Seven Types of Atheism

In the book, Seven Types of Atheism, author John Gray attempts to give an account of the foolishness of various flavors of atheism throughout the ages. Gray is disheartened by the latest flavor of atheism of the “new atheists”. Gray shows how the beliefs that the “new atheist” cling to are really just repacked versions of Christianity – only the belief is not in Christ as diety but in the divinity of science or humanity itself.

Gray points out that science cannot give us values – it cannot tell us how to live.

He writes:

Science cannot close the gap between facts and values. No matter how much it may advance, scientific inquiry cannot tell you which ends to pursue or how to resolve conflicts between them.1

Gray, who is an atheist, traces atheistic cults of reason and science throughout history. From Mesmerism, Marxism, Nazism, Leninism, Jacobinism, humanism, to transhumanism; there are so many atheistic cults of “reason” that it is hard to keep track of. It seems that we humans cannot live without worshiping something. Even self-declared atheists have an inexorable pull to create new systems (cults) of rational thought or “science” which will bring about a new rational man and a more perfect world.

He writes:

The God of monotheism did not die, it only left the scene for a while in order to reappear as humanity – the human species dressed up as a collective agent, pursuing its self-realization in history… Contemporary atheism is a continuation of monotheism by other means. Hence the unending succession of God-surrogates, such as humanity and science, technology and the all-too-human visions of transhumanism.2

Gray favors, a type of atheism that is comfortable with not knowing. In the spirit of Socrates, who said: “I know that I know nothing”, Gray prefers the “atheism of silence”. This is the atheism of Schopenhauer.

Gray writes about Schopenhauer:

For Schopenhauer history never did have any meaning, and no act of will could give sense to the drift of human events. For anyone reared in Christian hopes, this would mean despair… That was because they still looked to history for redemption. But if they could shed these false hopes, they would find that lack of meaning in history was itself redemptive – a stimulus to renouncing the world… Rejecting Christianity, Schopenhauer also rejected any philosophy in which history is a process of human self-emancipation.3

Seven Types of Atheism was interesting, yet somewhat tedious to read. I got bored with the various ways in which non-believers sought to create new atheistic religions. However, Gray is knowledgable about the history of ideas. I learned a lot about atheistic thought throughout the ages. If you would like to hear more about Gray’s book, but do not want to read it, check out the podcast with Russ Roberts.

  1. Gray, John. Seven Types of Atheism (p. 21). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. 
  2. Gray, John. Seven Types of Atheism (p. 157). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. 
  3. Gray, John. Seven Types of Atheism (p. 144). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. 

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