F.A.Q. - Atheism
- What is atheism?
Atheism is the "absence of belief in deities." The letter "a" in "atheism" is a prefix meaning "without," thus "atheism" means "without theism."
See also: Atheism (in the Glossary)
See also: Official definition of "atheism"
- Is atheism a religion or a cause?
No. Atheism doesn't qualify as a religion or a cause because it is only the absence of belief in deities and supernatural agents. Although an agnostic position contends that deities and supernatural agents can't be proven or refuted, and an anti-theistic position clearly contends that deities and supernatural agents don't exist, the atheist's absence of belief is a naturally neutral indication that is consistent with not having a position on the matter.
See also: Atheism (in the Glossary)
- Religion is sometimes promoted as "the way to find the truth." Can atheism help people "find the truth?"
Differentiating truth and facts from falsehoods and fallacies requires skepticism, which is a scientific ideology that questions everything with a bold emphasis on impartiality. This means that answers aren't only limited to "true" and "false" outcomes, but may also include "unknown" or "grey areas" as well, or even raise more questions. Although skepticism isn't a pre-requisite of atheism, atheism is a natural logical consequence of consistently applying skepticism.
See also: Logic (as an atheistic value)
See also: Scientific method (in the Glossary)
See also: Skepticism (in the Glossary)
- What do atheists believe?
Atheists are defined by what they don't believe, rather than by what they do believe. Atheists do not believe in the existence of Zeus, Thor, Osiris, Lucifer, God, Buddha, Allah, and many other interesting and colourful deities and supernatural agents, and to incorrectly assume that to be an atheist one has to "believe that a deity does not exist" actually distorts the fundamental definition of what an atheist is (this specific misunderstanding is not uncommon). One of the primary reasons for this absence of belief in the existence of a deity is simply due to a lack of "Logical, Objective, Verifiable Evidence" (or L.O.V.E.).
Expecting that there is a standard set of core beliefs among atheists is like making an incorrect assumption that atheism is a religious philosophy, and when people say "I don't know what atheists believe" they are usually either not understanding the true meaning of atheism, or intentionally trying to misinform others about atheism.
As for what atheists do believe, that varies; it is safe to assume that for those of us who are parents, the vast majority of us believe in [the abilities of] our children (just as most parents throughout the world usually do, regardless of theological views). From the perspective of "Science doesn't burn people at the stake for disagreeing" (words by Victor Sagerquist), many atheists are often willing to consider new ideas (despite best efforts to live a certain way, life occasionally presents us with unexpected challenges).
See also: L.O.V.E.
- If the existence of a deity such as a god could be proven, would atheists believe in her (or him, or it)?
No. Belief in a deity's existence would not be necessary if that existence was actually proven.
- Do atheists hate theists?
No, because such arbitrary discrimination is not rational. Many people enjoy genuine and healthy relationships with family, friends, spouses, co-workers, etc., despite having religious views that differ or may even be diametrically opposed. There are also many atheists and religious people who count each other among their best friends.
See also: Friendship (as an atheistic value)
- Do atheists believe they are superior to theists?
No. Superiority is not a natural aspect of atheism.
- What should I do if I discover an atheist in my neighbourhood?
Nothing, in particular. Getting to know your neighbours is usually beneficial to a community, and so getting to know them "as a neighbour" rather than "as an atheist" is the approach that we recommend because one doesn't really need to be an atheist to befriend another atheist.
With regard to community events, such as potluck dinners, or multi-family yard sales (that often follow a thorough spring cleaning), atheists enjoy these types of social events just as much as non-atheists, and also often contribute in meaningful ways just as much as non-atheists.
Focusing on the quality of the members of your community, rather than what each members' faith is, is one of the keys to fostering safer and friendlier neighbourhoods.
- What are some acceptable alternatives to "bless you" that I can can say if an atheist sneezes?
Most atheists we know appreciate the sentiments that others are accustomed to expressing as it is obvious that the intent of "bless you" is not actually prosthelytizing. However, there are some alternatives which we've heard from time-to-time (some of these are intended to be humourous):
- Thanks for sharing!
- Gesundheit (translation from German: "[to your] health")
- Salude (translation from Italian: "[to your] health")
- Blessed velocity
- I acknowledge your sneeze and wish you good health
- May the force be with you
The phrase "bless you" was an informal religious ritual intended to protect people who sneezed because the sneeze was believed to have the potential to expel someone's soul or some evil spirits that have been residing within them until now (to some, multiple sneezes indicated the removal of multiple evil spirits).
- Isn't it a double-standard that atheists don't have to disprove the existence of deities, such as gods?
No. The "burden of proof" is the responsibility of whoever makes a claim (and incredible claims generally require incredible proof). Since there is no verifiable evidence of any well-known claims of the existence of any dieties, skepticism classifies these claims as "unproven."
It's important to note that there is a distinct yet subtle difference between atheism and anti-theism in that where an atheist has no burden to prove what they are absent in belief of, an anti-theist may have a burden to prove their belief that deities and supernatural agents don't exist.
- Why are religious publications such as the Holy Bible or the Koran, and other various religious scriptures, not accepted as reliable historical records?
These types of publications are usually collections of mythical stories and anecdotes, and do not present Logical, Objective, Verifiable Evidence that prove many of their more significant claims, so classifying them as "historical records" is problematic. Some have also been translated and re-written so many times that major inconsistencies have evolved between the various editions. Additionally, many authors are known to write stories that are [at least] partially based on current or past events to make their works seem more real...
Stories which are based on historical research, or teach important lessons about life or common sense, often have an "air of truth" which can create the appearance of being credible accounts of history; these may be well-written stories, and can even provide helpful teachings (or at least cause people to think philosophically about things they normally might not consider) so long as they are not misrepresented as proven fact (effective sales or marketing people sometimes combine facts and fallacies in their presentations to convince an audience to buy something, similarily to how an author may write in a style that makes their story seem more real).
- Do atheists know everything (like know-it-alls)?
No. Many atheists are on a never-ending quest to gain more knowledge (and "Questioning what's Real" is one aspect of this quest), and typically welcome intellectual challenges, particularly if this causes them to change their perceptions.
- Is belief in evolution required to be an atheist?
No. A person can be an atheist without any requirement of having knowledge about the evolution of any species. Although evolutionary theory tends to be popular among educated people, it really belongs in the realm of scientific study.
Referring to evolution as something that can be "believed in" is, unfortunately, a common misconception because scientific research isn't a dogmatic form of indoctrination. (If you'd like to know more about the theory of evolution, we recommend you look into works by Dr. Richard Dawkins who is one of the world's leading experts in this field.)
- Do atheists believe life has no meaning or that it's worthless?
No. The meaning of life is an optional personal view which varies from one person to the next. Also, although life certainly isn't worthless, the value that each person gets from their life varies, and is often based on the amount of effort one puts into living.
- Would atheists go to war over atheism?
That's a highly unlikely hypothetical scenario. The reason it's unlikely is that atheism doesn't provide any power incentives - which is one of the primary motivations for starting a war - since atheism is not compatible with oppression. As a matter of survival, however, atheists would be within their natural rights to defend themselves from any form of oppression that threatens to erode their freedom.
- Do atheists worship or believe in evil deities like devils, dark angels, or other demons?
No. To believe in deities or supernatural agents would contradict the meaning of the atheism classification.
- Are atheists angry at god?
No. Since atheists don't believe in any number of gods, it's not possible to actually be angry with one.