FAQ #1 – In Conversation: What is Atheism?

Posted: January 24, 2012 in Uncategorized


Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful. – Edward Gibbon

I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours. – Stephen F. Roberts quoted in Like Rolling Uphill

What is an atheist?

An atheist is a person who doesn’t believe a God or gods exist, or in the broader sense, rejects the claim that a God or gods exist. I can make it even simpler: it is the absence of belief in a God.

If you are unsure a God exists, doesn’t that make you an agnostic?

Atheism and agnosticism mean two different things. Atheism and theism has to do with a person’s ‘belief’. Agnosticism and gnosticism are an address to knowledge; what is knowable and what can never be known. The ‘a’ in atheism turns the word ‘theism’ to ‘without’-theist. For example, atheism is latin for ‘without god’. Theism is ‘with god’, therefore, atheism is ‘without god’.

Here is a brief definition of each term:

Theism – belief a God exists.
Atheism – lack of belief that a God exists.
Gnosticism – the existence of something is knowable, and can be known. In this case, the existence of God can be known.
Agnosticism – the existence of something is unknowable, and can not be known. In this case, the existence of God can never be known.

Let’s take part in a little thought experiment. You were asked if you believed trolls existed. You can classify yourself in one of these categories:

Do you believe that trolls exist?:

– If you do, then you are a trolleist.
– If you don’t, then you are an atrolleist.

Let’s take this slightly further:

– If you say that you know that trolls exist, and that you have proof, and that existence of trolls can be known, and that you believe that they do exist, then you are a gnostic trolleist; you know trolls exist, and that’s why you believe they do exist.

– If you say that you can never know if trolls exist because we haven’t looked everywhere on earth and there might be a place on earth where trolls do exist, maybe in some underground cave in a remote jungle and they have kept themselves hidden from people, and you believe that they do/might exist, then you’re an agnostic trolleist; you can’t know if trolls exist, but you believe they do anyway.

– As above, if you say that you can never know if trolls exist, and their existence is something that can never be proven, but you believe that they probably/most likely don’t exist, then you are an agnostic atrolleist ; existence of trolls can never be known and you believe they don’t exist.

Now this situation can be applied with God. I am an agnostic atheist. I don’t claim to know that a God exists or doesn’t exist, because the question ‘does a God(s) exist’ is unknowable, but I believe that His existence is very unlikely, and most probably He doesn’t exist.

Atheism is NOT:

– a religion
– an ideology
– a belief system
– faith
– a guide
– a way of life

It is simply the absence of a belief in a God and gods.


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