Is there such a thing as an atheist worldview?

Logically the term atheist seems to describe a negative position which is the absence of a belief in God/gods.

Would I be right in thinking that given this Atheism is not in itself a worldview, and that by implication an atheist could hold one of a number of different worldviews, chief amongst them being secular humanism, Marxism, materialism, naturalism, New Age and existentialism?

Or do they mix and match worldviews?

I’d be really interested to understand.

Yep, anarchism or totalitarianism; a life devoted to scholarship or a life devoted to pet mice.

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Could you clarify?

I am just confirming that an atheist could hold one of a number of world views. Or, perhaps, no world view at all. Perhaps it might be interesting to see not just what world views, but what other traits they might have in common. In Saudi Arabia they might tend to be very brave, I suppose. In the US they might be independent minded. Here in England I suppose they might be indistinguishable from the rest.


I’m particularly interested in worldviews rather than traits.

Everyone has a worldview, a framework of assumptions that informs their decision making and therefore their actions and choices.

I believe that exploring these and sharing them leads to greater mutual understanding.

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I’m no follower of German philosophy, but my understanding is that a person’s worldview is a composite, conscious plus subconscious, of attitudes in all the fields in which he/she is active. Hardly possible to sum up in a single word.

What I am trying to convey of my own opinion is that having atheism as part of one’s worldview does not imply agreeing with other atheists in other parts of one’s worldview

In particular, being, say, a Catholic implies holding a range of beliefs send outlooks in common with other Catholics. Being an atheist does not imply anything similar.


Correct, atheism itself is simply the lack of belief in a god or gods. You’ll get a lot of people claiming otherwise but I believe most if not all the atheists floating around the forum would agree. Beyond that there may be tendencies, e.g. it may be said that atheists often value logic, reason, science, etc, but it’s not a requirement. And valuing it doesn’t automatically make us better at it of course. There are plenty of atheists who believe in supernatural things such as ghosts, some may describe themselves as ‘spiritual’ but of course that can mean a huge variety of things in and of itself.

So ultimately if someone says they’re an atheist the only thing you should assume that means is they don’t hold the belief that a god or gods exist; and that’s about it. It doesn’t even mean they’re convinced one doesn’t exist. It really says little more than would be said if someone called themselves a theist, it tells me one thing. Beyond that you need to have a conversation, just like you would on any other topic.


I’m an atheist. I don’t call myself that anywhere but here because that is how Catholics see me. My lack of a belief in god(s) does not define me or associate me with any other views any more than my lack of belief in ghosts, the effectiveness of acupuncture, Bigfoot, alien abductions, fairies, or unicorns. (I give these as examples of non-belief; I am not saying that to believe in god(s) is the equivalent of any of these).

In my experience most atheists, like most religious people, have beliefs within the normal range of people around them. So Catholics tend to be far more common in Catholic societies etc. Religious belief to my mind is a manifestation of our evolved tendency to accept strong leadership and especially to be optimistic. This allows us as groups to overcome the terrible things our consciousness tells us about - risk to ourselves and others and the inevitability of loss and death. Groups that have this optimism survive better than others. So the tendency to believe is biologically inbuilt as an evolved characteristic.

It is really only in the past 250 years that very large numbers of people have given up belief in god(s). Science, of course has driven the idea of god(s)’ influence back from most areas of like except in a very distant and abstract way. People now don’t typically believe that the weather is a daily creation of god(s) or that mental illness is a result of possession. Where efforts have been made to eliminate religion such as in communist countries it is notable that many of the trappings of religion have been repurposed. Example are collective ceremonies, iconography and even, in the case of the Soviet Union, the assertion that individuals like Lenin were ‘immortal’ because their ideas lived on. In fact communist countries are rather better at some of this than religions - compare North Korean events with the gatherings in St Peters square! Albania I think was the European communist country which most effectively eliminated religion; the bounce-back of Islam following the collapse of Communism there was remarkable, as was the war in neighbouring Yugoslavia in which religiously-defined ‘ethnic’ groups fought each other for control.

It is also striking that when people are forced to change religion they seem to do so - as the spread of Prtoestantism in Europe showed. Within a generation or two the religion is different but the same patterns of behaviour continue. This is a further indication that religion is an instinct and that its particular form does not really matter.

The only thing I can think of that atheists might have in common is a preference for situation ethics rather than ethical beliefs based on some idea of absolute right and wrong.


Maybe a better question to ask then would be in terms of what is really real?

I’d always assumed that an atheist would say that the world we experience through our senses is all there is.

Presumably if you believe in spirits and ghosts you believe that there is more to reality than our senses tell us, and therefore you cannot be an atheist. Maybe that makes you a spiritualist. Or maybe an atheist spiritualist?!

I totally agree, and that is what interests me.

But having said that, if they don’t hold a worldview informed by belief in God/gods of whatever type, then they must hold one of the worldviews based on the premise that there is no supernatural or transcendent, that what we sense is all that exists.

This leads me back to the categories in my original question.

No, people do not individually reason to a ‘world view’. Their beliefs are determined socially.

I think that is the opposite of a scientific view. Science understands that there is much that cannot be ‘sensed’ - for example all of mathematics. But being atheist does not imply, for example, that you don’t believe in spirits. Or Karma. Or reincarnation. Or astrology.

You are assuming (I think) that atheists require something akin to theology to not believe. But we don’t. If you don’t believe in god(s) there is nothing to study. They are just not there. The only thing to study is why people believe in them.

Let me develop that by saying then that rather than claiming that atheists only believe what their senses tell them I should have said instead that they believe that ‘this world (universe, multiverse) is all there is’, ie that there is no supernatural or transcendent.

Would that be more accurate?

Answers self, no, because belief in Karma, or Astrology implies belief in the supernatural or at the very least superstition.

No, I don’t for one minute believe that an atheist needs something called Atheology or whatever.

I just know that everyone, including an atheist, has a worldview which combined with sensory (name removed by moderator)ut informs their thinking and consequent actions and choices. I agree with what you said in your earlier post that this is sometimes developed from social conditioning.

Interesting question. In self-defense, some might answer in the affirmative. However, with no overriding authority, no seamless garment of life, no ultimate purpose and a decidedly temporal orientation, it strikes me more like a person-view, a self-view than a world view - as internally centered rather than externally centered.

I can hear the howls of protest already.

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For me, that’s correct. For a religious person I’d guess that their world view would be governed by their belief. That for many, it’s the most important aspect of their life. But I’m sure that many people, yourself included, have thought deeply about life and whether someone is a cradle Catholic or someone who chose to become Catholic later in life, what they understand about life happens to align with the church.

And it shouldn’t suprise you that my ideas of what life is about also aligns to a certain extent with Catholics (the minor differences seem to be about sex for some reason…). Should we cheat? Is being honest a good thing? What reasons can there be for violent action? I believe that we’d all reach similar conclusions about such matters. And one could be trite and say that I had to work these things out myself but you’ve got hem all codified already. That you just need to ‘follow the rules’. Which I think does a great disservice to many people of faith because I’d imagine that they would have thought about these matters just as much as anyone else (although there are exceptions…).

But the glaring exception is one of purpose. And there we part ways.

A Christian, or anybody who believes in a deity, would think that there is a purpose to life. A teleology. A reason for being here. That they were especially created. For an atheist, that’s obviously not an option. So personally I go with Sagan’s brilliant quote that we are all star stuff. Born in the centre of long dead suns. A piece of the universe which has has become self aware. At least for a tiny, tiny fraction of time.

And I see the universe as a place of natural beauty. It would be depressing to me to discover that someone had built it. That it was part of a plan. That it had been designed. It would be like coming across a magnificent waterfall and being swept away by the sight. And then finding that someone had drawn up plans and brought machinery in to change the landscape so it would look as it does.

The thought that someone is ‘behind the curtain’ running the show would be incredibly depressing.

Edit: I realise that my waterfall anecdote suggests the opposite reaction as it did for Francis Collins. The ubiquitous Francis Collins | ScienceBlogs. Maybe that was bubbling away in the subconscious.

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To be honest I’m not sure I accept the idea that there’s a set of worldviews to choose from. I’m pretty sure we have 7 billion people on the planet and at least that many worldviews. I don’t think any two people have the same worldview, not precisely the same anyways, because no two people have the same exact life experiences.

FiveLinden addressed this but I don’t believe many would say this no. I mean you can disprove it just by mentioning radio waves. Voila, something we cannot observe with senses but can demonstrate exists.

I would say for myself I an a skeptic. That doesn’t mind blindly rejecting theories, it means apportioning belief based on the claim being made and the evidence presented. So if you want to propose supernatural things exist I would first get clarity on exactly what supernatural means or what you’re saying exists to make sure I understand the claim, and then I would consider the evidence you’re able to provide. So unlike what’s often claimed here on these forums I don’t think of myself as close minded or unwilling to consider such things, I’ve just yet to be presented with any reason to think it does exist.

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I tend to agree and disagree.

I can understand that we all have different views, opinions and experiences, and that over time these shape our view of the world.

But I also believe that through the social sciences it has been demonstrated that taking a macro approach from a fundamental set of questions about beliefs we can determine which worldview category an individual falls into.

For example…

Do you believe in God…yes/no…if no
Do you believe that meaning is to be found in the world…yes/no…if no you are a Nihilist, if yes
Is meaning to be found in experience…yes/no…if yes you are an Existentialist, if no
Is meaning to be found in humanity…yes/no…if yes you are a Humanist, if no
Is meaning to be found in nature…yes/no…if yes you are a naturalist, if no
Is meaning found by each person…yes/no…if yes you are a relativist, if no then where do you find meaning?

There are the varieties of atheists to be sure. Sam Harris and JL Mackie and Richard Dawkins and Jitendra Mohanty all differ from each other quite a bit, that last one differing the most perhaps because of his Indian ethnic roots.

I imagine though that any variety of atheism lacks a telos, a final end. The bus, in other words, is going nowhere in particular. That the only meaning there is in the universe is whatever we infuse into it and our only “final cause” is whatever we ourselves determine (for whatever reasons). Maybe this is a commonality among atheists.

This is just trying to take a messy thing like human experience and put it into neat little boxes. What if someone finds meaning in the world, experience, humanity, nature, themselves and believes in God?

@Freddy said it well above, the ‘purpose’ of existence is going to be one of the fundamental splits. I don’t personally know many atheists who feel a purpose is imparted to them by an external force. I’m not saying they’re not out there but I suspect they’re in the minority. Theists sometimes take that to mean atheists think life has no purpose, because to them purpose is something intrinsic to creation. An atheist isn’t required to believe that and often won’t.

If you believe in God then your meaning comes from God, not one of the others.