The world’s 50 top atheists (avec moi)

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 Comments

  1. Posted December 9, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    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.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Dominic
      Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      I was half expecting you to be on the list Ben! ;)

  2. GBJames
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    #23 Robert Wright. Seriously?

  3. Posted December 9, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Hmm… I wonder if they gave equal weight to each of those criteria?

    /@

  4. Jolo
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    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.

  5. Quidam
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    publish a photo here, assert that you own copyright, and the Wiki photo will be replaced

    • Posted December 9, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      Yep. Put up a good photo that you own the copyright to, state it’s under a free-content licence (CC by-sa is ideal).

  6. Posted December 9, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Advertisements are popping up under this post. I was particularly taken by the ad for True Religion® because on November 28, I wrote a post on the company and its name: http://canadianatheist.com/2011/11/28/a-jeans-company-defines-true-religion/

  7. Marella
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    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. ;-)

    • Brian
      Posted December 9, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      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”.

  8. Griff
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    What do I have to do to get on this list?

  9. Griff
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    It would appear that you’ve killed the website…

  10. Sally
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations all the same on making the list.

  11. Griff
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    “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.

    • Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      There is no mention of the list on Pharyngula or on Richard Dawkins.

      • Griff
        Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

        Ahhh, then we’ve managed to kill it all by ourselves…

        • Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

          Naw, it was the other atheists (there are others? Go figure?), some from the Freethought blogs.

          It appears the whole “Adopt and atheist” was a joke:

          FTBer JT Eberhard reports

  12. Ray Moscow
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

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

    • Posted December 9, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      Shouldn’t that be “atheiest”? (Or “atheismistest”?!) ;-)

      /@

  13. Michael
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    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.

  14. jaxkayaker
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    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!

    • GBJames
      Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      Indeed! The gnuest of the new!

    • Posted December 9, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I was just blogging about this myself before I peeked in here.

  15. Jeffrey Shallit
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    It’s a site of James Barham, wacky ID advocate.

    • Screechy Monkey
      Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      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.”

  16. Joe
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Their list, their criteria, their link baiting website. Write our own, publish. Next?

    • Dawn Oz
      Posted December 9, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      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.

      • Dawn Oz
        Posted December 9, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

        Re Jerry’s update: That also explains the dodgy definition of atheist given by the site.

    • Posted December 9, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      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 …

  17. Hempenstein
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Eeeew! That would explain why Singer is #1.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      That was supposed to be a reply to 15.

  18. Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    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.

    • Screechy Monkey
      Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      “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.

  19. Occam
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    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.

    • Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      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)

      • Occam
        Posted December 9, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

        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.

  20. Dominic
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Very anglophone list, & I also note many of whom I have never heard. Can I put in a word for John Allen Paulos, whose book Irreligion is very good I think

    http://www.math.temple.edu/~paulos/

    Perhaps non-Anglophones could add famous atheists from their countries?…

    • Dominic
      Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      PS I know it is off topic, but take a look at this new research about mitochondria http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-12-star-wars-inspired-bacterium-glimpse-life.html

    • Dermot C
      Posted December 9, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      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.

  21. Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    To follow up #15:

    Ah, it’s a scam site. It scams rational thinkers into assuming the site is legitimate for its seriousness, and then plonks in other articles, hoping that those articles will be treated with the same sense of seriousness.

    From the front page, there is an article about academic intolerance, by interviewing someone featured in the movie Expelled.

    • Scote
      Posted December 9, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

      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.

  22. Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    You’re valued ahead of Woody Allen. This is cause for great celebration.

  23. Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    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.

  24. Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    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.

    • Posted December 9, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      oops p.s. I read the update. Nevermind! They believe in male authority figures so they probably don’t pay much attention to women. Makes sense now.

  25. Daniel Schmuhl
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    E.O Wilson is a deist according to what I read read.

  26. Yi
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Somebody should definitely replace Dr. Coyne’s picture.

  27. Posted December 9, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    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)”

    • InfiniteImprobabilit
      Posted December 14, 2011 at 1:16 am | Permalink

      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.)

  28. KP
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    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.

  29. Keith
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    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.

  30. Ken Pidcock
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    I’ve only started going through the list. But PZ at 46 and Randi at 45? C’mon.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted December 9, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

      And Greta at 42 and Ophelia at 41? Fucking Christ.

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted December 9, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

        That is to say beneath Stenger. (How many levels are we allowed here?)

  31. ROM
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    Where is Julia Sweeney and Bill Maher, their celebrity should have gotten them on one of these list?

  32. Ken Pidcock
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Yet, at the risk of infuriating our host, all hail Ed Wilson.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted December 9, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

      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!

  33. John
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    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.

  34. Uommibatto
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    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.)

    • InfiniteImprobabilit
      Posted December 14, 2011 at 1:22 am | Permalink

      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.

  35. Luonga
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    Wow, what a morbid list to be on. Maybe they should provide a ranking for abortion clinics too.

    • Griff
      Posted December 10, 2011 at 4:00 am | Permalink

      Maybe it’s a hit list!

  36. John D
    Posted December 10, 2011 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Peter Singer…. ewwwwwwww!

    Someone is really into animals I guess.

  37. ForCarl
    Posted December 10, 2011 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    They missed Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism.

  38. ForCarl
    Posted December 10, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    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.

  39. Alexander Hellemans
    Posted December 10, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    They also missed Harold Kroto, who is a Nobel Laureate.

  40. Posted December 10, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    As noted, the sites’s own is Wayne J Downs of Univ of Kentucky.

    Here he is listed as a co-author on a book with Dembski:

    http://www.erasmuspress.net/Publications_2.html

    And here’s his CV, from which you can check the biographical details that match with his bio for that book:

    http://philosophy.as.uky.edu/sites/default/files/cv/Downs%20CV%202011.pdf

    The prosecution rests.


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