Atheism, in a broad sense, is the rejection of belief in the
existence of deities. In a narrower
sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most
inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist.
Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief
that at least one deity exists.
The term atheism originated from the Greek ἄθεος (atheos),
meaning "without gods", which was applied with a negative connotation
to those thought to reject the gods worshipped by the larger society. With the spread
of freethought, skeptical inquiry, and subsequent increase in criticism of
religion, application of the term narrowed in scope. The first individuals to
identify themselves as "atheist" appeared in the 18th century. Today,
about 2.3% of the world's population describes itself as atheist, while a
further 11.9% is described as nonreligious. Between 64% and 65% of Japanese
describe themselves as atheists, agnostics, or non-believers, and 48% in Russia. The
percentage of such persons in European Union member states ranges as low as
single digits in Italy and
some other countries, and up to 85% in Sweden.
Atheists tend to lean towards skepticism regarding
supernatural claims, citing a lack of empirical evidence. Common rationales for
not believing in any deity include the problem of evil, the argument from
inconsistent revelations, and the argument from nonbelief. Other arguments for
atheism range from the philosophical to the social to the historical. Although
some atheists tend toward secular philosophies such as humanism, rationalism,
and naturalism, there is no one ideology or set of behaviors to which all
In Western culture, atheists are frequently assumed to be
exclusively irreligious or unspiritual. However, atheism also figures in
certain religious and spiritual belief systems, such as some forms of Buddhism,
that do not advocate belief in gods.