Defining the Atheist

Many believers, and even non-believers and agnostics (who actually are atheists), think that an atheist is a bad person. This is really unfortunate and astoundingly ignorant. The term ‘atheism’ or ‘a-theism’ simply means ‘not theism’. This is similar to how some animals reproduce sexually, and some reproduce asexually (without sex). Just like asexual reproduction, atheism may not be as much fun… But it is a truly benign term. The atheist is simply a person who is not a theist. The term indicates nothing more about their beliefs, values, morals, preferences, politics, suitability for public office, and so forth.

Some atheists simply don’t believe in God. Some think that they know God doesn’t exist. Some atheists may actually believe in some sort of God. The term ‘atheism’ relies on the definition of ‘theism’. If ‘theism’ refers to the belief in any sort of God, the ‘atheist’ then believes in no God. But if ‘theism’ means something more specific, as it does in scholarly circles, ‘atheism’ is very broad! Theism generally refers to the one true God who is all-good, all-powerful, interventionist, etc. By this reckoning, the deist and the pantheist can also be considered atheists.

The reasons for people being atheists vary dramatically. The atheist doesn’t necessarily ‘know’ that God doesn’t exist and does not necessarily hate God, Christianity, theism, etc. In fact, some atheists prefer that a loving and wise God did exist. The reason they are atheists is simply that they think the evidence doesn’t support the theistic hypothesis. Even if they are wrong, then they are misinformed or stupid, at worst. They are not evil, rebellious, and closed-minded. But disbelieving due to the state of the evidence is entirely reasonable. There is a total lack of direct empirical evidence for God’s existence, historical claims are judged implausible by today’s empirical knowledge (the only rational way to approach history), and the philosophical arguments for God fail, and are otherwise vague. Such arguments by the increasingly maligned philosophers of religion could just as well argue for a deistic or pantheistic being, or even a powerful alien.

Many atheists are good people, and are keen to get along with their more believing brethren. We encourage progress and are open to all possibilities. I like to see the atheist as the religious person’s best friend. We fight for our own rights, but also for the rights of the believer. Hopefully, believers and non-believers alike can unite against one of the truly great evils of this world, which is evident in the recent conflicts in Iraq and Syria: religious exclusivism. —Raphael Lataster