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 IAmAnAtheist » Tract #1: Types of Atheism

Tract #1: Types of Atheism

Download tract #1: Types of Atheism (PDF). See page #3 for printing instructions.

Types of Atheism

An atheist is someone who does not have any religious beliefs. In a more narrow sense, an atheist is someone who does not believe that God — or any deities — exist. But not all atheists are the same.

Positive (or weak) atheists disbelieve in deities because the existence of deities has not been proven.

Moral atheists are positive atheists whose moral viewpoint is derived from a few basic logical principles, and who find that these principles also imply atheism. A moral atheist may see atheism as more of a side effect of his or her beliefs than the core of those beliefs. (This series of pamphlets was written from the point of view of a moral atheist.)

An agnostic atheist is someone who does not believe in deities, but believes that the existence of deities cannot be proven or disproven. An agnostic atheist might say, “Theists have the burden of proof for the existence of God, and since such proof is impossible, there is no reason to believe that God exists.”

To be clear, one may be an agnostic theist (believing in a deity though proof is impossible), an agnostic atheist (not believing in deities although — or because — proof is impossible), or simply an agnostic (neither believing nor disbelieving in deities because it’s impossible to discover the truth).

Strong atheists believe that there definitely are no deities. Some strong atheists believe that the non-existence of deities can be proven (because, for example, deities are logically impossible). Some people assume that all atheists are strong atheists, but this is not the case.

Reactive atheists disbelieve in deities because they reject theism. A reactive atheist disbelieves in God not because such disbelief is logically required, but for more personal, emotional reasons. A reactive atheist is likely also be a strong atheist.

Practical atheists do not see deities as useful concepts.

Noncoherent atheists hold that one cannot even have a conversation about the existence of God because the word “God” does not have coherent meaning.
Atheists by default are those who do not have belief in deities because they are incapable of having such a belief or have not considered the possibility that deities exist. Newborn babies would be atheists by default. (Some people do not even consider this to truly be a form of atheism because it is not a considered opinion.)

Although these terms broadly cover the majority of atheists, they are not intended as comprehensive, and some of their definitions continue to be the subject of discussion.

Remember, too, that atheists may vary quite a bit in how they prefer to refer to their beliefs. Some agnostic atheists like to be called “atheist,” but some prefer “agnostic.” Some atheists, when asked, will say that they are “not religious” or otherwise avoid the word atheist because they think it brings with it too much cultural baggage.

When it comes to our personal philosophy and beliefs, it’s what we think and not what we call ourselves that’s important. Labels are useful, but don’t let yourself get hung up on then.

2 Responses

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  1. Written by James Smith João Pessoa, Brazil
    on January 24, 2011 at 5:29 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    A popular claim of theists is that atheism it no different that religion because it is a belief system. That this is a ridiculous claim has been demonstrated many times. When you try to label atheists and divide them into certain categories, you are verifying the claims that it is a belief system with cults just like theists.

    I doubt that many atheists would fit neatly into one of your labels. Most likely, most atheists would fit each label to a degree but not really match any of them.

    • Written by Anonymous
      on January 14, 2013 at 9:39 am
      Reply · Permalink

      I don’t think I’ve understood your post. Are you implying that atheism is a cult of sorts? I don’t think thats what you mean, but just to clarify a bit, could you rephrase?

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