The world’s 50 top atheists (avec moi)

December 9, 2011 • 3:07 pm

UPDATE:  Okay, alert readers have determined that this website is apparently a scam site run by ID creationists, at least as evidenced by posts like this or this.  Very strange that these folks would go to all the trouble to make a list of atheists.  So, ignore everything, especially my photo!


This is from a site called “The Best Schools,” which apparently deals with helping people find good places to get an education in various fields.  They’ve put together a list of the “50 top atheists in the world today,” with #1 at the top, using criteria that include:

  1. Certainty (self assurance)
  2. Celebrity (a “public identification with atheism” and have made a “public impact”
  3. Energy (you have to be an “activist”)
  4. Seriousness (“depth and seriousness of the man or woman’s case for atheism.” They asked the question, “How many rounds could this person go in the ring (so to speak) with a top-notch defender of religious belief?”)
I’m #24, sandwiched between Robert Wright at #23 and Fang Zhouzi (#25), a Chinese atheist who was unfamiliar to me.  Curiously, I would have thought Richard Dawkins would be #1, but that spot belongs to Peter Singer (Dawkins is #7, below Dan Dennett and E. O. Wilson).  Woody Allen is #35. There will of course be lots of argument about this list in the atheist blogosphere, but I’m simply pleased that I’m on it at all.  There’s also a list based on celebrity alone, and there Woody is #1, Dawkins is #3, and I’m #34.
By the way, my picture is taken from my Wikipedia entry, and it’s a horrible photo. If there’s a reader out there who’s a Wiki editor, do me a favor and put up someting that makes me look a bit less deranged!
h/t: Veronica Abbass and Larry Moran, who publicized the list on his Sandwalk site but doesn’t think it’s very good.

68 thoughts on “The world’s 50 top atheists (avec moi)

  1. If I agreed with their ranking (which seems utterly bizarre), I’d point out that you’re 22 places ahead of the Squidly one…that much is about right, but Singer as #1, rather than Hitchens or Dawkins? And Hitchens at #10? Sorry, but that’s just not right.



  2. All you need to do is write more books or appear on Jersey Shore and you will rocket right up!

    Atheists deny that God exists.

    I hate that phrase! I don’t deny that any god exists, denying implies that we refuse to admit the truth.

  3. That list is fucked. Three of the top four I have never even heard of!! Peter Singer I’m familiar with but his choice at number one is baffling, even if he is Australian. It seems to have been put together by philosophers, otherwise Dawkins would be at no 1.

    Nonetheless it will be a useful resource when looking for new blogs etc to read. Better keep on your toes Jerry. 😉

    1. My thoughts about the top 4 exactly. The top 5 are all philosophers. Outside of Dennett and Singer, I think these people are weak on celebrity, energy, and general public impact, they are mostly unknowns who’ve made little impact outside of intellectual debates and discussions. And honestly, Peter Singer is obviously an atheist and is a brilliant philosopher, but his philosophy and activism is more as an ethicist than as an atheist. He belongs between 6 and 20, say at 7. Somehow I suspect that top of the list was determined with an overemphasis on “seriousness”, i.e. how you could fair debating William Lane Craig with your quality of philosophy. The truly best, most effective atheists have been people like Dawkins who aren’t philosophers but are still smart and are making a public impact and empowering a social movement. That’s a bit more important than “seriousness”.

  4. “The website you are trying to access is currently offline. The most likely causes are the server is down for maintenance, there may be a network problem, or the site may be experiencing excessive load.”

    I wonder if Pharyngula, Why Evo…, and the Richard Dawkins foundation are all directing people there.

  5. At last we know who can claim the ‘atheier than thou’ ranking and even the much maligned and misspelled ‘athiest’ title.

  6. The article was only written for “Link Baiting” purposes, meaning that the owner of the website just wants to get a higher google ranking by getting more links to his site.

  7. What I found weird, besides the top billings, was the repeated need to describe particular atheists as opposed to the new atheists, including your own good self, Dr. Coyne. I thought you WERE a new atheist!

    1. Hmm. This explains much.

      Such as the explanation that Ray Kurzweil “has been harshly criticized by P.Z. Myers and others, but his ideas are the logical extension of premises most atheists share.” And justifying Singer’s spot at #1 in part based on his alleged “extremism.”

    1. Its a pity that such a list has been created by someone with other agendas. Yes, we need to create another list from a reputable atheist website. However, its great fodder for discussion. And we don’t do the dance of proving that the various Spaghetti Gods don’t exist.

    2. Agreed:
      #1 Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion)
      #2 Christopher Hitchens(God Is Not Great – he tempted a fatwa with the title alone; when does the Arabic edition come out?)
      #3 Sam Harris (The End of Faith)
      #4 You (Write a book and move up)
      #5 Daniel Dennett
      #6 …

  8. This list is a bit bizarre to say about the least of it.

    They write, “As the final requirement, we give pride of place to seriousness. Besides the certainty, celebrity, and energy of an atheist, we put a premium on the depth and seriousness of the man or woman’s case for atheism. We ask ourselves this question: How many rounds could this person go in the ring (so to speak) with a top-notch defender of religious belief?”

    Which they then explain, “This last requirement leads to some counterintuitive rank assignments for well-known atheists. For instance, Richard Dawkins does not make the head of our list.”

    Oh, I see, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris are less serious and able to go the distance with religious apologists? It would seem that the list compiler(s) has the opinion that ‘serious’ atheist means ‘philosopher’, and is clearly not based on the demonstration by said atheists to engage ‘top-notch defender[s] or religious belief’.

    Beating out Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a gentleman they quote as saying, “I mean I don’t believe: I’m sure there’s no God. I’m sure there’s no afterlife. 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.”

    This has to be a joke of some variety.

    1. “This has to be a joke of some variety.”

      Actually, I think it’s sincerely motivated, it just comes from a weird perspective. It’s like having a liberal make a list of the 50 Top Conservatives (or vice versa): it ends up being a mish-mash of people you like because they criticize “their” side, people who you think are ridiculous and thus embarrass their side unintentionally, and people who are such obvious leading figures that you couldn’t plausibly avoid including so all you can do is throw in a gratuitous insult or two.

  9. This is a listing of anglo- atheists. As in anglophone, angloaffine, Anglo-American, or just generically anglospheric atheists.
    Such rankings are mostly silly and largely futile, but even so, a less parochial perspective would have helped.

    1. Michel Onfray is not an anglo-atheist; he is a contemporary French philosopher and the author of Traité d’athéologie: Physique de la métaphysique (Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in English)

      1. You left out his best job, Le crépuscule d’une idole, l’affabulation freudienne.
        Yes, after years of listening to his broadcasts on France Culture radio and reading his books en français, the fact of Michel Onfray being French has not entirely escaped my attention.
        I took care to specify “generically anglospheric” atheists: Onfray’s impact cannot be isolated from that of Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens; not in time, not in form.
        Onfray has his merits as a debunking provocateur and entertaining contrarian, but I beg leave to opine that he is not a deeply original or substantial thinker.
        And politically, he’s bonkers.

    1. Yes, culturally skewed. Where are the Germans, Russians, other Europeans? I count 2 representatives from China and India combined; 2 in 2 and a half billion? Where are the Arabs? One African? No South Americans?

      Doc Bill has posted that it’s a Dembski-inspired wind-up. I think we should be told, as ‘Private Eye’ says.

      Still, there’s a few that I’ve never heard of; worth a surf.

    1. Scam or not, having the number one criteria be “Certainty” is a very odd thing. Anyone who is science based tends to give provisional certainty and believe in what is proven rather than claim absolute certainty. Absolute certainty is really more the domain of religious faith.

  10. What is #4, Quentin Smith, even doing there, if he is a pantheist? He can only get in by their quirky defintion of “atheist” as “one who denies that God exists”, which might let in ancient Greeks, just so long as they don’t mistake Zeus for God.

  11. Congratulations. It’s rather distressing that there are only 8 women but I guess it’s better than not having any women on the list at all. There are a few women I’d nominate for the list but I wouldn’t know which men to kick off of it in exchange so I guess I’ll live with it.

  12. According to WHOIS, The Best Schools is owned by a young philosophy professor at at the Univ of Kentucky named Wayne Downs. He’s published with Dembski to give you a clue.

    For a creationist, somewhat clueless about how to hide a website.

    “Research Assistant to Dr. William A. Dembski, Research Professor of Philosophy, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (2007 – present)”

    1. Yes, it’s kinda obvious when two articles linked on their front page are: An interview with Rick Schenker, “president of Ratio Christi, a Christian apologetics organization”; and a long interview with Caroline Crocker, who featured in “Expelled”, and is full of the usual anti-science conspiracy paranoia.

      Given that, the list is totally meaningless.

      (I’d rate Jerry high on a list of atheists myself, I like Shuggy’s list at #16.)

  13. Okay, alert readers have determined that this website is apparently a scam site run by ID creationists, at least as evidenced by posts like this.

    Yes, I was just looking at the site for the first time and thinking there was no rhyme or reason to the ordering of individuals. Then I read some of the bios and almost all of them have some snide remark at the end.

  14. Oh, my, that site is rich! I got a kick out of their advocacy article for the benefits of an online education (you know, where students need not actually learn stuff), and then noticed their Degree Finder widget doesn’t include biology, physics, chemistry etc. No point in needlessly troubling those creationist minds, I guess.

    1. Are you kidding? I LOVE Ed Wilson! He helped me get into Harvard for grad school, and I taught for him as his t.a. I join the hailing!

  15. The site is edited by James Barham, a grad student (PhD?) in philosophy of science at Notre Dame, which explains the emphasis on philosophers. Demski & Ruse published a paper of his.

  16. Maybe someone here should come up with a list of the 50 “greatest” theologians, spiritualists, and/or promulgators of religion, using the same criteria (certainty, etc.) The comparison between the atheist list and the theist list would be stunning (think Deepak Chopra, Pat Robertson, etc.)

    1. By the “greatest” would we mean the best, the worst, the most obnoxious ones or the ones who make religion look silliest?

      Given that these lists are always subjective, it gets even more convoluted when our viewpoint is utterly opposed to the candidates we’re rating.

  17. Commentors 27 and 28 are on to something. Read carefully all the bios associated with the list. They have these weird elements in them. The more I read them, the more apparent the cynicism and mockery.

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