Atheism Explained


Richard Dawkins launches his campaign to get Atheists to start coming out and standing up for reality.

Atheism is a position that is very much misunderstood in our culture. This is largely due to the fact that it has been purposely demonized by the religious organizations of the world thoughout history in order to scare people into faith and root out doubt. The truth is: Atheism is nothing to fear, it is simply the conclusion of a healthy, skeptical mind.

Atheism is defined properly as: Lack of belief in the existence of a deity

Some would lead you to believe that there is a lot more to atheism than lack of belief in gods.You will often come across insinuations that atheism is unique to the political left, and that it is morally bankrupt. These insinuations are false. Atheism is just the rejection of the idea that our world was created by supernatural beings that exist somewhere outside the reach of the physical world.

If there was an Atheist behind a curtain and your job was to try and guess what they were like, you would not be able to tell where they stood on political issues, nor would you be able to tell what their moral leanings were. Atheism comes with no commitment to anything else in one's outlook on life other than an opinion on the existence of gods.

Atheism is called a "negative position" because the only reason for its existence is that it is a counter view to a "positive position" which is theism. If no one believed in gods, then there would be no need for the term to be used. Strangely there is no special name for disbelief in leprechauns or goblins, but that's because there aren't any people whose whole outlook on life depends on these magical creatures actually existing.

When most religions talk about having "faith", they are really asking you to suspend your critical faculties. The mere use of the word indicates that any real evidence that would exist to support the idea of a supernatural god is either sparse or non-existent, otherwise there would be no need to have faith.

Unfortunately, there is no way to actually disprove the existence of gods, since the idea is advertised as being beyond the reach of our natural world, and therefore beyond the reach of scientific inquiry. This creates a dilemma that divides non-believers into a variety of types, that fall onto a scale of non-belief that varies across a scale of certainty.

The Agnostic

Some consider that agnostics are "fence-sitters" who have not (yet) decided on whether there is a god, and this is certainly a position taken by many people who are in transition from belief to unbelief. Technically, however, an agnostic asserts that it is impossible to answer for certain the question of the existence of god or gods.

A related category, those who consider the question of the existence of god to be irrelevant (or even a waste of time), are sometimes called "apatheists". These people can potentially lean either way when it comes to their approach to life. Some continue to live life as if their god existed by going to church and participating in religious traditions which they find personally meaningful. Others steer quietly away from tradition, but do not criticize or condemn it.

Those agnostics who do consider the question to be relevant generally choose to follow the path for which they see most evidence. So, there can be, for example, "agnostic Christians" - those who do not claim to know for sure, but think that the evidence is in favour of the Christian god. But most strong agnostics are provisional atheists - they will categorically state that it is impossible to know whether or not there is any god, but, in the absence of any positive evidence, they will provisionally accept the "null hypothesis" that god or gods do not exist.

Some call themselves agnostics either because they would not feel comfortable being dubbed as an atheist due to social circumstances or would rather not address the question at all. There are still others in this group that may not really believe in gods, but think that believing in them is actually beneficial whether it's true or not.

The Atheist

An atheist is someone who has come to the conclusion that the probability of the existence of any gods is very very low. There is no way to be absolutely certain of the answer to the question, but there is an enormous difference between one who believes the chances are 50/50 versus someone who believes they are 1/99. The atheist tends to live life under the assumption that gods do not exist, and is usually comfortable with the fact that others know this is how they feel. These people see little to no value in religious ceremonies and teachings.

A well known atheist named Richard Dawkins pointed out that we are "all atheists when it comes to most gods that have ever existed". It is easy to understand how an atheist feels about the god of modern day monothestic religions, if you just imagine how most people feel today about the existence of Odin or Zeus.

The Millitant Atheist


Christopher Hitchens takes a hard look at the Ten Commandments, and then takes a stab at updating them for our time.

"Millitant Atheist" or "Anti-Theist" is a relatively new term that is used to describe atheists that think that religious beliefs are sometimes (or always) harmful and need to be refuted. This does not mean "taking up arms", but rather: challenged in philosophical and political debate. Millitant atheists are often activists interested in lessening the influence that religious groups have on our laws, political processes, educational systems, and media.

The Humanist Association of Ottawa is comprised of members that fall all across the scale of non-belief. One of the main purposes of our organization is to give people a place to come and discuss their thoughts with others on this traditionally taboo issue. Our goal is to wipe out the bad feeling the word atheism comes with in our community, in the hopes that all of the closet atheists and agnostics out there feel free enough to come out of hiding. Perhaps we'll even make a believer or two take a second look at how solid the ground they're standing on actually is.


While it is important to know what you stand against, it is also important to stand for something as well. Many Atheists out there also refer to themselves as Humanists. Humanism is a "positive position" that is rooted in the natual world that provides a foundation for people to affirm they are responsible, moral individuals.