The concept that babies are born atheists is not just a statement of defiance against theistic norms but a factual representation of what atheism fundamentally is: a lack of belief in gods, or simply existing without god belief. This idea gains its strength from the etymology of ‘atheism’ itself. The term originates from ‘atheos,’ a Greek word meaning ‘godless’ or ‘without gods.’ Breaking down the word, ‘a’ signifies ‘without,’ and ‘theism’ stands for ‘theistic belief.’ Therefore, an atheist, by definition, is someone without theistic belief. This isn’t a complex philosophical stance but a basic, factual condition.
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Understanding atheism as the default position has profound implications, especially for theists. It’s a reminder that the burden of proof in the debate about the existence of gods lies with those who assert their existence, not with those who lack belief in them. This shift in perspective is crucial for dialogues and discussions on religious belief, moving the focus to the provision of evidence by those claiming the existence of deities. Furthermore, this perspective helps dismantle the long-held misconception that atheism is synonymous with wickedness, a misconception that has historically led to the marginalization and misunderstanding of atheists.
Global atheist organizations concur with this definition of atheism as living without god belief. This consensus is vital in fostering a better understanding of what atheism truly means and in promoting acceptance of atheists. Historically, theists have often depicted atheists as inherently wicked due to an inability to understand what atheism is partially due to being blinded by their own untenable beliefs. By clarifying that atheism simply means living without belief in gods, we counter these outdated notions. It becomes increasingly difficult to label atheists as ‘wicked’ when it is understood that even babies are born into this state of ‘godlessness.’ This realization can significantly alter how atheists are perceived, shifting the view from one of moral judgement to one of basic human condition.
In conclusion, the statement that babies are born atheists is not only supported by the linguistic, etymological, and conceptual understanding of atheism but also carries significant implications for how atheism is perceived and discussed. It challenges outdated stigmas and promotes a factual understanding of religious belief, emphasizing that atheism is not a stance of immorality but rather the default human state. This understanding is crucial for fostering a more rational, tolerant, and fact-based perspective of those of us who lack theistic belief.
Common Objections and Responses
Objection: One cannot lack belief in a concept, such as gods, of which they are unaware.
Response: This objection misunderstands the nature of belief and awareness. Lacking belief in concepts one is unaware of is a natural state. Babies, with no awareness of theistic concepts, naturally lack belief in them. In fact, babies can only lack belief in gods and all concepts as they have no beliefs.
Objection: I don’t like the usage of the word ‘lack’ because it implies that god is something we need.
Response: The usage of ‘lack’ doesn’t imply a deficiency although the word can be used to note when someone doesn’t have enough of something. Should you want to avoid confusion ‘without’ is an alternative term that avoids this connotation.
Objection: The distinction between a baby’s inherent atheism and an adult’s conscious rejection of theism makes the term ‘atheism’ inappropriate for babies.
Response: Atheism encompasses both a baby’s natural lack of belief and an adult’s conscious rejection of theism. Just as ‘theist’ covers a wide range of beliefs about gods, ‘atheist’ covers the spectrum of non-belief. The differences in understanding or articulation don’t alter the underlying absence of theistic belief.
Objection: ‘Atheism’ isn’t a useful descriptor for babies.
Response: Labeling babies as atheists is as useful as explaining that a theist is a theist. The baby is without belief, but further as I’ll note below there are many advantages to embracing the fact that all people are born as atheists. The term ‘theist’ doesn’t capture the nuances between an Islamic fundamentalist and a Mormon missionary, yet it remains a useful descriptor. Similarly, ‘atheist’ effectively describes the absence of belief, while additional qualifiers can provide more context. If you feel compelled to note qualifiers about your own atheism, please do so, there’s a list at the bottom of this page.
Objection: Some argue that humans are born with a predisposition toward religious belief.
Response: The claim that humans have a predisposition toward religious belief, even if proven, doesn’t mean they are born with such beliefs. Predisposition and inherent belief are distinct. We are predisposed to many things, but that doesn’t dictate our beliefs at birth.
Objection: If theists were born atheists, then they are telling the truth when they say, “I was once an atheist,” as a ploy.
Response: Yes, they are technically telling the truth since all theists were born without belief in gods. However, when theists use this as a ploy, they often imply that atheism was a mistaken phase in their life. The key is not whether they were once atheists but whether they can coherently defend their current theistic belief. To date, there’s no logically sound justification for god belief, regardless of one’s past beliefs.
Objection: So anyone with learning difficulties, lacking judgmental legal capacity or competence, senile, or in a coma is, by extension, an atheist. That doesn’t make sense.
Response: It’s reasonable to consider that individuals who are senile or in a coma retain the beliefs they held prior to their condition. These are exceptional cases that don’t detract from the fundamental fact that we are all born atheists, with atheism being the default state of being without theism.
To categorize beliefs, consider: Do they have a belief in a god?
Yes = theist
Not yes = atheist
Objection: But babies can’t draw conclusions, so they can’t be atheists.
Response: Atheism, in its broadest sense, isn’t about drawing a conclusion. For some, it may be, but that’s not a universal characteristic of atheism. Atheism is most broadly defined as the absence, lack of, or state of being without belief in a god. While some atheists arrive at their stance through conclusion, this is not a requirement for all atheists.
Objection: Babies have no beliefs when they’re born, including atheism.
Response: I agree babies have no beliefs when born, which is precisely why they are atheists. They are implicit atheists, defaulting to being godless or “without belief” in a god. The misconception here is the assumption that all atheists must consciously decide to reject the notion of god, which is not necessarily true.
Objection: Humans are born as tabula rasa.
Response: That’s not a counter-argument; it actually supports the point. Humans are indeed born without preconceived notions, tabula rasa. The term ‘atheist’ exists in contrast to ‘theist.’ Individuals with belief in a god are theists, and those without it are atheists. Babies, being born without any belief, embody this tabula rasa state, making them atheists by default.
Objection: You can’t apply a label to a baby. Babies are blank slates.
Response: If we can’t apply labels to babies, why do we refer to them as ‘babies’ or ‘blank slates’? Clearly, we use labels to describe their state or characteristics. We call them humans, newborns, and infants. Similarly, it’s accurate to consider them apolitical, alingual, or embodying the concept of ‘tabula rasa.’ The key point here is that babies, by nature, lack a belief in gods, making them atheists. If a distinction is necessary, the term ‘implicit atheist’ can be used to clarify their natural state of godlessness. If you don’t want to use the label that’s ok, but the baby is an atheist.
Objection: In the absence of theism, the word atheist has no meaning or function. Being devoid of any religious concept is not a useful definition of atheism.
Response: The term ‘atheist’ exists precisely because ‘theist’ does. It’s a relative term, defined in opposition to theism. Just as darkness is defined by the absence of light, atheism is characterized by the absence of theism. Its usefulness lies in distinguishing a state where theistic belief is absent. To say it’s not useful is to ignore the fundamental nature of language and how we categorize human experiences and beliefs. In a world where theistic beliefs exist and are influential, having a term to describe their absence is not just useful, but necessary for clarity and understanding.
Objection: Atheism requires thought. Newborn children don’t have an internal dialogue like adults do, and so aren’t able to conceptualize concepts like atheism and theism.
Response: Atheism, in its most fundamental form, doesn’t require active thought or conceptualization. It’s simply the absence of belief in gods. Newborns, lacking the cognitive ability to conceptualize such beliefs, default to this state. It’s not about actively rejecting theism, but about not having been introduced to or accepting theistic concepts. Just as they are born without knowledge of politics or art, they are born without theism. Atheism isn’t a complex philosophical stance but a default position prior to the introduction of religious concepts. Lack of belief doesn’t necessitate understanding the concept any more than not playing chess requires understanding the game. While many adults, likely the majority, arrive at their atheism through thoughtful consideration, this process isn’t the sole path to atheism nor inherently necessary for it. Atheism fundamentally is the absence of belief in a god. If you’d like you can differentiate between actively adopting atheism through critical thinking and simply existing in a state devoid of theistic belief, one of the qualifiers at the bottom of the page may be relevant to you. Do you believe babies possess a belief in a god? If not, then by definition, they are atheists.
Digging deeper into why furthering the fact that we’re all born atheist is important to atheists
Embracing and acknowledging the idea that we are all born atheists can have numerous societal benefits, especially for those people that know that a scientific and fact-based view of the world leads to atheism.
Here are some of the key advantages:
- Normalizing Atheism: Understanding that atheism is the default human condition helps normalize it in society. It challenges the misconception that atheism is an aberrant or rebellious stance, instead framing it as a natural state. Psychological studies show that children develop religious beliefs through cultural and parental influence, not innately. Recognizing atheism as our natural starting point aligns with developmental psychology findings, challenging the misconception of atheism as deviant or rebellious.
- Reducing Stigma: If society widely accepts that we are born atheists, it can significantly reduce the stigma and misconceptions associated with atheism. This can lead to greater social acceptance and less discrimination against atheists. Sociological research indicates that stigma often arises from misconceptions and lack of understanding. Broad acceptance of atheism as a natural state can diminish negative stereotypes, fostering greater social acceptance and reducing discrimination against atheists.
- Promoting Critical Thinking: Acknowledging that atheism is our innate state encourages a mindset that beliefs, especially religious ones, should be adopted through personal reflection and critical thinking rather than by default or indoctrination. Cognitive development theories emphasize the importance of questioning and critical analysis in forming beliefs. Acknowledging our innate atheism aligns with these educational principles, encouraging a more thoughtful and informed approach to belief formation.
- Encouraging Open Inquiry and Skepticism: Understanding that we start life without religious beliefs can foster an environment where questioning and skepticism are valued. This can lead to more open and honest discussions about religion and belief systems. Historical analysis of scientific breakthroughs demonstrates the value of questioning established norms. Understanding our atheistic beginnings supports a culture of inquiry and skepticism, vital for scientific and societal progress.
- Facilitating Intergroup and Secular Dialogue: By establishing a common starting point – that we are all born without religious beliefs – it becomes easier to engage in intergroup and secular dialogues based on mutual understanding and respect. Studies in conflict resolution show that finding common ground is key to effective dialogue. By establishing our common atheistic origin, intergroup and secular discussions can proceed on more equal and respectful terms.
- Reducing Fear of Atheists and Atheism: Understanding that we are all born atheists can significantly alleviate the fear and apprehension that theists often have towards atheists and atheism. This realization demystifies atheism, showing that it isn’t always a defiant or hostile stance against religion, but as a natural, default state of human existence. Psychological studies on fear and prejudice demonstrate that fear often stems from the unknown or misunderstood. By framing atheism as a universal starting point, it becomes less of an ‘other’ and more of a shared human experience. This shift in perception can foster empathy and reduce irrational fears, as theists recognize that atheism is not inherently antagonistic to their beliefs, but simply another point on the spectrum of human belief systems. Understanding atheism as a common starting point for all humans bridges the gap of misunderstanding, fostering a sense of shared humanity rather than division.
- Making it Easier to Abandon Theism: Recognizing that we are born atheists can make it easier for a theist to contemplate returning to atheism, offering comfort in reverting to their natural state. Many major religions integrate the fear of eternal damnation into their doctrines, a concept that is very challenging to overcome. Understanding atheism as a return to one’s default state can simplify the process of shedding untenable beliefs. This perspective reframes the transition not as adopting a new or alien belief system, but as a return to an original, inherent state of being. It provides a psychological ease, mitigating the fear and guilt ingrained by religious doctrines, and paves a more comforting path back to a fact-based worldview.
- Supporting Secular Policies and Governance: Widespread recognition of atheism as a natural starting point can lead to greater support for secular governance and policies, ensuring that state decisions are made independently of religious doctrines. Historical evidence suggests that secular governance often leads to more equitable and inclusive societies. Recognizing atheism as a natural human condition can bolster support for policies and governance free from religious bias.
- Diminishing the Role of Religious Dogma in Society: Anthropological studies show diverse belief systems across cultures, indicating that religious beliefs are learned rather than innate. Understanding that religious beliefs are not innate but adopted can help diminish the undue influence of religious dogma in societal norms and laws.
- Promoting Universal Human Values: Ethical studies suggest that values like empathy and cooperation are universal and can be taught independently of religious doctrine. Recognizing our inherent atheism could support the focus on universal values over religious teachings.
- Fostering a More Inclusive Society: Social research demonstrates that inclusivity is strengthened when individuals are not pigeonholed from birth based on beliefs or traditions. Embracing the notion that we are all born atheists can help create a society that values individuals for who they are, not the religious beliefs they might inherit.
In essence, widely acknowledging that we are all born atheists can lead to a more open, inclusive, and critically thinking society, where beliefs are chosen based on personal reflection, evidence, and reason, rather than inherited or imposed. At the minimum it can serve to normalize atheism and remove the false proposition by theists over the last several centuries that atheism = wickedness, devil worshipping, or similar.
Some other qualifiers that atheists might use to explain their positions more deeply
- Agnostic: Believes that the existence of gods is unknown or inherently unknowable.
- Weak: Lacks belief in gods but doesn’t necessarily assert that gods do not exist.
- Implicit: Has no belief in gods due to lack of concept or understanding (often applies to young children).
- Materialist: Holds that the material world is the only reality and that spiritual or supernatural phenomena are illusory.
- Rationalist: Emphasizes reason and evidence over religious faith or emotional response.
- Skeptic: Maintains a questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts.
- Humanist: Embraces human reason, ethics, social justice, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma as the basis of morality and decision-making.
- Noncognitivist: Believes that religious language – and specifically talk of gods – does not consist of propositions that can be true or false, but is non-cognitive in nature.
- Gnostic: Claims knowledge about the non-existence of gods, often asserting certainty.
- Igtheist:Questions the meaning of religious language and God concepts, often considering them to be nonsensical.
Strong: Actively believes and asserts that gods do not exist.
- Explicit: Clearly and consciously acknowledges the absence of belief in any gods.
- Environmentalist: Focuses on protecting the environment and may integrate this into their atheistic worldview.
- Tree-hugger: A colloquial term for an environmentalist, sometimes used to indicate a deep ecological concern.
- Freethinker: Forms opinions on the basis of logic, reason, and empiricism, rather than authority, tradition, or other dogmas.
- Secularist: Advocates for the separation of religion from civic affairs and the public sphere.
- Naturalist: Believes that everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted.
- Anti-theist: Actively opposes theism, believing that religion is harmful to society.
- Apatheist: Is indifferent to the existence of gods, finding the question of their existence as neither meaningful nor relevant to their life.
- Bright: Identifies with a naturalistic and rationalistic worldview free of supernatural and mystical elements.