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Weak and strong atheism

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It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Implicit and explicit atheism. (Discuss)

A chart showing the relationship between the definitions of weak/strong and implicit/explicit atheism. Strong (or positive) atheists explicitly deny the existence of deities. Weak (or negative) atheists include implicit atheists (those who have thought little, or not at all, about gods) and those who explicitly eschew belief in deities without asserting deities do not exist.

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Strong atheism is a term popularly used to describe atheists who claim the statement "There is at least one god" is false. Weak atheism refers to any other type of non-theism, wherein a person does not believe any deities exist, but does not claim that same statement is false.

Historically, the terms positive and negative atheism have been used for this distinction, where "positive" atheism refers to the specific belief that gods do not exist, and "negative" atheism refers merely to an absence of belief in gods.[1] Because of flexibility in the term "god", it is understood that a person could be a strong atheist in terms of certain conceptions of God, while remaining a weak atheist in terms of others.[dubious ]

The "strong" vs. "weak" distinction did not come into common usage until the early 1990s. The terms negative atheism and positive atheism were used by Antony Flew in 1972, although Jacques Maritain used the phrases in a similar, but strictly Catholic apologist, context as early as 1949.[2]

The distinction between strong and weak atheism is one of several applied to beliefs about the existence or nonexistence of gods. It is similar in ways to the popularly held conception of "atheists" and "agnostics," in which atheism has generally been considered an active disbelief in gods, except by starting instead with the broader definition of atheism which includes any absence of belief in gods and thus encompasses some forms of agnosticism (see agnostic atheism). Accordingly, the division between "strong" and "weak" atheism functions to separate atheism as a disbelief in gods from forms of atheism that fall short of this, and which could simultaneously be characterized as agnosticism. The validity of this categorisation is disputed, however, and a few prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins avoid it. In The God Delusion Dawkins describes people for whom the probability of the existence of God is between "very high" and "very low" as "agnostic" and reserves the term "strong atheist" for "I know there is no god". He categorises himself as a "de facto atheist" but not a "strong atheist" under this definition.[3]

Within negative or weak atheism, philosopher Anthony Kenny further distinguishes between agnostics, who find the claim "God exists" uncertain, and theological noncognitivists, who consider all talk of gods to be meaningless.[4]

Strong and weak atheism are compared as well to the philosopher George Smith's less-well-known categories of implicit and explicit atheism, also relating to whether an individual holds a specific view that gods do not exist. However, the original and technical meanings of implicit and explicit atheism are distinct from weak and strong atheism in having to do with conscious rejection and unconscious rejection of theism rather than with positive belief and negative belief.


  1. Martin, Michael (1990). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Temple University Press, pg. 281. ISBN 0877229430
  2. Maritain, Jacques (July 1949). "On the Meaning of Contemporary Atheism". The Review of Politics 11 (3): 267–280. 
  3. The God Delusion pp50-51
  4. Kenny, Anthony (2006). "Worshipping an Unknown God". Ratio 19 (4): 442. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9329.2006.00339.x. 

See also

ca:Ateisme fortpt:Ateísmo cético

pt:Ateísmo forte sh:Slab i jak ateizam fi:Positiivinen ja negatiivinen ateismi

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