Theism proposes the existence of God. Atheism makes no proposition, it is simply the absence of a belief in God. Theism is the proposition. Atheism is the negation. The negation is not a proposition. Is it valid for theists to persist in contending that atheism is a proposition?

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    The negation of a proposition is not a proposition... why? Dec 9, 2023 at 14:30
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    You are just playing word games. If I say 'there are no rivers in France' how is that not a proposition? Would you say it is just the absence of a belief in French rivers? My sainted mother was wont to exaggerate my childhood intellectual powers, but I suspect even she would eventually have conceded that within an hour of my birth I had what one might legitimately describe as an absence of a belief in god. Under your scheme, babies would be true atheists. A proposition is a statement to which a truth value may sensibly be assigned. If we have a proposition P, its negation, not-P, is just a muc Dec 9, 2023 at 15:00
  • Atheism is a belief system capable of being summarized by a proposition.
    – J D
    Dec 9, 2023 at 15:17
  • Quote from Cambridge Dictionary: > proposition: a statement or problem that must be solved or proved to > be true or not true. > > Example: Pythagoras's theorem is the mathematical proposition that in > any right-angled triangle, the square on the hypotenuse is equal to > the sum of the squares on the other two sides. Hence between theism and atheism the situation is completely symmetric. – I wonder why the dicitionary expects a proof; I would weaken this requirement by “must be supported by arguments”.
    – Jo Wehler
    Dec 9, 2023 at 15:46
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    But if someone doesn't assert that proposition, you have no right to say anything about their beliefs, intentions, etc. People are allowed to not participate. Otherwise, I will feel free to make a myriad of accusations that you are not able to counter. Is this the world we want to create?
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 9, 2023 at 15:56

5 Answers 5


The negation of a proposition is not a proposition.

I can find nothing to support this assertion:

A proposition is a declarative statement that can be either true or false but not both.

The negation of a proposition p is an operation performed on p that can be read literally to "It is not the case" or "not p" and it is still a proposition because the operation is only designed to provide the opposite truth value of the original proposition and must have symmetry:

God exists.

Negation: "It is not the case" that God exists. (God does not exist)


God does not exist.

Negation: "It is not the case that God does not exist. (God exists).

This reversibility ensures that the negation of a proposition is a proposition.

Simply: p = ~(~p)

Your question is based on a false premise


As an atheist, my beliefs constitute both a positive claim against the agnostic beliefs that a reasonable person should start from, and a series of positive claims to explain why theists maintain their position despite a lack of evidence. As such, the thesis of atheism is very much a positive set of claims, and not merely the absence of belief in gods. Some of those claims?

The belief in a supernatural intelligence is quite common and reasonable to both the untrained and trained mind. As theists become more sophisticated in their thinking, they employ a number of reasonable strategies in their arguments, and their arguments cannot simply ignored. But as an atheist, at the heart of their claims is always the desire to believe in God, a desire I myself have known.

The lack of modern scientific support for theism is difficult to recognize without extensive effort to understand contemporary philosophy of science. It is certainly not unreasonable to defend the intuitions of a god or Gods. It is also difficult to understand concepts like "the failure of logical positivists to root out metaphysical speculation", "holophrastic indeterminacy is a property of scientific discourse", and "the Duhem-Quine thesis aligns nicely with the notion of the normative of language presupposed by theory-ladenness".

Evolution predisposes us to a number of cognitive biases such as a heavy reliance on shared intentionality, the fundamental attribution error, and pareidola. Thus, an theist who is not aware of the fundamental operation of their mind at a psychological level would likely interpret such intuitions as a "higher being". People lack self-insight about the mechanisms and language because those mechanisms are not apparent by the method of introspection.

Therefore, any reasonable and defensible position that claims to be atheism is not just a negative characterization that hides behind some simplistic interpretation of the burden of proof. Atheism in its many forms consists of a vivid and lively set of claims each of which are interlocking and exist in a positive form. To claim otherwise betrays a certain epistemological naivete.

  • Well stated! The whole debate is "footnotes to Sagan".
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 9, 2023 at 16:00
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    I have met a Jewish Rabbi and a Catholic priest who also practiced Zen Buddhism. I asked the Rabbi if God speaks in the plural voice in the original Hebrew and he said, "Yes." I asked the Catholic priest if the Buddha was atheist and he said, "Technically, Yes." Some scholars assert that the legends or historic records indicate that the Buddha refused to argue over the existence or non-existence of God. I think this is because he understood that God arises in the mind via dependent origination and there is no way to prove whether God does or does not exist based on evidence in that context. Dec 9, 2023 at 20:09

The short answer to your question "Is it valid for theists to persist in contending that atheism is a proposition?" is, unfortunately, yes and no, or, perhaps better, it depends.

Your starting-point is "Theism is the proposition. Atheism is the negation". This suggests that the law of excluded middle applies. In that case, to prove one is to disprove the other. To prove the other is to disprove the one. In that case, it will equally follow that if one is not a proposition, the other is not a proposition. So on that basis, theists need to establish that atheism is a proposition. But both sides are wrong to contend that the burden of proof is on the other side. Both propositions are at stake in any argument on one side or the other.

I am not sure that my understanding of the idea that the negation of a proposition is not a proposition is correct. I interpret it as a claim that the negation of a proposition is not distinct from the positive proposition. In that case, they need to be understood as a single proposition with different operators - assertion in one case and negation in the other. This does fit with what I understand of Frege's definition of a proposition.

But this raises a third alternative in some cases. Sometimes a supposed proof of one or the other does give grounds for believing that alternative, but is less than conclusive. Then, even though both alternatives are propositions and capable of truth or falsity, proof or disproof, it is not rational to commit to either and it is rational not to commit to either. In this debate, such a position is called agnosticism.

Agnosticism does not commit to theism, and so some people will want to classify it with atheism, and this is not wrong. But agnosticism does not commit to atheism, either. So do we classify it with theism? That seems wrong. So agnosticism is a third alternative, which can be "refuted" by providing a conclusive proof for theism or atheism.

I am not at all sure whether agnosticism is also a proposition. It would be possible to argue that we have here a single proposition and three "propositional attitudes" - assertion, negation, and suspended judgement.

All of this goes out the window if it can be proved that the core concept - "God" - is incoherent. In that case, all three - theism, atheism, agnosticism - are not propositions. I'm not sure where the burden of proof would lie in that argument.

  • One or the other ought to have been proven by now. Else just throw the whole thing out.
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 10, 2023 at 14:09
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    Quite so. For me, there's no question of proving or disproving here, because the concept is incoherent. People keep going with it anyway, so its truth is not the point. What is the point? Comfort, the promise of revenge, social control - perhaps all of those, maybe more.
    – Ludwig V
    Dec 10, 2023 at 15:00
  • ... and, of course, in some religions, but not all, the promise of blissful after-life.
    – Ludwig V
    Dec 10, 2023 at 15:40

I'm going to challenge your question based on your assertion that Atheism is "simply the absence of a belief in God."

From my understanding during my studies, any statement that has a truth-value is a proposition. So any denying of the theist's claim about the existence of a God is a proposition, since it has the truth-value of denying such an existence. For more information on propositions, see this article.

See here on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article for Atheism and Agnosticism:

In philosophy, however, and more specifically in the philosophy of religion, the term “atheism” is standardly used to refer to the proposition that God does not exist (or, more broadly, to the proposition that there are no gods). Thus, to be an atheist on this definition, it does not suffice to suspend judgment on whether there is a God, even though that implies a lack of theistic belief.

As it says, philosophically atheism is discussed specifically as a proposition. To disagree means you don't agree with the standard definition used in literature for the phil. of religion, which at that point is a different conversation. There are also issues with the definition you're using, which the article goes into some depth with.

So, with how atheism is defined and discussed in philosophical literature, it is treated as a proposition. For more reasoning as to why this is the case, as well as more history on the use of the term, read that section of the article. Additionally the absence of belief might fit in the philosophical definition of agnosticism (from the same article):

an agnostic is a person who has entertained the proposition that there is a God but believes neither that it is true nor that it is false. Not surprisingly, then, the term “agnosticism” is often defined, both in and outside of philosophy, not as a principle or any other sort of proposition but instead as the psychological state of being an agnostic.

To answer your final question, yes it is valid for theists to contend that atheism is a proposition. It is also not just theists that argue this either, it is agreed by many prominent atheists in the literature that it is a proposition too (same article):

This metaphysical sense of the word is preferred ... not just by theistic philosophers, but by many (though not all) atheists in philosophy as well.


I am going to answer my own question to clarify that it is about a proposition, not belief. Any reference to belief in the answers is irrelevant. The negation of a proposition is not a proposition. This principle has been accepted in philosophy since ancient times. It seems that some have in mind an assumed definition of atheism that I do not recognise. To be clear, atheism is the absence of belief in God, or even recognition that it is relevant. In current parlance -God is not a thing. I make no proposition about the non-existence of something that is not a thing. There is no equivalence between a proposition and a negation. The negator can simply remain silent. Wittgenstein said, whereof we cannot speak thereof we must be silent. I like that, and I choose to remain silent.

  • You are still just playing word games. If I say 'I make the proposition that there is no God' where does that leave your argument? Dec 10, 2023 at 10:43
  • Could you provide a reference that backs this statement: "The negation of a proposition is not a proposition". I'm having no luck with an online search. Dec 10, 2023 at 19:34
  • A proposition and its negation can be equally true or false. The Proposition that "there is a God" can be either true or false as does the negation "there is no God" can be either true or false. As there is an absence of evidence for the truth of either proposition, then you have to believe the proposition and its negation to be the truth or not be the truth.
    – 8Mad0Manc8
    Dec 10, 2023 at 22:18
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    Could you add detail, please. As it stands, this reads like a comment. I'm not criticising what you say - I'd just like more of it.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Dec 11, 2023 at 9:50
  • Sure. There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of both my question and answer. I will clarify.
    – Meanach
    Dec 11, 2023 at 17:15

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