What is the fundamental difference between Atheism and Pantheism? I would say the fundamental difference lies in the Atheist’s attitude toward Nature. In their awareness (or lack thereof), of the divine qualities present therein. That being said, in my view, I think Atheism is actually a great place to start…
Because by holding the Atheist position, you have in essence, already eliminated all of the error and falsity that goes along with every other form of spirituality (for those who’ve already been indoctrinated and brainwashed by some kind of mainstream religion, this is much more difficult to do). In other words, it is much harder for a Theist to overcome the personalized notions of an anthropomorphic deity and accept the Omnia as It really is.
The Atheist movement is science-based, grounded in logic and reason and by its very nature, in direct opposition to superstition, mysticism and the supernatural—and I think this is a perfect foundation, where we can then begin to explore and address the true realities of the Universe and discover what actually DOES exist, through careful study and observation of Nature.
Some may disagree, but I believe this to be a more direct route to Pantheism. It’s certainly much safer and easier on the soul (emotionally and psychologically speaking), than coming at it the other way (through religion), whereby you then have to deal with the agonizing deconstruction and re-building of everything you’ve come to believe about the world.
To be clear, Atheism is not the belief in nothing… obviously something exists: Life, Nature, stars, planets, galaxies, plants, animals, etc. No, all Atheism contends is that there are no invisible, anthropomorphic, supernatural beings, i.e. no gods or goddesses, etc. To be more specific, it is the absence of belief in a traditional god.
Or as in the case with Anti-Theists, an opposition to the promotion and enforcement of unsubstantiated, supernatural or spiritual claims, especially in public venues like schools, etc. Yes, within Atheism, there is no personal creator, but they must still acknowledge a “creator” they just call it “Nature” ..and THIS, is where Pantheism comes in.
We need to redefine what Nature means to Atheists and show them that there IS a supernal being, but It is the mind and heart of Nature—what I call, the “Omnia” or “Life Principle” that pushes and drives evolution from within and from without. Notice, I use the word “supernal” not “supernatural.” The definition of supernal is: something of exceptional quality or extent and this is just another way of describing the highest, most impressive quality of something that is superlative or “super” in its essence.
How about this:
Atheism – God does not exist Pantheism – everything that exists is God
Atheists – “there is no supernatural world” Pantheists – “the natural world is supernal”
You see the point I’m trying to make here is that they are not incongruent… but rather, two sides of the SAME coin. We are all looking at the same Universe, Atheists and Pantheists alike… we simply have different attitudes about the same natural world. I’ve often thought about taking the “theism” out of Biopantheism and replacing it with something else more accurate. Luckily, there is the shortened form and abbreviation, “Biopan” so there never has to be any confusion over whether or not we are Theists on some level.
As I’ve already stated, the fundamental differences between Atheism and Pantheism are as follows:
Atheism – there is no divinity, there is no God Pantheism – all things are divine, everything is God
This^ raises an important question however- how do we define divinity? I think the problem is that most of society have a false concept of what “God” is, therefore they either reject it outright (as Atheists do), or they embrace a comforting fable (as Christians and Theists do). And sadly, both of these extremes are equally uninformed and lacking in terms of true perspective and awareness. It begs the question: is there a place for the spiritual in Pantheism? Well, it all depends on how you define “spiritual.” (please see my separate article about True Spirituality)*
To the Atheist or strict scientific materialist who would reject these notions based on the idea that the Universe is indifferent and nothing more than a vast cosmic vacuum, in which we are the lucky ones who, by blind chance and random coincidence ended up being alive, I must say… if you value things based on their relative size and scale, or the length of time an individual manifestation of Life exists, than yes… it all seems meaningless and very random.
But, if you see all of Life as part of a gigantic, unfathomable Whole, that is gaining knowledge through the subjective experience of each and every Life form, then the paradigm drastically changes. By the way, if I seem to personify the laws of Nature, I am only doing so to convey a specific and particular point, and it should be known by all that I DO NOT believe (as Panpsychists and some New Agers do), that the Cosmos is in any way conscious on Its own or aware in a human sense (although technically, it IS aware in a strictly human sense). I will explain more on this later.
No, I would not support thinking of It in a way that would imply that It currently has a mind, a will, cognitive abilities or volition, etc. Again, just so there’s no confusion, let me state for the record that I DO NOT believe in a conscious, sentient deity. Obviously not, because that would be Theism or Deism or perhaps even Panentheism. No, what I believe in is exactly what I see—what is observable, testable and verifiable, through science, biology and cosmology.
If you are hung up on the language I’ve used please, don’t think of it in anthropomorphic terms (or do, if you need to), but either way, just ask yourself: what does the Universe want? And specifically, what does It want in terms of Life? Well, if we were to ask the question and try to extrapolate an answer, all we need do is look at what the Universe has done. For 13.8 billion years what has It done? Self-organized, coalesced into pockets of energy-matter, gathered together and formed Life.
That Life has evolved and adapted on this planet and no doubt countless others throughout the galaxies (not steadily in linear fashion mind you, but consistently nonetheless). You can see how Life has become more and more self-aware and complex by studying evolutionary biology. What does this tell you? Nothing is random when it comes to existence, nothing is by accident.
Cosmic forces are all at play and they bring about, no matter how long it takes, the same results—gravity and electromagnetism, nuclear fusion and atomic energy, all work to produce the habitats and environments where Life can emerge and evolve. This is simply what has happened, it’s not theory or speculation. So, all I’m doing is answering the philosophical question: “why?”
The Universe does not have a conscious mind like ours, no… but there is an inherent programming within It that must have come from somewhere… a.k.a. the “Laws” of Nature, that act as a kind of latent ‘will.’ As an ex-Christian turned Anti-theist and Atheist, then Agnostic, then Pantheist, who’s talked to hundreds of people just in the last two years as I’ve been developing my philosophy, I can most assuredly tell you, yes… there is a significant need out there for some form of rational, science-based alternative.
Religion leaves a gigantic hole inside of a person and although you are much better off not taking Bronze Age mythology literally or living your life consumed by delusions, many feel hopeless, disillusioned or lost. Many more simply turn to something else to satisfy their longings and more still will just become reactionary and oppose and combat the religious systems that wounded them—hence you have all the “Angry Atheists” who vehemently reject anything that sounds even remotely spiritual.
I do not fault them for this. Atheists have a lot of reason to be angry against mainstream religion. But there comes a time when you eventually stop being angry and desire to really find out what IS true about the world and where the deeper meaning is to be found. And yet, they make the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bathwater and they do not realize that by swinging to this polar opposite position they do themselves and others more harm than good.
There is a balance to be found between faith and fact, between religion and science… and it is philosophy—and particularly, a Biocentric, Nature-based philosophy like Pantheism. I’m not trying to ‘convert’ anyone here, I’m just sharing information and trying to stimulate new patterns of thought. If you’re hung up on labels, consider: You don’t have to call yourself a Pantheist. Just as you don’t have to necessarily call yourself an Atheist. As Dawkins says: we don’t call ourselves, “A-leprechaunists” or “A-goblinists” but we are, aren’t we? Eventually, Atheism will just be the norm and there will be no need for a superfluous title.
Notwithstanding, we have much in common with Atheists. Much more so than we do with Theists. We are after all, non-believers of a kind… just like Atheists, we are non-believers in the Theistic religions, non-believers in traditional spirituality, etc. We reject supernaturalism and every god and goddess ever invented by mankind. So, a good way to look at it is we are non-believers in supernaturalism, non-believers in the Abrahamic faiths, etc. We are all Atheists when it comes to the Abrahamic faiths, are we not?
This is what we have in common, now let me tell you where Atheists and Pantheists differ. Instead of abandoning spirituality outright, we have redefined spirituality by embracing the natural world and the extraordinary qualities of existence Itself. Not superstition, pseudoscience or mysticism, but a heightened awareness of the experience of being a unique manifestation of Nature. According to the Biopan perspective, the nature of the Universe is exactly what science tells us it is—that energy cannot be created or destroyed… that is to say, Omnia has always existed in some form or another.
What we call the physical Universe of course had a beginning, roughly 13.8 billion years ago, so if you wanted to, you could call that the “moment of creation” but this was just the transition of everything that already existed before the Big Bang (pure potential energy) into the dynamic, kinetic energy we see today… which, when vibrating at a slower frequency and a heavier density, appears to us as solid objects and physical matter.
What I’m trying to promote is a deeper appreciation for Nature and REALITY, not some mythical concept, but an expanded understanding of the natural world and our place within it. Consequently, Biopan doesn’t espouse or promote the worship of ANYTHING (even the Omnia), only the respect, reverence, consideration, appreciation and acknowledgement of all Life and the natural forces at work in the Universe.
Humility and gratitude are both salubrious and life-extending… and in my opinion, constitute the healthiest natural state we can ever hope to achieve and something that I think we should all try to cultivate, foster and maintain. Most people I talk to cannot grasp this, for whenever I talk to them about my views it quickly becomes clear that they really don’t understand anything about Pantheism.
A bit of background information about me… as anyone who knows me will testify, I’ve also experienced the same existential sadness and sense of disillusionment that others suffer when they come out of religion. Likewise, I’ve also spent a great deal of time having counseled several others who were experiencing similar distress as they were trying to de-program themselves and undo the harmful indoctrination that they’ve been subjected to…
And this is part of the reason why I support and uphold Pantheism as a healthy, rational, science-based alternative, because it simultaneously fulfills all of the needs religions address and provides real and legitimate solutions to all of the ultimate questions they have historically attempted to answer.
We are All Atheists:
We’re ALL Atheists when it comes to the traditional, anthropomorphic, Monotheistic/Polytheistic concepts of God. We’re all Atheists when it comes to every other man-made religion that has ever existed in the history of the world. The only “god” we believe in and acknowledge, is Nature.
On the opposite spectrum, some Pantheists would deny this in order to distance themselves from what they perceive as Atheism, but consider: If you are a Pantheist, do you believe in Jehovah of the Old Testament? What about Thor of the Nordic traditions? Apollo, Allah, Zeus, Osiris, Yahweh, Ra, Krishna, Vishnu, Tammuz, Enki, Jesus, Moloch, Mithra, Ahura Mazda or Quetzalcoatl? Do you believe in any of these gods? And I don’t mean in terms of concepts or psychological human constructs (of course they exist and have existed in the minds of humans!) I mean do you LITERALLY believe any of these gods exist? If the answer is “no” then in this sense, you ARE an Atheist. That’s what I mean.
As Pantheists, we are of course Atheistic when it comes to the Abrahamic faiths… as well as every other man-made god or goddess that all of the world’s religions have conceived of historically and presently. Atheists are really only a few steps away from being Pantheists, they just have a different perspective on the Universe. Some may view it much more negatively, with even a nihilistic attitude when it comes to the seeming indifference and apathy of Nature.
If you tell a hard Atheist “the Universe is my god” they may look at you strangely, but they cannot deny It exists. They may not understand why you see It as divine, but that’s about it. All you have to do is explain things to them and physically demonstrate how It meets all of the criteria of divinity and they should be able to comprehend it.
On the other hand, most Atheists don’t really understand the current definition of “Atheism”, i.e. they think that Atheism should include every and all concepts of god, which it does, but Pantheism posits an entirely different kind of divinity. Just like Theists, most Atheists have an anthropomorphic view of God. Meaning, they see It as a literal, living being… which It is, to some extent (an interconnected, interrelated, autonomous, self-organizing system), but they haven’t done the heavy thinking that I and others have, when it comes to Pantheism, so they get hung up on the Theistic concepts that are so prevalent and popular in our world.
The Universe IS divine to be sure, but it is not conscious or coherent in any way right now and It has no cognitive intelligence as a cohesive entity would. And even within the Pantheist community, there really is no argument here—of course It’s not conscious, otherwise there would be no evil in the world, no pain and suffering, etc. No, the Omnia is suffering as we suffer, experiencing everything that we experience, because we are It and It is us. Atheism is simply the rejection of traditional gods and goddesses, the rejection of supernaturalism, etc. In this sense, we are in agreement. No supernatural world exists—it’s ALL natural.
Then there is of course the view that all of the Cosmos is pure consciousness, merely seeking to experience as much as possible and is therefore indifferent to suffering, pain and the like. Many of the New Age crowd hold this view, as do many Pantheists as well. But this just proves my point about the lack of cohesion and unity in the Pan community. There are SO many conflicting ideas. Some people see nothing wrong with this and would argue that Pantheism is just a broad statement about the nature of the Universe and the details are left up to the individual to sort out.
I disagree… and this is part of the reason I developed Biopan—to codify and establish an ‘official’ position, because without any organization or coherence, it can never become a real movement. Of course theories will vary, but there’s one thing that cannot be denied… our shared biology and the primacy of living organisms and their welfare—and THAT, is the glue that binds us all together… Atheist, Humanist, Agnostic and Pantheist alike. Let us hold fast to this one overarching, fundamental truth– there is no ‘God’ but Nature is certainly god-like, immanent, pervasive and all-encompassing.