Types of Atheists

A certain Lucie K.B. Hall had once constructed an Atheist Taxonomy: The Five Varieties of Atheists (link apparently dead, but the page is at the Internet Archive), and various people at various places have come up with some additional possibilities.

She started off by excluding Buddhists, because she does not know enough about Buddhism to say much about it. In any case, philosophical Buddhists tend to be atheists or pantheists, but mass-market Buddhism often involves lots of gods, though less-than-omnimax ones.

Here is a quick summary of her types:

  • Nihilistic atheists
  • “Mad at god” atheists
  • Philosophical atheists
  • Scientific atheists
  • Reared atheists

This article has more detail about them below the fold.

Keep in mind that it is possible to be more than one type of atheist; being one type or subtype does not exclude being another. Furthermore, these are not necessarily rigid categories. One can be a philosophical or a scientific atheist who has decided that the question is not worth thinking about much more, and who thus acts like a nihilistic atheist.

  • Nihilistic atheists, not necessarily nihilists in the ordinary sense, but those who’ve never thought much about religious or philosophical questions one way or another. Many atheists are like that, and many nominal believers in various religions may also be much like that. Such atheists may convert to some religion if they suffer some stress or else encounter someone with a plausible-sounding case for that religion, like C.S. Lewis.They have these subtypes or related types:
    • Never-thought-about-it atheists.
    • Don’t-care atheists, who include relativist ones (“what I do is right for me, and what you do is right for you”), and some agnostics.
    • Other-interest atheists, who prefer thinking about other things and doing them.
    • Lazy atheists, who have neither the ability nor the desire to believe in some belief system, though they may be a subtype of don’t-care atheists.
    • Waste-of-time atheists, the sort who ask why we keep on talking about the god hypothesis because they have no reason to seriously consider it.
    • Troll atheists, who like to shock or annoy other people, like certain teens with their parents. Madalyn Murray O’Hair was a bit like that.
    • Royal-lie atheists are either a subtype or a related type. They are like Plato, who proposed that his Republic have an official religion that he considered false, for the purpose of making its citizens virtuous. That has been a common belief about religion over the centuries, but nowadays, it is not usually expressed with Plato’s honesty.
    • Party-line atheists, who are atheists because that is the party line in whatever ideology they believe in or group they are a member of. Many Marxists are likely party-line atheists.

    .

  • “Mad at god” atheists are those who are angry at god over this or that bad thing. However, it is difficult to be angry at something that does not exist, and some such atheists may eventually convert if they come across some seemingly satisfactory resolution of what they are angry over. The classical French existentialist position, according to Ms. Hall, is being angry at god for daring to be nonexistent; as she says, don’t expect it to make a lot of sense.They have these subtypes or related types:
    • Mad-at-religion atheists have a different target, and a more reasonable one.
    • Proud atheists, like philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who once stated “If there were gods, how could I bear it to be no god! Therefore there are no gods!”
    • Depressed atheists have a different emotion, but they may be related. There was once someone who would moan and groan about how worthless his life is, because he will someday die.

    .

  • Philosophical atheists are not quite as numerous, but there are still a lot of them.They have these subtypes or related types:
    • Logical ones have found holes in various theological concepts, and have decided to follow reason rather than faith; Bertrand Russell had been an eminent such atheist.
    • Emotional ones are like the “mad at god” ones, but they have gone further, concluding that some alleged god is far too evil to be worthy of being described as absolutely good. Like a god who makes big disasters happen or else allows them to happen, or a god who decrees very nasty laws and/or very dumb ones.
    • Religion-deficiency ones may be subtypes of the previous two. They include those who read the Bible and find it to be very deficient in some important ways.

    .

  • Scientific atheists are an offshoot of the philosophical kind; they decide that there is no noticeable difference between the activity of a god and the inactivity of a god, and thus that god is a meaningless hypothesis, to be shaved away with Occam’s Razor. It is possible to believe in a limited version of such “naturalism”, in which god does not meddle with laboratory experiments, but instead with ultimate causes or stuff like that. However, some scientists and people interested in science go a bit further than such “methodological naturalism”, and conclude that there is no convincing evidence for any sort of god, as Richard Dawkins and Victor Stenger have. In effect, why believe in a god who acts like an unnecessary hypothesis?
    .
  • Reared atheists are rather rare in our part of the world, and depending on what other sorts of atheists they are, they might fall away in various ways, like sending their kids to Catholic school or something like that.

More generally, the first two kinds of atheists may easily convert to some religions, but the next two, philosophical and scientific, seldom convert. That may be why the Xian apologists have been gloating so loudly over Antony Flew’s apparent conversion to Aristotelian deism, however disappointing the details of his beliefs must be to them. His main competition is C.E.M. Joad, who had been a philosophy professor and professional know-it-all for the BBC, but who had converted to Anglicanism(?) after he was caught fare-beating on a train. Closer to home is someone who had been well-known at a certain place, who had distinguished himself as a very talkative atheist, but who ended up inventing a New-Agey religion for himself so that his fear of death would not drive him nuts.

Theologians like John Haught have maintained that the most consistent kind of atheist is a “mad at god” atheist who is a nihilist in the ordinary sense of the word. He considers Nietzsche and some French existentialist philosophers good examples of that kind of atheist. But John Haught seems to think that philosophical and scientific atheists like the “New Atheists” are somehow inconsistent, though his arguments can be difficult to fullow. In particular, he seems to think that such atheists believe in something like a god without calling it a god.

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One Response

  1. There are two types of atheist.

    1) those who are in denial, they are wanna be atheists, they like the idea of not believing in creationism and they dedicate their lives getting stuck in arguments about the existence or non existence of a supernatural being. These reach nowhere, because to believe in non-belief is by itself a MEME that takes over your brain like a fluke and inhibits free thinking, so you are again caught in being overzealous about a certain idea 2) the second type, I don’t like to call them atheists because they have never been childish enough to think about a supernatural being in the first place. These are people who are going to achieve something because they refuse to be inhibited by any idea whatsoever.

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