A few contemporary atheists restrict the definition of atheism to just the sense of 'strong' atheism, but most do not. Most have, instead, pointed out the difference between 'weak' atheism and 'strong' atheism, arguing that the former is the broader and more commonly found form of atheism. Included here are quotes and definitions from nonbelievers from the latter part of the 20th century and later.
Barker, Johnson, Flew, and Kuvakin on the Definition of Atheism:
A former fundamentalist preacher who has become an activist for atheism, freethought, and the separation of church and state. He wrote in his 1992 book Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist that,
- It turns out that the word atheism means much less than I had thought. It is merely the lack of theism [...] Basic atheism is not a belief. It is the lack of belief. There is a difference between believing there is no god and not believing there is a god both are atheistic, though popular usage has ignored the latter [...].
The author of The Atheist Debater's Handbook, Johnson explains why the theist has the initial burden of proof in any argument by explaining that, "The atheist, for his part, does not necessarily offer an explanation; he simply does not accept the theist's explanation. Therefore, the atheist need only demonstrate that the theist has failed to justify his position."
Antony G. N. Flew:
An atheist philosopher from Britain, Flew has written quite a lot on the nature of atheism and theism. In his 1984 book God, Freedom and Immortality, he said that
- The word 'atheism,' however, has in this contention to be construed unusually. Whereas nowadays the usual meaning of 'atheist' in English is 'someone who asserts there is no such being as God,' I want the word to be understood not positively but negatively. I want the originally Greek prefix 'a' to be read in the same way in 'atheist' as it customarily is read in such other Greco-English words as 'amoral,' 'atypical,' and 'asymmetrical'. In this interpretation an atheist becomes: someone who is simply not a theist. Let us, for future ready reference, introduce the labels 'positive atheist' for the former and 'negative atheist' for the latter.
Valerii A. Kuvakin:
Professor and chair of the Department of Russian Philosophy at Moscow State University, Kuvakin writes in his book In Search of our Humanity:
- Atheism ... goes back to the Ancient Greek (a a negative prefix, theos god), evidencing the antiquity of the outlook of those who saw no presence of God (or gods) in their everyday lives, or who even denied the very existence of God (or gods). There are different types of atheism, but atheism in one form or another has existed in every civilization.
- [T]he concept "atheist" partially coincides with such notions as "skeptic," "agnostic," and "rationalist" and it borders with such notions as "anticlerical," "God fighter" (theomachist), and "God abuser" (blasphemer).
- It is wrong to identify an atheist as one who denies God, though this is what opponents of atheism usually claim. If such people exist, it would probably be more correct to call them the "verbal" murderers of God, for the prefix a- means denying as elimination. ... I would like to stress that the prefix a- does not necessarily mean rejection. It can mean "absence of." For example, "apathy" means "absence of passion." Thus, the concept "atheist" does not necessarily mean nihilism.