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Famous atheists and their beliefs
July 15th, 2013
02:50 PM ET

Behold, the six types of atheists

By Dan Merica, CNN

(CNN) – How many ways are there to disbelieve in God?

At least six, according to a new study.

Two researchers at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga found that atheists and agnostics run the range from vocally anti-religious activists to nonbelievers who still observe some religious traditions.

“The main observation is that nonbelief is an ontologically diverse community,” write doctoral student Christopher Silver and undergraduate student Thomas Coleman.

“These categories are a first stab at this," Silver told the website Raw Story. "In 30 years, we may be looking at a typology of 32 types.”

Silver and Coleman derived their six types of nonbelievers from 59 interviews. We're pretty sure we've spotted all six in our comments section.

1) Intellectual atheist/agnostic

This type of nonbeliever seeks information and intellectual stimulation about atheism.

They like debating and arguing, particularly on popular Internet sites.

(Ahem.)

They're also well-versed in books and articles about religion and atheism, and prone to citing those works frequently.

2) Activist

These kinds of atheists and agnostics are not content with just disbelieving in God; they want to tell others why they reject religion and why society would be better off if we all did likewise.

They tend to be vocal about political causes like gay rights, feminism, the environment and the care of animals.

3) Seeker-agnostic

This group is made up of people who are unsure about the existence of a God but keep an open mind and recognize the limits of human knowledge and experience.

Silver and Coleman describe this group as people who regularly question their own beliefs and “do not hold a firm ideological position.”

That doesn't mean this group is confused, the researchers say. They just embrace uncertainty.

4) Anti-theist

This group regularly speaks out against religion and religious beliefs, usually by positioning themselves as “diametrically opposed to religious ideology,” Silver and Coleman wrote.

“Anti-theists view religion as ignorance and see any individual or institution associated with it as backward and socially detrimental,” the researchers wrote. “The Anti-Theist has a clear and – in their view, superior – understanding of the limitations and danger of religions.”

Anti-theists are outspoken, devoted and – at times – confrontational about their disbelief. They believe that "obvious fallacies in religion and belief should be aggressively addressed in some form or another.”

5) Non-theist

The smallest group among the six are the non-theists, people who do not involve themselves with either religion or anti-religion.

In many cases, this comes across as apathy or disinterest.

“A Non-Theist simply does not concern him or herself with religion,” Silver and Coleman wrote. “Religion plays no role or issue in one’s consciousness or worldview; nor does a Non- Theist have concern for the atheist or agnostic movement.”

They continue: “They simply do not believe, and in the same right, their absence of faith means the absence of anything religion in any form from their mental space.”

6) Ritual atheist

They don't believe in God, they don’t associate with religion, and they tend to believe there is no afterlife, but the sixth type of nonbeliever still finds useful the teachings of some religious traditions.

“They see these as more or less philosophical teachings of how to live life and achieve happiness than a path to transcendental liberation,” Silver and Coleman wrote. “For example, these individuals may participate in specific rituals, ceremonies, musical opportunities, meditation, yoga classes, or holiday traditions.”

For many of these nonbelievers, their adherence to ritual may stem from family traditions. For others, its a personal connection to, or respect for, the "profound symbolism" inherent within religious rituals, beliefs and ceremonies, according the researchers.

The authors of this study have graciously agreed to field questions from our commenters. If you're interested, please post your question below or tweet it to us at @CNNBelief. 

We'll take the best questions to the authors and the Q&A will be posted in a follow-up article. 

Please try to keep your questions related to the study itself.

Thanks,
Daniel Burke

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Holidays • Lost faith • Nones • Spirituality • Trends • United States

soundoff (9,518 Responses)
  1. downeastranch

    This is an extraordinarily Christian-centric article. Not everyone who doesn't believe in the Judeo-Christian god has somehow "rejected" that god. There are many religions whose adherents do not believe the Judeo-Christian god exists, including hundreds of millions of Hindus. There are animists throughout Africa and Asia who believe in spirits and local gods, but not the Judeo-Christian god. There are millions of Buddhists and Confucianists who do not believe in gods. It is possible to have a rich and satisfying belief system with a strong moral code without believing in - or rejecting - the god of Abraham and Isaac.

    June 24, 2014 at 1:16 pm |
  2. theemptyone1

    These researchers, sweating away in the Bible Belt, seeking to understand the non-believers ways, have come up with six categories in their need to find comfort in pegging the opposition in space. I find a bit of myself in every description. But when I do rituals they are based on my racial/ethnic culture, not based in a belief of anything, but the season of the year and the factual, celestial facts of nature. As a result, I know who I am and who my people were, and I feel connected to the universe and my land.

    June 10, 2014 at 11:53 pm |
  3. samsjmail

    I don't think there is an easter bunny, but I can't prove it.

    June 10, 2014 at 5:02 pm |
    • the1observant

      That rabbit stew sure was good. So were the eggs I found beside him.

      June 10, 2014 at 6:35 pm |
      • tesmith47

        you mean, IN HER!!

        June 11, 2014 at 1:15 am |
        • the1observant

          Nah, my Easter Bunny is a Male. See what happens is, Mrs. Easter Bunny makes the eggs and Mr. Easter Bunny delivers them. It's all in the scope of the lame gender roles we see in our society. That's another reason why I shot him... LOL

          June 24, 2014 at 6:45 pm |
  4. ruth1940

    Agnosticism implies a sense of unknowable, not just that the agnostic doesn't know. Science has figured out a lot of things that humans previously thought were unknowable, so it's probably not a good category, The atheists I know would be willing to believe if reliable evidence were presented.

    May 31, 2014 at 9:18 pm |
    • hotairace

      Amen!

      May 31, 2014 at 9:31 pm |
      • tesmith47

        yep , you are right.
        as a thinking agnostic , i came to the conclusion simply by looking at what we do know.

        June 1, 2014 at 12:00 am |
        • theemptyone1

          But if you were an honest agnostic you'd admit that the balance is tilted far against the likelihood of the existence of any deity. It is not such a great leap to conclude that belief in myths as facts is erroneous. See, you must realize first that the very concept of god is historically a product of human produced myth.

          For me, agnostics are at best, impish types that think they can be right no matter what, or at worst, cowards that secretly only wish to cover their A's.

          June 10, 2014 at 11:49 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.