Definition of Strong Atheism

Strong atheism is defined either as the general position that denies the existence of any gods or the limited position that denies the existence of some specific god (but not necessarily others). The first definition is the most common and what most people understand as the definition of strong atheism. The second definition is used is specific contexts when trying to explain atheists' varying approaches to the question of the existence of gods.

Strong atheism is also sometimes defined as claiming to know that no god or gods exists. This goes a step beyond simply believing that it is false that any gods exist because you can believe something is false without also claiming to know for sure that it is false. This definition is the one typically used to criticize strong atheism by arguing that it's impossible to know that no gods can or do exist, ergo strong atheism must be illogical, contradictory, or at least as much a religious faith as theism.

The general definition of strong atheism is sometimes treated as the definition of atheism itself, without qualifications applied. This is incorrect. The general definition of atheism is simply the absence of belief in gods and this definition applies to all atheists. Only those atheists who take the extra step of denying some or all gods fit under the definition of strong atheism. There is some overlap between strong atheism and positive atheism, explicit atheism, and critical atheism.

Useful Examples

Strong atheism describes the position Emma Goldman takes in her essay, ‘‘The Philosophy of Atheism.’’ Strong atheists positively deny that deities exist. Goldman states that it is only by rejecting the idea of God altogether that mankind can break away from the crutch of religion and achieve true freedom. Strong atheists tend to believe in rationalism, the philosophy that truth can be reached through human reason and factual analysis rather than through religious faith or the teachings of a church.
Strong atheists are critical of any belief system that demands from people faith or simple acceptance instead of relying on reasoning and critical thinking. Atheists of this type, including Goldman, argue that religion and belief in God are not just irrational, or unreasonable, but also destructive and harmful because of the influence of religious institutions over people’s lives. Atheists believe that only by freeing themselves from religious beliefs can people likewise free themselves from superstition.
- World Religions: Primary Sources, Michael J. O’Neal and J. Sydney Jones