Alan Charles Kors
This article discusses the meanings, origin, context, scope, and central intellectual claims of atheism in the Age of the European Enlightenment. It emphasizes debates about proofs of the existence of God and about the problem of categorical naturalism, that is, of whether or not the world we observe and its seeming design could be the product of unintelligent causes. It explores the philosophical origins of Enlightenment atheism both in prior heterodox and Epicurean thought, and, of even greater importance, in the orthodox debates, scholarship, and mutual contestations that generated so many of the themes and often arguments of Enlightenment atheists. It pays special attention to the complexity of the relationship between philosophical skepticism and atheistic thought. Given the flowering of explicitly atheistic thought in the late French Enlightenment, the article looks closely at the work of Denis Diderot, the baron d’Holbach, and Jacques-André Naigeon.
Most analytic philosophers are atheists, but is there a deep connection between analytic philosophy and atheism? The paper argues (a) that the founding fathers of analytic philosophy were mostly teenage atheists before they became philosophers; (b) that analytic philosophy was invented partly because it was realized that the God-substitute provided by the previously fashionable philosophy—Absolute Idealism—could not cut the spiritual mustard; (c) that analytic philosophy developed an unhealthy obsession with meaninglessness which led to a new kind of atheism that dismissed talk of God as factually meaningless (neither true nor false) rather than meaningful but false; but (d) that this new-fangled atheism (unlike the old-fashioned atheism of the founders) is false, since it relies on theories of meaning—verificationism and falsificationism—which are themselves false. The primary focus is on Bertrand Russell, though other analytic philosophers such as Ayer, Neurath and Flew are also extensively discussed.
This essay aims to explain what Aquinas does and does not mean when using the word ‘God’. It also tries to explain why Aquinas thinks it reasonable to conclude that God exists and how Aquinas can be compared and contrasted with certain thinkers both agreeing and disagreeing with this conclusion. The essay places emphasis on Aquinas’s notion of esse and on the fact that he consistently asserts that we do not know what God is.
This essay distinguishes three kinds of arguments for atheism: direct; indirect; and comparative. The article begins with a quick survey of direct arguments, and argues that the prospects for successful arguments of this kind are not good. It then sketches a comparative argument, and argues that, while its prospects are also not terrifically bright—though plainly brighter than the prospects for any argument for theism!—a successful argument for atheism would most likely look something like the comparative argument that it has sketched.
The findings of the cognitive sciences enrich our understanding of atheism by providing a more nuanced and empirically grounded concept of ‘belief’ and by problematizing psychological assumptions often employed in theorizing about atheism. Beliefs are diverse not only in content but also level of cognitive processing, and implicit beliefs can and do diverge from explicit beliefs. This is just as true for beliefs about supernatural agents as it is for beliefs about physical objects. Further, findings from the cognitive sciences call into question the notion that human beings are ‘rational’ and the notion that beliefs can be explained by their ability to provide comfort. The cognitive sciences are replacing such assumptions with an empirically grounded vision of mind and belief.
David P. Barash
Although evolution by natural selection does not necessarily disprove the existence of God (thus, it does not ‘prove’ the validity of atheism), it negates two of the more potent pro-religion arguments, here dubbed the ‘Argument from Complexity’ and the ‘Reassurance of Specialness’. In addition, it provides support for one of the strongest challenges to traditional religious belief, by contributing to the ‘Reiteration of Theodicy’.
Erik J. Wielenberg
This essay addresses two popular worries about morality in an atheistic context. The first is a psychological or sociological one: the worry that unbelief makes one more disposed to act immorally than one would be if one had theistic beliefs (of a certain sort) and, consequently, widespread atheism produces societal dysfunction. This essay argues that the relationship between atheism and human moral beliefs and behaviour is complex, and that highly secularized societies can also be deeply moral societies. The second worry is philosophical in nature: the worry that if there is no God or gods, then there are also no objective moral truths or facts. This essay make the case that the question of whether there are objective moral truths is independent of the existence or nonexistence of God. In the final section, the essay discusses the nature and possible grounds of objective morality in an atheistic context.
This article examines the strong correlation that currently exists between high levels of secularity in a given society positive societal well-being. By looking at the most and least theistic nations on earth, as well as the most and least theistic states in the United States, and by taking into consideration a wide array of indicators of societal well-being, the correlation is clear: the most secular societies on earth with the highest rates of non-belief fare much better, on average, than the most religious, strongly-believing societies. While understanding that correlation does not equal causation, this article still maintains that theism is clearly not the societal panacea many claim it to be, nor is atheism a source of societal degradation.
Kimberly A. Blessing
Both theists and atheists have attempted to show that their opponent’s orientation towards religion prevents them from living truly meaningful lives. But exclusivists on both sides are wrong. For neither atheists nor theists are necessarily committed to meaninglessness. This essay focuses attention on two key components of theistic meaning of life theories that theists argue are importantly missing from atheistic theories, immortality and a Divine Plan. It also considers atheistic alternatives to theistic accounts of meaningfulness that involve subjectivism, intrinsic values, and Susan Wolf’s hybrid theory of meaning. We come to see that genuine meaning for either theists or atheists requires some conceptual commitments, and the dispute about which side can live meaningfully is yet another case of the two sides talking past each other. Alternatively, if we allow for the different kinds and degrees of meaning we may conclude that both theists and atheists are able to offer rationally acceptable theories of life’s meaning(s).
Victor J. Stenger
While belief in gods was almost universal in the ancient world, Thales of Miletus introduced the notion that observed phenomena could be explained in natural terms without invoking imagined spirits. Leucippus and Democritus, and later Epicurus and Lucretius, proposed that everything was composed of particulate atoms in an otherwise empty void. Any gods that existed played no role in the human world. The universe was infinite, eternal, uncreated, and included many worlds besides our own. These ideas conflicted with the other philosophical schools of the time and were suppressed by the Church during the Dark Ages. Atomism reappeared during the Renaissance and became a crucial ingredient in the scientific revolution that followed. The atomic picture of matter has now been solidly confirmed. Furthermore, the notion of an infinite, eternal, and uncreated ‘multiverse’ is strongly suggested by modern cosmology.