Atheist Rocks and Other Absurdities

rock formations

I received an e-mail from someone who was engaged in a debate over the meaning of atheism. He said that his opponent had referenced the definition I have repeatedly used here at Atheist Revolution but claimed that this definition meant that "rocks and other inanimate objects were also atheists." I think I've heard this bizarre claim once or twice before. I did not take it too seriously, and I remember thinking that anyone using it was getting fairly desperate. After hearing it again, I figured the least I could do was address it with a brief post.

When I said, "An atheist is one who does not accept the theistic claim," I assumed that "one" would be understood in the context of this statement as implying personhood. It seems that some people are now trying to pretend that inanimate objects would count as atheists. Maybe that's not a big deal. If rocks are atheists then there are a hell of a lot more atheists than religious believers!

But seriously, when dealing with such concrete thinkers, maybe it would be better if I had phrased the definition as follows:

An atheist is a person who does not accept the theistic belief claim.
Does that make things any clearer? Maybe I was mistaken about assuming "one" implied personhood.

Some may now find themselves thinking something like, "But what about infants? What is up with the claim that all children are born atheists?" Well, I'd have to agree with that claim. All children are born atheists. They are persons who have not yet heard of gods, and it is unclear how they could believe something they'd never heard of. Atheism is the default position, the place from which we all start. Many children who are subjected to religious indoctrination will lose their atheism quickly, but I would consider it to be the natural state they are in prior to that point.

An early version of this post appeared in 2009. It was edited to improve clarity in 2021.