Adherents of atheism may be categorized into various sects and sub-sects.
Jeffery Jay Lowder has written:
the “atheist” movement keeps shooting itself in the foot by failing to reach a consensus regarding the meaning of “atheism.”
Thoroughly convinced that God does not exist. This is a faith based belief which perhaps no evidence can dislodge. They do not seek, and do not accept anything as, evidence for God’s existence. Known as strong atheism, positive atheism, explicit atheism or critical atheism.
This is the basic definition of “atheism” offered by The Academic American Encyclopedia, The Random House Encyclopedia-1977, The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy-1995, The Oxford Companion to Philosophy-1995, The Dictionary of Philosophy, Thomas Mautner, Editor-1996, The World Book Encyclopedia-1991, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy-1967, The Encyclopedia of Religion-1987, The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics-Vol II, Funk and Wagnall’s New Encyclopedia-Vol I, Webster’s New World Large Print Dictionary, et al.
Some atheists think that this definition was concocted by theists in order to belittle atheists. Atheist, for their part, do not do themselves any favors by often defining atheism in this way only to wiggle away to another definition when pressed upon by logic. For instance, Daniel Dennett has written:
“We atheists don’t believe that there is any God” (Daniel Dennett, Thank Goodness!) and “There is no person who created the universe…there is really nobody to thank for that.” (Daniel Dennett, Thank Goodness Not God on Thanksgiving)
Notice that he lumped everyone in, “We…”
Firmer examples of this are:
Richard Dawkins, “God is not dead. He was never alive in the first place.”
Dan Barker and Anne Nicole Gaylor, “There are no gods, no devils, no angels…”
PZ Myers, “gods don’t exist.”
Do not believe in God because God’s existence has not been proven. It may or may not be in the future. This sect and agnosticism may be equated. They may claim that they do not believe that God does not exist but that they do not know that God exists, or do not know if God exists. Known as weak atheism, negative atheism or implicit atheism.
Claim that it is a mischaracterization to define atheism as a belief that there is no God. They claim that they simply do not know whether or not God does not exist and so they will lack belief in God until, if ever, God’s existence is proven. This sect is very close to Sect 2.
Define atheism as a religion, perhaps for intellectual reasons, or tax purposes.
On the TV show The Pulse (7-12-02) Michael Newdow told Bill O’Reily that he believes that atheism is a religion.
Some atheists go beyond merely claim that atheism is a religion. They actually concoct religious rituals and thus, function as a religion. Classical Buddhism is one such example.
Believe that there are absolute morals.
Believe that there are no absolute morals.
Since Sect 1 make a positive truth claim they were asked to prove it. Upon failing, traditional atheism became the new atheism, which is basically agnosticism. The New Atheists (In pop culture and the media “the new atheists” generally refers to Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, et al, such as Dan Barker, Michael Shermer, etc. and denotes a belligerent, belittling, outspoken, popular, and on the offensive sect of atheism.) is basically Sect 1 in the politically correct, or logically correct, facade of agnosticism. The new atheism, “Agtheism” perhaps, basically amounts to practical-positive atheism. In other words, Sect 8 does not necessarily argue any differently than Sect 1.
In all of the sects there are sub-sects:
Claim that belief in God is superstitious nonsense and that theists are ignoramuses. In this view theists should be removed from the public eye and have neither political nor cultural say (at least not organizationally). Known as antitheism.
Sub-Sect B:Believes that theism is superstitious and ignorant but that if a person wants to believe in God that is their business (they may still argue that theists should have no political/cultural say).
Go beyond Sub-Sect A in that they go from opinion into activism. They are actively involved in social, “scientific,” and political movements. These are designed to contend against any religious activity outside of a designated worship space. Some even encourage surveillance of places of worship in order to catch religious leaders speaking about politics. Known as militant atheism.
As far as the Judeo-Christian God is concerned, there are three further sub-sects:
Believe that if God did exist, God may be or will be, the Judeo-Christian God.
Despise the Judeo-Christian God. If God did exist it would certainly not be the Judeo-Christian God.
Dan Barker stated the following during his debate with Dinesh D’Souza (heard here):
…a subset of atheists, capital “A” Atheists, positive Atheists you might say, when it comes to a particular definition of a god, when it comes to the Christian God, the God of the Bible – I am a capital “A” positive Atheist. Not only do I say that God does not exists, that God cannot exist. I’m proud to say that I possess not only a belief but a knowledge that that God does not exist…the Christian God cannot and does not exist. Other gods may or may not.”
Of course, Kyle Butt made short work of this claim—see Dan Barker’s FANG Turn Out to Be a Milk Tooth
Incidentally, his proof for this absolute knowledge is absolutely nothing but arguments form outrage which he premises on subjective/relative morals (for evidence of his relative morality see my essay Dan Barker and the Alien Rape Voyeurs).
Michael Shermer draws a distinction between the “atheist” who claims, “there is no God” and the “nontheist” who claims to have “no belief in God.” (Michael Shermer, How We Believe (W.H. Freeman and Company, 1999), p. 257-258)
Go beyond Sub-Sect E and actively besmirch the Judeo-Christian God by thought, deed and word. If God did exist and was the Judeo-Christian God they would certainly reject a being who, in their estimation, is a capricious, immoral, irrational, malevolent being.
Believe that religion should be banned from being taught in public schools in any form and for any reason.
Believe that all religions should be taught in public schools. An example of this sect is Daniel Dennett. See my essay Daniel Dennett’s One Way Street of Censorship (Or: On the Hoodwinkification of Children).
Believe that atheism is holier than theism, will eventually spawn a secular “religion.” An example of this sect is Sam Harris, the mystical Buddhist atheist who does not like the label “Buddhist,” “atheist” or “mysticism.”
Believe that it is child abuse to rear one’s own children according to any faith.
Sect 1 is what it generally conceived of as atheism and yet we must be careful to define our terms and be accurate in depicting someone else’s beliefs.
Sect 2 was concocted in order to attempt to solve a problem. Some adherents of Sect 2 have even claimed that theists are misrepresenting atheism when they define it as being certain that God does not exist. The reason that Sect 2 was concocted is to provide a logical escape from the fallacious position of Sect 1.This is because atheists ask theists to prove God’s existence, but when theist ask atheist to prove that God does not exist, atheists claim that a negative cannot be proved and that the burden of proof is on the theist. Fair enough.
However, by claiming that God does not exist Sect 1 was claiming to have certain knowledge of a negative. But how could they know that God does not exist? And how could they, alleged intellectual, rational and philosophic elites, believe in something that they could not prove? Well, they could not and thus, some atheists broke away and created Sect 2. In other words, Sect 1 believes that God simply does not exist but they cannot prove it and since they believe in something that they cannot prove they may be said to believe it by blind faith (see my essay on Proving God’s Existence).
Those in Sect 3 often cause some confusion for a number of reasons. They claim that they do not necessarily believe that God does not exist. According to this line of reasoning since God’s existence has not been proved they cannot be certain. Yet, they can also not be certain that God does not exist since a negative cannot be proved. This is somewhat more akin to agnosticism. But adherents of Sect 3 most certainly refer to themselves as “atheists.” They seem to overlook that the word by which they describe themselves is the Greek word for God-Theos with the qualifier “a” before it that means the negation of that which follows. Hence, “a” “Theos” or no God, not “perhaps not” or “maybe so” but “no.” They may consider revising their position to that described by the Greek word for knowledge-gnosis with the negating qualifier before it, “a.” Hence, “a” “gnosis” or “no knowledge,” which comes to us though Latin as “ignorant” or “ignoramus.”
Besides these basic sects there are various denominations made up of members of the various sects: secularists, humanists, secular humanists, freethinkers, naturalists, materialists, brights, etc., etc. (although some atheist organizations have established their own orthodoxy as to who is and who is not an atheist).
David Fuhs, An atheist defends Christian values (Posted: October 5, 2007 1:00 a.m. Eastern)
not all atheists are ‘anti-theists.’ I am an atheist and have been one for a loooong time…I hope that I am, nevertheless, a moral man – due in part to my early exposure to things like the Ten Commandments and due in part to being raised in a primarily Judeo-Christian society…I am not the type of atheist who feels the need to denigrate another man’s religion, or who feels the need to try to ‘prove’ that God does not exist. These people are not simply atheist, they are ‘anti-theists,’ and I hate those people…I recognize the value of (most) religions…In a society, religion is absolutely essential to provide a common foundation of ethics, morality, decency and LAW.”
Nica Lalli also declares her atheistic individuality and attempts to lay out her particular concept of what atheistic ecumenism would look like in an article entitled “Atheists don’t speak with just one voice”:
I am more interested in dialogue, and I hope that conversation will get us to respect and understanding. I cannot see dialogue happening with someone who tells you that your core beliefs are wrong, so I refrain from telling anyone what to believe…With that in mind, let’s invite more of everyone to participate in the discussion…Once we start, we might see that we have more in common than we all think. Once we all agree to disagree, one we set the rules that no side is trying to convince the other of its rightness or wrongness, once we clarify that we are simply trying to understand each other – and then move on to other topics of common interest – then the conversation about religion and its place in our society can really begin.” (Nica Lalli, “Atheists don’t speak with just one voice,” USA TODAY, The Forum, Monday, October 8, 2007, 13A)
Note that this particular, and peculiar, brand of ecumenism which claims to include “more of everyone” would exclude by its “rules” anyone who is “is trying to convince the other of its rightness or wrongness.”
Atheists should be all the more encouraged to express the diversity of their worldview since this diversity will rob them of a favorite argument. Atheists often claim that Christianity cannot be true because there are many different Christian theologies. We may likewise argue that atheism cannot be true because there are many a-theologies. This atheistic argument is based on a faulty preconception that posits a lack of absolutes. In other words, if one person believes that 2+2=1, another person believes that 2+2=9, another person believes that 2+2=19, another person believes that 2+2=75 and another person believes that 2+2=4 none of them must be right. However, leveling the playing field by labeling theistic and atheistic concepts as “world-views” or “philosophies” we note that atheism claims that everyone else is wrong and that they are right. An atheist may argue that numbers are absolutes and even eternal (they believe in something that is eternal and disembodied) and that therefore, we can know that 2+2=4 and not any other number.
However, they seem to paint with a broom in stating that since there are many theologies none of them can be true. Perhaps, only one worldview is true. Perhaps, some atheists use this argument as a convenient way by which to reject all claims of theism. Let us offer one example that demonstrates that it is not always difficult to discern between two religious concepts (see two versions of atheistic cosmology here and here). One religion, Hinduism, believes that the universe is a dream that a deity is having while it is asleep on a flower that is growing out of another deity’s bellybutton. Another two religions, Judaism and Christianity, believe that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). In the beginning = time. The heavens = space. The earth = matter. Scientists have recently “discovered” that the universe is made up of time, space and matter but the Bible predicted this “discovery” millennia ago. The universe may be a dream (in which case someone must be having the dream) but clearly one of the above described religions certainly seems to be describing reality in a more verifiable way. FYI, the Bible also describes the Earth as spherical (Isaiah 40:22), as hanging on nothing (Job 26:7), and the universe as expanding (Psalm 104:2).
You may want to try an interesting approach: if someone says to you, “I’m an atheist,” ask them, “Which denomination?” “Which sect?”
Also, and in fact primarily, keep in mind that Atheism is an anti-Christian support group.
For more details, see my relevant books.
A plea: I have to pay for server usage and have made all content on this website free and always will. I support my family on one income and do research, writing, videos, etc. as a hobby. If you can even spare $1.00 as a donation, please do so: it may not seem like much but if each person reading this would do so, even every now and then, it would add up and really, really help out. Here is my donate/paypal page.