An atheist is a person who does not believe in God. Atheists do not believe in any afterlife, heaven, hell or place any faith in spirituality of any kind. Theism, on the other hand, is the belief in one God or deity.
The term 'athiest' means 'without God' and has more recently come to prominence with the growing number of people questioning the belief in God. This is, in part, due to growing confidence amongst the scientific community in Charles Darwin's Origin Of the Species, and the mounting evidence that human beings and life forms were all created through evolution, rather than one supreme being.
Believers like to accuse atheists of lacking moral fiber, and ethics without the fear of God to guide them. Research, however, suggests otherwise. Sociologist Phil Zuckerman led a research study that concluded that the more atheists there are in a society, the more moral it is.
Atheists make up 2.3% of the population, with another 11.9% describing themselves as non-religious. Atheism is particularly prevalent throughout Europe, Scandinavia, the former Soviet Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Some of the reasons that people choose not to believe in God include:
- They find no scientific evidence to support that God exists
- Religions do more harm than good in the world
- They have lost faith in an old belief system they may have held
- They live in a non-religious society
- They believe that if a God existed, he would not allow bad things to happen in the world
- They believe that humans use religion to manipulate and control others
Many atheists are not just atheists, but define themselves as humanists. A humanist is a non-religious believer who takes responsibility for their life and the lives of others around them in their community. Humanists are focused on ethical living, respecting themselves, the people around them and their environment and encourages dialogue and intellectual debate on not only the existence (or non-existence) of God (which humanists reject) but also on how to live ethical and responsible lives without fear or reproach.
Of all of the modern day atheists, perhaps the most famous is Richard Dawkins. An celebrated intellectual, evolutionary biologist and Chair of the Public Understanding of Science post at Oxford University, England, Dawkins has done more to question the existence of God amongst intellectuals and the general public since the publication of his first book, 'The Selfish Gene' in 1976. There is even a Facebook group in support of him called "If I wasn't an atheist, I'd think Richard Dawkins was God".
Further reading: Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion