General Question

fireside's avatar

Can someone explain the diffference between postive/negative/weak/strong atheism to me?

Asked by fireside (12302points) September 28th, 2008

This is the first place I have ever run across so many people who attest to atheism and I’m just trying to get the differences.

Wouldn’t a weak atheist just be an agnostic?

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31 Answers

delirium's avatar

No. A weak atheist says “I don’t think there’s a god.”
A strong atheist says “There is no god.”
Agnostic is “I don’t know if there’s a god or not.”

fireside's avatar

ok, so what’s the difference between don’t think and don’t know?

delirium's avatar

I’m a weak atheist. I think that its highly unlikely that there is a god. I have serious doubts.

An agnostic is secular, but doesn’t say anything either which way.

(Though, in most cases, people calling themselves agnostics are just putting ‘atheist’ nicely.)

This is notable… There are VERY few strong atheists. The kind of conviction it takes to be a strong atheist is just as naive as it is to claim that there IS a god.

fireside's avatar

Hmmm… so to use a crude analogy (without trying to assign a direct collation between either side) I guess you could say that it is similar to:

Or to use a continuum:
With God (theist)<————-|Agnostic|————->Without God (atheist)

That makes sense.

delirium's avatar

Everything is a continuum. But yes, I view it as such in my head. Strong atheism is the same thing as religious fundamentalism, IMHOP. Both parties leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

Hobbes's avatar

I guess I fall between weak and strong atheism – that is, there’s no way to be completely sure that there is no God (and I agree with Del – saying so is fundamentalism at work), but I think it’s so unlikely and the most of evidence for it is so unconvincing that I can be about as sure about it as I can be about anything else.

MacBean's avatar

I’m an agnostic theist. I think there’s SOMETHING, I just don’t know WHAT.

shrubbery's avatar

Don’t forget there’s also Protest Atheism. Acknowledging that there is a God but rejecting Him as one worthy of worship.

EmpressPixie's avatar

Also don’t forget the evangelicals. I think that when you get a certain depth in either continuum, you hit the bump of the evangelicals who believe so strongly that they must be right that they must also make you one of them. Strangely, once you get past that bump or before that bump, that need isn’t there. It’s just a strange little blip on the belief scale.

fireside's avatar

GA to EmpressPixe for pointing out that the evangelicals (also also the fundamentalists, in my opinion) are not actually at the far end of the “With God” spectrum.

I think that if you are so locking into your own opinion that you can’t value other cultures, them you are not actually “with God” but are in fact deluding yourself.

I’d put people like Ghandi, the Dali Lama, Sadat, etc… much further along the path towards God than any fundamentalist.

Hobbes's avatar

@Empress – Even then, though, you get “sincere-but-friendly” evangelicals, “annoyingly persistent evangelicals”, and “please-stop-talking-about-Jesus-now-evangelicals”.

fireside's avatar

So maybe the continuum should be more like this:
Content with Spiritual State <————-|Agnostic|————->Self Absorbed and Pushy

EmpressPixie's avatar

@Fireside. I like that one better.

blastfamy's avatar

@delirium, I thought agnosticism was an unquantified belief in god.

Hobbes's avatar

@blastfamy – nope. An agnostic is someone who does not make a decision about their belief in God because there’s no way to prove either side.

blastfamy's avatar

@Hobbes, So nothing like what @MacBean had above?

Thanks, I’m learning somthing, here.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I call myself agnostic and I am. I don’t believe that it’s truly possible to know whether or not there’s a god. When I die, I’ll find out – or I won’t, if I simply end. To profess true belief or disbelief is pure ignorance in my mind. People often say that agnosticism is a belief system for the weak, for the scared, for people with no convictions. I disagree wholeheartedly. My conviction is that I am not so prideful or close-minded that I will ever pretend to know it all.

Maverick's avatar

Sorry, late to the party here. I actually don’t believe there really is any such thing as “strong” or “weak” atheists… In my mind, that is rather similar to being “a little” pregnant. You either are an atheist, or you are not. You either accept blind faith, or you do not. There is no in-between. I think that there is a very strong (overbearing, actually) pressure throughout western society (particularly in the US) to treat religion as special and unquestionable. As a result, I feel that “weak” atheists are just trying to be polite. Its so much easier to give religious people a little loophole rather than get dragged into yet-another-sermon.

I was raised a Christian, and the more I learned, discovered and grew, the more I desired real answers – even if they are currently incomplete – as opposed to fairytales wrapped up in a clean bow-tie ribbon. Eventually I found science and truth and it really makes me appreciate the majesty of life, the planet, and the universe in a way religion never could. If I wanted to be dramatic about it, I guess religious people would say I was “born again” or maybe “born again, again” – but that’s just theatrics. For a very long time I professed to be agnostic until I realized that was just me trying not to rock the boat and taking the sissy way out. I believe most agnostics probably are in the same boat.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

Maverick: Most agnostics? Because you’ve met most of us? I’m agnostic and I don’t give a fuck about rocking the boat.

Being agnostic has nothing to do with “taking the sissy way out” (nice of you to put down all females too though, by the way). It’s the same thing you said about atheism; There is no such thing as in between – you either are or aren’t. The exact same thing holds true for being agnostic. If there are people out there who profess to be agnostic but do not truly have the belief system to define them as one – who do it just not to rock the boat, as you say – they are not agnostic.

That’s very disappointing. You made an absolutely perfect point about people being atheists or not, but you fail to realize that it’s the same way for agnosticism.

Man, us sissy agnostics sure get sick of dealing with you ignorant atheists…

**Disclaimer**: While atheism is not my cup of tea, I do not hate all of you. I’m just being argumentative and petty since Maverick put all agnostics down by saying we take the easy way out. >:)

delirium's avatar

Maverick: The differentiation between strong and weak atheists (if you’d read) isn’t a matter of being a ‘little’ pregnant. An atheist doesn’t believe in any god, tooth fairy, teapot around mars… A strong atheist says that there is absolutely without any doubt at all nothing out there.
I don’t believe in god. Its statistically improbable. But, like all good scientists, everything is a theory. Its all an educated guess. Gravity is an educated guess. Cancer is an educated guess. Ultimately everything is a matter of trial and error. A scientist can be pretty damn sure about something, but can NEVER be positive.

Maverick's avatar

@Delirium I’m aware of the difference. And I did read your earlier response. I was merely outlining how I feel about the subject and my reasons for it. I don’t know of a single atheist out there that believes the absolute of “There is no god”, because that would imply blind faith, which would make that individual perhaps the only member of the Religion of Nothing (or perhaps, but not quite, a nihilist). Instead atheists tend not to have a blind faith in the omission of god, but instead believe that science (and in particular the scientific method) will reveal the truths of the world around us. Therefore, all atheists must have the tinge of the doubt you describe. If there were absolutely any scientifically-verifiable evidence that there was indeed a god, I and I suspect most atheists would quite willingly believe in god. So basically, I am aware of the differences that the terms attempt to describe, I just disagree that they are actually necessary distinctions.

@DD Again, I was talking about my personal feelings on the subject and was actually calling myself a “sissy”. I’m sorry I offended you. However, I see nothing to change my basic stance on agnostics. I believe that agnostics simply refuse to answer the question, probably (but not necessarily) because they don’t want to offend others, or take a stand, or go against their upbringing, or whatever. Nobody knows if there is a god or not. So taking that stance is not really answering the question – “Do you believe in God?”

DrasticDreamer's avatar

The only reason I choose not to answer either way is because it would be pure ignorance to do so.

I think it’s improbable that there’s a god, but do I know for sure? No. If god was real, would I follow him? No, he would be evil, according to my personal belief system. I still don’t know if one exists or not, period.

Maverick's avatar

The question isn’t “do you know that god exists?”, it’s “do you believe in god?”

LostInParadise's avatar

I am a non-believer and I agree with Maverick. Either you believe or you don’t. If none of your actions are predicated on the possible existence of God, then you are an atheist.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

Or you believe that it’s impossible to know.

Maverick's avatar

Which would be a fine answer if that’s what the question was. ;-)

Critter38's avatar

@Maverick, I think Matt Dillahunty makes a similar case to the one you’re making.

His point was basically that belief is something active. In other words you either believe that there is a god (theist) or you don’t. Under this definition he sees agnostics as atheists with a preference for a different term.

Similar to your experiences, I have never met an atheist who claimed as a categorical fact that there was no god (perhaps because the atheists I know almost invariably have scientific training). So if we define an atheist as one who knows there is no god (which BIll Maher mistakenly seems to) then I think the term becomes isolated to a very small contingent of individuals.

If we don’t do this, then we have to accept that the terms agnostic and atheist are highly overlapping. Neither believes in god, both acknowledge that some things cannot be known, and both terms can include people that range widely in the extent to which they think god is improbable (depending on the “god” being considered I imagine).

I don’t know where to draw the line, or if both terms are useful. All I know is that both atheists and agnostics can believe very similar things about the nature of the universe, and yet wish to define this similarity under two different terms.

Perhaps people can be atheists with respect to their lack of belief in god, and agnostic with respect to whether or not god exists. ???

Maverick's avatar

Yes, thank-you Critter. That was much more articulate and yet pretty much what I would have typed had I not been on an iPhone (GA). I was considering calling myself an agnostic atheist, but on further reflection I realized I was just being apologetic. This has been a very long path for me, but I’m certain now that it’s one hat mankind must make if we are ever to advance beyond this basic tribalism. I’m also quite aware that it won’t happen in my lifetime, and I’m reasonably accepting of that. Sad, but accepting. Thank-you.

Critter38's avatar

No worries. I’m in the same camp and wish there were better definitions for these things. All of it seems to have too much baggage.

Noon's avatar

With the help of this is what I’ve understood about these terms.

Atheist is the opposite of Theist (and Deist) This is technically a binary relationship to be one you are not the other and visa versa. (Theist and Deist are just a clarification of what kind of god believer you are but still on the same side of the binary) So there is a point in saying you can not be a little Atheist, or a little Theist. 1 can’t be a little 0 and 0 can’ t be a little 1. But what you can say is “I don’t know, but I’m leaning towards Atheist.” But to call yourself an Atheist, means you have chosen a side of a coin, and it is no longer leaning one way or the other.

Agnostic and Gnostic are not even the same coin. They are a completely different binary relationship. One claiming you can know if there is a god, and the other saying you definitively can’t know if there is a god. So you really can be any mix of these. Agnostic Theist, Gnostic Atheist (those might be a bit weird, but why not)

So you really can’t answer the question “Do you believe in god?” With “I’m an agnostic.” Sure you can, but you are not actually answering the question. You may be giving insight into why you don’t know if you are a theist or an atheist, but you have not answered the question.

Also, just for fun, there is another word that I love, ignostic. Which claims that since we have not all decided on a definition of this “god” thing, discussion of said “god” thing is moot.

delirium's avatar

Agnostic puts the prefix A in front of gnostic. A… as in notsomuch.

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