Atheists deny that God exists. Yet for an atheist to make our ranking of the 50 top atheists in the world—given in ascending order—it is not enough merely to deny that God exists. More is required.
Certainty. To make our list, someone has to be very sure of him- or herself. No mere agnostics will do. To make the cut, one has to do more than merely question God’s existence or even deny that knowledge of God’s existence is possible.
Celebrity is another requirement. To make our list, the atheist must have a public identification with atheism and must have made some public impact by challenging religion and/or promoting atheism, either in print or on the Internet. In other words, our ranking is a list of people who are well known because they are atheists, among other things—as opposed to people who are mainly famous for some other reason (like Jodie Foster or Bruce Willis). In a few cases, a person has made the list mainly on the basis of his or her attack on free will and morality—the foundation of the traditional religious view of human beings—so long as the person has also publicly identified as an atheist.
Energy is another requirement. To make our ranking, the atheist must be an activist. He or she must exhibit some desire to win others over to atheism. The person must look upon atheism not just as an intellectual position or worldview, but also as a cause or movement. You might say ours is a list of atheists with attitude.
As the final requirement, we give pride of place toseriousness. Besides the certainty, celebrity, and energy of an atheist, we put a premium on the depth and seriousness of the man or woman’s case for atheism. We ask ourselves this question: How many rounds could this person go in the ring (so to speak) with a top-notch defender of religious belief? The more rounds we feel the person would last in such an imagined intellectual match-up, the higher on our list he or she appears. (Compare our feature article on influential persons of faith here.)
This last requirement leads to some counterintuitive rank assignments for well-known atheists. For instance, Richard Dawkins does not make the head of our list. Because this may disappoint some of our readers, we have, after our ranking, also ordered the atheists on our list by the number of Google hits that their names obtain.
Finally, to keep the list manageable, we have included only atheists who are still living at the time of this article’s writing.
Here, then, is our list of the 50 top atheists in the world today:
RankName2015 Search Results2011 Search Results,
1. Woody Allen
14.Ayaan Hirsi Ali
16.Edward O. Wilson
24.Lawrence M. Krauss
37.David Sloan Wilson
44.Jennifer Michael Hecht
45.Wrath James White
49.William B. Provine