ATHEISM (α priv., and
θεός, God).—The doctrine that there is no God.
The term is properly applied to every theory of the
universe which does not postulate an Intelligent First Cause. Every
Materialistic Theory is Atheistic.
Under this title falls to be included the theory which seeks to account for
existence by reference to matter and motion, first attributed to Diagoras of
Melos (Ueberweg's History, I. 80; Schwegler, p. 26); and the early elemental
theories of Thales, Anaximenes, and Heraclitus.
Atheism has been distinguished from Anti-theism; and
the former has been supposed to imply merely the non-recognition of God,
while the latter asserts His non-existence. This distinction is founded
on the difference between
unbelief and disbelief (Chalmers, Nat. Theol., I. 58), and
its validity is admitted in so far as it discriminates merely between
sceptical and dogmatic
atheism, (Buchanan, Faith in God, I. 396).
"The verdict of the atheist on the doctrine of a God, is only that it is not
proven. It is not that it is disproven. He is but an atheist. He is not an
anti-theist" (Chalmers, ut supra).
Plato, treating of Atheism as a disorder of the soul (ταύτην
τὴν νόσον), says:—"
There have always been persons, more or less numerous, who have had the same
disorder. I have known many of them, and can tell you this, that no one who had
taken up in youth this opinion, that the Gods do not exist, ever continued in
the same until he was old" (Laws, bk. X. p. 888; Jowett's Plato, 1st ed.,
"To believe nothing of a designing principle or mind, nor any cause, measure,
or rule of things but chance, so that in nature neither the interest of the
whole, nor of any particulars, can be said to be in the least designed, pursued,
or aimed at, is to be a perfect atheist" (Shaftesbury, Inquiry Concerning
Virtue, bk. I. pt. I. sec. 2).
Hi soli sunt athei qui mundum rectoris sapientis consilio negant in initio
constitutum utque in omni tempore administrari (Hutcheson, Metaphysics, pt.
Atheism is erroneously applied to Spinoza's system, which is at the opposite
extreme from Atheism.— V.
ACOSMISM. Equally unwarrantable is it to describe the
theory of Evolution as Atheistic. As a theory, it leaves untouched the question
of the origin of existence. Mr Darwin says:—"There is grandeur in this view of
life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator
into a few forms, or into one; and that whilst the planet has gone cycling on
according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning, endless
forms, most beautiful and most wonderful, have been and are being evolved
(Origin of Species, p. 577).
By theological writers of the 16th century, the name of Atheism is applied to
the unbelief of such persons as Pomponatius; and in the 17th it is used by
Bacon (Essay on Atheism), Milton (Paradise Lost, bk. VI.), and Bunyan (Pilgrim)
to imply general unbelief. Toward the end of the same century it is found, e.g.,
in Kortholt (De Tribus Imputoribus, 1680), to include Deism such as that of
Hobbes, as well as a Pantheistic scheme like Spinoza's. Tillotson (Sermon on
Atheism) and Bentley (Boyle Lectures) use the word more exactly; the
introduction of the term Deism induced in the writers of the 18th century a more
limited and exact use of the former term.