The history and rise of atheism

AQA AS Level - Religious Studies

Topic 4: Atheism and Postmodernism (reasons for the reason for atheism)

  • Created by: Hannah
  • Created on: 03-04-12 23:32

Science (scientific discoveries).

Science has been "the supreme catalyst" for the rise of atheism (Ray Billington). 

Changed the theist view that the universe was geocentric and that humans were the centre of the universe as the main 3 discoveries rejected God as the creator (evolution) and as our moral guide (psychoanalyst) in the universe.

Led to the relegation of God - "God of the Gaps" where gaps between what science could not answer were filled with religious explanation - "eventually, science will completely replace the need for a God".

3 main scientific discoveries:

  • Darwin - evolution from apes, natural selection and survival of the fittest (rejects the Genesis account of God as the creator of the universe and doubted that humans have been made 'in the image of God').
  • Galileo's telescope - corrected the belief that the universe was geocentric to heliocentric.
  • Psychoanalysts - religion can be explained by our psychological need for a God or divine figure - conscience is our experience not the voice of God.
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Empiricism (no empirical evidence).

Knowledge can only be found through the 5 senses (touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight) and nothing behind or beyond these things can be knowledge - we cannot know anything unless we have experienced it.

Locke vs. Hyman (God proved empirically vs. not proven empirically).

  • John Locke: we can prove God empirically through religious experience.
  • Gavin Hyman: we cannot prove God empirically because he is not a physical object and cannot be experienced through the 5 senses - he is meta-physical.
  • David Hume agreed with Hyman saying "Hume saw what Locked did not...that theism was fundamentally incompatible with empiricism".

The verification principle.

  • We can only talk meaninfully about a statement if it can be verified (empirically proven to be true or false) and if it cannot be verified, it cannot be talked about meaningfully.
  • Because God's existence cannot be verified, we cannot discuss it meaningfully.
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The Problem of evil.


If God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent he must have had the capability and want to remove evil and suffering from the universe.

Because evil and suffering (a lack of goodness) exists either God is not omnibenevolent and omnipotent or he does not exist (inconsistent triad).

(God has total responsibility for everything as the creator of the universe - if evil and suffering exist, as it does, than either God is not omnibenevolent or omnipotent or he does not exist at all). 

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The rebellion against moral absolutes.

Moral absolutes - definitive rules that state an action is either always right or always wrong (e.g. murder is always wrong).

Society has rejected moral absolutes by accepting sex before marriage (Church of England), accepting homosexuality in society and in Church, divorce, the role of women working since WWII, acceptance of abortion and euthanasia.

People have become moral relativists (its all relative and dependant on the situation you are in).

Moral absolutes - Christian teachings - have been rejected and its popularity as a religion has declined because people disagree with these moral absolutist teachings that they stereotypically teach because they go against these moral absolutes.

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Awareness of other faiths.

20th and 21st century:

  • development of travel and global awareness.
  • education.
  • discourse between religion.
  • media coverage.
  • social networking.

...has made people more aware of other religions and cultures where religions clash and this poses the question as to "which religion is right, if any?".

As David Hume said - "Even a miracle in Christianity, like the resurrection of Christ, disproves Islam and Allah".

All different religions which clash with each other (including their beliefs) make people question religion as a whole.

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