If you’re familiar with internet atheism you will have read the atheist’s claim of “I just a lack of belief in a god.” In other words, “atheism isn’t a belief.” This, however, is questionable since it reduces anything that does not have a specific belief to that of an atheist (dogs, babies, rocks etc.). Essentially, on his redefinition the atheist isn’t saying anything. What believers have noted, however, is that atheists only redefine their atheism to escape the responsibility of having to give reasons for being an atheist; philosopher William Craig explains:
“Such a re-definition of the word “atheist” trivializes the claim of the presumption of atheism, for on this definition, atheism ceases to be a view. It is merely a psychological state which is shared by people who hold various views or no view at all. On this re-definition, even babies, who hold no opinion at all on the matter, count as atheists!” and that such atheists simply try to “to shirk their epistemic responsibility by re-defining atheism so that it is no longer a view but just a psychological condition which as such makes no assertions. They are really closet agnostics who want to claim the mantle of atheism without shouldering its responsibilities” (1).
But it goes beyond solely this. It is also the dogmatism of the atheist that clearly betrays his redefinition; Tyler Vela articulates: “They get to hold their atheism dogmatically and even possibly “religiously” – having conventions, conferences, publishing journals and periodicals, dedicating books, marketing for the belief in unbelief, forming societies, having weekly/monthly gatherings (worship services?), all while saying that it is not actually a belief” (2).
It does not make sense that people would engage in these activities based on their lack of a belief in something. Instead, atheists engage in these activities because they are part of a community that does not believe in God, a community espousing atheism and its alleged truths, and a minority community that wishes to proudly promote its identity. Vela continues: “the fact that atheists commonly label themselves “atheists”, (and ascribe attributes to such a label, such as rationalism, empirical validity, etc.) reveals that functionally speaking “atheism” may in fact actually be what people say that it isn’t – a belief; a system of thought” (3).
Professor Stephen Prothero likewise explains that “Many atheists are quite religious, holding their views about God with the conviction of zealots and evangelizing with verve … It stands at the center of their lives, defining who they are, how they think, and with whom they associate. The question of God is never far from their minds” (4).
The Christian may therefore argue that although he does not believe that atheism is a religion (as some theists claim), he does view it as the positive affirmation that God does not exist (The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts atheism as: “the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God” (7)). Atheism is thus a belief, as the atheist George Klein writes: “I am an atheist. My attitude is not based on science, but rather on faith. . . The absence of a Creator, the non-existence of God is my childhood faith, my adult belief, unshakable and holy” (5).
Where there is faith it is reasonable to hold that there is belief. Andy Bannister concludes: “Whether or not it is a religion, atheism, certainly is a belief, a positive claim, just as much as the claim ‘Sweden doesn’t exist’ and positive claims need to be argued for. That can take time and effort but if the claim is true, the hard work will presumably pay off. Sometimes however, I’m afraid, I encounter atheists who seem to prefer to simply deconstruct the worldview of others without bothering to put in the effort to defend their own” (6).
1. Craig, W. 2007. Definition of atheism. Available.
2. Vela, T. 2011. Is Atheism a Belief? Available.
3. Vela, T. ibid.
4. Prothero, S. 2010. God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World.
5. Klein, G. 1990. The Atheist and the Holy City: Encounters and Reflections. p. 203.
6. Bannister, A. 2013. The Scandinavian Sceptic (or why atheism is a belief system). Available.
7. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2004. Atheism and Agnosticism. Available.