source url: http://www.pobox.com/~mark.gilbert/atheists.html
A list of famous dead people who have rejected God and religion. This list celebrates people throughout history who have advocated living life without deference to a transcendent power. The list is in order of birth date.
The purposes of the list are to combat the pervasive myth that atheists are terrible, immoral people and to convince the undecided that it is OK to be an atheist. Don't forget to visit Reed Esau's excellent, Celebrity Atheist List.
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Anaxagoras, Greek philosopher (500?-428? BCE).
". . . probably the first freethinker 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."
Protagoras, Greek philosopher (481?-411 BCE).
"As to the gods, I am unable to say whether they exist or do not exist"
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]
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman statesman, orator, and
philosopher (106-43 BCE).
Lucretius, Roman philosopher and poet (96?-55 BCE).
Chief proponent of atomism. In On the Nature of Things he wrote "human life lay foul before men's eyes, crushed to the dust beneath religion's weight." Leah Kronenberg tells me that Lucretius was a dedicated Epicurean, and thus gods do exist, but have no interest in human affairs. His writings are full of invective against religion. [Visit The Philosophy Garden]
Gallus Petronius, Roman courtier and wit (1st cent.).
"It is fear that first brought Gods into the world."
Michel Eyqyem de Montaigne, French essayist (1533-92).
"O senseless man, who cannot possibly make a worm and yet will make Gods by the dozen!"
Giordano Bruno, Italian philosopher (1548?-1600).
Not an atheist, but a "heretic" who was in conflict with the church over his cosmological theories.
Christopher Marlowe, English dramatist and poet
"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 Hobbes, English philosopher (1588-1679).
Not an atheist, but an early advocate for the subordination of the church to the state.
Aphra Behn, playwright (1640-1689).
Francois La Rouchefoucauld, French writer (1650?-?).
An important source for Nietzsche's ideas.
Thomas Otway, English classical poet (1652-1685).
"These are rogues that pretend to be of a religion now! Well, all I say is, honest atheism for my money."
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]
Francois Marie Arouet "Voltaire", French author
and playwright (1694-1778).
Perhaps not really an atheist, nonetheless, Voltaire changed late in life into a fearless crusader against religious cruelty and injustice.
"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."
If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.
"Superstition, born of paganism and adopted by Judaism, invested the Christian Church from earliest times. All the fathers of the Church, without exception, believed in the power of magic. The Church always condemned magic, but she always believed in it: she did not excommunicate sorcerers as madmen who were mistaken, but as men who were really in communication with the devil." [Philosophical Dictionary, 1764]
"Nothing can be more contrary to religion and the clergy than reason and common sense." [Philosophical Dictionary, 1764]
"When he that speaks, and he to whom he speaks, neither of them understand what is meant, that is metaphysics."
"Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd."
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]
David Hume, Scottish philosopher and historian
"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."
Frederick the Great, Prussian king (1712-1786).
". . . you will certainly grant me that neither antiquity nor whatever nation has devised a more repulsive and blasphemous absurdity than that of eating your God. This is the most disgusting dogma of Christian religion, the greatest insult to the Highest Being, the climax of madness and insanity."
(from a letter to Voltaire, March, 19, 1776)
Denis Diderot, French philosopher, author, and
Editor of the first encyclopedia, Diderot was jailed briefly for writing irreligious thoughts. [Holy Horrors]
George Washington, American president and revolutionary
Not an atheist, but a deist (and a freemason). For more about the views of the founding fathers regarding religion, see these web sites:
The Founding Fathers Were Not Christians
America - Not a Christian Nation
John Adams, American president, diplomat, and political
A very anti-dogmatic Unitarian.
"The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity."
Thomas Paine, English born American author and
revolutionary leader (1737-1809).
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."
Paine wrote in The Age of Reason, "Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible [by which Pain means the Old Testament] is filled, it would be more consistent that we called 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; and, for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel." The Age of Reason also attacks Christianity as a system of superstition that "produces fanatics" and "serves the purposes of despotism." When the book reached England, several sellers were convicted of blasphemy and jailed.
"Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law."
"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."
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 online is clearly the work of someone with contempt for religion.
Thomas Jefferson, American president, author, scientist,
architect, educator, and diplomat (1743-1826).
Deist, avid separationist.
"Question boldly even the existence of God."
"I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature."
"Religions are all alike - founded upon fables and mythologies."
"To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, God, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no God, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But a heresy it certainly is. Jesus told us indeed that 'God is a spirit,' but he has not defined what a spirit is, nor said that it is not matter. And the ancient fathers generally, if not universally, held it to be matter: light and thin indeed, an etherial gas; but still matter." [letter to John Adams, August 15, 1820]
"Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined, and imprisoned, yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites." [Notes on Virginia]
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. 
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 Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. [Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823]
Jeremy Bentham, English reformer, author, and philosopher
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German author (1749-1832).
Stoutly anti-Christian, but not atheist.
"This occupation with ideas of immortality is for people of rank, and especially for ladies who have nothing to do. But a man of real worth who has something to do here, and must toil and struggle to produce day by day, leaves the future world to itself, and is active and useful in this."
Pierre Simon de Laplace, French mathematician and astronomer (1749-1827).
His major contribution to science was a detailed study of gravitation in the universe; his conclusions were published in his five-volume Traite de mechanique celeste (Celestial Mechanics)... Laplace presented an early copy of this work to Napoleon, who studied it very carefully. Sending for Laplace, he said, "You have written a large book about the universe without once mentioning the author of the universe." "Sire," Laplace replied, "I have no need of that hypothesis. (Je n'ai pas besoin de cet hypothese.)"
James Madison, American president and political theorist
"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."
"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. [April 1, 1774]
Mary Wollstonecraft, author (1759-1797).
Wrote Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman.
Napoleon Bonaparte, French emperor (1769-1821).
A theist, for sure, but he knocked religion:
"Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet."
"All religions have been made by men."
"as for myself, I do not believe that such a person as Jesus Christ ever existed; but as the people are inclined to superstition, it is proper not to oppose them." [paraphrased]
Simon Bolivar, Venezuelan soldier and South American
Atheist. Excommunicated by the Catholic Church.
Lord George Gordon Byron, British poet (1788-1824).
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]
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."
Auguste Comte, French philosopher and mathematician
Ernestine Rose, Polish-born American feminist (?-?).
Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach, German philosopher
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.
Other thinkers were also influenced by Feuerbach including Nietzsche and Freud. Interestingly enough despite the fact that he was (or perhaps because he was) a leading atheist a number of twentieth century theologians have taken an interest in his thought including Karl Barth, Martin Buber, Paul Tillich, and Karl Rahner amongst others. [James Farmelant]
"Man first unconsciously and involuntarily creates God in his own image, and after this God (Religion) consciously and voluntarily creates man in his own image." [The Essence Of Christianity]
Elizur Wright, American (1804-1885).
Elizur Wright was a life long social reformer. He was reared in an evangelical Congregationalist family in Connecticut and Ohio. As a young man he attended Yale with the intention of preparing for a career in the ministry. While at Yale he became interested in the anti-slavery cause. He graduated from Yale with growing doubts about entering the ministry but he did spend some time working for the American Tract Society and worked as a school teacher. Later he took a position as a professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Western Reserve College. There he became further involved in the abolitionist movement moving from support for gradual emancipation and colonization of ex-slaves in Africa to support for the more radical position of immediatism. After he became a more committed Abolitionist he eventually resigned his position at Western Reserve to work as secretary for the American Anti-Slavery Society.
It was while working for the Abolitionist movement that Wright gradually became disillusioned with the Christian churches and their perceived tolerance for slavery and their general hypocrisy over this issue. His disillusionment with the churches on moral grounds gradually led down the road towards freethought and atheism while still retaining the moral fervor of his evangelical background. In 1847 he wrote "Christianity is itself a total failure... so far as it is a plan of saving souls for a future life without saving souls and bodies for this." In 1860 he wrote to his friend Beriah Green--"I don't believe in the God of books...I don't believe in anything but facts appreciated by some degree of evidence." Wright in his old age worked actively on behalf for freethought causes. He worked for the National Liberal League in association with such prominent freethinkers as Robert Ingersoll. Towards the end of his life Wright openly described himself as an "infidel," an "atheist," and a "pagan." He called himself a "materialist" in the tradition of Spinoza, Paine, Darwin, and Huxley. He was quite partial to the Positivism of August Comte.
Abolitionism and freethought were by no means the only causes that Wright devoted himself to. He used his mathematical training to establish himself as an insurance actuary and this led him to one of other favorite causes--that of life insurance reform. His efforts in that field eventually led to his being appointed commissioner of life insurance in Massachusetts. As commissioner he sought to place the industry on sound scientific actuarial principles. Another cause that he devoted himself to was that of conservation. He successfully fought for the establishment of the Middlesex Fells Reservation (the Fells are a wooded plateau in and around Medford, Massachusetts) to preserve the forested lands there from encroaching real estate pressures. Wright's Pond and Wright's Boulder are named for him. [Abolitionist, Actuary, Atheist: Elizur Wright and the Reform Impulse Lawrence Goodheart (The Kent State University Press, 1990).
John Stuart Mill, English philosopher and economist
Freethinker, if not strictly atheist.
Giuseppe Garibaldi, Italian general and nationalist
Charles Robert Darwin, English naturalist (1809-1882).
From the age of forty he was, to use his own words, a complete disbeliever 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."
Abraham Lincoln, American president (1809-1865).
In 2000 Years of Disbelief by James A. Haught, Lincoln is mentioned on pages 125 through 127. From the material presented it would seem that Lincoln as a young man was an avid anti-christian and most likely an atheist. In his later years, he came to believe in God, but still was anti-religious in the sense that he rejected organized religion. Some selections from Haught:
John T. Stuart, Lincoln's first law partner: "He was an avowed and open infidel, and sometimes bordered on Atheism...He went further against Christian beliefs and doctrines and principles than any man I ever heard."
Joseph Lewis quoting Lincoln in a 1924 speech in New York: "The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma."
Lincoln in a letter to Judge J.S. Wakefield, after the death of Willie Lincoln: "My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them."
As a young man Lincoln apparently wrote a manuscript that he planned to publish, which vehemently argued against the divine origin of the Bible and the Christian scheme of salvation. Samuel Hill, a friend and mentor, convinced him to drop it, considering the disastrous consequences it would have on his political career.
William H Herndon, a former law partner, wrote a biography on Lincoln titled: "The true story of a great life". In it Herndon discusses Lincoln's religious views extensively.
Gordon Leidner has collected some quotations from Lincoln's later years in which he invokes God, and he makes the argument that Lincoln became a sincere believer. It seems to me he did come to believe in God, but he never accepted organized Christianity. Perhaps this change was partly because he felt a need to align his beliefs with the majority in the country he was leading.
Mikhail Bakunin, Russian anarchist leader and writer
For Bakunin religion represented an impoverishment of humanity. Religion according to Bakunin was a weapon of the state that must be abolished to make human self-determination possible.
"A jealous lover of human liberty, and deeming it the absolute condition of all that we admire and respect in humanity, I reverse the phrase of Voltaire, and say that if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him."
From God and the State (New York: Dover Publications, 1970) p. 28.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, American suffragist (1815-1902).
She wrote of the Bible, "I know of no other books that so fully teach the subjection and degradation of women." [The Demon-Haunted World]
"The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of women's emancipation."[Treasury of Women's Quotations]
Karl Marx, German political philosopher and economist
Marx saw religion as "the sigh of the oppressed creature . . . the opium of the people, which made this suffering bearable." [Quoted in A History of God]
Marion Evans "George Eliot", English novelist
"The old religion said 'Heaven help us!' Our new one, from its very lack of that faith in a heaven, will teach us all the more to help one another"
Susan B. Anthony, American suffragist (1820-1906).
Called herself an agnostic.
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"
"The only question which a wise man can ask himself is whether a doctrine is true or false. Consequences will take care of themselves."
"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. And 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"]
Matilda Joslyn Gage, American feminist (1826-1898).
Marilla Ricker, American feminist and activist (?-?).
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]
Robert Green Ingersoll, American politician and lecturer
"The universe is all the God there is."
"Our ignorance is God; what we know is science."
"With soap, baptism is a good thing."
The clergy know that I know that they know that they do not know.
Andrew Carnegie, Scottish-born American industrialist and
"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."
Samuel Clemens "Mark Twain", American author
and humorist (1835-1910).
"Faith is believing what you know ain't so."
"'In God We Trust.' I don't believe it would sound any better if it were true."
"It ain't the parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand."
"Religion consists in a set of things which the average man thinks he believes and wishes he was certain of."
"There is no other life; life itself is only a vision and a dream for nothing exists but space and you. If there was an all-powerful God, he would have made all good, and no bad." [Mark Twain in Eruption]
"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 and leading by contrast" [Reflections on Religion, 1906]
"O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it..." ["The War Prayer"]
"[The Bible is] a mass of fables and traditions, mere mythology." ["Mark Twain and the Bible"]
"Man is a marvelous curiosity ... he thinks he is the Creator's pet ... he even believes the Creator loves him; has a passion for him; sits up nights to admire him; yes and watch over him and keep him out of trouble. He prays to
him and thinks He listens. Isn't it a quaint idea." [Letters from the Earth]
"If there is a God, he is a malign thug."
Mr. Clemens was once asked whether he feared death. He said that he did not, in view of the fact that he had been dead for billions and billions of years before he was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.
Thomas Hardy, English author (1840-1928).
Poem Christmas 1924: "After two thousand years of mass, we've got as far as poison gas"
Friedrich Nietzsche, German philologist and philosopher
"God is dead." [Thus Spake Zarathustra]
The Christian God, Nietzsche taught, was pitiable, absurd and "a crime against life." [The Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist] He had encouraged people to fear their bodies, their passions and the sexuality and had promoted a puling morality of compassion which had made us weak. There was no ultimate meaning or value and human beings had no business offering an indulgent alternative in "God." [A History of God]
Thomas Edison, American inventor (1847-1931).
"Religion is all bunk."
"I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious ideas of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God."
Octave Mirbeau, French author (1848-1917).
Luther Burbank, American horticulturist and pioneer plant
"The Bible is an incomplete history and the folklore of an ancient race, but no more inspired, I believe, than the works of Marcus Aurelius and other great men of the day."
Olive Shreiner, peace and anti-apartheid campaigner (1855-1920).
An atheist from age 17, according to a school book of nineteenth century short stories.
Sigmund Freud, Austrian physician and pioneer
"It would be very nice if there were a God who created the world and was a benevolent providence, and if there were a moral order in the universe and an after-life; but it is a very striking fact that all this is exactly as we are bound to wish it to be."
"In the long run, nothing can withstand reason and experience, and the contradiction religion offers to both is palpable."
"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]
George Bernard Shaw, Irish-born English playwright
"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."
Joseph Conrad, Polish-born English author (1857-1924).
"Christianity has lent itself with amazing facility to cruel distortion . . . and has brought an infinity of anguish to innumerable souls on this earth."
"Scepticism . . . is the agent of truth."
Clarence Seward Darrow, American lawyer (1857-1938).
"I believe that religion 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."
quoted in Manual of a Perfect Atheist.
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."
Pierre Curie, French chemist and physicist (1859-1906).
Jose P. Rizal, Phillipine national leader (1861-1896).
Rizal, the greatest son and hero of the Philippines and pride of the Malay race, whose writings attacking the Catholic church and the friars inspired the religious and political revolution against Spanish colonial theocracy. He is considered the first modern Asian rational humanist whose role in the liberation of the Philippines from the grip of priesthood paralled that of Tom Paine whose writings inspired the 1776 revolution in the US.
Rizal was condemned to death for treason and sedition in 1896 by the Spanish colonial government and executed on December 30 of that year. The Spanish friars then libeled Rizal's good name by circulating a forged document entitled "Retraction of Errors" where Rizal supposedly retracted his affiliation with the Masons and admitted his errors in all writings where he revealed the abuses of the Spanish friars.
On the eve of his execution, Rizal finished and succeeded in smuggling out prison a poem he wrote popularly known as his "Ultimo Adios" or "Last Farewall" which is considered even by Spanish literary critics as one of the most poignant poems ever written in the Spanish language. [ poems]
Voltairine de Cleyre, American feminist and activist
"I die, as I have lived, a free spirit, an Anarchist, owing no allegiance to rulers, heavenly or earthly."
Herbert George "H.G." Wells, English author
"It runs through the entire Christian story, and our case against the Catholic Church is that, albeit it originated in a passionate assertion of the conception of brotherly equality, it relapsed steadily from the broad nobility of its beginnings and passed over at last almost completely to the side of persecution and the pleasures of cruelty." [From Wells' book Crux Ansata - An Indictment of the Roman Catholic Church 1944, reprinted in 1981 by American Atheist Press.]
Marie Curie, Polish-born French chemist and physicist
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]
Frank Lloyd Wright, American architect (1869-1959).
"I believe in God, only I spell it Nature."
Vladimir Ilich Lenin, Russian revolutionary leader (1870-1924).
Alfred Adler, Austrian psychiatrist (1870-1937).
Allowed that God was a physchological projection but believed that it had been helpful to humanity; it had been a brilliant and effective symbol of excellence. [A History of God]
I have had a report that Adler converted to Christianity in his old age. (Maybe he lost his mental faculties!)
Ralph Vaughn Williams, English composer (1872-1958).
The Internet Movie Database has a short biography, which includes, "His professional career spanned more than six decades, with nine Symphonies, several concertos, a ballet, a few operas and countless choral works. The latter are often performed in church services, not bad for an agnostic composer."
Bertrand Russell, British philosopher, educator,
mathematician, and social critic (1872-1970).
"I wish to propose for the reader's favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true."
"I am myself a dissenter from all known religions, and I hope that every kind of religious belief will die out."
"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." [quoted in Holy Horrors]
Robert Frost, American poet (1874-1963).
Edward Morgan "E.M." Forster, English author
"I do not believe in Belief (...but...) Tolerance, good temper and sympathy."
Leon Trotsky, Russian revolutionary and Soviet statesman
Albert Einstein, German born American threoretical
"It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. 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 religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it." [From a letter Einstein wrote in English, dated 24 March 1954. It is included in Albert Einstein: The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, published by Princeton University Press.
Joseph Stalin, Soviet politician (1879-1953).
Some would argue that Stalin believed in the Hegelian doctrine of progress as a god.
Lord John Boyd-Orr, English nutritionist (1880-1971).
W. C. Fields, American entertainer (1880-1946).
An acquaintance of Field's recounts the story of Fields, an atheist, having once been found reading the Bible. When asked what he was doing reading the Bible, Fields responded, "I'm looking for loopholes." [Movie W. C. Fields: Striaght Up]
Henry Louis "H.L." Mencken, American editor and
"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."
Kemal Ataturk, Turkish soldier and statesman (1881-1938).
Virginia Woolf, English author (1882-1941).
Margaret Sanger, American birth control activist, founder
of Planned Parenthood (1883-1966).
"No Gods, No Masters."
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."
Sir Julian Sorell Huxley, English biologist and author
"We should be agnostic about those things for which there is no evidence. We should not hold beliefs merely because they gratify our desires for afterlife, immortality, heaven, hell, etc."
From Religion without Revelation by Julian Huxley
"The sense of spiritual relief which comes from rejecting the idea of God as a supernatural being is enormus."
M.N. Roy, Indian political thinker (1887-1954).
Roy was one of the first Indian communists. M.N.Roy founded the Communist Party of Mexico. He lived in the Soviet Union during the 1920s - he was the only man in the secret tribunal that tried Leon Trotsky who did not believe in Trotsky's "guilt". The Soviets, of course, chased Trotsky all over the world for the rest of his life. Disillusioned with communism, M. N. Roy founded his own school of philosophy - Radical Humanism. Many Indians consider M. N. Roy to be the only original political thinker India has produced in the 20th century.
Irving Berlin, Russian-born American lyricist and composer
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).
Fenner Brockway, peace campaigner (1888-1988).
Brockway was a labor leader who opposed British imperialism and advocated giving freedom to its colonies.
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]
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!"
Phillip Randolph, American civil rights veteran and
union leader, (1889-1979).
E. Haldeman-Julius, American publisher (1889-1951).
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.
H. P. Lovecraft, American author (1890-1937).
Here are extracts from Lovecraft; A Biography by L. Sprague De Camp:
"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. He wrote:
The absurdity of the myths I was called upon to accept and the sombre greyness of the whole faith compared with the Eastern magnificence of Mahometanism, made me definitely an agnostic; and caused me to become so pestiferous a questioner that I was permitted to discontinue attendance.". . . 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.
. . . My grandfather had travelled observingly through Italy, and delighted me with long, first-hand accounts of its beauties and memorials of ancient grandeur. I mention this aesthetic tendency in detail only to lead up to its philosophical result - my last flickering of religious belief.
". . . he embraced eighteenth-century rationalism, which confirmed him in
his atheistic materialism."
[Chapter 2, pages 19-24]
Rudolf Carnap, German-American philosopher (1891-1970).
A central figure of the Vienna Circle which was devoted to the philosophy of logical positivism. In his Intellectual 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 in the following terms:
". . . 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.'"
Pearl S. Buck, American author (1892-1973).
"I feel no need for any other faith than my faith in human beings."
"I am so absorbed in the wonder of earth and the life upon it that I cannot think of heaven and the angels. I have enough for this life." [Treasury of Women's Quotations]
John Burdon Sanderson Haldane, Scottish biochemist (1892-1964).
Professor of genetics (1933-57) and biometry (1937-57) at London University, he was an ardent Marxist,but left the Communist Party after the Lysenko affair. His many writings include Science and Ethics (1928), and Heredity and Politics (1938). In 1957 he emigraated to India as a protest agains British policies.
Haldane was engaged in discussion with an eminent theologian. "What inference," asked the latter, "might one draw about the nature of God from a study of his works?" Haldane replied: "An inordinate fondness for beetles."
Mao Tse-tung, Chinese Communist leader and theorist (1893-1976).
John Boynton "J.B." Priestley, English author
Dora Russell, British author (1894-1986).
Brock Chisholm, humanist campaigner (1896-1971).
Naomi Mitchison, author (1897-?).
Baroness Wootton, politician (1897-1988).
Friedrich August von Hayek, Austrian-born English economist (1899-1993).
"Though by age 15 a convinced agnostic, Hayek's "position vis-a-vis the different Christian churches was somewhat ambivalent." As Hayek confesses, he "felt that if somebody really wanted religion, he had better stick to what seemed to be the 'true article,' that is, Roman Catholicism. Protestantism always appeared to me a step in the process of emancipation from a superstition -- a step which, once taken, must lead to complete unbelief" (41)." [Hayek on Hayek: An Autobiographical Dialogue], by F.A. Hayek; Stephen Kresge and Leif Wener, eds. University of Chicago Press, 1994, 170 pp., $27.50.
Ernest Hemingway, American author (1899-1961).
"All thinking men are atheists." [A Farewell to Arms]
On page 144 of Paul Johnson's book Intellectuals, it states that despite being raised in a strict Congregationalist houshold, 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."
Charles Laughton, English-born American actor
Atheism mentioned in his wife's autobiography, Charles Laughton and I (Elisa Lanchester, 1938)?
Luis Bunuel, Spanish film director (1900-1983).
His early surrealist films include L'Age d'Or (1930). He worked largely in Mexico in the 1950s ... Bunuel was brought up as a Catholic by the Jesuits. When asked, in later life, if he had been deeply affected by his Jesuit education, he replied, "I am an atheist, thanks be to God."
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!
This is obviously not much information. Can anyone confirm anything about what Disney believed?
Linus Carl Pauling, American chemist (1901-1994).
For information on Pauling, visit the Ava Helen & Linus Pauling Papers project at Oregon State University.
Guenther Anders, Austrian philosopher (1902-dead?).
Langston Hughes, American writer (1902-1967).
I have no real evidence of Hughes's atheism, but it is perhaps suggested by his short story, "Salvation," which tells of a childhood memory in which Hughes stops believing in Jesus. Please write if you know more.
Elsa Lanchester, English-born American actor (1902-1986).
Atheism mentioned in autobiography, Charles Laughton and I (1938)?
humanist philosopher and civil liberities activist (1902-1995).
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 etc. Interestingly enough the interviewer, Edward Zerin, is a rabbi.
Sidney Hook, American philsopher (1902-1989).
Sidney Hook did his undergraduate studies at City College in New York City and his graduate work at Columbia University where he studied under John Dewey and Frederick Woodbrige. He wrote his thesis The Metaphysics of Pragmatism under Dewey's direction. After receiving his doctorate he pursued further studies in Berlin and Munich and at the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow. In 1933 he returned to the U. S. to teach philosophy at New York University as one of the first Marxist professors in the U. S. During the 1930's he attempted to synthesize Marxism with Dewey's pragmatism - a project that I would consider to be of still great relevence. He treated philosophy as the development of a critical and scientific intelligence to the clarification of human values and concrete social problems - a view he retained all his life. In the late 1920's he prepared an English translation of Lenin's Materialism and Empiro- criticism, Lenin's polemic agaist Ernst Mach. In the 1930's he wrote Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx and he wrote From Hegel to Marx which even today still stand as the most significant pieces of Marxist scholarship produced in America. In the early 1930's he was very close to if not an actual member of the Communist Party but later in the decade he took a strong anti-Stalinist position. He was a founder of the American Worker's Party and later of the Socialist Worker's Party. By the 1940's his polit- ical views began moving somewhat to the right. He supported Norman Thomas' Socialist Party. By the 1950's he had become a staunch anticommunist and argued for the expulsion of Communist professors and students from the universities.
As a member of the "New York Intellectuals" his political and philosophical views carried considerable weight amongst academics.
Regardless of what one might think of Hook's political views it seems he was regarded as a great teacher and many of his students rose to prominence in philosophy and other fields. Among his most well known students rank Delmore Schwartz who was a poet and critic, union leader Albert Shanker president of the American Federation of Teachers, and philosopher Paul Kurtz.
Sidney Hook was an outspoken humanist and atheist. He was active in such humanist organizations as the AHA and CODESH (which his former student Paul Kurtz founded. Hook also wrote for both The Humanist and Free Inquiry. (Text by James Farmelant)
Harold Blackham, humanist campaigner (1903-?).
Margaret Knight (1903-1983).
Burrhus Frederick "B. F." Skinner, American
Joseph Campbell, American mythologist (1904-1987).
". . . god is a metaphor for that which trancends all levels of intellectual thought. It's as simple as that."
"Too many of our best scholars, themselves indoctrinated from infancy in a religion of one kind or another based upon the Bible, are so locked into the idea of their own god as a supernatural fact - something final, not symbolic of transcendence, but a personage with a character and will of his own - that they are unable to grasp the idea of a worship that is not of the symbol but of its reference, which is of a mystery of much greater age and of more immediate inward reality than the name-and-form of any historical ethinic idea of a deity, whatsoever . . . and is of a sophistication that makes the sentimentalism of our popular Bible-story theology seem undeveloped."
Howard Hughes, American manufacturer, film producer, and recluse (1905-1976).
Joseph Fletcher American ethicist (1905-1991).
Known for his situation ehics.
In the 1960's, fletcher, while still a Christian and still teaching at the Episcopal Theological School, published his famous book Situation Ethics in which he challenged conventional thinking in both moral theology and secular moral philosophy. He rejected the traditional approach to solving moral problems by appealing to well validated moral priciples. Instead he proposed a kind of act utilitarianism in which agapean love was seen as the highest good rather than pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Back in the 1960's the mainline Protestant churches seemed receptive to Fletcher's ideas but later on as the churches became more conservative the term "situation ethics" acquired negative connotations. Situation ethics became widely portrayed as a way of rationalizing immoral actions. In reality Fletcher had developed situation ethics as a method for dealing with such difficult issues in medical ethics as abortion, euthanasia, the question of whether severely brain damaged newborn infants should be allowed to die, etc. Fletcher showed that in dealing with such issues, appeal to well validated moral priciples was likely to yield answers that are profoundly inhumane. Joseph Fletcher eventually left the Christian faith and became a humanist, annoucing that he was an agnostic.
Harvey Cox, ed. The Situation Ethics Debate (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1968).
Richard Taylor, "Joseph Fletcher's Situation Ethics," Free Inquiry magazine (Fall 1995).
The Newsletter of The Humanist Association of Massachusetts. November, 1995.
Charles P. Helin, American inventor and businessman (1905-1979).
This testimonial was received from Charles' son, Wally: My father is known primarily to fisherman across the world. As a poor man with a ninth grade education, my father invented the "Flatish" fishing lure and in 1937 started the Helin Tackle Company. He started selling millions of them across the world. The Flatish is still today one the best selling artificial fishing lures. By 1942, he was a self-made millionaire and was living in a 37 room mansion by 1944.
He was well known in the Grosse Pointe, Michigan area for his "rags to riches" story. He was, as far as I know, a lifetime atheist and I was raised as such. He used to tell me that when he died, I could "sweep his carcass off the back porch" and then go on about my business.
Ayn Rand, Russian born American author (1905-1982).
Jean Paul Sartre, French philosopher and author
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]
Lord Ritchie Calder, philanthropist (1906-1982).
A journalist who wrote about science.
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."
Richard Wright, American author (1908-1960).
He spoke a lot about his disbelief of God in his autobiography, Black Boy.
Simone de Beauvoir, French author, feminist, and
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, French philosopher (1908-1961).
Argued that instead of increasing our sense of wonder, God actually negates it. Because God represents absolute perfection, there is nothing left for us to do or achieve. [A History of God]
Jacob Bronowski, scientist and author (1908-1974).
Oskar Schindler, Czech born industrialist? (1908-1974).
He was buried in a Catholic cemetary on Mount Zion, but I have heard that his wife called him a nonbeliever. Please write with any info.
Alfred Jules "A.J." Ayer, British philosopher
"Theism is so confused and the sentences in which 'God' appears so incoherent and so incapable of verifiability or falsifiability that to speak of belief or unbelief, faith or unfaith, is logically impossible."
"if the assertation that there is a god is nonsensical, then the atheist's assertion that there is no god is equally nonsensical, since it is only a signifigant proposition that can be contradicted,"[Language, Truth and Logic]
"I take it, therefore, to be a fact, that one's existence ends with death. I think it possible to show how this fact can be emotionally acceptable." [The Humanist Outlook, 1968]
L. Ron Hubbard, American Author (1911-1986).
Stated that religion was a hoax and it only served to control people (I do not know the exact quote) and then proved it by creating his own religion, Scientology.
"Nevertheless I achieved my own ends beautifully. I took the pressure off the boiler, oriented myself in the world, came to recognize what was important and what was not important, defined for my own use such things as morality and evil and ethics in general, and established what satisfied me as being the true psychology and religion." [The One Word, p. 3]
Mihai "E. M." Cioran, Romanian-born French
philosopher and pessimist (1911-1995).
Books include The Trouble With Being Born, The Temptation to Exist, Anathemas and Admirations, A Short History of Decay.
"My mission is to see things as they are. Exactly contrary of a mission."
"'The Holy Ghost,' Luther instructs us, 'is not a skeptic.' Not everyone can be, and that is really too bad."
James Cameron, journalist (1911-?).
Albert Camus, French author (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]
Angus Wilson, author (1913-1991).
Burt Lancaster, American actor (1913-1994).
A contributor recalls reading a TV Guide article about the time a late 1970s mini-series on Moses (staring Lancaster) came on TV - apparently, in that article Lancaster was interviewed and he stated that he was an atheist.
James Miller, "Ewan MacColl," Scottish folk singer (1915-1989).
Aziz Nesin, Turkish writer and activist (1915-1995).
"I don't need God because I want neither paradise nor hell."
Sir Peter Brian Medawar, Brazilian-born British
immunologist and science writer, Nobel prize, 1960
Here are some quotes from his essay, "The Question of the Existence of God," which was published in Medawar's book, The Limits of Science (1984) and later republished in The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science (1996).
"I regret my disbelief in God."
"To abdicate from the rule of reason and substitute for it an authentication of belief by the intentness and degree of conviction with which we hold it can be perilous and destructive. Religious beliefs give a spurious spiritual dimension to tribal enmities...".
"It goes with the passionate intensity and deep conviction of the truth of a religious belief, and of course of the importance of the superstitious observances that go with it, that we should want others to share it - and the only certain way to cause a religious belief to be held by everyone is to liquidate nonbelievers. The price in blood and tears that mankind generally has had to pay for the comfort and spiritual refreshment that relion has brought to a few has been too great to justify our entrusting moral accountancy to religious belief."
Francois Mitterrand, French Politician (1916-1996).
Publicly called himself an atheist on several occasions.
Jack Smith, American? journalist and pundit, (1916-1996).
Richard Feynman, American physicist (1918-1988).
Some quotes online
Primo Levi, author (1919-1987).
Isaac Asimov, Russian-born American author (1920-1992).
"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."
Roddenberry, Creator of Star Trek (1921-1991).
"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."
Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italian film director (1922-1975).
When asked at a press conference in 1966 "Why do you deal with religious themes, you yourself being an unbeliever?", Pasolini replied: "If you know that I am an unbeliever, then you know me better than I do myself. I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief."For biographical information see The Internet Movie Database or this page dedicated to Pasolini.
William Hamilton, (1924-?). not dead?
Wrote Radical Theology and the Death of God.
Marcello Mastroianni, Italian actor (1924-1996).
Escaped from a Nazi labor camp during World War II and later became known for his roles as a harried "Latin lover."
From an interview with the actor at Cannes 96 in Le Monde:
Q: -Do you still have as much desire to act?
A: - I keep getting proposals. My friends tell me that I'm incredibly lucky and it's true. I love life and life has been generous to me. When I was young, I used to watch my mother go to church for confession and I would ask her, "Why do you go to confession? You work from morning to night and when things are miserable, Father slaps you. When do you ever sin?" She told me that it was God's will and we must accept it. I didn't like that. I don't believe in God but in life. But in the end, my attitude is not far from my mother's. I accept things as they come. When you're a star everybody makes a fuss over you and everybody loves you. The acting profession is one of the best around and on top of it, you're paid well. And yet we still complain. I am amazed when I hear American stars talk about the pain and terrible effort acting requires. What pain?
Paul Van Buren, American theologian (1924-1998).
In the book, The Secular Meaning of the Gospel, he claimed that it was no longer possible to speak of God acting in the world. Science and technology had made the old mythology invalid. Simple faith in the Old Man in the Sky was clearly impossible, but so was the more sophisticated belief of the theologians. We must do without God and hold on to Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel was "the good news of a free man who has set other men free." [A History of God]
Van Buren's obituary from the New York Times.
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."
John Chancellor, American reporter, news anchor, and commentator for
Jack Thomas wrote in the Boston Globe, "Appreciation: Chancellor, the wise man with ready wit," in which he recounted an interview he conducted with John Chancellor earlier this year on his struggle with cancer. After having asked Chancellor whether he feared death to which he replied "not as much as I would have thought..." Thomas then asked what he thought would happen to him after death. Chancellor replied "I've been an agnostic for as long as I can remember... so I don't know where we go. But if it turns out that the lights are just turned off and nothing happens, well, that's OK."
Brigid Brophy, author (1929-?).
Carl Sagan, American astronomer and author (1934-1996).
There was an article, "In the Valley of the Shadow" in the March 10, 1996 issue of Parade Magazine in which Sagan discussed his atheistic beliefs in the face of his own death.
In a March 1996 profile by Jim Dawson in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune,
Sagan talked about his then-new book The
Demon Haunted World and was asked about his personal
“My view is that if there is no evidence for it, then forget about it,” he said. “An agnostic is somebody who doesn't believe in something until there is evidence for it, so I'm agnostic.”
When asked how he would explain a “genuine mystical experience,” Sagan responded: “Your question presupposes the existence of a genuine mystical experience and I'm not sure what that is. People have vivid hallucinations. How do you distinguish between altered states of consciousness? “If someone who has had an experience that tells us something about the universe that we didn't know and that later turns out to be true, then we'd have to say, ‘My goodness.’ ” But that, he said, “would have to be more than the anecdotal reports that typically are used to support religious experiences.”
Turan Dursun, Turkish writer (1934-1990).
According to his son, Yücel Dursun, Turan Dursun was an Islamic holy man before he became an atheist, rejecting religion and God. After rejecting religion he wrote several books on the Qur'an and on religion in general. He claimed that Islam is not consistent with reason and science, and he argued that holy books didn't come from God. His books include: Din Bu I-IV (This is Religion), Kutsal Kitaplarin Kaynaklari (Resource of Holy Books), Kur'an Ansiklopedisi I-VIII (Qur'an Encyclopedia). He also wrote several shorter papers on religion. He was shot and killed by terrorists.
John Lennon, British musician (1940-1980).
Although I have heard that he espoused a sort of vague spirituality, his name is repeatedly submitted to the list as someone who rejects religion and dogma, as suggested by the lyrics of "Imagine," which starts:
Imagine there's no heaven,
It's easy if you try,
No hell below us,
Above us only sky,
Imagine all the people
living for today...
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]
Phil Ochs, American
folk singer (1941-1976).
And I won't be laughing at the lies when I'm gone
And I can't question how or when or why when I'm gone
Can't live proud enough to die when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here
Michael Zaslow, American Actor (1944-1998).
Zaslow acted in daytime drama series "The Guiding Light" and "One Life to Live." He died of ALS. His charitable foundation has a webpage at http://www.zazangles.com. In a May 9, 1998 profile on ABC's 20/20, Zaslow said he was raised an atheist.
Culbert Olson, American politician (?-1962).
The most openly Atheistic elected official was Culbert Olson, former Governor of California. He became President of the United Secularists of America (USA) in 1957, and remained in that position until his death in 1962.
Special thanks to Dave Kraeuter for providing information on the many people that used to crowd the incomplete entries list.
Thanks very much to these folks who have contributed to the list.
The meanings of words like atheist have changed over time. Throughout history, people have had many different belief systems that varied in subtle ways. Frequently, deciding whether or not a person is a non-theist is not a simple question. My basic criteria has been to select people who advocate living life without deference to any higher power. Agnostics are certainly included, and I have included some deists since they generally consider God as historically necessary for creation but otherwise irrelevant.
Because of the variety of views expressed by these people, I have tried to include quotations that demonstrate their particular views whenever possible.
Send additions, corrections, suggestions, and gripes to email@example.com. Please include references to quoted material whenever possible. New entries, quotations, links to more information, missing dates, etc. will all be graciously accepted. Include your name, email address, URL, and home city if you would like them listed in the contributors section.
This list is available at http://www.pobox.com/~mark.gilbert/atheists.html. I used to maintain a text only version, but I haven't in quite a while because most people prefer HTML these days.
Here is a search for links to this page elsewhere on the Web.