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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. GOOD NEWS

    Behold, the "1" type of GOOD NEWS

    for the "6" type of Atheists:

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES

    August 17, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
    • midwest rail

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_eYSuPKP3Y&w=640&h=390]

      August 17, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
  2. scallywag

    Moses led the Hebrew slaves to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread which is bread made without any ingredients. Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the ten commandments. He died before he ever reached Canada.

    August 16, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • photografr7

      Having fun, SPAMMER?

      August 16, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  3. WhoCares

    It's only fair to do an article on the many types of religious followers.... Holly warriors, hypocrites, religious when convenient, the list goes on and on......

    August 16, 2013 at 7:52 am |
    • photografr7

      WhoCares, I wish I had the ba$$s to say what you just said. Touche! (accent aigu omitted)

      August 16, 2013 at 8:12 am |
  4. GOOD NEWS

    "1" True Remedy for all "6" types of Atheism.

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES

    August 14, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
    • KE

      That is hilarious. We do not need a remedy for atheism. We need a remedy for religion!

      August 16, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
      • photografr7

        I'd settle for a REMEDY of atheism if it was accompanied by the ELIMINATION of religion. Think about it. If there was no religion, atheists would just be called... wait for it .... "people."

        August 16, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
    • Graham Epp

      Universal Magnificent Miracles? UMM-mm-mm-m- NO THANKS

      August 20, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
      • photografr7

        In my opinion, an even greater miracle is taking the Bible literally.

        August 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  5. No_Point_Made

    It`s like a guy/girl not going for a haircut for million years... Imagine the mess and complaining they can`t find a hair salon... which btw they pass by everyday.. I don`t judge Atheists/Agnostics. but I think its quite Ignorant and Arrogant of what they Claim...Science evolves everyday what was considered wrong yesterday today it could prove right.. You take worst of Religion and compare it with the best of science... Be Fair.. I think "3) Seeker-agnostic" are the smart people.. at least they are open rest are no different than an religious fanatic..

    August 14, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • PrimeNumber

      If you compare the worst of religion with the worst of science, there is no contest. As someone observed, Europeans in centuries past sent a sword and bible to the new world. The result was not good for native Americans (we are told). But now science has given us the concept of megadeath in which we don't send over swords and bibles. We send nuclear devices. The first people to do this were secular scientists, their victims were innocents. In 1946, the US relocated the natives of Bikina Atol and conducted many nuclear tests. Today, that island still cannot be inhabited, and sickness due to radiation was found in the natives due to fallout. Scientists placed animals on ships to measure the effect of the blasts on the animals. Between 1932 and 1972, scientists conducted the Tuskeegee Syphillis Experiments in Mississippi. They studied the effects of this disease on unwitting black sharecroppers who were told they were being given care by the govmnt. In some cases the "patients" were directly injected with the disease. Once penicillin became available, for ten years, the infected farmers were not inoculated in order that the study could be continued.

      There are so very many examples of what science has wrought, good and bad. Yet those atheists whose priests are the scientists, somehow don't see anything but the good. We don't expect this in completely honest minds.

      August 14, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
      • photografr7

        If atomic bombs are so terrible, and God is all-knowing and all-powerful, why didn't he flick his little pinky at the Enola Gay and save all of those innocent lives. You know why? Because he can't. And you know why? 'Cause he doesn't exist.

        August 14, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • sam stone

      christians believe that the creator of the universe desires a personal relationship and it is the atheists/agnostics who are arrogant?

      August 14, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
  6. { ! }

    If God does not exist, then atheists of any kind are faced with a very serious dilemma. Atheists point out the evil of religion or at least evil done in its name. We hear about the Inquisition. We hear of how the Europeans sent Bibles and swords over the water, decimated native Americans through massacre or disease. But with religion is gone, atheists will have to face terrifying facts. For example: no Bible or sword is needed to decimate thousands. Scientists have made a new kind of spear. They've put a nuclear point onto a shaft (an ICBM), and can incinerate millions with the punch of a button, sicken millions more, and cause birth defects in succeeding generations. Godless scientists backed by secular governments have done this with no God in sight.

    August 13, 2013 at 9:40 am |
    • Rundvelt

      > If God does not exist, then atheists of any kind are faced with a very serious dilemma.

      My goodness! Do tell. What dilemma would we face?

      > Atheists point out the evil of religion or at least evil done in its name. We hear about the Inquisition. We hear of how the Europeans sent Bibles and swords over the water, decimated native Americans through massacre or disease.

      Yep, cause those are facts.

      > But with religion is gone, atheists will have to face terrifying facts. For example: no Bible or sword is needed to decimate thousands. Scientists have made a new kind of spear. They've put a nuclear point onto a shaft (an ICBM), and can incinerate millions with the punch of a button, sicken millions more, and cause birth defects in succeeding generations. Godless scientists backed by secular governments have done this with no God in sight.

      Umm, hate to tell you, but if you look at the countries that have nuclear weapons, only a small fraction of those are godless. What is interesting however, is that the secular nations that have these weapons are of the UN's least concern. Why is that?

      Addressing your broader point, there's nothing to face. People do things for a myriad of reasons, one of those being religion. People will kill each other because of religion the same way they kill each other out of ignornace. I don't see how removing a motivation for people doing things is "a dilemma".

      Perhpas you should re-examine your argument. Cause it's silly.

      August 13, 2013 at 11:42 am |
      • { ! }

        Maybe it was the multi-syllable words I was using. I'll try to be simpler. If all of humanity rejects the idea of God, then there's not much left except human nature. And you have to have been very blind not to see what man is capable of on his own. This is called Human Folly. And you'd better be scared. Science has already given us the means to warm up the globe. We had Fukoshima and Chernobyl, Deep Water Horizon. You atheists are no different from religious people. Faithful people acknowledge a good God and fail to live up to his precepts. Atheists vertually worship scientists. But when humans use science and technology as a meat grinder, i.e., WW1, or a Cold War, atheists become amazingly mute. But that isn't fair. Because science offers no moral precepts. If people followed the teachings of Christianity, Islam, or Judaism, there would be no AIDS pandemic. Blame this on secularism, if you have the courage to do so. Human Folly. Better pray to those other priests, the scientists. They will save us.

        August 13, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
        • photografr7

          @{ ! } (if that's your real name) When the Bible was written, man was pretty uncivilized, so they needed the teachings of a mythical creature to tell them right from wrong. But now that *most* of the world is pretty civilized, man can figure it out for themselves. And if they take a misstep, the police or drones usually take care of it. So - bottom line - without God or Jesus - the civilized world wouldn't change very much, except perhaps the religious who can't take a step without their Bible clutched to their chests.

          August 13, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
    • Dandintac

      I see no dilemma at all. I for one, have never claimed or thought that religion was the only blight upon humanity. Religion is just one of the worst ones. If religion goes away, one motivating force for hating "the other", for wishing death and destruction upon others, will go away. One less reason to fly planes into buildings, for wishing to force one's conceptions of a "family" upon all others, one less source for unreason, one less foe against enlightenment and education, would go away.

      August 14, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
      • sph777

        Dandintac–

        I see a dilemma–if religion were removed you say there would be one less of the worst forces that wish others dead. But in the 1900's there were about 5.6 million deaths under the non-religious. But over 1000's of years, there were 3.5 million from religious. The latter isn't excusable of course. The non-religious occurred in many countries and cultures around the world. This looks like a huge dilemma.

        August 23, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
        • photografr7

          You might argue that wars were not fought BECAUSE of religion, but you can't deny that many of the wars, particularly in the Mid East were fought between groups OF different religions... or worse, between moderates and extremists of the same religion. If religion went away, they would just be brothers. And the only war between brothers I know of was the American Civil War.

          August 23, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • R. McPhee

      I think, for somewhat different reasons than some other respondents, that your argument is invalid. First, the whole point of the main blog entry is that atheists are not all alike–not all are inspired by science [and many if not most scientists in the US are theists]. Religionists, I would say, are much more alike in this trait: they see themselves as united by their religion and better [bound for heaven, or the chosen people, or...] than other people, and so more justified, and more inclined to band together, to kill the others. But second, regarding science: scientists are not necessarily advocates of using or manufacturing nukes, etc.–I would guess that they oppose such use far more generally and committedly than the parallel comparison group–fundamentalist theists. The ills of science are results of not the knowledge but of its uses–by the military, industrialists, and capitalists, mostly theists. Moreover, science [used by those other groups, I admit] has also benefitted humankind immensely, through vaccines and so on, even disregarding the value of natural knowledge. The rising worldwide lifespan [over the decades of scientific advance]–rising despite the weapons, etc., notice–demonstrates the net benefit of science much more than any good result of any religion [at least until global warming boils us all alive]. Possibly the best counter-example to my argument is the support that literacy has received from some religious movements [preservation of the classics, etc.]–but most religions, through history, have kept and aimed to keep people barefoot and devout. A truly tawdry existence.

      August 15, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  7. { ! }

    I doubt that the seeker-agnostic type is very well tolerated by the Intellectual atheist/agnostic type. The intellectual type has gathered all the data, relevant or not, has made up his mind and closed it. The seeker-agnostic is still thinking.

    August 13, 2013 at 9:30 am |
    • Graham Epp

      AN ACTUAL QUESTION:

      I see no way that I fit into any of your six types. I thought for a moment maybe type 6, but see that I don't qualify on three counts. To help you out I don't believe in a God, soul, or heaven. I do believe we eternally continue through a form of eternal recurrence. I have constructed a personal religion around this largely devoid of ritualism and mundane life philosophy, and meditation plays no role. I can logically prove everything I claim and yet feel an equal amount of joy. I'm outspoken and aggressive. I hope to take down the faiths, the hard line skeptics, and the fence sitters- all in a single blow.

      WHAT TYPE OF ATHEIST AM I?

      August 20, 2013 at 12:19 am |
  8. Alan

    Most of the atheists that I know don't fit well into any of the categories. I went through the intellectual phase in my teens and settled down into a happy state of non-belief. I am an Atheist and not a "non-theist", I believe that other people should make up their own minds and abhor the behavior of more militant atheists that are trying to eliminate religion.

    A cornerstone of atheism is that every person should be able to think for themselves and form their own beliefs – atheism is a continuum of beliefs and I don't think that categorizing atheists achieves anything.

    August 12, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
  9. dfgdsgdfgsdfg

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    Asesinatos de los hijos de Obama en Venezuela, hijos de Bush e hijos de Bill Clinton.
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    Universidades en complicidad con estos presidentes tratando de robar información que no son capaces de generar.
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    LLAME AL FBI Y DÍGALE REVISE ESTE COMENTARIO DENUNCIA Y MIRE COMO SE QUEDAN CALLADOS, SABEN QUE ESTAN ASESINANDO Y NO PUEDEN HACER NADA.
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    August 12, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
  10. wertwertwert

    ddddddddddddddddddddddd
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    Vendiendo humanos para estudios de la raza humana, Violando Mujeres con nano tecnología nano computadoras en farmacon como PROPOFOL, Robando información para evolución en células nerviosas.
    Comprando drogas, Robando Modelos de Negocios, Banco Perfectible.
    Universidades en complicidad con estos presidentes tratando de robar información que no son capaces de generar.
    http://www.mudpgi.blog.com

    LLAME AL FBI Y DÍGALE REVISE ESTE COMENTARIO DENUNCIA Y MIRE COMO SE QUEDAN CALLADOS, SABEN QUE ESTAN ASESINANDO Y NO PUEDEN HACER NADA.
    LLAMEN AL GERENTE DE LA NSA.
    dddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd

    August 12, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
  11. Denese Aldonza

    I've been absent for a while, but now I remember why I used to love this site. Thank you, I’ll try and check back more often. How frequently you update your site?

    August 11, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
  12. John McGrath

    What about people like me, who actually believe in God but wishes that atheism would spread and thrive because religions do a disservice to God and humanity?

    August 10, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
    • Hamsa

      Then you are not an atheist. This does not apply to you.

      January 29, 2014 at 4:23 pm |
  13. jjflores11

    Here's my take on agnostics and atheists...I believe that agnostics are the more "neutral" party. They are honest in accepting they don't know whether God exists or which god is real, etc. They may or may not be interested in seeking out the true answer to this question based on personal experiences and situations. Atheists, on the other hand, tend to take a more emotional stand on the issue. Perhaps they had a really bad experience with a believer and came to the belief that the religion of the person was at fault for their behavior, rather than the individual. This leads them to categorically reject religion. If mom and dad were the ones that hurt and angered the atheist, then they will reject their religion of origin most specifically. In general, I believe the atheists in the crowd would benefit from becoming agnostics, because it means they had dealt with their emotional issues...A Christian could literally go up to the atheist and say "why don't you just leave me and my church alone? I'm not your mom, dad, or (fill in the blank person) who hurt you..."

    August 10, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
    • sam stone

      jj: agnosticism and atheism are not mutually exclusive. one deals with knowledge, and the other deals with belief.

      gnostic or (a)gnostic deal with whether something is knowable.

      theist or (a)theist deal with belief

      i don't KNOW if god's existence is knowable = (a)gnostic

      i know if god's existence is knowable = gnostic

      I do not believe in a god = (a)thiest

      i do believe in a god = theist

      agnostictic atheist = i don't know if knowledge of god is knowable, but i do not see any reason to believe in something i see no proof of

      gnostic atheist = i know there is no god

      agnostic theist = i don't know whether god is knowable, but i believe anyway because to me it is supposed to be about faith and not knowledge

      gnostic thest = i know there is a god

      August 11, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
      • photografr7

        Agnosticism is a continuous scale. At one end are atheists who are absolutely certain there is no God. At the other end are those who are absolutely certain that God exists. (Do such people exist? I have no idea) In between the two polar ends are a wide range, all are called agnostics. It doesn't mean there is an equal chance of being a God or not being a God. No one is precisely in the center. Most are somewhere in that range, on either side of that center-line. Where are you?

        August 11, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
        • Hex

          Did you not understand what he just said? Atheist is a descriptive term for someone that lacks a belief in god or gods. It doesn't mean anything else. It's a descriptive word to explain the opposite of something. There is no other prerequisites for being an atheist. What you believe or your opinion can vary from there.

          August 12, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
      • photografr7

        Richard Dawkins, a evolutionary biologist from Cambridge University, wouldn't agree with your agnostic atheist crap. If you don't believe that theism and atheism are at the polar ends, and agnosticism is somewhere in the middle, complain to him, not me. Want his e-mail address? Until then, watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7iFvMn2vylM

        August 12, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
        • sam stone

          nonsense. agnosticism is not "in the middle". one is knowledge, the other is belief

          August 13, 2013 at 2:07 am |
        • sam stone

          i am not complaining to anyone. i am just stating my belief

          August 13, 2013 at 2:09 am |
    • sam stone

      and the atheist would say "keep your church out of my laws"

      August 11, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
  14. photografr7

    After learning that my comment on an article in the Deseret (Salt Lake City) News, the home of the Mormon Church, was the top comment, I was just informed that my second comment has also received at least 10 "likes": http://www.deseretnews.com/user/comments/865584235/Supporters-of-prayer-at-government-meetings-file-briefs-with-Supreme-Court.html

    August 10, 2013 at 10:52 am |
  15. Robert

    God represents human ignorance, nothing more. There is no knowledge of any gods. God represents not what we know but rather what we don't know.

    August 10, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • photografr7

      Nice!
      Who wants a t-shirt with the slogan: "God, the Knowledge-Gap Filler"?

      August 10, 2013 at 9:31 am |
      • asdfjkl;

        how about "God of the gaps" read into it

        August 12, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
        • photografr7

          I thought my slogan would be printed on a can of filler (you know the stuff, they use to fill cracks in a wall). The t-shirts that work best are the visual ones.

          August 12, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
        • sam stone

          how about "jesus died for my sins and all i got was this lousy t-shirt"?

          August 13, 2013 at 2:11 am |
  16. GOOD NEWS

    "1" type of real Remedy for all "6" types of atheism

    is absolutely available now,

    for all atheists, who may be sincerely searching for the absolute Truth

    in their hearts and minds.

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES

    August 8, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • sam stone

      We are not interested in your delusions.

      August 9, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
      • photografr7

        It's called a delusion and SPAM. As long as you are deluded, you might as well make a few bucks off it too.

        August 9, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • What??

      I like personally when liars, and the credulous spell truth with a capital t. it's usually the tell tale sign that they don't either know what truth is, or know that capitalizing it doesn't make it any more true. Truth isn't a proper noun, get your head out of your ass.

      August 13, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
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About this blog

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.