Do Atheists Believe?

Many atheists believe they have no beliefs. Like many beliefs within Atheism, this is not only self-contradictory but ultimately self defeating. When I moved from Christianity to a weak atheism, I had reasons for doing so. I didn’t do it for no reason and I believed at the time those reasons were sound and true.

Some atheists might have the belief that Christianity is bad for society;

atheists might have the belief that everything can be accounted for by science (or will be in the future);

atheists might believe that religions are primitive attempts to understand the world;

atheists might believe that religion has made no contribution to civilisation;

atheists might believe that there is no evidence for another realm beyond the physical;

atheists might believe that any and every religious experience can be put down a combination of fraudsters; delusions and misunderstandings;

atheists might believe Christianity has plagiarized earlier religions;

atheists might believe the foundations of Christianity are unsound;

atheists might believe the miracle stories in Christian writings could never have happened;

atheists might believe that Christianity and science are antithetical to each other et cetera.

But atheists have to believe something like this to be atheists. The obvious question is, are atheists correct in their beliefs about these things?

I would suggest the idea that atheists have no beliefs is a poor attempt to divert rigorous scrutiny from the question of why atheists are atheists and whether they are correct in their assumptions.

A belief system that will not allow itself to be questioned is a sign of a belief system that knows it is incoherant and unintellectual.

With respect, I think many atheists hold such a belief system.



  • Allallt  On May 30, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    The point is that atheists do not, by definition, believe anything in particular. Instead, atheists are defined by not believing in religion. Atheism, by definition, makes no positive claims.

    I am an atheist, and it is objectively true that the claims of theism have not met their burden of proof for me. I have no dogmatic relationship with science, or emotional response to theism that keeps me an atheist against reason.

    Whether I think science is the best explanation of reality is not a definition point of atheism.

    Also, we differ on our definitions of “belief”, where I think that belief is a thought held in the absence of, or in contrast to reason, it is evident from your post that you think “belief” is simply thinking something in the absence of absolute knowledge.

  • whatswrongwithatheism  On June 12, 2011 at 4:14 am

    Hi Allallt, when you say that objectively “for you” theism has not met the burden of proof that ‘you believe they have’ this shows the subjectivity of your statement and it shows a weakness in such thinking. It likely is not universally objective if the standard you apply is that it is acceptable to you. Your definition of Atheism is not my definition of Atheism and i don’t think your definition serves any purpose except to deflect objections to what Atheists do in fact generally believe, such as your statement that Theism has not met the burden of proof as you personally see it. I accept that you believe that to be true, but you believe it none the less and that is at least a part of why you are an Atheist. Otherwise you would be an Atheist for no good reason at all. If you have a good reason, then you believe that reason to be true and you believe that it is not in contradiction to reason. Hence there are beliefs you personally have which support your Atheism. It cannot be otherwise.

    If i accepted your definition of Atheism it really gets us nowhere. For example, when i am asleep do i have what you would call ‘A God belief’. When i am scuba diving, or playing badminton or volleyball or teaching class do i then always have a ‘God belief’? Most of the day you could say i don’t have a ‘God belief’ unless i am stopped and asked for my thoughts on the matter and therefore under your definition, 99% of the day i am an Atheist. Such a definition does not properly represent reality. It is a fudge and it does not allow us to properly investigate issues and viewpoints people hold towards reality. It is basically a game Atheists play to pretend their beliefs cannot be challenged, because then they’d have to think them through properly. I think most thinking people will accept that people have reasons for thinking there is a spiritual / God dimension to existance and some other people have reasons for thinking there is not. Both sets of people believe their reasons and their reasoning to be true. Both sets of people must make their case. For one group to believe they don’t have to is to insulate oneself against valid criticism and to believe uncritically. As expressed in my pages this is both unintellectual and a road to madness. You must defend your beliefs and the first step is to recognise that you do have beliefs which cause you to have certain views such as your Atheism.

  • tildeb  On September 30, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Claiming atheism is a different kind of belief in comparison to faith-based belief is like claiming a non woman is just a different kind of woman, a non car just a different kind of car, a non alcoholic beverage just another kind of alcoholic beverage.

    Your position is incoherent if you keep the same meaning to the faith-based understanding of the term ‘belief’. You then compound your error in thinking to call atheism a belief ‘system’. There is no similar kind fo ‘belief’ to make into a ‘system’!

  • Whatswrongwithatheism  On October 4, 2011 at 7:19 am

    Thankyou for your reply.

    As mentioned on another thread, I can see that it is important to you that Atheism should not be seen as having a set of beliefs. I ask you to critically reflect on why that is. As mentioned in my starting page, this blog is to try and get Atheists to see they have a set of beliefs and then to critically assess whether those beliefs are true. I also mentioned that Atheists not even admitting they have beliefs is both a way of dismissing the religious (who presumably believe without thinking things through objectively) and also a way of puttng off discussing and critically assessing your own beliefs because as an Atheist you believe you don’t have any such beliefs.

    Perhaps a generation or two ago you could have gotten away with that. It would still be a bad argument, but you could have pulled it off simply because unlike now, there was not a steady stream of ex-Atheists like myself who having dispassionately analysed the evidence have decided it is intellectually superior to believe there is a God.

    We are not somehow driven by beliefs where the Atheist is not. As an Atheist I admit I had beliefs, but I critically examined them. I urge you and all Atheists to do the same. The difference between a Theist and an Atheist is what they believe to be true. What changes a Theist to an Atheist, and vice versa is a change in what they believe to be true.

    A Christian might believe that every word in the Bible is the literal word of God. Later, after consideration he may become an Atheist because he now believes that the Bible is largely a set of Jewish legends that cannot be relied upon to speak truth.

    Likewise an Atheist might believe that the physical world can be wholly defined and described by impersonal physical laws that rule out a transcendent Creator. Later, after consideration he may become a Theist because he now believes the physical world is best defined and described as a secondary level of reality that has been created and is maintained to support life and consciousness. It is the nature of what one believes after looking at the evidence that distinguishes a Theist from an Atheist and vice versa.

    Your analogy of a car and a non car or a woman and a non woman have no such relationship. A non car can’t become a car by a change of beliefs anymore than a woman can be a non woman just by changing her beliefs.

    Lastly your assertion that I am saying a non car is a type of car is incorrect. The parallel in our discussion would be the phrase ‘an Atheist is a type of Theist’. Nowhere did I say that or even hint at that. But as demonstrated above the Atheist and Theist are distinguished by what they believe and one can become the other if they change their set of beliefs.

    I suggest, as a former Atheist, it is your wish to superficially dismiss Christianity as a belief system (where you define belief system as an irrational and uncritical thought process) that will not allow you to clearly see Atheists have beliefs. Your definition and superficial dismissal of Christian belief is not correct but you wish it to be so, hence the impasse.

    Again I urge you to consider why it is that you want to believe Atheists have no beliefs. I put it to you that it is simply so you can dismiss the religious who you have ‘ahead of time’ categorised as not speaking from reason and evidence but somehow from an irrational process you have dismissed as ‘beliefs’. Such thinking cannot be defended because as mentioned, ex-Atheists like myself reject Atheism on intellectual and scientific grounds. It doesn’t make sense to superficially dismiss us as acting on beliefs when according to yourself, Atheists don’t have any to begin with.

    • tildeb  On October 4, 2011 at 12:17 pm

      You missed the point: if you are to compare the beliefs of atheists to the beliefs of the religious, then at bare minimum you have to be clear about what you mean by the term ‘beliefs’ and how the same meaning applies to both. As pointed out earlier, you are changing the meaning while keeping the word the same. This is dishonest. Atheists – and you claim to have been one – simply do not believe as a religious believer does. For you to claim that atheists do believe as a religious believer does – maintaining that only the specific beliefs are different – is not true if one is talking about trusting in faith-based beliefs..

  • whatswrongwithatheism  On October 12, 2011 at 7:33 am

    Thanks for your post.
    A belief is a belief. That is, if a person thinks something is true, then they have a belief about what they think is true. If you think there is another type of belief then it is up to you to define it. If i think that the word belief is as defined above then i can hardly distinguish between two types of belief according to your ideas when you haven’t defined exactly what you mean in the first place.

    When people hold one belief it then affects how they see the world and that often leads to other beliefs and people will then act in ways consistent with those beliefs. But holding a belief and acting on a belief are two separate things.
    Both atheists and theists do this.

    Also different people have different intellectual frameworks and abilities in rationally explaining their beliefs. But holding a belief and ones ability in being able to explain it are two different things. There are many theists and there are many atheists that hold beliefs that they struggle to rationally defend. It would be as wrong for me to treat all atheists as those who believe things irrationally that cause them to be atheists as it is for you to treat all theists as those who believe things irrationally that cause them to be theists. Sure there are plenty of both.

    If we are in a search for truth then we must examine the best arguments for both. One criticism i have with atheists is that many see the faults in a basic childs entry view of religion and believe that IS religion, while at the same time they then turn to athiesm as a default without critically examining that position. They then tend to pick up many beliefs atheists hold without critically examining those either.

    I could try and pre-empt further what you might be thinking about, but you have introduced the idea of different beliefs and so it is for you to define what you believe they are. The ball is in your court on this one.

  • tildeb  On October 12, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    According to the New Advent definition, belief means That state of the mind by which it assents to propositions, not by reason of their intrinsic evidence, but because of authority.

    In contrast, common usage of the term refers to some state of knowledge (See specifically definition #3 here that refers to the basis of evidence).

    Yes, there really are two very different kinds of belief and you have confused the two to be equivalent when they clearly are not. In fact the two different kinds of belief stand in direct conflict, and this is the same problem when talking about atheists and their lack of belief in assumptions and assertions held to be true without evidence by the religious. This is why atheism – as Allalt quite properly pointed out – makes no positive claims, which means atheism does not contain any positive beliefs in the religious sense of the term.

    This is self-evident if you would simply take a moment and think! When it comes to believing in Ra, you too are an atheist… not because you hold some set of beliefs that subscribe you to supporting Hitler’s eradication policies or undermine your autonomous moral authority over your own behaviour but because you have NO GOOD REASONS to believe in the positive claims about Ra. You and I are atheists about almost every supernatural positive claim made in the name of superstitious beliefs. You don’t believe in Jengu or Muk Muk or Mawu for exactly the same reason I don’t believe in your creator god: NO GOOD REASONS to believe in these positive claims. You simply do not ‘struggle’ to explain why Mawu just doesn’t do it for you, any more than I ‘struggle’ to explain why I don’t believe in your god. We are atheists in literally tens of thousands of positive claims about various gods and you lose no sleep over maintaining your non belief in any of them… save one. That hardly makes me 99.999% as moral or ethical as you; rather, I think you’ve failed to take that one final rational step into full atheism in regards to all of these positive claims about gods.

  • tildeb  On October 12, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Just a heads up here. Because my comment contains two links, it has been sent into moderation.

  • whatswrongwithatheism  On October 16, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    The definition you have given is a very bad definition. This highlights the great fragmentation in our society as atheists within universities have tried to refashion society without God. With many people leaving the Western cultural tradition, groups of academic people ( mainly in our universities as i have highlighted, but then also through media) have changed words and concepts to try and justify an atheist belief system. As can be seen in your accepted view of history, academia have revised history to try and present the new apostasy as the building blocks of society. It is completely ridiculous and driven a wedge between people while ruining the esteem in which academia was held. This is a great problem in society when large sections of people see academia as political. We are not talking the same language now, nor do we have the same respect for what should be commonly respected institutions. The secular claims of bringing people together has achieved the opposite outcome. Words such as belief, faith, science, God, rational, enlightened, secular and religion now mean different things to different people so that we are talking past each other.
    I remember when the New Advent definition was released and the controversy it caused when it was discussed in the Church. The obvious reason why this is a bad definition is that it needs for a third person to decide which beliefs are reasonable and which ones are unreasonable in order to categorise which beliefs belong in which definition. Likewise, who decides if someone’s belief is based on authority and whose belief is not? These important concepts are subjective and that is why it is a bad definition.
    For example, i think that given the way quantum physics works, it is entirely reasonable to believe that our reality is a second order that is designed with consciousness in mind and i have tried to present this in my links (which you have not commented on). Therefore it is quite reasonable to believe that there is an intelligence behind our reality. If this belief is based on any authority then it is the authority of the quantum physicists and the authority of their experiments which i trust implicitly.
    On the other hand i think that many atheists have believed the authority of Marxist inspired western universities that have produced a fabricated interpretation of both science and history for political motives. I am thankful that these past fabrications are now being withdrawn from universities but it was shameful that they were introduced because we have a whole generation of people who have been badly educated when it comes to Christianity.
    Reading your posts you would turn this completely around and probably put my beliefs in the unreasonable basket. To me this makes no sense at all. Who gets to judge which belief is reasonable given your definition? You want to assume a starting position where different religious beliefs are equivalent and none of them being in accordance with reason. That’s not an agreed starting position. Your definition would have this built into it and close down discussion from the start. We have to investigate the truth and reasonableness of different beliefs not create a beginning definition that shuts down inquiry by pre-determining which beliefs are in which basket.
    So it is not a matter of confusing two beliefs, nor being dishonest, it is a matter of realising that your definition and the one you quote from New Advent (who picked it up from elsewhere) are not helpful in addressing reality. I think the positively asserted beliefs of atheists are not in accordance with reason while the basic theist belief is. Who decides what is reasonable? You? I don’t think so.
    I think very much that the bad definitions and categorising of atheists lead to illogical thought and that is why they are largely cut off from mainstream society. The fantasy world their beliefs lead them to does not correlate with reality nor resonate with the overwhelming majority of normal people. As history as shown, the belief system of atheists is not likely to ever do so.

    OK we have both had our say, i’m bringing this discussion to an end.

  • Arkenaten  On June 23, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    You are a theist & Christian – you state that, your god, Yahweh/Jesus, exists.
    I am an atheist – I state that I do not believe in gods. Period.

    K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid) Best way.

  • whatswrongwithatheism  On July 13, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    That is a simple view, i’ll give you that. Too simplistic to address effectively the title of this page.

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