An atheist is simply a person who does not believe in any gods. Among the many terms that atheists might use to describe themselves are agnostic, freethinker, skeptic, and secular humanist. An agnostic makes no claim of certainty about the existence of god, even if they’re an atheist. Freethinkers and skeptics view the world through the lens of science and reason rather than scripture and faith. Secular humanists seek to improve the human condition through reason, ethics and justice rather than appeals to a supernatural entity.
Those of us who identify as atheist reject the notion that morality and ethics are dependent on belief in a god. In fact, many of us view the notion of an all-powerful, all-loving god as fundamentally incompatible with the reality of suffering in the world. Our concerns about the moral implications of believing in such a deity often plays a key role in our atheism.
ATHEISTS IN AMERICA
People mistakenly believe that the U.S. is home to very few atheists. Although it’s true that atheism is much more prevalent and widely accepted in other industrialized nations, particularly in northern Europe, atheists and the non-religious are estimated to account for 12% to 15% of the U.S. population (nearly 50 million people). Among those under 26, 28% don’t believe in a god, and a full 48% aren’t certain a god exists…and those numbers grow every year.
ATHEISM & SCIENCE
Atheists appreciate the beauty and wonder of life and the universe without the need for supernatural explanations. Awareness of the natural processes that brought about the universe and the great diversity of life on Earth serves to heighten our appreciation of all that we know—and encourages us to learn more. Like scientists (and unlike many religious believers), we embrace new evidence in our pursuit of knowledge, even if it contradicts something we had previously thought to be true. Only by constant re-evaluation of our knowledge in light of new evidence can we move closer to understanding ultimate truths.
VIEWS ON DEATH
Although lack of belief in a god does not necessarily mean lack of belief in an afterlife, most atheists believe that this life is all we have. Rather than leading to a sense of despair, this belief is actually very liberating; it encourages us to appreciate each day, make the most of our lives and work to improve the world, rather than view it as simply a “waiting room” for a better world beyond.
Those who believe in a god often assume that atheism is an empty, meaningless existence devoid of a sense of morality. Nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout the U.S. and around the world, atheists are involved in efforts to alleviate societal problems because we believe that two hands working for an hour accomplishes more than two hands praying for a century. For many atheists, beliefs and ethics focus on human well-being, the value of liberty and the search for knowledge.
We highly value the well-being and happiness of our fellow human beings. We care about our friends, our families and our communities, and we work to make society a better place, not only for humans, but also for animals and the environment. We believe that societies function best when they operate as democracies in which all people have a voice, civil rights are protected and church and state are kept separate. As a minority, we particularly emphasize the freedom of religion, which allows people to believe—or not—as they choose.
Atheists usually place great value on education. We believe that developing critical-thinking skills and employing the scientific method are vital to understanding the world. For that reason, we believe it is imperative that religious doctrines not be allowed to infringe on the teaching of accepted scientific principles in the classroom. At the same time, we understand the important role religion has played in shaping human cultures throughout history, and we encourage children and adults alike to learn as much as possible about various religions and cultures. Many atheists are well-versed in the scriptures and theology of the religion they were raised in; in fact, a number of ministers from various denominations have come out as atheists in recent years, and organizations have been formed to assist them in transitioning to secular life.