Friday, December 09, 2011

The Top 50 Atheists

A website called The Best Schools has published a list of the top 50 atheists in the world today.
Atheists deny that God exists. Yet for an atheist to make our ranking of the 50 top atheists in the world—given in ascending order—it is not enough merely to deny that God exists. More is required.

Certainty. To make our list, someone has to be very sure of him- or herself. No mere agnostics will do. To make the cut, one has to do more than merely question God’s existence or even deny that knowledge of God’s existence is possible.

Celebrity is another requirement. To make our list, the atheist must have a public identification with atheism and must have made some public impact by challenging religion and/or promoting atheism, either in print or on the Internet. In other words, our ranking is a list of people who are well known because they are atheists, among other things—as opposed to people who are mainly famous for some other reason (like Jodie Foster or Bruce Willis). In a few cases, a person has made the list mainly on the basis of his or her attack on free will and morality—the foundation of the traditional religious view of human beings—so long as the person has also publicly identified as an atheist.
I know for a fact that some people on the list do not agree with the definition of atheist that the website promotes.

The ranking seems to be based largely on the production of books about atheism so it's heavily tilted toward philosophers. In fact, the top five are all philosophers. The top scientist, at number 6, is E.O. Wilson.

I'm surprised that there are philosophers who deny that gods exists as opposed to just not believing in them.

I'm not a very good atheist 'cause I've never heard of most of the top 50 atheists.

Ricky Gervais is not on the list.


  1. I'm not an atheist, but I love Ricky Gervais. Very funny and witty fellow.

  2. Simplest explanation for skew, and the bizarre definitions: the owner of the website is Wayne Downs, a PhD student in philosophy, and a graduate of Baylor with a MDiv. He's also coedited a volume with Dembski.

    I'm pretty sure I've seen UD reference this site a couple of times. Probably a plea for traffic?

  3. Also, I should add, if you miss the old Uncommon Descent blog format, it's been recycled for their blog portion of their website!

  4. Yeah, I'd have to agree that list is somewhat confusing. I see PZ is number 46, I suppose he loses points on the celebrity scale. Meanwhile Robert Wright is 23rd, what?

    I'd have to second your point about Ricky Gervais. A see only a couple of names on there that I would think are more recognizable to the public, maybe people don't realize he's an atheist.

  5. Larry Moran says,

    "I'm not a very good atheist 'cause I've never heard of most of the top 50 atheists."

    What do you mean by most? Does recognizing the names of 44% percent of the people on the list make me a "very good atheist"?

  6. Um, fairly sure some of these aren't saying positively that no god exists - Shermer for a start. A poor list generally, bad qualifying criterion, some good people omitted.

  7. I actually like the list. By including everyone from scientists to movie stars, it does a good job of showcasing the wide diversity and backgrounds of people who call themselves atheists. It should be a nice response to people who think that atheism = science (or "Darwinism").

  8. I know most of them, not personally, but a few are following my twitter bots. Shocked that Dawkins is only number 7!

  9. I don't mean to sound incredulous, but most of you didn't recognize "most of the people" on that list? Personally I recognized about 40. I do agree that it's skewed to academics and writers somewhat, but I think that makes it well-rounded compared to a more conventional list of people popular on the internet.

  10. I must be an excellent atheist because I know personally (i.e., have met and chatted with) eight of them... mind, I suspect they won't *agree* with me...

  11. What an odd list. Ayaan Hirsi Ali ranks at 37. She's an apostate from a religion that doesn't take kindly to that, and they even say in her 'bio' that the person she made "Submission" with (van Gogh) was murdered for it. So, endure horrific genital mutilation, have your companion killed for speaking out, etc, and you're #37. Above her at 36 is some guy that writes children's books. And quite a bit higher than that is Ray Kurzweil.

    Even of the top 10, I've only ever heard of five, and, except Dennet, they're in the bottom. A number of people on the list don't appear to actually openly identify as atheists too.

  12. Why is Houellebecq on the list when it seems that there are no atheists outside the US/UK.

  13. It's like pop knowledge quiz. I counted 16 out of 50 that I know.

  14. Brockman: But don’t call me an atheist. It’s like a losers’ club. When I hear the word atheist, I think of some crummy motel where they’re having a function and these people have nowhere else to go.

  15. Denying that god exists and not believing that god exists are two very different things. The issue is the placement of the burden of proof.

  16. @Anonymous: "Um, fairly sure some of these aren't saying positively that no god exists - Shermer for a start. A poor list generally, bad qualifying criterion, some good people omitted."

    You've never, ever heard of an agnostic atheist? I'm surprised/disappointed.

  17. There is a clip of Ricky Gervais on creationism here:

    Eddie Izzaed's jesus and the dinosaurs is also worth a look at too

  18. It's not that we don't have proof; it's more like you guys don't want to acknowledge the proof.
    Imagine if you came up to me and said.
    "I bought a house in Hawaii."
    I say
    "No you didn't"
    You shoe me the deed and have a realtor, an expert, back you statement up.
    Yet again my response is
    "You have no proof, you fabricated that deed, and the expert doesn't know what he's talking about. You need more proof."

    Imagine how frustrating that would be.