Atheism, in a broad sense, is the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.
The term atheism originated from the Greek ἄθεος (atheos), meaning "without gods", which was applied with a negative connotation to those thought to reject the gods worshipped by the larger society. With the spread of freethought, skeptical inquiry, and subsequent increase in criticism of religion, application of the term narrowed in scope. The first individuals to identify themselves as "atheist" appeared in the 18th century. Today, about 2.3% of the world's population describes itself as atheist, while a further 11.9% is described as nonreligious. Between 64% and 65% of Japanese describe themselves as atheists, agnostics, or non-believers, and 48% in Russia. The percentage of such persons in European Union member states ranges as low as single digits in Italy and some other countries, and up to 85% in Sweden.
Atheists tend to lean towards skepticism regarding supernatural claims, citing a lack of empirical evidence. Common rationales for not believing in any deity include the problem of evil, the argument from inconsistent revelations, and the argument from nonbelief. Other arguments for atheism range from the philosophical to the social to the historical. Although some atheists tend toward secular philosophies such as humanism, rationalism, and naturalism, there is no one ideology or set of behaviors to which all atheists adhere.
In Western culture, atheists are frequently assumed to be exclusively irreligious or unspiritual. However, atheism also figures in certain religious and spiritual belief systems, such as some forms of Buddhism, that do not advocate belief in gods.
1991: Genesis of AAI
Representatives from atheist groups in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Houston met in Los Angeles on September 8, 1991, and formed Atheist Alliance Inc.: The Democratic Alliance of Autonomous Atheist Societies.
Those in attendance were:
- From Atheists United, Los Angeles: Ken Bonnell, John Edwards, George Hiam, Don Latimer, Don Malvin, Mark Rockoff, Queen Silver, and (possibly) David Thatcher (record not clear).
- From Atheist Coalition, San Diego: Jeanne Fowler, Howard Kreisner, Robin Shelley, Chuck Schutte, Steve Thorne, Anna Voss, Jeff Wells.
- From Atheist Network, Houston: Victor King, Gary Yokie
- From Atheists of San Francisco Region: Jack Massen
At the meeting, bylaws were drafted and adopted and officers were elected, with Massen as president, Victor King of the Atheist Network of Houston as vice president, John Edwards of Atheists United as Secretary, and Howard Kreisner of Atheist Coalition of San Diego as treasurer.
Atheist Centre in Vijayawada, India, was welcomed shortly thereafter as the fifth charter member.
1992: AAI Expands and Addresses New Challenges
In 1992, new member groups began joining AAI. The first were Minnesota Atheists, Atheists of Florida, and Atheist League of Washington (later dissolved as no longer viable). The seven U.S.-based groups sent representatives to the 2nd annual affiliate meeting in Los Angeles on October 17-18, 1992.
Those in attendance at the October 1992 assembly were:
- Jack Massen, Atheists of San Francisco Region, San Mateo CA
- Victor King, Atheist Network, Houston TX
- John Edwards and Alexander Prairie, Atheists United, Los Angeles CA
- Howard Kreisner and Anna Voss, Atheist Coalition, San Diego CA
- Dawn Wilson and Charlie Palmer, Atheist League of Washington, Seattle WA
- Christos Tzanetakos, Atheists of Florida, Miami FL
- Marie Alena Castle, Minnesota Atheists, Minneapolis/St. Paul MN
- Attorney James Randall (present only during first hour for legal advice and consultation)
- Various members of Atheists United, present off and on as guests/observers
The assembly dealt with matters including a lawsuit filed by American Atheists against Jack Massen (individually, as the AAI founder) and AAI member societies collectively, challenging their right to form another atheist organization. (The lawsuit was eventually withdrawn, but not before Massen had paid out some US$13,300 in legal costs.)
Other agenda items included: plans for producing a magazine and holding annual conventions; developing a public relations strategy and cooperative projects among member societies; and establishing an email communications system and annual dues. Dues were set at US$125 for each U.S.-based society, with the first year free for new members.
It was also decided that AAI should support the OABITAR (Objectivity, Accuracy, and Balance In Teaching About Religion) project, a public school curriculum project to include "nonreligion" in US state school teaching standards that mandated "teaching about religion." The project was managed by Mynga Futrell and her husband Paul Geisert, members of Atheists & Other Freethinkers (AOF joined AAI in 1993). At the close of the 2nd annual meeting, officers elected were: Jack Massen (president), Marie Alena Castle (vice president), John Edwards (secretary), and Howard Kreisner (treasurer).
Under the direction of AAI’s then co-presidents, Marie Alena Castle & Christos Tzanetakos, the first issue of AAI’s new quarterly magazine, Secular Nation, was published in the second half of 1994.
By 2010, AAI had expanded to have around 50 affiliates, with ~2/3 from the US and ~1/3 from the rest of the world. In that year, supported by a member vote, AAI decided to separate into a US organisation and a global organisation to better address the focus and interests of the two sets of members. The new Atheist Alliance International was launched at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin on 3 June 2011. The US affiliates became members of Atheist Alliance of America, which became an AAI Affiliate Member.
Sep. 1991 - Sep. 1992: Jack Massen, president; Victor King, vice president
Sep. 1992 - Apr. 1994: Jack Massen, president; Marie Alena Castle, vice president
Apr. 1994 - Apr. 1995: Marie Alena Castle & Christos Tzanetakos, co-presidents
Apr. 1995 - Apr. 1996: Lee Baker & Christos Tzanetakos, co-presidents
Apr. 1996 - Apr. 1997: Marie Alena Castle & Steve Petersen, co-presidents
Apr. 1997 - Apr. 2002: Marie Alena Castle, president; Bobbie Kirkhart, vice president
Apr. 2002 – Sep. 2002: Marie Alena Castle & Bobbie Kirkhart, co-presidents
Sep. 2002 – Aug. 2006: Bobbie Kirkhart, president; August Berkshire, vice president
Aug. 2006 – Sep. 2008: Margaret Downey, president; Stuart Bechman, vice president
2008 – Oct. 2010: Stuart Bechman, president; August Berkshire, vice president
(later replaced by Patty Guzikowski, vice president)
Oct. 2010 - Jun. 2011: Nick Lee, president; Conor McGrath, vice president
Jun. 2011 - present: Tanya Smith, president; Bill Ligertwood, vice president
AAI commenced holding annual conventions in 1995 in the United States, sponsored by member societies. They were organized largely by the sponsoring society, with general management and off-site assistance from AAI. From 1995 through 2006, conventions were held on Easter weekend. AAI moved its convention to September/October in 2007. Locations and sponsors are listed below, along with attendance where records are available:
1995: Burbank CA, Atheists United (~100)
1996: Minneapolis/St. Paul MN, Minnesota Atheists (~120)
1997: Orlando FL, Atheists of Florida/Humanists of Florida
1998: St. Louis MO, Rationalist Society of St. Louis
1999: Austin TX, Atheist Community of Austin (~135)
2000: Sacramento CA, Atheists & Other Freethinkers (~150)
2001: Atlanta GA, Atlanta Freethought Society (~175)
2002: Dallas/Ft. Worth, Metroplex Atheists (~190)
2003: Tampa FL, Atheists of Florida
2004: Colorado Springs CO, Freethinkers of Colorado Springs (~220)
2005: Los Angeles CA, Atheists United (~240)
2006: Kansas City MO, Heartland Humanists (~250)
2007: Arlington VA, Atheist Alliance International (500+)
2008: Long Beach CA, Atheist Alliance International (~290)
2009: Burbank, CA (~700)
2010: Montreal, Canada
In 2006, AAI held its first international conference, in Reykjavik, Iceland. In 2010, AAI commenced its current program of co-hosting conventions outside the US, starting with the extremely successful 2010 Global Atheist Convention The Rise of Atheism held in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Following the separation of AAI into the current Atheist Alliance International and Atheist Alliance of America (AAA) in 2011, AAA has continued to hold an annual convention in the US and AAI has focused on conventions outside the US.
Secular World, Secular Nation & Atheos Media
In 1994, AAI established the goal of creating a publishing arm under the Atheos Media label. The first issue of AAI's quarterly magazine, Secular Nation, was published in the second half of 1994, but because of production problems it appeared only sporadically for the first several years.
1994: Secular Nation first published as a 12-page insert included in The Freethought Observer (now defunct), founded and edited by Tim Gorski in Arlington TX.
1997: Marie Castle became editor of Secular Nation.
2002: Lois Lyons became editor of Secular Nation.
2007: Dwain Deets became editor of Secular Nation.
2008: Tom Melchiorre became editor of Secular Nation.
2010: Secular Nation changed its name to Secular World to better reflect AAI's increasing global diversity
Misc. Event Timeline
1997: AAI established its first website.
1997: The AAI AIO was started by Joe Zemel.
1997: Shirley Moll of Minnesota Atheists elected as AAI Treasurer.
1999: AAI suspended member society dues.
2000: The AAI Freethought Directory was launched.
2000: The AAI IMG was launched.
2001: Organization name changed to Atheist Alliance International.
2003: AAI began awarding the Richard Dawkins Award at its annual convention.
2006: The first AAI conference outside of the US was held in Reykjavik, Iceland.
2010: The first fully-fledged AAI convention outside of the US was held in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
2011: (the former) Atheist Alliance International separated into the new Atheist Alliance International and Atheist Alliance of America