From: Tyler A. Wunder 8 Jun 94 13:51
To : Neal Feldman
From Michael Martin's _Atheism: A Philosophical Justification_,
ATHEISM POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE
If you look up "atheism" in a dictionary, you will probably find
it defined as the belief that there is no God. Certainly, many
people understand atheism in this way. Yet many atheists do not,
and this is not what the term means if one considers it from the
point of view of its Greek roots. In Greek "a" means "without"
or "not" and "theos" means "god." From this standpoint an
atheist would simply be someone without a belief in God, not
necessarily someone who believes that God does not exist.
According to its Greek roots, then, atheism is a negative view,
characterised by the absence of belief in God.
Well-known atheists of the past such as Baron d'Holbach
(1770), Richard Carlile (1826), Charles Southwell (1842), Charles
Bradlaugh (1876), and Anne Besant (1877) have assumed or have
explicitly characterized atheism in the negative sense of absence
of belief in God. Furthermore, in the twentieth century George
H. Smith, in Atheism: The Case Against God (1979), maintains,
"An atheist is not primarily a person who believes that god does
not exist; rather he does not believe in the existence of god."
Antony Flew, in "The Presumption of Atheism" (1972), understands
an atheist as someone who is not a theist. Gordon Stein, in An
Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism (1980), says an atheist "is
a person without a belief in God." A recent pamphlet entitled
"American Atheists: An Introduction" says an atheist "has no
belief system" concerning supernatural agencies. Another recent
pamphlet entitled "American Atheists: A History" defines
American atheism as "the philosophy of persons who are free from
Still there is a popular meaning of "atheism" according to
which an atheist not simply holds no belief in the existence of a
god or gods but believes that there is no god or gods. The use
of the term should not be overlooked. To avoid confusion, let us
call this positive atheism, and the type of atheism derived from
the Greek root and held by the atheistic thinkers surveyed above
let us call negative atheism. Clearly, positive atheism is a
special case of negative atheism: Someone who is a positive
atheist is by necessity a negative atheist, but not conversely.
In my usage, positive atheism is positive only in the sense
that it refers to a positive belief -- the belief that there is
no god or gods. It is positive in contrast to negative atheism,
which has no such positive belief. Of course, in another sense
that is not relevant here, what I have called positive atheism is
more negative than what I have called negative atheism. Positive
atheism denies that one or more gods exist; negative atheism does
Just thought I'd provide some more material for your
misunderstanding pleasure. Please feel free to miss the point,
as you've already shown you can do it so well.