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What of the other side? Are there reasons to think that this being does not exist? Supporters of atheism typically focus on two issues: conceptual difficulties in the perfections ascribed to the God of traditional theism, and the problem of evil. With respect to the former, there are serious difficulties in formulating adequate accounts of omniscience and omnipotence. There are also formidable arguments to the effect that divine omniscience is inconsistent with immutability (an attribute long considered essential to the theistic God), and that God's essential moral perfection is incompatible with any significant divine freedom with respect to whether to create and what world to create. Finally, there is the general problem of whether those divine perfections that vary in degrees (knowledge, power, goodness) have an upper limit. But while these difficulties raise genuine doubts as to whether the traditional theistic conception of God is coherent, many philosophers believe that they fall short of a proof of incoherence. The fundamental issue in the problem of evil is this. Do we have good reason to think that evils occur in the world that an omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good being would not be justified in permitting? In so far as we do have good reason to believe this, we have a good reason to believe that atheism is true. When we consider horrendous evils or the sheer magnitude of human and animal suffering, the idea that an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good being is in control of the world may strike us as absolutely astonishing, something almost beyond belief.

« Atheism Atheism is the position that affirms the nonexistence of God.

It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief.

Since many different gods have been objects of belief, one might be an atheist with respect to one god while believing in the existence of some other god.

In the religions of the west - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - the dominant idea of God is of a purely spiritual, supernatural being who is the perfectly good, allpowerful, all-knowing creator of everything other than himself.

As used in this entry, in the narrow sense of the term an atheist is anyone who disbelieves in the existence of this being, while in the broader sense an atheist is someone who denies the existence of any sort of divine reality.

The justification of atheism in the narrow sense requires showing that the traditional arguments for the existence of God are inadequate as well as providing some positive reasons for thinking that there is no such being.

Atheists have criticized the traditional arguments for belief and have tried to justify positive disbelief by arguing that the properties ascribed to this being are incoherent, and that the amount and severity of evils in the world make it quite likely that there is no such allpowerful, perfectly good being in control. 1 The meaning of 'atheism' As commonly understood, atheism is the position that affirms the nonexistence of God.

So an atheist is someone who disbelieves in God, whereas a theist is someone who believes in God.

Another meaning of 'atheism' is simply nonbelief in the existence of God, rather than positive belief in the nonexistence of God.

These two different meanings are sometimes characterized as positive atheism (belief in the nonexistence of God) and negative atheism (lack of belief in the existence of God).

Barring inconsistent beliefs, a positive atheist is also a negative atheist, but a negative atheist need not be a positive atheist.

One advantage of using 'atheism' in these two different senses is that negative atheism, but not positive atheism, characterizes the position of the logical positivists, who hold that statements purportedly about God, including the statement 'God does not exist', are cognitively meaningless.

If one holds that the statements 'God exists' and 'God does not exist' are cognitively meaningless, and therefore neither true nor false, one cannot consistently believe that it is true that God does not exist or that it is true that God does exist.

So the logical positivist cannot espouse positive atheism, but can be characterized as espousing negative atheism.

Nevertheless, since the common use of 'atheism' to mean disbelief in God is so thoroughly entrenched, we will follow it.

We may use the term 'non-theist' to characterize the position of the negative atheist. So instead of saying that the logical positivist is a negative but not a positive atheist, we shall say that the logical positivist is a non-theist but not an atheist.

Since human beings have worshipped many different gods, what god or gods is it whose existence, if denied, makes one an atheist? Generally, it is the dominant or official god of one's country or culture that plays that role.

(Early Christians were called atheists because they rejected belief in the official gods of the Roman state.) But given that there are a number of different conceptions of the divine in a given culture, it is best to distinguish a restricted or narrow sense of 'atheism' and 'theism' from a broader sense.

In the major religions of the West - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - the traditional conception of God is of a purely spiritual, supernatural being who is the perfectly good, all-powerful, all-knowing creator of everything other than himself.

As used in this entry, an atheist in the narrow sense of the term is anyone who disbelieves in the existence of this being, just as a theist in the narrow sense is anyone who believes in the existence of this being.

In the broader sense, a theist is someone who believes in the existence of any divine being or divine reality, even if it is quite different from the idea of God just described.

Similarly, an atheist, in the broader sense of the term, is someone who disbelieves in every form of deity, not just the God of traditional Western theology.

To avoid confusion, it is important to keep in mind both the narrow and the broader senses of these terms.

In the narrow sense, the Protestant theologian Paul Tillich (§2) was an atheist, for he disbelieved in the existence of the God of traditional theism.

But in the broader sense he was a theist, since he believed that there is a divine reality, beingitself (the God beyond the traditionalistic theistic God).

The chief concern of this entry will be an investigation of the reasons supporting atheism in the narrow sense.

While someone may readily undertake to give reasons for thinking that the God of traditional Western theology does not exist, it would be a vastly larger task to review all the ideas of the divine that human beings have generated over time and then undertake to justify belief in the nonexistence of each divine being or divine reality. 2 Historical sketch of Western atheism Perhaps the best way to understand the struggle between atheism and theism is to note theism's insistence on an agent explanation of various natural phenomena, including the existence of the universe.

We typically explain our actions and their results in terms of our purposes and our power as agents to make things happen.

When the idea that the sun, moon and stars are themselves agents was abandoned, it seemed reasonable to explain their movements, and other natural happenings in the world, as the result of powerful agents (gods) acting upon inert material bodies.

Thus the gods served to explain events in nature for which no other explanation was then available, particularly events directly affecting human welfare.

And by worshipping and beseeching the gods, human beings undoubtedly hoped to influence the course of natural events in their favour.

The seeds of atheism in Western society were sown with the beginning of science.

For the trend of science over the centuries has been to replace explanations of natural events by the activity of divine agents with explanations by means of other natural phenomena (see Religion and science §§1-3).

As early as Epicurus, one finds an explicit attempt to rule out any explanation of natural phenomena by reference to the activity of supernatural agents (see Epicureanism §§8-9).

But while it is one thing to observe the steady retreat of the gods from a significant place in explanations of phenomena within nature, it is quite another thing to discredit the view that the natural universe itself owes its existence to the creative activity of a supernatural deity.

Moreover, the appearance of design in plants and animals made it. »