Atheism is philosophically, very much akin to the ideologies of humanism and naturalism. Humanism champions the superiority of the rational thinking or power of reasoning in man. Rationality induces morality. It helps man to distinguish between good and bad, than blindly accepting things, in the ignorance of unwise tradition or religious rituals. A rational human truthfully conforms to the universal code of ethics. Humanism strongly proclaims that each man is precious, being the center of all intellectual, cultural and social activities.
An echo of this humanistic celebration is heard in the focusing of the positive attributes of man by the atheist advocate, Dan Barker in his famous book, Losing Faith in Faith, "You are an intelligent human being. Your life is valuable for its own sake. You are not second-class in the universe, deriving meaning and purpose from some other mind. You are not inherently evil-you are inherently human, possessing the positive rational potential to help make this a world of morality, peace and joy. Trust yourself." Indeed the important point that Dan Barker wants to drive home is that, man is a biological product and is no divine creation, dependant on a Cosmic Creator, venerated as God. Man is a self- sufficient individual, who owed his entity to nobody. He possesses the tools of will power, intellect and wit to shape his own destiny. If man cultivates the fundamental goodness that humanity stands for, he can translate the mythical legend of Paradise into an actuality on this earth, only.
Dan Barker seems to be inspired with Pyrrhonism, founded by the Roman Philosopher, Sextus Empiricus. Pyrrhonism declares that nothing is innately viscious, and the much-coveted state of "ataraxia"(peace of mind) is reachable by shedding bias or pre-opinionated attitude.Thus what he prioritised was the freedom of mind from all sorts of ideological bondage.
Greece was the ancient seat of Western atheism. The 5th-century BCE, Greek philosopher, Diagoras is honoured as the "first atheist" . He sternly criticized religion and mysticism. Critia regarded religion as a human invention utilised to demand people's conformance to the system of moral codes. Atomists like Democritus offered a materialistic explanation of the world, irrespective of the spiritual or mystical nuances of life. Other pre-Socratic philosophers who probably harboured atheistic views included Prodicus, Protagoras, and Theodorus.
Socrates' query was concerned with the relation of morality to God. He was finally sentenced to death.Although, he never admitted his identity as a "complete atheist".
Atheism hence is fuelled by the study of natural sciences or naturalism, which explains various phenomena of the universe in terms of natural laws. Storms and floods are no more treated as a consequence of God's wrath upon the sinners, but as natural calamities. Along with these empirical observations, rhyme the Darwinian Theory of Evolution, which relegated the theistic (theism- belief in the Holy Supremacy of God) or religious theory of God as the source of Life, to the background. Darwin projected that man is a biological animal that came into existence through the process of Evolution. The radical atheist, Issac Asimov's thundering rejection of malignant superstitions affirms the indispensability of rationality: "… it is nobler to fight for rationality without winning than to give up in the face of continued defeats. Because whatever true progress humanity makes is through the rationality of the occasional individual and because any one individual we may win for the cause may do more for humanity than a hundred thousand who hug their superstitions to their breast."
Scientific discoveries act as a leveler. It equalizes the status of one man with another, irrespective of the degrading caste- creed-racial differences, diffused by the corrupt and distorted religious ideas. And the atheism that has flourished under the investigations of science, asserting the source of existence in natural laws and futility of religion as a relief, is called practical atheism or apatheism.
However, the pure version of religion is free from the demeaning and coercive religious malpractices. Rather sanctified religion upholds a sense of respect for all forms of life, because all are manifestations of the Omnipotent Creator, the God. Therefore the gospel of universal love and kindness, spread by true religion, somehow matches with the Axiological or Constructive Atheism, aiming at attainment of Universal Equality, Fraternity and Liberty. Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and Sartre all utmostly defended Axiological Atheism as the concrete path leading to the ecstasy of liberation, and complete development, both personally as well as globally.
Logical arguments, voting for atheism vehemently denies the popular features, such as omniscience, omnipotent, all-pervading, transcendental, ineffable, delegation as a person or personhood, formlessness, justice and mercy, intrinsically associated with the concept of God. Theists claim that the omniscient, omnipotent, all-pervading and transcendental God is always Benevolent. But doubts arise with the disruptions caused by evil forces and the dire straits in which man finds himself , inspite of the omnibenevolence of God. Theodicians and other theistic schools, endeavours to obtain an unity among the contracdictions of God's Kindness and the disturbing evil and pains. Religion considers life as a testing ground, where man has to prove him virtuous , through good deeds, amidst distracting evil.
Atheism, more accurately, positive or strong atheism, locates this obvious controversy and throws the weapon of questions against the illogicality. If the perfect God is all good, why would He want evil and suffering to exist? If He is all-powerful, then why doesn't He remove all evil and suffering? So isn't he imperfect? Isn't his sway limited? Does He really exist? The ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus, officially first, analyzed this problem of evil, looming large over theism. David Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779), quoted Epicurus, while forwarding his anti-religious statement, in a series of stirring questions: "Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?"
Epistemological atheism voices that people can neither know God nor determine the sublime existence of the God. Epistemological atheism has its origins in agnosticism . Theism or religion glorifies the doctrine of Divine Immanence. Almighty God inhabits in the consciousness of man as a superconsciousness- this is the crux of religious teachings.
Agnosticism is a Greek word. It is composed of "a", meaning "without", and "Gnosticism", implying "Knowledge". Agnosticism is a philosophical foundation which verily refers to anything and everything, which is "without knowledge" or which cannot furnish proper knowledge for clarification of the conception, it tries to project. The popular debates of agnosticism cater to metaphysical beliefs, pertaining to theology, life after death, reality of God, presence of gods and deities, and the validity of stories attached to gods and goddesses. One of the high priests of rationalistic agnosticism are Kant, Hume,Rousseau,Voltaire and even literary figures like Pope, who belong to the Upheavel of Enlightenment in the Age of Reason and the Intellectual Revolution brought about by the Philosophs of the French Revolution. Indeed Atheism, spawning from Enlightenment and Agnostics only approves of the rationale or logical explanation of cognizance deduced with the application of senses and sensibility. Therefore facts which are tangible through empirical observation, are atheistically acknowledged. Atheism points out that since gods are not perceptible as a matter of principle, their existence cannot be proved.
Agnostic views could be dated much before Huxley, but it is Huxley, who coined the terms agnostic and agnosticism . Huxley took the initiative to articulate his reactions towards contemporary cultivation of metaphysics about the "unconditioned" (Hamilton) and the "unknowable" (Herbert Spencer). It is important, in this respect, to study Huxley's own views on the matter. Though Huxley began to use the term "agnostic" in 1869, the quintessence of the idea had been formulated some time before that date. In a letter of September 23, 1860, to Charles Kingsley, Huxley discussed his views elaborately:
"I neither affirm nor deny the immortality of man. I see no reason for believing it, but, on the other hand, I have no means of disproving it. I have no a priori objections to the doctrine. No man who has to deal daily and hourly with nature can trouble himself about a priori difficulties. Give me such evidence as would justify me in believing in anything else, and I will believe that. Why should I not? It is not half so wonderful as the conservation of force or the indestructibility of matter. . . ."
Another "Great Agnostic" is R.G.Ingersoll of 19th century, America held high the supremacy of the natural and unavoidable laws of the Universe.
In an 1896 lecture titled Why I Am An Agnostic, Ingersoll recounted what is the reason behind his inclination towards agnosticism:
"Is there a supernatural power-an arbitrary mind-an enthroned God-a supreme will that sways the tides and currents of the world-to which all causes bow? I do not deny. I do not know-but I do not believe. I believe that the natural is supreme-that from the infinite chain no link can be lost or broken-that there is no supernatural power that can answer prayer-no power that worship can persuade or change-no power that cares for man. I believe that with infinite arms Nature embraces the all-that there is no interference-no chance-that behind every event are the necessary and countless causes, and that beyond every event will be and must be the necessary and countless effects."
Philosophers such as Antony Flew and Michael Martin have contasted the positive atheism with weak or negative atheism. Weak atheism is primarily theism, i.e., any one who is away from theism is an atheist. There is no specific criterion for the classification. Agnostics, are however, depicted as weak atheists. Agnostics find interest neither in atheism, nor in theism. The presumed unavailability of knowledge being the only reason for missing conviction in supernatural things on the part of the Agnostics. God for them is "unknown". Neither they respect him, nor they blame him.
Atheism in the 20th century, enlarged its scope of discipline and practice, by getting incorporated into the ontological issues of existentialism, the unbiased Objectivism, the liberal horizon of secular humanism, the non-conformist attitude of nihilism, verificational-hankering of logical positivism,the social rebellion of Marxism, the feminine potency of feminism, and the general scientific resurgence of the rationalist movement.
Logical positivism and scientism precipitated into neopositivism, analytical philosophy, structuralism, and naturalism. Neopositivism and analytical philosophy was substituted by classical rationalism and metaphysics with meticulous empiricism and epistemological atheism. Atheist practitioners like Bertrand Russell drastically discarded the existence of God. In his early work, Ludwig Wittgenstein attempted to separate metaphysical and supernatural language from rational discourse. A. J. Ayer branded religious statements, as illusory, from the perspective of his fascination for the empirical sciences. The theory of structuralism, carved out by Lévi-Strauss demonstrated religious language as being nurtured by the subconscious of the human psyche. Structuralism, substracted the aura of divinity from religion. Naturalists and materialistic monists such as John Dewey crowns the natural world as the core of all existence.
The 20th century interpretations of the teachings of Marx and Engels gave a political dimension to Atheism. The aftermarth of the phenomenal Russian Revolution in 1917, was definitely the hike in the status of religious independence, enjoyed by minority religions for a few years, before the dictatorship of Stalin began the suppression of religion. The Soviet Union and other communist states encouraged atheism state-wide. Other leaders like E. V. Ramasami Naicker(Periyar), a prominent atheist leader of India, castigated the distorted and malignant systems, such as rigid and humanistically demeaning caste-divisions , set up by orthodox Hindu Brahmin . His protests reached its climax, when in 1956, he made the worshipped Hindu god Rama wear a garland made of slippers and pronounced antitheistic statements.
In 1966, TIME magazine stirred the world with the potentialy polemic question, "Is God Dead?". This was , certainly instigated by the controversial Death of God theological movement, showing the evaluation that about one in two people in the world lived under an anti-religious power and millions more in Africa, Asia, and South America did hardly knew about God. However, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the sway of anti-theism has decreased. In 2006, Timothy Shah of the Pew Forum noted "a worldwide trend across all major religious groups, in which God-based and faith-based movements in general are experiencing increasing confidence and influence vis-à-vis secular movements and ideologies."
Often, the bane of immortality , generates degrading activities, committed by depraved miscreants in a godless universe. In the absence of a religious fear of punishment for sins, man tends to forget the essential tenets of morality that humanism, boasts off. Man has intelligence and a sense of morality, and yet he at times succumbs to negative drawbacks of greed, lust, ego and anger. However, it does not necessarily mean that religion only inculcates attributes of virtue, because many religious customs and rituals, do the reverse. Atheism again, honours morality, rationality and intelligence. What is desirable, is to turn out into a proper human being, respecting the values and morality, and all the other forms of life, be these principles, he assimilate from religion, or from, atheism.