Atheism and nihilism are two terms that are often misunderstood. Atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods, while nihilism believes that life has no inherent meaning. Nihilists do not find happiness or satisfaction in love, family, or achievements because they believe that these things are ultimately pointless. Atheists may still find meaning in their lives by doing good deeds and living according to their values, despite not believing in a higher power. This article will discuss the difference between atheism and nihilism.
What is Atheism?
Atheism is defined as “disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods” [Source]. Atheists are people who adhere to a philosophy of disbelief in God. They’re prevalent, as evidenced by the fact that they make up a large portion of the world population. Individuals become atheists because they say that the existence of deities is not backed up by scientific evidence. Some argue that religious people lack logical thinking, and their beliefs seem inclined toward magic, superpowers, or the supernatural.
What is Nihilism?
Nihilism comes from the Latin word ‘nihil,’ meaning nothing. “It also appears in the verb ‘to annihilate,’ to bring nothing, destroy completely” [Source]. It is the “rejection of all religious and moral principles, believing that life is meaningless” [Source]. Nihilism is a “movement within philosophy that rejects generally accepted features of human existence, such as objective truth, knowledge, morality, values or meaning.”. Nihilists believe that life is meaningless and rejects all religious and moral principles.
Does Atheism lead to Nihilism?
Nihilism is a philosophical position that some atheists may adopt, but it is not a necessary consequence of atheism. Atheists can believe in objective truths, morality, and values without believing in God. Atheists may also find meaning in their lives through other things such as family, friends, and good deeds. Nihilists, on the other hand, believe that life is ultimately pointless. They may find temporary happiness in things, but eventually, they will see that these things are also meaningless.
Life has no inherent meaning if there is no God or the promise of everlasting existence. Atheism offers no moral basis and no lasting consequences for your actions. So, atheism gives you the flexibility to live your life as you choose. Many people misuse this freedom, so atheism might lead to nihilism.
Nihilism is the rejection of all laws and institutions, while atheism is simply the rejection of the concept of a deity. Atheists in our society, as a whole, appear to obey the law; therefore, atheism does not necessarily lead to nihilism.
Atheism opposes the existence of deities in any form, while nihilism says that life is meaningless. Nihilism touches on many aspects of life, such as morals and authority, while atheism is usually inclined toward religion. Atheists reject values and norms derived from belief in gods and nihilism rejects all values in society. Atheists can have other values from other sources except for a deity, but nihilists cannot accept any values [Source].
Atheism does not state that life has no purpose. On the other hand, nihilism is centered on believing that life has no purpose. Not all atheists are nihilists, but all nihilists can be atheists.
Regarding religion, “it is a fact that most anarchists are atheists” [Source]. This means that atheists and nihilists are not religious. Also, atheists and nihilists oppose the idea of any superpower authority who controls life. Both atheists and nihilists believe that people use religion to scapegoat for life issues. They argue that society ought to confront its problems head-on. Atheism and nihilism reject values, but atheism, is only valued by deities, and for nihilism, they are all values.
Nihilism vs. Religion
“It is a fact that most anarchists are atheists” [Source]. Also, “Nihilism and religion are therefore essentially incompatible, because most religions argue in favor of a universal purpose for human life, while most irreligious people are forced to admit that no such purpose could exist – the laws of physics alone cannot create ‘meaning'” [Source]. Religion finds the purpose in life, so it cannot co-exist with the extreme version of nihilism.
Are all Nihilists Atheists?
Nihilists do not conform to religious beliefs because these beliefs glorify a purpose in life. This means that nihilists can be atheists in not believing in a deity. However, atheists can believe in other things which do not involve a deity, such as values, norms, and the purpose of life. Thus, there is a difference between nihilists and atheists, as nihilists find everything meaningless and no purpose in life.
Is Nihilism Religion
Stephen Sibbald gives three definitions of a religion which are as follows [Source]:
- A creed or canon of scripture that defines orthodox beliefs;
- An institution or organization; and
- Rituals and practices.
Sibbald argues that “Nihilism has none of these so is not a religion.” Various sources classify it as a philosophy, idea, or lifestyle.
Agnostic vs. Atheist vs. Nihilist
An agnostic is a person influenced by agnosticism which is the “view or belief that the existence of God, of the divine or the supernatural, is unknown or unknowable.” It can be defined as the view that “human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify either the belief that God exists or that God does not exist” [Source].
An atheist denies the existence of a deity, a nihilist denies any meaning to life, and an agnostic argues that human intellect is not sufficient enough to conclude whether God exists or not.
What is Optimistic Nihilism?
Optimistic nihilism “views the belief that there is no underlying meaning to life from a perspective of hope. It’s not that we’re doomed to live in a meaningless universe – it’s that we get the chance to experience ourselves and the universe we share” [Source]. It sees freedom in this so-called meaningless life. It is a “philosophy that posits ultimate freedom and solely enabled by, the utter meaninglessness of existence” [Source]. Optimistic nihilism focuses on people freely creating their principles and purpose since the universe does not have these things.
Nihilism vs. Existentialism
“Nihilism ‘is the belief that nothing matters. Existentialism is the attempt to confront and deal with meaninglessness…to not succumb to nihilism or despair: to give up or avoid responsibility” [Source]. The relationship between nihilism and existentialism is explained in the following statement: “The nihilist says, “There is no god, no heaven or hell, so screw it: there can be no right or wrong. Let’s party!” The Existentialist says, “There is no god, no heaven or hell, so you and I alone must figure out to make life meaningful and good — we must work without cosmic aid to figure out what ‘good’ itself is.” Existentialism believes that people can create their subjective meaning since life has no objective meaning.
The link between nihilism and existentialism forms Existential nihilism, which “is the philosophical theory that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. With respect to the universe, existential nihilism suggests that a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose, and unlikely to change in the totality of existence” [Source].