What is an atheist?


I don’t describe myself as an atheist. I don’t define myself in relation to things for which there is no evidence. I am not an afairyist or an aelfist or an aflatearthist. I have come to think the best thing is to resist our instinct to accept authority and belief without evidence and instead to not believe anything. I try to conclude things. It’s not easy.


We simplify a complex concept by eventually giving it a label but in a universe of infinite diversity how can we capture the nebulous within one word without losing some of its essence. Don’t we limit when we label to reduce the complexity in order for our minds to comprehend the incomprehensible.

An atheist can be a blessing to a believer. They do God’s work I think.


But is it unreasonable to believe in something based on the moral character of a witness?


From what I remember that was the basis of the Logical Positivism movement. The problem came when they were asked to show evidence for their assertion that evidence must be required for all beliefs, and the movement collapsed, hoist by its own petard.

Even mathematics must accept axioms to build from.


I have often thought that the secularization of society was a necessary step to humble the church. I could be wrong. but then again, God works in mysterious ways.


It might be worth to remember that “Catholic”, depending on the context, can also mean someone who has been baptised as a Catholic, someone who believes what Catholic Church teaches, someone who makes some effort to live in the way compatible with teaching of the Church, someone who claims to be a Catholic during a census.

Thus one shouldn’t be surprised that “atheist”, depending on the context, can mean someone who believes God doesn’t exist, someone who acts as if God did not exist etc.

On the other hand, certainty or claimed certainty doesn’t seem to make much of difference. So, we can have an atheist who is having a “crisis of faith”. And we can certainly have an atheist who simply claims imperfect certainty, because he has no evidence on his side and is afraid that that would be more visible if he actually claimed certainty corresponding to his actions.


Certainty is the odd aspect though.
Is there a planet somewhere in the universe where a sentient being wearing a blue shirt just won the lottery with numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 at the time of this post? I’m 99.9% sure there isn’t. But without knowing the entirety of existence that .1% would make me agnostic by some definitions.

Likewise a odd thing is that God as often defined can exist in forms and “places” beyond our material universe. One could never say “I checked all the locations He is could reside in and they’re all empty.”


It would be useful to maintain the distinction that T.H. Huxley intended when he coined the term “agnostic” to describe his own view: An agnostic maintains it is impossible to know whether there is a God or not.

Instead of your three questions, I suggest it would be more helpful to start off with:

(1) Is it possible to know for certain whether or not there is a God?

If the subject answers No, then he’s an agnostic. If he answers Yes, then the next question, of course, is this:

(2) Is there a God?

Either a Yes or a No answer will give you a clear definition one way or the other, but of course there’s still the possibility he may truthfully say “I don’t know,” which would bring us back to your three questions …





As an atheist and part of the atheist community, let me share how we use these words, at least around the atheist I hang out with.

Atheism - the word does not make sense to us since there is not “-ism” to being an atheist. The religious tend to use the word atheism in two, not exclusively overlapping ways. One is to imply that there is a world view of atheism. there’s not. The other is to mistake the pluralization of the word, Atheist to the word Atheists. Atheists do not have a universal world view, political stance, dogma, leadership, tenants, etc.

Atheist - It’s a single position on a single question, “Are you convinced / believe that the supernatural exists?” If you say no, then you are an Atheist. Being an Atheist is the default position everyone is born to. It is not a positive claim about reality, it is the rejection of someone else’s positive claim about reality.
Gumball Analogy: Jar of gumballs that no one can investigate. There can only be an even or odd number of gumballs in the jar. Theist A argues that the gumball count is even. The atheist does not believe their claim. Did the atheist state that they believe the gumball count is odd? No, No they did not. Theist B then argues that the gumball count is Odd. The atheist also doesn’t believe this person either. Now what is the atheist’s position on the question of even or odd for the gumball count? It’s “I don’t know” and “I am unconvinced that we can know if it is even or odd at this point.” That is it. They didn’t make a positive claim about the reality of the gumball situation at all.

Agnostic, Gnostic claims.
These claims are knowledge claims about reality. Theistic and Atheistic claims are about belief claims about reality. They are mutually exclusive.
You can be an agnostic atheist, agnostic theist, gnostic atheist, and gnositic theist.
Agnostic Theist is your typical Jew. Don’t believe in the supernatural but have a ritual cultural tradition that are identified as jewish practices.
Gnostic Theist - Typical christian that claims to know (positive claim about reality that has a burden of proof) that the supernatural exists and was convinced as well that the supernatural exists. (positive claim about reality that has a burden of proof)
Agnostic Atheist - default position everyone is born to since no one knows (Not a positive claim about reality) the supernatural exists and haven’t become convinced yet (Not a positive claim about reality) that the supernatural exists.
Gnostic Atheist - Claims to know the supernatural does not exists (positive claim about reality that has a burden of proof) and claims to not believe the supernatural exists. (Not a positive claim about reality).


Jury Example: Jury members are Agnostic Atheist from the beginning of the trial. They have no direct knowledge of the event that the defendant is accused of being apart of and they, by default, assume the defendant had nothing to do with the event in question. The prosecutor, the theist, has the burden of proof to provide evidence and try to convince the jury members to the prosecutor’s positive claim that the defendant is guilty. After the trial period, there are jury members that remain unconvinced. Do they have a world view of “Not-Gulty-ism”? No they don’t. Can you tell me anything at all about their world view? Political position? Education level? Leaders? Tenants? etc.? No you can’t.

There are world views that tend to have more atheists in them, like skepticism, philosophical naturalism, etc. But you can still be a theist and religious and be part of these groups.


No, it isn’t, unless you make everything else odd as well.

So, don’'t use those “some definitions”, as (as you probably see yourself, given what you wrote) they are silly and useless.

It’s that simple.

It is not any more “odd” than existence (or non-existence) of bijection between set of natural numbers and set of rational numbers (or set of real numbers).

It is silly to complain that you couldn’t find such a bijection under your bed, just as it is silly to complain that you couldn’t find God under your bed.

Such bijection, if existing, is omnipresent - there is no place where it does not hold.

Sure, there are places where it exists in some special way - for example, textbook where the proof of existence is given. That corresponds to special existence of God in the Eucharist.

And, by the way, you didn’t say what “oddness” has to do with defining atheism.

Well, if there is no “-ism” to being an atheist, then how can there be an “atheist community” for you to represent? :slight_smile:

And, of course, a vast majority of atheists were not scared of openly admitting that they believe that God does not exist and that this is a major part of their worldview, an “-ism”.

They were opening Museums of Atheism (or, let’s say, Institute of Scientific Atheism - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institute_of_Scientific_Atheism) long before you made such claims.

And even you obviously do believe that God does not exist - as far, as your actions (other than writing here) are concerned. Or are you going to claim that you keep losing your sleep thinking if you are going to go to Mass this Sunday? :slight_smile:


If that is what present-day atheists mean by the terms “atheist” and “atheism”, then I find it regrettable that they have made what used to be clear-cut distinctions fuzzy. They are making the English language a less precise and less useful medium of communication.


How can you have a world view of something that you don’t believe is part of reality? You can have a world view, like skepticism, that you applied to the question about the supernatural and the arguments and evidence presented by people that do believe this though. Through the filter of skepticism, you were not convinced based on the bad arguments and lack of evidence that the religious positive position are presenting. By your reasoning, the jury members that are not convinced at the end of the trial have a world view of “Not-Guilty-ism” as well then. Assuming you don’t believe in fairies, you have a world view of “A-Fairy-ism” as well that you filter your world experience through. You have an unlimited “-ism” list of world views then since there is an unlimited list of things you do not believe to be true to reality.

You can have a community of atheists just like you can have a community of people that have their TV’s turned off and don’t ascribe to any particular channel on TV. The atheist community typically discuss the separation of Church and State, the encroachment of sudo-science into the science class, etc. But you can still be religious and spiritual and support these issues as well. Once religion stops teaching people that being an atheist means you are the enemy, have no morals, eat babies, etc. then there will be no more atheist community since just like there is no community of people that are labeled “A-Fairy-ists” that gather together to push back against the propoganda of the “Fairy-ist” movement.

Museum of Atheism - Well then I would say they got the name wrong. Also there is no science of atheism either.

I challenge you to find a single time that I wrote that I know there is no supernatural. There is a difference between “I don’t believe X” and “I believe X is false”. I understand that is a problem for religious people to understand, but there is a difference. One is a positive statement the other is not.


@Damian. – Is it possible to know for certain whether or not there is a God?


Yes and a deity should know what it would take to do this for us. So it either doesn’t exist at this point or doesn’t want us to know this at this point. Either way, not our problem since we can’t go to it’s realm and force it to reveal itself.


Word use is always changing when people discuss ideas and find that the words being used are not adequate to the nuance being discussed. Remember when being an atheist was someone who was mad at god and was actively trying to undermine it and fight against it? Well that’s a theist that has a beef with a deity. Atheists don’t believe there is a supernatural realm at all, so it would be absurd to be mad at a deity just like it would be absurd for you to be mad at fairies. Atheists do push back against religion though. Not all of what religion does, just specific actions it takes. Like encroachment into the political realm, religious branding of children, disowning family members for leaving the faith, lying about science that does not conform to the religion, etc. Charity is great, but don’t hold a sandwich or clean drinking water hostage for conversion or building a church.


And who are you to lecture braver, more numerous and more successful atheists on how they have to call their institutions!?

Did some acardinals elect you an apope or what? :slight_smile:

I’d say that Soviet atheists obviously get to define atheism for you, rather than you for them.

Nice avoidance of “other than writing here”. :slight_smile:

Am I supposed to answer " I understand that is a problem for non-religious people to understand, but there is a difference [between ‘And even you obviously do believe that God does not exist - as far, as your actions (other than writing here) are concerned.’ and ‘You say that you know God does not exist.’]."? :slight_smile:


Disagreement is not a lecture. I’ve presented how I use and understand these terms to be used. If other atheists use these terms differently, okay. I don’t care. I care that I understand what they are talking about regardless of the labels they use. Sorry but not going to let you use the excuse, “He said X word, therefore I am justified to treat him as Y and place in group Z.” Not going to be your monkey in that game. As long as you understand the concepts I am talking about, that’s all I care about communicating.

Yes my actions indicate that I don’t live my life as if a deity exists since I have not been convinced yet that the supernatural is part of reality at all. You also don’t go around acting like the spiderman exists either since you’ve yet to be convinced that the comic books are actually true. Everyone does this. We all comport ourselves in reality to how we understand reality to actually be, not how we imagine it could be. Otherwise, go walk out a third story window since your belief that gravity is true may not match your imagination that day that it doesn’t.


No, the word “atheist” never had that meaning. There may have been people who used it that way conversationally or colloquially, but in serious discussion it always had the one precise meaning of a person who asserts that there is no God.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.