The New Atheist camp tends to be well-stocked with scientific atheists, because the most influential atheist of our generation, Richard Dawkins, is one, and The God Delusion is really a wonderful introduction to their philosophical position (also, a disclaimer: I consider myself one of these kinds of atheist, too). Scientific atheists have strong expectations that claims about the nature of the universe will be backed up with empirical evidence and reason; that our goal should be acquiring deeper truths about reality; and that knowledge and epistemology are paramount.
Examples: Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Jason Rosenhouse, Pharyngula.
Strengths: They are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. It is almost certainly true that there is no god, and it is definitely true that god’s proponents have not provided reasonable evidence to support their outlandish and unnatural claims. For many of us, that is sufficient: the power of science combined with the failure of religion to ever provide cause to think their claims are true means that the Scientific Atheist will simply say “case closed” and be done with it.
Weaknesses: Smugness. It’s a well-deserved smug, though, because they are right — but it means they’re often poorly suited to political action. It also means they tend to be dismissive of the other kinds of atheism; witness the exceedingly smug put-downs of philosophy by Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss.
Common phrase: “Show me the peer-reviewed scientific evidence. Or STFU.”
Give credit where it is due — philosophical atheists are the original atheists, and while they are a bit swamped by the rising numbers of scientific atheists, they’re still a major intellectual contributor to how we think. Philosophical atheists aren’t as focused on empiricism; instead they address the logic and assumptions of claims about gods. They may also have a deeper appreciation of history, and consider the causes leading to atheist conclusions.
Examples: John Wilkins, Camels With Hammers, Atheist Experience, The Uncredible Hallq.
Strengths: Rigor. Asking hard questions. Of all the atheists, philosophical atheists are the most likely to turn on their fellow atheists and demand that they back up their assumptions. This is the team that keeps the rest of us honest, and is essential to the integrity of the movement.
Weaknesses: Long-winded, and to the rest of us, fussy and annoying. These are also probably the least charismatic of the atheists: it’s really hard to rally around a detailed discussion of modus ponens. Unless you’re a philosopher.
Common phrase: Phrase? These are philosophers. You’re more likely to get a treatise out of them.
While the scientific atheists have knowledge and forcefulness, and the philosophical atheists have reason and logic, the political atheists are the ones who get the hard work done. These are the organizers and diplomats and lobbyists, the people at the cutting edge who make it their business to work every day with (and against) the opponents of atheism. They’re willing to work for incremental gains, so they’ll often be more narrowly focused on what we can get done today, next week, next year. If you find an atheist who will cite case law at you and wants to organize a campaign to resolve a church-state separation conflict, you’ve found a political atheist.
Examples: This Week in Christian Nationalism, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, all of the sites of the major atheist organizations.
Strengths: They do the work. Without these people, we’d be a bunch of stuffy academics meeting in university auditoriums to talk about ideal universes and inconsistencies in the Bible.
Weaknesses: Infuriatingly willing to compromise. Oh, wait, is that a weakness?
Common phrase: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Humanists are people driven by real-world concerns; they support atheism because they see religion as a source of oppression or injustice, they see secularism as a better path to fairness and equality, they want to put a human face on the abstractions of atheism. These are people motivated by ethical and social concerns. It’s fine to say we’re atheists because we believe in the truth, but it’s the humanists who give us a reason to think the truth matters.
This category represents the bulk of humanity. These are the idealists who set the grand goals, and the activists who want a better world. If we want the atheist movement to grow, we must adopt wider goals than pure science and philosophy. We must embrace humanity and culture.
Examples: Black Skeptics, Maryam Namazie, No Country for Women, Zinnia Jones
Strengths: This is the heart of an atheist movement that will endure and grow. Ignore it and we can expect atheism to fade away.
Weaknesses: Pragmatically fickle. If the atheist movement does not address human concerns, they’ll leave and follow institutions that do. Why be an atheist if an inclusive, progressive church were to do a better job? Why be an atheist if we neglect the concerns of women or minorities, or belittle civil rights?
Common phrase: “Our aim is a Humanist world in which human rights are respected and everyone can live a life of dignity.”
Post #: 572
E: All of the above!
Seriously, I mean you can just pick one group, but they all kind of blend together in one form or another at some point.
Take science and philosophy for example. Science is what we know, and philosophy is what we know we don't know (or more appropriately the quest to know that which is most probably unknowable). Before science all we had was philosophy.
Then the political atheists and the humanists... well one wouldn't want to get into politics unless they cared about people to some degree. Even if it's mostly about their own rights it does affect everyone else too, so by being selfish they're also helping the cause all around.
Really there are only two groups that I can see. The scientists and philosophers that want the solid evidence for a god and then the political humanists who want him out of government and churches to pay their fair share (among other things) and reject religion more than god because of the evils it brings on the world (but since god is the root cause of religion they go after that as well). Honestly you don't need to be an atheist to belong to the second camp, but I'm sure it helps.