Atheism is traditionally defined as disbelief in the existence of God. As such, atheism involves active rejection of belief in the existence of God.
However, since there are many concepts of God and these concepts are usually rooted in some culture or tradition, atheism might be defined as the belief that a particular word used to refer to a particular god is a word that has no reference. Thus, there are as many different kinds of atheism as there are names of gods.
Some atheists may know of many gods and reject belief in the existence of all of them. Such a person might be called a polyatheist . But most people who consider themselves atheists probably mean that they do not believe in the existence of the local god. For example, most people who call themselves atheists in a culture where the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God (JCIG) dominates would mean, at the very least, that they deny that there is an Omnipotent and Omniscient Providential Personal Creator of the universe. On the other hand, people who believe in the JCIG would consider such denial tantamount to atheism. Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677), for example, defined God as being identical to Nature and as a substance with infinite attributes. Many Jews and Christians considered him an atheist because he rejected both the traditional JCIG and the belief in personal immortality. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was also considered an atheist because he believed that all substances are material and that God must therefore be material. Yet, neither Spinoza nor Hobbes called themselves atheists.
Atheists do not deny that people have ‘mystical’ or ‘religious’ experiences, where one feels God’s presence or a sense of the oneness and significance of everything in the universe. Nor do atheists deny that many people experience God’s presence in their everyday lives. Atheists deny that the brain states that result in such feelings and experiences have supernatural causes.
Atheism is characterized by an absence of belief in the existence of gods. This absence of belief generally comes about either through deliberate choice, or from an inherent inability to believe religious teachings which seem literally incredible. It is not a lack of belief born out of simple ignorance of religious teachings.
Some atheists go beyond a mere absence of belief in gods: they actively believe that particular gods, or all gods, do not exist. Just lacking belief in Gods is often referred to as the “weak atheist” position; whereas believing that gods do not (or cannot) exist is known as “strong atheism”.
It is important, however, to note the difference between the strong and weak atheist positions. “Weak atheism” is simple skepticism; disbelief in the existence of God. “Strong atheism” is an explicitly held belief that God does not exist. Please do not fall into the trap of assuming that all atheists are “strong atheists”. There is a qualitative difference in the “strong” and “weak” positions; it’s not just a matter of degree.
Some atheists believe in the non-existence of all Gods; others limit their atheism to specific Gods, such as the Christian God, rather than making flat-out denials.
There are many important ideas atheists promote. The following are just a few of them; some of these ideas are also present in some religions.
- There is more to moral behavior than mindlessly following rules.
- Be especially skeptical of positive claims.
- If you want your life to have some sort of meaning, it’s up to you to find it.
- Search for what is true, even if it makes you uncomfortable.
- Make the most of your life, as it’s probably the only one you’ll have.
- It’s no good relying on some external power to change you; you must change yourself.
- Just because something’s popular doesn’t mean it’s good.
- If you must assume something, assume something easy to test.
Don’t believe things just because you want them to be true.