What Atheists Do You Admire?

Arkonbey asked the following question in a thread about which Christians you admire:

Does anyone else wonder if a reciprocal question could be posed on a Christian blog?

Abraham Piper, a Christian blogger, has taken him up on that.

He wants to know:

What atheist/agnostic/adamantly non-religious people do you admire most?

Please post your responses there (feel free to make them here afterwards).


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Gadren

    Carl Sagan. A great popularizer of science, whose Cosmos helped me appreciate the true beauty of the universe viewed through science and rationality.

  • http://wildphilosophy.blogspot.com Mathew Wilder

    P.Z. Meyers

  • http://www.secularplanet.org Secular Planet

    You have a broken link, Hemant, but one that most visitors will figure out anyway.

    Some of the comments at that page are good. Others make me sick.

    [It's fixed! Thanks! -- Hemant]

  • http://www.accountantbyday.net Accountant By Day

    I know he’s an ass, but I often can’t help admiring Christopher Hitchens for his chutzpah. Sometimes I get so frustrated trying to maintain a live and let live attitude when it feels like religious people refuse to cut me the same slack. Especially in the Midwest. The best you can often hope for is open-minded nondenominational Christians, or new-agey half-agnostics.

    At such times of frustration, I kind of like knowing that Hitchens is out there unapologetically declaring his opposition to all religious belief and condemning it across the board. His techniques are harsher and more dramatic than I can afford to take on myself, but I secretly enjoy his constant dedicated assault on something I feel is often a force of harm against our society.

  • the Shaggy

    Douglas Adams, hands down. Far and away. I worship the man’s thoughts and writings as non-religiously as one can. Sometimes I just sit in the streetcar and wrap my head around his rambling “Four Lives of Sand” speech and it drives into bliss.

    Penn and Teller, both as magicians and skeptics.

    Richard Dawkins, for trying to do what is nigh impossible (touring religious interviews and facing utter ignorant bullheadedness everywhere), and also for being married to Romana II.

    Another note: I find it telling that the thread about “Which Christian do you admire?” here gets a lot of individual people pointed out. Atheists are all about “Hey man, I like you for being awesome.”

    Meanwhile, you read the comments over on that other site, and most of the people refuse to admire anyone for being an atheist. Outright, without mercy. I think that says a whole lot about the state of things.

  • http://www.bolingbrookbabbler.com William

    Living Atheists, I’d have to go with Christopher Hitchens and Julia Sweeney. Hitchens may get on my nerves sometimes, but his positions are well thought out. Julia Sweeney is just a great person, and lives a good life that’s an example for everyone.

  • Mriana

    Well the ones I admire most are dead, but they are #1 Gene Roddenberry and Carl Sagan. Living would be Richard Dawkins and Greg Epstein. Why? Well, Gene had a lot of values that I respect and appreciate, which are seen very well in the Star Trek episodes he wrote and/or had a part in when he was living. Carl Sagan had a respect for the universe that I deeply relate to. Richard Dawkins, well, I agree with a lot of what he says and Greg Epstein does say a lot of things I can respect.

  • Aj

    To honour his recent retirement, David Attenborough is in my opinion very admirable. David has a fascination and hunger for knowledge that would rival anyone. There’s too many to list, but David is as worthy as anyone.

  • Frank

    Myself

  • Mriana

    Oh I forgot Robert Price. I really do admire him a lot for many reasons. Too numerous to list here. There is also two others Joyce Carol Oates, a Humanist and a wonderful writer, as well Acharya, who has a lot a of guts and bravery.

  • Siamang

    Whoof… some of the responses on the other site indeed!

    I admire the honest ones (adamantly non-religious) that say, “yeah, I know God exists and that He commands that I repent, but I don’t want to!” I don’t get upset at them, Scripture says they “cannot.” I thank them and ask, “so you won’t repent, not because you don’t think it’s true, you know it’s true, you won’t repent because you don’t want to?” They say, “yes.”

    I admire that because it is more honest than I was before the Holy Spirit gave me new life that I may willingly believe.

    Oh yeah… that’s me. He’s got my number!

    So much work to do here people. So much work to do.

  • http://c-peper.de Jason

    Douglas Adams

  • Maria

    Hemant Mehta, Ayaan Hirshi Ali (just finished her book), Robert Price, Micheal Shermer, Margaret Downey, Greg Epstein, Carl Sagan. and I admire Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and Hitchens for having the guts to speak up, even though I don’t agree with everything they say. Dennet is my favorite, and I have to admit I admire Hitchens’ honesty even when I disagree with him. I’m glad Dawkins has addresses the war on science, and I’m glad Harris has spoken up about Islam, which is too often ignored.

  • cipher

    Abraham Piper is the son of John Piper, a Calvinist who believes that God has predestined the majority of human beings to eternal damnation. In his own words,

    I have three sons. Every night after they are asleep I turn on the hall light, open their bedroom door, and walk from bed to bed, laying my hands on them and praying. Often I am moved to tears of joy and longing. I pray that Karsten Luke become a great physician of the soul, that Benjamin John become the beloved son of my right hand in the gospel, and that Abraham Christian give glory to God as he grows strong in his faith.

    But I am not ignorant that God may not have chosen my sons for his sons. And, though I think I would give my life for their salvation, if they should be lost to me, I would not rail against the Almighty. He is God. I am but a man. The potter has absolute rights over the clay. Mine is to bow before his unimpeachable character and believe that the Judge of all the earth has ever and always will do right.

    Leaving aside the florid language and the melodrama – the kids could go to hell, and he’s okay with that. This was written in 1983. The boys are grown up now, and I’m sure they’ve all read this. Imagine the scars. And this one is working for him, so imagine also the repression and denial.

    His father also left the first comment:

    All of them,

    because they are magnificent creatures created in God’s great image.

    None of them,

    because they are committing high treason.

    “Magnificent creatures, created in God’s great image”, that God created for the sole purpose of torturing them for all of eternity. Absolutely psychotic. Just beneath contempt.

    I really believe that “dialogue” is impossible. The world views are entirely disparate, and I simply can’t get past their profound willingness to abandon billions of their human siblings forever, so that they can have the security blanket for a few brief decades. I don’t know how you do it, Hemant.

  • Susan

    Among the living ones:
    Julia Sweeney, Dick Cavett, Gloria Steinem, Ira Glass, Sarah Vowell, Diane Keaton, Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins.
    No longer living:
    Margaret Sanger, Abraham Lincoln, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin

  • http://twentytwowords.com Abraham

    Cipher,

    You say, “I simply can’t get past their profound willingness to abandon billions of their human siblings forever.”

    I’m not sure what anybody’s willingness has to do with it. It either is the case or it isn’t, regardless of anyone’s opinion. The question, then is “which is it?” not “which one do we want it to be.”

    You are right that different answers to this question will lead to profoundly different perspectives. But it is precisely because our worldviews are so disparate that dialogue is even worth having.

    On a different note, I’m not sure how to understand your certainty about my repression and denial. At the very least, I’ll just say I appreciate your concern.

    -Abraham

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    I really believe that “dialogue” is impossible. The world views are entirely disparate, and I simply can’t get past their profound willingness to abandon billions of their human siblings forever, so that they can have the security blanket for a few brief decades. I don’t know how you do it, Hemant.

    I disagree. But maybe it’s only those of us who used to be Christians and who are now atheists who can communcate to these people, because they really do speak a different language. Many are also very closed minded, and it takes a lot of patience to get them to look at things differently, even to examine their own beliefs and to state them in their own words, rather than quoting scripture or something they heard from the pulpit.

    Atheists like to argue with facts and figures, but the way to reach Christians is through stories that touch their hearts. The skeptic-minded folks have a really hard time with this, since they don’t give any value to anecdote. That’s a big mistake.

  • Chris Harrison

    Pat Condell

    That man has some serious balls to say some of the things that he has.

  • http://www.friendlychristian.com Bill Cecchini

    Hemant (you kicked off my entire “friendly” approach with your night at Willow)
    Helen
    Siamang
    Richard Wade
    hoverfrog
    Sara
    Ed
    Robert
    …and a HUGE handful of other “FRIENDLYS” that I’ve met at FriendlyAtheist and at FriendlyChristian. You guys have opened my eyes and I’m forever grateful – truly.

  • http://homoeconomicusnet.wordpress.com/ Homo economicus

    Bertrand Russell if I limit myself to one. For his all round humanism and activism.

  • Karen

    Atheists like to argue with facts and figures, but the way to reach Christians is through stories that touch their hearts. The skeptic-minded folks have a really hard time with this, since they don’t give any value to anecdote. That’s a big mistake.

    Yeah, you’re absolutely right, Donna. That’s why so often it seems like a huge divide between the two groups – one is leading from the head and the other from the heart/emotions.

  • Aj

    writerdd,

    Atheists like to argue with facts and figures, but the way to reach Christians is through stories that touch their hearts. The skeptic-minded folks have a really hard time with this, since they don’t give any value to anecdote. That’s a big mistake.

    Skeptical people use anecdotes in a rational manner, as aids to understanding, not as very strong evidence. No anecdote is better than another, they’re worthless as a tool for knowlegde. Even if we branched out into the spreading ignorance business that religion has a monopoly on, they’re only going to pick the anecdote they want, or whatever the church authority is giving them.

    It’s not just the practical considerations I have, it also assumes that they can’t be reasoned with, that they’re incapable of seeing the incoherency. It’s the same sort of mindset where some people say religion’s nonsense but other people need to believe it, because they’re weak in some way. I don’t accept that, many, many people can be reasoned with, they just don’t apply reason to their religion, and this is because conditioning and all manner of pressure is stopping them. Why all the effort on religion’s part if they weren’t capable?

  • http://talesofordinarygirl.blogspot.com Ordinary Girl

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali
    Daniel Dennett
    Steven Pinker

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    You say, “I simply can’t get past their profound willingness to abandon billions of their human siblings forever.”

    I’m not sure what anybody’s willingness has to do with it. It either is the case or it isn’t, regardless of anyone’s opinion. The question, then is “which is it?” not “which one do we want it to be.”

    I think there’s a further question here Abraham: if God is the way you and your father say he is, is that God worth following and worshiping? Can I love and worship a God who willingly creates people for the express purpose of condemning them to an eternity of punishment? Is there any possible way in which this can be construed as just and loving?

    I confess, I used to read your dad’s books and listen when he came to speak at Wheaton (I was there part of the time with you), and I used to agree with that theology. But eventually I came to realize that if God really is like that, then I didn’t want to follow him. That God was a monster in my opinion. Fortunately for me, hyper-Calvinism isn’t the only biblically faithful understanding of God out there, despite what your dad says to the contrary.

  • cipher

    Mike,

    I waited several days to see whether Abraham would respond. I’m not surprised that he didn’t, although, of course, it could be that he simply didn’t subscribe to the thread and stopped checking after a couple of days.

    Of course, you know what the response would be; we’ve all heard it many times – God is sovereign, it isn’t our place to question Him, and attempting to understand his motives with our finite brains is impossible. As his father said,

    He is God. I am but a man. The potter has absolute rights over the clay. Mine is to bow before his unimpeachable character and believe that the Judge of all the earth has ever and always will do right.

    You know as well as I do (better, in fact) how often that “potter and clay” metaphor gets trotted out in the evangelical world. This always floors me. On the one hand, we’re free moral agents, utterly responsible to God for any and all “sins” we commit in our frail, benighted human condition. However, when that rationalization stops working, all of a sudden, we have no more rights than does an inanimate object.

    I find two aspects of Abraham’s response particularly troubling:

    You are right that different answers to this question will lead to profoundly different perspectives.

    He believes that God predetermines our perspectives, our responses – then holds us accountable for them. Yes, I’m aware that there are different “flavors” of Calvinism, and they debate the fine points endlessly – but that’s still it in a nutshell. I consider it monstrous; I can’t think kindly of someone who subscribes to this belief. As I said – they’re utterly willing that the vast majority of us should be damned eternally, so that they can have the ontological security blanket for a few brief decades. It reflects the most appalling moral cowardice (and, I would say, intellectual laziness as well).

    But it is precisely because our worldviews are so disparate that dialogue is even worth having.

    Why would he even value “dialogue”? He believes that we have nothing to teach him, and that the mere fact that we don’t believe is a sure sign of the foregone conclusion of our damnation, so why even bother with us – unless he sees it as a means to better understand us, with a mind toward devising new and better ways to “reach” us with the gospel? But God has already determined whether or not we will accept it! So, God has already saved his “elect” – but it requires someone like Abraham or his dad to some along and “activate” it? It’s some form of entertainment for God? (I actually do think that the dramatic and religious impulses are coming from the same place within the human psyche, so it isn’t surprising to me that evangelicals frame it in this way, even without meaning to consciously.)

    I don’t think that most people outside of the evangelical subculture understand what an enormous influence Calvinism has in that world – even upon those who don’t necessarily consider themselves Calvinists. I’m glad that the Emergent Church and Sojourners crowds have developed (although I think you folks waffle a good deal on the issue of salvific exclusivism – “maybe yes, maybe no, we don’t know…”), but there are still far more of them than there are of you – and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

  • http://www.theinfinityprogram.com Kevin

    Michael Wong, who goes by the alias “Darth Wong” at his forum, Stardestroyer.net. He also runs a site titled “Creationism versus Science”.