Over at Atheist Revolution, vjack offered some discussion today about how we talk about belief and nonbelief. It’s pretty clear what atheism means to those of us who identify with it, but there are a lot of distinctions that go undocumented. For example, I think most people think that “atheism” means anybody who doesn’t believe in God. Even in The God Delusion, Dawkins suggests a spectrum of belief and unbelief that is symmetrical.
This conceptualization revolves around God, but I don’t think it illuminates the whole picture. I think atheism has been made too inclusive of a term in a way that betrays those of us who are true skeptics. Instead of just thinking of belief and unbelief, we need to also consider antibelief. This is any assertion or belief against something supernatural. I think we should refer to this (admittedly small) group as contratheists. Either assertion is lacking the merit of proof. The questions vjack posed in today’s post help illuminate this distinction.
Do you believe in God?
Is there a God?
Atheist: I doubt it.
This might seem subtle, but it’s an important distinction. Theism and atheism are not opposites. Theism and contratheism are opposites. Atheism is skepticism to either.
Using Dawkins’ model as a guide, I have created a new visual model that I think best shows the spectrum of belief. (Please click on it to view its full size.)
In other words, I am advocating no longer distinguishing between “weak/negative” atheism and “strong/positive” atheism. Atheism is atheism, and contratheism is contratheism.
Keep in mind that the size of the spectrum does not reflect the number of people who would be in each section. Dawkins himself suggested that the number of “7”s (contratheists) would be quite small. I expect that most “atheists” who have thought about it would agree that they are in the red territory, asserting no beliefs. Atheists like Dawkins and myself find a God highly improbable, but we would never assert “there is no God.” (We do live our lives as if there is not a God, but we know that we cannot fully rule out his existence.)
I hope this scale is helpful for illuminating our understanding of different worldview identities. Please share your feedback! I think these terms are important to add to the vernacular when distinguishing what people believe or not. Feel free to share these ideas, but I would appreciate if you can still cite back to me, Zack Ford, and ZackFord Blogs.