And are there more types than these?  This is apparently from sociological research out of the University of Tennessee, but I'm reporting from the Salon article.  The researchers identified six categories of non-believers in the U.S., with estimates of their relative size.

1. Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic. By far, the most common kind of non-believer, at nearly 38 percent. This group enjoys intellectual discourse, and while they’re often very certain about their beliefs, they’re not belligerent about it. These types often get mistaken for dogmatic atheists, however, because they have a tendency to join skeptic’s groups or otherwise find avenues to discuss non-belief with others. However, as researchers note, these non-believers “associate with fellow intellectuals regardless of the other’s ontological position."  They like debating religion, but aren’t particularly interested in chasing down believers to give them a hard time.

2. Activist. This group also gets commonly accused of being dogmatic, but like the intellectual atheist, while they’re firm in their beliefs, they’re intellectually flexible and don’t prioritize attacking believers. Instead, they are motivated by a strong sense of humanist values to make change in the world, often making related issues—such as feminism, gay rights, or the environment—a priority over simply advocating atheism. They are the second biggest sub-category of non-believers, making up 23 percent of non-believers.

3. Seeker-Agnostic. This group, which makes up 7.6 percent of non-believers, are unlikely to be as critical of religion as most other groups. They prioritize not-knowingness. If you ever come across people saying, “I don’t know, but neither do you!” regarding religious belief, you’re dealing with a seeker-agnostic. They don’t really believe in anything, but they are uncomfortable committing to non-belief completely.

4. Anti-Theist. This group tends to get conflated with all atheists by believers, but they only constitute 15 percent of non-believers. Like the Intellectual Atheists, they like to argue about religion, but they are much more aggressive about it and actively seek out religious people in an effort to disabuse them of their beliefs. While most atheists limit themselves to supporting a more secular society, anti-theists tend to view ending religion as the real goal.

5. Non-Theist. They don’t believe in any gods, but don’t think about those who do very often. In such a religious society, simply opting out of caring much about religion one way or another is nearly impossible, which is why this group is only 4.4 percent of non-believers. “A Non-Theist simply does not concern him or herself with religion,” researchers explain. In some skeptical/atheist circles, this group is disparagingly referred to as “shruggies,” because they simply shrug when asked their opinion on religion.

6. Ritual Atheist/Agnostic. This group, making up 12.5 percent of atheists, doesn’t really believe in the supernatural, but they do believe in the community aspects of their religious tradition enough to continue participating. We’re not just talking about atheists who happen to have a Christmas tree, but who tend to align themselves with a religious tradition even while professing no belief. “Such participation may be related to an ethnic identity (e.g. Jewish),” explain researchers, “or the perceived utility of such practices in making the individual a better person.”


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How many types of people don't believe in unicorns?


Jesus, that's a nice pic, Strega.

You deserved the best I could find, RobertPiano! 

If you click on the picture itself, you will get the full sized version which is really awesome - but a little too big to post as a comment :)

Lots of types, but I expect most would resemble group 5 above.

What do you feel about the actual research being presented?  

We all know survey data is weak and answers depend on the poll questions. Also, realize that atheists are evolving; we do not profess to have the complete knowledge set your Bible offers. I have experienced being all of the listed "types" at one time or another.

I believe this was a multi-tiered ethnographic study that included survey validation through interview data and psychometrically well designed question pool(s).  Didn't pull the original paper, though.  Did you?

For the record, we do not profess that our Bible offers anything resembling a "complete knowledge set."  It's a text.   The knowledge set is the study of Theology, and we would not claim that it is complete.

Anytime a personal poll/interview is used you get subjective data that includes projection and sampling issues. The fact that many atheists are in the closet kills this "research". You can analyze poll data all day long, but in the end  there is little control.

If you do not believe your God offers you knowledge of your creation, the creation of the life and the universe, your life's purpose, how you will be judged, and what the consequences of your verdict are- then you may well be an atheist yourself. This is the complete knowledge set I am speaking of.

To me it's the key difference between an atheist and a theist, because no matter what science uncovers, a theist has to "work it in" or deny their own texts and pick and choose what to believe. It exposes the fact that their god is a human invention. I respect and fear fundamentalists because at least they really believe.  You can't reform a god.


That's a rather bizarre misunderstanding of religion.  No wonder you're an atheist.  I'm not sure anybody who is a theist believes what you think religion is; certainly not most of us.

God doesn't offer knowledge of creation.   We observe creation and gain knowledge.  God doesn't offer knowledge of our life's purpose.  We explore that and try to learn it.  We read, we study, we observe, we learn, we practice, we pray... and we're still learning.   In Christianity, we do have a notion of "being judged", but that's a term of art within the discipline, and we don't actually know "how". 

Again, I think you're taking all of theism to be the same as some narrow segments of fundamentalist Christianity, and even there you're casting fundamentalist Christianity by their least well educated members. 

I also think there's a profound difference between opinion "polling" and well-done social science research methodologies.  About the same as the difference between pop culture views of science and real physical science research.

What do you feel about the actual research being presented?

38% + 23% + 7.6% + 15% + 4.4% + 12.5% = 100.5%... I wouldn't listen to them if I were you...

Damn rounding errors!


I'll bet I'm the .5%.


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