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.
“[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.