University of Wisconsin–Madison

AHA Emails #15: Weak Atheism vs. Strong Atheism

Hey Madison Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics,

Blah blah blah midterms. Take a break from them and hang out with AHA.

Meeting #15: Weak Atheism vs. Strong Atheism

What: A discussion on whether atheists should support “strong atheism” or “weak atheism” (or as the other sides would call them, “jerks” or “wimps”)

When: Tomorrow, Wednesday, 7 P.M.
Where: 155 Van Hise
Why: There are two ways to be an outspoken atheist. Which are you?

While you’re at our meeting, you should totally pick up one of our Official AHA Shirts! They’re running out, and for a limited time you can buy them on sale for the low, low price of $15!
And as usual… we’ll be hanging out at The Rathskellar at Memorial Union after our meeting at 8pm. Also be there for that because we have a fun time.

Quick! What actor/actress was in both “Thank You For Smoking” and “Batman Begins”?!

If you answered Katie Holmes, then hey! You seem good at trivia, come to our weekly trivia night! (If you answered Aaron Eckhart… nice try, but incorrect) (And if you don’t know entertainment stuff, that’s cool too because we need help in science, music, and sports too)
Team Trivia on Mondays at 8pm at The Tipsy Cow (map!)
1st place team gets a $30 gift certificate! Think of all the nachos I could eat with that!

1 thought on “AHA Emails #15: Weak Atheism vs. Strong Atheism”

  1. Respectfully…

    Neither. The "strong vs. weak" framing is an attempt to force religious nomenclature where it does not fit. Atheism, as the privative, "none of the above" religious category, simply does not fit the framing.

    Strong atheism (belief that God X does not exist) can only be defined once a particular god is specified. Christians are strong atheists with respect to Thor, for instance. But of course, it makes no sense to call Christians "strong atheists" in the more general sense (yes, despite the history of the word). I doubt there is such a thing as the generic "theist" or "believer", who believes in every and all versions of gods (indeed, some are mutually exclusive, so such a claim would be grounds to doubt the speaker in the first place).

    But because "strong atheist" is defined god-by-god, a member of a particular faith community might try to chastise an atheist for claiming to dismiss gods she has not even heard of. (They rarely apply this standard to themselves; "no other gods before me" takes care of that.) The claim is made that "strong atheism is a positive claim, so the burden of proof is on the claimant", again forgetting that they are themselves positively rejecting nearly as many gods as their straw-atheist does.

    So, is "weak atheism" any better? Frankly, no. The modifier is not merely unnecessary, it implicitly accepts the strong/weak continuum, which is simply untenable because of the meaninglessness of the "strong" portion. "Not believing" cannot be weak, any more than it can be strong. "Zero" gods, as the answer to "how many gods do you believe in?", does not get stronger or weaker with more zeroes after the decimal, or even with exclamation points. It is quite possible to strongly or weakly believe in a god–those are positively defined notions–but to strongly or weakly be part of a privative category is meaningless. I have no money in my wallet–how much money do I not have? ( )

    "Strong vs. Weak" applies to positively defined things. We are all positively described in a number of ways. But how much you don't drink, how much hair you don't have, how much meat you don't eat, how far you can't fly… these make no sense. Privatives are simply the "none of the above" category, and that is enough. Reject the attempt at framing them in terms of religion; it only leads to misunderstanding.

    (there, just something to start your discussion.)

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