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Religious Tolerance logo

Atheism (having no belief in a god or goddess,
or actively denying the existence of a deity.)

Part 1

Two of five topics to put Atheism in perspective:
1. Atheism is ambiguous & difficult to discuss.
2. Would the U.S. accept an Atheist president?

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1. Atheism is a difficult topic to discuss:

First of all: here are some definitions related to deity/deities:

  • A deity is a supernatural being whose powers greatly exceed those of humans. For those who believe in the existence of only a single deity, that being is often regarded as having created the universe.

  • A god is a male deity. However, among those who believe that a particular god is a spirit without a physical body, the concept of gender as applied to such a deity is not necessarily obvious.

  • A goddess is a female deity.

  • "Deity" is a gender-neutral term that covers females, males, and gender-neutral supreme beings, but is less commonly used.

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Some definitions related to Atheist and Atheism:

  • Most people, at least in the U.S., appear to define "Atheist" as a person who absolutely rejects the existence of all deities.

  • However, most Atheists appear to describe themselves as persons who have no knowledge of a god and/or a goddess. Some might draw an analogy with Bertrand Russell's famous but undetectable teacup (a.k.a. the celestial teapot or cosmic teapot). According to Wikipedia:

    "Russell wrote that if he claims that a teapot orbits the Sun somewhere in space between the Earth and Mars, it is nonsensical for him to expect others to believe him on the grounds that they cannot prove him wrong. Russell's teapot is still referred to in discussions concerning the existence of God." 1

    Similarly, it is just as impossible to prove that no deity exists than it is to prove that the celestial teacup doesn't exist. To do so, would mean that one would have to know everything there is to know about solar system. Therefore theists -- people who believe in one or more deities -- should not expect an atheist to have to prove that no god exists. It is really up to believers in one or more deities to prove that they do exist.

  • Some people define Atheism to be a religion because:
    • it refers to specific beliefs concerning deities, humanity and the rest of the universe.

    • Most Atheists have developed a moral code to accompany their Atheism. Almost all religions also have moral codes.

    • If one asks most people, who regard themselves as atheists, what their religion is, they will often respond "Atheist."

Others disagree. American Atheists take the position that Atheism is neither a belief system nor a religion. They state:

    "While there are some religions that are atheistic (certain sects of Buddhism, for example), that does not mean that atheism is a religion. Two commonly used retorts to the nonsense that atheism is a religion are:

    1) If atheism is a religion then bald is a hair color, and

    2) If atheism is a religion then health is a disease."

A new one introduced in 2012 by Bill Maher is, 'If atheism is a religion, then abstinence is a sexual position'." 2

  • Others reject classification of Atheism as a religion simply because they require the term "religion" to include a belief in at least one deity. When this web site went online in 1995-APR, the Government of Canada would not allow the organization that sponsors the web site to qualify as a registered charity. That is because the site deals with religion, and the Government required that such groups teach that least one deity exists before they could register as a non-profit. So we had no option but to register as a for-profit group. Similarly, the Government of Ontario refused our original choice of name which was "Ontario Center for Religious Tolerance." They argued that the term "center" is restricted to non-profit groups. Because we had already use the acronym "OCRT" frequently on our web site, we adopted the rather awkward name "Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance." We found it interesting that governments in Canada recognize Buddhism temples and Unitarian churches as registered charities even though neither teach God's existence or require their members to believe in the existence of God.

  • People have used terms like strong Atheism, negative Atheism, soft Atheism, implicit Atheism, Apatheism, etc. to refer to various sub-groups among Atheists.

  • Some consider Agnostics as being within the Atheism fold, because the former also have no firm belief in the existence of God.

  • Some Agnostics consider themselves to be Atheists because -- in the unlikely event that they have to made a personal decision based on the existence of God -- they would assume that God does not exist.

It is doubtful that the terminology involving the terms Atheist and Agnostic will be clarified any time soon.

One attempt at clarification was made by Richard Dawkins in 2012. 3 He measures belief about God on a numerical scale from 0.0 to 7.0 where:

  • 0.0 refers to an theist who is absolutely convinced that one or more gods exists.

  • 7.0 is for strong Atheist who is totally certain that no god exists.

  • A person holding a value greater than 0.0 and less than 7.0 is an Agnostic.

Dawkins, who is often regarded as the most famous Atheist in the world, describes his belief as a 6.9.

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2. Atheists are distrusted intensely in the U.S.:

Gallup has been asking American adults since the year 1937 whether they would vote for a member of various groups to be president. In mid-2015, they asked the question:

"Between now and the 2016 political conventions, there will be discussion about the qualifications of presidential candidates -- their education, age, religion, race, and so on. If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be ----------- would you vote for that person?" 4

For many years, Atheists trailed the pack as the least acceptable as president.

In the 2015-JUN-04 poll:

  • Fewer than 10% of adults responding to the question would automatically reject a Catholic or Jew, a woman, a Black or Hispanic person for president.

  • Other groups were more often discriminated against and considered unworthy to be president:

On a positive note for Atheists, 75% of young adults, aged 18 to 29, would vote for a qualified Atheist.

That was usually as far as the polling went. In previous years, Atheists were always the least trusted group from which a person could be selected to be President. However, this year, Gallup also asked about political philosophy and found that:

    • 50% would not vote for a Socialist. 4

So, the status of Atheists has improved. They have now became the second least trusted group!

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Russell's Teapot," Wikipedia, as on 2015-OCT-12, at:
  2. "What is Atheism," American Atheists, 2015, at:
  3. John Bingham, "Richard Dawkins: '6.9 out of seven' sure that God does not exist," The Telegraph, 2012-FEB-23, at:
  4. Justin McCarthy, "In U.S., Socialist Presidential Candidates Least Appealing," Gallup, 2015-JUN-22, at:

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Copyright 2015 & 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2015-NOV-24
Latest update: 2018-SEP-23

Author: B.A. Robinson

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