Is atheism a religion?

  (08 January 10)
  by Greg Spearritt

David Burchell, writing in The Australian, has an interesting observation about the nature of atheism:


At a talk in Canberra a couple of years back, the Italian bishop Bruno Forte suggested unbelief ought properly to be seen as another kind of religious journey: "It is a passion for truth that pays a personal price for the bitter courage of not believing."


To be sure, equating atheism with religion is far too simplistic a move, as the popular atheist retort illustrates: ‘Atheism is a religion in the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby.’ (Anyone know the original source for this saying?)


As the front page of the Atheist Foundation of Australia website shows, however, some atheists will go to great lengths to avoid using the word ‘belief’ of their own beliefs (their position is an “acceptance”, not a “belief”).


Surely, though, the kind of crusading atheism we are now seeing develop (on display, for example, at the upcoming Rise of Atheism conference) has a good deal in common with the evangelical fervour of some religions.




David Burchell’s piece in 'The Australian' raised many profound issues.

Greg, however, has chosen to highlight the issue of Supernaturalism versus Naturalism. He draws our attention to the definition of Atheism on the Atheist Foundation of Australia’s website. (It can also be found heading the website of Melbourne’s Atheist Society – ):

“Atheism is the acceptance that there is no credible scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of god, gods or the supernatural.”

The problem with this definition is not what it says but what it does not say. The unspoken assumption. If you assume that the definition implies, “As yet”, then you are an Agnostic. But if you mumble under your breath the words, “And there never will be”, then you are an Atheist.

This latter position is a Faith commitment.

Posted by David Miller

‘Atheism is a religion in the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby.’ (Anyone know the original source for this saying?)

I believe it is Sam Harris. Whom ever it was, it is spot on.

Posted by Brian Wilder

I am not sure I understand the point of David's comment above. It is not the way I use language. Anyway, anyone is free to call me whatever they like. I have often said something similar to the quote about stamps. It has seemed to me that atheism is important to people who cannot not believe in the supernatural. And 'religious atheists' seem dependant on defining God.

Posted by owen

Atheism is not a religion. It is a faith position. There is an unholy alliance between Theists and Atheists to conflate the terms, ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’ with the supernatural. None of these terms necessarily refer to the supernatural.

My contention is that both Atheists and Agnostics worship a ‘god’ named Truth. Science is their religion. It is their means of worshipping their ‘god’.

To translate that claim out of God-talk and into ordinary language, I would have to say something like: Generally speaking, Atheists and Agnostics hold Truth as their highest value. Science is their means of venerating, apprehending and manifesting Truth.

What then is the difference between the Atheist and the Agnostic?
The Atheist sees Truth as a static goal. (We have often heard them, even within SoFiA, make the claim that, “Science will soon know everything”)
The Agnostic, on the other hand, sees Truth as an ongoing process. (“The more we know, the more we discover that we don’t know”).

Posted by David Miller

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