Core tenets of atheism

Hey atheists and anyone else who wants to chat about it,

I’m interested in seeing what you would say the core tenets of atheism would be. I found this at infidels and wanted to see how many would agree or what they would add to it:

Here are a couple of things that, as a Christian, I agree with:

1) There is more to moral behavior than mindlessly following rules.
I don’t see Christianity or Jesus as something that involves mindlessly following rules, although I know there are some who do.

2) If you want your life to have some sort of meaning, it’s up to you to find it.
I would agree with this, except I would ask “how do you find it” and then, of course, I would say “it’s up to you to find it, and you can find it in God”

3) Search for what is true, even if it makes you uncomfortable.
I agree. The same challenge certainly must go to atheists. In the search for what is true God should not be rejected because the notion of his existence (even if he is a megalomaniac, which I don’t believe he is) is uncomfortable.

4) Just because something’s popular doesn’t mean it’s good.

5) Don’t believe things just because you want them to be true.
The same challenge does go to atheism as well. But I agree with the statement.

6) All beliefs should be open to question.
Including atheism! :smiley:

Anybody care to add any more?

As a long time atheist, I account for my atheism a different way.

I see no proof of any kind that a deity exist.
If you use the occam razor test on a deity, the simplest explanation is usually the right one,
then having no deity is a simpler explanation than having a deity.
You can just as easily explain the universe by some other means via science
as you can by religion.
Evolution is a simpler explanation for life than god created it.
Personally, once I understood there was no god, I felt better about me and my life.
I felt at peace for the first time in my life.
NO god means no heaven, no hell, no eternal life crap, no sin, no begging for redemption,
a tree is just a tree, a rock is just a rock, the universe is just what it seems to be.
If there is a god, then we are just renters,
if there is no god, then we own the place
and as a home owner I can tell you, it is better to own than to rent.
Without god, we humans are in control of our lives,
our success and our failures are ours and ours alone.


That person who made that list is neither describing what most atheists believe, nor what conditions are necessary for atheism. He’s merely taking positive intellectual virtues and chalking them up to atheist. The list of tenets is bullshit. The only tenet for atheism is: Don’t believe in God. Lacking this, one is not an atheist. That is it, and that is all.

If he’s saying that you can’t be an atheist if you mindlessly follow rules, then he’s mistaken. If he’s saying a majority of atheists don’t blindly follow moral rules, then he’s mistaken.

If he’s saying you can’t be an atheist if you’re not skeptical of positive claims, then he’s wrong. If he’s saying a majority of atheists are skeptical of positive claims, then he’s mistaken, or otherwise unjustified in making this calim.

* If you want your life to have some sort of meaning, it's up to you to find it.

Its a false dichotomy that says meaning either comes from god or from self, such that lacking god, one has to make one’s own meaning.

If he’s saying you can’t be an atheist if you don’t search for what is true, then he’s mistaken. If he’s saying a majority of atheists search for waht is true even if this search makes them uncomfortable, then he’s mistaken and/or unjustified.

Now this is interesting. The first half is, like the others neither necessary nor prevalent for/in atheists. For the second part however a case can be made for the notion that you can’t have an afterlife without God. Personally, I don’t see it. I can very easily imagine a mythology that grants an afterlife without ever bringing in God as the creator/sustainer of the afterlife.

Again, this has nothing to do with atheism per se. It’s just some good advice anybody could use.

True. This is a fallacy in logic, but it doesn’t mean somebody can’t be an atheist if they don’t adhere to the idea that this is a fallacy. A person could very easily become an atheist, i.e., not believe in God, because everybody else already doesn’t in his environment, and he’d still be as much of an atheist as the person who becomes an atheist after careful thinking.

Bleh. Same as above.


This left a bad taste in my mouth. I can now sort of see why smart people don’t like to call themselves atheists. There’s too much political baggage that comes along with it, due to idiots like the guy who wrote this.

I agree with xzc that the quote in the OP misses the most important, and perhaps the only, tenet that defines atheism: a lack of belief in God.

On the other hand, I think the list does capture the “atheist spirit” (for lack of a better word) in the sense that it is a list I think we’d find most atheists agreeing with. But I think xzc also hit on a good point that almost anybody would agree with it (as you so nicely attest to). Perhaps that’s the point - perhaps you’re saying that the majority of virtues that atheists would agree with are also virtues that Christians, and almost any other faith or belief system, would agree with, showing more how they are human virtues more than atheist ones even though we find atheists promulgating them most openly.

Yet, let’s not forget the third good point that xzc pointed out: that there’s a huge difference between agreeing with a list of virtues and practicing them. A lot of atheists (and Christians too) simply don’t follow the list in their practice however much they preach it. It still goes to show, however, how similar we all are - much more than we are different.

I look at it this way:
In the early days of Christianity several religions competed against one another. For a while polytheism was a contender in Rome. Objectively, they were not atheist because they believed in gods, but in the eyes of the Christians they were godless atheists because they did not accept the Christians’ conception of God as real. The arguments “atheists” use today were already in use by Christians against the Roman deities centuries ago. And the virtues, as gib points out, were also christian explanations for their own conversion in an age were the dogma existed that God was arrived through by reason alone, a dogma that eventually led to the philosophical pursuit of Natural Religion alongside Revealed Religion.

Gib, I have a slight problem with your tenet of atheism. I think it is a little incomplete.

You wrote god with a G. To me that insinuates that atheists are specific to one belief. It’s like saying, " Ok, we know he’s not Christian, but he could worship Orishas or he could be a Shinto." Your statement just was not comprehensive enough for me. If I may offer a slight amendment: atheism is a lack of belief in a deity or deities. It’s just not fair to exclude all other world religions.

I find it funny that atheists critcize “rules and boundaries” only to make their own. Every single one of those “tenets” is found in the Bible in one form or another. I don’t support the Bible either, but I am saying that you are hypocrits

Mindlessly following rules is a part of the human psyche; it is an unchangeable variable that is present in the vast majority of the human population. You can’t change it. It’s just a part of humanity and you’ll have to accept it.

Wrong. This mindset pushes the whole population into paranoia, because most of the population can’t handle high-intellectual functioning.

Exactly. Hence why “rules and guidelines” (no matter how many disclaimers you put up to take them open-mindedly) will never work out. They will be misinterpreted and exploited (if not in the present, then in the future).

When a person applies this, it causes them to take it inversely to: “If something is uncomfortable, it is the truth.” The truth is just the truth, it holds no emotional value other than what you make of it.

Although pessimistic, I can agree with what you are trying to say. However, the statement “this is the only life you’ll have” is just as blind as the Christians that the Atheists criticize. If you were to say “Live life as if its your only life” that sounds a lot better.

You haven’t been stripped of all your willpower yet, but once you are in a state of complete suffering and misery you’ll wish that you did believe in a higher power. It’s a safety net to fall back on when there is nothing else to fall back on.

How exactly is this guideline even “Atheist”? Again, this turns into its inverse “If something is popular, then that means it is bad”… It inverts itself in the subconscious mind whether you want it to or not.

This really has nothing to do with Atheism, but assuming you have “truth” in mind when you say this, then the “truth” remains the “truth” whether or not its easy to test. You seem to be speaking in more of a social perspective: “If you are going to assume something in conversation, assume something easy to test so other people can understand it”.

Once again, this will become its inverse eventually and will turn into “If you want something to be true, don’t believe in it even if it is true.”


I can understand this, and it seems like a good guideline to have. However, do not throw out your intuitive thinking, because often times this will serve as the “better judge” when it comes to evaluating the “truth” in something.

Have any Atheists actually sat down and read the bible? Or did you just browse over it? Or even worse, did you just base all of your fallacious assumptions off what other people told you about the Bible…

I’m not Christian, I’m not an anything, but people who like to “confine, define, and restrict” are responsible for the continuous downfall of humanity.

I think a solid anti-theism is much more useful then atheism - its unlikely that God exists but if he did my first instinct would be to dedicate myself to the struggle against this all powerful ruler even tho’ I guess that would be my instant annihilation!

For me this is article of faith - maybe even an alternative religion!

Atheism is much too much of a lukewarm concept for me hot blood…

A jealous lover of human liberty, deeming it the absolute condition of all that we admire and respect in humanity, I reverse the phrase of Voltaire, and say that, if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.
Mikhail Bakunin

Core tenets? You’re thinking like it’s a belief system :wink: I’d agree with the others who say it’s just a lack of belief in higher powers; there’s no deeper bond or creed.

The article is of course nonsense, but I suspect in a country like the US where there is still a significant religious hold on culture it could very well be more effective for atheist activists to present atheism as a religious activity that will fill the gap caused by leaving a church, rather than as a general outlook. There are many atheists and agnostics who go to church in the US because of the social and societal functions it fills; there’s no alternative ‘network’ to belong to.

… which answer is no use whatsoever to an atheist. It’s like the posters you see that aim to promote Christianity by quoting the Bible - it always seems to show a quite shocking lack of empathy or salesmanship :slight_smile:

Going back to the original quote - “find”? Is it lying around somewhere like a book or a key? A meaning is something that is implied, inferred, brought about by use and convention. Having them just waiting to be found sounds like a hang-up from religious thought, which doesn’t strike me as a key atheist tenet at all. I’d go with “define” or “create”, and maybe a side-helping of “justify”.

Absolutely. I don’t think many atheists I know have the viewpoint that it is deeply insulting to have their beliefs questioned; there are no ablasphemy laws, as far as I’m aware. The point, I believe, is not that they must be questioned (although I believe it’s healthy to continually question assumptions), but that questioning must be allowed. You come across as an open-minded, thoughtful Christian, but I’m sure it’s likely that not everyone you know of your faith holds themselves to your standards of tolerance and enquiry; let alone those of any faiths in less developed parts of the world.

the only core tenant of atheism is that you reject a belief in higher powers such as “God” or whatever term you want to use in its place.

atheists who are “open” about the question of God are not atheist, they are agnostic or weak religious.

if you deny that God or a so-understood “higher power” exists, for whatever reason, you are an atheist. if not, then you are not an atheist. thats all there is to it.

Whatever floats your boat.

Peachy Nietzsche: Have any Atheists actually sat down and read the bible? Or did you just browse over it? Or even worse, did you just base all of your fallacious assumptions off what other people told you about the Bible…

K: Once a year, I would read the bible from start to finish and this lasted for decades. I also read just about every religious book, torah,
Koran, Analects of Confucius,for example I could get my hands on. I spent 10 years studing religions in an attempt to find god. and before
you say anything along the lines of “god is found in your heart” crap, no he isn’t.

PN: I’m not Christian, I’m not an anything, but people who like to “confine, define, and restrict” are responsible for the continuous downfall of humanity."

K: umm, the “continuous” downfall of humanity? I don’t know what “confine, define and restrict” means but humans by their very nature,
define, classify, measure, weigh and analyze, everything. You can say that is the human way.


Most religious discussions disgust me both when I’m having them with theists and atheists. And I have yet to hear an atheist discuss religion in a way that didn’t make me cringe.

The old lines about “why is there evil” or whatever biblical contradiction atheists continually use just don’t interest me at all, and I get the feeling that such reasoning uses assumptions that I both do not hold and that presupposes theistic interpretations of the world.

the question of the existence of god doesn’t interest me to begin with anymore, so it isn’t any wonder that discussing the continuity of the details gives me a certain amount of existential disgust. It’s no longer a metaphysical or theological enquiry for me, it is rather, a sociological or psychological tell.

I can’t help but wonder why atheists bother discussing it, reasoning about it, or offering up alternatives. I assure you, the reason you deny god’s existence is not because you think you’ve found an insuperable contradiction. The reason you’ve found an insuperable contradiction is because you deny god’s existence, but you’re still constrained by a discourse dominated by religious thought and vocabulary.

Exactly. Atheism is not the effect of ‘rational thought.’ Rational thought is an effect of rationalism. It comes after the fact. Rational arguments against religion are not the foundations of atheist’s beliefs. Take them away, an atheist will still be an atheist. But I’m left wondering why this change in instinct? Is that old tid bit about Christianity being possible only in a sick society true after all? Why is the priest becoming increasingly obsolete?

This is a very good point – the human need for life beyond death/communal experience of belief/explanations of inexplicable phenomena or what ever are themselves far more interesting then proofs of the non-existence of or the logical contradictions involved in having an all powerful God.

Why do we invent God(s)?
(and even in a sientific/post modern/late capitalist era constantly seek to re-invent Gods and/or return to all sorts of religions and mystifications and New age stuff…)

Why has monotheism and the three big brands (© all rights reserved) of it come to dominate (at least in the West)
These tell us things about people and society.
Consistent atheists should be interested in these things.
Religion is an extremely interesting form of collective culture generation – and religions and their differences tell us a lot about ourselves and our needs.

This is even true for atheism(s) – there are differences between an indifferent atheism, a “rational” atheism and a sort of passionate atheism (the active despising of the every concept of God)


As as been pointed out, atheism is the lack of belief in any god. It is a-theism, and so specifically a lack of belief in theistic entities which are usually a god or gods, which are generally understood to be supernatural intelligent intentional agents of some kind, and more specifically ones that created the universe and us and have some degree of interest in us. It’s hard to be very specific because there is so much variety in theistic belief; to the extent that many ‘sophisticated’ theologians virtually define God into a non-existence that still allows them to speak of him and supposedly relate to him as if he does exist.

So, atheism is simply the lack of belief in any of that stuff. It gets interesting when we consider how one might come to be an atheist, and there are many routes to it:

  1. Just never believed and see no reason or evidence to believe. In Western culture this is probably the case in families and communities that are already atheistic, or which don’t make a big issue of belief one way or the other, and which are probably not members of a church of any kind.

  2. Did believe but lost belief for lack of reason or evidence to believe. Perhaps most common among young people who have grown up having been indoctrinated into belief, but who maybe at school, university, or these days through interactions on the internet, have dug deeper and found that there is no reason or evidence to believe after all. This might be a traumatic conversion for the more fundamentalist believers, and for those that would be or are ostracised by their religious families and communities. This seems to be particularly traumatic for ex-Muslim atheists, and for many ex-Christians in some communities in the United States. Generally less of a problem in Europe - or so it seems for lack of reports.

  3. The absence of God when he was needed. The most well documented cases are naturally those Jewish surviving (and I suppose non-surviving) victims of the holocaust, and probably many non-Jewish victims of the same, that lost their faith when God didn’t help them. There are also reports of this type of loss of belief when children are lost to illness or accident or murder.

I’m sure there are others. My personal experience was (2) - a gradual process from pre-teen to teen, though I couldn’t put a date on conversion. It was probably a gradual realisation that religion just doesn’t stack up.

As to the tenets of atheism, since it’s such a simple concept, it should be clear that there are no tenets as such. There might be some confusion over the fact that many atheist will also consider themselves to come under some other banner, such as Humanist, which, depending on the affiliated organisation or personal thought processes might lead that particular atheist to attempt to live by a set of tenets. But they are not atheist tenets.

Because of the variety of atheists and the desire of some of them to form collective responses to the failure of their government to be secular (separation of church and state), and to the special privileges religious organisations enjoy that are not available to any of the types of atheists, and to the tendency of the religious to want to impose their moral systems onto everyone, there are various umbrella organisations that might go under names that include ‘Atheist’ or some such in the title. Such organisations may agree internally to formulate what might be considered tenets, but they are tenets of that organisation, and typically combine something like humanist tenets for personal living combined with perhaps actionable tenets that are aimed at overcoming the special and unfair privileges that religions enjoy. But these tenets are the subject of those organisations and depend on the organisations’ goals. They are not tenets of atheism as such.

You might start here in your search for atheist organisations: … ation-2011

You will note that the declaration has a very odd first statement: “Freedom of conscience, religion and belief are private and unlimited. Freedom to practice religion should be limited only by the need to respect the rights and freedoms of others.”

Don’t you find it odd that an Atheist organisation supports religious belief to such an extent? Can you see that this is the incorporation of a typical secular humanist tenet? What is a secular humanist tenet? Or, what is a secular humanist?

A secular humanist is someone who tries to live by humanist ideals and who is also a secularist. But note that neither ‘humanist’ or ‘secularist’ are atheist labels (though Humanist with a capital ‘H’ is usually a name for humanist non-believers). A humanist (small ‘h’) can be a religious person too, because it relates to the value of humans, all humans without favour. A secularist is someone who thinks there should be a separation of church and state, which may include other details, such as the opposition to state funded religious schools. I know religious people who are secularist humanists.

In addition to the freedom of belief the other main point in the above is the private nature of belief. That isn’t about banning collective worship in churches and forcing to pray in your own homes, or anything like that. It’s a statement that belief is a private matter that is each person’s business. It means that the Islamic treatment of apostates is unreasonable, and in some instances barbaric. It means ostracism by a family or community of someone who has stopped believing isn’t a particularly humanist (or Christian) act.

By the same token, any atheist that ‘discovers’ religion is entitled to do so. This might result in intellectual opposition form their atheist friends and families, but I would think it rare that it would amount to ostracism. But then if one of my atheist friends became an Islamist Jihadist I might think I had cause to be concerned. I understand that from the perspective of the more fundamentalist theists that see the loss of belief as equally bad, so we ‘good’ atheists can only continue with the dialogue on this - which is another good reason for atheists to be a little more strident, in order to overcome the misconceptions about atheism.

I note from various sources that ‘strident’ New Atheists like Richard Dawkins are often accused of wanting to ban religion. This is a typical misrepresentation. Most of the New Atheists support the above statement. Richard Dawkins has said publicly on many occasions that he would argue for the right for believers to believe. In this respect it is important that the religious understand some distinctions in what atheists like Dawkins are up to when they comment on religion:

  1. They fully support the freedom of belief as outlined above. They do not want to ban your believing, or your churches.

  2. They do want to stop the privileges of religions and the oppressiveness of religions, wherever these exist.

  3. They have an intellectual interest in promoting reason and evidence, and because they see religious belief as being counter to reason and evidence their promotion of them will naturally bring them into intellectual conflict with theists.

So, my message to the religious here is to take these distinctions into account. Here’s one example of how they are conflated. Richard Dawkins thinks religious belief is a bad idea because it is counter to reason and evidence (3). As such he thinks that religious belief can be dangerous. Not always dangerous because there are evidently many very good religious people. But dangerous in principle. The danger comes from the commitment to belief through faith, which is anti-reason and anti-evidence, and the commitment to the authority of God, and perhaps more important to the self-appointed authority of God’s agents on earth: priests. Through indoctrination and through the authority of priests believers can be persuaded to do whatever the priest declare God wants. I’m sure many Christians of varying sects think that such unevidenced authority is completely bogus when applied by sects such as Scientologists. The problem is that without any evidence of God priests of all religions are acting on their own authority that they impose on the lay believers. This can lead to oppression (2). Belief through faith and the authority of the priests enables both good and bad behaviour. And, by persuading large numbers of the population to support them, and from the historical power that religions have enjoyed, this can also result in the maintenance of privileges for religions (2).

So, though it may seem contradictory, many atheists think you have the right to believe, while at the same time arguing with you as to why you should not and why you should be prepared to give up your unfair privileges and stop any oppressive and moralising prescriptions and proscriptions you attempt to apply to others.

A further point to consider is that even the very nice and very good secular religious person who any atheist would be glad to know and trust with their life is still an enabler of bad religious oppression. The very methodologies you live by: faith and the authority of an unevidenced God, and the self-proclaimed delegated authority of priests, are the very same unreasoned and unevidenced methodologies of every fundamentalist and religious terrorist. Every time you endorsed multi-faith and inter-faith action you are agreeing to disagree on certain tenets of your particular faith but are endorsing the use of faith; and that in turn endorses the faith of every religious terrorist fanatic. No matter how much you disavow their inhuman activities you cannot reason them away from them because you live by the very same methodologies of faith that they do. It matters not that you think that killing of innocents is wrong because under their faith in their particular religious views they either do think their God wants them to kill innocents, or more often they think our innocents are not innocent because they do not believe in their particular God.

And finally, if you want to know what the tenets of any organisation or belief system might be, do as the OP does here - ask the members.

Here is an example of a recent exchange where I was told what the tenets of atheism were by a believer. I pointed out that there were no tenets of atheism as such and asked for a source. This is what he said: … ent-121322

And this is the source I was presented with: … t-beliefs/

Note that it is the total fabrication of a believer that has decided what he thinks are the tenets of atheism.

Of course we atheists have to be careful too. Sometimes we have been through much discourse with many religious people and come to some conclusion or other about religion generally or about a particular point of belief - maybe something from the Bible or Quran. Then we pop over to some religious blog and assert our conclusion in comments without explanation. It’s clear that this is unhelpful too. The only way I know how to avoid this is to be as thorough as possible. This often leads to long comments (you’ve noticed?), which you’ll see if you follow the discussion referred to above ( It sometimes leads us off-topic too as we have to dig into assumptions and presuppositions. But patience and thoroughness are all we can do. I’m grateful to many theists for the discussions we’ve had, even when we’ve both left with the ideas we entered with.

So, thank you TheStray for asking.

There are no core tenets in atheism. While some atheists may agree on certain things, atheism is not a doctrine so literally everything in your op is wrong.

Damn volchock you’re right man.

I was just coming in here to ask the question…"are we talking about skepticism about god atheism? Or are we talking about some kind of new religion called “atheism”. I mean…I know that might sound like a crazy question here but I don’t know I think it’s a good one.

You got em good with that last post of your volchock. When you told em he was wrong that was so good how you did that man I am impressed. I should read more of your posts your shit is really good man. I mean really. You’re a really good poster.