July 18th, 2013
03:14 PM ET
`Six Types of Atheists' study wakes a sleeping giant
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) - They were trying to prove a simple point: That nonbelievers are a bigger and more diverse group than previously imagined.
"We sort of woke a sleeping giant," says Christopher F. Silver, a researcher at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "We're a bit overwhelmed actually."
Silver and his project manager, Thomas Coleman, recently released a study proposing six different types of nonbelievers - from strident atheists to people who observe religious rituals while doubting the divine.
The study clearly struck a chord, particularly among triumphal atheists and uneasy believers. Articles appeared in in Polish, German, Russian and Portuguese, Silver said.
Here on CNN.com, our story "Behold, the Six Types of Atheists" garnered about 3.14 gazillion hits and thousands of comments.
Half the fun seemed to lie in atheists applying the categories to themselves, kind of like a personality test.
"I guess I'm a 1-2-4 atheist," ran a typical comment.
Other commenters questioned the study's categories, methods, and even the religious beliefs of its authors.
Silver and Coleman agreed to answer our readers' questions via email from Tennessee. Some of their answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Several readers asked how you came up with your six categories of atheists?
A: In a sense we let the participants inform our theory.
The categories were devised from a series of 59 interviews conducted with people nationwide who don’t believe in God. Participants were asked to define various terms of nonbelief as well as their own religious views.
We also asked participants to tell us their stories and how their religious views have changed over time. We found the most commonly repeated stories and descriptions and formed them into types.
We then used those types in the survey portion of the project. Each of the six categories proved to be statistically unique in a wide array of psychological measures.
Q: @PaulTK asks: Are atheists limited to the six categories your study proposes?
A: We suspect that further research exploring people who don't believe in God will certainly expand the number of categories and fill in more details about the six we've named.
For example, we found that the Intellectual Academic Atheist type may produce a 7th type reflecting those who are more "philosophically orientated" versus those who are more "scientifically orientated."
Our study also gives some evidence that individuals may not believe in God but still identify with religion or spirituality in some way.
Q: @JessBertapelle asks: Can people fit into more than one category?
A: The typology of nonbelief is fluid. Based on our interviews, we suspect people transverse the various types over the course of their lives. Since we did not conduct a longitudinal design (a study conducted over time tracking the same people) we are unable to validate this assumption.
For those of you who found yourselves agreeing with multiple positions, you may find characteristics that you identify with in all types but there is likely one type which is your preference.
Q: @Melissa asks: Why isn't there a category for "closet atheists"?
A: This is an excellent question. Many of our interviews were done in strict confidence where the participant’s own parents, spouses, or children had no idea they were participating in the study. One participant hid in the back of her closet because she did not want her parents to discover she is an atheist.
But while there were plenty of “closeted” participants, they didn't agree in how they describe their religious views. That is, they ranged across a variety of our six types.
Q: stew4248 asks: How is this any different than religious divisiveness?
A: There is vast diversity among religious believers, but it's unclear if such diversity exists within nonbelief.
We do know that the Antitheist category has much in common with religious fundamentalism. Likewise the Intellectual atheism/Agnosticism type has a lot in common with intellectual theology, although they are clearly not the same.
Q: How did you find the participants for the study?
Participants were recruited through nonbelief communities across the country. They were recruited face-to-face, through snowball sampling (participants sharing the study with friends), and through the Internet.
Project manager Thomas J. Coleman III is well known in the atheist community because he is suing the Hamilton County (Tennessee) Commission for their involvement in divisive sectarian prayer at meetings. His reputation helped locate “closeted” atheists to participate.
The regional breakdown of participants is presented on the project website.
Q: A number of readers have also asked about your own religious affiliations, if you don't mind.
Christopher F. Silver answers:
I was born and raised in the rural South to a deeply religious Methodist family. In my hometown everyone was Christian. As was the case for many in our study, during college I was introduced to people from different cultures and ideologies. I was interested in studying different faith traditions and why people believe.
In many respects, research for this was a selfish enterprise for me. There is nothing more transformative than sitting with someone as they share their life story with you. Today I consider myself an agnostic in the real philosophical sense. The more I learn, the more I recognize the extensiveness of my ignorance.
Thomas J Coleman III answers:
My mother has been active in the Methodist church as a choir member and pianist for most of her life. My grandparents were very active in the church and went every Sunday. Growing up, I would often go as well.
But for me, “religion” was always something that other people did. I prefer to identify as a secular humanist.
Silver and Coleman would like to point out that their study was supported and conducted in collaboration with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Department of Psychology and the Doctorate in Learning and Leadership.
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.
What a waste of time...everyone knows.... atheists do not exist.
I thought I was feeling kinda "non-existy" today...
Coitus ergo sum.
This is actually sort of comical really. Do we try to figure out the six kinds of Muslims or the six types of agnostics or whatever group? No, we don't.
Six types of Christians:
6. Abused by priests
Returning to the wisdom of the ancients:
"The Two Universal Sects
They all err—Moslems, Jews,
Christians, and Zoroastrians:
Humanity follows two world-wide sects:
One, man intelligent without religion,
The second, religious without intellect. "
, born AD 973 /, died AD 1058 / .
Al-Ma’arri was a blind Arab philosopher, poet and writer. He was a controversial rationalist of his time, attacking the dogmas of religion and rejecting the claim that Islam possessed any monopoly on truth."
Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/resalat-al-ghufran#ixzz1lI6DuZmZ and http://www.humanistictexts.org/al_ma'arri.htm
Death's Debt is Paid in
Death's debt is then and there
Paid down by dying men;
But it is a promise bare
That they shall rise again.
(w/ Extra Sarcasm Gravy)
Wow! I can't believe a man who hated religion would say such a thing.....about religion!
The words "wisdom" and "ancients" do not belong in the same sentence.
I wonder what God thinks about atheists.
Nothing since he doesn't exist.
if the being existed, it would likey be happy we use our brains rather than kowtowing to iron age comic book tales
If any gods really wanted people to believe they would provide some decent evidence. As it is,any guesses about gods are unrelated to reality and probably fairly amusing to any real gods out there...assuming they have the ability to laugh.
Cnn belif blog is an athiest circle jerk which attacks opposing opinions and ignores science, what a surprise (sarcasm)
What science is being ignored, pen-day-ho?
Lets be honest with each other, you obviously have access to a computer and can google how quantum mechanics could support the existence of a god like figure(double split, Higgs, and dark matter) or look at the latest astrological discoveries which support the possibility (due to the sheer size and expansiveness of the universe) that there could exist life forms which could have evolved to have the same abilities as the god or gods of several religions. The reality is that atheist say they believe in science but if one day science indisputably proves there is a god or gods i am sure the athiest would cry that science is wrong.
get back to us when science proves a god
The fact that the universe can, and probably does contain beings that are far superior to us in many ways does not make them gods. In fact, it just proves that they are not gods since they are of this universe. If the Judeo-Christian god existed it would be outside of the universe or else it could not create the universe.
let's be honest here. even if you could prove a creator, to make the leap of logic to make it a god is immense
You were saying about trolls?
Point taken. Thats the problem with hatred it is met with its equal. As a Christian no as an American i am fine with people believing in what ever they want but to ignore all of science but for archeology and evolution is ludicrous to me and honestly every othet post on here is an attack on Christianity and i felt it needed to be addressed. In the end science supports the existence of a god or gods way more than it supports that humans are the end all be all.
"In the end science supports the existence of a god or gods way more than it supports that humans are the end all be all."
What science books have you been reading? Which ones talk about unicorns, talking nonhumans, the earth standing still, etc.?
you still have not shown how science supports a god. and, no one is claiming that man is the end all and be all
Sounds like "Los" wasn't paying attention in science class.
Have you ever considered that maybe you get attacked because you are one of those posters who vomits out comments that make you seem stupid, even if you aren't?
It is Christianity that states that Mankind is the predilect object of creation of an anthropomorphic, anthropocentric Creator and that everything in existence is here simply to allow us to exist.
“If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.”
― Penn Jillette
But the human race would always wonder WHY? WHY? WHY? are we here.
Asking a question doesn't mean that you'll get the answer you want, or even an answer at all,
Pseudo-Christians all. They spout bible verse and follow none of it. Christians follow the Christ not Paul and most who say they are Christians are really Paulist.
I'd say that's fairly accurate. Most do indeed allow Paul to trump Jesus' words whenever there's conflict.
Don't respond to Los, he's a troll.
Either a troll or a completely brainless cretin. Likes to pretend he knows something about physics, but is obviously clueless. Best to ignore him.
Ha you mad bro?
What brings out more trolls? An article on George Bush or an article about god, religion, or atheism. For an understanding of how the Holocaust came to be just imagine one of these trolls being in a position of power.
New here? Are you a good troll or a bad troll?
And, I might remind you, you're on the Belief Blog. God and religion may come up.
This looks like a good place to throw down some Bible:
"But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed." Isaiah 53:4-5
"Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him." Isaiah 55:6-7
There are many, many more than just six kinds of unbelievers, but "there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12
That name is Jesus, the Messiah as revealed in scripture. We are all guilty of sin, we have all broken God's commandments, and we all deserve the death sentence that God, the righteous judge, will give us if we are found guilty on judgement day. But Jesus bore the penalty that we deserve, paying our fine for us, so that when God looks upon us He can see only the righteousness and holiness of His Son if we put our trust in Him. We can be saved and have eternal life by repenting of our sin and putting our trust in Jesus Christ. What's to stop you from doing this right now?! God bless you.
Type 7 – Hater/Atheist
....and you said you needed more elaboration!
Look in the mirror. o.O
It's always amusing when people quote fiction.
Even more amusing when people have nothing to rebut it with.
how does one rebut iron age hearsay?
The rebuttal is, DNA evidence disproves Adam as our prime ancestor which means there is no inherited sin which means the ransom is a lie and the bible is historical fiction.
Quoting the bible to rebut atheism is known as 'begging the question'.
Or circular reasoning, although I suppose they're the same thing.
As Christians we recognize that God's Word and the Holy Spirit convict people's hearts and draw them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I could try to reason with you or argue with you, but I can never convince you. Sharing God's Word implants His truth into your mind and heart and ultimately if you are to come to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, it will be because of the Bible and not the words of a Christian. 2 Timothy 3:16 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Romans 10:14 “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?”
Angela, Your beliefs are founded on false premises. How is it again that your omnipotent being couldn't do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus' death a "sacrifice", when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers? Pretty pathetic "god" that you've made for yourself there, and that you claim to believe in.
Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
"What's to stop you from doing this right now?! "
The thought of having to endure the rest of eternity with folks like you.
Plus it just seems a tad far-fetched, don'tcha think?
Religion is an invention of the Bourgeois to keep the proletariat down–Marx
Work is struggle–Mao
Atheism is the house of Religious Bigotry sleeps in.
Quoting Marx is really the worst thing anybody can do after his followers' failed attempts to build communism which killed a gazillion million of people.
Hey there. Les far-fetched than believing that at one time there was nothing, and then nothing exploded, and that explosion became extremely fine-tuned on it's own, and then a one-celled living organism sprouted out of a gob of goo, and then over time and without any direction that cell added more and more information to it's DNA causing it to become a self-aware human with morals.
Yep. Guess it's better to believe that God came from nothing and then created everything from nothing.
According to the Bible, God has no beginning and no end, and He created the "time" that we live in. He is not bound by it.
wow, christfollower, how convenient
Using the bible to prove the bible doesn't work.
This Christ fellow, according to your book, was spirit in rented flesh, gave it up and poofed itself back to where it came from.
Not much of a sacrifice.
Satan, you have no power. Jesus Christ rendered you impotent on Calvary cross, die, and was resurrected the third, and now is seated in heaven seated at the right of God making prayers for all the saints of God. You and your angels destination is the pits of hell where you will be bound, and agonized day and nite in the lake that burn with fire. Therefore until that day I rebuke you, and I bind you in the Name of Jesus Christ Son of the Living God.
How did you get out of your straight jacket in order to type that?
herbie: jesus is waiting for you. don't waste your time down here, you could be on your knees, pleasing the savior within a fortnight. do you have tall buildings where you live?
You know what I find agonizing? When people use the word "nite" instead of "night". Come on. Make the effort.
It is very sad that so many adults still believe in fairy tales in this day and age. I really feel sorry for them. Their lives must be miserable if they keeping hoping for a better life after they are dead. Grow up people and enjoy the only life that you are going to have.
From my experience, genuine theists are very happy people, whereas the majority of atheists, certainly those who are active in 'the atheist community', are miserable people who are a chore to be around.
As my daddy used to say – "Ignorance is bliss. And Patience is a virtue. So... if you're stupid and you don't mind waiting around alot, you can have a pretty good life."
This drives me CRAZY!!! If you as an Atheist do not believe there is a God... thats FINE!!! But stop trying to make people that have some type of faith feel like less of a human being for BELEIVING!!
Keep your nonsense to yourself and we will all be fine then.
Actually, faith is a VERY human thing. It highlights our existential insecurities and the frailties of consciousness. To think that a mind as advanced as say, Kurt Godel, could believe in a god is evidence of this.
"This drives me CRAZY!!! If you as an Atheist do not believe there is a God... thats FINE!!! But stop trying to make people that have some type of faith feel like less of a human being for BELEIVING!!"
Welcome to reality. Now you know how gays who are trashed by hypocritical Christians must feel.
If it makes you feel better to believe that intolerance is just the way of the world, that's ok... I'm not one of those hypocritical Christians that you speak of... so I feel that people should live and let live. Get on the happy train man!
Do you tell hyocritical Christians not to pick on gays and not to pretend the Bible opposes abortion? Do you see lots of Christians on here doing that?
If you feel that way then maybe you don't really believe.
OH NO SIR/MADAM... I do believe VERY MUCH SO! I just feel that there are many ways to believe and no one will know for sure till we meet our maker... or not. It's not in my power to pass judgement
Types of theists:
Love the article !
Yes agree maybe missing closet atheist!
I'm all of those ! Feel so good to know there are millions out there like me! I'm not so weird after all!
It's hard to tell people and don believe in god thet look at you like you are crazy or from another planet and probably thinking you have a straight tkt to hell!!!! Hahahhahha I
All respondents were from atheist organisations, so that wouldn't be a possibility. In fact, once I heard all respondents were from atheist organisations, the whole study lost all credibility, in my opinion.
Where would you suggest they find respondents?
I am curious.
I have no idea and you're right, in the US at least, it would be difficult to find atheists anywhere other than atheist organizations. However, atheist organizations attrac tvery specific types of atheists, mainly activist and anti-theist, who I believe are the very vocal minority of atheists.
I concur, Dave.
lol??, I'm sure you speak with complete authority about your experiences with the YMCA.
I belong to no atheist organizations yet I'm an atheist. I'm sure there many more like me.Many of us feel no need to flock together to make ourselves feel better about what we believe and to praise an imaginary "God". We are independent thinkers.
You have to be a complete idiot to be an atheist. If you don't believe in the Christian or other forms of god or gods then fine, but to completely rule out that a higher form of being could possibly exist is straight stupid. Physicist and the like have long proven the existence of other dimensions and that reality isn't actually reality, hence the double split experiment. The inconvenient truth for athiest is that science has and continues to prove that god could exist, yet they cherrie pick their scientific facts. Agnostic i understand but atheism is on the same level as flat earth believers.
LOL. Religious nuts belong to the flat earth society. Agnostics are just atheists without balls. You are a fool if you believe some invisible guy in the sky created everything in 6 days a few thousand years ago, talking snakes, people created from magical ribs, people rising from the dead, etc. It is total nonsense. Grow up.
Ask someone who's ever taken acid and the idea of ye ol' brain functions being manipulated ain't so far out. So God let his former help manipulate another brain and you think that's impossible??
Tune in, turn on, gwow up.
So since you can tell us what isn't, please tell us what is.
Really they have proof? They must hide very well!
Except you'd be hard pressed to find an atheist out there who thinks that humans are the top of the ladder in the universe. I have no doubt there are higher forms of beings out there, you would be able to refer to them as 'aliens'.
Isn't part of humanism the belief that, to our current knowledge, humans are on top of the "universe ladder"?
It's a setup so humanity will accept help from "other beings".
Wow. What a very judgemental post. You must be a Christian.
Athiest for the most part are the most oppressive, judgemental, and hateful people i have ever encountered. Just look at the hate speech under any article mentioning god. Again, you have to completely ignore physics and quantum mechanics and put your complete faith in archeology and the existance of evolution to justify being an atheist.
Really, are athiests that oppressive? What about atheists?
Dave, he covered both athiests and atheists. But I don't think he knows the difference.
Believing something doesn't make it true.
Neither does not believing anything. However, one of them has the balls to put their truck in the camp of seeing something else out there beyond just us, and the other is completely self absorbed and thinks that this vast expanse of universe we live in is empty outside of itself? Ok. Sure. What would be the point? A belief in nothing makes at least as much sense as a belief in something.
I don't know anyone who doesn't believe in anything. Most of us believe in the things we can experience, understand and verify. Many people, upon understanding the size and scope of the universe, hold a belief that we are not the only life forms even in our own galaxy.
Then there are those people step beyond the constraints of logic and reason and believe in supernatural things like gods or ghosts. It seems to be a manifestation of the fear of death, or of the arrogant belief that they should somehow be able to live forever. This is why they claim that an all powerful being has nothing better to do than attention to their thoughts and actions 24/7, all the while waiting to reward them with eternal life in paradise if they just tell him they like him best. Honestly, is there anything more self-absorbed than christianity?
You seem to be a bit confused on what many atheists think. Ours is a conditional non-belief. What we (mostly) believe is that sufficient evidence for a "god" or something (in the strictest deist sense) hasn't been brought forward yet. If such proof was available, we would follow the evidence just like we do now.
That being said, most of the gods posited are ascribed with certain attributes and properties depending on the belief system. These can most certainly be proven to be incorrect and thus disqualify that "god" from the potential pool of possibilities.
It's all about possibilities vs probabilities.
An infinite number of things could exist. But there are no good reasons to believe in any of them.
There is not one shred of evidence for an invisible magician in the sky but people still want to believe it for some reason.
I don't believe in gods but I do believe in the Easter Bunny.
There are 6 concepts of God. Theism, Pantheism, Panentheism, Polytheism, Deism, Finite Goddism. Every believer believes in one concept. Nobody believes in all six concepts, so . . . all are atheists in a sense!
I'd never heard of finite godism, thanks for bringing it to my attention (although to me it seems indistinguishable to deism).
How about ismism? That covers everything.
You forgot "Monolatrism" – it's the belief that their are many gods, but only one is worthy of worship. It's a stepping stone between polytheism and monotheism (which is why the bible can be confusing, the assumption that the jews were always monotheistic is inaccurate to say the least).
ur god is a coagulation of the war mongers and fascist x tards who crave little boys and ample breasts.
i am the true gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawd
You sound deeply disturbed.
Either that or just a child wanting to resonate...