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The term atheism is derived from the Greek prefix a (meaning "without" or "not") and the Greek theos meaning god, giving the literal definition of atheism as someone who is without a god, or someone who is not a theist. In common use, it means the belief that no god exists. Most Christians and Jews use this term to refer to the belief that the Judeo-Christian God (as described in the Bible) does not exist.

As understood within the philosophical tradition, "atheism" is contrasted with both theism (the belief that God does exist) and with agnosticism (the belief that it is impossible to know for sure whether or not God exists). Atheists, agnostics, and positivists (who believe that "God"-talk is nonsense) can generally be described as nonbelievers.

The above broad definition of atheism does not distinguish between "strong" and "weak" atheism, which is commonly drawn within the freethinking tradition (as distinguished from the philosophical tradition).

  • "Positive atheism" is the positive assertion (or belief) that God (or some gods, or all gods) does not exist--that is, a positive atheist may assert that the Judeo-Christian God does not exist, or that all gods do not exist.
  • "Negative atheism" is the lack of a god-belief or someone who is not a theist, a position which is only slightly different from agnosticism. "Negative atheist" is synonymous, or nearly so, with "nonbeliever."

Furthermore, an atheist can be both a positive atheist with respect to the Judeo-Christian God and a negative atheist with respect to any other gods.

Arguments for atheism

See the rationality of atheism for further discussion.

Atheism as a popular movement

Atheism is generally misunderstood in many societies and those who openly express their non-theistic points-of-view are often mistreated, ostracized and the subjects of discrimination (as is often the case for adherents to minority points-of-view in many parts of the world). Like their religious counterparts, many atheists align themselves with organizations that express or support a non-theistic worldview.

Atheism throughout history

Please feel free to contribute to the history of atheism, or any other part of this entry.

--- See also: secularism, philosophy of religion, the rationality of atheism, listing of noted atheists, agnosticism, naturalism, theism, deism