In the recent past, in AN discussions, I have noticed two different opinions about what constitutes atheism.

One opinion holds that all humans are born atheists and they may later become religionists or confirm themselves as atheists, as they grow up. This seems like a transient atheism. This supposes that not knowing about the existence or otherwise of god or gods is also enough to qualify as an atheist. To be called an atheist, it is not necessary to thoughtfully, firmly, state that no supernatural exists. It is not necessary posses a firm belief or knowledge to qualify to be an atheist. Knowledge, therefore, is not an essential constituent of atheism.

What is then the status of a less-than-year-old child that is made to fold its hand in worship by the suggestion of an elder? Does this child remain an atheist? If lack of knowledge of a god can be atheism, then, conversely, can lack of knowledge of atheism make a child a religionist? Can a mentally retarded person whose mental status is the same as an infant, be counted as an atheist? This opinion would prohibit a person from being an agnostic till he acquires knowledge but allow him to be an atheist till then! A transcendent atheist will feel no importance of science, the greatest support of atheism today.

This opinion is extremely helpful for winning an argument about natural status of atheism.

The second opinion about what constitutes atheism states that atheism must be a conscious decision. An atheist must be able to proclaim that he does not believe in god, no such thing as god exists, that god is a man’s creation, a fiction. Therefore, atheism is a knowledge-based argument. This opinion will not support “natural atheism” theory but will lend atheism tremendous weight of firmness arising out of knowledge. Atheism thus defined will not be a transient atheism but will be a potentially firm belief, reversible only in the most unlikely event of knowledge supporting belief in god.  This definition of atheism will permit secularism, agnosticism as precursors to atheism, as it’s natural steps. Science can be a strong part of the support structure of such an atheism.

These are basically the arguments of the two sides. Which opinion is more correct? Which one would you support and why?

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Replies to This Discussion

Does not the principle of turning a shoe string into two bows apply? When children come into the world, they possess no such knowledge. By observing, experimenting, questioning, exploring and usually some frustration, they learn how to tie a shoestring. 
When children come into the world, they possess no knowledge of god/no-god. By the same cognitive and experimental processes, they learn whether god exists/ does not exist. These learned behaviors change over time and experience and more knowledge. Therefore belief in the existence of god is learned, as is belief in the non-existence of god. 

Madhukar wrote, " Not believing takes knowledge. Not knowing is simply ignorance ..."
My next question, If not knowing whether there is a god/no-god, do humans have the capacity to develop into wise, courageous, compassionate, productive beings?

My answer to my own question is,  OF COURSE! All one has to do is pay attention to the quality of life of many native cultures around the world and know learning comes from applying critical thought to problems of survival and thriving. Some cultures have very strange rituals and patterns of behavior and yet are able to raise up a next generation that thrives. Isn't that evolution reveals: survival of those who are able to bring forth another generation? 

"Not believing is not the same as not knowing."

In some ways they are identical, their antonyms on the other hand, …different story.

"Not believing takes knowledge."

About as much as a fish needs dancing lessons.

Not knowing is simply ignorance

Ignorance is not necessarily an epithet, sometimes it's merely a circumstance, often it's an honesty. It's only a bad thing when it's willful. 

"...which can be said to be unpardonable to a person possessing some intelligence."

The person saying it would be very ignorant, and not in the good way...

Greg LeGore

You have put it excellently. Atheism is not a religion but certainly is an ideal. No ideal can be accepted base on ignorance, it has to be accepted with the help of knowledge. Enlisting a child as an athist is childish!

The most correct position would be the knowledge based atheism, as for the transient position well we are all in a state of stransience which both atheists and theists share, rarely in my experience have both 'opposites' theists and atheists believed in the same aspect of their knowledge for an extanded period of time. Its all transient focusing at different times and places on different aspects of what they hold to be important and which addresses the issues and arguments of the day.

Greg and Madhukar:  But, atheism is NOT an ideal.  It is a freedom from belief in gods. An atheist can be as ignorant as anyone else.  He simply does not believe in gods.  Madhukar, your posts seem to consistently attempt to discover the 'true'  philosophy of the atheist.  I keep telling you that there is none.  Look to Humanism if you want a specific philosophy.  

The only thing all atheists have in common is that we do not believe in gods.  

Greg LeGore

You do not seemed to have noticed about the bold statement that all atheists can not have a common belief coming from just ignorance!

Hey Dogly,

An atheist can be as ignorant as anyone else.

I fall into this category. The more I read about genetics, the more I realise how little I know about it. The same for things like evolution, astronomy and gravity. 

Your statemet:

The only thing all atheists have in common is that we do not believe in gods.  

sums up atheists as a group pretty well.



An atheist can be as ignorant as anyone else.

I fall into this category.

This is plain modesty and a very admirable one too. Do not stretch it too far. You are an atheist, a firm atheist and it takes something to be an atheist. I do not know how you became an atheist, but today your atheism sits on a firm foundation of knowledge. Your trust that no god exists is not unsupported.

I'd have to agree too. We're united by only one factor and that's our non-belief. Anything else is just extra.


I do not, can not and will not deny that I would be very happy to evolve some commanalities in atheist character, but this particular thread is not for that purpose. An atheist should know what atheism is, what he stands for and when I see two opinions giving two definitions, I ask myself "What I reallt am?"  Have I swung from an unintended, ignorant state of atheism, then to faith and then again rejected it? Or, was my initial phase of ignorance just a part of evolution of me as a person? I ned to make a sound and intellegible decision. If I want to make intellegint decisions on important social subjects, I need to have an ideal.

I think this should trouble any atheist as it questions the very basis of his atheism.

Yes, Madhukar.  I agree with everything you just said.  I guess that is one important reason we have all come here to learn, encourage each other, and debate ideas. Thanks!


I forgot to add something that I wanted to:

 I find Madhukar's posts extremely interesting, thought provoking, and intelligent.

Wow, Dogly's meowing is sweert!! Thanks, I rarely get good compliments!



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