Atheism is not a belief, nor a philosophy, nor a world view

Since a very common tactic by a large number of religious apologists is to misrepresent the definition of atheism, in order to reverse the burden of proof. I thought we could pre-empt it here, with a thread dedicated to the topic.

As always when discussing word definitions, I will start with the commonly understood definition which of course is the primary dictionary definition. We are not limited to these of course, but unless someone clarifies they are using a secondary dictionary definition, then we can only infer the primary definition is the intended one. Subjective definitions outside of the dictionary make words lose all meaning, and though words can and do change over time, I am likely to consider this duplicitous in the context of a debate forum, especially where no or insufficient explanation is offered.


The lack or absence of belief in any deity or deities.

Thus it is most emphatically not a belief, or a contrary claim to theism. Nor is it a world view, a philosophy, or a religion.

It can form part of a world view, and a philosophy, and a religion but it is primarily defined as the lack or absence of belief in a deity, and nothing more.

Personally this is what I mean when I say I am an atheist. I attach no more significance to my lack of belief in any deity than I do to my lack of belief in unicorns or Santa Claus, and the only eason I spend time and energy debating with theists, is because theism has a real effect on the world, and I view much of its doctrine as pernicious and therefore immoral. If people believed in unicorns and the belief was pernicious and used to try and proselytise others with pernicious doctrine then I would invest time and energy refuting that belief’s doctrine as well.

I have no bias in favour of the lack of belief in deities, and treat theistic claims, including the core belief for an extant deity of some sort, as I do all other claims and beliefs. Disbelief is my default position until sufficient objective evidence is demonstrated to support the premise.

I treat all unfalsifiable claims as unsafe, and disbelieve them whilst remaining agnostic. Thus when any god claim is used in so broad a sense that it is unfalsifiable I remain an atheist and an agnostic.

Ok, off we go…


It is all too frequent, that a theists misunderstanding about the term atheism, is usually at the root of their confusion…likely because of some level of cognitive dissonance, they conclude that atheism is a positive affirmation that god does not exist. When, in fact, atheism is not a belief…it is a disbelief. Due to a complete lack of objective evidence, atheists disbelieve the theists claim of a god. This seems to be confusing to the religiously soaked. I always say to theists, present clear demonstrable objective evidence of your version of a god, and viola, atheism will cease to exist.

That, and all the completely insane stereotypes meant to discredit atheism. I really don’t eat babies…I have innate morals. No I don’t worship the devil…hell, I don’t even believe in supernatural things…etc…etc…etc.

I have cynical religious friends who think atheism is a competing religion. They just assume faith is what everybody uses as an epistemology which is sad considering it will block them out from ever discovering the joy of scientific discovery. To clarify, I’m speaking of my fundamentalist friends.

Personally, I would classify Atheists in two ways. First, by definition, those who just simply lack faith and don’t even bother themselves with religion I would call a passive Atheist. Those of us who speak out specifically against religion I would consider to be an active Atheist. I like the distinction because active atheists like us have thought our position through and regarded atheism as the only sensible world view. Meanwhile, I would argue that everybody was born a passive Atheist and there are thousands of those joining religions every day. Some other people I would consider passive Atheists, that I know, don’t bother with religion, but also don’t say it is specifically wrong or that god is unlikely to exist. I know both types of people.

Your fundamentalist friends must have rubbed off on you a bit. See Shelden’s post, atheism is in no way a world view, just a position on one particular assertion.

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Agreed, it is just a part of a world view and obviously not an entire world view on it’s own. I didn’t say all atheists are this, that is why I bothered to make a distinction. My goal was to distinguish between atheists that all fit under the umbrella of the definition. We’re not constantly looking for some supernatural thing to bring meaning to our lives or to explain things we don’t understand.

The point is that being an atheist does not inform almost any other aspects of my “world view”. Sure, it does inform some aspects of my political views, but in other areas, say ecology, nada.

We just have to be careful, religious apologist can and do take statements like that, twist them slightly, and then spew that atheism is a world view, and then set up straw men that to the ill-informed sound convincing. See William Lane Craig for examples.

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I agree that we should be very specific in our assertions, and yes, we shouldn’t make it easy. Craig and people like him are good at telling their fans what they want to hear.

After being and living with religious people, there is no way we can control what they twist and how. I watch them twist reasonable and specific things all the time. Not just things they disagree with, but also things in their own religion. The problem is with their epistemology, and as long as that is broken, the twisting will continue. Our goal is to improve a person’s epistemology and things like losing religion and cessation of attacks on science are benefits of this.

Going back to my distinction between Atheists, active atheists have a more accurate epistemology, evaluated various religions along with other claims, and found them lacking. Passive atheists that don’t have this can get lured off into some religion or other unfalsifiable beliefs. My goal with this distinction is to show differences between atheists I know.

I think part of this misconception is because they attach a disproportionate importance to atheism, to me it has no more significance my disbelief in astrology or faith healing, to them it is a one way way ticket to an eternity of torture. It always misses the mark when I point out that I don’t believe in hell either, in fact they often get quite angered at this revelation.

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I don’t think it is an assumption, I think they have to believe this, or else pulling the thread their belief hangs on will see it unravel pretty quickly, but yes, I agree with your post. Except atheism is not a worldview, though one can hold a worldview that encompasses atheism, which I assume is what you meant?

My boys are passive. Never grew up with any sort of god belief. They were exposed to JWs and Kingdom Hall meeting and I never “argued” their impressions or take on the matter (via grandma saving them from Armageddon).

I’ve come to the conclusion Th at should any of them head down that road, it’ll be their road to travel. The best I can do is teach them to think, question and use logic. That’s it…


Absolutely, that’s a very healthy attitude to parenting.

I shouldn’t grab my bible and hit them on the head with it? Not back down so I win???

Yes, that’s what I meant. Obviously, there’s no book of Atheism out there we all derive our worldview from.

That’s all you can do, then hope for the best.


No shiznit. I can’t count how many times this has happened here…an astronomical number.

I think it is a cognitive dissonance effect, combined with theists failure in basic reason, that confounds their ability toward clarity…and thus continued misconception. Also, it is incredibly easy for deluded theists, to slap a devil sticker on anyone who disagrees with their beliefs. Did you not know? Atheists are the devil. :smiling_imp:

Interestingly, some Christians that I have talked to have this notion that you can, wrongly from their point of view, think your way out of Christianity. They redress cognitive dissonance as a good thing that keeps the faith. At a church near me they even had this bizarre demonstration of this guy climbing two ropes with knots as ladder with one being the real world, and the other being faith. If something in the real world disagrees with the religion, you pull up on the faith rope. Essentially, going up the cognitive dissonance ladder, lol…


Err, lets call that plan B… :wink:



There is no “we” I try to avoid the term 'atheism" because it is imprecise.

I cannot presume to speak for any other atheist. Short of becoming mind reader, I have no way of knowing how what any other atheist thinks about.

I understand the desire to put groups of people in tidy little boxes. It’s certainly emotionally comforting. However, I think it can also be intellectually lazy if not actually dishonest. You know, like our new little friend poe/troll.

Understood, it is impossible to perfectly group people into many categories, but information about groups can still be useful if done properly. It is estimated that some modern day humans have up to 2% of neanderthal DNA so we all don’t even fit neatly into the homo sapiens group, but it’s still worth having it. If you start to have a large group of people who don’t fit into any group, then another should probably be created. Personally, I think it would be useful to know how many people in society are Atheists for epistemological reasons versus not, and thus, my groupings. It’s admittedly not perfect and I’m not trying to force anybody into them.

Quite simply, atheism, in its rigorous formulation, is nothing more than suspicion of unsupported supernaturalist assertions. That is IT.

In short, it consists of "YOU assert that your magic man exists, YOU support your assertions.

Furtnermore, since it does not, when conducted properly, involve presenting assertions of its own, and leaves that practice to the unwise, it is the antithesis of a “religion”.

Since, in addition, by definition it involves the rejection of “belief” itself, it constitutes the antithesis of a “belief system”.

I expect the usual canards and misrepresentations to be peddled here by mythology fanboys in due course, even after I have posted this. Enjoy the Arclight raid when that happens …:slight_smile: