Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Atheism And Secular Humanism



The question of existence or otherwise of God and its creationist role have remained a perplexing and confusing ones, but still remains unanswered for the past thousands of years in the history of mankind. Time and again, theologians, philosophers, scientists and thinkers have forwarded logic and counter logic centering the issue. With passage of time and intellectual development of human beings, the debate remained not just confined to the narrow scope of either accepting or defying God, but other related concepts and ideologies were developed by philosophers and thinkers and got strength with institutional support. Accordingly a number of schools of conceptual ideologies emerged from the issue, which can be categorized as theism, atheism, deism, agnosticism, ignosticism, humanism and secular humanism (Humanism). The present article is an attempt to focus on two schools of thought, atheism and human secularism and the differences in their ideologies.

Difference in Meaning


The term atheism means complete absence of belief in God and deity. Thus atheism means absence of theistic belief. Atheism does not signify any conviction that God does not exist; rather the idea is the absence of belief that God is real. Atheism does not require conviction that God/Goddess does not exist, though there are atheists who have such strong convictions. But it is not a necessary condition to be an atheist. To be an atheist, it is necessary and sufficient to disbelieve the theistic tenet. Atheism is well defined by Emma Goldman, a renowned atheist writer, as “The philosophy of Atheism represents a concept of life without any metaphysical Beyond or Divine Regulator. It is the concept of an actual, real world with its liberating, expanding and beautifying possibilities, as against an unreal world, which, with its spirits, oracles, and mean contentment has kept humanity in helpless degradation”. Thus atheist ideology talks of life more meaningful and more beautifying, free from any unreal thinking.

Secular humanism

The basic tenet of secular humanism is that human beings are capable of being ethical, moral and rational without any supernatural interference of God. The followers of secular humanism believe that human life would be superior without any religious dogma, superstition and pseudoscience. Fundamental to the concept of secular humanism is that any ideology whether religious, political or philosophical must be thoroughly examined in the lens of knowledge, experience and debate before accepting it on the basis of blind faith.

Difference in Origin & Evolution


The root of atheism ideology can be traced in the ancient texts of 5th century BC India and ancient Greece. Though Hinduism is a theistic and the oldest religion in the world, ideological disagreement with Vedic literature surfaced during the period itself. This disagreement crystallized into institutionalized form with the emergence of Charvaka atheistic and materialistic school of philosophy during 5th century. Most of the literatures on Charvaka philosophy were either destroyed or could not be found, but it was a strong anti-Vedic movement that not only rejected the doctrine of Vedas but rejected the notion that earth was created by God and there is afterlife or re-incarnation. Apart from Charvaka, Classical Samkhya and Mimansa school of Hindu philosophy are also viewed as propagator of atheist ideology. The other two ancient Indic religions namely Jainism and Buddhism were founded on the tenets opposed to Hinduism and Vedic ideology, namely creationist God, idol worship and afterlife but these religions cannot be termed as explicitly atheist as both the concept of idol worship and re-incarnation have been accommodated into both of the religions with some modification.

The history of atheism in the west can be traced back to pre-Socrates Greek philosophy. Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes were the 6th century Milesian philosophers to first oppose and reject the mythological explanation of universe and human life and brought in the revolutionary idea that nature could be understood as a self contained system. Some historians claim the 5th century Greek philosopher Diagoras as the first proclaimed atheist of the west who vehemently opposed and criticized the idea of religion and mysticism. During the same time Critias, an Athenian statesman expressed that religion was a human intervention in human lives to frighten and scare people into leading moral and disciplined lives. The famous 5th century atomist philosophers Leucippus and Democritus explained the universe in a materialistic framework without allusion to God, religion and mysticism.

Secular humanism

George Jacob Holyoake coined the term secularism in 1851 to describe a doctrine where human beings need to be concerned with the issues that can be explained and sorted out in the light of experience of this life. He was a staunch supporter of August Comte and his brain-child Religion of Humanity. Comte presented his philosophy as response to anti-religious sentiment and social malaise of revolutionary France. Comte argued that human society would evolve in three stages; theological stage to metaphysical and ultimately fully rational positivist society. Comte believed that the Religion of Humanity could function as cohesively as the organized religions can be expected to. However Comte’s religion of humanity concept was unable to cut much ice and had minimal contribution to the proliferation secular organizations of the 19th century. Historical references of the term humanism can be found in the writings of pre-Socrates philosophers, which were rediscovered and archived by renaissance scholars of England. The concept of humanism was used by the supporters of ethical movement in 1930s in England but with no anti-religion sentiment. Still it was the ethical movement from where the non-religious philosophical meaning of humanism spread in England. Convergence of ethical and rationalist movement gave prominence to the meaning of humanism that prevailed throughout the Free thought movement.

The philosophical meaning of secular humanism gained popularity with time. The term was first used by writers in 1930s. In 1943 then Archbishop of Canterbury used the term to warn the Church about the emerging danger of the philosophy of secular humanism. In 1980s the Council of Democratic and Secular Humanism (CODESH) endorsed the phrase and gave the term an institutional identity.


  1. The concept of atheism dates back to 5th century BC; whereas the concept of secular humanism came into existence in 1930s.
  2. An atheist does not believe in God; a secular humanist need not necessarily be non-believer in God.
  3. Atheism is simply the absence of belief in God; secular humanism is a worldview, and a way of life.
  4. An atheist would reject the idea of God; a secular humanist believes God is not necessary to be moral.
  5. An atheist believes religion is a human intervention to frighten human beings to remain moral and ethical; A secular humanist does not subscribe to this view.

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1 Comment

  1. So I take it to mean a secular humanist is an atheist but an atheist is not necessarily a secular humanist.

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