Atheism is disbelief in the existence of a god or gods.
Well-known atheists include Stephen Hawking, Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Douglas Adams, William Borden,Sam Harris, Jeremey Alliadiaere, Gary Neville, Jon Roberts and Ricky Gervais.
Atheists often base their moral code upon emotion, experience, empirically derived ethics, or some combination thereof.[Citation Needed] It is important to note, however, that just as many religions disagree on specific moral points, and there is sharp disagreement within many religions (e.g. denominational disputes within Christianity), atheists differ substantially from each other in the details of their moral beliefs. Thus, it is difficult at best to summarize the beliefs of the "average atheist."
Atheists typically hold that no religious text can be our only source of morality although all of them may contain useful ideas or principles. As atheists do not believe in any form of deity, books purported to be based upon the wishes of such deities are inherently suspect. Additionally, many atheists point out that all religious texts contain, and often ascribe to God, extremely immoral acts such as the Israelite expulsion of heathen nations from Canaan (i.e. ethnic cleansing), the stoning of homosexuals to death, questionable treatment of women and the institution of slavery. Additionally, atheists often point to a large number of prominent contradictions present in the bible and other religious texts. The presence of such contradictions challenges claims that these works are the infallible word of God.
Atheists sometimes subscribe to the secular humanist idea that it is far more desirable to do what is right because you believe that it is right, rather than because you fear divine punishment or desire divine reward. Atheists sometimes condemn religious desires for exclusive reward (and the punishment of others) such as are found in many religious texts.
From an atheist perspective, religion is a social invention of mankind. Thus the appropriate question is, "Where did religion come from?"
From a fundamentalist Christian perspective atheism can hypothetically be traced back to specific date, as Adam and Eve believed in God so at some point somebody must have stopped believing. The reasons for this lapsing of belief appear to be unspecified.
Similarly, other non-Christian religions would have their own explanation for the emergence of atheism.
Christian View of Origins
It is difficult to trace the origins of atheism as a result of the incomplete historic record. It is known that ancient Greece produced a theory of materialism as early as the 5th century BC. Materialism is a philosophical position that the material is all that exists. Therefore, it automatically excludes immaterial beings. In addition to materialism the Greeks also considered Spiritualism, in which the material world is an illusion and only spirit exists, as well as dualism, in which both the material and the spiritual exist (e.g. Christianity). It is important to note that while many atheists are strict materialists, some are not. As an example, some philosophical systems generally regarded as religions (i.e. Buddhism) lack deities and thus could be regarded as "atheistic faiths." In any case, it is likely impossible to determine the true origins of atheism as it was presumably the default belief of most humans prior to the development of religion.
The writer of the Book of Psalms knew of atheists and atheism and registered disapproval in Psalm 14: "The Fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." The book of Psalms precedes the 5th century BC by hundreds of years[Citation Needed].
In the Great Britain 2001 census, 15.5% of the population identify themselves as having no religious beliefs 2001 Census. This category included agnostics, atheists, heathens and those who wrote Jedi Knight. However other articles suggest a much higher rate of around 52% in the UK once agnostics have been considered.
More specific research on atheists conducted in 2006 suggests that the true proportion of Atheists is 4% in the United States, 17% in Great Britain and 32% in France. The Christian research organization, the Barna Group, reports that 12% of Americans are atheist or agnostic. Given that the methodology of the Barna Group study does not distinguish between atheists and agnostics, it is impossible to say if their results support, or contradict, the 4% figure. Estimates of the prevalence in atheism in the United States are, however, almost always much lower than comparable estimates from Europe.
It is important to keep in mind that surveys containing an option for "no religion" are not necessarily identifying solely atheists. Indeed, many individuals may believe strongly in some form of god but not subscribe to any one particular religion, and as a result will enter a response of "no religion" on surveys. As an example, 14.39% of the respondents to the 2004 General Social Survey in the United States claim to have "no religion." Of a subsample (197 respondents) of those persons with no religion who answered a second question on the origins of man, 19.80% believe that God created man while an additional 43.15% believe that God created man by guiding evolution over time. Thus, cumulatively 62.95% of those with "no religion" still believe that God was directly responsible for the creation of man in some fashion. Clearly, then, many of those claiming to have "no religion" are not atheists. These data are available and can be analyzed online GSS Data Online. Additionally, some atheists consider atheism to be a religion and will not respond that they have "no religion" on surveys, often preferring an "other" option.
Prejudice Against Atheists
Research by Penny Edgell, Joseph Gerteis and Douglas Hartmann in the American Sociological Review indicates that most Americans would be more willing to vote for a homosexual or Muslim presidential candidate than an atheist. The same study indicates that 47.6% of Americans would disapprove of their child marrying an atheist. More recent Gallup polls confirm this finding and indicate that atheists are among the most disliked minorities in the United States. In addition to discrimination in voting practices and marriage, former President George H.W. Bush has previously stated that he does not believe atheists should be considered citizens of the United States.
Edgell, Gerteis & Hartmann 2006- Table 1 (Percentage of respondents answering affirmatively):
|This Group Does Not At All Agree with My Vision of American Society:||I Would Disapprove if My Child Wanted to Marry a Member of This Group:|
|Recent Immigrant||12.5%||Not Asked|
The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) are one contemporary group known to discriminate against atheists. The BSA has been sued several times by Scouts who had been denied the rank of Eagle solely because they were atheists.
The Problem of Evil
One argument against belief in all-powerful entities ('gods') is the problem of evil. First identified by the philosopher and materialist Epicurus (341-270 BC), this problem points out the difficulty created by the mere existence of evil:
- Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
- Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent.
- Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
- Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
A number of responses to this logical paradox have been put forth including those which assert human ignorance as the culprit, the concept of free will and the specific writings in some faiths which discuss the co-existence of good and evil (such as the book of Job in the Christian and Jewish faiths). Many atheists, however, do not regard such arguments as convincing solutions to the underlying problem.
The Problem of Origins
Arguments against atheism sometimes invoke the Problem of Origins. This problem can be simply stated as:
- All things that exist have causes.
- The universe exists.
- The universe must have a cause.
Theists often claim that God is the origin of the universe and, thus, that this Problem of Origins is evidence for the existence of God. Atheists use a variety of possible counters to this claim but the simplest is likely that invoking God as "first cause" simply removes the problem one step. So, if the problem of the origin of the universe is solved by attributing it to god, it simply raises the problem of the origin of God. If God can be uncaused then, atheists claim, so can the universe.
- 10 Myths and 10 Truths about Atheism
- Decline of Atheism -CreationWiki
- European Commission report on Social values, Science and Technology, includes info on Religious beliefs