The contention that there is no God and that religious faith in such an entity is a consequence of man’s imagination or gullibility.
It has been argued that virtually everyone is an atheist as few people profess to believe in all the gods or other divine personalities devised by man. More conventionally, the atheist denies the existence of God as perceived by Christians and adherents of other major world religions, pointing out the lack of material evidence for such a being and the dilemma posed by the idea of a loving God permitting suffering and other evils to continue in the world.
Atheists frequently point to the apparently ever-widening gulf between modern science and religious faith, and sometimes claim that God has become ‘the god of the spaces in between’ known scientific facts.
As science advances, so many atheists argue that God’s natural territory is decreasing and that ‘blind’ faith is increasingly untenable and even immoral when the acceptance of such ideas depends increasingly upon the denial of reason.
Also see: agnosticism, HUMANISM, theism
J Monod, Chance and Necessity (Oxford, 1982)
Atheism is in the broadest sense an absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is a rejection of the belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.
The etymological root for the word atheism originated before the 5th century BCE from the ancient Greek ἄθεος (atheos), meaning “without god(s)”. In antiquity, it had multiple uses as a pejorative term applied to those thought to reject the gods worshiped by the larger society, those who were forsaken by the gods, or those who had no commitment to belief in the gods. The term denoted a social category created by orthodox religionists into which those who did not share their religious beliefs were placed. The actual term atheism emerged first in the 16th century. With the spread of freethought, skeptical inquiry, and subsequent increase in criticism of religion, application of the term narrowed in scope. The first individuals to identify themselves using the word atheist lived in the 18th century during the Age of Enlightenment. The French Revolution, noted for its “unprecedented atheism”, witnessed the first major political movement in history to advocate for the supremacy of human reason.
Arguments for atheism range from philosophical to social and historical approaches. Rationales for not believing in deities include arguments that there is a lack of empirical evidence, the problem of evil, the argument from inconsistent revelations, the rejection of concepts that cannot be falsified, and the argument from nonbelief. Nonbelievers contend that atheism is a more parsimonious position than theism and that everyone is born without beliefs in deities; therefore, they argue that the burden of proof lies not on the atheist to disprove the existence of gods but on the theist to provide a rationale for theism. Although some atheists have adopted secular philosophies (e.g. secular humanism), there is no ideology or code of conduct to which all atheists adhere.
Since conceptions of atheism vary, accurate estimations of current numbers of atheists are difficult. According to global Win-Gallup International studies, 13% of respondents were “convinced atheists” in 2012, 11% were “convinced atheists” in 2015, and in 2017, 9% were “convinced atheists”. However, other researchers have advised caution with WIN/Gallup figures since other surveys which have used the same wording for decades and have a bigger sample size have consistently reached lower figures. An older survey by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 2004 recorded atheists as comprising 8% of the world’s population. Other older estimates have indicated that atheists comprise 2% of the world’s population, while the irreligious add a further 12%. According to these polls, Europe and East Asia are the regions with the highest rates of atheism. In 2015, 61% of people in China reported that they were atheists. The figures for a 2010 Eurobarometer survey in the European Union (EU) reported that 20% of the EU population claimed not to believe in “any sort of spirit, God or life force”, with France (40%) and Sweden (34%) representing the highest values.