If Atheism and secularism and Materialism are not belief systems what are they? They are not facts ; nothing one way or the other has been proven. They are more like a set of assumptions and beliefs and opinions but all together they are not to be considered a belief system. If you call them a world view this is still like a belief system ; using a set of beliefs and opinions and personal interpretations of some facts that all lead to 'handling' various important philosophical questions. Some of these questions if left unanswered are VERY disquiting when unresolved. So if Atheism , secularism and Materialism are not belief systems WHAT ARE THEY?
They are belief systems. Any conjecture on a situation that has no proven answer is a belief. No exceptions. Nobody knows for certain the meaning or lack of meaning in the universe and thus any opinion on the matter is exactly that, opinion, belief, idea, or philosophy.
In the absence of further context:
Atheism and materialism (physicalism) are individual beliefs about the world.
Secularism is a belief system, i.e. group of inter-related beliefs about the world.
Quick google results:
- atheism: Most inclusively, atheism is the absence of belief that any deities exist (definition that pops up on Google)
- materialism: the doctrine that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications (defintion that pops up on Google)
- secularism: Secularism is a code of duty... (quote from George Jacob Holyoake via
Thus, they are variously, (absence of) belief, a doctrine, and a code of duty.
Secularism (as used by Secular Humanists) involves a whole series of beliefs about what should (and shouldn't) be considered when trying to identify moral goods. Thus, at many levels of discussion, it would be worth considering secularism as an aggregate belief system (as opposed to a more or less atomic belief).
For materialism, the case that it is an aggregate belief system, as opposed to a single belief is harder to make. It's pretty much just that the material world is all that there is. Although one can poke at it to try to clarify what exactly any given materialist philosophy means by material, world, or examine any of the various consequences of adopting this belief, but the term materialism itself ends up referring to, essentially, a singular belief.
Atheism is in the same boat as materialism: it is essentially, an atomic belief. Again, if you get into it, you might be able to identify aspects of it that are arguably component sub-beliefs, but at the level of general discussion, it fits nicely into the category of being a belief.
In the absence of any context that indicates that you're going to drill into the details, the first two are individual beliefs, while the third is a network of inter-related beliefs. I keep hedging about context because I cannot rule out the possibility that there are situations where would would want, and be able to, break materialism or atheism into component sub-beliefs. However,I cannot think of a specific context where this is breaking down is necessary or useful, so the descriptions here should apply in general.
It's also worth pointing out, that no one of these items, by itself, provides resolution to all (or even most of) the "disquieting" questions.
I think calling atheism a "metaphysical position" might be the best term. It's general enough to capture beliefs and absence of beliefs.
Secularism, in the sense of beliefs about separation of church and state or things like that, might be more of a sociopolitical position.
It seems to me that atheism, like theism, is in and of itself a belief rather than a belief system — though, like theism, atheism is personal, subjective, and spectral, which is why both labels mean different things to different people.
For example, I personally believe there is no God. This doesn’t mean I’m certain about it: beliefs are, by definition, unprovable. (Otherwise, they’d be facts, in which case faith — i.e., personal commitment to belief — would be gratuitous.) It also doesn’t mean I'm antitheistic. I respect and support religion, since it provides significant benefits such as hope, comfort, strength, belonging, and structure to billions of people. The only thing I’m "anti" about is disrespecting each others’ personal, spiritual, existential boundaries.
Regarding belief vis-à-vis belief system as they apply to atheism (or theism), I believe beliefs beget belief systems. Here, too, I can reference experience: Once I admitted/accepted my belief, I recognized the need for a moral compass — a set of primary values to govern behavior, facilitate growth, and assist in considering conflicts. Then, I realized the need to base those values on what I care about most of all in life: how people treat each other. So I chose the principal values of equality, respect, understanding, and coexistence. They work well together in guiding me through life; thus, at least in my case, the belief, supporting values, corresponding worldview, and resulting behavioral code constitute a belief system.
Then again, "belief system" also means different things to different people: e.g., whether or not it involves a group rather than an individual; whether it’s formally codified; etc.
Please note that, as I see it, neither atheism nor theism is a moral position. One can embrace either belief and, independently, choose one’s personal moral code. (In contrast, "morality" implies a much higher degree of subjectivity, encompassing both one’s own perception and others’ perceptions, any or all of which may irreconcilably disagree.)
As to secularism and materialism, I’m not sufficiently knowledgable to discuss either term.
Whoever said they are not belief systems? Atheism, for instance, is a moral position. Belief that something is false is a belief, and an atheist generally considers religion immoral in some way, or he would just be an agnostic.
In fact there are numerous atheisms. Different groups of people reject the notion of a possible deity for multiple conflicting reasons
- out of reaction to the violence of religion historically
- out of 'Occam's razor' as a moral principle
- out of distrust of institutions of moral conformity generally
- out of trust that science can base morality if only we could agree on it as basic
- out of a hatred of the waste of effort spiritual practices represent
- out of a devotion to some spirituality based inside psychology or human identity
- out of a reaction to the kinds of personality religions have promoted in the past
- because Marx said so, or because the notion of religion is basically patriarchal...
These are beliefs, and they spawn others, and grow easily into a world-view. So there are collections of atheists across time who rebuild the parts of experience usually ceded to religion in different ways, usually shaped by their reasons for abandoning religion.
In the same way secularism is a basic political position, an materialism is a basic epistemological one. And a lot of people build two of these off the third, so there are people for whom atheism proceeds from a secularist defense of religious minorities, or for whom a materialist epistemology proceeds from a form of atheism arising out of an abhorrence of the wastefulness of ceremony.
So the premise of the question is wrong. Atheists may want to factor their position off from the range of other ethical systems based upon unfounded beliefs, but they are not actually in that privileged position.