Sociology Index

Society and Atheism

Sociology of Religion, Existentialism, Books on Atheism, Abstracts

Atheism is as old as religion. As religion and its place in society have evolved throughout history, so have the standing and philosophical justification for atheism.

Epicurus (341-270 BC) was a materialist and probably the first philosopher to develop the argument from evil.

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? (where does evil come from?)
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"

During the 5,000 years of history when men developed a higher culture Atheism appeared. We see Atheism so widespread in civilization 2,500 years ago. Atheism takes a prominent place in history in the form of the Ionian philosophy of Greece and the ethic of Buddha and Confucius. From 300 B.C. to 300 A.D. we find the thinly veiled Atheism of the Stoics, Epicureans, and Skeptics accepted by the great majority of the better-educated.

Atheism perishes again with the crass ignorance and clerical tyranny of the Iron Age, but it spreads widely in the light of the Arab-Persian civilization, wherever the fanatics are checked, and at the Renaissance it reappears in Christendom.

Comments on atheism from celebrities:

Warren Buffett "did not subscribe to his family's religion. Even at a young age he was too mathematical, too logical, to make the leap of faith. He adopted his father's ethical underpinnings, but not his belief in an unseen divinity." -- from "Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist" by Roger Lowenstein.

Linus Torvalds, Computer Programmer, the creator of Linux. "completely a-religious -- atheist." "I find that people seem to think religion brings morals and appreciation of nature. I actually think it detracts from both."

Bill Gates, Microsoft Chairman. "In terms of doing things I take a fairly scientific approach to why things happen and how they happen. I don't know if there's a god or not, but I think religious principles are quite valid." "Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There's a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning."

Stephen Hawking, Theoretical Physicist - Although he speaks of "God" in the metaphorical sense of some creative force, he has stated that he is an atheist. "I do not believe in a personal God." "contrary to Einstein's thought that "God does not play dice," he said that "God must be quite a gambler..." (Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking )

John Conway, Mathematician. "I don't believe in God, but I believe that nature is unbelievably subtle and clever. In physics, for instance, the real answer to a problem is usually so subtle and surprising that it wasn't even considered in the first place. That the speed of light is a constant - impossible! Nobody even thought about it. And quantum mechanics is even worse, but it's so beautiful, and it works!'"

John McCarthy, AI Researcher. John McCarthy is an outspoken atheist: "An atheist doesn't have to be someone who thinks he has a proof that there can't be a god. He only has to be someone who believes that the evidence on the God question is at a similar level to the evidence on the werewolf question.

Steve Wozniak, Cofounder of Apple Computer. Response of Woz to a letter published on his website: - "I am also atheist or agnostic (I don't even know the difference). I've never been to church and prefer to think for myself." "Steve Jobs may be an informal fan of Eastern religions but it's never obvious in him and I never heard of him regularly attending a church. That's only a guess."

Ed Fredkin, Computer Scientist. "I guess what I'm saying is: I don't have any religious belief. I don't believe there is a God. I don't believe in Christianity or Judaism or anything like that, okay? I'm not an atheist...I'm not an agnostic...I'm just in a simple state. I don't know what there is or might be..."

John Carmack, id Software Owner. "Having a reasonable grounding in statistics and probability and no belief in luck, fate, karma, or god(s), the only casino game that interests me is blackjack.

Richard Stallman, Software Guru. Stallman is a very popular figure in the 'free software' movement and founded the Free Software Foundation In a footnote of the O'Reilly Book Open Sources, Stallman says "As an atheist, I don't follow any religious leaders, but I sometimes find I admire something one of them has said."

Richard Dawkins, Evolutionary Biologist - Books - The Blind Watchmaker, The Selfish Gene, River out of Eden and Climbing Mount Improbable. In all of his work he successfully explains how complex forms of life evolved from simple forms of life. In a number of lectures and debates, notably the Voltaire Lecture "Viruses of the Mind", he demands that scientists and other rational people stop waffling and accept the lack of evidence for religious claims and draw the obvious conclusions: there is no god, and religion is a pack of lies.

David Deutsch, Physicist. Deutsch is a scientist at the Oxford Univ. Centre for Quantum Computation. Author of The Fabric Of Reality. "First of all, I do not believe in the supernatural, so I take it for granted that consciousness has a material explanation. I also do not believe in insoluble problems, therefore I believe that this explanation is accessible in principle to reason, and that one day we will understand consciousness just as we today understand what life is, whereas once this was a deep mystery."

Steven Weinberg, Theoretical Physicist/Author. Weinberg is a a winner of 1979 Nobel Prize. "The more we refine our understanding of God to make the concept plausible, the more it seems pointless."

Ian Wilmut, Embryologist. Dr. Wilmut pioneered the first successful cloning of a large mammal. This clone is now known to all as a healthy and otherwise normal sheep named Dolly. From a published story profiling Wilmut: "...but Ian Wilmut said he 'does not have a belief in God."'

Lewis Wolpert. Wolpert is a Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine at University College London.  In The Biology of Belief, Professor Wolpert argues that religion is a biological trait that emerged as part of evolution. The difference between human beings and animals was that human beings had developed an understanding of cause and effect. 'Once there was a concept of cause, we needed to understand the causes of all the terrible things that happened to us. The most obvious thing to do was to invent God.'

Bhagat Singh, from 'Why I Am An Atheist?': "Judgment is already too well known. ---. What is the consolation with the exception of the idea that I am going to sacrifice my life for a cause? A God-believing Hindu might be expecting to be reborn as a king, a Muslim or a Christian might dream of the luxuries to be enjoyed in paradise ---. But what am I to expect? I know the moment the rope is fitted round my neck and rafters removed, from under my feet - that will be the final moment - that will be the last moment. My soul, as interpreted in the metaphysical terminology, shall all be finished there. Nothing further. ---. With no selfish motive, or desire to be awarded here or hereafter, quite disinterestedly have I devoted my life to the cause of independence, because I could not do otherwise. The day we find a great number of men and women with this psychology who cannot devote themselves to anything else than the service of mankind and emancipation of the suffering humanity; that day shall inaugurate the era of liberty."

Countries and percentage of atheists

Country - % of atheists

Sweden - 85%

Vietnam - 81%

Denmark - 80%

Norway - 72%

Japan - 65%

Czech Republic - 61%

Finland - 60%

France - 54%

South Korea - 52%

Estonia - 49%

Germany - 49%

Russia - 48%

Hungary - 46%

Britain - 44%

Belgium - 43%

Bulgaria - 40%

Slovenia - 38%

Israel - 37%

Canada - 30%

Source: Zuckerman, Phil. Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns, chapter in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, ed. by Michael Martin, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK (2005).