Occam's Blog

Atheism is The Belief That There is No God

with 6 comments

Let’s think of a few clear examples of atheists:

– Richard Dawkins
– David Hume
– football running back Arian Foster
– Sir Richard Branson, a wealthy businessman
– a teenager who reads Camus

What do these examples have in common?

Some are wealthy and famous, others are not. Some defend their atheism with elaborate arguments, others find such arguments unnecessary. Some are swayed by reason or common sense, and others are, perhaps, swayed by aesthetics. They live in different time periods and countries, they have different worldviews, they take atheism to have different implications, and they act differently in real life.

What they all have in common is a grasp of the concept of God and a conscious rejection of that concept. If they did not meet both of these criteria, we would not call them atheists. There would be no surprise or outrage if Richard Dawkins simply had not heard of God, or if Arian Foster had announced that he didn’t know what God was. The teenager reading Camus would not have felt edgy if he simply lacked an understanding of theism. We attach a lot of significance to atheism that we don’t attach to ignorance of or inability to grasp the concept of God.

So, I think it’s pretty clear that atheism should refer to the belief that no God exists, not to a simple absence of belief in God in a person.


Written by William

September 7, 2015 at 12:55 pm

6 Responses

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  1. sorry, it’s just not honest to shift the burned of proof just because you would like to ‘redefine’ atheism. the term actually does mean the lack of belief in a god or gods. it is not a positive claim to be defended.


    September 7, 2015 at 7:00 pm

    • Hi, mike. I’m an atheist, so I’m not trying to shift the burden of proof. I don’t see myself as redefining atheism, either, since the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on atheism defines atheism the same way I do. I just think that atheists should accept the “belief that there is no God” definition of atheism.


      September 7, 2015 at 10:23 pm

      • Ah… misunderstood your position. Apologies from the Christian side. I still disagree with the definition though. Have a great night


        September 7, 2015 at 10:47 pm

    • I think that making atheism mean “lack of belief in gods” is done precisely because it gives the atheist a burden of proof advantage. But given how anti-theist many atheists are, I think it’s dishonest. They really are atheists in the traditional sense of the word defended here. The new meaning (the earliest I’ve seen it mean lack of belief was Flew’s 1972 paper ‘The Presumption of Atheism’ where he defends ‘a-theism’ as deserving a presumption of truth. But Flew is clear and explicit about it, and recognizes that the stronger view of belief that God doesn’t exist is what people usually took it to mean.

      I think the real issue is this: does anti-theism (and all the attitude and nastiness that goes with it) deserve a presumption of correctness that theists need to defeat, or do they have to do some work and not just sit back and wait for theist arguments to swat away?


      October 3, 2015 at 4:29 pm

      • Seems you have some attitude yourself. But burden of proof lies with the one making the positive claim. Lack of belief is not a positive claim. You may wish to repackage it into ‘god does not exist’ to make your job easier and shift the burden, but it’s not an honest tactic. Sorry, it’s just not. -KIA


        October 4, 2015 at 1:16 pm

  2. The self-serving nature blinds people in many ways. Therefore, I am certain there are those who fit both definitions of atheism. If two people work the same problem and one uses the wrong method to solve the problem while the other uses the right method but makes an error in the process, both still got the wrong answer.

    What difference does it make what definition is attached to the reason for the error?


    October 4, 2015 at 5:57 pm

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