Atheism or nonthesim is a term used to describe a disbelief in God or Gods, which may be active or passive. Atheists should not be confused with agnostics, people who are open to the existence or lack thereof of God. Negative connotations are associated with atheism by many people, thanks to widespread beliefs that atheists lack morals or a sense of personal mission due to their lack of belief in God.
The concept of atheism is quite ancient; people have been expressing a lack of belief in God for a very long time. The Greeks developed the term, using it to describe people who are “without God,” and disbelief in God appears to date back even further, according to archaeological evidence. There are a number of different types of atheism and various approaches to atheist belief, ranging from an active disbelief in God to a more passive sort of atheism, in which people simply reject the idea of God but do not feel that strongly about it.
Atheists who actively disbelieve have dealt with a great deal of stigma over the ages, as many cultures place a heavy emphasis on the role of religion in society, stressing the idea that God is present and important. For some people, the idea of actively expressing disbelief is extremely repugnant, as it seems to cast aspersions on cultural values as well as religion. Atheists historically have been persecuted during periods of religious fervor, although at other periods, they became prominent social figures and philosophers.
In some instances, atheism involves an active effort to disprove the existence of God, often through the use of scientific and philosophical arguments. Many notable philosophers including Nietzsche and Karl Marx were atheists, and they included discussions of faith and God in their works. Arguments against the existence of God can get quite complex and evolved, with some theists suggesting that atheists might be trying just a bit too hard to prove something.
An atheist believes that there are perfectly natural and scientific explanations for phenomena, and he or she may supply evidence to back this belief up. For example, atheists reject the idea that God created the heavens and the Earth, using evidence from physics, biology, and other branches of the sciences to support an alternative view of creation. The rejection of the idea of God is also often linked with a belief in free will, the idea that people are able to make their own choices in the world, and that both good and bad choices are possible.
In other cases, an atheist simply embraces the idea that there is no God or higher power, and behaves accordingly. On occasion, people have jumped to conclusions about atheists, assuming that they carry on in licentious, immoral ways because they lack the guidance of a higher power. However, atheists can have very strong moral compasses without believing in the existence of God.