Defining Atheism: What It Means To Be An Atheist

This will end up being more of an essay than a blog post. I apologize for that. For some inexplicable reason, I have suddenly been overwhelmed with the urge to defend atheism. Maybe it’s fate—maybe it’s my destiny—maybe it’s God’s plan for me. Or, maybe, it’s just because I felt like doing it for the hell of it.

In any case, whether this is a divine scheme or not, I want to sort out a common misconception I hear about atheism: the difference between belief and lacking belief—and why that matters.

“Atheism is one thing: A lack of belief in gods.”

—American Atheists

This differs from the common misconception of atheism, being: The belief that gods do not exist.

These two definitions look extremely similar; in most cases, the difference is not worth being pointed out—it seems like more of a semantics issue.

Except it’s not. Most people tend not to be aware of what the difference between these two statements is, and how it impacts arguments regarding theism. When engaging in a debate or discussion about this topic, it is important to be fully aware of what each side represents.

Now, with that being said, what is the difference between these two statements? Why does it matter? Why take the trouble to write about such a topic?

It has come to my attention that a very similar scenario plays out when an interaction is exchanged between an atheist and a theist. What I usually hear is as follows:

Atheist: “You cannot demonstrate the existence of God.”

Theist: “Well, you cannot demonstrate that God does not exist.”

 There is a logical fallacy that plays out from this scenario—the burden of proof is shifted. Rather than addressing the claim made by the atheist, the theist usually turns this around and throws the same question back: “you cannot prove it either, so we can both be right.”

Atheism rejects “God Claims”. Atheism is not a counter-belief, or an assertion in its own right. To say, “I believe no gods exist” is more of an anti-theistic statement. But atheism, on the other hand, rejects the data presented of the existence of gods because they are not logically consistent, or able to be rationally demonstrated. The core concept of atheism is the conviction that not enough evidence has been found to assert that a god exists; this is not the same as stating that enough evidence exists that proves there is no god.

The major difference between atheism and theism is the default belief of the universe. Atheists agree that the “default” concept of the universe is that it was not created by god. Therefore, one has to prove why it was god that created the universe, rather than other reasons that do not include intelligent design.

In truth, I don’t know whether god exists. From an atheist’s perspective, we as a species do not know enough about God-Claims to say that a god can exist. All we know is that not enough evidence has been discovered to prove that a god does exist.

Now, going back to the definitions, having a lack of belief is different than having a belief. Atheism itself is not a religion—nor is it a spirituality—nor should it really be considered having faith in something. Atheists do not have faith that a god does not exist; they simply do not have faith that god does or can exist. Atheism does not proclaim having a faith in a god or a lack of god—it lacks faith of any kind in regards to theism. Not having faith is not a type of faith—Not believing in claims about god is not believing that no gods exist.

The reason that is difference is important is because it allows atheism to be perceived differently. I’ve heard many people feel outraged that someone can truly believe that there are no gods when they learn that someone is an atheist, but this is not correct. The debate over the existence of a god then becomes simple—atheists are not convinced enough evidence has been found to prove god exists, so it becomes the theist’s duty to try and find that evidence.

Agnosticism is the assertion that we simply do not know enough to make a claim either way. This differs from atheism, because atheism believes that god has not been proven; agnostics believe that god can never be proven or disproven. One could argue that an agnostic is the middle ground; theists have faith in gods—atheists lack faith in gods—agnostics claim neither faith nor a lack of faith. Instead, they agree that spiritual matter can never be proven or disproven. Agnosticism deals with the question of what people are capable of knowing; theism and atheism deal with what people believe.

I bring up this last point because many people who lack faith in a god call themselves agnostic. Many people who actually are atheists do not realize that they are one, because they do not know what it actually means to be an atheist. To call yourself an atheist is not to say you believe that god does not exist. To call yourself an atheist means that you lack faith or belief in god.

So, in summary: if you believe that no one has been able to prove god’s existence to you, you are an atheist. If you lack faith in god, you are an atheist. If you lack any active belief or assertion that a god exists, you are an atheist.

If you believe we can never know if god exists or does not exist, you are agnostic.

With all that being said, it’s cool to be an atheist. It’s rad. The best part is, you never have to prove anything. Your job is basically disproving what other people believe. It’s not your job to prove that god does not exist, because that is not what it means to be an atheist; by lacking faith, it is not your burden of proof to prove that faith is justified.

So, in a sense, atheism becomes one of the laziest belief systems. That’s probably why I find it so appealing.



This is my source of the quote I used:

This is a fabulous YouTube channel called, “The Atheist Experience”. They have a lot of videos about defining atheism amongst other things.