Classifying Atheists (part II)

My chart in the last post looked at two qualities of Atheists in relationship to discussing religion:  their systematic interest level in religion and their religious temperament.   Below is the same chart but now plainly illustrating some sub-groups.  My experience has been that much disagreement in conversations between atheists or even with theists is because people are not recognizing the significant influence of these two factors — they don’t understand their own dispositions.  Misunderstandings are often founded on the assumption that you must be pretty similar to me — which, though useful, is sometimes very wrong.

What do you think?  How would you have labeled the categories?

Religious Temperament

“Natural Atheists” never entertained religion.  They aren’t built for it.  Thus, they have a hard time understanding the theist’s religious mental inclinations.  Ex-believers, on the other hand, once embraced the religious mind (and probably still do to a some degree — it is hard to totally erase neural pathways).  We could break those ex-theists down into groups who embraced their former theism primarily mystically vs those who embraced it primarily dogmatically, but either way, ex-theist atheists have a better chance to understand the theist’s constitution.  Not to say that ex-theists can’t be unforgivingly pissed off — like when they find their former exclusivism now directed at themselves.

Systematic Interest in Religion

There is only so much time in the day.  We all have different interests.  We can’t systematize our knowledge about everything.  And heck, lots of people don’t care for systematizing at all.   Systematization ain’t needed for a happy life — it is  a hobby.  Note: in my diagram I intentionally made the “disinterested” folks all fade toward the same color.


Filed under Cognitive Science, Philosophy & Religion

22 responses to “Classifying Atheists (part II)

  1. Brandon

    This is a great addition, and it really puts the last post into focus. Cool!

    I still actually have an objection to something, but I’ll talk to you about it in person because it is a little nuanced (i.e. long to write out) and I’m not 100% on it. Great update though.

  2. Meh, atheism and theism, both just different ways of grasping at a concept.

  3. @ Brandon – thanx

    @ Kyle – Agreed. Seeing behind concepts is my intent here. So hopefully that takes it out of the “meh” range.

  4. Hermes

    I’ve done it here
    … though not just for atheists.

  5. @ Hermes
    I like your site and I like your various labels. But I don’t see you interacting with my post. I think my diagram addresses something different that your post.

  6. Hermes

    The general split I give in the above poll is based on a statement of belief plus a claim to knowledge. I allowed multiple votes to allow for differences in positions about different specific deities or deity types.

    Beliefs: An atheist in this case is making a statement about how they believe; they believe there are no gods. This can also be on a per-deity basis.

    Knowledge: An atheist, though, may have wildly differing claims about what they know about the existence of any deity because the diversity of the claims made by differing theists and philosophers.

  7. Hermes

    Sabio, I agree they are different on their face and I see no contradiction there. I offer it as a possible resource since it has been banged around on a few different forums for a few years.

    As you have thought about your chart for a bit, and I’ve had mine for a bit, maybe there is some overlap that you and I are currently unaware of? I know that when I created mine the first few iterations were very simple, and the later ones had to leave out valid additions to keep it to a manageable size.

  8. @ Hermes
    I get that you want to talk about your chart. Any thoughts you have on this one and the ideas behind it would be welcomed.

  9. Hermes

    My first post was brief for a reason. I was only offering another resource.


    I noticed more and more of these graphical images on your site. What tool are you using to make them? If you could pass that along to me I would appreciate it.

  11. CRL

    I think that the divide between ex-theists and natural atheists is not as clean you make it. Quite a few people, such as myself, are raised with religion, but not naturally wired for it. While naturally, we are atheists, by accidents of birth, we are raised in religious (or half-religious, in my case) families, and come to embrace religion by habit and example.

  12. @ CRL
    Indeed you are correct. Then I would argue that you are/were a “Natural Atheist” and you never really “embraced fervently” the religion as an adult but just mimicked and followed along until you woke up. (or were never challenged).

    But you are right — no categories can be even near tight. But it did get you to say that you were “not naturally wired for it”.

    Which is different from me — I am/was wired for it.
    It was simply that difference I was trying to illustrate. And because of that, perhaps our understanding of religion is different.

  13. Sabio – A few questions as I am new to your blog and understandings of atheism. OK, so I was raised a Catholic, turned agnostic (though even as a kid I never fully bought into the notion of God) then converted to Buddhism. The odd thing is, if I had to label myself, it would be again agnostic, never an atheist.

    So, when you are talking about atheists here, is it 1)simply people that lack a belief in a creator God
    2)people who deny any type of creator/or greater power is even possible (yea I know, it seems the same, but are really different)
    3)agnostic/atheist in general
    4)people that actively engage in anti-religious rhetoric

    Maybe you have a chart before that explains that. I like the chart, I understand it, though I’m not sure if in your chart you are saying scholars and intellectuals have a greater propensity to label themselves as atheists then less educated folks.

    Perhaps your disinterested folks are really more agnostic than “There is no God.” or ” I do not believe in God.”

    And I admit, it is fun to dig into this stuff, food for the brain.

  14. Temaskian

    “Not to say that ex-theists can’t be unforgivingly pissed off — like when they find their former exclusivism now directed at themselves.”

    Hahaha. This is a really confusing feeling. You feel angry, but you know you used to do the very same thing. So it’s also like you don’t have the right to be angry. Which just makes you feel even more mad. 😀

  15. @CRL :
    I decided your point was right on in many ways and have altered the image to try to capture that: Overlap + Transparency. Hope that gets a little closer to reality (the nature of all models). 😉
    Thanx !!

    @ Kyle :
    Fantastic to have you commenting, dude. Good questions and classic questions on Atheist website that are addressed and debated all over the place.
    My take: I use atheist to mean agnostics and atheists. I don’t argue about terms. I get all the subtleties, and the discussion can get long.
    When I started the site, I made list of terms — check it out. See which ones you like. I don’t like arguing terms as much as I like coming to mutual understanding — after all, that is the purpose of words, eh?
    Because I have strong Buddhist values, the terms can be slippery for me too. Also, you may enjoy my post on “Atheist: an epiphenomena“. You may feel my concern with the term is inordinate, but in my life, Theist control and damage more than you’d imagine. (not all Theists of course, but I address the food that empowers the ones who do).

    @Temaskian :
    Glad you enjoyed that. Only sick fervent ex-theists like us really get that. Again, that is the point of my post: there are important things to understand in the varieties of non-theists.

  16. I think there may be as great a difference between the mystic believers and the dogmatic believers as those who were never really believers in the first place.
    And, of course, with overlap between all three.
    Glad you mentioned the distinction.

  17. Graham

    This is interesting. You seem to have a way of placing my very own thoughts into diagrams Sabio.

    I think most people who would make their way to your website must be far and away from disinterested. Every once in a while I have to remind myself that most people don’t care and that they’re comfortable not caring. I doubt I’ll ever truly understand that mentality.

    The problem is, the degree to which one is disinterested in exploring and understanding belief is the degree to which one can be controlled via the mechanism of belief.
    It’s certainly possible that one can hold beliefs, even untrue/irrational beliefs, and not submit themselves to being manipulated via those beliefs. But if we are disengaged and uninterested in understanding what we believe and why, we must be inclined to find what we believe and why in others, a dangerous proposition.

    If I’m willing to believe something as fact without convincing myself why I believe so, I could not have concluded myself that it is true. This is separate from whether or not it is actually true.
    For example, I may, under the right circumstances, truly believe that I was able to read another person’s mind across a room. (Let’s say that I had never considered psychic abilities before) I heard the person’s thought in my own mind and they confirmed that I had done so correctly. I might, based on my experience, assert that mind reading is in fact possible. I have arrived at that conclusion based only on my perceptions (reliable or not).
    It could happen however, that a person convinced me that psychic ability was possible and that if I concentrate in a certain way, or use a special device, or make a certain motion, that I can cause myself to read another persons mind. Then if my perceptions cause me to think I’ve read someones mind, my position will be reinforced (a) by the person who told me it was possible and (b) by the action, concentration, or device “used”.

    It is in manipulating what people think they perceive that some are able to take advantage of the disinterested.

    I have “perceived” God. My mind has encountered a state in which it believed that it was connected with God. Some Christians will sometimes use their perception to insist that God exists. “I can feel God.” “I know I’m connected with Jesus.” I don’t doubt these feelings for a second. These feelings really truly exist. But how reliable is our own perception? Not very much, and that’s the point.

    I have absolutely felt entirely connected with the God who rules the universe. But I was wrong, I was tricked by my own perception and manipulated (Deliberately or not, maliciously or not) by those around.

    I no longer believe in God, the Soul, spirits, ghosts, psychic ability, super-natural ability, etc. That’s not to say I don’t perceive such things, but I’m confident that I’m wrong whenever I do.

    It’s worth mentioning (maybe even necessary if I’m to stay on topic) that I believe this occurs both with what are “untrue beliefs” and “true beliefs”. Even if I perceive to be held to the Earth by a force (let’s call it Gravity) my perception of this force is not even to believe it to exist. I’m confident gravity exists because sensors more powerful than my natural ones have detected and documented the movements of objects and found that they all are attracted to each other in proportion to their mass and their distance from each other.

    Sorry for the wall of text. I hope I was able to explain myself well. I’ll be happy to continue this discussion.

  18. @ prairienymph
    I am glad someone picked up on that. I too think it is a crucial difference. Perhaps I will do a different post on that. thanx.

    @ Graham
    Glad you enjoyed — I agree with several points in your “wall”. 🙂

  19. Oh gosh, I think I’m losing it. For one second I thought I would pray that my beloved baby nephew turns into a natural atheist.

    Gosh! I can assure you I didn’t write this from a nut house.

  20. @ Lorena

    Imagine your baby nephew now turned 35 years old. Would you want him to have been a natural atheist all those years or an atheist who once was religious. And you get to choose the religion he was — it doesn’t have to be the scary fundamentalist stuff that hurt you.
    Interesting question, eh?

  21. Yeah, very interesting. Can’t wait to see how he turns out.

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