Saturday, September 10, 2016

What is atheism?

Since some atheists define atheism as simply lack of belief in God or gods, it's useful to compare that with Graham Oppy's definition:

Atheism is the rejection of theism: a-theism. Atheists maintain some or all of the following claims: that theism is false; that theism is unbelievable; that theism is rationally unacceptable; that theism is morally unacceptable. G. Oppy, "Arguments for Atheism," S. Bullivant & M. Ruse, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Atheism (OUP, 2014), 53.


  1. Nice quote, Steve. I think one of the problems lies in the form of the word atheism itself.

    It is typically not written as a-theism or athe-ism, but could be interpreted either way; the former seems to refer to the non-belief in God whereas the latter seems to refer to the belief in no God.

    It's interesting to note how many atheists try to cling to the former, all the while screaming ridicule and scorn at those who profess a belief in God. Pragmatically, they are walking contradictions. If they simply lacked belief, they would not invest so much time to tell theists why they are wrong. They don't simply lack belief, they espouse their positive denial in the existence of God.

  2. Great quote. I've added it to my blogpost here:

    My list includes the following definitions:

    "According to the most usual definition, an atheist is a person who maintains that there is no God, that is, that the sentence "God exists" expresses a false proposition." - Paul Edwards in Encyclopedia of Philosophy Volume I page 175

    "Atheism is the view that there is no God." - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    " 'Atheism' means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God." - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    "Atheism is ostensibly the doctrine that there is no God." -- Oxford Companion to Philosophy (2005)

    "Atheism (from Greek: a + theos + ismos "not believing in god") refers in its broadest sense to a denial of theism (the belief in the existence of a single deity or deities)."- New World Encyclopedia

    "atheism, in general, the critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or spiritual beings. As such, it is usually distinguished from theism, which affirms the reality of the divine and often seeks to demonstrate its existence. Atheism is also distinguished from agnosticism, which leaves open the question whether there is a god or not, professing to find the questions unanswered or unanswerable."- Encyclopædia Britannica

    "ATHEISM (from Gr. ἀ-, privative, and θεός, God), literally a system of belief which denies the existence of God. The term as generally used, however, is highly ambiguous." - Encyclopædia Britannica 11th edition

    “Atheism is the deliberate, definite, dogmatic denial of the existence of God. It is not satisfied with appropriate truth or relative truth, but claims to know the ins and outs of the game being quite clearly the absolute denial of the absolute.” - Etienne Borne

    Atheism, from the Greek a-theos ("no-god"), is the philosophical position that God doesn't exist. It is distinguished from agnosticism, the argument that it is impossible to know whether God exists or not (Academic American Encyclopedia).

    Atheism, system of thought developed around the denial of God's existence. Atheism, so defined, first appeared during the Enlightenment, the age of reason (Random House Encyclopedia-1977).

    Atheism (from the Greek a-, not, and theos, god) is the view that there are no gods. A widely used sense denotes merely not believing in God and is consistent with agnosticism. A stricter sense denotes a belief that there is no God, the use has become the standard one (Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy-1995).

    Atheism is the doctrine that there is no God. Some atheists support this claim by arguments, but these arguments are usually directed against the Christian concept of God, and are largely irrelevant to other possible gods (Oxford Companion to Philosophy-1995).

    Atheism is disbelief in God (Introduction to Philosophy, Perry and Bratman, Oxford University Press-1986).



    1. Atheism from the Greek a (not) plus theos (god). The doctrine of disbelief in a supreme being (Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, William Reese, HumanitiesPress-1996).

      Atheism (Greek, a- [private prefix] + theos, god) is the view that there is no divine being, no God (Dictionary of Philosophy, Thomas Mautner, Editor-1996).

      Atheism is the belief that God doesn't exist (The World Book Encyclopedia-1991).

      Atheism, Greek atheos-Disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of God (Oxford English Dictionary-1989)

      Atheism, commonly speaking, is the denial of God. Theism (from the Greek theos, God) is belief in or conceptualization of God, atheism is the rejection of such belief or conceptualization.In the ancient world atheism was rarely a clearly formulated position (Encyclopedia Americana-1990).

      Atheism, the critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or spiritual beings. Atheism is to be distinguished from agnosticism, which leaves open whether there is a god or not, professing to find the question unanswerable, for the atheist, the non-existence of god is a certainty (The New Encyclopedia Britannia-1993).

      According to the most usual definition, an atheist is a person who maintains that there is no god…(rejects eccentric definitions of the word) (The Encyclopedia of Philosophy-1967).

      Atheism is the doctrine that God does not exist, that belief in the existence of God is a false belief. The word God here refers to a divine being regarded as the independent creator of the world, a being superlatively powerful, wise and good (Encyclopedia of Religion-1987).

      Atheism (Greek and Roman): Atheism is a dogmatic creed, consisting in the denial of every kind of supernatural power. Atheism has not often been seriously maintained at any period of civilized thought (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics-Vol II).

  3. Thanks for those quotes Annoyed Pinoy. That is quite a collection!

  4. Nice collection, Annoyed. Thank you for posting.

    Here's another one to add to your list:

    "technically, atheism is just a statement of what an atheist doesn't believe rather than what he does believe" - Steve Hays


    1. I haven't seen you post on Triablogue for LONG time. Glad to see you still visit here. I miss those days when you and Paul Manata would rumble. I see too that your blog is still running strong after 10 years. For some reason I have the impression that you had previously decided to retire from blogging on atheism. Maybe I'm confusing you with someone else. Anyway, you're still not beyond the mercy and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. I hope one day you'll come to see your sinfulness and need for His salvation.

    2. Thank you, Annoyed. I appreciate the thought.

      Yes, I’m still going strong – 12 years next March. I’m quite pleased with my work there. Come on over and check it out. You’re welcome to join the discussion any time. You might find the exchange valuable.