Dr. Collins had characterized atheists as being opposed to the 'possibility' of a God, and I corrected that this is not what atheism is. Rather, atheism is merely the lack of a belief that a God does exist; a subtle distinction in itself, though not the one that is the subject of this post. J.L.A. wrote in response:
It is certainly true Dr. Collins is overgeneralizing the view of some atheists. However, there are some atheists who are convinced that there is no god and think that anyone who believes in one is deluded (I have had the misfortune of knowing several of them myself). Unfortunately, they are often the most vocal people in the group and that is often the reason that others misunderstand the meaning of the term "atheism".I think there is a subtle distinction at play here that goes unappreciated. This unappreciated distinction makes it appear there are more 'strong atheists' (those stating certainty that God is non-existent) than there actually are. In reality, in all my dealings with atheists, I don't know that I have ever really met one.
The subtle distinction is this:
While we cannot know whether or not the claim of a non-physical entity immune to empirical observation is true are false, we do know that it is irrational to hold a belief in either position - specifically due to that fact.
Therefore, people who believe in God are deluded. And, even if they someday die and find themselves looking at God in the face, they will still have been deluded during their lives.
In such a case, they would not have been deluded about the existence of God itself, but deluded in thinking that it is reasonable or rational to accept as true such an extraordinary claim without empirical evidence.
It would be like being convinced that J.L.A. is actually an alien from a planet on the other side of the galaxy, posing as a human. Even if this bizarre claim turned out to be correct by chance, one would be no less deluded in thinking it reasonable to hold such a belief without justifiable, rational reason. In fact, even a much more likely possibility, such as believing J.L.A. to be 110 years old, would be irrational without some sort of evidence to believe it.
So, what happens is that believers encounter an atheist of this nature, who certainly doesn't believe God is impossible or claim to know that such a being could never exist. But the atheist unfortunately projects a sense that he sees the believer as generally silly, irrational, and wrong. The perception on the part of the theist is correct, but they confuse the source of the atheist's attitude as being a belief that they are wrong about God, when in fact, the source of their attitude is the belief they are wrong in their belief in God, regardless of whether or not there is actually a God.
In that judgment, the weak atheist is correct: the theist is objectively wrong.
Where these kinds of atheists are wrong, however, is in their attitude; and I think this is what you may really be referring to when you mention your unfortunate association with such people. I would advise all atheists not to project such attitudes in the first place. Aside from it simply being uncivil and rude, it is also unfair and conceited. Of our many millions of thoughts, we are all wrong (i.e. deluded) about something, and there is no evidence that a person is necessarily dumb or deserving of such treatment merely for being a theist. Most people are deserving of respect, and that in no way requires any censorship of the substance of our critiques. Furthermore, such attitudes only serve to raise walls and hamper communication. And, of course, it also leads to this common misunderstanding about atheists in general as being people who deny even the possibility of a God.
Mature people should be capable of communicating their positions clearly without smugness, intolerance, or demeaning attitudes. We are all part of the same human family and all attempts to convey truth or reason should be made with compassion in mind, and with the attitude that engenders.
As for those few people who might actually claim to know that a God cannot possibly exist, I consider them equally as wrong in that extraordinary claim.