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.
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’.
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).
Frank L. Pasquale and Barry A. Kosmin
There are signs of both secularization and religionization in the world today. Consistent with the modernization-secularization thesis, structural factors such as increasing economic security, societal complexity, and information flow are broadly associated with greater personal autonomy, worldview individualization, and erosion of some religious forms. At the same time, ‘counter-secular’ reassertions or transformations of religion have arisen for psychological, cultural, and political reasons. Amid these broad developments, active or public forms of atheism have also (re-)emerged, particularly in Europe and the Anglophone world. Self-conscious, assertive atheism and other forms of philosophical or ideological secularism have both intended and unintended effects in the processes of secularization and religionization. But a quieter and potentially more pervasive result of all these forces may be greater worldview diversity and individualization across the secular-religious spectrum.
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.
The story of belief and doubt in modern literature begins with the emergence of open [CE1]unbelief at roughly the midpoint of the nineteenth century. For the first generation of writers—including such greats as Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Fyodor Dostoevsky—the sense of conflict and uncertainty was palpable, as they grappled on new ground with classic questions concerning the nature and existence of God, the problem of evil, and the meaning of human life. In the generations that followed, from the rise of naturalism to the heights of modernism into the postmodern, eclectic age we call our own, the overtly Christian nature of the question of belief began to recede from view, and a politically oriented understanding took center stage. To a significant extent, on matters having to do with the relationship between literature and belief, the twentieth century was to witness an ever-widening gap between the view of those matters from the ivory tower and the perspective from the pews and the private regions of the heart. As a result, while powerful theoretical developments were fueling academic skepticism about the role of religion within the academy, outside the academy’s walls men and women continued to grapple with God and to record their struggles for others to read, to hear, and to heed. Given the infinitely diverse and widely dispersed nature of modern culture, these individual accounts of faith and doubt perhaps have not had the same cultural resonance that the explosive explorations of the nineteenth-century writers did. Yet at the same time, they testify to the ongoing vitality of belief, and unbelief, in contemporary literature and experience. At their best, such works are marked by a creative pugnacity, and in their willingness to mention the unmentionable, they continue to serve as a counter-cultural force challenging the pieties of the modern literary and theoretical establishments.
This essay examines the relations between existentialism and atheism, and argues that these are more complicated and multi-faceted than is often thought. Of the main nineteenth-century authors whose ideas prefigure existentialism—Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, and Kierkegaard—the last two are, explicitly, Christians. Even the twentieth-century existentialists who are well known for their positive atheism (i.e., for affirming that there is no God)—Sartre and Camus—actually struggle to extricate their thought from the legacy of Christianity. Because Sartre and Camus reject traditional European moral frameworks on the grounds that these depend upon belief in God, they have difficulty establishing positive ethical frameworks to guide human action and politics, as they nonetheless wish to do. Insofar as Sartre and Camus do derive ethical-political prescriptions from their versions of existentialism, they achieve this only by falling back upon aspects of the traditional Christian morality whose framework and foundations they reject.
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 Humanism. It explains what those who organize under that heading mean by the term. It also addresses several common misunderstandings about what Humanism involves. In particular, Humanists need not sign up to utopianism, scientism, materialism, or naturalism. The chapter also corrects the misunderstanding that Humanism is defined wholly in terms of what it is against—that it is not really for anything. It is very much for a great deal. Other common criticisms of Humanism are addressed, such as that it involves a commitment to relativism, and also that it overlooks the fact that religion is socially necessary (to provide an essentially social adhesive, say) and required to provide a moral compass and foundation. The paper concludes with some discussion of, and argument for, a humanist-friendly approach to moral education.
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.
This article discusses the relationship between Marx, Marxism, and atheism, outlining the ways in which the phrase ‘opium of the people’ is often misunderstood as an atheist statement. In fact, Marx rejected the term atheism as inadequate to the task as it did not address the socio-economic basis of religious belief. While some forms of Marxism often adopted a mechanistic and dogmatic materialist approach to religion, Marx saw it as the means by which people made sense of social oppression, and therefore worthy of study in its own right. From Marx’s letter to Ruge in 1842 speaking of communism fulfilling the religious dreams of mankind, via Walter Benjamin’s revolutionary messianism, Ernst Bloch’s contention that ‘only an atheist can be a good Christian and only a Christian can be a good atheist’, through to Slavoj Žižek’s work on religion, Marxism has a more complex relationship to atheism than is often thought.
Methodological naturalism is the claim that there is no need to invoke the supernatural, including God or gods, in giving scientific explanations. Metaphysical naturalism is the claim that there is no supernatural, including God or gods. Does methodological naturalism entail metaphysical naturalism? Many seem to think that it does, in practice if not in principle. This essay questions this assumption.
By the term ‘New Atheism’ several authors and their books are subsumed under one label, most prominently The God Delusion (2006) by Richard Dawkins, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (2006) by Daniel Dennett, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason (2004) by Sam Harris, and God Is Not Great: Religion Poisons Everything (2007) by Christopher Hitchens. Besides an introduction to the ideas expressed in these books and the reception of the ‘New Atheists’ in the public discourse, the article comprises a criticism of the label ‘New Atheism’.
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.