Atheism, as an explicit position, can be either the affirmation of the nonexistence of gods, [The
Oxford American Dictionarydefines "atheist" as "a person who does not believe in the existence of a god or gods. New York: Avon Press, 1980.] or the rejection of "belief" in deities.cite encyclopedia |first=Kai |last=Nielsen |authorlink=Kai Nielsen |encyclopedia= Encyclopædia Britannica|title=Atheism |url=http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9109479/atheism |accessdate=2007-04-28 "Atheism, in general, the critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or spiritual beings.... a more adequate characterization of atheism consists in the more complex claim that to be an atheist is to be someone who rejects belief in God for [reasons that depend] on how God is being conceived."] It is also [ religioustolerance.org's short article on [http://www.religioustolerance.org/atheist4.htm Definitions of the term "Atheism"] suggests that there is no consensus on the definition of the term. Most dictionaries (see the [http://www.onelook.com/ OneLook] query for [http://www.onelook.com/?w=atheism&ls=a "atheism"] ) first list one of the more narrow definitions.] defined more broadly as an absence of belief in deities, becoming synonymous with any form of nontheism.   [cite book |url=http://www.ditext.com/runes/a.html |title=Dictionary of Philosophy |first=Dagobert D.(editor) |last=Runes |authorlink=Dagobert D. Runes |year=1942 edition |publisher=Littlefield, Adams & Co. Philosophical Library |location=New Jersey |isbn=0064634612 |quote=(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] [ Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy: "Atheism. Either the lack of belief in a god, or the belief that there is none."]
Many self-described atheists are skeptical of all
supernaturalbeings and cite a lack of empirical evidence for the existence of deities. Others argue for atheism on philosophical, social or historical grounds. Although many self-described atheists tend toward secular philosophies such as humanism[Honderich, Ted (Ed.) (1995). "Humanism". "The Oxford Companion to Philosophy". Oxford University Press. p 376. ISBN 0198661320.] and naturalism, [Fales, Evan. "Naturalism and Physicalism", in harvnb |Martin |2007 |pp=122–131.] there is no one ideology or set of behaviors to which all atheists adhere; [harvnb |Baggini |2003 |pp=3–4.] and some religions, such as Jainismand Buddhism, do not require belief in a personal god.
The term "atheism" originated as a
pejorative epithetapplied to any person or belief in conflict with established religion.cite book |last=Drachmann |first=A. B. |title=Atheism in Pagan Antiquity |publisher=Chicago: Ares Publishers |year=1977 ("an unchanged reprint of the 1922 edition") |id=ISBN 0-89005-201-8 |quote = 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 "transl |grc |atheos" and "transl |grc |atheotēs"; to these the English words ungodly and ungodliness correspond rather closely. In exactly the same way as ungodly, "transl |grc |atheos" 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. ] With the spread of freethought, scientific skepticism, and criticism of religion, the term began to gather a more specific meaning and has been increasingly used as a self-description by atheists.
Ancient Greek, the adjective "transl|grc|atheos" ( _gr. , from the privative _gr. ἀ- + _gr. "god") meant "godless". The word began to indicate more-intentional, active godlessness in the 5th century BCE, acquiring definitions of "severing relations with the gods" or "denying the gods, ungodly" instead of the earlier meaning of ("transl|grc|asebēs") or "impious". Modern translations of classical texts sometimes render "transl|grc|atheos" as "atheistic". As an abstract noun, there was also _gr. ("transl|grc|atheotēs"), "atheism". Cicerotransliterated the Greek word into the Latin" _la. ". 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.
In English, the term "atheism" was derived from the French " _fr. " in about 1587. [Rendered as "Athisme": cite book |last=Golding |first=Arthur | coauthors =
Philip Sidney| authorlink = Arthur Golding |title=Mornay's Woorke concerning the Trewnesse of the Christian Religion, written in French; Against Atheists, Epicures, Paynims, Iewes, Mahumetists, and other infidels |publisher=London |year=1587 |pages= xx. 310 |quote= Athisme, that is to say, vtter godlesnes. Translation of "De la verite de la religion chrestienne" (1581). ] The term "atheist" (from Fr. " _fr. "), in the sense of "one who denies or disbelieves the existence of God", [OED| [http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50014052 atheist] ] predates "atheism" in English, being first attested in about 1571. [Rendered as "Atheistes": cite book |last=Golding |first=Arthur | authorlink = Arthur Golding |title=The Psalmes of David and others, with J. Calvin's commentaries |year=1571 |pages= Ep. Ded. 3 |quote= The Atheistes which say..there is no God. Translated from French.] "Atheist" as a label of practical godlessness was used at least as early as 1577. [cite book |last=Hanmer |first=Meredith |title=The auncient ecclesiasticall histories of the first six hundred years after Christ, written by Eusebius, Socrates, and Evagrius |publisher=London |year=1577 |pages= 63 |oclc= 55193813 |quote= The opinion which they conceaue of you, to be Atheists, or godlesse men. ] Related words emerged later: "deist" in 1621, [cite book |last=Burton |first=Robert | authorlink = Robert Burton (scholar) |title= The Anatomy of Melancholy|year=1621 |pages= III. iv. II. i |quote= Cosen-germans to these men are many of our great Philosophers and Deists. ] "theist" in 1662; [cite book |last=Martin |first=Edward | authorlink = |title=His opinion concerning the difference between the Church of England and Geneva [etc.] |publisher=London |year=1662 |chapter= Five Letters |pages= 45 |quote= To have said my office..twice a day..among Rebels, Theists, Atheists, Philologers, Wits, Masters of Reason, Puritanes [etc.] . ] " theism" in 1678; ["Nor indeed out of a meer Partiall Regard to that Cause of Theism neither, which we were engaged in." Cudworth, Ralph. The true intellectual system of the universe. 1678.] and " deism" in 1682. [cite book |last=Dryden |first=John | authorlink = John Dryden |title=Religio laici, or A laymans faith, a poem |publisher=London |year=1682 |oclc = 11081103 |pages= Preface |quote=…namely, that Deism, or the principles of natural worship, are only the faint remnants or dying flames of revealed religion in the posterity of Noah… ] "Deism" and "theism" changed meanings slightly around 1700, due to the influence of "atheism"; "deism" was originally used as a synonym for today's "theism", but came to denote a separate philosophical doctrine. [The " Oxford English Dictionary" also records an earlier, irregular formation, "atheonism", dated from about 1534. The later and now obsolete words "athean" and "atheal" are dated to 1611 and 1612 respectively. cite book |title=The Oxford English Dictionary | edition = Second Edition |year=1989 |publisher=Oxford University Press, USA |id=ISBN 0-19-861186-2] Karen Armstrongwrites 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." [cite book |last=Armstrong |first=Karen | authorlink = Karen Armstrong |title=A History of God |year=1999 |publisher=London: Vintage |id=ISBN 0-09-927367-5] "Atheism" was first used to describe a self-avowed belief in late 18th-century Europe, specifically denoting disbelief in the monotheistic Abrahamic god.In part because of its wide use in monotheistic Western society, "atheism" is usually described as "disbelief in God", rather than more generally as "disbelief in deities". A clear distinction is rarely drawn in modern writings between these two definitions, but some archaic uses of "atheism" encompassed only disbelief in the singular God, not in polytheistic deities. It is on this basis that the obsolete term " adevism" was coined in the late 19th century to describe an absence of belief in plural deities. cite journal |author=Britannica |title=Atheonism | journal = Encyclopædia Britannica| edition = 11th Edition |year=1911] In the 20th century, globalizationcontributed 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".Martin, Michael. " [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0521842700 The Cambridge Companion to Atheism] ". Cambridge University Press. 2006. ISBN 0521842700.] Most recently, there has been a push in certain philosophical circles to redefine "atheism" as the "absence of belief in deities", rather than as a belief in its own right; this definition has become popular in atheist communities, though its mainstream usage has been limited. [cite web |last=Cline |first=Austin |title=What Is the Definition of Atheism? |url=http://atheism.about.com/od/definitionofatheism/a/definition.htm |accessdate=2006-10-21 | year= 2006 |publisher= about.com] [cite book |last=Flew |first=Antony | authorlink = Antony Flew |title=God, Freedom, and Immortality: A Critical Analysis |publisher=Buffalo, NY: Prometheus |year=1984 |id=ISBN 0-87975-127-4]
Definitions and distinctions
Writers disagree how best to define and classify "atheism",cite web |year=1911 |url=http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Atheism |title="Atheism" |work=Encyclopedia Britannica |accessdate=2007-06-07] contesting what supernatural entities it applies to, whether it is an assertion in its own right or merely the absence of one, and whether it requires a conscious, explicit rejection. A variety of categories have been proposed to try to distinguish the 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. In contexts where "
theism" is defined as the belief in a singular personal god, for example, people who believe in a variety of other deities may beweasel-inline classified as atheists, including deists and even polytheistsRequest quotation|date=September 2008. In the 20th century, this view has fallen into disfavor as "theism" has come to be understood as encompassing belief in any divinity.Martin, Michael. " [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0521842700 The Cambridge Companion to Atheism] ". Cambridge UniversityPress. 2006. ISBN 0521842700.]
With respect to the range of phenomena being rejected, atheism may counter anything from the existence of a god, to the existence of any spiritual,
supernatural, or transcendental concepts, such as those of Hinduism and Buddhism.cite journal |author=Britannica |title=Atheism as rejection of religious beliefs |url=http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-38265/atheism |accessdate=2006-10-27 | journal = Encyclopædia Britannica| edition = 15th Edition | volume = 1 |pages=666 |year=1992 |id=0852294735]
Implicit vs. explicit
Definitions of atheism also vary in the degree of consideration a person must put to the idea of gods to be considered an atheist. As noted in the introduction above, atheism has also been defined as synonymous with any type of non-theism, thereby including as atheists anyone without a belief in the existence of at least one deity. It has been contended that this broad definition includes newborns and other people who have not been exposed to theistic ideas. As far back as 1772,
Baron d'Holbachsaid that "All children are born Atheists; they have no idea of God." [cite book |last=d'Holbach |first=P. H. T. | authorlink = Baron d'Holbach |title=Good Sense |url=http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/7319 |accessdate=2006-10-27 |year=1772] 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." [harvnb|Smith|1979|p=14.] Smith coined the term "implicit atheism" to refer to "the absence of theistic belief without a conscious rejection of it" and "explicit atheism" to refer to the more common definition of conscious disbelief.
In Western civilization, the view that children are born atheist is relatively recent. Before the 18th century, the existence of God was so universally 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. [cite book |last=Cudworth |first=Ralph | authorlink = Ralph Cudworth |title=The True Intellectual System of the Universe: the first part, wherein all the reason and philosophy of atheism is confuted and its impossibility demonstrated |year=1678] There is 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." [See, for instance, cite web|url=http://www.lds-mormon.com/atheist.shtml|title=Atheists call for church head to retract slur|date=1996-09-03|accessdate=2008-07-02] Some proponents of this view claim that the anthropological benefit of religion is that religious faith enables humans to endure hardships better (c.f. opium of the peopleKarl Marx, Contribution to the Critiqueof Hegel's Philosophy of Right, Deutsch-Französische JahrbücherFebruary, 1844). Some atheists emphasize the fact that there have been examples to the contrary, among them examples of literal "atheists in foxholes." [cite web |last=Lowder |first=Jeffery Jay |year=1997 |title=Atheism and Society |url=http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/society.html |accessdate=2007-01-10 ]
trong vs. weak
Philosophers such as
Antony FlewFlew, Antony. "The Presumption of Atheism". "The Presumption of Atheism and other Philosophical Essays on God, Freedom, and Immortality". New York: Barnes and Noble, 1976. pp 14ff.] , Michael Martin, and William L. RoweRowe, William L. "Atheism". "Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy". Edward Craig (editor). Routledge: June 1998. ISBN 0415187060. 530-534.] have contrasted strong (positive) atheism with weak (negative) atheism. Strong atheism is the explicit affirmation that gods do not exist. Weak atheism includes all other forms of non-theism. According to this categorization, anyone who is not a theist is either a weak or a strong atheist. [cite web |last=Cline |first=Austin |title=Strong Atheism vs. Weak Atheism: What's the Difference? |url=http://atheism.about.com/od/atheismquestions/a/strong_weak.htm |accessdate=2006-10-21 |year=2006 |publisher= about.com] The terms "weak" and "strong" are relatively recent; however, the equivalent terms "negative" and "positive" atheism have been used in the philosophical literature and (in a slightly different sense) in Catholic apologetics. [cite journal |url=http://www.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/jm3303.htm |title=On the Meaning of Contemporary Atheism |journal=The Review of Politics |first=Jacques |last=Maritain |year=1949 |month=July |volume=11 |issue=3 |pages=267–280] Under this demarcation of atheism, most agnostics qualify as weak atheists.
While Martin, for example, asserts that agnosticism entails weak atheism, most agnostics see their view as distinct from atheism, which they may consider no more justified than theism or requiring an equal conviction. [cite book |first=Anthony |last=Kenny |authorlink=Anthony Kenny |title=What I believe |chapter=Why I Am Not an Atheist |publisher=Continuum |id=ISBN 0-8264-8971-0 |quote=The true default position is neither theism nor atheism, but agnosticism … a claim to knowledge needs to be substantiated; ignorance need only be confessed.] The supposed unattainability of knowledge for or against the existence of gods is sometimes seen as indication that atheism requires a
leap of faith. [cite news |title=Atheists take bigger leap of faith than ‘believers’ |first=Ken |last=Freking |url=http://www.columbiatribune.com/2005/Jan/20050123Comm008.asp |accessdate=2007-05-30 |date= 2005-01-23|work=Columbia Daily Tribune] Common atheist responses to this argument include that unproven "religious" propositions deserve as much disbelief as all "other" unproven propositions, [harvnb|Baggini|2003|pp=30–34. "Who seriously claims we should say 'I neither believe nor disbelieve that the Pope is a robot', or 'As to whether or not eating this piece of chocolate will turn me into an elephant I am completely agnostic'. In the absence of any good reasons to believe these outlandish claims, we rightly disbelieve them, we don't just suspend judgement."] and that the unprovability of a god's existence does not imply equal probability of either possibility. [harvnb|Baggini|2003|p=22. "A lack of proof is no grounds for the suspension of belief. This is because when we have a lack of absolute proof we can still have overwhelming evidence or one explanation which is far superior to the alternatives."] Scottish philosopher J. J. C. Smarteven argues that "sometimes a person who is really an atheist may describe herself, even passionately, as an agnostic because of unreasonable generalised philosophical scepticismwhich would preclude us from saying that we know anything whatever, except perhaps the truths of mathematics and formal logic."cite web |url=http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agnosticism/ |title=Atheism and Agnosticism |first=J.C.C. |last=Smart |date=2004-03-09 |publisher=Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy |accessdate=2007-04-12] Consequently, some popular atheist authors such as Richard Dawkinsprefer distinguishing theist, agnostic and atheist positions by the probability assigned to the statement "God exists". [Cudworth, Ralph. The true intellectual system of the universe. 1678. Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Bantam Books: 2006, p. 50. (ISBN 0-618-68000-4)]
Emblem illustrating practical atheism and its historical association with immorality, titled "Supreme Impiety: Atheist and Charlatan", from "Picta poesis", by
Barthélemy Aneau, 1552.]
The broadest demarcation of atheistic rationale is between practical and theoretical atheism. The different forms of theoretical atheism each derive from a particular rationale or philosophical argument. In contrast, practical atheism requires no specific argument, and can include indifference to and ignorance of the idea of gods.
In "practical", or "pragmatic", atheism, also known as
apatheism, individuals live as if there are no gods and explain natural phenomena without resorting to the divine. The existence of gods is not denied, but may be designated unnecessary or useless; gods neither provide purpose to life, nor influence everyday life, according to this view.harvnb|Zdybicka|2005|p=20.] A form of practical atheism with implications for the scientific communityis methodological naturalism—the "tacit adoption or assumption of philosophical naturalism within scientific methodwith or without fully accepting or believing it."Schafersman, Steven D. " [http://www.freeinquiry.com/naturalism.html Naturalism is an Essential Part of Science and Critical Inquiry] ". Conference on Naturalism, Theism and the Scientific Enterprise. Department of Philosophy, The University of Texas. February 1997. Revised May 2007. Retrieved on 2007-04-09.]
Practical atheism can take various forms:
* Absence of religious motivation—belief in gods does not motivate moral action, religious action, or any other form of action;
* Active exclusion of the problem of gods and religion from intellectual pursuit and practical action;
* Indifference—the absence of any interest in the problems of gods and religion; or
* Ignorance—lacking any idea of gods. [harvnb|Zdybicka|2005|p=21.]
Theoretical, or contemplative, atheism explicitly posits arguments against the existence of gods, responding to common theistic arguments such as the
argument from designor Pascal's Wager. The theoretical reasons for rejecting gods assume various psychological, sociological, metaphysical, and epistemological forms.
Epistemological atheism argues that people cannot know God or determine the existence of God. The foundation of epistemological atheism is
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 consciousnessis 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 the existence of God. The allocation of agnosticism to atheism is disputed; it can also be regarded as an independent, basic world-view.
Other forms of atheistic argumentation that may qualify as epistemological, including
logical positivismand ignosticism, assert the meaninglessness or unintelligibility of basic terms such as "God" and statements such as "God is all-powerful". Theological noncognitivismholds 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 classify into some form of atheism or agnosticism. Philosophers A. J. Ayer and Theodore M. Drangereject both categories, stating that both camps accept "God exists" as a proposition; they instead place noncognitivism in its own category. [Drange, Theodore M. (1998). " [http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/definition.html Atheism, Agnosticism, Noncognitivism] ". Internet Infidels, "Secular Web Library". Retrieved on 2007-04-07.] [Ayer, A. J. (1946). "Language, Truth and Logic". Dover. pp. 115–116. In a footnote, Ayer attributes this view to "Professor H. H. Price".]
Metaphysical atheism is based on metaphysical
monism—the view that reality is homogeneous and indivisible. Absolute metaphysical atheists subscribe to some form of physicalism, hence they explicitly deny the existence of non-physical beings. Relative metaphysical atheists maintain an implicit denial of a particular concept of God based on the incongruity between their individual philosophies and attributes commonly applied to God, such as transcendence, a personal aspect, or unity. Examples of relative metaphysical atheism include pantheism, panentheism, and deism. [harvnb|Zdybicka|2005|p=19.]
" (1779) cited Epicurus in stating the argument as a series of questions: [cite book|title=Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion|author=David Hume|url=http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/4583|publisher=Project Gutenberg (e-text)] "Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?"]
Psychological, sociological and economical arguments
Philosophers such as Ludwig Feuerbach [Feuerbach, Ludwig (1841) "
The Essence of Christianity"] and Sigmund Freudargued 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. [Walpola Rahula, "What the Buddha Taught." Grove Press, 1974. Pages 51–52.] Karl Marxand Friedrich Engels, influenced by the work of Feuerbach, argued that belief in God and religion are social functions, used by those in power to oppress the working class. According to Mikhail Bakunin, "the idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, in theory and practice." He reversed Voltaire's famous aphorism that if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him, writing instead that "if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him." [cite web |url=http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/anarchist_archives/bakunin/godandstate/godandstate_ch1.html |title=God and the State |accessdate=2007-04-12 |last=Bakunin |first=Michael |authorlink=Michael Bakunin |year=1916 |work= |publisher=New York: Mother Earth Publishing Association]
Logical and evidential arguments
Logical atheism holds that the various conceptions of gods, such as the
personal godof 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, justiceand mercy. [Various authors. "Logical Arguments for Atheism". Internet Infidels, "The Secular Web Library". Retrieved on 2007-04-09.]
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. [Drange, Theodore M. (1996). " [http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/aeanb.html The Arguments From Evil and Nonbelief] ". Internet Infidels, "Secular Web Library". Retrieved 2007-04-18.] A similar argument is attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. [V.A. Gunasekara, [http://www.buddhistinformation.com/buddhist_attitude_to_god.htm The Buddhist Attitude to God.] In the Bhuridatta Jataka, "The Buddha argues that the three most commonly given attributes of God, viz. omnipotence, omniscience and benevolence towards humanity cannot all be mutually compatible with the existential fact of dukkha."]
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, Nietzsche, Freud, and Sartre all 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 just God leads to
moral relativism, leaving one with no moral or ethical foundation,cite web |url=http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?articleID=12346 |title=Common Misconceptions About Atheists and Atheism |accessdate=2006-10-21 |last=Gleeson |first=David |year=2006 |publisher="American Chronicle"] or renders life meaningless and miserable. [harvnb|Smith|1979|p=275. "Perhaps the most common criticism of atheism is the claim that it leads inevitably to moral bankruptcy."] Blaise Pascalargued this view in 1669. [Pascal, Blaise (1669). " Pensées", II: "The Misery of Man Without God".]
Although the term "atheism" originated in 16th-century
France, ideas that would be recognized today as atheistic are documented from classical antiquityand the Vedic period.
Early Indic religion
Atheistic schools are found in
Hinduism, which is otherwise a very theistic religion. The thoroughly materialistic and anti-theistic philosophical CārvākaSchool that originated in Indiaaround 6th century BCE is probably the most explicitly atheistic school of philosophy in India. This branch of Indian philosophy is classified as a heterodox system and is not considered part of the six orthodox schools of Hinduism, but it is noteworthy as evidence of a materialistic movement within Hinduism. [Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore. "A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy". (Princeton University Press: 1957, Twelfth Princeton Paperback printing 1989) pp. 227–249. ISBN 0-691-01958-4.] 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 reputation, the materialistic views. Our knowledge of Indian materialism is chiefly based on these." [Satischandra Chatterjee and Dhirendramohan Datta. "An Introduction to Indian Philosophy". Eighth Reprint Edition. (University of Calcutta: 1984). p. 55.]
Other Indian philosophies generally regarded as atheistic include Classical Samkhya and Purva Mimamsa. The rejection of a personal creator God is also seen in
Jainismand Buddhismin India.cite journal |last=Joshi |first=L.R. |year=1966 |title= A New Interpretation of Indian Atheism |journal=Philosophy East and West |volume=16 |issue=3/4 |pages=189–206|url=http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0031-8221(196607%2F10)16%3A3%2F4%3C189%3AANIOIA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-S |doi= 10.2307/1397540]
Western atheism has its roots in pre-Socratic
Greek philosophy, but did not emerge as a distinct world-view until the late Enlightenment. [harvnb|Baggini|2003|pp=73–74. "Atheism had its origins in Ancient Greece but did not emerge as an overt and avowed belief system until late in the Enlightenment."] The 5th-century BCE Greek philosopher Diagoras is known as the "first atheist", [Solmsen, Friedrich (1942). " [http://books.google.com/books?vid=0blEqYn0npw5h4r_qPHc_fk&id=rLASAAAAIAAJ&pgis=1 Plato's Theology] ". Cornell University Press. p 25.] and strongly criticized religion and mysticism. Critiasviewed religion as a human invention used to frighten people into following moral order. [" [http://search.eb.com/eb/article-38045 religion, study of] ". (2007). In "Encyclopædia Britannica". Retrieved on April 2, 2007.] Atomists such as Democritusattempted to explain the world in a purely materialistic way, without reference to the spiritual or mystical. Other pre-Socratic philosophers who probably had atheistic views included Prodicusand Protagoras. In the 3rd-century BCE the Greek philosophers Theodorus [Diogenes Laërtius, The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, ii] and Strato of Lampsacus[Cicero, "Lucullus", 121. in Reale, G., "A History of Ancient Philosophy". SUNY Press. (1985).] also did not believe gods exist. Socrates(c. 471–399 BCE), was accused of impiety(see Euthyphro dilemma) on the basis that he inspired questioning of the state gods. [cite web |url=http://www.bartleby.com/65/at/atheism.html |title=Atheism |accessdate=2007-04-12 |year=2005 |work=The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition |publisher=Columbia University Press] Although he disputed the accusation that he was a "complete atheist", [cite book |first=Thomas C. |last=Brickhouse |coauthors=Nicholas D. Smith |title=Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Plato and the Trial of Socrates |year=2004 |publisher=Routledge |id=ISBN 0415156815 |pages=p. 112 In particular, he argues that the claim he is a complete atheist contradicts the other part of the indictment, that he introduced "new divinities".] saying that he could not be an atheist as he believed in spirits [ [http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/apology.html Apology] ] , he was ultimately sentenced to death. Socrates also prays to various gods in Plato's dialogue Phaedrus [ [http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php&title=111 The Dialogues of Plato, vol. 1 [387 AD] ] and says "By Zeus" in the dialogue The Republic. [ [http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.html The Republic] ] Euhemerus(c. 330–260 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. [Fragments of Euhemerus' work in Ennius' Latin translation have been preserved in Patristic writings (e.g. by Lactantiusand Eusebius of Caesarea), which all rely on earlier fragments in Diodorus 5,41–46 & 6.1. Testimonies, especially in the context of polemical criticism, are found e.g. in Callimachus, "Hymn to Zeus" 8.] Although not strictly an atheist, Euhemerus was later criticized for having "spread atheism over the whole inhabited earth by obliterating the gods". [ Plutarch, "Moralia—Isis and Osiris" [http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Moralia/Isis_and_Osiris*/B.html#23 23] ]
Epicurus(c. 341–270 BCE) disputed many religious doctrines, including the existence of an afterlifeor a personal deity; he considered the soulpurely material and mortal. While Epicureanismdid not rule out the existence of gods, he believed that if they did exist, they were unconcerned with humanity.cite web |author=BBC |authorlink = BBC |title=Ethics and Religion—Atheism |url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/atheism/ |accessdate=2007-04-12 |publisher= bbc.co.uk]
The Roman poet
Lucretius(c. 99–55 BCE) agreed that, if there were gods, they were unconcerned with humanity and unable to affect the natural world. For this reason, he believed humanity should have no fear of the supernatural. He expounds his Epicurean views of the cosmos, atoms, the soul, mortality, and religion in " De rerum natura" ("On the nature of things"), [gutenberg|no=785|name=On the Nature of Things by Lucretius Book I, "Substance is Eternal". Translated by W.E. Leonard. 1997. Retrieved on 2007-04-12.] which popularized Epicurus' philosophy in Rome. [ Julius Caesar(100–44 BCE), who leaned considerably toward Epicureanism, also rejected the idea of an afterlife, which e.g. lead to his plea against the death sentence during the trial against Catiline, where he spoke out against the Stoicist Cato (cf. Sallust, "The War With Catiline", Caesar's speech: [http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Sallust/Bellum_Catilinae*.html#51.20 51.29] & Cato's reply: [http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Sallust/Bellum_Catilinae*.html#52.13 52.13] ).]
The Roman philosopher
Sextus Empiricusheld that one should suspend judgment about virtually all beliefs—a form of skepticism known as Pyrrhonism—that nothing was inherently evil, and that ataraxia("peace of mind") is attainable by withholding one's judgment. His relatively large volume of surviving works had a lasting influence on later philosophers.Stein, Gordon (Ed.) (1980). " [http://www.positiveatheism.org/india/s1990c25.htm The History of Freethought and Atheism] ". "An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism". New York: Prometheus. Retrieved on 2007-04-03.]
The meaning of "atheist" changed over the course of classical antiquity. The early Christians were labeled atheists by non-Christians because of their disbelief in pagan gods.ws|"" in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia] 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 Iin 381, heresy became a punishable offense. [Maycock, A. L. and Ronald Knox (2003). " [http://books.google.com/books?id=DmL8CljbqDwC Inquisition from Its Establishment to the Great Schism: An Introductory Study] ". ISBN 0766172902.]
Early Middle Ages to the Renaissance
The espousal of atheistic views was rare in Europe during the
Early Middle Agesand Middle Ages(see Medieval Inquisition); metaphysics, religion and theology were the dominant interests. [harvnb|Zdybicka|2005|p=4] There were, however, movements within this period that forwarded 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 Spiritmaintained Christian viewpoints with pantheistic tendencies. Nicholas of Cusaheld to a form of fideismhe called "docta ignorantia" ("learned ignorance"), asserting that God is beyond human categorization, and our knowledge of God is limited to conjecture. William of Ockhaminspired anti-metaphysical tendencies with his nominalistic limitation of human knowledge to singular objects, and asserted that the divine essencecould not be intuitively or rationally apprehended by human intellect. Followers of Ockham, such as John of Mirecourtand Nicholas of Autrecourtfurthered this view. The resulting division between faith and reason influenced later theologians such as John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, and Martin Luther. [harvnb|Zdybicka|2005|p=4.]
Renaissancedid much to expand the scope of freethought and skeptical inquiry. Individuals such as Leonardo da Vincisought 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, and François Rabelais.
Early Modern Period
Renaissanceand Reformationeras witnessed a resurgence in religious fervor, as evidenced by the proliferation of new religious orders, confraternities, and popular devotions in the Catholic world, and the appearance of increasingly austere Protestant sects such as the Calvinists. This era of interconfessional rivalry permitted an even wider scope of theological and philosophical speculation, much of which would later be used to advance a religiously skeptical world-view. Criticism of Christianitybecame 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. In the late 17th century, Deismcame to be openly espoused by intellectuals such as John Toland, and practically all the " philosophes" of 18th-century France and England held to some form of DeismFact|date=June 2008. Despite their ridicule of Christianity, many Deists held atheism in scorn. The first known atheist who threw off the mantle of deism, bluntly denying the existence of gods, was Jean Meslier, a French priest who lived in the early 18th century. [ [http://www.wpunj.edu/newpol/issue40/Onfray40.htm Michel Onfray on Jean Meslier] on William Paterson University accessed at January 19, 2008] He was followed by other openly atheistic thinkers, such as Baron d'Holbach, who appeared in the late 18th century, when expressing disbelief in God became a less dangerous position. [cite book |last=d'Holbach |first=P. H. T. | authorlink = Baron d'Holbach |title=The system of nature |url=http://www.fullbooks.com/The-System-of-Nature-Vol-2.html |accessdate=2007-10-31 |year=1770] David Humewas the most systematic exponent of Enlightenment thought, developing a skeptical epistemology grounded in empiricism, undermining the metaphysical basis of natural theology.
French Revolutiontook atheism outside the salons and into the public sphere. Attempts to enforce the Civil Constitution of the Clergyled to anti-clerical violence and the expulsion of many clergy from France. The chaotic political events in revolutionary Paris eventually enabled the more radical Jacobins to seize power in 1793, ushering in the Reign of Terror. At its climax, the more militant atheists attempted to forcibly de-Christianize France, replacing religion with a Cult of Reason. These persecutions ended with the Thermidorian Reaction, but some of the secularizing measures of this period remained a permanent legacy of French politics.
Napoleonic erainstitutionalized the secularization of French society, and exported the revolution to northern Italy, in the hopes of creating pliable republics. In the 19th century, many atheists and other anti-religious thinkers devoted their efforts to political and social revolution, facilitating the upheavals of 1848, the Risorgimento in Italy, and the growth of an international socialist movement.
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, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche. [cite web |url=http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=BKz2FcDrFy0C&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=nietzsche+schopenhauer+marx+feuerbach&ots=Uj5_B0kDbS&sig=1lXbokGVRbwxqAIbmcOwL033N88 |title=Subjectivity and Irreligion: Atheism and Agnosticism in Kant, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche |publisher=Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. |accessdate=2007-04-12 |last=Ray |first=Matthew Alun |year=2003]
Atheism in the 20th century, particularly in the form of practical atheism, advanced in many societies. Atheistic thought found recognition in a wide variety of other, broader philosophies, such as
existentialism, objectivism, secular humanism, nihilism, logical positivism, Marxism, feminism, [Overall, Christine. "Feminism and Atheism", in harvnb|Martin|2007|pp=233–246.] and the general scientific and rationalist movement.
Logical positivism and
scientismpaved 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 Russellemphatically rejected belief in God. In his early work, Ludwig Wittgensteinattempted to separate metaphysical and supernatural language from rational discourse. A. J. Ayerasserted the unverifiability and meaninglessness of religious statements, citing his adherence to the empirical sciences. Relatedly the applied structuralismof Lévi-Strauss sourced religious language to the human subconscious in denying its transcendental meaning. J. N. Findlay and J. J. C. Smartargued that the existence of God is not logically necessary. Naturalists and materialistic monists such as John Deweyconsidered the natural world to be the basis of everything, denying the existence of God or immortality. [harvnb|Zdybicka|2005|p=16.]
The 20th century also saw the political advancement of atheism, spurred on by interpretation of the works of Marx and Engels. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, increased religious freedom for minority religions lasted for a few years, before the policies of
Stalinismturned towards repression of religion. The Soviet Unionand other communist states promoted state atheismand opposed religion, often by violent means. [cite book|last=Solzhenitsyn |first= Aleksandr I.|title=The Gulag Archipelago|publisher=Harper Perennial Modern Classics|id=ISBN 0-06-000776-1] Other leaders like E. V. Ramasami Naicker(Periyar), a prominent atheist leader of India, fought against Hinduismand Brahminsfor discriminating and dividing people in the name of casteand religion. [cite book |last=Michael |first=S. M. |year=1999 |chapter=Dalit Visions of a Just Society |editor= S. M. Michael (ed.) |publisher=Lynne Rienner Publishers |title=Untouchable: Dalits in Modern India |id=ISBN 1555876978 |pages=pp. 31–33] This was highlighted in 1956 when he made the Hindu god Ramawear a garland made of slippers and made antitheistic statements. ["He who created god was a fool, he who spreads his name is a scoundrel, and he who worships him is a barbarian." Hiorth, Finngeir (1996). " [http://www.iheu.org/node/548 Atheism in South India] ". International Humanist and Ethical Union, "International Humanist News". Retrieved on 2007-05-30.]
In 1966, ""Time"" magazine asked "Is God Dead?" [ [http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19660408,00.html "TIME Magazine" cover] online. 8 Apr 1966. Retrieved 2007-04-17.] 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 God. [" [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,835309,00.html Toward a Hidden God] ". "Time Magazine" online. 8 Apr 1966. Retrieved 2007-04-17.] The following year, the
Albanian government under Enver Hoxhaannounced the closure of all religious institutions in the country, declaring Albania the world's first officially atheist state. [Majeska, George P. (1976). " [http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0037-6752(197622)1%3A20%3A2%3C204%3ARAAITU%3E2.0.CO%3B2-G Religion and Atheism in the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe, Review] ." "The Slavic and East European Journal." 20(2). pp. 204–206.] These regimes enhanced the negative associations of atheism, especially where anti-communist sentiment was strong in the United States, despite the fact that prominent atheists were anti-communist. [cite journal |quotes= |last=Rafford |first=R.L. |year=1987 |title=Atheophobia—an introduction |journal= Religious Humanism|volume=21 |issue=1 |pages=32–37 ]
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." [" [http://pewforum.org/events/?EventID=119 Timothy Samuel Shah Explains 'Why God is Winning'] ." 2006-07-18. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Retrieved 2007-04-18.] But Gregory S. Pauland Phil Zuckerman consider this a myth and suggest that the actual situation is much more complex and nuanced. [cite journal |first=Gregory |last=Paul |authorlink=Gregory S. Paul |coauthors=Phil Zuckerman |title=Why the Gods Are Not Winning |journal=Edge |volume=209 |year=2007 |url=http://www.edge.org/documents/archive/edge209.html#gp |accessdate=2007-05-16]
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. [cite web
title=Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents, Section on accuracy of non-Religious Demographic Data
accessdate=2008-03-28] In addition, people in some regions of the world refrain from reporting themselves as atheists to avoid social stigma, discrimination, and persecution. A 2005 survey published in "
Encyclopædia Britannica" finds that the non-religious make up about 11.9% of the world's population, and atheists about 2.3%. This figure does not include those who follow atheistic religions, such as some Buddhists.cite web
title=Worldwide Adherents of All Religions by Six Continental Areas, Mid-2005
* 2.3% Atheists: Persons professing atheism, skepticism, disbelief, or irreligion, including the militantly antireligious (opposed to all religion).
* 11.9% Nonreligious: Persons professing no religion, nonbelievers, agnostics, freethinkers, uninterested, or dereligionized secularists indifferent to all religion but not militantly so.] A November–December 2006 poll published in the "
Financial Times" gives rates for the United States and five European countries. It found that Americans are more likely than Europeans to report belief in any form of god or supreme being (73%). Of the European adults surveyed, Italians are the most likely to express this belief (62%) and the French the least likely (27%). In France, 32% declared themselves atheists, and an additional 32% declared themselves agnostic. [cite web
title=Religious Views and Beliefs Vary Greatly by Country, According to the Latest Financial Times/Harris Poll
publisher=Financial Times/Harris Interactive
accessdate=2007-01-17] An official
European Unionsurvey provides corresponding figures: 18% of the EU population do not believe in a god; 27% accept the existence of some supernatural "spiritual life force", while 52% affirm belief in a specific god. The proportion of believers rises to 65% among those who had left school by age 15; survey respondents who considered themselves to be from a strict family background were more likely to believe in god than those who felt their upbringing lacked firm rules. [cite book
title =Social values, Science and Technology
publisher =Directorate General Research, European Union
pages= pp 7–11
A letter published in "Nature" in 1998 reported a survey suggesting that belief in a personal god or
afterlifewas at an all-time low among the members of the U.S. National Academy of Science, only 7.0% of whom believed in a personal god as compared with more than 85% of the general U.S. population. [cite journal |title=Correspondence: Leading scientists still reject God |last=Larson |first=Edward J. |coauthors=Larry Witham |year=1998 |journal=Nature |volume=394 |issue= 6691 |pages=313 |doi=10.1038/28478 Available at [http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/news/file002.html StephenJayGould.org] , Stephen Jay Gould archive. Retrieved on 2006-12-17] In the same year Frank Sullowayof the Massachusetts Institute of Technologyand Michael Shermerof California State Universityconducted a study which found in their polling sample of "credentialed" U.S. adults (12% had Ph.Ds and 62% were college graduates) 64% believed in God, and there was a correlationindicating that religious conviction diminished with education level. [cite book
authorlink =Michael Shermer
title =How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God
publisher =William H Freeman
id=ISBN 071673561X ] An inverse
correlationbetween religiosity and intelligencehas been found by 39 studies carried out between 1927 and 2002, according to an article in "Mensa Magazine". [According to Dawkins (2006), p. 103. Dawkins cites Bell, Paul. "Would you believe it?" "Mensa Magazine", UK Edition, Feb. 2002, pp. 12–13. Analyzing 43 studies carried out since 1927, Bell found that all but four reported such a connection, and he concluded that "the higher one's intelligence or education level, the less one is likely to be religious or hold 'beliefs' of any kind."] These findings broadly agree with a 1958 statistical meta-analysisby Professor Michael Argyle of the University of Oxford. He analyzed seven research studies that had investigated correlation between attitude to religion and measured intelligence among school and college students from the U.S. Although a clear negative correlation was found, the analysis did not identify causality but noted that factors such as authoritarian family background and social class may also have played a part. [cite book
authorlink =Michael Argyle
title =Religious Behaviour
publisher =Routledge and Kegan Paul
pages= pp 93–96
id= ISBN 0-415-17589-5 ]
In the Australian 2006 Census of Population and Housing, in the question which asked "What is the person's religion?" Of the total population, 18.7% ticked the box marked "no religion" or wrote in a response which was classified as non religious (e.g. humanism, atheist). This question was optional and 11.2% did not answer the question. [Australian Bureau of Statistics, Census of Population and Housing, 2006, [http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/ABSNavigation/prenav/TopicList?prenavtabname=Topic%20List&collection=Census&period=2006&breadcrumb=T&&navmapdisplayed=true&textversion=false& Census Table 20680-Religious Affiliation (broad groups) by Sex - Australia] ] In 2006, the New Zealand census asked, "What is your religion?". Of those answering, 34.7% indicated no religion. 12.2% did not respond or objected to answering the question. [Statistics New Zealand, [http://www.stats.govt.nz/census/2006-census-data/quickstats-about-culture-identity/quickstats-about-culture-and-identity.htm?page=para012Master QuickStats About Culture and Identity, Religious affiliation] ]
Atheism, religion and morality
Although people who self-identify as atheists are usually assumed to be irreligious, some sects within major religions reject the existence of a personal, creator deity.cite book |last=Winston |first=Robert (Ed.) |title=Human |publisher=New York: DK Publishing, Inc |year=2004 |id=ISBN 0-7566-1901-7 |pages=p. 299 | quote=Nonbelief has existed for centuries. For example, Buddhism and Jainism have been called atheistic religions because they do not advocate belief in gods.] In recent years, certain religious denominations have accumulated a number of openly atheistic followers, such as atheistic or
humanistic Judaism[cite web |url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism/subdivisions/humanistic.shtml |title=Humanistic Judaism |date= 2006-07-20|accessdate=2006-10-25 |publisher= BBC] [cite journal |last=Levin |first=S. |year=1995 | month = May |title=Jewish Atheism | journal = New Humanist | volume = 110 | issue = 2 |pages=13–15] and Christian atheists. [cite web |url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/atheism/types/christianatheism.shtml |title=Christian Atheism |date= 2006-05-17|accessdate=2006-10-25 |publisher= BBC] [cite book |last=Altizer |first=Thomas J. J. | authorlink = Thomas J. J. Altizer |title=The Gospel of Christian Atheism |url=http://www.religion-online.org/showbook.asp?title=523 |accessdate=2006-10-27 |year=1967 |publisher=London: Collins |pages=102–103] [cite journal |last=Lyas |first=Colin |year=1970 | month = January |title=On the Coherence of Christian Atheism | journal = Philosophy: The Journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy | volume = 45 | issue = 171 |pages=1–19]
As the strictest sense of positive atheism does not entail any specific beliefs outside of disbelief in any deity, 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 universalismof humanism, which holds that a moral code should be applied consistently to all humans, to moral nihilism, which holds that morality is meaningless. [harvnb|Smith|1979|pp=21–22.]
Some philosophers, however, have equated atheism with immorality, arguing that morality must be derived from God and cannot exist without a wise creator. [harvnb|Smith|1979|p=275. "Among the many myths associated with religion, none is more widespread—or more disastrous in its effects—than the myth that moral values cannot be divorced from the belief in a god."] [In
Dostoevsky's " The Brothers Karamazov" (Book Eleven: "Brother Ivan Fyodorovich", Chapter 4) there is the famous argument that "If there is no God, all things are permitted.": "'But what will become of men then?' I asked him, 'without God and immortal life? All things are lawful then, they can do what they like?'"] For Kant, the presupposition of God, soul, and freedom was a practical concern, for "Morality, by itself, constitutes a system, but happiness does not, unless it is distributed in exact proportion to morality. This, however, is possible in an intelligible world only under a wise author and ruler. Reason compels us to admit such a ruler, together with life in such a world, which we must consider as future life, or else all moral laws are to be considered as idle dreams..." ("Critique of Pure Reason", A811).] 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, [harvnb|Baggini|2003|p=38.] based on the Euthyphro dilemma, which either renders God unnecessary or morality arbitrary. [harvnb|Baggini|2003|p=39.]
Susan Neiman[cite video| people = Susan Neiman| title =Beyond Belief Session 6| medium =Conference| publisher =The Science Network| location = Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA|date= November 6, 2006 ] and Julian Baggini[ harvnb|Baggini|2003|p=40] (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. [harvnb|Baggini|2003|p=43.]
Atheists such as Sam Harris have argued that Western religions' reliance on divine authority lends itself to
authoritarianismand dogmatism. [cite web |last=Harris |first=Sam | authorlink = Sam Harris (author) |title=The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos |url=http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=sharris_26_3 |accessdate=2006-10-29 |publisher= Free Inquiry|year=2006a] Indeed, religious fundamentalismand extrinsic religion (when religion is held because it serves other, more ultimate interestscite journal |author=Moreira-almeida, A. | coauthors = Lotufo Neto, F.; Koenig, H.G. |year=2006 |title=Religiousness and mental health: a review | journal = Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria | volume = 28 |pages=242–250 |url=http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S1516-44462006000300018&script=sci_arttext |accessdate=2007-07-12 ] ) have been correlated with authoritarianism, dogmatism, and prejudice. [See for example: Kahoe, R.D. (June 1977). " [http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0021-8294(197706)16%3A2%3C179%3AIRAAAD%3E2.0.CO%3B2-X Intrinsic Religion and Authoritarianism: A Differentiated Relationship] ". "Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion". 16(2). pp. 179–182. Also see: Altemeyer, Bob and Bruce Hunsberger (1992). " [http://www.leaonline.com/doi/abs/10.1207/s15327582ijpr0202_5?journalCode=ijpr Authoritarianism, Religious Fundamentalism, Quest, and Prejudice] ". "International Journal for the Psychology of Religion". 2(2). pp. 113–133.] This argument, combined with historical events that are argued to demonstrate the dangers of religion, such as the Crusades, inquisitions, and witch trials, are often used by antireligious atheists to justify their views. [cite web |last=Harris |first=Sam | authorlink = Sam Harris (author) |title=An Atheist Manifesto |url=http://www.truthdig.com/dig/print/200512_an_atheist_manifesto |accessdate=2006-10-29 |publisher= Truthdig|year=2005 | quote = In a world riven by ignorance, only the atheist refuses to deny the obvious: Religious faith promotes human violence to an astonishing degree.]
authorlink = Julian Baggini
title=Atheism: A Very Short Introduction
publisher=Oxford: Oxford University Press
id= ISBN 0-19-280424-3
editor-last = Martin
editor-first = Michael
editor-link = Michael Martin (philosopher)
title=The Cambridge Companion to Atheism
publisher=Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
id= ISBN 0-521-60367-6
first= George H.
authorlink = George H. Smith
title=Atheism: The Case Against God
publisher=Buffalo, New York: Prometheus
id= ISBN 0-87975-124-X
first= Zofia J.
authorlink = Zofia Zdybicka
contribution = Atheism
contribution-url = http://www.ptta.pl/pef/angielski/hasla/a/atheism.pdf
editor-first = Andrzej
editor-last = Maryniarczyk
title=Universal Encyclopedia of Philosophy
volume = 1
publisher=Polish Thomas Aquinas Association
* cite book
title=A History of Atheism in Britain: From Hobbes to Russell
id= ISBN 0-415-04727-7
* cite book
first= M. J.
title=At the Origins of Modern Atheism
id= ISBN 0300048971
publisher=New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
* cite book
authorlink = Richard Dawkins
The God Delusion
id= ISBN 0593055489
* cite book
authorlink = Antony Flew
title=God and Philosophy
id= ISBN 1591023300
* Flynn, Tom, ed. (2007). "The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief". Prometheus Books. ISBN 1591023912.
editor= Gaskin, J.C.A.
title=Varieties of Unbelief: From Epicurus to Sartre
publisher=New York: Macmillan
id= ISBN 0-02-340681-X
* cite journal
last = Germani
first = Alan
title = The Mystical Ethics of the New Atheists
journal = The Objective Standard
volume = 3
issue = 3
publisher = Glen Allen Press
url = http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2008-fall/mystical-ethics-new-atheists.asp
accessdate = 2008-09-15
* cite book
An Intelligent Person's Guide to Atheism
id= ISBN 0-7156-3229-9
* cite book
authorlink = Sam Harris (author)
Letter to a Christian Nation
id= ISBN 978-0307265777
* cite book
authorlink = Christopher Hitchens
id= ISBN 978-0446579803
* cite book
authorlink = Susan Jacoby
title=Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism
id= ISBN 978-0805074420
* cite book
first= D. E.
title=What is Atheism?: A Short Introduction
publisher=New York: Prometheus
id= ISBN 1-57392-214-5
* cite book
last= Le Poidevin
title=Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion
id= ISBN 0-415-09338-4
* Mackie, J. L. (1982). "The Miracle of Theism: Arguments For and Against the Existence of God." Oxford: Oxford UP. ISBN 019824682X
* cite book
title=The Range of Reason
publisher=London: Geoffrey Bles
id= ISBN B0007DKP00
* cite book
authorlink = Michael Martin (philosopher)
title=Atheism: A Philosophical Justification
publisher=Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press
id= ISBN 0-87722-943-0
* Martin, Michael, ed. (2007). "The Cambridge Companion to Atheism." Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521603676
* Martin, Michael & Monnier, R., eds. (2003). "The Impossibility of God." Amherst, NY: Prometheus. ISBN 1591021200
* Martin, Michael & Monnier, R., eds. (2006). "The Improbability of God." Amherst, NY: Prometheus. ISBN 1591023815
* McTaggart, John & McTaggart, Ellis (1930). "Some Dogmas of Religion." London: Edward Arnold & Co., new edition. [First published 1906] ISBN 0548149550
* cite book
authorlink = Kai Nielsen
title=Philosophy and Atheism
publisher=New York: Prometheus
id= ISBN ISBN 0-87975-289-0
* cite book
authorlink = Kai Nielsen
title=Naturalism and Religion
id= ISBN 1573928534
publisher=New York: Prometheus
* cite book
authorlink = Graham Oppy
title=Arguing about Gods
publisher=Cambridge University Press
id= ISBN 0521863864
* cite book
title=An Atheist's Values
id= ISBN 0198241917
publisher=Oxford: Clarendon Press
* Russell, Paul, (2005). [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hume-religion/ Hume on Religion] (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
* cite book
title=The Moral Case Against Religious Belief
publisher=London: SCM Press
id= ISBN 0-334-02680-6
* Smith, George "Atheism: The Case Against God", (1974). ISBN 087975124X
* Stenger, Victor J. (2007). "God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist." Amherst, NY: Prometheus. ISBN 1591024811
* cite book
title=A Short History of Western Atheism
id= ISBN 0-301-71101-1
*–Includes links to organizations and websites.
* [http://ffrf.org/ Freedom From Religion Foundation] –Foundation dedicated to protecting the separation of church and state.
* [http://www.positiveatheism.org/tochist.htm Positive atheism: Great Historical Writings] –Historical writing sorted by authors, contains a few items not in the Secular web library.
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/atheism/ Religion & Ethics—Atheism] at
* [http://www.infidels.org/library/ Secular Web library] –Library of both historical and modern writings, a comprehensive online resource for freely available material on atheism.
* [http://www.agreeley.com/articles/hardcore.html The Demand for Religion] –A study on the demographics of Atheism by Wolfgang Jagodzinski (University of Cologne) and Andrew Greeley (University of Chicago and University of Arizona).
* [http://publicliterature.org/books/necessity_of_atheism/xaa.php "The Necessity of Atheism"] –Complete work by Dr. D.M. Brooks.
* [http://www.atheistwiki.org/wiki/Main_Page AtheistWiki] –The AtheistWiki online community, a wiki for atheists, not related to the Wikimedia foundation.
* [http://www.atheistnation.net/ Atheist Nation] –Atheist community website designed to share video, news, etc.
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