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Weak and strong atheism

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For a broader treatment see atheism

Strong atheism is the belief that deities do not exist, while weak atheism is the absence of belief in deities, not belief that deities don't exist.

Strong atheists are necessarily explicit atheists: they consciously reject theism. Weak atheists, however can be either explicit or implicit atheists. Implicit atheists don't have theistic beliefs, but they have not consciously rejected those beliefs (possibly because they haven't heard of them). Some people consider infants to be implicit atheists (and therefore weak atheists); others maintain that to be considered any kind of an atheist, one must be old enough, (and otherwise have the mental capacity) to be able to believe or disbelieve in gods if the idea of gods should be presented.

Agnosticism is distinct from weak atheism, though most weak atheists may be agnostics, and most agnostics may be weak atheists.


While the terms weak and strong are relatively recent, the concepts they represent have been in use for some time. In earlier philosophical publications, the terms negative atheism and positive atheism were more common; these terms were used by Antony Flew in 1972, although Jacques Maritain (1953, Chapter 8, p.104) used the phrases in a similar, but strictly Catholic apologist, context as early as 1949.[1]

The strong and weak names did not come into common usage until the early 1990s, their popularization assisted by their common usage in the alt.atheism Usenet group at the time. They are now the most commonly-used terms for the concepts in question, though by a relatively small margin—positive/negative atheism and hard/soft atheism are also common.

Weak atheismEdit

Weak atheism (also called negative atheism) is the absence of belief in the existence of deities, without the belief that deities are non-existent. Weak atheism contrasts with strong atheism, which is the belief that no deities exist, and with theism, which is the belief that there is at least one deity. Weak atheism may either be a form of explicit atheism, that is, a conscious rejection of belief in deities, or implicit atheism, an absence of belief in deities without a conscious rejection of theism.

Restatement of the concept: Where theists believe that one or more deities exist and strong atheists believe that no gods exist, weak atheists hold neither belief.

Reasons for weak atheismEdit

Some weak atheists haven't thought about the matter at all (implicit atheists). Others (see apatheism) don't have opinions because they simply aren't interested in the subject. (This attitude was captured by Omar Khayyám in his verse, "Myself when young did eagerly frequent/ Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument/ About it and about: but evermore/ Came out of the same Door as in I went.") Other weak atheists are interested in the subject, but have found the arguments of theists and strong atheists to be unpersuasive. One thinks of Wittgenstein's famous dictum, "Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must remain silent."

Some weak atheists feel that theism and strong atheism are equally untenable, arguing that if neither belief is proven, then both are based on faith. Until one side or the other meets the burden of proof, these weak atheists would argue, neither side's argument should be assented to.

Weak atheists often argue that theirs is the default position: every person is born without belief in the existence or nonexistence of deities. Further, they argue, nobody should change from that default position in the absense of persuasive evidence.

Strong atheismEdit

Strong atheism is the belief that no deity exists. It is a form of explicit atheism, meaning that strong atheists consciously reject theism. It is contrasted with weak atheism, which is the absence of belief in deities, without the belief that deities do not exist. The strong atheist believes, at the very least, that no deities exist, and may further believe that the existence of certain deities is logically impossible.

Self-described "strong atheists" commonly hold a naturalistic worldview, rejecting belief in supernatural entities or processes in general. However, spiritual or supernatural beliefs would not preclude someone from being a strong atheist, or from being an atheist in general; although there may be a correlation with other beliefs, the term atheism itself only reflects beliefs regarding deities.

Reasons for strong atheismEdit

Main article: Existence of God

Strong atheism may be based on arguments that a deity's alleged attributes are logically self-contradictory and therefore impossible, and that, therefore, the existence of the God is a priori impossible. Strong atheists may also point to aspects of the world that they say are inconsistent with the a god's existence. (For instance, disease might be said to be inconsistent with the existence of a benevolent god. Or quantum uncertainty might be seen as inconsistent with the existence of an omniscient god.)

Some strong atheists, sometimes called antitheists or militant atheists, oppose theism because of the harms of particular theistic beliefs and/or of supernatural beliefs in general. Some may be strong atheists because of their negative view on the effects of theism, while others may be the opposite—atheists who adopted antitheism because they had already rejected theism and were now focusing their philosophical attacks upon the belief system.

Common motivations for antitheism include the view that theism has caused much harm, for example by causing wars and violent attacks (see religious war and religious terrorism); and the view that theism, by providing false explanations, obstructs a true and accurate understanding of the universe and its works.

See alsoEdit


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  1. Maritain, Jacques (July 1949). On the Meaning of Contemporary Atheism. The Review of Politics 11 (3): 267-280.

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