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Featured article Atheism is a featured article; it (or a previous version of it) has been identified as one of the best articles produced by the Wikipedia community. Even so, if you can update or improve it, please do so.
Main Page trophy This article appeared on Wikipedia's Main Page as Today's featured article on June 8, 2007.
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April 28, 2007 Featured article candidate Promoted
Current status: Featured article
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Is atheism "... specifically the position that there are no deities"?[edit]

As described in the opening definitions. Clearly atheism may possibly include this position, but using the word 'specific' seems unnecessarily dogmatic, and in at least one example seen recently, can inadvertently contribute to the common misunderstanding by theists that atheists are necessarily attempting to prove an absence. It strikes me that leading-in to the piece with a definition (however narrow it is stated as being) which is so open to misconception may not be the most considered approach. Pmcrory (talk) 01:59, 10 March 2017 (UTC)

I wasn't around when the three-part intro was hammered out, but the consensus was clearly trying to cover a spectrum of degrees of belief. The third definition is the most extreme, yes. Changing it to "may include" seems like watering it down. Is there doubt whether there are atheists who maintain the position being characterized by the third definition? — jmcgnh(talk) (contribs) 03:18, 10 March 2017 (UTC)
The three levels are:
  • Broad – absence of belief
  • Middle – rejection of belief
  • Narrow – the position that there are no deities
So the narrow definition is specifically the belief there are no deities, if you use "may include the position..." then you are restating the middle ground in an ambiguous inclusive manner. Martin of Sheffield (talk) 10:13, 10 March 2017 (UTC)
I'm not sure about "spectrum" or "levels". The point is that atheism is conceptualised in different ways, to the extent that in the literature one writer may regard as atheistic a position which another writer does not. Broad includes middle and narrow, but narrow does not include broad.The intro tries to explain this. There's lots of discussion on this if you go back through the archive. Dannyno (talk) 06:38, 9 May 2017 (UTC)

Are people born Atheist?[edit]

No, according to all biological studies that show humans have a predisposition towards belief in God. To Isambard Kingdom: You undid my edit where I removed the blatantly factual nonsense of people being "born atheist". You said that this needs to be worked on, but removing it in its entirety is not the way to go. The opposite is true. It must be removed until a coherent formation of the sentence can be formed, but until then, the statement is 1) inaccurate 2) misleading 3) makes Wikipedia sound like an apologetics website for atheism when it purports "this is what we're born into, guys!" (violating NPOV). Furthermore, no sources are given to back up the claim that people are "born" atheists, whereas other studies clearly show humans are biologically predisposed to belief in God.[1] My advice to Isambard is to not start POV pushing and admit this is a factual error on Wikipedia that must be removed, rather than trying to block edits that conflict with your interests.— Preceding unsigned comment added by Korvex (talkcontribs) 04:29, 14 March 2017 (UTC)


Your source doesn't say God, but "gods and the afterlife." There's a big difference. Doug Weller talk 06:33, 14 March 2017 (UTC)
Indeed. The source explicitly talks about a "predisposition" towards belief in gods and an afterlife. It also explicitly states that this predisposition requires a reasoned response to arrive at either theism or atheism.
Nevertheless looking at the disputed sentence: "Atheism is a more parsimonious position than theism, and is the position in which everyone is born, and therefore it has been argued that the burden of proof lies not on the atheist to disprove the existence of God but on the theist to provide a rationale for theism" the argument "and is the position in which everyone is born" appears odd, and largely irrelevant (we are all born naked, does that put the burden of proof of the relevance of clothing with those telling us we should go outside wearing clothes.....????).
In fact the parsimony argument is in my view the sufficient and stronger argument to make the claim that the burden of proof lies with those wanting to add God to the equation.
So while the tone of voice and the specifics of the argument of the original poster (Korvex I think - unsigned) here , and the jumping to conclusions about removal first, find consensus later are not well developed, there is something to his objection of the specific phrase in the context. Arnoutf (talk) 10:50, 14 March 2017 (UTC)
Fiddled with the sentence wording. Yes, we are all born naked and the culture (and climate) we are born in determine the types of clothing we wear. Likewise, the religious environment (or lack thereof) we are born into has a strong influence on the developing brain after our birth. Vsmith (talk) 12:01, 14 March 2017 (UTC)
I see part of the point Korvex is making. I kind of think that the part about being born atheist needs to be attributed as in "According to...." or reworded since people are born without a belief in God, but merely not having a belief in God does not mean one is an "atheist". Afterall, most people who do not have a belief in God do not self-identify as "atheist" due to unwanted stigmas. They merely do not label themselves in relation god-belief propositions.
Perhaps one can re-word as "According to Van Harvey, atheism is a more parsimonious position than theism. Since people are born without a belief in a god, it has been argued that the burden of proof does not lie on those without belief in a god, to disprove the existence of God, but on those who have a belief in a god to provide a rationale for theism."
What do you think?Huitzilopochtli1990 (talk) 01:35, 15 March 2017 (UTC)
That sounds like a fair solution, as it avoids attributing active atheism to babies, and allows for the predisposition (but not yet developed stance) towards religiosity. (We should quickly check whether it contradicts the source though) Arnoutf (talk) 07:30, 15 March 2017 (UTC)
Glad you like my suggestion. Very good point about the source, though. I looked up the citation in the wiki article which is Victor Stenger "God: the Failed Hypothesis" on pages 17-18 and he does not say that people are born atheists (even when Stenger cites Keith Parsons). And the other citation, to the same claim by Van Harvey also does not say that people are born "atheist". Van Harvey simply states, "Moreover, since absence of belief is the cognitive position in which everyone is born, the burden of proof falls on those who advocate religious belief." As such, I think that the part about being born an atheist will have to be removed or replaced with "absence of belief in God" like I proposed in my wording. What do you think? Huitzilopochtli1990 (talk) 03:10, 16 March 2017 (UTC)
The "absence of belief in God" (or gods) is one of the definitions of atheism; ergo, people are born atheists by definition. I would not support your proposal. -- Scjessey (talk) 12:15, 16 March 2017 (UTC)
If we can say that atheism includes not even contemplating whether or not there is a god, then newborns are atheists. Isambard Kingdom (talk) 13:09, 16 March 2017 (UTC)
The problem is that there are many definitions of "atheism", not just one. Other definitions include active rejection of god belief, indifference to the question of God, etc and all of this muddles the situation. If people are born "atheists" why then do the majority of people who do not have a God belief, not identify as "atheists" and try to avoid attaching themselves to such a label? For example, In the US Pew Research Center found that "According to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, 5% of American adults say they do not believe in God or a universal spirit, but only about a quarter (24%) of these nonbelievers actually call themselves atheists." [1] Other major studies like the General Social Survey shows the same thing as does the American Religious Identification Survey.
The fact that usually more people identify as "agnostics" or "nothing in particular" shows that the label of "atheist" is often rejected, for whatever reasosn. Probably due to many stigmas and stereotypes. Keep in mind that no one self-identified as an "atheist" until the 18th century, despite that the fact that the label had been around for a few thousand years. So no, babies are not "atheists". Neither are religious, irrreligous, or theistic either - they don't have any views on these things.
The best way to disambiguate is to go neutral by leaving it as people are born with no views on the theological propositions like belief in a god. The way Harvey says "absence of belief is the cognitive position in which everyone is born" is slightly more neutral.Huitzilopochtli1990 (talk) 03:41, 17 March 2017 (UTC)
Nonsense. You don't have to identify as an atheist to be an atheist. Atheism is the default position of every human being at birth, so you are essentially an atheist until you are capable of self-identifying otherwise. Even the most fervently religious people start off as atheists, because they are unaware of the concept of deities. The Pope was born an atheist. It's possible there may be some as yet undiscovered genetic predisposition to being religious, in which case this view may be invalidated, but for now it is the prevailing philosophy. -- Scjessey (talk) 15:41, 17 March 2017 (UTC)
According to Wikipedia, "Atheism is, in the broadest sense, the absence of belief in the existence of deities." As we can pretty much agree that we are not born believing in a god, the yes, we are all atheists at birth. IdreamofJeanie (talk) 17:37, 17 March 2017 (UTC)
Again "atheist" and "atheism" have diverse meanings even at the earliest usages in ancient Greece. So forcing one definition and ignoring the rest of the variant definitions (lawlessness, forsaken by the gods, rejection of god belief, indifference to god belief, etc) etc can be an issue. The section on definitions says clearly, "Writers disagree on how best to define and classify atheism, contesting what supernatural entities are considered gods, whether it is a philosophic position in its own right or merely the absence of one, and whether it requires a conscious, explicit rejection. Atheism has been regarded as compatible with agnosticism, and has also been contrasted with it." Obviously the situation is more complex, which is why the majority of people without belief in God do not call themselves "atheists" and opt for many terms like non-theist, agnostic, none, etc) I think that it is better to use "raw" and generic the wording from the source on this point or to explain the meaning and leave it at that. Also maybe to attribute. This should accommodate most editor's concerns here since numerous absurdities arise (most languages have no word for "atheist" either) - People are born without mathematics, without science, without English, without knowledge, but no one would say everyone is born ascienst, aenglishist, or amathematicist, other weird reifications. Since people are not born with a concept of atheism then they would be "a-atheists" too. "Absence" is better suited and less problematic. I will try a mild edit. Huitzilopochtli1990 (talk) 01:30, 18 March 2017 (UTC)
Your argument about what other things people are born without is horribly, horribly flawed. Many atheists do not identify themselves as such because it is unnecessary. They see the notion in believing in unsubstantiated supernatural beings as absurd. It would be akin to defining themselves as "not Martians", because the existence of Martians is just as likely as the existence of deities (arguably more likely, in fact). Atheism is not a religion. It is the position of all humans before any form of indoctrination. Whether or not a child grows up to believe in deities or remain an atheist depends entirely on how they are nurtured. -- Scjessey (talk) 14:50, 18 March 2017 (UTC)
Well, the evidence from sociological research shows that the majority (76% in the US for example) actually avoid the label. If it was natural, then they would embrace that which was natural for them, like gender or age. Either way the edit was mild since it tried to clarify the definition being used, considering that the Van Harvey source identifies 2 definitions: 1) mere absence of belief and 2) explicit rejection of belief. He notes, "Moreover, since absence of belief is the cognitive position in which everyone is born, the burden of proof falls on those who advocate religious belief. The proponents of the second definition, by contrast, regard the first definition as too broad because it includes uninformed children along with aggressive and explicit atheists. Consequently, it is unlikely that the public will adopt it." I think it is better to just quote per the source on what it argued on the point of birth. "Absence" is unambiguous compared to the many deviant definitions of atheism. Will try that out since it is what the source says.Huitzilopochtli1990 (talk) 17:35, 18 March 2017 (UTC)
The problem is that there are many definitions of "atheism", not just one. --Ramos1990
No, not really. There has been disagreement on how broad the definition should be, and disagreement on its application and classification, but the core definition has always been: "absence of belief in gods". "Rejection" of belief is still an absence of belief; "indifference" to such beliefs is still an absence of belief; "one who holds that gods are unknowable" still, therefore, has an absence of belief. Even the early Christians who were branded as atheists were so labeled because their god was a fiction and they lacked a belief in the actual gods of the era. And yes, "born without a concept of gods" is still an absence of belief in gods, which is the issue under discussion. There is no "problem" here.
...why then do the majority of people who do not have a God belief, not identify as "atheists" --Ramos1990
For the vast majority of people who have never been indoctrinated into a deity-worship system (by their family, or by their education system, or by the culture they were born into), there is simply no need to identify as such. Just as there is no need to affirmatively declare their lack of belief in magic elves. You mention a "stigma" associated with the description. Humans are social beings, and as such, generally tend to conform rather than conflict -- which explains how established cultural belief systems become self-propagating, and why most people aren't outspoken about their atheism (or check that questionnaire box in polls, etc.), if that goes against the current of societal norms. In fact, it is a matter of self-preservation in some established theocratic societies, in order to avoid ostracization or legal penalties or even death, to refrain from expressing an absence of belief. All of this, of course, is completely irrelevant to the fact that babies are born with an absence of belief in deities.
So forcing one definition and ignoring the rest of the variant definitions (lawlessness... --Ramos1990
The definition of "atheism" does not include "lawlessness". (I see you added that to our article in conflict with what the source actually says, so I will be rewriting that for compliance.)
Since people are not born with a concept of atheism then they would be "a-atheists" too.
That is a nonsensical statement, unless you have some very creative personal definition for "a-atheist" beyond what the plain English wording implies. Regards, Xenophrenic (talk) 17:38, 18 March 2017 (UTC)
Obviously atheism has been diversely used in the ancient period since even the Bible uses "atheos" in one of the New Testament texts. You noted, correctly, that early Christians were branded as atheists because they did not believe in the other gods, but if people with belief in at least one God lie Christian were called atheists, then it shows that it was not understood as complete absence of god belief the way you are using it. Also, here is the quote from Tim Whitmarsh's historical overview on the definition: “The invention of atheism was, both etymologically and historically, the creation of a negative. The Greek word ‘atheos’, which first appears in the fifth century BC, implies the absence (a-) of a god (theos). The older meaning implies someone who has lost the support of the gods, someone who is “godless” or “godforsaken” in the archaic English senses." Obviously forsaken by a god does not mean one lacks a belief in the god so ancient usage is pretty complex. I will correct on the "lawlessness" (namely remove it), since it was associated with it. I am not sure your explanation for the majority of people being without a belief in a god not identifying as "atheist" makes sense here since all polls and surveys are confidential. Realistically, what fear would there be to pollster who is just collecting data? Even in predominately atheist countries like China (most atheists globally come from there), the majority still do not self-identify as "atheist" despite high amounts of absence of belief in gods. In some European countries this same thing occurs.Huitzilopochtli1990 (talk) 18:13, 18 March 2017 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── I don't understand this talk about what babies believe when they are born. New-born babies neither believe nor don't believe – they simply don't have the neurological development and experience for statements about their beliefs or lack of beliefs to mean anything. Perhaps you are talking about dispositions. Young children certainly have an innate capacity or disposition to relate to mother and father figures, and as we get older that capacity can extend and develop into imaginings and beliefs. Vedic traditions, such as Hinduism or Buddhism, have practices which involve relating to deities imagined in meditation. There is no doubt such deities exist as visualisations, that is, as psychological or inner realities. But there is no need to think that they exist apart from and outside of oneself. Vedic traditions often acknowledge the subjective nature of their deity practices by having the practitioner dissolve their visualisations into their own being, thereby acknowledging that the deity is a projection of, or part of the self. Following a Vedic tradition can be perfectly compatible with being an atheist. On the other hand, Abrahamic religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, usually dispense with such subtleties. According to the Abrahamic view there is only one deity, a theistic deity, which is to say a single deity that exists outside of and independently of the believer. There is not one skerrick of evidence for this belief, but it hasn't stopped the growth of global control structures centred on this fantasy. This article has mysteriously gained an "FA" status, yet it fails to make some of these basic distinctions. --Epipelagic (talk) 04:57, 18 March 2017 (UTC)

New-born babies neither believe nor don't believe... --Epipelagic
That is simply incorrect, unless you know of actual evidence of which I am unaware. (I'm fairly certain you do not.) The disagreement in this discussion is not, by the way, over whether newborns have "the neurological development and experience for statements about their beliefs or lack of beliefs" — I'm sure we all agree newborns don't make "statements". Newborns do not have a belief in gods. Do people, even at the earliest age, have the capacity for imagination and belief-creation? Of course (you might find information such as this to be of interest), but the topic under discussion is whether people are born with ready-made beliefs, regardless of their ability to express them. As for the Rigvedic deities you mentioned, and whether they are internal or external "visualizations" of deities, that just illustrates the wide diversity of definitions of "god", "deity" and "supernatural being". Our article does already touch upon some of what you described, perhaps inadequately, but "Featured Article" doesn't mean it is in a perfect state and cannot be improved. Regards, Xenophrenic (talk) 17:38, 18 March 2017 (UTC)
Well that's a very confused response. Please don't make up straw man positions so you can appear to knock them over. My statement, that "new-born babies neither believe nor don't believe", is pointing to a category mistake. If you believe otherwise, you are the one who would need to supply the evidence. And the phrase "statements about [a babies] beliefs or lack of beliefs" was not referring to the baby itself making statements. Nor was I referring specifically to Rigvedic deities. I had more in mind broader practices with roots in the Vedic tradition, such as visualization practices in tantric Buddhism. Of course a featured article doesn't have to be "perfect", but it should represent its subject matter with reasonable accuracy. In my view, this article does not. --Epipelagic (talk) 18:59, 18 March 2017 (UTC)
It's not a category mistake. One meaning of "atheist" is 'a person with no belief in any gods'. A newborn infant is a person with no belief in any gods, notwithstanding their incognizance of that state. Hence, by that definition, they're atheists. When somebody speaks of infants being atheists, there's only one definition where that statement makes sense, hence that's obviously the one they've used. ~ Röbin Liönheart (talk) 04:54, 29 March 2017 (UTC)
It is a category mistake. A log of wood doesn't believe in gods either. Or more to the point, like a newborn infant a log of wood lacks the capacity for believing; it neither believes nor doesn't believe. So it is a category mistake to think of it in terms of "believing". By your reasoning, the article should mention that logs of wood are atheists. --Epipelagic (talk) 16:26, 30 March 2017 (UTC)
The first paragraph defines three different definitions of atheist:
  1. the absence of belief in the existence of deities
  2. the rejection of belief that any deities exist
  3. the position that there are no deities.
Clearly therefore a newborn is (1) yes, (2) no, (3) no. This is basic common sense, and yes, it does apply to logs as well. All of these three are binary choices so there can't be a position of "neither believe nor don't believe", for each specific proposition it's one or the other. This argument is descending into "X is a member of definition 1" versus "X is not a member of definition 3". You may as well argue that "chalk is a good building material" versus "cheese is edible" - there simply isn't an argument. Let's leave the quotation as it stands and WP:DROPTHESTICK. Martin of Sheffield (talk) 17:06, 30 March 2017 (UTC)
Are you are trying to make a point or are you just trying to brush the issue aside? --Epipelagic (talk) 17:52, 30 March 2017 (UTC)
Yes, the point that you are talking about two different definitions and the discussion is degenerating into an argument that neither side can win. You are obviously right under definition 3 and just as obviously wrong under definition 1. Have you read WP:DROPTHESTICK? Martin of Sheffield (talk) 21:31, 30 March 2017 (UTC)
Also, the log of wood argument is stupid. Rather obviously, belief in deities is only possible in humans (at least on this planet, anyway), so the descriptions of atheism only apply to that specific group. -- Scjessey (talk) 17:36, 30 March 2017 (UTC)
Then perhaps you would be more comfortable with an orangutan than a log of wood. The argument is fundamental. It is not stupid. --Epipelagic (talk) 17:52, 30 March 2017 (UTC)
So... you are arguing that an orangutan is capable of belief in deities? Um... yeah... that's not going to bolster your argument, I'm afraid. -- Scjessey (talk) 20:22, 30 March 2017 (UTC)
In general, any noun with an "-ist" suffix signifies a person. Inanimate objects cannot be -ists. A letter to your senator is not a lobbyist. A toothbrush is not a dentist. One shouldn't call dogs or orangutans -ists either, but at least anthropomorphizing an animal is less silly than anthropomorphizing a log. ~ Röbin Liönheart (talk) 21:28, 30 March 2017 (UTC)
  • Okay... there's little point responding to wild tangential forays as irrelevant to the main point as the ones on offer here. So let's just leave the mess where it lies. --Epipelagic (talk) 23:00, 30 March 2017 (UTC)
The literature includes definitions of atheism which a broad enough to encompass new born babies as atheists. The literature also includes definitions of atheism which are not so broad as to allow that. Wikipedia did not invent these definitions, and it is not Wikipedia's job to decide between them. They are disputed, and disputed heatedly. That is why we report the main definitions. As a matter of simple logic, whether or not human beings are predisposed to theistic belief (and whether or not that's what the source says), is irrelevant to whether or not the broadest definitions of atheism are correct or not - whatever else it says, the source does not say that babies are born with a belief in God. So an upholder of the broadest definition of atheism will be untroubled, since they regard as atheistic any being who does not have a belief in God. Again, Wikipedia doesn't care what we think: it cares about what the literature says. The actual question here is not whether the sources about predisposition to theism or supernatural belief affect the definitions of atheism (they don't, logically, but whether they do or not is something we ultimately look to the literature on atheism for information about - and if, illogically, writers start to say it matters, well then it might reach the article regardless of my opinion), but whether the question of predisposition is a prominent enough issue among atheologians and their opponents to warrant a section in the article.Dannyno (talk) 06:53, 9 May 2017 (UTC)
Hey Nagel's differing opinion was there all along. Just added it to provide a contrast condering that there are more ways to look at this. No wording was altered for the original source from Keith Parsons/Van Harvey.Huitzilopochtli1990 (talk) 07:57, 7 May 2017 (UTC)

Definition does not make sense[edit]

"The absence of belief in the existence of deities" needs to change, because by logic:

  • If I don't believe that deities exist, and also I don't believe that deities doesn't exist, am I an atheist? How can I be labeled something when I take a neutral point of view? Arguments like "you're atheist/socialist/anarchist whether you like it or not" is clearly a fallacy.
  • If I know that deities exist, then I am an atheist according to the definition. (Note: How I know is a different question, for example if science found evidence for that)

We cannot get around that there is some sense of belief in atheism, and the definition should reflect that to make sense.

Please refute both points with a logical argumentation when you answer.

As110 (talk) 14:38, 1 May 2017 (UTC)

@As110: I think I'll just invoke WP:NOTFORUM here. The talk page is for discussing ways to improve the article. Improving this article is hard because it covers a contentious topic and the current wording has been arrived at through a consensus process. You are welcome to propose improved wording here, but – as you've seen – unilateral changes to the text of the definition in the article itself will most likely be speedily reverted. — jmcgnh(talk) (contribs) 15:53, 1 May 2017 (UTC)
Consensus beats logic, another nail in the wiki-coffin... I'm glad I have better things to do than argue here, adieu. As110 (talk) 22:32, 2 May 2017 (UTC)
You don't get it. Talk page is about actionable changes supported by reliable sources. Self created logical arguments are not based on reliable sources and can therefore not result in changes. Finding support or refutation of logic is something to do on a forum site, which Wikipedia is not (hence the reference to WP:NOTFORUM). (By the way both your statements are critically flawed so can be easily refuted). Arnoutf (talk) 17:01, 3 May 2017 (UTC)
The strengths and weaknesses of the divergent typologies of atheism are not for Wikipedia to pass judgement on. Our job is to reflect the most prominent schools of thought in the literature, and there is indeed a prominent school of definitional thought that says that the atheist label can be applied to any person who does not have a theistic belief. It doesn't matter whether you or I agree with that or not. Dannyno (talk) 07:01, 9 May 2017 (UTC)

Antitheism is the activist movement of atheism[edit]

WP:NOTFORUM – does not appear to be a suggestion on how to improve the article

Antitheism is texts and actions against god. Atheism does also include and scientific theories that explain difficult to grape things as 1. the megaverse (Leonard Susskind) as the causal field of Big Bang (at some regional phase-invertion of it), 2. the Wilczekian (Frank Wilczek) grid of all particles etc. (of course many other theories exist)

Be more analytical please about the non-theistic atheism. I mean we have to be more analytical about the unapologetic scientific atheism that doesn't care much about religious terms and cares about learning, NOT subduing theism. The whole article here is extremely apologetic, not atheistic in context and theistic in thought. Negation isn't enough to change one's dictionary. To change one's dictionary is more important than using the old list of words and simply adding "no". An innately atheist, is primarily a seeker of scientific knowledge and method, not an apologetic.

the Antitheist: I pray to nothing, I prey on god. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 2A02:587:4112:2B00:1832:FC09:ED75:38B5 (talk) 03:58, 19 May 2017 (UTC)

I'm collapsing this. See WP:NOTFORUM. To contribute on this page, you need to make a more specific suggestion on how to improve the article. — jmcgnh(talk) (contribs) 04:32, 19 May 2017 (UTC)

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