Is Atheism A Belief?

Is atheism a belief?


I really wish I could just leave it at that. Maybe post a funny story about Einstein instead, or show you some cute pictures of our cats.

But I suppose I can’t just leave it at that.

Here’s the thing. One of the most common accusations aimed at atheists is that atheism is an article of faith, a belief just like religion. Because atheism can’t be proven with absolute 100-percent certainty, the accusation goes, therefore not believing in God means taking a leap of faith — a leap of faith that’s every bit as irrational and unjustified as religion.

It’s a little odd to have this accusation hurled in such an accusatory manner by people who supposedly respect and value faith. But that’s a puzzle for another time. Today, I want to talk about a different puzzle — the puzzle of what atheism really is, and how it gets so misunderstood.


Thus begins my new piece on AlterNet, Is Atheism A Belief? To find out more about why, exactly, atheism is not a belief — and about how the muddy definition of the whole concept of “belief” turns this topic into a complicated, slippery mess — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Is Atheism A Belief?

14 thoughts on “Is Atheism A Belief?

  1. 2

    thank you for your thoughts and it seems, neverending inspiration and food for thoughts I find on your blog (for some 2 years now) !
    as a non-bloggess I usually do not comment.
    your thoughts are beyond words of value for myself in my ongoing process of being and becoming myself (I define myself as atheist as well).
    thank you !

  2. 3

    I also think it’s weird that believers accuse non-believers of being ‘just as religious as a religious person’.
    It’s the whole ‘If I can’t have her, no one can!’ mentality, and it’s creepy. and sad.
    Looking forward to reading the whole piece.

  3. 5

    Agnostics try to dodge the whole mess saying they know no one can know (whether there is a God or an ultimate cause, or anything beyond material phenomena). But no one really knows what they do not know. I guess what bugs everyone (about others) is the certainty with which people seem to hold their views in such an uncertain world. Especially when speculating about the unknown.

  4. Dan

    I see Atheism as more of a consequence of other choices. If you choose to put critical thinking and evidence first above other ways of “knowing”. And if in the face of small doubts you tend to go with the most probable and plausible explanation. The odds are pretty good you will end up an atheist.

  5. 7

    Dan has a great way to put it there. When people ask me why I’m an atheist, I tell them I’m an atheist because I HAVE to be. I have to be an atheist because I want to be honest with other people and myself and because I care that what I believe is true.

  6. 8

    Brilliantly stated, as usual. I actually replaced “I believe” with “I conclude” some months ago, and I’d venture to say that my discussions (and other aspects of my thinking!) have cleared up noticeably.

  7. 9

    Thank you. I’ve complained about the words “belief” and “believe” for a while. There are multiple distinct but confusingly similar definitions.
    Particularly when followed by the preposition “in”. Do you believe in North Korea’s Great Leader Kim Il-Sung?

  8. 10

    Joshua Zelinsky | October 23, 2010 at 08:23 PM :

    By the way, on a related note, have you been paying attention to PZ’s recent statements that there’s no evidence that would convince him that there’s a deity?

    It is a result of constant bombardment from theists who attribute all manner of impossibly conflicting properties to god, who capriciously mutate their definition of god in whatever way they think best protects their faith from their current antagonist, who fill their arguments in favor of theism with hopelessly vague and often deceptive nonsense, who engage in all manner of insincere and disingenuous rhetorical tactics … I could go on all day.
    There are definitions of god which are falsifiable, but not yet falsified, which are coherent, and not self-contradictory. But so many theists insist that mere overwhelming power is insufficient; that god must have infinite power, and that an uncaring god is not sufficient; humanity must be the most important thing in god’s universe, that I suspect most theists will never accept such definitions of god.
    PZ’s response is a reasonable response to the overwhelming majority of vocally promoted gods. It is not a reasonable response to all conceivable gods, but I rather doubt the relevance of the gods for which PZ’s attitude is inappropriate.
    It is worth noting PZ has since stated “I’m not asking for evidence of gods, because I don’t believe in them and find the entire concept incoherent and indefensible. If someone makes a positive assertion of, for instance, intelligent intervention in human evolution, I certainly can ask them for their evidence of that!”. So it seems he has an open (but highly skeptical) mind toward at least some activities often attributed to god.

  9. 11

    Great article, Greta! You made sense of some loose thoughts I couldn’t quite put together before. Especially pointing out the different meanings of “belief” and that religious people will consistently play semantic games to twist what you’ve said by invoking the least appropriate definition at any given moment. Keep up the good work–you’re a valuable voice in our community.
    But please, the word you’re looking for is “closed-minded”, not “close-minded”. That is, closed as opposed to open, not close as opposed to far.

  10. 14

    I’ve recently “come out” as an atheist and I have heard the “atheism is as much a belief as religion” thing so often from my friends who are Christian. I’ve always stumbled through an answer, but this presents the argument in such a clear and awesome way, there will **hopefully** be no more stumbling!
    Also love the stamp collecting comment!

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