Talk:Negative and positive atheism

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Proposal for deletion[edit]

  • The article is confusing and convoluted.
  • The verbose explanation of the gratuitous Venn diagram is longer than the diagram itself.
  • Noteworthy for a full article? See below.
  • Above all; unnecessary: There is already a section for “positive/negative” atheism in Atheism#Positive_vs._negative — which has more references in a clear, well-thought out, and appropriately brief, set of paragraphs.

Chrisdone (talk) 13:26, 2 June 2011 (UTC)


Many errors have crept in. The first step is to try to improve the article. This article goes into details that the 2 paragraphs in Atheism#Positive_vs._negative do not cover. The caption for the diagram is also long in the atheism article. A picture may be worth a 1000 words - in this case some extensive words are needed to explain the "picture"--JimWae (talk) 20:10, 2 June 2011 (UTC)
I see nothing in WP:DEL#REASON that applies & have removed the template. --JimWae (talk) 20:44, 2 June 2011 (UTC)

What does Dawkins have to do with this?[edit]

I mean, I know he's a prominent atheist and all, but do we really need "this is what Dawkins thinks of this" on every single Wiki atheism page? Unless he has something specific and pertinent to say, merely pointing out this almost random person's point of view on the subject seems unnecessary. Consider removing it. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 99.139.75.240 (talk) 19:47, 10 November 2009 (UTC)

Completer rewrite[edit]

I haven't heard anything for a few days, so I jumped in and did a complete rewrite of the article, keeping some sections largely intact, borrowing material from other sections, and completely changing other parts. I think the article has an entirely new flavor now, one which I'm for the most part pleased with, but I have some concerns.

My most severe concern is the lack of sources. Although I've sprinkled sources around in various places, there are still many parts that seem to qualify as original research, and even some of the sourced parts seem to be using the sources merely as "reference text" for original research.

I'd appreciate it if everyone could take a hard look at this article and see what claims I've made that are simply unsupportable without external sources. That material can either be removed or, preferably, we can find sources to support it. (I've unfortunately been unable to.)

Also, while I think I've managed to condense what I've learned from the discussion on this talk page into an article that is mostly uninflammatory, I realize that that of course may not be the case. If you see any claims I've made that seem to be misleading or downright incorrect, please flag those as well, either by changing them directly or through discussion here. I think I've managed to make only fairly benign claims that don't seem to be hotly debated, but I suppose we'll see!

Thanks again all. --Dlugar 05:53, 8 January 2007 (UTC)

P.S. Any chance of archiving some of the old talk page material? I assume my changes will spark plenty of new discussion, and I'm getting kind of tired of wading through the pages and pages already here.

Recent edits[edit]

I have some comments about some of the recent edits here.

  • god vs God

Capitalized "God" typically refers to a Supreme Being (not necessarily Jehovah), and seems to be most commonly what is referred to when discussing weak and strong atheism. Most people do not seem to include minor deities or the like when discussing the division; if they did, the article would more properly state "gods do not exist", which I think is not a very common way of expressing the concept. I'd prefer to revert back to using the capitalized "God", but want to hear what others think.

I've always heard that God is capitalized when it is the Christian god, and otherwise not. I think NPOV requires us not to capitalize unless specifically referring to Jehovah. Otherwise, we will seem to suggest that if there is a god, that god is probably Jehovah. Wiploc 05:33, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
The God article disagrees with you. In any case, I don't see any POV issue here. Rather, I think we should decide whether [T] for purposes of this article will be "all gods" or "God" (some supreme being). I think the latter is far more commonly seen, so using it exclusively with a note that some atheists disbelieve in "all gods" is, IMO, sufficient.--Dlugar 05:48, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
I think the God article supports me: "Because the development of English orthography was dominated by Christian texts, the capitalization (hence personalization and personal name) continues to represent a distinction between monotheistic "God" and the "gods" of pagan polytheism. <paragraph>"The name "God" now typically refers to the Abrahamic God of Judaism (El (god) YHVH), Christianity (God), and Islam (Allah)." If we capitalize, we are taking sides. If we don't capitalize we are neutral.
You have persuaded me on the constistency issue. I think "god" is neater, easier to read and conprehend, than "all gods," but I am against capitalizing. Wiploc 06:19, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
Let's see if anyone else weighs in on the subject. I'm not particularly torn either way, as long as we're consistent. (Many of the other atheism articles use "God" at least in some cases as well, but are not consistent.) --Dlugar 06:42, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
  • those who believe that God's existence is supremely unlikely
  • those who implicitly do not believe that God exists

These were removed from the "weak atheist" section. Is there some debate that these are weak atheists? Also, I think the change to the paragraph below re-introduces the very ambiguity that I sought to erase.

I didn't remove the implicit atheists. I combined the two references. Instead of having two lines, one about those who have never been introduced to the concept of God and another about implicit atheists, I combined them: "those who have never been introduced to the concept of God (implicit atheists)" Wiploc 05:31, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
As for those who believe that god is supremely unlikely, they are going to believe that god doesn't exist, right? If not right, if we are going to include such people, then in fairness we should also include those at the opposite extreme, those who think god extremely likely. While it is conceivable that there could be weak atheists like that, "Yes, it's likely that god exists, supremely likely, more likely than water running downhill, but I still haven't formed an opinion based on that likelihood," it will only confuse people if we mention such uncharacterisic people here. Wiploc 05:31, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
I agree that including uncharacteristic people here will confuse people, which is why I explictly included "People who believe that God's existence is supremely unlikely." The only self-describing weak atheists I have seen fall into this category, not any of the other categories. Hence I feel it is important to emphasize that category in this article rather than remove it completely. --Dlugar 05:51, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
Here's a link http://iidb.org/vbb/showthread.php?t=191844 to where I've been trying to rustle up some regular weak atheists for you. The showing isn't as good as I'd hoped, but there are some there. The poll says there are thirteen, for what that's worth. Wiploc 06:26, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
To make it clear, I don't disagree that weak atheists are "who believe neither that god does exist nor that god doesn't exist". I agree that that's pretty much the definition of "weak atheist". Rather, I'm looking for someone who self-describes as a weak atheist who doesn't believe that "the existence of a God of any sort is highly improbable", as your first responder says. (The same category that you removed completely from the article.) --Dlugar 06:42, 9 January 2007 (UTC)

Similarly, changing the wording in the Strong Atheist paragraph seems to also re-introduce some ambiguity. (The phrase "The only requirement is to believe that god does not exist", while technically correct, might be misread as some as "... is to not believe that god exists".)

Anyone care to discuss? --Dlugar 05:06, 9 January 2007 (UTC)

How would you feel about, "...is to believe that god is nonexistent"? Wiploc 05:32, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
What's wrong with the original: explictly accept as true the proposition "God does not exist".? It's unambiguous, straightforward and to the point, and much less likely to be misunderstood. I think "...is to believe that god is nonexistent" is subject to the same misunderstandings that "believe that god does not exist" is. --Dlugar 05:54, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
I think the original is clunky, pointlessly hard to read. But it isn't wrong, so you can go ahead with it. If you want to compromise, you can kill the word "explicitly," which, in addition to making the sentence harder to read, may suggest to some people that it would be possible to implicitly accept that proposition. Wiploc 06:37, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
I agree that the "explicitly" was unnecessary. However, I feel like setting off the proposition with quotes is important to help reduce misunderstandings. Went ahead and made the change. --Dlugar 07:00, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
I'd like to kill these lines too:
  1. those who believe that it is impossible to know whether or not God exists (strong agnostics)
  2. those who haven't made up their minds."
I don't like them at all, but I much prefer them separate than combined in such a way as to suggest that gnostic strong atheists are irrational. Wiploc 05:39, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
I'm confused as to what you're saying here. Did you really mean to refer to "gnostic strong atheists" or is that a typo? If it's not a typo, I'm not sure how it relates to the agnostic weak atheists in the above two lines (nor why you don't like listing them).--Dlugar 05:55, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
Criminelly! Forget everything I said. These are the two lines I want to kill:
  1. people who would change their belief based on new evidence
  2. people who would not change their belief regardless of new evidence
I apologize for the screw-up. Wiploc 06:42, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
No problem. Suddenly what you said makes a lot more sense! :-)
I agree that this is a little clunky, but the point I'm trying to make here is that although some strong atheists might be "irrational" (in the sense that they would refuse to change their minds even when presented with evidence that a more impartial third-party might accept), that isn't necessary to be a strong atheist. You can be a strong atheist, even a gnostic strong atheist, and still accept the fact that there's an infinitesmal chance that God might really exist. (And, of course, you can also be a strong atheist because you believe you can logically prove that God doesn't exist, hence also no evidence would sway you, but I think that's a third category, and different from the one I think both of us would say is "irrational".)
Any ideas for trying to get that point across while not going too far in the other direction? --Dlugar 07:00, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
Why do you want to tag the strong atheists as possibly irrational? Why not the weak atheists or theists? Wiploc 19:55, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
My intention isn't to tag the strong atheists as possibly irrational. What I see as a common misunderstanding is that all strong atheists are "irrational" in the sense that no amount of evidence could sway them. This is certainly not the case--as Silence mentions below, you can be a strong atheist and still not be 100% sure. However, I don't know how to call attention to this subset of strong atheist (probably the most common?) without differentiating it from the "no evidence can alter my position" subset (probably not very common). --Dlugar 22:42, 9 January 2007 (UTC)

Also, this edit completely changes the meaning of this paragraph, again implying that a weak atheist is the exact equivalent of an agnostic.

Furthermore, it removes one of the few references that I was able to find for this article. The reference is one of the only non-personal-web-page articlesthat I was able to find addressing the difference between strong and weak atheism. The article stated that explicit atheism and strong atheism are identical, and likewise implicit atheism and weak atheism.

I felt that I was cheating a bit by saying that this was not the only position to take (without having references to the contrary). This recent edit goes to the complete other extreme, denying that the position exists at all without providing any references to the contrary, and deleting the reference to the position. I will definitely revert this edit without seeing some sort of reference, or at least discussion. --Dlugar 05:43, 9 January 2007 (UTC)

"Agnostic" has two meanings. It can refer to the fence sitters who believe neither that god exists nor that he doesn't. It can also, as Huxley intended, refer to people who don't know whether or not god exists. In the old nomenclature, the theist/agnostic/atheist system, the word agnostic was ambiguous; it carried both meanings, and you had to guess which meaning was intended at any given time. The new nomenclature, the theist/weak atheist/strong atheist system, the word "agnostic" only carries one of those meanings, because "weak atheist" carries the other. So it is true that that "weak atheist" for some people carries the same meaning as "agnostic" for other people.
I understand very well the two meanings of agnostics. (I, incidentally, prefer the original meaning.) However, I have never seen any self-describing "weak atheist" who sees the term "weak atheist" as identical to either meaning of "agnostic". I've never seen an instance of someone saying, "I'm a weak atheist" to mean "I'm a fence-sitter" or even, as you mention below, "I'm not sure whether God exists". In every single instance, it's more like, "I'm a weak atheist because, even though the existence of God is really unlikely, I don't want to go out on a limb and explicitly say he doesn't exist."--Dlugar 06:23, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
I don't think I changed the meaning of the paragraph, aside from deleting the reference to the confused guy at about.com. Weak and strong atheism are distinct concepts. The fact that somebody says he can't tell them apart doesn't mean they are aren't distinct. There may be people who can't tell zebras from gorillas, but we wouldn't put them in an encyclopedia under "Zebra."
You might if he was the most reliable source you could find talking about zebras and gorillas!
These sources that contradict him seem as reliable as he does:
Weak atheism is the sceptical "default position" to take; it asserts nothing.[1]
"Atheism is commonly divided into 'weak' and 'strong.' Weak atheists have no faith, simply because the feeling is not there. Strong atheists conclude, from existing evidence and arguments, that gods do not exist." (Winston 2004, p. 299)[2]
In recent years, some atheists have adopted the terms strong and weak atheism to clarify whether they consider their stance one of positive belief (strong atheism) or the mere absence of belief (weak atheism).[3]
The Presumption of Weak Atheism
Some weak atheists argue that atheism is the default position because he who asserts must prove. Theists make the positive claim that God exists. Weak atheists do not make the positive claim that God does not exist, but merely withhold their assent from the theists’ claim that God does exist.[4]
Someone who doesn’t have an opinion about religion, having never really thought about it, lacks belief in God and is therefore a weak atheist.[5]
One who does not believe in god. This is not the same as saying that god does not exist. This is often what agnostic is treated as meaning.
Essentially, it is not asserting any belief. You're not claiming anything about the existence of any gods, just that you have no reason to act as if they exist.[6]
Weak Atheism
The weak atheist position does not need a justification - it is the default position. One should not accept a position unless there is some rational reason for supposing it true. For a weak atheist it is sufficient to say: "I don't know what a god is", or "I have never heard of a god". Unless theism can be proved in some way, the weak atheist position is the preferred position. This is often confused with agnosticism.[7]
Weak atheism is a negation: "I don't believe that it is true that god exists"
Strong atheism is a positive claim: "I believe that it is true that god does not exist"
Most people don't know this, and weak atheists often call themselves agnostics,[8]
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.
Weak atheism
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.[9]
"weak" atheist:
I am now an atheist, as I see no solid proof of the existence of any gods. I do not even need any deities in my life right now, though if any were so inclined to reveal themselves to me, they would find someone receptive to real, solid evidence, and not the sloppy apologetics I grew up with.[10][11]
Therefore, "strong" atheism is the belief that the statements "A deity exists" and "Deities exist" are false statements, while "weak" atheism is the simple absence of a god belief for whatever reason (including having never heard a god claim).[12]
The weak atheist may say, “I’m not sure whether gods exist so I don’t worship any. “ The strong atheist comments: “There is no god.”[13]
Weak Atheism
A weak atheist is someone who lacks theistic belief, without the positive assertion that deities do not exist. This may seem the same as implicit atheism, but there's one important difference: A weak atheist can have consciously rejected theism, but not adopted the viewpoint that deities definitively do not exist. Thus, all implicit atheists are weak atheists, but weak atheists can be either implicit or explicit atheists.[14] Wiploc 07:36, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
What the about.com author is saying is that all explicit atheists (those who consciously reject theist belief) are strong atheists.[15]
This article only talks about implicit weak atheists, and therefore doesn't contradict the about.com author.[16]
Same here. It only talks about weak atheism as the "absence of belief", "the feeling is not there", not a conscious rejection of theist belief. No contradiction.[17][18]
Someone who doesn't have an opinion about religion, having never really thought about it, is an implicit atheist--no conscious rejection of theist belief--no contradiction.[19]
Again doesn't address explicit atheists. No contradiction.[20]
Again implicit atheism. No contradiction.[21]
LOL, this is a copy of the Wikipedia article that I changed. We can hardly use this as a source.[22][23]
These two sources actually address the "explicit weak atheist". Unfortunately, they're both basically blog entries (the second looks like it may have used Wikipedia as a source), and I don't think we can use either as reliable references.--Dlugar 16:09, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
But in any case, I think you may have misunderstood what I was trying to convey with the original paragraph. Weak atheism is nearly identical to implicit atheism. Strong atheism is nearly identical to explicit atheism. The only difference is in a narrow subset of people who are explicitly atheist (they've made a "conscious rejection of theistic belief", according to Implicit_and_explicit_atheism), but who have phrased that conscious rejection in such a way that they fail to explicitly affirm the statement, "God does not exists".
Anybody who has heard about gods without coming to believe in them is an explicit atheist. That is, anyone who has been given the choice of whether or not to believe, anyone who has contemplated the issue, is an explicit atheist if an atheist at all. Anybody who has heard of god without becoming either a strong atheist or a theist is an explicit weak atheist. So that is not a "narrow subset." Wiploc 07:36, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
Examine the two examples of explicit atheists in the explicit atheism article:
a) the view usually expressed by the statement "I do not believe in the existence of a god or supernatural being"
b) the view usually expressed by the statement "God does not exist" or "the existence of God is impossible"
(a) would be a weak atheist, while (b) would be a strong atheist.
(a) is ambiguous. It could be weak or strong, because it could mean, "I believe that god does not exist." But if it doesn't mean that, if it just means the person is an atheist, then it still doesn't specify what kind of atheist, whether weak or strong. Every person who can say (b) can say (a). Wiploc 07:36, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
Some people group (a) with the strong atheists rather than with the weak atheists, thus making the two classifications identical.
Of course they will, because some people will read, "I don't belive," as meaning, "I believe it is not true."
The about.com article writer appears to be in this camp. Until that reference becomes one of the least reliable sources in this article, I am reinstating his opinion, incorrect though it may be. It's certainly a prominent enough opinion to at least get a mention.--Dlugar 06:35, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
I'll get back to you with more references. Wiploc 07:36, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
Change of topic: Under "Common Misconceptions," the headline, "Weak atheists aren't sure whether god exists." That sounds closer to a definition than a misconception. And yet the material below it is good. How would you feel about changing the headline to, say, "Weak atheists are unsure, confused, or afraid to take a position." That's really rough, but you get the idea. Wiploc 06:09, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
I disagree that weak atheists aren't sure whether God exists. At least as used colloquially, "aren't sure" means something different from "99% sure". A weak atheist can be 99% sure that God doesn't exist, so I think it is a misconception to say that a weak atheist must necessarily be "not sure whether god exists".--Dlugar 06:35, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
I don't know what to say to this. You think weak atheists are sure that god doesn't exist? If so, you think they are strong atheists. You shouldn't be writing the article if you can't tell them apart. Wiploc 07:36, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
What I'm saying is that while, from a strictly logical position, "X is not sure about Y" means exactly the same thing as "It is not the case that X is sure about Y", that is not how the phrase is typically understood.
In other words, "Bob is not sure whether God exists" and "Bob is 99% sure that God doesn't exist" don't, from a strictly logical perspective, contradict each other. However, from a "common usage" perspective, I think that they do give the appearance of contradiction.
In any case, I certainly don't think that all weak atheists are 99% sure that God doesn't exist, but I think a significant majority of self-describing weak atheists are. Hence, I see "Weak atheists aren't sure whether God exists" to be a misconception of weak atheists. (Just like I think, "Strong atheists are 100% sure that God doesn't exist" to be a misconception of strong atheists. Certainly some strong atheists fall into that category, but not all of them.) --Dlugar 22:42, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
Dlugar, strong atheism doesn't mean being 100% sure that God doesn't exist; it simply means having the belief that God doesn't exist. Belief exists every day without complete sureness; I believe that Santa Claus doesn't exist, for example, even though I'm uncertain of that and could very well be wrong. It is simply impractical to withhold belief on everything for which there is no certainty. -Silence 22:17, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
Silence, I'm well aware that strong atheism doesn't mean being 100% sure. That's one of the things I'm trying to highlight in my recent changes. In fact, I think it's a lamentable misunderstanding that I'm trying to correct by explicitly stating such in the article. --Dlugar 22:42, 9 January 2007 (UTC)
Dlugar, the semester's starting, so I have to bow out of this discussion. Wiploc 15:29, 10 January 2007 (UTC)

So am I a strong atheist or a weak atheist?[edit]

For weak atheism:

those who have made up their minds, deciding that the evidence doesn't warrant belief

For weak atheism:

those who believe that God does not exist based on current evidence
people who would change their belief based on new evidence

If somebody could develop a method of testing for such a deity, and repeated trials confirmed the possibility, and if from what I know, the method was valid and without confounds allowing for other explanations, then I would be inclined to change my mind.

I do not, however, believe that any scientifically valid method can test for such a deity,. And, as the studies purported to demonstrate the existance of certain manifestations of a deity, when I can find the details (which is rarely, I suspect for good reason), these tests generally appear to be unreliable or invalid.

Basically, I might believe it if were tested accurately and precisely, and would try to be open-minded in looking at such an experiment. I just don't think it's even remotely probable, based on my knowledge of the scientific method.

So am I a strong or a weak atheist? --71.192.116.43 22:55, 29 January 2007 (UTC)

It doesn't really matter. Strong and weak are largely silly distinctions. I hold precisely the same view as you do, and I describe myself as either a weak atheist or a strong atheist, depending on how people define those terms in different contexts. For example, many weak atheists believe that strong atheists are just atheists who are "certain" that deities don't exist; they consider strong atheism dogmatic, and consider it the opposite of theism, with weak atheism directly in the middle. (For the sake of clarity, a better term for referring to atheists who deny the possibility of deities existing is "closed atheism", not "strong atheism".) Many weak atheists, like theists, claim that because strong atheists make the positive claim that God does not exist, strong atheists have the burden of proof to disprove God, whereas weak atheism is the "default" position, simply skepticism of God's existence based on an absence of compelling evidence for theism. On the other hand, strong atheists view weak atheism as a "wishy-washy" position of undue indecision, and in some cases even as a hypocritical position, demonstrating a double-standard towards theological claims that does not exist for ordinary claims. Strong atheists, of course, do not view themselves as being "certain" that gods don't exist—that's just a myth. Rather, most of them view the absence of evidence for gods to be sufficient grounds not only for being skeptical of theistic claims, but for going so far as to make the positive assertion that no gods (probably) exist. They do not view this as shifting any of the burden of proof onto themselves, merely as taking the commonsensical position that it is perfectly acceptable to deny the existence of extraordinary entities which there is no evidence for—for example, we regularly deny the existence of Santa Claus, unicorns, and elves, yet such denial is not seen as constituting a shifting of the burden of proof. In practice, there is no real difference between "I don't believe that Santa Claus exists" and "I believe that Santa Claus doesn't exist"; the two phrases are semantically indistinguishable. The sharp distinction that some atheists have drawn between "I don't believe that God exists" and "I believe that God doesn't exist" is thus a largely artificial one, serving mainly to try to manipulate the framing of the theist-atheist debate (much like the redefining of atheism as negative rather than positive), not to elucidate genuine differences of opinion. In the end, it's all just semantics; most people who call themselves "strong atheists" couldn't be picked out from "weak atheists" in a crowd, and vice versa. What you believe has little to do with whether you happen to prefer to call yourself "strong" or "weak". -Silence 00:08, 30 January 2007 (UTC)
Thanks. I was asking that more rhetorically, as an indication that the dividing line ought be clearer. It sounds like this is one of those "I'm gonna try to categorize things so minutely that I can no longer make a clear distinction" issues which so many people (including, I confess, myself) seem to have. Or maybe it's just any issue with that "any logical system must be contradictory or incomplete" axiom that my father loves to quote. Any rate, thanks. I usually don't call myself anything with regards to religion so no matter.
~Luke (I really need to found myself a cult. . .) --71.192.116.43 04:02, 30 January 2007 (UTC)
~HPearce: The real disadvantage to being a positive atheist is that by claiming "god doesn't exist" one is admitting to knowing what god is and that one understands the concept. How else could one claim something didn't exist if one didn't know what that something is ? This admittance actually gives the theist a leg up in the debate by the atheist implictly admitting he knows what god is. HPearce (talk) 22:59, 23 November 2011 (UTC)
Wikpedia isn't a discussion forum, but I can't resist wondering exactly what "advantage" is granted to the theist if an atheist understands, or thinks they understand, what the theist are talking about when they talk about "God". I don't see how it's a "weaker" position. Anyway, don't answer that, I merely note the thought in encyclopedic and definitely-not-a-forum spirit. --Dannyno (talk) 22:11, 6 December 2011 (UTC)
From my understanding it is captured somewhat by this - with the noncognitivist position included under atheism it allows a change of language from 'believing that god(s) do not exist' to 'rejection of belief' - and a misreading of that allows the misapprehension that a simple 'lack of belief' suffices to claim the title of "atheist". I don't personally see what the advantage would be either, but apparently the blurring between agnosticism and atheism is seen as valuable by some - somewhat ironically this blurring seemed to originate from Christian apologetics such as Robert Flint when he wrote "Agnosticism" in 1903. At that time it seemed intended to try to throw agnosticism into disfavor while these days it seems more to make atheism less 'demanding'. unmi 00:18, 19 December 2011 (UTC)

Weak atheism and likelihood[edit]

From the "misconceptions" section:

"Weak atheists think the existence and non-existence of God are equally likely Again, while this may be true of some weak atheists, it is not a requirement. An individual can believe that one is vastly more likely than the other and still be a weak atheist."

But a paragraph later the article points out this exact state of belief, believing the lack of God to be vastly likelier than the existence of one, as a subset of strong atheism that isn't a faith-based position. Now, seeing as the whole point of this weak/strong dichotomy is that you can't be both, I changed this to say "An individual can believe one to be likelier than the other, but still not to what they see as a sufficient degree to warrant belief in either". --AceMyth 04:10, 16 February 2007 (UTC)

That's quite possibly one of the worst sentences I have ever read. --Dannyno 22:36, 16 February 2007 (UTC)
Oh, excuse me while I curl up in a corner and cry. That's what you get when you attempt to strip the fuzzy doublespeak from an article that seems to uphold the view that the definitions of "truth", "belief", "theory" and "likelihood" are completely subject to the whims of whoever wants to use them in any way they see fit. Thus you can apparently see something as "vastly more likely" than some other thing yet still fail to "accept" or "believe" it in any way because it is not absolutely certain. While Descartes' Demon points at you and laughs. --AceMyth 20:24, 18 February 2007 (UTC)
I don't think that is accurate. Sad mouse (talk) 19:28, 6 January 2008 (UTC)

Within the article "Implicit and Explicit Atheism" I find a discrepancy between the top-right diagram (including its caption) that describes strong and weak atheism and the section titled "Critical Atheism." The issue is that while strong atheists are defined as "[those] who explicitly deny the existence of deities", its subset, critical atheists includes, under George H. Smith's "type C", "the view which 'refuses to discuss the existence or nonexistence of a god' because 'the concept of a god is unintelligible.'" This definition of type C falls outside the domain of explicit denial of the existence of deities. Instead, type C seems to regard this as a question containing no useful meaning and, therefore, a non-question. Mstalcup (talk) 22:48, 26 July 2009 (UTC)

Weak Atheist vs. Mild Atheist[edit]

I've noticed that with regard to Agnosticism instead of using Strong/Weak to define the opposite extremes of the persuasion they use Strong/Mild. I like this much better and was wondering how others feel about this distinction. "Weak" seems to indicate a weakness of the individual, whereas "Mild" seems to be more of a commentary on the strength of their opinion on the matter. Also, "mild" in many instances can actually be a compliment, whereas "weak" is almost never a flattering adjective. Which would you rather be ... a mild athlete or weak athlete ... a mild intellectual or a weak intellectual ... a mild atheist or a weak atheist? Which is more accurate?

I think another thing that really bothers me about the "weak" nomenclature is that by definition "weak" is generally considered subjective and inferior to "strong". I think "strong" is a good adjective for those who are 100% confident in the non-existence of God, but that position does not make them superior to those who only believe it is unlikely that God exists. Davea0511 (talk) 15:16, 18 April 2008 (UTC)

As a tertiary source Wikipedia (WP) summarizes other reliable sources (RSes) - if "mild" replaces "weak" in RSes WP can then indicate that, but WP is not the place to make that change first. -- Jeandré, 2008-04-19t20:56z

The concept of "proof"- simplistic[edit]

I'm not happy with the way the atheists concept of "proof" is portrayed. No scientifically trained person would claim that it is possible to "prove" anything by means of inductive logic based on empirical observations. We are merely able to justify some degree of likelihood. Thus, the case for high likelihood of the existance of other people's minds can be made by pointing out their anatomical/physiological resemblance to oneself and to behavior that one recognize as indicators of consciousness based on ones own conscious experience. The same logic should be applied to the question of the existance of a theistic god-concept. We cannot demand proofs, but rather arguments for different degrees of likelihood. --217.68.116.150 (talk) 08:55, 18 April 2008 (UTC)Kolbjørn S. Brønnick

I have to disagree with you there. The term "likelihood" will get you laughed out of any scientific journal. For the purpose of maintaining objectivity the scientific method implicitly states that all knowledge is based on proofs. Every scientifically trained person bases all their work on that one principle. Although knowledge as defined by the scientific method changes over time that does not mean that proofs are irrelevant or faulty, it merely means exactly that knowledge changes over time as new proofs emerge. The scientific method is not an exercise in likelihood. It's a method to determine discretely whether a hypothesis or a tenet of large hypothesis is true.
Here's why you have to do it that way: "likelihood" cannot be measured or quantified in any way. "Likelihood" is intrinsically a subjectively perceived value. So in the common pursuit of truth we must break things down into hypotheses which are either true, false, or unknown, and you use proofs to make that determination for each hypothesis. If a hypothesis has more proofs than a competing hypothesis one might consider it more likely to be valid, but still that's a largely subjective analysis - and subjectivity is not allowed in the scientific community.
In the discussion of God it's easy to think proofs are worthless because the scientific method is so often wrangled (by both sides). There's however ample evidence that spiritual matters are a different animal than temporal matters, and so it's reasonable to hypothesize that the proofs used would be of a different nature than proofs used to determine the veracity of temporal matters. Call it "spiritual proof" if you may. Such a thing wouldn't be tangible though ... so for those unwilling to accept a spiritual manifestation, for them spiritual matters would indeed be unprovable to themselves. Davea0511 (talk) 15:01, 18 April 2008 (UTC)
I don't know which area of science or what kind of journals you are referring to, but most scientific studies I know are based on demonstrating a given hypothesis by statistical analysis of empirical data, and conclusions are drawn on probabilities. The word "likelihood" can be used to to mean any grey area of probability between plausible and statistically significant at some conventional value of p - it's a word you'll often find in the "Discussion" part of an original article. Granted, this doesn't have much to do with the likelihood of there being a discrete god entity or not, as this is immeasurable by scientific means - but so are many other phenomena. This is not an argument for the existence of a discrete god entity, but I agree with Kolbjørn that the "proof" argument alone is indeed simplistic, and unconvincing to anyone with an open mind on the matter. EDIT: However, I agree with the gist of Davea0511's final paragraph, if I have understood it correctly. DDWP (talk) 13:59, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
Yes, "laughed out" was a poor choice of phrases ... I should have said more like it's not considered professional to present "likelihood" as a quantifiable measurement when stating a conclusion in some Scientific Journals - another thing I should have more narrowly defined. In fact p-values are quantifiable measurements, but I see a p-val as an objective measurement and "likelihood" as a subjective one.
As with regard to which journals are more stringent in this regard I meant those dealing in esoteric or theoretical matters like theoretical physics, or in this case epistemology, where gooey terms like "likelihood" or even "probability" go against the whole goal of making the perceptions of a subject more concrete. I conceed that Journals of practical science (like ASME or Journal of Veterinary Science) where the concrete nature of the science is already firmly established are far more comfortable with jsut stating a probability and leaving an analysis largely open. Theoretical sciences however don't lend themselves to such conclussions, requiring 100% acceptance of all the tenets that make up a framework of scientific understanding that as a whole is in truth a product of all the confidences in the tenets.
As such, in theoretical frameworks, if each tenet is only considered as valid as the empirical data, and if those validations are at best within a confidence integral of 0.99, then a framework involving 100 of such tenets is only 0.99^100 or 37% probable. So the whole of scientific knowledge has to be built upon tenets within the framework that we consider to be immutable laws despite the fact that the validating data is on average maybe only 99% supportive - the scientific community exercises faith that the 1% gap that makes a law 1% improbable must be due to human error or hysteresis.
So in fact, this fact becomes a criticism of the way some atheist criticize the concept of faith, because we all (atheists included) exercise that faith (even it it's just 1%, faith is faith even when based on reason and probability) when we invest in the "establishment" of scientific knowledge, which "facts" are in fact based consensus and proofs that are really exercises in probability. Faith is a part of the knowledge frameworks on which mankind depends and considers immutable.
Perhaps Brønnick may have been sensing this problem when he said atheist concepts of "proof" were faulty, and in retrospect I'm not entirely confident that he was saying what I thought he said: that you can't conclude something is immutable, based on empirical data that is faulty at best - though that was what it sounded like he was saying.
Furthermore to his defense, I think Brønnick's argument may have some merit ... but that's because perhaps religious matters is more of a practical science rather than a theoretical science. As such, it makes more sense to consider the matter of religion as undecided. Fundamentally I think it works that way in that we are all practitioners and can establish within our own frameworks of understanding what we can firmly establish as being immutable, but that's on a very personal level, and as we expand the system of understanding beyond ourselves those tenets must necessarily accomodate the doubts of all parties involved and then it looses it's practical nature, and becomes more theoretical based on tenets that are accepted by all parties and so our treatment of the subject does have to change ... but that doesn't change the fact that all knowledge, public or private, is based on tenets that we consider immutable despite mounting improbabilities within parts of the system of knowledge.
I in fact, like the original poster, also think it's absurd that anyone say there is adequate proof to say there isn't a God (note: I make the same claims of the absurdity in scientifically proving theism in a public forum, but largely for different reasons), but that's not because I think proofs should only result in likelihoods rather than immutable tenets of belief. No, the reason I think claiming absolute proof one way or the other is because a data-based analysis is useless when the arguments on which that hypothesis hangs makes assumptions about God that are unknowable. For me such atheism arguments AND theism arguments are all non sequitur. Nobody can prove the mind, the will, nor the purpose of God, nor publically prove the accuracy or completeness of the popularly accepted literature that makes claims in those matters, and yet these are all assumptions about God on which such arguments for or against God are contingent.
Not to mention other arguments simply lack reason entirely such as: "Science proves he's not necessary for our existence - thus he doesn't exist" - committing an egregious lapse of logic - entirely avoiding the fact that proof of ability is not proof of act. Now this should be obvious to anyone yet this particular argument persists as a popular tenet in all atheist communities I've ever observed (usually combined with derision for those who fail to see the beauty in it). Evolution, as a science, seems to get almost religious support due almost entirely to this fundamentally-flawed argument. To be fair though, the argument is a reactive philosophy at best ... developed only as a counter-argument to the theists argument that God exists because of the complexity of the universe. Neither argument is very sound though, but when it's even suggested that evolution and God are not mutually exclusive, this suggeston is generally met with astonishment and outrageby both the atheist and theist community. To me the arguments of both sides are rendered moot by the fact that there is no reason why God couldn't be someone, perhaps even a perfect and divine being fully capable of doing all things, who simply put us in a place that evolved naturally according to laws of nature that we don't yet understand, be they "His" laws of nature, or merely laws with which he chooses to work.
In the end, it seems epistemology doesn't lend itself well to the academic processes utilized in the physical sciences. Other processes seem more suitable to prove the subject (see 1Cor 2) but such methods require an investment of faith to which atheist are intrinsically opposed. Regardless, Brønnick's assesment seems fair if employed within a personal framework of understanding but is unsuitable to create framework a community or society can adopt - that requires a system whereby immutable tenets can be agreed upon using levels of probability of phenamena as proof, exercising faith in light of the imperfections of the proof supporting your thesis, be you atheist or theist. One way or another as long as there are probabilities instead of absolutes faith is involved in whatever one chooses to believe.Davea0511 (talk) 10:12, 20 April 2010 (UTC)

Retitle?[edit]

Right now 'weak and strong'. This is not in alphabetical order, and furthermore, uses a newer definition. I think using 'negative and positive' would be better. Coincidentally, that is alphabetical order, while retaining the same topical order since weak=negative and strong=positive. I like this better because it is historical and more aptly describes this, with 'negative' being no assertion and 'positive' being an assertion. It refers to the sign of whether the atheism incorporates an assertion of knowledge, or is simply agnostic regarding it as weak/negative atheism is. I realize in either case though they can be seen as insulting, as 'negative' can be vieweed as pessimism or something just as positive can be compliment. So really, maybe a third pair of terms could be found that are more acceptable with less inferences?

Also, mentioned earlier in the talk page was explicit/implicit. I also believe gnostic/agnostic also represents this. I have seen people treating this as a separate concept, but they seem synonymous to me. Tyciol (talk) 03:28, 4 April 2009 (UTC)

Both terminologies, regardless of currency, stink. Nuances disappear when shorthand-jargon prevails. Who wants to be called "weak", "negative", or "dogmatic"? More NPOV, yet descriptive, terms would be neutral & assertive. Too bad they have little currency yet. Explicit/implicit is something different - implicit atheists do not realize they are atheists--JimWae (talk) 05:02, 4 April 2009 (UTC)
IT's surely not wikipedia's job to invent terminology. This article is about terminology that is found in the literature. It doesn't matter whether we like it or not. --Dannyno (talk) 12:13, 7 April 2009 (UTC)
You are correct: the Wikipedia, like any encyclopedia, is about how things are, not how some might want things to be. Whether we like it or not, current terms are "weak atheism" and "strong atheism." TechBear (talk) 14:12, 7 April 2009 (UTC)
I consider myself a source on this matter..I am an athiest. Have known it for 10 years now. I reject the notion of a weak or strong athiest. I never researched the Athiest topic until recently. I was surprised to learn there is 2 different classifications for athiests, weak and strong. I am sourcing myself here. You're either an athiest or not. You have a belief in a god or not. Some may feel undecided, and that may comfort them, but the choices are simple, They are either alive or dead. Cannot be both. Inside or outside the box. Online or Off. People may think they are in the middle or undecided, but in reality, they are one or the other, but just haven't figured it out yet, maybe they will or maybe they won't. May spend there life trying to figure it out and die before they do. I have always been an athiest since birth, it just took me 35 years to figure it out..I REJECT the idea that some out there can define who i am, strong or weak, because they did research or wrote a book. Someone writes a book about Cats, does research, observes it, has a Cat and plays with it, might even operate on it, this would be someone to have authority about the subject? Does the Cat have any authority about this topic concerning itself??? If someone has the slightest sence that there might be some kind of a god out there, (even a remote possiblity) THEY ARE NOT ATHIEST. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Nashka (talkcontribs) 01:22, 9 July 2009 (UTC)

And weak-atheists are not a "source on this matter"? Consider Michael Shermer, renown speaker, and editor of Skeptic magazine at U of Toronto who considers himself a weak atheist (someone who think there's probably not a God) ... Shermer suggests that strong atheists (those who insist God can not possibly exist) can not scientifically prove their position. He no more wants to be lopped in with them than he does with people who believe there's probably a God. In fact, as a weak atheist his position is perhaps closer to the weak theist than to the strong atheist because he's willing to keep an open mind and that's a very important distinction. That said, it really doesn't matter what we think ... as Dannyno said the Wikipedia is not where these things are decided, but rather only where they are documented. The content is decided in other scholarly settings where far more specialized people in the discipline than are you or I have a lot more time to think upon this issues and discuss and debate them. Davea0511 (talk) 21:16, 5 September 2009 (UTC)
The problem with this topic is that it is very "hot", apparently mostly with US editors, who fill pages and pages of Talk:Atheism with it, but it doesn't appear to have any sort of academic pedigree.
It's pop-Atheism. Apparently, we haven't even been able to track the terminology further than to the 1990s.
We should recast this entire topic in academic terms, based on scholarly references (as opposed to internet atheism and The God Delusion). --dab (𒁳) 09:06, 24 September 2009 (UTC)

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So you're talking about the Talk section ? The Talk section is indeed to help define what should go into the article, that doesn't however mean that the Talk section must be backed up with academic references just like the article. Since when was a question or recommendation given considered moot by virtue of the non-academic background of the asker? Since when was their comment invalidated by the fact that they had no basis for it other than their ability to reason? Might I suggest that one's position/arguments are bolstered by academic references ... and changes to the article shouldn't be made until they can adequately justify the changes, and if that requires academic pedigree then they can get it, but the lack thereof shouldn't prevent them from voicing concerns that others with the pedigree or foreknowledge of suitable references might then be prompted to provide and thereby improve the article.
If in fact, it is the article you're referring to then please by all means feel free to recast it any way you want ... just don't delete any facts that are properly referenced that are justifiable inclusions. That doesn't mean you agree with them, nor does it mean that you give your seal of approval on the source based on a purely subjective analysis ... but you can do whatever you want if the reference is valid and it will stay if it passes muster among the other editors. I find too often though that the wikipedia is overrun by the stubbornly biased with too much time on thier hands and a chip on their shoulder, things are compromised when definitions are settled by committee, but if you're more accurate and justified it's your right to undo bad changes and undo it when they remove yours. Document it here so you'll have support if it becomes a problem and you're in the right.
Also, since when was it a "problem" that an editor was from the US, or was passionate? Passion does not necessarily denote subjectivity - some have a passion for the truth. Diversity of opinion is always welcome, but lack thereof doesn't necessarily denote inaccuracy or even incompleteness. Freedom of speech, which was legalized and even constitutionally promoted here first, is a good thing. No matter who does it ... remember it first reared it's "ugly" and un"pedigree"d head by those our of favor with world opinion.
People rightfully criticize the Wikipedia for the reasons you provide, but I've found plenty of encyclopedias with shameful entries supposedly cast by the very people who have the academic pedigree with which you seem so enamored. Recast whatever you can academically justify, but you sound like you're hoping to silence the proletariate in an open forum intented for all to participate. that goes against the entire wikipedia paradigm. Insult them if you must, but please also respect their right to voice what their conscience demands.--Davea0511 (talk) 11:29, 20 April 2010 (UTC)

Requested move[edit]

The following discussion is an archived discussion of a requested move. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on the talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

The result of the move request was: page moved per request. GTBacchus(talk) 22:12, 10 June 2010 (UTC)



Weak and strong atheismNegative and positive atheism — I cannot find strong-weak in any scholarly literature,despite numerous searches - not even in Martin's 2007 Cambridge companion to atheism. He uses positive-negative, as do most writings that are not blogs or mirrors. I would prefer Hard and soft atheism as less judgmental, but that also has less currency. --JimWae (talk) 05:34, 2 June 2010 (UTC)

The above discussion is preserved as an archive of a requested move. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on this talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

Agnostic atheism[edit]

The lede says:

while weak atheism or "agnostic atheism"[citation needed] refers to any other type of non-theism.

Since agnosticism seems to have to be explicit, "agnostic atheism" cannot include implicit atheism. The term is certainly preferable to calling some atheists "weak" & others "strong", but the sentence cannot stand as is.--JimWae (talk) 17:08, 25 September 2009 (UTC)

Also: While the term "gnostic theism" could fill out a new categorization of atheism (as implicit, agnostic, & gnostic), I hardly think we can say (as the 1st sentence presently does) that it is a popular term--JimWae (talk) 18:21, 25 September 2009 (UTC)

Degrees of strength[edit]

Looking at some sources, it appears strong atheism has been defined many ways. I have tried below to organize them according to degrees of decreasing strength, where X is the statement "there is at least one deity"

  • claim there is proof X is false
  • claim to KNOW X is false
  • claim we CAN know X is false (maybe in the future)
  • claim X is false
  • claim X is probably false
  • believe X is false
  • believe X is probably false
  • accept X is false
  • accept X is probably false

Note that claims are public, while beliefs can be private. Acceptance can also be private, and one can accept something without having any commitment to it at all. Acceptance that "X is probably false" is the weakest form of strong atheism I have come up with - and is virtually indistinguishable from any weak explicit atheism I can think of except perhaps for total inabilty to discern any regularity in one's own thoughts. I think that if one rejects belief in X (for whatever reason), one must also "accept" an ontology devoid of deities. --JimWae (talk) 19:22, 25 September 2009 (UTC)

We don't organize religious beliefs by hypothetical logically constructed positions believers might hold. Why should we do this for non-believers? Frankly I think atheism should be discussed in the context of how they defined themselves or were labeled by others, not by some web of logical statements. We just don't do this for anything else. 99.121.29.73 (talk) —Preceding undated comment added 02:11, 25 June 2010 (UTC).

this is terrible[edit]

This article has seen literally years of consecutive editors trying to wrap their heads around basic set theory and terminology. People have even gone to the length of drawing Venn diagrams, for crying out loud. And the article still fails to get it right, as each new generation of editors seems to be determined to introduce some new source of confusion. So this has now been moved to a completely new title. The article seems to assume that the "positive / negative" distinction is equivalent to the "strong / weak" one. Probably because nobody bothers to read the sources they google.

The move means you will have to redraw the Venn diagram and you will also have to explain terminology properly. Please do it, or else move it back to the way things were, but don't leave it in this half-finished state. Thank you. --dab (𒁳) 09:27, 11 June 2010 (UTC)

What are the distinctions between positive-negative, strong-weak, and hard-soft atheism then? I know Dawkins uses the label strong atheist for atheists who know no gods exist, but I haven't run across this term elsewhere. A quick Google search suggests they are indeed describing the same ideology. MisterDub (talk) 19:31, 24 June 2010 (UTC)
Frankly this section is delete-worthy. The distinction made here is empty sophistry. So someone who believes there is no deity exists but doesn't say that ""There is at least one god" is false" is a negative atheist? And if they say the latter they are a positive atheist? That's bunk. If someone doesn't believe any deity exists it implies that for them "there is at least one god" is false, no matter if they utter that statement or not. It's like saying that only those are positive christians who have ever uttered a specific statement even though they have the same belief structure as all other "negative" christians. I'm strongly in favor of deletion. 99.121.29.73 (talk) —Preceding undated comment added 02:08, 25 June 2010 (UTC).
I disagree; there is a significant difference between the two terms. Negative atheists reject claims without evidence and therefore accept neither the claim of positive atheists ("No gods exist") nor theists ("At least one god exists"). This distinction has been made by scholarly sources and therefore I think we have to keep the article, regardless of how we feel about it personally. MisterDub (talk) 20:31, 25 June 2010 (UTC)
Also, as the article states, some people say the concept of a deity is unintelligbile, that unintelligible sentences are neither true nor false, and that they are without meaning. JimWae (talk) 21:44, 25 June 2010 (UTC)
Asserting a claim is false also usually implies some claim to knowledge of how to determine its truth or falsity. Many atheists are also agnostics regarding any such knowledge. JimWae (talk) 21:48, 25 June 2010 (UTC)

Worldview problem - focuses on monotheism rather than deities in general[edit]

I just had a quick squizz of this article and noticed that it seems to focus quite a lot on "God", which is the Christian deity. I don't see why this particular deity should be singled out for such attention. My understanding is that strong Atheists do not believe in any deities at all, and do not restrict their disbelief to the Christian monotheistic realm. I'm a strong Atheist myself, and I can assure you that I am certain that Ganesh, Thor and Tama-nui-te-ra don't exist just as much as God doesn't exist.

I'd be grateful if someone could do a bit of a rewrite to fix this worldview issue. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Newzild (talkcontribs) 10:16, 12 September 2012 (UTC)