Another blog to share, Marginalia, recently posted an “interview with an atheist” in which he answered 30 questions directed toward atheists. If you haven’t read it, give it a visit. And read his other posts. Some good reads there.
A few of the “interview questions” illustrate a question I have about “being an atheist.” This is about the weak vs strong atheism. In short, my question is “Which one am I?” But, this skirts the context, so let me explain further.
The Weak vs the Strong
The difference between weak and strong atheism has to do with the kind of statement you are making regarding atheism. Weak atheism is lacking a belief in gods: “I don’t believe in gods.” Strong atheism is declaring gods don’t exist: “There are no gods.”
Although this may be an oversimplification, the difference comes down to whether or not you consider the case to be closed on the existence of gods. So, if you’re willing to leave open the possibility that gods exist, but don’t believe any exist, you are a weak atheist. If you don’t believe any gods exist because you claim their nonexistence is sufficiently demonstrable, then you are a strong atheist.
In this regard, I would call myself a weak atheist.
Doesn’t that Answer Your Question?
I know what you’re think, didn’t I answer my own question? Well, here’s where I can start to provide the context. I want to return to the questions Gerald Taylor (the blogger behind Marginalia) was answering. Specifically, questions 6 and 7.
6. Do you affirm that atheism is a worldview? Why or Why not?
7. Do you act in accord with what you do believe in (there is no god) or what you don’t believe in (lack belief in god)?
For question 6, I would use a more specific definition of worldview than the one Talyor uses: “…is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society’s knowledge and point-of-view. A world view can include natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics.”
However, I would come to the same basic conclusion: that atheism informs a worldview without fully encompassing the worldview.
Question 7 is the million dollar question, for me.
Living Like there are no Gods
Taylor’s response to question 7 is a common one and the response I would give: “I can’t claim to prove that God doesn’t exist (and really, who could prove such a thing?). But, functionally, I live my life as though there isn’t a God.” This response professes a weak atheist belief while living in accord with a strong atheist position. Now, I don’t think there is anything inconsistent with this. However, I wonder if we should feel like it is inconsistent.
Should I take the ontological implication of the “way I live” more seriously? If I live like a strong atheist, why don’t I just call myself a strong atheist?
On the one hand, it seems like using the “way I live” as reason to call myself a strong atheist gives more conviction to the “way I live.” Alternatively, I see a value in embracing the contingency of maintaining the weak belief position when that is the case. I am happy to admit that I may be making much ado about nothing. Also, I really don’t have a solid answer to this.