Is Atheism a (Religion/Faith/Belief System/etc)?

I have come across many blogs that have attempted to make the point that atheism, as they see it from their usually theistic view point, is many different things. Not always, but occasionally I will attempt to dispel their misconceptions.

Usually this leads to that blog owner ignoring the actual comments made and restating their position time and time again. Once in a while this leads to a good discussion on many topics (some related, some not).

But the reason for this post is not those times that it turns into a good debate, the reason for this post is those times when the discussion is cut off; usually by the blog owner blocking further comments, or just ignoring comments (for a few examples of this on various topics check here, here, here; some of them respond a few times but really never address the actual points made, and eventually just stop responding all-together). Perhaps I’m different, but if I make a claim, I am willing to defend that claim until I come across evidence that changes my opinion, and then I am willing to admit I made a mistake in my earlier assessment.

Now I see this discussion as having a few pieces. There are those who refer to atheism as a religion, as a faith, and as a belief system. I’ll try to tackle those one at a time, and then I’ll focus on a few of the related comments that people make on this subject, as well as my response to them. (As most of the time these debates are with christians, I will primarily address christians in my comments, however, the same logic applies for virtually any other religion as well.)

—–

Atheism as a Religion:

First of all, I’d argue that a much more common definition of religion would be:
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/religion
a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

Atheism rejects all claims of “creation of a superhuman agency or agencies” and has no “devotional and ritual observances” or “moral code governing the conduct of human affairs”.

The definition I have posted here is from that link above, and is the FIRST definition given, and I think the most commonly accepted definition.

If you remove the supernatural aspect of the religion, than ANY club or ground would be a religion. The religion of democrats or republican. The religion of NAMBLA (well, some of there members may overlap with the catholic church). The religion of people who follow the Atlanta Braves, or the Washington Nationals. Etc, etc, etc, you get the point…

The next question I would have for you is how many religions do you consider yourself to have?
Are you an Amuslim?
Are you an AJew?
Or an AScientologist?
If you consider yourself to be all of those RELIGIONS, then I’m all of those that you are, plus one more Achristian (or whatever religion you call yourself)…

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Atheism as a Faith:

I’m guessing you’re a christian, but I could be wrong. But for the sake of argument, let’s picture a typical United States fundamentalist christian. One of the 80 million (give or take) that does not believe in evolution, and does believe that the earth is, roughly, 6500 years old.

They are absolutely convinced that buddist, hindus, muslims, scientologist, catholics, etc re all wrong. No “maybes”. Just wrong.
They are also convinced that THEY are 100% correct.

They believe that man walked with dinosaurs, that noah floated around the globe for 40 days with millions of animals sharing the boat, and some woman roughly 2000 years ago never had sex, but gave birth to a deity.

They “know” as strongly as you or I “know” that tomorrow morning the sun WILL rise in the east and tomorrow evening it will set in the west. There is no doubt in their minds that they are wrong, just as there is no doubt in my mind (and I assume yours) that the sun will in fact be in the sky tomorrow throughout the day (and yes, I know it could be cloudy where ever you are at, but just because a cloud stops you from seeing the sun, does not mean that it is not there).

In reality though there is a ridiculously small chance that the sun will not in fact rise tomorrow.
There is the chance that tonight while I sleep a meteor could crash into the earth stopping it’s rotation on it’s axis. If this happened, the “other” side of the earth would be in constant day time, and “this” side would be in constant night.
There is a chance that scientists have miscalculated the amount of nuclear fuel in the sun, and it could finish expending the last of it’s energy some time tonight. Once this happens, the nuclear reaction in it’s core will stop, it will cease to make any more light, and 8 minutes later the earth will get the last bit of sunlight ever.
I’m sure if I wanted to spend more time, I could come up with a few other “examples” to show that the sun might not rise tomorrow, but you get the idea (I hope).

Admittedly, the chances of these scenarios happening are infinitesimally small, but they do exist. There is no possible reason to expect them, to plan for them (at least not for another 5 billions years for the “running out of fuel” one), or to even take them seriously, even though they COULD happen.

From the perspective of an atheist (or at least in my perspective and that of many other atheists I know, I won’t presume to speak for all atheists), the possibility that god exists, is so remote as to be completely irrelevant in daily life, and can therefor be treated as if it is a 0% chance.

As an atheist, I agree that we can not scientifically 100% DISPROVE the existence of god, just like we can not disprove 100% the existence of the tooth fairy, or santa, or the flying spaghetti monster, or tiny invisible elves living in our refrigerators.
But when looking at the world around us, and the universe at large, we see that EVERYTHING can be explained solely by science, and there is no NEED for god.

Since by definition anything that could create the universe must be more complex than the universe the existence of this divine, supernatural, ultimately complex deity would be an extraordinary claim.
Atheists by and large are skeptical of all claims, and even more so with extraordinary claims. The saying “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” comes to mind here.

Since there is no need for a divinity to explain what we can see in the universe, and the claim of a deity is an extraordinary one, and there is no scientifically verifiable evidence of a deity, the skeptical, rational approach is to assume that there is no “god” until evidence comes to light to change that view.

While this does not “prove” atheism is correct, or that deism is “false”, it is how I and many other atheist look at the subject. It is also, in my view, the simplest explanation (and as I have mentioned before Occam’s Razor is an idea that I try to follow, since it generally leads down the right path).

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Atheism as a Belief System:

Often times people seem to confuse atheism with “Darwinism” or Secular Humanism. While it is true that many (if not most) Atheists accept the Theory of Evolution and are Secular Humanist, these things are NOT a requirement of Atheism. For examples there are MANY theists who accept evolution, and in fact the catholic church

A post from Wikipedia does a very good job of explaining this:

Atheism, as an explicit position, can be either the affirmation of the nonexistence of gods, or the rejection of theism. It is also defined more broadly as synonymous with any form of nontheism, including the simple absence of belief in deities.

Many self-described atheists are skeptical of all supernatural beings and cite a lack of empirical evidence for the existence of deities. Others argue for atheism on philosophical, social or historical grounds. Although many self-described atheists tend toward secular philosophies such as humanism and naturalism, there is no one ideology or set of behaviors to which all atheists adhere; and some religions, such as Jainism and Theravada Buddhism, do not require belief in a personal god.

The term atheism originated as a pejorative epithet applied to any person or belief in conflict with established religion.With the spread of freethought, scientific skepticism, and criticism of religion, the term began to gather a more specific meaning and has been increasingly used as a self-description by atheists.

A simple way to put it may be: Atheism is no more, and no less than a lack of belief in god.

—–

The final step I would like to take on this journey is to respond to some of the other comments on this subject that I have come across previously. In some cases I may paraphrase the questions/points that people try to make, as to make them a bit more generic, and all-encompassing.

God’s existence (or lack thereof) effects our choices and thus requires our thought.

Why exactly must the existence of a “god” affect our choices?
Even something as seemingly religious as why people go to church (or synagogue, temple, buddhist shrine, pray towards mecca a number of times a day, etc) really has absolutely nothing to do with whether god exists or not. They go because they believe “god” exists. They do not go because “god” actually does exist. If “god’s” existence dictated whether people will go to church or not, then EITHER everybody in the world would go (i.e. god exists) or NOBODY would go (i.e. atheists are correct).

If something that is SEEMINGLY 100% religious in nature has nothing to do with the actual existence of (or lack thereof) god, then why would ANY other choice we make be based on this.

Your choices may be based on YOUR PERSONAL belief in “god” or “allah” or “l ron hubbard” or whatever it may be, but the TRUTH of that belief is completely irrelevant.

But the religion you are describing is not MY religion (or my VERSION of that religion).

The specifics of your particular beliefs are much harder to debate without a much deeper understanding of them. Since this is the case, I usually prefer to debate on one specific topic (such as literal view of genesis, homosexuality, morality, etc) at a time, since it’s easier to gauge the differences between the two positions on some specific topic, rather than somebody you don’t know’s entire belief system.

That said, my description of a typical American fundamentalist christian happens to be one of the more important stereotypes in the US, due to the power the hold in government at this time.

I’m not sure if you are a young earther, old earther, or some other “type” of christian, but my points are not about the specifics of the beliefs, but of the blindness many religious people have towards beliefs of others who don’t see things the same way THEY do.

Generally the atheists I come across, remind me so much of the Christians (or religious folk) they so despise. They do not allow for the possibility of even the idea of God, and they would go to the death before they did.

I’d hope that you have either not come across many atheists, or you’ve just had the poor luck of coming across some of the “newly converted”, who have not yet come to a full understanding of what the arguments should be, and how they should be approached.

I would consider myself to be “fundamentalist” in many of my beliefs, but I also see the appeal of religion, and respect the rights of people to hold certain beliefs.

As for not allowed even the possibility, perhaps you’ve never read Richard Dawkins. Perhaps you’ve never actually talked to an atheist before. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt on that. But Dawkins, who is probably the most outspoken atheist alive acknowledges that there is a change that god does exist (he puts it at 5% at least in some quotes, I’d personally put it lower than that myself). If the most vocal atheist on the planet admits a chance, I’m unsure how you can stand by your claim, but don’t bother to let pesky little things like facts get in your way, you wouldn’t want to do something different and think for yourself.

As for being willing to lay one’s life on the line for beliefs, I can’t think of anything more people have willingly killed for (and died for) than belief in god.

But Atheists organize themselves so that their views may have influence, much like Christianity.

Are you saying that atheists should not be organizing? If a group is systematically shunned by the majority (as atheists are in the US) the only way to stop this prejudice is to organize. If organization is a sign of a religion then any group of 3 or more can be considered a religion, and the word loses all meaning.

They think they are 100% right, and that everyone else is wrong

I’d say any group of a large enough size will have people with this opinion. However, I would say that those people who really dedicate themselves to a scientific worldview are at least less likely to have this opinion.

I once heard a quote (or perhaps it was just a mixture of multiple quotes I somehow combined into one in my head): One sign of true intelligence and wisdom, is realizing how much you don’t know.

Science can not answer all the questions yet, therefor it is a flawed system and should not be accepted. Science once taught that the world was flat, and rested on the back of giant turtles.

We may not have all the answers yet due to the limitations of our “human imagination”, but we are looking for them. Instead of giving up and saying “god did it”, or things are a certain way because a book written by primitive bronze age men says something, we look for the evidence to support our hypotheses, and refine them when necessary.

But you can’t KNOW for sure, so how can you claim there is no god.

Based on the evidence I have seen (read, studied, etc) the probability is QUITE low. Dawkins puts it at 5%, I think he is being generous.

I spent many years trying to believe in religion and god. I was “raised” catholic, went to a protestant school, a jewish school, read the koran, the bible (twice), and a few books on eastern religions. In all of my attempts to find religion (because I thought I was “supposed” to believe, and did not understand why I did not) I never saw any evidence that any of them were onto anything more basic than some very good ideas, interspersed with some horrific ideas.

Religion has much to offer for some people, and can do great for them. It also is the source of some of the largest divisions in humanity.

But whether you find solace in it or not, there is no evidence to support any of them as being “true”.

If you apply Occam’s Razor, theism is more reasonable than atheism.

Actually a supernatural explanation would be a much more extraordinary claim than a natural one, by virtue of being supernatural. If something can not be explained by physical laws of the universe (laws we know or laws we don’t yet know), then BY IT:S VERY NATURE, it’s automatically more complex, and thus fails the Occam’s Razor test.

If you’re a male, do you have scientifically verifiable evidence of the female orgasm?
or
Can you PROVE that your wife loves you (or you love your wife)?

While I have never experienced one (a female orgasm) myself, I do trust my wife implicitly. If she tells me that they exist, I’m willing to take her word on this subject. This does not mean I’d be willing to kill (or die) over such a trivial bit on information though.

As for love, this is a subjective feeling, like hate, anger, joy, etc. These make no claims upon the physical world, only upon the emotional state of the person experiencing them. I have experienced these emotions and know how they influenced me, and when I see that influence in others I can assume they may be having those same feelings. This assumption may at times be wrong, but it’s the best assumption available based on the given evidence.

It’s not rational to assume the non-existence of God

If it rational to assume the non-existence of invisible fairies in my fridge that turn the light on and off when I close the door?
How about multiple god (i.e. hinduism, roman, greek, egyptian, etc)?
How about lord zenu dropping alien life forms into volcanoes millions of years ago to be reborn out of clams and then somehow this all leads to Tom Cruise?
Or Santa Claus, vampires, dragons, elves, trolls, etc?

Without the evidence to support the idea, the ONLY rational approach is to treat the claim with skepticism.

There is not proof enough to convince me that there is not an intelligent creator

Is there proof enough for you, that bigfoot does not exist? How about vampires, fairies, the flying spaghetti monster, thor, allah, ra, zenu, etc?
How is the proof against those, any different than the proof against jesus?

But MUCH more importantly, can you at least understand that no matter how strongly you are sure that jesus is god, and that your view of religion, god, creation, etc is the correct view, that there are 2 billion muslims, 1 billion hindus, hundreds of millions of buddhists, etc that are JUST as convinced that their faith is correct, and that this has the potential for unimaginable harm in today’s world with nuclear weapons capable of killing most, if not all of humanity?

I am just able to think that something that is far more complex that we have discovered thus far could possibly exist.

I would not disagree with this idea, but I would say that there is a GIGANTIC issue that believers in a personal god have, in “what created the creator”.

Everything we have seen in nature has shown small incremental steps of less complex things creating more complexity (hydrogen forms stars, which blow up and form planets, and small organisms develop over millions of years into large ones, etc). With a concept of an all powerful god creating everything (including time itself) you’re left with the question of how did god come to exist.

I know this one thing won’t change your view on jesus, but it was one of the questions I had in my search for my own beliefs when I still felt I was SUPPOSED to believe in god.

I’m sure that you could agree that there are atheists as well as Christians who really don’t have a strong belief of whichever they have chosen, but rather have given in to it because of what their friends think, or what the majority has led them to believe is right.

Perhaps some people are atheists, not for any scientific reason, but just because they are mad at religion and so they feel the need to trash anyone who does not think like them

Yes this is true in the case of atheists as well, but I’d argue that it’s much more common in believers than non believers, just because of the raw numbers of believers, and the idea of “faith is a virtue” that religion promotes. Anybody who does ANY amount of research into atheism inevitably comes to the concept of skepticism, or “question everything”.

In many cases these types of people (mad at religion) do actually still believe in god, but are attempting to rebel (from parents, the church, orthodoxy, etc). In some cases this will lead to them eventually coming to understand what they profess to believe, and in some cases it will lead to them going back to their faith, with ever more conviction, and seeing this as a time of struggle, or doubt.

Generally, but not always, this type of person (on both sides of the debate) is immature, and quite ignorant of the position they claim to hold.

What’s so bad about Religion? If it helps people why can’t you just let them be?

I have two primary issues with religion, and those are in the way it is mis-used/abused.

The first is when people try to push their own beliefs on others (mormons at the door on a Saturday morning, missionaries, creationism is schools, laws against homosexuality, etc). I find this to be a very demeaning, egocentric idea, that is very prevalent in christianity and islam specifically, and other religions to a lesser degree.

I also find the idea of justifying one’s actions based on it being “god’s will” has lead to unimaginable suffering, and horrific actions committed by “holy” men throughout history. When people attempt to justify some of the most horrific actions imaginable because of their beliefs, there is a massive problem.

But what about Creationism? Why can’t we teach it along side Evolution? That is all we are asking for. Or at the very least Creationism could be taught as a science, but as a popular theory on how the world began.

The problem is, this is not a scientific debate. This is science, vs fiction. One side has 150+ years of scientific evidence and discovery, and one has no actual science or evidence to back it up, only the words written down by ignorant bronze age man, in an ignorant attempt to understand the world around them.

It should be given the same amount of respect, and time as EVERY OTHER religious text, including the islam, scientology, FSM, buddhism, norse gods, egyptian religious ideas, etc…

Should gravity be taught in school? Just like evolution is a scientific theory, which is not yet fully understood. FSM has alternate theories of gravity, should those ideas be taught along side Newton and Einstein?

If you are going to teach children about one religion, they should be taught ALL religions equally, and none of them should be taught along side factual scientific theories.
And please, do not try to claim that creationism is ANYTHING other than religion, every court that has made a decision in the last 50 years has shot this argument down already.

I agree there is a place for this discussion and that it should be respectful, but there NEEDS to be a firm understanding that creationism is in no way scientifically based, and there is ZERO evidence to support it.

The problem is that many people want MUCH more than this. Many people want creationism taught as scientific fact. And these people are a very vocal, if ignorant group of society, and have gained an alarming amount of political power recently.

As for teaching it as a popular theory, should any theory on any subject be taught, as long as it has enough supporters?
Racism has it’s proponents. As does pedophilia…

(However before going too far into the Evolution/Creation debate right now, I’d actually like to save that for another post I’m working on for later this month, hopefully.)

—–

For some more on this, and related topics, check out An open question to all believers and please leave your own feedback, and answer to the question (whether you’re a believer or not).

About Jeff Randall

Jeff Randall is a frequent volunteer for free-thought organizations, including the Center For Inquiry – DC. Having been blogging since January 2008, he decided that a community of bloggers would be an interesting new experience (or at the very least a fun way to annoy his friends into reading his posts more frequently). Since finding out about about the existence of, and then joining, the atheist/skeptic community in 2007 he has been committed to community activism, critical thinking in all aspects of life, science, reason, and a fostering a secular society.
This entry was posted in Debate, Religion, Science, Skepticism. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Is Atheism a (Religion/Faith/Belief System/etc)?

  1. Pingback: Is Atheism a (Religion/Faith/Belief System/etc)? | Rodibidably

  2. writerdood says:

    So how do you feel about rounding up Pi? :)

  3. philastokes says:

    Sartre had the best answer to theism – even if God exists, his existence is irrelevant, since belief in God’s existence is a choice each individual has to make for themselves without evidential support; thus, the fact of God’s existence – if it is a fact – cannot help me choose my life.

    Meanwhile, if you want better arguments than Dawkins collection of half-truths and logical fallacies against Christianity, read Thomas Paine’s ‘The Age of Reason’. He destroyed any possible rational assent to what is written in the bible, and without relying on atheistic assumptions, some 200 years ago. He paid for it mind, all the more reason why he deserves to be read today.

  4. Christian Believer says:

    Even the Devil(Spiritual Being) believe in God but he shudders of Fear for Him because God hate sin and will punish sins eventually and the Devil knows that.Many Religious people believe in God but that also still does not mean that they are saved.Many people does not believe in God and they also are not saved for eternal life with God.God will never force anyone to believe in Him as he made humans with a free will to make his or her own choices.All people who are still spiritually dead and or are blindfolded spiritually by the devil will never be able to believe in God because they are spiritually dead and therefore cannot and is unable to understand and evaluate The Bible as The Word Of God.God revealed everything for mankind to live a meaningfull life, in His Word,The Bible, although this earthly life is in fact meaningless in a sense, as we are still captured in our fleshly bodies, and not yet fully released from it to live 100% victoriously.There is only one way to God and that is through Christ(God Himself) who had to became flesh(human) as the problem is that sin was done in the flesh in a human body.The Biggest problem of the World is SIN as it destroys you physically as well as spiritually..That is the reason why God became flesh for a while on earth to eventually roughly 2000 years ago died in our places for our sins so that God will now gave us pardon of sins if we take His Free Gift to accept Him as our Saviour God.God offered Himself on the Cross to gave us a choice to either accept His Free Gift of forgiveness of sins and everlasting Life with Him or to reject His Life He offers us.(Eternal Life)The Choice we make will determine our destiny after our physical death on earth.We cannot save ourselves through trying doing good deeds for God,because one or other time we will still do sin and therefore it makes sense that only God Himself can bring an offer for the sin of the whole world as only God Himself never sinned.The Glory therefore for our redemption is to go to God because He saved us who believe in Him and therefore other religions is in fact a slap in God’s Face as they do rather try to save themselves through trying everything else,good deeds etc in stead of go to Jesus Christ(God Himself in the Flesh) who gave Himself as a Offer on the Cross for every human being. But I know it is and will be a lot of crap for people who is still spiritually dead and therefore will not be able to believe.It is very wrong of any Christian Believer to look down on other people and other religions as the true believer knows that he or she is saved by The Grace of God and not by anything they did as it is impossible for anyone to save him or herself throuh good deeds.We are saved by Grace alone and it is also by Grace of God that a believer believes in Him and therefore a true believer should rather be thankfull in stead of trying to make him or herself look better than any other human being.I will never argue with anybody about my believes in Christ as I know I should rather be thankfull to The Living God that He made me spiritually alive to enable me to Believe in Him as I also did not, long ago, before 1992 believed in Him when I was still spiritually dead.God saved me and made me spiritually alive on 14 November 1992 at 17h50pm when I experienced my own death.I dont know why God saved me,because I did not deserve it and did bad things in my old life,but I can bare witness after what happened to me on that day that God is Alive and Loves us all and He want every human being to come to Him and to give our your Life to Him in order to be free of eternal spiritual death.We will all die physically but death is not a stumbling block if you gave your life to Christ and invite Jesus Christ to make you spiritualy alive.God has His time and way with every individual no matter what you have done or where you are.God sees you and He is waiting for you to open the door of your heart to come inside you to guide you and most of all to Save you as you are precious for Him.

  5. Collin says:

    Jeff, I believe in God, but other than that I agree with the rest of your article. I think the dislike of atheists is an internet-driven phenomenon which is almost gone, thanks to improved spam-filtering. We are used to seeing professed atheists mostly in flame wars, and I too suspect many are in the “mad at religion” category. Or even worse, that they are fundamentalists playing devil’s advocate. We often transferred the blame, unfairly, to the blogger whose bandwidth they were abusing.

    What broke me out of this was just a few days ago when I read an article about astroturfing. It was the first I’d heard of the word. It was an awesome moment, when I realized all these people I was struggling not to hate were not real people, just sock-puppets created by a think-tank to spread antipathy. For now, it seems that the spam-filters have silenced them, but I’m afraid they’ll find a way to come back. Critical thinkers like you need to make people aware of this evil campaign, which seeks to destroy free thought and reshape the world into their apocalyptic nightmare.

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