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Atheism is the denial or disbelief in the existence of God or supreme beings.
The word is derived from the Greek words a and theos, literally "without God".
Today, atheism is simply the belief that there is no God. In the past however, belief in a particular God or gods along with denial of other gods has been held to be atheism. For instance, Christians were accused of atheism for not believing in the Roman gods.
Atheism is clearly incompatible with Christianity, since all branches of the faith accept the existence of God as a central tenet of belief.
Atheism vs. agnosticism
Atheism's stance is that the existence of Gods is logically impossible or is incompatible with strongly held beliefs such as rationalism and materialism, whereas agnosticism neither recognizes nor actively denies the existence of God or gods. While some agnostics may find the the possibility of supreme deities extremely unlikely, blurring the line between the two philosophies, they should not be confused with atheists.
History of atheism
Epicurus is the most widely known atheistic thinker of ancient times, though his theories emphasized living life as if gods do not exist or can be ignored, rather than a flat statement of the non-existence of God or gods. However epicureanism is clearly a secular philosophy, not dependent on God.
The 18th century is the first time that thinkers took up an avowedly atheist position. Among the 18th and early 19th century atheists were D'Holbach, Feuerbach, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.
The move towards religious toleration in Europe and the USA in the 19th century first extended such toleration to rival Christian sects, then to Jews and Muslims, and finally to atheists. A major step in this movement towards toleration was that it was permitted to "affirm" rather than swear an oath on the Bible or other holy book in criminal trials or when taking up public office.
Charles Darwin, while not an atheist, by his theories allowed an explanation of the diversity of life that did not require that life had been created in a single event by a deity. His theory, however, did not rule out the existence of God or the basic tenets of Christian beliefs, so that many Christians accept the main thrust of evolutionary theory, and in addition accept that the universe is billions of years old, rather than thousands as a literal reading of Genesis suggests.
Karl Marx was an atheist himself and took up a skeptical position about religion in his writings. Marxism itself has little to say about religion, being a secular, materialistic philosophy, but Communist states have taken up a hostile position to all religions, though have not succeeded in eradicating religious belief. Poland and Russia retained a high proportion of churchgoers throughout decades of Communist rule.
Atheism is accepted in most Western Countries. Atheists have been prominent in the defence of church-state separation in the United States. Atheism remains a minority position in most countries.
Reasons for and against atheism
In essence, these arguments are the reverse of the arguments for and against the existence of a supreme being or God (which deserve a separate article owing to their centrality to Christian belief).
However some additional arguments exist against atheism, even if it is accepted that absolute proof of God's existence cannot be presented.
"Without belief in God, an objective moral standard does not exist." Is a common argument against atheism's morality but even Oxford Professor, Richard Dawkins (a evolutionary biologist, author, and atheist) has said that people "cherry pick" their morals from their holy books because all holy books.
Atheists counter by pointing out various moral systems not dependent on God, such as utilitarianism, and by suggesting that theists are not notably more "moral" in practice than atheists.
In reality, even the theists choose their morals like atheists by "cherry picking" their own morals because in any holy book it has death and killing of others for punishment of petty crimes, habits, or even lifestyles.
In the absence of proof of God's existence, nothing can be lost and much can be gained by assuming that God does exist.
The atheist's riposte is that the application of Pascal's wager would require Christians to worship other gods as well as their own.
It is also arguable that belief or disbelief, unlike actions or words, is not something that can be the subject of conscious choice - that is "today I'll start - or stop - believing in God" doesn't make sense. Therefore whatever practical advantages or disadvantages there are to a belief are irrelevant to whether one accepts such a belief or not.
Return to Atheism
|This page uses content from Wikichristian.org. The original article was at Atheism (Christian point of View). The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Religion-wiki, the text of Wikichristian.org is available under the CC-BY-SA.|