So let’s analyse the statement that atheism is a belief, or faith, or a religion. First of all we need to understand the meaning of a few terms.
The first we’ll have a look at the definition of belief. Belief is “an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof”
The latter part of the definition is significant, but it’s not universal across all beliefs. A belief that water is wet is a belief – an acceptance that a proposition is true – but also one that has proof.
So we’ll limit ourselves at this stage to just the “acceptance that something exists, or is true”.
We’ll also look at faith, which defines as a “strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof”. So again this comes back to belief.
Now before we go too much further, these are not the only definitions of these terms. Both of these terms have alternate meanings that relate back to trust. For the sake of what we are discussing here, we will refer to the acceptance of the truth of a statement or the existence of a thing. Simply as the context of the statement often relates back to the initial definition.
So let’s look at religion as a definition. Religion is defined as “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” It is also defined as “a particular system of faith and worship.”
Both of these definitions come back to either “belief” or “faith”. And again this is the acceptance of something as true or existing.
There is also the definition of religion as “a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.” This is the less common usage of the word, and relates more to phrases such as “gardening is my religion” or “I follow my local sports team religiously”.
This latter definition does allow for anything to be referred to as a religion, but not as a belief. Fans of the band Nickelback could be considered religious in their devotion to the band, but that doesn’t require acceptance of a statement as true or an object as existing. In short, it isn’t a faith or a belief. It is however, as a side note, an example of poor taste.
So going back to the main point, when we say atheism is a belief, faith, or religion, we are stating that atheism is an acceptance of a statement as true or acceptance in the existence of a thing. Or to phrase it differently, for atheism to be considered a religion, belief or faith, it must, by definition, mean that one of the following propositions is correct:
Proposition 1: “Atheism is the acceptance that a particular statement is true”
Proposition 2: “Atheism is the acceptance that a particular thing exists”
So let’s delve into the definition of atheism. Atheism is defined as “a lack of belief or disbelief in the existence of a god or gods”.
Note that I have intentionally used lowercase “g” for a “god”, as atheism is not related to a deity of a specific religion.
Note that this specifically relates to a “lack of belief” and “disbelief”. Now a lack of belief is a fairly straightforward concept, as we’ve already gone through the definition of belief earlier.
Disbelief defines as “an inability or refusal to accept that something is true or real”. If someone were to put forward the proposition that “water is not wet”, as we are very aware this is untrue, this would be met with disbelief. We would be rationally unable to believe something that is contrary to all evidence, and we would rationally refuse to believe this.
The definition of atheism can also be seen in the etymology of the word. The “a-” prefix relates to “not” or “without”. This is similar to terms such as “afebrile” (not having a fever), or “asynchronistic” (lacking synchronicity). “Theism” is a belief in a god or gods.
So atheism is a lack of belief, or inability or refusal to believe in, a god or gods.
So going back to our earlier propositions, let’s substitute the term atheism with the definition of atheism.
Proposition 1: “A lack of belief, or inability or refusal to believe in a god or gods is the acceptance that a particular statement is true.”
This proposition is obviously untrue. The absence of a belief is not a belief, in much the same way that the lack of a specific rock is not a different rock. It simply means that a specific rock is not there.
Proposition 2: “A lack of belief, or inability or refusal to believe in a god or gods is the acceptance that a particular thing exists”
This is not only obviously untrue, it is patently absurd.
Does this preclude atheists from having any beliefs, faiths, or religions? Absolutely not.
A belief that water is wet is still a belief, but it is not based on an acceptance of a god or gods. In the same way there are religions that are atheistic in nature, but may or may not still contain a belief in the supernatural.
To expand from this and say due to one or some atheists being religious or holding beliefs, to then assert all atheists are religious of hold a belief, is a fallacy of inductive reasoning.
A classic example of this fallacy is the “white swan” fallacy. The statement “all swans we have seen are white, therefore all swans are white” does not hold true. It is further disproven by the discovery of swans that are black. To then continue to say that “it’s a swan, therefore it is white” contrary to evidence is then just ridiculous.
Now the one thing I have not mentioned is the argument that atheism is a belief, faith or religion that states that there is no god. This argument is not completely without merit, but it does contain a logical fallacy.
If an individual contains a belief that there is no god, then they would, by sheer logic, not hold a belief that there is a god. (Cognitive dissonance notwithstanding.) The belief that there is no god is often referred to as anti-theism.
To assume that all atheists (individuals that lack a belief in a god), therefore hold a belief there is no god, based upon the fact that a sample of the population hold this belief, is erroneous.
To illustrate this, let’s assume that all dogs lack wings. To then assume anything that lacks wings is a dog is, obviously, erroneous.
So, a lack of a belief is not a belief. A lack of a faith is not a faith. A lack of religion is not a religion.
Atheism is not a belief. Atheism is not a faith. And atheism is not a religion.