The Atheist Bible

Chapter on Atheists

The Atheist Bible / Chapter on Atheists. © Fabian M. Suchanek

Introduction

This chapter will discuss some general facts about atheists, such as their demographics, their organization, and their views on morality. It also addresses stereotypes about atheists. The chapter consists of the following sections:

Atheists

How many atheists are there?

Percentages of peo­ple in Euro­pean coun­tries with no be­lief in a spi­rit, god, or life force Wikipedia/Demo­graphics of atheism, based on Eurostat
Percentage of convinced atheists according to the WIN/Gallup International poll Washington Post: Where the world’s atheists live, 2013-05-23
It is hard to count the number of atheists in the world, for several reasons. First, global surveys on religion often do not provide atheism as an option. The classical options in such surveys are the world religions, and “other” or “none”. These “other” options group together agnostics, atheists, non-religious people, and adherents of minority religions. Second, definitions of atheism vary, and can include critical positions of agnosticism, non-theistic religions, and non-religiosity. Third, atheism is socially unacceptable, oppressed, or even illegal in a number of countries. This makes it hard or even illegal for pollsters to ask, and anywhere from awkward to unimaginable for atheists to answer. Vice versa, some governments support or even enforce atheism, which may yield an overrepresentation of atheism in the polls.

Global surveys on religious attitude report the number of atheists to be between 2% and 8% Demographics of atheism. I found two polls that systematically asked for an atheistic viewpoint in a larger number of countries. The 2005 Eurostat Eurobarometer poll Eurobarometer group: Special Eurobarometer 225 / Wave 63.1 / Social values, Science, and Technology said that 52% of European Union citizens responded that “they believe there is a God”, whereas 27% answered that “they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force”, and 18% that “they do not believe there is a spirit, God, nor life force” (which is most likely atheism). A 2012 poll by WIN/Gallup International found the number of atheists to vary from 0-4% in African countries to 5-10% in some richer countries, closer to 50% in China. As cautioned before, such statistics have to be taken with a grain of salt.

What makes atheists atheist?

We have seen that the vast majority of people in the world are religious. As we have argued before, people have always been mainly religious throughout written history. This is due to a number of factors that we discuss in the Chapter on Following Religion. Now how do atheists become atheist? Why are they not subject to the same factors that make all the other people religious?

We first note that atheism as a popular life stance is a modern phenomenon. Atheism did not have many adherents before the 19th century. Since the 19th century, the factors that make people religious have become less strong. For example, there is less need today to explain the phenomena of nature by the supernatural. This has nurtured the debate whether the supernatural exists at all. Some people then resolve that the supernatural does not exist. I am, putatively, listing some of the factors that may play a role in this process:

A number of factors help such thinking:

This does not mean that all educated and intelligent people automatically become atheist, or, vice versa, that all those who don’t become atheist would be uneducated or not intelligent. It just means that these factors are often prerequisites for the kind of thinking that makes atheists atheists.

Are most atheists men?

It’s not like female atheists don’t exist. Ariane Sherine, photographed by Blackcat
Numerous surveys indicate that the majority of self-proclaimed atheists are male. The ratios vary somewhere between 50% and 75% of male atheists. This still means that there are millions of female atheists, but the discrepancy is nevertheless astonishing. In general, women are more likely to say that religion is important to them Pew Research: Women generally are more religious than men, but not everywhere, 2016-03-22

Several reasons have been proposed:

Do Atheists want to abolish religion?

Let’s not forget what “militant” means.anonymous
Atheism is the rejection of belief in the supernatural. This definition alone does not imply any particular other attitudes. As an analogy, take people who reject playing golf. From the fact that they do not play golf, we cannot deduce that they wish to abolish golf.

There are some atheists who take an active stance against religion. They see religion as an institution that stifles free thought, encourages harmful rituals, and induces intolerance (see the Chapter on Criticism of Religion). That said, on average and in total, atheist militants are nowhere as violent as religious militants.

In any case, the vast majority of atheists do not want to abolish religion. Most atheists see no reason to fight against a belief — as long as it is a personal belief. Furthermore, religion can have a positive influence on people (Chapter on the Benefits of Religion). Therefore, most public atheistic voices demand the separation of state and church and criticize certain religious practices, but they do not demand the abolition of religion in general. This is also the viewpoint of Humanism, the life stance advocated in this book.

This tolerance holds only if the religion leaves other people (and notably atheists) in peace. If a religion starts interfering with other people’s lives, influencing the laws or education, or even persecuting people of other beliefs or non-beliefs, then Humanists oppose such endeavors.

Religion is a superstition plus the conviction that it is not.

Is atheism an organization?

Evangelical Pastafarianism
A religion often takes the form of an organization, i.e., a legal entity. This organization can run schools and hospitals, offer religious education, employ priests, own territory, build temples, define a world view, define social values, and implement a jurisdiction for these values.

Atheism has none of this. Atheism is just unbelief in the supernatural. Atheists are as organized as people who do not play golf: They are individuals spread over the globe, whose only common point is that they do not share enthusiasm for a certain activity. There is no “atheistic value system”. Most atheists subscribe to certain values, but these are not unified, let alone “atheistic”. Likewise, there is no unified atheistic world view. There is also no “Atheist Church”. Therefore, atheists have no specific community — much like non-golf-players have no specific community.

The picture is different for Humanism, the particular brand of atheism advocated in this book. There are some organizations that aim to represent the interests of Humanists. These are, e.g., the International Humanist and Ethical Union, or the Humanistischer Verband Deutschland. However, these organizations are de facto nowhere as established as the major religious organizations. Most people who are technically Humanists will probably not even know about these organizations.

Discrimination

There is widespread discrimination against atheists. Over 70% of people in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia believe that one has to believe in God in order to be a moral person Pew Research Center: The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society. This means that they believe that atheists are immoral people.

In six US states, atheists are not allowed to hold a public office. The constitutions of these states explicitly require belief in a supreme being as a precondition for holding the office (Wikipedia / Persecution of Atheists / United States, Atheist Cartoons / post 22016543416). Atheists are widely subjected to prejudice in the US. Atheists are the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry — ahead of Jews, Muslims, and black people Penny Edgell et al: Atheists as “other” — Moral Boundaries and Cultural Membership in American Society, American Sociological Review, April 2006, Vol 71. Atheists are less likely to be accepted, publicly and privately, than any others from a long list of ethnic, religious, and other minority groups [ibid]. Atheism is associated with criminality, and people trust atheists as much as they trust rapists Will M. Gervais et al: Do You Believe in Atheists? Distrust Is Central to Anti-Atheist Prejudice, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011, Vol. 101, No. 6. If someone identifies as atheist, family members turn against them, they lose friends, people denounce them in prayer groups, and they are excluded from clubs and associations Financial Times: Atheism in America, 2012-02. No wonder many atheists live in the closet.

These phenomena are not evenly spread in the US. It is likely, e.g., that the coastal regions of the US are more tolerant towards atheism. At the same time, discrimination against atheists exists and is a problem — not just in the US Discrimination against atheists.

In Germany, roughly 1/3 of the population is atheist. Still, religious organizations dominate the labor market in the social sector. They run hospitals, kindergardens, and senior citizen homes. 80%-100% of the financial support for these institutions comes from the state, but the religious organizations have free reign in their governance. They can legally reject atheist job candidatures. They can also teach their world view in their schools and kindergardens. One third of the schools is run by religious organizations. Secular alternatives are often not available in rural areas. In all schools, church-run or not, religious education is mandatory. Secular alternatives are often not provided. The constitution of several German states requires children to be educated in obedience to God. In Bavaria, these provisions have been used to prevent Humanists from founding a school. Due to state-sponsoring of religious scholarship agencies, 10% of state-sponsored scholarships are bound to a religion. Thus, religious students overall have more chances to obtain a scholarship than atheist students. Public tax money is used to sponsored theology professors that are appointed by the churches. The advisory council of the public radio and television is staffed with representatives form the churches, but not with representatives for an atheist or Humanist world view. There are religious radio emissions, but no Humanist ones. The state levies taxes for the churches. Public money supports religious events (“Kirchentage”) with millions of euros each year. In a nod to the churches, dancing is prohibited on religious holidays (“dancing ban"). A dozen people are convicted each year of blasphemy. (IHEU: German Humanists expose systematic discrimination against the non-religious, 2015-09-23, based on HDV: Gläserne Wände, 2015).

In some countries, atheists are systematically persecuted.

In Germany, the state finances rhetoric trainings for preachers at universities. They call it theology.

Persecution

Coun­tries with penal­ties for atheism, according to the US Library of Congress edrussia567@wikicommons
In many Islamic countries, a Muslim is not allowed to commit apostasy, i.e., to abandon their faith. If a Muslim abandons their faith and becomes atheist, they are persecuted. Some Islamic countries even punish apostasy by death: Mauritania, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Maldives IHEU: Freedom of Thought 2012 — A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists, and the Nonreligious. Countries such as Egypt or Indonesia imprison people who publicly profess their own atheism [ibid]. Other countries restrict rights for atheists, for example by limiting marriage rights or public service [ibid]. Indonesia demands that people declare themselves as one of six religions; atheism and agnosticism do not count The Economist: No God, not even Allah — Ex-Muslim atheists are becoming more outspoken, but tolerance is still rare, 2012-11-24. Egypt’s draft constitution makes room for only three faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam [ibid]. Something similar goes for India Times of India: Indian atheists seek recognition in the land of a million gods, 2012-06-30. In Israel, atheists cannot marry, because Israel does not know the concept of civic marriage US Embassy in Israel: Marriage.

These laws are just the tip of the iceberg. In general, atheists suffer widespread social discrimination in the Islamic world, up to beatings or beheadings The Economist: Ex-Muslim atheists are becoming more outspoken, 2012-11-24. All four schools of Sunni Islamic law teach that male apostates should be put to death [ibid]. 84% of Muslims in Egypt and 86% in Jordan backed the death penalty for apostates, as do 51% in Nigeria and 30% in Indonesia [ibid]. Thus, no matter whether the death penalty is actually implemented or not, the thinking that atheists must be put to death is rooted in the society.

How do atheists protect themselves?

A religious person can pray to gods in order to ask for protection from illnesses, bad luck, accidents, or being fired. An atheist has no such remedy. How do atheists protect themselves against the difficulties of life?

There are several things that you can do as an atheist:

These measures provably reduce the risk of disaster. In order to reduce the damage once it happened, you can

These measures may sound pedestrian in comparison to the array of methods that a believer can use. However, unlike the supernatural methods, the “atheist measures” provably reduce the risk of damage. They are thus a useful way to spend your time.

It is much more sound to take the risks you can measure rather than to measure the risks you’re taking.
Nassim Taleb in “The Black Swan”

Where do atheists get inspiration?

Throughout history, people have always been inspired by religion. So then the question arises what inspires atheists.

Some atheists are also inspired by religion. The author of the present book is an example. Other atheists are inspired by philosophy, the study of ethics, poetry, music, literature or the arts Criticism of Religion. Some atheists and some agnostics have proven particularly inspired. We list some of the more prominent ones here.

Philosophers List of atheist and agnostic philosophers
Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)
French author and existentialist philosopher. Beauvoir wrote novels and monographs on philosophy, politics, social issues and feminism.
Rudolf Carnap (1891-1970)
German philosopher who was a prominent advocate of logical positivism.
Noam Chomsky (born 1928)
American linguist, philosopher, political activist, author, and lecturer, Institute Professor and professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, credited with the creation of the theory of generative grammar.
Denis Diderot (1713-1784)
editor-in-chief of the Encyclopédie, the first systematic collection of human knowledge.
David Hume (1711-1776)
Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and bookist, considered one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
German philosopher, best known for his work “Critique of Pure Reason”.
Karl Marx (1818-1883)
philosopher, political economist, sociologist, humanist, political theorist and revolutionary.
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
British philosopher famous for his works on utilitarism.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
German philosopher known for his criticism of religion and his work on morality.
Karl R. Popper (1902-1994)
philosopher of science, who promoted falsifiability as a necessary criterion of empirical statements in science.
Willard Van Orman Quine (1908-2000)
American philosopher and logician
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
British philosopher and mathematician. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950.
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
French existentialist philosopher, dramatist and novelist who rejected the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964.
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
Pessimistic German philosopher.
John Searle (born 1932)
American philosopher, Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, widely noted for contributions to the philosophy of language, the philosophy of mind, and to social philosophy.
Theodorus the Atheist (300 BCE)
Philosopher of the Cyrenaic school who taught that the goal of life was to obtain joy and avoid grief.
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)
Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. He is known for his book “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus”.
Authors List of atheist authors
Douglas Adams (1952-2001)
British radio and television writer and novelist, author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.
Isaac Asimov (Исаaк Юдович Азимов, 1920-1992)
Russian-born American author of science fiction and popular science books. He invented the word “robot”.
Albert Camus (1913-1960)
French philosopher and novelist who has been considered a luminary of existentialism. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957.
Giosuè Carducci (1835-1907)
Italian poet and teacher. In 1906, he became the first Italian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008)
British scientist and science-fiction author.
George Eliot (1819-1890)
aka. Mary Ann Evans, a famous British novelist.
Franz Kafka (1883-1924)
Jewish Czech-born writer. Best known for his short stories such as “The Metamorphosis” and novels such as “The Castle” and “The Trial”.
Arthur Miller (1915-2005)
American playwright and bookist, known inter alia for his book “Death of a Salesman”.
Marcel Proust (1871-1922)
French novelist, critic, and bookist. Best known for his work “In Search of Lost Time”.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. He is the only person to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize in Literature (1925) and an Oscar (1938), for his contributions to literature and for his work on the film Pygmalion (adaptation of his play of the same name), respectively.
Wole Soyinka (born 1934)
Nigerian writer, poet and playwright. He was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Gao Xingjian (born 1940)
Chinese emigre novelist, dramatist, critic, translator, stage director and painter. Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2000.
Gene Weingarten (born 1951)
American humor writer and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.
Nadine Gordimer (born 1923)
South African writer and political activist. Her writing has long dealt with moral and racial issues, particularly apartheid in South Africa. She won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1991.
Seamus Heaney (born 1939)
Irish poet, writer and lecturer, winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Pär Lagerkvist (1891-1974)
Swedish author who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1951.
Roger Martin du Gard (1881-1958)
French author, winner of the 1937 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)
Chilean poet and diplomat. In 1971, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Harold Pinter (1930-2008)
Nobel Prize-winning English playwright, screenwriter, director and actor. One of the most influential modern British dramatists, his writing career spanned more than 50 years.
Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936)
Italian dramatist, novelist, and short story writer awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1934.
José Saramago (1922-2010)
Portuguese writer, playwright and journalist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998.
Artists List of atheists (miscellaneous)
Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)
French artist whose work is most often associated with the Dadaist and Surrealist movements. Considered to be one of the most important artists of the 20th century.
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
French artist, draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor, known primarily as a painter. Matisse is commonly regarded, along with Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, as one of the three artists who helped to define the revolutionary developments in the plastic arts in the opening decades of the 20th century.
Claude Monet (1840-1926)
French painter. Best known as a founder of French impressionist painting.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, and stage designer. One of the greatest and most influential artists of the 20th century, he is widely known for co-founding the Cubist movement.
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Dutch post-Impressionist painter whose work, notable for its rough beauty, emotional honesty and bold color, had a far-reaching influence on 20th-century art.
Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)
American architect, interior designer, writer and educator, who designed more than 1,000 structures and completed 500 works. Wright believed in designing structures which were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture.
Woody Allen (born 1935)
American screenwriter who has won more screenwriting Academy Award nominations than any other writer.
Rowan Atkinson (born 1955)
British comedian, who is best known for his character of “Mr. Bean”.
Jodie Foster (born 1962)
American actress, film director, and producer, who has won two Academy Awards, three BAFTA Awards, and three Golden Globe Awards.
This list does not mean that the works of these philosophers, authors, and artists would appeal to every reader. Nor does it mean that there would not be many more great religious men and women who contributed to our culture. However, this list shows that atheists, just like theists, can be particularly inspired.
Atheism — because the universe is far more fascinating than any god your imagination can create.

Atheists & Morality

Are atheists immoral?

Morality is a dimension that is orthogonal to atheism. Atheism without ethics is immoral, but atheism with ethics is not. It’s just like brown-eyed people with ethics are moral, but brown-eyed people without ethics are immoral.

Some atheists were prominently immoral (if we judge by, say, the Human Rights). This applies in particular to the leaders of the Communist regimes in the Soviet Union and China, whose establishment of State Atheism is widely regarded as immoral. We have discussed this phenomenon before, together with the link between atheism and communism. Similarly, Adolf Hitler is often regarded as the prototypical evil atheist. Other famously evil people are also taken as proof that atheism is wrong.

On the other hand, quite a number of atheists have been instrumental for the moral advancement of our society. They contributed to the philosophy of ethics, fought for women’s rights, or helped initiate social reform. We list them in the next article.

If we add in Humanism, the moral component becomes explicit. Humanists explicitly embrace moral values, a liberal and egalitarian law system, and the Human Rights as a guideline for their behavior. This does not mean that they always behave morally. But at least they have a moral standard that tells them when they do not. We discuss Humanist ethics in detail in the Chapter on Morality.

The belief that atheists would be immoral stems probably from the fact that some religious people cannot imagine where morality could come from if not from God. This belief has been reinforced at times by religious authorities, with the goal to present atheism as a slippery slope towards immorality, and their religion as the only bulwark against indecency. And yet, morality predates all of today’s major religions, as we shall see in the Chapter on Morality.

One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous.
So I am told; I have not noticed it.
Bertrand Russell in “Why I Am Not A Christian”

Who are moral atheists?

Some atheists are particularly engaged in moral behavior:
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
British atheist, was a leading philosopher of law, advocating public welfare, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, and the right to divorce, and fighting against slavery and the death penalty (Wikipedia/Jeremy Bentham, Philosopedia/Jeremy Bentham).
Richard Carlile (1790-1843)
British atheist, was an important agitator for the establishment of universal suffrage and freedom of the press in the United Kingdom List of atheist activists and educators.
Percy Shelley (1792-1822)
British atheist, writer and poet, developed the concepts of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance that later inspired Mahatma Gandhi Percy Shelley.
Harriet Martineau (1802-1876)
British atheist and the “the first female sociologist”, spearheaded women’s rights in the UK (Wikipedia/Harriet Martineau, Philosopedia/Harriet Martineau).
William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879)
American atheist, was a prominent social reformer, working against slavery and for women’s suffrage (Wikipedia/William Lloyd Garrison, Philosopedia/William Lloyd Garrison).
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
British atheist, was one of the most influential English-speaking philosophers and politicians. He pioneered the concepts of liberty, freedom of speech, and human rights, and fought against slavery and the suppression of women John Stuart Mill.
Mary Anne Evans (aka. George Eliot, 1819-1880)
British atheist, was one of the leading writers of the Victorian era and an early adopter of humanism (Wikipedia/George Eliot, Philosopedia/George Eliot).
Ernestine Rose (1810-1892)
American atheist, was one of the major intellectual forces behind the women’s rights movement in the US Ernestine Rose.
George Jacob Holyoake (1817-1906)
British atheist, devoted his life to the cooperative movement among lower-class workers George Jacob Holyoake.
Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906)
American agnostic, was a prominent American civil rights leader who played a pivotal role in the women’s rights movement in the US (Wikipedia/Susan B. Anthony, Philosopedia/Susan B. Anthony).
Marie Souvestre (1830-1905)
French atheist, was a feminist educator who sought to develop independent minds in young women List of atheist activists and educators.
Henry Stephens Salt (1851-1939)
English atheist, campaigned for social reform in the fields of prisons, schools, economic institutions and the treatment of animals List of atheist activists and educators.
Rosika Schwimmer (1877-1948)
Hungarian-born atheist, was a pacifist, feminist and female suffragist List of atheist activists and educators.
Margaret Sanger (1883-1966)
American atheist, was an iconic figure in the American reproductive rights movement Margaret Sanger.
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
British atheist and philosopher, was for his whole life - among many things - an ardent campaigner against the nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. He managed to get himself arrested at the age of 98 while demonstrating for his cause Bertrand Russell.
A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979)
American atheist, was an African-American civil rights leader List of atheist activists and educators.
Saraswathi Gora (1912-2006)
Indian atheist, was a social activist who campaigned against untouchability and the caste system List of atheist activists and educators.
William L. Moore (1927-1963)
American atheist, was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) member who staged lone protests against racial segregation. He was murdered on his final protest List of atheist activists and educators.
Baba Amte (1914-2008)
Indian atheist, is a social activist, known for his work with lepers List of atheist activists and educators.
Uri Avnery (born 1923)
German-born Israeli atheist, is a left-wing peace activist List of atheists in politics and law.
Mikhail Gorbachev (Михаил Сергеевич Горбачёв, born 1931)
Soviet atheist, was the Soviet president and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 List of atheists in politics and law.
José Mujita (born 1935)
president of Uruguay, donates 90% of his salary to charity, declined to use the presidential palace and lived on his farm instead; legalized abortion, marihuana, and gay marriage José Mujita.
David Suzuki (born 1936)
Canadian atheist, is an environmental activist List of atheist activists and educators.
Peter Singer (born 1940)
Australian atheist, is an ardent animal rights activist. His influential book Animal Liberation (1975) exposed the inhumane treatment of animals in slaughter houses and in medical experiments Peter Singer.
Deng Pufang (born 1944)
Chinese atheist, is an activist for the rights of handicapped people List of atheist activists and educators.
Ingrid Newkirk (born 1949)
British atheist, is an animal rights activist, author, and president and co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the world’s largest animal rights organization List of atheist activists and educators.
Zackie Achmat (born 1962)
South African atheist, is an anti-HIV/AIDS activist and the founder of the Treatment Action Campaign List of atheist activists and educators.
Taslima Nasrin (born 1962)
Bangladeshi atheist, is a feminist human rights activist List of atheist activists and educators.
Maryam Namazie (born 1963)
British atheist, is a human rights activist, commentator and broadcaster who supports Iranian refugees in Britain List of atheist activists and educators.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali (born 1969)
Somali-Dutch atheist, is a feminist and activist who campaigns (among other things) against female genital cutting List of atheists in politics and law.
These atheists have contributed to the moral milestones of our modern society. This does not mean that these people would be morally perfect. Nor does it mean that there would not be many more theists who also contributed to the moral advancement of society. Finally, it does not mean that all atheists are always moral (many are not). However, this list of people refutes the claim that all atheists are immoral. It tells us that some atheists were and are exceptional advocates of moral advancement.

We discuss an atheist view on morality in the Chapter on Morality, and religious values in the Chapter on Criticism of Religion.

- Atheists are miserable. No light at the end of the tunnel.
- Yep. Just darkness. But at least we have light *in* the tunnel.

Wasn’t Adolf Hitler also an atheist?

Adolf Hitler was the German dictator who initiated the Second World War, and started a genocide against Jews, homosexuals, Roma, and other communities. He is often regarded as an atheist. Yet, Hitler was not an atheist. He believed in an “active deity”, which he frequently referred to as the “Creator” or the “Providence” Hitler’s believes. Hence, he believed in the supernatural and was thus not an atheist. We may argue that he was not a good Christian either. But that does not make him an atheist.

Independently of what Hitler believed or not, we may not take the belief of a single person to judge an entire life stance.

Weren’t many evil people atheists?

The so-called “Famous-people-argument” argues that many famously evil people were atheists. This is seen as an indication that atheism is associated to evilness.

It is true that some evil people were atheists. However, this does not mean that atheism itself is evil. To see this, consider religious people: There are numerous evil people who are Muslims, Christians, Hindus or Jews. In fact, some domains of violence are exclusively in religious hands. And yet, from the fact that there are extremely brutal adherents of Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism, we cannot conclude that Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism would be bad. And in the same way, one cannot conclude that atheism would be bad, even if there are a number of evil atheists.

Are there atheists in foxholes?

Monument to atheists in the foxholes, in Alberta/USA Marty Stone @ Flickr
Atheists do not believe in God. However, so the common thinking goes, they can only uphold this defiance of the supernatural as long as their life goes well. As soon as they are exposed to extreme stress (such as a war, and hence “in the foxholes”), the thinking goes, everybody starts believing in God There are no atheists in foxholes.

There is indeed a correlation between exposure to war stress and frequency of prayer There are no atheists in foxholes. This may be because powerlessness increases the need to appeal to the supernatural. However, by assuming that all military personnel would be theist, we are doing injustice to those who are not.

The atheists in the military are represented by the “Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers” MilitaryAtheists.org. The association speaks for thousands of these people in the military. However, due to public discrimination against atheists in the US, only a few hundred have spoken out.

Maybe there are only atheists in foxholes. If the faithful truly and fully believe in a protective deity, why would they dive into a foxhole to protect themselves from the bullets whizzing by? A part of their brain knows damn well that if they do not protect themselves, the bullets will hardly discriminate between those who claim faith and those who reject it.
J. Anderson Thomson, Jr.

Atheists and Authority

Atheists do not acknowledge any personified authority above mankind. This makes it look as if atheists are by definition egoistic or anarchistic.

However, the rejection of belief in God does not mean the rejection of authorities in general. Most atheists respect all authorities of their country. They submit to the law just as everybody else. The only difference to believers is that atheists see no supernatural authority above humanity. This means that atheists believe that humanity has to take matters of morality in its own hands. This is indeed what happens: the law of a country is always written by humans, and not by gods. This is true even if people have the habit of ascribing their laws to the gods. Thus, the atheist position that laws are made by humans has nothing to do with arrogance. It is just a factually correct assertion. We discuss how humans make laws in detail in the Chapter on Morality.

So the problem is not that atheists would see themselves as the highest authority. This problem is, in fact, more likely to appear on the believer’s side. Believers hold that their god has the highest authority. However, nobody can know for sure what the god wants. Nobody has verifiably received communication from the god. Therefore, all that believers have is their own interpretation of the god’s will. It is this interpretation that believers consider the highest moral authority. Thereby, they raise their own human interpretation of morality to the status of the divine — i.e., to a status that is higher than human laws. This can be arrogant, and even dangerous.

Atheist Attitude

Atheism is ungrateful towards God

In religious eyes, God has created the world. He has also created all people — including all atheists. Then, it seems ungrateful that atheists do not believe in his existence.

In atheist eyes, the situation is different. Atheists do not believe that the world was created by God. They do not believe that God exists, or that he gave them life. Compare this again to the Bambuti religion. In the Bambuti religion, Khonvoum is the god of the forest, who supplies humanity with animals that they can eat. Hence, people have to be grateful to Khonvoum for their food. Yet, when you eat your chicken wings, you are probably not grateful to Khonvoum. This is because you think that the idea of Khonvoum who supplies food is just a story. And the same holds for atheists and your god. In atheist eyes, the god who created Earth is nothing more than a story. It’s a myth that people told each other when they did not yet know the science behind the formation of the Earth Chapter on the Universe. If the world was not created by God, then there is no necessity to be grateful.

In atheist eyes, the idea that we have to be thankful to God is just a cheap trick: No-one knows how the universe came into existence. Hence, Christianity and Islam had the brilliant idea to claim the creation of the universe for their own god. Not believing this is not ungrateful.

I didn’t ask to be made: no one consulted me or considered my feelings in the matter.
the robot Marvin in Douglas Adams’ “Fit the Twelfth”

Atheists make their life easy

An atheist’s life seems easier in some aspects than a believer’s life. Atheists don’t have to follow rituals or traditional rules and it may appear easier for them to justify their world view. Making life easy is not necessarily bad. On the contrary, if one succeeds in making life easier without violating moral norms, then this is even desirable.

Unfortunately, life is not even easier for atheists. There is widespread discrimination against atheists in the world. In some countries, atheists have less rights than believers. In others, atheism is punished by death. Thus, being an atheist is not necessarily easier.

From a philosophical point of view, too, life is not necessarily easier for an atheist. Unlike believers, who can, if they wish, accept religious values, atheists have no such guidance. They have to decide for themselves for a set of values and for a view of life — often under flak from religious parties, who claim that this would be impossible. We discuss this journey in the Chapter on Morality and the Chapter on the Sense of Life.

Atheists think they know everything

Atheists have no belief in God. Consequently, they do not believe that God created the Earth. This makes it seem as if atheists think they know better than theists how the Earth came into existance. This makes the atheist look arrogant.

In fact, most atheists make no such claims. Nobody knows for sure how the universe came into existence (if it did at all). Most atheists will plainly admit that. It is just that, instead of using God to explain these mysteries, these atheists say that they do not know the answer. Atheists may believe in some scientific theories for explanation, and it is likely that they are in favor of exploring scientific solutions to the question. Humanists, in particular, believe that science is the best way to arrive at an answer to the question. However, as of now, nobody knows the answer for sure.

Most religions, in contrast, offer a supernatural explanation for the questions of life. Adherents of these religions believe that they know how the world came into existence, what the nature of the human soul is, what is good and what is bad, and what will happen after death — even though there is no scientific evidence for their theories. Such an attitude can indeed be considered arrogant.

God made me an atheist. Who are you to question his wisdom?

Atheists and God’s Will

Atheists believe that there are no gods. Thus, they believe indeed that they are immune to God’s will. This makes them look arrogant.

Indeed, most people are arrogant in this way. For example, most people in the Western world think they are immune to the will of Khonvoum, the God of the forests in the Bambuti mythology. This is because they think that Khonvoum is just a mythical creature, and not something that has any influence on this world. Atheists hold the same for all gods. In atheist eyes, all gods are mythical creatures, and none of them has any influence on the world. People just invented the gods in order to justify and explain the events of life.

This does not mean that atheists would be immune to the risks and dangers of life. Atheists know very well that they, as well as anybody else, can fail an exam, lose their job, fall ill, or suffer an accident. Not believing in gods does not imply believing in immunity from distress. In fact, two famous atheists are heavily marked by illness: Christopher Hitchens, one of the driving forces behind the New Atheism movement, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and died one year later Christopher Hitchens. Stephen Hawking, one of the most famous physicists (and atheists), has a motor neurone disease, which paralyses him nearly completely Steven Hawkins. Thus, atheists are not free from distress. It’s just that atheists believe that this distress is either made by man or made by nature — and not made by gods.

In general, theists fare no better than atheists on the accounts of suffering, accidents, and mishap. In fact, globally speaking, believers fare much worse.

Those who say I am being punished are saying that God can’t think of anything more vengeful than Cancer for a heavy smoker.

Atheists are satirical about faithfuls

Although atheists should obey the rules of respect and tolerance just as everybody else, it may occasionally happen that they are satirical about religious people.

In the atheist’s defence, some religious practices are surprisingly bizzarre. Some religions believe that a man has to suck the penis of a baby boy, others that a certain ritual can protect them against throat illnesses, others that God wants them to cut off a part of their body, again others that they have to throw their babies from a 10 meter balcony, and yet another one believes that they eat a human.

Beliefs such as these are incompatible with enlightened values. Therefore, they deserve to be exposed, discussed in public, and (where appropriate) ridiculed. This is the only way in which our society can become aware of them — and ultimately get rid of them. This is even more true because believers themselves are often unable to see the absurdity of their beliefs, having been brought up with them since childhood. Many believers will not even have noticed that the above rituals are those of conservative Judaism, Catholicism, Islam, variants of Hinduism, and Christianity. Therefore, the task of exposing such absurdities falls disproportionally on the unbelievers.

Humanism, the particular life stance advocated in this book, holds that harmful religious influences on society have to be identified and countered.

Everybody has the right to believe whatever they want,
and everybody else has the right to find that fucking ridiculous.
Ricky Gervais
Atheist Cartoons

Atheism insults the faithfuls

@ The Thinking Atheist
Atheists reject belief in God. If they say in public that God does not exist, that belief in God is nonsense, or that religion is harmful, then this can be seen as an insult to the faithful.

If we follow this logic, then it can be seen as an insult to the atheist if a believer argues that God exists, that all non-believers are errants, or that they have to be “guided back to the right path”. Such beliefs are part of some religious scripture, they are printed on bank-notes (in the US), they are preached in temples, churches, and mosques, they are taught to children, and they are part of the school curriculum in Germany and some Muslim countries. This has traditionally not been counted as an insult to atheists. Hence, it cannot be counted as an insult either if atheists say that God does not exist.

It turns out that it all depends on how we define the term “insult”. One standard definition (as used in legal systems) is that an insult is a pejorative statement about a person that cannot be proven true Thoughts on Ethics / Insult. The key point here is that an insult always concerns a person, and not an ideology. This definition disallows any unreasonable attack against a person, but it allows criticizing philosophies, concepts, and world views. In particular, it allows atheists to criticize belief and religion, and it allows believers to criticize atheism.

Humanism (the variant of atheism promoted in this book) holds that human progress happens mainly when people are open to question beliefs. It must be allowed to criticise people’s world views without these people taking offence. The right to question and criticise opinions is one of the fundamental achievements of the Enlightenment. It is the bulwark against totalitarian, extremist, stalinist, fascist, and also islamist ideologies. If we prohibit or even just discourage criticism, we will never be able to find out which world views are wrong. Worse, we risk that harmful ideologies take hold and proliferate. A Humanist’s nightmare is the rise of an ideology that prohibits criticism of its tenets. Such an ideology is a trap that humanity cannot leave.

Religious view points, in particular, deserve to be criticised if they are in conflict with secular values or scientific evidence. This holds even more if they aim to shape laws or politics. From that moment on, they are no longer a personal belief. They are a political program. In a democracy, political programs have to be criticisable.

We question your beliefs because you’re too afraid of a vengeful fictional character to do it yourself.
anonymous

Atheists & Emotion

Atheists have no purpose of life

One of the biggest philosophical conundrums of humanity is the quest for the “sense of life” — also known as the “meaning of life”, or the “purpose of life”. The purpose of something is the intention that someone pursues with that thing. In a religious world view, God (or the supernatural) pursues some intention with us humans. People exist to worship God, to go to Heaven, to reach Nirvana, or to play the “game of life”. Thus, the life of religious people has a purpose.

In an atheist world, there is no god or supernatural being who could pursue a purpose with our lives. Therefore, believers hold, atheists cannot have a purpose of life. That is wrong. Atheists can very well have a purpose of life — it’s just that this purpose does not come from God. Atheists have to give a purpose to their life by themselves. They have to know by themselves what they want to do with their time on Earth. Once they know, they have a purpose of life. It is whatever they decided it to be Chapter on the Sense of Life. Some atheists dedicate their lives to raising a family, to being a good person, to helping others in need, to doing their job well, or to being a constructive member of society. Again others dedicate their lives to the moral advancement of society, to the arts, or to science. Some very few also dedicate a part of their life to writing a book about atheism.

It is thus wrong to claim that atheists cannot have a meaning of life. In atheist eyes, such claims are just attempts by religions to justify their existence in a world that no longer needs them.

Not all those who wander are lost.
J. R. R. Tolkien in his poem “All that is gold does not glitter”

God loves you nevertheless

In discussions about faith, religious people will often state that God loves everybody — even the atheist. Thus, no matter what an atheist says or does against God, God will still love them.

To atheists, this is surprising. In all abrahamic religions, the holy scripture asks believers to kill the atheists. Once that is achieved, the god promises to burn them in eternal hell fire. This is not exactly what atheists would call love. And even if these scriptures have since been superseded (or re-interpreted), God has never retracted his original words from the scripture, let alone apologised for them. These words have led to very brutal persecutions of atheists in the past, and they still do in the present.

Apart from these considerations, the statement “God loves you” does not make God exist. Likewise, Harry Potter loves you. He truly does! Still, he does not exist.

I will pray for you

OK.

Whom do atheists thank?

When believers are happy, they can thank God for it. The desire to thank someone is very natural. For example, you would like to thank someone for the amazing food you were having today. You wonder why you are allowed to have this wonderful food at this dinner table, while there are millions who do not even have what they need Quora / Anonymous question. As a Christian, Muslim, or Jew, you are happy because you can thank God. But whom does an atheist thank?

To answer this question, let’s assume that you have no food on the table. You’re hungry but there is nothing in the fridge. This is quite annoying, and you’re a bit angry. Whom do you blame? Maybe yourself, because you forgot to do the shopping. Or your husband, who promised to do the shopping, and didn’t do it. Or maybe your boss who sent you home so late that all shops were already closed. You see that, under no circumstances, you would blame God for not having food on your table. Blaming God would be just absurd. Then why do you want to thank God if you have food?

You see that, when you have no food, you go through a thought process to find the culprit. You consider the people who are directly responsible for the situation, and then maybe people who are further away, and then possibly even society as a whole — but you never come across God in this process. Atheists go through the same thought process when they have food and want to thank somebody.

Dude. Why is it that your god gets the credit whenever something good happens, but when a roof collapses and kills a bunch of kids, it doesn’t get the blame? That makes no sense.

I mean I don’t believe it, but I might respect your stance if it were consistent.

Cyndy Hammond on Quora.com

Atheists are angry

Quite a number of people are concerned that atheists would be angry folks. They would be negative, hateful, and bitter Yahoo Answers / Why are atheists bitter?.

If atheists in general were hateful people, that would indeed be reason for concern. However, it is hard to measure whether one group of people is more hateful than another group. Maybe happiness can count as a proxy. Religious people tend to be happier. At the same time, atheist societies as a whole tend to be happier than theist ones. Some research suggests that atheists are more altruistic and generous than believers Time: Study Shows Non-Religious Kids Are More Altruistic and Generous Than Religious Ones, 2015-11-06. This is not exactly a sign of angriness. Thus, there is no reason to believe that atheists would be more hateful than believers.

Besides, there is no hatespeech in the name of atheism. However, there is religious hatespeech. The Torah, the Bible, and the Quran, and even Buddhist and Hindu scriptures all contain considerable portions of hatespeech against atheists. The very foundations of these religions contain bitter, angry, and sometimes sadistic elements. Atheism does not.

Don’t think we cannot see the sun as clear as you,
we just think it comes from a different source.

Atheists hate God!

Atheists have no belief in God. They cannot hate him.
Suggesting that I hate people with religion because I hate religion
is like saying I hate people with cancer because I hate cancer.
Ricky Gervais

Why don’t you just try out religion?

Atheists do not follow a religion. Hence, we may ask why the atheists do not at least give religion a chance and try it out. Then they can decide first-hand whether it makes sense to them or not.

The first question is which religion we should choose. There are several thousands of them, and they are all incompatible: some of them believe in several gods, others believe in one god, and again others believe in no gods, but in spirits or aliens. Believers tend to forget from time to time that there are more religions than their own.

Let’s just suppose we take an arbitrary religion. This is indeed what many atheists did: They were brought up in a religious household. They were taught to pray, and went to church or the temple. They participated in religious rituals, such as weddings and communions. In spite of this (or more precisely: because of this) they have decided to become atheist. These people have tried both options, the religious one and the atheist one, and have made a conscious decision between them.

Few believers can say the same.

Some people don’t try bacon because of religion.
I don’t try religion because of bacon.
anonymous

You have nothing to lose!

This argument goes that religion promises eternal life, while atheism doesn’t. So then why don’t we just become religious? If religion is wrong, we haven’t lost anything. If the religion is true, we gain eternal life.

This argument is known as Pascal’s Wager, and we dedicate an article to it. The main argument goes that it is better to follow no religion than to follow an arbitrary one, because if there is a god, he may be more angry if we follow the wrong religion than if we follow none.

What if we believe in the wrong god, and by praying more, we just make him madder?
Homer Simpson

Atheist Beliefs

Are atheists satanists?

Satanism is a group of ideological and philosophical beliefs based on the character of Satan Satanism. Satan (aka. “the devil”) is a supernatural entity who is considered responsible for the evil on Earth. Atheism is often linked with Satanism.

Atheists reject belief in the supernatural. Satan is supernatural. Therefore, atheists reject belief in Satan. Hence, unfortunately, they cannot be Satanists. For atheists, Satan is a fictional character — just like all the other mythological figures, including the gods.

It is mainly Christians, Muslims, and Jews who believe that Satan exists.

Of the two of us, only one believes in Satan.
Hint: It’s not me.
Scott Berry on Quora.com

Survive and reproduce

Many atheists, and Humanists in particular, take a scientific view of the world. This view includes the Theory of Evolution and the Theory of the Big Bang Chapter on the Universe. This is sometimes seen as evidence that atheists believe that everything can be explained by the drive to survive.

Certainly, the drive to survive plays a role in many decisions. But it is for sure not the only factor. Claiming that an atheist’s decisions are determined only by the drive to survive is as false as claiming that a believer’s decions are determined only by the fear of the Last Judgement. We discuss what drives people to do things in the Chapter on the Sense of Life.

You see me as an atheist. God sees me as the loyal opposition.
Woody Allen

What if a god showed up?

What would atheists do if a god showed up? This really depends on which god shows up. Dionysus or Pan: party time. Jehova: run for cover. Zeus: lay low. Shiva the Destroyer: try to undo as much karma as possible. Krishna: break out your dancing shoes. Aphrodite? Hold my calls! [Andrew O. Dugas on Quora]

Apart from that, atheists would recognize this as a proof of that god’s existence. Any physical and verifiable appearance of a god proves atheism wrong. Atheists would then most likely even congratulate the believers for finally coming up with some evidence for their god, after thousands of years of blind faith Dan Holliday on Quora.

As a side-effect, if the god is verifiably the god of one particular religion, this would also mean most theists are wrong, because all 3,700 god groups can’t coexist, and all 2,500 religions can’t be correct Noam Kaiser. Nevetherless, most likely, these theists will never admit that they were wrong. They will just declare that the other god is a form of appearance of their own god, or that their own god sent an image of the other god as a temptation to man. They will never admit that any god who shows up is not somehow the work of their own god.

This distinguishes theists from atheists: Atheists can be proven wrong. It’s just that they have never been.

Einstein believed in God!

Albert Einstein is often cited as a believer in God. This is seen as an argument for theism, because Einstein, as a physicist, should know something about the universe. Many other physicists also believe in God, or have a theistic view of the universe.

In general, it is questionable whether something is right just because a famous person believes it. However, if we assume this for a moment just for the sake of the argument, then we see that the list of famous scientists who believe in God is matched by another list of famous scientists who do not believe in God. In fact, 59% of American scientists do not believe in God Pew Forum: Scientists and Belief, 2009-11-05. 40% of them are atheists. Einstein himself was maybe not atheist, but he was also not exactly religious. He once wrote: “I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly.” Religious views of Einstein

We list some famous atheist scientists here (from Wikipedia / List of atheists, unless otherwise mentioned).

Jean le Rond d’Alembert (1717-1783)
French mathematician, mechanician, physicist, philosopher, and music theorist. He was also co-editor with Denis Diderot of the Encyclopédie.
Joseph Louis Lagrange (1736-1813)
French mathematician and astronomer.
Augustus De Morgan (1806-1871)
British mathematician and logician. He formulated De Morgan’s laws and nailed down the principle of mathematical induction.
Alfred Nobel (1833-1896)
Swedish chemist, engineer, innovator, and armaments manufacturer. He is the inventor of dynamite. In his last will, he used his enormous fortune to institute the Nobel Prizes.
Élie Metchnikoff (Илья Ильич Мечников, 1845-1916)
Russian biologist, zoologist and protozoologist. He is best known for his research into the immune system. Mechnikov received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1908, shared with Paul Ehrlich.
Ivan Pavlov (Иван Петрович Павлов, 1849-1936)
Nobel Prize winning Russian physiologist, psychologist, and physician, widely known for first describing the phenomenon of classical conditioning (Pavlov’s dog).
Wilhelm Ostwald (1853-1932)
Baltic German chemist. He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1909 for his work on catalysis, chemical equilibria and reaction velocities.
Henri Poincaré (1854-1912)
French mathematician, theoretical physicist, engineer, and a philosopher of science. He is often described as a polymath, and in mathematics as the “Last Universalist”, since he excelled in all fields of the discipline as it existed during his lifetime.
Andrey Markov (Андрей Андреевич Марков, 1856-1922)
Russian mathematician who is best known for his work on stochastic processes (e.g., Markov-chains).
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
the father of psychoanalysis.
Pierre Curie (1859-1906)
French physicist, a pioneer in crystallography, magnetism, piezoelectricity and radioactivity, and Nobel laureate. In 1903 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics with his wife, Marie Curie, and Henri Becquerel.
Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927)
Swedish physicist and chemist. He is considered to be one of the founders of physical chemistry. He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1903.
George Washington Crile (1864-1943)
American surgeon. Crile is now formally recognized as the first surgeon to have succeeded in a direct blood transfusion.
Thomas Hunt Morgan (1866-1945)
American evolutionary biologist, geneticist and embryologist. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1933 for discoveries relating the role the chromosome plays in heredity.
Jean Baptiste Perrin (1870-1942)
French physicist. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1926.
Percy Williams Bridgman (1882-1961)
American physicist who won the 1946 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the physics of high pressures.
James Franck (1882-1964)
German physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1925.
Niels Bohr (1885-1962)
Danish physicist best known for his foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922.
Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961)
Austrian-Irish physicist and theoretical biologist. A pioneer of quantum mechanics and winner of the 1933 Nobel Prize for Physics.
Sir Julian Huxley FRS (1887-1975)
English evolutionary biologist, the first Director of UNESCO, and a founding member of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Hermann Joseph Muller (1890-1967)
American geneticist and educator, best known for his work on the physiological and genetic effects of radiation (X-ray mutagenesis). He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1946.
James Chadwick (1891-1974)
English physicist. He won the 1935 Nobel prize in physics for his discovery of the neutron.
Harold Urey (1893-1981)
American physical chemist whose pioneering work on isotopes earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1934.
Igor Tamm (Игорь Евгеньевич Тамм, 1895-1971)
Soviet physicist who received the 1958 Nobel Prize in Physics, jointly with Pavel Alekseyevich Cherenkov and Ilya Frank, for their 1934 discovery of Cherenkov radiation.
Irène Joliot-Curie (1897-1956)
French scientist. She is the daughter of Marie Curie and Pierre Curie. Along with her husband, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935.
Owen Chamberlain
Nobel Prize winner in Physics in 1959 AHA / Humanist Manifesto Signers
Patrick Blackett (1897-1974)
Nobel Prize winning English experimental physicist known for his work on cloud chambers, cosmic rays, and paleomagnetism.
Frédéric Joliot-Curie (1900-1958)
French physicist and Nobel Laureate in Chemistry in 1935.
Ilya Prigogine
Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry in 1977 AHA / Humanist Manifesto Signers
Henry Taube
Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry in 1983 AHA / Humanist Manifesto Signers
Linus Pauling (1901-1994)
American chemist, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (1954) and Peace (1962).
Paul Dirac (1902-1984)
British theoretical physicist, one of the founders of quantum mechanics, predicted the existence of antimatter, and won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933.
Sheldon Glashow
Nobel Prize winner in Physics in 1979 AHA / Humanist Manifesto Signers
Dudley Herschbach
Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry in 1986 AHA / Humanist Manifesto Signers
George Wells Beadle (1903-1989)
American geneticist. Along with Edward Lawrie Tatum, he won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1958 for discovering the role of genes in regulating biochemical events within cells.
Thomas Edison
American inventor, patented more than 1,000 inventions, including the electric light, the phonograph, and the motion-picture camera.
Pierre-Gilles de Gennes
Nobel Prize winner in Physics in 1991 AHA / Humanist Manifesto Signers
Mario J. Molina
Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry in 1995 AHA / Humanist Manifesto Signers
George Wald (1906-1997)
American scientist who is best known for his work with pigments in the retina. He won a share of the 1967 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Haldan Keffer Hartline and Ragnar Granit.
Hans Bethe (1906-2005)
German-American nuclear physicist, and Nobel laureate in physics for his work on the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis.
Nikolaas Tinbergen (1907-1988)
Dutch ethologist and ornithologist who shared the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Karl von Frisch and Konrad Lorenz for their discoveries concerning organization and elicitation of individual and social behaviour patterns in animals.
Lev Landau (Лев Давидович Ландау, 1908-1968)
Soviet physicist who received the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physics for his development of a mathematical theory of superfluidity.
Hannes Alfvén (1908-1995)
Swedish electrical engineer and plasma physicist. He received the 1970 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on magnetohydrodynamics (MHD).
Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-1995)
Indian American astrophysicist known for his theoretical work on the structure and evolution of stars. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983.
Jacques Monod (1910-1976)
French biologist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1965 for discoveries concerning genetic control of enzyme and virus synthesis.
Yuan T. Lee
Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry in 1986 AHA / Humanist Manifesto Signers
William Shockley (1910-1989)
American physicist and inventor. Along with John Bardeen and Walter Houser Brattain, Shockley co-invented the transistor, for which all three were awarded the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Konrad Zuse (1910-1995)
German civil engineer and computer pioneer. His greatest achievement was the world’s first functional program-controlled Turing-complete computer, the Z3, which became operational in May 1941.
E. Donnall Thomas
Nobel Prize winner in Medicine in 1990 AHA / Humanist Manifesto Signers
Alan Turing (1912-1954)
English mathematician, logician, and cryptographer; often considered to be the father of modern computer science. The Turing Award, often recognized as the “Nobel Prize of computing”, is named after him.
Julius Axelrod (1912-2004)
American Nobel Prize winning biochemist, noted for his work on the release and reuptake of catecholamine neurotransmitters.
Paul Erdös (1913-1996)
Hungarian mathematician. He published more papers than any other mathematician in history, working with hundreds of collaborators. He worked on problems in combinatorics, graph theory, number theory, classical analysis, approximation theory, set theory, and probability theory. He is so famous that scientists in the area and neighboring fields compute their Erdös-number — the number of collaborators that separate them from Erdös. This author’s number is 3.
Max Perutz (1914-2002)
Austrian-born British molecular biologist, who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for Chemistry with John Kendrew, for their studies of the structures of hemoglobin and globular proteins.
Sir Peter Medawar (1915-1987)
British scientist best known for his work on how the immune system rejects or accepts tissue transplants. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Francis Crick (1916-2004)
English molecular biologist, physicist, and neuroscientist; noted for being one of the co-discoverers of the structure of the DNA molecule in 1953. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962.
Vitaly Ginzburg (Виталий Лазаревич Гинзбург, 1916-2009)
Russian theoretical physicist and astrophysicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2003.
Herbert A. Hauptman (1917-2011)
American mathematician, who, along with Jerome Karle, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1985.
Richard Feynman (1918-1988)
American theoretical physicist, best known for his work in renormalizing Quantum electrodynamics (QED) and his path integral formulation of quantum mechanics. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965.
Johann Deisenhofer
Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry in 1988 AHA / Humanist Manifesto Signers.
Paul D. Boyer (born 1918)
American biochemist and Nobel Laureate in Chemistry in 1997.
Peter D. Mitchell (1920-1992)
British biochemist who won the Nobel Prize in 1978.
François Jacob (born 1920)
a French biologist who, together with Jacques Monod, originated the idea that control of enzyme levels in all cells occurs through feedback on transcription. He shared the 1965 Nobel Prize in Medicine with Jacques Monod and André Lwoff.
Andrei Sakharov (Андрей Дмитриевич Сахаров, 1921-1989)
Soviet nuclear physicist, dissident and human rights activist. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. The Sakharov Prize, which is awarded annually by the European Parliament for people and organizations dedicated to human rights and freedoms, is named in his honor.
Jérôme I. Friedman
Nobel Prize winner in Physics in 1990 AHA / Humanist Manifesto Signers
Erwin Neher
Nobel Prize winner in Medicine in 1991 AHA / Humanist Manifesto Signers
Paul J. Crutzen
Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry in 1995 AHA / Humanist Manifesto Signers
Leon M. Lederman (born 1922)
an American physicist who, along with Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger, received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1988 for their joint research on neutrinos.
Philip W. Anderson (born 1923)
American physicist, and one of the recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1977.
Georges Charpak (1924-2010)
French physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1992.
Marshall Rosenbluth (1927-2003)
American physicist, nicknamed “the Pope of Plasma Physics”.
David J. Gross
Nobel Prize winner in Physics in 2004 AHA / Humanist Manifesto Signers
John McCarthy (1927-2011)
American computer scientist and cognitive scientist who received the Turing Award in 1971 for his major contributions to the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). He was responsible for the coining of the term “Artificial Intelligence” in his 1955 proposal for the 1956 Dartmouth Conference and was the inventor of the Lisp programming language.
John Forbes Nash, Jr. (born 1928)
American mathematician whose works in game theory, differential geometry, and partial differential equations (coining the Nash-equilibrium). He shared the 1994 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with game theorists Reinhard Selten and John Harsanyi.
James D. Watson (born 1928)
1962-Nobel-laureate and co-discover of the structure of DNA.
Herbert Kroemer (born 1928)
German-American professor of electrical and computer engineering, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000 with Alferov.
Peter Higgs (born 1929)
British theoretical physicist, recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics, known for his prediction of the existence of a new particle, the Higgs boson, nicknamed the “God particle”.
Zhores Alferov (Жорес Иванович Алфёров, born 1930)
Russian physicist and academic who contributed significantly to the creation of modern heterostructure physics and electronics. He is an inventor of the heterotransistor and the winner of 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Michael Smith (1932-2000)
British-born Canadian biochemist and Nobel Laureate in Chemistry in 1993.
Amartya Kumar Sen (born 1933)
1998 Nobel Laureate in Economics.
Steven Weinberg (born 1933)
American theoretical physicist. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979 for the unification of electromagnetism and the weak force into the electroweak force.
Richard R. Ernst (born 1933)
Swiss physical chemist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1991.
Roald Hoffmann (born 1937)
American theoretical chemist who won the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
John Horton Conway (born 1937)
British mathematician active in the theory of finite groups, knot theory, number theory, combinatorial game theory and coding theory. He is best known for the invention of the cellular automaton called Conway’s Game of Life.
Jean-Marie Lehn (born 1939)
French chemist who received the 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, together with Donald Cram and Charles Pedersen.
Harold Kroto (born 1939)
1996 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry.
Stephen Hawking (born 1942)
arguably the world’s pre-eminent scientist, advocates atheism in his book “The Grand Design”.
John Sulston (born 1942)
British biologist. He is a joint winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Richard J. Roberts (born 1943)
British biochemist and molecular biologist. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1993 for the discovery of introns in eukaryotic DNA.
Robert Cailliau (born 1947)
Belgian informatics engineer and computer scientist who, together with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, developed the World Wide Web.
Paul Nurse (born 1949)
the 2001 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine.
Russell Alan Hulse (born 1950)
American physicist and winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics, shared with his thesis advisor Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr..
This list contains a large number of prominent biologists, physicists, and chemists who are atheist. Not all people listed here worked only for peaceful purposes. Some were instrumental in research for nuclear bombs — just like Albert Einstein himself. There were also many theists who won Nobel Prizes in the natural sciences, maybe even more than atheists. Yet, this list defies the claim that natural scientists in general would believe in God.
There are so many scientists in hell that it’s probably air conditioned by now.

Atheists & Society

Can atheists marry religious people?

In discussions about religion on the internet, we often find questions about love. “Can an atheist love a Christian?” asks Crazy Nurse on Yahoo Answers here.

Atheists see no reason why they should not love a Christian or a believer. In fact, many atheists are in love with believers (as the responses on Yahoo Answers testify). Going further, nothing in the concept of atheism prohibits an atheist from marrying a religious person. Humanism, too, has no constraint whatsoever on marrying religious people. On the contrary, the Human Rights stipulate that everyone has the right to marry, no matter their religious views or those of their partner Human Rights / Article 16 (1).

Things are different from a believer’s perspective. Most religions urge their followers to marry within their own denomination. Some denominations even forbid interreligious marriage explicitly (Wikipedia / Interfaith Marriage). Therefore, a reason against an atheist-theist marriage is more likely to come from the believer’s side than from the atheist side.

Can atheists go to church?

Whether an atheist may attend a religious ceremony or not is foremost the decision of the respective religious group. Some groups disesteem atheists and it is their natural right to forbid an atheist to participate in their ceremonies. Other groups do not have an explicit opinion on the matter. Again others explicitly welcome foreigners (as “lost sheep”).

Some religious ceremonies serve to express a certain intention. A public credo, for example, is a public expression of faith. A wedding ceremony expresses the desire of two people to marry. In general, it is reproachable to participate in these ceremonies if one does not share these intentions (as a false testimony, see my essay Thoughts on Ethics / Lying). Naturally, this applies also to atheists.

Other parts of religious ceremonies are uncritical. For example, an atheist can listen to sermons or sing religious songs — just as we can sing a love song not because we love somebody, but because we like the melody. In this respect, an atheist’s attending a religious ceremony is much like your attending a Khonvoum ceremony at a Bambuti tribe: You are interested in the ceremony and maybe you respect the believers’ faith, but you do not share it.

Can atheists celebrate Christmas?

The Christmas Tree — an old pagan symbol of the winter solstice
Yes, they can. To see why the most important Christian celebration can be enjoyed by atheists as well, let us take a look at the history of Christmas: Many cultures had a winter festival long before Christianity existed. One reason for this is the winter solstice on December 21st, which marks the turning point in the year, when days become longer again. Christmas, as the celebration of Jesus’ birth, was placed in this time by the early Church in order to entice pagan Romans to convert to Christianity without losing their own winter celebrations. Later, the old pagan symbol of life and spring, an evergreen bough, found its way into the Christmas celebration as the Christmas tree. Thus, the origins of the festival are completely unrelated to Jesus’ birth. Christmas

Today, Christmas is a mixture of several aspects — religious ones as well as pagan ones and secular ones. One religious aspect is certainly the celebration of Jesus’ birth. This aspect is obviously of lesser importance to atheists. Another aspect of Christmas is a social one: The reunion of the family, the giving of gifts and the time spent together. This aspect can be enjoyed without any reference to religion. For many people, including many atheists, this is actually the most important aspect of Christmas. Another function of Christmas is to counterbalance the depressing fact that the days get shorter. Instead of thinking about the shorter days, people prepare for the celebration, they buy presents and they plan their holidays. This positive distractive effect gets artificially prolonged by the Advent season, which starts already 4 weeks before the actual festival. After Christmas, the darkest point of the year is overcome and people look forward to the spring. Thus, in principle, Christmas still serves the same purpose as the old pagan celebration at the end of the winter. It can therefore be enjoyed by believers, atheists, and pagans alike. Last, Christmas also has an economic function. Christmas makes people spend money and this makes it the largest annual stimulus for the economy in many countries. This aspect, likewise, can be enjoyed by atheists and believers alike.

Given this, and given that the origins of the celebration are not Christian at all, it would be a pity to leave Christmas to the Christians.

Hear what the Lord says to you, people of Israel. This is what the Lord says: “Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the heavens, though the nations are terrified by them. For the practices of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold...”
the Bible, Jeremiah 10:1-4
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