Negative Atheism

 

NEGATIVE AND POSITIVE ATHEISM
 
Etymologically the word atheism means "not theism ie not belief in God." 

 

Surely that means that atheism is the positive denial of God.

 

Professor Antony Flew said it can also describe people who don't deny but who just don't have any belief.  Atheism then if so could be the mere absence of belief in God.  He defined an atheist as a person who is not a theist.  He says it is that simple. 

 

Critics say that it is not for there is such a thing as being agnostic where you are not denying there is a God but you just don't have any faith.  They say Flew is calling an agnostic an atheist. 

 

However that aside Flew made contributions to our understanding of what is meant by an atheist.  He at least alerted us that there are two atheisms.


Flew wrote in his book God and Philosophy that there are two kinds of atheist.

 

The positive atheist uses evidence to prove that there is no God and denies God.

 

The negative atheist does not do this but refuses to believe there is a God simply because she has no evidence for God.

 

Flew's book is a defence of negative atheism. It argues that since there is no proof or reason to believe in God that makes sense we can assume there is no God and we should. It is up to the theist to prove there is a God. There must then be positive theists who say there is evidence for God and negative theists who say that there is a God for there is no evidence against him.
 
So keep the following in mind.
 
All atheists are negative atheists. They argue that there is no reason to believe in God because there is no evidence for his being real or for his being important. Many of these atheists are also positive atheists. A positive atheist agrees with the negative atheist and adds that there is evidence against the existence of God.

 

But the question still nags, is negative atheism just agnosticism?

 

God is that, by definition, that has sole ultimate value in itself and so it should have it with you. I mean you are supposed to recognise it.  Your treasure is not really your treasure unless you value it in your heart.  So God even if real is not God to you if you don't recognise his value and embrace it.

 

This is the difference between thinking of God as a factual reality only and a factual reality that is personal to you, relational.  A friend you feel nothing for is a fact not a friend.

 

Negative atheism is not the same as a direct denial of God but it is a denial by implication.  It is functionally much the same.

 

Negative atheism then is against Gods and God worship.  It proposes that if it is wrong and there is a God after all that he should be defied.  And it is also against the Gods who only exist in peoples' minds.  If you think there is a God then it is sort of true for you and that will affect how you treat others. Atheism sees the God in the head as being where the biggest problem is.  It is about asserting our right to insist that we be thought of and treated on the human level.  Don't let somebody impose, "God is waiting for you" or "God loves you as his own child and likeness" on you.  You have a human right to be approached as YOU and not through an ideological or theological lens.  Assertiveness is low-level aggression so there should be a level of anti-theism. Standing up for yourself declares the other an enemy so it is not in any way exactly being nice.

 

Negative atheism is defined as the absence of belief in God.  It is not saying, "I deny there is a God."  Surely saying that this is atheism is like saying that baldness is a hairstyle?  Well it is the absence of belief in God as fact but is the denial of God as in what God is about, a relationship.

 

It looks like it is agnosticism but it is not that simple.  It is more than it.

 

Critics then use the problems of agnosticism against it but they do not work.  Absence of belief in God in negative atheism is only one side of the coin and the other side is that God as valuable and lovable and by extension real is denied.

 

Some say that negative atheism is impossible to really embrace.  They say that you must have some idea of what something is in order to say that you do not endorse it.  You need to be touched by God before you can turn away.  If you say you have the absence of belief in salt just because you have never tasted or touched or seen salt then what?   Do I need to travel in an alien spaceship before I can say I have no belief that such extra-terrestrial technology exists?

 

Now whether there is a God or not you can know from experience what faith is and stop endorsing it.  Opposing faith in God is not exactly the same as opposing the existence of God.  But it comes close.  It amounts to functional atheism.

 

We conclude that negative atheism which simply asserts one lacks belief for one sees no reason to believe borrows from agnosticism but in its marked wish to live without God it is an act of faith in the non-existence of God.  Negative atheism is atheism.


BOOKS CONSULTED

 

A Catechism of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Truth Society, London, 1985
A Common Faith, John Dewey, Yale University Press, Connecticut, 1968
AGNOSTICISM A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION Robin Le Poidevin, Oxford, 2010
A Primer of Necessary Belief, Dawson Jackson ,Victor Gollancz Ltd, London, 1957
Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, M H Gill and Son Ltd, Dublin, 1954
Faith and Ambiguity, Stewart R Sutherland, SCM Press, London, 1984
God and Philosophy, Antony Flew, Hutchinson, London, 1966
In Defence of the Faith, Dave Hunt, Harvest House, Eugene Oregon, 1996  
On Being a Christian, Hans Kung, Collins/Fount Paperbacks, Glasgow, 1978
Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Simon Blackburn, Oxford University Press, 1996
Reason and Belief, Bland Blanschard, London, George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1974
Reason and Religion, Anthony Kenny, Basil Blackwell Ltd, Oxford, 1987
The Balance of Truth, EI Watkin, Hollis & Carter, London, 1943
The Case Against Christ, John Young, Falcon Books, London, 1971
The Faith of a Subaltern, Alec de Candole, Cambridge University Press, 1919
The Fundamental Questions of Philosophy, A.C. Ewing, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1985
The Future of Belief Debate, Ed Gregory Baum, Herder and Herder, New York, 1967
The Student’s Catholic Doctrine, Rev Charles Hart BA, Burns & Oates, London, 1961
Unblind Faith, Michael J Langford, SCM, London, 1982
What Do Existentialists Believe? Richard Appignanesi, Granta Books, London, 2006
What is Christianity? Very Rev W Moran DD, Catholic Truth Society of Ireland, Dublin, 1940
What is Faith? Anthony Kenny, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992

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