What kind of atheist?

Both Luke at Common Sense Atheism and Sabio at Triangulations have presented taxonomic breakdowns of the sort of differences one finds between atheists.  I thought it might be worth laying out my own position.  See their blog posts for some of the other alternatives in these categories.  I have not used all of their categories, but the following covers the most important points:

Self-labels:

I’ve discussed some of these before.  I prefer to call myself a humanist.  I am also an atheist, agnostic, skeptic, and freethinker.

Level of certainty:

On Dawkins’ scale of 1 (strong belief in a god or gods) to 7 (strong belief in no god), I generally fall around 4.  For most specific claims that I’ve heard made by particular religions, I fall closer to 6 or 7.

Level of affirmation:

I am an implicit (or “weak” or “negative”) atheist:  I withhold belief in the apparent absence of evidence.  I do not assert that there is no god; I simply decline to assert that there is a god.

Scope:

Broad – I apply the same lack of belief to all god-claims I have encountered.

Openness:

I am open about my beliefs, though I am cautious around new acquaintances and certain family members.  I am (obviously) quite open online.

Degree of action:

I affirm my beliefs, I blog about them, and I donate to humanist-themed charities.

Degree of enchantment:

I am a very enchanted naturalist.  I find the natural world (including all of us) to be a truly wonderful place, and am delighted to have some time to experience it and grow to understand it.

Mystical inclination:

I am somewhat mystical, as I understand the term.  Although I enjoy knowing and understanding things, I find a certain amount of delight in thinking about things that my understanding doesn’t (or cannot) penetrate.

Non-theistic leanings:

I incline to believe in an entirely natural universe, with no transcendent personal nature (no god or ur-consciousness).  I am flatly agnostic on the question of a prime mover (the deists’ god).

View of reason:

Reason is the discipline that most reliably allows our deeply-held values to be expressed in effective action.  It is indispensible for leading a fully authentic life.

Faith items:

In the absence of proof (or even the possibility of proof in principle), I believe that my perceptions are caused by real objects and events.  I believe that the past is a generally-reliable guide to the future.

Stance toward religion:

I am relatively indifferent toward beliefs.  Though I am often curious what people believe and why, I am rarely inclined to condemn beliefs in themselves.  As for religiously-motivated actions, I respond to on their individual merits (as I do actions in general).

Religious participation:

I attend a weekly Unitarian service.  I sing along to most of the hymns.  Is that religious participation?  Not to me, though I guess that largely depends how widely you define religion.

Belief history:

I am a lifelong non-believer.  I’ve “tried out” Paganism, Mormonism, and more mainline Christianity.  That is, I have explored them as different ways of approaching the world, and dipped my toe in the practices associated with each.  But I never adopted the beliefs though (so far as I can recall).

Theory of religion:

I am far from certain about this, and am content to leave explanations to those who study it more rigorously (sociologists and psychologists, that is, not theologians).  From what I understand of their findings, I suspect that the existence of religion in the apparent absence of supernatural reality is due to some combination of adaptive cognitive biases and historical accident.

Degree of secular superstitious thinking:

I have bad habits, and habits that are not harmful but are not grounded in reason, but I don’t know of any that could be called superstitious.

Summary:

I hope that this has helped to clarify some of my positions, and perhaps further elucidate what I mean when I call myself an atheist.  As with any such declaration, I reserve the right to change my mind about things as I learn more about myself and about the universe around me.

How about you?  How would you fill in the above categories?

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5 Responses to “What kind of atheist?”

  1. Sabio Lantz Says:

    It was a good way to get a quick snap shot of you. Thanks

  2. Sarah Says:

    Hi there,
    I found your blog through the Edinburgh Uni Humanist Society website. I haven’t been to any society meetings, but I went to a presentation during “Festival of Faith” week recently which got me interested.
    And now I notice that you attend Unitarian services! I have been going along to the Edinburgh Unitarian church for the past 3 weeks myself… perhaps I have even seen you or spoken to you.
    I have had a more religious mindset most of my life but I really sorted through my beliefs during 2009 and ended up basically agnostic, and pretty happy about it. I am still mulling over a lot in terms of what value religious thinking has to me and what my stance towards religion is. I enjoy Unitarianism as part of that with its refreshing sense of uncertainty and doubt.
    Anyway, just thought I would say hello!

    • Timothy Mills Says:

      Sarah, glad to hear that you’re enjoying your journey. We may have met at church, I don’t know. I have a rambunctious 2-year-old daughter, so my socializing after services is somewhat disjointed.

      If you were at the Mother’s Day service, I’m the one who did the children’s story. (For everyone else, it was a Scottish adaptation of a passage from Dawkins’ essay “Gaps in the Mind”, with the parallel chains of mothers – one human and one chimpanzee. We even had live chimpanzees. Sort of.)

      Anyway, I hope to chat with you in person soon. Happy questioning!

  3. Question Says:

    I think many religious people would say that they also experience enchantment, delight, and wonder. So you seem to share at least those feelings or experiences in common with them.

    What is it about humans, whether religious or not, and their experience of the world that enables them to share such feelings?

    Do you think your experience of enchantment, delight, and wonder is different from that of religious people? How so?

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