What is atheism?

The word atheism comes from the negative a which means ‘no,’ and theos which means ‘god.’  Hence, atheism in the most basic terms means ‘no god.’  Atheism is the lack of belief in a god and/or the belief that there is no god.  By contrast, theism is the belief that there is a God and that he is knowable and that he is involved in the world.  Most atheists do not consider themselves anti-theists but merely non-theists. I've encountered many atheists who claim that atheism is not a belief system while others say it is.  Since there is no official atheist organization, nailing down which description of atheism to use can be difficult.  Nevertheless, the following are some definitions offered by atheists.  Whichever definition you accept, atheism denies God.


  • "An atheist is someone who believes and/or knows there is no god."
  • "An atheist lacks belief in a god."
  • "An atheist exercises no faith in the concept of god at all."
  • "An atheist is someone who is free from religious oppression and bigotry."
  • "An atheist is someone who is a free-thinker--free from religion and its ideas."

There are two main categories of atheists: strong and weak with variations in between.  Strong atheists actively believe and state that no God exists.  They expressly denounce the Christian God along with any other god.  Strong atheists are usually more aggressive in their conversations with theists and try to shoot holes in theistic beliefs.  They like to use logic and anti-biblical evidence to denounce God's existence.  They are active, often aggressive, and openly believe that there is no God.

Agnostic Atheists, as I call them, are those who deny God's existence based on an examination of evidence.  Agnosticism means 'not knowing' or 'no knowledge.'  I call them agnostic because they state they have looked at the evidence and have concluded there is no God, but they say they are open to further evidence for God's existence.

Weak atheists simply exercise no faith in God.  The weak atheist might be better explained as a person who lacks belief in God the way a person might lack belief that there is a green lizard in a rocking chair on the moon; it isn't an issue.  He doesn't believe it or not believe it.

Finally, there is a group of atheists that I call militant atheists.  They are, fortunately, few in number.  They are usually highly insulting and profoundly terse in their comments to theists and particularly Christians.  I’ve encountered a few of them; and they are vile, rude, and highly condescending.  Their language is full of insults, profanity, and blasphemies.  Basically, no meaningful conversation can be held with them.

Two Main Types of Arguments from Atheists

Atheist positions seem to fall into two main categories.  The first is the lack-of-evidence category where the atheist asserts that the supporting evidence isn't good enough for him to affirm God's existence.  The second is the category where the atheist believes that the idea of God's existence is illogical and contrary to the evidence at hand.  To simplify, one position says there isn't enough evidence to conclude that God exists, and the other position says the evidence is contrary to God's existence.  For those atheists who simply lack belief and exercise no energy in the discussion, neither category applies because they are not involved in the debate.  But, some of those who claim to lack belief in God are often involved in discussions where they are arguing against God's existence.

A typical argument posed by an atheist to show why God does not exist is as follows:  God is supposed to be all good and all-powerful.  Evil and suffering exist in the world.  If God is all good, he would not want evil and suffering to exist.  If He is all-powerful, then He is able to remove all evil and suffering.  Since evil and suffering exist, God is either not all good (which means he is not perfect and not God), or he is not all powerful (and limited in abilities and scope).  Since either case shows God is not all good and powerful, then He does not exist.  Of course, the problem is that the criticism is a false dichotomy.  In other words, there are more than two possibilities; namely, God might have a reason for allowing evil and suffering; man's freedom might require the allowance of evil and suffering, etc.

Some Basic Tenets of Atheism

Presuppositions are important to us all.  We look at the world through them.  The atheist has a set of presuppositions, too.  As I said, there is no definitive atheist organization that defines the absolutes of atheism, but there are basic principles that atheists, as a whole, tend to adopt.  I've tried to list some of them below.  Please note, however, that not all atheists accept all of these tenets.  The only absolute common one to which they hold is that they do not believe in a God or gods.

  1. There is no God or devil.
  2. There is no supernatural realm.
  3. Miracles cannot occur.
  4. There is no such thing as sin as a violation of God's will.
  5. Generally, the universe is materialistic and measurable.
  6. Man is material.
  7. Generally, evolution is considered a scientific fact.
  8. Ethics and morals are relative.

For the Christian, atheism clashes with many aspects of our faith.  Some atheists openly attack Christianity--citing apparent contradictions in the Bible, perceived philosophical difficulties related to God, and what they consider as logical evidences against God's existence.  But the atheists' criticisms are not without very good answers as you will see in the coming papers.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.