Atheism and belief

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Late in Charles Darwin's life, Darwin told the Duke of Argyll that he frequently had overwhelming thoughts that the natural world was the result of design.[1] See also: Atheism and evolution and Evolution

Atheism, as defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and other philosophy reference works, is the denial of the existence of God.[2] Paul Edwards, who was a prominent atheist and editor of the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, defined an atheist as "a person who maintains that there is no God."[3]

Beginning in the latter portion of the 20th century and continuing beyond, many agnostics and atheists have argued that the definition of atheism should be a lack of belief in God or gods.[3][4][5][6]

In terms of contemporary definitions of atheism, the Webster-Merriam Dictionary defines atheism in two ways: "1) a lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods 2) a philosophical or religious position characterized by disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods."[7] Oxford English Dictionies defines atheism as "Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods."[8]

In the Western world, the most common assertion used by atheist activists in order to try to support their position and attempt to discredit religion, Christianity or otherwise, is that atheism is factual or a knowledge system, supported by evidence, whilst religions are beliefs. In asserting this, atheists attempt to tie atheism to verifiable science. In fact, rather than knowledge, atheism is a false religion (See: Common arguments against atheism). Most atheists are not atheist activists and are apathetic in terms of spreading atheistic beliefs (see: Atheism and apathy).

Whether or not atheism is a belief rather than individuals attempting to suppress the truth of God's existence is matter of debate (see: Denials that atheists exist). Also, the degree to which atheism is conditional depending on external events is a matter of debate (see: Atheism and death anxiety and There are no atheists in foxholes).

In addition, although many atheists deny that atheism is a worldview, atheists commonly share a number of beliefs such as naturalism, belief in evolution and abiogenesis.[9]

The philosophy of naturalism rejects the possibility of supernatural phenomena, describing such phenomena as misunderstood natural phenomena or falsehood. This preconception necessarily precludes the existence of God. See also: Atheism and evidence

Although all atheists indicate that they do not believe in the existence of God, as can be seen below, a significant portion of atheists do not strictly subscribe to the philosophy of naturalism (see: Atheism and the supernatural).

For example, the website Skeptics Guide indicates that a significant number of atheists and agnostics believe in life after death and the website reported:

Atheist Hemant Mehta pointed out that there are atheists who: believe in ghosts, believe they have a soul, read tarot cards and read their horoscopes daily.[10] See: Atheism and the supernatural
A survey compiled in 2014 by The Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture (AISFC) reveals that 32 percent of Americans who identified themselves as agnostics and atheists believe in an afterlife of some kind. In addition, 6 percent of the same non-theistic group expressed a belief in a “bodily resurrection”. These numbers were taken from a sample of 15,738 Americans, all of which were between the ages of 18 and 60. According to the data, 13.2 percent of Americans identify themselves as atheist, agnostic, or some other variation of non-believing.

I found these results to be quite surprising. Having been immersed in circles of atheists and agnostics for the past 20 years, the numbers revealed by this study are higher than I would have guessed, by quite a lot. What stands out the most is that 6% expressed a belief in resurrection. It could be a statistical anomaly of some sort (perhaps the respondents did not understand the question about bodily resurrection?) Why an atheist or agnostic would believe that a dead person could come back to life seems entirely contrary to their worldview.[11]

In addition, as can be seen below, there are a significant amount of atheists who believe in superstitious and absurd notions (see: Irreligion and superstition).

Atheism and Belief - Belief and Knowledge

See also: Atheism and epistemology

A common and legitimate criticism of the atheist worldview is that atheism is irrational.[12] See: Atheism and irrationality

In order to fully comprehend the issues surrounding atheism and belief, a fundamental understanding of the terms "belief" and "knowledge" is necessary to understanding atheists’ claims, and how they fail.

Within epistemology, knowledge is understood to be propositions that are backed up by data/logic.[13]

For example, the proposition of universal gravitation, that all bodies accelerate towards each other, is backed up by endless amounts of data and experience.

What’s more, the proposition makes predictions that are testable: if an apple is held above the ground and released, it will fall. Thus, the knowledge is understood to be scientific.

Beliefs within the realm of Christian faith are understood to propositions which are supported sufficiently but not exhaustively. Christian apologist Dr. William Lane Craig contends the for the reasonableness of the Christian faith in his classic work Reasonable Faith.[14] Christian apologists assert there are multiple lines of evidence pointing the validity of the Christian faith. For example, the Apostles of Christ appealed to being eyewitnesses of his resurrection.[15] Also, Christian apologists contend that Christian faith not contradicted by evidence.[16]

The above criteria can apply to any number of social, political, or even economic beliefs, but is very important in Christian religion. There is no absolute method of proving or disproving the existence of the Christian God, and Christianity relies on faith itself for salvation.[17] (Note, however, the existence of powerful evidence of biblical truth, unearthed by biblical archaeology plus Christian legal scholars have effectively argued that Western legal standards point to the resurrection of Christ when one examines the historical evidence. )

Atheism and lack of knowledge

See also: Atheism and evidence

Less militant agnostic and atheist philosophers have acknowledged for centuries the impossibility of disproving God’s existence. Ex-atheist Alister McGrath, in Beyond Opinion, states that "all atheist philosophers concede that the nonexistence of God cannot be proved."[18]

Even T. H. Huxley, one of Darwin’s chief supporters, acknowledged this. Huxley invented the term agnosticism, literally meaning "without knowledge." While Huxley was utterly without Christian faith, the term agnosticism was indicative of the impossibility of proving or disproving God, as he noted “In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic faith…"[19] Thus any view of the universe, be it theism, atheism, or fence-sitting agnosticism entailed a sort of belief.

Contemporary atheist philosopher Kai Nielsen noted "All the proofs of God's existence may fail, but it still may be the case that God exists." [20]

Unscientific nature of atheism

"Opposition to godliness is Atheism in profession and idolatry in practice. Atheism is so senseless and odious to mankind that it never had many professors." - British scientist Sir Isaac Newton[21]

See also: Atheism and science and Atheism and the suppression of science

Atheists claim that scientific knowledge has replaced the need for appeals to God to explain the universe. This is easily demonstrated to be false, as countless legendary scientists found it necessary to invoke God to explain First Causes in the universe. Isaac Newton could explain what gravity did but not what caused it, and believed God kept the universe in motion.[22] While Albert Einstein's theistic views were complex, he too could not explain the universe without God, and famously derided chaos in the universe by stating "God does not play dice."[23] Even in the 21st century, no scientific theory attempts to replace appeals to God in explaining the universe's existence.

Indeed, atheists have merely usurped the mantle of "science" to disguise unevidenced assertions. They claim that evolution has been proven as scientific valid, that evolution necessarily proves abiogenesis, and that abiogenesis precludes God and design.[24] The first claim is refuted by numerous theistic scientists, the second is a belief, and the third is a philosophical absurdity. Atheists believe the universe can be explained without recourse to God, but have no actual evidence to back up their assertions.

On the other hand, the culture fostered by Christianity has had a positive effect on science (See also: Christianity and science and Scientists and belief in the existence of God).

Belief and atheistic arguments

See also: Rebuttals to atheist arguments and Atheology

More militant atheists have denied that their belief system is just that, belief, and instead have attempted to paint atheism as logical and evidence based. However, their arguments invariably on axioms and assumptions which they cannot prove.

Belief in some of the simplest and most common atheist arguments follow:

Argument from ignorance

  1. We have no absolute evidence of God’s existence.
  2. Occam’s razor tells us that a Godless universe, being simpler than a universe with God, must be true.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.


Bona fide Christians who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit have direct evidence of God's existence (1 Corinthians 3:16) (see also: Argument from religious experience and Swinburne's argument from religious experience). Jesus Christ said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." (John 10:27). Furthermore, Jesus said, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32).

This argument also relies on an appeal to ignorance (also known as an appeal from silence), a logical fallacy which states that since we do not have evidence of something, it must be false. It also misuses Occam’s Razor, which states that the argument with fewest ‘’assumptions’’ is most likely to be true. In truth, a designed universe only assumes a creator, while an atheistic universe assumes countless perfect items of blind natural forces improbabilistically occurring. (see: Origin of life and universal constants ).

Problem of evil

See also: Atheism and the problem of evil and Theodicy

Responding to perhaps the oldest theological question, atheists claim that the existence of evil proves that if God existed, he would not allow suffering. As suffering exists, God must not.[25]

Problems: This argument relies on an atheist belief that God cannot allow suffering, though Christian theologians and apologists have addressed the question for centuries. C. S. Lewis pointed out that suffering is a necessary result of human free will, which God granted out of love, that humans might reach their full potential for virtue.[26]

See Atheism and the Problem of Evil for a larger discussion.

See also

External links


  2. Multiple references:
    • Smart, J. J. C. (August 8, 2011). "Atheism and agnosticism". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
    • "atheism" (n.d.). Merriam-Webster Dictionary [online]. "Definition of atheism 1 a: a lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods b: a philosophical or religious position characterized by disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods [example sentences omitted] Origin and Etymology of atheism Middle French athéisme, from athée atheist, from Greek atheos godless, from a- + theos god"; "god" (n.d.). Merriam-Webster Dictionary [online]. "Definition of god 1 capitalized: the supreme or ultimate reality: such as a: the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe" [definitions 2 and 3 omitted.] Retrieved on April 22, 2018.
    • Atheism: a + theos, denying god, (Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology-1966).
    • Sarfati, Jonathan, Ph.D. (23 June 2007). "Atheism is more rational?". See Creation Ministries International, Jonathan Sarfati.
    • Day, Donn R. (2007). "Atheism - etymology".
    • Putting the Atheist on the Defensive by Kenneth R. Samples, Christian Research Institute Journal, Fall 1991, and Winter 1992, page 7.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Putting the Atheist on the Defensive by Kenneth R. Samples, Christian Research Institute Journal, Fall 1991, and Winter 1992, page 7.
  4. Day, Donn R. (2007). "Atheism - etymology".
  5. Definition of atheism by William Lane Craig
  6. Britain is a less religious country than the United States and the online Oxford Dictionaries offers both the narrow/broad definitions of atheism (As noted in a previous footnote the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which is a traditional American dictionary, offers a more narrow definition of atheism similar to the definition that major encyclopedias of philosophy use). Oxford Dictionaries: Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.[1]
  7. Atheism, Webster-Merriam dictionary
  8. Atheism, Oxford online dictionary
  9. Yes, atheists CAN believe in ghosts
  10. Survey: 32% of Atheists & Agnostics Believe in an Afterlife
  11. Atheism by Matt Slick
  12. Fred I. Dretske, Perception, Knowledge, and Belief, 18.
  16. Acts 16:30-31
  17. Alister McGrath, "Challenges from Atheism," in Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith we Defend, 97.
  18. Bernard Lightman, The Origins of Agnosticism: Victorian Unbelief and the Limits of Knowledge, 47.
  19. Alister McGrath, “Challenges from Atheism,” in Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith we Defend, 97.
  20. Newton, Isaac. A Short Scheme of the True Religion. Unpublished writing quoted in Brewster, David (1855). Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton (Edinburgh, UK: Thomas Constable), vol. 2, p. 347. Retrieved from GoogleBooks archive on February 19, 2015.
  21. Ayval Leshem, Newton on Mathematics and Spiritual Purity, 2.
  22. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Science, Religion and Christianity, 215.
  23. For example, Dawkins, The God Delusion, 134.
  24. Barbara Omolade, “Faith Confronts Evil,” in Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil, 278-9.
  25. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 574.