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Polly_Math's avatar

Is atheism a belief system in itself?

Asked by Polly_Math (1733points) January 3rd, 2010

What distinguishes atheists from agnostics, who have no belief system?
Do you think belief in a “greater power” is instinctual?
Is religion by definition irrational?

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84 Answers

delirium's avatar

Positive atheism can be considered a belief system. Negative atheism cannot.

Positive atheism is being absolutely sure that there is no higher power. Negative atheism (often nicknamed toothfairy atheism, or teapot atheism) is based on the fact that there is no evidence for there being a god and we’re going to live our lives on the assumption that there is not one, although we wholeheartedly admit that there is a slim slim chance, against all logic, that we could be wrong as it is impossible to prove a negative.

Agnostics are different from having no belief system. It’s more complicated than that. Huxley was the inventor of the word and has written some fascinating stuff on it. I don’t even understand it entirely (because I have just seen the books, but not read them).

benhodgson's avatar

I’m an atheist. It’s not that I don’t have any beliefs, they just don’t involve a god.

Rarebear's avatar

@delirium Right. I’m a negative atheist. Show me proof there is a God and I’ll be happy to believe in a God. But I would go on to argue that if there is scientific proof of a God, then God is explainable. If God is explainable, then it’s not a god. Therefore I cannot believe in God. But that a bit circular, I admit.

JLeslie's avatar

I think atheists have beliefs about life and death, and ethics and morals, so I do think they have a belief system, but it is not organized by a central tenet or doctrine.

As an atheist it never occurs to me to turn to God for guidance or help. Not sure how agnostics think on that. Although, I guess some might define me as an agnostic, because I am not one to argue that God cannot exist or defintely doesn’t exist, I just personally have no inclination to believe in God.

So to answer you next question I do not think it is instinct to believe in God.

I don’t think religion has to be irrational, it just seems many of them are. If they are asking you to have faith in something that has no prrof and then continue to believe something that makes no logical sense, then that seems ridiculous to me. But there are religions that have logic I would think. Religion and God are two separate things.

poisonedantidote's avatar

as a positive or ‘hard’ atheist it would be hard for me to say its not a belief system, at least on a personal level. but as ideas vary vastly from atheist to atheist i don’t think you can really call it a belief system just based on one shared communality, regardless of how positive you are.

i would quite likely argue this point until i’m blue in the face, in fact i know i would because i have done so in the past. i don’t think you can call it a belief system at all. it encompasses too many varied things for different people. to me, my atheism is linked to my skepticism that is in turn linked to my disbelief of most conspiracy theories, but you could disbelieve and assert there is no god just as much as me and more while fully believing every single last conspiracy theory. so no, its not a belief system, however i would accept it being called a personal philosophy.

delirium's avatar

I actually do think it is fairly instinctual to believe in a god. Faith is an instinct that, in a primitive society, can keep you safe and probably evolved as a beneficial trait. Dawkins actually writes about that in his newest book. I will try and find a quote at some point for it, ideally when I get home from work.

Memetics also play a large part, as religion is a meme.

Polly_Math's avatar

@delirium I am very curious as to what distinguishes negative atheism from agnosticism.

delirium's avatar

Put in the most simplistic way possible, the biggest difference is letting it influence your way of thinking. I am a negative atheist. I’ve rejected that particular cultural mythology and have no qualms about it. I actually, honestly, don’t have any feelings about it either way, except for joy and awe for the way the world works and the little molecular machines that live on it (but that is beside the point).
Agnostics usually spend more time thinking about it. They’re literally in the middle of all faiths. They believe that you can’t even be fairly sure (which is different from being absolutely positive). I am fairly sure that there is no god. My agnostic friend absolutely does not know and is likely fascinated thinking about it. I’ve made my decision and have better things to think about.

That mostly make sense?

Tomfafa's avatar

The great intellectual liberals are working very hard on replacing religion with ‘global warming’ and ‘liberalism’ as a replacement to god. The communists did a good job of it… that is until their brand of communism was proven a complete and abject failure.

Breefield's avatar

I’m agnostic, and Del* is quite right. It’s more about being in the middle of everything. Trying to get a grasp on every perspective – but not lean too far one way or another so as to burn personal bridges. By which I mean, how I perceive myself, and how I act in accordance with my own beliefs.
I think negative atheism and agnosticism are very similar in that they both reject a god, but are open to the possibility if the evidence were to present itself…I’m kinda guessing there, I’m not quite sure if negative atheists are open to any variety of evidence.

JLeslie's avatar

@Tomfafa What kind of total bullshit is that? Please don’t confuse communism with atheism. And, all of the atheists I know would fight for freedom of religion, more than most (not all) religious people I meet.

Jeruba's avatar

I have a friend who is a proselytizing atheist. He calls it his religion.

I guess that people who say “I don’t believe in God [or, a god]” and those who say “I believe there is no god” are both atheists, but they are atheists of different stripes. I am of the latter camp: I believe there is no god. I call this a belief, but it is not a belief system.

However, I do think there is in our kind an innate tendency or desire to look for something greater than ourselves. I believe that we have been giving names to this something, regarding it with awe and reverence, and imagining stories about it since we were first capable of conscious thought. I believe that the truth about that is not to be found in the stories but in the essential humanness of that activity.

Tomfafa's avatar

@JLeslie I am an atheist myself. A conservative… and a humanist.

delirium's avatar

@JLeslie I often say that I am absolutely fine with people’s religions and respect it and them for it. I just get touchy when it tries to interfere with my government, schools, or my body. Those are three ‘temples’ that should remain secular, if not just for the sake of freedom.

JLeslie's avatar

@delirium Exactly. Perfectly said.

Tomfafa's avatar

@delirium Your body is a temple… I’m here to worship!

delirium's avatar

@Tomfafa I accept sacrifices of chocolate at dawn and dusk on every day that starts with a T or an S.

dark chocolate only

Tomfafa's avatar

@delirium My fetish is my religion! Are you my high priestess?

Cruiser's avatar

Polly you have asked 3 distinct questions.

Atheists AFAICT don’t subscribe to Theism where agnostics believe in some form of at least one deity, so both technically have a belief system that merely deviate from the more popular beliefs of a specific religion in our society.

Secondly, I think belief in a “higher power” is learned. I think the need to understand why we are here is instinctual and the explanations (logic not withstanding) are what is learned from the generations that came before.

So all that said Religion and the belief or even the non belief is quite rational as either demonstrates a conscious deliberate decision to commit to a belief or thought.

jerv's avatar

Agnostics have no belief system? Shit, I wish somebody let me know before I got my card! When did that happen?

I neither confirm nor deny that there may or may not be a divine entity or pantheon, and regardless of whether they exist or not, I feel that any knowledge about them would be merely speculation since the human mind is incapable of truly comprehending it/them anyways thus rendering religion moot.

But since that means that I have a belief and therefore an not Agnostic, I’ just going ot wonder what to call myself….

Polly_Math's avatar

@Cruiser I never interpreted agnosticism as believing in some form of at least one deity. I always thought it was the denial of ultimate knowledge of the existence of God. The word comes from the Greek meaning “without knowledge.”

jerv's avatar

As for the other parts of the question, I think it’s natural to look for some omniscient guidance when you are scared. When we are children, we often turn to our parents. When we are older and have bigger, more complex problems, we have to find (or invent) someone else. Some of us turn to scientists, some of us turn to wisemen, and some of us turn to a zombie son if Himself who will grant us immortality if we eat of his flesh.

Is religion irrational? Weeeeellllll….........
Religion in and of itself is rational. However, most who follow religion are people, and people are irrational. Make of that what you will ;)

Cruiser's avatar

@Polly_Math Therein lies the dilemma, where an Agnostic is defined by a Theist as one who believes in at least one Deity and a an Agnostic will color the belief as no God or Deity at all. Depends on the team you are rooting for!

Ivan's avatar

Not to plug my own question, but it might be helpful to read this discussion.

fundevogel's avatar

belief system – The basis on which beliefs are based. For example a religious belief system is based on faith and dogma whereas a scientific belief system is based on observation and reason.

Atheism is not the foundation of any system of beliefs. The beliefs that athiests hold, whether they be positive or negative atheists, come from other schools of thought. Secular humanism, existentialism and postmodernism are all examples of systems of belief an atheist may hold, or may not. You’d have to ask the individual because atheism alone dictates no specific beliefs and therefore does not found a system of beliefs. It merely denotes a lack of membership in certain religious schools of thought.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

I consider myself agnostic. I define the difference from the word roots Atheism=no god, Agnostic= I don’t know. Given the limitations of my senses and the lack of evidence either way, I can’t know. Agnosticism seems more intellectually honest to me. I live by ethical principles, not dogma. Like @delirium has so eloquently stated, I respect the religious beliefs of others but don’t try to cram it down my throat or legislate those beliefs. When they legislate a theocracy and try to stone a “harlot” or burn a “witch”, I’ll be there with my rifle doing my damnedest to stop them.

Given the track record of religion regarding persecution, torture, forced conversions etc. even if the existance of a “higher power” was proven I would refuse to “worship”. I prefer the converse of the Pascaline Wager. I’ve booked my reservation in Hell already. Third barstool from the left, level #7, and they’d better have decent single-malt or at least Bass IPA on draft.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@Cruiser Where did you get that agnostics believe in one deity? The definition of agnostic is to deny that it’s possible to know for sure whether one exists or not.

ninjacolin's avatar

i believe religion is just a fancy word for ethics. and those ethics are always based on what you happen to believe is real in the universe.

so, every atheist is still religious. they just believe a different set of things in the universe are real than someone who is a christian or a muslim. but again, from those beliefs come the ethics or religion or way of life that can lead to the ultimate happiness… whatever the individual believes that is.

fundevogel's avatar

@ninjacolin We have a word for ethics, it isn’t religion. You can’t just give a word a completely new meaning to make it applicable to the situation you want to apply it to.

You will just piss off all the lexicographers and confuse everyone else.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@ninjacolin You’re also assuming that atheists have the same ethical beliefs, which is definitely flawed logic. Most religions tell people the difference between right and wrong, along with whatever deity to believe in. Atheism strictly adheres to the belief or disbelief of some kind of deity, only. There is no moral atheist guide to follow. One atheist might believe that abortion is wrong, and another one might believe it’s acceptable. A religion, on the other hand, will tell its followers whether or not abortion is right or wrong, and most people who choose to follow that religion will strictly adhere to that doctrine. Atheism has no doctrine to follow.

ninjacolin's avatar

@fundevogel you should help me to understand this issue with redefining things better. i’m aware of it, but i don’t fully understand it the way you would like me to. i can somehow grasp what you mean though, and I’m curious to know more but I just don’t see it your way at this point.

in my opinion, those lexicographers are sloppy. i know there are commonly held definitions but they just aren’t sufficient for what they are attempting to define. i believe there is such a thing as a “better” or “more accurate” definition.

i believe a sloppy definition creates problems with the rest of a person’s thinking. It’s just like defining the earth as the center of the universe. by having this as the definition for “earth” the rest of your physics and astronomy become inaccurate. that’s why it had to be changed.

@DrasticDreamer, the way it works in my view is that atheists are their own religious leaders and their own pupil. the only difference between an atheist who believes in abortion and one who doesn’t is the information indelibly stored in their heads. (for example, perhaps the anti-abortion atheist has a really good argument that proves to him the value of every life. the other atheist is ignorant to this argument (doesn’t have it in his head, doesn’t know that it matters) and for that reason alone he hold onto the belief that abortion is practical.)

atheists are also the religious leaders of their children.

Cruiser's avatar

@DrasticDreamer Again this kind of “definition is in the eye of the beholder. As I said…
“an Agnostic is defined by a Theist as one who “typically” believes in at least one Deity and a an Agnostic will color the belief as no God or Deity at all. Depends on the team you are rooting for!”

urwutuis's avatar

I think this may require a dictionary but by its root atheist would be non belief in God or Gods.
It is no more a religion than not believing in the existence of the Cat in the Hat or Elmer Fudd. If that were the context anything you do not believe would be a religion. There are no holidays no meetings no doctrine no ministers no books no ideology non of the earmarks of religion

No religion.

fundevogel's avatar

@ninjacolin Lexicographers document definitions of words as determined by the words uses in the past and present. When compiling the OED, The Book on the subject, thousands of lay people were charged with reading thousands of books and recording each word usage in context. Once these were sent in the lexicographers extrapolated definitions, though sometimes usage wasn’t clear and the lexicographers would track down clarification, ideally from the original the author of the text in question.

You’re using the word in a manner that is not and has not been reflected in speech or literature, essentially redefining the the term. Language does change and evolve but it happens by public consensus and recognition of the new meaning. Your definition has no such public usage or recognition.

A word that has without question shifted form one definition to another (through a large scale misunderstanding of the original meaning) is “homeopathy”. Originally it referred to treating health problems with things that resembled the affliction. For instance if something was wrong with your foot you might be treated with powdered foot. This definition is primarily limited to historical contexts now. Instead the average person identifies homeopathy as any sort of treatment that exists outside of the accepted medical community.

urwutuis's avatar

I prefer just to think of as having “No invisible means of support”

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@Cruiser My question is, where did you get that definition? I’ve never seen it or heard of it before.

YARNLADY's avatar

There are many atheists who have developed their own system for relating to the society we all live in, but there is no Atheist Belief System as a defined dogma for everyone who does not believe in a ‘God’.

Jeruba's avatar

Excellent explanations, @fundevogel. My compliments.

[Edit] I do have to disagree on one point, though: Atheism merely denotes a lack of membership in certain religious schools of thought. That might serve to describe one sort of atheist. It does not work for me. My atheism is not lack of belief in something, much less lack of membership in something. I positively believe this: There is no god, not conceived as a real, existing supernatural being. (To me “God” exists in the same way that Santa Claus, Gandalf, and unicorns exist, which is to say that we can make sensical grammatical statements about them and use them as subjects of a verb even though the concepts have no counterpart in the perceptible universe.) That is no lack, to my mind.

Cruiser's avatar

@DrasticDreamer Kinda a street definition similar to politics…depends on who you speak to. Atheists will defend a belief in no God till they die yet any Theists I know will promote the belief that anything with a beating heart will believe in some form of a higher “power”.

I arm wrestled this just the other day…I think I won…she thinks she won.

fundevogel's avatar

@Jeruba I know what you mean.

Perhaps I have taken things a step too far by completely omitting the use of the word belief. I did it because he word belief becomes hopelessly entangled with and mistaken for faith in these discussions. Faith, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with my atheism and I loath having to tell theists that belief that God doesn’t exist requires no leap of faith. They lack consistency. Nobody tells me I need faith to disbelieve in unicorns or Ganesh or the Pillsbury Doughboy.

jangles's avatar

Atheism is as broad a term as monotheism, polytheism, or any kind of theism.
It’s difficult to categorize specific things like a belief system, to something that only defines that one does not believe in a deity or deities.

ninjacolin's avatar

Oops! Just want to clear something up: I misspoke when I said “ethics” above. I really meant religion is a fancy word for etiquette, not ethics.

Thanks for your explanation of lexicography, @fundevogel. I see the problem then. Lexicography is intentionally based on ad populum. It’s the study of how language is used with no regard to how it ought to be used. It’s an unbiased approach to word usage, like a Top 40 list, a popularity contest rather than a logic-based discipline.

@fundevogel said: “Language does change and evolve but it happens by public consensus and recognition of the new meaning. Your definition has no such public usage or recognition.”

I see what you are saying here. And from a lexicographic (as per your definition) perspective I now see how this is true.

While lexicographic definitions seem important to understand, they don’t seem rationally practical to uphold. Redefining terms as soon as they can be shown to inadequately depict something seems crucially important to society as well.

In any case, if a new definition isn’t submitted to the public how can it ever catch on? The popular definition of the word “religion” is inadequate and misleading. The popular definition of “faith” is also inadequate and misleading. Without wholly adequate definitions why attempt to discuss or debate at all?

Jeruba's avatar

Thanks for that clarification, @fundevogel. I agree that we are not talking about faith at all. I do say we are talking about belief.

For that reason I also decline to take the position defined by @delirium; that is, I do not say that I am absolutely sure that there is no higher power. I say I believe there is no god. But I don’t have any more absolute certainty of that than I have of the infinity of the universe. How can I claim absolute certainty of anything I can’t subject to a rigorous test? And even at that, my test might be flawed, my observation might be compromised, and I might be incapable of an accurate reading and interpretation of the results. “Absolute certainty” is not in my vocabulary except in trivial matters, and then it is more of a figure of speech than a true declaration of certitude: I am absolutely certain that I left my keys on the table, and I have no idea how they got in the refrigerator.

If I accept someone else’s test, then I am talking about faith, whether it is faith in the report of a third party or faith in the word of a scientist. I choose where I place my faith, and I do not place it in beings imagined by humans because they longed for their existence.

fundevogel's avatar

You’ve mostly got it @ninjacolin except that popular usage doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere. It has established history which is also documented and upheld by lexicographer until they are rendered arcane to the contemporary speaker. Language at this point is beyond the control or invention of any man or institution, lexicographers merely document it.

How language “ought to be used”, as you put it, is simply how the long established popular opinions defined it. There is much to be said for upholding established language usage, but there are limits to how long any language may remain apparently static. So Lexicography is not actually in conflict with your later statement:

“Redefining terms as soon as they can be shown to inadequately depict something seems crucially important to society as well.”

There is no need to submit new uses to the populace because the new uses arise from the populace. Lexicographers merely document new developments as they are integrated into usage.

But back to your previous statement. I no more understand how “etiquette” is synonymous with religion than “ethics” would have been. Neither is dependent on anything remotely spiritual or supernatural as is nearly always the case with religion. Etiquette refers to an outward code of behavior while religion refers, at least in part, to internally held beliefs. I don’t see a correlation.

…Unless you’re suggesting that religion is not an internally held series of beliefs, but just a series of external social behaviors? I rather doubt anyone would accept that definition of religion.

@Jeruba Belief as a consequence of faith in science or third parties or what have you only occurs when sufficient evidence to merit belief is not demonstrated but one believes in its absence.

Other than that nuance I agree. Delirium’s framing of atheism didn’t fit my position either, for the reasons you noted.

jerv's avatar

Why does that conjure thoughts of Newspeak from 1984 in my mind?

ninjacolin's avatar

@fundevogel, that’s just it. it’s evident to me that religious beliefs never come from the inside. instead, they seem to come inductively from the outside. first, people observe something, like “sacred texts” or a seemingly miraculous occurrence, or they observe the words of their parents or priests, or they come to understand evolution, or they come to understand physics.

After intaking whatever evidence they’ve taken in and have processed it to the best of their rational abilities, an opinion is formed about what the universe contains materially. To the best of their discerning abilities it contains either a God or Gods or no God. If there is a god, it has an appropriate name either “jesus” or “jehovah” or “allah” or whatever it is they concluded. Further, they inductively conclude that this deity has rules for them to follow perhaps in a sacred text, or perhaps a certain leader that they have to follow on earth like Jesus at his time or a sacred emperor. Others of course take in certain scientific and historical data that persuade them to believe that none of these deities are material in the universe.

Whatever the case, after taking in all the information they can they come to inductive conclusions about what is and is not material in the universe. These conclusions represent the individual’s scientific understanding.

From that subjective scientific basis, they then conclude the etiquette by which to live in that “real” universe. For example, if there is a God in their understanding of the universe who they believe demands their worship on sundays, then it becomes “good etiquette” to attend church on sundays. If however, the individual does not believe in any god who demands their worship on sundays, it is “good etiquette” then to sleep in on Sundays. (Unless of course the person happens to believe it is “good etiquette” to cut the grass on sunday mornings or any other worthwhile thing to do)

Religion, then, seems to me to be the etiquette for living your life based on the kind of universe you have inductively concluded is real or material. Religion is the way you achieve a “good” life. Just as wearing tennis shoes is the way to ensure a “good” game of tennis. Religion is what you pass on to your children when you take them fishing or celebrate christmas or teach them not to steal or to say “i love you” when talking to their grand parents. It’s a prescribed or accepted code of usage for the ceremony of life itself but specifically, life as you uniquely know it.

fundevogel's avatar

@ninjacolin The process you describe is no more true of religion than of any other acquired thought, conviction, philosophy or belief. As such I see no need to emphasize this regarding religion. It isn’t a unique or remarkable trait and doesn’t differentiate it in any way.

Additionally your following statement expresses a narrow interpretation of religion.

“Religion, then, seems to me to be the etiquette for living your life based on the kind of universe you have inductively concluded is real or material. Religion is the way you achieve a “good” life.”

Not all religions are aimed at guiding its followers towards goodness. At least not in the behavioral sense. Santeria in particular makes no ethical judgment whatsoever about its members behavior if I recall correctly. Prayers and offerings to gods and goddesses are purely functional rituals intended only to secure a desired effect regardless of its ethical merit.

ninjacolin's avatar

@fundevogel “The process you describe is no more true of religion than of any other acquired thought, conviction, philosophy or belief.”

Agreed! That’s the whole point: Religion isn’t really as special as our current definitions would have us believe. These inaccurate definitions cause needless disagreements and other inaccurate understandings. In this view, religion really is a superfluous term which causes more issues than it is worth.

“Not all religions are aimed at guiding it followers towards goodness”

I used the word “good” subjectively. which is why I used quotations. In Santeria, for example, the “good” or “right” way to cause thunderstorms in Mexico might be to pray to Goddess #23 and the “bad” or “wrong” way to go about that would be to pray to God #37.

where “the good way” is synonymous with “the proper etiquette.”

fundevogel's avatar

Your suggestion that words “religion” and “etiquette” are interchangeable is not justified by that though. If you use those standards you might as well make “etiquette” interchangeable with “viewpoint”, “philosophy”, “education”, “indoctrination” and “principles”. The result, even if only applied to “religion”, would create confusion, not dispel it.

Honestly, you’re the first person I’ve ever heard say that the term “religion” was misleading, confusing or otherwise improperly defined—but the implementation of your suggestion would certainly change that.

Good”, on the other hand, apparently has a staggering number of applications. I had not been thinking of it in terms of “appropriateness”.

ninjacolin's avatar

no no, Religion and Etiquette aren’t synonymous terms. I said it was a “fancy term for etiquette.” but specifically the most holistic definition for Religion that I can imagine would be this:

Religion: The etiquette by which one lives their life based on his/her subjective scientific world views.

fundevogel's avatar

I think you’re probably the only person that uses the word according to that definition, past or present. Further more, using your unique definition of the word has prevented me from following the content of your posts for the entirety of this thread. It’s like trying to talk with Hegel.

Better to coin a slang term of phrase than use commonly understood words in a manner alien to any native speaker. It impairs your ability to communicate and cripples the function of language.

ninjacolin's avatar

I see your advice and I’ll see what I can do about it going forward.

“I think you’re probably the only person that uses the word according to that definition, past or present.”

I’m sure I am. But I would love for it to catch on as the current definitions aren’t as accurate. The current definitions cripple the dialog the whole world has been trying to have on the matter.

Atheists the world over cringe at the word “religion” as if it’s something they don’t “do.” When really they mean only to cringe at the scientific beliefs the so-called “religious” happen to hold, since those beliefs influence their behaviors. Behavior would be uniform if everyone believed in the exact same universe. but we don’t.

ninjacolin's avatar

To @Polly_Math‘s original question: is atheism a belief system in itself?

Every individual has a set of beliefs that work together in a complex system. For a shitty example, one might believe it is good to walk in the direction you wish to go but they might also believe that you should stop before traffic. Somehow their brain works it all out. That’s the system, and the result is a productive day.

Atheism does not define an entire system of belief. Atheism defines a single belief that a God is most likely not present in the universe. As well, it defines the relevant ramifications that belief has on the rest of the system.

mattbrowne's avatar

Is religion by definition irrational? To me there are two aspects of religion.

1) The first is the belief in God which is one of the two rational interpretations for the existence of the cosmos.
2) The other aspect of religion is an ethical code of conduct, which can be seen as rational in a social sense.

The second rational interpretation (used by atheists) is an self-explanatory cosmos. Like the first it can neither be proved or disproved in a scientific sense.

Is atheism a belief system in itself? What distinguishes atheists from agnostics?

I’ve shared this on Fluther before. To me there are mainly four different types of atheism:

Implicit atheism is the absence of theistic belief without a conscious rejection of it. Weak atheism (sometimes also called negative atheism) refers to any other type of non-theism, wherein a person does not believe any deities exist, but does not claim that same statement is false. Agnosticism is the view that the truth value of the existence of deities and spiritual beings are unknown. There are non-spiritual explanations for the nature of physical reality and the meaning of good and evil.

Explicit atheism is the absence of theistic belief due to a conscious rejection of it. Strong atheism (sometimes also called positive atheism) claims that the statement ‘there is at least one god’ is false, which means gods or the God does not exist. There is nothing that cannot be understood at least in principle is a true statement. The reasonable nonbelief in God is based on the lack of evidence. It is therefore irrational to believe in supernatural beings. People believe in God, not because he exists, but because of other reasons. God memes offer a good explanation where memes are seen as elements of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which are transmitted from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena. The gathering of all relevant knowledge is accomplished by employing the scientific method. Strong atheism shares many values with humanism, rationalism, materialism and naturalism. Atheism is seen as superior to religions.

Atheist fundamentalism claims that the cosmos we observe has precisely the properties we should expect and there is no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference. It is a fact that god or any other deities do not exist. Natural science has authority over all other interpretations of life, such as philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations. Natural science is capable of describing all reality and knowledge and when doing so it clearly leads to atheism. Therefore the belief in God is a delusion while religion should be seen as a obscurantist, dictatorial and oppressive force and the world would be a better place without it. Atheist fundamentalists typically reject classifications of atheism. They often also reject classifications of various forms of religions, as they are seen as minor variations of the same religious delusion. They argue that atheism and spirituality cannot coexist, because any concept of spiritual atheism is fundamentally flawed. The word spirit refers to the supernatural and has therefore to be rejected.

Enlightened (or spiritual) atheism holds the belief that the cosmos might have a purpose and a deeper meaning, but the reason for this would not be related to divine power. There is a solid scientific understanding of our cosmos. Science can explain phenomena which are observed within our cosmos. There is no magic within our world, which means the supernatural doesn’t exist. Being superstitious is wrong. Atheism must not claim exclusive rights in defining truth and it is best seen as one world view among many. There is no reason why religion cannot be compatible with reason or with the main body of accredited human knowledge. Antireligionism and antireligious dogmas are rejected and seen as counterproductive, but any religion worthy of belief should be consistent with human reason and knowledge. Being spiritual does not necessarily mean being religious. In enlightened atheism in-group/out-group morality models are discouraged. A human-centered spirituality should be articulated in which atheists, agnostics and believers can feel equally at home. To live in a spiritually healthy way, people must be allowed to be authentically themselves, to realize their full potential, and to make their own moral and lifestyle choices. The focus is on human dignity and acting in good faith, bringing out and rehabilitating the innate goodness of humankind. The core values of enlightened atheism also include spiritual growth, compassion, generosity, nonviolence, humility, as well as inner and outer peace.

Fyrius's avatar

“Enlightened” my butt. You might as well call it “the form of atheism that looks most like me”.
Let’s keep this a bit more impartial, shall we.

fundevogel's avatar

@mattbrowne – And your definition of “Atheist Fundamentalism” is actually a slanted take on a independent, preexisting philosophy combined with atheism. ”Naturalism.” It is not uncommon for people to hold multiple compatible schools of thought, ie atheism and naturalism. The idea that a single world view must be entirely encompassed by a single term is ludicrous. If that were the case you would have a separate form of atheism for almost every atheist.

The term “Atheist Fundamentalism” moreover is not what you describe it to be nor is it even an accepted model of atheism. It is in fact little more than an attempt to make uninformed people think that, atheists have atheist dogma similar to religious dogma. This is simply not the case. I appreciate that your definition did not invoke these falsehoods, but that does render your use of the term completely contrary to its usage.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@Cruiser Okay, I understand what you’re saying now. However, what Theists believe agnostics think doesn’t matter. What matters in this kind of situation are the true definitions of the word, and what agnostics themselves believe. I could say that Theists believe in eating puppies, but that doesn’t make it true. It doesn’t matter what I think, it matters what they believe and practice.

Cruiser's avatar

@DrasticDreamer I hear what you are saying. Because I am a spiritualist, theisists might want to color me as a theist as well for believing in a diety or higher power when I really don’t. And atheists may want me on their team for not believing in a God when that is not where I am at either. To each is own is dead on.

mattbrowne's avatar

@fundevogel – My sources are Alistair McGrath (a molecular biophysicist and theologian) who wrote “The Dawkins Delusion”, John Lennox (a mathematician and philosopher of science) who wrote “God’s Undertaker – Has Science buried God?” and Kenneth Miller (a molecular biologist and science advocate) who wrote “Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution” as explained in my question

Sorry, I cannot agree that all forms of atheism are free of dogma. Some forms are even trying to sell philosophical assessments as science, like the notion of the blind pitiless indifferent universe. Richards Dawkins for example has created dozens of dogmas and there are thousands of disciples worldwide following him. His flock is growing rapidly. I appreciate tolerant atheists, but Dawkins new movement created too many intolerant atheists unfortunately. I think this trend should be reversed. Many atheists actually agree with me.

fundevogel's avatar

@mattbrowne – Dogma is ”authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted or diverged from.” Nothing about atheism is any of those things. Any dogma held by an atheist would require another source. Honestly I can’t think of a non religious dogma outside what has been demanded by some totalitarian governments. I would be interested if you can think of any beyond the dogma you presume atheists hold.

Youv’e told me where you got your information, but but giving me resumes does nothing to demonstrate that the conclusions are sound. You need to provide evidence showing how atheism is dogmatic. So first tell me where I can find an authoritative set of atheist tenents. Then demonstate that these are held and adhered to by a specific group of atheists (or all atheists) as a part of their atheism. Not in addition to their atheism. Their atheism must demand adherence to the atheist dogma you find. This could be hard since atheism lacks any authoritative body or structure to uphold dogma, thus making it impossible to reinforce consistency in atheist thought or practice.

Ideally the dogma should come in the form of a text universally accepted and unquestioned by atheists. After all, if you don’t write down your dogma it’s hard to maintain a certainty in the consistency of the tenants. Especially when there aren’t even any authorities to dictate what the dogma is, let alone how to properly adhere to it. I mean, Christianity has it all set down in a sacred book, but there are still 100 groups interpreting that dogma in 100 different ways.

I fail to see any reason for any of these new names for atheism beyond veiled attempts to discredit atheists by redefining atheism. Atheism hasn’t changed. It can’t really, the condition is too devoid of nuance go through doctrinal shifts, too devoid of doctrine to go through shifts. The only thing that has changed is that atheists aren’t afraid to talk about atheism anymore. But that doesn’t indicate any difference in atheist doctrine (if there were one). To say so would be comparable to saying to a Lutheran was now a nu-Lutheran because they talked about the Lutheranism or were impassioned enough about it to write a book about why you should be Lutheran too. That describes behavior, not doctrine.

ninjacolin's avatar

I agree that atheism’s affect on an individual’s world view is merely the absence of dogma commonly provided by the major religions of the world.

Those common dogmas are so prevalent in our world that it seems like the weight of the atheistic concept, the absence of belief in a deity, creates a competing set of dogma. But that would be like saying that the lack of language in a new born baby is a language in itself equivalent to the language of its parents. (If you can improve on that metaphor, please do) Atheism reduces (by comparison) the amount of dogma perceived to be pertinent. It doesn’t, on it’s own, make any effort to replace it with anything.

Mormonism (upon conversion) replaces Catholicism’s dogma. Catholicism (upon conversion) replaces Islamic dogma.. and so forth. Atheism however, simply removes all of the above dogma and provides nothing to replace it.

fundevogel's avatar

Well said Colin. It’s a good analogy, it don’t think it needs to be improved on.

Jeruba's avatar

Still not adequate for me. My belief is a belief. It is not the absence of a belief.

But there are no tenets for me, and there is no dogma. If dogmatic tenets of atheism are supplied, I will not subscribe to them. And yet I will still be an atheist.

Ivan's avatar


That belief is something outside of atheism.

Jeruba's avatar

What, believing there is no god is outside of atheism? Come on.

Ivan's avatar


Mmm, a lot of people would call that “positive atheism” or something to that effect. It’s a little deceiving though, because having a positive belief that there are no gods is not atheism in and of itself. Or, I should say, it’s not necessary that you have that belief to be an atheist. Regardless, that one belief does not constitute a “system” of beliefs. It’s just one belief.

ninjacolin's avatar

@Jeruba said: “My belief is a belief. It is not the absence of a belief.”

specifically, you believe there are no gods. same as me.

@Jeruba said: “It is not the absence of a belief”

all the dogmatic beliefs that christians, and jews, and muslims have are absent in you. and i don’t mean that those beliefs are “lacking” as per se, i simply mean that they aren’t there.

@Jeruba said: “there is no dogma”

i agree. atheism doesn’t have a dogma. it’s not a system of belief.
as an atheist, you can have dogma if you want but you’ll have to get it from somewhere else. atheism itself doesn’t provide any.

Jeruba's avatar

Exactly as I said above: I guess that people who say “I don’t believe in God [or, a god]” and those who say “I believe there is no god” are both atheists, but they are atheists of different stripes. I am of the latter camp: I believe there is no god. I call this a belief, but it is not a belief system.

> “all the dogmatic beliefs that christians, and jews, and muslims have are absent in you. and i don’t mean that those beliefs are “lacking” as per se, i simply mean that they aren’t there.”

Those beliefs aren’t there. Other beliefs are there. I am not without beliefs. I am without those beliefs. I am also without belief in tooth fairies, time travel, guardian angels, and rings of invisibility. I do not define myself by the things I don’t believe in.

jangles's avatar

You’re quite right, I think when you say “belief” you are intending what it actually means. I think however, in the context of the conversation currently happening, they way they’re using belief; they’re applying the extra definition that comes with religious belief. (Belief is usually used in this manner, rather than what it means, as it is so commonly used to explain religious ideas)

Also I think most atheists are really better described as naturalists. (not an assumption for all atheists but for many that i know of)

Jeruba's avatar

@jangles, thank you. Yes, of course I am intending what it actually means. Thanks for pointing out that we might not be working with the same definitions. That’s always going to foul up a discussion. I’m often the one to call for definition of terms, but in this case it didn’t occur to me to do that.

If you mean “naturalists” in the sense that their worldview is naturalistic, meaning free of supernatural or mystical deities, forces, and entities, then I think that’s so. I would say I am naturalistic in that sense. But this is the usual definition of a naturalist.

jangles's avatar

Right, I should have specified. I was referring to naturalism as a philosophy, Methodological naturalism, scientific naturalism, ontological naturalism or philosophical naturalism. I’m not sure how one would correctly say naturalist and mean it in this sense, rather than the one that definition refers to.

I rarely reffer to myself as an atheist, just because it only states things I dont think exist. I perefer naturalist, as this explains why I am an atheist and what i really do believe. (Believe as in what it actually means of course)

mattbrowne's avatar

@fundevogel – Have a look here

Now for Dawkins’s book there are two groups of people. Aggressive atheists who interpret Dawkins views as dogma, and tolerant atheists who think Dawkins is right about this and this, but wrong about that and that. The first group of New Atheists even shows a few signs of a cult, like the inerrancy of everything Richard Dawkins says. I’m sure you’re not one of them. But I’ve encountered some of them in online forums. They defend everything. God is a delusion. Period. Dogma. Religious people are deluded. Period. Dogma. Can’t be touched. Science leads to atheism. Period. Dogma. There are even funny dogmas like one cannot prove a negative.

Fortunately, most atheists I know are more tolerant and they appreciate tolerant believers.
I’m a tolerant believer and I appreciate tolerant atheists.

ninjacolin's avatar

There are dogmatic atheists, I agree. I’ve seen them too. I’ve even found people who believe in evolution in a wrong way. You would think these people ought not be able to accept their belief in evolution since their understanding of it is fallacious. Yet, they hold on.

ninjacolin's avatar

^ wow no one responded after that. I had to stop to catch a flight. k, continuing:

Does that mean we can claim “Atheism is Dogmatic?” Hmm… Is some Evolution Dogmatic? This is a semantics issue of course. I just don’t think… it fits really. However, there are dogmatic atheists. There are dogmatic Christians and there is also Christian Dogma. But there is no atheist dogma for an atheist to be dogmatic over. That’s just not the way it works.. Christianity is a whole lot of things. Chirst, God, Hell, Purgatory, Heaven, Good, Evil, Bible, various stories all kinds of stuff. Atheism is only.. “No god.” Where’s the dogma exactly?

As an atheist, you can be dogmatic about Dawkin’s beliefs if you want. You can be dogmatic about Buddhism if you want. You can be dogmatic about naturlism, humanitarianism.. but.. is it even possible to be “dogmatic” about there being no god? I can’t imagine how. What would they be dogmatic about exactly?

What distinguishes atheists from agnostics, who have no belief system?

Personally, I believe everyone is admittedly agnostic, no one knows for sure. But we all just lean certain ways. It’s like, we’re all gambling on a horse that we’ve trained ourselves. In this metaphor, the horse represents our opinion, which we’ve built up over the years a certain way.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ninjacolin – Most atheists I know are not dogmatic. Most Christians I know personally are not dogmatic either. But the Internet is full of dogmatic Christians. And many are poorly educated and very stubborn. Atheists are better educated and more open to serious debate.

jangles's avatar

In regards to the last part of your statement, nearly every Mormon I have ever met has at one time or another (or sometimes once a month as a part of a religious ceremony) declared that they know that not only does god exist but that for a fact their church and their prophet is undeniably true. Using the word belief to describe their religion (to them) would be almost insulting. (I have in the past pointed out that they have no real evidence to suggest that the church is true and that belief would be a more appropriate word. They usually reply “but i know it is!”)

Though you may have encountered people on the internet that have a dogmatic belief about Dawkin’s, he does not perpatuate abosolute certainty in the matter. In fact ive read The God Delusion and he specifically says in the book, (he put himself in this catigory as far as his belief in god) “Very low probability, but short of zero. De fact atheist. ‘I cannot know for cetain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not here.’ He goes on to say, ‘I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.’

The only reason I bring this up is because I believe you brought up something negative about Dawkins and his so called “Dogma” before. I have read “anti-Dawkins” books (such as “The Dawkins Delusion”) and most of the arguments presented in the book are merely opinions about Dawkins himself and hardly any of them are real grounds for an educated argument on the points Dawkins made (and backed up with evidence for the most part) in his own book.

Perhaps you had intended none of your statements in this sense I’m getting at but I felt in light of most of the assumptions made about “the god delusion” and Richard Dawkins himself, that I should clarify that most of the ones I have heard are usually either false or gross exaggerations, made by people who are not educated enough to combat the arguments he has made intelligently.

YARNLADY's avatar

@jangles hardly any of them are real grounds for an educated argument on the points Dawkins made good answer.

ninjacolin's avatar

@jangles in another thread i explained my new view that “belief” and “knowledge” (and even “memory” under the appropriate semantics) are one in the same to the individual possessing them. For example: If i “remember” eating a hamburger last week, I “believe” i ate a hamburger last week and coincidentally I also “know” i ate a hamburger last week. Now, my wife might correct me right after making that statement saying: “actually it was a veggie-burger.” Yet, my being wrong doesn’t change the fact that i acted as if it were true that I had a hamburger. All human action is based on our fallible beliefs whether they are mistaken beliefs or accurate beliefs. This is tricky but think about it: If they didn’t “know” it to be “true,” they wouldn’t act on it as if it were.

Truth really is subjective. So, when they say “but i know it’s true.” Believe them. They do know it to be true. Just as you “know” that their religion is false, which is why you act according to your “knowledge” by not participating in their religion.

I’m not sure how well I explained myself here. Probably not well enough but my suggestion is not to challenge people on whether they “know” what they claim to “know.” Instead, challenge their knowledge directly.

Saying: “Yes, but what you claim to know is true, I happen to know is false.” is more direct BS-by-passing way to get around their thinking. More tactfully, you might want to consider: “But I have reason to believe that your knowledge is inaccurate.”

jangles's avatar

I already understand all of this. I was only pointing out that when you said, “Personally, I believe everyone is admittedly agnostic, no one knows for sure.” that they’re people who are not admittedly agnostic.

ninjacolin's avatar

@jangles.. oh, no worries, i was speaking for them ;) lolol

mattbrowne's avatar

@jangles – You got a point. And I think in this respect ironically Jesus and Dawkins are quite similar. I believe Jesus never wanted to create any dogmas. He wanted to show people a way to get along with each other and find fulfillment in their lives. He wanted to support the weak. Dawkins didn’t want to create any dogmas either when he wrote his aggressive and very polemic book. It was some of his readers who turned elements of his book into dogmas. Same happened when it comes to interpreting the bible. Therefore there are so many different forms of religion. Not all are dogmatic. Here’s one example

and I quote:

“Liberal Christianity, broadly speaking, is a method of biblical hermeneutics, an individualistic method of understanding God through the use of scripture by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings. Liberal Christianity does not claim to be a belief structure, and as such is not dependent upon any Church dogma or creedal statements. Unlike conservative varieties of Christianity, it has no unified set of propositional beliefs. The word liberal in liberal Christianity denotes a characteristic willingness to interpret scripture without any preconceived notion of inerrancy of scripture or the correctness of Church dogma. A liberal Christian, however, may hold certain beliefs in common with traditional, orthodox, or even conservative Christianity.”

fundevogel's avatar

@mattbrowne how come I type out actual responses to you and you just post links? I’m putting way more thought and effort into this and you let someone else answer for you? I’m starting to wonder why I should bother formulating a reply when you don’t. And you try to pass off “Religious people are deluded.” as atheist dogma? That’s ridiculous.

Q: Is it dogma if a Christian thinks an atheist is deluded?
A: Only if he thinks it because of Psalm 14:1.

“Now for Dawkins’s book there are two groups of people. Aggressive atheists who interpret Dawkins views as dogma, and tolerant atheists who think Dawkins is right about this and this, but wrong about that and that.”

Not having read any Dawkins I am not qualified to make arguments regarding the content of his books. Nor do I have the time to read several books just to respond to your post. Fortunately Jangles seems to have covered that for me.

“They defend everything. God is a delusion. Period. Dogma. Religious people are deluded. Period. Dogma. Can’t be touched. Science leads to atheism. Period. Dogma. There are even funny dogmas like one cannot prove a negative.”

First off, none of these are dogma. They maybe held dogmatically, but unless they are mandated by the atheist pope or whatever they aren’t dogma. If this is your attempt to provide me with examples of atheist dogma they fall far short of the standards I asked for. Remember, I asked that you provide evidence that what you claimed was dogma was actually an authoritative tenant of atheism, or at least a specific sect of atheism. I admitted that this would be a hard thing to do, impossible I believe. If this is the standard of evidence that satisfies your critical thinking you simply aren’t being very critical.

As for the dogma, certainly atheists can be dogmatic. Anybody can be dogmatic about anything. But that still doesn’t change the fact that dogma is, as your first link said, “the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, ideology or any kind of organization: it is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted or diverged from”. Atheism does not have a set dogma. Believe me, I’ve run across a few atheists that believe things so crazy that it makes me grind my teeth, so we certainly don’t need to have anything more in common than not believing in God. If you think about it, I have as much in common with some other atheists as you would with someone else that didn’t believe in Allah. Atheism on its own just doesn’t say very much about what we think.

“There are even funny dogmas like one cannot prove a negative.”

Aside from the fact that this is not dogma, you’re technically right, negatives can be proven. This is especially apparent with math. All that is required to prove a negative is enough information to confirm that that the opposite positive claim is untrue. However when it comes to something like god, which is interpreted in so many different ways, you would essentially have to know every detail of the universe to prove that God did not exist. More even if you think god exists outside of space and time, whatever that means. As such, it is functionally impossible to prove God’s nonexistence.

Frankly I’m not interested in reading this book or the other you mentioned. I’d much rather read the Selfish Gene or another science book that I will be able to learn something new from and I’ve already read two books books given to me by people trying to re-convert me. I haven’t actually read a single atheist book, in part because I’m too busy reading Christian books since I’m too nice to just say, “no stop giving me Christian books.” As it is I a slugging through my third, the Case for Christ, and I must say, if this is the best apologetics Christians think they have to offer they’re in worse shape than I thought. I’m totally rinsing my brain out with Borges once I’m done.

Mikelbf2000's avatar

Atheism is not a belief system, It just the lack of belief in a deity. This society loves to slap a label on anything and everything. That is also only my opinion on the subject.

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