There’s been a lot of talk this week about a list of the “25 Most Influential Living Atheists” from SuperScholar.org.
To make it on SuperScholar’s list of influential living atheists, an atheist can’t merely disbelieve in God but also must actively encourage others to disbelieve in God…
… to make it on our list, an atheist needs not only to be actively promoting atheism but also to do so as scholars in scholarly forums…
The list has a few people who deserve to be on it. It has some people who probably don’t. It has some people you’ve never heard of:
1) Richard Dawkins
2) Sam Harris
3) Christopher Hitchens
4) Daniel Dennett
5) Stephen Hawking
6) Steven Pinker
7) Michael Shermer
8 ) Peter Singer
9) Steven Weinberg
10) Paul Kurtz
11) Lawrence Krauss
12) E. O. Wilson
13) P.Z. Myers
14) James Randi
15) Jennifer Michael Hecht
16) Peter Atkins
17) John Brockman
18) Philip Pullman
19) Barbara Forrest
20) David Sloan Wilson
21) Ray Kurzweil
22) William B. (“Will”) Provine
23) Kai Nielsen
24) Susan Blackmore
25) Richard Carrier
To summarize: It’s a big list of white (overwhelmingly male) people, some of whom are vaguely connected to a university, most of whom have published something of some sort — even though the books aren’t all about atheism and the published papers are not all about the nature of god… (Someone remind me again of what qualifies someone as a “scholar”?)
You know, I practically live in this “atheist subculture.” I work with atheist groups, I write about the subject, I read the books, and even I haven’t heard of everyone on this list. I know the world doesn’t revolve around me, but if I don’t even know their names, how influential can they possibly be? How did some of the “most influential atheist scholars” somehow get under my radar this whole time…?
(To be fair, I’d never heard of Antony Flew, either, until Christians starting using him as an example of a “former” atheist — he came out as a deist later in life.)
To make things worse, SuperScholar responded to criticism that Ayaan Hirsi Ali isn’t on the list by digging themselves into a deeper hole:
… SuperScholar’s exclusion of Hirsi Ali from our list of atheists was deliberate. Her atheism seems less than central to her life’s work and mission. Her target, taken negatively, seems to be Islam, and the more extremist forms of it. Her target, put positively, is to create space for the full range of human freedom.
In this respect, she is willing to make common cause with all peoples of good will, those with and without faith. In THE CAGED VIRGIN, she will write:
I now feel the common humanity with those whom I once shunned: the Jews, Christians, atheists, gays, and sinners of all stripes and colors.
Hirsi Ali seems, in our reading of her, not to have made it a priority to rid the world of religion and God. Nor do her writings and actions strike us as an apologetic for atheism. For this reason she did not make our list.
Atheism isn’t central to her life? Certainly it’s more prominent in her life than atheism is in James Randi’s life (doesn’t JREF get criticized for not promoting atheism enough?)… Barbara Forrest has been a strong voice against Creationism/Intelligent Design, but how is that the same as promoting atheism first and foremost?
And what’s this about Hirsi Ali not doing enough to rid the world of religion? That’s downright slander. She’s probably done more to get people off of harmful religion than all of us combined. I can only dream of having the type of courage she possesses.
The bright side to this silly list is the uproar that it’s causing. People want to know why this person and that person were left out.
Which just says to me: Isn’t it great that there are so many intelligent, influential atheists out there that we can’t narrow it down to just 25?