essay by Joseph Kellard; enhanced by Steve Crye)
A: Atheism is not a philosophic system and atheists do have fundamental philosophic differences between them. In fact, certain atheists are almost philosophical twins with theists and opposites to other atheists.
Atheism is essentially the non-belief in the existence of a God (to use the term "god" begs the question: "what is god?" - the answer varies from thesist to theist - this question is not dealt with in this essay).
Far from a
philosophic system, atheism is merely a minor aspect of the most basic
branch of philosophy: metaphysics, which deals with the nature of reality
(and is exemplified by the answers to questions such as "Does an
objective reality exist or is it an illusion?" and "Does a God
exist or is it a myth?"). Atheism per se says nothing about philosophy's
other major branches: epistemology -- how knowledge is obtained (e.g.,
"Does man acquire his knowledge by reason or instincts?"); ethics
-- the proper moral code to guide human life (e.g., "Is it moral
to live for oneself, or should one sacrifice his life for others?");
politics -- the proper governmental system (e.g., "Does the individual
have a right to his life, or do others have a right to force him to live
for them?"); and esthetics -- the study of art and its role in man's
life (e.g., "Should art focus on man's heroic qualities or tragic
But from a religious philosophical context, atheism says everything about the philosophy of all its practitioners. To a theist, reality exists because an all-powerful, all-knowing God "created" it (i.e., metaphysics), while morality and (implicitly) laws (i.e., ethics and politics) exists because He commands them, and all this is known to the theist through revelation and faith (i.e., epistemology). Those who believe atheism is a philosophic system and atheists are all fundamentally alike believe this because atheists reject what to a them is the provider of the only absolute and true philosophy for all men.
Most theists believe, for example, that without a God there can be no morality. This means that without an all-powerful, all-knowing being providing a moral code, which people must obey or fear His ultimate punishment of eternal damnation in hell, men would have no reason to be moral and would live in anarchy. They believe, therefore, to metaphysically reject God is also to reject morality (and all of life) as such and this renders any differences among atheists irrelevant.
In reality, however, their differences are profound. Note that atheism is defined in negative terms, revealing what an atheist does *not* believe. What he *does* uphold, not only in the metaphysical realm but in each branch of philosophy, can differ dramatically with other atheists.
Metaphysically, certain atheists believe reality is an illusion while other atheists such as Objectivists believe an objective reality exists. Many people who don't believe in God's existence nevertheless believe in other supernatural beliefs, from ghosts, UFOs, or aliens to witchcraft, Satan or "a force." Then there are atheist such as Objectivists who rejected all supernaturalism and are therefore not just a-theists, but also a-ghostists, a-UFOists, a-alienists, etc. In the moral realm, there are atheists who nevertheless hold to religious ethics. The father of modern communism, Karl Marx, was one such atheist. And the fundamental similarities between theism and communism exist in each major philosophical branch of both systems. To demonstrate this and how atheists such as Marx and Ayn Rand are opposites, let's examine religion, communism and Objectivism.
Above all, religion holds God as its ideal. Communism merely substitutes this supernatural end with its own -- "society," which is, as John Galt states in Atlas Shrugged, "an organism that possesses no physical form, a super-being embodied in no one in particular and everyone in general except yourself." Metaphysically, then, religion upholds an absolute, supernatural reality -- which God "created" and controls; communism holds reality as subjective -- "constructed" by social conscious: both the proletariat and bourgeoisie construct their own different realities. Ethically, religion and communism both command sacrifice to their supernatural ends; the theist must sacrifice his life to God; the communist to society. Politically, both theist and communist states enforce their ethics by demanding that man has no right to his life; he either sacrifices it for God or faces burning at the stake, or sacrifices for society or faces the Gulag. And epistemologically, since both religion and communism rest on false views of reality, all these ideas that arise from their metaphysics are also false and to believe in them requires faith.
In contrast to these systems is atheistic Objectivism. Metaphysically, this philosophy holds that an objective reality exists independent of man's mind -- not that a social conscious or supernatural being created it. Epistemologically, it holds that reality and its facts are knowable to man only by his reasoning mind -- not by faith in the revelations of supernatural or social authoritarians. Ethically, Objectivism asserts that it is moral for man to pursue his rational self-interests -- not sacrifice himself to God or "the masses." And politically, it says man has an inalienable right to his life, liberty and pursuit of happiness -- not that no such rights exists and that he should be forced to live for others.
That in every fundamental respect atheistic communism is virtually identical to religion and the opposite of atheistic Objectivism clearly demonstrates how it is wrong to claim atheism is a philosophic system and atheists are all fundamentally alike.