ATHEISM: Positive and Negative! And Faith Too!
(Excerpt from) The Presumption of Atheism by: Antony Flew
The presumption of atheism which I want to discuss is not a form of presumptuousness. Indeed it might be regarded as an expression of the very opposite, a modest teachability. My presumption of atheism is closely analogous to the presumption of innocence in the English law; a comparison which I shall develop in Section 2.
What I want to examine is the contention that the debate about the existence of God should
properly begin from the presumption of atheism, that the onus of proof must lie upon the theist .
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 that 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: not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God; but 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.
The introduction of this new interpretation of the word 'atheism' may appear to be a piece of perverse Humpty-Dumptyism, going arbitrarily against established common usage. 'Whyever', it could be asked, 'don't you make it not the presumption of atheism but the presumption of agnosticism?' It is too soon to attempt a full answer to this challenge and this suggestion. My justification for introducing the notion of negative atheism will be found in the whole development of the present chapter.
Then in Chapter Two I intend to argue for a return to the original usage of the word 'agnosticism', as first introduced by Thomas Henry Huxley. In the meantime it should be sufficient to point out that, following the present degenerate usage, an agnostic is one who, having entertained the proposition that God exists, now claims not to know either that it is or that it is not true. To be in this ordinary sense an agnostic you have already to have conceded that there is, and that you have, a legitimate concept of God; such that, whether or not this concept does in fact have application, it theoretically could. But the atheist in my peculiar interpretation, unlike the atheist in the usual sense, has not as yet and as such conceded even this. This point is important, though the question whether the word 'agnosticism' could bear the meaning which I want now to give to the word 'atheism' is not .
What the protagonist of my presumption of atheism wants to show is that the debate about the existence of God
ought to be conducted in a particular way, and that the issue should be seen in a certain perspective.
His thesis about the onus of proof involves that it is up to the theist : first, to introduce and
to defend his proposed concept of God; and, second, to provide sufficient reason
for believing that this concept of his does in fact have an application.https://web.archive.org/web/20051012172554