Top 10 Myths and Fallacies about Atheism
1. Atheism is the same as Marxism, Communism, Socialism and Liberalism
Atheism is the lack of belief in God. It is a metaphysical position or statement (or more precisely, the lack of one). By contrast, Marxism, socialism, communism and liberalism are political, social and economic theories. Not only do they each differ in important ways, but none of them has anything to do with God.
The confusion here stems from the fact that Marx was an avowed atheist and 20th century communists have been officially atheist, and often hostile to religion. However, violent revolutionary communists have been hostile to many groups: aristocrats, capitalists, kings, non-Marxist peasants, various ethnic groups, etc.
The actual non-belief in God has been a far less important theme in communist history than anti-capitalism or state totalitarianism. Ayn Rand is a prominent example of a staunch capitalist and anti-socialist who was also vehemently atheist. You cannot logically deduce any political theory from a simple lack of belief in God.
2. Atheists don't Believe in Anything
Ironically, while some claim atheism equals socialism, others claim that atheists don't believe anything at all. Atheism is simply disbelief in God. This no more prevents a person from believing other things than a disbelief in Santa Claus.
Most theists’ overall worldview is based on the existence of God. So when God is subtracted out of the equation, they surmise, everything else collapses leaving us with nothing meaningful to actually believe in. Atheists, of course, have a totally different view of reality that has been developed in the absence of God.
3. Atheists Believe the Universe was Created out of Nothing
Many theists oddly claim that atheists believe “something came from nothing.” In fact, many (if not most) atheists and agnostics believe reality is eternal and uncreated. There is nobody serious who literally thinks that something can arise from nothing.
This fallacy once again stems from the theistic viewpoint. Christians, Muslims and others believe reality has a beginning, and was created by God. So when they learn that atheists do not believe in God, they imagine substituting "nothing" for "God." In the absence of God there is nothing, so they mistakenly assume atheists believe something (reality) came from nothing.
This hidden theistic assumption produces leading questions like “if you don’t believe in God, then where did everything come from?” This question assumes that things "came from" somewhere.
4. Atheism is Connected to the Theory of Evolution
Atheism is the lack of belief in God (and therefore a metaphysical position), while evolution is a scientific theory about the development of different life forms. There is simply no logical connection between these two. One does not automatically follow from the other. Atheism existed millennia before Darwinism and the theory of evolution.
This misunderstanding has many sources, but mostly stems from the general incompatibility of evolution with the creation account in the Bible (almost all critics of evolution are fundamentalist Christians). Creationists assume that because evolution rejects "creation," it must therefore reject God. This is like saying that because Shakespeare did not write the US Constitution, therefore Shakespeare did not exist.
There are many believers in God who also strongly believe in evolution. There are not many, but some atheists do not accept evolution.
5. Atheism Means Moral Relativism
Similar to the "something from nothing" fallacy, this misunderstanding stems from the theistic worldview. Theists believe that God is the source of moral rules. Therefore, with no God, there are no morals. But in fact morality does not logically or theoretically require God. There are millions of atheists and agnostics who have a strong sense of morals, and millions of theists who do not. Secular thinking can and does lead to moral absolutes, as with humanism. By contrast, theistic thinking can easily lead to moral relativism.
6. Atheism is a Religion
Atheism is the lack of belief in God. It is therefore equivalent to theism, the belief in God. But theism is not a religion, it is a metaphysical idea or position. There are many religions that fall under the theist umbrella (Christianity, Islam and Judaism being the most prominent).
In the same way, there are many worldviews, ideologies and philosophies that can fall under the atheist umbrella. But all will be secular. That is, they cannot include a supernatural component. That is the key difference between a religion and another system of knowledge or school of thought: only religions incorporate the idea of the supernatural. Therefore atheism cannot produce or support a religion. And again, atheism is itself no more a religion than theism.
Some atheists’ excited and passionate advocacy for their beliefs may resemble that of religious followers. But excitement, devotion, passion and regular social functions do not make atheism a religion, any more than they make the Republican party a religion, or a football team a religion. Calling atheism a "religion" is also a deceptive tactic used by many theists to try to bring atheism down to their level, and allow them to argue that atheists' claims of being above religion are false.
7. Atheists Hate Religion
Paradoxically, as often as atheism is called a religion, it is just as often equated with the hatred of religion by its opponents. Atheism is just disbelief in God. There is no emotional content, positive or negative, implicit in that position.
Many atheists hate religion for a number of other reasons—awful childhood experiences, resentment at the failings and evils of religious institutions, etc. But this is a separate matter from atheism itself. In fact, nowadays many theists claim to "hate religion" too.
8. Atheists are Hubristic and Self-Centered
This misunderstanding stems directly from abundant Biblical references to nonbelievers as “prideful” and selfish. This happens to be the characterization that the writers of the Bible developed, for some reason. A major idea in the Old and New Testaments is that unless one devotes one’s life entirely to God, one becomes obsessed with hedonistic, superficial and base pursuits.
This is obviously fallacious and illogical. There are and have been countless nonbelievers who were not pleasure-seeking degenerates, but rather great thinkers, innovators, creators and leaders, such as Einstein, Edison, Mark Twain, Stephen Hawking, Plato, Aristotle, Lao Tzu (founder of Daoism), Kant, David Hume, Bill Gates, and others.
The Bible is obviously an unreliable source of information on atheism because of its bias. But aside from that, there are countless examples of atheists who are not hubristic or self-centered at all, but pursue charity and the cause of helping others in this life.
Not believing that God is the center of the universe is no more inherently selfish or hubristic than not believing Big Foot is the center of the universe, or that the sun is the center of the universe.
9. Atheists don't want to Believe in God
Some atheists are more emotional than rational, just like any group of people. To suggest that this characterizes all atheists is straightforwardly fallacious. It is possible for a person to believe in something not because they want to, but because they are swayed by the evidence or arguments in favor of it, or because there is no reason to doubt it.
This fallacy is related to the idea that atheists are “prideful” and various dehumanizing characterizations found in holy books. The idea here is that everyone “really knows that God exists.” It’s just that some accept it, and some don’t want to accept it. But in their heart, they know it’s true. Obviously it is impossible to read the true intentions or the true heart of another person, much less millions of people. To say nothing of the compelling arguments against God.
10. Atheism Entails Nihilism, Nothingness and Emptiness
Perhaps the most popular and most pernicious myth of all. Because many theists hang their entire lives on God, when God leaves the scene, they imagine total absence of purpose or beauty. If someone had been thoroughly taught to worship Santa Claus since birth, they would surely be shocked, disturbed and perplexed upon discovering disbelievers in Mr. Claus. How could one possibly live any kind of meaningful life without him?
Meaning, purpose, beauty and happiness are not dependent on God or any other concept. The most secular countries on earth today have some of the highest rates of self-reported happiness.
Countless people are raised in cultures heavily dependent on God. If one of those people grows up to be an atheist, his lack of belief may cause discomfort, ostracism, aimlessness and even psychological distress. But this does not mean that atheism itself was the cause of these problems. Nor does it mean atheism creates a void in human life. These are simply expected challenges when any individual goes against tradition, established wisdom, or the majority.