Negative and positive atheism


Negative and positive atheism
A diagram showing the relationship between the definitions of weak/strong and implicit/explicit atheism. Explicit strong/positive atheists (in purple on the right) assert that "at least one deity exists" is a false statement. Explicit weak/negative atheists (in blue on the right) reject or eschew belief that any deities exist without actually asserting that "at least one deity exists" is a false statement. Implicit weak/negative atheists (in blue on the left) would include people (such as young children and some agnostics) who do not believe in a deity, but have not explicitly rejected such belief.

(Sizes in the diagram are not meant to indicate relative sizes within a population.)

Positive atheism is a term popularly used to describe the form of atheism that maintains that "There is no god" is a true statement. Negative atheism refers to any other type of non-theism, wherein a person does not believe in the existence of any deity, but does not explicitly claim that the statement "There is at least one god" is false.

Strong atheism and hard atheism are alternates for the term positive atheism, whereas weak atheism and soft atheism are alternates for negative atheism.[1] The terms negative atheism and positive atheism were used by Antony Flew in 1976,[2] and are the more common usage in scholarly writing, appearing again in Michael Martin's writings in 1990.[3] Usage of the strong/weak terminology grew in the mid-1990s on the Internet, particularly due to the newsgroup alt.atheism.[4] Jacques Maritain used the negative/positive phrases as early as 1949, but with a different meaning and in the context of a strictly Catholic apologist.[5]

Because of flexibility in the term "god", it is possible that a person could be a positive/strong atheist in terms of certain conceptions of God, while remaining a negative/weak atheist in terms of others. For example, the God of classical theism is often considered to be a personal supreme being who is omnipotent, omniscient, all-good, and cares about humans and human affairs. One might be a positive atheist for such a deity (see problem of evil), while being a negative atheist with respect to a Deistic conception of God by rejecting belief in such a deity but not explicitly asserting it to be false.

Under this positive/negative classification, some agnostics would qualify as negative atheists. 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 those who claim to know there is no God. He categorizes himself as a "de facto atheist" but not a "strong atheist" on this scale.[6]

Within negative 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.[7]

Positive and negative atheism are compared as well to the philosopher George H. 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 negative and positive atheism.

"Positive explicit" atheists assert that it is false that any deities exist. "Negative explicit" atheists assert they do not believe any deities exist, but do not assert it is true that no deity exists. Those who do not believe any deities exist, but do not assert such non-belief, are included among implicit atheists. Among "implicit" atheists are thus sometimes included the following: children and adults who have never heard of deities; people who have heard of deities but have never given the idea any considerable thought; and those agnostics who suspend belief about deities, but do not reject such belief.

All implicit atheists are included in the negative/weak categorization.

The Atheist Community of Austin (ACA) uses the term positive atheism in a different sense. The ACA refers to positive atheism in the sense of putting a positive face to atheism and dispelling the false and negative image of atheism portrayed by religious people, especially in places of worship. [8]

See also

References

  1. ^ "Definitions of the term "Atheism"". Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 2007. http://www.religioustolerance.org/atheist4.htm. Retrieved 2010-06-01. 
  2. ^ Flew, Antony (1976). "The Presumption of Atheism". The Presumption of Atheism and other Philosophical Essays on God, Freedom, and Immortality. Barnes and Noble. pp. 14ff.. http://www.positiveatheism.org/writ/flew01.htm. Retrieved 2010-06-03. 
  3. ^ Martin, Michael (1990). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Temple University Press. p. 26. ISBN 0877229430. http://books.google.ca/books?id=MNZqCoor4eoC&pg=PA26&dq=%22positive+atheism,+the+position+of+disbelieving+that+the+theistic+God%22&hl=en&ei=v61xTs7WGYfXiALB6qSTCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22positive%20atheism%2C%20the%20position%20of%20disbelieving%20that%20the%20theistic%20God%22&f=false.  "negative atheism, the position of not believing a theistic God exists" / "positive atheism: the position of disbelieving a theistic God exists"; p. 464: "Clearly, positive atheism is a special case of negative atheism: Someone who is a positive atheist is by necessity a negative atheist, but not conversely"
  4. ^ http://www.skepticfiles.org/atheist/atheistf.htm
  5. ^ Maritain, Jacques (July 1949). "On the Meaning of Contemporary Atheism". The Review of Politics 11 (3): 267–280. doi:10.1017/S0034670500044168. http://www.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/jm3303.htm. "By positive atheism I mean an active struggle against everything that reminds us of God – that is to say, anti-theism rather than atheism – and at the same time a desperate, I would say heroic, effort to recast and reconstruct the whole human universe of thought and the whole human scale of values according to that state of war against God." 
  6. ^ The God Delusion, pp. 50–51
  7. ^ Kenny, Anthony (2006). "Worshipping an Unknown God". Ratio 19 (4): 442. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9329.2006.00339.x. http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1467-9329.2006.00339.x. 
  8. ^ Atheist Experience #422: Blue Laws. 11/13 2005. Event occurs at 49:55. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8516540685190169717#. 

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