Is Atheism a Religion?

Category: Culture Wars/Popular Culture 67 7

A common belief among many atheists is that atheism is not a religion and has been proven to be true by science. There are a couple of reasons why they think this. First, it is commonly believed that a religion requires a belief in a supernatural being, uses rituals, and has an established set of beliefs that cannot be verified by science, thus a religion requires faith. Secondly, the theory of evolution is thought to prove that God is not needed, so God must not exist. Is this way of thinking correct? Is atheism scientific or is it a religious belief? Let’s take a look.

The Definitions of Science and Religion

The best place to begin this topic is by defining the words religion and science.  The American Heritage Dictionary defines science as “the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.” It gives two main definitions for religion. The first being a belief in a supernatural power and the second as “a cause or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.”

Furthermore, the word “religion” comes from the Latin religare, (re – back; ligare – to bind). This expresses the idea that a person is bound or tied to their beliefs.[1] This, along with the definition above, shows us that a religion does not require the belief in a supernatural power. It also does not need rituals for the followers to perform. Although most religions do have these things, they are not required. It is also important to realize that if there are organized religions, like Christianity and Islam, then there must be unorganized religions as well. Interestingly, there are some atheists who do organize.

Has Atheism been proven by Science?

I have had the experience of speaking with atheists who will tell me that atheism is scientific fact since evolution is true. A problem with this idea is even if evolution is true that does not prove that there is no God, so this does not mean that atheism is fact. (I personally do not think that evolution has been proven true. I also have written articles [see here and here as well] in the past that show that the God of the Bible is not compatible with evolution.)

One cannot prove atheism through scientific observation and experimentation. You cannot put God, or no God, under a microscope and declare whether or not he exists. Ron Carlson and Ed Decker make a good point on this topic: “It is philosophically impossible to be an atheist, since to be an atheist you must have infinite knowledge in order to know absolutely that there is no God. But to have infinite knowledge, you would have to be God yourself. It’s hard to be God yourself and an atheist at the same time!”[2]

Atheists must believe that life came from nothing through random chance. This means that everything came from nothing. How can material things spring into existence from nothing? Sir Fred Hoyle once said concerning evolution: “The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way is comparable with the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials contained therein.”[3]

This kind of thinking cannot be proved in a science laboratory. That does not mean that it did not happen, but that it has not been scientifically verified. To believe in something with no direct observational evidence is to have faith in it. Neither creation nor evolution can be proved or disproved by direct observation and experimentation. Both have to be accepted by faith.

The Major Beliefs of a Religion

Another point to make about atheism is that it gives answers to life’s most sought-after questions. These questions are typically sought after by a religion:

1)      Where do we come from?

2)      Where are we going? Is there an afterlife, etc.?

3)      What about morality? Do right and wrong exist?

4)      What is the meaning of life?

All human beings ask these questions at some point in their lives. Science cannot answer any of these. Why? You cannot go into a laboratory and observe morality. Neither can you observe the past, the future, or the meaning of life. These questions all fall under religion, not science. Whatever your belief is on these questions you are accepting them by faith.

Where do we come from?

Christians believe that we are created in God’s image. Atheists believe that we are nothing but accidents. We are nothing but randomly evolved creatures that emerged from the slim. Christianity teaches us that we are important while atheism teaches that humans are not.

Where are we going?

The Bible teaches us that God created the world perfect, but humanity rebelled against him and brought sin and death into creation. Scripture then tells us the account of God breaking into history as Jesus Christ. Jesus will return to restore the world back to its original pristine condition.

Atheists believe that there is no future for mankind or the universe. Eventually humanity and all life on earth will go extinct. The universe will run out of energy and will simply cease to exist.  A good summary of what atheists think will happen in the future follows:

“…one day the universe will reach what is called a heat death, although it is in effect a cold death, for the temperature of the universe will be just a fraction of a degree above absolute zero. This will happen when all the energy that is available to do work will have been used up, and then nothing will happen – the universe will just ‘be.’ The time period for the universe to reach this state is almost unimaginable. It is thought that it will take about a thousand billion years for all the stars to use up all their fuel and fizzle out. By then, of course, there will be no life in the universe; every single life-form, including humans, will have become extinct billions of years previously. There will still be, however, occasional flashes of starlight in the dark universe as very large stars collapse in on themselves to form black holes. For the next 10122 (that is the figure 1 followed by 122 zeros!) years, this so-called Hawking radiation will be the only thing happening in the universe. Then, when all the black holes have evaporated, there will be darkness for 1026 years, during which time the universe will simply ‘be’ and nothing will happen.”[4]

Christianity teaches us that the world will once again be perfect, but only those who believe in Jesus’ divinity and resurrection (Romans 10:9) will get to experience it. Atheism teaches that there is no ultimate future.

What about Morality?

Christianity teaches that humans are to do good and shun evil. God determines what good and evil are and humanity is to obey God. Atheism teaches that there is no ultimate good or evil. Since there is no absolute authority like God, then mankind determines what is right and wrong. Morality is relative and can change throughout time.

What is the Meaning of Life?

How we answer this question comes from our thinking about the previous questions – especially the first two about our origins and the future. Christianity gives us a history that the world was created good, fell into sin, and will ultimately be restored when Christ returns. This gives a good look at the reason why God created us in the first place. Genesis 3 tells us that God was actually present in Eden with Adam and Eve before they sinned. Revelation 21 speaks about how God will come back and live with us in the New Heavens and New Earth. The meaning of our lives is to live with and have a relationship with God (see this article for a more in-depth look at the subject).

Atheists believe that we have no ultimate meaning in life. We are born, we live a short life, and then we die. Our names will be forgotten and we will no longer exist. Eventually all of mankind (and everything else) will cease to exist. Everything that we do has no purpose.

Conclusion

One evolutionary biologist summarizes an atheistic point of view:

“There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either.”[5]

Atheism is a religion. It cannot be proved (or disproved) by science. In order for a person to believe in no God they must accept it by faith.

What do you think? Is atheism science or religion? Do you agree with the conclusion of the article? Leave a comment below and visit us on Facebook.


[1] Gary Bates. Alien Intrusion Updated and Expanded. (Powder Springs: Creation Book Publishers, 2004). Pg. 58.

[2] Ron Carlson and Ed Decker. Fast Facts on False Teachings (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 1994). Pg. 17.

[3] “Hoyle on Evolution.” Nature, vol. 294, November 12, 1981. Quoted in Bates, 133.

[4] Tommy Mitchell and A.J. Monty White. “Is Evolution a Religion?” In The New Answers Book 2. Ken Ham ed. (Green Forest: Master Books, 2008). Pg. 216.

[5] William B. Provine. Origins Research 16, no. 1 (1994):9. Quoted in Mitchell and White, 213.

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7 thoughts on “Is Atheism a Religion?

  1. Atomic Mutant

    It’s interesting to see a Christian trying to explain what a common belief among atheists is, but honestly, in some points I disagree…

    First of all, yes, atheism is not a religion. Yes, I know that dictionary definition, but according to this definition, collecting stamps, playing soccer, sex and many, many, many other things are a religion, too. I do not doubt that some people pursue their atheism religously – but that doesn’t make atheism a religion. If you want to make almost everything a religion, thus effectively reducing the meaning of religion to “something people like very much”, well, ok, but then you should notice that this means that Christianity will have no special place anymore – at least, not more so than soccer.
    For many atheists (but not all, of course) atheism is simply the complete lack of belief in any god(s). You can be quite outspoken about it, fanatic even, but that still doesn’t make it a religion – at least not without robbing any useful meaning from the word “religion”. Atheism is also not a religion because it can’t be proven – I also don’t believe in fairies, is this a religion? Is your lack in the belief of Zeus a religion, just because, ultimately, you cannot disprove him? What about aliens? Do you believe or not? Either way could be considered a religion if you only take “not possible to proof” as a definition.
    Religions don’t need a god, but many have. Atheism is about the belief in god, not about the belief in supernatural things per se – but of course, many atheists are also skeptics, who do not believe in many other things.

    But, atheism has not been proven true by science, because that would require a proof that there is no god – which science cannot ever do, because the basic theistic god idea is not falsifiable – in other words, there is absolutely nothing we can do to test it. No matter what happens, god COULD still be out there. But of course, god shares this quality with invisible flying unicorns, so that doesn’t actually prove god, it just says that it’s a pretty useless idea.

    Why believers always thinks that evolution and atheism are related is honestly quite strange. I know many Christians who have no problems believing that their god is more powerful and wise then them and can simply start the universe and know that it will bring forth humans, because. Somehow, there is a special kind of Christians (Creationists), who cannot even accept the idea that god did something in a way they can’t understand – and who do, quite arrogantly, believe their own interpretation of their holy book must be the truth, completely ignoring the fact that they are not god themselves. So, while most atheists accept the fact of evolution, it’s not really limited to them – and you can be an atheist while not accepting evolution, if you want to. And of course it does not in the slightest disprove god. It only disproves certain specific beliefs, like the idea that everything gets created manually. It removes the need for god as an answer from the question “How did humans develop?”, but nothing more. But yes, evolution is a almost certainly a fact. And no, I will not discuss it with you. You can believe what you want, but I will not discuss gravity with you for the same reason – you may jump of the cliff, if you want to, but go and search an expert if you want to discuss evolution. I know enough to be reasonably sure it’s true, but I am not expert enough to show all the evidence to you and thus a discussion about it could, in the best case for you, only end with you proving that I’m not an expert, nothing more. There is a quote that I really like…

    “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” – Bertrand Russell

    How can something come from nothing? We don’t know. That’s the honest answer. Some scientists have some ideas about that and that’s also honest. “I know! God did it!” is not. It’s filling a gap in our knowledge with random noise. It’s a classical argument from ignorance: “You don’t know, thus god.”. And that’s a fallacy. The picture you posted has a modified version, which adds: “Christianity: The knowledge that a wizard did it.”. And that’s about it.

    And yes, morality is a human concept. That’s all there is to say. This doesn’t make it meaningless, the meaning it just limited to humans. And yes, there is no absolute meaning of life. But while some Christians seem to think that’s bad, it’s actually good, because it allows you to define your own meaning, your own way, to accept that you are responsible for your life and not something else.

    Atheism is not a religion. It’s basically the lack of belief – and thus the lack of religion. It can be pursued religiously, of course, but unless you want to accept the religion of soccer, you should really think about your definitions.

    1. mmcclellan2

      Sorry it took me so long to reply. I was very busy this past week. Thanks for the response. Here are my thoughts on what you are saying (I will quote something you said, which is numbered, then give my response).

      1. “…collecting stamps, playing soccer, sex and many, many, many other things are a religion, too…If you want to make almost everything a religion, thus effectively reducing the meaning of religion to “something people like very much… robbing any useful meaning from the word ‘religion.’”

      I agree that a person can pursue these things religiously, but I do not think that these are the totality of a person’s beliefs. A religion will essentially answer the four questions that I spoke about in the article. I do not see how answering questions concerning the meaning of life or our future reduces the meaning of the word “religion.”

      2. “atheism is simply the complete lack of belief in any god(s)… Atheism is not a religion. It’s basically the lack of belief – and thus the lack of religion.”

      The lack of belief is not a lack of religion. Atheism is only the lack of belief in a deity. Atheism still answers the biggest questions about our existence. Atheism is a religious worldview that guides a person’s beliefs and how they behave in the world.

      3. “I also don’t believe in fairies, is this a religion? Is your lack in the belief of Zeus a religion, just because, ultimately, you cannot disprove him? What about aliens? Do you believe or not? Either way could be considered a religion if you only take “not possible to proof” as a definition.”

      Actually, I just recently wrote a series on aliens. Many people do believe that aliens created life and are the gods of the ancient world. Yes, my lack of belief in Zeus, aliens, and fairies is part of my religious worldview – yours too. If you believe in things like these, something that cannot be verified, then yes, they do become part of a person’s religious beliefs.

      4. “atheism has not been proven true by science, because that would require a proof that there is no god – which science cannot ever do, because the basic theistic god idea is not falsifiable”

      I agree completely. Neither Christianity nor atheism can be proved or disproved by science. We must look at the “big picture” and whatever conclusion we come to is faith, not fact.

      5. “…god shares this quality with invisible flying unicorns, so that doesn’t actually prove god, it just says that it’s a pretty useless idea.”

      Just because you cannot see something does not mean it doesn’t exist and is “useless.” How we know which invisible things are real or not (like unicorns) means that we must look at all the available evidence. Just because one thing is not real (unicorns) doesn’t mean that everything we cannot see (like God) is not real as well. You are basically arguing:

      a. Flying unicorns are invisible and are not real. So they are useless.
      b. God is invisible.
      c. So God is not real and is useless as well.

      This is a logical fallacy.

      6. “Why believers always thinks that evolution and atheism are related is honestly quite strange. I know many Christians who have no problems believing that their god is more powerful and wise then them and can simply start the universe and know that it will bring forth humans”

      Atheism requires evolution because it is the only way that life could have come about without a deity. It is not strange at all to come to this conclusion. Sadly, many Christians do believe that God used evolution, but this does not mean that evolution is correct. There are many theological problems with God (or any god) using evolution. I have written five articles on this topic so if you want to know what the problems are you may go and read those articles (they are in the Old Testament category).

      7. “Somehow, there is a special kind of Christians (Creationists), who cannot even accept the idea that god did something in a way they can’t understand – and who do, quite arrogantly, believe their own interpretation of their holy book must be the truth, completely ignoring the fact that they are not god themselves.”

      It is not that we can’t understand God using evolution; it is that it contradicts the teachings of Christ and the Biblical authors (again see my articles of this topic). I also don’t think we are “special.” All we have done is studied Scripture in its original historical-literary context and allowed it to interpret itself. Everyone thinks that their own interpretations are truth, even atheists like you. Just because everyone thinks like this does not mean that 100% of them are wrong. Someone may very well be correct in their interpretations. It takes a lot of studying to know what is true and what is not. See the link for a good discussion of this. http://creation.com/holy-books

      8. “you can be an atheist while not accepting evolution, if you want to”

      Yes, you’re right, but this is illogical and inconsistent. Atheism naturally leads to evolution. If a supernatural being didn’t create everything then the only logical way for life and everything else (like the universe) to come into existence is through naturalistic processes. Without these an atheist has no way to account for anything.

      9. “But yes, evolution is a almost certainly a fact. And no, I will not discuss it with you. You can believe what you want, but I will not discuss gravity with you for the same reason – you may jump of the cliff, if you want to, but go and search an expert if you want to discuss evolution. I know enough to be reasonably sure it’s true, but I am not expert enough to show all the evidence to you and thus a discussion about it could, in the best case for you, only end with you proving that I’m not an expert, nothing more.”

      There are a number of problems with what you said here. First, you mention that you will not discuss the fact that evolution is true even though you are not an expert. How do you know evolution is true if you cannot accurately argue in its favor? You appeal to the experts. This is another logical fallacy on your part.

      Second, you tell me to go seek an expert to discuss evolution as if all the experts believe in evolution. There are many scientists with Ph.Ds who do not believe in evolution. Third, gravity is observable and repeatable which falls under the definition of science. Darwinian evolution (when a piece of goo turns into a human) is not observable or repeatable. Gravity and evolution are not the same kind of science. See http://creation.com/Whos-really-pushing-bad-science-rebuttal-to-Lawrence-S-Lerner#naturalism for more on this topic.

      10. “How can something come from nothing? We don’t know. That’s the honest answer. Some scientists have some ideas about that and that’s also honest. “I know! God did it!” is not. It’s filling a gap in our knowledge with random noise. It’s a classical argument from ignorance: “You don’t know, thus god.”. And that’s a fallacy. The picture you posted has a modified version, which adds: “Christianity: The knowledge that a wizard did it.”. And that’s about it.”

      I do not use the god-of-the-gaps argument, nor do very many creationists that I know of. Instead of writing another article debunking this argument of yours, you (and any reader) should go and read the link provided: http://creation.com/whose-god-the-theological-response-to-the-god-of-the-gaps.

      11. “And yes, morality is a human concept. That’s all there is to say. This doesn’t make it meaningless, the meaning it just limited to humans. And yes, there is no absolute meaning of life. But while some Christians seem to think that’s bad, it’s actually good, because it allows you to define your own meaning, your own way, to accept that you are responsible for your life and not something else.”

      Morality is only a human concept in you religious worldview. The same goes for the meaning of life. I always find it interesting how atheists want to argue these things when there is no meaning in life. If there is no meaning then why are you spending so much time arguing with Christians (or anyone else) about it? Who cares if this life is the only life we get and we will remember nothing after it is over? Why do you argue that your “truth” is the only “truth” when there is no absolute “truth?” Why are you ok with different kinds of “truth” but get angry with Christians over there “truth?” If there is no absolute morality or “truth” then why tell Christians that their “truth” is wrong?

  2. Allallt

    You’re mistaken. It is not common for atheist to think that “atheism” has been proven by science. And it is not common for atheists to think that evolution has dis-proven God. Your interpretation and assertion about what atheists ‘must believe’ is a poor representation of what they do believe as well as the current scientific understanding.

    I hope this is not intentional and that you’d be willing to research it and change your perspective.

    1. mmcclellan2

      I guess my experience with atheists is much different then yours. A vast majority of atheists that I know believe that it is absolute fact. However, you are correct that not every single atheist in the world is like this so I have slightly reworded the article. (I put “many atheists” at the beginning of the article.)

      1. Allallt

        I appreciate the amendment. Thank you.
        Do you have a link to an atheist blogger who does assert that atheism is a scientific claim and is proven? I’m interested to read what that argument looks like. Despite being an atheist who enjoys reading the religion/atheism discussion I’m not sure I’ve encountered that view, yet.

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