Atheism can either be the affirmation of the nonexistence of gods or the rejection of theism. More broadly, it is also defined as an absence of belief
in deities, or non-theism.
Many atheists are skeptical of all supernatural beings, citing a lack of empirical evidence for the existence of deities. Some argue for atheism on
philosophical, social, or historical grounds. Many self-described atheists tend toward secular philosophies such as humanism and naturalism, although
there is no one ideology or set of behaviors to which atheists adhere. Some religions, such as Jainism and Buddhism, do not require belief in a
The term atheism originated as a pejorative description applied to any person or belief in conflict with established religion. With the advent and
spread of scientific skepticism, free thought, and criticism of religion, the term began to gather a more specific meaning and has been increasingly
used as a self-description by atheists.
In early Ancient Greek, the adjective atheos meant “godless”. The term began to indicate intentional, active godlessness in the 5th century BC,
acquiring definitions of “severing relations with the gods” or “denying the gods” or “ungodly” instead of the earlier meaning.
In English, the term atheism was derived from the French athéisme in about 1587. The term atheist, in the sense of “one who denies or disbelieves
in the existence of God”, predates atheism in English, being first used in about 1571. As a label of practical godlessness, atheist was used at
least as early as 1577.
Definitions and Distinctions
Writers and scholars disagree about how best to classify and define atheism, and they contest what supernatural entities it applies to, whether it is
an assertion in its own right or merely the absence of one, and whether it requires a conscious, explicit rejection. A variety of categories have been
proposed to try to distinguish the various forms of atheism.
Some of the controversy involved in defining atheism arises from the difficulty in reaching a consensus for the definitions of words such as deity and
god. Different conceptions of god and deities lead to differing ideas regarding the application of atheism. In contexts where theism is defined as the
belief in a singular, personal god, people who believe in a variety of other deities have been classified as atheists. These include deists and
polytheists. In ancient Rome, Christians were accused of being atheists due to the fact that they did not worship the pagan gods. This view has fallen
out of favor in the 20th century, with theism coming to be understood as an encompassing belief in any divinity.
Atheism is most contrasted with agnosticism when the definition of atheism used is the assertation that deities do not exist. The two positions are
compatible, however, for those atheists who do not assert any knowledge of the non-existence of deities. Also, some non-theists self-identify as
The range of phenomena rejected in atheism includes anything from the existence of a god to the existence of any spiritual, transcendental, or
Types of Atheism
- Implicit Atheism
The absence of theistic belief without a conscious rejection of it
- Explicit Atheism
- Strong Atheism
Explicit affirmation that gods do not exist
- Weak (Negative) Atheism
All other forms of non-theism
- Positive Atheism
Being morally upright
Showing an understanding that religious people have reasons to believe
No proselytizing or lecturing others about atheism
Defending oneself with truthfulness instead of aiming to “win” any confrontations with outspoken atheophobes
The broadest demarcation of atheistic rationale is between practical and theoretical atheism. The different forms of theoretical atheism derive from a
particular rationale or philosophical argument. Practical atheism requires no specific argument and can include indifference to and ignorance of the
idea of gods.
- Also called Pragmatic Atheism
- Individuals live as if there are no gods
- Explain natural phenomena without resorting to the divine
- Existence of gods is not denied, but may be designated unnecessary or useless
- Gods neither provide purpose to life nor influence everyday life
- Absence of religious motivation
Belief in gods does not motivate moral action, religious action, or any other form of action
- Active exclusion of the problem of gods and religion from intellectual pursuit and practical action
The absence of any interest in the problems of gods and religion
Lacking any idea of gods
Theoretical, or contemplative, atheism explicitly posits arguments against the existence of gods, responding to common theistic arguments. The
theoretical reasons for rejecting gods assume various psychological, metaphysical, sociological, and epistemological forms.
- Epistemological Arguments
People cannot know God or determine the existence of God
Foundation of epistemological atheism is agnosticism
- Metaphysical Arguments
Metaphysical atheism is based on metaphysical monism
View that reality is homogeneous and indivisible
Subscribe to some form of physicalism
Explicitly deny the existence of non-physical beings
- Psychological, Sociological, and Economical Arguments
God and other religious beliefs are human inventions created to fulfill various psychological and emotional wants and needs
Belief in God and religion are social functions used by those in power to suppress the working class
- Logical and Evidential Arguments
Logical atheism holds that the various conceptions of gods are ascribed logically inconsistent qualities
Present deductive arguments against the existence of God
Assert the incompatibility between certain traits
Theodicean atheists believe that the world as they experience it cannot be reconciled with the qualities commonly ascribed to God and gods by
An omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God is not compatible with a world where there is evil and suffering and where diving love is hidden
from many people
- Anthropocentric Arguments
Axiological (constructive) atheism rejects the existence of gods in favor of a “higher absolute”
Favors humanity as the absolute source of ethics and values
Permits individuals to resolve moral problems without resorting to God
It is difficult to quantify the number of atheists in the world. Respondents to religious-belief polls may define “atheism” differently or draw
distinctions between atheism, non-religious beliefs, and non-theistic religious and spiritual beliefs. In addition, people in some regions of the
world refrain from reporting themselves as atheists to avoid discrimination, persecution, and social stigma.
- 2005 Encyclopedia Britannica Survey
Non-religious make up about 11.9% of the world’s population
Atheists make up about 2.3% of the world’s population
- November-December 2006 Financial Times Poll
Gave rates for the US and five European countries
Found Americans are more likely that Europeans to report belief in any form of god or Supreme Being (73%)
European adults surveyed
Italians are most likely to express belief in a form of god or Supreme Being (62%)
French least likely to express belief in a form of god or Supreme Being (27%)
32% of French respondents declare themselves atheist
32% of French respondents declare themselves agnostic
- 2006 Official European Union Survey
18% of the EU population does not believe in a god
27% accept the existence of some supernatural “spiritual life force”
52% affirm belief in a specific god
- 1998 MIT and California State University Survey
Credentialed US adults (at least college graduates)
Indicated that religious conviction dimished with education level
Atheism, Religion, and Morality
Although people who self-identify as atheists are generally assumed to be irreligious, some sects within major religions reject the existence of a
personal, creator deity. In recent years, certain religious denominations have accumulated a number of openly atheistic followers.
Atheists can hold any number of spiritual beliefs. They can also hold a wide variety of ethical beliefs which hold that a moral code should be applied
consistently to all humans or hold the belief that morality is meaningless.
Controversy of Athieism
Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot all committed crimes against hummanity in the name of a Communist ideology that was atheistic. These men were
all starting to make a 'new man' and a religion-free State. These were mass murders performed with atheism as a central part of their ideological
inspiration, they were not mass murders done by people who simply happened to be atheist. In 1925 the Bolsheviks established League of the Militant
Godless, by 1938 80 bishops were killed while thousands of practishoners were sent to the Gulag.
Atheism at AllAboutPhilsophy.com
An Introduction to Atheism
Relevant discussion threads on AboveTopSecret.com
Atheism vs. "Godism"
Atheism: Discriminated for Beliefs
Who Invented Atheism?