not have identical beliefs, any more than do all theists. However,
there is a core of beliefs common to most atheists. So while not all
atheists believe all of the following, all of the following are
believed by some atheists. And most atheists believe most of the
True atheists believe that only the cosmos exists. God did not create
man; people created God.
World. The universe is eternal. If it is
not eternal, then it came into existence "out of nothing and by
nothing." It is self-sustaining and self-perpetuating. As astronomer
Carl Sagan put it, "The Cosmos is all there is, all there was, and all
there ever will be" (Sagan, Cosmos, 4). If asked "what caused
the world?" most atheists would reply with Bertrand Russell that it
was not caused; it is just there. Only the parts of the universe need
a cause. They all depend on the whole, but the whole needs no cause.
If we ask for a cause for the universe, then we must ask for a cause
for God. And if we do not need a cause for God, then neither do we
need one for the universe.
insists that everything needs a cause, the atheist simply
suggests an infinite regress of causes that never arrives at a first
cause (i.e., God). For if everything must have a cause, then so does
this "first cause." In that case it really isn’t first at all, nor is
anything else (see Sagan, Broca’s Brain, 287).
Unlike pantheists who deny the reality of evil, atheists strongly
affirm it. In fact, while pantheists affirm the reality of God and
deny the reality of evil, atheists, on the other hand, affirm the
reality of evil and deny the reality of God. They believe theists are
inconsistent in trying to hold to both realities.
Beings. A human being is matter in
motion with no immortal soul. There is no mind apart from brain. Nor
is there a soul independent of body. While not all atheists are strict
materialists who identify soul and body, most do believe that the soul
is dependent on the body. The soul in fact dies when the body dies.
The soul (and mind) may be more than the body, the way a thought is
more than words or symbols. But as the shadow of a tree ceases to
exist when the tree does, so the soul does not survive the body’s
Ethics. No moral absolutes exist,
certainly no divinely authorized absolutes. There may be some widely
accepted and long enduring values. But absolutely binding laws would
seem to imply an absolute Law Giver, which is not an option.
are not discovered from some revelation of God, they must be
created. Many atheists believe values emerge by trial and error
the way traffic laws developed. Often the right action is described in
terms of what will bring the greatest good in the long run. Some
frankly acknowledge that relative and changing situations determine
what is right or wrong. Others speak about the expedient behavior
(what "works"), and some work out their whole ethic in terms of
self-interest. But virtually all atheists recognize that each person
must determine personal values, since there is no God to reveal what
is right and wrong. As the Humanist Manifesto put it, "Humanism
asserts that the nature of the universe depicted by modern science
makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human
values" (Kurtz, 8).
Destiny. Most atheists see no eternal
destiny for individual persons, though some speak of a kind of
collective immortality of the race. But the denial of individual
immortality notwithstanding, many atheists are Utopians. They believe
in an earthly paradise to come. Skinner proposed a behaviorally
controlled Utopia in Walden Two. Marx believed an economic
dialectic of history would inevitably produce a communist paradise.
Others, such as Rand, believe that pure capitalism can produce a more
perfect society. Still others believe human reason and science can
produce a social Utopia. Virtually all, however, recognize the
ultimate mortality of the human race but console themselves in the
belief that its destruction is millions of years away.
Contributions of Atheism. Even from a
theistic point of view, not all views expressed by atheists lack
truth. Atheists have provided many insights into the nature of
of evil. Unlike pantheists, atheists do
not close their eyes to the reality of evil. In fact, most atheists
have a keen sensitivity to evil and injustice. They rightly point to
the imperfection of this world and to the need for adjudication of
injustice. In this regard they are surely right that an all-loving,
all-powerful God would certainly do something about the situation.
Contradictory concepts of God. In
contending that God is not caused by another, some have spoken of God
as though he were a self-caused being (causa sui). Atheists
rightly point out this contradiction, for no being can cause its own
existence. To do this it would have to exist and not exist at the same
time. For to cause existence is to move from nonexistence to
existence. But nonexistence cannot cause existence. Nothing cannot
cause something. On this point atheists are surely right.
human values. Many atheists are
humanists. With others they affirm the value of humanity and human
culture. They earnestly pursue both the arts and the sciences and
express deep concern in ethical issues. Most atheists believe that
racism, hatred, and bigotry are wrong. Most atheists commend freedom
and tolerance and have other positive moral values.
Opposition. Atheists are the loyal
opposition to theists. It is difficult to see the fallacies in one’s
own thinking. Atheists serve as a corrective to invalid theistic
reasoning. Their arguments against theism should give pause to
dogmatism and temper the zeal with which many believers glibly dismiss
unbelief. In fact, atheists serve a significant corrective role for
theistic thinking. Monologues seldom produce refined thought. Without
atheists, theists would lack significant opposition with which to
dialogue and clarify their concepts of God.
position that God does not exist lacks adequate rational support. The
atheist’s arguments against God are insufficient. Further, there are
good arguments for the existence of God. For many things, atheism
provides no satisfactory answer.
Why is there
something rather than nothing? Atheism
does not provide an adequate answer as to why anything exists when it
is not necessary for anything at all to exist. Nonexistence of
everything in the world is possible, yet the world does exist. Why? If
there is no cause for its existence, there is no reason why the world
What is the
basis for morality? Atheists can believe
in morality, but they cannot justify this belief. Why should
anyone be good unless there is a Definer of goodness who holds people
accountable? It is one thing to say that hate, racism, genocide, and
rape are wrong. But if there is no ultimate standard of morality
(i.e., God), then how can these things be wrong? A moral prescription
implies a Moral Prescriber.
What is the
basis for meaning? Most atheists believe
life is meaningful and worth living. But how can it be if there is no
purpose for life, nor destiny after this life? Purpose implies a
Purposer. But if there is no God, there is no objective or ultimate
meaning. Yet most atheists live as if there were.
What is the
basis for truth? Most atheists believe
that atheism is true and theism is false. But to state that atheism is
true implies that there is such a thing as objective truth. Most
atheists do not believe that atheism is true only for them. But if
atheism is true, there must be a basis for objective truth. Truth is a
characteristic of a mind, and objective truth implies an objective
Mind beyond our finite minds.
What is the
basis for reason? Most atheists pride
themselves on being rational. But why be rational if the universe is
the result of irrational chance? There is no reason to be reasonable
in a random universe. Hence, the very thing in which atheists most
pride themselves is not possible apart from God.
What is the
basis for beauty? Atheists also marvel
at a beautiful sunset and are awestruck by the starry heavens. They
enjoy the beauty of nature as though it were meaningful. Yet if
atheism is true, it is all accidental, not purposeful. Atheists enjoy
natural beauty as though it were meant for them, and yet they believe
no Designer exists to mean it for them.
The Gospel of Christian Atheism
Selections from Bayle’s Dictionary
Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity
Findlay, "Can God’s Existence Be Disproved?" A. Plantinga,
Hartshorne, "The Necessarily Existent," A. Plantinga,
The Ontological Argument
The Existence of God
Johnson, An Atheist Debater’s Handbook
Humanist Manifestos I and II
Lewis, Mere Christianity
Atheism: A Philosophical Justification
Marx and Engels on Religion
Maurades, Belief in God
Theists and Atheists
Moreland, Does God Exist?
Nietzsche, Joyful Wisdom
Thus Spake Zarathustra
Nielson, Philosophy of Atheism
For the New Intellectual
Russell, "What Is an Agnostic?" In Look (1953)
Sartre, Being and Nothingness
Skinner, About Behavioralism
The Case Against God
Sproul, If There is a God, Why are There
Buren, The Secular Meaning of the Gospel