Friday, September 21, 2007

Types of Atheists

Contrary to popular opinion which seems to club all kinds of atheists into one type, there are different kinds of ‘atheists’. ‘Non-belief in an organized faith’ is usually considered a ticket to atheism. However there are different kinds of people who profess such non-belief. I could think of four types here:


These are idol-breakers. They would like to break the existing notion of belief in the God as preached by a certain religion or cult they are familiar with. They see a certain religion and its practices to be detrimental and hence they go about shattering those icons, those symbols, those houses of worship. Sometimes these iconoclasts tend to establish a different kind of ideology in the place of the idols they have fought. Certain Communists fall into this category. Karunanidhi and Periyar fall into this category to an extent. Adolf Hitler and Stalin could be grouped into this.

Their non-belief is not scientific in origin and it may not have a rational outlook either. The rejection of God could be out of anger, frustration with the way the world is working, or with a hidden agenda to replace existing faiths with a different ideology. Some iconoclasts who broke up paganism settled down to embrace Abrahamic religion. Some iconoclasts who broke up Christianity embraced Nazism or Communism.


They are practical people who rationalize and see that most things in life can be explained away without involving God or his divine intervention. They see no need for God to run things. They see rituals as an encumbrance to leading a practical life. They see organized religion serving certain vested interests. For them miracles are just coincidences. These people may not have known the deeper topics of science or inner understandings of nature. But they have enough logical and reasoning power to conclude that running of things does not need intervention of a supernatural being and hence there is a good enough reason to conclude that God does not exist. ‘Show me the proof, only then will I believe’, is their stand.

Some pragmatists may turn into believers if they are touched by supposed miracle. They may take a U-turn to embrace religion and its all elements to become their champions. Some people in their young age may dabble with atheism, more as a rebellious streak, and they may eventually become strong proponents of religion and belief in God after certain incidents or revelations.


They are complete nonbelievers of a religious God. They are of scientific bent and have asked deeper questions about the forces of nature, and how nature is run. They don’t think a God is running this place. They don’t think God listens to one’s prayers. They do not see God as creator of life. They do not see God intervening into human life. However, they do feel that there could be some supernatural force that has brought this Universe into place. And that supernatural force need not be a conscious being, not someone who is concerned with affairs of men and their petty exams and wars. But they concede that certain supernatural force may be the one that set the universal laws and their properties in motion, only during the first few nanoseconds of the creation of Universe. And thereafter has NOT tampered with Universe ever again. (Example: Albert Einstein)

Absolute Atheists

They are nonbelievers of all kinds of God including a supernatural force. They are of scientific bent too and have asked deeper questions about forces of nature. They inherit all other traits of Deism, but they do not believe that a supernatural force is needed to set the Universe into motion. They believe we just happen to be a in a Universe that could spawn life and hence we happen to ask these questions. In Universe which could not spawn life there is no one to ask these questions.


  1. Are these like different castes of atheists?

  2. i didnt know of this classification, although i am an atheist. now i can sa i am a total atheist.

    there is a scientific reason behind every natural phenomenon.

    now, the laws of nature within the frame of the earth are different than the laws in a larger frame(stars and galaxies).but both laws have a scientific reason.

    the supernatural events that desits believe are actually real scientific phenomena in that frame of reference

    (all this frame of reference talk is similar to newtons laws working in different frames)

  3. #1: Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: It transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural and spiritual; and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.

    #2: If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.
    Both are quotes by Einstein.

    Sujai, so, is there some kind of hierarchy? Any kind of looking down upon or discrimination among the different varnas of atheists? :)

  4. :)
    I did not imply any hierarchy within types of atheists. Moreover, it is not a classification. I have put down different types of atheists that I have met in my life. There could be more types.

    Sometimes it makes sense to understand that there are different types of atheists, the way there are different types of religious people (devout, fanatic, liberal, spiritual, ritualistic, etc).

    I wrote this in the present context. Karunanidhi represents a different kind of atheism as compared to Richard Dawkins.

    Hope it makes sense!

    (Every classification or attempt to understand different types should NOT and need NOT be seen as varnas or castes. After some time it gets tedious to be on the defensive- which is BTW the initial purpose for accusing one for introducing such 'hierarchy')

  5. Sujai: But I've definitely observed the absolute atheists looking down upon the pragmatist atheists (and deist atheists) and criticizing them for being traitors. Again, the reason I mentioned varna was not to put you on the defensive, but to draw a (simple) parallel and to make a point. :)

  6. IMO, another class would be the "scientific atheist".

    That is, an individual who does not claim that god doesn't exist with absolute certainty, but says that, based on current scientific evidence, it's highly improbable that an entity who is interested in human affairs (ex, answering prayers, etc) exists.

    -- anon3.1415 (to distinguish from other anons. is it ok with you?)

  7. anon 3.1415:
    In my earlier classification (as a comment to a blog), I had classified atheists under different titles- practical atheists, rational atheists, and scientific atheists.

    However, I wanted to get away from those titles here (for certain reasons).

    And I don't believe my list if comprehensive.

  8. I think there is another group of atheists, who belive god is nature. They do not belive in a supernatural power nor in a personal god, but that nature dictates life.

  9. We humans are naturally gullible — disbelieving requires an extraordinary expenditure of energy. It is a limited resource. I suggest ranking the skepticism by its consequences on our lives. True, the dangers of organized religion used to be there — but they have been gradually replaced with considerably ruthless and unintrospective social-science ideology.

  10. Please don't misrepresent the facts.Do a study on Atheism.Give me back my 5 minutes.

  11. That is good differentiation..

    i personally believe that there is some kind of supernatural force overlooking us.

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  12. So, is Atheism new religion, in which the priests are called cynics?

  13. Hitler was a Catholic, not an Atheist. The Third Reich was mainly a Catholic Inquisition against the Jews.

  14. Totally agree about Hitler being a catholic. Stalin although an atheist was more of a demi god like Kim Sung.

  15. Sujai,

    If you are convinced there are somethings like forces of Evil... then i believe you are logically obligated to accept there are forces of Good.
    Giving you an initiating point on your new research. Follow these links..

    Just see what all religions have to say about this subject... giving more emphasis on Christianity and Islam.

    We have to be realistic about the fact that there ARE surely some entities on earth that science will probably never be able to comprehend. Good luck on your new journey! :)



    P.S: If you have already known about this subject, I am surprised you are still an atheist.

  16. Adolf Hitler, was not, I repeat, was not an atheist.
    Here's why:


  17. Sujai, your 4 categories of Atheists was an eye-opener for me. But did you forget "Agnostic"?

    Agnostic is "a person who claims that they cannot have true knowledge about the existence of God (but does not deny that God might exist)"

    Btw, Sujai why not write an article that debunks all kinds of crazy pro-God arguments & beliefs that we've been hearing throughout history? It'd be exciting to read them!

  18. Hi Sujai, Good analytical about classification of athiests. Yo have mentioned an example of Periyar as 'Iconoclast' . I agree he had broken idols of Ganesha and burnt Rama pictures. But by this single act, he cannot be called as Iconoclasts. He did it to overthrow the supremacy of Brahmins. If you have read his book 'Puthiya Ulagam', you will know, he has deeper insights of science and rejected God based on scientific evidence. I would say he is an Absolute Atheist and he performed rebellions to make positive changes in the Caste bound Society. He had asked deeper questions about Hinduism and stupid Caste system and you can read them and know his high reasoning. So he was an aggressive reformer(breaking idols) and absolute atheist.


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