Sunday, December 21, 2014

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What Is Strong Atheism?

by Francois Tremblay



Strong-atheism is usually labeled as a subset of atheism, although they pertain to different mental attitudes.

Atheism is composed of the prefix a (not-) and theism (belief in gods), and means lack of belief in gods. It is a negative position.

Strong-atheism, also called positive atheism, is the proposition that we should not suspend judgments about the non-existence of God or gods. It is a positive position.

This is in direct opposition to agnosticism, which is the position that we should suspend such judgment, or that such judgment is impossible.

Weak-atheism is usually designated as the complement of strong-atheism, being the lack of belief in gods without judgment on their non-existence (agnostic atheism).

What does it mean exactly to not suspend judgment on the non-existence of God or gods? It means that we can hold knowledge about the non-existence of such entities.

There are three main types of knowledge that can be held on the subject:

1. That “there is no god at present”.

This type of proposition is what we usually mean by positing the non-existence of an entity. As such, it is the most intuitive proposition for strong-atheism, but also the weakest.

It is interesting to note that deism is compatible with it, since it posits a god which is radically disconnected from our universe at present, which is the functional equivalent of an absence of gods.

This proposition can be argued from different arguments, including Occam’s Razor and the absence of miracles.

2. That “there were and are no gods”.

This is the proposition that strong-atheism is usually understood as positing.

This proposition can be argued with arguments showing that the condition of the universe demonstrates the absence of gods, including the Problem of Evil and Cosmological Arguments, as well as the arguments for proposition 1.

3. That “there cannot be any gods”.

This is the strictest proposition of strong-atheism that can be posited.

There are a wide range of incoherency and semantic arguments that prove this proposition, as well as the arguments for propositions 1 and 2.

One can also propose the non-existence of specific gods, and thus be strong-atheistic towards them, while being weak-atheistic towards others. Of course, believers are theistic towards one god and strong-atheistic towards all the others.

It is important to distinguish between belief and knowledge. Strong-atheists agree, with all other atheists, that we should hold no belief about the existence of gods. They simply go one step further and, based on the evidence, point out that the concept “god” is, in fact, meaningless and incoherent.

There are three lines of evidence – three categories of arguments – for strong-atheism.

  • Semantic apologetics: Arguing that the concept “god”, as well as related concepts, are meaningless, in order to prove strong-atheism.
  • Incoherency apologetics: Arguing that divine attributes are contradictory, lacking, or contradict religious texts, in order to prove weak and strong-atheism.
  • Materialist apologetics: Arguing that God’s divine creation contradicts the necessary attribute of various features of human understanding, in order to prove strong-atheism.

    I included this nomenclature in my book “Handbook of Atheistic Apologetics” in order to classify atheistic arguments, in the same way that Christians identify theological arguments as classical, evidential, presuppositional, etc.

    Last updated: 01/01/05