Famous Atheists.

When I was first “coming out” as an atheist I got a lot of grief from christians telling me how hard of heart I was and how lost I must feel and crap like that, stereotypes and preconceptions.  One that hurt a lot was the claim that all the contributions to society are made by people who believe in god and atheists have never done anything to help humankind.  Now I was young and I didn’t know any better, so I looked into it.  And was astonished to find just how many famous people are atheists, skeptics, non-believers or people who don’t believe in a personal god.  I’ve been wanting to do a blog listing many of them (there are far too many to make a complete list of even just the famous ones), but here are some examples of people you wouldn’t think were atheists, some of whom you might actually like and respect. 

Katherine Hepburn

“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 each other.”

John Lennon

“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

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You… you may say I’m a dreamer,
but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one”

Jodie Foster

“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?”

Eddie Izzard

“I used to be an agnostic and now I’m an atheist. I’m all for spirituality and I think there’s a lot of religious people who’ve got a certain something. And I believe in us. I don’t believe in God. I believe in us, human beings. But if God was there, I think the first line of the Bible should be: It’s round. Looks flat, but it’s round. Yeah, it spins. It’s like a big football, but… Oh, it’s very complicated. Imagine you’re an ant on a football and you’re spinning, but you can’t feel it. Shit, shit, shit. Sorry about the slavery. Couldn’t get the staff. They seemed to like it. Shit. All right, forget this bit. Right. In the beginning was the Word. Don’t you think… If there was a God, don’t you think he would have flicked Hitlers head off? Don’t you think? You know. Oh, “I’m not allowed to do anything.” Well, fuck off then. If you’re not allowed to do anything then what’s the use? Just piss off, and stop asking us to mumble things on Sundays. “Please, could you possibly mumble positive things towards me on a Sunday in the coldest buildings you can find? Please, get some of your senior citizens to wear cakes on their heads. And to mumble ridiculously positive things about me.” No. He should have just flicked Hitlers head off.”

Albert Einstein

“It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously.  I also cannot imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere…  Science has been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary.  Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.”

Adam Savage & Jamie of Mythbusters

This is a speech Adam gave at harvard on the subject, too long to post here but very much worth reading.

Penn & Teller

“If every trace of every single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.” – Penn

William Shatner

“I’ve always had sort of an ironic view of life,” the 75-year-old Shatner said. “My belief system is that when this is over, it’s over. That you don’t look down from heaven and wait for your loved ones to join you. There may be some soul activity, but I’m not sure about that. But what I am sure about is that your molecules continue and in due time become something else. That’s science.”

And countless more (list), these are just a small somewhat random smattering.  Google “famous atheists” and you will be astonished at the results.  Everyone from Abe Lincoln to Angelina Jolie.  And most of the best scientists of the last century and a half.  And the person who made the largest charitable donation in history.  And who founded the 4th largest transparently operated charity in the world, and the guy who beat NFL recruiters and their multi-million dollar contracts away with a stick to join the army and fight the taliban after 9/11.  And lots and lots more.

I read a blog the other day promoting bigotry against anyone who isn’t christian, saying what a horrible place the world would be without christianity in it and I guess it opened some old wounds, so I did this blog.  And no I’m not saying atheists are better than anyone – some of us are wonderful and horrible and everything in between like any other group of people.  I’m just sick of the idea that christians are the only human beings and everyone else are just degenerate animals.  I don’t even think most animals are as bad as some theists make atheists out to be.

About agnophilo

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42 Responses to Famous Atheists.

  1. Aloysius_son says:

    William Shatner can’t be an atheist! William Shatner is God and I know God believes in himself.

  2. bakersdozen2 says:

    True…. There are many factors that motivate people’s behavior.

  3. tgwiy says:

    I watched the Tilman Story just yesterday.  It was amazing.

  4. Penn & Teller are awesome

  5. pinktiger335 says:

    I just wished everybody knew how to respect each other; religion wouldn’t matter. 

  6. opticalnoise says:

    I’m a fan of lists like this– because honestly, your belief or non-belief isn’t what determines your value as a human being. Thanks for posting it. 

  7. YouToMe says:

    Your last paragraph was the best. (( hugs))

  8. daavidd says:

    Abe Lincoln was a hipster too.

  9. jmallory says:

    I think it’s interesting… Christians do the same thing too- searching for celebrities that think like them. Or similarly… A simple search will show that not many celebrities claim to be Christian.We all like to feel like we belong to a larger group. And yet, it somehow helps us feel more individualistic.

  10. PPhilip says:

    Strangely John Lennon was assasinated and Ronald Reagan survived his assasination. Basically the real evangelicals flirt with death (handling venomous snakes) and seem to think that G-d will protect them from harm.Basically mankind makes a lot of distinctions whether people are atheists or not but there are no good tests to prove whether it matters or not.Human being if they belittle folks must need a crutch….

  11. leaflesstree says:

    Have you seen Penn & Teller’s 38 second proof that there is no god? Search on youtube, it’s pretty funny (and true). I was watching a lot of Bullshit episodes recently there. Kinda controversial on purpose, but they usually have a point, and most of what I’ve seen so far I agree with.

  12. heckels says:

    Wow I didn’t realize there were that many famous atheists; the interesting thing is that they are from so many different walks of life and backgrounds. With so many powerful atheists in the world, why are we drowned out as much as we are?

  13. Einstein’s religious views confuse me. 

  14. I want to say that Albert Einstein became an agnostic in the end… but I don’t remember where I read that, so I can’t back my statement up.  And I’ll face it, I’m too lazy to look right now! =/

  15. Lovegrove says:

    Only known highly intelligent people are worth putting on such a list. Who gives a damn what actors and singers think one way or the other? 

  16. Great post :)I hate discussing my religious views with other people, because being an agnostic or atheist immediately makes you evil.  It’s ridiculous that you can’t just choose NOT to believe in some deity in the sky….and suddenly you must be a horrible person. hmph

  17. Dna, fossils, Darwin.

  18. layhomeopath says:

    Yah, i’m even a Christian, and i dislike Christians who think they’re “better” or put others down like that, whatever their belief or non-belief. In my understanding, Christianity is not about my betterment or good works. —  Say that i was drowning in quicksand, and unable to help myself in any way. Say that someone came and rescued me, even at great cost to himself. Now…how would that story be about me in any way?   —  Many denominations say the General Confession each Sunday, that we have sinned in what we have done, and what we have left undone. I think we’re all so similar; i think we’re all a mixed bag really.  — Hell, if i monitor my thoughts and motives in an honest way, i realize i can hardly be righteous or completely loving for even a mili-second! I’m probably even writing this comment merely to serve my turn in some way. LOL.

  19. Boogalice says:

    Your list is pretty… inconsequential. Short of Albert Einstein, most of those people’s contributions to society are/were pretty small or unproductive. I’m not saying they weren’t influential, but….the MYTHBUSTERS? Penn and Teller?? William Shatner?? Come on. 

  20. I’m not sure what to think.  My hallucinations were intune with Islam.Is it real?That was before I read the Quran.

  21. agnophilo says:

    @Cookstergirl88 – Thanks : )@Aloysius_son – Heh : )  Good one.@opticalnoise – You’re welcome : )@YouToMe – Awwwww : )@bakersdozen2 – ?@tgwiy – Yeah, moving stuff.  Especially that he hated being sent to iraq and thought it was a bullshit war and still turned down a “get out of the army and get millions of dollars” card.@Kristenmomof3 – Yup : )@pinktiger335 – True, though it’s hard to do when you think morality is beamed down from god or that 4/5 of the world deserves to rot in hell.@daavidd – Haha : )@jmallory – I was more trying to look into a prejudice and in the blog am trying to humanize atheists to some people.  I could go ten years never meeting another atheist and I’d be fine.  With believers they often seek to reinforce their beliefs and peer pressure and authority are two ways to do that.  Atheists tend to be pretty individual.  But it is refreshing to talk to a like-minded person now and then. @PPhilip -People who tear down and gossip about people who haven’t harmed them in any way (ie they’re not just letting off steam or venting frustration) are usually doing it to feel better about themselves, though I don’t think this is in any way unique to religious people.@leaflesstree – Yeah, was funny.  I am a big penn and teller fan.  Their show “penn and teller tell a lie” is pretty good too, as is bullshit.@heckels – Being a large minority still makes you subject to the will of the majority in many ways.  It shouldn’t, but it does.  I do think that things are changing though.@Escargotpudding – How so?@hesacontradiction – I believe he was agnostic all his adult life – most atheists   I cannot know there is no god any more than I can know there are no unicorns – but I do not believe either exist, so I am agnostic with regards to unicorns.  Most people think agnostic means on the fence (and some people use it that way) but that’s not what it means philosophically.@Lovegrove – The point is to humanize atheists, I doubt quoting public intellectuals in a country where they’re not popular is going to help.  Sadly more people will probably think atheists are okay if their favorite soap star is one.@wretched_epiphany – It’s the whole personal relationship thing, believers associate certain parts of themselves, feelings, intuitions, parts of the decision-making process etc with god so they think that losing faith means taking an ice cream scoop to their brain and scraping out the part that wants to be nice to people and feels love and beauty.@RulerofMasons – ?@layhomeopath – Good comment.  And while I get what you’re saying about the latter part I don’t think it’s that simple.  While yes some of most of our decisions will have a selfish motive or benefit, this is because our minds are a cobbled together collection of many impulses, not because all we care about is ourselves.  And while yes most good things we do will have selfish benefits, ie being nice to someone will make them inclined to be nice to you, this is not necessarily our motive and is more of a yin yang thing, that everything is like a ripple in a pond and has numerous consequences, some good and some bad.  In a complex world like ours it’s basically impossible to do something bad with no good consequence or something good with no bad consequence.  Save someone’s life and they will now experience countless pains they will otherwise be spared – murder someone and now they won’t.  I’m not saying murder and saving someone’s life are equal, but that nothing is completely bad or good, just mostly.  We live in a world of shades of grey and overlapping, dynamic systems – it’s not 1 + 1 = 2, it’s more like calculus.  Something benefiting you doesn’t mean you can’t have pure motives – you find out the kind of person you are when doing the right thing costs you something.@Boogalice – I think an artist is just as important as the guy who cures cancer – there’s more to life than just not dying.  And see my response to lovegrove above.@Colorsofthenight – Can you elaborate?  You can do so in a PM if you wish.  I am always curious to hear peoples’ miraculous stories, though to warn you I will look at it with a skeptical eye.

  22. Lovegrove says:

    Dumbing down is not the way to go to explain intricate notions. Education is the key to improve society,not referring to the opinions of what are generally referred to as “celebrities”.

  23. There are a lot more believers than non believers, just saying.

  24. Boogalice says:

    @agnophilo – So you’re dumbing it down so you can connect with the population who thinks the Mythbusters are world-changers? Don’t!

  25. agnophilo says:

    @Lovegrove – The blog is about atheists being everyday people and not rapists and assholes, not about proving there isn’t a god or debunking religion – or by the way trying to say that atheists are automatically superior to everyone else as though every atheist is some kind of genius.@RulerofMasons – Wtf are you talking about?  Neither of your comments are coherent.

  26. agnophilo says:

    @Boogalice – What is there to “dumb down”?  I’m telling people atheists are the guy down the street who’s basically the same as them, not saying “look, atheists are all smarter than you and accomplish more”.Seriously, what is your problem really?  If you don’t like what my point is, write your own blog.

  27. Boogalice says:

    @agnophilo – Take it easy. Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound like I’m beating you down or anything. 

  28. agnophilo says:

    @Boogalice – I’m just not sure what you think I should be doing – pretending all atheists are curing cancer or something?

  29. Boogalice says:

    It’s just that you were talking about people who made significant contributions to society, and then you mentioned people like Penn & Teller. Not that they haven’t made a difference just in the whole scheme of things, it didn’t seems to fit your original intent.

  30. cute_sushi says:

    Did you notice most of the people on the list are white men? Interesting.. And I think John Lennon was kind of hypocritical…he was terrible to his first wife and son, but talks about peace and love in his songs…

  31. agnophilo says:

    @Boogalice – I think artists make a significant impact on the world.  They don’t prevent cancer or AIDS, but they do prevent suicide – because a world with no culture or higher thinking or science or art would not be a hotel I’d stay in for very long.  As for world-changers, I address them in the latter part of the blog.@cute_sushi – No, not interesting.  It was a random list of less than ten people, I’m sorry I didn’t include the 1.08 black people or the less than half a hispanic person or the .09% of an asian person to make it demographically accurate.  As far as john lennon goes, I don’t know a lot about his personal life but atheists aren’t going to be any more perfect than anyone else.

  32. JAMIE says:

    KATHARINE HEPBURN with two ‘A’s

  33. @RulerofMasons – I doubt that.  I read a study that revealed that 40% of American out of the thousands that were surveyed that said they are christians when asked about their religious beliefs had neither attended church or participated in any religious activities (including prayer) in more than 1 year.  A possible conclusion to be drawn from that is that people just think they “ought” to say they are christian and really either haven’t given the idea of whether there is or isn’t a god or gods any thought, or they feel embarrased or pressured into keeping their non-belief in god or gods a secret.

  34. @ItsWhatEyeKnow – I know what you mean, I always say I am Adventist when asked in a job application what my religion is.  There are so many things I do not understand.  You say your man is good in bed, but I’m sure there is another guy out there who is even better.  The only difference is, you show commitment to your man.  But… I doubt anyone can truly be committed, unless… you use a lot of will power to not allow the other men in your life whom you may be attracted to, to prevent anything beyond casual touching.  I care a lot about these issues, because I have no life, and I really would like to know how others live theirs.

  35. @RulerofMasons – How come I only understand you half the time, but I find you funny all the time?

  36. agnophilo says:

    @JAMIE – Alrighty.@ItsWhatEyeKnow – Source?  And bear in mind jesus said not to pray publicly or seek “credit” for prayer and to pray strictly in secret.@ItsWhatEyeKnow – That sounds a bit shitty.

  37. @agnophilo – Source?  Shoot, it was 6, 7 … maybe 8 years ago that I read it.  But it stuck with me because since I was about 18 years old I have not believed in god, however for MANY years after I stopped believing if you had asked me what religion I was, I too would nonetheless have answered “christian”.  Why did I say that?  I don’t know if it was because I wanted to avoid the confrontation often associated with revealing your disbelief in god, or if it was a habit because I had answered that way my whole childhood.Sounds shitty?  What sounds shitty?

  38. agnophilo says:

    @ItsWhatEyeKnow – I think there are many people who are culturally christian, jewish and what have you.  But quantifying who is and isn’t a “real” christian is always going to be tricky business.  I think that too many people just follow the herd and don’t think.And the comment I was replying to when I said that sounded shitty.  You sounded like you were mocking him.  Maybe it’s just your avatar.

  39. Eddie Izzard is awesome. Actually, everyone you mentioned in this post are amazing. Great post.

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