Atheism (AP2)

In this blog we are going to look at the important idea of atheism, understanding both what the world means and the different types of atheism.

Before we focus on atheism, let’s look at the term ‘theism’.  Theism comes from the Greek work theos meaning God, so theism is the idea or belief in God.  A theist is someone who believes in God.  So, Christians, Muslims and Jews are theists.

If we now look at the word ‘atheism’, we need to focus on the first letter,which comes from the Greek word ‘a‘ meaning ‘without’.

Putting these together we get ‘atheos‘, literally ‘without God’.  Thus atheism means a belief without God or belief in no God.  So an atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in God.

However, this isn’t totally accurate as there are different types of atheist.  Atheism can be divided into two distinct categories.

The first is positive atheism, sometimes called strong atheism, while the second is negative atheism, or weak atheism.

Positive atheism is a position that asserts ‘There is no God’.  The fact that it says ‘There is’ means it is making a positive claim, it is making a claim about what is true.  Positive atheism involves the explicit denial of any spiritual powers and supernatural beings.  It is sometimes called strong atheism as it involves a strong, definite claim, an assertion that ‘There is no God’.

In contrast, negative atheism is a position that asserts lack of belief in any God or gods.  So negative atheists say something like ‘I don’t believe in God’.  This is called weak atheism as it is a weaker kind of statement than positive atheism, focussing on what person believes rather than whether God actually exists or not.

The Greek word ‘gnosis‘ (silent g) means knowledge.  We get words such as diagnosis from gnosis, for example, when you don’t know what is wrong with you, you might visit the doctor for a diagnosis, as the doctor will know what is wrong with you.  If we then add the Greek word ‘a‘ we arrive at the word ‘agnostic’, literally ‘without knowledge’.  So, agnosticism involves the suspension of accepting or rejecting belief in God until there is sufficient data to reach such a conclusion.  Agnostics claim we cannot know if God exists or not.  Without clear persuasive evidence for either theism or atheism, the agnostic says the best response is to remain undecided.

In summary:

a theist claims “There is a God”

a positive atheist claims “There is no God”

A negative atheist claims “I don’t believe in God”

An agnostic claim “I don’t know if God exists or not”