News

October 2018

Saudi Arabia has been named the worst country in the world to be an atheist in a new report monitoring the rights and treatment of the non-religious. On Monday the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) published the latest Freedom of Thought Report, which ranks the best and worst countries to be an atheist.
NATIONAL SECULAR SOCIETY

September 2018

The number of Britons who say they have no religion has hit a record high, new data has revealed. More than half of the British public (53 per cent) say they are not at all religious - a figure that has increased by five percentage points since 2015 and by 19 percentage points since 1983, when just three in 10 people deemed themselves non-religious. The news has prompted fresh calls for the Government to cut the amount of public money going to the church and reduce its influence in society.
THE INDEPENDENT

What Is Atheism?

When debating creationists and those of a theistic bent I am often accused of being a man of faith, which is odd because I'm an atheist.

The argument (raised by theists) is that to believe there is no god requires as much (if not more) faith than it requires believing there is one. Sometimes the argument appears to be based around the claim that I (the atheist) must believe in something and (in my case) it is claimed that I positively disbelieve in a god or gods and that must be a position of faith.

If the theist view is correct and atheism was, indeed, a faith then atheists must also be hypocrites for attacking the views of other religions when theirs is a position of faith as well ... fortunately, they are not.

The purpose of this article is to define the various terms involved in the issue i.e. theist, agnostic, atheist, fideist and to defend the position of atheism as a non-faith-based stance.

Atheism In order to discuss atheism and the various alternative stances, it is necessary to define exactly what these stances are. I have used a number of reference resources to support this.

  • Theism: Generally as a "belief in the existence of a god or gods" (1678) but more specifically as a "belief in the creation of the universe by one god".
  • Polytheism: Defined fairly universally as a "belief in or worship of more than one god" (1613).
  • Fideism: A "reliance on faith rather than reason in pursuit of religious truth" (1885).
  • Pantheism: The doctrine that identifies the universe with a god but Miriam-Webster Online goes on to further define it as "the worship of all gods of different creeds, cults, or peoples indifferently" and also equates it with religious tolerance (1732).
  • Agnosticism: The doctrine "that the existence of deity can neither be proved nor disproved" and in broad terms, an agnostic is considered to be "one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the non-existence of God or a god". A logical consequence of "not knowing" whether there is or is not a god is that the agnostic has rejected all current claims of deity on the basis, presumably, of insufficient evidence or inconsistency & illogic in the claims being made by theists. It is also true to say that whilst it is possible to not know whether there is a god or not it is not possible to know whether you do or do not believe in current claims to deity.
  • Atheism: Defined, most critically as far as this article is concerned, as a "belief that there is no god" (Collins), "a doctrine that denies the existence of deity" (Encarta) and "a disbelief in the existence of deity" (Miriam-Webster, 1546) however, as I will attempt to demonstrate, this is not a fully accurate definition of atheism.
Still, on the subject of terminology, it is part of the English language that the use of an "a" in front of a word reverses the sense of the word. For instance, the phrase "typical behaviour" refers to behaviour that is expected whereas "atypical behaviour" refers to behaviour that is not typical. "Biogenesis" refers to the generation of life from existing life and "abiogenesis" refers to the generation of life from where there was previously none. Someone who is "moral" is understood to be an individual who adheres to an acceptable set of standards, whose behaviour is understood to be good and correct, an "amoral" person is one who does not do so (and not merely because it suits them to do so, such an individual would be defined as "immoral"). Effectively the preceding "a" simply means "without" so in the examples above the words "atypical", "abiogenesis" and "amoral" can be understood to mean "without adhering to (or not exhibiting) the expected behaviour", "life arising without life already being present" and "without morals" respectively.

In the context of this article a "theist" is someone who believes in a god or gods and, in common with how the preceding "a" is similar cases within the English language, "atheist" therefore can be understood to simply mean "without god or gods" (or denies the existence of god or gods).

Atheism is, therefore, by definition, the absence of theism or theistic views and any individual who cannot say "I believe in a deity or god or religion" is covered by the umbrella term of atheism, the term atheist can, therefore, be seen to completely encompass (include) the term agnosticism (Barnett).

Discussion

One of the key points to understand about atheism is that it is not defined as believing there is no god, it is defined as "not believing there is a god" ... the first position is (as it says) a belief, the second simply a lack of belief.

An atheist is a person who does not believe that any gods exist (Carrier, 1996) and can be further defined as one who does not accept current theistic claims.

Most monotheistic religions will claim that their god is all-seeing, all-knowing & all-powerful and yet, when asked if we have free will answer yes, but if that god is all-seeing and all-knowing etc. then it must be able to see the future and therefore we cannot have free will because whatever will happen is preordained and so we have a contradiction. Monotheistic gods & their scriptures tend to be brimming with such contradictory characteristics and because of this a relatively rational atheist who lacks belief may safely say that he does not accept the existence of (does not believe in current claims for) a given god without forcing his or her worldview to become a belief, the rejection is made on purely rational grounds. If one were to say to someone who claimed to be able to fly and following repeated (rejected as one might expect) demands for a demonstration that he did not believe that he was able to fly then that statement would be the product of reason and not of faith. It is the same when an intelligent and rational atheist does the same with regard to claims in support of a god or gods.

If this kind of theist argument were taken to its logical conclusion then all possible argument on all topics is inherently untenable. If the only counter to someone arguing that there is life on Saturn is someone else shouting that there can be no life on Saturn then what does one call a person who would state that there is no evidence either for or against life on Saturn but that the proposition is an interesting one?

An atheist (using the Saturn analogy) is someone who has stated that there is no evidence for life on Saturn and that therefore it is up to the believer in Saturnine biology to provide some, otherwise the debate cannot begin. It is interesting that a number of extra-terrestrial life theorists often use creationist-style arguments to support their views, particularly credulity. After carrying out some meaningless calculation to work out how many planets are likely to exist and suggesting that that makes the likelihood of life on some of them overwhelming, anyone questioning their assumptions is immediately branded arrogant for thinking that we are in some way 'special'. Ultimately a calculation of probability alone is insufficient evidence to make such a claim & observable evidence is required.

Of course, this reasoning can also apply to interfaith issues. A Christian does not believe in Allah or Yahweh, a Muslim does not believe in Jehovah or Yahweh and a Jew does not believe in Allah or Jehovah any more than any modern thinking man might accept the literal existence of Zeus or Odin. Of course, the more reasonable believer of any of these religions might consider all of these claimed gods to be one and the same.

So, is atheism a faith or not? Religion tends to be characterised by a number of features or necessities, which are summarised in the following table:

The Characteristics Of Religion

Religion Atheism
Belief in a Non-Demonstrable Deity or Deities Yes No
The Necessity of Prayer/Worship/Ceremony Yes No
Places of Worship Yes No
Holy Books & Scriptures Yes No
Religious Authorities (Priests, Rabbi etc.) Yes No
Supernatural Beliefs (e.g. Angels, Demons) Yes No
Acceptance Of The Miraculous Yes No
Belief in an Afterlife (e.g. Heaven or Hell) Yes No
Holy Wars (Crusades, Jihad's etc.) Yes No
Post Life Reward & Punishment (Heaven/Hell) Yes No
Lifestyle restrictions (dress, diet, marriage etc.) Yes No
Belief Without Evidence (faith as a virtue) Yes No
Belief In Spite Of The Evidence (anti-science) Yes No
Supernatural Origins (of life, the universe) Yes No
Fundamentalism (extremists, murder, dark ages) Yes No
The Need to Convert (doorstep preachers etc.) Yes No
Eternal Soul (life/forgiveness after death) Yes No
View Others as Sinful, Unclean or Heretical Yes No
(Usual Sole) Claim to being God's Chosen Yes No
Comfort Factor (that others go to better place) Yes No
Morality Deity Self

From the table, it can be seen that atheism fulfils none of the normally accepted necessities to be considered a religion.

Conclusion

From the above, it is easy to see that atheism is not a religious position and is, in fact, a denial of the claims made by religions. Even "agnosticism" is covered by the term "atheist" because as an "agnostic" one is not accepting the dogmatic statement that a god or gods exist. Indeed many commonly use the term "agnostic" as equating to "weak atheist" and, as a consequence, infer that the commonly used term "atheist" equates to "strong atheist".

Atheism is not a religion, it is, quite simply, a denial of the claimed existence of deity and that those who refer to atheism as a religion (as creationists and literalists often do) are either unaware of exactly what an atheist is or too blinded by their own religious & bigoted views to define it objectively or correctly.

References

  • "The Religion of Atheism" Adrian Barnett
  • "The Language Centre" Miriam-Webster Online
  • "Paperback Dictionary & Thesaurus" Collins
  • "Encarta Online Concise" MSN
  • "What is Atheism Really All About?" Richard Carrier, 1996

About UK Atheist's Founder

As an author, socialist and atheist, I've been debating fundamentalists and theists for nearly thirty years.
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Growing up Catholic, I began to question the existence of "God" around the age of thirteen in parallel with an "addiction" to science fiction which taught me the basics of science. I graduated with an honours degree in Applied Biology moving into science and then science computing and it was there that I was exposed to creationism. It struck me that science had not only take its eye off the ball, creationists were a well-funded and organised body determined subvert science. Like many others, I took up the fight to defend science building communities and supporting websites with my greatest success being a government response to the "Science, Just Science" campaign assuring us that creationism could not be taught as science in any state-run UK science classroom. Modern social networking is not ideal for debate but it today's format and it is why I co-founded the Facebook group:
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