Weak atheism (sometimes referred to as "negative atheism") describes a belief system and philosophical stance whereby a person lacks a belief in gods. It differs from strong atheism, which goes further than a simple lack of belief and makes an assertion that no gods exist. It also differs from agnosticism, in that a weak atheist says they do not believe in any gods, while agnostics do not know whether or not any gods exist.
Weak atheism is based on the belief that the theist, not the atheist, bears the burden of proof to show that any gods exist, because it is the theist who is asserting the existence of an entity. Weak atheists typically compare belief in gods with belief in other equally indemonstrable beings like "flying spaghetti monsters," or "invisible pink unicorns," and argue that, "The person attempting to prove that the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists has the burden of proof. In the absence of sufficient proof to warrant belief, I am justified in disbelieving in all these beings."
As George Smith wrote regarding positive versus negative belief:
- "If one presents a positive belief (i.e. an assertion which one claims to be true), one has the obligation to present evidence in its favor. The burden of proof lies with the person who asserts the truth of a proposition. If the evidence is not forthcoming, if there are not sufficient grounds for accepting the proposition, it should not be believed.",
The philosphy can be summed up by Latin phrases like necessitas probandi incumbit ei qui agit meaning "the necessity of proof lies with he who complains" and ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non que negat, meaning "the burden of proof rests on who asserts, not on who denies."
Weak atheism is often construed by theists as a highly negative and destructive point of view that lacks a positive alternative. As Jacques Maritain wrote:
- "By negative atheism I mean a merely negative or destructive process of casting aside the idea of God, which is replaced only by a void. Such a negative atheism can be only shallow and empirical, like the atheism of the libertians of the seventeenth century: it hollows out a vacuum at the center of the universe of thought which has taken shape for centuries around the idea of God, but it does not bother about altering that universe; it is concerned merely with making us live comfortably in the empirical freedom of doing whatever we want. On the other hand, negative atheism can be deeply and metaphysically lived: in which case the void it creates at the center of things extends to and lays waste our whole universe of thought; the freedom it claims for the human ego is absolute independence, a kind of divine independence that this ego, like Dostoievski's Kirilov, has no better way of affirming than by suicide and self-destruction."
Other theists respond by saying that theists have, in fact, met the burden of proof, through arguments for the existence of God.
Other theists criticize weak atheism as seeking to "dodge the issue." Terry Miethe argued:
- "the "negative atheist" ends up denying God's existence just as much as the "positive atheist." For the believer (and in reality) to deny the idea of God is to deny the actual existence of God no matter what language game you want to play. Remember, Hans Kung is quite correct in pointing out that there is also an "atheistic language game" that is not self-justified…We must not---cannot---arbitrarily "define" out of existence vast ranges of reality simply because they do not meet our predetermined definition. It is not good enough to say that I have no idea of God therefore I am denying nothing about "his" actual existence. You must examine all of reality and answer or explain why millions have had what they thought was an adequate idea or concept of God, from great philosophers to the 'common folk.'"
- Atheists doubting the validity of atheism
- Atheist factions
- Strong atheism
- Atheism and cowardice
- Humorous quotes about atheism and evolution
- Atheism: The Case Against God, by George H. Smith
- Jacques Maritain, On the Meaning of Contemporary Atheism, The Review of Politics, Vol. 11, No. 3, pp. 267-280, July, 1949.