The five best atheists

Recently, an article came out naming the author’s picks for the five worst public atheists.  I’d like to counter that with writing about the people who I think are the best public atheists.  These are the ones who I feel should be the public face of atheism, and who we should be the proudest to trot out.

This was decided on a couple of factors:

1.  How well they handle themselves publicly.

2.  Their individual character.


The five best

PZ Myers

Love him or hate him, the dude is committed.  He never hides in a green room – he’s always out commiserating with the people in the crowd.  He treats every single person he encounters with the same level of respect and importance, whether it’s a random person or Richard Dawkins.

He’s also all about the cause.  This guy could make bank charging an honorarium to speak and he doesn’t do it.  Not only that, I found out at Skepticon 2 that PZ must drive three hours to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport every time he gives a talk (and the guy gives a lot of talks).  As one of the organizers of Skepticon 2, I tried to give him gas money.  He steadfastly refused.  This guy is terribly giving of his time and resources to this cause, and he never even mentions it.  For PZ, it’s all about this cause, not about him.

PZ is unquestionably the biggest monster in the atheist blogging game.  His blog is Pharyngula.

Greta Christina

For most of the famous atheists, they’ve let the fame get to them at least a little bit.  Not Greta.  She listens intently to every single person who approaches her and prioritizes making time for her fans.  This woman cares about almost every person she meets.  Just a kind, sweet woman.

She’s also one of the greatest wordsmiths our side has ever seen.

Her blog is Greta Christina’s blog.

Hemant Mehta

Like PZ, fully committed.  Doesn’t charge to speak, which is impressive considering he maintains a full-time (and then some) teaching gig.  Even with that, he still cranks out a healthy supply of quality material.

If Hemant sees someone suffering, especially the young, this guy will go to the ends of the earth to do whatever he can regardless of whether or not he agrees with them.  Like PZ and Greta, Hemant sacrifices an enormous amount of his personal time toward advancing this cause.

He is the creator of the Friendly Atheist blog (but he’s still kind firebrandy).

Dave Silverman

A work horse who runs American Atheists despite spending a killer amount of time traveling.  Honest, mischievous when the cameras aren’t on him, and with an uncanny ability to denounce injustice in such a way the Curiosity rover is moved from millions of miles away.

No matter what, Dave always seems to have time for you no matter who you are.  If you’re speaking to Dave, you are the most important thing in his universe at that time.  For being a “marine of atheism,” he is one of the nicest people you’re ever likely to encounter.  There is no such thing as a less-important activist to Mr. Silverman.

Matt Dillahunty

One of the most keen intellects we have, and simultaneously incredibly modest about it.

Like the others, Matt places a tremendous amount of importance on every activist he meets.  If you want to find Matt at a conference, don’t look where all the stars congregate, look for a group in the audience where he is answering questions, astounding with magic, or otherwise making himself available.

Matt is also one of the most multi-talented people on earth.

Matt contributes to the Atheist Experience blog and co-hosts the Atheist Experience TV show.

Honorable mentions

Jen McCreight

Passionate, honest, funny, but most importantly, human.  The more you’re in the public spotlight, the more you’re tempted to harden up as people look for reasons to criticize you and even as those on your side demand perfection of you.  Jen has never let it stop her from being human.  Like everybody else, Jen will likely be found hanging out with her friends at events instead of catching up on much-needed sleep.

She is the author of Blag hag.

Amanda Knief

Has the patience of an oak.  While she lacks the fame of a PZ Myers, there is no doubt she makes up for it in both her capability as a public face and with a rare character.

An uncommonly high amount of compassion is often a curse, as you feel compelled to help everybody who suffers even though you can only be so great.  This, I imagine, is Amanda Knief’s life.  This makes her a tireless worker (which frequently earns her my sympathy and awe).

She is seriously one of the kindest people in the world (that is not hyperbole).  She’s the type who regularly messages you to see if you’re alright and to make sure your life is going well.  If ever there were someone who should be the face of kind atheism, she’d be a good candidate.

She’s presently the Administrative Director for American Atheists.

Ed Brayton

Ed Brayton is a paradox.  You know he’s one of the wittiest writers in atheism and a political genius.  Yet, when you meet him, you can’t reconcile that with his aura of “just another dude (who you really want to have a beer with).”

Very much like Matt Dillahunty, Ed lights up a room.  He just trails happiness and jovial fun wherever he goes.

This guy is the last to judge anybody negatively.  If you have caused Ed to dislike you, you must’ve done something really heinous.  He’s another one, like Amanda who, if he hears you’re having a tough time with anything will be there in two seconds to see if he can help, whether you’re a famous atheist or an obscure activist.  Actually, that’s not true in my experience with Ed.  He’s all about the obscure, burgeoning activists.

Ed is the founder of Freethoughtblogs.  He writes Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Adam Lee

Brilliant, down-to-earth, and super kind. Talking to him, you realize he’s way more humble than he has a right to be.  He also fan boys out meeting fans and heroes of his alike.

His calm, but hard-hitting style of delivery makes him an ideal public face for atheism.  His compassion and humility make him a person we should look up to.

He’s the author of the Daylight Atheism blog as well as the Daylight Atheism book.

Dan Barker

Co-president of perhaps the mostly influential atheist legal group in the world, the Freedom From Religion Foundation.  This takes up a lot of Dan’s time, but he still maintains a schedule as a speaker/debater.  He almost always speaks to schools for free, and I don’t just mean for no honorarium: I mean Dan will get himself there and put himself up too.  He is another genius caliber intellect who makes huge sacrifices for this movement.

He is also one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

Richard Carrier

Hip.  With it.  Perhaps, in my estimation, the greatest thinker on the atheist side of things, but simultaneously doesn’t take himself so seriously he can’t talk about D&D.

Charismatic and superbly intelligent, if Carrier says something in public you can bet the farm it will be well-sourced, thoroughly researched, and presented in a way that everybody he is trying to reach will understand it.  Were we to have an atheist president, this is probably the guy we’d want.

He has a lot of books, and he blogs at Richard Carrier Blogs.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • ‘Tis Himself

    I have my doubts about Richard Carrier. If he would stop putting up ugly, insulting, unreadable billboards supposedly promoting “atheism” then I might have a much higher opinion of him. There is a reason why I haven’t given a dime to American Atheists ever since Silverman became the Grand Poobah.

    • ‘Tis Himself

      Sorry, my post should be about David Silverman, not Richard Carrier. I profusely apologize to Dr. Carrier for confusing his name with Silverman. I have the highest respect for Dr. Carrier, something I cannot say about Mr. Silverman.

      • aleph squared

        Ditto on both Silverman and Carrier.

        Although I do applaud Silverman for instituting harassment policies for all AA-associated conventions after the latest earthquakes.

  • Eshto

    “For most of the famous atheists, they’ve let the fame get to them at least a little bit. Not Greta.”

    Thanks for the laugh.

    • Adam Lee
      • JT Eberhard

        Not the kind of person I want hanging around here. Here comes the ban hammer.

        • RenDP

          Well played, sir. Well played.

      • basementmatt

        I was FB friends with him for a couple months, mostly during the beginning of the Scott Walker dust-up in Wisconsin. During those couple months I learned just how self-congratulatory and aggrandizing some people and their chosen echo-chamber can be.

        I know a few years ago he went through a very rough patch in life and pulled himself out of it. I’m sure he’s rightfully proud of doing that, but it shouldn’t be your defining moment, and it doesn’t give you a license to be an ass.

        I watched the mess for a few weeks longer, just to see if there was some redeeming quality, but no, nothing showed up. Except that he looks great shirtless. But I can get that anywhere on the web.

  • David Hart

    “Dave Silverman … A work horse…”

    You sure you’re not thinking of Dave Silvermane, the Skepticon pony?

  • Enopoletus Harding

    “[I]f Carrier says something in public you can bet the farm it will be well-sourced, thoroughly researched, and presented in a way that everybody he is trying to reach will understand it.”-simply untrue. While I agree he is “the greatest thinker on the atheist side of things” most (in my estimation) of what he says in his public speeches is on the border between truth and exaggeration, a large part is absolutely true, and a sliver is clearly and demonstrably false (e.g., most of the times he mentions the Sumerians in his speeches).

    • aleph squared

      Can you give a specific example?

      • Enopoletus Harding

        Carrier surely made a geographical mistake at He also mentioned the Sumerians improperly somewhere in

        • Drew

          I believe you’ll find that he’s talking about Samaritans, not Sumerians. It’s a small but important difference.

          Samaritan=someone from Samaria
          Samaria=a region of ancient Israel south of Galilee north of Judea, in which is located Mts Ebel and Gerizim

          Sumerian=someone from Sumer
          Sumer=an ancient civilization between the Tigris and Euphrates situated just North of the Persian gulf

          • Enopoletus Harding

            I’ll have to re-watch the video tomorrow to find whether “Samarians” fits better in context.

          • Enopoletus Harding

            Carrier did clearly state “Sumerians”, not “Samarians”; see

          • Drew

            Ahh I see.

            Well in the first video you linked to he clearly is talking about “The Samaritan” (It is Samaritan BTW not Samarian), and Joshua (the first Jewish messianic figure) and the importance of Mt Gerizim, which is located in what was Samaria in Israel (home of Samaritans), and you called that a geographical mistake. Presumably you thought he was saying that Mt Gerizim was located in Sumer, which he wasn’t, and you were calling him out on that mistake.

            In the second video, which you’ll excuse me, I didn’t watch through again for the purposes of responding to you since you didn’t include a time stamp and just a vague mention of something in there about Sumerians, and I assumed that the issue you had was him mentioning the same sort of thing as the first video you linked, he’s talking about the origins of some of the mythos associated with Judaism. He mentions that The Jewish mythos was influenced by the civilizations in the near area including, Egypt, Babylon, and Sumer. In this way, he is not “mention[ing] the Sumerians improperly”.

            The similarities are obvious for anyone caring to look at them. Adam and Enkidu, the fall and the forbidden fruit vs Enki and Ninhursag’s garden, the water filled firmament/heavens (which is what carrier is referring to in this video), etc. While it’s true that most of the Jewish books were likely to have been written long after the fall of Sumer, the oral traditions that those books were based upon would easily have been several hundred to a thousand years old (which puts them near the end of the Early dynastic period of Sumer, the subsequent Akkadian empire, and the third Ur dynasty), not to mention that other cultures in the area, which we know were also influenced by/similar to the Sumerian mythos, were still around and kicking when those traditions were finally written down.

            In summation, of the two examples you gave of him presenting incorrect information about Sumerians in his talks, on one account he wasn’t even talking about Sumerians, and in the other case, his assertion is within established scholarship, so I don’t understand what you’re on about.

          • Enopoletus Harding

            “In summation, of the two examples you gave of him presenting incorrect information about Sumerians in his talks, on one account he wasn’t even talking about Sumerians, and in the other case, his assertion is within established scholarship, so I don’t understand what you’re on about.”

            -I don’t think you understood me correctly. Thus, I will attempt to be clearer this time. I never confused the Samaritans/Samarians with the Sumerians. The geographical mistake in the first video was, as you said

            Except I will say that you are right insofar as Joshua is said to have crossed the Jordan and then gone to Shechem (between Gerizim and Ebal), and then to conquer the rest of the canaanites, rather than going to Gerizim, then crossing the Jordan, to capture the Canaanites, who would then be on the other side of the river (the latter being what he said in that video).

            -That mistake had nothing to do with the Sumerians. I never claimed this mistake had anything to do with the Sumerians.

            As for the second video, as the Sumerians were gone hundreds of years before the origin of Israel, I do think Carrier’s talk of the Sumerians being among the neighbors of Israel was “mention[ing] the Sumerians improperly”.

        • Drew

          Except I will say that you are right insofar as Joshua is said to have crossed the Jordan and then gone to Shechem (between Gerizim and Ebal), and then to conquer the rest of the canaanites, rather than going to Gerizim, then crossing the Jordan, to capture the Canaanites, who would then be on the other side of the river (the latter being what he said in that video).

          I’m more willing to grant that this is a minor slip of the tongue rather than an indicator that he’s trying to pass on false information.

  • Jasmyn

    Wonderful list.
    Before Rock Beyond Belief, I had the privilege of meeting Dan Barker and Ed Brayton. Being in the car with them just listening to them trash was amazing. They aressuch brilliant men. That evening, I was lucky enough to have Ed at the same dinner table. Not only is he brilliant, he’s one of the friendliest, funniest people I’ve ever met.
    Amanda Knief is lovely. I had the privilege of hearing her speak a few months ago. I was impressed that she was willing to speak to a small group. Since then, I’ve learned that it’s not just her. Greta and Jerry Dewitt also speak to small local groups.
    There are some truly great people in this movement. Thanks for focusing in them instead of the ones that piss some people off

  • physicsphdstu

    Of course, this is just JT’s personal opinion and not intended to be anythign else but I am seriously unimpressed by Richard Carrier. Even though he is probably an expert in history, he writes with an expert like conviction about everything and makes hilarious mistakes whenever he writes anything other than about history. His article on vegatarianism was one prime example.
    A more specific example would be that he claims that India and the US have the same crime rate in the post welcoming Taslima which is off by an order of magnitude in almost all indicators.

  • phhht

    So is this like your all-time best list, or your all-star?

  • Cuttlefish

    You misspelled my name.

    Every single time.

    Every single letter.

    • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

      And the photos are all of mammals! How much more insulting can you get?

  • Epinephrine

    Digital Cuttlefish
    Richard Carrier

    There, he got three letters right!

  • Mike de Fleuriot

    Seems like there are only Atheists of note in America. I guess the rest of the worlds atheists, are really god searching agnostics or just bloody pagans….

    • invivoMark

      In Europe you don’t have to fight for your atheism. America is the Sparta of atheists; we fight religion from the day we’re born, and only the strongest rise to the top.

    • piegasm

      Or maybe in Europe being an atheist is just par for the course? Do you have someone in mind who you think is more worthy or are you just complaining for the sake of it?

  • Francisco Bacopa

    I’d nominate Amanda Marcotte for an honorable mention. Atheism is not her main focus, but she’s a great representative of an out atheist who doesn’t pull punches.

    • Emilia

      How can anybody take Amanda Marcotte seriously after the Duke Lacrosse affair? Yeah, Amanda Marcotte’s a real skeptic… like the late John Candy was as skinny as a rail.

  • invivoMark

    Matt Dillahunty for Pope!

    Honorable mention suggestion, just to get some non-FTB’ers on the stage: Jerry Coyne. Has the patience that none of the rest of us do to actually sit and read Sophistimacated Theology and debunk it thoroughly. And is a great public speaker to boot.

  • Doug Kirk

    Don’t forget Jamila Bey! Every time I hear her speak I’m ashamed for not being half as eloquent.

  • Eric

    So out of the 11 most important atheists, 6 of them blog at the same blog network as you…

    • Gregory in Seattle

      I strongly suspect this is because of PZ’s and Ed’s ability to get top talent for FtB.

  • mbj1

    Actually, it was due to Ian Murphy interviewing PZ some years back that I discovered Pharyngula and followed him over here. I think he’s being misrepresented as a tone troll because of this article.

  • cadfile

    Thanks for this positive article. I read so much negativity both inside and outside the movement that this one was very refreshing.

  • Groucho Barks

    Exchange PZ Meyers for Sam Harris, remove Jen McCreight completely and that’s a list!

    • JT Eberhard


      • Groucho Barks


  • McNihil

    You forgot Michael Shermer. Big mistake. I won’t visit your blog again. Until tomorrow.

  • Rebecca Hensler

    So we all have different favorite atheists. This is all for the good. 10 years ago, how many of us could have named that many atheists who were published and had regular speaking gigs or jobs as atheist activists and organizers?

    Sikivu Hutchinson and Hank Fox get two of the spots on my list for sure. And Deanna Joy Lyons, who will throw down verbally on behalf of the godless at the drop of a prayer. And Jessica Ahlquist because if she’s this good now, I can’t even imagine how good she’s going to be in another 16 years.

    Greta Christina. For so many reasons.

    And no one mentioned that Richard Carrier is a roller derby fan. That alone merits a honorable mention.

  • Amyc

    At first I thought you said Dave Silverman time travels. The reality is still impressive, but not near as awesome when compared to time traveling.