Atheism is, in the broadest sense, the absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is the rejection of belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which, in its most general form, is the belief that at least one deity exists.
The etymological root for the word atheism originated before the 5th century BCE from the ancient Greek ἄθεος (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, those who were forsaken by the gods, or those who had no commitment to belief in the gods. The term denoted a social category created by orthodox religionists into which those who did not share their religious beliefs were placed. The actual term atheism emerged first in the 16th century. 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. The French Revolution, noted for its "unprecedented atheism," witnessed the first major political movement in history to advocate for the supremacy of human reason. 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, the problem of evil, the argument from inconsistent revelations, the rejection of concepts that cannot be falsified, and the argument from nonbelief. Nonbelievers contend that atheism is a more parsimonious position than theism and that everyone is born without beliefs in deities; 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. Although some atheists have adopted secular philosophies (e.g. secular humanism), there is no one ideology or set of behaviors to which all atheists adhere.
Since conceptions of atheism vary, accurate estimations of current numbers of atheists are difficult. According to global Win-Gallup International studies, 13% of respondents were "convinced atheists" in 2012, 11% were "convinced atheists" in 2015, and in 2017, 9% were "convinced atheists". 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. An older survey by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 2004 recorded atheists as comprising 8% of the world's population. Other older estimates have indicated that atheists comprise 2% of the world's population, while the irreligious add a further 12%. 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. 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".
Writers disagree on how best to define and classify atheism, 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, and has also been contrasted with it. 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.
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." 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." 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. 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 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 and in Catholic apologetics. Under this demarcation of atheism, most agnostics qualify as negative atheists.
While Martin, for example, asserts that agnosticism entails negative atheism, many agnostics see their view as distinct from atheism, which they may consider no more justified than theism or requiring an equal conviction. 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. Common atheist responses to this argument include that unproven religious propositions deserve as much disbelief as all other unproven propositions, and that the unprovability of a god's existence does not imply equal probability of either possibility. 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." Consequently, some atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins prefer distinguishing theist, agnostic and atheist positions along a spectrum of theistic probability—the 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 innatism—the notion that all people believe in God from birth; within this view was the connotation that atheists are simply in denial.
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". There have however been examples to the contrary, among them examples of literal "atheists in foxholes".
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.
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". The allocation of agnosticism to atheism is disputed; it can also be regarded as an independent, basic worldview.
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.
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)."
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.
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. A similar argument is attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism.
Philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach 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. 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."
Atheism is not mutually exclusive with respect to some religious and spiritual belief systems, including Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Syntheism, Raëlism, and Neopagan movements such as Wicca. Āstika 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. Jainism believes the universe is eternal and has no need for a creator deity, however Tirthankaras are revered that can transcend space and time  and have more power than the god Indra. 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 and Eternal Buddha.
Apophatic theology is often assessed as being a version of atheism or agnosticism, since it cannot say truly that God exists. "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". "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".
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. 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, or renders life meaningless and miserable. Blaise Pascal argued this view in his Pensées.
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. 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.
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. In recent years, certain religious denominations have accumulated a number of openly atheistic followers, such as atheistic or humanistic Judaism and Christian atheists.
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. Atheism is accepted as a valid philosophical position within some varieties of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.
Philosophers such as Slavoj Žižek, Alain de Botton, and Alexander Bard and Jan Söderqvist, 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. 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. Friedrich Nietzsche believed in a morality independent of theistic belief, and stated that morality based upon God "has truth only if God is truth—it stands or falls with faith in God."
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.
Philosophers Susan Neiman and Julian Baggini (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 themselves—to be able to discern, for example, that "thou shalt steal" is immoral even if one's religion instructs it—and that atheists, therefore, have the advantage of being more inclined to make such evaluations. 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. 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.
Some prominent atheists—most recently Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, and following such thinkers as Bertrand Russell, Robert G. Ingersoll, Voltaire, and novelist José Saramago—have criticized religions, citing harmful aspects of religious practices and doctrines.
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." 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 ..."
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) and authoritarianism, dogmatism, and prejudice. These arguments—combined with historical events that are argued to demonstrate the dangers of religion, such as the Crusades, inquisitions, witch trials, and terrorist attacks—have been used in response to claims of beneficial effects of belief in religion. Believers counter-argue that some regimes that espouse atheism, such as the Soviet Union, have also been guilty of mass murder. 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.
In early ancient Greek, the adjective átheos (ἄθεος, from the privative ἀ- + θεός "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 ἀσεβής (asebēs) 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 átheos as "atheistic". As an abstract noun, there was also ἀθεότης (atheotēs), "atheism". Cicero transliterated the Greek word into the Latin átheos. 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.
The term atheist (from Fr. athée), in the sense of "one who ... denies the existence of God or gods", predates atheism in English, being first found as early as 1566, and again in 1571. Atheist as a label of practical godlessness was used at least as early as 1577. The term atheism was derived from the French athéisme, and appears in English about 1587. An earlier work, from about 1534, used the term atheonism. Related words emerged later: deist in 1621, theist in 1662, deism in 1675, and theism in 1678. 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. 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, 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. 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. The thoroughly materialistic and anti-theistic philosophical Cārvāka (or Lokāyata) 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.
Chatterjee and Datta explain that our understanding of Cārvāka philosophy is fragmentary, based largely on criticism of the ideas by other schools, and that it is not a living tradition:
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.
Western atheism has its roots in pre-Socratic Greek philosophy, but atheism in the modern sense was nonexistent or extremely rare in ancient Greece. 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, but did not explicitly deny the gods' existence. 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" (ἄθεος) after he made fun of the Eleusinian Mysteries, but he fled the city to escape punishment. Later writers have cited Diagoras as the "first atheist", but he was probably not an atheist in the modern sense of the word.
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. This statement, however, originally did not mean that the gods themselves were nonexistent, but rather that their powers were a hoax. 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."
The Athenian public associated Socrates (c. 470–399 BCE) with the trends in pre-Socratic philosophy towards naturalistic inquiry and the rejection of divine explanations for phenomena. Aristophanes' comic play The Clouds (performed 423 BCE) portrays Socrates as teaching his students that the traditional Greek deities do not exist. Socrates was later tried and executed under the charge of not believing in the gods of the state and instead worshipping foreign gods. Socrates himself vehemently denied the charges of atheism at his trial 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. 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. Although not strictly an atheist, Euhemerus was later criticized for having "spread atheism over the whole inhabited earth by obliterating the gods".
The most important Greek thinker in the development of atheism was Epicurus (c. 300 BCE). 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). Although Epicurus still maintained that the gods existed, he believed that they were uninterested in human affairs. 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. In the 3rd-century BCE, the Greek philosophers Theodorus Cyrenaicus and Strato of Lampsacus did not believe in the existence of gods. The Roman philosopher Sextus Empiricus held that one should suspend judgment about virtually all beliefs—a form of skepticism known as Pyrrhonism—that 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.
The meaning of "atheist" changed over the course of classical antiquity. Early Christians were widely reviled as "atheists" because they did not believe in the existence of the Graeco-Roman deities. During the Roman Empire, Christians were executed for their rejection of the Roman gods in general and Emperor-worship in particular. When Christianity became the state religion of Rome under Theodosius I in 381, heresy became a punishable offense.
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 (827–911), Al-Razi (854–925), and Al-Maʿarri (973–1058). Al-Ma'arri wrote and taught that religion itself was a "fable invented by the ancients" and that humans were "of two sorts: those with brains, but no religion, and those with religion, but no brains." 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. 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. 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.
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 Niccolò Machiavelli, Bonaventure des Périers, Michel de Montaigne, and François Rabelais.
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". 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.
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".
The first known explicit atheist was the German critic of religion Matthias Knutzen in his three writings of 1674. He was followed by two other explicit atheist writers, the Polish ex-Jesuit philosopher Kazimierz Łyszczyński and in the 1720s by the French priest Jean Meslier. In the course of the 18th century, other openly atheistic thinkers followed, such as Baron d'Holbach, Jacques-André Naigeon, and other French materialists. 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.
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." 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".
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 Hébert 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.
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'".
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, 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. After Mao, the Chinese Communist Party remains an atheist organization, and regulates, but does not forbid, the practice of religion in mainland China.
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", 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. Blackford and Schüklenk 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."
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 Lévi-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.
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. 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.
Atheist Vashti McCollum was the plaintiff in a landmark 1948 Supreme Court case that struck down religious education in US public schools. 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. In 1966, Time magazine asked "Is God Dead?" 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. 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.
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-à-vis secular movements and ideologies." However, Gregory S. Paul and Phil Zuckerman consider this a myth and suggest that the actual situation is much more complex and nuanced.
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.
In 2012, the first "Women in Secularism" conference was held in Arlington, Virginia. Secular Woman was organized in 2012 as a national organization focused on nonreligious women. The atheist feminist movement has also become increasingly focused on fighting sexism and sexual harassment within the atheist movement itself. 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".
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.
"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." 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. 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.
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. A Hindu atheist would declare oneself as a Hindu, although also being an atheist at the same time. A 2010 survey published in Encyclopædia 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. The average annual change for atheism from 2000 to 2010 was −0.17%. Broad estimates of those who have an absence of belief in a god range from 500 million to 1.1 billion people worldwide.
According to global Win-Gallup International studies, 13% of respondents were "convinced atheists" in 2012, 11% were "convinced atheists" in 2015, and in 2017, 9% were "convinced atheists". As of 2012, 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%).
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%. 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.
According to a Pew Research Center survey in 2012 religiously unaffiliated (including agnostics and atheists) make up about 18% of Europeans. 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%).
According to the World Values Survey, 4.4% of Americans self-identified as atheists in 2014. However, the same survey showed that 11.1% of all respondents stated "no" when asked if they believed in God. 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%. 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.
According to the American Family Survey, 34% was found to be religiously unaffiliated in 2017 (23% 'nothing in particular', 6% agnostic, 5% atheist). 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%). According to a PRRI survey, 24% of the population is unaffiliated. Atheists and agnostics combined make up about a quarter of this unaffiliated demographic.
In recent years, the profile of atheism has risen substantially in the Arab world. In major cities across the region, such as Cairo, atheists have been organizing in cafés and social media, despite regular crackdowns from authoritarian governments. A 2012 poll by Gallup International revealed that 5% of Saudis considered themselves to be "convinced atheists." 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. 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%.
A study noted positive correlations between levels of education and secularism, including atheism, in America. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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".
Either the lack of belief that there exists a god, or the belief that there exists none. Sometimes thought itself to be more dogmatic than mere agnosticism, although atheists retort that everyone is an atheist about most gods, so they merely advance one step further.
(a) the belief that there is no God; (b) Some philosophers have been called "atheistic" because they have not held to a belief in a personal God. Atheism in this sense means "not theistic". The former meaning of the term is a literal rendering. The latter meaning is a less rigorous use of the term though widely current in the history of thought– entry by Vergilius Ferm
Belief in a deity, or deities, as opposed to atheism
...belief in the existence of a god or gods...
Atheism and atheist are words formed from Greek roots and with Greek derivative endings. Nevertheless they are not Greek; their formation is not consonant with Greek usage. In Greek they said átheos and atheotēs; to these the English words ungodly and ungodliness correspond rather closely. In exactly the same way as ungodly, átheos was used as an expression of severe censure and moral condemnation; this use is an old one, and the oldest that can be traced. Not till later do we find it employed to denote a certain philosophical creed.
The term as generally used, however, is highly ambiguous. Its meaning varies (a) according to the various definitions of deity, and especially (b) according as it is (i.) deliberately adopted by a thinker as a description of his own theological standpoint, or (ii.) applied by one set of thinkers to their opponents. As to (a), it is obvious that atheism from the standpoint of the Christian is a very different conception as compared with atheism as understood by a Deist, a Positivist, a follower of Euhemerus or Herbert Spencer, or a Buddhist..
On the contrary, I, as an Atheist, simply profess that I do not see sufficient reason to believe that there is a god. I do not pretend to know that there is no god. The whole question of god's existence, belief or disbelief, a question of probability or of improbability, not knowledge.
Critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or divine beings. Unlike agnosticism, which leaves open the question of whether there is a God, atheism is a positive denial. It is rooted in an array of philosophical systems.
But dogmatic atheism is rare compared with the sceptical type, which is identical with agnosticism in so far as it denies the capacity of the mind of man to form any conception of God, but is different from it in so far as the agnostic merely holds his judgment in suspense, though, in practice, agnosticism is apt to result in an attitude towards religion which is hardly distinguishable from a passive and unaggressive atheism..
I must begin by stating what sense I am attaching to the word "atheism," and how I am construing the theme of this paper. I shall understand by "atheism" a critique and a denial of the major claims of all varieties of theism. ... atheism is not to be identified with sheer unbelief, or with disbelief in some particular creed of a religious group. Thus, a child who has received no religious instruction and has never heard about God, is not an atheist – for he is not denying any theistic claims. Similarly in the case of an adult who, if he has withdrawn from the faith of his father without reflection or because of frank indifference to any theological issue, is also not an atheist – for such an adult is not challenging theism and not professing any views on the subject. ... I propose to examine some philosophic concepts of atheism ...
The true default position is neither theism nor atheism, but agnosticism ... a claim to knowledge needs to be substantiated; ignorance need only be confessed.
Although Neo-Pagans share common commitments to nature and spirit there is a diversity of beliefs and practices ... Some are atheists, others are polytheists (several gods exist), some are pantheists (all is God) and others are panentheists (all is in God).
There is no universal worldview that all Neo-Pagans/Wiccans hold. One online information source indicates that depending on how the term God is defined, Neo-Pagans might be classified as monotheists, duotheists (two gods), polytheists, pantheists, or atheists.
For the thoroughgoing atheist, the path is extremely difficult, if not lonely, for he can not develop any relationship of love with God, nor can he expect any divine help on the long and arduous journey.
Nonbelief has existed for centuries. For example, Buddhism and Jainism have been called atheistic religions because they do not advocate belief in gods.
According to Hinduism, the path of the atheist is very difficult to follow in matters of spirituality, though it is a valid one.
That problem was brought home to us with dazzling clarity by Nietzsche, who had reflected more deeply than any of his contemporaries on the implications of godlessness and come to the conclusion that a fatal contradiction lay at the heart of modern theological enterprise: it thought that Christian morality, which it wished to preserve, was independent of Christian dogma, which it rejected. This, in Nietzsche's mind, was an absurdity. It amounted to nothing less than dismissing the architect while trying to keep the building or getting rid of the lawgiver while claiming the protection of the law.
Morality "has truth only if God is truth–it stands or falls with faith in God" (Nietzsche 1968, p. 70). The moral argument for the existence of God essentially takes Nietzsche's assertion as one of its premises: if there is no God, then "there are altogether no moral facts".
Like other mid-nineteenth-century writers, George Eliot was not fully aware of the implications of her humanism, and, as Nietzsche saw, attempted the difficult task of upholding the Christian morality of altruism without faith in the Christian God.
In a world riven by ignorance, only the atheist refuses to deny the obvious: Religious faith promotes human violence to an astonishing degree.
Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: 'Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.' Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: 'Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.'
Old Greek word, not in LXX, only here in N.T. Atheists in the original sense of being without God and also in the sense of hostility to God from failure to worship him. See Paul's words in Ro 1:18–32.
The Atheistes which say..there is no God.Translated from Latin.
The opinion which they conceaue of you, to be Atheists, or godlesse men.
First Known Use: 1546
Athisme, that is to say, vtter godlesnes.
Godd would not longe suffer this impietie, or rather atheonisme.
Cousin-germans to these men are many of our great Philosophers and Deists
To have said my office..twice a day..among Rebels, Theists, Atheists, Philologers, Wits, Masters of Reason, Puritanes [etc.].
Agnostic atheism is a philosophical position that encompasses both atheism and agnosticism. Agnostic atheists are atheistic because they do not hold a belief in the existence of any deity and agnostic because they claim that the existence of a deity is either unknowable in principle or currently unknown in fact.
The agnostic atheist may be contrasted with the agnostic theist, who believes that one or more deities exist but claims that the existence or nonexistence of such is unknown or cannot be known.Antitheism
Antitheism (sometimes anti-theism) is the opposition to theism. The term has had a range of applications. In secular contexts, it typically refers to direct opposition to the belief in any deity.Antony Flew
Antony Garrard Newton Flew (; 11 February 1923 – 8 April 2010) was an English philosopher. Belonging to the analytic and evidentialist schools of thought, Flew was most notable for his work related to the philosophy of religion. During the course of his career he taught at the universities of Oxford, Aberdeen, Keele and Reading, and at York University in Toronto.
For much of his career Flew was known as a strong advocate of atheism, arguing that one should presuppose atheism until empirical evidence of a God surfaces. He also criticised the idea of life after death, the free will defence to the problem of evil, and the meaningfulness of the concept of God. In 2003 he was one of the signatories of the Humanist Manifesto III.However, in 2004 he changed his position, and stated that he now believed in the existence of an Intelligent Creator of the universe, shocking his fellow colleagues and atheists. In order to further clarify his personal concept of God, Flew openly made an allegiance to Deism, more specifically a belief in the Aristotelian God, and dismissed on many occasions a hypothetical conversion to Christianity, Islam or any other religion. He stated that in keeping his lifelong commitment to go where the evidence leads, he now believed in the existence of a God.In 2007 a book outlining his reasons for changing his position, There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind was written by Flew in collaboration with Roy Abraham Varghese. The book (and Flew's conversion to Deism) has been the subject of controversy, following an article in The New York Times Magazine alleging that Flew's intellect had declined due to senility, and that the book was primarily the work of Varghese; Flew himself specifically denied this, stating that the book represented his views, and he acknowledged that due to his age Varghese had done most of the actual work of writing the book.He was also known for the development of the no true Scotsman fallacy, and his debate on retrocausality with Michael Dummett.Atheism in Hinduism
Atheism (Sanskrit: निरीश्वरवाद, nir-īśvara-vāda, lit. "statement of no Lord", "doctrine of godlessness") or disbelief in God or gods has been a historically propounded viewpoint in many of the orthodox and heterodox streams of Hindu philosophies. In Indian philosophy, three schools of thought are commonly referred to as nastika for rejecting the doctrine of Vedas: Jainism, Buddhism and Cārvāka.Hinduism is a religion, but also a philosophy. Among the various schools of Hindu philosophy, Samkhya, Yoga and Mimamsa while not rejecting either the Vedas or the Brahman, typically reject a personal God, creator God, or a God with attributes. While Samkhya and Yoga rejected the idea of an eternal, self-caused, creator God, Mimamsa argued that the Vedas could not have been authored by a deity.
Though some schools of thought view the path of the atheist as difficult to follow in matters of spirituality, it is still a valid one.Christian atheism
Christian atheism is a form of cultural Christianity and ethics system drawing its beliefs and practices from Jesus' life and teachings as recorded in the New Testament Gospels and other sources, whilst rejecting supernatural claims of Christianity.
Christian atheism takes many forms: some Christian atheists take a theological position in which the belief in the transcendent or interventionist God is rejected or absent in favor of finding God totally in the world (Thomas J. J. Altizer) while others follow Jesus in a godless world (William Hamilton). Hamilton's Christian atheism is similar to Jesuism.Criticism of atheism
Criticism of atheism is criticism of the concepts, validity, or impact of atheism, including associated political and social implications. Criticisms include positions based on the history of science, findings in the natural sciences, theistic apologetic arguments, arguments pertaining to ethics and morality, the effects of atheism on the individual, or the assumptions that underpin atheism.
Various contemporary agnostics like Carl Sagan and theists such as Dinesh D'Souza have criticised atheism for being an unscientific position. Analytic philosopher Alvin Plantinga, Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, argues that a failure of theistic arguments might conceivably be good grounds for agnosticism, but not for atheism; and points to the observation of an apparently "fine-tuned Universe" as more likely to be explained by theism than atheism. Oxford Professor of Mathematics John Lennox holds that atheism is an inferior world view to that of theism and attributes to C.S. Lewis the best formulation of merton's thesis that science sits more comfortably with theistic notions on the basis that Men became scientific in Western Europe in the 16th and 17th century "[b]ecause they expected law in nature, and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.' In other words, it was belief in God that was the motor that drove modern science". American geneticist Francis Collins also cites Lewis as persuasive in convincing him that theism is the more rational world view than atheism.
Other criticisms focus on perceived effects on morality and social cohesion. The Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire, a deist, saw godlessness as weakening "the sacred bonds of society", writing: "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him". The father of classical liberalism, John Locke, believed that the denial of God's existence would undermine the social order and lead to chaos. Edmund Burke, an 18th-century Irish philosopher and statesman praised by both his conservative and liberal peers for his "comprehensive intellect", saw religion as the basis of civil society and wrote that "man is by his constitution a religious animal; that atheism is against, not only our reason, but our instincts; and that it cannot prevail long". Pope Pius XI wrote that Communist atheism was aimed at "upsetting the social order and at undermining the very foundations of Christian civilization". In the 1990s, Pope John Paul II criticised a spreading "practical atheism" as clouding the "religious and moral sense of the human heart" and leading to societies which struggle to maintain harmony.The advocacy of atheism by some of the more violent exponents of the French Revolution, the subsequent militancy of Marxist–Leninist atheism and prominence of atheism in totalitarian states formed in the 20th century is often cited in critical assessments of the implications of atheism. In his Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke railed against "atheistical fanaticism". The 1937 papal encyclical Divini Redemptoris denounced the atheism of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, which was later influential in the establishment of state atheism across Eastern Europe and elsewhere, including Mao Zedong's China, Kim's North Korea and Pol Pot's Cambodia. Critics of atheism often associate the actions of 20th-century state atheism with broader atheism in their critiques. Various poets, novelists and lay theologians, among them G. K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, have also criticized atheism. For example, Chesterton holds that "[h]e who does not believe in God will believe in anything".Discrimination against atheists
Discrimination against atheists, both at present and historically, includes persecution of and discrimination against people identified as atheists, whether by themselves or by others. Discrimination against atheists may also comprise negative attitudes, prejudice, hostility, hatred, fear, or intolerance towards atheists and atheism. Because atheism can be defined in various ways, those discriminated against or persecuted on the grounds of being atheists might not have been considered atheists in a different time or place. 13 Muslim countries officially punish atheism or apostasy by death, while "the overwhelming majority" of the 192 United Nation member countries "at best discriminate against citizens who have no belief in a god and at worst can jail them for offences dubbed blasphemy".In some Muslim-majority countries, atheists face persecution and severe penalties such as the withdrawal of legal status or, in the case of apostasy, capital punishment.Existence of God
The existence of God is a subject of debate in the philosophy of religion and popular culture.A wide variety of arguments for and against the existence of God can be categorized as metaphysical, logical, empirical, or subjective. In philosophical terms, the question of the existence of God involves the disciplines of epistemology (the nature and scope of knowledge) and ontology (study of the nature of being, existence, or reality) and the theory of value (since some definitions of God include "perfection").
The Western tradition of philosophical discussion of the existence of God began with Plato and Aristotle, who made arguments that would now be categorized as cosmological. Other arguments for the existence of God have been proposed by St. Anselm, who formulated the first ontological argument; Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Thomas Aquinas, who presented their own versions of the cosmological argument (the kalam argument and the first way, respectively); René Descartes, who said that the existence of a benevolent God is logically necessary for the evidence of the senses to be meaningful. John Calvin argued for a sensus divinitatis, which gives each human a knowledge of God's existence.
Philosophers who have provided arguments against the existence of God include Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell. In modern culture, the question of God's existence has been discussed by scientists such as Stephen Hawking, Francis Collins, Lawrence M. Krauss, Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, John Lennox and Sam Harris, as well as philosophers including Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Rebecca Goldstein, A. C. Grayling, Daniel Dennett, Edward Feser and David Bentley Hart.
Scientists follow the scientific method, within which theories must be verifiable by physical experiment. The majority of prominent conceptions of God explicitly or effectively posit a being which is not testable either by proof or disproof. On these bases, the question regarding the existence of God, one for which evidence cannot be tested, may lie outside the purview of modern science by definition. The Catholic Church maintains that knowledge of the existence of God is the "natural light of human reason". Fideists maintain that belief in the existence of God may not be amenable to demonstration or refutation, but rests on faith alone.
Atheists view arguments for the existence of God as insufficient, mistaken or weighing less in comparison to arguments against whereas some religions, such as Buddhism, are not concerned with the existence of gods at all and yet other religions, such as Jainism, reject the possibility of a creator deity.Implicit and explicit atheism
Implicit atheism and explicit atheism are types of atheism. In George H. Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God, "implicit atheism" is defined as "the absence of theistic belief without a conscious rejection of it", while "explicit atheism" is "the absence of theistic belief due to a conscious rejection of it". Explicit atheists have considered the idea of deities and have rejected belief that any exist. Implicit atheists, though they do not themselves maintain a belief in a god or gods, have not rejected the notion or have not considered it further.Irreligion
Irreligion (adjective form: non-religious or irreligious) is the absence, indifference, rejection of, or hostility towards religion.Irreligion may include some forms of theism, depending on the religious context it is defined against; for example, in 18th-century Europe, the epitome of irreligion was deism, while in contemporary East Asia the shared term meaning "irreligion" or "no religion" (無宗教, Chinese pron. wú zōngjiào, Japanese pron. mu shūkyō), with which the majority of East Asian populations identify themselves, implies non-membership in one of the institutional religions (such as Buddhism and Christianity), and not necessarily non-belief in traditional folk religions collectively represented by Chinese Shendao and Japanese Shinto (both meaning "ways of gods").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. By 2060, according to their projections, the number of unaffiliated will increase by over 35 million, but the percentage will decrease to 13% because the total population will grow faster.According to cross-cultural studies, secularism is expected to decline throughout the 21st century since religion and fertility are positively related, while secularism and fertility are negatively related.Jewish atheism
Jewish atheism refers to the atheism of people who are ethnically and (at least to some extent) culturally Jewish. Because Jewish identity encompasses ethnic as well as religious components, the term "Jewish atheism" does not inherently entail a contradiction.
Based on Jewish law's emphasis on matrilineal descent, even religiously conservative Orthodox Jewish authorities would accept an atheist born to a Jewish mother as fully Jewish. A 2011 study found that half of all American Jews have doubts about the existence of God, compared to 10–15% of other American religious groups.Lists of atheists
Atheism is, in a broad sense, the lack of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist. This is a compilation of the various lists of atheists with articles in Wikipedia. Living persons in these lists are people whose atheism is relevant to their notable activities or public life, and who have publicly identified themselves as atheists.Negative and positive atheism
Negative atheism, also called weak atheism and soft atheism, is any type of atheism where a person does not believe in the existence of any deities but does not explicitly assert that there are none. Positive atheism, also called strong atheism and hard atheism, is the form of atheism that additionally asserts that no deities exist.The terms "negative atheism" and "positive atheism" were used by Antony Flew in 1976 and have appeared in George H. Smith's and Michael Martin's writings since 1990.New Atheism
New Atheism is a term coined in 2006 by the agnostic journalist Gary Wolf to describe the positions promoted by some atheists of the twenty-first century. This modern-day atheism is advanced by a group of thinkers and writers who advocate the view that superstition, religion and irrationalism should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever their influence arises in government, education, and politics. According to Richard Ostling, Bertrand Russell, in his 1927 essay Why I Am Not a Christian, put forward similar positions as those espoused by the New Atheists, suggesting that there are no substantive differences between traditional atheism and New Atheism.New Atheism lends itself to and often overlaps with secular humanism and antitheism, particularly in its criticism of what many New Atheists regard as the indoctrination of children and the perpetuation of ideologies founded on belief in the supernatural. Some critics of the movement characterise it pejoratively as "militant atheism" or "fundamentalist atheism".Nontheism
Nontheism or non-theism is a range of both religious and nonreligious attitudes characterized by the absence of espoused belief in a God or gods. Nontheism has generally been used to describe apathy or silence towards the subject of God and differs from an antithetical, explicit atheism. Nontheism does not necessarily describe atheism or disbelief in God; it has been used as an umbrella term for summarizing various distinct and even mutually exclusive positions, such as agnosticism, ignosticism, ietsism, skepticism, pantheism, atheism, strong or positive atheism, implicit atheism, and apatheism. It is in use in the fields of Christian apologetics and general liberal theology.
Within the scope of nontheistic agnosticism, Philosopher Anthony Kenny distinguishes between agnostics who find the claim "God exists" uncertain and theological noncognitivists who consider all discussion of God to be meaningless. Some agnostics, however, are not nontheists but rather agnostic theists.Other related philosophical opinions about the existence of deities are ignosticism and skepticism. Because of the various definitions of the term God, a person could be an atheist in terms of certain conceptions of gods, while remaining agnostic in terms of others.Richard Dawkins
Clinton Richard Dawkins, (born 26 March 1941) is an English ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and author. He is an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, and was the University of Oxford's Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008.
Dawkins first came to prominence with his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, which popularised the gene-centred view of evolution and introduced the term meme. With his book The Extended Phenotype (1982), he introduced into evolutionary biology the influential concept that the phenotypic effects of a gene are not necessarily limited to an organism's body, but can stretch far into the environment. In 2006, he founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.
Dawkins is known as an outspoken atheist. In interviews, he has called himself an agnostic about many matters of religious faith, instead endorsing reason. He is well known for his criticism of creationism and intelligent design. In The Blind Watchmaker (1986), he argues against the watchmaker analogy, an argument for the existence of a supernatural creator based upon the complexity of living organisms. Instead, he describes evolutionary processes as analogous to a blind watchmaker, in that reproduction, mutation, and selection are unguided by any designer. In The God Delusion (2006), Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that religious faith is a delusion.
Dawkins has been awarded many prestigious academic and writing awards, and he makes regular television, radio, and Internet appearances, predominantly discussing his books, his atheism, and his ideas and opinions as a public intellectual.Sam Harris
Samuel Benjamin Harris (born April 9, 1967) is an American neuroscientist, philosopher, author, critic of religion, blogger, public intellectual, and podcast host. His work touches on a wide range of topics, including rationality, ethics, free will, neuroscience, meditation, philosophy of mind, politics, Islamism, terrorism, and artificial intelligence. He is described as one of the atheistic "Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse", along with Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett.Harris's first book, The End of Faith (2004), won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction and remained on The New York Times Best Seller list for 33 weeks. In The Moral Landscape (2010), he argues that science answers moral problems and can aid human well-being. He then published a longform essay Lying in 2011, the short book Free Will in 2012, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion in 2014, and, with British writer Maajid Nawaz, Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue in 2015. Harris' work has been translated into over 20 languages. In September 2013, Harris began releasing the Making Sense podcast (originally titled Waking Up), in which he interviews guests, responds to critics, and discusses his views.Secular Buddhism
Secular Buddhism—sometimes also referred to as agnostic Buddhism, Buddhist agnosticism, ignostic Buddhism, atheistic Buddhism, pragmatic Buddhism, Buddhist atheism, or Buddhist secularism—is a broad term for an emerging form of Buddhism and secular spirituality that is based on humanist, skeptical, and/or agnostic values, as well as pragmatism and (often) naturalism, rather than religious (or more specifically supernatural or paranormal) beliefs.
Secular Buddhists interpret the teachings of the Buddha and the Buddhist texts in a rationalist and often evidentialist manner, considering the historical and cultural contexts of the times in which the Buddha lived and the various suttas, sutras and tantras were written.
Within the framework of secular Buddhism, Buddhist doctrine may be stripped of any unspecified combination of various traditional beliefs that could be considered superstitious, or that cannot be tested through empirical research, namely: supernatural beings (such as devas, bodhisattvas, nāgas, pretas, Buddhas, etc.), merit and its transference, rebirth, Buddhist cosmology (including the existence of pure lands and hells), etc.
Traditional Buddhist ethics, such as conservative views regarding abortion, and human sexuality, may or may not be called into question as well. Some schools, especially Western Buddhist ones, take more progressive stances regarding social issues.State atheism
State atheism is the incorporation of positive atheism or non-theism into political regimes, particularly associated with Soviet systems. In contrast, a secular state purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. State atheism may refer to a government's anti-clericalism, which opposes religious institutional power and influence in all aspects of public and political life, including the involvement of religion in the everyday life of the citizen.The majority of Marxist–Leninist states followed similar policies from 1917. The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (1917–1991), and the Soviet Union (1922–1991) more broadly, had a long history of state atheism, whereby those seeking social success generally had to profess atheism and to stay away from houses of worship; this trend became especially militant during the middle Stalinist era from 1929 to 1939. The Soviet Union attempted to suppress public religious expression over wide areas of its influence, including places such as central Asia. Currently, only China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam are officially atheist.