Famous atheists

See also: Famous Atheists by Age | Dead Atheists Society

Please let me know if there is somebody you would like to see added to this list.

A

Douglas Adams (1954-2001)
Website | Wikipedia Entry

Douglas Adams was an atheist British writer who wrote the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and several episodes of Doctor Who. He described himself as a ‘radical atheist’ in order to distinguish himself from agnostics. In 1999, Adams explained that:

‘I really do not believe that there is a god – in fact I am convinced that there is not a god (a subtle difference). I see not a shred of evidence to suggest that there is one. It’s easier to say that I am a radical Atheist, just to signal that I really mean it, have thought about it a great deal, and that it’s an opinion I hold seriously.’

In his final book, The Salmon of Doubt, published in 2002, Adams addresses people who believe that God must exist because the world so fits our needs. He compares them to an intelligent puddle of water that fills a hole in the ground. The puddle is certain that the hole must have been designed specifically for it because it fits so well. The puddle exists under the sun until it has entirely evaporated.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (born 1969)
AHA Foundation | Wikipedia Entry

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an atheist Somali-Dutch feminist, writer and politician. A prominent critic of Islam, she wrote the screenplay for Theo Van Gogh’s movie Submission, which led to Van Gogh being murdered and death threats against Ali. She has written The Son factory, The Caged Virgin and Infidel. In The Caged Virgin, she wrote of her atheism:

‘ September 11 was a turning point, but it was not until six months later, After I had read The Atheist Manifesto by Hermann Philipse, that I dared to admit to others that I no longer believed. I had been given book in 1998 by my boyfriend Michael but didn’t want to read it at the time. I thought: an atheist manifesto is a declaration of the devil. I could feel any resistance. But recently I felt ready. The time had come. I saw that God was an invention and that subjection to His will meant nothing more than subjecting yourself to the willpower of the strongest.’

Natalie Angier (born 1958)
Website | Wikipedia Entry

Natalie Angier is an atheist American Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer with the New York Times, who has written four books including The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science. In 2001, Angier wrote:

‘So, I’ll out myself. I’m an Atheist. I don’t believe in God, Gods, Godlets or any sort of higher power beyond the universe itself, which seems quite high and powerful enough to me. I don’t believe in life after death, channeled chat rooms with the dead, reincarnation, telekinesis or any miracles but the miracle of life and consciousness, which again strike me as miracles in nearly obscene abundance. I believe that the universe abides by the laws of physics, some of which are known, others of which will surely be discovered, but even if they aren’t, that will simply be a result, as my colleague George Johnson put it, of our brains having evolved for life on this one little planet and thus being inevitably limited. I’m convinced that the world as we see it was shaped by the again genuinely miraculous, let’s even say transcendent, hand of evolution through natural selection.’

Carmen Argibay (born 1939)
Wikipedia Entry

Carmen Argibay is an atheist member of the Argentine Supreme Court of Justice. She was awarded the 2007 Gruber International Justice Prize for promoting gender equality and eliminating corruption. When Catholic activists opposed her nomination to the Supreme Court, Argibay responded:

‘I believe that saying up front who one is or what one thinks is an indication of honesty, which is the first step towards impartiality. My beliefs, or lack thereof, should not interfere in the judicial decisions I take.’

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)
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Isaac Asimov was an atheist Russian-born American writer and professor of biochemistry, whose prolific output of over 130 books covered science fiction, mysteries, popular science, history and memoirs. In 1982, Asimov said:

‘I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn’t have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I’m a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.’

In 1994, Asimov speculated that:

‘If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul.’

B

Bjork (born 1965)
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Bjork is an atheist Icelandic singer and actress whose first solo album, Debut, was named Album of the Year by NME. In 1994, she said:

‘I’ve got my own religion. Iceland sets a world-record. The UN asked people from all over the world a series of questions. Iceland stuck out on one thing. When we were asked what we believe, 90% said, ‘ourselves.’ I think I’m in that group. If I get into trouble, there’s no God or Allah to sort me out. I have to do it myself.’

In 1995, Bjork said:

‘I do not believe in religion, but if I had to choose one it would be Buddhism. It seems more livable, closer to men… I’ve been reading about reincarnation, and the Buddhists say we come back as animals and they refer to them as lesser beings. Well, animals aren’t lesser beings, they’re just like us. So I say fuck the Buddhists.’

Dave Barry (born 1947)
Website | Wikipedia Entry

Dave Barry is an atheist American humorist who has written almost forty books and two films. He is also an internationally syndicated columnist. In 2001 he said:

‘I decided I was an atheist early on. My Dad was all right with that. We argued about it all the time, but it was good-natured. He was the most open-minded human being I’ve ever known.’

Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)
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Simone de Beauvoir was an atheist French existentialist philosopher and author of more than twenty books, including the major feminist work The Second Sex. In 1958, describing how she became an atheist while reading Balzac when aged fourteen, she wrote:

‘I no longer believe in God, I told myself, with no great surprise… That was proof: if I had believed in Him, I should not have allowed myself to offend Him so light-heartedly. I had always thought that the world was a small price to pay for eternity; but it was worth more than that, because I loved the world, and it was suddenly God whose price was small: from now on His name would have to be a cover for nothing more than a mirage… I was not denying Him in order to rid myself of a troublesome person: on the contrary, I realized that He was playing no further part in my life and so I concluded that he had ceased to exist for me.’

Richard Branson (born 1950)
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Richard Branson is an atheist British entrepreneur whose Virgin group includes more than 350 companies. He is also involved in humanitarian projects and holds world records in long-distance ballooning. Writing in his autobiography about one of these balloon trips, he said:

‘I do not believe in God, but as I sat there in the damaged capsule, hopelessly vulnerable to the slightest shift in weather or mechanical fault, I could not believe my eyes.’

Bill Bryson (born 1951)
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Bill Bryson is an atheist American writer of travel, language and science books, including Notes from a Small Island, The Mother Tongue and A Short History of Nearly Everything. In 2005, he said:

‘I’m not a spiritual person, and the things I’ve done haven’t made me one, but the one thing I did appreciate when I was writing A Short History was that conventional science and a belief in god are absolutely not incompatible. You can be a scientist and believe in god: the two can go hand in hand. What certainly struck me during my research was that the very fundamental creationist views – the literal biblical interpretation of how the world was created – is much, much less exciting than real science. If you believe in god, it’s much more fantastic to believe that he created this universe billions of years ago and set in motion this long train of activities that eventually resulted in us. I think that’s so much more satisfying, more thrilling, than the idea that it was all done in seven days.’

Gabriel Byrne (born in 1950)
Wikipedia Entry

Gabriel Byrne is an atheist Irish actor who has starred in almost forty films, including The Usual Suspects, Miller’s Crossing, Stigmata and Into the West. In 2007, he said:

‘I spent five years in a seminary and I suppose it was assumed that you had a vocation. I have realised subsequently that I didn’t have one at all. I don’t believe in God. But I did believe at the time in this notion that you were being called.’

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George Carlin (1937-2008)
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George Carlin was an atheist American comedian, actor and writer. In a 1997 routine, he said:

‘Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man – living in the sky – who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ‘til the end of time! [Pause] But He loves you.’

Carlin said that he worships the sun, because he can see it, and now prays to Joe Pesci, because he seems like someone who can get things done, adding:

‘I noticed that of all the prayers I used to offer to God, and all the prayers that I now offer to Joe Pesci, are being answered at about the same fifty percent rate. Half the time I get what I want. Half the time I don’t. Same as God: fifty-fifty.’

D

Richard Dawkins (born 1941)
Website | Wikipedia Entry

Richard Dawkins is an atheist British evolutionary biologist and writer who holds the Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. He has written nine books about evolution and atheism, including The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Unweaving the Rainbow and The God Delusion. In 1986, he wrote:

‘An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: ‘I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.’ I can’t help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.’

In 1996, Dawkins said of belief in God: ‘By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.’ In 1999, he said: ‘I don’t think God is an explanation at all. It’s simply re-describing the problem.’

Daniel Dennett (born 1942)
Website | Wikipedia Entry

Daniel Dennett is an atheist American philosopher who is the Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University in Boston. He has written fifteen books, including Consciousness Explained, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. In 1995, he wrote:

‘The kindly God who lovingly fashioned each and every one of us and sprinkled the sky with shining stars for our delight – that God is, like Santa Claus, a myth of childhood, not anything [that] a sane, undeluded adult could literally believe in. That God must either be turned into a symbol for something less concrete or abandoned altogether.’

And Dennett wrote about faith:

‘I certainly grant the existence of the phenomenom of faith; what I want to see is a reasoned ground for taking faith as a way of getting to the truth, and not, say, just as a way people comfort themselves and each other (a worthy function that I do take seriously).’

Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992)
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Marlene Dietrich was an atheist German-born American actress, singer and entertainer who starred in nearly sixty films. In her autobiography, she wrote of her tours to battlefronts as an entertainer for American troops:

‘Back in my early childhood I learnt that God doesn’t fight on any army’s side. So there was little point in praying. Nonetheless, before every battle, prayers were read, all kinds of incantations were incited, staged by all sorts of preachers. We attended these ceremonies and I saw how all the soldiers stood in place, as though they couldn’t believe their ears. I couldn’t believe it either, but I counted for nothing… Since then, I have given up belief in God, in a ‘light’ that leads us, or anything of that sort. Goethe said, if God created this world, he should review his plan.’

Amanda Donohoe (born 1962)
Wikipedia Entry

Amanda Donohue is an atheist American actress best known for playing CJ Lamb in the TV show LA Law. Her film roles include Ken Russel’s Lair of the White Worm, in which she played a pagan priestess who had to spit at a crucifix. In 199, she said of that scene:

‘I’m an atheist, so it was actually a joy. Spitting on Christ was a great deal of fun. I can’t embrace a male god who has persecuted female sexuality throughout the ages, and that persecution still goes on today all over the world.’

Roddy Doyle (born 1958)
Wikipedia Entry

Roddy Doyle is an atheist Irish writer whose novels include A Star Called Henry, The Woman Who Walked into Doors and the Booker Prize-winning Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. His Barrytown Trilogy of novels, The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van, have been made into films. In a review of Ireland’s 1990 World Cup performance, he wrote:

‘Italy next, the quarter-final in Rome. The Republic squad met the Pope. I am an atheist and I think that the current pope is a bit of a bollix – I don’t like the man at all – but I couldn’t fight down the lump in my throat as the lads in their tracksuits lined up to meet him.’

In 2002, he said: ‘I feel very comfortable being an atheist. It used to be a problem. You had to justify yourself. It’s a long time since it felt abnormal not to be Catholic.’ In 2004, he welcomed the widening ‘rift between Church and state’ in Ireland, saying: ‘It has happened, it is happening, and for me that’s a great thing. As an atheist, I feel very comfortable in Ireland now.’

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Jodie Foster (born 1962)
Wikipedia Entry

Jodie Foster is an atheist American actress, director and producer who won Oscars for her roles in The Accused and Silence of the Lambs. In 1997, when she played radio astronomer Eleanor Arroway in the film Contact, Foster said:

‘I absolutely believe what Ellie believes; that there is no direct evidence, so how could you ask me to believe in God when there’s absolutely no evidence that I can see? I do believe in the beauty and the awe-inspiring mystery of the science that’s out there that we haven’t discovered yet, that there are scientific explanations for phenomena that we call mystical because we don’t know any better.’

In 2007, when asked if she was religious, Foster answered:

‘No, I’m an atheist. But I absolutely love religions and the rituals, even though I don’t believe in God. We celebrate pretty much every religion in our family with the kids. They love it, and when they say, ‘Are we Jewish?’ or ‘Are we Catholic?’ I say, ‘Well, I’m not, but you can choose when you’re 18. But isn’t this fun that we do Seders and the Advent calendar?’

G

Bob Geldof (born 1951)
Website | Wikipedia Entry

Bob Geldof is an atheist Irish singer, songwriter, actor, entrepreneur and activist. He founded the Boomtown Rats, starred in the Pink Floyd film The Wall, founded a television broadcasting company that made him a multimillionaire, and has raised money, consciousness and political action for humanitarian work in Africa through Band Aid, Live Aid and associated projects.

In 2006, when asked if he was a saint or a sinner, Geldof replied:

‘Being an atheist, I can’t be either.’

Ricky Gervais (born 1961)
Website | Wikipedia Entry

Ricky Gervais is an atheist British comedy writer, director and actor. He played all of these three roles in the award-winning TV shows The Office and Extras. In 2005, he said:

‘Being an atheist makes someone a clearer-thinking, fairer person… Atheists are not doing things to be rewarded in heaven; they’re doing things because they’re right, because they live by a moral code.’

He added that, although he doesn’t believe in God, he thinks that God would like him.

Rachel Griffiths (born 1968)
Wikipedia Entry

Rachel Griffiths is an atheist Australian actress who starred in the films Muriel’s Wedding and the American TV shows Six Feet Under and Brothers and Sisters. In 2000, when asked about her religion, she said:

‘I was raised Christian. I’m an atheist, with a slight Buddhist leaning. I’ve got a very strong sense of morality. It’s just a different morality than the loud voices of the Christian morality…I can’t tell you how many films I’ve turned down because there was an absence of morality. And I don’t mean that from any sort of Judeo-Christian-Muslim point of view. I’m not saying they’re wrong and can’t be made. But, fundamentally, I’m such a humanist that I can’t bear to make films that make us feel humanity is more dark than it is light.’

H

Sam Harris (born 1967)
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Sam Harris is an atheist American writer who has written The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and Letter to a Christian Nation. In 2005, he wrote:

‘Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious… It is worth noting that no one ever needs to identify himself as a non-astrologer or a non-alchemist. Consequently, we do not have words for people who deny the validity of these pseudo-disciplines. Likewise, atheism is a term that should not even exist. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in the presence of religious dogma.’

In 2006, Harris wrote:

‘The President of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said that he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive.’

Nina Hartley (born 1959)
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Nina Hartley is an atheist American porn actress and director, who has also appeared in the Hollywood film Boogie Nights and defended the porn industry on the Oprah Winfrey show. When asked on her website if she believed in God, Hartley said:

‘No, I don’t believe in God. I was raised with no religion, but a lot of morals. I definitely think that sex is natural and healthy, and that people have the absolute right to pursue their sexual preferences with other consenting adults without government or church intervention. I can do what I do to share my enjoyment of sex with all my viewers out there. If I can help any person or persons have a great sex session, then I’ve done a good job! I believe that society changes and that we can take what is good from the world’s religions and leave behind what isn’t so good, and forge a new say. I’m one of the forgers, I like to think!’

Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003)
Wikipedia Entry

Katharine Hepburn was an atheist American actress who won Oscars for her roles in Morning Glory, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the Lion in Winter and On Golden Pond. In 1985, Anne Edwards, in her biography of Hepburn, wrote: ‘God was a concept too vast for her mind to consider, but she believed in the lessons of Jesus Christ despite her feeling, shared with Marx, that religion was a sop for the masses’. However in 1991, Hepburn herself said:

‘I’m an atheist, and that’s it. I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for people.’

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)
Website |
Wikipedia Entry

Christopher Hitchens is an atheist British American writer and public speaker. He is a columnist at Vanity Fair and has written or co-written over twenty books including God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. In The Portable Atheist, he wrote that:

‘The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.’

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Neil Jordan (born 1950)
Website | Wikipedia Entry

Neil Jordan is an atheist Irish filmmaker and novelist, who won an Oscar for The Crying Game and whose other films include The Company of Wolves, Michael Collins and Breakfast on Pluto. In 1999, talking about people who linked his work to Catholicism, Jordan said:

‘It’s not anything about Catholicism. I was brought up a Catholic and was quite religious at one stage in my life, when I was young. But it left me with no scars whatever; it just sort of vanished… We do have this need for mysticism. That is in my movies. And I always like to do stories about gods and monsters and imaginary beings of all kinds, because God is the greatest imaginary being of all time. Along with Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, the invention of God is probably the greatest creation of human thought.’

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Wendy Kaminer (born 1950)
Wikipedia Entry

Wendy Kaminer is an atheist American lawyer and feminist writer whose books include A Fearful Freedom: Women’s Flight from Equality and Free for All: Defending Liberty in America Today. In 1996 she wrote:

‘Like heterosexuality, faith in immaterial realities is popularly considered essential to individual morality,’ and: ‘When the inner child finds a guardian angel, publishers are in heaven.’

Kaminer has also said about her atheism:

‘I don’t spend much time thinking about whether God exists. I don’t consider that a relevant question. It’s unanswerable and irrelevant to my life, so I put it in the category of things I can’t worry about.’

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Tom Lehrer (born 1928)
Wikipedia Entry

Tom Lehrer is an atheist American mathematician and musical satirist, who wrote and performed in the 1950s and 1960s. His songs include the Elements song, the Vatican Rag, National Brotherhood Week, Poisoning Pigeons in the Park and We Will All Go Together When We Go. In 1996, when asked if he was a fan of organized religion or a spiritual person, Lehrer replied:

To say that I am not a fan of organized religion is putting it mildly. My feeling about even disorganized religion is summed up in James Taylor’s immortal line in “Sweet Baby James”: “Maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep.” I have no desire to promote secular insomnia. As for being spiritual, not in the New Age sense, certainly. I find enough mystery in mathematics to satisfy my spiritual needs. I think, for example, that pi is mysterious enough (don’t get me started!) without having to worry about God. Or if pi isn’t enough, how about fractals? or quantum mechanics?…

In the same interview, when asked if he was an atheist, he said:

No one is more dangerous than someone who thinks he has The Truth. To be an atheist is almost as arrogant as to be a fundamentalist. But then again, I can get pretty arrogant.

However, by 2000, he had told Cosmik Debris magazine:

I used to think atheists were arrogant, but now I am one and I like it.

M

Alexander McQueen (1969-2010)
Website | Wikipedia Entry

Alexander McQueen was an atheist British fashion designer who had boutiques in London, Paris, New York, Milan, Tokyo, Beijing and fifteen other cities. In 1996, he was asked who he would like to dress more than anyone else in the world, and he answered:

‘Oh my God no, because I’m an atheist and an anti-royalist, so why would I put anyone on a pedestal?’

Butterfly McQueen (1911-1985)
Wikipedia Entry

Butterfly McQueen was an atheist American actress and dancer whose roles in a dozen films ranged from maid Prissy in Gone With The Wind to Ma Pennywick in The Mosquito Coast. In 1989, McQueen said of her atheism:

‘As my ancestors are free from slavery, I am free from the slavery of religion… They say the streets are beautiful in Heaven. Well, I’m trying to make the streets beautiful here… When it’s clean and beautiful, I believe America is heaven. And some people are hell.’

John Malkovich (born 1953)
Wikipedia Entry

John Malkovich is an atheist American actor, producer and director whose films include Places in the Heart, Dangerous Liaisons and In the Line of Fire. In 2000, when directing a play about Sigmund Freud, Malkovich said of Freud that:

‘I also particularly like him because he was an atheist, and I grew tired of religion some time not long after birth. I believe in people, I believe in humans, I believe in a car, but I don’t believe something I can’t have absolutely no evidence of for millenniums. And it’s funny – people think analysis or psychiatry is mad, and they go to church.’

Tim Minchin (born 1975)
Website | Wikipedia Entry

Tim Minchin is an atheist Australian comedian, actor, composer, songwriter and pianist whose songs include the politically incisive Peace Anthem for Palestine, the inanimate love song Inflatable You, the environmental mega-anthem Take Your Canvas Bags and the self-deprecatory career-crisis confession that is Rock N Roll Nerd.

Minchin is also responsible for probably the most comprehensive atheist-related song lyric in the history of song lyrics:

‘And if anyone can show me one example in the history of the world of a single spiritual person who has been able to show either empirically or logically the existence of a higher power with any consciousness or interest in the human race or ability to punish or reward humans for their moral choices or that there is any reason other than fear to believe in any version of an afterlife, I will give you my piano, one of my legs and my wife.’

Cillian Murphy (born 1976)
Website | Wikipedia Entry

Cillian Murphy is an atheist Irish film and stage actor who won an IFTA best actor award for his role in the Neil Jordan film Breakfast on Pluto. In 2007, when playing a scientist in the film Sunshine, Murphy was advised by the film’s scientific consultant, Dr Brian Cox, a professor of physics who worked at CERN (the Centre for European Nuclear Research) in Geneva. Afterwards Murphy said:

‘Sunshine is a film that highlights the fragility of the planet and how briefly we are on it, but how much we contribute to its future. It got me thinking about life and religion, science versus religion, and all that. I was verging on being an agnostic and this film confirmed any of the atheistic beliefs I had.’

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Taslima Nasrin (born 1962)
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Taslima Nasrin is an atheist Bengali-Bangladeshi doctor, poet, writer and feminist who lives in exile in India after death threats by Islamic fundamentalists. She has written almost thirty books in various genres, and her work highlights the treatment of women in Islamic countries. In 1998, she said:

‘I don’t agree with those who think that the conflict is simply between two religions, namely Christianity and Islam…. To me, the key conflict is between irrational blind faith and rational, logical minds.’

Nasrin has also said about religion:

‘I believe that if the silent majority were to protest against those who believe in irrational blind faith – who want to go backwards instead of forward, who are for tradition not innovation, who oppose individualism and plurality of thought – then the world would become a truly civilized world in which to live.’

Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964)
Wikipedia Entry

Jawaharlal Nehru was an atheist politician who served as the first Prime Minister of Independent India from 1947 to 1964. In his autobiography, which he wrote while in prison in 1936, Nehru said that he did not believe in a god of any kind. He said of religion:

‘The spectacle of what is called religion, or at any rate organized religion, in India and elsewhere, has filled us with horror, and I have frequently condemned it and wished to make a clean sweep of it.’

Nehru also said that:

‘I want nothing to do with any religion concerned with keeping the masses satisfied to live in hunger, filth, and ignorance. I want nothing to do with any order, religious or otherwise, which does not teach people that they are capable of becoming happier and more civilized, on this earth, capable of becoming true man, master of his fate and captain of his soul. To attain this I would put priests to work, also, and turn the temples into schools.’

Randy Newman (born 1943)
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Randy Newman is an atheist American singer-songwriter, pianist and composer best known for satirical pop songs such as Short people and Political Science, and film scores such as Toy Story, Parenthood and Pleasantville. His 1972 hit God’s Song includes the lyrics:

‘And the Lord said: I burn down your cities – how blind you must be. I take from you your children, and you say how blessed are we. You all must be crazy to put your faith in me. That’s why I love mankind… You really need me… That’s why I love mankind.’

When Newman was a child, a local parent uninvited him from a dance, explaining: ‘I’m sorry, Randy, my daughter had no right to invite you because no Jews are allowed.’ Newman had to ask his dad what a Jew was. He then studied comparative religion and became a devout atheist ‘except when I’m sick’.

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Madalyn Murray O’Hair (1923-1995)
Wikipedia Entry

Madalyn Murray O’Hair was an atheist American activist who won a case in the US Supreme Court challenging the practice of prayers being said in schools. She went on to found American Atheists. In 1989, she was asked whether she supported religious freedom, and she answered:

‘Oh, absolutely! I feel that everyone has a right to be insane. And that they can do this any place at all. If they want religious schools, build them! My only problem with that is, do not ask for the land to be tax-free. Do not ask for a government grant to build them. Do not ask for money for teacher’s salaries, or more books, or anything else. Just go ahead and do your thing, and do it yourself. Just exactly the same as if you were a nudist. Somebody doesn’t get a tax break for being a Mason, or whatever they’re interested in.’

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Penn and Teller (born 1955 and 1948)
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Penn and Teller are atheist American entertainers who use comedy and illusion to debunk magic, pseudoscience and superstition. Their most recent such television series is Penn & Teller: Bullshit! In 2005, Penn said:

‘I believe that there is no God. Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I’m not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more… Believing there’s no God means I can’t really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That’s good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around… Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-o and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have.’

Penn added, about the challenge of proving there is no God, that:

‘You can’t prove that there isn’t an elephant inside the trunk of my car. You sure? How about now? Maybe he was just hiding before. Check again. Did I mention that my personal heartfelt definition of the word ‘elephant’ includes mystery, order, goodness, love and a spare tire?’

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James Randi (born 1928)
Website | Wikipedia Entry

James Randi is an atheist Canadian-American stage magician and writer, and debunker of pseudoscience and paranormal claims. He has written twelve books, and his James Randi Educational Foundation offers $1,000,000 to anyone who can demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event, under test conditions agreed to by both parties. In 2005, he said:

‘There are two sorts of atheists. One sort claims that there is no deity, the other claims that there is no evidence that proves the existence of a deity; I belong to the latter group, because if I were to claim that no god exists, I would have to produce evidence to establish that claim, and I cannot. Religious persons have by far the easier position; they say they believe in a deity because that’s their preference, and they’ve read it in a book. That’s their right.’

Salman Rushdie (born 1947)
Wikipedia Entry

Salman Rushdie is an atheist Indian-British novelist whose fifteen books include Midnight’s Children, which won the Booker Prize, and The Satanic Verses, which resulted in the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini called for Rushdie to be killed for blasphemy against Islam. In 1985, Rushdie wrote:

‘God, Satan, Paradise, and Hell all vanished one day in my fifteenth year, when I quite abruptly lost my faith… afterwards, to prove my new-found atheism, I bought myself a rather tasteless ham sandwich, and so partook for the first time of the forbidden flesh of the swine. No thunderbolt arrived to strike me down… From that day to this I have thought of myself as a wholly secular person.’

In 1990, Rushdie said: ‘The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas – uncertainty, progress, change – into crimes.’ In 1996, he said: ‘If I were asked for a one-sentence sound-bite on religion, I would say I was against it.’

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Captain Sensible (born 1954)
Website | Wikipedia Entry

Captain Sensible is an atheist singer and musician with The Damned and Dead Men Walking, who also had a hit with Happy Talk. He has said of religion:

‘How many times have religions of the world been damaged by some discovery or other only to move the goalposts and carry on as before as though nothing had happened? They gave Gallileo a hard time for saying the world was round… somehow God seems to have forgotten to tell his ‘flock’ about our planet revolving round the sun and all that. Then there was the theory of evolution – the teaching about which in schools was fought against in a courtroom in the USA and is still disbelieved by a majority of Americans, incredibly. There’s also no mention of dinosaurs in the bible either. Perhaps it’s not inspired by an all-knowing being after all and is, after all, just a cracking good work of fiction? No – I’m afraid none of that faith thing holds any water for me.’

Julia Sweeney (born 1959)
Website | Wikipedia Entry

Julia Sweeney is an atheist American comedian and actress who was a cast member of Saturday Night Live before creating three stage monologues, God Said Ha!, In the Family Way, and Letting Go of God. In 2005, she said of becoming an atheist:

‘It was a long process. I just became a stronger agnostic, and then I started to realize that everyone who was saying they were agnostic really hadn’t thought about it that much. Still, I went with agnosticism for a long, long time because I just hated to say I was an atheist – being an atheist seemed so rigid. But the more I became comfortable with the word, and the more I read, it started to stick.’

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Linus Torvalds (born 1969)
Website | Wikipedia Entry

Linus Torvalds is an atheist Finnish software engineer who developed the Linux operating system kernel. In 1999, when asked about his religion, he said:

‘I am an atheist. I find that people seem to think religion brings morals and appreciation of nature. I actually think it detracts from both. It gives people the excuse to say, ‘Oh, nature was just created’, and so the act of creation is seen to be something miraculous. I appreciate the fact that, ‘Wow, it’s incredible that something like this could have happened in the first place.’ I think we can have morals without getting religion into it, and a lot of bad things have come from organized religion in particular. I actually fear organized religion because it usually leads to misuses of power.’

Mark Twain (1835-1910)
Website | Wikipedia Entry

Mark Twain was an atheist American writer whose sixty books included The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In his last book, Letters from the Earth, Twain wrote:

‘You have noticed that the human being is a curiosity. In times past he has had (and worn out and flung away) hundreds and hundreds of religions; today he has hundreds and hundreds of religions, and launches not fewer than three new ones every year… One of his principle religions is called the Christian. A sketch of it will interest you. It sets forth in detail in a book containing two million words, called the Old and New Testaments. Also it has another name – The Word of God. For the Christian thinks every word of it was dictated by God. It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.’

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Frank Zappa (1940-1993)
Website | Wikipedia Entry

Frank Zappa was an atheist American musician who self-produced almost sixty albums with The Mothers of Invention or as a solo artist. In 1989, he said of religion:

‘If you want to get together in any exclusive situation and have people love you, fine – but to hang all this desperate sociology on the idea of The Cloud-Guy who has The Big Book, who knows if you’ve been bad or good – and cares about any of it – to hang it all on that, folks, is the chimpanzee part of the brain working.’

And in 1993 he said of Christianity:

‘The essence of Christianity is told to us in the Garden of Eden history. The fruit that was forbidden was on the Tree of Knowledge. The subtext is, all the suffering you have is because you wanted to find out what was going on. You could be in the Garden of Eden if you had just kept your fucking mouth shut and hadn’t asked any questions.’

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See also: Famous Atheists by Age | Dead Atheists Society

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