What is Atheism?

I have heard a number of atheists claim that atheism is simply the lack of belief in God. Since it is a lack of belief and not a belief in itself, the burden of proof is on the theist who claims that there is a God.

It would be like my lack of belief in the Easter bunny. I don’t have strong beliefs about the Easter bunny not existing, therefore I don’t need to provide evidence for his lack of existence.

But is this a valid comparison?

What if atheism was more than just a lack of belief? Perhaps atheist would reject evangelical descriptions of atheists believing that God does not exist, but what about other less biased descriptions?

I came across an interesting entry on “atheism and agnosticism” written by George Mavrodes in the Oxford Companion to Philosophy. I would assume that we can agree that this is unlikely to be evangelical propaganda. This is what it says:

Atheism is ostensibly the doctrine that there is no God. Some atheists support this claim by arguments. But these arguments are usually directed against the Christian concept of God, and are largely irrelevant to other possible gods. Thus much of Western atheism may be better understood as the doctrine that the Christian God does not exist.

According to Mavrodes, atheism is not only the belief that God doesn’t exist but that the Christian God doesn’t exist. This is much more than a lack of belief. I find this very interesting.

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1 thought on “What is Atheism?”

  1. I wonder how many people would actually say, “I lack a belief in the Easter bunny”? It seems rather insipid and even disingeneous. I suspect most people will find it justified to make the much stronger claim that they have reasons to believe, given what it means to refer to “the Easter bunny”, that the Easter bunny (or Santa Claus, unicorns and spaghetti monsters for that matter) probably does NOT exist. Clearly such a claim involves a burden of proof. The interesting thing, however, is how atheists often classify the idea of God in exactly the same category as the Easter bunny, Santa, unicorns and the FSM, but then find it quite necessary to avoid any knowledge claim that God (probably) does not exist, and hence talk of merely *lacking a belief* in God.

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