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I have watched many debates on the question of God's existence, and I have noticed that when the monotheist is asked to prove God's existence and they have arguments for God's existence and arguments against atheism. And the atheist generally provides arguments against theism, strangely no arguments for atheism. Please note I am defining Atheism as the positive claim that God does not exist. So I wondered what are the arguments that an atheist could come up with for atheism, it seems to me that these are generally quite self-serving, like, fear of hell, being creeped out at the prospect of God's omniscience etc obviously these aren't going to convince anyone of atheism, at that point, one would be preaching to the choir

So is there any argument for atheism not rooted in self interest? note: I'm not accepting any argument against theism this means no problem of evil, no divine hiddenness, no omnipotence paradox etc. etc.)

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    How are the problems of evil, of divine hiddenness, and of omnipotence rooted in self-interest?
    – benrg
    Dec 6, 2023 at 21:10
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    One simple argument would be: God would have to exemplify divine simplicity, but divine simplicity is ridiculous, so nothing can exemplify it, ergo God doesn't exist. Of course, someone else could go on to deny that divine simplicity is necessary for God, etc. I too wonder why arguing from paradoxes of omnipotence is self-interested? And the problem of evil could be invoked by someone living a good life, on behalf of those living lives of extreme suffering. Dec 6, 2023 at 21:41
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    A positive argument for the "positive claim that God does not exist" which is not motivated by self-interest: it seems to fit the facts best.
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 6, 2023 at 21:57
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    @BilalAfzal Your last sentence excludes three main problems of Christian theism - problem of evil, problem of divine hiddenness, omnipotence paradox - as a reason for atheism. Because you ask for arguments supporting atheism, but not being rooted in self interest. - But the named three problems are totally independent from any self interest. They are philosophical arguments for atheism. Please explain why you do not accept them.
    – Jo Wehler
    Dec 6, 2023 at 22:09
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    Very few atheist debatter worth their salt would engage in "the positive claim that God does not exist". Actually I know of none, a reference would have been welcome. Specific representations of God can be argued against, for example the character of God described in the Bible makes no sense, being depainted as both infinitely merciful but also revengeful, etc. But "God" alone is not defined well enough that any solid argument for it's inexistence can be made (which, obviously, is a problem to be addressed by the theists, not the non believer).
    – armand
    Dec 7, 2023 at 0:43

11 Answers 11

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Atheism isnt an argument. It's not a religious belief. It just means you dont believe that a theistic god exists... but it comes with an "until further notice". "Prove me wrong."

I get that its a very difficult conversation. The aspect of "self" can get muddled. Particularly if you grew up in a religious family.

The answer to your question is its always selfish to feel important. Whether that is conviction in "God" or conviction of the absence of "God." But, I think the more you look at this the less you'll see a correlation between religious belief and the self.

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The contest between various mythologies, between the people who believe in one god vs those who believe in 2 or 3 gods or in zero gods, is the lowest possible level of philosophy. It's boring to death. In fact it has historically killed millions of people -- theists killing atheists, atheists killing theists, theists of one stripe killing theists of another -- and it will never be resolved anyway, irrespective of the amount of ink or blood spilled for it.

It's a debate at dog level, at ant level even. Humans should be smarter than that.

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    The OP's question asks for arguments not for our opinion. - That said I like your opinion.
    – Jo Wehler
    Dec 7, 2023 at 8:11
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    @JoWehler The OP is just trying to insinuate that atheists are self-serving, that they adopted a belief that was convenient for them. Atheists could make exactly the same below-the-belt argument against theism, and they have, millions of times. I won't stoop at that level.
    – Olivier5
    Dec 7, 2023 at 10:34
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In conclusion, being an atheist has many benefits, including freedom of thought and belief, rational thinking, personal responsibility, tolerance and acceptance, focus on the present, community, and moral autonomy.

Benefits of being an atheist - The Times of India https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/readersblog/sauravbanerjeeblogs/benefits-of-being-an-atheist-52009/

The arguments for atheism are rooted in both self interest and the best interests of others.

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    I like this, I hadn't thought of it this way. If you are in a place surrounded by a prevailing worldview, taking the opposite view, at least to examine it, is basically obligatory. Nothing should be taken on without examination.
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 7, 2023 at 16:42
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    @ScottRowe As a group, atheists are understudied. When they are studied, it's usually done poorly Dec 7, 2023 at 17:49
  • Idiosyncratic soul, are you aware of Nihilism being the logical conclusion of Atheism? Dec 7, 2023 at 21:10
  • @BilalAfzal Are you aware of the slippery slope fallacy? Dec 7, 2023 at 21:57
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I can share my own experience that as a child I was told stories about many beings that were clearly different from real people: guardian angels, the Devil, Father Christmas, the tooth fairy, God, Peter Pan, Zeus, Thor, Merlin and so on. Even before my teens, I was clear that they were just stories. One reason, therefore, in support of atheism is consistency of beliefs. If you don't believe in fictional characters or other mythological figures, why believe in God?

By my teens, I had developed strong views about religion. It seemed obvious to me then, and still does now, that one's religion is largely the result of upbringing- had I been born in the Middle East, or the Far East, or in the Amazon rain forest, I would not have had Jesus, guardian angels and all the rest of the Catholic story drummed into me pretty much from birth onwards. So my second argument for atheism is that religion is clearly a man-made cultural artefact, perpetuated by special interest groups.

Other positive arguments for atheism include the fact that ridding human minds of irrational beliefs must surely be a good thing in itself. Consider all of the wars and other conflicts that have arisen as a result of religion. In the absence of religious differences, humans would be free to focus on more legitimate reasons to fight, such as disagreements about which is the better football club.

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  • All these amount to arguments against narrow Christian faith-based theism. They don't preclude deism any more/less than atheism
    – Rushi
    Dec 7, 2023 at 7:34
  • @rushi agreed! I did preface my answer with words to the effect that I was relating my personal experience, rather than academic arguments. TBH I find arguments for and again god to be utterly futile. There is no way to prove or disprove god's existence- the question is strictly a matter of faith or opinion. Dec 7, 2023 at 7:43
  • @Rushi I have just been reading Carl Sagan's "The Demon Haunted World", which has some research on how similar beliefs in incorporeal entities have occurred worldwide and across time, as far as we can tell. They are features of human mental functioning and so do not reflect the world or support any belief systems. We would do better I think, morally, to just assume things are really as bad as the worst possible materialist outlook and start constructing a social system that actually works and doesn't need a metaphysical justification. But, I'm probably only one of many fools to say this...
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 7, 2023 at 12:10
  • Different strokes for different folks @ScottRowe. But my short answer would be: You've not really thought through your wish/suggestion. See my recent comment where I see you also !
    – Rushi
    Dec 7, 2023 at 12:21
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    @Rushi so long as the different folks don't try to make their strokes apply to all folks. We could start with what visibly does apply to everyone without exception and try to salvage the situation.
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 7, 2023 at 12:57
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  1. Note that atheism = a-theism is defined as a position which denies the existence of a god. Hence each argument against god is an argument for atheism. Your remark

    the atheist generally provides arguments against God, strangely no arguments for atheism

    misses the point.

  2. The worldview of atheism is simpler than the theistic worldview because the latter carries the burden of the god-concept.

    The god-concept, in particular the concept of the Christian god as creator, lawgiver, judge with all its attributes is a highly complex concept. History of theology shows that the god-concept is highly at risk to foster several internal contradictions or at least inconsistencies. Several ad-hoc hypotheses are necessary to repair the most obvious of its conceptual handicaps. Your question names some of these issues.

  3. The god-concept tries to explain the phenomena in the universe from an anthropomorphic and anthropocentric world view. Science has shown that this ansatz is useless to explain phenomena in the domain of microphysics, macrophysics and also to explain several mesocosmic phenomena.
    Atheism, in particular in the form of naturalism – miracles do not exist – has to leave open several questions. Atheists learned the lesson that humans are not the center of the universe:

    • Humans cannot expect to understand all phenomena.

    • Humans cannot expect that the universe follows human predilections.

Aside: All these are philosophical arguments, not fostered by self interest; see also my comment to your question.

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  • So if naturalism is true, how come we can conceive of God, considering that our imagination should be limited to things in the universe and whatever combinations thereof. God is beyond the universe, yet we can all understand what is meant by God. Dec 7, 2023 at 21:31
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    @BilalAfzal Why should naturalism limit our imagination like that? And what do you mean "we all understand what is meant by God"? People have a lot of different descriptions of god, and many are based on being told about god by someone else, a source from inside the universe.
    – JMac
    Dec 8, 2023 at 13:21
  • The truth options for a claim are not just yes or no. Reasoning is a four option logic -- starting from "currently unable to reach a conclusion" with transit paths to "claim supported sufficiently to accept", "claim Dis supported sufficiently to reject" or "claim is incoherent or unevaluable" as the three other options. Hence counterarguments against theism are not always arguments for atheism.
    – Dcleve
    Dec 8, 2023 at 17:57
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Alex O'Connor makes a positive case for atheism by putting forth 3 arguments:

Notice that these are abductive arguments, that is, they (attempt to) make a positive case for atheism by contending that it makes more sense to expect these sorts of issues in a world without a God than in a world with one, and, therefore, that one should conclude that the former scenario is more likely the case.

I fail to see how any of this is rooted in self-interest, whatever that is intended to mean.

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  • I think 'self-interest' in the OP referred to avoiding unpleasant ideas or promoting pleasant ones.
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 7, 2023 at 16:44
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There aren't self-serving arguments for atheism (either*).

  • Fear of hell: This is a (bad) argument for Christianity, i.e. you're going to hell so you need to accept that Jesus died for your sins (which doesn't say anything about whether that's true). Christians turn this around as a strawman on atheists, and say they are atheists because they don't want to go to hell, but that doesn't make much sense once you dig below the surface, because they're also rejecting the possibility of going to heaven (which is a pretty strong emotional appeal for Christianity).

    It's especially ironic for Christians to try to pin this on atheists when you hear plenty of atheists speak about being traumatised by their fear of hell (both while they were Christians, and during their deconstruction). And just a reminder that trauma doesn't say much about whether something is true. Someone could still fear threats that were always empty, from an abuser that's long gone, with them knowing this full well. Many atheists were also ostracised by their community during their deconstruction. If anything, many people are very strongly motivated to not question their religious beliefs, due to emotional reasons.

  • Being creeped out at the prospect of God's omniscience: I haven't seen this being presented as a serious argument by atheists. It's more just something to think about, that's mentioned in passing.

    There is also a more serious argument here: if someone thinks God sees everything they do and everything they think, and would punish them for thinking the wrong thing (including thinking that God doesn't exist), do we really expect that person to be able to think clearly and honestly about God's existence? No. They would try to suppress any doubts they have. That doesn't mean God doesn't exist, but it is a belief system that very explicitly and strongly discourages you from questioning it. If a belief system is false or unjustified, such discouragement sure would be a nice trait for it to have (for its spread and its continued existence), because it prevents people from figuring out that it's false. This argument wouldn't be about self-interest.

  • Problem of evil: (Why does evil or unnecessary suffering exist with a powerful loving god.) This isn't about self-interest, it's an inconsistency in religious claims.

  • Divine hiddenness: (Why doesn't everyone knows of God's existence if we're punished for not knowing or if he wants a relationship.) Like the above, this isn't about self-interest, it's an inconsistency in religious claims.

  • Omnipotence paradox: (God creating a stone he cannot lift.) Maybe I'm overly dismissive of it, but I'd consider this "baby's first counter-apologetics" (at least by modern standards). People thought about this is in my high school, or maybe even primary school. It's a fun little paradox, and it may be useful in establishing what exactly omnipotence means, but that's about it. It's certainly not on par with the problem of evil or divine hiddenness (which are two of the primary arguments against Christianity). And this also isn't about self-interest.

What do you even mean by "self-interest"? Most of the examples you listed is about consistency of a worldview. If that's "self-interest", then we can probably label any method to gain knowledge to be "self-interest"... which I suppose it kind of is, but under such an interpretation, you'd be asking for philosophical arguments while implicitly excluding all philosophical arguments, which would be self-contradictory.

These aren't arguments "for atheism"

These are arguments against specific theistic claims, e.g. of an all-loving all-powerful deity.

None of these lead to the conclusion that no gods exist, as strong atheism is commonly defined. All of these even allow for the possibility of the existence of some other deity.

Well, you did say "I am defining Atheism as the positive claim that God does not exist", not "no gods exist". If you specifically mean the Christian God, and only the Christian God, then one might indeed consider these arguments to be "for atheism", but I somewhat doubt that you'd find even a single atheist that would define atheism like that (if not from the start, then once you clarify what that definition would actually entail). It certainly isn't a common definition, especially because it would allow for belief in the god of any other religion. I'm pretty sure every atheist I've ever spoken to would agree that, while this may include not accepting the existence of the Christian God, their atheism entails not accepting the existence of any god (whether they take the strong position of "no gods exist", or not). So if you define it just in reference to the Christian God, you might want to reconsider your definition.

* What I said may also apply to the Muslim God, to varying degrees, and possibly to other religions (you didn't specify which god you're talking about, and "the only one that exists" wouldn't really answer that question). Although there isn't really a "the" God in either Christianity or Islam, since there are a wide range of beliefs about the nature of God within those religions. That's why I focused more on the existence of a god with certain traits, instead.

Arguments "for atheism"?

As someone who takes the position that no gods exist, the only argument "for" that is the default position and the burden of proof.

If someone want to claim that there exists some deity with certain traits, the burden would be on them to justify it. Until they do, we should stick to the default position of "no gods exist".

The burden of proof is where it is, and the default position is what it is, because you cannot prove that no gods exist, especially given the possibility of gods that don't interact with material reality in any way, whose existence we can say nothing about, so we have no reason to accept their existence, and every reason to reject it.

Similarly, I take the position that no Yetis exist, no large creatures exist within Loch Ness, there are no invisible fairies all around us, there is no goblin named Roland in my closet, there is no invisible unicorn in my backyard, etc. I could say that we would expect to find certain evidence/traces of these things (e.g. footprints in my backyard), and we don't have that (and we can certainly do that for certain God claims, too). But that doesn't necessarily mean that they don't exist. One could also make a claim where we wouldn't expect to see evidence, or adjust the existing claim to make sense of why there isn't evidence, e.g. the unicorn doesn't leave footprints, or the footprints are also invisible.

One could also, more generally, discuss what best explains the evidence we have, but what I wrote above is in line with that, and makes the case for Occam's razor: that we should reject explanations that don't explain any evidence, which only explains evidence we can already more easily explain by other means, or which can arbitrarily be swapped out with a comparable claim that explains the evidence equally well.

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  • The 1st part of the answer that focuses on the Christian aspect is fine and I've upvoted for that. The second I don't understand "I don't yout find a single atheist..." I'm reasonably certain Dawkins et al have said near about that: viz. The Christian God is as rejectable as Krishna, Thor etc. In short he rejects every God under all denominations. And people have argued back that he's 'just a Christian atheist' but as best as I can see he barely realizes the utter ethnocentricity of his pretentious universal arguments
    – Rushi
    Dec 7, 2023 at 6:45
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    @Rushi I edited that part to try to clarify it.
    – NotThatGuy
    Dec 7, 2023 at 6:57
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Your question has a confusing term in it which may lead to the answers not satisfying your intent -- and that is "positive". The implication to the word is that you are looking for arguments for atheism that are based on the world being better if atheism were true. You will find almost no arguments for atheism that are based on "positive" reasoning. This is because almost all atheists argue for the value of operating off a fact-basis in life, not a "wish it were so" worldview.

What one CAN say, is that atheists argue that living by a fact-based worldview IS a positive argument, and therefore the various arguments against the Problem of Evil, Divine Hiddenness, etc. are arguments to accept the facts of the world, and are positive in that respect. Note that each of these arguments are arguments against specific deity claims, NOT generalized arguments against all deities. To get to that generalized argument, atheists must make an inference from the failings of multiple specific religions claims, to the principle that all religions would therefore be flawed, which is an inductive not deductive argument. Alternatively, atheists can instead argue from ontology, that materialism appears to be true, hence there could be no God as there is no God-place in the universe. Again, these are fact-based arguments, not wish it were so arguments.

IF you still are looking for "positive" arguments for atheism, I can offer a few, although they generally are specific to only the most common religious viewpoints. The primary one is that religions are immoral, and if one is a moral person, one should hope atheism to be true. This is specific to particular religions, but the moral character of Gods in major religions, the Tao, or the divine cycle is -- often sickening if one considers what a truly moral viewpoint would be. That such morally flawed agents could control our world, is depressing to imagine.

Another morality-based argument is that human agency and choice is so useless in Omni-God, Tao, and Divine Cycle theories, that humans are just puppets, with no effective moral agency. For our lives to matter, one should hope these religions are wrong.

And a third is to build on the "fact-based" thinking, to argue that with most religions, human reasoning and clear thinking are irrelevant, and the primary worldview they gain substantive value is in atheism.

There are, however, some problems with each of these arguments, at least for the most common materialist version of atheism. Under materialism, there is no such thing as morality, as it has no location, mass, etc. There is a similar problem for reasoning. Or any values. Therefore value-based arguments for materialist atheism tend to suffer from a significant degree of logical incoherence.

Note, I am a theist myself, and argue that the "fact-based" arguments I cited first above are not actually knock-down arguments, and they are overridden by evidence cases for a spirit realm. But that is an answer for a different question ...

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  • +1 for penultimate para. There is no morality, no reasoning, no values... Ha ha! Ahluvit!
    – Rushi
    Dec 7, 2023 at 7:22
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    @ScottRowe -- the New Atheists tend to argue the moral failings of religious views. Earlier in the last century the arguments for atheism tended to be more fact based. BOTH arguments can undercut religious faith, although they work on very different aspects of personality. The logic problems for moral thinking in a physicalist worldview -- are in my experience the biggest motivator for rejecting physicalism. Charles Taylor, in A Secular Age, made this point that there is great disquiet among both the religious AND the anti-religious due to both viewpoints having failings.
    – Dcleve
    Dec 7, 2023 at 16:34
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    @ScottRowe -- I agree with that, but found what I think are much better references than Ayurvedic non-duality to address the world. Socrates taught to question/examine one's assumptions, particularly the ones we don't even know ARE assumptions. Popper taught to treat all our worldviews as a network of tentative working hypotheses. The 19th century pragmatists taught that pragmatic truth is based on "what works" not "logical absolutism". These are my references instead. One can accept one's assumptions, after examination, despite lack of certainty, based on their utility.
    – Dcleve
    Dec 8, 2023 at 15:49
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    So it seems like the answer to the religious OR anti-religious distinction. And to accept failings that cannot be worked around instead of looking for some ideology that will magically be better. There is nothing better than what is.
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 8, 2023 at 15:59
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    @ScottRowe -- yes, with the addition that one must always be open to find improvements over the assumptions one is making do with.
    – Dcleve
    Dec 8, 2023 at 16:47
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You refer to self-interest. I fail to see that this is pertinent. Philosophers pursue truth, not self-interest. For the avoidance of doubt, I refer to the burden of proof. Atheism requires no argument. Onus probandi incumbit ei qui dicit, non ei qui negat. The burden of proof is also known as Hitchen's Razor.

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  • I agree, but I think it actually weakens the case to attribute positions to individuals, like "Hitchen's razor" and "Russell's teapot". Things are the case regardless who says it, agrees with it, or even if we are all ignorant of it. The position should be: "this is what is seen".
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 7, 2023 at 13:06
  • Atheism is not proposition. The proposition is that God exists. Therefore, the negation of that proposition requires no argument. You are promoting your own opinion in an incontinent, rude manner. Please desist. I have flagged your post.
    – Meanach
    Dec 9, 2023 at 13:08
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After reading Scott Rowe's comment regarding Carl Sagan's book I thought of the following scenario which is at least plausible.

Imagine a time a long time ago. Before god's were thought of. Jack is a young boy of about five or six years. He is crying. His best friend in all the world has been killed by a wild animal. He is stricken with grief and is inconsolable. Jack's parents don't know what to do.

Eventually they sit him down and tell him a story. They tell him that there is a special place where good people go when they die. This place is very special, the weather is always good. There is always plenty to eat and nothing bad ever happens there. They tell Jack that they are sure that his friend is there now and if Jack is good he will get there also and get to see his friend again. This cheers Jack up and he stops crying and goes on about his life.

Years later after his parents have died and Jack is a grown man, he is sitting by the fire with his new best friend Tom. Tom asks Jack "Do you still believe those stories that your parents used to tell you about the place you go to when you die". Jack replies "Well you can't prove they were wrong. No one has ever come back from the dead to say they were wrong so I will continue to believe just in case".

Is Jack being sensible or just being an idiot? What should Tom do. He has heard the stories now. Should he believe just in case?

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  • I somehow feel even more pessimistic now. Well, time for breakfast.
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 8, 2023 at 14:08
  • Historically, religions do not match this atheist rationalization for the origin of religions. The worldviews of religions instead tend to include a lot of harshness. When your theory fails a test against reality, what do you then do with it, and the test data? Question the data, and double down on the theory, or toss out the theory?
    – Dcleve
    Dec 8, 2023 at 17:26
  • People would rather be wrong than have no ideas at all. Theory wins over the inscrutable reality.
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 8, 2023 at 18:12
  • I am sure as time went on Jack's parents would have embellished the story with tales of hell and damnation when Jack needed some discipline. They would also have needed someone to be in charge of the special place. Dec 8, 2023 at 20:00
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Are there any positive arguments for atheism not rooted in self interest?

What a funny question. In 13 countries, atheism is punishable by death. Most religions view atheism as a sin punishable by a trip to Hell for eternity. Any atheistic speech is deemed to be blasphemous. Under these conditions, you might understand that there are not many positive arguments for atheism.

And when positive arguments are presented, they are refuted with slippery-slope fallacies like: "Nihilism is the logical conclusion of Atheism."

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