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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. Dyslexic doG

    Bible Contradictions:

    EXO 24:9,10; AMO 9:1; GEN 26:2; and JOH 14:9
    God CAN be seen:
    "And I will take away my hand, and thou shalt see my backparts." (EXO 33:23)
    "And the Lord spake to Moses face to face, as a man speaketh to his friend." (EXO 33:11)
    "For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved." (GEN 32:30)

    God CANNOT be seen:
    "No man hath seen God at any time." (JOH 1:18)
    "And he said, Thou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see me and live." (EXO 33:20)
    "Whom no man hath seen nor can see." (1TIM 6:16)

    July 16, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • Randy M

      You fail to take into account colloquialisms of the Hebrew(Old Testament) language or the Greek(New Testament). Read the passages in their entirety to understand the meaning of the whole thought. You are mistaken there is no contradiction. Moses saw parts of God, face to face refers to closeness and conversation. The New Testament phrases refer to the fact that no Man has been with God in Heaven and knows him except Jesus. The accounts refer to different things entirely and are not related in the way you seem to think they are.

      July 16, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • fintastic

      Remember dog, when bible contradictions are pointed out to belivers, they are always "taken out of context"

      July 16, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  2. Soup-Du-Jour

    There is a God, Travyvon is dead

    July 16, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • ME II

      disgusting

      July 16, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  3. Soup-Du-Jour

    There is a God, Zimmerman walked!

    July 16, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
  4. Debbie

    This bible verse settles where we will spend eternity after we leave this earth.
    Please read the bible for yourself: JOHN 3:16
    For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whosever believes in Him shall have eternal life.
    READ ISAIAH 53: Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.. JESUS CAME TO REDEEM US.. HE ALONE CAN ONLY SAVE US.

    July 16, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • ME II

      " Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins."

      Why?

      July 16, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
      • thinker

        Exactly

        July 16, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • Doobs

      It may mean that to you, but a large number of people believe a different book, and some don't believe in supernatural books at all.

      July 16, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      Debbie,
      " Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins."

      What kind of a monster god have you got for yourself there, girl?!

      July 16, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • snowboarder

      the bible is a collection of occasionally noble myths.

      July 16, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
      • ME II

        ... interspersed with a whole lot of ignoble myths.

        July 16, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      'For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son'

      Which means what exactly? Its a great phrase but like the emporer's new clothes it doesnt stand up to scrutiny.

      How does putting him to death mean he died for our sins? What does that really mean? What about the two others that supposedly died with him? What made their deaths any different?

      And what did he give? Its no sacrifice if a few days later he is up and around again is it?

      Not to mention the whole thing is a case of he supposedly gave himself to save us from himself. Heck, he may as well claim that its going to hurt him more than its going to hurt us for all the good it will do.

      July 16, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
      • Crowmagnon0

        This whole idea of Jesus sacrificing himself to atone for original sin is pretty ridiculous too. Evolution is true, and one of the things it says is that there was never just one man and one woman at the "beginning". Therefore, original sin by the supposed mother and father of humanity could never have happened, and therefore Jesus dying for that original sin is even dumber. Do Christians even think about things like this?

        July 16, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • sam stone

      allowing someone else to take the punishment you feel you deserve is about the least moral stance someone can take. do you think about morality, debbie, or do you just fall to your knee and beg?

      July 16, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
    • fintastic

      Debbie.... a total load of crap.

      July 16, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
    • fintastic

      Debbie....... that is a total load of crapola

      July 16, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      It doesn't look like Debbie is answering. She is just here to preach and run.

      July 16, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • fintastic

      @debbie.... a total load of shlt

      July 16, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  5. Dyslexic doG

    the King James version of the new testament was completed in 1611 by 8 members of the church of England. There were (and still are) NO original texts to translate. The oldest manuscripts we have were written down 100's of years after the last apostle died. There are over 8,000 of these old manuscripts with no two alike. The king james translators used none of these anyway. Instead they edited previous translations to create a version their king and parliament would approve.

    So.... 21st century christians believe the "word of god" is a book edited in the 17th century from the 16th century translations of 8,000 contradictory copies of 4th century scrolls that claim to be copies of lost letters written in the 1st century.

    July 16, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • Gary

      Much of what you say is true but when writing facts they need to be correct. The KJV had 47 translators not 8. Quite a significant difference.

      July 16, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  6. Dave

    Oh great. I was already in the minority as an atheist, but now you've made me part of a minority within that minority: non-theist. Couldn't yall come up with a cooler moniker than that for me and my two or three pals????

    July 16, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • Bob Thierry

      Yes – REALIST !!!

      July 16, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  7. michael

    I find it far too simplistic to believe there are only 6 "types" of atheists. Rarely does such typing accurately describe the convoluted and constantly evolving process known as religious belief, or the lack thereof. I consider myself as having strong atheist views and very concerned about the hatred and violence organized religion can and does spawn. At the same time I stand on no soapbox, nor do I advocate that others should believe as I do, no matter how misguided or silly they may be.

    July 16, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  8. Samantha

    Even though I was raised Catholic, as I've gotten older I've become discouraged by Christianity, and religion in general. I wouldn't say I'm an athiest, but I respect why some people are. There are some days in my life I have felt very lucky and blessed, and I thank God for that. But when tragedies happen in this world, or I've been through tough times with no help in sight, I ask where my God is....and I don't feel his presence. I think we should all just be kind to each other, and not preach to others what you think you know about your religion...to each his own.

    July 16, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  9. boston consulting group dallas careers

    At this moment I am going to do my breakfast, afterward having my
    breakfast coming again to read other news.

    July 16, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  10. dnl6478

    I am little bit 1 and 5..

    July 16, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
  11. Dave

    I am a student of the afterlife. I read every near death experience I can find published or that people will share with me. I highly recommend the book A LAND UNKNOWN by BW Melvin for a foretaste of the afterlife that many are experiencing and will experience after their demise. After all, one out of every one of us is going to die eventually.

    July 16, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • ME II

      @Dave,
      I guessing that you are actually a 'student of stories of the afterlife' since you aren't likely to be studying the actual thing itself.

      July 16, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
      • fred

        Exactly where do you not find a continuation of existence once the thing was brought into existence? Neanderthal was simply a no longer needed appendage for species or subspecies of the genus Homo

        Those who believe in evolution must notice everything works towards new beginnings

        July 16, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
        • ME II

          What?

          July 16, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
      • fred

        The divergence of Homo sapiens from other species resulted in a being with greater and greater awareness. Greater and greater abilities to create, think outside the box, love, appreciate. We are evolving more "God" like not less "God" like. Homo sapiens are not drifting towards Homo ergaster, Species that became extinct contributed towards a continuation.
        The Bible says we were created to worship God and enjoy the new heaven and earth we are moving towards. Evolution points towards the greater from the lessor.

        Most living things as we observe them renew self with death simply a part of the renewal cycle.

        Matter generally speaking is neither created nor destroyed

        What evidence do you have that suddenly your life will not follow everything you have observed to be self evident?

        July 16, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
    • Alias

      Don't you find it strange that there are so many discrepancies in the stories of the afterlife?

      July 16, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
      • Dave

        I think it pays to look ahead–if I put my head in the sand and live in denial about my impending death and the possible variables, I only have myself to blame for the consequences of my denial.

        July 16, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
        • cedar rapids

          sounds like you believe 'just in case'.

          July 16, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
        • Alias

          That didn't answer my question.
          Okay, so you are in a personal crisis because you are going to die. Fine. Now, how do you make sense of all the different versions of heaven and hell that you are researching?

          July 16, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
      • Dave

        Do some research Alias–the answers are there. Start with A LAND UNKNOWN by Melvin. It offers an a possible explanation for some inconsistencies in stories of the afterlife.

        July 16, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
        • Alias

          I don't think a book as biased as that one is going to do anybody any good.
          I may as well watch Fox News to see how the POTUS is doing.

          July 16, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
        • cedar rapids

          would we be right in suggesting that the overwhelming amount of books you have read during this 'research' have been ones that have put supported the suggestion of a heaven or hell of some type?

          July 16, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
    • Saraswati

      The only NDE book I ever read was given to me by a friend. I found an inconsistency in it that made it out to be clear fraud. When I pointed this out to the friend she said "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater". What? The evidence you gave me was fraud??

      There's too little time in life to waster my precious moments on more of that stuff.

      July 16, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
      • Dave

        Scientists estimate the universe to be about 14 billion years old. I've only been in existence a mere moment of time in comparison. What if I am an eternal being–where will I spend the next 14 billion years in whatever state there may be after this?

        July 16, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
        • ME II

          What makes you think you might be an eternal being? Ever met one?

          July 16, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
        • Alias

          Scientists estimate 14 billion years since the Big Bang. That was not the beginning of the universe.
          And one more time – how does conflicting stories about what the afterlife is like useful? You would have to go in to this already convinced all these stories are true to conclude that any of these stories are reliable.

          July 16, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  12. Van

    Ah, atheism, human arrogance at its' finest.

    July 16, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Dippy

      Its, not its'.

      July 16, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
    • snowboarder

      lol. unlike the abrahamic religions, which profess that the entire universe was spoiled by the action of a single person. you might want to rethink your definition of arrogance.

      July 16, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
      • lol??

        He got the job done. All else is fantasy.

        July 16, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
        • snowboarder

          it is all fantasy.

          July 16, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
    • ReligionIsBS

      Not pretending to have all the answers of the existence of life and rejecting the silliest of supersti.tions is arrogant? Uuugggghh, I dont think that word means what you think it means.

      July 16, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • ReligionIsBS

      Not pretending to have all the answers of the existence of life and rejecting the silliest of supersti*tions is arrogant? Uuugggghh, I dont think that word means what you think it means.

      July 16, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • ReligionIsBS

      Not pretending to have all the answers of the existence of life and rejecting the silliest of explanations (religions) is arrogant? Uuugggghh, I dont think that word means what you think it means.

      July 16, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • ReligionIsBS

      Not pretending to have all the answers of the exis.tence of life and rejecting the silliest of explanations (religions) is arrogant? Uuugggghh, I dont think that word means what you think it means.

      July 16, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
      • ReligionIsBS

        Ok, I see that they changed the way they notify me if my post went through. !

        July 16, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • ME II

      Is it arrogant to say that I'm unconvinced of another's proposition?

      July 16, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
      • lol??

        You could just be blunt and tell em to up their offer by an order of magnitude. Look what they're payin' Hillary.

        July 16, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • Alias

      Not as arrogant as thinking that you have god all figured out.
      BTW – Which interpretation of what holy book are you sure will get you into heaven?

      July 16, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • fintastic

      Unlike christianity, right van??

      July 16, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
    • sam stone

      as opposed to the modesty of those who purport to speak for god, van?

      you are a pompous dweeb.

      July 16, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
  13. Honey Badger Don't Care

    Watch the Jack Black movie "The year One" and you will understan how the bible was written.

    July 16, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
    • Richard

      The critics didn’t like that one.

      July 16, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
      • ME II

        The movie or the Bible?

        July 16, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • fintastic

      That was a funny movie.

      July 16, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  14. Chuck

    This discussion has been going on since man has been able to contemplate the idea. It has been the cohesion factor within societies and the spark of conflict between societies. Trying to catagiorize idealisms may further seperate us "fellow humans". I prefer to consider the similarities to each other and the common goals we all wish to achieve.

    July 16, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • lol??

      Common goals:
      1) Kill
      2)Steal
      3)Destroy
      4)Lie
      5)Party, party, party after completing 1-4

      July 16, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  15. Sussay

    I guess I'm an anti-theist. I do believe in being grateful for the wonderful gifts we've been given (the earth, companionship, etc.), but I've definitely developed a rejection of any and all premises that start with, "according to the Bible," and "god hates-loves _____." I have dismissed these premisses as illogical. I also think that religion is a human invention designed primarily to separate from and judge other humans.

    July 16, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • lionlylamb2013

      Sassy Sussay,

      Your séance wordage usages in conjuring mental weightiness leaves open other's suggestive parodies by which for them to write counter proposals. Be mindful of other's will to be antagonistic of one's word conjugations for there are folks who instill negatives to upset one's mindset beliefs. "May the force be with you Sassy Sussay"!

      July 16, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
      • Not Abraham Lincoln

        Had you remained silent, LaLa, you would have been thought a fool. But you opened your mouth and removed all doubt.

        July 16, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
      • lionlylamb2013

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCw127qWhuU&w=640&h=390]

        July 16, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • Bob Thierry

      I will give you the secret to all Wisdom and Power: they are yours if you can decode them = Ting, Tank, Iang, Wang!

      July 16, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • JohnW

      You don't have to be atheist to reject those, just rational.

      July 16, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
  16. jamesnyc

    why not consider that there may be higher powers but that do not coalesce into a being of any kind?

    July 16, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • snowboarder

      do these higher powers have thoughts and intentions, interacting with the universe? if not, they don't fit any major religion's definition of god.

      July 16, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
      • Maria

        That belief could be described as a deist, which is someone who believes in a higher power or creator that doesn't bother itself with the comings and goings of this world.

        July 16, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
  17. Hardeharhar

    Sad

    July 16, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
  18. Saraswati

    I'm going to assume they will sort this mess of a messaging system out by tomorrow. Can't really use it like this without the recent posts links even working.

    July 16, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
    • OTOH

      Yes, it looks like only replies to old posts (yesterday's, or a least before page 29) have clickable links on the "Recent Posts" list. I too hope that they get it fixed soon.

      It would have been nice if the mods would have put up a post telling us that things are "under construction" or something (if that truly is what's going on now).

      July 16, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  19. Hardeharhar

    Ironic isn't it that the number 6 is technically the imperfect number where 7 is the perfect number.

    July 16, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • Athy

      Actually 6 is the perfect number.

      July 16, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
  20. Agnostickids

    "You have offended me! Here, have my son and kill him so that I can forgive you!!!"

    -christian god-

    July 16, 2013 at 3:00 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.