As a note of clarification: we’ve ordered this list chronologically and we use the term “brilliant” to mean “brilliant at their craft” – not just pure brainiacs;-)
Democritus was an ancient Greek philosopher, the most prolific and influential of the pre-Socratics and whose atomic theory is regarded as the intellectual culmination of early Greek thought. For this atomic theory, which echoes eerily the theoretical formulations of modern physicists, he is sometimes called the “father of modern science.” He was well known to Aristotle, and a thorn in the side to Plato – who advised that all of Democritus’ works be burned.
A cheerful and popular man with the citizenry for his uncanny ability to predict events, his was known among his fans as the “Laughing Philosopher,” a title that may well have referred more to his scoffing rejection of assigning to gods the mechanistic operations of nature itself. His cosmology and atomic theory held that the world was spheroid, that there were many worlds and many suns, and that all things manifest in nature were comprised of atoms bound together. There are varying accounts of his age at death, ranging from a ripe 90 all the way to 109 years.
2. Diagoras of Melos
The first and most ancient of recognized atheists must include a 5th century b.c.e. poet and sophist from Melos known as Diagoras the Atheist. Not content to simply speak against the popular pantheon of Greek gods, he also criticized the Eleusinian Mysteries. He became a disciple of Democritus after that notable philosopher paid a hefty ransom to free Diagoras from captivity following the subjugation of Melos in 416 b.c.e.
Prosecuted by the Athenian democratic party for impiety in 415 b.c.e., he was forced to flee the city and died in Corinth. None of Diagoras’ own writings survive, but in the 1st century b.c.e. Cicero wrote that one of Diagoras’ friends tried to convince him that the gods did exist by citing the many people saved from storms by their pleas to their favorite gods, to which Diagoras was purported to reply, “there are nowhere any pictures of those who have been shipwrecked and drowned at sea.”
Born in 341 b.c.e. in Athens, Epicurus established the school of philosophy known as Epicureanism, and was a follower of Democritus even though his own philosophy denied the influence of strong determinism and often denounced other philosophies as confused. He was an important figure in the early development of the scientific methodology, insisting that nothing which cannot be tested through direct observation and defended through logical deduction should be believed.
For Epicurus the purpose of philosophy was to attain peace of mind and a happy life, freedom from fear and absence of pain. He considered pleasure and pain the measures of that which is good or evil. He insisted that there were no gods to reward or punish humans after death, that the universe is infinite and eternal, and that all things are ultimately material in nature. Epicurus himself was never able to escape a life of pain or a painful death, as he suffered greatly from kidney stones and died at the age of 72 of complications from that ailment.
4. Theodorus the Atheist
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Theodorus the Atheist from Cyrene lived around 300 b.c.e. He was banished from Cyrene in his early years, and moved to Athens to become a follower of the younger Aristippus. He also managed to get himself banished from Athens which caused him to go into the service of Ptolemy in Alexandria. It was in this service that he was sent as an ambassador to Lysimachus, who became offended by Theodorus’ free speech as a lack of respect and decorum.
Theodorus taught that the aim of human life was to obtain joy and avoid grief, and that joy comes through prudence while grief arises from folly. Prudence and justice represented good, their opposites evil. Laertius complained that Theodorus “did away with all opinions respecting the Gods,” but he may have just rejected the notions of deity popular in his time.
5. Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie [1835-1919] was a noted American industrialist, businessman and philanthropist. A Scottish-born immigrant, he established the Carnegie Steel Company in Pittsburgh and later merged it with the Federal Steel Company to become U.S. Steel. He is regarded as the second richest man in history, then he gave most of his steel and railroad fortune away to establish libraries, schools and universities all over America. He limited himself to an income of $50,000 per year, everything else went into good works.
He wrote many books on the subjects of wealth and its responsibilities, on social issues and on political philosophy. He self-identified as a positivist, and kept away from organized religion due to his distaste of sectarianism. Carnegie preferred naturalism and science, saying in his autobiography that, “not only had I got rid of the theology and the supernatural, but I had found the truth of evolution.”
6. Ivan Pavlov
Ivan Petrovich Pavlov [1849-1936] was a Russian physiologist, psychologist and physician. He won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1904 for research on the digestive system. It was his investigation of the saliva of dogs that first led him to notice that the animals salivated more when they expected food, a phenomenon he termed “psychic secretion.” He was particularly interested in studying conditioned behaviors as an experimental model of the induction of neuroses. His approach became known as “behaviorism,” and after his death his work was extended by William Sargant and others in an attempt to develop a systematic method for brainwashing and implantation of false memories.
Pavlov died in Leningrad, his laboratory in St. Petersburg was carefully preserved by the Soviet government as a museum. He had one of his students attend him on his deathbed to record the circumstances of his dying, as if it were just another psychological experiment.
7. Sigmund Freud
Born Sigismund Schlomo Freud [1856-1939], Freud was an Austrian psychiatrist founded the psychoanalytic school of psychology. Using his theories of the unconscious mind and defense mechanisms of repression, his psychoanalysis sought to cure sufferers of psychopathology through a dialogue between the patient and his psychoanalyst. He had an elaborate system for interpretation of dreams as indicators of unconscious desires, and did early neurological research on cerebral palsy.
Despite his ideas falling out of favor or being modified in later years, his methodology and theoretics continue to exert influence in the humanities and some social sciences. Freud’s family escaped after Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938 and moved to London. He suffered more than 30 operations for oral cancer in his late life, and convinced his physician friend Max Schur to assist his suicide in 1939. His philosophical writings established his strong advocacy for an atheistic world view, and he was eulogized as “the atheist’s touchstone” for the 20th century.
8. Clarence Darrow
Clarence Seward Darrow [1857-1938] was an American lawyer, a leading member of the ACLU and a notable defense attorney. Starting out as a corporate lawyer for a railroad company, he soon jumped the ideological tracks and represented the leader of the American Railway Union in the Pullman Strike of 1894.
His most famous case was the defense of Tennessee teacher John Scopes in the “Monkey Trial” against the state law that barred the teaching of evolution. The prosecution side was argued by William Jennings Bryan, the the trial served as the story for the play and later film, Inherit the Wind. During the trial Darrow self-identified as an agnostic by saying, “I do not consider it an insult, but rather a compliment to be called an agnostic. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure – that is all that agnosticism means.” Yet he wrote essays with titles like “Absurdities of the Bible” and “The Myth of the Soul,” suggesting that his agnosticism was strong enough to be considered atheism.
9. Richard Strauss
Richard Georg Strauss [1864-1949] was a brilliant German composer who began writing music at the age of six and continued almost until his death. He was noted for his “tone poems” and operas such as Salome and Elektra, which made use of dissonance and generated much public outcry. During the Nazi period he was appointed president of the German State Music Bureau and composed the theme song for the infamous 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. He produced the opera Friedenstag in 1938, a thinly veiled criticism of the Third Reich. He is said to have stretched his influence very thin in his efforts to protect his son and Jewish daughter-in-law and their children from the Nazis.
Strauss was dubious of all religion, except perhaps the religion of reason. “I shall never be converted, and I shall remain true to my old religion of the classics until my life’s end,” he declared shortly before his death.
10. Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Arthur William Russell [1872-1970], 3rd Earl of Russell, was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, pacifist and social activist. Russell led the revolt against idealism in the early 20th century and is considered along with Wittgenstein and Frege a founder of analytic philosophy, which considers formal logic and science as the principal tools of philosophy. Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1950.
Russell was not fond of organized religion, but expressed some difficulty in defining himself as an agnostic or an atheist. In his 1949 speech, “Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic?” Russell admitted that he could not prove the non-existence of God any more than he could prove the non-existence of the Homeric gods. But in his autobiography he stated, “At the age of eighteen, …I read Mill’s Autobiography, where I found a sentence to the effect that his father taught him the question “Who made me?” cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question “Who made God?” This led me to abandon the “First Cause” argument, and to become an atheist.”
11. Jawaharlal Nehru
Jawaharlal Nehru [1889-1964] was a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru rose to leadership of the Indian National Congress at a young age in part due to his charisma and advocacy of complete Indian independence from the British Empire. He was the first and longest serving Prime Minister of an Independent India from 1947 to 1964. His appreciation for parliamentary democracy and concern for the poor allowed him to formulate policies derided by some for their socialist leanings.
Nehru enjoyed the honorific title of “Scholar” and despite his family’s Hindi religious background, was an atheist. Forging am independent, modern India where educational and social opportunities could been afforded to all citizens regardless of religion or caste, this rejection of any particular belief system in a region hosting such wide diversity no doubt helped him toward his considerable accomplishments.
12. Linus Pauling
Linus Carl Pauling [1901-1994] was one of the most influential chemists in history as well as one of the most important scientists of the 20th century – or, according to Gautam Desiraju who wrote the Millennium Essay in the journal Nature, one of the greatest thinkers and visionaries of the last thousand years. One of only 4 individuals ever to have won solo Nobel Prizes in separate and unrelated fields – for chemistry in 1954, and the Nobel Peace Prize for his tireless campaign against atmospheric nuclear bomb testing in 1962. His activities in favor of pacifism and against nuclear weapons earned him an appearance before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, which explicitly accused him of being in league with the Communists.
Pauling’s wife Ava Hellen, whom he married in 1917, was a pacifist and peace activist who got him involved in the crusade against nuclear weapons and atmospheric bomb testing. He had been raised Lutheran and later joined the Unitarian Universalist Church, but publicly declared his personal atheism two years before his death of prostate cancer at the age of 93.
13. Paul Dirac
Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac [1902-1984] was a British theoretical physicist who contributed to the early development of quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics [QED]. He shared the 1933 Nobel Prize in physics with Erwin Schrodinger, formulated what became known as the Dirac equation, and held the Cambridge Lucasian Chair in mathematics established by Sir Isaac Newton and currently held by Stephen Hawking.
Dirac was noted for his personal humility, refusing to call his contributions to physics by his own name, and for his somewhat Edwardian sense of social propriety. He married Margrit, the sister of fellow Nobel laureate Eugene Wigner, in 1937. He adopted her two children and the couple had two more. While he once said that “God used beautiful mathematics in creatiing the world,” his personal views on religion were far less expansive. Wolfgang Pauli once described Dirac’s first commandment concerning religion as, “God does not exist and Paul Dirac is his prophet.”
14. Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand [1905-1982] was a Russian-born writer who emigrated to the U.S. in 1925. Her first play, Night of January 16th, was produced in Hollywood and then on Broadway. Her autobiographical and anti-Soviet novel We the Living, was published in 1936. Best known for her sweeping intellectual masterpieceAtlas Shrugged, the fiction mystery allowed her to fully develop her philosophy of objectivism.
For the rest of her life Rand lectured and wrote about objectivism, which she termed “a philosophy for living on earth.” All of the books Rand published during her lifetime are still in print, and her philosophy is still taught at many major universities as one of the most important philosophical movements in the modern world. Objectivism is particularly prized by dedicated capitalists and economists and underpins much of the wider freethought movement.
15. Katherine Hepburn
Katherine Houghton Hepburn [1907-2003] was an acclaimed actress in film, television and stage for 73 years of her long life. She received 12 Academy Award nominations for Best Actress in a film, and still holds the record with four wins. In 1999 the American Film Institute ranked Hepburn as cinema history’s greatest female star. A child of New England privilege with a genealogical heritage tracing back to Louis IX of France, she received her degree in history and philosophy from Bryn Mawr despite a record of breaking curfew, smoking and skinny dipping in the fountain. She married socialite businessman Ludlow Ogden Smith in 1928, but divorced six years later. Despite several romances, the love of her live was Spencer Tracy, with whom she made nine movies.
In a 1973 interview on The Dick Cavett Show Hepburn said that while she agreed with Christian principles and thought highly of Jesus Christ, she had no personal religious beliefs nor any belief in an afterlife. “I am an atheist and that’s it. I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for other people.”
16. Jacques Monod
Jacques Lucien Monod [1910-1976] was a French biologist who contributed greatly to the understanding of the Lac operon as a regulator of gene transcription in cells, suggested the existence of mRNA molecules in the process of protein synthesis, and further contributed to the field of enzymology. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1965. He married archeologist and orientalist Odette Bruhl in 1938, they had twin sons, Oliver and Phillippe, one of whom became a geologist, the other a physicist.
Monod wrote the book Chance and Necessity in 1970, which became a popular primer on the relationship between the roles of random chance and adaptation in biological evolution and provided much ammunition to the atheist community by proposing that the natural sciences revealed an entirely purposeless world that undermines the traditional claims of the world’s religions. His views also contributed to the development of the idea of “Memes” that Richard Dawkins made famous in his writings.
17. Subrahmanyan Chandresekhar
Padma Vibhushan Subrahmanyan Chandresekhar [1910-1995] – better known by his nickname “Chandra” – has a space-based X-ray observatory named after him, launched by the space shuttleColumbia on July 23, 1999. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983 for his important contributions to knowledge about the evolution of stars, he is probably better known for his 1995 opus >Newton’s Principia for the Common Reader which explains the detailed arguments of Newton’s original Principia using the language and methods of ordinary calculus.
A naturalized American citizen born in Lahore, India, Chandra’s family long displayed signs of brilliance, even genius. His father was a government worker and accomplished violinist who wrote several books on musicology. His mother was an intellectual noted for translating Ibsen’s A Doll’s House into the Tamil language. His paternal uncle was physicist C.V. Raman, who also won a Nobel Prize.
18. Alan Turing
Alan Mathison Turing [1912-1954] was a mathematician, logician, computer scientist and cryptanalyst from England. He displayed distinct signs of genius early in his life, solving advanced problems without having studied elementary calculus. At the age of 16 he encountered Einstein’s work and extrapolated it to question Newton’s laws of motion from a text in which this challenge was not made explicit. Perhaps his most momentous achievement was his 1936 paper reformulating Kurt Godel’s results on the limits of proof and computation, replacing Godel’s arithmetic-based formal language with what are now known as Turing machines – formal and simple devices.
It was the death of Turing’s first love in their last year at Sherborne from complications of bovine tuberculosis (contracted from drinking infected milk as a boy) that shattered Turing’s religious faith. He became an atheist with a firm conviction that all phenomena must be materialistic in nature.
19. Francis Crick
Francis Harry Compton Crick [1916-2004] is best known as the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. He first coined the term “central dogma” to describe the flow of genetic information in cells as a one-way street – DNA to RNA to protein. His primary interests encompassed two fundamental problems in biology. How non-living molecules become living organisms, and how the human brain creates a conscious mind.
On the matter of religion, Crick once said, “Christianity may be okay between consenting adults in private, but should not be taught to young children.” In his book Of Molecules and Men he expressed his strong views on the relationship between science and religion. Those views continued to play a role in his work when he transitioned from molecular biology into theoretical neuroscience.
20. Claude Shannon
Claude Elwood Shannon [1916-2001] was an electronic engineer and mathematician known as “the father of information theory.” While at the University of Michigan he was introduced to the works of George Boole, and once in grad school at MIT working with the ‘differential analyzer’, an early analog computer, he saw that Boole’s concepts could be used used to simplify the complicated circuitry of the analyzer and wrote his master’s thesis on what became known as Boolean logic. His PhD thesis at MIT applied this work to establish mathematical relationships in Mendelian genetics. He became a National Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and worked freely across disciplines with other notable scientists to shape the ideas that became information theory.
Shannon and his wife Betty put their collective mathematical and analytical abilities together in a game theory for many successful visits to the gaming tables in Las Vegas and made a fortune. An even bigger fortune was made later by Shannon and colleague Ed Thorp when they applied the same theory (later known as the Kelly criterion) to the stock market.
21. Richard Feynman
Richard Phillips Feynman [1918-1988] contributed much to the development of quantum mechanics, including what became known as Feynman diagrams, the path integral formulation, the theory of quantum electrodynamics [QED], the physics supercooled liquid helium’s superfluidity, and the parton model of particle physics. He won the Nobel Prize in 1965 for QED and became one of the best known scientists in the world through his popular books and lectures about physics and about his own storied life.
Among his colleagues he was perhaps better known as a beatnik and clown, always thinking up clever pranks or juggling or sitting in with any impromptu band playing bongos. Some of his other interests were painting, biology, Mayan hieroglyphics and lock-picking. He was dubbed the “Great Explainer” for two masterful lecture series on physics at Cal Tech (which were later turned into the books Six Easy Pieces and Six Not So Easy Pieces. He developed two rare forms of cancer late in his life, complaining that, “I’d hate to die twice. It’s so boring.” In the end, he died after surgery for only one of them.
22. Noam Chomsky
Avram Noam Chomsky [b. 1928] is one of the most notable American philosophers of any age. Professor emeritus of linguistics at MIT, and is considered a father of modern linguistics. Also a prolific writer, he has also become famous for being an outspoken political dissident, anarchist, humanist freethinker and libertarian socialist.
Beginning with his 1959 critique of B.F. Skinner’s behaviorist theory of language, Chomsky has iterated and refined his own theory of linguistics as a branch of cognitive psychology. This view drew much criticism from behaviorists, particularly his hypothesis that humans share an innate linguistic capability. On his views of religion, Chomsky said in a Common Sense interview in 2002, “…if you ask me whether or not I’m an atheist, I wouldn’t even answer. I would first want an explanation of what it is that I’m supposed not to believe in, and I’ve never seen an explanation.”
23. James D. Watson
James Dewey Watson [b. 1928] received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1962 as co-discoverer along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins of the molecular structure of DNA. Watson began his Ph.D. research with Salvador Luria, who later earned his own Nobel for work with Max Delbruck on phages. It was from this association with the leaders of the “Phage Group” of molecular biologists that he became involved in the search for the nature of genes. He earned that Ph.D. in zoology from Indiana University at the age of 22.
Watson was politically active in opposition to the war in Vietnam and nuclear proliferation, active in environmentalism. When asked by a student if he believed in God, Watson answered, “Oh, no. Absolutely not… The biggest advantage to believing in God is you don’t have to understand anything, no physics, no biology. I wanted to understand.”
24. Peter Higgs
Peter Ware Higgs [b. 1929] is a theoretical physicist and emeritus professor at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He is a recipient of the 1997 Dirac Medal and Prize for outstanding contributions to theoretical physics, the High Energy and Particle Physics Prize by the European Physical Society, and the Wolf Prize in physics. If his predicted Higgs particle – the field boson imparting mass to matter – is discovered as expected by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and he is still alive, Higgs is expected to receive the Nobel Prize in physics within the year.
Higgs describes himself as an atheist, but expresses discomfort with one of the designations of his field boson, the “God Particle.” That designation was popularized by Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman in his book by that title, published in 1993 as part of a PR campaign in favor of the proposed Superconducting Super Collider [SSC] proposed to be built in Texas. Higgs lives a reserved life and is not anxious to offend religious believers.
25. Warren Buffet
Warren Edward Buffett [b. 1930] is an American businessman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway rated by Forbes as the richest person in the world (in the first half of 2008, before the Wall Street meltdown). He is noted for adherence to the philosophy of “value investing” and for accepting an annual salary for himself of less than $200,000. Compare that to what taxpayers are now paying the CEOs of failed Wall Street investment firms!
Buffett is further noted for his philanthropy, a passion he shares with fellow billionaire Bill Gates, along with a weekly bridge play date. In 2006 Buffett announced that 83% of his fortune would be going to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for further philanthropy. He describes himself as religiously agnostic. In Roger Lowenstein’s 1995 biography Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist, he is described and non-religious. “He adopted his father’s ethical underpinnings, but not his belief in an unseen divinity.”
26. John Searle
John Rogers Searle [b. 1932] is an American philosopher whose contributions to the philosophy of mind, philosophy of language and social philosophy made him an influential member and spokesperson for the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley during the late 1960s and early ’70s.
Drawing upon his theory of intentionality, Searle argued in his 1992 book The Rediscovery of the Mind that much of modern philosophy has attempted to deny the existence of consciousness, with little success among conscious people. The primary issue Searle identifies is a philosophical false dichotomy between strong materialism and subjective, first-person experience of the world. What emerged from his resolution is a view he calls “biological naturalism” – that consciousness is real, caused by the physical processes of the brain. Searle is regarded as an atheist who believes in freedom of will and has argued eloquently (and controversially) for that position.
27. Steven Weinberg
Steven Weinberg [b. 1933] is an American physicist best known for his work on unification of electromagnetism and the weak force, for which he shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 1979. It was as a visiting professor at MIT in 1967 that he first proposed his electroweak unification theory, which predicted the existence of the Z boson and the existence of a mechanism of mass later known as the Higgs boson. In 1973 he proposed a modification of the Standard Model of physics did not predict the Higgs, but there is as yet no consensus.
Weinberg has been prominent in the science vs. religion ‘culture wars’. His popular science books and articles combine explaining science in the added context of history, philosophy of science, and atheism. In a 1999 speech in Washington, D.C., he said, “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.”
28. Carl Sagan
Carl Edward Sagan [1934-1996] was an American astronomer, astrochemist, and successful popularizer of science.Sagan was connected to the American space program from the beginning, working as an advisor to NASA from the 1950s. He contributed to many of the robotic missions that explored the solar system and arranged experiments to be conducted during manned moon missions. He designed the gold placque attached to the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft, a message that could be understood by an extraterrestrial intelligence that encountered it.
Sagan was an outspoken opponent of nuclear weapons and starred in the popular PBS television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. Noted as a skeptic who advocated for humanist ideals, the public considered him an atheist. Sagan called himself an agnostic instead, explaining that “an atheist has to know a lot more than I know” in order to make a positive assertion that no deity exists.
29. David Suzuki
David Takayoshi Suzuki [b. 1936] is a Canadian zoologist, geneticist, science broadcaster and entironmental activist. His work in television began in 1970 with the weekly children’s series,Suzuki on Science, going on to host CBC’s The Nature of Things and the acclaimed PBS series A Planet for the Taking. He also worked in radio, hosting CBC Radio One’s Quirks and Quarks, and a weekly program for more mature audiences called Science Magazine. He has also written several books about science and environmentalism, is an outspoken critic of global climate change corporate deniers and established the David Suzuki Foundation to promote sustainability.
Though he has been often accused by his critics of turning his environmental causes into a religion of its own, Suzuki describes himself in his autobiography as an atheist with no illusions about life and death.
30. George Carlin
George Denis Patrick Carlin [1937-2008] was one of the most popular and controversial comedians during his lifetime, having won five Grammy awards for his comedy albums. He was the very first guest host for Saturday Night Live and is considered one of the most brilliant satirists of American culture. He was most noted for his focus on psychology, religion, the English language and any other subject that might shock and delight his audiences. He came in second on the Comedy Central network’s list of 100 Greatest Comedians of all time.
Just four days before his death the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced that he would receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. An outspoken atheist, Carlin joked in his book Brain Droppings that he worshipped the sun because he could actually see it. He also introduced in an HBO special the “Two Commandments,” a condensed version of the ten ending with one additional commandment, “Thou Shalt keep thy religiion to thyself.”
31. Bruce Lee
Bruce Jun Fan Lee [1940- 1973] was an American born Chinese martial artist, philosopher, instructor and actor, the founder of the Jeet Kune Do combat form. When he turned to development of his martial arts form in the 1960s, he also became notable for his views and practices of promoting peak physical fitness with proper training, diet and vitamin supplements. Bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger was influenced by Lee, described his physique as defined, with very little body fat. “I mean, he probably had one of the lowest body fat counts of any athlete. And I think that’s why he looked so unbelievable.”
Lee had majored in philosophy at the University of Washington and kept an extensive library of philosophy. His first book expressed a well-developed philosophical outlook and was entitled Chinese Gung-Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self Defense. As he developedJeet Kune Do he cited influence from Taoism, Jiddu Krishnamurti and Buddhism, but was himself an atheist who expressed disbelief in God.
32. Leonard Susskind
Leonard Susskind [b. 1940] is an American physicist specializing in string theory and quantum field theory. He is Felix Bloch professor of theoretical physics at Stanford. He is a notable promoter of public understanding of science, and his entire course on quantum physics can be downloaded on the iTunes platform from Stanford. His contrubutions to theoretical physics are voluminous, including the independent discovery of string theory, the theory of quark confinement, the development of Hamiltonian lattice gauge theory, the holography principle, the string theory of black hole entropy and the principle of “black hole complementarity.”
Susskind is also a popular speaker for both science and against religious creationism. In a review of the book, The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design, Michael Duff wrote that Susskind is “a card-carrying atheist.”
33. Stephen Jay Gould
Stephen Jay Gould [1941-2002] was a paleontologist, evolutionary biologist and historian of science who became one of the most influential popularizers of evolutionary biology through his books and essays. Though a critic of the deterministic view of human behavior and society, he contributed much to expanding upon the mechanisms of natural evolution. He generated some controversy with A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, taking issue with the gradualism and reductionism of orthodox neodarwinists. He contributed “Punctuated Equilibrium” to the evolutionary lexicon to explain the fossil evidence of abrupt changes in organismic form interspersed with long periods of stability.
Himself an atheist, Gould was an advocate for what he called “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” [NOMA] as a way to resolve the conflicts between science and religion. “Science and religion occupy two separate realms of human experience,” he wrote in Rock of Ages. “Demanding that they be combined detracts from the glory of each.”
34. Richard Dawkins
Clinton Richard Dawkins [b. 1941] is the most prominent scientific atheist in the world today, and was the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford until his retirement in 2008. Dawkins’ particular brilliance is not so much reflected in radical discoveries in his field of biology, but in his popular science writings like his books The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype. He has been called “Darwin’s Rottweiler” in the press for his strong support of evolution by natural selection. He has also written against creationism in the book The Blind Watchmaker and against theism in A Devil’s Chaplain and The God Delusion, both popular best-sellers.
An engaging and energetic speaker, Dawkins promotes atheism as senior editor and columnist for the Council for Secular Humanism’s Free Inquiry magazine, and as a member of the editorial board of Skeptic magazine since it was founded. In2006 Dawkins founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and in 2007 founded the atheist “Out” campaign, and in 2008 he supported the Atheist Bus Campaign, Britain’s first atheist advertising blitz.
35. Daniel Dennett
Daniel Clement Dennett [b. 1942] is an American philosopher specializing in the philosophies of mind, science and biology. Dennett’s father was a spy for the OSS, disguised as a cultural attache in Beirut during WW-2. He died in a plane crash in 1947 and the family moved back to the U.S. Dennett enjoyed study under a number of notable philosophers at Harvard and Oxford, and is currently a professor of philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University.
Dennett’s popular work in philosophy of mind and cognitive science, the books Content and Consciousness andConsciousness Explained reflect an expansive and detailed development of his philosophical ideas that have generated some heated debates among his peers. In the book Breaking the Spell Dennett examines religious beliefs from an evolutionary point of view as social adaptations that conveyed selective advantages to the species.
36. Stephen Hawking
Stephen William Hawking [b. 1942] is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, a position once held by Sir Isaac Newton. He is recognized as one of the most creatively intelligent people of the modern scientific age, best known his contributions to the fields of cosmology, quantum gravity and general relativity, as well as for his best-selling popular science books. He developed ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in graduate school in Cambridge and has survived with the condition longer than was thought possible. he has almost no neuromuscular control and must communicate via a speech synthesizer.
Hawking sometimes comes across quite like a deist in his popular writings, particularly in the book, A Brief History of Time, in which most of the questions posed of the universe also echo questions traditionally asked of God. In that book Hawking expounded upon his “no boundary” model by stating, “If the no boundary proposal is correct, He [God] had no freedom at all to choose initial conditions.”. While he does not publicly profess atheism, Hawking does profess agnosticism.
37. Mick Jagger
Sir Michael Philip “Mick” Jagger [b. 1943] was expected by his family to become a teacher, like his father and grandfather, but what he really loved to do was sing. He was a capable student and went to the London School of Economics on scholarship. In his off time he took to being a pick-up singer in London’s club scene, developing a small fan following even though he had no formal musical training. He left school at 19 to follow his musical ambitions. He and friends Keith Richards and Brian Jones formed a band called the Rolling Stones, and the rest is history.
Having become one of the wealthiest musicians in the world – and a Knight of the Realm as of 2003 as well – Jagger founded his own film company with Victoria Pearman in 1995, Jagged Films. A notorious womanizer, Jagger has seven children by 4 women (two of whom he married), and four grandchildren. Not bad for a fabulously wealthy, world famous economics school dropout.
38. Richard Leakey
Richard Erskine Frere Leakey [b. 1944] was born in Nairobi, Kenya, one of three sons of noted archaeologists Louis and Mary Leakey. By 1962 he’d earned a private pilot’s license and began offering aerial tours of Olduvai. Noting a potential fossil bed, he went back with an associate of his father’s and was given the funding for a month’s dig. Soon he and his business partner Kimoya Kameu discovered Australopithecus boisei. His storied career has been set with his accomplishments as a conservationist, a promoter of civil rights and a supporter of the Kenyan Safina Party.
In a 2007 interview upon his induction into the Academy of Achievement for his contributions to paleoanthropology and environmentalism he said, “I simply would not accede to being forced into this, and would frequently be kept out of classes because of irreverent comments and mocking this religious stuff. Frankly, it stayed with me to this day. In fact, don’t get me going. I’m almost as bad as Richard Dawkins on this issue.”
39. David Gilmour
David Jon Gilmour [b. 1946] of the legendary rock group Pink Floyd was born in Cambridge, England, son of a senior lecturer in zoology at Cambridge University. His interest in music, writing and a life on the road led him into musical and busking adventures during the early 1960s, and finally to Pink Floyd in 1967, which went on to become one of the top grossing rock bands in history. On his 60th birthday he released his third solo album, On An Island, which debuted #1 on the UK charts.
Gilmour has a penchant for philanthropy, support which includes housing funds for the homeless, Oxfam, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, the Lung Foundation and others. He was made a Commander in the Order of the British Empire in 2005, an honor just below full knighthood. His On An Island has been called “the most spiritual album ever made by an avowed atheist.”
40. Brian Eno
Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno [b. 1948] is an English musician, composer, record producer, music theorist and singer best known as the father of ambient music. Starting with the art rock band Roxy Music in 1971, he became bored with the rock and roll lifestyle quickly. He then became a prominent member of the performance art/classical music orchestra the Portsmouth Sinfonia from 1972-74, and developed his highly eclectic, ambient style in a series of solo albums.
As a producer he contributed to recordings by Genesis, David Bowie, Zvuki Mu and Robert Calvert. He composed and performed the “Prophesy Theme” for David Lynch’s Dune, and produced Laurie Anderson’s Bright Red album, among many other projects in music, performance and fine art, literature, theatrical soundscapes and sound bytes for iPhone, Windows and video games. When not being a prolific and brilliant artist, Eno is politically active, a humanist with strong anti-war and futurist views.
41. David Sloan Wilson
David Sloan Wilson [b. 1949] is SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University in New York, a prolific popular science writer, and a promoter of evolution by group and multi-level selection. He has been vice president of the American Society of Naturalists and serves on the editorial board of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society. In his Evolutionary Studies program at Binghamton students study not only the sciences related to evolution, but also religion and the psychology of religion in terms of evolution.
Wilson, who describes himself as a “nice atheist,” views religions as a sort of mega-trait that evolved because it conferred advantages on believers. He explored this theme in his book, Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion and the Nature of Society. Not a supporter of Richard Dawkins’ public efforts to organize atheists, Wilson described atheism as a “Stealth Religion” on the political blog Huffington Post in 2007.
42. Steve Wozniak
Stephen Gary “Woz” Wozniak [b. 1950] is a computer engineer who founded the Apple computer company with Steve Jobs. The two became friends while working on a mainframe during the summer of 1970. The two sold some possessions to raise $1,300, assembled the first prototypes in Job’s garage. They formed the company on April 1, 1976 and priced their Apple I personal computer at $666.66 – Woz later claimed he had no idea about the correlation with the mark of the beast).
Wozniak is a committed philanthropist, funding various educational projects, and has even taught fifth graders. Since leaving Apple he founded other ventures to produce things like the first universal remote and wireless GPS. He’s a member of the Silicon Valley Aftershocks Segway polo team, which won the 2008 Woz Challenge Cup. Woz calls himself “atheist or agnostic,” in that he says he doesn’t know the difference between the designations.
43. Douglas Adams
Douglas Noel Adams [1952-2001] was an English writer, dramatist and musician, best known for his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. He also wrote three episodes of the BBC series Doctor Whofor his friend Russell T Davies and served as script editor during the seventh season. He further wrote for and appeared in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and counted Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour among his closest friends.
A notable environmental activist and self-described “radical atheist,” Adams loved fast cars, cool cameras, Apple computers and any tech gizmo he could get his hands on. Richard Dawkins dedicated his book The God Delusionto Adams. A veteran of many different day jobs, Adams once worked as a bodyguard for a Qatar oil family and told hilarious stories about his misadventures. He was locked in a hotel suite by his editor for three weeks to force him to complete his book So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, he was a bit notorious for his deadline difficulties.
44. Steven Pinker
Steven Arthur Pinker [b. 1954] is an experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist best known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind. He is also known for his controversial positions on issues like eugenics and euthanasia. He is a best-selling author of popular science books as well as a popular speaker. He describes the human mind as a sort of Swiss Army knife that comes with specialized tools designed to deal with problems our Pleistocene ancestors encountered.
Pinker’s works on how children acquire language echoes Noam Chomsky’s work on language as an innate faculty of mind. Pinker argues that many other human mental faculties are adaptive in an evolutionary sense and can be understood best from that angle. Born into the Jewish community in Montreal, he became an atheist at the age of 13 but remains a “cultural Jew.”
45. PZ Myers
Paul Zachary Myers [b. 1957], better known as “PZ,” is an evolutionary developmental biologist and professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris. He is an energetic promoter of science generally and evolution in particular. He got involved in the use of the internet for this purpose and was a founding member of the pro-evolution website The Panda’s Thumb, and created his own web blog, Pharyngula, in 2002. PZ Myers has become the leader of the science-focused online atheist movement and his brilliance as an atheist might be said to be the remarkable success he has had in this position.
Pharyngula received the Koufax Award in 2005 for ‘Best Expert Blog’, and Nature named it the top ranking blog written by a scientist. It was picked up by Seed Magazine that year and anchors their large stable of popular, multidisciplinary science blogs. His increasing popularity as a proponent of atheism have made him a popular speaker at freethought, atheist and humanist events.
46. Jodie Foster
Alicia Christian Foster [b. 1962] is an American film actor, director and producer who has won three Bafta Awards, two Golden Globes, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a People’s Choice Award, and two Emmy nominations for her extensive body of work. She began her career as a child star who later made the transition to adult stardom and expanded from there to produce some of the most popular and thought-provoking films of the last decades.
In 1997 she starred in the movie adaptation of Contact, a novel by Carl Sagan. The following year an asteroid was named in her honor. At the age of 14 she starred in the movie Taxi Driver, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. This earned her the obsessed attention of would-be Presidential assassin John Hinckley Jr. who stalked her while she was attending Yale. Foster is an atheist who celebrates both Christmas and Hannukah with her two sons, and claims great respect for all religions.
47. Russell T Davies
Stephen Russell Davies [b. 1963] is a Welsh writer and producer of the modern version of the popular science fiction television series Doctor Who. A fan of the good doctor since childhood, his writing and direction of the new series has won critical acclaim and a new generation of fans. In 2005, Davies was tapped to write and produce a more adult spinoff called Torchwood, which featured darker science fiction drama and more sex and which Davies described as “The X-Files meets This Life.”
Davies was named the most influential gay person in Britain in 2006, spent several years on the top 100 list of influential media figures, and was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2008. His 2008 bookDoctor Who: The Writer’s Tale is a collection of autobiographical emails between Davies and journalist Benjamin Cook that has been described as “…a funny, revealing insight into the workings of the genius” behind the beloved Doctor Who.
48. David Chalmers
David John Chalmers [b. 1966] Is an Australian philosopher, director of the Center for Consciousness and past director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona in the U.S. His 1996 book The Conscious Mind is considered a seminal work on consciousness and its relation to issues in the philosophy of mind, even by its physicalist detractors. Chalmers argues for an essentially dualistic view of mind which he terms, “naturalistic dualism.”
Chalmers sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Consciousness Studies and his paper published there characterizing the mind-body problem in terms of philosophical zombies generated more than twenty response papers from such notables as Daniel Dennett, Francisco Varela, Francis Crick and Roger Penrose, and the exchanges are still among the most valuable literature debating the philosophy of consciousness ever generated.
49. Sean Carroll
Sean M. Carroll [b. 1966] is a theoretical cosmologist specializing in general relativity and dark energy. Currently he is a Senior Research Associate in Physics at Caltech, writes scientific books and textbooks in his areas of expertise, contributes to the blog Cosmic Variance, writes articles for science magazines such as Nature, Seedm and and is a popular presenter and lecturer at scientific symposia.
Carroll is perhaps better known for his strong advocacy of atheism, once going so far as to turn down an invitation to speak at a conference sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation because he didn’t want to be seen as advocating a reconciliation between science and religion. He argues that scientific thinking must lead to a materialistic world view and a rejection of all notions of deity or spiritual nature. Which is why, Carroll wrote in 2003, (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists.
50. Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Elliot Zuckerberg [b. 1984] is an American computer programmer named by Time Magazine as one of the World’s Most Influential People in 2008 for his development of the internet application Facebook. While attending Phillips Exeter Academy he developed an AI program called Synapse that both Microsoft and AOL attempted to purchase as part of recruitment efforts, but he determined to attend Harvard instead.
Zuckerberg launched Facebook from his Harvard dorm room in 2004. It spread to other universities with the help of his roommate Dustin Moskovitz. Despite some controversy over the platform and a lawsuit over the ConnectU application which was later dismissed, Zuckerman sold a 1.6% stake in Facebook to Microsoft, which had a $15 billion market value at the time according to Forbes. He was born into the Jewish tradition, yet self-identifies as an atheist.
Please let me know if there is somebody you would like to see added to this list.
Douglas Adams was an atheist British writer who wrote the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and several episodes of Doctor Who. He described himself as a ‘radical atheist’ in order to distinguish himself from agnostics. In 1999, Adams explained that:
‘I really do not believe that there is a god – in fact I am convinced that there is not a god (a subtle difference). I see not a shred of evidence to suggest that there is one. It’s easier to say that I am a radical Atheist, just to signal that I really mean it, have thought about it a great deal, and that it’s an opinion I hold seriously.’
In his final book, The Salmon of Doubt, published in 2002, Adams addresses people who believe that God must exist because the world so fits our needs. He compares them to an intelligent puddle of water that fills a hole in the ground. The puddle is certain that the hole must have been designed specifically for it because it fits so well. The puddle exists under the sun until it has entirely evaporated.
Natalie Angier is an atheist American Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer with the New York Times, who has written four books including The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science. In 2001, Angier wrote:
‘So, I’ll out myself. I’m an Atheist. I don’t believe in God, Gods, Godlets or any sort of higher power beyond the universe itself, which seems quite high and powerful enough to me. I don’t believe in life after death, channeled chat rooms with the dead, reincarnation, telekinesis or any miracles but the miracle of life and consciousness, which again strike me as miracles in nearly obscene abundance. I believe that the universe abides by the laws of physics, some of which are known, others of which will surely be discovered, but even if they aren’t, that will simply be a result, as my colleague George Johnson put it, of our brains having evolved for life on this one little planet and thus being inevitably limited. I’m convinced that the world as we see it was shaped by the again genuinely miraculous, let’s even say transcendent, hand of evolution through natural selection.’
Carmen Argibay (born 1939)
Carmen Argibay is an atheist member of the Argentine Supreme Court of Justice. She was awarded the 2007 Gruber International Justice Prize for promoting gender equality and eliminating corruption. When Catholic activists opposed her nomination to the Supreme Court, Argibay responded:
‘I believe that saying up front who one is or what one thinks is an indication of honesty, which is the first step towards impartiality. My beliefs, or lack thereof, should not interfere in the judicial decisions I take.’
Isaac Asimov was an atheist Russian-born American writer and professor of biochemistry, whose prolific output of over 130 books covered science fiction, mysteries, popular science, history and memoirs. In 1982, Asimov said:
‘I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn’t have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I’m a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.’
In 1994, Asimov speculated that:
‘If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul.’
Bjork is an atheist Icelandic singer and actress whose first solo album, Debut, was named Album of the Year by NME. In 1994, she said:
‘I’ve got my own religion. Iceland sets a world-record. The UN asked people from all over the world a series of questions. Iceland stuck out on one thing. When we were asked what we believe, 90% said, ‘ourselves.’ I think I’m in that group. If I get into trouble, there’s no God or Allah to sort me out. I have to do it myself.’
In 1995, Bjork said:
‘I do not believe in religion, but if I had to choose one it would be Buddhism. It seems more livable, closer to men… I’ve been reading about reincarnation, and the Buddhists say we come back as animals and they refer to them as lesser beings. Well, animals aren’t lesser beings, they’re just like us. So I say fuck the Buddhists.’
Dave Barry is an atheist American humorist who has written almost forty books and two films. He is also an internationally syndicated columnist. In 2001 he said:
‘I decided I was an atheist early on. My Dad was all right with that. We argued about it all the time, but it was good-natured. He was the most open-minded human being I’ve ever known.’
Simone de Beauvoir was an atheist French existentialist philosopher and author of more than twenty books, including the major feminist work The Second Sex. In 1958, describing how she became an atheist while reading Balzac when aged fourteen, she wrote:
‘I no longer believe in God, I told myself, with no great surprise… That was proof: if I had believed in Him, I should not have allowed myself to offend Him so light-heartedly. I had always thought that the world was a small price to pay for eternity; but it was worth more than that, because I loved the world, and it was suddenly God whose price was small: from now on His name would have to be a cover for nothing more than a mirage… I was not denying Him in order to rid myself of a troublesome person: on the contrary, I realized that He was playing no further part in my life and so I concluded that he had ceased to exist for me.’
Richard Branson is an atheist British entrepreneur whose Virgin group includes more than 350 companies. He is also involved in humanitarian projects and holds world records in long-distance ballooning. Writing in his autobiography about one of these balloon trips, he said:
‘I do not believe in God, but as I sat there in the damaged capsule, hopelessly vulnerable to the slightest shift in weather or mechanical fault, I could not believe my eyes.’
Bill Bryson is an atheist American writer of travel, language and science books, including Notes from a Small Island, The Mother Tongue and A Short History of Nearly Everything. In 2005, he said:
‘I’m not a spiritual person, and the things I’ve done haven’t made me one, but the one thing I did appreciate when I was writing A Short History was that conventional science and a belief in god are absolutely not incompatible. You can be a scientist and believe in god: the two can go hand in hand. What certainly struck me during my research was that the very fundamental creationist views – the literal biblical interpretation of how the world was created – is much, much less exciting than real science. If you believe in god, it’s much more fantastic to believe that he created this universe billions of years ago and set in motion this long train of activities that eventually resulted in us. I think that’s so much more satisfying, more thrilling, than the idea that it was all done in seven days.’
Gabriel Byrne (born in 1950)
Gabriel Byrne is an atheist Irish actor who has starred in almost forty films, including The Usual Suspects, Miller’s Crossing, Stigmata and Into the West. In 2007, he said:
‘I spent five years in a seminary and I suppose it was assumed that you had a vocation. I have realised subsequently that I didn’t have one at all. I don’t believe in God. But I did believe at the time in this notion that you were being called.’
George Carlin is an American comedian, actor and writer. In a 1997 routine, he said:
‘Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man – living in the sky – who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ‘til the end of time! [Pause] But He loves you.’
Carlin said that he worships the sun, because he can see it, and now prays to Joe Pesci, because he seems like someone who can get things done, adding:
‘I noticed that of all the prayers I used to offer to God, and all the prayers that I now offer to Joe Pesci, are being answered at about the same fifty percent rate. Half the time I get what I want. Half the time I don’t. Same as God: fifty-fifty.’
Richard Dawkins is an atheist British evolutionary biologist and writer who holds the Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. He has written nine books about evolution and atheism, including The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Unweaving the Rainbow and The God Delusion. In 1986, he wrote:
‘An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: ‘I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.’ I can’t help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.’
In 1996, Dawkins said of belief in God:‘By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.’ In 1999, he said: ‘I don’t think God is an explanation at all. It’s simply re-describing the problem.’
Daniel Dennett is an atheist American philosopher who is the Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University in Boston. He has written fifteen books, including Consciousness Explained, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. In 1995, he wrote:
‘The kindly God who lovingly fashioned each and every one of us and sprinkled the sky with shining stars for our delight – that God is, like Santa Claus, a myth of childhood, not anything [that] a sane, undeluded adult could literally believe in. That God must either be turned into a symbol for something less concrete or abandoned altogether.’
And Dennett wrote about faith:
‘I certainly grant the existence of the phenomenom of faith; what I want to see is a reasoned ground for taking faith as a way of getting to the truth, and not, say, just as a way people comfort themselves and each other (a worthy function that I do take seriously).’
Marlene Dietrich was an atheist German-born American actress, singer and entertainer who starred in nearly sixty films. In her autobiography, she wrote of her tours to battlefronts as an entertainer for American troops:
‘Back in my early childhood I learnt that God doesn’t fight on any army’s side. So there was little point in praying. Nonetheless, before every battle, prayers were read, all kinds of incantations were incited, staged by all sorts of preachers. We attended these ceremonies and I saw how all the soldiers stood in place, as though they couldn’t believe their ears. I couldn’t believe it either, but I counted for nothing… Since then, I have given up belief in God, in a ‘light’ that leads us, or anything of that sort. Goethe said, if God created this world, he should review his plan.’
Amanda Donohoe (born 1962)
Amanda Donohue is an atheist American actress best known for playing CJ Lamb in the TV show LA Law. Her film roles include Ken Russel’s Lair of the White Worm, in which she played a pagan priestess who had to spit at a crucifix. In 199, she said of that scene:
‘I’m an atheist, so it was actually a joy. Spitting on Christ was a great deal of fun. I can’t embrace a male god who has persecuted female sexuality throughout the ages, and that persecution still goes on today all over the world.’
Roddy Doyle (born 1958)
Roddy Doyle is an atheist Irish writer whose novels include A Star Called Henry, The Woman Who Walked into Doors and the Booker Prize-winning Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. His Barrytown Trilogy of novels, The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van, have been made into films. In a review of Ireland’s 1990 World Cup performance, he wrote:
‘Italy next, the quarter-final in Rome. The Republic squad met the Pope. I am an atheist and I think that the current pope is a bit of a bollix – I don’t like the man at all – but I couldn’t fight down the lump in my throat as the lads in their tracksuits lined up to meet him.’
In 2002, he said: ‘I feel very comfortable being an atheist. It used to be a problem. You had to justify yourself. It’s a long time since it felt abnormal not to be Catholic.’ In 2004, he welcomed the widening ‘rift between Church and state’ in Ireland, saying: ‘It has happened, it is happening, and for me that’s a great thing. As an atheist, I feel very comfortable in Ireland now.’
Jodie Foster (born 1962)
Jodie Foster is an atheist American actress, director and producer who won Oscars for her roles in The Accused and Silence of the Lambs. In 1997, when she played radio astronomer Eleanor Arroway in the film Contact, Foster said:
‘I absolutely believe what Ellie believes; that there is no direct evidence, so how could you ask me to believe in God when there’s absolutely no evidence that I can see? I do believe in the beauty and the awe-inspiring mystery of the science that’s out there that we haven’t discovered yet, that there are scientific explanations for phenomena that we call mystical because we don’t know any better.’
In 2007, when asked if she was religious, Foster answered:
‘No, I’m an atheist. But I absolutely love religions and the rituals, even though I don’t believe in God. We celebrate pretty much every religion in our family with the kids. They love it, and when they say, ‘Are we Jewish?’ or ‘Are we Catholic?’ I say, ‘Well, I’m not, but you can choose when you’re 18. But isn’t this fun that we do Seders and the Advent calendar?’
Bob Geldof is an atheist Irish singer, songwriter, actor, entrepreneur and activist. He founded the Boomtown Rats, starred in the Pink Floyd film The Wall, founded a television broadcasting company that made him a multimillionaire, and has raised money, consciousness and political action for humanitarian work in Africa through Band Aid, Live Aid and associated projects.
In 2006, when asked if he was a saint or a sinner, Geldof replied:
‘Being an atheist, I can’t be either.’
Ricky Gervais is an atheist British comedy writer, director and actor. He played all of these three roles in the award-winning TV shows The Office and Extras. In 2005, he said:
‘Being an atheist makes someone a clearer-thinking, fairer person… Atheists are not doing things to be rewarded in heaven; they’re doing things because they’re right, because they live by a moral code.’
He added that, although he doesn’t believe in God, he thinks that God would like him.
Rachel Griffiths (born 1968)
Rachel Griffiths is an atheist Australian actress who starred in the films Muriel’s Wedding and the American TV shows Six Feet Under and Brothers and Sisters. In 2000, when asked about her religion, she said:
‘I was raised Christian. I’m an atheist, with a slight Buddhist leaning. I’ve got a very strong sense of morality. It’s just a different morality than the loud voices of the Christian morality…I can’t tell you how many films I’ve turned down because there was an absence of morality. And I don’t mean that from any sort of Judeo-Christian-Muslim point of view. I’m not saying they’re wrong and can’t be made. But, fundamentally, I’m such a humanist that I can’t bear to make films that make us feel humanity is more dark than it is light.’
Sam Harris is an atheist American writer who has written The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and Letter to a Christian Nation. In 2005, he wrote:
‘Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious… It is worth noting that no one ever needs to identify himself as a non-astrologer or a non-alchemist. Consequently, we do not have words for people who deny the validity of these pseudo-disciplines. Likewise, atheism is a term that should not even exist. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in the presence of religious dogma.’
In 2006, Harris wrote:
‘The President of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said that he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive.’
Nina Hartley is an atheist American porn actress and director, who has also appeared in the Hollywood film Boogie Nights and defended the porn industry on the Oprah Winfrey show. When asked on her website if she believed in God, Hartley said:
‘No, I don’t believe in God. I was raised with no religion, but a lot of morals. I definitely think that sex is natural and healthy, and that people have the absolute right to pursue their sexual preferences with other consenting adults without government or church intervention. I can do what I do to share my enjoyment of sex with all my viewers out there. If I can help any person or persons have a great sex session, then I’ve done a good job! I believe that society changes and that we can take what is good from the world’s religions and leave behind what isn’t so good, and forge a new say. I’m one of the forgers, I like to think!’
Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003)
Katharine Hepburn was an atheist American actress who won Oscars for her roles in Morning Glory, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the Lion in Winter and On Golden Pond. In 1985, Anne Edwards, in her biography of Hepburn, wrote: ‘God was a concept too vast for her mind to consider, but she believed in the lessons of Jesus Christ despite her feeling, shared with Marx, that religion was a sop for the masses’. However in 1991, Hepburn herself said:
‘I’m an atheist, and that’s it. I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for people.’
Neil Jordan is an atheist Irish filmmaker and novelist, who won an Oscar for The Crying Game and whose other films include The Company of Wolves, Michael Collins and Breakfast on Pluto. In 1999, talking about people who linked his work to Catholicism, Jordan said:
‘It’s not anything about Catholicism. I was brought up a Catholic and was quite religious at one stage in my life, when I was young. But it left me with no scars whatever; it just sort of vanished… We do have this need for mysticism. That is in my movies. And I always like to do stories about gods and monsters and imaginary beings of all kinds, because God is the greatest imaginary being of all time. Along with Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, the invention of God is probably the greatest creation of human thought.’
Wendy Kaminer (born 1950)
Wendy Kaminer is an atheist American lawyer and feminist writer whose books include A Fearful Freedom: Women’s Flight from Equality and Free for All: Defending Liberty in America Today. In 1996 she wrote:
‘Like heterosexuality, faith in immaterial realities is popularly considered essential to individual morality,’ and: ‘When the inner child finds a guardian angel, publishers are in heaven.’
Kaminer has also said about her atheism:
‘I don’t spend much time thinking about whether God exists. I don’t consider that a relevant question. It’s unanswerable and irrelevant to my life, so I put it in the category of things I can’t worry about.’
Tom Lehrer (born 1928)
Tom Lehrer is an atheist American mathematician and musical satirist, who wrote and performed in the 1950s and 1960s. His songs include the Elements song, the Vatican Rag, National Brotherhood Week, Poisoning Pigeons in the Park and We Will All Go Together When We Go. In 1996, when asked if he was a fan of organized religion or a spiritual person, Lehrer replied:
To say that I am not a fan of organized religion is putting it mildly. My feeling about even disorganized religion is summed up in James Taylor’s immortal line in “Sweet Baby James”: “Maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep.” I have no desire to promote secular insomnia. As for being spiritual, not in the New Age sense, certainly. I find enough mystery in mathematics to satisfy my spiritual needs. I think, for example, that pi is mysterious enough (don’t get me started!) without having to worry about God. Or if pi isn’t enough, how about fractals? or quantum mechanics?…
In the same interview, when asked if he was an atheist, he said:
No one is more dangerous than someone who thinks he has The Truth. To be an atheist is almost as arrogant as to be a fundamentalist. But then again, I can get pretty arrogant.
However, by 2000, he had told Cosmik Debris magazine:
I used to think atheists were arrogant, but now I am one and I like it.
Alexander McQueen is an atheist British fashion designer who has boutiques in London, Paris, New York, Milan, Tokyo, Beijing and fifteen other cities. In 1996, he was asked who he would like to dress more than anyone else in the world, and he answered:
‘Oh my God no, because I’m an atheist and an anti-royalist, so why would I put anyone on a pedestal?’
Butterfly McQueen (1911-1985)
Butterfly McQueen was an atheist American actress and dancer whose roles in a dozen films ranged from maid Prissy in Gone With The Wind to Ma Pennywick in The Mosquito Coast. In 1989, McQueen said of her atheism:
‘As my ancestors are free from slavery, I am free from the slavery of religion… They say the streets are beautiful in Heaven. Well, I’m trying to make the streets beautiful here… When it’s clean and beautiful, I believe America is heaven. And some people are hell.’
John Malkovich (born 1953)
John Malkovich is an atheist American actor, producer and director whose films include Places in the Heart, Dangerous Liaisons and In the Line of Fire. In 2000, when directing a play about Sigmund Freud, Malkovich said of Freud that:
‘I also particularly like him because he was an atheist, and I grew tired of religion some time not long after birth. I believe in people, I believe in humans, I believe in a car, but I don’t believe something I can’t have absolutely no evidence of for millenniums. And it’s funny – people think analysis or psychiatry is mad, and they go to church.’
Tim Minchin is an atheist Australian comedian, actor, composer, songwriter and pianist whose songs include the politically incisive Peace Anthem for Palestine, the inanimate love song Inflatable You, the environmental mega-anthem Take Your Canvas Bags and the self-deprecatory career-crisis confession that is Rock N Roll Nerd.
Minchin is also responsible for probably the most comprehensive atheist-related song lyric in the history of song lyrics:
‘And if anyone can show me one example in the history of the world of a single spiritual person who has been able to show either empirically or logically the existence of a higher power with any consciousness or interest in the human race or ability to punish or reward humans for their moral choices or that there is any reason other than fear to believe in any version of an afterlife, I will give you my piano, one of my legs and my wife.’
Cillian Murphy is an atheist Irish film and stage actor who won an IFTA best actor award for his role in the Neil Jordan film Breakfast on Pluto. In 2007, when playing a scientist in the film Sunshine, Murphy was advised by the film’s scientific consultant, Dr Brian Cox, a professor of physics who worked at CERN (the Centre for European Nuclear Research) in Geneva. Afterwards Murphy said:
‘Sunshine is a film that highlights the fragility of the planet and how briefly we are on it, but how much we contribute to its future. It got me thinking about life and religion, science versus religion, and all that. I was verging on being an agnostic and this film confirmed any of the atheistic beliefs I had.’
Taslima Nasrin is an atheist Bengali-Bangladeshi doctor, poet, writer and feminist who lives in exile in India after death threats by Islamic fundamentalists. She has written almost thirty books in various genres, and her work highlights the treatment of women in Islamic countries. In 1998, she said:
‘I don’t agree with those who think that the conflict is simply between two religions, namely Christianity and Islam…. To me, the key conflict is between irrational blind faith and rational, logical minds.’
Nasrin has also said about religion:
‘I believe that if the silent majority were to protest against those who believe in irrational blind faith – who want to go backwards instead of forward, who are for tradition not innovation, who oppose individualism and plurality of thought – then the world would become a truly civilized world in which to live.’
Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964)
Jawaharlal Nehru was an atheist politician who served as the first Prime Minister of Independent India from 1947 to 1964. In his autobiography, which he wrote while in prison in 1936, Nehru said that he did not believe in a god of any kind. He said of religion:
‘The spectacle of what is called religion, or at any rate organized religion, in India and elsewhere, has filled us with horror, and I have frequently condemned it and wished to make a clean sweep of it.’
Nehru also said that:
‘I want nothing to do with any religion concerned with keeping the masses satisfied to live in hunger, filth, and ignorance. I want nothing to do with any order, religious or otherwise, which does not teach people that they are capable of becoming happier and more civilized, on this earth, capable of becoming true man, master of his fate and captain of his soul. To attain this I would put priests to work, also, and turn the temples into schools.’
Randy Newman is an atheist American singer-songwriter, pianist and composer best known for satirical pop songs such as Short people and Political Science, and film scores such as Toy Story, Parenthood and Pleasantville. His 1972 hit God’s Song includes the lyrics:
‘And the Lord said: I burn down your cities – how blind you must be. I take from you your children, and you say how blessed are we. You all must be crazy to put your faith in me. That’s why I love mankind… You really need me… That’s why I love mankind.’
When Newman was a child, a local parent uninvited him from a dance, explaining: ‘I’m sorry, Randy, my daughter had no right to invite you because no Jews are allowed.’ Newman had to ask his dad what a Jew was. He then studied comparative religion and became a devout atheist ‘except when I’m sick’.
Madalyn Murray O’Hair (1923-1995)
Madalyn Murray O’Hair was an atheist American activist who won a case in the US Supreme Court challenging the practice of prayers being said in schools. She went on to found American Atheists. In 1989, she was asked whether she supported religious freedom, and she answered:
‘Oh, absolutely! I feel that everyone has a right to be insane. And that they can do this any place at all. If they want religious schools, build them! My only problem with that is, do not ask for the land to be tax-free. Do not ask for a government grant to build them. Do not ask for money for teacher’s salaries, or more books, or anything else. Just go ahead and do your thing, and do it yourself. Just exactly the same as if you were a nudist. Somebody doesn’t get a tax break for being a Mason, or whatever they’re interested in.’
Penn and Teller are atheist American entertainers who use comedy and illusion to debunk magic, pseudoscience and superstition. Their most recent such television series is Penn & Teller: Bullshit! In 2005, Penn said:
‘I believe that there is no God. Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I’m not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more… Believing there’s no God means I can’t really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That’s good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around… Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-o and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have.’
Penn added, about the challenge of proving there is no God, that:
‘You can’t prove that there isn’t an elephant inside the trunk of my car. You sure? How about now? Maybe he was just hiding before. Check again. Did I mention that my personal heartfelt definition of the word ‘elephant’ includes mystery, order, goodness, love and a spare tire?’
James Randi is an atheist Canadian-American stage magician and writer, and debunker of pseudoscience and paranormal claims. He has written twelve books, and his James Randi Educational Foundation offers $1,000,000 to anyone who can demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event, under test conditions agreed to by both parties. In 2005, he said:
‘There are two sorts of atheists. One sort claims that there is no deity, the other claims that there is no evidence that proves the existence of a deity; I belong to the latter group, because if I were to claim that no god exists, I would have to produce evidence to establish that claim, and I cannot. Religious persons have by far the easier position; they say they believe in a deity because that’s their preference, and they’ve read it in a book. That’s their right.’
Salman Rushdie (born 1947)
Salman Rushdie is an atheist Indian-British novelist whose fifteen books include Midnight’s Children, which won the Booker Prize, and The Satanic Verses, which resulted in the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini called for Rushdie to be killed for blasphemy against Islam. In 1985, Rushdie wrote:
‘God, Satan, Paradise, and Hell all vanished one day in my fifteenth year, when I quite abruptly lost my faith… afterwards, to prove my new-found atheism, I bought myself a rather tasteless ham sandwich, and so partook for the first time of the forbidden flesh of the swine. No thunderbolt arrived to strike me down… From that day to this I have thought of myself as a wholly secular person.’
In 1990, Rushdie said:
‘The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas – uncertainty, progress, change – into crimes.’
In 1996, he said:
‘If I were asked for a one-sentence sound-bite on religion, I would say I was against it.’
Captain Sensible is an atheist singer and musician with The Damned and Dead Men Walking, who also had a hit with Happy Talk. He has said of religion:
‘How many times have religions of the world been damaged by some discovery or other only to move the goalposts and carry on as before as though nothing had happened? They gave Gallileo a hard time for saying the world was round… somehow God seems to have forgotten to tell his ‘flock’ about our planet revolving round the sun and all that. Then there was the theory of evolution – the teaching about which in schools was fought against in a courtroom in the USA and is still disbelieved by a majority of Americans, incredibly. There’s also no mention of dinosaurs in the bible either. Perhaps it’s not inspired by an all-knowing being after all and is, after all, just a cracking good work of fiction? No – I’m afraid none of that faith thing holds any water for me.’
Julia Sweeney is an atheist American comedian and actress who was a cast member of Saturday Night Live before creating three stage monologues, God Said Ha!, In the Family Way, and Letting Go of God. In 2005, she said of becoming an atheist:
‘It was a long process. I just became a stronger agnostic, and then I started to realize that everyone who was saying they were agnostic really hadn’t thought about it that much. Still, I went with agnosticism for a long, long time because I just hated to say I was an atheist – being an atheist seemed so rigid. But the more I became comfortable with the word, and the more I read, it started to stick.’
Linus Torvalds is an atheist Finnish software engineer who developed the Linux operating system kernel. In 1999, when asked about his religion, he said:
‘I am an atheist. I find that people seem to think religion brings morals and appreciation of nature. I actually think it detracts from both. It gives people the excuse to say, ‘Oh, nature was just created’, and so the act of creation is seen to be something miraculous. I appreciate the fact that, ‘Wow, it’s incredible that something like this could have happened in the first place.’ I think we can have morals without getting religion into it, and a lot of bad things have come from organized religion in particular. I actually fear organized religion because it usually leads to misuses of power.’
Mark Twain was an atheist American writer whose sixty books included The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In his last book, Letters from the Earth, Twain wrote:
‘You have noticed that the human being is a curiosity. In times past he has had (and worn out and flung away) hundreds and hundreds of religions; today he has hundreds and hundreds of religions, and launches not fewer than three new ones every year… One of his principle religions is called the Christian. A sketch of it will interest you. It sets forth in detail in a book containing two million words, called the Old and New Testaments. Also it has another name – The Word of God. For the Christian thinks every word of it was dictated by God. It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.’
Frank Zappa was an atheist American musician who self-produced almost sixty albums with The Mothers of Invention or as a solo artist. In 1989, he said of religion:
‘If you want to get together in any exclusive situation and have people love you, fine – but to hang all this desperate sociology on the idea of The Cloud-Guy who has The Big Book, who knows if you’ve been bad or good – and cares about any of it – to hang it all on that, folks, is the chimpanzee part of the brain working.’
And in 1993 he said of Christianity:
‘The essence of Christianity is told to us in the Garden of Eden history. The fruit that was forbidden was on the Tree of Knowledge. The subtext is, all the suffering you have is because you wanted to find out what was going on. You could be in the Garden of Eden if you had just kept your fucking mouth shut and hadn’t asked any questions.’
Famous Atheists, Freethinkers, Diests and Agnostics
This compilation of quotes, from some of the worlds greatest thinkers, gives me hope that our battle is just. There is a
chance that some day the realities of Science will overcome the obscurities of Theology.
Of Time–Life’s 100 most influential people of the Millenium, this list includes 19 of them, and 5 are in the top 10.
“The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma.”
- Abraham Lincoln, American president (1809-1865).
“I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religion than it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”
“I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own — a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism.”
“I do not believe in the immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.”
“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for a reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.”
-Albert Einstein, German-born American physicist
“You never see animals going through the absurd and often horrible fooleries of magic and religion. Only man behaves with such gratuitous folly. It is the price he has to pay for being intelligent but not, as yet, intelligent enough.”
-Aldous Huxley, author “Roots”
“I don’t believe in God. My god is patriotism. Teach a man to be a good citizen and you have solved the problem of life.”
- Andrew Carnegie, Scottish-born American industrialist and philanthropist
“I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say that one is an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn’t have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or agnostic. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect that he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.”
“Creationists make it sound like a ‘theory’ is something you dreamt up after being drunk all night”
-Isaac Asimov, Russian-born – American author
“All thinking men are atheists.”
On page 144 of Paul Johnson’s book Intellectuals, it states that despite being raised in a strict Congregationalist household, Ernest “did not only not believe in God but regarded organized religion as a menace to human happiness”, “seems to have been devoid of the religious spirit”, and “ceased to practise religion at the earliest possible moment.”
- Ernest Hemingway, American author (1899-1961).
|Arthur C. Clarke
“It may be that our role on this planet is not to worship God, but to create him.”
“Religion is a byproduct of fear. For much of human history, it may have been a necessary evil, but why was it more evil than necessary? Isn’t killing people in the name of God a pretty good definition of insanity?”
Arthur C. Clarke, author
From the age of forty he was, to use his own words, a complete dis-believer in Christianity. He professed himself an Agnostic, regarding the problem of the universe as beyond our solution, “For myself,” he wrote, “I do not believe in any revelation. As for a future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague probabilities.”
“It appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against christianity and theism produce hardly any effect on the public; and freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds which follows from the advance of science.” [Quoted in How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science by Michael Shermer.
Charles Robert Darwin, English naturalist (1809-1882).
"Faith is the commitment of one's consciousness to beliefs for which one has no sensory evidence or rational proof. A mystic is a man who treats his feelings as tools of cognition. Faith is the equation of feeling with knowledge. "
-Ayn Rand, Russian-born author (1905-1982).
"I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life, I absenteed myself from Christian assemblies."
"Lighthouses are more helpful then churches."
-Benjamin Franklin, American Founding Father, author, and inventor
"I'm glad some people have that faith. I don't have that faith. If there is a God, a caring God, then we have to figure he's done an extraordinary job of making a very cruel world."
-Dave Matthews, South African rock musician
"My view is that if there is no evidence for it, then forget about it. An agnostic is somebody who doesn't believe in something until there is evidence for it, so I'm agnostic."
-Carl Sagan, American astronomer and author
"Religion is based . . . mainly on fear . . . fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. . . . My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race."
"Fear is the parent of cruelty, therefore it is no wonder if religion and cruelty have gone hand-in-hand."
"I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive. I am not young, and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is none the less true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting."
"I am myself a dissenter from all known religions, and I hope that every kind of religious belief will die out."
- Bertrand Russell, British philosopher, educator, mathematician, and social critic (1872-1970).
"I wasn't raised Catholic, but I used to go to Mass with my friends, and I viewed the whole business as a lot of very enthralling hocus-pocus. There's a guy hanging upon the wall in the church, nailed to a cross and dripping blood, and everybody's blaming themselves for that man's torment, but I said to myself, 'Forget it. I had no hand in that evil. I have no original sin. There’s no blood of any sacred martyr on my hands. I pass on all of this."
"I believe that all important matters have to be settled here, not in the clouds somewhere after we kick off."
-Billy Joel, American musician
"I do not consider it an insult, but rather a compliment, to be called an agnostic. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure. "
"I believe that relgion is the belief in future life and in God. I don’t believe in either. I don’t believe in God as I don’t believe in Mother Goose."
- Clarence Seward Darrow, American lawyer (1857-1938). (Scopes Monkey Trail- Creationism in schools)
|"Religion is just mind control."
- George Carlin, comedian
"The memory of my own suffering has prevented me from ever shadowing one young soul with the superstitions of the Christian religion."
"The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of women's emancipation."
"The bible teaches that woman brought sin and death into the world, that she precipitated the fall of the race, that she was arraigned before the judgment seat of Heaven, tried, condemned and sentenced. Marriage for her was to be a condition of bondage, maternity a period of suffering and anguish, and in silence and subjection, she was to play the role of a dependent on man's bounty for all her material wants, and for all the information she might desire...Here is the Bible position of woman briefly summed up."
She wrote of the Bible, "I found nothing grand in the history of the Jews nor in the morals inculcated in the Pentateuch. Surely the writers had a very low idea of the nature of their god. They made him not only anthropomorphic, but of the very lowest type, jealous and revengeful, loving violence rather than mercy. I know of no other books that so fully teach the subjection and degradation of women." [Women Without Superstition]
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton, American suffragist (1815-1902).
|Francois Marie Arouet “Voltaire”
“Every sensible man, every honorable man, must hold the Christian sect in horror.”
“Christianity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd and bloody religion that has ever infected the world.”
“Nothing can be more contrary to religion and the clergy than reason and common sense.” [Philosophical Dictionary, 1764]
“If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.”
Perhaps never really an atheist, nonetheless, Voltaire changed late in life into a fearless crusader against religious cruelty and injustice. In Voltaire’s time it was forbidden to be an Atheist. Admitting to be one, brought the death sentence. Hence he was a Diest for most of his life.
- Francois Marie Arouet “Voltaire”, French author and playwright (1694-1778).
“If you want to get together in any exclusive situation and have people love you, fine- but to hang all this desperate sociology on the idea of The Cloud-Guy who has The Big Book, who knows if you’ve been bad or good- and CARES about any of it- to hang it all on that, folks, is the chimpanzee part of the brain working. “
-Frank Zappa, American musician
“They know that it is human nature to take up causes whereby a man may oppress his neighbor, no matter how unjustly. … Hence they have had no trouble in finding men who would preach the damnability and heresy of the new doctrine from the very pulpit.”
-Galileo Galilei, Italian astronomer
“Faith means not wanting to know what is true.”
“So long as the priest, that professional negator, slanderer and poisoner of life, is regarded as a superior type of human being, there cannot be any answer to the question: What is truth?”
“The Christian faith from the beginning, is sacrifice: the sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of spirit; it is at the same time subjection, a self-derision, and self-mutilation.”
“All religions bear traces of the fact that they arose during the intellectual immaturity of the human race – before it had learned the obligations to speak the truth. Not one of them makes it the duty of its God to be truthful and understandable in his communications.”
“The most serious parody I have ever heard was this: In the beginning was nonsense, and the nonsense was with God, and the nonsense was God.”
“There is no devil and no hell. Thy soul will be dead even sooner than thy body: fear therefore nothing any more.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche, German philologist and philosopher (1844-1900).
“I condemn false prophets, I condemn the effort to take away the power of rational decision, to drain people of their free will–and a hell of a lot of money in the bargain. Religions vary in their degree of idiocy, but I reject them all. For most people, religion is nothing more than a substitute for a malfunctioning brain.”
“We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.”
-Gene Roddenberry, Creator of Star Trek (1921-1991).
|George Bernard Shaw
“The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”
“At present there is not a single credible established religion in the world.”
- George Bernard Shaw, Irish-born English playwright (1856-1950).
|Arthur Rubenstein, Polish-American pianist (1886-1982).
During a radio interview with Rubenstein the conversation took a sharp turn away from music when the interviewer suddeenly asked, “Mr. Rubenstein, do you believe in God?” Rubenstein calmly replied, “No. You see, what I believe in is something much greater.”
“By the year 2000, we will, I hope, raise our children to believe in human potential, not God.”
“It’s an incredible con job when you think of it, to believe something now in exchange for life after death. Even corporations with all their reward systems don’t try to make it posthumous.”
-Gloria Steinam, women’s rights activist
“There is so much in the bible against which every insinct of my being rebels, so much so that I regret the necessity which has compelled me to read it through from beginning to end. I do not think that the knowledge I have gained of its history and sources compensates me for the unpleasant details it has forced upon my attention.”
-Helen Keller, American lecturer
|James Madison, American president and political theorist (1751-1836).
“During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, Famous Atheist & Quotessuperstition, bigotry, and persecution.”
“In no instance have . . . the churches been guardians of the liberties of the people.”
“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.”
“What influence in fact have Christian ecclesiastical establishments had on civil society? In many instances they have been upholding the thrones of political tyranny. In no instance have they been seen as the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty have found in the clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate liberty, does not need the clergy.”
During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.”
|-John Adams, U.S. President, Founding Father of the United States
“Where do we find a precept in the Bible for Creeds, Confessions, Doctrines and Oaths, and whole carloads of other trumpery that we find religion encumbered with in these days?”
“The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity.”
“This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.”
|John Stuart Mill
“The time appears to me to have come when it is the duty of all to make their dissent from religion known.”
- John Stuart Mill, English philosopher and economist (1806-1873). Freethinker, if not strictly atheist.
“The wretchedness of religion is at once an expression and a protest against real wretchedness. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feeling of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of unspiritual conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
“The social principles of Christianity preach cowardice, self-contempt, abasement, submission, humility, in a word all the qualities of the canaille.”
- Karl Marx, German political philosopher and economist (1818-1883).
“To regard Christ as God, and to pray to him, are to my mind the greatest possible sacrilege.”
-Leo Tolstoy, Russian revolutionary
“Who wants to go to Heaven with all those asshole angels?”
-Marilyn Manson, American rock musician
“Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.”
-Kurt Vonnegut, American author
“Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.”
“Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.”
“All religions have been made by men.”
-Napoleon Bonaparte, French emperor
|Dr. James Watson
“I don’t think we’re here for anything, we’re just products of evolution. You can say ‘Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose’ but I’m anticipating a good lunch.”
-Dr. James Watson, American biologist, (Discoverer of DNA.)
|Frank Zappa, American musician (1940-1993).
“Who you jivin’ with that cosmic debris?”
“Reality is what it is, not what you want it to be.”
“If you want to get together in any exclusive situation and have people love you, fine — but to hang all this desperate sociology on the idea of The Cloud-Guy who has The Big Book, who knows if you’ve been bad or good — and CARES about any of it — to hang it all on that, folks, is the chimpanzee part of the brain working.” [The Real Frank Zappa Book, ("Church and State" chapter) by Frank Zappa and Peter Occhiogrosso, p. 301]
|Jawaharlal Nehru, Indian statesman (1889-1964).
A self-professed atheist, he said of India, “No country or people who are slaves to dogma and dogmatic mentality can progress.” [Key Ideas in Human Thought]
|James Joyce, Irish author (1882-1941).
Joyce rejected Catholicism and indeed all religion when he was a young man (as portrayed in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). He considered Catholicism to be “black magic”, and deplored its anti-individuality. “For me there is ony one alternative to scholasticism, scepticism.” He also rejected the church’s moralizing, etc. etc.
|Henry Louis “H.L.” Mencken, American editor and critic (1880-1956).
“We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the same sense and to the same extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”
Religion is “so absurd that it comes close to imbecility.” ["Treatise on the Gods"]
“Since the early days, [the church] has thrown itself violently against every effort to liberate the body and mind of man. It has been, at all times and everywhere, the habitual and incorrigible defender of bad governments, bad laws, bad social theories, bad institutions. It was, for centuries, an apologist for slavery, as it was an apologist for the divine right of kings.”
“Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable. . . . A man full of faith is simply one who has lost (or never had) the capacity for clear and realistic thought. He is not a mere ass: he is actually ill.”
“God is the immemorial refuge of the incompetent, the helpless, the miserable. They find not only sanctuary in His arms, but also a kind of superiority, soothing to their macerated egos; He will set them above their betters.” [from the alt.quotations archive, found from http://www.starlingtech.com/quotes/search.html]
“Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration–courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and, above all, love of the truth.” 
“Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.”
“For centuries, theologians have attempted to explain the unknowable in terms of the-not-worth-knowing.”
“The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.”
|John Lennon, British musician (1940-1980).
Lennon rejected religion and dogma, but he was not really an atheist – he espoused a sort of vague spirituality.
From the song “Imagine”
From the song, “God,”
And, from the song, “I Found Out”
|Walter “Walt” Disney, American cartoonist, showman, and film producer (1901-1966).
I had one report that Disney was non-religious. Apparently, he was not a member of any religion and did not attend services. Also, he apparently had an entirely secular funeral. It was “very private” and off-limits to the press, perhaps to conceal it was not religious. There is no “In God we Trust” on Disney Dollars!
|Olof Palme, Swedish prime minister (1927-1986).
Palme is said to be partly responsible for the current state of wide-spread disbelief in Sweden. He had conflicts with the Church of Sweden during his administration, because he wished to separate it completely from the state. He said, “human beings will find a balanced situation when they do good things not because God says it, but because they feel like doing them.”
|Margaret Sanger, American birth control activist, founder of Planned Parenthood (1883-1966).
“No Gods, No Masters.”
|Frank Lloyd Wright
“I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.”
Frank Lloyd Wright, American architect (1869-1959).
“Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”
-Denis Diderot, French philosopher, author, and encyclopedist (1713-1784).
|Sir Alfred Hitchcock, British film director (1899-1980).
I have heard that in later life, Hitchcock become areligious. If you have any information on his beliefs, please let me know. Here is an anecdote that may illustrate his growing anti-religious sentiments. (Though at the time he was apparently still a church-going Catholic.)
Driving through a Swiss city one day, Hitchcock suddenly pointed out of the car window and said, “That is the most frightening sight I have ever seen.” His companion was surprised to see nothing more alarming that a priest in conversation with a little boy, his hand on the child’s shoulder. “Run, little boy,” cried Hitchcock, leaning out of the car. “Run for your life!”
|Karl Popper, Austrian/British philosopher (1902-1994).
He was the author of such well-known works as The Logic of Scientific Discovery, The Open Society and Its Enemies, The Poverty of Historicism, Conjectures and Refutations, and many others. He was particularly influential in the philosophy of science for his defense of fallibilism and his critique of induction. Popper described himself as an agnostic, and he was a member of the Academy of Humanism.
The magazine,Skeptic Vol. 6, No. 2 (1998) features a 1969 interview with Karl Popper – “Karl Popper On God: The Lost Interview” by Edward Zerin. In this interview Popper discusses his agnosticism, his attitudes towards both Judaism and Christianity, the reasons for his disbelief which he combined with a respect for the moral teachings of both religions.
|Richard Burton, Welsh actor (1925-1984).
According to the Denver Post, Richard Burton wrote this in his diary in 1969: “The more I read about man and his maniacal ruthlessness and his murderous envious scatological soul, the more I realize that he will never change. Our stupidity is immortal, nothing will change it. The same mistakes, the same prejudices, the same injustice, the same lusts wheel endlessly around the parade ground of the centuries. Immutable and ineluctable. I wish I could believe in a god of some kind but I simply cannot.”
|Irving Berlin, Russian-born American lyricist and composer (1888-1989).
In her biography of her father, Irving Berlin: A Daughter’s Memoir, Mary Ellin Barrett mentions her father’s “agnosticism,” (p.123) and refers to him as a “nonbeliever,” (p.124
|George Orwell (1903-1950).
Orwell’s biography calls him an atheist. His books also have themes that are explicitly and/or suggestively anti-religious. In Animal Farm, the parody was a raven named Moses who told the animals stories about a great mountain in the sky that they would go to when they died, called Sugar Candy Mountain. In 1984, the concept of Big Brother is a parody of God: You never see him, but the fact of him is drilled into so many people’s minds that they become robots, almost. Plus, if you speak bad against Big Brother, it’s a Thoughtcrime.
|Robert A. Heinlein, American science-fiction author (1907-1988).
Being a fiction author, all Heinlein left us is quotations from characters in his novels. There are lots to choose from, here are a couple from Lazarus Long in Time Enough for Love:
“History does not record anywhere or at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help. But, like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it.”
“Any priest or shaman must be presumed guilty until proven innocent.”
|William M. Gaines, American publisher (1922-1992).
Founder and publisher of Mad magazine. He was quite definitely an atheist, according to Frank Jacobs’s biography, The MAD World of William M. Gaines. When emphasizing his sincerity, Gaines would declare, “On my honor as an atheist . . .” Also, when long-time contributor Dave Berg would greet him with “May God give you his blessing,” Gaines would politely reply, “Dave, shut the hell up!”
|Charles Schultz, American cartoonist (1922-2000).
In an interview in 1999, Schultz said that although his philosophical views evolved over the years, “the term that best describes me now is ‘secular humanist.’” He went on to say, “I despise those shallow religious comics. Dennis the Menace, for instance, is the most shallow. When they show him praying–I just can’t stand that sort of thing, talking to God about some cutesy thing that he’d done during the day. I don’t think Hank Ketcham [Dennis' creator] has any deep knowledge of things like that.” Schultz cringed at the mention of Family Circus, the strip by Bill Keane that is strewn with cutesy references to Jesus (who wants to protect children on school buses, but can’t because of laws about separation of church and state!) and those sickly-sweet images of invisible deceased grandparents looming protectively over the kids. “Oh, I can’t stand that,” Schultz laughed. “You could get diabetes reading them, couldn’t you?”
|Robert A. Heinlen
“History does not record anywhere or at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unkonwn without help. But, like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it.”
“Any priest or shaman must be presumed guilty until proven innocent.”
-Robert A. Heinlen, American science-ficiton.
|Samuel Clemens “Mark Twain”
“Faith is believing something you know ain’t true.”
“If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be — a Christian.”
“It (the Bible) is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.”
“A man is accepted into a church for what he believes and he is turned out for what he knows.”
“Our Bible reveals to us the character of our god with minute and remorseless exactness… It is perhaps the most damnatory biography that exists in print anywhere. It makes Nero an angel of light … by contrast.”
“I cannot see how a man of any large degree of humorous perception can ever be religious — unless he purposely shut the eyes of his mind & keep them shut by force.”
“If there is a God, he is a malign thug.”
“‘In God We Trust.’ I don’t believe it would sound any better if it were true.”
- Samuel Clemens “Mark Twain”, American author and humorist (1835-1910).
|Marquis de Sade, French libertine (1740-1814).
In his dialogue, Philosophy in the Bedroom, de Sade insults and derides Christianity several times. In his novel 120 Days of Sodom, he is quoted as saying “The idea of God is the sole wrong for which I cannot forgive mankind.” Also, the “Dialogue Between a Priest and a Dying Man,” which can be found online, is clearly the work of someone with contempt for religion.
|Robert G. Ingersoll
“With soap, baptism is a good thing.”
“The inspiration of the Bible depends on the ignorance of the person who reads it.”
“Fear believes—courage doubts. Fear falls up the earth and prays— courage stands erect and thinks. Fear is barbarism—courage is civilization. Fear believes in witchcraft, devils and ghosts. Fear is religion, courage is science.”
“Hands that help are far better then lips that pray.”
“Ministers say that they teach charity. That is natural. They live on hand-outs. All beggars teach that others should give.”
“For the most part we inherit our opinions. We are the heirs of habits and mental customs. Our beliefs, like the fashion of our garments, depend on where we were born. We are molded and fashioned by our surroundings.
Environment is a sculptor — a painter. If we had been born in Constantinople, then most of us would have said: ‘There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.’ If our parents had lived on the banks of the Ganges, we would have been worshipers of Siva, longing for the heaven of Nirvana. As a rule, children love their parents, believe what they teach, and take great pride in saying that the religion of mother is good enough for them.”
“The clergy know that I know that they know that they do not know.”
“All who doubted or denied would be lost. — To live a moral and honest life – to keep your contracts, to take care of wife and child – to make a happy home – to be a good citizen – a patriot – a just and thoughtful man – was simply a respectable way of going to hell.”
“God did not reward men for being honest, generous and brave, but for the act of faith. Without faith, all the so-called virtues were sins. And the men who practiced these virtues, without faith, deserved to suffer eternal pain. All of these comforting and reasonable things were taught by the ministers in their pulpits — by teachers in Sunday schools and by parents at home. The children were victims. They were assaulted in the cradle — in their mother’s arms. Then, the schoolmaster carried on the war against their natural sense, and all the books they read were filled with the same impossible truths. The poor children were helpless. The atmosphere they breathed was filled with lies — lies that mingled with their blood. “
“Why should I allow that same God to tell me how to raise my kids, who had to drown His own?”
- Robert Green Ingersoll, American politician and lecturer (1833-1899).
“I turned to speak to God, About the world’s despair; But to make bad matters worse, I found God wasn’t there.”
“Forgive, O Lord, my little joke on Thee and I’ll forgive Thy great big one on me.”
“I hold it to be the inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his own way.”
-Robert Frost, American poet
|Susan B. Anthony
“I was born a heretic. I always distrust people who know so much about what God wants them to do to their fellows.”
- Susan B. Anthony, American suffragist (1820-1906).
|Vincent Van Gogh
“I can very well do without God both in my life and in my painting, but I cannot, suffering as I am, do without something which is greater than I am, which is my life, the power to create.”
-Vincent Van Gogh, Dutch painter
|Thomas Jefferson (Deist)
“History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose. ” – Thomas Jefferson to Baron von Humboldt, 1813
“The Christian god can easily be pictured as virtually the same god as the many ancient gods of past civilizations. The Christian god is a three headed monster; cruel, vengeful and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging, three headed beast-like god, one only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes: fools and hypocrites.”
“Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.” –Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782.
“And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.” –Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823
“Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies.”
“I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.”
“Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.”
“It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
- Thomas Jefferson, U.S. President, author, scientist, architect, educator, and diplomat
|Madalyn Murray O’Hair, American atheist activist (1923-1995).
O’Hair challenged prayer in the schools in the US Supreme Court (Murray vs. Curlett) and won. She went on to found American Atheists and became perhaps America’s most infamous and outspoken atheist. When asked, “Do you support religious freedon,” she responded, “Oh, absolutely! I feel that everyone has a right to be insane. And that they can do this any place at all. If they want religious schools, build them! My only problem with that is, do not ask for the land to be tax-free. Do not ask for a government grant to build them. Do not ask for money for teacher’s salaries, or more books, or anything else. Just go ahead and do your thing, and do it yourself. Just exactly the same as if you were a nudist. Somebody doesn’t get a tax break for being a Mason, or whatever they’re interested in. [Interview in Freedom Writer magazine, March 1989]
|William Howard Taft
“I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, and there are many other of the postulates of the orthodox creed to which I cannot subscribe.”
- William Howard Taft, U.S. President
“Religion is all bunk.”
“I cannot believe in the immortality of the soul…. No, all this talk of an existence for us, as individuals, beyond the grave is wrong. It is born of our tenacity of life – our desire to go on living … our dread of coming to an end.”
- Thomas Edison, American inventor (1847-1931).
|Thomas Paine (Deist?) – Author of “Common Sense”
“The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall.”
“Revelation is a communication of something which the person to whom the thing id revealed did not know before. For if I have done, a thing, or seen it done, it needs no Revelation to tell me, I have done or seen it done nor enable me to tell it or write it. Revelation therefore cannot be applied to anything done upon earth, of which man is himself actor or witness and consequently all the historical part of the Bible which is almost the whole of it, is not within the meaning and compass of the word Revelation and therefore is not the Word of God.”– Thomas Paine The Age of Reason
“Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind.” From – The Age of Reason
“All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit. “
Labeled an atheist, but actually a deist, raised by Quakers, who was extremely critical of organized religion. According to Carl Sagan in The Demon Haunted World, “later generations reviled him for his social and religious views. Theodore Roosevelt called him a ‘filthy little atheist.’ . . . He is probably the most illustrious American Revolutionary uncommemorated by a monument in Washington, D.C.”
- Thomas Paine, English born American author and revolutionary leader (1737-1809).
“Neither in my private life nor in my writings, have I ever made a secret of being an out-and-out unbeliever. “
“Religion is comparable to a childhood neurosis.”
“The whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life.”
Freud certainly regarded belief in God as an illusion that mature men and women should lay aside. The idea of God was not a lie but a device of the unconscious which needed to be decoded by psychology. A personal god was nothing more than an exalted father-figure: desire for such a deity sprang from infantile yearnings for a powerful, protective father, for justice and fairness and for life to go on forever. God is simply a projection of these desires, feared and worshipped by human beings out of an abiding sense of helplessness. Religion belonged to the infancy of the human race; it had been a necessary stage in the transition from childhood to maturity. It had promoted ethical values which were essential to society. Now that humanity had come of age, however, it should be left behind. [A History of God]
-Sigmund Freud, Austrian physician and pioneer psychoanalyst (1856-1939).
|Charles Laughton, English-born American actor (1899-1962).
Atheism mentioned in his wife’s autobiography,Charles and I (Elsa Lanchester, 1938)
“We have just enough religion to make us hate but not enough religion to make us love one another”
|Oscar Wilde –
“When I think of all the harm the Bible has done, I despair of ever writing anything to equal it.” [Oscar Wilde – Author]
|Thomas Henry Huxley, English biologist (1825-1895).
Huxley coined the term “agnostic.”
“…inclined to think that not far from the invention of fire must rank the invention of doubt”
“Henceforward, I might hope to hear no more of the assertion that we [Agnostics] are necessarily Materialists, Idealists, Atheists, Theists, or any other ists, if experience had led me to think that the proved falsity of a statement was any guarantee against its reputation. Those who appreciate the nature of our position will see, at once, that when Ecclesiasticism declares that we ought to believe this, that, and the other, and are very wicked if we don’t, it is impossible for us to give any answer but this: We have not the slightest objection to believe anything you like, if you will give us good grounds for belief; but, if you cannot, we must respectfully refuse, even if that refusal should wreck morality and insure our own damnation several times over. We are quite content to leave that decision to the future. The course of the past has impressed us with the firm conviction that no good ever comes out of falsehood, and we feel warranted in refusing even to experiment in that direction” [essay "Agnosticism and Christianity"]
“That it is wrong for a man to say he is certain of the objective truth of a proposition unless he can provide evidence which logically justifies that certainty. This is what agnosticism asserts and in my opinion, is all that is essential to agnosticism.”
-Thomas Henry Huxley, English biologist
|Ambrose Bierce, American writer (1842-1914?).
Author of The Devil’s Dictionary. Here are some entries:
FAITH: Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
RELIGION: A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.
OCEAN: A body of water occupying about two thirds of a world made for man- who has no gills.
PRAY: To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.
SAINT: A dead sinner revised and edited.
|Percy Bysshe Shelley, English poet (1792-1822).
Thrown out of Oxford University for writing the essay, The Necessity of Atheism in 1810.
“If God has spoken, why is the world not convinced.”
“It is easier to suppose that the universe has existed for all eternity than to conceive a being beyond its limits capable of creating it.”
|Other dead Atheists|
|Anaxagoras, Greek philosopher (500?-428? BCE).
. . . probably the first freethinker we know of to be condemned for his beliefs.” “He regarded the conventional gods as mythic abstractions endowed with anthropomorphic attributes. His writings led him to a dungeon, charged with impiety, probably about the year 450 B.C.E.” Only the intervention of the great statesman and orator Pericles saved Anaxagoras from a death sentence. He had to pay a fine and, according to some accounts, was banished. He lived his final years in exile.
|Diagoras “the Atheist” of Melos, Greek poet, (5th cent. BCE).
Threw a wooden image of a god into a fire, remarking that the deity should perform another miracle and save itself. The uproar this caused in Athens prompted Diagoras to flee for his life. “Athens outlawed him and offered a reward for his capture dead or alive. He lived out his life in Spartan territory.”
|Democritus, Greek philosopher (460?-357 BCE).
The father of Materialism. Argued that mechanical relationships or arrangements of the atoms account for various characteristics of nature, the intimation here being that the natural order of the world resulted from chance. Even morality, the soul, and all mental life are reducible to mechanistic terms with physical imperceptible atoms as their basic structure. Spiritual reality does not exist; what appears to be spiritual is attributed simply to subperceptible atomic structure or else to mere superstition. Hence, the Democritan philosophy of mechanistic Materialism is complete, self-sufficient, and self-contained. [History of Philosophy] [Visit The Philosophy Garden
|Epicurus, Greek philosopher (341-270 BCE).
As a Materialist, Epicurus accepted the idea that the soul consists of atomic material which disintegrates at death, at which time all sensation ceases. Consequently, he said, death need not be a matter of anxious concern, inasmuch as it is merely the state in which all sensation ceases. [History of Philosophy] [Visit The Philosophy Garden]
|Lucius Annaeus Seneca “the Younger,” Roman stoic philosopher, writer, and politician (4-65).
“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.”
|John of Lackland, English King (1199-1216) (1167?-1216).
John may not have been a bonafide atheist, but he moved farther in that direction than was common in medieval times. From the biography, Eleanor of Aquitaine (John’s mother) by Alison Weir, p. 234: “John’s bad press in the monastic chronicles may be attributed to his failures as a king *and his cynical contempt for religion*; he quarrelled with the Church during his reign and was excommunicated. ‘He led such a dissipated life that he ceased to believe in the resurrection of the dead and other articles of the Christian faith…’(Medieval chroniclers Roger of Wendover and Matthew Paris; quoted in Weir). Once, upon seeing a buck slaughtered, at the end of a hunt, remarked ‘You happy beast, never forced to patter prayers nor dragged to Holy Mass.’” (Paris, in Weir).
|Christopher Marlowe, English dramatist and poet (1564-1593).
“I count religion but a childish toy and hold there is no sin but innocence.” – the character Machiavel, in The Jew of Malta, “Prologue.” The lines are often modernized: “I count religion but a childish toy and hold there is no sin but ignorance.”
|Thomas Woolston, English writer (1669-1731) or? (1670-1733).
Was put under house arrest for the remainder of his life when he voiced doubt about the resurrection and other Bible miracles. [Holy Horrors]
|Jean Meslier, French erstwhile priest (1678-1733).
A country priest who led an exemplary life, he died an atheist. He left behind a memoir which was circulated by Voltaire. This expressed his disgust with humanity and his inability to believe in God. Newton’s infinite space, Meslier believed, was the only eternal reality: nothing but matter existed. Religion was a device used by the rich to oppress the poor and render them powerless. Christianity was distinguished by its particularly ludicrous doctrines, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation. [A History of God]
|Noel Coward, English playwright, author, and performer (1899-1973).
Coward proclaims several times in his diaries (The Noel Coward Diaries, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1982, ISBN 0 75380 547 2) that he is an atheist, at least during the time he was writing them (1941-1969).
|David Hume, Scottish philosopher and historian (1711-1776).
“No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless . . . its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish.” [Of Miracles]
“The Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one.”
“When I hear a man is religious, I conclude that he is a rascal, although I have known some instances of very good men being religious.”
|Sir Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplin, British born actor, director, and producer (1889-1977).
“By simple common sense I don’t believe in God, in none.”
Quoted in Manual of a Perfect Atheist.
|Albert Camus, French author, Existential Philosopher (1913-60).
Preached a heroic atheism. People should reject God defiantly in order to pour out all their loving solicitude upon mankind. [A History of God]
|Jean Paul Sartre, French Existential philosopher and author (1905-80).
Sartre insisted that even if God existed [which he did not believe], it was still necessary to reject him, since the idea of God negates our freedom. Traditional religion tells us that we must conform to God’s idea of humanity to become fully human. Instead, we must see human beings as liberty incarnate. [A History of God]
|Burrhus Frederick “B. F.” Skinner, American Psychologist (1904-1990).
In an interview with CBS radio a few weeks before his death, Skinner was asked if he feared death. He replied, “I don’t believe in God, so I’m not afraid of dying.”
|H. P. Lovecraft, American author (1890-1937).
“H. P. Lovecraft was strongly influenced, not only by his mother but also by the books he read. . . . At five, he . . . (read) . . . a junior edition of The Arabian Nights. He at once fell in love with the glories of medieval Islam and spent hours playing Arab. . . . One effect of dabbling in non-Christian traditions was to make Lovecraft skeptical of the faith of his fathers. Before he reached his fifth birthday anniversary, young Lovecraft announced that he no longer believed in Santa Claus. Further private thought convinced him that arguments for the existence of God suffered the same weaknesses as those for Santa. At five, Lovecraft was placed in the infant class of the Sunday school of the venerable First Baptist Meeting House on College Hill. The results were not what the elders expected. When the feeding of Christian martyrs to the lions came up, Lovecraft shocked the class by gleefully taking the side of the lions. ” From a biography by Sprague De Camp
“. . . His skeptical view of the supernatural – his nontheism – and his love of the Classical world were not the only lasting passions formed in his childhood.
“. . . he embraced eighteenth-century rationalism, which confirmed him in his atheistic materialism.”
|Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach, German philosopher (1804-1872).
Feuerbach was a prominent materialist philosopher of the nineteenth century. His book, The Essence of Christianity, quickly became a classic of freethought literature. In that book he argued that religion is the projection of human wishes and is a form of alienation. He began his philosophical career as a Hegelian idealist but soon moved in the direction of materialism thus encouraging the Young Hegelians with whom he was associated to similiarly move. The Essence of Christianity electrified the Young Hegelians, particularly influencing the youthful Karl Marx who adopted and extended its theory of alienation.
|Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher (1788-1860).
There was, Schopenhauer believed, no Absolute, no Reason, no God, no Spirit at work in the world: nothing but brute instinctive will to live. [A History of God]
|Sir Leslie Stephen, English writer and thinker (1832-1904).
Sir Leslie Stephen was one of Britain’s most famous agnostics of the nineteenth century. In fact while Thomas Huxley was the person who coined the term agnostic it was Stephen who popularized it.
Leslie Stephen was born into a family of prominent Evangelicals of the Clapham Sect. He was educated at Eton and at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. At Cambridge he was made a fellow which in those days required taking holy orders and he was ordained an Anglican priest. By 1862 his developing religious doubts led him to resign his fellowship and by 1864 he left Cambridge for good.
He married Thackeray’s daughter, Harriet Marian in 1867 but she died in 1875 leaving him one child. He later married Julia Jackson Duckworth and had four children including his best known child the novelist Virginia Woolf.
After abandoning his academic career he made his living as a journalist and writer. He edited the Dictionary of National Biography. He also wrote extensively on history, religion, and philosophy.
Leslie Stephen’s agnosticism was rooted in considerations of the problem of evil. Attempts to resolve this problem by emphasizing the transcendence and incomprehensibility of God was to him simply evasiveness. Such apologetics was in his view simply a disguised skepticism.
The rejection of belief in God for Stephen raised the question of how to ground morality if there is no deity. That is he sought to answer the Dostoyevskian question “If there is no God is not everything permitted?” Stephen sought to answer this question in his book The Science of Ethics. There he proposed a scientific ethics in which J.S. Mill’s utilitarianism would be synthesized with evolutionary theory.
In addition to The Science of Ethics, Stephen wrote many other works including Essays on Freethinking and Plainspeaking (1873), An Agnostic’s Apology and Other Essays (1893), as well as History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century (1876), and The English Utilitarians (1900). [James Farmelant]
|William Howard Taft, American President and Chief Justice (1857-1930).
Probably not an atheist, but I thought it was interesting that an American president in this century said: “I do not believe in the divinity of Christ and there are many other of the postulates of the orthodox creed to which I cannot subscribe.”
|Rudolf Carnap, German-American philosopher (1891-1970).
A central figure of the Vienna Circle which was devoted to the philosophy of logical positivism. In hisIntellectual Autobiography printed in The Philosophy of Rudolf Carnap ed. by Paul Schilpp (La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1963) he described the basic worldview he shared with the rest of the Circle. The first is the view that man has no supernatural protectors or enemies . Second, we had the conviction that mankind is able to change the conditions of life in such a way that many of the sufferings of today may be avoided . The third is the view that all deliberate action presupposes knowledge of the world , that the scientific method is the best method of acquiring knowledge and that therefore science must be regarded as one of the most valuable instruments for the improvement of human life. In Vienna we had no names for these views; if we look for a brief designation in American terminology for the combination of these three convictions, the best would seem to be ‘scientific humanism.’”
|Joseph McCabe, English anti-religion campaigner (1867-1955).
One of the giants of not only English Atheism, but world Atheism, Joseph McCabe left a legacy of aggressive Atheist and antireligious literature that remains fresh and insightful today. His many works — he wrote nearly 250 books — could constitute a library of Atheism by themselves.
Born in 1867, Joseph McCabe became a Franciscan monk at the age of nineteen. But disgusted with his fellow monks and the Christian doctrine, he left the priesthood for good on February 19, 1896.
Not long afterwards, he began to write — first against the priesthood itself and then for the position of Atheism. He was one of the founding members of Britain’s Rationalist Press Association, and was a prolific writer for Haldeman-Julius Publications. He was also a much-respected speaker, giving, by his own estimate, three or four thousand lectures in the United States, Australia, and Great Britain by the age of eighty. Still fighting against the injustices and dishonesties of religion, he died on January 10, 1955, at the age of eighty-seven. The epitaph he requested was “He was a rebel to his last day.” [The Secular Web]
|Anton Szandor LaVey, American (1930-1997?).
Here is some information about LaVey, provided by Aaron Jacques:
LaVey Was most definitely an anti-christian, and despite his recommendation of “using” various gods, I am quite certain he was atheist. He formed the Church of Satan, not only to frighten the status quo, but more as an alternative to secularism. He wrote that it was necessary for man to have a fantasy element in his life. LaVey’s satanism provides this in the form of rich ceremonies. The idea behind which is not that one is praying to an actual being, but is unleashing mental/emotional/physical energies which have the power to alter the state of one’s existence. Most satanists don’t believe in satan or any other deity in a physical sense but more as a force of nature. In the introduction to The Satanic Bible, Burton H. Wolfe recalls a story told to him by LaVey about his youth, when he worked in a traveling carnival:
“On Saturday night, I would see men lusting after half-naked girls dancing at the carnival, and on Sunday morning when I was playing organ for tent-show evangelists at the other end of the carnival lot, I would see these same men sitting in the pews with their wives and children, asking God to forgive them and purge them of carnal desires. And the next Saturday they’d be back at the carnival or some other place of indulgence. I knew then that the Christianchurch thrives on hypocrisy, and that man’s carnal nature will out no matter how much it is purged or scoured by any white-light religion”
However, some claim that The Church of Satan is nothing more than a scam cooked up by an “old carnie” to take people’s money (there is a $100 membership fee). The Church of Satan web site.
|Other Famous Atheists or Agnostics :|
|Woody Allen – Actor||Dr. Melvin Konner||Michael Kinsley||William B. Davis|
|Gillian Anderson||Madison Arnold||Paul Kurtz||Milan Kundera|
|Russell Baker||Iain M. Banks||Alexander I. Lebed||Richard Leakey – Anthropoligist|
|Greg Bear – Science Fiction Author||Steve Benson||Stanislaw Lem||Mike Leigh|
|Jim Bohanan||Sir Herman Bondi||Tom Leykis||Michael Martin|
|Dr. Nathaniel Branden||Marlon Brando – Actor||Jonathan Meades||Antonio Mendoza|
|John Byrne||Dean Cameron||Marvin Minsky – Scientist||Hans Moravec|
|Fidel Castro||Dick Cavett – TV Actor||Dr. Taslima Nasreen||Ted Nelson|
|Noam Chomsky – Scientist||Paul and Patricia Churchland||Kai Nielsen||Camille Paglia|
|Alexander Cockburn||John Conway||Jean Luc Godard||Julia Phillips|
|Michael Crichton – Author||Dr. Francis Crick||Paul Pfalzner||Paula Poundstone – Comedian|
|Crowded House – Rock Group||Ron Dakron||Katha Pollitt||Jean-Pierre Rampal|
|Daniel Dennett – Author||Amanda Donohoe||Paul Provenza||Brian Ritchie|
|Greg Egan||Barbara Ehrenreich||Rick Reynolds||Al Goldstein|
|Garth Ennis||Brian Eno – Musician||Richard Rorty||John Sayles|
|Nuno Filipe||Filter||Pamela Sargent||George H. Smith|
|James Forman||Jodie Foster – Actress||J.J.C. Smart||Mira Sorvino – Actress|
|Ed Fredkin||Janeane Garofalo – Comedian||Lee Smolin||J. Michael Straczynski|
|Simone de Beauvoir, French author, feminist, and philosopher (1908-1986).||Linus Carl Pauling, American chemist (1901-1994).||Mao Tse-tung, Chinese Communist leader and theorist (1893-1976).||Francois Mitterrand, French Politician (1916-1996). Publicly called himself an atheist on several occasions.|
|Spalding Gray||Joe Haldeman||Gore Vidal – Author|
|James A. Haught||Bill Hayden||Annika Walter||Sir Alfred Hitchcock – Author|
|Christopher Hitchens||Nicholas Humphrey||Dr. Ian Wilmut||William Shatner – Actor|
|Neil Kinnock||W. P. Kinsella||John Mortimer||Mr. Lavanam|
|Paul Krassner||Stanley Kubrick – Director||Nick Zedd||Ring Lardner Jr.|
|Ursula K. LeGuin||Tom Lehrer – Comedian||Salman Rushdie – Author of “The Statnic Verses”||Leonard Peikoff|
|Gerda Lerner||Michael Lewis||Stephen Jay Gould||Mark Pauline|
|Todd McFarlane – Author||Sir Ian McKellen||Edward O. Wilson||Adam Corolla|
|Randy Newman – Musician||Jack Nicholson – Actor||Frank Mullen||Douglas Coupland|
|Arthur Miller – Author||Mike Mills||Robin Lane Fox||Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam)|
|Gary Numan – Musician||Ronald Numbers||Zarkov||Vladimir Pozner|
|Ferdinand Piech||Roman Polanski – Author||Lionel Jospin||James Randi|
|Chris Robinson||Terry Pratchett||Harvey Fierstein||David Feherty|
|Mona Sahlin||Ron Reagan Jr.||Larry Flynt – Publisher||Antony Flew|
|Jyoti Shankar||Neil Rogers||Nat Hentoff||Pierre Boulez|
|Michael Smith||Sebastião Salgado||Billy Bragg||Mikhail Gorbachev|
|Benjamin Spock||Robert I. Sherman||Greg Graffin||Wendy Kaminer|
|Burt Lancaster, American actor (1913-1994).||Robert Smith||Bill Gates – Founder – Microsoft||Derek Humphry|
|Ingmar Bergman||Rodney Stark||Stephen Chapman||Richard Dawkins|
|Warren Buffett – Businessman||Katharine Hepburn – Actress||Florence King||Dr. Dean Edell|
|Douglas Adams – Author||Pierre Berton||Penn Jillette||Paul Edwards|
|Harlan Ellison – Scinece Fiction Author||Susie Bright||Howard Hughes, American manufacturer, film producer, and recluse (1905-1976).||Jack Germond|
|Dave Matthews – Musician||Arthur C. Clarke – Science Fiction Author||Quentin Crisp||Harry Harrison|
|Christopher Reeve – Actor||Albert Ellis||Clive Barker||Teller – Comedian|
|Michael Crichton – Author||Vic Chesnutt||Billy Joel – Musician||Max von Sydow – Actor|
|Thomas J. Altizer||Asia Carrera||Virginia Woolf, English author (1882-1941).||Paul Watson|
|Peter William Atkins||Michael Stipe (R.E.M.)||Sir John Gielgud – Actor||Bruce Wright|
|Richard Feynman, American physicist (1918-1988).||Shulamit Aloni||Nina Hartley||Kurt Vonnegut Jr. – Author|
|Dan Barker||David Cronenberg||XTC||Steven Weinberg|
|Robert Frost, American poet (1874-1963).||Marie Curie, Polish-born French chemist and physicist (1867-1934).||Joseph Conrad, Polish-born English author (1857-1924).|