Six Types Of Atheists?

What type of atheist am I?
A group of academics—and in a happy shock, they used their own money to show this—discovered that there were six types of atheists. Which type are you?

Christopher Silver, of the U of Tennessee, Chattanooga, and of the Chattanooga Free Thought Association, and pal to Hemant Mehta, a.k.a. The Friendly Atheist, a well known blogger, and busy-bee behind Non-Belief Research in America (Silver is, not Mehta), gathered some one thousand folks on-line and, in a fashion most scientific, asked them a bunch of questions. From these questions, first proofed on a group of fifty-nine individuals, Silver et al. characterized and counted the number and type of atheists.

Silver admits his categories are fluid and permeable and that people can and do change their minds (Yours Truly used to belong to a melange of categories, for instance), and that maybe refinements of the six types are possible. And did I mention he and his compadres funded the study using their own money? Noble, that.

Here are the types. Lot in what Silver says, but his explanations need some fleshing out to be complete.

Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic (IAA)

Through reading “blogs,” “Facebook”—but not so much, say, Aquinas or Aristotle—etc., these are “individuals who proactively seek to educate themselves through intellectual association, and proactively acquire knowledge on various topics relating to ontology (the search for Truth) and non-belief.” That’s pro-active, thank you.

In this group (these are my thoughts) are a healthy proportion of folks who associate with other intellectuals, usually at universities, who notice that the intellectuals are against religion, or certain aspects of religion, and who are anxious not to appear gullible or who do not wish to express opinions contrary to the (local) majority, those who figure that because these smart guys are against a thing, the thing must be worth being against. So perhaps a better title would be Intellectual-Enculturated Atheist/Agnostic.


“This sphere can include such egalitarian issues, but is not limited to: concerns of humanism, feminism, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered (LGBT) issues, social or political concerns, human rights themes, environmental concerns, animal rights, and controversies such as the separation of church and state.”

(My thoughts.) The perpetually “outraged.” Clubbers, joiners, the (Silver’s phrase) “not idle.” Those who care deeply about humanity but not so much about people, particularly those who disagree with them. Those who are atheists primarily because theistic teaching condemns their “lifestyles.” But therefore a group which contains many angry closet theists.


“[I]ndividuals attuned to the metaphysical possibilities precluding metaphysical existence, or at least recognizes the philosophical difficulties and complexities in making personal affirmations regarding ideological beliefs…Seeker-Agnostics do not hold a firm ideological position but always search for the scientifically wondrous, and experientially profound confirmation of life’s meaning…diversity…is welcomed”

Silver says these folks should not be considered “confused”, because many of them teeter on the theist-atheist line. Maybe a better word is “lazy”. These are folks who take belief as she comes, now believing, now not, never really caring, except in moments of duress or elation, whether they’ve got their metaphysics pegged firmly to the wall. These are folks who shop at Wholefoods on purpose.


“[T]he Anti-Theist is diametrically opposed to religious ideology…[they] view religion as ignorance and see any individual or institution associated with it as backward and socially detrimental.” Et, as they say, cetera.

(My thoughts). Better terms are “Internet Atheist” or “Angry Atheist”. This type of atheist. Inoculated by fervor, these fellows (who are mostly men) are absolutely immune to argument or evidence. No matter how many times you show, say, Richard Dawkins that his criticism of some metaphysical argument is false, he will not grasp that he could was wrong. His dedication alone is proof enough he was right. The angry atheists are most akin in smugness to politically active Hollywood actors and actresses


“[A] few terms may best capture the sentiments of the Non-Theist. One is apathetic, while another may be disinterested…A Non-Theist simply does not concern him or herself with religion.”

In other words, a European.

Ritual Atheist/Agnostic

“[T]hese individuals may participate in specific rituals, ceremonies, musical opportunities, meditation, yoga classes, or holiday traditions.” The latter, since Silver mentions Jews and traditional Christians, includes lighting menorahs and putting up Christmas trees.

(My thoughts.) In this group are the aggressive thirty-something females in San Francisco who walk around in tights clutching yoga mats and look ready to be angry at something, but aren’t quite there yet. They pause after class to buy expensive coffee concoctions and play with their latest techno-gadgets, staring at the screens as if daring them not to work. They will tell you, if asked, they are spiritual and sublimely happy—or would be, if it weren’t for the presence of their co-workers, who, if you are willing to listen, you will hear all about in detail you wouldn’t have thought possible.

Silver also includes frequency tables of each kind of atheist, but since we don’t know much about how he gathered his sample, criticizing these is difficult.


  1. DAV

    Which type are you?

    I had leanings toward Courier 10 when I was younger but am now more firmly in the Prestige Elite camp although lately I find DejaVu Sans attractive.

  2. Luis

    Yeah categories.

  3. “In other words, a European.”

    Love it! I was following along with interest, but busted up laughing at that one. 🙂

  4. cminca

    Given the venom dripping from every one of your comments, I guess my question is “What kind of Christian are you”?

  5. Briggs


    The kind that bites?

  6. cminca

    No–the kind that professes to follow Christ while actually using their “Christianity” as a way of feeling smug, self-righteous, and superior.

    In other words–just another Catholic blogger.

  7. I have no idea which kind of atheist I am.

    I’ve been an atheist since around 9th grade. So it seems unlikely I became one because I noticed all the ‘intellectuals’ were atheist. (Jesuits are intellectuals and tend not to be atheists.)

    I went to Catholic highschool (RSCJ run school). Of course I’ve read Aquinas.

    Most theistic teaching doesn’t condemn my ‘lifestyle’. (Heterosexual, married, etc.)
    I’m not angry at people for being theists. (It seems to me I’m significantly less angry than you are at people for being atheists.)

    I don’t generally put up Christmas trees– but my mother in law used to do it. So we did do Christmas for that reason– at her house. We give gifts around Christmas. So? It’s fun for the holidays. I guess we could switch to gift exchanges on New Years day– just to have it not be Christmas. But why bother? It’s not such a big deal.

    I have to admit, I don’t think about the existence of lack of existence of good on a daily basis. That’s just one of the many things I don’t think about regularly. So, maybe I’m a “non-theist”.

    But I’m not European. 🙂

  8. MattS


    You missed the true defining characteristic of the Anti-Theist.

    This group of atheists is evangelistic.

    Not only can they not tolerate being exposed to someone’s religious beliefs, but the can not tolerate the mere thought that someone, anyone out there believes in anything that might be termed super-natural. The anti-theist is compelled to seek out every last believer and destroy whatever beliefs they hold.

  9. So if you are not a believer you can choose among gullible, “outraged”, “lazy”, Angry, European.angry at something, but aren’t quite there yet…

    If the European part was only true!! But to put things in perspective I thought I’d tell this little story.

    Once, while living in London, a Chinese chap approached me to tell me about the Word of The Lord Jesus Christ… Yeah, that’s right, a Chinese guy telling me, a Spaniard (Santa Inquisición… anyone?), about Jesus.

    So since I have a thing for irony and I have studied a bit about far eastern cultures I decided I would reward his Chinese efforts trying to turn a Spaniard into a Christian with my Spanish efforts trying to turn a Chinese into a Taoist.

    So there was this back a forward in the discussion until I found out he had a baby girl and I asked him “Would you kill you daughter if God asked you so? Remember Abraham!

    He hesitated quite a bit and his deep religious glance saw his eyes trying to run away from his face while he said “Yes… But God would not make me do it!” I came back “How about if he lets you?”

    The poor man turned his highly articulated speech into a sort of sad guilty garbling and this is when I felt sorry for him and I left him off the hook not before giving him the recommendation to seek a belief, like Taoism, where slaying his own baby daughter is not an option..

    So it would be only fair and interesting for this post to have list of Believers and see what adjectives you use for such segmentation. I’m actually curious….

    By the way, just an hypothesis that I have already mentioned somewhere else, but I’d say There is a higher proportion of non-believers among Frequentists that among Bayesians. Could this be so?

  10. Ye Olde Statistician

    Heh. cminca reminds me of George Orwell’s comment about a fellow atheist:
    He was an embittered atheist, the sort of atheist who does not so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike Him.
    No righteous Christian, he.
    + + +
    I’ve been an atheist since around 9th grade.

    That seems about the right age. IIRC Dawkins (or was it Hitchens?) said that he had been an atheist since age 9, when he “just knew” there was no God. Much of the kvetching seems stuck at similar age levels. OTOH, Aristotle, Aquinas, ibn Sinna, Maimonides, and others were considerably older.
    + + +
    Mr. Silver needs to study up on categories. One rule we used in quality assurance when defining categories for scrap (to take one concrete example) was that the categories do not overlap. Silver’s categories seem to be more degrees of commitment. The sharpest division of the atheist church is into two sects, which I have seen attributed to John Adams, is between:
    a) Those who hold that everything is determined, and so “no God”
    b) Those who hold that everything is due to chance, and so “no God”

    There are also those who flip-flop between the two positions depending on whether they are denying “free will” (when they take position a) or denying the cosmological argument (when they take position b) But that is because their atheism is not a reasoned or principled position, but rather a reflex, and the statements they use are simply handy. Like at some point saying “Boo hoo, you’re not acting like a Christian” and at another point saying “What about the Crusades, hunh, hunh, hunh?” One is reminded of Chesterton’s definition of a barbarian (he was speaking of Wilhelmine Prussians) as someone who laughs when he hits you but whines when he is hit.

  11. cminca

    First of all–you are ASSUMING I’m an atheist. I’m not.

    I suggest you re-visit Matthew 22:36-40 (esp. 39) and tell me again what kind of Christian you are.

    “One is reminded of Chesterton’s definition of a barbarian (he was speaking of Wilhelmine Prussians) as someone who laughs when he hits you but whines when he is hit.”

    Seems like Chesterton was defining today’s Christians leaders and bloggers.

  12. Ye Olde Statistician

    No, I only said that the comment reminded me of Orwell’s observation, which serves as a counterexample to the notion that critique of atheism is a Christian thing.

  13. Tom

    May God judge thee in kindness.

  14. Eric Anderson

    Notwithstanding any limitations of the study, it is certainly the case that many kinds of viewpoints are held under the heading “atheist,” and I applaud the effort to break down the viewpoints into discussable categories.

    In my experience with many individuals the most common category I’ve run across might be the “agnostic.” I normally would not even categorize such individuals as “atheist,” but unfortunately many people identify with “atheist” from a standpoint of culture/description and it is only after talking with them for quite a while that you come to find out it is more agnosticism.

    Another prominent category — and one that I am glad they assigned the label they did — is the “anti-theist.” There are numerous people in this category, including many of the most famous atheists. There are a handful of well-known individuals who have made a very handsome living being militantly anti-theist. This goes far beyond just atheism, in the sense of not believing in some kind of deity, but is a very active, proactive, and aggressive stance toward anything religious. The ironic thing is that many of these individuals approach their task with all the zealotry and religious fervor of a 19th century hellfire and brimstone preacher. They have their religion, to be sure, and they are quite passionate about it. It just doesn’t happen to include God.

  15. Nullius in Verba

    “The ironic thing is that many of these individuals approach their task with all the zealotry and religious fervor of a 19th century hellfire and brimstone preacher.”

    So, do religious people think that is a bad way to behave?

  16. Ye Olde Statistician

    It tends to lead one by enthusiasm rather than right reason. The intellect should rule the will. The triumph of the will in the late 19th century was not a happy thing.

  17. Poking fun at grumpy atheists, or grumpy anyone, is like shooting fish in a barrel. But that doesn’t mean you should do it. Our world is full of wounded people in all walks of life and religion (or lack thereof). And though we Christiand are meant to be the salt of the Earth, it is to give life savor, not to rub ourselves into these wounds.

    I always remember this passage from my YOUCAT Catechism:

    357 Is atheism always a sin against the first commandment?

    Atheism is not a sin if a person has learned nothing about God or has examined the question about God’s existence conscientiously and cannot believe.

    As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

    2125 Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion. The imputability of this offense can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances. “Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion.”

    We Christiana are meant to be a healing presence. Your post, Mr. Briggs, serves only to vent frustration and mock people who are merely trying to find their way and make sense of their life. Your posts would be so much more effective if, instead, they were written as loving guides showing the joy of our faith rather than what you consider to be the deficiencies of atheism.

    Yes, people do attack or belittle our faith, and there is a strong temptation to respond in turn. But we mustn’t do that, because we are Christians. We profess our hope with a happiness that precludes idly poking fun at other people made in the image and likeness of God.

    Peace of Christ be with you.

  18. “2125 Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion. The imputability of this offense can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances.”

    I believe that Virtue and Knowledge are synonymous and represent Good. The opposite is Ignorance which is synonymous with Evil. It is impossible for truly knowledgeable people to do evil by that definition which comes from Plato. Are there intelligent and learned people who are not virtuous who deliberately do evil? The answer must be yes because they are ignorant of the damage that they do to their own souls. I consider the aggressive “anti-theist” variety of Atheism to to be evil and I am a proponent of the wager first propose by Blaise Pascal except, perhaps, the part about everlasting torture:

    If you believe in God and God exists, you have a chance to gain everlasting life and happiness after death.
    If you believe in God and there is no God, you have lost nothing.
    If you don’t believe in God and God does exist, you have lost everything and you will suffer infinite torture in Hell after death.
    If you do not believe in God and there is no God, you have gained nothing. Therefore, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by believing in God; you have everything to lose by not believing.

  19. Atheism is not a sin if a person has learned nothing about God or has examined the question about God’s existence conscientiously and cannot believe. Geoffrey Miller


    Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics.Pope Francis

    Wow! Yuhuuu! 😀

    If you don’t believe in God and God does exist, you have lost everything and you will suffer infinite torture in Hell after death.Bob Motreck

    Ohhhhhh…. 🙁 There is always a Party Popper.

  20. Nullius in Verba

    Geoffrey Miller,

    Thanks for the consideration. The thought had occurred to me too.
    However, it is unnecessary. The combative atheists enjoy the cut and thrust of debate; it is part of the fun! And most atheists are inclined to turn the other cheek.

    Bob Mrotek,

    Yes, but which God?

    If you believe in Odin and it turns out Tlaloc exists, you’ll lose out. If you believe in Tlaloc and Marduk is the one, you’ll lose. And so on.

    There are thousands of Gods and Goddesses that have been worshiped by mankind over the ages, and infinitely many more that could *be* without anyone having known. Earth is only one planet out of billions – should we consider alien Gods too? Each of them could require a different precise combination of forms of worship, rituals, prayers, sacrifices. If you don’t get it *exactly* right, the God will be angry!

    You can’t worship them all. You can’t simultaneously keep every single one of them happy. And you can no more exclude or prove the non-existence of any of the others any more than you can the one picked out for you.

    Given this confusion, and given that any reasonable God who *wanted* to be known and worshiped could easily arrange for some unambiguous evidence, perhaps your best best is to simply lead a reasonably good life as you see it, don’t bother with any of the detailed rituals, and hope that whatever God or Demon you wind up facing will be inclined to be reasonable. The odds of reasonableness don’t seem very good, but there’s very little you can do about that.

    Or you could try picking the nastiest and most vindictive and least forgiving God you can find, on the basis that you gain more from being right than you lose from being wrong. Logic doesn’t always give us the answers we’d like.

    Some would argue that before God judges us, we first have to judge God, to see that he is the sort of God that *deserves* to be worshiped. Does a God that would inflict infinite torture in Hell on you if you don’t believe and obey deserve our worship? Does St Michael abide by the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war? As the angels push the sinners into the burning furnace, do they say they were only following orders?

    If God is not such a cruel authoritarian, as I would expect, then I don’t think the unbeliever has so much to lose by not believing, and if God is, then I would count it right to oppose them, whatever the cost. Either way it’s probably *morally* safer not to believe.

    But I’m not going to criticise anyone else’s choices. I wish you joy in your belief, and the very best of luck for the afterlife. 🙂

  21. Phil Steinacker


    Belittling foolishness is totally appropriate and is NOT unchristian. We are called to admonish one another, as you believe you are doing, I suppose, and one form of admonishment is to belittle foolishness but not the fool.

    A lot of angst is formed in disagreement about the boundary line between the two. Perhaps you are tripping over the wire in your attempt to “judge” the motives of those of us who find opportunity to evangelize with a little butt-kicking.

    Time restrains me from elaborating, but I assure you that during my 31 years acting as my own little pope outside the Church the folks who got my attention were the ones who upset me with their insightful digs and slams against the nonsense I was spouting in justification of my chosen lifestyle.

    Hard knocks are a bitch, but also carry the greatest potential to arouse the conscience to consciousness. Playing nice is expected, and does NOTHING to move someone out of their comfort zone. To the extent that other persons played nay role at all in setting up the opportunity for my return, it was most definitely those didn’t minced words in attacking the views that I held in contradiction of the Church.

    We are not called to be nice. We are called to speak the truth, and their are a variety of effective ways to penetrate others’ hearts. There is NO one-size-fits-all sure way to do so, so let go of the belief that playing nice is the only way to go.

    BTW, the Catechism is not original source material. It is made up of some infallible teaching, yes, but too much of it is common teaching which is both fallible and changeable to be cited as the last word in any discussion. You have to do better than that.

  22. Dear Nullius in Verba,

    I should have added “and speaking for myself I believe in the God of the Old Testament (and the Apostles creed) who is reported to have said through the mouth of the prophet: “I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me”. This same Supreme Being also stated, “Before Abraham came to be, I am”.

    Hey Fran good buddy. I just want to point out that besides spelling my name wrong you kind of misquoted me. That’s okay. Just sayin’…

  23. Ye Olde Statistician

    Yes, but which God? If you believe in Odin and it turns out Tlaloc exists, you’ll lose out. If you believe in Tlaloc and Marduk is the one, you’ll lose. And so on. There are thousands of Gods and Goddesses that have been worshiped by mankind over the ages

    Check out the mythoi of Odin and Tlaloc and you will see the irrelevancy. Pascal’s wager was placed on God, not on gods. There’s a reason why the term is capitalized: it refers to a different matter.

  24. Nullius in Verba


    I don’t see the irrelevancy. Would you care to explain?

    Yes, Pascal’s wager was placed specifically on the Christian God, but that was because Pascal was biased, and used the ‘false dilemma’ fallacy to try to force the desired conclusion. The argument is more generally applicable.

    All Gods and Goddesses should be capitalized. It’s safer that way.

  25. Bob Motrek

    Hey Fran good buddy. I just want to point out that besides spelling my name wrong you kind of misquoted me. That’s okay. Just sayin’…

    Well, they were not so much quotations as points of view hold by the people I named. Sorry for the misspelling, I guess I’ll get an extra punishment for that too in the after life… ohhhh 🙁

    By the way, good buddy, I just noticed that rearranging the characters of your name you get:

    Keb Rot Mob

    Just Sayin’ 😀

  26. Ye Olde Statistician

    Zeus and Thor are simply not the same kind of beings that God is supposed to be. In fact, they are not even very like each other! In particular, while both are supposed as having been born, Thor was additionally supposed as being doomed to die. Neither one was Existence Itself, the transcendent ground of all being. In both cases, the World existed beforehand, and they had no hand in creating it. The being that is Being, deduced by Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, and the rest, is not simply a facet of nature personified — Zeus is the thunder/lightning and the thunder/lightning is Zeus — and is not a humanlike being with vastly expanded powers — Thor is a Northlands warrior raised to the nth degree. It is a mistake to suppose that {X|X is something in which Nullius does not believe} forms a scientific genus and that all such Xs are essentially the same.

  27. Nullius in Verba


    It depends which version of God you’re talking about. The ‘pillar of fire before the army’, ‘sitting on a throne out of which proceed lightnings and thunderings and voices’, ‘walking about in the Garden of Eden’ sort of God, or Aristotle’s abstract principle. In particular, I’m not sure that the ‘transcendent root of all being’ sort of God is relevant to the ‘heaven or hell’ utilitarianism invoked in the Wager – why would that sort of pantheist God be interested in torturing unbelievers in the afterlife? But for the sake of argument, let’s take the abstract principle as the sort of God Pascal was talking about.

    That doesn’t at all imply that this is the only possible metaphysics. The Norse or Greek or Egyptian pantheons had their own metaphysics, their own concept of the supernatural, and we get to choose all that along with the God/Goddess. Pascal’s Wager is very simple. It says to ignore all complicated the arguments for theism that have so far evidently failed to convince the unbeliever, just consider the penalties for belief and unbelief. So the only thing that matters is what the potential penalties are for disbelief in each specific Deity.

    It would be valid counter argument, for example, if you point out that there are no penalties prescribed in other religions for disbelieving in the official God and failing to make the required sacrifices. (Is that true, do you think?)

    But you have to take the afterlife claims of each religion and potential religion in its entirety, including all its supporting metaphysics. (Presumably the doubter is as unconvinced about the metaphysics as they are about the Deity itself.) Or else you are back to arguing on the non-Utilitarian grounds about the evidential or logical consistency of any particular theistic belief that Pascal’s Wager was supposed to bypass.

    It’s a simple consequence of trying to construct an argument that works without evidence – it can be applied to any of the alternatives, too. If you have a convincing proof that there *are* no alternatives, Pascal’s Wager is not needed.

  28. Ye Olde Statistician

    The Norse or Greek or Egyptian pantheons had their own metaphysics, their own concept of the supernatural

    Metaphysics is the science of the fundamentals that must be true for the physics — any physics — such as Being, as such, Goodness, Truth, and so on. Supernatural matters may come into play, but outside the Greek world, the application of logic to beliefs was a non-starter. Metaphysics was unknown to the Egyptians and the Norse.

    So the only thing that matters is what the potential penalties are for disbelief in each specific Deity.

    It is a mistake to project Judaeo-Christian concepts onto pagan practices. The Greek afterlife was the same for everyone and consisted of a vague shadowy existence. When Odysseus encountered Achilles during his visit to Hades he said:
    And now,
    since you’ve come here, you rule with power
    among those who have died. So Achilles,
    you have no cause to grieve because you’re dead.’

    “I paused, and he immediately replied:

    ‘Don’t try to comfort me about my death,
    glorious Odysseus. I’d rather live
    working as a wage-labourer for hire
    by some other man, one who had no land
    and not much in the way of livelihood
    than lord it over all the wasted dead.’
    + + +
    The term “religion” is Latin and means a “re-binding” or tying together. Its function was to create social cohesion through a series of public rituals. (Roman priests were officials of the Republic, elected by the citizens. Similarly for the Greek priests.) Belief was not a requirement, only participation, and there were no rewards or punishments in consequence save secular ones related to loyalty to the state. The Romans regarded their gods as vending machines, who could be propitiated with rites and fended off with gifts, but it was best if they did not notice you at all. (Stipulated, there was an undercurrent of older gods that were not Hellenized: Roma, Tiber, Janus, etc. who were murkier and more chthonic.)

    When metaphysics came to Greek religion, it brought with it the concept of a single Godhead necessary to bring order and cohesion to the squabbling godlings of traditional myth.

    The Norse were not so sophisticated. You entered Valhalla if you fought fiercely and valiantly in battle. In the great hall, you feasted all night, in the morning you fought and dismembered each other, then were brought back to life for the feasting. If you were not a warrior, tough luck.

    I’m no sort of big fat expert, and my comparative religion and mythology classes were a long time ago. But Moderns do tend to look at these things through Judaeo-Christian glasses. (This was one of Nietzsche’s complaints about Anglophone atheism, too.)

  29. Nullius in Verba

    I’m no expert either. But that doesn’t fit what I remember. Were these comparative religion classes given by Christians, by any chance…? 🙂

    In Greek myth the Elysium Fields were separate from Hades, and while initially for demi-Gods and Heroes, they were later opened up to the righteous chosen by the Gods.

    “Night speeds by, And we, Aeneas, lose it in lamenting. Here comes the place where cleaves our way in twain. Thy road, the right, toward Pluto’s dwelling goes, And leads us to Elysium. But the left Speeds sinful souls to doom, and is their path To Tartarus th’ accurst.”

    Virgil, Aeneid.

    In Norse mythology Niflheim was the Abode of Mist, of the Nine Worlds it was the world of primordial ice and cold; creation starting on its boundary with Muspelheim. It became the abode of Hel, daughter of Loki, and the afterlife of those who did not die a heroic death.

    “Hel he cast into Niflheim, and gave to her power over nine worlds, to apportion all abodes among those that were sent to her: that is, men dead of sickness or of old age. She has great possessions there; her walls are exceeding high and her gates great.”

    Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda, Gylfaginning.

    The ‘he’ at the start of that passage was Odin.

    To be fair, the Prose Edda was written at a time when Christian cosmology was being incorporated into the Norse culture, and it may have influenced its presentation. But in so far as we have a recorded Norse tradition, and in the sense that modern people would understand ‘belief in the Norse Gods’, there is a judgement in the afterlife attached.

    In both cases it could be argued that the judgement is on a person’s deeds rather than their belief, but then the same is technically true of the Christian judgement. I think it would be a bit tricky sneaking into the heaven of a God you had previously said was just a myth. Gods are notoriously touchy, and liable to take offense. 🙂

    I agree that even atheists in a modern Christian society tend to look at their atheism through Judaeo-Christian glasses. Partly that’s reaction, partly lack of familiarity with the alternatives, and partly that they feel they have already won the battle on the non-existence of the Norse or Egyptian Gods. (The New Age pagans seem intent on reviving them, but few take them seriously yet.) But I personally don’t think you can understand theism and atheism without that broader context. When you have only one mythology to consider, it sounds appealing. When you see it as only one out of hundreds of very similar mythologies (not to mention all the modern ones we keep inventing in fantasy fiction) it takes on a somewhat different perspective.

    In some ways, extending the argument this way makes atheism even less likely. Instead of one option out of two, it is one option out of thousands. As I noted earlier, it would seem to argue that there are almost certainly an infinite number of Gods. And so whatever characteristics people are looking for in a God, there’s probably a God somewhere to suit them. That may be a comfort for many.

  30. Perhaps it would be less confusing and even more comforting if we referred instead to the Platonic “Demiurge”, the artisan-like figure responsible for the fashioning and maintenance of the physical universe or in other words, the un-caused cause. Then we could drop the references to the various and sundry gods of myth that crowd the imagination.

  31. Great data set! I’m SO giving it to my stats undergrads when we study the chi-square test of homogeneity. The test even has a delicious p-value that makes the survey data look important: the South is heavy on Academic Atheists, who’da thunk it?

    The expanded definitions of the categories are hilarious whether you’re a believer or not, unless you’re the kind of person who can’t take a joke.

    Keep up the good work.

  32. JH

    Yeah, diversity!

    Confucius preached, “Avoid Evil and keep a distance from God. Simply be a good human being. Knowing, that is,” as no one truly knows who/what Evil and God are.

    Even if there exists a cause of the existence of the universe, do we call it God or Evil or B (for Big Bang) or Q? I like “Q” the best.

  33. Much of the kvetching seems stuck at similar age levels.

    Who’s kvetching? Before 9th grade, I didn’t believe in God. I just didn’t form much of an opinion one way or the other. I definitely doubted most of what was said in ccd! I suspect the issue with age is prior to a certain age, one doesn’t really think much about belief of disbelief.

    OTOH, Aristotle, Aquinas, ibn Sinna, Maimonides, and others were considerably older.

    And St. Theresa seems to have been younger when she became devout. ( So?

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