Most Atheists I have encountered fall into 2 categories:

  1. New Atheists: People who don't believe in God and see religion as an evil to be eradicated given the harm it has caused humanity (i.e. followers of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc...).
  2. "Don't care" atheists: People who don't believe and really don't care what others believe (I think this what is meant by "irreligious" people - but I might be wrong).

My own views don't fall under either of these categories.

On one hand:

  • I am not convinced neither by the scriptures of any of the major religions nor by any of the philosophical arguments (ontological, cosmological, etc...) that a supernatural God or gods exists. Nor do I believe that any of the major scriptures have much historical truth in them (any that they might have is purely accidental). In this sense I am squarely an atheist.

On the other hand:

  • I do not dismiss the positive role that religion has in peoples lives as easily as most atheists do. For all of the crusades, inquisitions and ISIS's that religion has created, it still plays an important role in many peoples lives. I believe that science can never provide answers to questions of meaning and value (as opposed to factual questions), and yet these questions do need answers.

  • I do not buy the existentialist "we can construct our own meaning and values" stance. That would make them too arbitrary. At the very least, very basic principles such as "Killing is bad", "Raping is bad" and "Small children should be loved" need to be transcendent. They are too important to be left to the whims of the Sartres and Camus of the world to construct them.

  • I find that religious ritual, and acts such as prayer and meditation to be very useful, maybe even necessary. They add meaning and richness to many people's lives, and it seems very cruel to me for science/reason to strip them of that, without at least trying to offer a substitute (and so far it can't).

None of these views seem to me to be inline with what people think of as Atheism.

My questions:

  1. Is someone who subscribes to these views considered an atheist or is there another name for this worldview?
  2. Have any prominent atheist philosophers had positive views on religion? What were their reasons?
  3. Have any atheist philosophers addressed the idea that religion, even if factually wrong, does serve a purpose and that any system (science or other) that eliminates religion needs to provide a workable substitute?
  • 2
    I look forward to answers. I would argue I am an atheist philosopher that addresses religion as such, but I would hardly call myself prominent, more of an armchair philosopher as such a case might be. A list of names to look through would be helpful! I can answer the first question (as a comment, since it doesn't answer all three), one's acceptance that religion may be useful does not change one's status as an atheist, until that acceptance crosses a threshold to where you question the existence of a deity, rather than refute it, at which point you may be labeled "agnostic."
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 5:47
  • Atheism can mean s slew of different things to different people. It is hard to say exactly what atheism is because of no centralized institution prescribing doctrine. Your views on what atheism should be is hardly any less relevant than Richard Dawkins'
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 10:41
  • Not enough for an answer, but IRAS is full of people with similar views: iras.org. Jane Goodenough is one of the more vocal supporters of such ideas, though she is not trained as a philosopher.
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 12:53
  • Ursula Goodenough, not Jane.
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 13:07
  • 1
    @Conifold that is mostly just a way of trolling my compatriots, who usually take it as point of dogma that anything coming from Marx or even remotely socialist is utterly wrong, even as more than half of them think that they need to live by "love thy neighbor". Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 2:57

15 Answers 15


You do not believe in God, yet believe in belief.

I would describe that position as pragmatist. Perhaps "pragmatic agnosticism" or "agnostic pragmatism," if you want a glossier label.

For Pierce, James, and other pragmatists there can be no necessary and certain truths, so one could neither "prove" nor "disprove" the existence of God. Thus we are left with social consensus and the utility of our various beliefs. The beliefs that "work best" are socially retained, evolving by "unnatural selection." One might then accept faith in God as a secular version of Pascal's wager. Or not.

There is, however, an entirely different strain of atheism you have not mentioned. This is known as "double truth," and is nicely discussed in Terry Eagleton's "Culture and the Death of God." The idea is best captured in Voltaire's famous quip "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."

Many Enlightenment figures did not believe in God, or at least not the personal, law-giving God of the bible, yet forbore to discuss such ideas "in front of the servants," as the saying went. While the educated Kantian or Humean might have ways to arrive via the crooked path of skepticism back at moral values, comfort, and hope, the common folk would do better not to set out on that path in the first place.

Thus religion, the "opium of the masses," as Marx called it, must be preserved at all cost to maintain society, moral practice, solace, and hope. One might thus "believe in belief" in a purely cynical way or with utmost sincerity. If God is "necessary" to human existence, then perhaps that is as true an "existence" as we can find. In general form, this idea of the "necessary myth" extends beyond Christianity as far back as Plato's Republic and forward to Comte's "Religion of Humanity."

And there is yet another, somewhat Hegelian, position that I myself profess. God did not create us, but is real in the sense that we are creating God. We are, quite literally, creating the "stuff of dreams" out of our sciences and enclosing ourselves in a panoptic, omniscience, perhaps with capacities for eugenic storage and resurrection. So whether we end up in heaven or hell really does depend on how faithfully we heed word of God. The good news is that He need not be modeled on a bitter, paranoid Middle-Eastern patriarch suffering from incestuous urges and auditory hallucinations.

I am not sure if this has a name. Perhaps "prognosticism" would do. I believe Meillassoux offers a version of this in "After Finitude," but I haven't finished it yet. So you might consider a hopeful "prognosticism," since you have to tithe for it anyway.

  • 2
    Humans have been created with a loaded gun. The human brain is wonderful, but left underutilized, it can be dangerous. For some, ritual provides a vehicle to engage the mind and cause intellectually stimulating thought. While maybe there could be more efficient uses to the betterment of humanity, you re-approach a divine plan. Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 13:58

This came up in another recent question: there were attempt during the Enlightenment to provide an "Enlightened Religion," that is religion that is stripped of references to the supernatural. The can be seen much in Deism (which had many followers) and the Religion of Humanity, founded by Auguste Comte. (I've also heard the idea that modern Unitarianism was in some sense related, as its a theistic attempt to look at Jesus as a non-devine person.)

CS Lewis details his experience grappling with this question in his book Surprised by Joy. As a young man, he was a student (later a teacher) of philosophy and an atheist. He noticed that his taste in reading (most prominently Chesterton) greatly favored Christian writers to Atheist ones, despite his own ardent atheism.

All the books were beginning to turn against me. Indeed, I must have been as blind as a bat not to have seen, long before, the ludicrous contradiction between my theory of life and my actual experiences as a reader. George MacDonald had done more to me than any other writer; of course it was a pity he had that bee in his bonnet about Christianity. He was good in spite of it. Chesterton had more sense than all the other moderns put together; batting of course, his Christianity. Johnson was one of the few authors whom I felt I could trust utterly; curiously enough, he had the same kink. Spencer and Milton by a strange coincidence had it too. Even among ancient authors the same paradox was to be found. The most religious (Plato, Aeschylus, Virgil) were clearly those on whom I could really feed.

He offers this advice based on his experience:

A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere.

His conclusion, of course, having considered the evidence and how to reconcile atheism and religion was converting to Christianity.

  • I've had the same conflicting feelings when reading Sufi poetry. I doubt that I will ever return to an Abrahamic religion. I find their mutual exclusiveness requirement to be a no-starter. If you recall this discussion: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/23529/… Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 4:14
  • As I said in my answer there, apologists often start with what's in common, so "mutual exclusiveness" only is about which is true in entirety. There are many examples of Abrahamic people finding truth to some extent with others of different beliefs (Augustine with Cicero, King with Gandhi, Aquinas and Aristotle, Peter Kreeft with Islam, Medieval Muslim philosophers with Aristotle, many Catholics with Lewis, Lewis with many Catholics). Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 13:55

Historically, many people who have remained sympathetic to religion without retaining their belief in it have quietly stayed in the church (or other religious institution). This has probably become less prevalent with the lessening of the stigma against atheism, but I've personally met any number of atheists and agnostics in the church, some even in the clergy.

There are also religious institutions officially sympathetic to your point of view. In many forms of Judaism, observance of ritual, tradition, cultural norms and taboos is at least as important as private beliefs. There are theistic versions of Buddhism and Taoism but both are arguably non-theistic at their core.

Finally, the Unitarian Universalist Church, originally formed as a union of two liberal Christian sects, is now largely made up of non-theistic humanists with sympathies towards the structure of religion, but not the beliefs.

  • Just to let you know, when you refer to Unitarianism, it think you mean Unitarian Universalism.... The original Unitarianism which still exists (called Bibilical Unitarianism) is basically Christianity without the Trinity teaching.....
    – user18284
    Commented Dec 6, 2015 at 22:28

Even Christopher Hitchens appreciated (1) that there’s more to life than just matter, and (2) that religion has done a very good job of enshrining "the Numinous" in its music and architecture :

I think everybody has had the experience at some point when they feel that there’s more to life than just matter. But I think it’s very important to keep that under control and not to hand it over to be exploited by […] those who think that God has given them instructions.

— Christopher Hitchens

I’m a materialist…yet there is something beyond the material, or not entirely consistent with it, what you could call the Numinous, the Transcendent, or at its best the Ecstatic. […] It’s in certain music, landscape, certain creative work, without this we really would merely be primates. It’s important to appreciate the finesse of that, and religion has done a very good job of enshrining it in music and architecture.

— Christopher Hitchens

See also my article The Atheistic approach to God… or how to bridge the gap between Atheists and Theists, where I explain (1) why "Atheism vs Theism" is a false dichotomy and (2) how the artificial gap between Atheism and Theism can be bridged.

  • 5
    "I’m a materialist…yet there is something beyond the material, or not entirely consistent with it, " this doesn't strike me as a very coherent statement, unless he's using materialist to strictly mean 'anti-theist'...I still like the quote though, and I rarely agree with Hitchens on things. Commented May 23, 2016 at 16:28

To the question of whether atheist philosophers have addressed the positive value of religion: Alain de Botton released a recent book of philosophy on this very topic Religion For Atheists (2013).

  • "What if religions are neither all true or all nonsense? The boring debate between fundamentalist believers and non-believers is finally moved on by Alain’s book Religion for Atheists, which argues that the supernatural claims of religion are of course entirely false – and yet that religions still have some very important things to teach the secular world." This captures my own views perfectly! Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 19:22

Someone who agrees with these views can easily be a Confucian, or a Jungian. But following the former is somehow considered a religion, and the latter is often accused of being too overtly religious by one side and too overtly atheist by the other.

Both of these folks ascribe positive effects to religion. Jung considered a mythology necessary for our overall long-term stability, since it encodes occult aspects of the collective unconscious, and Confucious saw shared ritual as a practice that encouraged peace and humane behavior between people who might not otherwise agree on deeper issues of philosophy.

A big chunk of Unitarianism adopts the mythos/logos interpretation directly from Jungianism as a guide to liturgy, and a lot of Confucians consider that their religion, (even if they are also Buddhist).

So are they really atheists? I think so, at root. But they are also religious.

The definition of 'religion' from its etymology is 'that which binds [a tribe] back [inward/together]' and this tends to involve three aspects (according to my Roman Catholic Catechism):

  1. Belief that does not really require proof, but is taken for granted by a community. (The Cult)
  2. Rituals that are not directly effective, but symbolic of abstract concepts. (The Church)
  3. Intention to maintain and pass on either the beliefs or the rituals because they seem to have inherent value, often with a structure for vetting specialists who do so. (The Magisterium)

As I have pointed out before I think the layman's approach to science fulfills these, as we teach children scientific and mathematical principles they will most likely never actually use, and lead them through simplified, somewhat ritualized, 'experiments' just to instill in them a trust of technology and a love of knowledge.

But by those standards, much more explicit versions of religions or interpretations of existing religions that are implicitly atheist, actually abound, including those three and other things like:

  • certain forms of Roman Catholic Liberation Theology,
  • constructed ritualistic religions like Witchcraft or 'Thelema',
  • threads of Protestant Christianity like extreme Hicksite Quakerism, and
  • historical versions of materialism that avoid direct conflict with religion out of respect and not lack of concern.

If you do not have a positive belief in the existence of a deity (or deities), you are an atheist. Welcome to the club.

As to your experience with New Atheists vs Apathetic Atheists, I believe there to be a sizable (but less vocal) third group aligned with your own general outlook, e.g.:

There is little evidence to support the fantastical elements of religion, but generations of tradition/moral guidelines still have value.

As you've likely come across yourself, secular humanism is the most prominent atheist replacement for religious moral guidelines:

"Secular humanism aims to establish moral principles conducive to the freedom and well-being of humans based on ethical reasoning that is independent of all alleged supernatural sources of morality. It is not a fixed ethical system and even less an ideology itself, but rather a set of general guidelines for the development of a more concrete programme to increase the knowledge available to humanity and use this information to further our well-being." -RationalWiki

Alternatively, there are several books on the subject of mixing atheism and religious tradition, as well as several organizations (such as Atheists for Jesus) which support following religious traditions without belief in a deity.


Is someone who subscribes to these views considered an atheist or is there another name for this worldview?

Considered so according to whom? Dawkins? The Pope? Dan Dennet? The Dalai Lama? You??

It might be useful to distinguish the identity politics of what one identifies as (e.g. an atheist) from the position identified with (e.g. atheism) as well the adjectival description of the person or the position (e.g. atheistic). Many atheists posit anti-theism and irreligion as if it they were the most obvious conclusions from a lack of belief in deity. They are not. Atheism, regardless of the person identifying as atheist, is merely lack of belief in deity. Many anti-atheists, theists and such are equally confused when they posit that atheism is belief in the lack of deity. Atheism is no such thing.

The philosophically interesting question arises when one asks, is an atheist theistic when they speak of deity in any meaningful way? (For example, while debating scripture with a christian theist). Likewise, if a theist is casting nines from arithmetic are they atheistic while doing so if they are not consciously invoking their deity to do so? When exactly does one start believing in something and when does one stop? Shall we imagine the child with one less tooth before they were told a nickel might appear under their pillow and the same child after a new tooth has grown in or even two decades later?

Note that atheism is not a claim to knowledge. It is merely a lack of belief (or, if you will, a lack of faith) in deity. Atheism is not a lack of belief or faith altogether, yet many would use the term as if it were. Atheism is specifically lack of belief in deity. A gnostic atheistic position lacks belief in deity and claims that deity does not exist. An agnostic atheistic position lacks such a knowledge claim. Consider the agnostic theist that lacks knowledge of their deity, yet still has faith in that deity. Are they any less faithful than the gnostic-theistically faithful?

Have any prominent atheist philosophers had positive views on religion? What were their reasons?

Similar to theological non-cognitivism, ignosticism was coined by Rabbi Sherwin Wine and likely he had a positive view on religion. I don't know of any specifically philosophical works arguing an ignostic position, but there is this parable:

An ignostic was asked whether he believed in God, and said, "If you mean a big man in a cloud, as children conceive of God, then I am an atheist, for we have satellites now which would have surely seen such a creature if he existed. If you mean an all-encompassing God who is synonymous with the entire universe, then I am a theist... though I see no reason for having two words for the same thing. If you mean a vaguely-defined supernatural being whose existence cannot be tested, then I am a theological noncognitivist; it doesn't matter whether a meaningless thing is true or not, and I won't worry about it any more than I will about invisible pink unicorns."

Also, I don't know of any prominent atheist philosophers with positive views on religion but it might be worth distinguishing faith in deity from religion - which is in general simply ritual, community and reverence and inasmuch requires no faith in deity. Even ignostics and atheists have churches...

Have any atheist philosophers addressed the idea that religion, even if factually wrong, does serve a purpose and that any system (science or other) that eliminates religion needs to provide a workable substitute?

Can religion be factually wrong when there are the religious participating in the religion? You seem to be using religion as a term for "faith in deity" or theism. Like the NFL fans on Super Bowl Sunday, I suppose it is a very good question to ask: if there were no service, where would you have all those religious folks go every Sunday?


I held more or less the same view of religion at one time. Then I began to study and learnt that it is a very naive view arising from the very naive religion we are taught in the West.

Religion does not require that we rely on guesswork about God and many 'religious' people argue that God does not exist. Hence the arguments about whether Buddhism and the perennial philosophy is atheism or theism.

The situation is just too subtle for easy answers to these kinds of questions.

Is someone who subscribes to these views considered an atheist or is there another name for this worldview?

I'd call it agnosticism. You don't believe in God but you seem to be conceding that you don't know the truth about God and can see that there are some benefits from a belief.

Have any prominent atheist philosophers had positive views on religion? What were their reasons?

The Buddha would seem a good example if he counts as a philosopher. Most sages reject dogmatic monotheism but express the view that religious practices are valuable. These practices are usually, well, practical and will work regardless of our beliefs. Our beliefs may motivate our practice but they won't change the outcome.

One problem here is the definition of atheism. It takes various forms.

Have any atheist philosophers addressed the idea that religion, even if factually wrong, does serve a purpose and that any system (science or other) that eliminates religion needs to provide a workable substitute?

I believe there are a few. Perhaps Nietzsche would be one. The problem is that many people who endorse religious practices are atheists (by some definition) and many members of religious traditions are atheists.

While theism is always an endorsement of religion, religion is not always an endorsement of theism.


What you describe as broadly "atheist" is usually called religiously unaffiliated, and described as having or seeking no particular religion. This is much broader than atheism, which asserts denial of god(s), and covers agnostics, atheists, deists, humanists, etc. The views range from sympathetic to religion, but to no particular version of it, to god(s) may or may not exist, if they do they may or may not care about us, if they do we do not have to care about them. The breakdown in the US is "68% believe in God, 12% are atheists, 17% are agnostics; 18% consider themselves religious, 37% consider themselves as spiritual but not religious, and 42% considers themselves as neither spiritual or religious; and 21% pray every day and 24% pray once a month".

Your position is close to deism, belief in higher power behind the order of the universe, sometimes metaphorically described as "the god of poets and philosophers", and religious humanism, focusing of religious rituals and beliefs on human needs, interests, and abilities, accompanied by humanistic ethics."Don't care" atheists are probably better characterized as agnostics, like atheists they do not believe in god(s), but unlike them they do not believe in no god(s) either, they certainly do not assert or defend any atheistic claims.

If you want a systematic philosophical outlook for your view may I suggest Immanuel Kant. Like you he rejects intellectual arguments for existence of God, and denies that we can have any specific knowledge of him in the first Critique. But like you he does not leave it at that. "I had to limit knowledge to clear room for the faith". In the second and third Critique he argues that we have needs over and above intellectual ones to lead our lives, and rehabilitates moral, religious and artistic expression. Kant's categorical imperative, act according to maxim that you wish to become universal law, certainly underpins transcendent morality.

In a way practical reason can transcend the limitations of intellect (pure reason), but Kant is strategically vague on the status of this transcendence. Officially, he is an agnostic, we do not know and we can never know, only intellect provides knowledge and it is restricted to the empirical. But at the same time knowledge is not everything, and intellect alone is incapable of grasping the fullness of being. One interpretation is that while we can not know we can still hypothesize, and perhaps get glimpses of things in themselves in some aesthetic and spiritual experiences. Another interpretation is that practical reason demands that we structure our lives "as if" God and moral law govern the world. Many agnostic, deist and religiously humanistic beliefs find a natural home in the Kantian system.

The added bonus is that it is fortified against the obvious objection from existentialists, atheists and other skeptics. That higher power sought to guarantee us transcendent meaning and values does not and can not provide any such guarantee. Because it is still us constructing this higher power to construct our own meaning and values, nothing more. We might as well cut out the intermediary. Kantian response is that these spiritual a priori of practical reason are as required for the unity and order of our life experience, as a priori of pure reason are required for the unity and order of our intellectual knowledge.


Is someone who subscribes to these views considered an atheist or is there another name for this worldview?

An atheist is a person who believes God(s) do(es)n't exist. A multitude of views can be held by people who believe that. These can go from Dawkins' "God doesn't exist, and religion is evil" to "God doesn't exist, but we shouldn't tell that to the masses, or civilisation would crumble".

A person who doesn't believe in God(s) but is also not certain of it's/their inexistence is not an atheist, but an agnostic.

Have any prominent atheist philosophers had positive views on religion? What were their reasons?

What would be a "positive" view of religion? An atheist, at the very least, believes that religions are factually wrong about the existence of God(s), and that would be a "negative" view of religion. An atheist can think that religion, albeit factually wrong is necessary for social control, or for coping with the atrocities of life. But then an atheist who thinks like that would quite certainly be an elitist - someone who believes that some, or most, human beings are not "prepared for the truth". And this isn't likely to make someone prominent.

Anyway, a "positive view" can be very limited in scope. Karl Marx, who isn't noted as excessively lenient on religions and religious people, famously wrote that

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.

Which would seem at least a not completely negative appreciation of it (true, it would be even more positive had he not completed it by his even more famous, It is the opium of the people. But anyway).

Have any atheist philosophers addressed the idea that religion, even if factually wrong, does serve a purpose and that any system (science or other) that eliminates religion needs to provide a workable substitute?

I think Comte may have had similar ideas. His "positivist" "religion of mankind" seems to try to offer a kind of replacement of actual religion, basically being a ritual without a theology (or at least without a conscious theology; one could probably argue that it reintroduces a hidden God through the backdoor). Another possibility would be Wittgenstein and his "behaviour shows belief" kind of theism - it wouldn't be important to believe, or to profess a belief in God, but to act in a way compatible with the existence of (a moral?) God.

  • Gnosticism, agnosticism, ignosticism etc. contend with knowledge regarding deity. Theism, atheism, pantheism have to do with belief. Atheism is simply a position which lacks belief in deity, it is not a position asserting anything about the ontological status of deity. There is a vast epistemic difference between a position and the network of notions surrounding an identity (e.g. what someone athiest identified may or may not believe or claim to know).
    – MmmHmm
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 13:40
  • @Mr.Kennedy - Well, I am an atheist, and I definitely believe that God is a logical impossibility. And I don't think that people who don't believe either way are atheists; in my book, they are agnostics. Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 13:59
  • You are of course free to label people as you see fit. My point is that -theisms are a matter of belief and -gnosticisms a matter of knowledge claims regardless of identity politics which may be muddled, confused, well-informed, reasoned, inconsistent, etc.
    – MmmHmm
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 14:15

I can only try and briefly respond to your first two questions:

Is someone who subscribes to these views considered an atheist or is there another name for this worldview?

My worldview is not predicated on my atheism. Of course one can argue that every opinion or belief guides decisions, however, atheism is not a belief but a lack thereof. It's an absence of belief in a god or gods. For me, atheism is a result of my sceptic nature as a person. Thus, my scepticism might be classed as a worldview, while atheism is merely a side-effect.

Have any prominent atheist philosophers had positive views on religion? What were their reasons?

I seriously doubt that any atheist has argued in favour of religion. I know of many modern atheists (most of them being the usual suspects: Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris etc) that have argued for the good in some religious people despite of their religious beliefs.


I'm not sure to which degree this is an answer, but it's a bit long for comments.

My view is somewhere between "religion needs to be eradicated" and having a "live and let live" attitude towards people with religious beliefs. One significant issue is that religion often specifically demands not living and let live, and instead pushing your beliefs on everyone else (and religion influences morality, and the law we're all subject to is based on the morality of the population).

Religion has certainly done harm on obvious massive scales, like the crusades. But religion (specifically Christianity) has also done harm on not-actually-much-less-massive scales, like oppressing (including torturing and even killing) people due to their sexuality or gender, oppressing women, arguably making slavery last longer than it did, and indoctrinating and sometimes traumatising children (who would later grow up to be atheists who would rather that they weren't subjected to that), just off the top of my head.

I accept that religion provides value to people's lives: this fact of reality is hard to deny, but I also consider this value to come with far too much baggage to be left alone, and whatever value it provides can be found elsewhere.

Of course altogether banning all religion is a terrible idea, but religion would be far less common if everyone were given a proper scientific, logical reasoning and critical thinking education. We could insist, for example, that the formal education of every child must include scientific facts such as evolution, and not that the Earth is 6000 years old (which some people in the modern day believe), even if their parents may try to teach them otherwise outside of formal education.

The focus on science (and reason) vs religion in your question is curious, because science is, in many cases, simply not the appropriate means to deal with e.g. questions of finding meaning in life (but there are other non-religious means).

"Science can never provide answers to questions of meaning and value ... and yet these questions do need answers"

Science explains the how of our existence, which suggests that there isn't an intentional why, and what is meaningful is left for us to figure out for ourselves. This is true or false, and if it's true, the only alternative to accepting it would be to live in denial, which is not really ideal.

Finding one's own meaning is also not really bad, since any given individual should know best what that individual wants and what gives them meaning (this may not always or strictly be true, but it's usually better than having a third-party prescribe an unwanted meaning for them).

A sense of meaning based on falsehoods that comes with a whole lot of other very questionable and objectionable claims about what's true and what's right, and which is prescribed to others (often with threats of eternal punishment, and associated trauma, as per the most popular religion in the world), is problematic on many levels.

"Very basic principles such as 'Killing is bad', 'Raping is bad' and 'Small children should be loved' need to be transcendent"

Except ... they aren't, even in religion.

If religion is made up, then these principles are simply what one person, or a group of people, thought best. This certainly wouldn't be transcendent, and isn't really superior to establishing these principles within societies. It's often worse, as many people have at least some objectionable moral views, and if these are attached to a religion, they can stick around far longer than they otherwise would, had society just matured to past such views without religion.

But also, across time, people of the same religion have had very different views on very fundamental moral questions such a killing and owning other human beings. People tend to dismiss whichever religious moral commandments they dislike - this tends to happen when society has just matured so far past any given view, that it just seems absurd to consider it moral, e.g. slavery.

Our biology provides some universality to morality (we know what it's like to suffer and most of us feel empathy), and reason is far more effective than deities of questionable existence with unclear properties at making morality more universal (through reason, we've come up with entire moral frameworks, e.g. utilitarianism).

"I find religious ritual, and acts such as prayer and meditation to be very useful, maybe even necessary"

I somewhat agree, but there is no reason you can't have such rituals outside of religion.

Many people meditate without attaching it in any way to religion.

Most of the benefit that prayer provides can also be attained through meditation, and through self-affirmations and whatnot. Such measures also avoids the downside of prayer, which is that you rely on a non-existent deity to do things for you, which may prevent you from taking measures yourself to address whatever you're praying about.

Religion provides a sense of community, but you can also find a sense of community through hobbies, based on where you're from, or based on nothing in particular.

It's odd that you, as an atheist, seem to be arguing that religion is necessary for meaning and morals, which suggests that you have neither of those things. If you've found them elsewhere, or you've found them in "religion without religion" (religious structures and ideas without religious beliefs), you would be a living counter-example of your own argument.


Believing in a religion will likely change your behaviour, completely unrelated to the question whether your religion is based on a correct or incorrect belief. That change may be positive or negative. Anybody, including an atheist, will appreciate if your behaviour changes in a positive way due to your religion. But if that religious person tries to convince an atheist of their religion, the atheist will likely see this as a negative behaviour.

On the other hand, an atheist may not appreciate that someone believing in a religion bases their life on an incorrect belief. (Or they may not care about what you do with your life, since it is your life).

On the third hand, an atheist grown up among many Christians might enjoy walking to a church on a Sunday, sitting there with lots of other people, listen to someone speaking at the front, singing a few songs with other people - some atheists will enjoy it, some will find it boring, some will dislike it.

All in all, anybody including an atheist will evaluate how religion affects them, and value or not value religion accordingly. Would the world be a better place without Christian / Muslim / Hindu / any other religion or not? Everybody is allowed their own answer to that question.

We should also remember that there are not just atheists, but that there are also religious people who accept only one religion and not others. For example, there is one spectacularly anti-religion person right now who wants to become president of the USA.

And "being sympathetic to religion" is not right: It should be "sympathetic to one specific religion". Different religions affect their believers in different ways. If your religion told you to murder small children, then no atheist, and no believer of any other religion, will be sympathetic to your religion.


Agnostism (i.e., belief that the existence of a theistic being cannot be determined) differs from atheism (i.e., belief that no such theistic being exists). The slight nuance between the two ideologies stems from the fact that any theistic being must be inherently non-physical; if it were not, then we'd be able to observe its existence, but we do not. Thus, the agnostic settles on the notion that absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence and leaves it at that, whereas the atheist takes the agnostic's claim one step further and says if we can never know of something's existence, then it does not exist.

  • 1
    Not an answer. The question is about atheists and their attitudes to belief in God from an ethical or sociological perspective. It's not a question about different ways to judge the rationality of such a belief.
    – viuser
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 12:16
  • 1
    You can be absolutely convinced that God does not exist, but still think that faith is good for people.
    – viuser
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 12:20
  • First question found in original inquiry = "Is someone who subscribes to these views considered an atheist or is there another name for this worldview?" I answered this question and typed nothing at all related to how good or bad faith is for people.
    – vicelaine
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 7:55
  • What do you mean when you write "[atheists'] attitudes to belief in God from an ethical or sociological perspective"... Science is a workable subsititute for the belief in a theistic being; sociologically, people seek relationships with others, so become friends with your lab partner. If atheist and amoral are not synonymous, then we're good on the ethical standpoint.
    – vicelaine
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 8:03
  • Additionally, the most up-voted answer is incredibly misleading: "pragmatic agonsticism/agnostic pragmaticism" = "agnosticism" in that agnostics claim nothing can be known of the existence of God, thus the agnostic argues neither for nor against anything related to the existence of God because this is the pragmatic (a.k.a practical) thing to do, at least for the agnostic.
    – vicelaine
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 9:06

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