The 50 Most Brilliant Atheists of All Time
Atheism is generating quite a lot of attention these days. Prominent atheists are getting the word out about their views in increasing numbers and generating lots of public debate on the proper place of religion in governments and societies in the modern world. And now more than ever, atheists have been able to network together and join forces because of the Internet. Today about 2.3 percent of the world's population identifies themselves as atheist, and nearly 12 percent more (a number that is quickly growing) describe themselves as nontheist - non-believers in any deity. The ranks of scientists boast probably the largest concentration of atheists, and many of those have been recognized as among the most brilliant of human beings for their work. But there are atheists in all walks of life and throughout history as well. Here's a look at 50 of the most prominent atheists of all time who also happen to be recognized as some of the most brilliant members of our species. As a note of clarification: we've ordered this list chronologically and we use the term "brilliant" to mean "brilliant at their craft" - not just pure brainiacs;-)
Democritus was an ancient Greek philosopher, the most prolific and influential of the pre-Socratics and whose atomic theory is regarded as the intellectual culmination of early Greek thought. For this atomic theory, which echoes eerily the theoretical
c. Not content to simply speak against the popular pantheon of Greek gods." He was well known to Aristotle.c.c. A cheerful and popular man with the citizenry for his uncanny ability to predict events. Epicurus
. "there are nowhere any pictures of those who have been shipwrecked and drowned at sea. Diagoras of Melos
The first and most ancient of recognized atheists must include a 5th century b. His cosmology and atomic theory held that the world was spheroid. ranging from a ripe 90 all the way to 109 years. and that all things manifest in nature were comprised of atoms bound together. that there were many worlds and many suns. he was forced to flee the city and died in Corinth. but in the 1st century b.c. None of Diagoras' own writings survive.e. he also criticized the Eleusinian Mysteries. There are varying accounts of his age at death. Cicero wrote that one of Diagoras' friends tried to convince him that the gods did exist by citing the many people saved from storms by their pleas to their favorite gods.who advised that all of Democritus' works be burned. to which Diagoras was purported to reply. poet and sophist from Melos known as Diagoras the Atheist.e.
2.e. Prosecuted by the Athenian democratic party for impiety in 415 b.formulations of modern physicists.e. and a thorn in the side to Plato ." a title that may well have referred more to his scoffing rejection of assigning to gods the mechanistic operations of nature itself. He became a disciple of Democritus after that notable philosopher paid a hefty ransom to free Diagoras from captivity following the subjugation of Melos in 416 b. he is sometimes called the "father of modern science.. his was known among his fans as the "Laughing Philosopher."
It was in this service that he was sent as an ambassador to Lysimachus.c. that the universe is infinite and eternal. Theodorus the Atheist
[no image available] Theodorus the Atheist from Cyrene lived around 300 b. Prudence and justice represented good. Epicurus established the school of philosophy known as Epicureanism. and was a follower of Democritus even though his own philosophy denied the influence of strong determinism and often denounced other philosophies as confused." but he may have just rejected the notions of deity popular in his time. who became offended by Theodorus' free speech as a lack of respect and decorum. Epicurus himself was never able to escape a life of pain or a painful death. and that joy comes through prudence while grief arises from folly.Born in 341 b. He was an important figure in the early development of the scientific methodology. insisting that nothing which cannot be tested through direct observation and defended through logical deduction should be believed. He insisted that there were no gods to reward or punish humans after death. and moved to Athens to become a follower of the younger Aristippus.
5.c. Theodorus taught that the aim of human life was to obtain joy and avoid grief. Andrew Carnegie
. Laertius complained that Theodorus "did away with all opinions respecting the Gods. their opposites evil. as he suffered greatly from kidney stones and died at the age of 72 of complications from that ailment. and that all things are ultimately material in nature. He also managed to get himself banished from Athens which caused him to go into the service of Ptolemy in Alexandria. freedom from fear and absence of pain.e. He considered pleasure and pain the measures of that which is good or evil.e. He was banished from Cyrene in his early years. For Epicurus the purpose of philosophy was to attain peace of mind and a happy life. in Athens.
He limited himself to an income of $50. He won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1904 for research on the digestive system. everything else went into good works. he established the Carnegie Steel Company in Pittsburgh and later merged it with the Federal Steel Company to become U.S." He was particularly interested in studying conditioned behaviors as an experimental model of the induction of neuroses. He wrote many books on the subjects of wealth and its responsibilities. on social issues and on political philosophy.Andrew Carnegie [1835-1919] was a noted American industrialist. He is regarded as the second richest man in history. It was his investigation of the saliva of dogs that first led him to notice that the animals salivated more when they expected food.000 per year. Ivan Pavlov
Ivan Petrovich Pavlov [1849-1936] was a Russian physiologist. A Scottish-born immigrant. psychologist and physician. Steel. a phenomenon he termed "psychic secretion. schools and universities all over America.
. He self-identified as a positivist."
6." and after his death his work was extended by William Sargant and others in an attempt to develop a systematic method for brainwashing and implantation of false memories. His approach became known as "behaviorism. "not only had I got rid of the theology and the supernatural. but I had found the truth of evolution. saying in his autobiography that. then he gave most of his steel and railroad fortune away to establish libraries. and kept away from organized religion due to his distaste of sectarianism. Carnegie preferred naturalism and science. businessman and philanthropist.
his laboratory in St. Using his theories of the unconscious mind and defense mechanisms of repression. Despite his ideas falling out of favor or being modified in later years. Freud was an Austrian psychiatrist founded the psychoanalytic school of psychology. his methodology and theoretics continue to exert influence in the humanities and some social sciences. Sigmund Freud
Born Sigismund Schlomo Freud [1856-1939]. He suffered more than 30 operations for oral cancer in his late life.Pavlov died in Leningrad. His philosophical writings established his strong advocacy for an atheistic world view. his psychoanalysis sought to cure sufferers of psychopathology through a dialogue between the patient and his psychoanalyst. and convinced his physician friend Max Schur to assist his suicide in 1939. Petersburg was carefully preserved by the Soviet government as a museum. as if it were just another psychological experiment. He had an elaborate system for interpretation of dreams as indicators of unconscious desires.
7. Clarence Darrow
8. Freud's family escaped after Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938 and moved to London. He had one of his students attend him on his deathbed to record the circumstances of his dying. and did early neurological research on cerebral palsy. and he was eulogized as "the atheist's touchstone" for the 20th century.
Starting out as a corporate lawyer for a railroad company. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure . During the Nazi period he was appointed president of the German State Music Bureau and composed the theme song for the infamous 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. he soon jumped the ideological tracks and represented the leader of the American Railway Union in the Pullman Strike of 1894. He was noted for his "tone poems" and operas such as Salome and Elektra.that is all that agnosticism means. the the trial served as the story for the play and later film. During the trial Darrow self-identified as an agnostic by saying. Inherit the Wind." Yet he wrote essays with titles like "Absurdities of the Bible" and "The Myth of the Soul. The prosecution side was argued by William Jennings Bryan.
9. but rather a compliment to be called an agnostic." suggesting that his agnosticism was strong enough to be considered atheism. "I do not consider it an insult. a leading member of the ACLU and a notable defense attorney. His most famous case was the defense of Tennessee teacher John Scopes in the "Monkey Trial" against the state law that barred the teaching of evolution.Clarence Seward Darrow [1857-1938] was an American lawyer.
. He produced the opera Friedenstag in 1938. Richard Strauss
Richard Georg Strauss [1864-1949] was a brilliant German composer who began writing music at the age of six and continued almost until his death. a thinly veiled criticism of the Third Reich. which made use of dissonance and generated much public outcry.
. In his 1949 speech. . But in his autobiography he stated. "I shall never be converted." he declared shortly before his death. which considers formal logic and science as the principal tools of philosophy.I read Mill's Autobiography. and to become an atheist. "Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic?" Russell admitted that he could not prove the non-existence of God any more than he could prove the non-existence of the Homeric gods. Russell led the revolt against idealism in the early 20th century and is considered along with Wittgenstein and Frege a founder of analytic philosophy. historian.
10.He is said to have stretched his influence very thin in his efforts to protect his son and Jewish daughter-in-law and their children from the Nazis. logician. Strauss was dubious of all religion. mathematician. was a British philosopher.. 3rd Earl of Russell. except perhaps the religion of reason. and I shall remain true to my old religion of the classics until my life's end. since it immediately suggests the further question "Who made God?" This led me to abandon the "First Cause" argument. Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Arthur William Russell [1872-1970]. Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1950. Russell was not fond of organized religion. "At the age of eighteen. where I found a sentence to the effect that his father taught him the question "Who made me?" cannot be answered. pacifist and social activist. but expressed some difficulty in defining himself as an agnostic or an atheist."