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.
They're also well-versed in books and articles about religion and atheism, and prone to citing those works frequently.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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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.
I'm types 1 through 4.
I am none of those types, I will only discuss if asked. I think those that believe are silly, foolish or simple minded. I like the holidays for it is a time to get together with family so will respectfully hold hands for grace at dinner with a little giggle. Very clear on the nature of the universe, Matter has always existed, can never be created or destroyed.
I am an atheist. I don't go and try to convince others to become one that is up to a persons own beliefs. I just got sick and tired of all the faiths saying that theirs I the only one and that I you aren't one of them then you are going to go to Hell. All faiths believe in GOD no matter what they call it. One of my biggest problems is that the so called GOD will condemn a person to Hell just for the few years that they are alive, as apposed to GOD who live for ever. So our life is less in the eyes of this GOD alive for less then a blink of is eye. So we are basically nothing to him/her. I would love to go back in time to the time of Jesus and talk to him, and since he is GOD then we should be able to communicate in my language what ever that may be. I am an atheist, but I a good person and don't need religion to help to be one.
You will not be judged by your sins but by your own beliefs. Read Matt. 25. It says that you will be judged by your own principles and you will be short of your own ideals and beliefs. You will be judged on what you know, how you acted and what you did. Unless you believe that Jesus is the only son of god and accept him as your sacrifice. No works needed, no rituals and no perfection in the living of your own principles. The reason I'm a christian is I know that I cannot even live up to my own standard all the time. I'm grateful to God and I live for him and not for me. Jesus did not preach condemnation but forgiveness. But the day of judgement will come and I don't want to be judged by my deeds and sins but by my acceptance of Jesus Christ is the son of god. The bible says this is god's grace and it is a free gift. I live for god out of thankfulness not because of guilt or condemnation. I'm sorry that you don't get it, I wish that you did. God, Jesus and all real Christians want all to go to heaven and feel God's love. But many of you atheist seem to think this is a foolish endeavor and look arrogantly at us Christians. Does your pride in your evolution not tell you that you are wrong? Evidently not because you only accept "science" as truth. There are many truths that are not provable by science and you accept them. Can you scientifically prove you love you Mother, Father or spouse? Can you scientifically prove that blue is your favorite color? No you cannot. I cannot prove through science that God exists. But I see it, feel it and know it in my spirit. You have a spirit and a soul maybe you should recognize the kind of being you are and not be fooled by the lie of the day that is atheism.
No I will not because your bible is a fairy story and the stories are fairy stories. The bible does not prove the bible just as the quran does not prove the quran and Harry Potter 2 does not prove Harry Potter 1.
I'm a little bit of an intellectual atheist but that's because I love to debate. But I won't usually try to push my "non-religion" as you would call it in someone else's face. Only when they ask or provoke me into answering. And I'm also a ritual atheist because I can find a lot of good qualities about different religions as well as philosophy's. But I'm not going to hold on any which one as my ultimate guide book because not everything sits well with me. And none of them defines me. Now what are the six types of Christians? I bet you they look similar.
I´m the kind of atheist that knows that religions are an illusion of knowledge but aren´t dangerous most of times.
Agreed. Religion nowadays just reminds me of Greek mythology and what not. They didn't understand lightning so they made a lightning god etc. Now, we can't fathom the universe so we made god the creator to answer our questions. But the downside to this belief is that it holds back the answers to the truth because people are too afraid of letting go of what they've been taught. They feel like it's a sacrifice of who they are. Which in a way is true but it's only the rebirth of something new.
Personally, I call myself agnostic because science should not have a voice in faith.... that is faith and the existence of a higher power is not a testable hypothesis.... So as a scientist I should be silent. But on the other side lets say there was a higher power of some sort... the first thing I would do was design an experiment with human existence and see what happens...:)
Evidence of a god is testable and there is none, maybe before the Big Bang but that seems highly unlikely.
I wouldn't say I regularly speak out against religion, but I do love engaging strongly religious people in debate when the opportunity presents itself. Religion is the grown up version of Santa Claus created by people with good intentions trying to coax society to believe in a set of morals with the promise of heaven and the threat of hell. Grow up, enjoy what you have, and have the courage to accept that this is it.
If I constructed a straw man out of religion like that, I'd debate against it too.
Would you care to actually make a reasoned argument why it isn't plausible that the concept of religion was created by people to get other people to act in a certain way much like we use Santa Claus to make our kids behave? If it isn't plausible, please explain the many diverse religions with diverse beliefs ... unless you believe there are many different gods? ... or one god who started all of them? ... or just your religion is the true religion and the rest were simply made up by people to get other people to act in a certain way?
Are you saying that christianity doesn't try to coax society to believe in a set of morals as defined in the bible? Are you saying that christianity does not use the promise heaven and the threat of hell?
and back in that time there was a boy who was named Harry and he performed many amazing miracles like flying high in the sky and catching the sacred winged ball of gold and becoming invisible and banishing the evil one from his world.
He would sit every day and speak words of wisdom to his friends and enemies alike. He would eat food that appeared as if by magic so that all who were hungry would eat and be hungry no more.
At the end of one year, he went to his room but when his friends looked for him he was gone so they knew he must have ascended to another world. All of his friends missed him but knew that he would return one day soon and all would be glorious and good again.
Oh, it must be true. I read it in a book. Ink on paper. There is no way it could have been made up!
The gospels of the bible are eyewitness accounts of what was seen and heard by 12 old men. You are the only judge that counts for you and I'm the only judge that counts for me. You investigate, read, research and make you decision. But the bible is comparable to historic accounts not comparable to known fiction. You are merely entertaining yourself with your own wit. But in the end it only fools you.
"The gospels of the bible are eyewitness accounts of what was seen and heard by 12 old men."
No, they're not. Know your Bible, Christian.
"But the bible is comparable to historic accounts not comparable to known fiction."
The Bible has little historicity.
I'm the kind of atheist who is combination of 1 and 2, and somtimes ponder about being a 3, and sometimes end up doing things of 4 and 5 and I try being positive and rarely am 6.
I feel sorry for the people who are atheist. It's easy to see, Hollywood runs rampant with people who don't believe in Jesus or any God.
Matthew 19:24 And again I say to you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
Most celebrities don't believe in God because they don't want to feel guilt about the things they have done to make it big in Hollywood, and they want to continue self-indulging and idolizing material things without any quilt.
They may perform a few humanitarian acts, but their main thing is self indulgence and idolatry. You see how Kathy Griffin called her award; her God.
They are preoccupied with success and admiration from the masses.
Just because you're successful in this world doesn't make you a righteous person. Just because you believe in Jesus doesn't make you a righteous person either.
There are many believers who don't follow the word, and there are many non-believers who are the most honest and righteous people I know. The bottom line is, you can't have one without the other. God says it's acts w/o faith is dead, and vice versa. You must also believe in God, and also live a holy life.
Not wanting to believe in God, because you don't want to feel like you're not in control is completely insane. You as an individual are not in control. Science is Science, but it cannot determine whether you will live or die. You don't have control over being born male or female, black or white, German or African, whether it rains or snows.
Many people who don't believe in God are also white. They are the rulers of this physical world, and often times feel like they can do anything and have anything they want in the world. They are extremely arrogant. If everyone had the same opportunities an access as white people, they would probably be atheist too.
The devil rules the earth, so if you feel that you can just get by on being successful on earth, and not even thank God, or denounce him, then you are a devil worshiper, plain and simple.
One thing God did do, he gave humans free will. He gave us the will to accept him or reject him, so at least Thank God for your free will to not choose him.
do you really think that atheists reach their state of consciousness in some sort of a failed effort?
please look within yourself for truths, and cease in projecting ignorance upon that which you do not understand
Free yourself. My guess is that you probably don't know anything about faith and discipline, but you self-indulge regularly, and even with all your disbelieves about God, you are just as confused and ignorant as any other human being walking this earth. I pray that you have an experience where God shows up in your life, and you know that he's real. You will either continue to deny him, or you will accept him. God bless and have mercy on your soul. I also pray for myself that I'm able to continue to learn about God and introduce people to God's benevolent love.
12 years of parochial school, sacraments and stations of the cross to beat the band, and yet, when i told the dean of my high school back in the 80's that this was a pretty impressive racket, he smirked at me, in his vestments, and said 'it isn't for everyone'.
yeah...apparently it is for you...good luck inside that ideological wet paper sack of yours.
moral of the story? i earned my transcendence, and relish the challenges of the weak-minded.
so, thanks bub!
go get your shinebox
You sound exactly like the devil in C S Lewis's "Perelandra"
The only thing you can free yourself is from God. Once you do so, you are with the devil. Light and Darkness. There is no in between. If you think in darkness you find comfort, then you have chosen that in your own free will.
time for your meds ...
wow thats a lot of random ranting in one post.
LOL "I feel sorry for people who don't believe what I dooooo" followed by the predictable bible quote. That really changes minds, I tellya! Way to make friends!
Sam, if you don't have a counter argument, then please find a comment that you can agree on, or at least make a valuable contribution to.
I didn't mean to offend anyone by saying that I feel sorry, but based on my beliefs I do. I want everyone to be saved, even Charles Manson, but I especially want the people who are good, and do good in this world to be saved, but they just need to give God the glory.
You are making one mistake. Most atheists I know including myself are not rich and do not rule anything. We do however tend to have strong scientific backgrounds and higher levels of education than society at large. That should be a hint to you.
Yes, you base everything off of science. Which I think science is wonderful, but it's forever changing, and a lot of what scientist come up with are just hypothesis, and in the next century they will develop a new hypothesis for why things are they way they are.
You are driven to do more research about the earth and outer space to disprove God exist. Scientist have even started cloning people and animals. You think you can play God! creating humans without souls, morals, with just a bunch of mathematical equations in their heads?
To definitively prove their his no God, would be to start creating human beings without woman, and see how the world turns out. Then you can say, everything is science, and then we can say "I am, because I am".
It's absolutely ridiculous to think that matter is the only thing that makes us different from a tree a dog a cat. Now that's ridiculous.
You are trying to argue science just throws away all the rules and makes up new ones each century. That simply isn't true. Sure there are a lot of hypothesis in science about things we do not fully understand yet, but the good thing is science will evolve and adapt its understanding as we continue to learn. I do not see that out of religion.
And why must you insist there is something different between you and a dog than simply millions of years of evolution? Do you believe humans are the only species on the planet that has ever had or ever will have a soul? Look who suddenly believes they rule the world ???
Not believing in god makes you a devil worshiper. Well that's a special kind of stupid right there. We don't believe in the devil and yet according to you we worship him. Do you even know the definition of worship. Read a book once and a while! And no the bible doesn't count. A wonderful piece of fiction but not relevant to real world matters.
It used to be "The demon white guy and his religion" causes everyone's problems now it's "The demon white guy and his atheism" ...interesting.
You make a lot of assumptions. I don't believe in god not because I want to escape responisbility or consequences for my actions. I take full responsibility for myself, my life, my failures and embarassments, as well as my accomplishments.
What it all really boils down to is that I don't believe for much of the same reason most people do believe. You just do, and I just don't. It's not ignorance and it's not arrogance. You feel the presence of god in your life, I don't. It doesn't make me feel sad or bad or like I don't have to feel guilty for the wrong things that I do. I do what is right because it is right, not out of fear.
I understand that faith in any diety is a very personal, very serious, very important decision that one can only make for one's self. I've read the bible many times. I was a leader in my church youth group and even taught vacation bible school. I have made an informed decision that applies only to myself.
The only time my lack of belief is an issue is when I talk to or visit my family, who are very religious. They tell me they pray for me. I respect what that means for them. I am never rude or flippant about their beliefs. I only become vocal and challenge their faith when they follow me around trying to convince me. If I just really knew the truth about Jesus I would believe and could be saved. I then get angry because I respect that they truly believe what they believe. I, however, do not receive the same respect. Like you, they feel sorry for me. I don't
Someday we will all die and the world will go on. That's all there is and I am perfectly fine with that. I don't need answers about why. I don't need to feel special because god created me – and created me in his image. To me, THAT is the height of arrogance – that and the rapture.
i must be omni-atheist i have a little bit of them all. i dont preach my atheism and do not like if others flaunt or preach their theism
'non-theists' are called 'Realist'.. Then again, the story doesn't want to upset the religious with reality.
I think I am a non-theist, not because I am lazy in my beliefs, but more because I would rather love, live, and get on with life than worry about things that I view as virtually unimportant in my life.
the 'non-theists' are called 'Realist'.. Then again, CNN likely doesn't want to light a fire under the voodoo religious
Religious peeps try to reinforce their own beliefs by sticking pins through atheists and mounting them on Styrofoam boards with condescending labels. Like butterfly collections.
Simpler way to understand us: Imagine doing everything you do, but without fear of imaginary invisible beings punishing or rewarding you.
Imagine enjoying every minute of every day not worrying about what comes after death.
Imagine creating, loving, laughing, pushing your boundaries, with imagination your only limit.
Atheism is not a life with a hole. It's a life without chains.
ain't transcendence grand?
much love from here man
Imagine living your life without fear of death, knowing you lived a wholesome, meaningful and fulfilling life pleasing to God instead of just pleasing to yourself, and others, who's emotions and beliefs change like the wind.
Imagine having a true since of self measured by a creator who's love for you, words and principles never change, unlike the people of this world.
Imagine being able to do things above your imagination and anything you could ever dream, because God has placed visions in you that you inconceivable from your limited knowledge and life experience.
you shall convert nary an individual today
scurry away, scoundrel, purveyor of ignorance and intellectual regressiveness
Type 1, but am sympathetic to theists, as long as it helps them get along with their lives, its like culture – a way of life.
I am 1, 2, and 4 all at the same time.
i like a horn_y atheist.
Reading books on modern science does not mean I am specifically seeking out atheism or being militant about it with others, nor that I am confused or apathetic about what I believe in, highly anti-religious, or closet observer of religious rituals.
7) Subscriber to the merits of scientific theory, and able to form their own personal conclusions on a VARIETY of subjects based on neutral, testable and peer reviewed data performed by scientists.
Ah, but be careful. Too many have converted their raised their "belief" in the scientific method to the level of religion, so that they no longer think. Science is a method. It is not the "truth". Science itself is not something to be worshiped. It is just a methodology that is misused and misinterpreted by many. It is no more than a set of rules for not jumping to a conclusion. However, for most people, the word science lets their mind jump to whatever conclusion is being put forward.
you clearly don't know what science is at all ...
Funny. I thought it was just a framework of rules to allow someone to use observation, hypothesis, and experimentation to come to a conclusion. Now, there is nothing in science that says that this conclusion must be "truth" even if all the rules are followed. Clearly there are "things" that may appear to be statistically related, but have no relationship. And equally clearly, as more information becomes available, then conclusions must change. That means that the original conclusions were incorrect, and the current ones more correct.
The point is, the word "science" has become some people's "god". In reality, it is just a set of rules to follow to try to keep people from drawing conclusions with no evidence. Science will never find truth, just today's best guess.
I am not saying science is bad. It is a good idea. It would be a better idea if it insisted on causal evidence rather than simple statistical.
anecdotal evidence is not science
empirical evidence is science
seeing jesus in a piece of toast is not empirical evidence of your god
So, rather than an intelligent discussion you prefer to fall back on feeling superior by citing some toast story. Well, a piece of toast is neither evidence for or agains anything excepte the need for some eggs and bacon. Also, you seem to be trying to paint me as some "religios nut". You will see that my posts are about science, not religion. I never mentioned religion once. However, you probably felt that my discussion was some kind of attack on your belief in science. "Belief in science". Understand what that is saying. It is saying that you treat science as if it was a religion instead of a simple set of rules to keep you from reaching an unsupported conclusion. Notice it does not necessarily help you find the correct conclusion. It just helps you find a supported one.
this is a terrible medium for dialogue
my comment was for your prior post
i yield the floor to you
The definition of science is "truth".
And too many have also lowered science to the level of 'best guess' or 'made up for grant money' as well.
' In reality, it is just a set of rules to follow to try to keep people from drawing conclusions with no evidence. Science will never find truth, just today's best guess.'
And damn me if you just didnt go ahead and do the very thing I talked about. There is that science is just a 'best guess' thing.
Not everything we know is provable by science. We are not able to create or recreate the world in a test tube. There are no scientific ways to prove or disprove God. Can you prove your love for your mate, parent or child through science. I doubt it. Can you prove that Ronald Reagon was president of the USA through science? No you cannot. Can you prove that music is sweet to the ears through science? No But all of these things are true and irrefutable. So if science is your only measure then you are making a fools choice.
Ummm... yes – you can. You can measure changes in chemicals and activity in the brain (the origin of love and "sweetness"). Just because science changes over time doesn't mean it's invalid (quite the opposite) and just because we don't have all the answers yet doesn't means "goddidit".
This must be the part that is giving everyone trouble "form their own personal conclusions on a VARIETY of subjects"
1) Purchase a research paper / lab result combination on a subject of interest to you. (believe it or not, these things are readily available to the public for purchase).
2) Sequester yourself from any outside interference.
3) After reading the paper's premise and lab results, write your own opinion down of what this means to your personal experience in this world.
4) Now you may seek out external opinions to compare to your own.
1) Submit intelligent questions to the author(s). You'd be surprised how many of them respond and thank you promptly.
2) Conduct the experiment yourself! (this might take some work, but if you are an amateur and get it done, damn fine work)
Also, you people with your casual disdain for scientific method and the requirements of a hypothesis to become a scientific theory hurt my brain.
Simply looking up "scientific method" on Wikipedia should be more than enough to make you realize these things are not "guesses", never mind the fact that that you are surrounded with technology granted to you by the work of scientists nor the fact that you were taught these things by example no later than grade 8.