Speak Your Mind

Speak Your Mind: Atheism and Skepticism

I’m fairly open about my atheism (or agnosticism, depending on the day) and as a result I end up fielding a lot of questions on the subject. People are usually respectful; their questions come from a place of genuine curiosity. I try to be equally respectful in my answers. Usually, those answers harken back to skepticism. I’ve seen no evidence for a supernatural deity, therefore I don’t believe in one.

Because I get these questions on a semi-regular basis, I think about the link between skepticism and atheism a lot. Most skeptics I know are also atheists, but fewer atheists I know also identify as skeptics. Which is weird. One would think that these groups would have a mutual overlap.

Is it possible to be a skeptic, but not an atheist? Or vice versa? Is it possible for skeptics to maintain a belief in God? Can an atheist/agnostic be a non-skeptic?

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Mindy is an attorney and Managing Editor of Teen Skepchick. She hates the law and loves stars. You can follow her on Twitter and on Google+.


  1. June 21, 2012 at 4:07 am —

    The short answer to all of these question is “of course”. Skepticism and atheism are logically orthogonal, even if there is a correlation between them. Which I’m not sure there is.

    Many of the originators of the modern skepticism movement were theists (or deists) in some form or another. Martin Gardner is one of the more famous examples. On the other hand, Bill Maher is an atheist who seems to be fairly credulous in at least some areas.

    In my experience, skepticism is, like religion, something you’re typically born into. My parents gave me a love of research, so I’m one of the lucky ones. I didn’t even know that some people thought there was a link between skepticism and atheism until I was in my 20s!

    In the “wild”, skepticism is probably rare amongst theists and atheists alike. But those who are brought up theist without skepticism and discover skepticism at some point often become atheist as a consequence. That experience seems to be especially common in the skeptical/atheist blog-and-convention culture, and I think that’s why many people see a link.

    However, I do wonder if the perceived strength of the link is partly due to confirmation bias and anchoring.

  2. June 21, 2012 at 8:57 pm —

    I’d say they’re looking at different things. The existence / non-existence of a god is outside the realm of testability.

    I’m not sure if it’s possible to meaningfully think critically about something when it’s not possible to know the answer.

    So a hardcore skeptic could also believe in a god. As long as this belief remains internal and they don’t start using it as a woo-style explanation for real world phenomena, it’s not inconsistent.


  3. July 25, 2012 at 12:44 pm —

    Depends a little how one defines “skeptic”. But if you define it as someone who rigorously investigates truth claims and is willing to take a critical stand to everything, leaving no ideas holly or untouched, then it’s not really possible to be a skeptic but not an atheist.

    Atheism is the only intellectually honest view on reality one can have. Understanding this follows directly from skepticism. If one claims to be a skeptic but also a theist, then you are not actually being an all-out skeptic. It means that you are not investigating your theism with a skeptic mindset. You are isolating your theism outside all the other things you are willing to be skeptic about, and that is not the mindset of skeptic. If one is truly and honestly skeptical about one’s theism, it immediately becomes apparent that there is no support for theism, and atheism follows naturally.

    On the other hand there are evidently many atheists who are non-skeptics. Several atheists believe in nonsense which is not possible to believe in if you are truly skeptical.

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