawbacks in the peloponnesian war, especially after the failed Sicilian Expedition, society took a conservative turn and laws against atheism and foreign religions were promptly taken (Decree of Diopeithes). Anaxagoras was the first to be exiled under this new law.

In medieval Islam, Muslim scholars recognized the idea of atheism and frequently attacked unbelievers, although they were unable to name any atheists.[39] When individuals were accused of atheism, they were usually viewed as heretics rather than proponents of atheism.[40] However, outspoken rationalists and atheists existed, one notable figure being the ninth-century scholar Ibn al-Rawandi, who criticized the notion of religious prophecy, including that of Muhammad, and maintained that religious dogmas were not acceptable to reason and must be rejected.[41] Other critics of religion in the Islamic world include the physician and philosopher Abu Bakr al-Razi (865925), the poet Al-Maarri (9731057), and the scholar Abu Isa al-Warraq (fl. 9th century). Al-Maarri, for example, wrote and taught that religion itself was a “fable invented by the ancients”[42] and that humans were “of two sorts: those with brains, but no religion, and those with religion, but no brains.”[43]

The titular character of the Icelandic saga Hrafnkell, written in the late thirteenth century, says, “I think it is folly to have faith in gods”. After his temple to Freyr is burnt and he is enslaved, he vows never to perform another sacrifice, a position described in the sagas as golauss, “godless”. Jacob Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology observes,

It is remarkable that Old Norse legend occasionally mentions certain men who, turning away in utter disgust and doubt from the heathen faith, placed their reliance on their own strength and virtue. Thus in the Slar lio 17 we read of Vbogi and Rdey sik au tru, “in themselves they trusted”,[44]

citing several other examples, including two kings. Subsequent to Grimm’s investigation, scholars including J.R.R. Tolkien and E.O.G. Turville-Petre have identified the golauss ethic as a stream of atheistic and/or humanistic philosophy in the Icelandic sagas. People described as golauss expressed not only a lack of faith in deities, but also a pragmatic belief in their own faculties of strength, reason and virtue and in social codes of honor independent of any supernatural agency.

In Christian Europe, people were persecuted for heresy, especially in countries where the Inquisition was active. Prominent examples of dissent included the Cathers and the Waldensians. These sects, however antagonistic to the Church, are not examples of atheism. While rebellions against the Church occurred, none could be considered exactly atheist.[45]

Another phenomenon in the Middle Ages was proofs of the existence of God. Both Anselm of Canterbury, and later, William of Ockham acknowledge adversaries who doubt the existence of God. Thomas Aquinas’ five proofs of God’s existence and Anselm’s ontological argument implicitly acknowledged the validity of the question about God’s existence.[46] Frederick Copleston, however, explains that Thomas laid out his proofs not to counter atheism, but to address certain early Christian writers such as John of Damascus, who asserted that knowledge of God’s existence was naturally innate in man, based on his natural desire for happiness.[47] Thomas stated that although there is desire for happiness which forms the basis for a proof of God’s existence in man, further reflection is required to understand that this desire is only fulfilled in God, not for example in wealth or sensual pleasure.[47]

The charge of atheism was used to attack political or religious opponents. Pope Boniface VIII, because he insisted on the political supremacy of the church, was accused by his enemies after his death of holding (unlikely) positions such as “neither believing in the immortality nor incorruptibility of the soul, nor in a life to come”.[48]

John Arnold’s Belief and Unbelief in Medieval Europe discusses individuals who were indifferent to the Church and did not participate in faith practices. Arnold notes that while these examples could be perceived as simply people being lazy, it demonstrates that “belief was not universally fervent”. Arnold enumerates examples of people not attending church, and even those who excluded the Church from their marriage. Disbelief, Arnold argues, stemmed from boredom. Arnold argues that while some blasphemy implies the existence of God, laws demonstrate that there were also cases of blasphemy that directly attacked articles of faith. Italian preachers in the fourteenth century also warned of unbelievers and people who lacked belief.[49]

During the time of the Renaissance and the Reformation, criticism of the religious establishment became more frequent in predominantly Christian countries, but did not amount to atheism, per se.

The term athisme was coined in France in the sixteenth century. The word “atheist” appears in English books at least as early as 1566.[50]The concept of atheism re-emerged initially as a reaction to the intellectual and religious turmoil of the Age of Enlightenment and the Reformation, as a charge used by those who saw the denial of god and godlessness in the controversial positions being put forward by others. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the word ‘atheist’ was used exclusively as an insult; nobody wanted to be regarded as an atheist.[51] Although one overtly atheistic compendium known as the Theophrastus redivivus was published by an anonymous author in the seventeenth century, atheism was an epithet implying a lack of moral restraint.[52]

According to Geoffrey Blainey, the Reformation in Europe had paved the way for atheists by attacking the authority of the Catholic Church, which in turn “quietly inspired other thinkers to attack the authority of the new Protestant churches”. Deism gained influence in France, Prussia and England, and proffered belief in a noninterventionist deity, but “while some deists were atheists in disguise, most were religious, and by today’s standards would be called true believers”. The scientific and mathematical discoveries of such as Copernicus, Newton and Descartes sketched a pattern of natural laws that lent weight to this new outlook[53] Blainey wrote that the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza was “probably the first well known ‘semi-atheist’ to announce himself in a Christian land in the modern era”. Spinoza had been expelled from his synagogue for his protests against the teachings of its rabbis and for failing to attend Saturday services. He believed that God did not interfere in the running of the world, but rather that natural laws explained the workings of the universe. In 1661 he published his Short Treatise on God, but he was not a popular figure for the first century following his death: “An unbeliever was expected to be a rebel in almost everything and wicked in all his ways”, wrote Blainey, “but here was a virtuous one. He lived the good life and made his living in a useful way. . . . It took courage to be a Spinoza or even one of his supporters. If a handful of scholars agreed with his writings, they did not so say in public”.[54]

How dangerous it was to be accused of being an atheist at this time is illustrated by the examples of tienne Dolet, who was strangled and burned in 1546, and Giulio Cesare Vanini, who received a similar fate in 1619. In 1689 the Polish nobleman Kazimierz yszczyski, who had denied the existence of God in his philosophical treatise De non-existentia Dei, was imprisoned unlawfully; despite Warsaw Confederation tradition and king Sobieski’s intercession, yszczyski was condemned to death for atheism and beheaded in Warsaw after his tongue was pulled out with a burning iron and his hands slowly burned. Similarly in 1766, the French nobleman Franois-Jean de la Barre, was tortured, beheaded, and his body burned for alleged vandalism of a crucifix, a case that became a cause clbre because Voltaire tried unsuccessfully to have the judgment reversed.

The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (15881679) was also accused of atheism, but he denied it. His theism was unusual, in that he held god to be material. Even earlier, the British playwright and poet Christopher Marlowe (15631593) was accused of atheism when a tract denying the divinity of Christ was found in his home. Before he could finish defending himself against the charge, Marlowe was murdered.

In early modern times, the first explicit atheist known by name was the German-languaged Danish critic of religion Matthias Knutzen (1646after 1674), who published three atheist writings in 1674.[55]

Kazimierz yszczyski, a Polish philosopher (executed in 1689, following a hasty and controversial trial) demonstrated strong atheism in his work De non-existentia Dei:

II the Man is a creator of God, and God is a concept and creation of a Man. Hence the people are architects and engineers of God and God is not a true being, but a being existing only within mind, being chimaeric by its nature, because a God and a chimaera are the same.[56]

IV simple folk are cheated by the more cunning with the fabrication of God for their own oppression; whereas the same oppression is shielded by the folk in a way, that if the wise attempted to free them by the truth, they would be quelled by the very people.[57][58]

While not gaining converts from large portions of the population, versions of deism became influential in certain intellectual circles. Jean Jacques Rousseau challenged the Christian notion that human beings had been tainted by sin since the Garden of Eden, and instead proposed that humans were originally good, only later to be corrupted by civilization. The influential figure of Voltaire, spread deistic notions of to a wide audience. “After the French Revolution and its outbursts of atheism, Voltaire was widely condemned as one of the causes”, wrote Blainey, “Nonetheless, his writings did concede that fear of God was an essential policeman in a disorderly world: ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him’, wrote Voltaire”.[59]

Arguably the first book in modern times solely dedicated to promoting atheism was written by French Catholic priest Jean Meslier (16641729), whose posthumously published lengthy philosophical essay (part of the original title: Thoughts and Feelings of Jean Meslier … Clear and Evident Demonstrations of the Vanity and Falsity of All the Religions of the World[60]) rejects the concept of god (both in the Christian and also in the Deistic sense), the soul, miracles and the discipline of theology.[61] Philosopher Michel Onfray states that Meslier’s work marks the beginning of “the history of true atheism”.[61]

By the 1770s, atheism in some predominantly Christian countries was ceasing to be a dangerous accusation that required denial, and was evolving into a position openly avowed by some. The first open denial of the existence of God and avowal of atheism since classical times may be that of Baron d’Holbach (17231789) in his 1770 work, The System of Nature. D’Holbach was a Parisian social figure who conducted a famous salon widely attended by many intellectual notables of the day, including Denis Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Hume, Adam Smith, and Benjamin Franklin. Nevertheless, his book was published under a pseudonym, and was banned and publicly burned by the Executioner.[citation needed] Diderot, one of the Enlightenment’s most prominent philosophes and editor-in-chief of the Encyclopdie, which sought to challenge religious, particularly Catholic, dogma said, “Reason is to the estimation of the philosophe what grace is to the Christian”, he wrote. “Grace determines the Christian’s action; reason the philosophe’s”.[62] Diderot was briefly imprisoned for his writing, some of which was banned and burned.[citation needed]

In Scotland, David Hume produced a six volume history of England in 1754, which gave little attention to God. He implied that if God existed he was impotent in the face of European upheaval. Hume ridiculed miracles, but walked a careful line so as to avoid being too dismissive of Christianity. With Hume’s presence, Edinburgh gained a reputation as a “haven of atheism”, alarming many ordinary Britons.[63]

The culte de la Raison developed during the uncertain period 179294 (Years I and III of the Revolution), following the September massacres, when Revolutionary France was rife with fears of internal and foreign enemies. Several Parisian churches were transformed into Temples of Reason, notably the Church of Saint-Paul Saint-Louis in the Marais. The churches were closed in May 1793 and more securely 24 November 1793, when the Catholic Mass was forbidden.

Blainey wrote that “atheism seized the pedestal in revolutionary France in the 1790s. The secular symbols replaced the cross. In the cathedral of Notre Dame the altar, the holy place, was converted into a monument to Reason…” During the Terror of 179293, France’s Christian calendar was abolished, monasteries, convents and church properties were seized and monks and nuns expelled. Historic churches were dismantled.[64] The Cult of Reason was a creed based on atheism devised during the French Revolution by Jacques Hbert, Pierre Gaspard Chaumette, and their supporters. It was stopped by Maximilien Robespierre, a Deist, who instituted the Cult of the Supreme Being.[65] Both cults were the outcome of the “de-Christianization” of French society during the Revolution and part of the Reign of Terror.

The Cult of Reason was celebrated in a carnival atmosphere of parades, ransacking of churches, ceremonious iconoclasm, in which religious and royal images were defaced, and ceremonies which substituted the “martyrs of the Revolution” for Christian martyrs. The earliest public demonstrations took place en province, outside Paris, notably by Hbertists in Lyon, but took a further radical turn with the Fte de la Libert (“Festival of Liberty”) at Notre Dame de Paris, 10 November (20 Brumaire) 1793, in ceremonies devised and organised by Pierre-Gaspard Chaumette.

The pamphlet Answer to Dr. Priestley’s Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever (1782) is considered to be the first published declaration of atheism in Britainplausibly the first in English (as distinct from covert or cryptically atheist works). The otherwise unknown William Hammon (possibly a pseudonym) signed the preface and postscript as editor of the work, and the anonymous main text is attributed to Matthew Turner (d. 1788?), a Liverpool physician who may have known Priestley. Historian of atheism David Berman has argued strongly for Turner’s authorship, but also suggested that there may have been two authors.[66]

The French Revolution of 1789 catapulted atheistic thought into political notability in some Western countries, and opened the way for the nineteenth century movements of Rationalism, Freethought, and Liberalism. Born in 1792, Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a child of the Age of Enlightenment, was expelled from England’s Oxford University in 1811 for submitting to the Dean an anonymous pamphlet that he wrote entitled, The Necessity of Atheism. This pamphlet is considered by scholars as the first atheistic tract published in the English language. An early atheistic influence in Germany was The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach (18041872). He influenced other German nineteenth century atheistic thinkers like Karl Marx, Max Stirner, Arthur Schopenhauer (17881860), and Friedrich Nietzsche (18441900).

The freethinker Charles Bradlaugh (18331891) was repeatedly elected to the British Parliament, but was not allowed to take his seat after his request to affirm rather than take the religious oath was turned down (he then offered to take the oath, but this too was denied him). After Bradlaugh was re-elected for the fourth time, a new Speaker allowed Bradlaugh to take the oath and permitted no objections.[67] He became the first outspoken atheist to sit in Parliament, where he participated in amending the Oaths Act.[68]

In 1844, Karl Marx (18181883), an atheistic political economist, wrote in his Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” Marx believed that people turn to religion in order to dull the pain caused by the reality of social situations; that is, Marx suggests religion is an attempt at transcending the material state of affairs in a societythe pain of class oppressionby effectively creating a dream world, rendering the religious believer amenable to social control and exploitation in this world while they hope for relief and justice in life after death. In the same essay, Marx states, “[m]an creates religion, religion does not create man”.[69]

Friedrich Nietzsche, a prominent nineteenth century philosopher, is well known for coining the aphorism “God is dead” (German: “Gott ist tot”); incidentally the phrase was not spoken by Nietzsche directly, but was used as a dialogue for the characters in his works. Nietzsche argued that Christian theism as a belief system had been a moral foundation of the Western world, and that the rejection and collapse of this foundation as a result of modern thinking (the death of God) would naturally cause a rise in nihilism or the lack of values. While Nietzsche was staunchly atheistic, he was also concerned about the negative effects of nihilism on humanity. As such, he called for a re-evaluation of old values and a creation of new ones, hoping that in doing so humans would achieve a higher state he labeled the Overman (bermensch).

Atheist feminism also began in the nineteenth century. Atheist feminists oppose religion as a main source of female oppression and gender inequality, believing that the majority of religions are sexist and oppressive to women.[70]

Atheism in the twentieth century found recognition in a wide variety of other, broader philosophies in the Western tradition, such as existentialism, Objectivism,[71] secular humanism, nihilism, logical positivism, Marxism, anarchism, feminism,[72] and the general scientific and rationalist movement. Neopositivism and analytical philosophy discarded classical rationalism and metaphysics in favor of strict empiricism and epistemological nominalism. Proponents such as Bertrand Russell emphatically rejected belief in God. In his early work, Ludwig Wittgenstein attempted to separate metaphysical and supernatural language from rational discourse. H. L. Mencken sought to debunk both the idea that science and religion are compatible, and the idea that science is a dogmatic belief system just like any religion.[73]

A. J. Ayer asserted the unverifiability and meaninglessness of religious statements, citing his adherence to the empirical sciences. The structuralism of Lvi-Strauss sourced religious language to the human subconscious, denying its transcendental meaning. J. N. Findlay and J. J. C. Smart argued that the existence of God is not logically necessary. Naturalists and materialists such as John Dewey considered the natural world to be the basis of everything, denying the existence of God or immortality.[74][75]

The historian Geoffrey Blainey wrote that during the twentieth century, atheists in Western societies became more active and even militant, though they often “relied essentially on arguments used by numerous radical Christians since at least the eighteenth century”. They rejected the idea of an interventionist God, and said that Christianity promoted war and violence, though “the most ruthless leaders in the Second World War were atheists and secularists who were intensely hostile to both Judaism and Christianity” and “Later massive atrocities were committed in the East by those ardent atheists, Pol Pot and Mao Zedong”. Some scientists were meanwhile articulating a view that as the world becomes more educated, religion will be superseded.[76]

Often, the state’s opposition to religion took more violent forms. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn documents widespread persecution, imprisonments and torture of believers in his seminal work The Gulag Archipelago. Consequently, religious organizations, such as the Catholic Church, were among the most stringent opponents of communist regimes. In some cases, the initial strict measures of control and opposition to religious activity were gradually relaxed in communist states. Pope Pius XI followed his encyclicals challenging the new right-wing creeds of Italian Fascism (Non abbiamo bisogno, 1931) and Nazism (Mit brennender Sorge, 1937) with a denunciation of atheistic Communism in Divini redemptoris (1937).[77]

The Russian Orthodox Church, for centuries the strongest of all Orthodox Churches, was suppressed by the Soviet government.[78] In 1922, the Soviet regime arrested the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.[79] Following the death of Vladimir Lenin, with his rejection of religious authority as a tool of oppression and his strategy of “patently explain,” Soviet leader Joseph Stalin energetically pursued the persecution of the Church through the 1920s and 1930s. Lenin wrote that every religious idea and every idea of God “is unutterable vileness… of the most dangerous kind, ‘contagion of the most abominable kind”.[80] Many priests were killed and imprisoned. Thousands of churches were closed, some turned into hospitals. In 1925 the government founded the League of Militant Atheists to intensify the persecution. The regime only relented in its persecution following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.[78] Bullock wrote that “A Marxist regime was ‘godless’ by definition, and Stalin had mocked religious belief since his days in the Tiflis seminary”. His assault on the Russian peasantry, wrote Bullock, “had been as much an attack on their traditional religion as on their individual holdings, and the defense of it had played a major part in arousing peasant resistance . . . “.[81] In Divini Redemptoris, Pius XI said that atheistic Communism being led by Moscow was aimed at “upsetting the social order and at undermining the very foundations of Christian civilization”:[82]

The central figure in Italian Fascism was the atheist Benito Mussolini.[83] In his early career, Mussolini was a strident opponent of the Church, and the first Fascist program, written in 1919, had called for the secularization of Church property in Italy.[84] More pragmatic than his German ally Adolf Hitler, Mussolini later moderated his stance, and in office, permitted the teaching of religion in schools and came to terms with the Papacy in the Lateran Treaty.[83] Nevertheless, Non abbiamo bisogno condemned his Fascist movement’s “pagan worship of the State” and “revolution which snatches the young from the Church and from Jesus Christ, and which inculcates in its own young people hatred, violence and irreverence.”[85]

The Western Allies saw the war against Hitler as a war for “Christian Civilisation”,[86][87] while the atheist Stalin re-opened Russia’s churches to steel the Soviet population in the battle against Germany.[88][89] The Nazi leadership itself held a range of views on religion.[90] Hitler’s movement said it endorsed a form of Christianity stripped of its Jewish origins and certain key doctrines such as belief in the divinity of Christ.[90][91] In practice his government persecuted the churches, and worked to reduce the influence of the Christianity on society.[92] Richard J. Evans wrote that “Hitler emphasised again and again his belief that Nazism was a secular ideology founded on modern science. Science, he declared, would easily destroy the last remaining vestiges of superstition [. . .] ‘In the long run’, [Hitler] concluded in July 1941, ‘National Socialism and religion will no longer be able to exist together’ [. . .] The ideal solution would be to leave the religions to devour themselves, without persecutions’ “.[93][94]

Party membership was required for civil service jobs. The majority of Nazi Party members did not leave their churches. Evans wrote that, by 1939, 95 percent of Germans still called themselves Protestant or Catholic, while 3.5 percent were gottglubig (lit. “believing in god”) and 1.5 percent atheist. Most in these latter categories were “convinced Nazis who had left their Church at the behest of the Party, which had been trying since the mid 1930s to reduce the influence of Christianity in society”.[95] The majority of the three million Nazi Party members continued to pay their church taxes and register as either Roman Catholic or Evangelical Protestant Christians.[96] Gottglubig was a nondenominational Nazified outlook on god beliefs, often described as predominantly based on creationist and deistic views.[97] Heinrich Himmler, who himself was fascinated with Germanic paganism[citation needed], was a strong promoter of the gottglubig movement and didn’t allow atheists into the SS, arguing that their “refusal to acknowledge higher powers” would be a “potential source of indiscipline”.[98]

Across Eastern Europe following World War II, the parts of the Nazi Empire conquered by the Soviet Red Army, and Yugoslavia became one party Communist states, which, like the Soviet Union, were antipathetic to religion. Persecutions of religious leaders followed.[99][100] The Soviet Union ended its truce against the Russian Orthodox Church, and extended its persecutions to the newly Communist Eastern bloc: “In Poland, Hungary, Lithuania and other Eastern European countries, Catholic leaders who were unwilling to be silent were denounced, publicly humiliated or imprisoned by the Communists. Leaders of the national Orthodox Churches in Romania and Bulgaria had to be cautious and submissive”, wrote Blainey.[78] While the churches were generally not as severely treated as they had been in the USSR, nearly all their schools and many of their churches were closed, and they lost their formally prominent roles in public life. Children were taught atheism, and clergy were imprisoned by the thousands.[101]

Albania under Enver Hoxha became, in 1967, the first (and to date only) formally declared atheist state,[102][103] going far beyond what most other countries had attemptedcompletely prohibiting religious observance and systematically repressing and persecuting adherents. Article 37 of the Albanian Constitution of 1976 stipulated, “The state recognizes no religion, and supports atheistic propaganda in order to implant a scientific materialistic world outlook in people.”[104][105] The right to religious practice was restored with the fall of communism in 1991.

Further post-war communist victories in the East saw religion purged by atheist regimes across China, North Korea and much of Indo-China.[101] In 1949, China became a Communist state under the leadership of Mao Zedong’s Communist Party of China. China itself had been a cradle of religious thought since ancient times, being the birthplace of Confucianism and Daoism, and Buddhists having arrived in the first century AD. Under Mao, China became officially atheist, and though some religious practices were permitted to continue under State supervision, religious groups deemed a threat to order have been suppressedas with Tibetan Buddhism from 1959 and Falun Gong in recent years. Today around two-fifths of the population claim to be nonreligious or atheist.[106] Religious schools and social institutions were closed, foreign missionaries expelled, and local religious practices discouraged.[101] During the Cultural Revolution, Mao instigated “struggles” against the Four Olds: “old ideas, customs, culture, and habits of mind”.[107] In 1999, the Communist Party launched a three-year drive to promote atheism in Tibet, saying intensifying propaganda on atheism is “especially important for Tibet because atheism plays an extremely important role in promoting economic construction, social advancement and socialist spiritual civilization in the region”.[108]

In India, E. V. Ramasami Naicker (Periyar), a prominent atheist leader, fought against Hinduism and the Brahmins for discriminating and dividing people in the name of caste and religion.[109] This was highlighted in 1956 when he made the Hindu god Rama wear a garland made of slippers and made antitheistic statements.[110]

During this period, Christianity in the United States retained its popular appeal, and, wrote Blainey, the country “was the guardian, militarily of the “free world” and the defender of its religion in the face of militant communism”.[111] During the Cold War, wrote Thomas Aiello the United States often characterized its opponents as “godless communists”, which tended to reinforce the view that atheists were unreliable and unpatriotic.[112] Against this background, the words “under God” were inserted into the pledge of allegiance in 1954,[113] and the national motto was changed from E Pluribus Unum to In God We Trust in 1956. However, there were some prominent atheist activists active at this time. Atheist Vashti McCollum was the plaintiff in a landmark 1948 Supreme Court case (McCollum v. Board of Education) that struck down religious education in U.S. public schools.[114][115] Madalyn Murray O’Hair was perhaps one of the most influential American atheists; she brought forth the 1963 Supreme Court case Murray v. Curlett which banned compulsory prayer in public schools.[116] Also in 1963 she founded American Atheists, an organization dedicated to defending the civil liberties of atheists and advocating for the complete separation of church and state.[117][118]

The early twenty-first century has continued to see secularism, humanism and atheism promoted in the Western world, with the general consensus being that the number of people not affiliated with any particular religion has increased.[119][120] This has been assisted by non-profit organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation in the United States (co-founded by Anne Nicol Gaylor and her daughter, Annie Laurie Gaylor, in 1976 and incorporated nationally in 1978, it promotes the separation of church and state[121][122]), and the Brights movement, which aims to promote public understanding and acknowledgment of science through a naturalistic, scientific and irreligious worldview,[123] defense of irreligious people’s human, civil and political rights who share it, and their societal recognition.[124] In addition, a large number of accessible antireligious, antitheist and secularist books, many of which have become bestsellers, have been published by scholars and scientists such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Lawrence M. Krauss, Jerry Coyne, and Victor J. Stenger.[125][126]

This period saw the rise of the “New Atheism”, a label that has been applied, sometimes pejoratively, to outspoken critics of theism and religion,[127] prompted by a series of essays published in late 2006, including The God Delusion, Breaking the Spell, God Is Not Great, The End of Faith, and Letter to a Christian Nation. Richard Dawkins also propounds a more visible form of atheist activism which he light-heartedly describes as “militant atheism”.[128]

Atheist feminism has also become more prominent in the 2010s. In 2012 the first “Women in Secularism” conference was held.[129] Also, Secular Woman was founded on 28 June 2012 as the first national American organization focused on non-religious women. The mission of Secular Woman is to amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women. The atheist feminist movement has also become increasingly focused on fighting misogyny, sexism and sexual harassment within the atheist movement itself, especially since the upheaval following Michael Shermer’s allegations of sexual assault and coverage of his violent behavior applied by James Randi.[130]

In 2013 the first atheist monument on American government property was unveiled at the Bradford County Courthouse in Florida; it is a 1,500-pound granite bench and plinth inscribed with quotes by Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Madalyn Murray O’Hair.[131][132]

In 2015, Madison, Wisconsin’s common council amended their city’s equal opportunity ordinance, adding atheism as a protected class in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations.[133] This makes Madison the first city in America to pass an ordinance protecting atheists.[133]

On 16 December 2016, Barack Obama signed into law the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, which amends the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 by specifically extending protection to non-theists as well as those who do not claim any particular religion.[134]

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History of atheism – Wikipedia

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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Atheism – RationalWiki

Atheism – Wikiquote

Atheism in a broad sense is a rejection of belief in the existence of deities, in a narrower sense, the specific belief that there are no deities, and most inclusively, it is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists. The word originates with the Greek (atheos), meaning “without god(s)”, used as a pejorative term applied to those thought to reject the gods worshipped by the larger society.

The Koran! well, come put me to the testLovely old book in hideous error drestBelieve me, I can quote the Koran too,The unbeliever knows his Koran best.

And do you think that unto such as you,A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew,God gave the secret, and denied it me?Well, well, what matters it! believe that too.

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Atheism – Wikiquote

Atheism | Encyclopedia.com

The words atheist and godless are still frequently used as terms of abuse. Nevertheless, there are relatively few people nowadays in whom the thought of atheism and atheists arouses unspeakable horror. It seems to be agreed that an atheist can be a good person whose oaths and promises are no less trustworthy than those of other people, and in most civilized lands atheists have the same or nearly the same rights as anybody else. What is more, it appears to be generally realized that some of the world’s foremost philosophers, scientists, and artists have been avowed atheists and that the increase in atheism has gone hand in hand with the spread of education. Even spokesmen of the most conservative religious groups in the mid-twentieth century conceded that atheism may well be a philosophical position that is adopted for the noblest of reasons. Thus, in “The Contemporary Status of Atheism” (1965), Jean-Marie Le Blond appealed to his fellow believers for a “truly human and mutually respectful dialogue” with atheists, insisting that a “life without God need not be bestial, unintelligent, or immoral” and that atheism can be “serene and deeply human.” In the previous year Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, had observed that some atheists were undoubtedly inspired by “greathearted dreams of justice and progress” as well as by “impatience with the mediocrity and self-seeking of so many contemporary social settings.”

It was otherwise in earlier ages. One could fill many volumes with the abuse and calumny contained in the writings of Christian apologists, learned no less than popular. The tenor of these writings is not simply that atheism is mistaken but also that only a depraved person could adopt so hideous a position and that the spread of atheism would be a horrifying catastrophe for the human race. “No atheist as such,” wrote Richard Bentley in Eight Sermons (1724), “can be a true friend, an affectionate relation, or a loyal subject.” In the preface to his The True Intellectual System of the World (1678), Ralph Cudworth made it clear that he was addressing himself not to “downright and professed atheists” but to “weak, staggering and sceptical theists.” Downright atheists were beyond the pale, for they had “sunk into so great a degree of sottishness” that they evidently could not be reached. Writing almost exactly two centuries later, the Protestant theologian Robert Flint, who readily admitted that he had met atheists of great courage and integrity, nevertheless expressed his extreme concern over the “strenuous propagation” of atheism, especially in the “periodical press.” “The prevalence of atheism in any land,” he wrote, “must bring with it national decay and disaster.” The triumph of atheism in England would “bring with it hopeless national ruin.” If once the workers of the large cities became atheists, “utter anarchy would be inevitable” (Anti-Theistic Theories, pp. 3637). All these quotations are from British Protestants. Very similar and frequently more virulent remarks could be quoted from German, French, Italian, and American believers of the same periods.

In France until the Revolution and in most other countries until some time later, it was illegal to publish works in defense of atheism, and in fact real or alleged atheists were subject to dire persecution throughout the times of Christian domination. Some of the world’s greatest philosophers were among those who advocated and in some instances actively promoted this persecution. The story antedates Christianity, and persecution of atheists was already advocated in Plato’s Laws. Plato divided atheists into several groups, all of which must be punished; but whereas the members of some groups required no more than “admonition and imprisonment,” those belonging to others deserved punishment exceeding “one death or two.” Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae, II, 11, 3 and 4) had no doubt that unbelievers should be “shut off from the world by death.” Such a course, he argued, is justified since it surely is “a much more serious matter to corrupt faith, through which comes the soul’s life,” than it is “to forge money, through which temporal life is afforded.” If, as is just, forgers of money and other malefactors are straightaway put to death, it is all the more just that “heretics be not only excommunicated but also put to death.”

John Locke, one of the great pioneers of religious toleration, explicitly exempted Roman Catholics and atheists from the application of the principles he advocated. “Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society,” he wrote, “can have no hold upon an atheist.” Moreover, since atheism is not a religion but, on the contrary, a position that is out to “undermine and destroy all religion,” it cannot come under the privilege of the toleration that is justly claimed by bona fide religions (A Letter concerning Toleration ). It may be assumed that Locke did not advocate that atheists be shut off from the world, but that he was merely opposed to the free advocacy of atheism in writing and speech.

After Locke’s time, the “shutting off” approach became infrequent, but atheists continued to be the victims of persecution and discrimination in various forms. To give some interesting and far from untypical illustrations: Baron d’Holbach’s The System of Nature was falsely attributed in its first edition to Jean-Baptiste de Mirabaud, a former secretary of the French Academy who had been dead for ten years. Very shortly after its publication in 1770, it was condemned to be burned by the public hangman after a trial in which the public prosecutor expressed his regret that he could not lay his hands on the unknown real author, adding that the corruption of morals evident in almost all sections of society was very probably due to the spread of ideas like those contained in the condemned book. When the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was an undergraduate at Oxford, he published a short and very temperate pamphlet titled The Necessity of Atheism. This at once aroused a violent protest that resulted in the burning of all undistributed copies and in the expulsion of Shelley and his friend Thomas Hogg from the university. Some years later Shelley was judicially deprived of the custody of his children on the ground that he was “likely to inculcate the same [atheistic] principles upon them.” As late as 1877 Annie Besant, the noted social reformer, was judged to be unfit to take care of her children on the same ground, although the judge admitted that she had been a careful and affectionate mother. Until the passing of the Evidence Amendment Act of 1869, unbelievers in Great Britain were considered incompetent to give evidence in a court of law. Atheists were thus in effect unable to sue when they were the victims of fraud or slander. Charles Bradlaugh, whose efforts were largely responsible for the Act of 1869, was also the main figure in a prolonged battle to secure the right of avowed atheists to sit in the House of Commons. After Bradlaugh was elected, he was found unfit to take his seat. He won the resulting by-election and was again declared unfit to sit in the House, and this merry-go-round continued for several years, until a Conservative speaker found a legal way of securing Bradlaugh’s admission. In the United States there has not been similar legal discrimination against atheists, but there is perhaps to this day more de facto discrimination and prejudice than in any other Western country.

A comprehensive entry on atheism would, among other things, trace the history of the persecution of real and alleged atheists, of the changes in public attitudes, and of the gradual repeal of discriminatory legislation. It would also inquire into the psychological sources of the hatred of atheists that is sometimes found in otherwise apparently kindly and sensible men. Because of space limitations, the present entry will, however, be largely confined to what is undoubtedly the most interesting question for philosophers: Is atheism a logically tenable position? What are the arguments for it, what are the arguments against it, and how strong are these, respectively? It will not be possible to deal exhaustively even with these questions, but an attempt will be made to sketch the position of a philosophically sophisticated atheist and to explain why a view of this kind has appealed to many important thinkers in recent times.

No definition of atheism could hope to be in accord with all uses of this term. However, it would be most confusing to adopt any of several definitions that can only be regarded as eccentric. These would result in classifying as believers many people who would not regard themselves as such (and who would not commonly be so regarded) and in classifying as atheists many people who have not usually been thought of in this way. Thus, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, in denying the charge of atheism, wrote in “ber den Grund unseres Glaubens an eine Gttliche Weltregierung” that the “true atheist” is the person who, instead of following the voice of conscience, always calculates consequences before acting in a moral situation. Friedrich Jodl, who was himself a positivist and an unbeliever, similarly remarked that “only the man without ideals is truly an atheist,” implying, no doubt, that, although he did not believe in God, he was not a “true” atheist (Vom Lebenswege, 2 vols., Stuttgart and Berlin, 19161917, Vol. II, p. 370.). In the twentieth century Paul Tillich defined atheism as the view that “life has no depth, that it is shallow.” Anybody who says this “in complete seriousness is an atheist”; otherwise, he is not (Shaking of the Foundations, New York, 1948, p. 63). Stephen Toulmin, in an article (“On Remaining an Agnostic,” Listener, October 17, 1957) in which he championed agnosticism as he understood it, distinguishes his own position from that of both believers and atheists in that, unlike them, he does not “find personal attitudes of any sort in Nature-at-large.” The believer, according to Toulmin, regards the Cosmic Powers as friendly to man, while the atheist regards the cosmos as indifferent or as “positively callous.”

Whatever the point of the definitions just quoted, their paradoxical consequences make them useless in the present context. For our purposes, definitions of atheism and corresponding definitions of God will be serviceable only if they preserve, at least roughly, the traditional battle lines. Whatever their differences, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Locke, George Berkeley, William Paley, Henry Longueville Mansel, J. S. Mill, William James, Paul Tillich, and John Hick should continue to be classified as believers; T. H. Huxley, Leslie Stephen, and Clarence Darrow as agnostics; and Holbach, Ludwig Bchner, Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Jean-Paul Sartre as atheists. The definition proposed in the present entry will, in taking account of certain complexities of the situation, depart in a significant respect from the one that is most popular, but it will not involve reclassification of any of the great philosophers of the past. According to the most usual definition, an atheist is a person who maintains that there is no God, that is, that the sentence “God exists” expresses a false proposition. In contrast, an agnostic maintains that it is not known or cannot be known whether there is a God, that is, whether the sentence “God exists” expresses a true proposition. On our definition, an atheist is a person who rejects belief in God, regardless of whether or not the reason for the rejection is the claim that “God exists” expresses a false proposition. People frequently adopt an attitude of rejection toward a position for reasons other than that it is a false proposition. It is common among contemporary philosophers, and indeed it was not uncommon in earlier centuries, to reject positions on the ground that they are meaningless. Sometimes, too, a theory is rejected on such grounds as that it is sterile or redundant or capricious, and there are many other considerations that in certain contexts are generally agreed to constitute good grounds for rejecting an assertion. An atheist in the narrower, more popular sense, is ipso facto an atheist in our broader sense, but the converse does not hold.

Before exploring the implications of our definition any further, something should be said about the different uses of the word God and the correspondingly different positions, all of which have been referred to as “belief in God.” For our purposes, it will be sufficient to distinguish three of these. All the believers in question have characterized God as a supreme personal being who is the creator or the ground of the universe and who, whatever his other attributes may be, is at the very least immensely powerful, highly intelligent, and very good, loving, and just. While some of them would maintain that the predicates just mentioned”powerful,” “good,” and the restare used in a literal sense when applied to God, other believers insist that when applied to God, these, and indeed all or almost all, predicates must be employed in “metaphorical,” “symbolic,” or “analogical” senses. Let us, without implying anything derogatory, refer to the belief that predicates can be applied literally to God as the “anthropomorphic” conception of God and to the belief that predicates can only be applied analogically to God as the “metaphysical” conception of God.

Among professional philosophers, belief in the metaphysical God has been much more common than belief in the anthropomorphic God. This metaphysical position is at least as old as Thomas (and, it may be plausibly argued, as old as Plato). In the early eighteenth century it was championed by Peter Browne, bishop of Cork, who was trying to answer difficulties raised by the infidel John Toland. In the nineteenth century this position was defended by Mansel in his Bampton Lectures, and in the twentieth century it was a key feature of Tillich’s philosophy. God, on Tillich’s view, “infinitely transcends every finite being”; between the finite and the infinite there is “an absolute break, an ‘infinite jump'”; there is here “no proportion and gradation.” When we say, for example, “God is Love,” or “God is Life,” the words love and life are used symbolically, not literally. They were originally introduced in connection with “segments of finite experience,” and when applied to God, they cannot have the same meaning that they have in ordinary human situations.

The anthropomorphic position is by no means confined to unsophisticated believers. It has commanded the support of several eminent philosophers, especially believers who were also empiricists or otherwise opposed to rationalism. Thus, Berkeley emphatically defended the anthropomorphic position against Bishop Browne. In Alciphron Berkeley attacked Browne’s procedure on the ground that unless “wise” and “good” are used in the same sense for God and man, “it is evident that every syllogism brought to prove those attributes, or (which is the same thing) to prove the being of a God, will be found to consist of four terms, and consequently can conclude nothing.” In the nineteenth century J. S. Mill championed anthropomorphic belief as opposed to the metaphysical theology of Hamilton and Mansel; more recently, Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, who is perhaps best classified as a fideist, indicted the metaphysical God as a “Nothing-God” and a “dead thing.” In The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and in Peoples he wrote that such a fleshless abstraction cannot be the answer to the cravings of the human heart. Only the anthropomorphic God can ever be “the loving God,” the God to whom we come “by the way of love and of suffering.”

Among those who believe in an anthropomorphic God, there are two positions to be distinguished. First, there is the more traditional position that allows no limitations upon the extent to which God possesses the various admirable characteristicson this view, God is all-powerful, all-loving, infinitely good, perfectly just, and so on. Second, there is the somewhat heretical position of those who, while maintaining that God possesses these characteristics to a high degree, allow that he is limited at least in his power or in his goodness. Mill, who believed in such a finite anthropomorphic deity, claimed that regardless of the official pronouncements of the various religions, in actual practice most Western believers adhered to a theory like his own.

A few words must be said about the possible meanings of creation when God is referred to as the creator (or ground) of the universe. Thomas Aquinas, in his On the Eternity of the World and elsewhere, makes a distinction between the temporal sense in which God is supposed to have made the universe at a certain moment in time, prior to which it did not exist, and the more sophisticated sense in which it is asserted that the universe is absolutely dependent on God so that it would cease to exist if God were not sustaining it. Thomas himself believed in God’s creation of the universe in both senses, but it was only in the second sense that he regarded the theory of divine creation as susceptible of logical proof. Both these senses must be distinguished from the creative activity ascribed to the demiurge of Plato’s Timaeus or to Mill’s God. Here the deity is not, strictly, a creator but merely an arranger of preexisting material. For the purposes of this entry, a person will count as a believer in the creation of the universe by God if he or she makes any of three claims just distinguished.

Let us now return to our definition of atheism. A person is an atheist in our sense who adopts an attitude of rejection toward all three theistic positions previously statedbelief in a metaphysical God, in an infinite anthropomorphic God, and in a finite anthropomorphic God. He or she will count as a believer in God if maintaining that “God exists” expresses a true proposition, where “God” is employed in one of the three ways described. A person will be an agnostic who does not accept any of these three claims but at the same time suspends judgment concerning at least one of them. It will be observed that on our way of drawing the lines, agnosticism and atheism remain distinct positions, since suspension of judgment and rejection are different attitudes.

The broader definition here adopted enables us to classify together philosophers whose attitudes toward belief in God are exceedingly similar, although their detailed reasons may not always coincide. Rudolf Carnap, for example, regards metaphysical theology as meaningless, while treating belief in an infinite as well as a finite anthropomorphic God as “mythology,” implying that both are false or probably false. In our sense, he can be classified as an atheist without further ado, and it is doubtful that believers would consider him less hostile than atheists in the narrower sense. It is also worth observing that our broader definition receives a good deal of backing from the actual writings of philosophers and others who regarded themselves as atheists. Many of them were by no means unaware of the fact that the word God has a number of uses and that what may be a plausible justification for rejecting one kind of belief in God may be quite inappropriate in the case of another. Charles Bradlaugh, for example, made it very clear that in calling himself an atheist he did not simply maintain that there is no God. In his “Plea for Atheism,” he wrote:

The atheist does not say “there is no God,” but he says “I know not what you mean by God; I am without idea of God; the word ‘God’ is to me a sound conveying no clear or distinct affirmation. The Bible God I deny; the Christian God I disbelieve in; but I am not rash enough to say there is no God as long as you tell me you are unprepared to define God to me.”

The writings of Jean Meslier, Holbach, and other eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century atheists, while certainly containing remarks to the effect that the sentence “God exists” expresses a false proposition, are also full of claims that once we critically examine the talk about a “pure spirit” that supposedly exists timelessly and without a body, we find that words have been used without any meaning. In any event, by using the word atheism in the broader sense, it will be possible to discuss certain antitheological considerations of great interest that would otherwise have to be excluded.

In this section we shall discuss two of the arguments popular among atheistic writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In later sections we shall present considerations commonly urged by Anglo-Saxon writers in more recent years. However, in a rudimentary form these more recent reflections are already present in the writings of earlier atheists, just as the older arguments continue to be pressed in current literature.

The first of the two older atheistic arguments is based on the doctrine of the eternity of matter, or, to bring it more in accord with recent physical theory, the eternity of mass-energy. (As far as the basic issues here are concerned, it is not of any moment whether what is said to be eternal is matter or energy or mass-energy, and for the sake of convenience we shall speak only of the eternity of “matter.”) There are two steps in this argument. It is claimed, first, either as something self-evident or as a proposition proved by science, that matter is eternal; second, it is asserted that this claim rules out a God conceived as the creator of the material universe. If the physical universe had been created by God, it would follow that there was a time when the quantity of matter was less than it is now, when it was in fact zero. But physics proves or presupposes that the quantity of matter has always been the same.

Since most ordinary people include “creator of the material universe” in their concept of God, and since they mean by creation a temporal act of making something out of nothing, the appeal to the eternity of matter is effective as a popular argument for atheism. A little reflection shows, however, that by itself the argument is of very limited significance. To begin with, regardless of any scientific evidence, the doctrine of the eternity of matter, in all its forms, would be challenged by anybody who accepts any of the causal varieties of the Cosmological Argument. Such a person would presumably argue that while conservation principles may accurately describe a certain feature of the material universe ever since it began existing, the material universe itself requires a nonmaterial cause. Hence, any atheistic conclusion in the present context would have to be accompanied by a refutation of the causal forms of the Cosmological Argument. But granting for the moment that the eternity of matter is fully established, this is not incompatible with the theory of divine creation in the sense in which it has been put forward by its philosophically more sophisticated adherents. The eternity of matter is no doubt incompatible with the existence of a God who made the material universe out of nothing and with the kind of activity in which the demiurge is supposed to engage (since bringing order into previously chaotic materials requires the addition of energy); but it is not incompatible with creation in the second of the two senses distinguished by Thomas, in which creation means “absolute dependence” and does not refer to any datable act. There may indeed be some difficulty in the notion of a nonphysical entity nonphysically sustaining the universe, and it is tempting to think that this is an intelligible doctrine simply because the words sustain and depend immediately call up certain pictures in one’s mind; but these difficulties raise rather different questions. Finally, in this connection it should be pointed out that the eternity of matter in all its forms is compatible with a belief in God or gods, like those of the Epicureans and Thomas Hobbes (if Hobbes was serious), who are physical beings, or in gods of any kind, as long as it is not claimed that these have created the universe or any aspect of it.

A few words should perhaps be added here about the claim of some writers that the doctrine of the eternity of matter in all its forms has now been refuted by physics and that physics even somehow proves the existence of God. In this connection it should be mentioned, first, that the great majority of scientifically informed philosophers agree that the findings of recent physics do not affect the issues dividing believers and unbelievers, and, second, that even if the doctrine of the eternity of matter were now untenable in all its forms, this would undermine one of the arguments for atheism, but not atheism itself. If there was a time when matter did not exist (assuming this to be a meaningful assertion), it does not automatically follow that matter was created by God. To show that matter was created by God, an appeal to the Cosmological Argument (and not to physics) would be as necessary as ever. As for the theory of continuous creation, advocated by some cosmologists, it does indeed imply that the principle of the conservation of mass-energy is false. However, the basic assumption behind the theory of continuous creation is the so-called perfect cosmological principle, which is in effect an endorsement of the eternity of matter. This principle asserts that the large-scale aspects of the universe are the same at all times and in all places; and this, more specifically, means that the stars and galaxies have always been about as evenly distributed as they are at the present time.

Among the traditional atheistic arguments a second type has generally been regarded as more formidable and still enjoys an undiminished popularity. This type of argument points to some imperfection or defect in the universe and argues that the defect is incompatible with the existence of God insofar as God is defined as a perfect being.

Among the imperfections or alleged imperfections, emphasis has frequently been placed on the enormous waste in nature, especially in matters of reproduction, and on the trial-and-error “method” of evolution. Referring to the process of evolution, G. H. Lewes remarked that “nothing could be more unworthy of a supreme intelligence than this inability to construct an organism at once, without making several tentative efforts, undoing today what was so carefully done yesterday, and repeating for centuries the same tentatives and the same corrections in the same succession.” And if the end of this entire process is man, it has been questioned whether it was worth all the pain and tribulations that preceded it. “If I were granted omnipotence, and millions of years to experiment in,” writes Bertrand Russell, “I should not think Man much to boast of as the final result of my efforts” (Religion and Science, p. 222). Again, it has been suggested by several writers, and not at all facetiously, that if there were a God, then surely he would have provided human beings with clearer evidence of his own existence. If an omniscient and omnipotent God did not take care that his intentions should be understood by his creatures, asked Nietzsche, “could he be a God of goodness?” Would he not, rather, be a cruel god if, “being himself in possession of the truth, he could calmly contemplate mankind, in a state of miserable torment, worrying its mind as to what was truth?” (Morgenrte, Aphorism 91). If a God exists, then, in the words of Charles Bradlaugh, “he could have so convinced all men of the fact of his existence that doubt, disagreement, or disbelief would be impossible.”

The most widely discussed of all these arguments from the imperfections of the universe is the argument from evil, and it may be best to restrict our discussion to it. The following is a statement by Brand Blanshard:

We are told that with God all things are possible. If so, it was possible for him to create a world in which the vast mass of suffering that is morally pointlessthe pain and misery of animals, the cancer and blindness of little children, the humiliations of senility and insanitywere avoided. These are apparently inflictions of the Creator himself. If you admit that, you deny his goodness; if you say he could not have done otherwise, you deny that with him all things are possible. (“Irrationalism in Theology,” in Faith and the Philosophers, edited by John Hick, London, 1964, p. 172)

It should be emphasized that the argument from evil, as here stated, is directed against the conclusion of the believer in an infinite anthropomorphic God and is not merely a criticism of his evidence. On occasions, for example in David Hume’s Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, the argument has been used for the milder purpose of showing that the Design Argument cannot succeed in establishing a maker of the universe who is both omnipotent and perfectly good. It argues from the nature of the world to the nature of its cause, and since the world is a mixture of good and evil, it cannot be established in this way that its creator is perfectly good. The form in which we are concerned with the argument from evilwhat we may call its stronger sensemaintains that the evil in the world shows the theological claim to be false. The argument may be construed as comparing the theological assertion to a falsified scientific hypothesis: If the theory that the universe is the work of an all-powerful and all-good being were true, then the universe would not exhibit certain features; experience shows that it does exhibit these features, and hence the theory is false.

The argument from evil has no logical force against belief in a finite God. The evil in the world is perfectly compatible with the existence of a God who is lacking either omnipotence or perfect goodness, or both. In fact, E. S. Brightman and the American personalists and other well-known champions of belief in a finite anthropomorphic God adopted their position precisely in order to reconcile belief in God with the existence of evil. There is also no obvious incompatibility between the existence of the metaphysical God and the evil in the world, since it is not claimed for the metaphysical God either that he is all-powerful or that he is perfectly good in the ordinary senses of these words. Mansel, for example, in Limits of Religious Thought openly acknowledged that in the light of the injustice and suffering we find in the world, the moral character of God cannot be represented “after the model of the highest human morality which we are capable of conceiving.” His position, Mansel insisted, unlike the position of anthropomorphic believers, to whom Mansel referred as “vulgar Rationalists” in this context, was immune from difficulties like the problem of evil Substantially similar remarks are to be found in the writings of many other members of this tradition.

The most basic objections to metaphysical theology will be discussed in the next section, but perhaps it should be mentioned in passing that according to some critics, philosophers like Mansel have a tendency to revert to the view that God is good in the very same sense in which human beings are sometimes good and, more generally, to anthropomorphic theology. This is not at all surprising since, like other believers, they derive or wish to derive comfort and reassurance from their theology. Such comfort may be derivable from the view that the ultimate reality is good and just in the sense or one of the senses in which we use these terms when we praise good and just human beings. No comfort at all, on the other hand, seems derivable from the statement that God is good and just but that “the true nature and manner of all the divine operation of goodness,” in the words of Bishop Browne, “is utterly incomprehensible” or that they differ from human justice and goodness, as Mansel put it, “in kind,” not only in degree.

There is a long history of attempts by believers to show that the argument from evil does not really refute the assertion that an infinite anthropomorphic God exists. It has been maintained by some that evil is unreal; by others that, although real, it is of a “privative” rather than a “positive” character; that it is real and positive but that it is the consequence of man’s abuse of his gift of free will and that a universe without evil and without free will would be worse than one with both; that the argument is based on a narrow hedonistic conception of good and evil and that, in any event, the theological position cannot be adequately judged unless it is viewed in conjunction with belief in an afterlife in which the wrongs of the present life will somehow be righted; and many more. Critics have come up with various answers to these rejoinders, and the discussion has been going on with unabated vigor in recent years. There would be little point in reviewing this debate here, but something should perhaps be said about two retorts by believers that have not been adequately discussed by the proponents of the argument from evil.

One rejoinder to the argument from evil seems to be of considerable value in showing that this argument does not by itself justify rejection of belief in an infinite anthropomorphic God. It has been argued (for example, by Arnold Lunn in his exchange of letters with C. E. M. Joad published in Is Christianity True?, London and Philadelphia, 1933) that although the existence of evil cannot be reconciled with the existence of an infinite anthropomorphic God, this is not too serious a problem in view of the powerful affirmative evidence for this position. In other areas too, Lunn reminds us, we do not abandon a well-supported theory just because we meet with some counterevidence. He is not in the least disturbed by “the fact that divine science, like natural science, brings us face to face with apparently insoluble contradictions.” This hardly disposes of the argument from evil, as Lunn seems to think. The comparison between the difficulty that a believer faces from the facts of evil and the difficulties besetting a scientific theory for which there is otherwise strong evidence is somewhat tenuous. There are indeed cases answering to this description in science, but they are invariably resolved by further inquiry. Either we come to see that the difficulty or exception was merely apparent or else the original theory is modified or abandoned. In the theological case, several millennia of experience and debate do not seem to have brought us any nearer a resolution. But, assuming that Lunn’s comparison fails as a defense of belief in an infinite anthropomorphic God, there can be no question that he would have made out a strong case in favor of agnosticism as opposed to atheism if there were in fact good evidence for the existence of the God in question. If, for example, the Cosmological Argument were, as far as we can judge, free from fallacious transitions, we would have a situation similar to the kind we frequently face in which there is significant and roughly equally impressive evidence both ways (for example, some apparently trustworthy witnesses implicating the defendant in a court case, while other equally trustworthy witnesses exonerate) and in which suspense of judgment is the most rational attitude. The moral for our discussion is that an atheist cannot afford to neglect the arguments for the existence of God. Unless they can be demolished, the argument from evil will not by itself establish the atheist’s case, even if none of the answers mentioned earlier are in fact successful.

Another rejoinder to the argument from evil has become extremely popular in recent years among existentialist believers and all who maintain that arguments for or against the existence of God are, as it is put, radically beside the point. We are told that one simply either has faith or one has not, one is either “open” to the presence of God or one is not. If one has faith, proofs and reasoning are not needed; if one lacks faith, they are of no avail. A person who has faith is not shaken by absence of evidence or by counterevidence; a person who has no faith will never become a true believer even if intellectually convinced by the arguments of rationalistic theology.

Systematic defenses by those who adopt such a position are exceedingly rare, but in 1964 an article appeared by an existentialist philosopher who seems familiar with contemporary analytic philosophy and whose answer to the argument from evil is representative of this entire approach. In his “On the Eclipse of God” (Commentary, June 1964, pp. 5560), Emil Fackenheim insists that the essential mark of the faith of a person who is “primordially open to God” is certainty, or, specifically, “the believer’s certainty of standing in relation to an unprovable and irrefutable God ” (Fackenheim’s italics). It is this “irrefutability” of his faith that, Fackenheim believes, enables him to circumvent the problem of evil. No conceivable experience, he insists, can possibly upset the true biblical faith. If there is good fortune, it “reveals the hand of God.” If the fortune is bad and if this cannot be explained as just punishment, the conclusion is that “God’s ways are unintelligible, not that there are no ways of God.” To put it “radically”: “Religious faith can be, and is, empirically verifiable; but nothing empirical can possibly refute it ” (Fackenheim’s italics). Fackenheim cites the examples of Jeremiah, Job, and the Psalmist, all of whom encountered tragedy and disaster without losing their faith in the existence of God. Biblical faith, he observes in this connection, “is never destroyed by tragedy but only tested by it,” and in the course of such a test, it “conquers” tragedy. To underline the invulnerability of this position, Fackenheim adds that no amount of scientific evidence can “affect” biblical belief any more than “historical tragedy” or “an empty heart” can.

What is to be said in reply to all this, especially to the remarkable claim, made in all seriousness, that although faith is empirically verifiable, nothing can possibly refute it? The answer is surely that there is a confusion here between logical and psychological issues. Fackenheim may well have given an accurate account of faith as a psychological phenomenon, but this is totally irrelevant to the question at issue among believers, agnostics, and atheistsnamely, which position is favored by the evidence or lack of evidence. All the wordsdestroy, test, conquer, affect, and refute are used ambiguously in this as in countless similar discussions. They refer on the one hand to certain psychological effects (or their absence) and on the other to the relation between facts and a proposition for or against which these facts are (or fail to be) evidence. If the question at issue were whether tragedy and injustice can produce loss of belief in a person who has the “biblical faith,” the answer may well be in the negative, and Fackenheim’s examples support such an answer. They have not the slightest bearing, however, on the question of whether the tragedies and the injustices in the world disprove or make improbable or are any kind of evidence against the statement that the world is the work of an all-powerful and all-good Godthe statement in which the believers have faith. The first question may be of great psychological and human interest, and if Fackenheim is right, then a person interested in dissuading “biblical” believers would be foolish even to try. It is the second question alone, however, that is of interest to philosophers, and it alone is at issue between believers and unbelievers. By telling his biblical stories, Fackenheim has done nothing whatsoever to circumvent the problem of evil or to show that what the believer has faith in is immune to criticism.

Before leaving this topic, a few words are in order about a certain concession, occasionally made by unbelievers, which does not appear to be warranted. Some atheists are willing to concede that whereas they can come to grips with rationalistic believers, they are powerless when faced with a fideist like Fackenheim. Thus, Ernest Nagel, in his “Defense of Atheism,” remarks that such a position is “impregnable to rational argument.” Now, if a proposition, p, is endorsed on the basis of faith and not on the basis of logical arguments, then indeed a critic cannot undermine any arguments supporting p, but may well be in a position to test (and falsify) p itself. If a fideist were to maintain, admitting from the outset that there is no evidence for the proposition and that it is based on faith alone, that the New York Times sells for 50 cents on weekdays, there is of course no evidence for the proposition that can be attacked, but this would not prevent us from disproving the assertion. Any plea by the fideist there is no evidence or that no evidence can ever move him or her will not have the slightest bearing on the soundness of the refutation. A proponent of the argument from evil would similarly maintain that the assertion of the existence of an infinite anthropomorphic deity has certain publicly testable consequencesthat there is no evil in the world or at least not certain kinds of eviland that experience shows these to be false. It would be to the point to argue either that the assertion of the existence of such a deity does not really have the consequences in question or that experience does not really falsify them; but it is totally beside the point to maintain either that faith in an infinite anthropomorphic God is not, in the case of a particular believer, based on any evidence or that the believer will not abandon his or her position, come what may.

In presenting the case against metaphysical theology, we shall concentrate on the views of Tillich and his disciple, Bishop J. A. T. Robinson, whose Honest to God created such a stir among theologians when it was published in 1963. No defender of this position had as much influence in the mid-twentieth century as Tillich. Moreover, his statement of the position is radical and uncompromising and is thus easier to discuss than more qualified versions. At the same time it may well be the case that some of these more qualified versions are not open to quite the same objections. In particular, it might be claimed that the Thomistic doctrine of analogy enables its proponents to escape both the difficulties of straightforward anthropomorphic theology and those besetting Tillich’s position.

Tillich and Robinson entirely agree with atheists that belief in any anthropomorphic deity should be rejected. Traditional theism, Tillich writes, “has made God a heavenly, completely perfect person who resides above the world and mankind” (Systematic Theology, Vol. I, p. 271). Against such a highest person, he goes on, “the protest of atheism is correct.” Elsewhere Tillich repeatedly pours scorn on what he terms “monarchic monotheism” and the theology of the “cosmic policeman.” Following Tillich, Bishop Robinson tells us that we must now give up belief in God as somebody “out there,” just as Copernican astronomy made people abandon “the old man in the sky.” Most believers, he writes, are inclined to think of God as a kind of “visitor from outer space” (Honest to God, p. 50). Unlike the “old man in the sky” or the “visitor from outer space,” the God of Tillich and Robinson is not another individual entity beside the familiar entities of experience, not even the “most powerful” or the “most perfect” one. He is “being-itself.” As such, God is not contingent but necessary, and arguments for his existence are not required. The idea of God, writes Tillich, is not the idea of “something or someone who might or might not exist” (Systematic Theology, Vol. I, p. 205). “In making God an object besides other objects, the existence and nature of which are matters of argument, theology supports the escape to atheism. The first step to atheism is always a theology which drags God down to the level of doubtful things” (Shaking of the Foundations, p. 52).

It should be mentioned in passing that to some readers of Tillich and Robinson there appears to be a radical ambiguity in their entire position, specifically in the reasons they give for rejecting the anthropomorphic theory of the God “out there.” At times we are told that the old-fashioned believers are mistaken because God is really inside usinsofar as our lives have “depth,” insofar as we live “agapeistically.” This is what we may call the Feuerbachian tendency in Tillich and his followers. At other times anthropomorphic theology is denounced because God so radically transcends anything we ever experience that the picture of a glorified man cannot possibly do justice to the reality. In the former context, God must not be said to be “out there” because he is really “in here deep down,” in the latter context, because he is too removed to be even out there. In the former context, theological sentences become a species of very special psychological statements, and in the latter they are clearly items of transcendent metaphysics. There seems to be a constant oscillation between these two positions, so that at times traditional theology is denounced for not being sufficiently this-worldly, while at other times it is condemned for being too close to the world. The former position is of no interest to us, since it may rightly be dismissed as not being in any accepted sense a theological position at allit is clearly quite compatible with the most thoroughgoing positivism and atheism. Our discussion will therefore be confined to the latter position exclusively.

As already explained in a previous section, Tillich (that is, Tillich the transcendent metaphysician) regards God as so vastly transcending any finite, familiar entity that predicates taken from ordinary experience cannot be employed in their literal senses when applied to God but must be used symbolically or metaphorically. There is just one statement that we can make about God in which all words are used “directly and properly,” namely, that “God as being-itself is the ground of the ontological structure of being without being subject to the structure himself.” Tillich expands this statement as follows: “God is that structure; that is, he has the power of determining the structure of everything that has being” (Systematic Theology, Vol. I, p. 239). If anything is said beyond this “bare assertion,” Tillich insists it cannot be regarded any longer as a “direct and proper statement.” Although all other predicates must be used symbolically when applied to God, certain symbols are justified or appropriate, while others are unjustified or inappropriate, since the former “point” to aspects of the ultimate reality, while the latter do not. Thus, we are justified in speaking of God, symbolically, as “King,” “father,” and “healing.” These are “pointers to the “divine life.”

A philosophically sophisticated atheist would object to Tillich’s theology not on the ground that it is false or not proven but on the very different ground that it is unintelligiblethat it consists of sentences that may be rich in pictorial associations and in expressive meaning but that fail to make any genuine assertions. Tillich’s position may indeed be immune to the difficulties of an anthropomorphic theology, but only at the expense of not saying anything about the world. This criticism would almost certainly be offered by anybody who accepts an empiricist criterion of meaning, but it is worth pointing out that it is an objection that has been endorsed, in substance if not in precisely these words, by numerous believers in an anthropomorphic God. Voltaire on occasion objected on such grounds to the theologians who claimed that we must not use words in their familiar senses when applying them to God, and it has already been mentioned that Unamuno dismissed the metaphysical God as a “Nothing” and a “dead thing.” Similarly, William James objected to the emptiness of the “universalistic” theology of the Hegelians of his day, preferring what he called a particularistic belief.

This criticism might be backed up in the following way: While recognizing that he constantly uses words symbolically or metaphorically, Tillich does not appreciate the difference between translatable and untranslatable metaphors, and he does not see that his own metaphors are untranslatable. Very frequently indeed, especially in ordinary life, when words are used metaphorically, the context or certain special conventions make it clear what is asserted. Thus, the editor of an encyclopedia, when asked why he or she looks so troubled, may reply, “Too many cares are weighing down on methe pressure is too great.” Obviously the words weighing down and pressure are here metaphorical, yet we all understand what is being said. Why? Because the metaphorical expressions are translatablebecause we can eliminate them, because we can specify in nonmetaphorical terms what the sentence is used to assert. If the metaphors could not be eliminated, we would not have succeeded in making any assertion.

A critic would proceed to argue that Tillich’s metaphors are of the untranslatable variety and that when he has offered what seem to him translations, he has really only substituted one metaphor for another. Tillich believed that in his basic statement, quoted earlier, all words are used literally, or “properly.” But this is open to question. The word ground, for example, is surely not used in any of its literal senses when being-itself is said to be the ground of the ontological structure of being. It can hardly be used in the physical sense in which the floor or the grass underneath our feet could be regarded as a “ground,” or in the logical sense in which the premises of an argument may be the ground for endorsing the conclusion. Similar remarks apply to the use of structure, power, and determine. Hence, when we are told that “God is personal” (which is acknowledged to be metaphorical) means “God is the ground of everything personal,” or that “God lives” (which is also acknowledged to be metaphorical) means “God is the ground of life,” one set of metaphors is exchanged for another, and literal significance is not achieved. Tillich’s God, it should be remembered, is so transcendent that not even mystical experience acquaints us with him. “The idea of God,” he writes, “transcends both mysticism and the person-to-person encounter” (The Courage To Be, p. 178). Consequently, he does not have at his disposal any statements in which God is literally characterized and that could serve as the translations of the metaphorical utterances. The absence of such statements literally characterizing being-itself equally prevent Tillich from justifying the employment of his set of “symbols” as appropriate and the rejection of other symbols as inappropriate.

We noted earlier that a metaphysical theology like Tillich’s avoids the troublesome problem of evil because it does not maintain that God is perfectly good or, indeed, omnipotent in any of the ordinary or literal senses of these words. This very immunity would, however, be invoked by some critics as a decisive objection and they would, by a somewhat different route, reach the same conclusionnamely, that Tillich’s theological sentences do not amount to genuine assertions. The point in question may perhaps be most forcefully presented by contrasting Tillich’s position with that of anthropomorphic believers such as John Hick or A. C. Ewing. Hick and Ewing are (theoretically) very much concerned with the problem of evil. They argue that given the nature of man and a world with dependable sequences (or causal laws), evil of certain kinds is unavoidable, and furthermore that (though they do not, of course, claim to be able to prove this) in the next life there will be appropriate rewards and compensations. They admit or imply that their belief would be logically weakened, perhaps fatally so, it if could be shown that there is no afterlife or that in the afterlife injustice and misery, far from vanishing, will be even more oppressive than in the present life, or that the evils which, given the nature of man and a world of dependable sequences, they thought to be unavoidable, could in fact have been prevented by an omnipotent Creator. Tillich, however, need not be (theoretically) concerned about any such contingencies. Even if things in this life became vastly more horrible than they already are, or even if we had conclusive evidence that in the afterlife things are so bad that by comparison, Auschwitz and Belsen were kingdoms of joy and justice, Tillich’s theology would be totally unaffected. Being-itself, as Tillich put it, would still be “actual”: It is not “something or someone who might or might not exist.” God, as Bishop Robinson puts it, is not a “problematic” entity, which might conceivably not have been there.” This is true of the anthropomorphic deity, but not of what Tillich in one place terms “the God above God” (Listener, August 1961, pp. 169ff.).

In other words, unlike the position of Hick and Ewing, Tillich’s theology is compatible with anything whatsoever in this life as well as in the next one; and it is the opinion of many contemporary philosophers, believers as well as unbelievers, that if a putative statement is compatible with anything whatsoever, if it excludes no conceivable state of affairs, then it is not a genuine assertion (it should be noted that “state of affairs” is not used in a narrow way so that much that positivists exclude, for example, happiness or suffering in the next world, could count as conceivable states of affairs). This criterion may, of course, be questioned, but if it is accepted, then Tillich’s theology, unlike that of anthropomorphic believers, would have to be condemned as devoid of any assertive force.

We have not here considered other variants of metaphysical theology, but those opposed to Tillich’s system for the reasons here outlined would maintain that other forms of this general outlook are bound to be open to some of the same objections: In every case, words would have to be used in a metaphorical way in crucial places, and these metaphors would turn out to be untranslatable; in every case it would be impossible to justify the employment of one set of metaphors or symbols in preference to another, and in every case the author of the system would be unable to specify what conceivable state of affairs is excluded by his sentences or, if he did do so, the exclusion could be shown to be arbitrary in a way that would not be true of the statements of anthropomorphic believers.

It is time to discuss a very common challenge to atheists. The challenge is usually issued by agnostics, but it would in general also be endorsed by fideistic believers. “It is admittedly impossible,” the critic would reason, “to prove the existence of God, but it is equally impossible to disprove his existence; hence, we must either suspend judgment or, if we embrace some position, we must do so on the basis of faith alone.” To avoid misleading associations of the words prove and disprove, the same point may be expressed by saying that we have no evidence either for or against God’s existence. Sometimes the reminder is added that the mere failure of the arguments for the existence of God does not show that there is no God. Anybody who supposed this would plainly be guilty of the fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantiam.

If certain of the considerations advanced by atheists that were discussed in previous sections are sound, this agnostic charge would be quite beside the point as far as belief in an infinite anthropomorphic or a metaphysical God is concerned. For in that event, the first theory can be shown to be false (with certain qualifications explained earlier), and the second can be rejected on the ground that it is unintelligible. In the case of an infinite anthropomorphic God, there is evidence against the position; in the case of a metaphysical God, we do not have a coherent position. However, when we turn to the question of a finite anthropomorphic God, the challenge does at first sight seem very plausible. As already pointed out, the argument from evil does not affect this position, and we may, at least provisionally, grant that belief in a finite anthropomorphic God is intelligible because the predicates used in expressing it are applied to this deity in their familiar senses. We shall see, before long, that there are difficulties in regard to the intelligibility of even this position, but waiving all considerations of this kind for the moment, let us inquire how an atheist could reply to this challenge. It is admitted by the challenger that there is no evidence for the existence of such a deity; where, he asks, is the evidence against its existence? If there is none, why should one be an atheist rather than an agnostic? Why is atheism justified if we cannot be sure that there is no God in the sense under discussion?

In justifying his position, an atheist should perhaps begin by calling attention to the fact that the agnostics who suspend judgment concerning God are not also agnostics in relation to the gods of the Greeks or in relation to the devil and witches. Like the majority of other educated people, most agnostics reject and do not suspend judgment concerning the Olympian gods or the devil or witches. Assuming that rejection is the appropriate attitude in these cases, what justifies this rejection?

It will be instructive to look at a concrete example of such a belief that is rejected by agnostics and atheists alike and, incidentally, by most believers in God. Billy Graham is one of the few Protestant ministers who still believe in the devil. The devil is introduced by Dr. Graham as the only plausible explanatory principle of a great many phenomena. He is brought in to explain the constant defeat of the efforts of constructive and well-meaning people, the perverse choices of men who so commonly prefer what is degrading to what is “rich and beautiful and ennobling,” the speed with which lies and slander spread in all directions, and also the failure of the world’s diplomats. “Could men of education, intelligence, and honest intent,” asks Dr. Graham, “gather around a world conference table and fail so completely to understand each other’s needs and goals if their thinking was not being deliberately clouded and corrupted?” All such failures are “the works of the devil” and they show that he “is a creature of vastly superior intelligence, a mighty and gifted spirit of infinite resourcefulness.” The devil is no “bungling creature” but “a prince of lofty stature, of unlimited craft and cunning, able to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself” (Peace with God, New York, 1954, pp. 5963).

What reasons could or would be given for rejecting this explanation of diplomatic failures in terms of the devil’s cunning ways? Aside from possibly questioning some of Dr. Graham’s descriptions of what goes on in the world, that is, of the “facts” to be explained, our reasons would probably reduce to the following: First, we do not need to bring in the devil to explain the failure of diplomats to reach agreement on important international issues. We are confident, on the basis of past experience, that explanations of these failures in terms of human motives, in terms of human ignorance and miscalculation, are quite adequate, although in any particular case we may not be in the possession of such an explanation; and, second, the devil hypothesis, granting it to be intelligible, is too vague to be of any use. It is hinted that the devil has a body, but what that body is like or where it lives and exactly how it operates, we are not told. If “devil” is construed on the analogy of the theoretical terms of the natural sciences, our complaint would be that no, or none but totally arbitrary, correspondence rules have been assigned to it.

It should be observed that the devil theory is rejected although it has not been tested and, hence, has not been falsified in the way in which certain exploded medical theories have been tested and falsified. There are, in other words, theories that we reject (and which agnostics, like others, believe they have good reason to reject), although they have not been falsified. It is important to distinguish here two very different reasons why a theory may not have been tested and, hence, why it cannot have been falsified. The theory may be sufficiently precise for us to know what would have to be done to test it, but we may be chronically or temporarily unable to carry out any of the relevant tests. This is to be sharply contrasted with the situation in which a theory is so vague that we do not know what we must do to subject it to a test. In the former case, suspension of judgment may well be the appropriate attitude; it does not follow that the same is true in the latter case, and in fact most of us regard rejection as the appropriate attitude in such a situation until and unless the theory is stated with more precision.

An atheist would maintain that we have just as good grounds for rejecting belief in a finite anthropomorphic deity of any sort as we have for rejecting belief in Zeus or in the devil or in witches. It should be noted that the believers in the finite anthropomorphic God usually advance their theory as a hypothesis that is the best available explanation of certain facts. Mill, for example, thought that the Design Argument, in the form in which he advocated it, affords “a large balance of probability in favor of creation by intelligence,” although he conceded that new evidence for the Darwinian theory would alter this balance of probability (Three Essays on Religion, New York, 1874, p. 174). An atheist would argue that we do not need a finite God to account for any facts any more than we need the devil theory; and, more important, that the theory is too vague to be of any explanatory value. Mill, for example, talks of “creation by intelligence,” but he does not tell us in any detail what the “Author of Nature” is like, where he can be found, how he works, and so on. Furthermore, because of its vagueness the theory is totally sterile. It does not lead to subsidiary hypotheses about celestial laboratories or factories in which eyes and ears and other organs are produced. Nor does it help us to interpret fossils or other remains here on earth. It is tempting, but it would be misleading, to say that the accumulation of evidence for the Darwinian theory (or some modified version of it) since Mill wrote on the subject has put the design theory “out of court.” This would suggest that the theological explanation was at some time “in court,” in the way in which a falsified scientific explanation may once have been a serious contender. It is true, of course, as a matter of history, that informed people cease to bring in God as an explanation for a given set of phenomena once a satisfactory scientific or naturalistic explanation is available. In a more important sense, however, the theological explanations were never serious rivals, just as the devil explanation of diplomatic failures is not a serious rival to psychological explanations. The theological explanations never were serious rivals because of their excessive vagueness and their consequent sterility. We do not at present have anything like a satisfactory scientific explanation of cancer, but no theological theory would be treated as a genuine alternative by a cancer researcher, even a devoutly religious one.

It should be added to all this that believers who, unlike Mill, do not treat their theology as a kind of hypothesis, are not affected by the above objections. Indeed, quite a number of them have strenuously opposed any kind of “God of the gaps.” However, some of the very writers who insist that their theology must not be regarded as a scientific hypothesis elsewhere make statements that imply the opposite. They also frequently maintain that certain phenomenafor example, the universal hunger for God or the origin of lifecan be explained only, or can be explained best, on the assumption that there is a God, and a God of a certain kind. Whatever they may say on other occasions, insofar as they propose their theology as the only possible, or as the best available, explanation of such phenomena, they are committed to the position that has been criticized in this section.

There was a good deal of discussion in the late nineteenth century of an antitheological argument that ought to be briefly mentioned here. To many persons, including unbelievers, the argument will seem to be merely grotesque; but in view of the revival in more recent years of several forms of extreme materialism, it deserves some discussion. Moreover, even if it is granted that the argument fails to prove its conclusion, the very grotesqueness of some of its formulations enables a more sophisticated contemporary atheist to state a challenge in a particularly forceful way.

The two writers chiefly associated with this argument were the German physiologist Emil Du BoisReymond and the English mathematician W. K. Clifford, both of whom wrote extensively on philosophical subjects. However, the argument is really much older, and versions of it are found in Meslier and Holbach. The remark attributed to Pierre Simon de Laplace that “in scanning the heavens with a telescope he found no God” may be regarded as an argument belonging to the same family. “Can we regard the universe,” asked Clifford in his essay “Body and Mind,” “or that part of it which immediately surrounds us, as a vast brain, and therefore the reality which underlies it as a conscious mind? This question has been considered by the great naturalist, Du BoisReymond, and has received from him that negative answer which I think we also must give.” The student of nature, Du BoisReymond had written, before he can “allow a psychical principle to the universe,” will demand to be shown “somewhere within it, embedded in neurine and fed with warm arterial blood under proper pressure, a convolution of ganglionic globules and nerve-tubes proportioned in size to the faculties of such a mind” (ber die Grenzen des Naturerkennens, p. 37). But, in fact, no such gigantic ganglionic globules or nerve-tubes are discoverable, and, hence, we should not allow a “psychical principle” to the universe. The following would be a more systematic statement of the argument: Experience shows that thinking, volition, and other psychological phenomena do not and cannot occur without a certain physiological basismore specifically, without a brain and nervous system. Our observations appear to indicate, although this is not a matter of which one can be certain, that no cosmic brain or nervous system exists. Hence, it is probable that no cosmic consciousness exists either.

This argument has been criticized on the ground that it assumes a certain view (or a certain group of views) about the relationship between body and mind that is not self-evidently true and that many believers would deny. It assumes that consciousness can exist only in conjunction with a nervous system and a brain. However, the objector would maintain, the actual evidence on the subject does not warrant such a claim. It is true that within our experience, conscious processes are found only in connection with a highly developed brain, but this does not prove that consciousness may not occur in conjunction with other physical structures or without any physical “attachments” whatsoever. This is a big question about which nothing very useful can be said in a few words. Perhaps all we can do here is point out that if materialism of some kind is true, then the demand to be shown the bodily foundation or aspect of the divine consciousness is not misplaced, while if the opposite view that consciousness can exist independently of a physical structure is correct, the Du BoisReymond argument would have no force.

Quite aside from this objection, the argument probably seems to many people, believers and unbelievers alike, to rest on a total, one is almost inclined to say a willful, misunderstanding of the theological position. James Martineau, who replied at some length to Du BoisReymond, protested that the “demand for organic centralization” was “strangely inappropriate,” indeed quite irrelevant to the question at issue between the believer and the unbeliever. If Du BoisReymond himself, wrote Martineau, were “ever to alight on the portentous cerebrum which he imagines, I greatly doubt whether he would fulfill his promise and turn theist at the sight: that he had found the Cause of causes would be the last inference it would occur to him to draw: rather would he look round for some monstrous creature, some cosmic megatherium, born to float and pasture on the fields of space” (Modern Materialism and Its Relation to Religion and Theology, p. 184). Martineau then likened the argument to Laplace’s remark, mentioned earlier, that in looking at the heavens with his telescope, he could nowhere see God and to statements by certain physiologists that in opening the brain, they could not discover a soul. All such pronouncements Martineau regarded as absurd. Although the physiologist finds no soul when he opens up the brain, “we positively know” (by introspection) the existence of conscious thought. Similarly, that “the telescope misses all but the bodies of the universe and their light” has no tendency to prove “the absence of a Living Mind through all.” If you take the “wrong instruments” you will not find what you are looking for. “The test tube will not detect an insincerity,” nor will “the microscope analyse a grief”; but insincerity and grief are real for all that. The organism of nature, Martineau concludes, “like that of the brain, lies open, in its external features, to the scrutiny of science; but, on the inner side, the life of both is reserved for other modes of apprehension, of which the base is self-consciousness and the crown is religion.”

One is strongly inclined to agree with Martineau that there is something absurd in scanning the heavens for God. tienne Borne, a French Catholic whose discussions are distinguished by fairness and sympathy for the opposition, refers to this approach as “a tritely positivist atheism” that “misses the point of the problem altogether” (Modern Atheism, p. 145). One must not expect to find God or God’s body in the heavens because God is not a huge man with huge arms, legs, arteries, nervous system, and brain. Only children think of God as a “king” sitting on his throne in Heaven. Educated grownups do not think of God in any such crude fashion. Du BoisReymond, Clifford, and Laplace are all guilty of an enormous ignoratio elenchi.

Let us grant the force of Borne’s objection. A critic may nevertheless raise the following questions: What is God like if he is not a grand consciousness tied to a grand body, if he is so completely nonphysical as to make any results of telescopic exploration antecedently irrelevant? If the telescope, as Martineau put it, is the “wrong instrument,” what is the right instrument? More specifically, what does it mean to speak of a pure spirit, a disembodied mind, as infinitely (or finitely) powerful, wise, good, just, and all the rest? We can understand these words when they are applied to human beings who have bodies and whose behavior is publicly observable; we could undoubtedly understand these words when they are applied to some hypothetical superhuman beings who also have bodies and whose behavior is in principle observable; but what do they mean when they are applied to a pure spirit? Do they then mean anything at all? In recent years it has come to be widely questioned whether it makes any sense to talk about a disembodied consciousness. It is widely believed, in other words, that psychological predicates are logically tied to the behavior of organisms. This view, it should be pointed out, is not identical with reductive materialism. It does not, or at least does not necessarily, imply that the person is just a body, that there are no private experiences, or that feelings are simply ways of behaving. It makes the milder claim that however much more than a body a human being may be, one cannot sensibly talk about this “more” without presupposing (as part of what one means, and not as a mere contingent fact) a living organism. Anybody who has studied and felt the force of this thesis is not likely to dismiss as facetious or as “trite positivism” the question as to what words such as wise, just, and powerful can mean when they are applied to an entity that is supposedly devoid of a body. What would it be like to be, for example, just, without a body? To be just, a person has to act justlyto behave in certain ways. But how is it possible to perform these acts, to behave in the required ways, without a body? Similar remarks apply to the other divine attributes.

One may term this the “semantic” challenge to anthropomorphic theology, as distinct, for example, from arguments like the one from evil or from the eternity of matter, which assume the meaningfulness of the position attacked. A proponent of this challenge does not flatly maintain that anthropomorphic theology is unintelligible. For the pointthat the predicates in question lose their meaning when applied to a supposedly disembodied entitywould be accompanied by the observation that in fact most anthropomorphic believers do, in an important sense of the word, believe in a god with a body, whatever they may say or agree to in certain “theoretical” moments. If we judge the content of their belief not by what they say during these “theoretical” moments but by the images in terms of which their thinking is conducted, then it seems clear that in this sense or to this extent they believe in a god with a body. It is true that the images of most Western adults are not those of a big king on his heavenly throne, but it nevertheless seems to be the case that, when they think about God unself-consciously (and this is, incidentally, true of most unbelievers also), they vaguely think of him as possessing some kind of rather large body. The moment they assert or deny or question such statements as “God created the universe” or “God will be a just judge when we come before him,” they introduce a body into the background, if not into the foreground, of their mental pictures. The difference between children and adults, according to this account, is that children have more vivid and definite images than adults.

This entire point may perhaps be brought out more clearly by comparing it with a similar “semantic” criticism of belief in human survival after death. The semantic critic would maintain that while a believer in reincarnation or the resurrection of the body may be immune from this objection, those who claim that human beings will continue to exist as disembodied minds are really using words without meaning. They do not see this because of the mental pictures accompanying or (partly) constituting their thoughts on the subject. Or, alternatively, they do not see this because, in spite of what they say in certain “theoretical” contexts, in practice they believe in the survival of the familiar em bodied minds whom they know in this life. When they wonder whether their friends, enemies, certain historical personages, or, for that matter, anybody did or will go on existing after death, they think of them automatically in their familiar bodily “guises” or else in some ghostly “disguises,” but still as bodily beings of some kind. If these images are eliminated on the ground that they are irrelevant or inappropriate because the subject of survival is a disembodied mind, it is not clear that an intelligible statement remains. What, for example, do such words as love and hate or happiness and misery mean when they are predicated of a disembodied mind?

It will be seen from all this that the argument of Du BoisReymond and Clifford is not without some point. One may incorporate what is of value in their discussion into the following challenge to anthropomorphic theology: Insofar as the believer believes in a god with a body, what he or she says is intelligible; but in that case the available evidence indicates that there is no such body, and the remarks of Du BoisReymond and Clifford are to the point; if or insofar as God is declared to be a purely spiritual entity, the observations of Du BoisReymond and Clifford become irrelevant, but in that case the predicates applied to God have lost their meaning, and, hence, we no longer have an intelligible assertion.

Let us summarize the atheist’s case as it has here been presented. A philosophically sophisticated atheist would begin by distinguishing three types of belief in Godwhat we have called the metaphysical God, the infinite anthropomorphic God, and the finite anthropomorphic God. He will then claim that he can give grounds for rejecting all three, although he does not claim that he can prove all of them to be false. He will try to show that metaphysical theology is incoherent or unintelligible, and, if he can do this, he will certainly have given a good ground for rejecting it. He will also question the intelligibility of anthropomorphic theology insofar as God is here said to be a purely spiritual entity. If and insofar as belief in an infinite anthropomorphic God is intelligible, he will maintain that it is shown to be false by the existence of evil. In the sense in which he will allow the existence of a finite anthropomorphic God to be an intelligible hypothesis, he will argue that it should be rejected because it is not needed to account for any phenomena and, further, because it is too vague to be of any explanatory value. We saw that some of these justifications, even if sound as far as they go, would not establish the atheist’s case unless they are accompanied by a demolition of the arguments for the existence of God.

If there were reason to believe that any of the arguments for the existence of God are sound or have at least some tendency to establish their conclusions, then they would of course constitute objections to atheism. Since these arguments are fully discussed elsewhere in this encyclopedia, we shall here confine ourselves to objections that are logically independent of them. Some of these objections have been put forward by writers who explicitly reject all the traditional proofs but nevertheless regard atheism as an untenable position.

It has been argued by several writers that whatever the objections to the different forms of theology may be, atheism is also unacceptable since it has no answer to the “ultimate question” about the origin of the universe. Thus, the nineteenth-century physicist John Tyndall, after endorsing a thoroughgoing naturalism, proceeded to reject atheism in favor of an agnostic position. In a paper titled “Force and Matter,” he tells the story of how Napoleon turned to the unbelieving scientists who had accompanied him to Egypt and asked them, pointing to the stars, “Who, gentlemen, made all these?” “That question,” Tyndall comments, “still remains unanswered, and science makes no attempt to answer it.” Later he adds that “the real mystery of this universe lies unsolved, and, as far as we are concerned, is incapable of solution” (Fragments of Science, pp. 9293). In much the same vein, the celebrated American freethinker and social reformer Clarence Darrow, after pointing out the weaknesses of the First Cause Argument, observed that the position of the atheist is just as vulnerable. If, he wrote, the atheist answers the question “What is the origin of it all?” by saying that the universe always existed, he has the same difficulty to contend with as the believer has when he is asked the question “Who made God?” To say that “the universe was here last year, or millions of years ago, does not explain its origin. This is still a mystery. As to the question of the origin of things, man can only wonder and doubt and guess” (Verdicts out of Court, pp. 430431).

A philosophically acute atheist could offer a twofold answer to arguments of this kind. First, he would maintain that the question about the “origin of the universe” or the “origin of it all” is improper and rests on the mistaken or doubtful assumption that there is a thing called “the universe.” It is tempting to suppose that there is such a thing because we have a tendency to think of the universe as a large container in which all things are located and, perhaps more important, because grammatically the expression functions analogously to expressions like “this dog” or “the Cathedral of Notre Dame,” which do denote certain things. Upon reflection, however, it becomes clear, the rejoinder would continue, that “the universe” is not a thing-denoting expression or, putting the point differently, that there is not a universe over and above the different things within the universe. While it makes sense to ask for the origin of any particular thing, there is not a further thing left over, called “the universe” or “it all,” into whose origin one can sensibly inquire. The origin of a great many things is of course unknown to us, but this is something very different from “the ultimate mystery” that figures in the argument under discussion; and there is no reason to suppose that questions about the origin of any individual thing fall in principle outside the domain of scientific investigation.

Furthermore, even if it is granted both that the question concerning the origin of the universe is proper and that we do not and cannot discover the true answer, this is not by itself an argument against atheism. It may well be possible to know that a certain suggested answer to a question is false (or meaningless) without knowing the true answer. All kinds of crimes have never been solved, but this does not prevent us from knowing that certain people did not commit them. An atheist can quite consistently maintain “I have no idea how the origin of the universe is to be explained, but the theological theory cannot be the right answer in view of such facts as the existence of evil.” To support his position, the atheist must be able to justify his rejection of theological answers to the question “What is the origin of the universe?” He does not have to be able to answer that question.

In the popular apologetic pronouncements of liberal believers, it is customary to contrast the agnostic, who is praised for his circumspection, with the atheist, who is accused of arrogant dogmatism and who, like the orthodox or conservative believer, claims to know what, from the nature of the case, no mere human being can possibly know. “The atheist,” in the words of Dr. W. D. Kring, a twentieth-century Unitarian, “can be just as closed-minded as the man who knows everything. The atheist just knows everything in a negative direction” (New York Times, March 22, 1965).

Reasoning of this kind figured prominently in several influential works by nineteenth-century Protestant theologians. Their favorite argument was the following reductio ad absurdum: Atheism could be known to be true only if the atheist knew everything; but this is of course impossible; hence, atheism cannot be known to be true. For a man to deny God, wrote Thomas Chalmers, “he must be a God himself. He must arrogate the ubiquity and omniscience of the Godhead.” Chalmers insists that the believer has a great initial polemical advantage over the atheist. For, he argues, some very limited segment of the universe may provide the believer with strong or even decisive evidence, with an “unequivocal token” of God’s existence. The atheist, on the other hand, would have to “walk the whole expanse of infinity” to make out his case (On Natural Theology, Vol. I, Book I, Ch. 2). By what miracle, asks John Foster, can an atheist acquire the “immense intelligence” required for this task? Unless he is “omnipresentunless he is at this moment at every place in the universehe cannot know but there may be in some place manifestations of a Deity by which even he would be overpowered.” And what is true of space equally applies to “the immeasurable ages that are past” (Essays, 18th ed., p. 35). The atheist could not know that there is no God unless he had examined every part of the universe at every past moment to make sure that at no time was there a trace of divine activity.

According to Robert Flint, who endorsed and elaborated the arguments of Chalmers and Foster, the situation should be clear to anybody who reflects on the difficulty of “proving a negative.” If a man landed on an unknown island, any number of traces in almost any spot would be sufficient to show that a living creature had been there, but he would have to “traverse the whole island, examine every nook and corner, every object and every inch of space in it, before he was entitled to affirm that no living creature had been there” (Anti-Theistic Theories, pp. 911). The larger the territory in question, the more difficult it would become to show that it had not a single animal inhabitant. If, then, it is “proverbially difficult to prove a negative,” there can surely “be no negative so difficult to prove as that there is no God.” This is plain if we reflect that “before we can be sure that nothing testifies to His existence, we must know all things.” The territory in this case is “the universe in all its length and breadth.” To know that there is no trace of God anywhere in eternal time and boundless space, a man would have had to examine and to comprehend every object that ever existed. This would indeed require omnipresence and omniscience, and Chalmers was there perfectly right when he maintained that the atheist’s claim implies that “he is himself God.”

Whatever its rhetorical force, this argument is so patently invalid that it can be disposed of in just a few words. We have in preceding sections of this entry presented several of the most widely used arguments and considerations that have been advanced in support of atheism. These may or may not be logically compelling, but none of them in any way imply that the atheist must be omniscient if he is right. To establish that the existence of evil is incompatible with the view that the universe is the work of an all-powerful and all-good Creator, to show that a given theory is too vague to be of any explanatory value, or to call attention to the fact that certain words have in a certain context lost their meaningnone of these require omniscience.

Writers like Chalmers, Foster, and Flint seem to labor under the impression that as far as its refutability is concerned, “God exists” is on par with a statement like “A hippogriff exists, existed, or will exist in some place at some time.” It may be plausible to maintain that our not having found any hippogriffs on earth is no conclusive evidence that such an animal does not exist in some other part of the universe to which we have no access. The same does not at all apply to the question of whether one is or can be entitled to reject the claims of believers in God. For, unlike the hippogriff, God is by some declared to be the all-powerful and all-good Creator of the universe; he is said by most believers to be a mind without a body; and it is asserted by some that predicates taken from ordinary experience can never be applied to God in their literal senses. These features of theological claims may make it possible to justify their rejection although one has not explored every “nook and cranny” of the universe.

In the opening section of this entry we referred to the view, common in previous centuries, that atheism is bound or, at any rate, very likely to lead to immorality, to national ruin, and to other disasters. This warning is no longer taken very seriously among reputable thinkers, but certain other statements about the baleful consequences of unbelief in general and atheism in particular continue to be widely discussed. Thus, it is frequently maintained that if atheism were true or justified, life would be deprived of all meaning and purpose. Again, it has been held that without God the universe becomes “terrifying” and man’s life a lonely and gloomy affair. “Old age,” wrote William James in his Varieties of Religious Experience (New York and London, 1902), “has the last word: a purely naturalistic look at life, however enthusiastically it may begin, is sure to end in sadness.” Blaise Pascal, who was particularly concerned about the terror of a “silent universe” without God, observed in a similar vein that “the last act” is always tragic”a little earth is thrown upon our head, and that is the end forever.”

James and Pascal were believers, but very similar statements have frequently come from unbelievers themselves. “I am not ashamed to confess,” wrote G. J. Romanes, a nineteenth-century biologist, at the end of his A Candid Examination of Theism (a work that was published anonymously in London in 1878 and which caused a commotion at the time), “that with this virtual denial of God, the universe has lost to me its soul of loveliness.”

More recently, the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski spoke of the state of mind of an unbeliever like himself as “tragic and shattering.” Not only does the absence of God, in the opinion of these writers, make the universe “lonely,” “soulless,” and “tragic,” but it also deprives it of love. Only when we have become accustomed to a “loveless” as well as a “Godless universe,” in the words of Joseph Wood Krutch, shall “we realize what atheism really means.”

Finally, it has been claimed that atheism is fatal to what William James called the capacity of the strenuous mood. James himself had no doubt that the unbeliever is prevented from “getting out of the game of existence its keenest possibilities of zest.” Our attitude toward concrete evils, he asserted, “is entirely different in a world where we believe there are none but finite demanders, from what it is in one where we joyously face tragedy for an infinite demander’s sake.” Religious faith sets free every kind of energy, endurance, and courage in the believer and “on the battlefield of human history,” religion will for this reason always “drive irreligion to the wall” (The Will to Believe, pp. 213ff.)

Some of these claims seem a great deal more impressive than others. It is not easy to deal with the charge that atheism deprives life of its meaning, chiefly because the word meaning in this connection is both ambiguous and extremely vague. However, if what is meant is that an atheist cannot be attached to certain goals that give direction to his life, then the charge is quite plainly false. If what is meant is that although the atheist may, like other men, pursue certain goals, he will not be able to justify any of his activities, then it should be pointed out that most human beings, even believers in God, do not justify the great majority of their acts by reference to God’s will. Hence, the justification of these actions, if they ever are justified, could not be affected by the soundness of atheism. It is difficult to see how such activities as engaging in scientific research, assisting people who are in trouble, singing or dancing or making love or eating superb meals, if they ever were worthwhile, would cease to be so once belief in God is rejected. If what is meant by the charge is that the unbeliever will eventually have to fall back, in his justification, on one or more value judgments that he cannot justify by reference to anything more fundamental, this may be true, but it is not necessarily baleful, and it is not a consequence of atheism. Anybody who engages in the process of justifying anything will eventually reach a stage at which some proposition, principle, or judgment will simply have to be accepted and not referred back to anything else. The unbeliever may, in justifying his acts, regard as fundamental such judgments as “happiness is intrinsically worthwhile” or “the increase of knowledge is good for its own sake,” whereas some believers may say that only service of God is intrinsically valuable. If it is a sign of irrationality, which in any normal sense of the word it is not, to accept a value judgment that is not based on another one, then the atheist is not one whit more irrational than the believer.

On the question of zest, it should be observed that neither James nor anybody else has ever offered empirical evidence for the assertion that unbelievers lead less active or strenuous lives than believers. What we know about human temperament suggests that the acceptance or rejection of a metaphysical position has, in the case of the vast majority of men, exceedingly little to do with whether they lead active or inactive lives. The Soviet cosmonauts, who were atheists (to take one relatively recent illustration), appeared to display the same courage and endurance as their American counterparts, who were believers. In general terms, a survey of the contributions of atheists and other unbelievers to science and social progress, often in conditions requiring unusual stamina and fortitude, would seem to indicate that James was in error. The a priori character of James’s views on this subject remind one of Locke’s conviction, mentioned earlier in this entry, that atheists, since they do not fear divine punishment, cannot be trusted to keep oaths and promises.

As for the “loveless universe” presented by atheism, it must of course be admitted that if there is no God who loves his creatures, there would be that much less love in the world. But this is perhaps all that an atheist would have to concede in this connection. Aside from certain mystics and their raptures, it may be questioned whether a biologically normal human being is capable of feeling any real or deep love for an unseen power; and it hardly seems credible to suppose that a person will cease to love other human beings and animals (if he ever loved them) just because he does not believe them to be the work of God. Perhaps one may hazard a guess that if more human beings grow up in an environment that is free from irrational taboos and repressions (and these, one may add, have not been altogether unconnected with religious belief in the past), there will be more, not less, love in the worldpeople will be more lovable and will also be more capable of giving love. As far as love is concerned, the record of theistic religions has not been particularly impressive.

The writers whose views we are discussing have probably been on stronger ground when they maintain that atheism is a gloomy or tragic philosophy, but here too some qualifications are in order. To begin with, if atheism implies that life is gloomy, it does so not by itself but in conjunction with the rejection of the belief in life after death. There have been atheists, of whom J. E. McTaggart is probably the most famous, who believed in immortality, and they would deny that their atheism had any gloomy implications. However, since the great majority of atheists undoubtedly reject any belief in survival, this does not go to the root of the matter. It cannot be denied that the thought of annihilation can be quite unendurable; but it may be questioned whether believers, whatever they may be expected to feel, do in fact find the thought of death any less distressing. In the opinion of some observers, this is due to the fact that regardless of his profession, the believer frequently does not really believe that death is the gate to an eternal life in the presence of God. “Almost inevitably some part of him,” in the words of Russell, is aware that beliefs of this kind are “myths and that he believes them only because they are comforting” (Human Society in Ethics and Politics, p. 207). Russell and Sigmund Freud regard belief in God and immortality as illusions that usually do not work, but they are quick to add that anybody who refuses to be the victim of unworthy fears would dispense with such illusions even if they did work. “There is something feeble and a little contemptible,” in Russell’s words, “about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths.” Some years earlier, in an essay titled “What I Believe,” Russell had put the point very bluntly:

I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive. I am not young, and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting. Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cozy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigor, and the great spaces have a splendor of their own.

See also Agnosticism; Analogy in Theology; Augustine, St.; Berkeley, George; Blanshard, Brand; Brightman, Edgar Sheffield; Carnap, Rudolf; Clifford, William Kingdon; Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God; Cudworth, Ralph; Du Bois-Reymond, Emil; Epicureanism and the Epicurean School; Evil, The Problem of; Existentialism; Feuerbach, Ludwig Andreas; Fichte, Johann Gottlieb; Freud, Sigmund; Hamilton, William; Hobbes, Thomas; Holbach, Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d’; Huxley, Thomas Henry; Immortality; James, William; Jodl, Friedrich; Laplace, Pierre Simon de; Locke, John; Mansel, Henry Longueville; Martineau, James; Marx, Karl; McTaggart, John McTaggart Ellis; Meslier, Jean; Mill, John Stuart; Nagel, Ernest; Nietzsche, Friedrich; Nihilism; Paley, William; Pascal, Blaise; Plato; Popular Arguments for the Existence of God; Russell, Bertrand Arthur William; Sartre, Jean-Paul; Schopenhauer, Arthur; Shelley, Percy Bysshe; Stephen, Leslie; Thomas Aquinas, St.; Tillich, Paul; Toleration; Unamuno y Jugo, Miguel de; Voltaire, Franois-Marie Arouet de.

The only full-length history of atheism in existence is Fritz Mauthner’s four-volume work, Der Atheismus und seine Geschichte im Abendlande (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, 19201923). Although this work contains much interesting information that cannot easily be obtained elsewhere, it is marred by extreme repetitiousness and by a curiously broad use of the word atheism, which allows Mauthner to speak of agnostic and even deistic atheists. Probably of greater value are the various works on the history of free thought by J. M. Robertson, chiefly his A Short History of Free Thought (New York: Russell and Russell, 1899). Accounts of the struggles of atheists in England in the nineteenth century will be found in H. Bradlaugh Bonner, Charles Bradlaugh: A Record of His Life and Work (London: Unwin, 1895); G. J. Holyoake’s two-volume Sixty Years of an Agitator’s Life (London: Unwin, 1892); and A. H. Nethercot, The First Five Lives of Annie Besant (London, 1961).

An early defense of atheism is found in Vol. II of Holbach’s two-volume The System of Nature, translated by H. D. Robinson (Boston: Mendum, 1853) and in his briefer work Common Sense, translated by A. Knoop (New York, 1920). Shelley defended atheism in his essays The Necessity of Atheism and A Refutation of Deism, and in one of the Notes to Canto VII of Queen Mab, titled “There is no God.” All of these are included in Shelley’s Prose, edited by D. L. Clark (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1954). Charles Bradlaugh’s “A Plea for Atheism” was first published in 1864 and reprinted in the Centenary Volume, Charles Bradlaugh: Champion of Liberty (London, 1933). Although he rarely used the term atheism, Schopenhauer is usually and quite properly classified as an atheist. His fullest discussion of the reasons for rejecting belief in God are found in his “The Christian System” and in his “Religion: A Dialogue.” Both of these are available in a translation by T. B. Saunders in Complete Essays of Schopenhauer (New York: Willey, 1942). Another nineteenth-century work defending atheism is Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (1841), translated by George Eliot, with an introduction by Karl Barth (New York: Harper, 1957). Of early critical works, special mention should be made of Ralph Cudworth’s two-volume The True Intellectual System of the World (London, 1678), which is an enormously detailed onslaught on all forms of atheism known to the author, and of Voltaire’s article “Atheism” in his Philosophical Dictionary, translated by Peter Gay (New York: Basic, 1962). Part II of Voltaire’s article is an extended critique of The System of Nature.

In more recent years, atheism has been championed in R. Robinson, An Atheist’s Values (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964); in Ernest Nagel, “A Defence of Atheism,” which is available in A Modern Introduction to Philosophy, edited by Paul Edwards and Arthur Pap (New York: Free Press, 1965), and in Michael Scriven, Primary Philosophy (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966). Rudolf Carnap’s position, which is briefly mentioned in the present entry, is presented in his “The Elimination of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language,” which is available in a translation by Arthur Pap in Logical Positivism, edited by A. J. Ayer (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1959). A somewhat similar position is defended by Antony Flew in “Theology and Falsification.” This paper is available in various anthologies, perhaps most conveniently in The Existence of God, edited by John Hick (New York: Macmillan, 1964). An interesting and unusual defense of theology against contemporary criticisms like those of Carnap and Flew is found in I. M. Crombie’s “The Possibility of Theological Statements,” in Faith and Logic, edited by Basil Mitchell (London: Allen and Unwin, 1957). The comments in the present entry about the attempts of fideists to circumvent the argument from evil and other difficulties are elaborated in Paul Edwards, “Is Fideistic Theology Irrefutable?” in Rationalist Annual (1966).

There is a kind of “ontological” argument for atheism proposed by J. N. Findlay in “Can God’s Existence Be Disproved?”; this, together with various rejoinders, is reprinted in New Essays in Philosophical Theology, edited by Antony Flew and Alasdair MacIntyre (London: SCM Press, 1955). The view that belief in God is not false but self-contradictory and that, hence, atheism is necessarily true is advocated by Jean-Paul Sartre in his Being and Nothingness, translated by Hazel Barnes (New York: Philosophical Library, 1956). Bertrand Russell wavered between calling himself an atheist and an agnostic. Many of his publications may plausibly be regarded as defenses of atheism. In this connection special mention should be made of The Scientific Outlook (New York: Norton, 1931), Religion and Science (New York: Holt, 1935), and Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Related Subjects (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), which includes “What I Believe.”

What we have been calling metaphysical theology is defended by H. L. Mansel in The Limits of Religious Thought (London: Murray, 1858). Mansel’s views were vigorously attacked by John Stuart Mill in his An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (4th ed., London, 1872); and Mill in turn was answered by Mansel in The Philosophy of the Conditioned (London: Strahan, 1866). The version of metaphysical theology on which we concentrated in the present entry is expounded by Paul Tillich in Vol. I of his three-volume Systematic Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 19511963), in his The Courage to Be (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1952), and in J. A. T. Robinson, Honest to God (London, 1963). This position is criticized in great detail in Paul Edwards, “Professor Tillich’s Confusions,” in Mind 74 (1965): 192214, and in Dorothy Emmet, “‘The Ground of Being,'” in Journal of Theological Studies 15 (1964): 280292. Various reactions to the views of Robinson are collected in The Honest to God Debate, edited by D. L. Edwards (London: SCM Press, 1963). The Thomistic doctrine of “analogical predication,” which was not discussed in the present entry, is expounded in the Summa Theologiae, I, 13, 5, and in the work by Thomas Cajetan available in On the Analogy of Names and the Concept of Being, translated by E. A. Bushinski and H. J. Koren (Pittsburgh, 1953). Contemporary expositions of it may be found in G. H. Joyce, The Principles of Natural Theology (London: Longmans Green, 1923), and in E. L. Mascall, Existence and Analogy (London, 1949). The theory is criticized in Frederick Ferr, Language, Logic and God (New York: Harper, 1961), and in W. T. Blackstone, The Problem of Religious Knowledge (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963). There is an interesting attempt to state the doctrine with great precision by using the tools of contemporary logic in I. M. Bochenski, “On Analogy,” in Thomist 11 (1948): 474497. Tillich’s theory, as well as the Thomistic theory, is criticized in Sidney Hook, The Quest for Being (New York: St. Martin’s, 1960).

Thomas Aquinas’s views on the nature of creation and the possibility of proving that the material universe has not always existed are given in On the Eternity of the World, translated by Cyril Vollert (Milwaukee: Marquette Univ. Press, 1964), which also contains relevant extracts from the Summa Theologiae and the Summa contra Gentiles. The argument for atheism based on the eternity of matter is stated in Ludwig Bchner, Force and Matter (4th English ed., London 1884; reprinted New York, 1950). The question of whether contemporary theories in physical cosmology have any bearing on the question of the existence of God is discussed in William Bonnor, The Mystery of the Expanding Universe (New York: Macmillan, 1964); M. K. Munitz, Space, Time and Creation (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1957); E. L. Mascall, Christian Theology and Natural Science (London: Longmans Green, 1956); and Antony Flew, “Cosmology and Creation,” in Humanist 76 (May 1961): 3435. All the writers just mentioned incline to the view that physical cosmology has no bearing on the question of the existence of God. The opposite position is supported by E. A. Milne in Modern Cosmology and the Christian Idea of God (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952).

The argument for atheism based on the premise that there is no “cosmic brain” is expounded in Emil Du BoisReymond, ber die Grenzen des Naturerkennens (Berlin, 1873), and by W. K. Clifford in an essay titled “Body and Mind,” which is available in Vol. II of Clifford’s two-volume Lectures and Essays, edited by F. Pollock (London and New York, 1879). It is criticized in James Martineau, Modern Materialism and Its Relation to Religion and Theology (London, 1876; New York, 1877). According to Mauthner, op. cit., Vol. III, pp. 439 ff., the remark that “in scanning the heavens with a telescope he found no God” has been falsely attributed to Laplace and occurs in fact in one of the writings of another distinguished astronomer of the same period, Joseph Jrme de Lalande. Arguments by Indian philosophers, similar to those of Du BoisReymond and Clifford, are found in Slovavartika, Sec. I, verses 4359, reprinted in A Source Book in Indian Philosophy, edited by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and C. A. Moore (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957).

The essay by Tyndall in which he defends agnosticism in contrast to atheism is contained in his Fragments of Science (New York, 1871). A similar argument by Clarence Darrow occurs in his lecture “Why I Am an Agnostic,” which was first delivered in 1929 and is now available in Clarence DarrowVerdicts out of Court, edited by A. Weinberg and L. Weinberg (Chicago, 1963). Agnosticism is criticized from an atheistic viewpoint in several of the writings of Friedrich Engels. There is a useful collection of all the main discussions of religion by Marx and Engels in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, On Religion (Moscow, 1957; New York: Schocken, 1964).

The argument that atheism must be untenable since, if it were true, the atheist himself would have to be omniscient, is advanced in Thomas Chalmers’s two-volume On Natural Theology (New York, 1836); in J. Foster, Essays (London, 1844); and in Robert Flint, Anti-Theistic Theories (London, 1878). There is a reply to Chalmers and Foster in G. J. Holyoake, Trial of Theism (London, 1858). A somewhat similar argument is contained in Paul Ziff, “About ‘God,'” in Religious Experience and Truth, edited by Sidney Hook (New York: New York University Press, 1961). There is a reply to this in Paul Edwards, “Some Notes on Anthropomorphic Theology,” in Religious Experience and Truth.

Pascal’s horror of a universe without God is expressed in numerous passages in his Penses, translated by W. E. Trotter, with an introduction by T. S. Eliot (New York: Dover, 2003). William James’s claims that unbelief is fatal to “the strenuous mood” is contained in his essay “The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life,” which is reprinted in his The Will to Believe (New York: Longmans Green, 1897). The view that atheism makes the universe “loveless” is defended by J. W. Krutch in his The Modern Temper (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1929). Malinowski’s remarks about the “tragic” nature of life without God are found in his contribution to the BBC symposium Science and Religion (New York, 1931). The very different view that there is something liberating in the rejection of belief in God is advocated in J. M. Guyau, The Non-Religion of the Future, with an introduction from N. M. Glatzer (New York: Schocken, 1962); in Friedrich Nietzsche, Die Frhliche Wissenschaft, in Vol. II of his three-volume Werke, edited by Karl Schlechta (Munich, 19541956); and in Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, translated by W. D. Robson-Scott (New York: Liveright, 1927).

In more recent years there have been numerous books and articles by religious thinkers in which the atheist’s position is treated with a certain amount of sympathy. The following writings are especially worth mentioning in this connection: James Collins, God in Modern Philosophy (Chicago: Regnery, 1959); Henri de Lubac, The Drama of Atheist Humanism, translated by E. M. Riley (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1950); tienne Borne, Atheism, translated by S. J. Tester (New York, 1961); Ignace Lepp, Atheism in Our Time, translated by Bernard Murchlord (New York: Macmillan, 1963); W. A. Luijpen, Phenomenology and Atheism, translated by W. van de Putte (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1964); Jacques Maritain, “The Meaning of Contemporary Atheism,” in Listener (March 1950): 427432; Gabriel Marcel, “Philosophical Atheism,” in International Philosophical Quarterly 2 (1962): 501514; and Jean-Marie Le Blond, “The Contemporary Status of Atheism,” in International Philosophical Quarterly 5 (1965): 3755.

Baggini, Julian. Atheism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Buckley, Michael. At the Origins of Modern Atheism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.

Everitt, Nicholas. The Non-Existence of God. London: Routledge, 2004.

Flew, Antony. The Presumption of Atheism, and other Philosophical Essays on God, Freedom and Immortality. London: Pemberton, 1976.

Herrick, Jim. Against the Faith: Essays on Deists, Skeptics, and Atheists. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1985.

Hunter, Michael, and David Wootton, eds. Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Le Poidevin, Robin. Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. New York: Routledge, 1996.

MacIntyre, Alasdair, and Paul Ricoeur. The Religious Significance of Atheism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.

The rest is here:

Atheism | Encyclopedia.com

Atheism – Wikipedia

Atheism is, in the broadest sense, the absence of belief in the existence of deities.[1][2][3][4] Less broadly, atheism is the rejection of belief that any deities exist.[5][6] In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities.[1][2][7][8] Atheism is contrasted with theism,[9][10] which, in its most general form, is the belief that at least one deity exists.[10][11][12]

The etymological root for the word atheism originated before the 5th century BCE from the ancient Greek (atheos), meaning “without god(s)”. In antiquity it had multiple uses as a pejorative term applied to those thought to reject the gods worshiped by the larger society,[13] those who were forsaken by the gods, or those who had no commitment to belief in the gods.[14] The term denoted a social category created by orthodox religionists into which those who did not share their religious beliefs were placed.[14] The actual term atheism emerged first in the 16th century.[15] With the spread of freethought, skeptical inquiry, and subsequent increase in criticism of religion, application of the term narrowed in scope. The first individuals to identify themselves using the word atheist lived in the 18th century during the Age of Enlightenment.[15] The French Revolution, noted for its “unprecedented atheism,” witnessed the first major political movement in history to advocate for the supremacy of human reason.[17] The French Revolution can be described as the first period where atheism became implemented politically.

Arguments for atheism range from the philosophical to social and historical approaches. Rationales for not believing in deities include arguments that there is a lack of empirical evidence,[18][19] the problem of evil, the argument from inconsistent revelations, the rejection of concepts that cannot be falsified, and the argument from nonbelief.[18][20] Nonbelievers contend that atheism is a more parsimonious position than theism and that everyone is born without beliefs in deities;[1] therefore, they argue that the burden of proof lies not on the atheist to disprove the existence of gods but on the theist to provide a rationale for theism.[21] Although some atheists have adopted secular philosophies (e.g. secular humanism),[22][23] there is no one ideology or set of behaviors to which all atheists adhere.[24]

Since conceptions of atheism vary, accurate estimations of current numbers of atheists are difficult.[25] According to global Win-Gallup International studies, 13% of respondents were “convinced atheists” in 2012,[26] 11% were “convinced atheists” in 2015,[27] and in 2017, 9% were “convinced atheists”.[28] However, other researchers have advised caution with WIN/Gallup figures since other surveys which have used the same wording for decades and have a bigger sample size have consistently reached lower figures.[29] An older survey by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 2004 recorded atheists as comprising 8% of the world’s population.[30] Other older estimates have indicated that atheists comprise 2% of the world’s population, while the irreligious add a further 12%.[31] According to these polls, Europe and East Asia are the regions with the highest rates of atheism. In 2015, 61% of people in China reported that they were atheists.[32] The figures for a 2010 Eurobarometer survey in the European Union (EU) reported that 20% of the EU population claimed not to believe in “any sort of spirit, God or life force”.[33]

Writers disagree on how best to define and classify atheism,[34] contesting what supernatural entities are considered gods, whether it is a philosophic position in its own right or merely the absence of one, and whether it requires a conscious, explicit rejection. Atheism has been regarded as compatible with agnosticism,[35][36][37][38][39][40][41] and has also been contrasted with it.[42][43][44] A variety of categories have been used to distinguish the different forms of atheism.

Some of the ambiguity and controversy involved in defining atheism arises from difficulty in reaching a consensus for the definitions of words like deity and god. The plurality of wildly different conceptions of God and deities leads to differing ideas regarding atheism’s applicability. The ancient Romans accused Christians of being atheists for not worshiping the pagan deities. Gradually, this view fell into disfavor as theism came to be understood as encompassing belief in any divinity.

With respect to the range of phenomena being rejected, atheism may counter anything from the existence of a deity, to the existence of any spiritual, supernatural, or transcendental concepts, such as those of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Taoism.[46]

Definitions of atheism also vary in the degree of consideration a person must put to the idea of gods to be considered an atheist. Atheism has sometimes been defined to include the simple absence of belief that any deities exist. This broad definition would include newborns and other people who have not been exposed to theistic ideas. As far back as 1772, Baron d’Holbach said that “All children are born Atheists; they have no idea of God.”[47]Similarly, George H. Smith (1979) suggested that: “The man who is unacquainted with theism is an atheist because he does not believe in a god. This category would also include the child with the conceptual capacity to grasp the issues involved, but who is still unaware of those issues. The fact that this child does not believe in god qualifies him as an atheist.”[48] Implicit atheism is “the absence of theistic belief without a conscious rejection of it” and explicit atheism is the conscious rejection of belief.For the purposes of his paper on “philosophical atheism”, Ernest Nagel contested including mere absence of theistic belief as a type of atheism.[49] Graham Oppy classifies as innocents those who never considered the question because they lack any understanding of what a god is. According to Oppy, these could be one-month-old babies, humans with severe traumatic brain injuries, or patients with advanced dementia.

Philosophers such as Antony Flew[51]and Michael Martin have contrasted positive (strong/hard) atheism with negative (weak/soft) atheism. Positive atheism is the explicit affirmation that gods do not exist. Negative atheism includes all other forms of non-theism. According to this categorization, anyone who is not a theist is either a negative or a positive atheist.The terms weak and strong are relatively recent, while the terms negative and positive atheism are of older origin, having been used (in slightly different ways) in the philosophical literature[51] and in Catholic apologetics.[52]Under this demarcation of atheism, most agnostics qualify as negative atheists.

While Martin, for example, asserts that agnosticism entails negative atheism,[38] many agnostics see their view as distinct from atheism,[53][54]which they may consider no more justified than theism or requiring an equal conviction.[53]The assertion of unattainability of knowledge for or against the existence of gods is sometimes seen as an indication that atheism requires a leap of faith.[55][56]Common atheist responses to this argument include that unproven religious propositions deserve as much disbelief as all other unproven propositions,[57]and that the unprovability of a god’s existence does not imply equal probability of either possibility.[58]Australian philosopher J.J.C. Smart even argues that “sometimes a person who is really an atheist may describe herself, even passionately, as an agnostic because of unreasonable generalized philosophical skepticism which would preclude us from saying that we know anything whatever, except perhaps the truths of mathematics and formal logic.”[59]Consequently, some atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins prefer distinguishing theist, agnostic and atheist positions along a spectrum of theistic probabilitythe likelihood that each assigns to the statement “God exists”.

Before the 18th century, the existence of God was so accepted in the western world that even the possibility of true atheism was questioned. This is called theistic innatismthe notion that all people believe in God from birth; within this view was the connotation that atheists are simply in denial.[61]

There is also a position claiming that atheists are quick to believe in God in times of crisis, that atheists make deathbed conversions, or that “there are no atheists in foxholes”.[62]There have however been examples to the contrary, among them examples of literal “atheists in foxholes”.[63]

Some atheists have doubted the very need for the term “atheism”. In his book Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris wrote:

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.

Pragmatic atheism is the view one should reject a belief in a god or gods because it is unnecessary for a pragmatic life. This view is related to apatheism and practical atheism.[65]

Atheists have also argued that people cannot know a God or prove the existence of a God. The latter is called agnosticism, which takes a variety of forms. In the philosophy of immanence, divinity is inseparable from the world itself, including a person’s mind, and each person’s consciousness is locked in the subject. According to this form of agnosticism, this limitation in perspective prevents any objective inference from belief in a god to assertions of its existence. The rationalistic agnosticism of Kant and the Enlightenment only accepts knowledge deduced with human rationality; this form of atheism holds that gods are not discernible as a matter of principle, and therefore cannot be known to exist. Skepticism, based on the ideas of Hume, asserts that certainty about anything is impossible, so one can never know for sure whether or not a god exists. Hume, however, held that such unobservable metaphysical concepts should be rejected as “sophistry and illusion”.[67] The allocation of agnosticism to atheism is disputed; it can also be regarded as an independent, basic worldview.[68]

Other arguments for atheism that can be classified as epistemological or ontological, including ignosticism, assert the meaninglessness or unintelligibility of basic terms such as “God” and statements such as “God is all-powerful.” Theological noncognitivism holds that the statement “God exists” does not express a proposition, but is nonsensical or cognitively meaningless. It has been argued both ways as to whether such individuals can be classified into some form of atheism or agnosticism. Philosophers A.J. Ayer and Theodore M. Drange reject both categories, stating that both camps accept “God exists” as a proposition; they instead place noncognitivism in its own category.[69][70]

Philosopher, Zofia Zdybicka writes:

“Metaphysical atheism… includes all doctrines that hold to metaphysical monism (the homogeneity of reality). Metaphysical atheism may be either: a) absolute an explicit denial of God’s existence associated with materialistic monism (all materialistic trends, both in ancient and modern times); b) relative the implicit denial of God in all philosophies that, while they accept the existence of an absolute, conceive of the absolute as not possessing any of the attributes proper to God: transcendence, a personal character or unity. Relative atheism is associated with idealistic monism (pantheism, panentheism, deism).”[71]

Some atheists hold the view that the various conceptions of gods, such as the personal god of Christianity, are ascribed logically inconsistent qualities. Such atheists present deductive arguments against the existence of God, which assert the incompatibility between certain traits, such as perfection, creator-status, immutability, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, transcendence, personhood (a personal being), nonphysicality, justice, and mercy.[18]

Theodicean atheists believe that the world as they experience it cannot be reconciled with the qualities commonly ascribed to God and gods by theologians. They argue that an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God is not compatible with a world where there is evil and suffering, and where divine love is hidden from many people.[20]A similar argument is attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism.[73]

Philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach[74]and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud have argued that God and other religious beliefs are human inventions, created to fulfill various psychological and emotional wants or needs. This is also a view of many Buddhists.[75]Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, influenced by the work of Feuerbach, argued that belief in God and religion are social functions, used by those in power to oppress the working class. According to Mikhail Bakunin, “the idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, in theory and practice.” He reversed Voltaire’s aphorism that if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him, writing instead that “if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.”[76]

Atheism is not mutually exclusive with respect to some religious and spiritual belief systems, including Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Syntheism, Ralism,[77] and Neopagan movements[78]such as Wicca.[79]stika schools in Hinduism hold atheism to be a valid path to moksha, but extremely difficult, for the atheist can not expect any help from the divine on their journey.[80]Jainism believes the universe is eternal and has no need for a creator deity, however Tirthankaras are revered that can transcend space and time[81]and have more power than the god Indra.[82]Secular Buddhism does not advocate belief in gods. Early Buddhism was atheistic as Gautama Buddha’s path involved no mention of gods. Later conceptions of Buddhism consider Buddha himself a god, suggest adherents can attain godhood, and revere Bodhisattvas[83]and Eternal Buddha.

Apophatic theology is often assessed as being a version of atheism or agnosticism, since it cannot say truly that God exists.[84] “The comparison is crude, however, for conventional atheism treats the existence of God as a predicate that can be denied (God is nonexistent), whereas negative theology denies that God has predicates”.[85] “God or the Divine is” without being able to attribute qualities about “what He is” would be the prerequisite of positive theology in negative theology that distinguishes theism from atheism. “Negative theology is a complement to, not the enemy of, positive theology”.[86]

Axiological, or constructive, atheism rejects the existence of gods in favor of a “higher absolute”, such as humanity. This form of atheism favors humanity as the absolute source of ethics and values, and permits individuals to resolve moral problems without resorting to God. Marx and Freud used this argument to convey messages of liberation, full-development, and unfettered happiness.[68] One of the most common criticisms of atheism has been to the contrary: that denying the existence of a god either leads to moral relativism and leaves one with no moral or ethical foundation,[87] or renders life meaningless and miserable.[88] Blaise Pascal argued this view in his Penses.[89]

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre identified himself as a representative of an “atheist existentialism”concerned less with denying the existence of God than with establishing that “man needs… to find himself again and to understand that nothing can save him from himself, not even a valid proof of the existence of God.”Sartre said a corollary of his atheism was that “if God does not exist, there is at least one being in whom existence precedes essence, a being who exists before he can be defined by any concept, and… this being is man.”The practical consequence of this atheism was described by Sartre as meaning that there are no a priori rules or absolute values that can be invoked to govern human conduct, and that humans are “condemned” to invent these for themselves, making “man” absolutely “responsible for everything he does”.

Sociologist Phil Zuckerman analyzed previous social science research on secularity and non-belief, and concluded that societal well-being is positively correlated with irreligion. He found that there are much lower concentrations of atheism and secularity in poorer, less developed nations (particularly in Africa and South America) than in the richer industrialized democracies.[93][94]His findings relating specifically to atheism in the US were that compared to religious people in the US, “atheists and secular people” are less nationalistic, prejudiced, antisemitic, racist, dogmatic, ethnocentric, closed-minded, and authoritarian, and in US states with the highest percentages of atheists, the murder rate is lower than average. In the most religious states, the murder rate is higher than average.[95][96]

People who self-identify as atheists are often assumed to be irreligious, but some sects within major religions reject the existence of a personal, creator deity.[98]In recent years, certain religious denominations have accumulated a number of openly atheistic followers, such as atheistic or humanistic Judaism[99][100]and Christian atheists.[101][102][103]

The strictest sense of positive atheism does not entail any specific beliefs outside of disbelief in any deity; as such, atheists can hold any number of spiritual beliefs. For the same reason, atheists can hold a wide variety of ethical beliefs, ranging from the moral universalism of humanism, which holds that a moral code should be applied consistently to all humans, to moral nihilism, which holds that morality is meaningless.[104] Atheism is accepted as a valid philosophical position within some varieties of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.[105]

Philosophers such as Slavoj iek,[106] Alain de Botton,[107] and Alexander Bard and Jan Sderqvist,[108] have all argued that atheists should reclaim religion as an act of defiance against theism, precisely not to leave religion as an unwarranted monopoly to theists.

According to Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma, the role of the gods in determining right from wrong is either unnecessary or arbitrary. The argument that morality must be derived from God, and cannot exist without a wise creator, has been a persistent feature of political if not so much philosophical debate.[109][110][111]Moral precepts such as “murder is wrong” are seen as divine laws, requiring a divine lawmaker and judge. However, many atheists argue that treating morality legalistically involves a false analogy, and that morality does not depend on a lawmaker in the same way that laws do.[112]Friedrich Nietzsche believed in a morality independent of theistic belief, and stated that morality based upon God “has truth only if God is truthit stands or falls with faith in God.”[113][114][115]

There exist normative ethical systems that do not require principles and rules to be given by a deity. Some include virtue ethics, social contract, Kantian ethics, utilitarianism, and Objectivism. Sam Harris has proposed that moral prescription (ethical rule making) is not just an issue to be explored by philosophy, but that we can meaningfully practice a science of morality. Any such scientific system must, nevertheless, respond to the criticism embodied in the naturalistic fallacy.[116]

Philosophers Susan Neiman[117]and Julian Baggini[118](among others) assert that behaving ethically only because of divine mandate is not true ethical behavior but merely blind obedience. Baggini argues that atheism is a superior basis for ethics, claiming that a moral basis external to religious imperatives is necessary to evaluate the morality of the imperatives themselvesto be able to discern, for example, that “thou shalt steal” is immoral even if one’s religion instructs itand that atheists, therefore, have the advantage of being more inclined to make such evaluations.[119]The contemporary British political philosopher Martin Cohen has offered the more historically telling example of Biblical injunctions in favor of torture and slavery as evidence of how religious injunctions follow political and social customs, rather than vice versa, but also noted that the same tendency seems to be true of supposedly dispassionate and objective philosophers.[120] Cohen extends this argument in more detail in Political Philosophy from Plato to Mao, where he argues that the Qur’an played a role in perpetuating social codes from the early 7th century despite changes in secular society.[121]

Some prominent atheistsmost recently Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, and following such thinkers as Bertrand Russell, Robert G. Ingersoll, Voltaire, and novelist Jos Saramagohave criticized religions, citing harmful aspects of religious practices and doctrines.[122]

The 19th-century German political theorist and sociologist Karl Marx called religion “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”. He goes on to say, “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”[123] Lenin said that “every religious idea and every idea of God is unutterable vileness… of the most dangerous kind, ‘contagion’ of the most abominable kind. Millions of sins, filthy deeds, acts of violence and physical contagions… are far less dangerous than the subtle, spiritual idea of God decked out in the smartest ideological constumes…”[124]

Sam Harris criticizes Western religion’s reliance on divine authority as lending itself to authoritarianism and dogmatism.There is a correlation between religious fundamentalism and extrinsic religion (when religion is held because it serves ulterior interests)[126] and authoritarianism, dogmatism, and prejudice.[127]These argumentscombined with historical events that are argued to demonstrate the dangers of religion, such as the Crusades, inquisitions, witch trials, and terrorist attackshave been used in response to claims of beneficial effects of belief in religion.[128]Believers counter-argue that some regimes that espouse atheism, such as the Soviet Union, have also been guilty of mass murder.[129][130] In response to those claims, atheists such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have stated that Stalin’s atrocities were influenced not by atheism but by dogmatic Marxism, and that while Stalin and Mao happened to be atheists, they did not do their deeds in the name of atheism.[132]

In early ancient Greek, the adjective theos (, from the privative – + “god”) meant “godless”. It was first used as a term of censure roughly meaning “ungodly” or “impious”. In the 5th century BCE, the word began to indicate more deliberate and active godlessness in the sense of “severing relations with the gods” or “denying the gods”. The term (asebs) then came to be applied against those who impiously denied or disrespected the local gods, even if they believed in other gods. Modern translations of classical texts sometimes render theos as “atheistic”. As an abstract noun, there was also (atheots), “atheism”. Cicero transliterated the Greek word into the Latin theos. The term found frequent use in the debate between early Christians and Hellenists, with each side attributing it, in the pejorative sense, to the other.[13]

The term atheist (from Fr. athe), in the sense of “one who… denies the existence of God or gods”,[134]predates atheism in English, being first found as early as 1566,[135]and again in 1571.[136]Atheist as a label of practical godlessness was used at least as early as 1577.[137]The term atheism was derived from the French athisme,[138] and appears in English about 1587.[139]An earlier work, from about 1534, used the term atheonism.[140][141]Related words emerged later: deist in 1621,[142]theist in 1662,[143]deism in 1675,[144]and theism in 1678.[145]At that time “deist” and “deism” already carried their modern meaning. The term theism came to be contrasted with deism.

Karen Armstrong writes that “During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the word ‘atheist’ was still reserved exclusively for polemic… The term ‘atheist’ was an insult. Nobody would have dreamed of calling himself an atheist.”

Atheism was first used to describe a self-avowed belief in late 18th-century Europe, specifically denoting disbelief in the monotheistic Abrahamic god.[146]In the 20th century, globalization contributed to the expansion of the term to refer to disbelief in all deities, though it remains common in Western society to describe atheism as simply “disbelief in God”.

While the earliest-found usage of the term atheism is in 16th-century France,[138][139] ideas that would be recognized today as atheistic are documented from the Vedic period and the classical antiquity.

Atheistic schools are found in early Indian thought and have existed from the times of the historical Vedic religion.[147]Among the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, Samkhya, the oldest philosophical school of thought, does not accept God, and the early Mimamsa also rejected the notion of God.[148]The thoroughly materialistic and anti-theistic philosophical Crvka (or Lokyata) school that originated in India around the 6th century BCE is probably the most explicitly atheistic school of philosophy in India, similar to the Greek Cyrenaic school. This branch of Indian philosophy is classified as heterodox due to its rejection of the authority of Vedas and hence is not considered part of the six orthodox schools of Hinduism, but it is noteworthy as evidence of a materialistic movement within Hinduism.[149]

Chatterjee and Datta explain that our understanding of Crvka philosophy is fragmentary, based largely on criticism of the ideas by other schools, and that it is not a living tradition:[150]

Though materialism in some form or other has always been present in India, and occasional references are found in the Vedas, the Buddhistic literature, the Epics, as well as in the later philosophical works we do not find any systematic work on materialism, nor any organized school of followers as the other philosophical schools possess. But almost every work of the other schools states, for refutation, the materialistic views. Our knowledge of Indian materialism is chiefly based on these.

Other Indian philosophies generally regarded as atheistic include Classical Samkhya and Purva Mimamsa. The rejection of a personal creator God is also seen in Jainism and Buddhism in India.[151]

Western atheism has its roots in pre-Socratic Greek philosophy,[154][155] but atheism in the modern sense was nonexistent or extremely rare in ancient Greece.[156][157][155] Pre-Socratic Atomists such as Democritus attempted to explain the world in a purely materialistic way and interpreted religion as a human reaction to natural phenomena,[152] but did not explicitly deny the gods’ existence.[152] In the late fifth century BCE, the Greek lyric poet Diagoras of Melos was sentenced to death in Athens under the charge of being a “godless person” () after he made fun of the Eleusinian Mysteries,[156][157][152] but he fled the city to escape punishment.[156][157][152] Later writers have cited Diagoras as the “first atheist”,[158][159] but he was probably not an atheist in the modern sense of the word.[157]

A fragment from the lost satyr play Sisyphus, which has been attributed to both Critias and Euripides, claims that a clever man invented “the fear of the gods” in order to frighten people into behaving morally.[160][157][161][157][155] This statement, however, originally did not mean that the gods themselves were nonexistent, but rather that their powers were a hoax.[155] Atheistic statements have also been attributed to the philosopher Prodicus. Philodemus reports that Prodicus believed that “the gods of popular belief do not exist nor do they know, but primitive man, [out of admiration, deified] the fruits of the earth and virtually everything that contributed to his existence”. Protagoras has sometimes been taken to be an atheist, but rather espoused agnostic views, commenting that “Concerning the gods I am unable to discover whether they exist or not, or what they are like in form; for there are many hindrances to knowledge, the obscurity of the subject and the brevity of human life.”[162][156]

The Athenian public associated Socrates (c. 470399 BCE) with the trends in pre-Socratic philosophy towards naturalistic inquiry and the rejection of divine explanations for phenomena.[152][153] Aristophanes’ comic play The Clouds (performed 423 BCE) portrays Socrates as teaching his students that the traditional Greek deities do not exist.[152][153] Socrates was later tried and executed under the charge of not believing in the gods of the state and instead worshipping foreign gods.[152][153] Socrates himself vehemently denied the charges of atheism at his trial[152][153][163] and all the surviving sources about him indicate that he was a very devout man, who prayed to the rising sun and believed that the oracle at Delphi spoke the word of Apollo.[152] Euhemerus (c. 300 BCE) published his view that the gods were only the deified rulers, conquerors and founders of the past, and that their cults and religions were in essence the continuation of vanished kingdoms and earlier political structures.[164] Although not strictly an atheist, Euhemerus was later criticized for having “spread atheism over the whole inhabited earth by obliterating the gods”.[165]

The most important Greek thinker in the development of atheism was Epicurus (c. 300 BCE).[155] Drawing on the ideas of Democritus and the Atomists, he espoused a materialistic philosophy according to which the universe was governed by the laws of chance without the need for divine intervention (see scientific determinism).[166] Although Epicurus still maintained that the gods existed,[167][155][166] he believed that they were uninterested in human affairs.[166] The aim of the Epicureans was to attain ataraxia (“peace of mind”) and one important way of doing this was by exposing fear of divine wrath as irrational. The Epicureans also denied the existence of an afterlife and the need to fear divine punishment after death.[166] In the 3rd-century BCE, the Greek philosophers Theodorus Cyrenaicus[159][168] and Strato of Lampsacus[169] did not believe in the existence of gods. The Roman philosopher Sextus Empiricus held that one should suspend judgment about virtually all beliefsa form of skepticism known as Pyrrhonismthat nothing was inherently evil, and that ataraxia is attainable by withholding one’s judgment. His relatively large volume of surviving works had a lasting influence on later philosophers.[170]

The meaning of “atheist” changed over the course of classical antiquity.[157] Early Christians were widely reviled as “atheists” because they did not believe in the existence of the Graeco-Roman deities.[171][157][172][173] During the Roman Empire, Christians were executed for their rejection of the Roman gods in general and Emperor-worship in particular.[173][174] When Christianity became the state religion of Rome under Theodosius I in 381, heresy became a punishable offense.[174]

During the Early Middle Ages, the Islamic world experienced a Golden Age. Along with advances in science and philosophy, Arab and Persian lands produced outspoken rationalists and atheists, including Muhammad al Warraq (fl. 9th century), Ibn al-Rawandi (827911), Al-Razi (854925), and Al-Maarri (9731058). Al-Ma’arri wrote and taught that religion itself was a “fable invented by the ancients”[175] and that humans were “of two sorts: those with brains, but no religion, and those with religion, but no brains.”[176] Despite their being relatively prolific writers, little of their work survives, mainly being preserved through quotations and excerpts in later works by Muslim apologists attempting to refute them.[177] Other prominent Golden Age scholars have been associated with rationalist thought and atheism as well, although the current intellectual atmosphere in the Islamic world, and the scant evidence that survives from the era, make this point a contentious one today.

In Europe, the espousal of atheistic views was rare during the Early Middle Ages and Middle Ages (see Medieval Inquisition); metaphysics and theology were the dominant interests pertaining to religion.[178] There were, however, movements within this period that furthered heterodox conceptions of the Christian god, including differing views of the nature, transcendence, and knowability of God. Individuals and groups such as Johannes Scotus Eriugena, David of Dinant, Amalric of Bena, and the Brethren of the Free Spirit maintained Christian viewpoints with pantheistic tendencies. Nicholas of Cusa held to a form of fideism he called docta ignorantia (“learned ignorance”), asserting that God is beyond human categorization, and thus our knowledge of him is limited to conjecture. William of Ockham inspired anti-metaphysical tendencies with his nominalistic limitation of human knowledge to singular objects, and asserted that the divine essence could not be intuitively or rationally apprehended by human intellect. Followers of Ockham, such as John of Mirecourt and Nicholas of Autrecourt furthered this view. The resulting division between faith and reason influenced later radical and reformist theologians such as John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, and Martin Luther.[178]

The Renaissance did much to expand the scope of free thought and skeptical inquiry. Individuals such as Leonardo da Vinci sought experimentation as a means of explanation, and opposed arguments from religious authority. Other critics of religion and the Church during this time included Niccol Machiavelli, Bonaventure des Priers, Michel de Montaigne, and Franois Rabelais.[170]

Historian Geoffrey Blainey wrote that the Reformation had paved the way for atheists by attacking the authority of the Catholic Church, which in turn “quietly inspired other thinkers to attack the authority of the new Protestant churches”.[179] Deism gained influence in France, Prussia, and England. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza was “probably the first well known ‘semi-atheist’ to announce himself in a Christian land in the modern era”, according to Blainey. Spinoza believed that natural laws explained the workings of the universe. In 1661 he published his Short Treatise on God.[180]

Criticism of Christianity became increasingly frequent in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially in France and England, where there appears to have been a religious malaise, according to contemporary sources. Some Protestant thinkers, such as Thomas Hobbes, espoused a materialist philosophy and skepticism toward supernatural occurrences, while Spinoza rejected divine providence in favor of a panentheistic naturalism. By the late 17th century, deism came to be openly espoused by intellectuals such as John Toland who coined the term “pantheist”.[181]

The first known explicit atheist was the German critic of religion Matthias Knutzen in his three writings of 1674.[182] He was followed by two other explicit atheist writers, the Polish ex-Jesuit philosopher Kazimierz yszczyski and in the 1720s by the French priest Jean Meslier.[183] In the course of the 18th century, other openly atheistic thinkers followed, such as Baron d’Holbach, Jacques-Andr Naigeon, and other French materialists.[184] John Locke in contrast, though an advocate of tolerance, urged authorities not to tolerate atheism, believing that the denial of God’s existence would undermine the social order and lead to chaos.[185]

The philosopher David Hume developed a skeptical epistemology grounded in empiricism, and Immanuel Kant’s philosophy has strongly questioned the very possibility of a metaphysical knowledge. Both philosophers undermined the metaphysical basis of natural theology and criticized classical arguments for the existence of God.

Blainey notes that, although Voltaire is widely considered to have strongly contributed to atheistic thinking during the Revolution, he also considered fear of God to have discouraged further disorder, having said “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”[186] In Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), the philosopher Edmund Burke denounced atheism, writing of a “literary cabal” who had “some years ago formed something like a regular plan for the destruction of the Christian religion. This object they pursued with a degree of zeal which hitherto had been discovered only in the propagators of some system of piety… These atheistical fathers have a bigotry of their own…”. But, Burke asserted, “man is by his constitution a religious animal” and “atheism is against, not only our reason, but our instincts; and… it cannot prevail long”.[187]

Baron d’Holbach was a prominent figure in the French Enlightenment who is best known for his atheism and for his voluminous writings against religion, the most famous of them being The System of Nature (1770) but also Christianity Unveiled. One goal of the French Revolution was a restructuring and subordination of the clergy with respect to the state through the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Attempts to enforce it led to anti-clerical violence and the expulsion of many clergy from France, lasting until the Thermidorian Reaction. The radical Jacobins seized power in 1793, ushering in the Reign of Terror. The Jacobins were deists and introduced the Cult of the Supreme Being as a new French state religion. Some atheists surrounding Jacques Hbert instead sought to establish a Cult of Reason, a form of atheistic pseudo-religion with a goddess personifying reason. The Napoleonic era further institutionalized the secularization of French society.

In the latter half of the 19th century, atheism rose to prominence under the influence of rationalistic and freethinking philosophers. Many prominent German philosophers of this era denied the existence of deities and were critical of religion, including Ludwig Feuerbach, Arthur Schopenhauer, Max Stirner, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche.[188]

George Holyoake was the last person (1842) imprisoned in Great Britain due to atheist beliefs. Law notes that he may have also been the first imprisoned on such a charge. Stephen Law states that Holyoake “first coined the term ‘secularism'”.[189][190]

Atheism, particularly in the form of practical atheism, advanced in many societies in the 20th century. Atheistic thought found recognition in a wide variety of other, broader philosophies, such as existentialism, objectivism, secular humanism, nihilism, anarchism, logical positivism, Marxism, feminism,[191] and the general scientific and rationalist movement.

In addition, state atheism emerged in Eastern Europe and Asia during that period, particularly in the Soviet Union under Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, and in Communist China under Mao Zedong. Atheist and anti-religious policies in the Soviet Union included numerous legislative acts, the outlawing of religious instruction in the schools, and the emergence of the League of Militant Atheists.[192][193] After Mao, the Chinese Communist Party remains an atheist organization, and regulates, but does not forbid, the practice of religion in mainland China.[194][195][196]

While Geoffrey Blainey has written that “the most ruthless leaders in the Second World War were atheists and secularists who were intensely hostile to both Judaism and Christianity”,[197] Richard Madsen has pointed out that Hitler and Stalin each opened and closed churches as a matter of political expedience, and Stalin softened his opposition to Christianity in order to improve public acceptance of his regime during the war.[198] Blackford and Schklenk have written that “the Soviet Union was undeniably an atheist state, and the same applies to Maoist China and Pol Pot’s fanatical Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in the 1970s. That does not, however, show that the atrocities committed by these totalitarian dictatorships were the result of atheist beliefs, carried out in the name of atheism, or caused primarily by the atheistic aspects of the relevant forms of communism.”[199]

Logical positivism and scientism paved the way for neopositivism, analytical philosophy, structuralism, and naturalism. Neopositivism and analytical philosophy discarded classical rationalism and metaphysics in favor of strict empiricism and epistemological nominalism. Proponents such as Bertrand Russell emphatically rejected belief in God. In his early work, Ludwig Wittgenstein attempted to separate metaphysical and supernatural language from rational discourse. A.J. Ayer asserted the unverifiability and meaninglessness of religious statements, citing his adherence to the empirical sciences. Relatedly the applied structuralism of Lvi-Strauss sourced religious language to the human subconscious in denying its transcendental meaning. J.N. Findlay and J.J.C. Smart argued that the existence of God is not logically necessary. Naturalists and materialistic monists such as John Dewey considered the natural world to be the basis of everything, denying the existence of God or immortality.[59][200]

Other leaders like Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, a prominent atheist leader of India, fought against Hinduism and Brahmins for discriminating and dividing people in the name of caste and religion.[201]This was highlighted in 1956 when he arranged for the erection of a statue depicting a Hindu god in a humble representation and made antitheistic statements.[202]

Atheist Vashti McCollum was the plaintiff in a landmark 1948 Supreme Court case that struck down religious education in US public schools.[203] Madalyn Murray O’Hair was perhaps one of the most influential American atheists; she brought forth the 1963 Supreme Court case Murray v. Curlett which banned compulsory prayer in public schools.[204] In 1966, Time magazine asked “Is God Dead?”[205] in response to the Death of God theological movement, citing the estimation that nearly half of all people in the world lived under an anti-religious power, and millions more in Africa, Asia, and South America seemed to lack knowledge of the Christian view of theology.[206] The Freedom From Religion Foundation was co-founded by Anne Nicol Gaylor and her daughter, Annie Laurie Gaylor, in 1976 in the United States, and incorporated nationally in 1978. It promotes the separation of church and state.[207][208]

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the number of actively anti-religious regimes has reduced considerably. In 2006, Timothy Shah of the Pew Forum noted “a worldwide trend across all major religious groups, in which God-based and faith-based movements in general are experiencing increasing confidence and influence vis–vis secular movements and ideologies.”[209]However, Gregory S. Paul and Phil Zuckerman consider this a myth and suggest that the actual situation is much more complex and nuanced.[210]

A 2010 survey found that those identifying themselves as atheists or agnostics are on average more knowledgeable about religion than followers of major faiths. Nonbelievers scored better on questions about tenets central to Protestant and Catholic faiths. Only Mormon and Jewish faithful scored as well as atheists and agnostics.[211]

In 2012, the first “Women in Secularism” conference was held in Arlington, Virginia.[212] Secular Woman was organized in 2012 as a national organization focused on nonreligious women.[213] The atheist feminist movement has also become increasingly focused on fighting sexism and sexual harassment within the atheist movement itself.[214]In August 2012, Jennifer McCreight (the organizer of Boobquake) founded a movement within atheism known as Atheism Plus, or A+, that “applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime”.[215][216][217]

In 2013 the first atheist monument on American government property was unveiled at the Bradford County Courthouse in Florida: a 1,500-pound granite bench and plinth inscribed with quotes by Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Madalyn Murray O’Hair.[218][219]

“New Atheism” is the name that has been given to a movement among some early-21st-century atheist writers who have advocated the view that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.”[220]The movement is commonly associated with Sam Harris, Daniel C. Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Victor J. Stenger, Christopher Hitchens, and to some extent Ayaan Hirsi Ali.[221] Several best-selling books by these authors, published between 2004 and 2007, form the basis for much of the discussion of “New” Atheism.

In best selling books, the religiously motivated terrorist events of 9/11 and the partially successful attempts of the Discovery Institute to change the American science curriculum to include creationist ideas, together with support for those ideas from George W. Bush in 2005, have been cited by authors such as Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, Stenger, and Hitchens as evidence of a need to move toward a more secular society.[223]

It is difficult to quantify the number of atheists in the world. Respondents to religious-belief polls may define “atheism” differently or draw different distinctions between atheism, non-religious beliefs, and non-theistic religious and spiritual beliefs.[224] A Hindu atheist would declare oneself as a Hindu, although also being an atheist at the same time.[225] A 2010 survey published in Encyclopdia Britannica found that the non-religious made up about 9.6% of the world’s population, and atheists about 2.0%, with a very large majority based in Asia. This figure did not include those who follow atheistic religions, such as some Buddhists.[226] The average annual change for atheism from 2000 to 2010 was 0.17%.[226] Broad estimates of those who have an absence of belief in a god range from 500 million to 1.1 billion people worldwide.[227][228]

According to global Win-Gallup International studies, 13% of respondents were “convinced atheists” in 2012,[229] 11% were “convinced atheists” in 2015,[27] and in 2017, 9% were “convinced atheists”.[28] As of 2012[update], the top 10 surveyed countries with people who viewed themselves as “convinced atheists” were China (47%), Japan (31%), the Czech Republic (30%), France (29%), South Korea (15%), Germany (15%), Netherlands (14%), Austria (10%), Iceland (10%), Australia (10%), and the Republic of Ireland (10%).[230]

According to the 2010 Eurobarometer Poll, the percentage of those polled who agreed with the statement “you don’t believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force” varied from a high percentage in France (40%), Czech Republic (37%), Sweden (34%), Netherlands (30%), and Estonia (29%); medium-high percentage in Germany (27%), Belgium (27%), UK (25%); to very low in Poland (5%), Greece (4%), Cyprus (3%), Malta (2%), and Romania (1%), with the European Union as a whole at 20%.[33] In a 2012 Eurobarometer poll on discrimination in the European Union, 16% of those polled considered themselves non believers/agnostics and 7% considered themselves atheists.[232]

According to a Pew Research Center survey in 2012 religiously unaffiliated (including agnostics and atheists) make up about 18% of Europeans.[233] According to the same survey, the religiously unaffiliated are the majority of the population only in two European countries: Czech Republic (75%) and Estonia (60%).[233]

There are another four countries or regions where the unaffiliated make up a majority of the population: North Korea (71%), Japan (57%), Hong Kong (56%), and China (52%).[233]

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 30% of Australians have “no religion”, a category that includes atheists.[234]

In a 2013 census, 42% of New Zealanders reported having no religion, up from 30% in 1991.[235] Men were more likely than women to report no religion.

According to the World Values Survey, 4.4% of Americans self-identified as atheists in 2014.[236] However, the same survey showed that 11.1% of all respondents stated “no” when asked if they believed in God.[236] In 1984, these same figures were 1.1% and 2.2%, respectively. According to a 2014 report by the Pew Research Center, 3.1% of the US adult population identify as atheist, up from 1.6% in 2007; and within the religiously unaffiliated (or “no religion”) demographic, atheists made up 13.6%.[237] According to the 2015 General Sociological Survey the number of atheists and agnostics in the US has remained relatively flat in the past 23 years since in 1991 only 2% identified as atheist and 4% identified as agnostic and in 2014 only 3% identified as atheists and 5% identified as agnostics.[238]

According to the American Family Survey, 34% was found to be religiously unaffiliated in 2017 (23% ‘nothing in particular’, 6% agnostic, 5% atheist).[239][240] According to the Pew Research Center, in 2014, 22.8% of the American population does not identify with a religion, including atheists (3.1%) and agnostics (4%).[241] According to a PRRI survey, 24% of the population is unaffiliated. Atheists and agnostics combined make up about a quarter of this unaffiliated demographic.[242]

In recent years, the profile of atheism has risen substantially in the Arab world.[243] In major cities across the region, such as Cairo, atheists have been organizing in cafs and social media, despite regular crackdowns from authoritarian governments.[243] A 2012 poll by Gallup International revealed that 5% of Saudis considered themselves to be “convinced atheists.”[243] However, very few young people in the Arab world have atheists in their circle of friends or acquaintances. According to one study, less than 1% did in Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Jordan; only 3% to 7% in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Palestine.[244] When asked whether they have “seen or heard traces of atheism in [their] locality, community, and society” only about 3% to 8% responded yes in all the countries surveyed. The only exception was the UAE, with a percentage of 51%.[244]

A study noted positive correlations between levels of education and secularism, including atheism, in America.[95] According to evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber, atheism blossoms in places where most people feel economically secure, particularly in the social democracies of Europe, as there is less uncertainty about the future with extensive social safety nets and better health care resulting in a greater quality of life and higher life expectancy. By contrast, in underdeveloped countries, there are virtually no atheists.[245]

In a 2008 study, researchers found intelligence to be negatively related to religious belief in Europe and the United States. In a sample of 137 countries, the correlation between national IQ and disbelief in God was found to be 0.60.[246] Evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber states that the reason atheists are more intelligent than religious people is better explained by social, environmental, and wealth factors which happen to correlate with loss of religious belief as well. He doubts that religion causes stupidity, noting that some highly intelligent people have also been religious, but he says it is plausible that higher intelligence correlates to rejection of improbable religious beliefs and that the situation between intelligence and rejection of religious beliefs is quite complex.[247]

In a 2017 study, it was shown that compared to religious individuals, atheists have higher reasoning capacities and this difference seemed to be unrelated to sociodemographic factors such as age, education and country of origin.[248]

Statistically, atheists are held in poor regard across the globe. Non-atheists, and possibly even fellow atheists, seem to implicitly view atheists as prone to exhibit immoral behaviors ranging from mass murder to not paying at a restaurant.[249][250][251] In addition, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center publication, 15% of French people, 45% of Americans, and 99% of Indonesians explicitly believe that a person must believe in God to be moral. Pew furthermore noted that, in a U.S. poll, atheists and Muslims tied for the lowest rating among the major religious demographics on a “feeling thermometer”.[252]

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Atheism – Wikipedia

What is Atheism? | American Atheists

Atheism is one thing: A lack of belief in gods.

Atheism isnot an affirmative belief that there is no god nor does it answer any other question about what a person believes. It is simply a rejection of the assertion that there are gods. Atheism is too oftendefined incorrectly as a belief system. To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.

Older dictionaries define atheism as a belief that there is no God. Clearly, theistic influence taints these definitions. The fact that dictionaries define Atheism as there is no God betrays the (mono)theistic influence. Without the (mono)theistic influence, the definition would at least read there are no gods.

While there are some religions that are atheistic (certain sects of Buddhism, for example), that does not mean that atheism is a religion. To put it in a more humorous way: If atheism is a religion, thennot collecting stamps is a hobby.

Despite the fact that atheism is not a religion, atheism is protected by many of the same Constitutional rights that protect religion. That, however, does not mean that atheism is itself a religion, only that our sincerely held (lack of) beliefs are protected in the same way as the religious beliefs of others. Similarly, many interfaith groups will include atheists. This, again, does not mean that atheism is a religious belief.

Some groups will use words like Agnostic, Humanist, Secular, Bright, Freethinker, or any number of other terms to self identify. Those words are perfectly fine as a self-identifier, but we strongly advocate using the word that people understand: Atheist. Dont use those other terms to disguise your atheism or to shy away from a word that some think has a negative connotation. We should be using the terminology that is most accurate and that answers the question that is actually being asked. We should use the term that binds all of us together.

If you call yourself a humanist, a freethinker, a bright, or even a cultural Catholic and lack belief in a god, you are an atheist. Dont shy away from the term. Embrace it.

Agnostic isnt just a weaker version of being an atheist. It answers a different question. Atheism is about what you believe. Agnosticism is about what you know.

In recent surveys, the Pew Research Center has grouped atheists, agnostics, and the unaffiliated into one category. The so-called Nones are the fastest growing religious demographic in the United States. Pewseparates out atheists from agnostics and the non-religious, but that is primarily a function of self-identification. Only about 5% of people call themselves atheists, but if you ask about belief in gods, 11% say they do not believe in gods. Those people are atheists, whether they choose to use the word or not.

A recent survey fromUniversity of Kentucky psychologists Will Gervais and Maxine Najle found that as many as 26% of Americans may be atheists. This study was designed to overcome the stigma associated with atheism and the potential for closeted atheists to abstain from outing themselves even when speaking anonymously to pollsters. The full study is awaiting publication inSocial Psychological and Personality Sciencejournal but a pre-print version is available here.

Even more people say that their definition of god is simply a unifying force between all people. Or that they arent sure what they believe.If you lack an active belief in gods, you are an atheist.

Being an atheist doesnt mean youre sure about every theological question, have answers to the way the world was created, or how evolution works. It just means that the assertion that gods exist has left you unconvinced.

Wishing that there was an afterlife, or a creator god, or a specific god doesnt mean youre not an atheist. Being an atheist is about what you believe and dont believe, not about what you wish to be true or would find comforting.

The only common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods. Some of the best debates we have ever had have been with fellow atheists. This is because atheists do not have a common belief system, sacred scripture or atheist Pope. This means atheists often disagree on many issues and ideas. Atheists come in a variety of shapes, colors, beliefs, convictions, and backgrounds. We are as unique as our fingerprints.

Atheists exist across the political spectrum. We are members of every race. We are members of the LGBTQ* community. There are atheists in urban, suburban, and rural communities and in every state of the nation.

We have more than 170 affiliates and local partners nationwide. If you are looking for a community, we strongly recommend reaching out to an affiliate in your area.

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What is Atheism? | American Atheists

atheism | Definition, Philosophy, & Comparison to …

Atheism, in general, the critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or spiritual beings. As such, it is usually distinguished from theism, which affirms the reality of the divine and often seeks to demonstrate its existence. Atheism is also distinguished from agnosticism, which leaves open the question whether there is a god or not, professing to find the questions unanswered or unanswerable.

The dialectic of the argument between forms of belief and unbelief raises questions concerning the most perspicuous delineation, or characterization, of atheism, agnosticism, and theism. It is necessary not only to probe the warrant for atheism but also carefully to consider what is the most adequate definition of atheism. This article will start with what have been some widely accepted, but still in various ways mistaken or misleading, definitions of atheism and move to more adequate formulations that better capture the full range of atheist thought and more clearly separate unbelief from belief and atheism from agnosticism. In the course of this delineation the section also will consider key arguments for and against atheism.

A central, common core of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is the affirmation of the reality of one, and only one, God. Adherents of these faiths believe that there is a God who created the universe out of nothing and who has absolute sovereignty over all his creation; this includes, of course, human beingswho are not only utterly dependent on this creative power but also sinful and who, or so the faithful must believe, can only make adequate sense of their lives by accepting, without question, Gods ordinances for them. The varieties of atheism are numerous, but all atheists reject such a set of beliefs.

Atheism, however, casts a wider net and rejects all belief in spiritual beings, and to the extent that belief in spiritual beings is definitive of what it means for a system to be religious, atheism rejects religion. So atheism is not only a rejection of the central conceptions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; it is, as well, a rejection of the religious beliefs of such African religions as that of the Dinka and the Nuer, of the anthropomorphic gods of classical Greece and Rome, and of the transcendental conceptions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Generally atheism is a denial of God or of the gods, and if religion is defined in terms of belief in spiritual beings, then atheism is the rejection of all religious belief.

It is necessary, however, if a tolerably adequate understanding of atheism is to be achieved, to give a reading to rejection of religious belief and to come to realize how the characterization of atheism as the denial of God or the gods is inadequate.

To say that atheism is the denial of God or the gods and that it is the opposite of theism, a system of belief that affirms the reality of God and seeks to demonstrate his existence, is inadequate in a number of ways. First, not all theologians who regard themselves as defenders of the Christian faith or of Judaism or Islam regard themselves as defenders of theism. The influential 20th-century Protestant theologian Paul Tillich, for example, regards the God of theism as an idol and refuses to construe God as a being, even a supreme being, among beings or as an infinite being above finite beings. God, for him, is being-itself, the ground of being and meaning. The particulars of Tillichs view are in certain ways idiosyncratic, as well as being obscure and problematic, but they have been influential; and his rejection of theism, while retaining a belief in God, is not eccentric in contemporary theology, though it may very well affront the plain believer.

Second, and more important, it is not the case that all theists seek to demonstrate or even in any way rationally to establish the existence of God. Many theists regard such a demonstration as impossible, and fideistic believers (e.g., Johann Hamann and Sren Kierkegaard) regard such a demonstration, even if it were possible, as undesirable, for in their view it would undermine faith. If it could be proved, or known for certain, that God exists, people would not be in a position to accept him as their sovereign Lord humbly on faith with all the risks that entails. There are theologians who have argued that for genuine faith to be possible God must necessarily be a hidden God, the mysterious ultimate reality, whose existence and authority must be accepted simply on faith. This fideistic view has not, of course, gone without challenge from inside the major faiths, but it is of sufficient importance to make the above characterization of atheism inadequate.

Finally, and most important, not all denials of God are denials of his existence. Believers sometimes deny God while not being at all in a state of doubt that God exists. They either willfully reject what they take to be his authority by not acting in accordance with what they take to be his will, or else they simply live their lives as if God did not exist. In this important way they deny him. Such deniers are not atheists (unless we wish, misleadingly, to call them practical atheists). They are not even agnostics. They do not question that God exists; they deny him in other ways. An atheist denies the existence of God. As it is frequently said, atheists believe that it is false that God exists, or that Gods existence is a speculative hypothesis of an extremely low order of probability.

Yet it remains the case that such a characterization of atheism is inadequate in other ways. For one it is too narrow. There are atheists who believe that the very concept of God, at least in developed and less anthropomorphic forms of Judeo-Christianity and Islam, is so incoherent that certain central religious claims, such as God is my creator to whom everything is owed, are not genuine truth-claims; i.e., the claims could not be either true or false. Believers hold that such religious propositions are true, some atheists believe that they are false, and there are agnostics who cannot make up their minds whether to believe that they are true or false. (Agnostics think that the propositions are one or the other but believe that it is not possible to determine which.) But all three are mistaken, some atheists argue, for such putative truth-claims are not sufficiently intelligible to be genuine truth-claims that are either true or false. In reality there is nothing in them to be believed or disbelieved, though there is for the believer the powerful and humanly comforting illusion that there is. Such an atheism, it should be added, rooted for some conceptions of God in considerations about intelligibility and what it makes sense to say, has been strongly resisted by some pragmatists and logical empiricists.

While the above considerations about atheism and intelligibility show the second characterization of atheism to be too narrow, it is also the case that this characterization is in a way too broad. For there are fideistic believers, who quite unequivocally believe that when looked at objectively the proposition that God exists has a very low probability weight. They believe in God not because it is probable that he existsthey think it more probable that he does notbut because belief is thought by them to be necessary to make sense of human life. The second characterization of atheism does not distinguish a fideistic believer (a Blaise Pascal or a Soren Kierkegaard) or an agnostic (a T.H. Huxley or a Sir Leslie Stephen) from an atheist such as Baron dHolbach. All believe that there is a God and God protects humankind, however emotionally important they may be, are speculative hypotheses of an extremely low order of probability. But this, since it does not distinguish believers from nonbelievers and does not distinguish agnostics from atheists, cannot be an adequate characterization of atheism.

It may be retorted that to avoid apriorism and dogmatic atheism the existence of God should be regarded as a hypothesis. There are no ontological (purely a priori) proofs or disproofs of Gods existence. It is not reasonable to rule in advance that it makes no sense to say that God exists. What the atheist can reasonably claim is that there is no evidence that there is a God, and against that background he may very well be justified in asserting that there is no God. It has been argued, however, that it is simply dogmatic for an atheist to assert that no possible evidence could ever give one grounds for believing in God. Instead, atheists should justify their unbelief by showing (if they can) how the assertion is well-taken that there is no evidence that would warrant a belief in God. If atheism is justified, the atheist will have shown that in fact there is no adequate evidence for the belief that God exists, but it should not be part of his task to try to show that there could not be any evidence for the existence of God. If the atheist could somehow survive the death of his present body (assuming that such talk makes sense) and come, much to his surprise, to stand in the presence of God, his answer should be, Oh! Lord, you didnt give me enough evidence! He would have been mistaken, and realize that he had been mistaken, in his judgment that God did not exist. Still, he would not have been unjustified, in the light of the evidence available to him during his earthly life, in believing as he did. Not having any such postmortem experiences of the presence of God (assuming that he could have them), what he should say, as things stand and in the face of the evidence he actually has and is likely to be able to get, is that it is false that God exists. (Every time one legitimately asserts that a proposition is false one need not be certain that it is false. Knowing with certainty is not a pleonasm.) The claim is that this tentative posture is the reasonable position for the atheist to take.

An atheist who argues in this manner may also make a distinctive burden-of-proof argument. Given that God (if there is one) is by definition a very recherch realitya reality that must be (for there to be such a reality) transcendent to the worldthe burden of proof is not on the atheist to give grounds for believing that there is no reality of that order. Rather, the burden of proof is on the believer to give some evidence for Gods existencei.e., that there is such a reality. Given what God must be, if there is a God, the theist needs to present the evidence, for such a very strange reality. He needs to show that there is more in the world than is disclosed by common experience. The empirical method, and the empirical method alone, such an atheist asserts, affords a reliable method for establishing what is in fact the case. To the claim of the theist that there are in addition to varieties of empirical facts spiritual facts or transcendent facts, such as it being the case that there is a supernatural, self-existent, eternal power, the atheist can assert that such facts have not been shown.

It will, however, be argued by such atheists, against what they take to be dogmatic aprioristic atheists, that the atheist should be a fallibilist and remain open-minded about what the future may bring. There may, after all, be such transcendent facts, such metaphysical realities. It is not that such a fallibilistic atheist is really an agnostic who believes that he is not justified in either asserting that God exists or denying that he exists and that what he must reasonably do is suspend belief. On the contrary, such an atheist believes that he has very good grounds indeed, as things stand, for denying the existence of God. But he will, on the second conceptualization of what it is to be an atheist, not deny that things could be otherwise and that, if they were, he would be justified in believing in God or at least would no longer be justified in asserting that it is false that there is a God. Using reliable empirical techniques, proven methods for establishing matters of fact, the fallibilistic atheist has found nothing in the universe to make a belief that God exists justifiable or even, everything considered, the most rational option of the various options. He therefore draws the atheistical conclusion (also keeping in mind his burden-of-proof argument) that God does not exist. But he does not dogmatically in a priori fashion deny the existence of God. He remains a thorough and consistent fallibilist.

Such a form of atheism (the atheism of those pragmatists who are also naturalistic humanists), though less inadequate than the first formation of atheism, is still inadequate. God in developed forms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is not, like Zeus or Odin, construed in a relatively plain anthropomorphic way. Nothing that could count as God in such religions could possibly be observed, literally encountered, or detected in the universe. God, in such a conception, is utterly transcendent to the world; he is conceived of as pure spirit, an infinite individual who created the universe out of nothing and who is distinct from the universe. Such a realitya reality that is taken to be an ultimate mysterycould not be identified as objects or processes in the universe can be identified. There can be no pointing at or to God, no ostensive teaching of God, to show what is meant. The word God can only be taught intralinguistically. God is taught to someone who does not understand what the word means by the use of descriptions such as the maker of the universe, the eternal, utterly independent being upon whom all other beings depend, the first cause, the sole ultimate reality, or a self-caused being. For someone who does not understand such descriptions, there can be no understanding of the concept of God. But the key terms of such descriptions are themselves no more capable of ostensive definition (of having their referents pointed out) than is God, where that term is not, like Zeus, construed anthropomorphically. (That does not mean that anyone has actually pointed to Zeus or observed Zeus but that one knows what it would be like to do so.)

In coming to understand what is meant by God in such discourses, it must be understood that God, whatever else he is, is a being that could not possibly be seen or be in any way else observed. He could not be anything material or empirical, and he is said by believers to be an intractable mystery. A nonmysterious God would not be the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

This, in effect, makes it a mistake to claim that the existence of God can rightly be treated as a hypothesis and makes it a mistake to claim that, by the use of the experimental method or some other determinate empirical method, the existence of God can be confirmed or disconfirmed as can the existence of an empirical reality. The retort made by some atheists, who also like pragmatists remain thoroughgoing fallibilists, is that such a proposed way of coming to know, or failing to come to know, God makes no sense for anyone who understands what kind of reality God is supposed to be. Anything whose existence could be so verified would not be the God of Judeo-Christianity. God could not be a reality whose presence is even faintly adumbrated in experience, for anything that could even count as the God of Judeo-Christianity must be transcendent to the world. Anything that could actually be encountered or experienced could not be God.

At the very heart of a religion such as Christianity there stands a metaphysical belief in a reality that is alleged to transcend the empirical world. It is the metaphysical belief that there is an eternal, ever-present creative source and sustainer of the universe. The problem is how it is possible to know or reasonably believe that such a reality exists or even to understand what such talk is about.

It is not that God is like a theoretical entity in physics such as a proton or a neutrino. They are, where they are construed as realities rather than as heuristically useful conceptual fictions, thought to be part of the actual furniture of the universe. They are not said to be transcendent to the universe, but rather are invisible entities in the universe logically on a par with specks of dust and grains of sand, only much, much smaller. They are on the same continuum; they are not a different kind of reality. It is only the case that they, as a matter of fact, cannot be seen. Indeed no one has an understanding of what it would be like to see a proton or a neutrinoin that way they are like Godand no provision is made in physical theory for seeing them. Still, there is no logical ban on seeing them as there is on seeing God. They are among the things in the universe, and thus, though they are invisible, they can be postulated as causes of things that are seen. Since this is so it becomes at least logically possible indirectly to verify by empirical methods the existence of such realities. It is also the case that there is no logical ban on establishing what is necessary to establish a causal connection, namely a constant conjunction of two discrete empirical realities. But no such constant conjunction can be established or even intelligibly asserted between God and the universe, and thus the existence of God is not even indirectly verifiable. God is not a discrete empirical thing or being, and the universe is not a gigantic thing or process over and above the things and processes in the universe of which it makes sense to say that the universe has or had a cause. But then there is no way, directly or indirectly, that even the probability that there is a God could be empirically established.

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atheism | Definition, Philosophy, & Comparison to …

Atheism – Wikipedia

Atheism is, in the broadest sense, the absence of belief in the existence of deities.[1][2][3][4] Less broadly, atheism is the rejection of belief that any deities exist.[5][6] In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities.[1][2][7][8] Atheism is contrasted with theism,[9][10] which, in its most general form, is the belief that at least one deity exists.[10][11][12]

The etymological root for the word atheism originated before the 5th century BCE from the ancient Greek (atheos), meaning “without god(s)”. In antiquity it had multiple uses as a pejorative term applied to those thought to reject the gods worshiped by the larger society,[13] those who were forsaken by the gods, or those who had no commitment to belief in the gods.[14] The term denoted a social category created by orthodox religionists into which those who did not share their religious beliefs were placed.[14] The actual term atheism emerged first in the 16th century.[15] With the spread of freethought, skeptical inquiry, and subsequent increase in criticism of religion, application of the term narrowed in scope. The first individuals to identify themselves using the word atheist lived in the 18th century during the Age of Enlightenment.[15] The French Revolution, noted for its “unprecedented atheism,” witnessed the first major political movement in history to advocate for the supremacy of human reason.[17] The French Revolution can be described as the first period where atheism became implemented politically.

Arguments for atheism range from the philosophical to social and historical approaches. Rationales for not believing in deities include arguments that there is a lack of empirical evidence,[18][19] the problem of evil, the argument from inconsistent revelations, the rejection of concepts that cannot be falsified, and the argument from nonbelief.[18][20] Nonbelievers contend that atheism is a more parsimonious position than theism and that everyone is born without beliefs in deities;[1] therefore, they argue that the burden of proof lies not on the atheist to disprove the existence of gods but on the theist to provide a rationale for theism.[21] Although some atheists have adopted secular philosophies (e.g. secular humanism),[22][23] there is no one ideology or set of behaviors to which all atheists adhere.[24]

Since conceptions of atheism vary, accurate estimations of current numbers of atheists are difficult.[25] According to global Win-Gallup International studies, 13% of respondents were “convinced atheists” in 2012,[26] 11% were “convinced atheists” in 2015,[27] and in 2017, 9% were “convinced atheists”.[28] However, other researchers have advised caution with WIN/Gallup figures since other surveys which have used the same wording for decades and have a bigger sample size have consistently reached lower figures.[29] An older survey by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 2004 recorded atheists as comprising 8% of the world’s population.[30] Other older estimates have indicated that atheists comprise 2% of the world’s population, while the irreligious add a further 12%.[31] According to these polls, Europe and East Asia are the regions with the highest rates of atheism. In 2015, 61% of people in China reported that they were atheists.[32] The figures for a 2010 Eurobarometer survey in the European Union (EU) reported that 20% of the EU population claimed not to believe in “any sort of spirit, God or life force”.[33]

Writers disagree on how best to define and classify atheism,[34] contesting what supernatural entities are considered gods, whether it is a philosophic position in its own right or merely the absence of one, and whether it requires a conscious, explicit rejection. Atheism has been regarded as compatible with agnosticism,[35][36][37][38][39][40][41] and has also been contrasted with it.[42][43][44] A variety of categories have been used to distinguish the different forms of atheism.

Some of the ambiguity and controversy involved in defining atheism arises from difficulty in reaching a consensus for the definitions of words like deity and god. The plurality of wildly different conceptions of God and deities leads to differing ideas regarding atheism’s applicability. The ancient Romans accused Christians of being atheists for not worshiping the pagan deities. Gradually, this view fell into disfavor as theism came to be understood as encompassing belief in any divinity.

With respect to the range of phenomena being rejected, atheism may counter anything from the existence of a deity, to the existence of any spiritual, supernatural, or transcendental concepts, such as those of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Taoism.[46]

Definitions of atheism also vary in the degree of consideration a person must put to the idea of gods to be considered an atheist. Atheism has sometimes been defined to include the simple absence of belief that any deities exist. This broad definition would include newborns and other people who have not been exposed to theistic ideas. As far back as 1772, Baron d’Holbach said that “All children are born Atheists; they have no idea of God.”[47]Similarly, George H. Smith (1979) suggested that: “The man who is unacquainted with theism is an atheist because he does not believe in a god. This category would also include the child with the conceptual capacity to grasp the issues involved, but who is still unaware of those issues. The fact that this child does not believe in god qualifies him as an atheist.”[48] Implicit atheism is “the absence of theistic belief without a conscious rejection of it” and explicit atheism is the conscious rejection of belief.For the purposes of his paper on “philosophical atheism”, Ernest Nagel contested including mere absence of theistic belief as a type of atheism.[49] Graham Oppy classifies as innocents those who never considered the question because they lack any understanding of what a god is. According to Oppy, these could be one-month-old babies, humans with severe traumatic brain injuries, or patients with advanced dementia.

Philosophers such as Antony Flew[51]and Michael Martin have contrasted positive (strong/hard) atheism with negative (weak/soft) atheism. Positive atheism is the explicit affirmation that gods do not exist. Negative atheism includes all other forms of non-theism. According to this categorization, anyone who is not a theist is either a negative or a positive atheist.The terms weak and strong are relatively recent, while the terms negative and positive atheism are of older origin, having been used (in slightly different ways) in the philosophical literature[51] and in Catholic apologetics.[52]Under this demarcation of atheism, most agnostics qualify as negative atheists.

While Martin, for example, asserts that agnosticism entails negative atheism,[38] many agnostics see their view as distinct from atheism,[53][54]which they may consider no more justified than theism or requiring an equal conviction.[53]The assertion of unattainability of knowledge for or against the existence of gods is sometimes seen as an indication that atheism requires a leap of faith.[55][56]Common atheist responses to this argument include that unproven religious propositions deserve as much disbelief as all other unproven propositions,[57]and that the unprovability of a god’s existence does not imply equal probability of either possibility.[58]Australian philosopher J.J.C. Smart even argues that “sometimes a person who is really an atheist may describe herself, even passionately, as an agnostic because of unreasonable generalized philosophical skepticism which would preclude us from saying that we know anything whatever, except perhaps the truths of mathematics and formal logic.”[59]Consequently, some atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins prefer distinguishing theist, agnostic and atheist positions along a spectrum of theistic probabilitythe likelihood that each assigns to the statement “God exists”.

Before the 18th century, the existence of God was so accepted in the western world that even the possibility of true atheism was questioned. This is called theistic innatismthe notion that all people believe in God from birth; within this view was the connotation that atheists are simply in denial.[61]

There is also a position claiming that atheists are quick to believe in God in times of crisis, that atheists make deathbed conversions, or that “there are no atheists in foxholes”.[62]There have however been examples to the contrary, among them examples of literal “atheists in foxholes”.[63]

Some atheists have doubted the very need for the term “atheism”. In his book Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris wrote:

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.

Pragmatic atheism is the view one should reject a belief in a god or gods because it is unnecessary for a pragmatic life. This view is related to apatheism and practical atheism.[65]

Atheists have also argued that people cannot know a God or prove the existence of a God. The latter is called agnosticism, which takes a variety of forms. In the philosophy of immanence, divinity is inseparable from the world itself, including a person’s mind, and each person’s consciousness is locked in the subject. According to this form of agnosticism, this limitation in perspective prevents any objective inference from belief in a god to assertions of its existence. The rationalistic agnosticism of Kant and the Enlightenment only accepts knowledge deduced with human rationality; this form of atheism holds that gods are not discernible as a matter of principle, and therefore cannot be known to exist. Skepticism, based on the ideas of Hume, asserts that certainty about anything is impossible, so one can never know for sure whether or not a god exists. Hume, however, held that such unobservable metaphysical concepts should be rejected as “sophistry and illusion”.[67] The allocation of agnosticism to atheism is disputed; it can also be regarded as an independent, basic worldview.[68]

Other arguments for atheism that can be classified as epistemological or ontological, including ignosticism, assert the meaninglessness or unintelligibility of basic terms such as “God” and statements such as “God is all-powerful.” Theological noncognitivism holds that the statement “God exists” does not express a proposition, but is nonsensical or cognitively meaningless. It has been argued both ways as to whether such individuals can be classified into some form of atheism or agnosticism. Philosophers A.J. Ayer and Theodore M. Drange reject both categories, stating that both camps accept “God exists” as a proposition; they instead place noncognitivism in its own category.[69][70]

Philosopher, Zofia Zdybicka writes:

“Metaphysical atheism… includes all doctrines that hold to metaphysical monism (the homogeneity of reality). Metaphysical atheism may be either: a) absolute an explicit denial of God’s existence associated with materialistic monism (all materialistic trends, both in ancient and modern times); b) relative the implicit denial of God in all philosophies that, while they accept the existence of an absolute, conceive of the absolute as not possessing any of the attributes proper to God: transcendence, a personal character or unity. Relative atheism is associated with idealistic monism (pantheism, panentheism, deism).”[71]

Some atheists hold the view that the various conceptions of gods, such as the personal god of Christianity, are ascribed logically inconsistent qualities. Such atheists present deductive arguments against the existence of God, which assert the incompatibility between certain traits, such as perfection, creator-status, immutability, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, transcendence, personhood (a personal being), nonphysicality, justice, and mercy.[18]

Theodicean atheists believe that the world as they experience it cannot be reconciled with the qualities commonly ascribed to God and gods by theologians. They argue that an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God is not compatible with a world where there is evil and suffering, and where divine love is hidden from many people.[20]A similar argument is attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism.[73]

Philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach[74]and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud have argued that God and other religious beliefs are human inventions, created to fulfill various psychological and emotional wants or needs. This is also a view of many Buddhists.[75]Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, influenced by the work of Feuerbach, argued that belief in God and religion are social functions, used by those in power to oppress the working class. According to Mikhail Bakunin, “the idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, in theory and practice.” He reversed Voltaire’s famous aphorism that if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him, writing instead that “if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.”[76]

Atheism is not mutually exclusive with respect to some religious and spiritual belief systems, including Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Syntheism, Ralism,[77] and Neopagan movements[78]such as Wicca.[79]stika schools in Hinduism hold atheism to be a valid path to moksha, but extremely difficult, for the atheist can not expect any help from the divine on their journey.[80]Jainism believes the universe is eternal and has no need for a creator deity, however Tirthankaras are revered that can transcend space and time[81]and have more power than the god Indra.[82]Secular Buddhism does not advocate belief in gods. Early Buddhism was atheistic as Gautama Buddha’s path involved no mention of gods. Later conceptions of Buddhism consider Buddha himself a god, suggest adherents can attain godhood, and revere Bodhisattvas[83]and Eternal Buddha.

Apophatic theology is often assessed as being a version of atheism or agnosticism, since it cannot say truly that God exists.[84] “The comparison is crude, however, for conventional atheism treats the existence of God as a predicate that can be denied (God is nonexistent), whereas negative theology denies that God has predicates”.[85] “God or the Divine is” without being able to attribute qualities about “what He is” would be the prerequisite of positive theology in negative theology that distinguishes theism from atheism. “Negative theology is a complement to, not the enemy of, positive theology”.[86]

Axiological, or constructive, atheism rejects the existence of gods in favor of a “higher absolute”, such as humanity. This form of atheism favors humanity as the absolute source of ethics and values, and permits individuals to resolve moral problems without resorting to God. Marx and Freud used this argument to convey messages of liberation, full-development, and unfettered happiness.[68] One of the most common criticisms of atheism has been to the contrary: that denying the existence of a god either leads to moral relativism and leaves one with no moral or ethical foundation,[87] or renders life meaningless and miserable.[88] Blaise Pascal argued this view in his Penses.[89]

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre identified himself as a representative of an “atheist existentialism”concerned less with denying the existence of God than with establishing that “man needs… to find himself again and to understand that nothing can save him from himself, not even a valid proof of the existence of God.”Sartre said a corollary of his atheism was that “if God does not exist, there is at least one being in whom existence precedes essence, a being who exists before he can be defined by any concept, and… this being is man.”The practical consequence of this atheism was described by Sartre as meaning that there are no a priori rules or absolute values that can be invoked to govern human conduct, and that humans are “condemned” to invent these for themselves, making “man” absolutely “responsible for everything he does”.

Sociologist Phil Zuckerman analyzed previous social science research on secularity and non-belief, and concluded that societal well-being is positively correlated with irreligion. He found that there are much lower concentrations of atheism and secularity in poorer, less developed nations (particularly in Africa and South America) than in the richer industrialized democracies.[93][94]His findings relating specifically to atheism in the US were that compared to religious people in the US, “atheists and secular people” are less nationalistic, prejudiced, antisemitic, racist, dogmatic, ethnocentric, closed-minded, and authoritarian, and in US states with the highest percentages of atheists, the murder rate is lower than average. In the most religious states, the murder rate is higher than average.[95][96]

People who self-identify as atheists are often assumed to be irreligious, but some sects within major religions reject the existence of a personal, creator deity.[98]In recent years, certain religious denominations have accumulated a number of openly atheistic followers, such as atheistic or humanistic Judaism[99][100]and Christian atheists.[101][102][103]

The strictest sense of positive atheism does not entail any specific beliefs outside of disbelief in any deity; as such, atheists can hold any number of spiritual beliefs. For the same reason, atheists can hold a wide variety of ethical beliefs, ranging from the moral universalism of humanism, which holds that a moral code should be applied consistently to all humans, to moral nihilism, which holds that morality is meaningless.[104] Atheism is accepted as a valid philosophical position within some varieties of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.[105]

Philosophers such as Slavoj iek,[106] Alain de Botton,[107] and Alexander Bard and Jan Sderqvist,[108] have all argued that atheists should reclaim religion as an act of defiance against theism, precisely not to leave religion as an unwarranted monopoly to theists.

According to Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma, the role of the gods in determining right from wrong is either unnecessary or arbitrary. The argument that morality must be derived from God, and cannot exist without a wise creator, has been a persistent feature of political if not so much philosophical debate.[109][110][111]Moral precepts such as “murder is wrong” are seen as divine laws, requiring a divine lawmaker and judge. However, many atheists argue that treating morality legalistically involves a false analogy, and that morality does not depend on a lawmaker in the same way that laws do.[112]Friedrich Nietzsche believed in a morality independent of theistic belief, and stated that morality based upon God “has truth only if God is truthit stands or falls with faith in God.”[113][114][115]

There exist normative ethical systems that do not require principles and rules to be given by a deity. Some include virtue ethics, social contract, Kantian ethics, utilitarianism, and Objectivism. Sam Harris has proposed that moral prescription (ethical rule making) is not just an issue to be explored by philosophy, but that we can meaningfully practice a science of morality. Any such scientific system must, nevertheless, respond to the criticism embodied in the naturalistic fallacy.[116]

Philosophers Susan Neiman[117]and Julian Baggini[118](among others) assert that behaving ethically only because of divine mandate is not true ethical behavior but merely blind obedience. Baggini argues that atheism is a superior basis for ethics, claiming that a moral basis external to religious imperatives is necessary to evaluate the morality of the imperatives themselvesto be able to discern, for example, that “thou shalt steal” is immoral even if one’s religion instructs itand that atheists, therefore, have the advantage of being more inclined to make such evaluations.[119]The contemporary British political philosopher Martin Cohen has offered the more historically telling example of Biblical injunctions in favor of torture and slavery as evidence of how religious injunctions follow political and social customs, rather than vice versa, but also noted that the same tendency seems to be true of supposedly dispassionate and objective philosophers.[120] Cohen extends this argument in more detail in Political Philosophy from Plato to Mao, where he argues that the Qur’an played a role in perpetuating social codes from the early 7th century despite changes in secular society.[121]

Some prominent atheistsmost recently Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, and following such thinkers as Bertrand Russell, Robert G. Ingersoll, Voltaire, and novelist Jos Saramagohave criticized religions, citing harmful aspects of religious practices and doctrines.[122]

The 19th-century German political theorist and sociologist Karl Marx called religion “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”. He goes on to say, “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”[123] Lenin said that “every religious idea and every idea of God is unutterable vileness… of the most dangerous kind, ‘contagion’ of the most abominable kind. Millions of sins, filthy deeds, acts of violence and physical contagions… are far less dangerous than the subtle, spiritual idea of God decked out in the smartest ideological constumes…”[124]

Sam Harris criticizes Western religion’s reliance on divine authority as lending itself to authoritarianism and dogmatism.There is a correlation between religious fundamentalism and extrinsic religion (when religion is held because it serves ulterior interests)[126] and authoritarianism, dogmatism, and prejudice.[127]These argumentscombined with historical events that are argued to demonstrate the dangers of religion, such as the Crusades, inquisitions, witch trials, and terrorist attackshave been used in response to claims of beneficial effects of belief in religion.[128]Believers counter-argue that some regimes that espouse atheism, such as the Soviet Union, have also been guilty of mass murder.[129][130] In response to those claims, atheists such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have stated that Stalin’s atrocities were influenced not by atheism but by dogmatic Marxism, and that while Stalin and Mao happened to be atheists, they did not do their deeds in the name of atheism.[132]

In early ancient Greek, the adjective theos (, from the privative – + “god”) meant “godless”. It was first used as a term of censure roughly meaning “ungodly” or “impious”. In the 5th century BCE, the word began to indicate more deliberate and active godlessness in the sense of “severing relations with the gods” or “denying the gods”. The term (asebs) then came to be applied against those who impiously denied or disrespected the local gods, even if they believed in other gods. Modern translations of classical texts sometimes render theos as “atheistic”. As an abstract noun, there was also (atheots), “atheism”. Cicero transliterated the Greek word into the Latin theos. The term found frequent use in the debate between early Christians and Hellenists, with each side attributing it, in the pejorative sense, to the other.[13]

The term atheist (from Fr. athe), in the sense of “one who… denies the existence of God or gods”,[134]predates atheism in English, being first found as early as 1566,[135]and again in 1571.[136]Atheist as a label of practical godlessness was used at least as early as 1577.[137]The term atheism was derived from the French athisme,[138] and appears in English about 1587.[139]An earlier work, from about 1534, used the term atheonism.[140][141]Related words emerged later: deist in 1621,[142]theist in 1662,[143]deism in 1675,[144]and theism in 1678.[145]At that time “deist” and “deism” already carried their modern meaning. The term theism came to be contrasted with deism.

Karen Armstrong writes that “During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the word ‘atheist’ was still reserved exclusively for polemic… The term ‘atheist’ was an insult. Nobody would have dreamed of calling himself an atheist.”

Atheism was first used to describe a self-avowed belief in late 18th-century Europe, specifically denoting disbelief in the monotheistic Abrahamic god.[146]In the 20th century, globalization contributed to the expansion of the term to refer to disbelief in all deities, though it remains common in Western society to describe atheism as simply “disbelief in God”.

While the earliest-found usage of the term atheism is in 16th-century France,[138][139] ideas that would be recognized today as atheistic are documented from the Vedic period and the classical antiquity.

Atheistic schools are found in early Indian thought and have existed from the times of the historical Vedic religion.[147]Among the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, Samkhya, the oldest philosophical school of thought, does not accept God, and the early Mimamsa also rejected the notion of God.[148]The thoroughly materialistic and anti-theistic philosophical Crvka (or Lokyata) school that originated in India around the 6th century BCE is probably the most explicitly atheistic school of philosophy in India, similar to the Greek Cyrenaic school. This branch of Indian philosophy is classified as heterodox due to its rejection of the authority of Vedas and hence is not considered part of the six orthodox schools of Hinduism, but it is noteworthy as evidence of a materialistic movement within Hinduism.[149]

Chatterjee and Datta explain that our understanding of Crvka philosophy is fragmentary, based largely on criticism of the ideas by other schools, and that it is not a living tradition:[150]

Though materialism in some form or other has always been present in India, and occasional references are found in the Vedas, the Buddhistic literature, the Epics, as well as in the later philosophical works we do not find any systematic work on materialism, nor any organized school of followers as the other philosophical schools possess. But almost every work of the other schools states, for refutation, the materialistic views. Our knowledge of Indian materialism is chiefly based on these.

Other Indian philosophies generally regarded as atheistic include Classical Samkhya and Purva Mimamsa. The rejection of a personal creator God is also seen in Jainism and Buddhism in India.[151]

Western atheism has its roots in pre-Socratic Greek philosophy,[154][155] but atheism in the modern sense was nonexistent or extremely rare in ancient Greece.[156][157][155] Pre-Socratic Atomists such as Democritus attempted to explain the world in a purely materialistic way and interpreted religion as a human reaction to natural phenomena,[152] but did not explicitly deny the gods’ existence.[152] In the late fifth century BCE, the Greek lyric poet Diagoras of Melos was sentenced to death in Athens under the charge of being a “godless person” () after he made fun of the Eleusinian Mysteries,[156][157][152] but he fled the city to escape punishment.[156][157][152] Later writers have cited Diagoras as the “first atheist”,[158][159] but he was probably not an atheist in the modern sense of the word.[157]

A fragment from the lost satyr play Sisyphus, which has been attributed to both Critias and Euripides, claims that a clever man invented “the fear of the gods” in order to frighten people into behaving morally.[160][157][161][157][155] This statement, however, originally did not mean that the gods themselves were nonexistent, but rather that their powers were a hoax.[155] Atheistic statements have also been attributed to the philosopher Prodicus. Philodemus reports that Prodicus believed that “the gods of popular belief do not exist nor do they know, but primitive man, [out of admiration, deified] the fruits of the earth and virtually everything that contributed to his existence”. Protagoras has sometimes been taken to be an atheist, but rather espoused agnostic views, commenting that “Concerning the gods I am unable to discover whether they exist or not, or what they are like in form; for there are many hindrances to knowledge, the obscurity of the subject and the brevity of human life.”[162][156]

The Athenian public associated Socrates (c. 470399 BCE) with the trends in pre-Socratic philosophy towards naturalistic inquiry and the rejection of divine explanations for phenomena.[152][153] Aristophanes’ comic play The Clouds (performed 423 BCE) portrays Socrates as teaching his students that the traditional Greek deities do not exist.[152][153] Socrates was later tried and executed under the charge of not believing in the gods of the state and instead worshipping foreign gods.[152][153] Socrates himself vehemently denied the charges of atheism at his trial[152][153][163] and all the surviving sources about him indicate that he was a very devout man, who prayed to the rising sun and believed that the oracle at Delphi spoke the word of Apollo.[152] Euhemerus (c. 300 BCE) published his view that the gods were only the deified rulers, conquerors and founders of the past, and that their cults and religions were in essence the continuation of vanished kingdoms and earlier political structures.[164] Although not strictly an atheist, Euhemerus was later criticized for having “spread atheism over the whole inhabited earth by obliterating the gods”.[165]

The most important Greek thinker in the development of atheism was Epicurus (c. 300 BCE).[155] Drawing on the ideas of Democritus and the Atomists, he espoused a materialistic philosophy according to which the universe was governed by the laws of chance without the need for divine intervention (see scientific determinism).[166] Although Epicurus still maintained that the gods existed,[167][155][166] he believed that they were uninterested in human affairs.[166] The aim of the Epicureans was to attain ataraxia (“peace of mind”) and one important way of doing this was by exposing fear of divine wrath as irrational. The Epicureans also denied the existence of an afterlife and the need to fear divine punishment after death.[166] In the 3rd-century BCE, the Greek philosophers Theodorus Cyrenaicus[159][168] and Strato of Lampsacus[169] did not believe in the existence of gods. The Roman philosopher Sextus Empiricus held that one should suspend judgment about virtually all beliefsa form of skepticism known as Pyrrhonismthat nothing was inherently evil, and that ataraxia is attainable by withholding one’s judgment. His relatively large volume of surviving works had a lasting influence on later philosophers.[170]

The meaning of “atheist” changed over the course of classical antiquity.[157] Early Christians were widely reviled as “atheists” because they did not believe in the existence of the Graeco-Roman deities.[171][157][172][173] During the Roman Empire, Christians were executed for their rejection of the Roman gods in general and Emperor-worship in particular.[173][174] When Christianity became the state religion of Rome under Theodosius I in 381, heresy became a punishable offense.[174]

During the Early Middle Ages, the Islamic world experienced a Golden Age. Along with advances in science and philosophy, Arab and Persian lands produced outspoken rationalists and atheists, including Muhammad al Warraq (fl. 9th century), Ibn al-Rawandi (827911), Al-Razi (854925), and Al-Maarri (9731058). Al-Ma’arri wrote and taught that religion itself was a “fable invented by the ancients”[175] and that humans were “of two sorts: those with brains, but no religion, and those with religion, but no brains.”[176] Despite their being relatively prolific writers, little of their work survives, mainly being preserved through quotations and excerpts in later works by Muslim apologists attempting to refute them.[177] Other prominent Golden Age scholars have been associated with rationalist thought and atheism as well, although the current intellectual atmosphere in the Islamic world, and the scant evidence that survives from the era, make this point a contentious one today.

In Europe, the espousal of atheistic views was rare during the Early Middle Ages and Middle Ages (see Medieval Inquisition); metaphysics and theology were the dominant interests pertaining to religion.[178] There were, however, movements within this period that furthered heterodox conceptions of the Christian god, including differing views of the nature, transcendence, and knowability of God. Individuals and groups such as Johannes Scotus Eriugena, David of Dinant, Amalric of Bena, and the Brethren of the Free Spirit maintained Christian viewpoints with pantheistic tendencies. Nicholas of Cusa held to a form of fideism he called docta ignorantia (“learned ignorance”), asserting that God is beyond human categorization, and thus our knowledge of him is limited to conjecture. William of Ockham inspired anti-metaphysical tendencies with his nominalistic limitation of human knowledge to singular objects, and asserted that the divine essence could not be intuitively or rationally apprehended by human intellect. Followers of Ockham, such as John of Mirecourt and Nicholas of Autrecourt furthered this view. The resulting division between faith and reason influenced later radical and reformist theologians such as John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, and Martin Luther.[178]

The Renaissance did much to expand the scope of free thought and skeptical inquiry. Individuals such as Leonardo da Vinci sought experimentation as a means of explanation, and opposed arguments from religious authority. Other critics of religion and the Church during this time included Niccol Machiavelli, Bonaventure des Priers, Michel de Montaigne, and Franois Rabelais.[170]

Historian Geoffrey Blainey wrote that the Reformation had paved the way for atheists by attacking the authority of the Catholic Church, which in turn “quietly inspired other thinkers to attack the authority of the new Protestant churches”.[179] Deism gained influence in France, Prussia, and England. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza was “probably the first well known ‘semi-atheist’ to announce himself in a Christian land in the modern era”, according to Blainey. Spinoza believed that natural laws explained the workings of the universe. In 1661 he published his Short Treatise on God.[180]

Criticism of Christianity became increasingly frequent in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially in France and England, where there appears to have been a religious malaise, according to contemporary sources. Some Protestant thinkers, such as Thomas Hobbes, espoused a materialist philosophy and skepticism toward supernatural occurrences, while Spinoza rejected divine providence in favor of a panentheistic naturalism. By the late 17th century, deism came to be openly espoused by intellectuals such as John Toland who coined the term “pantheist”.[181]

The first known explicit atheist was the German critic of religion Matthias Knutzen in his three writings of 1674.[182] He was followed by two other explicit atheist writers, the Polish ex-Jesuit philosopher Kazimierz yszczyski and in the 1720s by the French priest Jean Meslier.[183] In the course of the 18th century, other openly atheistic thinkers followed, such as Baron d’Holbach, Jacques-Andr Naigeon, and other French materialists.[184] John Locke in contrast, though an advocate of tolerance, urged authorities not to tolerate atheism, believing that the denial of God’s existence would undermine the social order and lead to chaos.[185]

The philosopher David Hume developed a skeptical epistemology grounded in empiricism, and Immanuel Kant’s philosophy has strongly questioned the very possibility of a metaphysical knowledge. Both philosophers undermined the metaphysical basis of natural theology and criticized classical arguments for the existence of God.

Blainey notes that, although Voltaire is widely considered to have strongly contributed to atheistic thinking during the Revolution, he also considered fear of God to have discouraged further disorder, having said “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”[186] In Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), the philosopher Edmund Burke denounced atheism, writing of a “literary cabal” who had “some years ago formed something like a regular plan for the destruction of the Christian religion. This object they pursued with a degree of zeal which hitherto had been discovered only in the propagators of some system of piety… These atheistical fathers have a bigotry of their own…”. But, Burke asserted, “man is by his constitution a religious animal” and “atheism is against, not only our reason, but our instincts; and… it cannot prevail long”.[187]

Baron d’Holbach was a prominent figure in the French Enlightenment who is best known for his atheism and for his voluminous writings against religion, the most famous of them being The System of Nature (1770) but also Christianity Unveiled. One goal of the French Revolution was a restructuring and subordination of the clergy with respect to the state through the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Attempts to enforce it led to anti-clerical violence and the expulsion of many clergy from France, lasting until the Thermidorian Reaction. The radical Jacobins seized power in 1793, ushering in the Reign of Terror. The Jacobins were deists and introduced the Cult of the Supreme Being as a new French state religion. Some atheists surrounding Jacques Hbert instead sought to establish a Cult of Reason, a form of atheistic pseudo-religion with a goddess personifying reason. The Napoleonic era further institutionalized the secularization of French society.

In the latter half of the 19th century, atheism rose to prominence under the influence of rationalistic and freethinking philosophers. Many prominent German philosophers of this era denied the existence of deities and were critical of religion, including Ludwig Feuerbach, Arthur Schopenhauer, Max Stirner, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche.[188]

George Holyoake was the last person (1842) imprisoned in Great Britain due to atheist beliefs. Law notes that he may have also been the first imprisoned on such a charge. Stephen Law states that Holyoake “first coined the term ‘secularism'”.[189][190]

Atheism, particularly in the form of practical atheism, advanced in many societies in the 20th century. Atheistic thought found recognition in a wide variety of other, broader philosophies, such as existentialism, objectivism, secular humanism, nihilism, anarchism, logical positivism, Marxism, feminism,[191] and the general scientific and rationalist movement.

In addition, state atheism emerged in Eastern Europe and Asia during that period, particularly in the Soviet Union under Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, and in Communist China under Mao Zedong. Atheist and anti-religious policies in the Soviet Union included numerous legislative acts, the outlawing of religious instruction in the schools, and the emergence of the League of Militant Atheists.[192][193] After Mao, the Chinese Communist Party remains an atheist organization, and regulates, but does not forbid, the practice of religion in mainland China.[194][195][196]

While Geoffrey Blainey has written that “the most ruthless leaders in the Second World War were atheists and secularists who were intensely hostile to both Judaism and Christianity”,[197] Richard Madsen has pointed out that Hitler and Stalin each opened and closed churches as a matter of political expedience, and Stalin softened his opposition to Christianity in order to improve public acceptance of his regime during the war.[198] Blackford and Schklenk have written that “the Soviet Union was undeniably an atheist state, and the same applies to Maoist China and Pol Pot’s fanatical Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in the 1970s. That does not, however, show that the atrocities committed by these totalitarian dictatorships were the result of atheist beliefs, carried out in the name of atheism, or caused primarily by the atheistic aspects of the relevant forms of communism.”[199]

Logical positivism and scientism paved the way for neopositivism, analytical philosophy, structuralism, and naturalism. Neopositivism and analytical philosophy discarded classical rationalism and metaphysics in favor of strict empiricism and epistemological nominalism. Proponents such as Bertrand Russell emphatically rejected belief in God. In his early work, Ludwig Wittgenstein attempted to separate metaphysical and supernatural language from rational discourse. A.J. Ayer asserted the unverifiability and meaninglessness of religious statements, citing his adherence to the empirical sciences. Relatedly the applied structuralism of Lvi-Strauss sourced religious language to the human subconscious in denying its transcendental meaning. J.N. Findlay and J.J.C. Smart argued that the existence of God is not logically necessary. Naturalists and materialistic monists such as John Dewey considered the natural world to be the basis of everything, denying the existence of God or immortality.[59][200]

Other leaders like Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, a prominent atheist leader of India, fought against Hinduism and Brahmins for discriminating and dividing people in the name of caste and religion.[201]This was highlighted in 1956 when he arranged for the erection of a statue depicting a Hindu god in a humble representation and made antitheistic statements.[202]

Atheist Vashti McCollum was the plaintiff in a landmark 1948 Supreme Court case that struck down religious education in US public schools.[203] Madalyn Murray O’Hair was perhaps one of the most influential American atheists; she brought forth the 1963 Supreme Court case Murray v. Curlett which banned compulsory prayer in public schools.[204] In 1966, Time magazine asked “Is God Dead?”[205] in response to the Death of God theological movement, citing the estimation that nearly half of all people in the world lived under an anti-religious power, and millions more in Africa, Asia, and South America seemed to lack knowledge of the Christian view of theology.[206] The Freedom From Religion Foundation was co-founded by Anne Nicol Gaylor and her daughter, Annie Laurie Gaylor, in 1976 in the United States, and incorporated nationally in 1978. It promotes the separation of church and state.[207][208]

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the number of actively anti-religious regimes has reduced considerably. In 2006, Timothy Shah of the Pew Forum noted “a worldwide trend across all major religious groups, in which God-based and faith-based movements in general are experiencing increasing confidence and influence vis–vis secular movements and ideologies.”[209]However, Gregory S. Paul and Phil Zuckerman consider this a myth and suggest that the actual situation is much more complex and nuanced.[210]

A 2010 survey found that those identifying themselves as atheists or agnostics are on average more knowledgeable about religion than followers of major faiths. Nonbelievers scored better on questions about tenets central to Protestant and Catholic faiths. Only Mormon and Jewish faithful scored as well as atheists and agnostics.[211]

In 2012, the first “Women in Secularism” conference was held in Arlington, Virginia.[212] Secular Woman was organized in 2012 as a national organization focused on nonreligious women.[213] The atheist feminist movement has also become increasingly focused on fighting sexism and sexual harassment within the atheist movement itself.[214]In August 2012, Jennifer McCreight (the organizer of Boobquake) founded a movement within atheism known as Atheism Plus, or A+, that “applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime”.[215][216][217]

In 2013 the first atheist monument on American government property was unveiled at the Bradford County Courthouse in Florida: a 1,500-pound granite bench and plinth inscribed with quotes by Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Madalyn Murray O’Hair.[218][219]

“New Atheism” is the name that has been given to a movement among some early-21st-century atheist writers who have advocated the view that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.”[220]The movement is commonly associated with Sam Harris, Daniel C. Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Victor J. Stenger, Christopher Hitchens, and to some extent Ayaan Hirsi Ali.[221] Several best-selling books by these authors, published between 2004 and 2007, form the basis for much of the discussion of “New” Atheism.

In best selling books, the religiously motivated terrorist events of 9/11 and the partially successful attempts of the Discovery Institute to change the American science curriculum to include creationist ideas, together with support for those ideas from George W. Bush in 2005, have been cited by authors such as Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, Stenger, and Hitchens as evidence of a need to move toward a more secular society.[223]

It is difficult to quantify the number of atheists in the world. Respondents to religious-belief polls may define “atheism” differently or draw different distinctions between atheism, non-religious beliefs, and non-theistic religious and spiritual beliefs.[224] A Hindu atheist would declare oneself as a Hindu, although also being an atheist at the same time.[225] A 2010 survey published in Encyclopdia Britannica found that the non-religious made up about 9.6% of the world’s population, and atheists about 2.0%, with a very large majority based in Asia. This figure did not include those who follow atheistic religions, such as some Buddhists.[226] The average annual change for atheism from 2000 to 2010 was 0.17%.[226] Broad estimates of those who have an absence of belief in a god range from 500 million to 1.1 billion people worldwide.[227][228]

According to global Win-Gallup International studies, 13% of respondents were “convinced atheists” in 2012,[229] 11% were “convinced atheists” in 2015,[27] and in 2017, 9% were “convinced atheists”.[28] As of 2012[update], the top 10 surveyed countries with people who viewed themselves as “convinced atheists” were China (47%), Japan (31%), the Czech Republic (30%), France (29%), South Korea (15%), Germany (15%), Netherlands (14%), Austria (10%), Iceland (10%), Australia (10%), and the Republic of Ireland (10%).[230]

According to the 2010 Eurobarometer Poll, the percentage of those polled who agreed with the statement “you don’t believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force” varied from a high percentage in France (40%), Czech Republic (37%), Sweden (34%), Netherlands (30%), and Estonia (29%); medium-high percentage in Germany (27%), Belgium (27%), UK (25%); to very low in Poland (5%), Greece (4%), Cyprus (3%), Malta (2%), and Romania (1%), with the European Union as a whole at 20%.[33] In a 2012 Eurobarometer poll on discrimination in the European Union, 16% of those polled considered themselves non believers/agnostics and 7% considered themselves atheists.[232]

According to a Pew Research Center survey in 2012 religiously unaffiliated (including agnostics and atheists) make up about 18% of Europeans.[233] According to the same survey, the religiously unaffiliated are the majority of the population only in two European countries: Czech Republic (75%) and Estonia (60%).[233]

There are another four countries where the unaffiliated make up a majority of the population: North Korea (71%), Japan (57%), Hong Kong (56%), and China (52%).[233]

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 30% of Australians have “no religion”, a category that includes atheists.[234]

In a 2013 census, 42% of New Zealanders reported having no religion, up from 30% in 1991.[235] Men were more likely than women to report no religion.

According to the World Values Survey, 4.4% of Americans self-identified as atheists in 2014.[236] However, the same survey showed that 11.1% of all respondents stated “no” when asked if they believed in God.[236] In 1984, these same figures were 1.1% and 2.2%, respectively. According to a 2014 report by the Pew Research Center, 3.1% of the US adult population identify as atheist, up from 1.6% in 2007; and within the religiously unaffiliated (or “no religion”) demographic, atheists made up 13.6%.[237] According to the 2015 General Sociological Survey the number of atheists and agnostics in the US has remained relatively flat in the past 23 years since in 1991 only 2% identified as atheist and 4% identified as agnostic and in 2014 only 3% identified as atheists and 5% identified as agnostics.[238]

According to the American Family Survey, 34% was found to be religiously unaffiliated in 2017 (23% ‘nothing in particular’, 6% agnostic, 5% atheist).[239][240] According to the Pew Research Center, in 2014, 22.8% of the American population does not identify with a religion, including atheists (3.1%) and agnostics (4%).[241] According to a PRRI survey, 24% of the population is unaffiliated. Atheists and agnostics combined make up about a quarter of this unaffiliated demographic.[242]

In recent years, the profile of atheism has risen substantially in the Arab world.[243] In major cities across the region, such as Cairo, atheists have been organizing in cafs and social media, despite regular crackdowns from authoritarian governments.[243] A 2012 poll by Gallup International revealed that 5% of Saudis considered themselves to be “convinced atheists.”[243] However, very few young people in the Arab world have atheists in their circle of friends or acquaintances. According to one study, less than 1% did in Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Jordan; only 3% to 7% in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Palestine.[244] When asked whether they have “seen or heard traces of atheism in [their] locality, community, and society” only about 3% to 8% responded yes in all the countries surveyed. The only exception was the UAE, with a percentage of 51%.[244]

A study noted positive correlations between levels of education and secularism, including atheism, in America.[95] According to evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber, atheism blossoms in places where most people feel economically secure, particularly in the social democracies of Europe, as there is less uncertainty about the future with extensive social safety nets and better health care resulting in a greater quality of life and higher life expectancy. By contrast, in underdeveloped countries, there are virtually no atheists.[245]

In a 2008 study, researchers found intelligence to be negatively related to religious belief in Europe and the United States. In a sample of 137 countries, the correlation between national IQ and disbelief in God was found to be 0.60.[246] Evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber states that the reason atheists are more intelligent than religious people is better explained by social, environmental, and wealth factors which happen to correlate with loss of religious belief as well. He doubts that religion causes stupidity, noting that some highly intelligent people have also been religious, but he says it is plausible that higher intelligence correlates to rejection of improbable religious beliefs and that the situation between intelligence and rejection of religious beliefs is quite complex.[247]

In a 2017 study, it was shown that compared to religious individuals, atheists have higher reasoning capacities and this difference seemed to be unrelated to sociodemographic factors such as age, education and country of origin.[248]

Statistically, atheists are held in poor regard across the globe. Non-atheists, and possibly even fellow atheists, seem to implicitly view atheists as prone to exhibit immoral behaviors ranging from mass murder to not paying at a restaurant.[249][250][251] In addition, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center publication, 15% of French people, 45% of Americans, and 99% of Indonesians explicitly believe that a person must believe in God to be moral. Pew furthermore noted that, in a U.S. poll, atheists and Muslims tied for the lowest rating among the major religious demographics on a “feeling thermometer”.[252]

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Atheism – Wikipedia

Atheism | CARM.org

Atheism is a lack of belief in any God and deities as well as a total denial of the existence of any god. It is a growing movement that is becoming more aggressive, more demanding, and less tolerant of anything other than itself – as is exemplified by its adherents. Is atheism a sound philosophical system as a worldview or is it ultimately self-defeating? Is the requirement of empirical evidence for God a mistake in logic or is it a fair demand? Can we prove that God exists or is that impossible? Find out more about atheism, its arguments, and its problems here at CARM. Learn how to deal with the arguments raised against the existence of God that seek to replace Him with naturalism, materialism, and moral relativism.

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Atheism | CARM.org

What is Atheism? | American Atheists

Atheism is one thing: A lack of belief in gods.

Atheism isnot an affirmative belief that there is no god nor does it answer any other question about what a person believes. It is simply a rejection of the assertion that there are gods. Atheism is too oftendefined incorrectly as a belief system. To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.

Older dictionaries define atheism as a belief that there is no God. Clearly, theistic influence taints these definitions. The fact that dictionaries define Atheism as there is no God betrays the (mono)theistic influence. Without the (mono)theistic influence, the definition would at least read there are no gods.

While there are some religions that are atheistic (certain sects of Buddhism, for example), that does not mean that atheism is a religion. To put it in a more humorous way: If atheism is a religion, thennot collecting stamps is a hobby.

Despite the fact that atheism is not a religion, atheism is protected by many of the same Constitutional rights that protect religion. That, however, does not mean that atheism is itself a religion, only that our sincerely held (lack of) beliefs are protected in the same way as the religious beliefs of others. Similarly, many interfaith groups will include atheists. This, again, does not mean that atheism is a religious belief.

Some groups will use words like Agnostic, Humanist, Secular, Bright, Freethinker, or any number of other terms to self identify. Those words are perfectly fine as a self-identifier, but we strongly advocate using the word that people understand: Atheist. Dont use those other terms to disguise your atheism or to shy away from a word that some think has a negative connotation. We should be using the terminology that is most accurate and that answers the question that is actually being asked. We should use the term that binds all of us together.

If you call yourself a humanist, a freethinker, a bright, or even a cultural Catholic and lack belief in a god, you are an atheist. Dont shy away from the term. Embrace it.

Agnostic isnt just a weaker version of being an atheist. It answers a different question. Atheism is about what you believe. Agnosticism is about what you know.

In recent surveys, the Pew Research Center has grouped atheists, agnostics, and the unaffiliated into one category. The so-called Nones are the fastest growing religious demographic in the United States. Pewseparates out atheists from agnostics and the non-religious, but that is primarily a function of self-identification. Only about 5% of people call themselves atheists, but if you ask about belief in gods, 11% say they do not believe in gods. Those people are atheists, whether they choose to use the word or not.

A recent survey fromUniversity of Kentucky psychologists Will Gervais and Maxine Najle found that as many as 26% of Americans may be atheists. This study was designed to overcome the stigma associated with atheism and the potential for closeted atheists to abstain from outing themselves even when speaking anonymously to pollsters. The full study is awaiting publication inSocial Psychological and Personality Sciencejournal but a pre-print version is available here.

Even more people say that their definition of god is simply a unifying force between all people. Or that they arent sure what they believe.If you lack an active belief in gods, you are an atheist.

Being an atheist doesnt mean youre sure about every theological question, have answers to the way the world was created, or how evolution works. It just means that the assertion that gods exist has left you unconvinced.

Wishing that there was an afterlife, or a creator god, or a specific god doesnt mean youre not an atheist. Being an atheist is about what you believe and dont believe, not about what you wish to be true or would find comforting.

The only common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods. Some of the best debates we have ever had have been with fellow atheists. This is because atheists do not have a common belief system, sacred scripture or atheist Pope. This means atheists often disagree on many issues and ideas. Atheists come in a variety of shapes, colors, beliefs, convictions, and backgrounds. We are as unique as our fingerprints.

Atheists exist across the political spectrum. We are members of every race. We are members of the LGBTQ* community. There are atheists in urban, suburban, and rural communities and in every state of the nation.

We have more than 170 affiliates and local partners nationwide. If you are looking for a community, we strongly recommend reaching out to an affiliate in your area.

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What is Atheism? | American Atheists

Atheism – Britannica.com

Atheism, in general, the critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or spiritual beings. As such, it is usually distinguished from theism, which affirms the reality of the divine and often seeks to demonstrate its existence. Atheism is also distinguished from agnosticism, which leaves open the question whether there is a god or not, professing to find the questions unanswered or unanswerable.

The dialectic of the argument between forms of belief and unbelief raises questions concerning the most perspicuous delineation, or characterization, of atheism, agnosticism, and theism. It is necessary not only to probe the warrant for atheism but also carefully to consider what is the most adequate definition of atheism. This article will start with what have been some widely accepted, but still in various ways mistaken or misleading, definitions of atheism and move to more adequate formulations that better capture the full range of atheist thought and more clearly separate unbelief from belief and atheism from agnosticism. In the course of this delineation the section also will consider key arguments for and against atheism.

A central, common core of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is the affirmation of the reality of one, and only one, God. Adherents of these faiths believe that there is a God who created the universe out of nothing and who has absolute sovereignty over all his creation; this includes, of course, human beingswho are not only utterly dependent on this creative power but also sinful and who, or so the faithful must believe, can only make adequate sense of their lives by accepting, without question, Gods ordinances for them. The varieties of atheism are numerous, but all atheists reject such a set of beliefs.

Atheism, however, casts a wider net and rejects all belief in spiritual beings, and to the extent that belief in spiritual beings is definitive of what it means for a system to be religious, atheism rejects religion. So atheism is not only a rejection of the central conceptions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; it is, as well, a rejection of the religious beliefs of such African religions as that of the Dinka and the Nuer, of the anthropomorphic gods of classical Greece and Rome, and of the transcendental conceptions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Generally atheism is a denial of God or of the gods, and if religion is defined in terms of belief in spiritual beings, then atheism is the rejection of all religious belief.

It is necessary, however, if a tolerably adequate understanding of atheism is to be achieved, to give a reading to rejection of religious belief and to come to realize how the characterization of atheism as the denial of God or the gods is inadequate.

To say that atheism is the denial of God or the gods and that it is the opposite of theism, a system of belief that affirms the reality of God and seeks to demonstrate his existence, is inadequate in a number of ways. First, not all theologians who regard themselves as defenders of the Christian faith or of Judaism or Islam regard themselves as defenders of theism. The influential 20th-century Protestant theologian Paul Tillich, for example, regards the God of theism as an idol and refuses to construe God as a being, even a supreme being, among beings or as an infinite being above finite beings. God, for him, is being-itself, the ground of being and meaning. The particulars of Tillichs view are in certain ways idiosyncratic, as well as being obscure and problematic, but they have been influential; and his rejection of theism, while retaining a belief in God, is not eccentric in contemporary theology, though it may very well affront the plain believer.

Second, and more important, it is not the case that all theists seek to demonstrate or even in any way rationally to establish the existence of God. Many theists regard such a demonstration as impossible, and fideistic believers (e.g., Johann Hamann and Sren Kierkegaard) regard such a demonstration, even if it were possible, as undesirable, for in their view it would undermine faith. If it could be proved, or known for certain, that God exists, people would not be in a position to accept him as their sovereign Lord humbly on faith with all the risks that entails. There are theologians who have argued that for genuine faith to be possible God must necessarily be a hidden God, the mysterious ultimate reality, whose existence and authority must be accepted simply on faith. This fideistic view has not, of course, gone without challenge from inside the major faiths, but it is of sufficient importance to make the above characterization of atheism inadequate.

Finally, and most important, not all denials of God are denials of his existence. Believers sometimes deny God while not being at all in a state of doubt that God exists. They either willfully reject what they take to be his authority by not acting in accordance with what they take to be his will, or else they simply live their lives as if God did not exist. In this important way they deny him. Such deniers are not atheists (unless we wish, misleadingly, to call them practical atheists). They are not even agnostics. They do not question that God exists; they deny him in other ways. An atheist denies the existence of God. As it is frequently said, atheists believe that it is false that God exists, or that Gods existence is a speculative hypothesis of an extremely low order of probability.

Yet it remains the case that such a characterization of atheism is inadequate in other ways. For one it is too narrow. There are atheists who believe that the very concept of God, at least in developed and less anthropomorphic forms of Judeo-Christianity and Islam, is so incoherent that certain central religious claims, such as God is my creator to whom everything is owed, are not genuine truth-claims; i.e., the claims could not be either true or false. Believers hold that such religious propositions are true, some atheists believe that they are false, and there are agnostics who cannot make up their minds whether to believe that they are true or false. (Agnostics think that the propositions are one or the other but believe that it is not possible to determine which.) But all three are mistaken, some atheists argue, for such putative truth-claims are not sufficiently intelligible to be genuine truth-claims that are either true or false. In reality there is nothing in them to be believed or disbelieved, though there is for the believer the powerful and humanly comforting illusion that there is. Such an atheism, it should be added, rooted for some conceptions of God in considerations about intelligibility and what it makes sense to say, has been strongly resisted by some pragmatists and logical empiricists.

While the above considerations about atheism and intelligibility show the second characterization of atheism to be too narrow, it is also the case that this characterization is in a way too broad. For there are fideistic believers, who quite unequivocally believe that when looked at objectively the proposition that God exists has a very low probability weight. They believe in God not because it is probable that he existsthey think it more probable that he does notbut because belief is thought by them to be necessary to make sense of human life. The second characterization of atheism does not distinguish a fideistic believer (a Blaise Pascal or a Soren Kierkegaard) or an agnostic (a T.H. Huxley or a Sir Leslie Stephen) from an atheist such as Baron dHolbach. All believe that there is a God and God protects humankind, however emotionally important they may be, are speculative hypotheses of an extremely low order of probability. But this, since it does not distinguish believers from nonbelievers and does not distinguish agnostics from atheists, cannot be an adequate characterization of atheism.

It may be retorted that to avoid apriorism and dogmatic atheism the existence of God should be regarded as a hypothesis. There are no ontological (purely a priori) proofs or disproofs of Gods existence. It is not reasonable to rule in advance that it makes no sense to say that God exists. What the atheist can reasonably claim is that there is no evidence that there is a God, and against that background he may very well be justified in asserting that there is no God. It has been argued, however, that it is simply dogmatic for an atheist to assert that no possible evidence could ever give one grounds for believing in God. Instead, atheists should justify their unbelief by showing (if they can) how the assertion is well-taken that there is no evidence that would warrant a belief in God. If atheism is justified, the atheist will have shown that in fact there is no adequate evidence for the belief that God exists, but it should not be part of his task to try to show that there could not be any evidence for the existence of God. If the atheist could somehow survive the death of his present body (assuming that such talk makes sense) and come, much to his surprise, to stand in the presence of God, his answer should be, Oh! Lord, you didnt give me enough evidence! He would have been mistaken, and realize that he had been mistaken, in his judgment that God did not exist. Still, he would not have been unjustified, in the light of the evidence available to him during his earthly life, in believing as he did. Not having any such postmortem experiences of the presence of God (assuming that he could have them), what he should say, as things stand and in the face of the evidence he actually has and is likely to be able to get, is that it is false that God exists. (Every time one legitimately asserts that a proposition is false one need not be certain that it is false. Knowing with certainty is not a pleonasm.) The claim is that this tentative posture is the reasonable position for the atheist to take.

An atheist who argues in this manner may also make a distinctive burden-of-proof argument. Given that God (if there is one) is by definition a very recherch realitya reality that must be (for there to be such a reality) transcendent to the worldthe burden of proof is not on the atheist to give grounds for believing that there is no reality of that order. Rather, the burden of proof is on the believer to give some evidence for Gods existencei.e., that there is such a reality. Given what God must be, if there is a God, the theist needs to present the evidence, for such a very strange reality. He needs to show that there is more in the world than is disclosed by common experience. The empirical method, and the empirical method alone, such an atheist asserts, affords a reliable method for establishing what is in fact the case. To the claim of the theist that there are in addition to varieties of empirical facts spiritual facts or transcendent facts, such as it being the case that there is a supernatural, self-existent, eternal power, the atheist can assert that such facts have not been shown.

It will, however, be argued by such atheists, against what they take to be dogmatic aprioristic atheists, that the atheist should be a fallibilist and remain open-minded about what the future may bring. There may, after all, be such transcendent facts, such metaphysical realities. It is not that such a fallibilistic atheist is really an agnostic who believes that he is not justified in either asserting that God exists or denying that he exists and that what he must reasonably do is suspend belief. On the contrary, such an atheist believes that he has very good grounds indeed, as things stand, for denying the existence of God. But he will, on the second conceptualization of what it is to be an atheist, not deny that things could be otherwise and that, if they were, he would be justified in believing in God or at least would no longer be justified in asserting that it is false that there is a God. Using reliable empirical techniques, proven methods for establishing matters of fact, the fallibilistic atheist has found nothing in the universe to make a belief that God exists justifiable or even, everything considered, the most rational option of the various options. He therefore draws the atheistical conclusion (also keeping in mind his burden-of-proof argument) that God does not exist. But he does not dogmatically in a priori fashion deny the existence of God. He remains a thorough and consistent fallibilist.

Such a form of atheism (the atheism of those pragmatists who are also naturalistic humanists), though less inadequate than the first formation of atheism, is still inadequate. God in developed forms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is not, like Zeus or Odin, construed in a relatively plain anthropomorphic way. Nothing that could count as God in such religions could possibly be observed, literally encountered, or detected in the universe. God, in such a conception, is utterly transcendent to the world; he is conceived of as pure spirit, an infinite individual who created the universe out of nothing and who is distinct from the universe. Such a realitya reality that is taken to be an ultimate mysterycould not be identified as objects or processes in the universe can be identified. There can be no pointing at or to God, no ostensive teaching of God, to show what is meant. The word God can only be taught intralinguistically. God is taught to someone who does not understand what the word means by the use of descriptions such as the maker of the universe, the eternal, utterly independent being upon whom all other beings depend, the first cause, the sole ultimate reality, or a self-caused being. For someone who does not understand such descriptions, there can be no understanding of the concept of God. But the key terms of such descriptions are themselves no more capable of ostensive definition (of having their referents pointed out) than is God, where that term is not, like Zeus, construed anthropomorphically. (That does not mean that anyone has actually pointed to Zeus or observed Zeus but that one knows what it would be like to do so.)

In coming to understand what is meant by God in such discourses, it must be understood that God, whatever else he is, is a being that could not possibly be seen or be in any way else observed. He could not be anything material or empirical, and he is said by believers to be an intractable mystery. A nonmysterious God would not be the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

This, in effect, makes it a mistake to claim that the existence of God can rightly be treated as a hypothesis and makes it a mistake to claim that, by the use of the experimental method or some other determinate empirical method, the existence of God can be confirmed or disconfirmed as can the existence of an empirical reality. The retort made by some atheists, who also like pragmatists remain thoroughgoing fallibilists, is that such a proposed way of coming to know, or failing to come to know, God makes no sense for anyone who understands what kind of reality God is supposed to be. Anything whose existence could be so verified would not be the God of Judeo-Christianity. God could not be a reality whose presence is even faintly adumbrated in experience, for anything that could even count as the God of Judeo-Christianity must be transcendent to the world. Anything that could actually be encountered or experienced could not be God.

At the very heart of a religion such as Christianity there stands a metaphysical belief in a reality that is alleged to transcend the empirical world. It is the metaphysical belief that there is an eternal, ever-present creative source and sustainer of the universe. The problem is how it is possible to know or reasonably believe that such a reality exists or even to understand what such talk is about.

It is not that God is like a theoretical entity in physics such as a proton or a neutrino. They are, where they are construed as realities rather than as heuristically useful conceptual fictions, thought to be part of the actual furniture of the universe. They are not said to be transcendent to the universe, but rather are invisible entities in the universe logically on a par with specks of dust and grains of sand, only much, much smaller. They are on the same continuum; they are not a different kind of reality. It is only the case that they, as a matter of fact, cannot be seen. Indeed no one has an understanding of what it would be like to see a proton or a neutrinoin that way they are like Godand no provision is made in physical theory for seeing them. Still, there is no logical ban on seeing them as there is on seeing God. They are among the things in the universe, and thus, though they are invisible, they can be postulated as causes of things that are seen. Since this is so it becomes at least logically possible indirectly to verify by empirical methods the existence of such realities. It is also the case that there is no logical ban on establishing what is necessary to establish a causal connection, namely a constant conjunction of two discrete empirical realities. But no such constant conjunction can be established or even intelligibly asserted between God and the universe, and thus the existence of God is not even indirectly verifiable. God is not a discrete empirical thing or being, and the universe is not a gigantic thing or process over and above the things and processes in the universe of which it makes sense to say that the universe has or had a cause. But then there is no way, directly or indirectly, that even the probability that there is a God could be empirically established.

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Atheism – Britannica.com

Atheism – Philosophy – AllAboutPhilosophy.org

Atheism – Defining the TermsThere are two basic forms of atheism: “strong” atheism and “weak” atheism. Strong atheism is the doctrine that there is no God or gods. Weak atheism is the disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods.Weak atheism is often confused with agnosticism, the lack of belief or disbelief in God or gods, and skepticism, the doctrine that the absolute knowledge of God’s existence is unobtainable by mere man. Many agnostics and skeptics are “practical atheists” in that they actively pursue an atheistic lifestyle. The exclusion of God necessitates moral relativism.

Atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) declared, and philosophers generally agree, without God there is no absolute truth and thus no universal moral standard of conduct. Humanist John Dewey (1859-1952), co-author and signer of the Humanist Manifesto I (1933), declared, “There is no God and there is no soul. Hence, there are no needs for the props of traditional religion. With dogma and creed excluded, then immutable truth is also dead and buried. There is no room for fixed, natural law or moral absolutes.”

Atheism – Strong AtheismDoes “strong” atheism correspond with or contradict objective reality? Let’s look at this question objectively. Suppose someone asks you, “Does God exist?” You could answer in one of three ways: “I know for certain that God exists” (assured theism), “I don’t know whether or not God exists” (insecure theism, agnosticism, “weak” atheism and/or skepticism), or “I know for certain that God doesn’t exist” (“strong” atheism).

To know for certain that God exists, you don’t have to know everything but you do have to know something – you must either know God personally or you must be aware of some evidence establishing His existence. To be unsure whether or not God exists, you don’t have to know everything. In fact, by your own admission you don’t know everything. However, to claim to know for certain that God doesn’t exist – to positively assert a universal negative – you would have to know everything. To be absolutely certain that God doesn’t exist outside the limits of your knowledge, you would have to possess all knowledge.

Let’s make this practical. Do you know everything? Do you know half of everything? Do you know 1% of everything? Let’s be incredibly gracious and suppose that you know 1% of everything there is to know. Thomas Edison confidently declared, “We do not know a millionth of one percent about anything.” Nevertheless, given the supposition that you know 1% of everything, is it possible that evidence proving God’s existence exists in the 99% of everything you don’t know? If you’re honest, you’ll have to admit that it’s a real possibility. The fact is, since you don’t possess all knowledge, you don’t know if such evidence exists or not. Thus, you cannot be a “strong” atheist – you don’t know that God doesn’t exist.

Atheism vs. TheismStrong atheism is a logically flawed position. Weak atheism, agnosticism and skepticism are all “I don’t know” theological positions, with weak atheists subscribing to atheistic presuppositions, true agnostics “sitting on the fence,” and skeptics capitulating to ignorance. Assured theists are the only ones who claim to know anything. What do they know? In the end it doesn’t matter what you believe. What matters is what’s actually true. You might not believe in gravity. Nevertheless, if you step off a tall building you are going to splat on the ground below. The existence of God has enormous implications for you and me, and prudence would have us make a full investigation of all the available data before putting our eternity in the care of any one belief-system. Ask yourself these types of questions: “How do I know something’s true?” “What is the source of my information?” “Is my source absolutely reliable?” “What if I’m wrong?”

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Atheism – Philosophy – AllAboutPhilosophy.org

BBC – Religion: Atheism

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BBC – Religion: Atheism

Demographics of atheism – Wikipedia

Accurate demographics of atheism are difficult to obtain since conceptions of atheism vary across different cultures and languages from being an active concept to being unimportant or not developed.[1][2] In global studies, the number of people without a religion is usually higher than the number of people without a belief in a deity[3][4] and the number of people who agree with statements on lacking a belief in a deity is usually higher than the number of people who self-identify as “atheists”.[3][1] According to sociologist Phil Zuckerman, broad estimates of those who have an absence of belief in a deity range from 500 to 750 million people worldwide.[1] Other estimates state that there are 200 million to 240 million self-identified atheists worldwide, with China and Russia being major contributors to those figures.[3] According to sociologists Ariela Keysar and Juhem Navarro-Rivera’s review of numerous global studies on atheism, there are 450 to 500 million positive atheists and agnostics worldwide (7% of the world’s population), with China having the most atheists in the world (200 million convinced atheists).[5]

Of the global atheist and non-religious population, 76% reside in Asia and the Pacific, while the remainder reside in Europe (12%), North America (5%), Latin America and the Caribbean (4%), sub-Saharan Africa (2%) and the Middle East and North Africa (less than 1%).[6] The prevalence of atheism in Africa and South America typically falls below 10%.[7] According to the Pew Research Center’s 2012 global study of 230 countries and territories, 16% of the world’s population is not affiliated with a religion, while 84% are affiliated.[8] Furthermore, the global study noted that many of the unaffiliated, which include atheists and agnostics, still have various religious beliefs and practices.[6]

Historical records of atheist philosophy span several millennia. Atheistic schools are found in early Indian thought and have existed from the times of the historical Vedic religion.[9] Western atheism has its roots in pre-Socratic Greek philosophy, but did not emerge as a distinct world-view until the late Enlightenment.[10]

Discrepancies exist among sources as to how atheist and religious demographics are changing. Questions to assess non-belief may ask about negation of the prevailing belief, rather than an assertion of positive atheism.[11] Also, self-identification is not congruous to people’s lack of beliefs automatically. For instance, merely not having a belief in a god, for whatever reason, does not automatically mean that people self-identify as an “atheist”.[12] According to the 2012 WIN/Gallup International Survey, the number of atheists is on the rise across the world, with religiosity generally declining.[13] However, other global studies have indicated that global atheism may be in decline due to irreligious countries having the lowest birth rates in the world and religious countries having higher birth rates in general.[1]

The demographics of atheism are substantially difficult to quantify. Words like, “God” or “atheism” seldom translate well across cultures or languages, and if they are there, they have variant meanings which make cross cultural comparisons tenuous.[1][2] As such, it can be hard to draw boundaries between atheism, non-religious beliefs, and non-theistic religious and spiritual beliefs. Furthermore, atheists may not report themselves as such, to prevent suffering from social stigma, discrimination, and persecution in some countries.[14]

Because some governments have strongly promoted atheism and others have strongly condemned it, atheism may be either over-reported or under-reported for different countries. There is a great deal of room for debate as to the accuracy of any method of estimation, as the opportunity for misreporting (intentionally or not) a category of people without an organizational structure is high. Also, many surveys on religious identification ask people to identify themselves as “agnostics” or “atheists”, which is potentially confusing, since these terms are interpreted differently, with some identifying themselves as being agnostic atheists. Additionally, many of these surveys only gauge the number of irreligious people, not the number of actual atheists, or group the two together. For example, research indicates that the fastest growing religious status may be “no religion” in the United States, but this includes all kinds of atheists, agnostics, and theists.[15][16] According to the World Factbook, Non-religious people make up 9.66%, while one fifth of them are atheists.[17]

Statistics on atheism are often difficult to represent accurately for a variety of reasons. Atheism is a position compatible with other forms of identity including religions.[18] Anthropologist Jack David Eller, states that “atheism is quite a common position, even within religion” and that “surprisingly, atheism is not the opposite or lack, let alone the enemy, of religion but is the most common form of religion.”[18] Furthermore, he observes that “some atheists call themselves “spiritual”, and as we have shown above, atheism in its broadest sense does not preclude other religious concepts like nature spirits, dead ancestors, and supernatural forces.”[18] In many cultures, little conceptual or practical distinction is made between natural and supernatural phenomena and the very notions of “religious” and “nonreligious” dissolve into unimportance, especially since people have beliefs in other supernatural or spiritual things irrespective of belief in gods.[2] For instance, in Netherlands people who lack of beliefs in gods do have a variety of beliefs in other supernatural entities or things.[19]

Globally, some atheists also consider themselves Agnostic, Buddhist, Hindu, Jains, Taoist, or hold other related philosophical beliefs. Some, like Secular Jews and Shintoists, may indulge in some religious activities as a way of connecting with their culture, all the while being atheist. Therefore, given limited poll options, some may use other terms to describe their identity. Some politically motivated organizations that report or gather population statistics may, intentionally or unintentionally, misrepresent atheists. Survey designs may bias results due to the nature of elements such as the wording of questions and the available response options. Statistics are generally collected on the assumption that religion is a categorical variable. Instruments have been designed to measure attitudes toward religion, including one that was used by L. L. Thurstone. This may be a particularly important consideration among people who have neutral attitudes, as it is more likely that prevailing social norms will influence the responses of such people on survey questions that effectively force respondents to categorize themselves either as belonging to a particular religion or belonging to no religion. A negative perception of atheists and pressure from family and peers may also cause some atheists to disassociate themselves from atheism. Misunderstanding of the term may also be a reason some label themselves differently.

For example, a Canadian poll released September 12, 2011 sampled 1,129 Canadian adults and collected data on the numbers of declared atheists.[20] These numbers conflicted with the latest Canadian census data that pre-supposed that a religious affiliation predisposed a belief in a deity and was based on a poorly worded question. A quote from the study:

The data also revealed some interesting facts about Canadians’ beliefs:

Even when people directly claim to not believe in a deity, they still do not self-identify as atheist. For instance, 41% of Norwegians, 48% of the French, and 54% of Czechs claimed to not believe in a deity, but only 10%, 19%, and 20% of those respondents self-identified as atheist, respectively.[1] In the United States, only 5% of the population did not have a belief in a god and out of that small group only 24% self-identified as “atheist”, while 15% self-identified as “agnostic” and 35% self-identified as “nothing in particular”.[12]

Though China is state atheism, 85% of the population practice various kinds of religious behaviors with some regularity.[22]

In the Netherlands, beliefs of “convinced atheists” are quite diverse: 41.1% of them believe in telepathy, 21.1% believe in reincarnation, 13.3% believe in life after death, and 1.6% believe in heaven. The percentages on telepathy and reincarnation were similar to the percentages of “religious people” in the Netherlands. Furthermore, the author of the study notes, “Thus, despite the fact that they claim to be convinced atheists and the majority deny the existence of a personal god, a rather large minority of the Dutch convinced atheists believe in a supernatural power!”[19]

A 2004 survey by the BBC in 10 countries showed the proportion of the population “who don’t believe in God” to be close to 17% in the countries surveyed, however, 8% of the respondents specifically stated that they consider themselves to be “atheists”. Diversity was observed in that “across the entire sample, almost 30% of all atheists surveyed said they sometimes prayed.”[23]

A study on global religiosity, secularity, and well-being notes that it is unlikely that most atheists and agnostics base their decision to not believe in the gods on a careful, rational analysis of philosophical and scientific arguments since science testing scores in societies where atheism or theism is widespread, are just as poor and such societies have widespread supernatural beliefs besides gods.[24] Reviewing psychological studies on atheists, Miguel Farias, noted that studies concluding that analytical thinking leads to lower religious belief “do not imply that that atheists are more conscious or reflective of their own beliefs, or that atheism is the outcome of a conscious refutation of previously held religious beliefs” since they too have variant beliefs such as in conspiracy theories of the naturalistic variety.[25] In terms of apostasy, a greater proportion of people who leave religion, do so for motivational rather than rational reasons and the majority of deconversions occur in adolescence and young adulthood when one is emotionally volatile.[25] Furthermore, Farias notes that atheists are indistinguishable from New Age individuals or Gnostics since there are commonalities such as being individualistic, non-conformist, liberal, and valuing hedonism and sensation.[25] According to Phil Zuckerman, the majority of atheists and other secular people who were raised with a religion, leave their religion and beliefs in their late teens or early twenties while a smaller proportion do so at a mature age.[26]

A study on personality and religiosity found that members of secular organizations (like the international Center for Inquiry) have similar personality profiles to members of religious groups. This study found that members of secular organizations are very likely to label themselves primarily as “atheists”, but also very likely to consider themselves humanists.[27] It was also found that secular group members show no significant differences in their negative or positive affect. The surveyed individuals also had similar profiles for conscientiousness (discipline or impulse control, and acting on values like “pursuit of truth”). Secular group members tended to be less agreeable (e.g. more likely to hold unpopular, socially challenging views), as well as more open minded (e.g. more likely to consider new ideas) than members of religious groups. Luke Galen, a personality researcher, writes “Many previously reported characteristics associated with religiosity are a function not of belief itself, but of strong convictions and group identification.”[27][28] Catherine Caldwell-Harris notes that “non-believers” are interested in social justice concerns and posits that this is due to their lack of belief in an afterlife, leading to a focus on what can be fixed here and now.[29] Another study by Caldwell-Harris describes atheists as being capable of experiencing awe, which she states debunks stereotypes of atheists as “cynical and joyless”.[30] A 2014 study created six different personality profiles of ‘types’ of nonbelievers and compared them to Big Five personality traits.[31] In countries which have high levels of atheism such as Scandinavian nations, atheist organizations there generally have very low membership and only those that have links to a political party or offer legalized rituals have some noticeable membership.[32]

According to William Bainbridge’s international study, atheism is common among people whose interpersonal social obligations are weak and is also connected to lower fertility rates in advanced industrial nations.[33]

In a global study on atheism, sociologist Phil Zuckerman noted that countries with higher levels of atheism also had the highest suicide rates compared to countries with lower levels of atheism. He concludes that correlations does not necessarily indicate causation in either case.[34] A study on depression and suicide suggested that those without a religious affiliation have a higher suicide attempt rates than those with a religious affiliation.[35] A study into mental well-being in religious and non-religious people found that mental well-being for both religious people and non-religious people hinged on the certainty of their belief, and that previous studies had not controlled for the effect of belonging to a group when studying churchgoers.[36] Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi regarded atheists in Western society to be “much more likely to be a man, married, with higher education”, and regarded the personality of atheists to be “less authoritarian and suggestible, lessdogmatic, less prejudiced, more tolerant of others, law-abiding, compassionate, conscientious, and well educated. They are of high intelligence, and many are committed to the intellectual and scholarly life”.[37] A review of the literature found that being non-religious did not necessarily entail poorer mental health.[38]

Though atheists are in the minority in most countries, they are relatively common in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, East Asia and present communist states. It is difficult to determine actual atheist numbers. Furthermore, the conflation of terms such as atheist, agnostic, non-religious and non-theist add to confusion among poll data.[citation needed]

According to the Encyclopdia Britannica, 2% of the world’s population self-identify as atheists and the average annual global change for atheism from 2000 to 2010 was 0.17%.[39]

A 2002 survey by Adherents.com estimates the proportion of the world’s people who are “secular, non-religious, agnostics and atheists” at about 14%.[40]

A 2004 survey by the BBC in 10 countries showed the proportion of the population “who don’t believe in God” varying between 0% (Nigeria) and 39% (UK), with an average close to 17% in the countries surveyed, however, 8% of the respondents specifically stated that they consider themselves to be “atheists”. Diversity was observed in the views of atheists including that “across the entire sample, almost 30% of all atheists surveyed said they sometimes prayed.”[23]65% of those polled in a 2011 survey by the British Humanist Association answered no to the question “Are you religious?”[41]

A 2004 survey by the CIA in the World Factbook estimates about 12.5% of the world’s population are non-religious, and about 2.4% are atheists.[42]

A 2005 poll by AP/Ipsos surveyed ten countries. Of the developed nations, people in the United States were “most sure” of the existence of God or a higher power (2% atheist, 4% agnostic), while France had the most skeptics (19% atheist, 16% agnostic). On the religion question, South Korea had the greatest percentage without a religion (41%) while Italy had the smallest (5%).[43]

A 2010 Pew Research global study found that 16 percent of the global population to be unaffiliated with a religion, however, Pew notes that “more than three-quarters of the religiously unaffiliated live in Asia, the majority in China. Many of the people in this group do hold some religious or spiritual beliefs and may even believe in a deity, but they do not identify with a particular faith.”[6] Of the global atheist and nonreligious population, 76% reside in Asia and the Pacific, while the remainder reside in Europe (12%), North America (5%), Latin America and the Caribbean (4%), sub-Saharan Africa (2%) and the Middle East and North Africa (less than 1%).[6]

Sociologist Phil Zuckerman’s global studies on atheism have indicated that global atheism may be in decline due to irreligious countries having the lowest birth rates in the world and religious countries having higher birth rates in general.[1]

According to WIN/Gallup International, in their 2012 poll of 57 countries, 23% of respondents were “not religious” and 13% were “convinced atheists” and in their 2014 poll of 65 countries 22% were “not religious” and 11% were “convinced atheists”.[7][44] However, other researchers have advised caution with the WIN/Gallup International figures since other surveys which use the same wording, have conducted many waves for decades, and have a bigger sample size, such as World Values Survey; have consistently reached lower figures for the number of atheists worldwide.[5]

A Pew 2015 global projection study for religion and nonreligion projects that between 2010 and 2050 there will some initial increases of the unaffiliated followed by a decline by 2050 due to lower global fertility rates among this demographic.[45]

In terms of the United States, a 2012 Pew report showed that 32% of people under 30, 21% of people between the ages of 30-49, 15% of people between the ages of 50-64 and 9% of people over the age of 65 could be characterized as religiously unaffiliated. However, 68% of all the unaffiliated expressed belief in God and out of the whole US population, only 2.4% self identified as “atheist”.[46]

A 2013 poll by UPI/Harris showed that three-quarters of U.S. adults say they believe in God, down from 82 percent in 2005, 2007 and 2009. Just under 2-in-10 U.S. adults described themselves as very religious, with an additional 4-in-10 describing themselves as somewhat religious down from 49 percent in 2007. Twenty-three percent of Americans identified themselves as not at all religious, nearly double the 12 percent reported in 2007.[47]

The 2015 Pew Religious Landscape survey reported that as of 2014[update], 22.8% of the American population is religiously unaffiliated, atheists made up 3.1% and agnostics made up 4% of the US population.[48]

A 1998 survey based on a self-selected sample of biological and physical scientists of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States found that 7% believed in the existence of God, 72.2% did not, and 20.8% were agnostic or had doubts.[49] Eugenie Scott argued that there are methodological issues in the study, including ambiguity in the questions. A study on leading scientists in the US, with clearer wording and allowing for a broader concept of “god”, concluded that 40% of prominent scientists believe in god.[50]

In 1916, 1,000 leading American scientists were randomly chosen from American Men of Science and 41.8% believed God existed, 41.5% disbelieved, and 16.7% had doubts/did not know; however when the study was replicated 80 years later using American Men and Women of Science in 1996, results were very much the same with 39.3% believing God exists, 45.3% disbelieved, and 14.5% had doubts/did not know.[51]

A 2014 survey by David Chalmers and David Bourget on nearly 1,000 professional philosophers from 99 leading departments of philosophy shows that 72.8% considered themselves as atheists, 14.6% considered themselves as theist, and 12.6% as something else.[52]

A TNSRMS Cameroun survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 29 October 2012, to 5 November, 2012, found that 3% of Cameroon were “convinced atheists.”[53]

In November 2013, al-Sabah estimated that up to 3 million (3.57%) Egyptians were atheists.[54][55]

A TNS RMS Ghana survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 7 November 2012, to 33 November, 2012, found that 0% of Ghana were “convinced atheists.”[53]

A Infinite Insight survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted on November, 2014, found that 2% of Kenya were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A BJ Group survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted on 8 November, 2014, to 19 November, 2014 found that 1% of Morocco were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A Market Trends International survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 13 October, 2014 to 9 November, 2014, found that 2% of Nigeria were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A Topline Research Solutions (TRS) survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 24 December 2012, to 2 December, 2012, found that 4% of South Africa were “convinced atheists.”[53]

A Infinite Insight survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 5 November 2012, to 6 December, 2012, found that 6% of South Sudan were “convinced atheists.”[53]

A Emrhod International survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 24 November 2012, to 2 December, 2012, found that 0% of Tunisia were “convinced atheists.”[53]

A ACSOR-Surveys survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 1 November, 2014 to 10 November, 2014, found that 0.33% of Afghanistan were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A MPG LLC (Marketing Professional Group) survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted on November, 2014, found that 2% of Armenia were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A SIAR Research and Consulting Group survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 16 October, 2014, to 12 November, 2014, found that 0.1% of Azerbaijan were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A SRGB (SRG Bangladesh Limited) survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 5 November, 2014, to 25 November, 2014, found that 0.4% of Bangladesh were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A GORBI (Georgian Opinion Research Business International) survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 15 October, 2014, to 15 November, 2014, found that 1% of the Georgia were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A DataPrompt International survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 20 October, 2014 to 14 November, 2014, found that less than 3% of India were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A Deka survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 15 October, 2014 to 5 November, 2014, found that 0.19% of Indonesia were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

According to Moaddel and Azadarmaki (2003), less than 5% of Iranians do not believe in God.[58]

A IIACSS survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 20 November 2012, to 2 December, 2012, found that 0% of Iraq were “convinced atheists.”[53]

A Maagar Mochot ltd. survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted on November, 2014, found that 8% of Israel were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A NRC (Nippon Research Center) survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 31 October, 2014 to 12 November, 2014, found that 32% of Japan were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

According to Inglehart et al (2004), less than 1% of those in Jordan do not believe in God.[58]

A Romir survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 23 October, 2014 to 30 October, 2014, found that 8% of Kazakhstan were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

According to Froese (2004), 7% of those in Kyrgyzstan are atheist.[58]

A REACH (Research and Consulting House) survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 17 October, 2014 to 5 November, 2014, found that 2% of Lebanon were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A TNS Malaysia survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 27 October, 2014 to 15 November, 2014, found that 3% of Malaysia were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

According to Barret et al (2001), 9% of those in Mongolia are atheist.[58]

Barret et al (2001) report that 15% of North Koreans are atheist.[58]

A Gallup Pakistan survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 2 October, 2014 to 12 October, 2014, found that 1% of Pakistan were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO) survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 2 November, 2014 to 12 November, 2014, found that 1% of Palestine were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A WisdomAsia survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 1 November, 2014, to 15 November, 2014, found that 61% of the People’s Republic of China were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A CSG survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 27 October, 2014, to 16 November, 2014, found that 34% of the Hong Kong were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A PSRC (Philippines Survey & Research Center Inc.) survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted on 9 October, 2014, to 12 November, 2014 found that 20% of Philippines were “convinced atheists.”[56][57] [59]

According to Inglehart et al (2004), 14% of those in the Republic of China do not believe in God.[58]

A PARC (Pan Arab Research Center) survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted on November 2011, found that 5% of Saudi Arabia were “convinced atheists.”[53]

Inglehart et al (2004) found that 13% of those in Singapore do not believe in God.[58]

A Be Research (Index Kosova) survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 1 November, 2014 to 7 November, 2014, found that 6% of South Korea were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

According to Froese (2004), 2% of those in Tajikistan are atheist.[58]

A Infosearch survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 12 October, 2014 to 13 November, 2014, found that 1% of Thailand were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

According to Froese (2004), 2% of those in Turkmenistan are atheist.[58]

A Romir survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 16 November 2012, to 6 December, 2012, found that 2% of Uzbekistan were “convinced atheists.”[53]

A Indochina Research survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted on 17 October, 2014, to 31 October, 2014 found that 13% of Vietnam were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

According to a 2010 Eurostat Eurobarometer Poll, 51% of European Union citizens responded that “they believe there is a God”, whereas 26% answered that “they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force” and 20% said that “they don’t believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force” and results were widely varied between different countries.[61]

According to another Poll about religiosity in the European Union in 2012 by Eurobarometer 16% are Non-believers/Agnostics and 7% are Atheists.[62] 72% of EU citizens are Christians and 2% are Muslims.[63]

(*) 13% of respondents in Hungary identify as Presbyterian. In Estonia and Latvia, 20%and 19%, respectively, identify as Lutherans. And in Lithuania, 14% say they are just aChristian and do not specify a particular denomination. They are included in the othercategory.(**) Identified as “don’t know/refused” from the “other/idk/ref” column are excluded from this statistic.(***) Figures may not add to subtotals due to rounding.

According to the 2011 Albanian census found 2.5% of Albania were atheists.[66]

A sterreichisches Gallup Institute survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted on November, 2014, found that 13% of Austria were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A Pew Research Center poll, conducted from June 2015 to July 2016, found that 2% of Belarus were atheists, while 9% stated that they “Do not believe in God”.[65]

A iVOX bvba survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 28 October, 2014 to 18 November, 2014, found that 18% of Belgium were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A Pew Research Center poll, conducted from June 2015 to July 2016, found that 2% of Bosnia and Herzegovina were atheists, while 4% stated that they “Do not believe in God”.[65]

A Pew Research Center poll, conducted from June 2015 to July 2016, found that 2% of Bulgaria were atheists, while 17% stated that they “Do not believe in God”.[65]

A Pew Research Center poll, conducted from June 2015 to July 2016, found that 4% of Croatia were atheists, while 10% stated that they “Do not believe in God”.[65]

A 2010 Eurobarometer poll found that 3% of the Cyprus stated that “I don’t believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force”.[61]

A Pew Research Center poll, conducted from June 2015 to July 2016, found that 25% of the Czech Republic were atheists, while 66% stated that they “Do not believe in God”.[65]

A DMA/Research survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted on November, 2014, found that 12% of Denmark were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A Pew Research Center poll, conducted from June 2015 to July 2016, found that 9% of Estonian population were atheists, while 45% stated that they “Do not believe in God”.[65]

A Taloustutkimus Oy survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 19 October, 2014 to 7 November, 2014, found that 10% of Finland were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A BVA survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 20 October, 2014 to 23 October, 2014, found that 10% of France were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A Produkt + Markt survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted on November, 2014, found that 17% of Germany were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A Pew Research Center poll, conducted from June 2015 to July 2016, found that 3% of Greece were atheists, while 6% stated that they “Do not believe in God”.[65]

A Pew Research Center poll, conducted from June 2015 to July 2016, found that 5% of Hungary were atheists, while 30% stated that they “Do not believe in God”.[65]

A Capacent Gallup survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 29 October, 2014 to 12 November, 2014, found that 14% of Iceland were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A Red C Research and Marketing survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 20 October, 2014 to 27 October, 2014, found that 10% of Ireland were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A DOXA survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 16 October, 2014 to 30 October, 2014, found that 6% of Italy were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A Be Research (Index Kosova) survey, commissioned by WIN-Gallup International, conducted from 1 November, 2014, to 7 November, 2014 found that 1% of Kosovo were “convinced atheists.”[56][57]

A Pew Research Center poll, conducted from June 2015 to July 2016, found that 3% of Latvia were atheists, while 15% stated that they “Do not believe in God”.[65]

A Pew Research Center poll, conducted from June 2015 to July 2016, found that 2% of Lithuania were atheists, while 11% stated that they “Do not believe in God”.[65]

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Demographics of atheism – Wikipedia

Atheism – Conservapedia

Atheism, as defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and other philosophy reference works, is the denial of the existence of God.[1] Paul Edwards, who was a prominent atheist and editor of the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, defined an atheist as “a person who maintains that there is no God.”[2]

Beginning in the latter portion of the 20th century and continuing beyond, many agnostics and atheists have argued that the definition of atheism should be a lack of belief in God or gods.[2][3][4][5]

Atheism has been examined by many disciplines in terms of its effects on individuals and on societies and these effects will be covered below.

As far as individuals adopting an atheistic worldview, atheism has a number of causal factors and these will be elaborated on below as well.

See also: Schools of atheist thought and Atheist factions

The history of atheism can be dated to as early as the 5th century B.C. Diagoras of Melos was a 5th-century B.C. Greek atheist, poet and Sophist. Since this time, there have been many schools of atheist thought that have developed.

See also: Weak atheism and Strong atheism

Atheists claim there are two main reasons for their denial of the existence of God and/or disbelief in God: the conviction that there is positive evidence or argument that God does not exist (strong atheism, which is also sometimes called positive atheism), and their claim that theists bear the burden of proof to show that God exists, that they have failed to do so, and that belief is therefore unwarranted (weak atheism).

As alluded to above, theists and others have posited a number of causes of atheism and this matter will be further addressed in this article.

In 1876, Charles Bradlaugh proposed that atheism does not assert “there is no God,” and by doing so he endeavored to dilute the traditional definition of atheism.[3][6] As noted above, in the latter portion of the 20th century, the proposition that the definition of atheism be defined as a mere lack of belief in God or gods began to be commonly advanced by agnostics/atheists.[3][7] It is now common for atheists/agnostics and theists to debate the meaning of the word atheism.[3][8]

Critics of a broader definition of atheism to be a mere lack of belief often point out that such a definition is contrary to the traditional/historical meaning of the word and that such a definition makes atheism indistinguishable from agnosticism.[2][3][9]

For more information, please see:

Below are a few common ways that atheism manifests itself:

1. Militant atheism, which continues to suppress and oppress religious believers today.

Topics related to militant atheism:

2. Philosophical atheism – Atheist philosophers assert that God does not exist. (See also: Naturalism and Materialism)

Secular humanism is a philosophy which holds that human beings are the most important figures, and that social problems are best solved without the involvement of religious doctrine.

The philosophy of postmodernism is atheistic (see: Atheism and postmodernism).

3. Atheistic Buddhism (some schools of Buddhism are theistic)

4. Practical atheism: atheism of the life – that is, living as though God does not exist.[10]

5. Other schools of atheist thought: Schools of atheist thought

See also: Atheist factions and Western atheism, schisms and political polarization and Atheist organizations

In 2015, Dr. J. Gordon Melton said about the atheist movement (organized atheism) that atheism is not a movement which tends to create community, but in the last few years there has been some growth of organized atheism.[11] See also: Atheist factions and Atheist organizations

Jacques Rousseau wrote in the Daily Maverick: “Elevatorgate..has resulted in three weeks of infighting in the secular community. Some might observe that we indulge in these squabbles fairly frequently.”[12] An ex-atheist wrote: “As an Atheist for 40 years, I noticed that there is not just a wide variety of Atheist positions, but there exists an actual battle between certain Atheist factions.”[13]

See also: Atheist movement and Atheism and anger

Blair Scott served on the American Atheists board of directors.[14] Mr. Scott formerly served as a State Director for the American Atheists organization in the state of Alabama. On December 1, 2012, he quit his post as a director of outreach for the American Atheists due to infighting within the American atheist movement.[15]

Mr. Blair wrote:

The atheist Neil Carter wrote:

The atheist David Smalley said about the atheist movement: “We’re eating our own… Were disintegrating.”[17]

See also: Atheist organizations and fundraising and Atheist fundraising vs. religious fundraising and Atheism and charity

In 2017, the atheist activist Lee Moore declared about American atheist organizations:

See also: Atheism and social intelligence and Atheism and emotional intelligence

The American atheist activist Eddie Tabash said in a speech to the Michigan Atheists State Convention, “Since we are a bit of a cantankerous, opinionated lot…”.[19]

See also: Atheism and anger and Atheism and unforgiveness

The Christian philosopher James S. Spiegel says that the path from Christianity to atheism among several of his friends involved moral slippage such as resentment or unforgiveness.[20] See: Atheism and unforgiveness

On January 1, 2011, CNN reported:

In studies on college students, atheists and agnostics reported more anger at God during their lifetimes than believers.[21]

According to Anthony DeStefano:

You bet they are. The truth is, the atheist position is incapable of supporting any coherent system of morality other than ruthless social Darwinism. Thats why it has caused more deaths, murders and bloodshed than any other belief system in the history of the world.

Atheists, of course, are always claiming hysterically that Christianity has been responsible for most of the worlds wars, but thats just another example of atheistic ignorance. The main reasons for war have always been economic gain, territorial gain, civil and revolutionary conflicts. According to Philip Axelrods monumental “Encyclopedia of Wars,” only 6.98 percent or all wars from 8000 BC to present were religious in nature. If you subtract Islamic wars from the equation, only 3.2 percent of wars were due to specifically Christian causes. That means that over 96 percent of all the wars on this planet were due to worldly reasons.[22]

Various studies found that traumatic events in people’s lives has a positive correlation with “emotional atheism”.[23]

The atheist and lesbian Greta Christina told the journalist Chris Mooney on the Point of Inquiry podcast, “there isn’t one emotion” that affects atheists “but anger is one of the emotions that many of us have …[it] drives others to participate in the movement.”[24]

Social science research indicates that antitheists score the highest among atheists when it comes to personality traits such as narcissism, dogmatism, and anger.[25] Furthermore, they scored lowest when it comes to agreeableness and positive relations with others.[26]

For additional information, please see: Atheism and social intelligence and Atheism and emotional intelligence and Atheism and unforgiveness and Atheism and bitterness

See also: Atheism and its retention rate in individuals and Conversion from atheism to Christianity and Atheism and children and Desecularization and Atheism and apathy

In 2012, a Georgetown University study was published indicating that only about 30 percent of those who grow up in an atheist household remain atheists as adults.[27] See also: Atheism and children

A 2012 study by the General Social Survey of the social science research organization NORC at the University of Chicago found that belief in God rises with age, even in atheistic nations.[28] The Pew Forum reports about American atheists: “Among self-identified atheists and agnostics, the median age is 34, and roughly four-in-ten adults in these categories are between the ages of 18 and 29.”[29] See also: Atheism and immaturity.

In addition, in atheistic Communist China, Christianity is experiencing rapid growth (see: Growth of Christianity in China). Also, there was a collapse of atheism in the former Soviet Union (see: Collapse of atheism in the former Soviet Union).

See also:

See also: Atheism and loneliness and Atheism and apathy and Internet atheism and Atheists and church attendance

According to an international study done by William Bainbridge, atheism is frequent among people whose interpersonal social obligations are weak and is also linked to lower fertility rates in advanced industrial nations (See also: Atheism and fertility rates).[30] See also: Atheism and loneliness and Atheism and social skills

In comparison to many religious groups, which have many meetings/conferences in numerous places in a given day or week which are convenient to attend, atheist meetings and atheist conferences are sparse. One of the causes of this situation is the apathy of many atheists (see: Atheism and apathy).

In recent times, the number of people attending atheist conferences has grown smaller.[31] Atheist David Smalley wrote: “And we wonder why were losing elections, losing funding, and our conferences are getting smaller.”[17] In 2017, the atheist activist Lee Moore said about atheist conferences, “Most conferences are gone now. They’re either gone or in some kind of life support form.”[32]

Atheist Francois Tremblay wrote about the difficulty of motivating atheists to engage in activities related to atheism: “One last problem that undermines any propagation of atheism is inspiration. Let’s be honest here, “there is no god!” is not a very motivating call for most people.” (see also: Atheism and inspiration).[33] The atheist Jerry Coyne said about atheist meetings/conferences, “But to me the speakers and talks have often seemed repetitive: the same crew of jet-set skeptics giving the same talks.”[34]

In an essay entitled How the Atheist Movement Failed Me, an atheist woman noted that participation in the atheist community is often expensive due to the cost of attending atheist conferences and even local atheist meetings in restaurants and bars challenged her modest budget.[35] As a result of the challenges that atheists commonly have in terms of socializing in person, many atheists turn to the internet in terms of communicating with other atheists.[36] Often internet communication between atheists turns turns contentious (see: Atheist factions).

For more information, please see: Atheism and loneliness

See also: Decline of the atheist movement and Morale of the atheist movement and Desecularization and Atheist movement

Numerous atheists have declared that the “atheist movement is dead” or that it is dying.[38]

At the 2018 American Atheists convention, the ex-president of the American Atheists organization David Silverman declared regarding the atheist movement being in a demoralized state:

…it has really affected us. We are suffering a level of defeatism that I have never seen before…

We feel the loss. And we feel like we have lost. We feel like we lost the election… We see this cascade of attack coming down at us over and over from all different directions and we feel like it’s over. I have heard so many times it makes me sick. It makes me sad. It feels like we lost.

The apathy that follows. It doesn’t matter. We can’t win anyways. It’s useless to fight. This apathy is infecting us. It’s hurting us.

And people are reacting to each other now. And so that is causing a division. Lots and lots of division in our movement. Hard, bad division… And that has resulted in a splintering and factioning of the movement that I have never seen before and none of us have.

In other words, we’re in a bad situation and it’s getting worse.[39]

In 2017, atheist David Smalley has indicated that leftist/progressive atheists were “killing the atheist movement” through being contentious and divisive (see also: Atheist factions).[17] Former new atheist PZ Myers, who subscribes to progressive politics, says he is no longer a member of the atheist movement.[40]

The atheist movement saw a number of setbacks during the latter portion of the 20th century and beyond in terms of historical events/trends (See: Causes of desecularization). As a result, it has lost a considerable amount of confidence (see also: Decline of the atheist movement and Atheists and the endurance of religion).

Globally, the atheist population is declining in terms of percentage of the world’s population that are atheists (see: Global atheism statistics).

see also: Atheism and communism and Militant atheism and Atheism and economics and Atheism and mass murder and Atheist cults and Atheism and Karl Marx

Karl Marx said “[Religion] is the opium of the people.” Marx also stated: “Communism begins from the outset (Owen) with atheism; but atheism is at first far from being communism; indeed, that atheism is still mostly an abstraction.”[41]

Vladimir Lenin similarly wrote regarding atheism and Communism: “A Marxist must be a materialist, i.e., an enemy of religion, but a dialectical materialist, i.e., one who treats the struggle against religion not in an abstract way, not on the basis of remote, purely theoretical, never varying preaching, but in a concrete way, on the basis of the class struggle which is going on in practice and is educating the masses more and better than anything else could.”[42]

In 1955, the Chinese Communist leader Chou En-lai declared, “We Communists are atheists”.[43]

In 2014, the Communist Party of China reaffirmed that members of their party must be atheists.[44]

In 2016, the International Business Times reported:

According to the University of Cambridge, historically, the “most notable spread of atheism was achieved through the success of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which brought the Marxist-Leninists to power.”[46]

Vitalij Lazarevi Ginzburg, a Soviet physicist, wrote that the “Bolshevik communists were not merely atheists but, according to Lenin’s terminology, militant atheists.”[47] However, prior to this, the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution established a state which was anti-Roman Catholicism/Christian in nature [48] (anti-clerical deism and anti-religious atheism and played a significant role in the French Revolution[49]), with the official ideology being the Cult of Reason; during this time thousands of believers were suppressed and executed by the guillotine.[50]

See also: Atheism and mass murder and Atheist atrocities

It has been estimated that in less than the past 100 years, governments under the banner of Communism have caused the death of somewhere between 40,472,000 and 259,432,000 human lives.[51] Dr. R. J. Rummel, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii, is the scholar who first coined the term democide (death by government). Dr. R. J. Rummel’s mid estimate regarding the loss of life due to communism is that communism caused the death of approximately 110,286,000 people between 1917 and 1987.[52] Richard Dawkins has attempted to engage in historical revisionism concerning atheist atrocities and Dawkins was shown to be in gross error. See also: Atheism and historical revisionism

Christian apologist Gregory Koukl wrote relative to atheism and mass murder that “the assertion is that religion has caused most of the killing and bloodshed in the world.There are people who make accusations and assertions that are empirically false. This is one of them.”[53]Koukl details the number of people killed in various events involving theism and compares them to the much higher tens of millions of people killed under regimes which advocated atheism.[53] As noted earlier, Richard Dawkins has attempted to engage in historical revisionism concerning atheist atrocities and Dawkins was shown to be in gross error.

Koukl summarized by stating:

Theodore Beale notes concerning atheism and mass murder:

The total body count for the ninety years between 1917 and 2007 is approximately 148 million dead at the bloody hands of fifty-two atheists, three times more than all the human beings killed by war, civil war, and individual crime in the entire twentieth century combined.

The historical record of collective atheism is thus 182,716 times worse on an annual basis than Christianitys worst and most infamous misdeed, the Spanish Inquisition. It is not only Stalin and Mao who were so murderously inclined, they were merely the worst of the whole Hell-bound lot. For every Pol Pot whose infamous name is still spoken with horror today, there was a Mengistu, a Bierut, and a Choibalsan, godless men whose names are now forgotten everywhere but in the lands they once ruled with a red hand.

Is a 58 percent chance that an atheist leader will murder a noticeable percentage of the population over which he rules sufficient evidence that atheism does, in fact, provide a systematic influence to do bad things? If that is not deemed to be conclusive, how about the fact that the average atheist crime against humanity is 18.3 million percent worse than the very worst depredation committed by Christians, even though atheists have had less than one-twentieth the number of opportunities with which to commit them. If one considers the statistically significant size of the historical atheist set and contrasts it with the fact that not one in a thousand religious leaders have committed similarly large-scale atrocities, it is impossible to conclude otherwise, even if we do not yet understand exactly why this should be the case. Once might be an accident, even twice could be coincidence, but fifty-two incidents in ninety years reeks of causation![54]

See also:

See also: Communism and religious persecution and Atheistic communism and torture and Atheism and forced labor and China and involuntary organ harvesting

The atheism in Communist regimes has been and continues to be militant atheism and various acts of repression including the razing of thousands of religious buildings and the killing, imprisoning, and oppression of religious leaders and believers.[55]

See also: Soviet atheism

The persecution of Christians in the Soviet Union was the result of the violently atheist Soviet government. In the first five years after the October Revolution, 28 bishops and 1,200 priests were murdered, many on the orders of Leon Trotsky. When Joseph Stalin came to power in 1927, he ordered his secret police, under Genrikh Yagoda to intensify persecution of Christians. In the next few years, 50,000 clergy were murdered, many were tortured, including crucifixion. “Russia turned red with the blood of martyrs”, said Father Gleb Yakunin of the Russian Orthodox Church.[56] According to Orthodox Church sources, as many as fifty million Orthodox believers may have died in the twentieth century, mainly from persecution by Communists.[57]

The religious landscape of China is quickly changing, however, due to the rapid growth of Christianity. See also: China and atheism and Global atheism

In addition, in the atheistic and Communist Soviet Union, 44 anti-religious museums were opened and the largest was the ‘The Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism’ in Leningrads Kazan cathedral.[59] Despite intense effort by the atheistic leaders of the Soviet Union, their efforts were not effective in converting the masses to atheism.[60]

See also: China and atheism

China has the world’s largest atheist population (see: China and atheism).[61][62] China is a Communist country. In 1999, the publication Christian Century reported that “China has persecuted religious believers by means of harassment, prolonged detention, and incarceration in prison or ‘reform-through-labor’ camps and police closure of places of worship.” In 2003, owners of Bibles in China were sent to prison camps and 125 Chinese churches were closed.[63] China continues to practice religious oppression today.[64]

The efforts of China’s atheist leaders in promoting atheism, however, is increasingly losing its effectiveness and the number of Christians in China is rapidly growing (see: Growth of Christianity in China). China’s state sponsored atheism and atheistic indoctrination has been a failure and a 2007 religious survey in China indicated that only 15% of Chinese identified themselves as atheists.[65]

Researchers estimate that tens of thousands of Falun Gong prisoners in Communist China have been killed to supply a financially lucrative trade in human organs and cadavers, and that these human rights abuses may be ongoing concern.[66]

North Korea is a repressive Communist state and is officially atheistic.[69] The North Korean government practices brutal repression and atrocities against North Korean Christians.[70] Open Doors, an organization based in the United States, has put North Korea at the very top of its list of countries where Christians face significant persecution – for 12 years in a row.[71]

See: Atheistic communism and torture

See also: Atheism and forced labor and Atheism and slavery

In atheistic Communist regimes forced labor has often played a significant role in their economies and this practice continues to this day (see: Atheism and forced labor).[72]

Historically, atheists have favored the left side of the political aisle (see: Atheism and politics).

According to the Pew Forum, in the United States: “About two-thirds of atheists (69%) identify as Democrats (or lean in that direction), and a majority (56%) call themselves political liberals (compared with just one-in-ten who say they are conservatives).”[74]

More:

Atheism – Conservapedia

atheism | Definition of atheism in English by Oxford Dictionaries

nounmass noun

Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.

Example sentences

Synonyms

non-belief, non-theism, disbelief, unbelief, scepticism, doubt, agnosticism, irreligion, godlessness, ungodliness, profaneness, impiety, heresy, apostasy, paganism, heathenism, freethinking, nihilism

Late 16th century: from French athisme, from Greek atheos, from a- without + theos god.

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atheism | Definition of atheism in English by Oxford Dictionaries


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