Definitions of "Atheism" in dictionaries
and according to most Atheists; they differ.
"Atheist" according to most modern dictionaries:
Most dictionaries define an "Atheist" as a person who either passively
believes that no God exists, and/or who actively asserts this belief. For
|Webster's New World Dictionary®,
Third College Edition defines an Atheist as
"a person who believes that there is no God." 1 This definition implies that Atheists have investigated
proofs and for the existence and non-existence of God, and have decided
that no God exists or that the probability of one existing is
phenomenally small. It seems to include a "closet" Atheist: one who
believes that there is no God but does not assert this belief to others.
This definition would seem to imply that a person who believes in the
existence of a Goddess, but not a God, is also an Atheist. This
definition will probably not satisfy many Goddess
worshipers. Webster Dictionary, 1913 had a more inclusive
definition that includes non-male deities: "One who disbelieves or
denies the existence of a God, or supreme intelligent Being."
2 So did Webster's 1828 Dictionary:
"One who disbelieves the existence of a God, or Supreme
Dictionary defines an Atheist as "one who denies the existence of
God." This is a particularly vague definition, because it does not
define which God is being referred to. If Websters means the
Christian God, then it would seem to imply that anyone who does not
believe in the Trinity is an Atheist -- including Jews, Muslims, Hindus,
Buddhists, Wiccans, Sikhs, and Atheists. The word "denies" would
seem to imply that the individual actively promotes their belief.|
|Other definitions: 2|
|The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language,
Fourth Edition: "One who disbelieves or denies the existence of
God or gods."|
|The Cambridge International dictionary of English: "someone
who believes that god or gods do not exist."|
|The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition: "Disbelief
in, or denial of, the existence of a god."|
|The Masonic Dictionary: "One who does not believe in God."|
More inclusive definitions of "Atheist" from some sources:
|The Barnes & Noble Encyclopedia defines Atheism as "The denial of the existence of God or
gods." The Encyclopedia goes further and includes within Atheism both:|
|"The rejection of any specific belief in God or gods."|
|"skepticism" towards "claims about divine existence..."
The term "God" and "god" usually imply male deities. Whether a Goddess
worshiper is also an Atheist is not clear.
This definition covers a lot of ground:
|The primary definition includes a person who actively denies the existence of all Gods.|
|Some might find the secondary definition confusing. One "specific
belief in God" is promoted by Christians who believe that God is a
Trinity. That is rejected by Muslims who believe that God/Allah is a
unity. If one is to literally interpret the secondary definition, this
would seem to imply that Muslims can be considered Atheists -- a charge
that Muslims would strongly reject. Similarly, Christians reject the
pure monotheistic concept of God as taught in Islam; so Christians could
be considered Atheists by this definition. This would anger them as
well. One wonders if the writers of
this definition intended to use the word "all" in place of "any."
If so, then this definition would include only persons who reject all
|The third definition would include those who have reached no conclusion about the existence of a deity, and remain skeptical
-- i.e. undecided -- about whether a God exists.|
|The World Almanac and Book of Facts lists "adherents of
all religions" in six continental areas of the world. The list
includes adherents of 15 specific religions, New-Religionists, Other
Religionists, Nonreligions and Atheists. They define Atheists as a
catchall group, including: "Persons professing atheism, skepticism,
disbelief or irreligion, including antireligious (opposed to all
Definitions according to some Atheists:
It is important to realize that most dictionaries attempt to reflect
the general public usage of the terms that they define. Since the vast
majority of adults in North America are theists -- that is they actively
believe in at least one God and/or Goddess -- the dictionary definitions
follow their beliefs. Dictionaries do not necessarily reflect the meaning
by those who consider themselves to be Atheists.
The Atheism Web has collected some definitions of "Atheism"
from authors who consider themselves to be Atheists: 5
|Dan Barker: "There is a difference between believing there is no
god and not believing there is a god -- both are atheistic, though
popular usage has ignored the latter..." 6|
|Antony Flew: "I want the originally Greek prefix 'a' to be read
in the same way in 'atheist' as it customarily is read in such other
Greco-English words as 'amoral,' 'atypical,' and 'asymmetrical'. In this
interpretation an atheist becomes: someone who is simply not a theist." 7|
|Michael Martin: "...an atheist would simply be someone without a
belief in God, not necessarily someone who believes that God does not
|Gordon Stein, Ed., "To be without a belief in
God merely means that the term 'god' has no importance or possibly no
meaning to you. Belief in God is not a factor in your life. Surely this
is quite different from denying the existence of God. Atheism is not a
belief as such. It is the lack of belief." 9|
Other definitions include:
|Al Case," webmaster at www.2think.org/: "If
you answer the question, 'Do you believe in god?' with an affirmative, then
you are a theist. If your answer is 'no' or 'I don't know' then you are an
atheist due to your lack of an affirmative belief." 10|
||George Smith: "Atheism ... is the absence of theistic belief.
One who does not believe in the existence of a god or supernatural being is
properly designated as an atheist. Atheism is sometimes defined as 'the belief
that there is no God of any kind,' or the claim that a god cannot exist. While
these are categories of atheism, they do not exhaust the meaning of
atheism--and are somewhat misleading with respect to the basic nature of
atheism. Atheism, in its basic form, is not a belief: it is the absence of
belief. An atheist is primarily a person who believes that a god does not
exist, rather he does not believe in the existence of a god." 11|
|Dean W. Austin: "[Atheism is to possess]...no belief in God. This
definition is logically tenable. It is in full accordance with Occam's Razor
in that it discards the more complex hypothesis (A supernatural consciousness
exists and is responsible for all other existence, we just have no evidence.)
for the simpler one (Existence is most likely explained by natural processes
which we know exist and have evidence of such workings.)."
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Webster's New World Dictionary; 3rd college edition,"
- "One Look® dictionaries: Search
dictionary web sites for words and phrases," at:
- The Barnes & Noble Encyclopedia," (1993), Page 81.
- The World Almanac and Book of Facts (2001), Page 692.
- "More on definitions on atheism," at:
- Dan Barker, "Losing Faith in Faith: From preacher to
Atheist," Freedom From Religion Foundation, (1992), Page 99.
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
- Antony G.N. Flew, "God, Freedom and Immortality: A Critical Analysis," Prometheus Books, (1984), Page 14
Read reviews or order this book
- Michael Martin, "Atheism: A Philosophical Justification,"
Temple University Press, (1992), Page 463.
Read reviews or order this book
- Gordon Stein, Ed, "An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism,"
Prometheus Books, (1980), Page 3. Read reviews or order this book
- Al Case. "What is atheism?," 2think.org at:
- George Smith, "Atheism: The case against God," Prometheus
Books (1989), Page 7. Read reviews or order this book
- Dean W. Austin, "My Reasons for Being an Atheist," at:
Copyright © 2002 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-AUG-20
Author: B.A. Robinson