Weak atheism is an intellectual nullity

I’ve been having a discussion on Twitter (yes, yes, I know—that’s how these things always start) about the lack of claims made by atheists. (Or, rather, as I have tried to point out, that some people are confused about what constitutes a claim.)

At one point I was sent a link about the nature of disbelief as opposed to denial. This seems to be the gist:

Disbelief in a proposition may be nothing more than the absence of belief that the proposition is true and this may be due to nothing more than ignorance of the proposition, though it may be due to other reasons, like a desire to think longer about it or gather more evidence.

This reminded me of Douglas Adams’ claim that he was a strong atheist. I do not have access to that particular book, but this definition accurately reflects the distinction:

‘Strong’ atheism positively affirms the non-existence of any form of god or gods, and is generally regarded as ‘genuine’ atheism. On the other hand, ‘weak’ atheists do not believe in a god, but do not go as far as positively affirming the non-existence of any form of god or gods.

It seems to me that these two definitions fit together, and accurately describe the position I encountered last night. In response to my assertion that a denial of a claim was a kind of claim, I received this reply:

@Dylstra @elucidatus That’s not accurate. Not believing in something does NOT mean you believe the opposite is true. 🙂
15/03/12 7:46 PM
All this has been to make clear what I believe to be the position of those with whom I was discussing the matter. I take them to be “weak atheists” who reject claims that affirm a deity, but do not go quite so far as to make this denial into a counter-claim. (I’m not sure such a thing is possible, but I’ll play along.)
It seems to me that this is a “having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too” scenario. It gives weak atheists just enough justification to deride anyone who does have belief, but also lets them turn around and claim protection by saying “I don’t make any claims.”
It seems obvious that this type of atheism is simply the inverse of theism, that is, unverifiable belief as opposed to unverifiable disbelief. Now, while the term unverifiable for theists means that they cannot prove their claim, and for weak atheists it applies because they make no claims to verify, both of these positions are, in fact, unverifiable, and are deserving of equal weighting.
Weak atheism is an intellectual “no-man’s-land.” While it may technically be possible to abstract from a claim qua claim and believe that one is denying without affirming, the two are always present together in experience.* Denial and affirmation are two-sides of a coin. Weak atheists are playing with a one-sided coin.
*Even if one is simply affirming that they lack belief.

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