In presenting on my ideas on atheism in other forums, I've been told that I'm ignoring the distinction between Weak and Strong atheism. This is a distinction which I had not previously encountered in my studies. I would like to examine this distinction more for a presentation I'm giving supporting strong atheism, but I am unaware of many sources that discuss it directly. I am looking into Anthony Flew and his work, but apart from that I am lost.

As such, I am seeking help from the community. Do you know of any academic or critical sources examining the distinction between Weak and Strong Atheism? 

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I could be criticized for this, but here's the wikipedia take:

Positive atheism (also called strong atheism and hard atheism) is the form of atheism that asserts that no deities exist.[1] Negative atheism (also called weak atheism and soft atheism) is any other type of atheism, wherein a person does not believe in the existence of any deities, but does not explicitly assert there to be none


From this, it sounds like weak atheist is similar to agnosticism, and strong atheist is what most consider atheism.


That wikipedia article does reference Flew.


I guess context is important.  To discuss weak/strong atheism, first we need to know what someone means when they say it.  To a layperson these would just mean militant vs. mild mannered, which isn't how the article defines it.  


I'm no philosopher so I will stop there.

Thanks Sentient - then I am strong atheist.

I don't think this is what you'd call an academic source, but see:-



Dawkins' formulation.

Dawkins posits that "the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other." He goes on to propose a continuous "spectrum of probabilities" between two extremes of opposite certainty, which can be represented by seven "milestones". Dawkins suggests definitive statements to summarize one's place along the spectrum of theistic probability. These "milestones" are:

  1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: "I do not believe, I know."
  2. De facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. "I don't know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there."
  3. Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. "I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God."
  4. Completely impartial. Exactly 50 per cent. "God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable."
  5. Leaning towards athesim. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. "I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be skeptical."
  6. De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. "I don't know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there."
  7. Strong atheist. "I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one."

Dawkins argues that while there appear to be plenty of individuals that would place themselves as "1" due to the strictness of religious doctrine against doubt, most atheists do not consider themselves "7" because atheism arises from a lack of evidence and evidence can always change a thinking person's mind. In print, Dawkins self-identified as a '6', though when interviewed by Bill Maher and later by Anthony Kennedy he suggested '6.9' to be more accurate.

{Dawkins scale of belief is from his book "The God Delusion"; see:}

I like the Dawkins formula Gila. I have his books. I suppose I'm a 6.9 too then.

Me too. Although maybe 7.  Just as i know the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening.  A lifetime of evidence builds up.  7 might be hubris, but I'm close

This is, more or less, how the issue was originally presented to me. I really appreciate the reference.

It seems to me that Dr. Dawkins has confused the epistemic claim and the metaphysical claim. There is the binary claim of atheism (it's either believed as true or false) and then the justification of the claim of atheism. In other words, the ranking is only tangentially related to the belief in atheism itself. I have to do some more research into how to treat beliefs, but I think Dawkins is merely giving a number to how internally justified he is in so believing. 

It seems the only difference between milestones six and seven is that milestone six retains the notion of keeping an open mind, as any good scientist or skeptic should do.  However, as Sentient points out, "Just as i know the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening.  A lifetime of evidence builds up."  I agree. And so it is with the existence of god.  For hundreds of years modern science has explained away any probable existence of the supernatural to the point where, I believe, no more evidence (or lack of evidence) is necessary to finally put the god-claim to rest.  I really think there's nothing more waiting in the wings on this topic that requires a still-open mind.  This case is closed.  I confidently place myself in milestone seven. 

My definition of strong atheism is: a greater than 50% likelihood that god does not exist.
My heart supports strong atheism, but my head says: OK, prove it. Prove, based on evidence/logic of the cosmos, or evidence/logic of scripture, that god is less than 50% likely to exist.
Now I've heard a lot of good arguments against the existence of a god, but I've never seen anyone put a numerical probability on it (Dawkins' scale is emotional, not rational). And frankly, my head hurts even thinking about it.
The bottom line is: in the realm of imaginary/possible gods, the only limit is our imagination. So how can we possibly disprove ideas of our imagination (except perhaps things that are logically impossible).
So, my guess is we can't prove strong atheism.
For that reason, I cannot say that god is more or less likely to exist, even if my heart says "of course he doesn't exist".
Hence I'm an weak atheist or agnostic.

weak agno
strong.. no time to bs w/talk of ghosts..
and furthermore..
the 'vs. thing is (sorry my gay friends) gay! ; )

peace! to hell with the religions just don't let em' drag u down to their level

Weak vs Strong atheism might also depend on the God. Ask a Christian if he believes in the Monkey God Hanuman, most probably that Christian will be a strong atheist in regards to Hanuman. But ask that same Christian if he believes in Allah, that Christian may not be such a strong atheist towards Allah.


For me I'm an atheist by default. I don't have the ability to believe like theists do nor do I have the ability to proactively not believe. The question of God and who made us and the universe is not a part of my mind set.

The weak vs strong atheism debate could also be a loaded question, if somebody such as myself decides to enter into the debate, we may be classified as either a strong or weak atheist, even though we entered into to the debate just for a bit of philosophical fun.

Anyway, thanks for the interesting question.




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