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.
The article examines evidence for characteristic Buddhist positions regarding the nature and soteriological status of deities. It establishes that deities are but one of several classes of transient entities that need spiritual guidance and argues that by accepting the existence of such entities Buddhism is, according to the operating definition of the volume, a theistic tradition. It also shows that, whereas later Buddhist thinkers developed sophisticated critiques of concepts of a universal God developed within Indian Hindu tradition and are committed to a strongly atheist stance, texts representing early Buddhism tend to be epistemologically cautious rather than directly atheist. This is picture is explored through the exposition of verses from Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra and supplemented by reference to suttas and jātakas from the Pali canon. Finally, it dismisses a quasi-theistic interpretation of some aspects of Buddhist traditions.
T. J. Mawson
This essay begins by remarking that the broad understanding of atheism (‘absence of belief in a God or gods’) is not a position that theism per se commits one to claiming is unreasonable. The essay then, however, proceeds to present an argument against atheism being reasonable. This constitutes a variant of the fine-tuning version of the Design Argument, and contends that both the universe’s fine-tuning to us, and our fine-tuning to the universe, are better explained by the ‘God hypothesis’ than by a range of alternatives (including the ‘maximal multiverse hypothesis’). While admitting that there is no single ‘killer argument’ against atheism, the essay argues that a persuasive, cumulative case for the God hypothesis—with cosmic fine-tuning as its strongest suit—can nevertheless be constructed.
A. C. Grayling
Within the history of western philosophy, there have been a number of classic ways of arguing for the existence of God. The most important of these are the teleological argument (or argument from design), the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, the moral argument, and a loose family of pragmatic considerations affirming the prudence or desirability of theistic belief (including, most famously, ‘Pascal’s wager’). Demonstrating the weaknesses of these approaches is crucial for establishing the ‘negative’ case for atheism. This essay begins by defining what it is that philosophers normally means by ‘God’—i.e., what it is that the classic arguments in the philosophy of religion are arguing about. It then outlines and critiques each main approach in turn, focusing primarily on its most classic and influential expressions within the western philosophical tradition.
Over the course of 3000 years, Hindu intellectual culture has not only embraced differing notions of the divine, but also a variety of different ‘atheisms’—the most famous of these being the Carvaka, or Lokayata, school. This essay charts the history of Hindu ‘atheism’ in the various forms it has taken from the classical to modern periods, including scepticism regarding the supernatural, the soul and an afterlife, non-theistic approaches to divinity, and critical or subversive responses to religion. It also engages with and explains a number of key ideas within Hindu thought and practice, including Dharma and personalism. Finally it outlines a ‘Hindu axis of atheism’ by highlighting some of the key themes on which Indian critiques have centred.
This article introduces the aims and activities of atheist, humanist and rationalist groups with a focus on the lived experiences of atheists in present-day India. At the same time it discusses the scope of the Oxford Handbook of Atheism’s understanding of ‘atheism’ with respect to India. It argues that the focus on the belief in God and gods can be misleading in the context of Hindu religious traditions. Against this background it is a topical question whether contemporary atheist groups in India are merely a global expression of post-Enlightenment Europe or whether their roots reach further back into Indian history, probably even, as claimed by atheist representatives, back to Vedic times (the materialist traditions referred to as Lokāyata or Cārvāka). As a possible answer to this question this article employs an illustrative analogy between ‘modern atheism’ and ‘linear perspective’ in painting.
Looking at the history and present state of atheism in the Islamic world, this article focuses primarily on Iran and the eastern parts of the Arab world, connecting the present motivations and experience of atheism in these regions with a historical perspective on religious dissent and radical modernism.
Jains dismiss as delusional the belief in a grace-bestowing creator God, yet approach each day reverentially and prayerfully. This seeming paradox is explored, arguing that Jainism’s refusal to treat human life as the only form of conscious, rational life underpins its rejection of a transcosmic God. The meaningful cosmos in Jainism is filled with conscious, intentional beings, some identified as gods, and all of whom are situated within the same existential trajectory seeking release. This essay ponders the diverse understandings of ‘God’ that we find in Jainism and seeks to elucidate this ancient devotional structure, which rests upon, not a creator God, but a meaningful cosmos.
What does it mean to be an atheist in Japan and what do the Japanese understand to be the difference between being non-religious and being atheist? When and under what conditions do such questions become relevant for the Japanese to consider? In order to answer such questions, one must go back to a time and place where the Japanese begin to consider atheism as a cultural concept. This work explores the topic of intellectual atheism as both product and agent of sweeping cultural changes in a rapidly modernizing Meiji Era Japan. It considers the influences of various social forces upon traditional modes of living and thinking as well as the response of these forces to challenges presented by modernization and by the enduring aspects of traditional Japanese life. The essay addresses these historic events through the lens of the agents of these social forces and examines their influence and legacies with regard to various aspects and institutions of Japanese life including politics, education, research, economics, and religious traditions in modern Japan.
Though Jews are assumed to have a special affinity for atheism, a careful glance at the historical record suggests this hypothesis has yet to be verified. Basic terms in the languages of Judaism that refer to atheists are exceedingly difficult to pinpoint and translate. Instead, the historical sources conspire to severely diminish our ability to conclusively identify Jewish non-believers in the pre-modern and early modern periods. Christian sources pertaining to atheism, although equally difficult to decipher, are far more copious and detailed. At present, it seems safest to say that the first class of self-conscious, socially mobilized Jewish atheists emerged in the post-Marxist ferment of the late nineteenth century and crested in the middle of the twentieth.
Ryan T. Cragun, Joseph H. Hammer, and Jesse M. Smith
This essay provides an overview of what is known about atheists in North America. It begins with estimates of the total number of atheists in North America, including Central America, Caribbean nations, Mexico, Canada, and the US. Demographic characteristics of atheists in Canada, Mexico, and the US based on the World Values Survey are also examined. What life is like for atheists in the US, including the discrimination they experience and the issues they must address in developing an atheist identity in a predominantly religious country, are also detailed. The essay concludes with suggestions for future research.
Michael L. Peterson
The problem of evil is considered to be the most formidable objection to theism and a central element in the case for atheism. This essay surveys and evaluates the two key formulations of the problem expressed as an argument: the logical argument and the evidential argument. It also analyzes two types of defences offered in response to the argument from evil: the Free Will Defence against the logical argument and Skeptical Theist Defence against the evidential argument. Also treated are several greater-good theodicies that are generally employed as responses to the evidential argument: free will theodicy, natural law theodicy, and soul-making theodicy. Because it sounds a slightly different note from traditional greater good approaches, the theodicy of Open Theism—which argues that the theistic God could create a universe in which there is the possibility of evil occurring that does not serve some greater good—is examined.
The most interesting thing about sceptical theism is its sceptical component. When sceptical theists use that component in responding to arguments from evil, they think it is reasonable for their non-theistic interlocutors to accept it, even if they don't expect them to accept their theism. This article focuses on that sceptical component. The first section explains more precisely what the sceptical theist's scepticism amounts to and how it is used in response to various sorts of arguments from evil. The next section considers and responds to objections to sceptical theism. It is shown that just as there are non-theists who accept the sceptical theist's scepticism, so also are there theists who reject it.
A particular affinity between Western Europe and atheism is commonly perceived. This essay outlines the ways in which especially histories of atheism and secularization have described and assumed this affinity, and argues that a tradition of empirical research is needed in order to understand and establish it. This essay also introduces some pioneering quantitative and qualitative contributions towards such a tradition. This research illuminates three aspects of Western European atheism: (i) its notable but also varying pervasiveness in individual countries; (ii) its significant cultural and social sides; and (iii) the extent to which these aspects of Western European atheism are unique to Western Europe and intrinsically Western European in that sense. This essay argues that, ultimately, Western European atheisms can only be understood by comparison with other atheisms from around the world. It calls therefore for the development of a global, comparative programme of research.