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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. Sultani

    So i am not satisfied what you write becoz there is 7 types of Atheists while you mention 6, the 7th number are those who believe partially in God and partially Not. in some case they believe when they don't have any answer while in some case the didn't.

    July 16, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
    • Alison

      I think you are not truly understanding the definition of atheist. If you "partially believe", you believe.

      July 16, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • Oregon Jeff

      "So i am not satisfied what you write becoz there is 7 types of Atheists while you mention 6, the 7th number are those who believe partially in God and partially Not."

      No such thing exists. Atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods. It isn't partial belief in one god but no others.

      July 16, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
  2. devin

    After much thought and consideration, I've come to the realization that belief in a super natural being who operates outside our natural/closed system, is simply naive. I no longer embrace faith, but rather, will limit my knowledge of truth to that which can be observed, quantified and proven. This mythology of a creator who has caused our existence and that of the universe, no longer has its hold on me. In short, I have crossed over to the "dark" side". BAZINGA

    July 16, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
    • Elise

      Bull. Try harder; you trolliness is shining through, Austin.

      July 16, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
      • devin

        Nope, not Austin.

        July 16, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
      • Elise

        Apologies. You sound like him or faith.

        July 16, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
        • devin

          No offense taken.

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

          If you knew those two, you would have taken offense for being mistaken for them.

          July 16, 2013 at 7:35 pm |
    • Thor

      That's pretty childish.

      July 16, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
      • devin

        I'll take that under consideration, although coming from someone with a mythological god/ super hero username. perhaps not.

        July 16, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
  3. Vanessa

    I would say I am more of a ritual atheist more than any of the other types. I was raised as a born-again Christian and became very serious during my teenage and young adult years. My family is still religious so I go along with the rituals. It's really difficult to put up with it all. It's annoying mostly.

    July 16, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Do you remember an experience where you believe you were born again?

      July 16, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
  4. One one

    What category are you if you don't believe in god(s) and feel that all religions should keep their beliefs to themselves and out of the official public space ?

    July 16, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
    • lol??

      Didn't learn much from the Siberian Educational system??

      July 16, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
      • Elise

        It appears you didn't learn anything from *any* system. Your posts are nonsense.

        July 16, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
    • Kim

      A generally nice person.

      July 16, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
  5. barrettclan

    I am definitely in the number 6 category of the types. I don't believe in an afterlife, or that being part of a religious community is what I need in my life. However do believe that religion and its rituals are good for many people. I think that many religious teachings about how to live ones life are good, as long as they are not based on what happens after one dies or on fear. The Ten Commandments, for instance, are a good model to live by, as is the Golden Rule. I also think that the teachings of Jesus (a human) about loving one another as yourself are good things to keep in mind as we go through our day.

    I am definitely not the 'in your face' kind of atheist and those militant types irritate me because they can't see past the end of their noses that different people have different views and different needs in their lives. Most of my family is very spiritual but they accept me as I am, and I accept that they need to have their beliefs. I look at it this way ... if I don't want religion rammed down my throat then I sure am not going ram my atheism down their throats.

    July 16, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
    • One one

      " The Ten Commandments, for instance, are a good model to live by"

      The first 4 commandments are all about submitting to, and keeping the faith.

      I can't go with that.

      July 16, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
      • JimK57

        But do you know which commandments jesus said to follow when asked about it?

        July 16, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
  6. Ian Thompson

    I would say I am a blend of the fourth and fifth types. I find religion backward and see it as quite flawed, however I don't make a point to telling others that their opinions are flawed. I feel that all people have the right to choose their religion, or lack their of, without the input of others.

    July 16, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      I don't think religion would survive if it were not for the "input of others." People are usually the religion of their dominant culture, whether that be the 'culture' of their family unit or their community. Parental religion is the biggest indicator.

      July 16, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
  7. Mark

    Many of the human/culture development models clearly show how important it was and still is for cultures to go through the
    religion process, however in post modernity, in the developed world, it is not really needed. We have actually reached a point where a person can deduce that doing and being good is not only good for the society, but also for themselves. Yes, some of us still struggle with greed and self-centeredness, but most of us are figuring it out...without religion...especially authoritative fundamentalist religions.

    July 16, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
  8. Carmi Hajdasch

    3,5,&6 I can understand humanities' need for a god-head to follow, and to mold that figure into something THEY can adhere to, but I have believed since I was a young child, that nobody on this earth can convince me that they have the exclusive line to god. When I was a young girl In Religious Instruction, an Acolyte asked "what can you tell me about God?" I said" everyone, every country, sees him differently: Americans see him differently than Africans..or people in China" she gulped, but didn't reprimand me like a nun later did, telling me "catholic religion is the only true religion & if you don't believe it, you shall surely go to hell!"

    July 16, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  9. karl from az

    “No one disbelieves the existence of God except he to whom God’s existence is not suitable”.
    Moreover, it is even impossible to prove that there is no God. To do so one would needs have to be omniscient & omnipotent; i.e., one would himself have to be God!

    July 16, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Why would anyone need to disprove god? God hasn't been proven. Do I have an invisible space ship in my garage until you prove I don't have one?

      July 16, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • Oregon Jeff

      "Moreover, it is even impossible to prove that there is no God."

      It is not necessary for the non-believer to prove that there is no god. The burden of proof lies with the believer to prove that their god exists. Until the believer does such a thing, the non-believer is free to reject the believers claims as wishful thinking.

      "To do so one would needs have to be omniscient & omnipotent; i.e., one would himself have to be God!"

      To do so is unnecessary. It's far easier to show that god is unnecessary.

      July 16, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
      • faith

        whether or not he's necessary, he is

        July 16, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
        • Oregon Jeff

          "whether or not he’s necessary, he is"

          Prove it.

          July 16, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
      • faith

        whether or not he's necessary, he is

        take a breath without him

        July 16, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
        • Oregon Jeff

          "whether or not he’s necessary, he is

          take a breath without him"

          Every breath I've ever taken has been without "him" (whatever "him" is).

          July 16, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
        • MARK

          Just did take a breath. I thought we are supposed to have free will? As that how disappeared?

          July 16, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
      • faith

        whether or not he's necessary, he is

        take a breath without him

        you didn't make the air you breathe

        your eyes

        the food you eat

        July 16, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
        • MARK

          No he did not. That is the presumption of a god and science has proven the bible god is wrong. Adam and Eve wrong, flood wrong, man made in his image wrong, man in a fish wrong, moses from egypt wrong, man getting strength from his hair wrong. The bible is a construction in the 4th century, no originals, unknown authors, the winning sects and very highly edited. There were historians at the mythical jesus tiime that notice nothing, no jesus and no miracles. The bible was written decades after this myth. Where were the witnesses when Jesus was alone in the desert? They are fairy story inventions to try and explain the world which is now found to be wrong.

          July 16, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
      • faith

        whether or not he's necessary, he is

        take a breath without him

        you didn't make the air you breathe

        your eyes

        the food you eat

        did you place the sun 93,000,000 miles away? no? you are kidding!

        July 16, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
      • faith

        whether or not he's necessary, he is

        take a breath without him

        you didn't make the air you breathe

        your eyes

        the food you eat

        did you place the sun 93,000,000 miles away? no? you are kidding!

        SCIENCE, I COMMAND YOU, TELL US HOW THE SUN BURNS 600,000,000 TONS OF HYDROGEN EACH SECOND, IN YOUR NAME I ASK

        July 16, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
      • faith

        whether or not he's necessary, he is

        take a breath without him

        you didn't make the air you breathe

        your eyes

        the food you eat

        did you place the sun 93,000,000 miles away? no? you are kidding!

        SCIENCE, I COMMAND YOU, TELL US HOW THE SUN BURNS 600,000,000 TONS OF HYDROGEN EACH SECOND, IN YOUR NAME I ASK

        i no u don't like these kinds of questions, but pray tell, how did we get here?

        July 16, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
  10. Jennifer Reznick

    Guess I'd be a non theist. I've actually left other atheist sites because I couldn't stand the badgering and bickering.

    July 16, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
  11. Cliff

    I'd have to be a: Seeker Agnostic and Anti Theist.

    Nobody has any true answers, we just think we do. I do not' believe in gods or deities and so I believe I'd fit into these two categories.

    July 16, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
  12. One one

    Interesting, Six types of "atheists", 35,000 + denominations of Christianity.

    July 16, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • Keep going

      Four billion minds = Four billion opinions = individualism..at long last!

      July 16, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
  13. mzh

    Peace be upon you ...

    When the earth is shaken with its (final) earthquake. (1)
    And when the earth throws out its burdens, (2)
    And man will say: "What is the matter with it?" (3)
    That Day it will declare its information (about all that happened over it of good or evil). (4)
    Because your Lord will inspire it. (5)
    That Day mankind will proceed in scattered groups that they may be shown their deeds.[] (6)
    So whosoever does good equal to the weight of an atom (or a small ant), shall see it. (7)
    And whosoever does evil equal to the weight of an atom (or a small ant), shall see it. (8)

    O People, if you should be in doubt about the Resurrection, then [consider that] indeed, We created you from dust, then from a sperm-drop, then from a clinging clot, and then from a lump of flesh, formed and unformed – that We may show you. And We settle in the wombs whom We will for a specified term, then We bring you out as a child, and then [We develop you] that you may reach your [time of] maturity. And among you is he who is taken in [early] death, and among you is he who is returned to the most decrepit [old] age so that he knows, after [once having] knowledge, nothing. And you see the earth barren, but when We send down upon it rain, it quivers and swells and grows [something] of every beautiful kind. – 22:5

    July 16, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
    • dude

      way to think for yourself

      July 16, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
    • The Word of Dog

      I reading your post (okay, I stopped after a few words), I realized that like your post, almost all of the Bible is the fallacy of Argument From Assertion.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
      • Elise

        It's from the Quran, but same difference, different religion.

        July 16, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
  14. the AnViL™

    as a staunch anti-theist i proclaim that those of you who believe in gods should be prohibited from voting, serving on a jury, purchasing or owning firearms, teaching public school, or having any contact with children under the age of 18.

    also – those of you who ~tolerate~ religious idiocy are just as responsible as those who propagate that very idiocy.

    tolerance of religious ignorance and stupidity has to end – the sooner the better - for the sake of all humanity.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Turn that around and see what you think.

      July 16, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • Elise

      So much for civil rights.

      July 16, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • Elise

      So much for civil rights in AnVil™'s little world.

      July 16, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • Stephen Jones

      I'm glad I don't live in the country of AnViL™ and in a country where I have some civil rights.

      Oh... and I proclaim you are an idiot.

      July 16, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
    • sam

      What's hilarious, Anvil, is that none of the folks responding to you realize that the same is said about atheists every day (and in some of the things you mention, it's actually law).

      In some states it is illegal for an atheist to hold elected office. The elder Bush actually said atheists should not be allowed to be citizens.

      Suck on that.

      July 16, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
      • commentaryoflife

        The problem is that while some people think it is right to suggest such things about atheists, it is not okay to reverse it either. While I am not an atheist I do not have anything against their right to their disbelief or beliefs however you would like to say it. The only area I have a problem with atheist is when their disbelief involves trying to tear down other people's belief. Go against the wrongs absolutely and I agree completely that many wrongs have been done in the name of deities but I cannot lay that blame on the deities but it is the humans who pervert the message or simply want to use the system for their own benefit. Belief or lack their of should be personal and uplifting for each person. If it is about hate and tearing down it is harmful no matter what the belief is. You cannot heal a broken society by hatefully spitting and raging against their beliefs, nor can it be healed by people who hatefully rage against those who do not believe as the "source" of the problem. The true enemy is the vile things we put out into this world, with our words and our actions no matter what your belief.

        July 16, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
        • MARK

          You are sitting on your christian privilege saying how wonderful the world is. Did the men complain when women wanted to vote? Were they treading on your privilege of voting? The argument is the church and state separation again. Atheist is the null position, but when you impose your religion on to others then expect a fight. The religious have entered politics with god on your money, god at the end of every speech, the denial of adoption or in courts of atheists, atheist force to go to church because they will be ostracised if they put up there free speech you have a problem. The attempt to get in the education system to teach dinosaurs ran around with humans and the non science intelligent design and creation myths.

          July 16, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
        • commentaryoflife

          Mark, are you responding to me? I see it below my comment but it makes no sense to me if it is a reply. I certainly do not think the world is "wonderful" but I do think that attacking faith of any type is not constructive. I also think attacking people for a lack of theistic belief isn't constructive either. The only problem I have is that far to often the Atheists I do come across (thankfully not all but many) seem to think that for their suffering they shall blame all who believe. That they must tear down belief where ever they see it because those people are "delusional" and harmful. That simply by being a believer I am an affront to them and that they must go to great lengths to convert the masses, yet surely they would complain about others who go door to door with the same intent. I do not believe that God wants us to convert at doorsteps, or belittle others, or take away rights. The God I believe in would have us live our lives like a light shinning in the darkness and simply be a light in the world. I believe that you do not have to believe in God or gods to do this however, and I don't think anyone will be damned for a lack of belief but I do think we reap what we sow and as a world in general we are living lives of Hell because of what we are sowing. Not because of a lack of faith but because we are all so unkind, hateful and selfish. I myself make many mistakes and know I sow such foul things sometimes but I hope that the good things I do can help me someday win the internal battle to do no more harm and lift up all those I can with love.

          July 17, 2013 at 12:05 am |
  15. Chris

    So how do we go about getting tax exempt?

    July 16, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • lol??

      Affirmative Action slots ain't enuff??

      July 16, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
  16. Terry

    Somewhere between seeker-agnostic and ritual atheist. A former Southern Baptist.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • Agnostic monster

      I became an agnostic when I ran out of former things to have been.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
      • lol??

        To have been, to have been
        That is the question.

        July 16, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
  17. Jessica

    Why the picture of Daniel Radcliffe? He's not mentioned in the article.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      There's a caption that basically explains he's an atheist but chill about it. Recent acknowledgement on his part.

      July 16, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  18. Fred Barchetta

    Looks like I'm a mixture of 1 and 4 with admitted smatterings of 6 always striving to be 5.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
  19. Joseph

    Only a religious student would come up with these. These are not mutually exclusive. There are only two types. I'm 1-4 &6. The other is 5. BTW, all sane atheists are also agnostic.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • lol??

      A&A's do have a certain fervor and religious intensity.

      July 16, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
  20. DF

    I do not believe that their is some sort of god. if there is he/she/it sure has a lousy way of proving it. If i were god i would have done away with all sin a long ling time ago.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Time ? If you were God what meaning would time have?

      July 16, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
      • Thor

        For me it's Hammer Time!

        July 16, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
        • Stephen Jones

          Da Da Da Da

          July 16, 2013 at 8:51 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.