Who is the Most Prominent Atheist?

Philosopher Doug Krueger once made the interesting observation that whenever theists want to boast about their alleged successes in debates with atheists, theists always describe their opponents as “best-known,” “foremost,” the “most famous,” or the “most prominent.” For example:

If I were to generalize a bit, it appears there is interest in answering the following questions:

  • For any purported atheist, is the individual recognized as an atheist by other atheists?
  • Who is the most prominent atheist philosopher (living or deceased)?
  • Who is the most prominent living atheist philosopher?
  • Who is the “best” atheist debater?
  • Who has the strongest arguments for atheism?
  • Which atheist has the best rebuttals to theistic arguments?
  • For any given atheist, are their arguments for atheism representative of what you consider to be the best arguments for atheism?

This got me thinking about an idea. Anyone who is a sports fan is familiar with various polls that rank teams and players in different sports, such as ESPN’s NFL Power Rankings, the National Football League’s Pro Bowl, the AP College Football Poll, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, and so forth. You get the idea. It would be interesting (and potentially useful) if atheist philosophers, debaters, and activists were to do their own poll or ranking of fellow atheists, similar to the polls and rankings we see in the sports world. (This could be potentially useful to both sides, insofar as it might help address a situation where Christian debaters select a particular atheist as their debate opponent, claim that the atheist is a better spokesperson for atheism than he or she is, and then other atheists are disappointed in the selection of the atheist spokesperson.) Of course, this idea raises all sorts of logistical questions, such as what exactly would be voted on, who gets to vote, when would the vote occur (i.e., how often), how will the votes be counted, and so forth. But if this idea were perceived as useful, I’m sure that these issues could be figured out.

What do you think? Would the idea of “ranking” atheist philosophers, debaters, or activists be useful?

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10401694529715890825 Joe Otten

    The most prominent atheist must be Richard Dawkins. Certainly on this side of the pond.

    *Philosophers – most renowned for his atheism, unfortunately, would be Karl Marx.

    But this is not the same as the most eminent philosopher who is atheist. That is a different question.

    *Strongest arguments and best rebuttals – these don’t belong to anybody.

    Ranking? Spare us, please. BBC Radio 4 did a ‘best philosopher’ poll. Marx won it on a small minority of the vote out of a field of 20 all with even smaller minorities. He is probably the least profound of the lot, but it just took a few old lefties to win it for him.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18398099496947604380 Alonzo Fyfe

    Joe Otten makes a valid point. “Best atheist” would ultimately turn out to be “most popular atheist.” Think about the number of people who would vote Bill O’Reilly as the best television news commentator.

    The fact is, those who claim that they have defeated the “best atheist” in a debate is missing the point. On issues such as the existence of God or the possibility of morality without God, it means nothing to defeat a person. What they need to do is to defeat the arguments themselves.

    That, they cannot do.

    This is probably why they shift the focus from defeating arguments to defeating people. It gives them an opportunity to claim victory, even if it is a victory that does not matter.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14266274513676256148 Ian

    Live debates often come down to such factors as wit, charisma, and rhetorical trickery more than achieving any actual intellectual progress. They are therefore usually tangential to establishing the pros and cons of a particular case.

    I would personally prefer a continuing written exchange with each side alternating in the making of their own case and responding to that of their adversaries, like in the good old days before the 30-second soundbite had been invented (I think that’s one case, at least, where things really were better in the past, pre-First World War era).

    To me, the most famous atheist philosopher is Bertrand Russell, with Mill, Nietzsche & Hume trailing behind. We also have Dennett & Singer in the present day, who are reasonably well known.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10002998511403981972 Admin

    The purpose of creation is a topic that puzzles every human being at some point in his or her lifetime. Everybody at some time or another asks themselves the question “Why do I exist?” or “For what purpose am I here on earth?”

    The variety and complexity of the intricate systems which constitute the fabric of both human beings and the world in which they exist indicate that there must have been a Supreme Being who created them. Design indicates a designer. When human beings come across footprints on a beach, they immediately conclude that a human being had walked by there some time previously. No one imagines that the waves from the sea settled in the sand and by chance produced a depression looking exactly like human footprints. Nor do humans instinctively conclude that they were brought into existence without a purpose. Since purposeful action is a natural product of human intelligence, humans conclude that the Supreme Intelligent Being who created them must have done so for a specific purpose. Therefore, human beings need to know the purpose for their existence in order to make sense of this life and to do what is ultimately beneficial for them.

    Throughout the ages, however, there has been a minority among humans who have denied the existence of God. Matter, in their opinion, is eternal and mankind is merely a chance product of accidental combinations of its elements. Consequently, to them, the question “Why did God create man?” had and still has no answer. According to them, there simply is no purpose to existence. However, the vast majority of humankind over the ages have believed and continue to believe in the existence of a Supreme Being who created this world with a purpose. For them it was, and still is, important to know about the Creator and the purpose for which He created human beings.

    If you are interested in reading more, please visit our blog http://thejourney2islam-team.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03859046131830902921 Mark Plus

    “According to them, [that is, a common religious caricature of "atheists"] there simply is no purpose to existence.”

    No, atheists dispute the claim that human life has a purpose imposed upon it by an allegedly “supernatural” authority figure called a god. It doesn’t follow that humans can’t choose authentic purposes for themselves. The christian and similar islamic claims about the purpose of human life strike me as ridiculous, and I can easily think of a great many other things I’d want to do.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13900843579715907140 John W. Loftus

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13900843579715907140 John W. Loftus

    Jeff, what I consider to be my favorite color will change depending on what we’re talking about. If it’s about what color of hair I like on a woman, or what color of paper I like to place an advertisement on, or what color of car I like, or what color looks best on me, I will have different answers.

    So here are some categories about whom we should consider to be the best living atheist:

    1) Which living atheist has made the biggest contribution and/or has had the biggest impact in promoting atheism to the public(this may or may not be an author, but a promoter, a web founder, or a financial backer)?

    2) Which living atheist is the most prominent one in the minds of other atheists (he or she may or may not have the best arguments).

    3) Which living atheist is the most prolific (someone who has defended atheism in print the most).

    4) Which living atheist argues on behalf of atheism the best in print(here we must assess the arguments themselves).

    5) Which living atheist is the best debator in a public forum (he or she may never have written much at all).

    But when it comes to choosing the best atheist to defend atheism, we would have to categorize each specific type of argument that we may want our atheist to defend.

    For instance, who is best at arguing on behalf of evolution?…Who is best at articulating the morality of an atheist?…Who is best atheist scientifically…biologically…psychologically…philosophically…and theologically (that is, who is best at arguing against Christianity, or the Muslim faiths?).

    Depending on the category, I think Dennett, Dawkins, Martin, Paul Kurtz, and perhaps even you would be mentionable. Richard Carrier is no slouch, either.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12648338473296940751 Hallq

    Who is the most prominent atheist philosopher (living or deceased)?: Russell, hands down.

    Who is the most prominent living atheist philosopher?: I lost track of Anthony Flew’s current position, but he’s well known

    Who is the “best” atheist debater?: Dan Barker and Farrell Till are both good debaters.

    Who has the strongest arguments for atheism?: Flew’s “invisible gardner” is a good one. Sam Harris does a good job of presenting old arguments.

    Which atheist has the best rebuttals to theistic arguments?: Richard Carrier, especially on historical apologeitcs.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08764831894026877482 exbeliever

    The context of the theists’ statements is always debate. This is a specialty.

    You wouldn’t rank philosophers generally. You would say something like Wittgenstein is the greatest analytical philosopher; Husserl the greatest continental philosopher.

    I think if you really wanted to “rank atheists,” you would have to do it by specialty. One atheist might be really good with the Kalam Cosmological argument, another the Transcendental Argument for God, another ontological arguments, etc. A ranking system like this might be helpful.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08026334505132729732 Steven Carr

    Atheists become more prominent when they retract some of their views.

    Sir Antony Flew for example , appears to have recently received a knighthood for services to intelligent design.

    http://www.researchintelligentdesign.org/wiki/Main_Page


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