Freethinkers: A source guide on the growing nontheist community

America has long been home to all manner of skeptics and secularists, who have found protection — but not necessarily popular acceptance — under the Constitution’s guarantees against the establishment of religion and religious tests for office. Nowadays, though, nontheism is going mainstream.

Demographers point to an ever-growing circle of nonreligious people in America, and many of them are no longer content to sit quietly on the political and social sidelines. Mention atheism, and the names most likely to come to mind today are Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins – and, for anyone past 40, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who became “the most hated woman in America” in the ’60s after her successful court battle over prayer in public schools.

But the freethought movement is about much more than atheists and a few best-selling authors and polemicists who draw most of the attention. Instead, this community is very diverse, with nuances and a nomenclature that are not always understood by the public or the media, and with a growing number of organizations representing different varieties of nonbelief.

ReligionLink offers this source guide to help reporters tap the vast wellspring of the freethought movement.

Why it matters

As America grapples with competing notions about its identity — Christian nation, pluralistic melting pot, secular society — an understanding of the country’s nontheists is vital. The concerns and influence of this segment of society seem destined to touch all Americans’ lives.

Issues and ideas

How does the freethought movement affect the larger society? The ways are nearly endless. Here are just a few ideas and issues reporters can explore.

The growth of secular America

Demographers report that “nones” – people claiming no religion, though they’re by no means all atheists or agnostics – are one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population. The percentage of adults who self-identify this way rose from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008, according to the American Religious Identification Survey. The Pew Research Center found in 2012 that number had risen to just under 20 percent. While only a fraction of these call themselves agnostic or atheist, their numbers jumped, too, from 1.6 million in the 2008 ARIS survey to 13 million in the 2012 Pew survey.

What’s driving the growth, and will it continue at that pace? Is America following the path of Europe and turning more secular? How might that alter this country’s political, social and religious landscapes? What conflicts might be expected if some parts of the U.S. – New England and the Pacific Northwest, notably – continue their shift toward nonaffiliation while regions like the Bible Belt remain strongly associated with traditional religious influences?

What freethinkers believe

Freethinkers are often falsely thought to “believe in nothing.” In reality, they have strong values and systems of ethics. What is the basis of their ethical systems when there is no dogma, scripture or threat/reward system of heaven/hell? How do their values compare and contrast with those of liberal, moderate and conservative Christians?

Alternative to religion

Religions offer many things to their followers, including a system of ethics, a purpose for life, the promise of reward in the afterlife, community, life-cycle rituals, emotional support and counseling, opportunities for charity work and a place to go where one can experience tranquility. Where do freethinkers turn for this type of support? What are they doing to provide an alternative to religion in these regards?

Live and let live

Although some atheist groups have focused on being anti-religion, most freethinkers respect religious people despite disagreeing with their beliefs. Many do not want to work against religion in general but are strongly opposed to fundamentalism, proselytizing and the literal reading of scripture. A growing number of the freethought movement’s leaders choose a non-oppositional approach, seeking to participate in public life without being vilified. Some even want to team up with moderate and liberal people of faith to make the world a better place for all and to help eliminate discrimination against freethinkers. How receptive to this are people of faith? Are they also willing to “live and let live”? What kinds of projects have the groups undertaken, and have they made a difference in public acceptance of freethinkers? How do more hard-line atheists feel about cooperating with faith groups?

A different tack

On the flip side, some nontheists, particularly the so-called New Atheists, believe religion is so harmful that they must discredit and oppose it publicly for society’s sake. This group takes a more confrontational approach than the “live and let live” crowd. Talk to some New Atheists about the reasons for their views and the results they hope to achieve. Are they making inroads or merely adding to the polarization between nontheists and people of faith?

The fundamentals

Is there such a thing as a fundamentalist atheist? Some old-school atheists and others have accused New Atheists of fitting that description – and it’s creating divisions within the freethought community. Noting that fundamentalism typically involves an intolerance of anyone who disagrees, the critics contend that militant atheists can be just as strident as the stereotypical Islamic or Christian fundamentalist. How will the tension play out between New Atheists, some of whom object to any public accommodation of religion, and atheists who may even see a societal value in religion?

Public policy beyond church-state

U.S. nonbelievers are often best known for their opposition to governmental expressions or endorsements of religion. However, the freethought movement includes people passionate about many other public policy issues, from science education to discrimination in the military. Freethinkers are also concerned about religious privilege in the law – for example, protection from prosecution for parents who refuse medical attention for their children on religious grounds. The freethought movement is working to hone and promote its views on diverse government initiatives that go beyond the traditional church-state conflicts. What priorities, alliances and strategies are emerging, and how are policymakers responding?

History lessons

The term Christian nation is becoming a common phrase in America. Texas and other states have taken steps to change educational standards to de-emphasize secularist Founding Fathers while emphasizing religious leaders. Is history being rewritten? Are children being put in the middle of a political battle over religion? What is the real history of the founding of America in terms of Christian versus secular? What were the religious views of leaders like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Thomas Paine, and what were their contributions to the founding of the nation? Is America’s charter document, the Constitution, based on secular or Christian principles?

Political football

Freethinkers may be the least likely minority to be elected president of the U.S. and the most likely to be shunned in the civic arena. Yet there are some signs of change. Several White House officials (but not President Barack Obama) sat down with secularists in February 2010 in what was described as the first such meeting ever held. Among other things, they discussed military proselytizing, religion-based legal loopholes in medical cases involving children, and concerns about government-funded faith-based initiatives. What action, if any, has resulted? In what’s expected to be a tough election season for Democrats, will this new openness tip the scales either way for some voters? Are most politicians still avoiding any association with groups representing the nonreligious, despite their growing numbers?

Out of the closet

Members of the freethought movement often compare their experience of greater public visibility to that of gays and lesbians who have increasingly felt free to “come out of the closet.” How are the movement’s leaders learning from the LGBT community’s experience in this regard? Will coming out lead to greater acceptance for nontheists, as it has for gays and lesbians? Are “out” atheists pushing others to declare their nonbelief in hopes of changing societal attitudes?

Natural allies?

The LGBT community is finding an ally in the freethought movement. Since much of the legal and political opposition to gay rights has religious underpinnings, some atheists have been active in fighting government policies like the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule and bans on same-sex marriage. How closely are these groups working together? Are gays and lesbians attracted to the freethought movement because of organized religion’s condemnations?

Freethinkers and the military

“There are no atheists in foxholes,” or so the saying goes. But Pat Tillman was an atheist, and a recent survey of Defense Department data found that more than 23 percent of active personnel in the armed forces are atheists, agnostics or have no religious preference, with atheists alone outnumbering Jewish and Muslim service members. Meanwhile, military chaplains come disproportionately from evangelical endorsing organizations. What are the stories of the military’s freethinkers? What challenges do they face? With the nation at war, stress levels in the military are high. How do chaplains provide emotional support for the nonreligious? The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers is one group that works to address these questions.

A new secular philanthropy

Religious organizations receive by far the biggest share of charitable dollars in the U.S., according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics. But thanks to the Internet, it’s now easier than ever for freethinkers to unite and create a distinct secular philanthropic agenda. Organizations devoted to that end include Non-Believers Giving Aid, part of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science; SHARE (Skeptics and Humanists Aid and Relief Effort), a project of the Center for Inquiry; and Foundation Beyond Belief, which seeks to increase philanthropy by nonreligious donors. To what kinds of projects are these groups channeling their donations? The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently hosted a discussion on how fundraisers can tap into such dollars.

Parenting

Raising freethought children can be difficult when others may ostracize them or when children don’t have a firm grounding in the nature of belief and why they are being raised differently in a predominantly Christian culture. What problems have freethought families in your area encountered, and how have they coped? What support systems are available for them? What tools help them teach children their values and ethics?

Mixed marriage

What happens when one half of a couple is a believer and the other isn’t? Especially if the nonbeliever reached that conclusion after the couple established a relationship? Find one or more couples in this situation and tell how they negotiate everything from holidays to child-rearing to funeral planning.

Secular student movement

Hundreds of college and high school freethought groups have formed around the world as part of the Secular Student Alliance and the Center for Inquiry on Campus. The New York Times reports that in just six years, the number of SSA chapters more than tripled. Who are these students, and what are their stories? What are they accomplishing? Why do they come together?

Atheists in church

Some people secretly consider themselves atheists even though they belong to a religious community. Is it because they can’t bear to separate themselves from the people of the congregation? Or maybe they take comfort in the traditions and other cultural aspects, even if they don’t buy into the dogma? Even some clergy are secretly atheists. For them, is it an agonizing dilemma of continuing a charade or jettisoning their careers and identities? Or do they rationalize and feel comfortable with their situations?

Religion's tug

Some atheists who were raised in a faith still have a fondness for certain aspects of it. Stewart Shapiro and Joseph Levine, for example, were raised in Jewish homes, and they write in Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life about the intellectual satisfaction of studying Torah and of “mundane gratifications” in following its teachings. In the same book, Marvin Belzer describes the joy he experienced growing up in an evangelical Christian home. Does religion still pull at some people’s heartstrings long after they’ve abandoned the faith? What do they miss most? The fellowship? The music? Traditions? How do they cope with these feelings?

Becoming more diverse

Blacks are traditionally among the most religious groups in this country, but they too have seen shifts in belief. The Center for Inquiry recently hosted the first African Americans for Humanism conference, and participants discussed the particular cultural difficulties that black nonbelievers face. Coming out as an atheist, one woman said, was like committing “social suicide.” What is the freethought community doing to make more inroads with African-Americans? Are those efforts succeeding?

Nonbelievers connect globally

The Internet allows freethinkers across the community and around the world to connect with others who share their goals and values. With atheism being more common than many major world beliefs, how does this connectivity play out? What would a global freethought agenda look like? How do the challenges facing freethinkers in other parts of the world differ from the concerns in America, where the Constitution protects both nonbelievers and believers?

Secular societies

Some believe that society would collapse into chaos and immorality without religion. Which nations are more secular than others? How do they fare compared with more religious nations in terms of measures of success and morality? Is there more crime in more secular countries? Is secularism a key to peace and prosperity?

A secular war on terror

Is secularism the answer to religiously motivated terrorism? In his new book The Secular Outlook: In Defense of Moral and Political Secularism (September 2010), Dutch philosopher Paul Cliteur asserts that it is. Do terrorism experts agree? What do freethinkers and people of faith say about it?

Background

Glossary of terms

Reporters may encounter many different terms when covering the freethought movement. Be aware that not everyone agrees on their meanings. Take care with word choices and labels, and when needed, explain to the reader what is meant.

Resources that may be helpful include:

With help from the above and from organizations and individuals involved in the movement, ReligionLink offers these basic definitions for some of the most commonly used terms:

  • agnostic – someone who is unsure whether there is a God or who believes it is unknowable whether God exists. Sometimes, the former is referred to as “weak agnosticism” and the latter is called “strong agnosticism.”
  • apatheist – a person who thinks the question of God’s existence is irrelevant and unimportant.
  • atheist – someone who doesn’t believe in God or other supernatural forces. Some people make a distinction between “weak atheism” (the idea that evidence doesn’t support a belief in God) and “strong atheism” (being convinced that God does not exist).
  • bright – an individual who espouses a naturalistic worldview, free of any supernaturalism or mysticism. The term was coined by Mynga Futrell and Paul Geisert, co-directors of the Brights’ Network, and encompasses a diverse range of views. Critics, including some in the freethought community, dislike the word, which they consider pretentious and condescending.
  • freethinker – a person who evaluates religious belief systems solely on the basis of reason, rather than on dogma, tradition, faith or authority. The term freethought movement is often used to describe the full spectrum of nontheism.
  • humanist – a rationalist who believes that humanity is capable of morality and self-fulfillment without reliance on supernaturalism.
  • meta-atheist – someone who, deep down, doesn’t seriously believe in God, though that person might not even consciously realize it.
  • New Atheist – a person who not only is an atheist but believes that religion is, on the whole, harmful and should be opposed whenever it conflicts with science or threatens societal interests.
  • rationalist – an individual who relies on logic and reason for knowledge and a system of ethics, rather than on faith or religion.
  • secularist – a person who opposes the injection of religion into civil affairs, particularly public education. Can also mean a person who rejects all forms of worship and religious faith.
  • skeptic – someone who questions claims about the supernatural and insists on evidence as a condition for belief.

History of the movement

  • “The History of Freethought and Atheism”

    A chapter on the Atheist movement’s history is included in Gordon Stein’s 1980 book An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism.

  • “A Brief History of Disbelief”

    Jonathan Miller explored the history of disbelief in a BBC series in 2005.

  • “The Golden Age of Freethought”

    A Beliefnet excerpt from Susan Jacoby’s book Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism focuses on the so-called Golden Age of Freethought, a period during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when freethinkers’ ideas became more broadly disseminated in the U.S., thanks particularly to popular orators such as Robert Ingersoll.

  • The Freethought Trail

    The Freethought Trail website traces west-central New York state’s pivotal role in the history of freethought. It is a project of the Council for Secular Humanism.

  • Investigating Atheism

    The University of Cambridge launched a project called Investigating Atheism in response to the spate of books in recent years by New Atheists. The site aims to encourage informed opinion by providing historical context for the “God Wars” it says followed those books’ publication. An extensive resource, the project offers explanations, data and links on everything from the history of atheism to contemporary controversies.

Famous or prominent atheists/ agnostics/ freethinkers

Surveys, studies and data

  • “In U.S., Increasing Number Have No Religious Identity”

    Read a May 21, 2010, Gallup story about the decline in religious identity among Americans over time. Twenty-eight percent now say religion is largely out-of-date, the story says.

  • “Religion Among the Millennials: Less Religiously Active but Fairly Traditional in Other Ways”

    See a Feb. 17, 2010, report titled “Religion Among the Millennials: Less Religiously Active but Fairly Traditional in Other Ways.” The report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life says 26 percent of Millennial adults (defined as those born after 1980) have no religious affiliation. But in some other ways, their attitudes about religion resemble those of young adults from previous generations. Read the full report to drill down on more specifics about Millennials’ beliefs about the existence of God.

  • “American Religious Identification Survey 2008”

    The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey found that about 12 percent of Americans say there is no God or it’s unknowable whether there is. The percentage of respondents who self-identified as atheists or agnostics, however, was much lower. The survey, conducted by researchers at Trinity College’s Program on Public Values, followed previous large-scale religious identification surveys in 1990 and 2001 and provided important comparative information about trends in the U.S.

  • U.S. Religious Landscape Survey

    The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey is an extensive survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life which details the religious makeup, beliefs and practices as well as social and political attitudes of the American public.

    The findings of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, released in 2008 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, included a number of intriguing statements about atheists and agnostics, such as: One out of five atheists and more than half of agnostics say they believe in God; 10 percent of atheists say they pray at least weekly; 12 percent believe in heaven; and 10 percent say there’s a hell. Pew offers extensive online resources about the report.

  • “Not All Nonbelievers Call Themselves Atheists”

    A pie chart posted by the Pew Forum shows the religious self-identification of the 5 percent of Americans who do not believe in God or a universal spirit, according to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. The chart indicates that only about a quarter of those people call themselves atheists.

  • “Atheists and Agnostics Take Aim at Christians”

    Read about a survey of atheists, agnostics and Christians conducted by the Barna Group from January 2005 through January 2007. The findings compare the groups’ attitudes and behaviors on matters ranging from political involvement to charitable contributions and volunteerism.

  • “New Marriage and Divorce Statistics Released”

    A Barna study, conducted from January 2007 through January 2008, found similar percentages for divorce among atheists and agnostics as among Christians. The Barna Group partners with organizations and others “to be a catalyst in moral, social, and spiritual transformation.”

  • “Gallup Polls & Other Surveys on American Attitudes Towards Atheists”

    About.com cites a number of polls on Americans’ attitudes toward atheists.

  • “The Largest Atheist/Agnostic Populations”

    Adherents.com posts lists of the countries with the highest proportion and highest numbers of atheists and agnostics in 2005.

  • “Atheists (2005)”

    The Association of Religion Data Archives posts data (from the 2005 World Christian Database) about atheism worldwide, broken down by region and country.

  • “Belief in God”

    The Association of Religion Data Archives posts data about Americans’ belief in God (from a 2007 Baylor University study).

Holidays and observances

  • “Taking aim at God on ‘Blasphemy Day'”

    Read an article on CNN about Blasphemy Day. Blasphemy Day was first officially observed on Sept. 30, 2009. Dedicated to the premise of free expression, the inaugural event featured lectures, provocative exhibits and other activities in a number of North American cities. The Center for Inquiry recently changed the name of the observance to International Blasphemy Rights Day in response to criticisms that the original event simply mocked religion; the new name reflects the connection organizers want to emphasize between blasphemy and the right of free speech.

  • International Darwin Day Foundation

    Feb. 11, 2005, is celebrated as Darwin Day, an international observance of Charles Darwin’s work on evolution. Check out International Darwin Day Foundation’s site that maintains a list of celebrations of the naturalist’s birthday around the world, including the United States.

  • Freethought Day

    Freethought Day commemorates an Oct. 12, 1692, evidentiary decision by William Phipps, governor of the Colony of Massachusetts, that ended the Salem witch trials. An outdoor observance marking the anniversary is held each year in Sacramento, Calif.

  • HumanLight

    HumanLight is a nontheistic alternative to Christmas and Hanukkah. The late-December holiday celebrates humanists’ hope for a future “in which all people can identify with each other, behave with the highest moral standards, and work together toward a happy, just and peaceful world.” Festivities marking the 2009 holiday were held in more than two dozen U.S. cities.

  • National Day of Reason

    The National Day of Reason is held each May as a counterpoint to the National Day of Prayer.

    Contact: 202-238-9088.
  • Secular Seasons

    The Secular Seasons website provides information about secular holidays and secular/humanist ceremonies. Upcoming observances include Freethought Month (October) and Freethought Day (Oct. 12). The site also offers examples of secular invocations and graces.

Background

Recent books

With books by prominent atheists hitting the best-seller lists, the publishing industry has taken note, and releases about nontheism have multiplied in the last few years. Here is a smattering of recent titles:

Articles and transcripts

Online communities and blogs

The Internet has allowed freethinkers to form networks in ways they never had before. While isolation was once common for nonbelievers — who didn’t typically congregate like churchgoers do — now they can find like-minded people across town and across the globe through online communities and blogs.

Here are a few of the leading sites:

  • Atheist Nexus

    Atheist Nexus is an online community exclusively for nontheists. Nearly 20,000 people have joined the site; find ones in your area by using the search function on the members page. Contact through the website.

  • The Brights’ Network

    The Brights’ Network is an Internet community working to enhance civic understanding of a naturalistic worldview (“free of supernatural and mystical elements”) and promote acceptance of those who hold such an outlook. More than 52,000 people in 186 nations have registered with the community, which welcomes “brights of many stripes” — including but not limited to atheists and humanists. Indeed, the network notes that its members include Jews, Episcopalians, Quakers, Catholics and others, including some practicing clergy. The network does not release members’ names or contact information without their permission, but the communications coordinator at the international hub can assist reporters in locating brights in many locales.

  • Debunking Christianity

    Minister-turned-atheist John Loftus’ blog is called Debunking Christianity.

  • Free Thinking

    The Free Thinking blog is hosted by the Center for Inquiry.

  • The Friendly Atheist

    The Friendly Atheist was started by Hemant Mehta, author of I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith Through an Atheist’s Eyes (2007). Mehta and several others contribute to it.

  • The Meming of Life

    The Meming of Life blog focuses on secular parenting and includes links to secular parenting groups in many states, as well as to sites dealing with secular homeschooling and other related topics.

  • Pharyngula

    Biologist and atheist Paul Z. “PZ” Myers often discusses religion and nontheism on his blog, Pharyngula.

  • Rant & Reason

    Rant & Reason is the American Humanist Association’s blog.

  • The Secular Web

    The Secular Web is operated by Internet Infidels Inc. and is dedicated to “defending and promoting a naturalistic worldview on the Internet.” It is based in Colorado Springs, Colo. Contact through the website.

  • Think Atheist

    Think Atheist is a social networking and news site that aims to dispel misconceptions about atheism and unite freethinkers. The site, which reports having nearly 7,000 members, has numerous subgroups for hobbies, regions and interests. Contact through the website.

Publications

Atheists, humanists and others have a rich variety of publications addressing their interests and concerns. Here are a few:

  • American Atheist magazine

    American Atheist magazine is a quarterly magazine published by American Atheists. It is a platform and a resource for Atheists in America.

    Contact: 908-276-7300 ext. 7.
  • Free Inquiry magazine

    Free Inquiry magazine is published bi-monthly by the Council for Secular Humanism. It is a major publication of the secular humanist movement.

  • Freethought Today

    Freethought Today newspaper is put out 10 times a year by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. It is the only freethought newspaper in North America.

  • The Humanist

    The Humanist magazine is published by the American Humanist Association. It applies the humanist perspective to a wide range of topics.

    Contact: 202-238-9088.
  • Philo journal

    Philo journal is published by the Society of Humanist Philosophers twice a year. It examines different issues from a naturalist perspective.

  • Secular World

    Secular World magazine is a publication of Atheist Alliance International. It advocates for a rational, rather than a religious, approach to public policy, science, and education.

  • Skeptic magazine

    Skeptic magazine is a publication of the Skeptics Society. It is a leading publication of skeptical inquiry.

Organizations/ institutions

  • American Atheists

    Since 1963, American Atheists has been the premier organization laboring for the civil liberties of atheists and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. It is based in New Jersey and has chapters and affiliated organizations around the country.

  • American Ethical Union

    The American Ethical Union espouses “deed before creed.” It neither affirms nor denies a belief in God and has no set theology or doctrines about life’s mysteries. Bart Worden is executive director.

    Contact: 212-873-6500.
  • American Humanist Association

    The American Humanist Association is based in Washington D.C. and includes state chapters. The AHA definition of humanism encompasses a variety of nontheistic views including atheism, agnosticism, rationalism, naturalism and secularism.

  • Atheist Alliance International

    Atheist Alliance International (AAI) is a global federation of atheist and freethought groups and individuals, committed to educating its members and the public about atheism, secularism and related issues. It is based in California and has a list of affiliates.

  • Atheist Nexus

    Atheist Nexus is an online community exclusively for nontheists. Nearly 20,000 people have joined the site; find ones in your area by using the search function on the members page. Contact through the website.

  • Camp Quest

    Camp Quest was established in 1996 as the first residential summer camp in the U.S. aimed at children from freethinking families. Amanda Metskas is executive director.

  • Center for Inquiry

    The Center for Inquiry works to foster a secular society devoted to humanist values and freedom of inquiry. Its public education programs focus on paranormal and fringe science claims; religion, ethics and society; and medicine and health. The center is based in Amherst, N.Y., and has branches throughout the U.S. and the world. Ronald A. Lindsay is president and CEO.

  • Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

    The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry is a nonprofit science and educational organization and an affiliate of the Center for Inquiry. It evaluates claims of paranormal phenomena and fringe science. Barry Karr is executive director.

  • Council for Secular Humanism

    The Council for Secular Humanism is considered one of the leading free-thought groups. Based in Amherst, N.Y., the CSH is an umbrella for a range of other organizations. They include the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, which includes The Skeptical Inquirer magazine, and a publishing house, Prometheus books. “Camp Inquiry” is a summer camp sponsored by the Center for Inquiry, which is “devoted to the scientific examination of unproven alternative medicine and mental health therapies.” The CSH was founded by Paul Kurtz, who died in 2012.

  • Enlighten the Vote

    Enlighten the Vote is a nonpartisan political action committee working to elect atheists. Ellen Johnson is executive director. Contact through the website.

  • Foundation Beyond Belief

    The Foundation Beyond Belief is a charitable and educational organization created “to focus, encourage and demonstrate the generosity and compassion of atheists and humanists.” Each quarter the foundation designates 10 charities to be recipients of its members’ donations. Dale McGowan is executive director.

  • Freedom From Religion Foundation

    The Freedom From Religion Foundation is based in Madison, Wis., and has become one of the leading activist groups on the nontheist scene. The foundation publishes Freethought Today magazine.

  • FreeThoughtAction

    FreeThoughtAction aims to spread the message of rational thought through billboards and other means and thereby grow the ranks of the freethought community.

  • Humanist Institute

    The Humanist Institute explores humanist values and trains future leaders. Its seminars are held primarily in New York City and Washington, D.C. Kendyl R. Gibbons and Carol Wintermute are co-deans of the institute. Contact through the website.

  • Humanist Society

    The Humanist Society certifies humanist celebrants. It’s based in Washington, D.C. Sarah Ameigh is communications and policy assistant.

  • Institute for Humanist Studies

    The Institute for Humanist Studies is based in Washington D.C., and aims to promote “humanism, a nonreligious philosophy based on reason and compassion. IHS advances human rights, secular ethics and the separation of religion and government through advocacy, innovation and collaboration.” Contact administrator Maggie Ardiente.

  • Institute for Science and Human Values

    The Institute for Science and Human Values is committed to scientific inquiry and the enhancement of human values and seeks to combine reason and compassion to achieve ethical wisdom. Toni Van Pelt is director of public policy.

  • Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture

    The Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture strives to foster understanding of the role of secular values and the process of secularization in today’s society. The nonpartisan, multidisciplinary institute is based at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and is part of the college’s Program on Public Values. Barry Kosmin is director.

  • Institution for the Secularization of Islamic Society

    The Institution for the Secularization of Islamic Society is a web-based group that aims to promote an “Islamic Enlightenment”.

  • LGBT Humanist Council

    The LGBT Humanist Council is a project of the American Humanist Association. It provides support to LGBT humanists in coming out and serves as a forum for exchanging ideas.

  • The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers

    The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers is a support organization for nontheists in the armed forces.

  • Project Reason

    Project Reason is a nonprofit foundation dedicated to promoting secular values and scientific knowledge. Sam Harris is co-founder and chairman. Contact through the website.

  • Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science

    The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science supports “the scientific education, critical thinking and evidence-based understanding of the natural world in the quest to overcome religious fundamentalism, superstition, intolerance and human suffering.” The U.S. branch has headquarters in Washington, D.C., and is led by executive director R. Elisabeth Cornwell.

  • Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum

    The Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum in Dresden, N.Y., is described as America’s only freethought museum. It tells the story of the noted 19th-century agnostic orator, including his most famous speech, “Ghosts.”

  • Secular Coalition for America

    The Secular Coalition for America was founded in 2005 as the “only organization in the nation whose primary purpose is lobbying Congress on behalf of atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheistic Americans.” The SCA is endorsed and supported by numerous secularist groups.

  • The Secular Student Alliance

    The Secular Student Alliance is based in Minneapolis and describes itself as “an umbrella organization uniting atheist, agnostic, humanist, rationalist, skeptic, and freethought students and groups on high school and campuses across the world.” The SSA has a list of affiliates around the country and the world.

  • Skeptics Society

    The Skeptics Society is a scientific and educational organization that investigates fringe science and paranormal claims and strives to promote critical thinking. Michael Shermer is executive director, and he also serves as publisher of the group’s magazine, Skeptic.

  • The Society for Humanistic Judaism

    The Society for Humanistic Judaism says it “offers a nontheistic alternative in contemporary Jewish life.” It was organized in Detroit in 1969 and has since added chapters and affiliated congregations around the United States.

  • Stiefel Freethought Foundation

    The Stiefel Freethought Foundation provides strategic and financial assistance to the freethought movement. The foundation strives to gain respect for freethinkers and ensure total separation of church and state. Todd Stiefel of Raleigh, N.C., is founder and president.

  • United Coalition of Reason

    The United Coalition of Reason organizes local nontheistic groups into coalitions and then conducts campaigns aimed at raising their visibility. Jason Heap is national director.

National sources

Activists

  • Norm R. Allen Jr.

    Norm R. Allen Jr. isis a writer, proof-reader, and editor headquartered in Buffalo, N.Y. He was formerly an international outreach coordinator with the Institute for Science and Human Values and editor of a new journal, The Human Prospect: A Neo-Humanist Perspective. He formerly served as the founding executive director of African Americans for Humanism, a program of the Council for Secular Humanism. Allen is the author of Secular, Successful and Black: 25 Profiles (forthcoming) and editor of African-American Humanism: An Anthology and The Black Humanist Experience: An Alternative to Religion.

  • Robyn Blumner

    Robyn Blumner is the executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and the incoming CEO of Center for Inquiry. She is an expert on First Amendment issues involving freedom of expression, including religion. She can discuss matters pertaining to Center for Inquiry, which promotes secularism and reason, and is an advocate for freedom of religion, including atheism. Contact via Paul Fidalgo, Center for Inquiry’s director of communications.

  • August E. Brunsman IV

    August E. Brunsman IV is executive director of the Secular Student Alliance, which has headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. He is also secretary on the board of directors of the Secular Coalition for America and is on the Ohio staff of Camp Quest, a network of summer camps for children from freethinking families.

  • Richard Dawkins

    Richard Dawkins is former Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and one of the best-known of the New Atheists. His many books include The God Delusion and 2009’s The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.

  • Sean Faircloth

    Sean Faircloth has served as an executive with both the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and The Secular Coalition for America, the leading policy advocacy group for secular Americans. Before that, he served 10 years in the Maine Legislature, including a term as majority whip. Faircloth, who lives near Washington, D.C., can discuss all matters regarding public policy and special legal privileges for religion, as well as his experiences as a nontheist in political office.

  • Tom Flynn

    Tom Flynn is executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, America’s only freethought museum. He is also editor/publisher of Free Inquiry, the world’s largest-circulation secular humanist magazine, and editor of The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief. Flynn is based in Amherst, N.Y.

  • Debbie Goddard

    Debbie Goddard is director of African Americans for Humanism, a program of the Council for Secular Humanism.

  • Sam Harris

    Sam Harris is a leading figure in the New Atheism movement. His 2004 book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason, was a New York Times best-seller and was followed by his Letter to a Christian Nation. Harris also wrote The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, which rejects the argument that religion plays a necessary role in morality. He has degrees in neuroscience and philosophy. Contact through his website.

  • Jason Heap

    Jason Heap is the executive director of the United Coalition of Reason, an national umbrella organization for local atheist. freethought and humanist groups in the U.S. He can discuss the size of local freethought groups, the spread of freethought in the U.S. and vandalism of atheism billboards.

    Contact: 202-744-1553.
  • Susan Jacoby

    Susan Jacoby is the New York-based author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism.

  • Edwin Kagin

    Edwin Kagin is national legal director for American Atheists and co-founder of Camp Quest, the first residential summer camp for children of secular parents. He and his wife, Helen Kagin (the other co-founder), served as the original camp’s directors from 1996 until 2005. Helen Kagin died in February 2010. Edwin Kagin is the author of Baubles of Blasphemy (2nd edition, January 2010).

  • Ronald A. Lindsay

    Ronald A. Lindsay is president and CEO of the Council for Secular Humanism, based in Amherst, N.Y.

  • Dale McGowan

    Dale McGowan is the former executive director of the Foundation Beyond Belief, a charitable and educational organization created “to focus, encourage and demonstrate the generosity and compassion of atheists and humanists.” He’s also a full-time writer and a former college professor. McGowan is the editor of Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion (2007) and co-author of Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief (2009), and he blogs on secular parenting at The Meming of Life. In 2008, McGowan was named Humanist of the Year by the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University. He lives near Atlanta.

  • Hemant Mehta

    Hemant Mehta is board president of the Foundation Beyond Belief and a former board chair of the Secular Student Alliance. He’s also spokesperson for the Chicago Coalition of Reason. Mehta, a frequent public speaker, blogs at the Friendly Atheist and is the author of I Sold My Soul on eBay (2007).

  • Amanda K. Metskas

    Amanda K. Metskas is executive director of Camp Quest, a network of summer camps aimed at children from freethinking families. She is based in Columbus, Ohio.

  • David Niose

    David Niose is a Massachusetts attorney and past president of the American Humanist Association. With a background in print and broadcast media, he helped develop the association’s 2005 national media campaign, a first among humanist/atheist groups in the U.S. Niose can speak on all issues related to the freethought/humanist/nontheist movements, particularly legal matters; currently he is pursuing a legal strategy using equal-protection law to safeguard nontheists’ rights.

  • David Silverman

    David Silverman is president of American Atheists. He co-hosts the TV show Atheist Viewpoint and is the author of Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World. Silverman resides in Piscataway, N.J.

  • Herb Silverman

    Herb Silverman is president emeritus of the Secular Coalition for America. He speaks and writes frequently on topics dealing with freethought and atheism.

    Contact: 202-299-1091.
  • Roy Speckhardt

    Roy Speckhardt is executive director of the American Humanist Association, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that strives “to bring about a progressive society where being ‘good without god’ is an accepted way to live life.” He also serves as a board member of the Humanist Institute and the United Coalition of Reason. Speckhardt has appeared on CNN Headline NewsFox News and numerous national radio shows.

  • Todd Stiefel

    Todd Stiefel is a secular humanist, atheist and full-time freethought activist whose mission is “to gain respect for freethinkers and ensure the complete separation of church and state.” He is founder and president of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, based in Raleigh, N.C., and a trustee of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Stiefel also serves on numerous other boards involved in the freethought movement.

  • Jason Torpy

    Jason Torpy is president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers. A West Point graduate, he served in Germany, Kuwait and Iraq before leaving the service in 2005 to pursue a master’s degree. He lives in New York City.

Scholars

  • Robert Altemeyer

    Robert Altemeyer is a retired associate professor of psychology at the University of Manitoba. He is the co-author of Atheists: A Groundbreaking Study of America’s Nonbelievers (2006) and Amazing Conversions: Why Some Turn to Faith and Others Abandon Religion (1997).

  • Ronald Aronson

    Ronald Aronson is Distinguished Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. He is a contributor to The Nation and the Times Literary Supplement and has written on the history of atheism and its current manifestations.

  • Harvey Cox

    Harvey Cox is the Hollis Research Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School and a renowned author and commentator on religious issues, especially Christian-Jewish relations. He has written many books on the of religion and theology, including The Silencing of Leonardo Boff: The Vatican and the Future of World Christianity and The Secular City: Secularization and Urbanization in Theological Perspective. In 1985, Cardinal Ratzinger issued a call to silence the Franciscan theologian, one of the most widely read proponents of liberation theology.

  • Ryan T. Cragun

    Ryan T. Cragun is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Tampa and a research associate for the Center for Atheist Research. He has studied the factors that predispose people to leave religion.

  • Daniel C. Dennett

    Daniel C. Dennett is a professor of philosophy and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. He is the author of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. A summary of his arguments can be found in this Jan. 20, 2006, essay, “Common-Sense Religion,” in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Dennett is a member of the Secular Coalition for America advisory board.

    His article “Preachers who are not believers” (researched and written with Linda LaScola) appeared in the March 2010 issue of Evolutionary Psychology and is expected to result in a larger study on that topic.

  • Penny Edgell

    Penny Edgell is a professor in sociology at the University of Minnesota and lead author of a 2006 study on the social acceptance of atheists in America. She is beginning new research on the moral communities of those who aren’t traditionally religious. She wrote Religion and Family in a Changing Society.

  • John C. Green

    John C. Green is a senior research adviser at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, specializing in religion and American politics, American evangelicals and politics, the Christian right, religion and elections, and religion and presidential politics. He also serves as director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics and Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of Akron. He is the co-author of The Diminishing Divide: Religion’s Changing Role in American Politics. He can speak about Americans’ views on gun control, religious demographics and other political issues.

  • Ronald Inglehart

    Ronald Inglehart is a political science professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and a research professor at its Center for Political Studies. He is particularly interested in the effects of changing belief systems on societies socially and politically. His books include (as co-author) Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide, which concluded that industrial societies have become increasingly secularized in the last half-century while a growing percentage of the world at large holds fast to traditional religious views.

  • Barry Kosmin

    Barry Kosmin is Director at the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture and Research Professor in Public Policy & Law at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. He is co-author of Religion in a Free Market, Religious and Non-Religious Americans: Who, What, Why, and Where (Paramount Publishing, 2006) and Religion and Political Party Preference: New Findings from the American Religious Identification Survey.  He co-wrote The Next Generation: Jewish Children and Adolescents.

  • Mark Silk

    Mark Silk is director for the Leonard Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. Silk is also professor of religion in public life at Trinity. He is particularly knowledgeable about religious variances from one part of the country to another; his books include (as co-author) One Nation, Divisible: How Regional Religious Differences Shape American Politics.

  • Phil Zuckerman

    Phil Zuckerman is a sociology professor at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., with interests in atheism and secularity. He contributed an article, “Contemporary Atheism: Rates and Patterns,” to the Cambridge Companion to Atheism.

    He is the editor of Atheism and Secularity (2009) and author of Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment (2008). Zuckerman is an expert on the demographics of atheism and can discuss the difficulties of determining rates of nonbelief in a given country, as well as his research on irreligious societies.

Former ministers/ seminarians

  • Dan Barker

    Dan Barker is a former evangelical preacher turned atheist. He and his wife, Annie Laurie Gaylor, are co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis. Barker’s books include Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist and Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists (2008).

    Contact: 608-256-8900.
  • Daniel M. Farrell

    Daniel M. Farrell is a philosophy professor at Ohio State University in Columbus. In his essay “Life Without God: Some Personal Costs” (included in Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life), he tells about losing his faith while he was a seminarian, and how coming to terms with that affected other aspects of his life.

  • Richard Haynes

    Richard Haynes (known by many as “Brother Richard”) is president of Atheist Nexus, an online community with nearly 20,000 nontheist members. He’s also co-host of the freethinking podcast Atheist News, and he blogs at Life Without Faith. A former associate minister at a Georgia megachurch, he now travels the country speaking to nontheist groups and encouraging others “to come out of the atheist closet.” He lives in Atlanta.

  • John Loftus

    John Loftus is a former minister and the author of Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity (2008). He followed up that book with an anthology, The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails (2010). His blog is called Debunking Christianity. Loftus lives in Indiana.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Louise M. Antony

    Louise M. Antony is a philosophy professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She has written various essays about atheism and is editor of the book Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life (2007), to which she also contributed one of the chapters, titled “For the Love of Reason.” She once debated Christian apologist/philosopher William Lane Craig on the topic “Can there be goodness without God?”

  • Robert Boston

    Robert Boston is senior policy analyst for Americans United for Separation of Church and State and assistant editor of its monthly magazine, Church & State.

  • Catherine Caldwell-Harris

    Catherine Caldwell-Harris is an associate professor of psychology at Boston University. She conducted a small study in 2008 comparing the spiritual beliefs of atheists, Christians and Buddhists; it included questions about meaning and purpose in life, as well. She also presented a paper, titled “The puzzle of nonbelief,” at the 2009 annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

  • Austin Dacey

    Austin Dacey is a writer and human rights activist in New York City who serves as a representative to the United Nations for the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He is the author of The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life (2008).

  • Margaret Downey

    Margaret Downey is founder and president of The Freethought Society, based in Pocopson, Pa. She is also a secular celebrant, performing life-cycle ceremonies for nonbelievers.

  • Greg Epstein

    Greg Epstein serves as the humanist chaplain at Harvard University and is the author of Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe (2009). He holds master’s degrees in Judaic studies and theological studies and has been ordained as a humanist rabbi. The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard is “dedicated to building, educating, and nurturing a diverse community of Humanists, agnostics, atheists, and the non-religious at Harvard and beyond.”

  • Paul Fidalgo

    Paul Fidalgo is communications manager at the Secular Coalition for America, a policy advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. He has a master’s degree in political management from George Washington University and wrote his thesis on atheists’ precarious place in U.S. politics.

  • Daniel Garber

    Daniel Garber is a philosophy professor at Princeton University. In his essay “Religio Philosophi” (included in Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life), he writes that he is fascinated by religion’s role in the lives of the historical figures he studies, even though he is a nonbeliever.

  • Jennifer Michael Hecht

    Jennifer Michael Hecht teaches at the New School University in New York City. She is the author of Doubt: A History and The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism and Anthropology in France.

  • Joan Konner

    Joan Konner is a professor emerita and dean emerita of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in New York City, and is author of The Atheist’s Bible: An Illustrious Collection of Irreverent Thoughts, which was published in June 2007.

  • Joseph Levine

    Joseph Levine is a philosophy professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His essay “From Yeshiva Bochur to Secular Humanist” is included in Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life (2007).

  • Michael Martin

    Michael Martin is professor of philosophy emeritus at Boston University and the author or editor of numerous books, including Atheism: A Philosophical Justification and The Improbability of God.

  • Massimo Pigliucci

    Massimo Pigliucci, an atheist, is a philosophy professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He blogs about science, philosophy, politics and religion at Rationally Speaking and co-hosts the Rationally Speaking podcast.

  • Steven Pinker

    Steven Pinker, psychology professor at Harvard University, formerly with the department of brain and cognitive sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the author of How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (Penguin, 2002). He says seeing morality as a product of the brain is less dangerous than the idea that morality is invested in the commands of religious authority. Sept. 11, he says, is only an example of where morality derived from religion leads. He is a noted atheist and won the Atheist Alliance of America’s Richard Dawkins Award in 2013.

  • Jonathan Steinberg

    Jonathan Steinberg is a professor of modern European history at the University of Pennsylvania. One of his specialties is secular Judaism in Europe and the U.S. 

  • Rebecca Watson

    Rebecca Watson of Buffalo, N.Y., and London, is a well-known activist, writer, blogger and founder of the website Skepchick. She speaks frequently at atheist and other freethought gatherings on the subjects of feminism, science and young people in the movement, and she has a podcast called The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe. There is a contact form available on the website.

  • Alan Wolfe

    Alan Wolfe is the founding director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College and a frequent commentator on religion and politics. His books include The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith, which focuses on the impact of evangelicals on American religious culture. He has written widely on secularism.

In the South

  • Scott Aikin

    Scott Aikin is senior lecturer in the philosophy department at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. He is co-author of the book Reasonable Atheism and wrote an essay titled “The Problem of Worship” for the summer 2010 issue of Think.

  • Edward T. Babinski

    Edward T. Babinski is an agnostic and the editor of Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists, and he contributed a chapter (“The Cosmology of the Bible”) to The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails (2010). He lives in the Southeast.

  • Cecil Bothwell

    Cecil Bothwell is a City Council member in Asheville, N.C. Shortly after his election in 2009, some opponents sought to oust him from office because he does not believe in God. Bothwell, a journalist and author, blogs and speaks frequently about matters of faith. His books include The Prince of War: Billy Graham’s Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire (2008) and Whale Falls: An Exploration of Belief and its Consequences (2010).

  • Ed Buckner

    Ed Buckner is the former president of American Atheists (and continues there as a board member) and former executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism. He lives in Georgia.

  • Martin L. Cowen III

    Martin L. Cowen III is the founder of Atlanta’s Fellowship of Reason, an organization whose members “believe each individual’s purpose and success in life are derived from, and ultimately determined by, the individual — not a supernatural authority.” He wrote in the group’s October 2007 newsletter that he does not want to be called an atheist, though, as “I do not choose to define myself in terms of others by negation.”

  • Bart D. Ehrman

    Bart D. Ehrman wrote Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code : A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine and teaches religious studies at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Ehrman can place Mary of Nazareth in her historical and modern-day context.

  • Barbara Forrest

    Barbara Forrest is a noted secular humanist and a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, La., and co-author of Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. (Read the first chapter, posted at TalkReason.org.) She says the debate over intelligent design and evolution is necessarily a religious, and not a scientific one because intelligent design is a religious, not a scientific, belief. She continues that because intelligent design is an essentially religious viewpoint, it therefore draws in constitutional questions relating to the separation of church and state, making it a legal debate as well.

  • Jesse Galef

    Jesse Galef is communications director for the Secular Student Alliance, which is based in Columbus, Ohio. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was president of the nonreligious student group on campus. He was also active in religious groups there, including the Orthodox Christian Fellowship and Christian Apologetics of Carolina. Before taking his current position, he worked for the Secular Coalition for America and the American Humanist Association.

  • Jennifer Hancock

    Jennifer Hancock is a former executive director of the Humanists of Florida Association. She writes a freelance column on humanism for the Bradenton Herald; her Aug. 21, 2010, column discusses how humanism helped her cope with tragedies in her life.

  • George Alfred James

    George Alfred James is an associate professor in the department of philosophy and religion studies at the University of North Texas in Denton. He wrote the atheism entry for the Encyclopedia of Religion.

  • Tim Murphy

    Tim Murphy is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Alabama. He teaches a course on modern atheism.

  • Franklyn C. Niles

    Franklyn C. Niles is a professor of political science at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Ark. He wrote the atheism entry for the Encyclopedia of American Religion and Politics.

  • Keith Parsons

    Keith Parsons is a professor of philosophy at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and author of God and the Burden of Proof. He is a member of the Council for Secular Humanism’s speakers bureau.

  • Anthony B. Pinn

    Anthony B. Pinn is a professor of humanities and religious studies at Rice University in Houston. He has been critical of the prosperity gospel preached in some black megachurches for its lack of emphasis on community service and charity. He is the author of Why, Lord?: Suffering and Evil in Black Theology and editor of Redemptive Suffering: a History of Theodicy in African-American Religious Thought. He also studies African-American religious humanism and is the author of African American Humanist Principles: Living and Thinking Like the Children of Nimrod (2004) and By These Hands: A Documentary History of African American Humanism (2001).

  • Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

    Walter Sinnott-Armstrong is the Chauncey Stillman Professor in Practical Ethics in the philosophy department and the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University in Durham, N.C. His essay “Overcoming Christianity” is included in Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life (2007). His books include Morality Without God? (2009) and (as co-author) God?: A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist.

  • Robert B. Talisse

    Robert B. Talisse is a professor of philosophy and political science at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. He is co-author of Reasonable Atheism (2011) and the author of Democracy and Moral Conflict (2009).

  • J. Anderson Thomson Jr.

    Dr. J. Anderson Thomson Jr. is a psychiatrist in Charlottesville, Va., and a trustee of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. He is interested in the new cognitive neuroscience of religious belief — why human minds generate, accept and spread religious ideas — and spoke on the subject at the American Atheists’ 2009 convention. He has also talked and written on other religion-related topics, including religiously inspired suicide terrorism.

In the Midwest

  • Elizabeth S. Anderson

    Elizabeth S. Anderson is a professor of philosophy and women’s studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She contributed the essay “If God Is Dead, Is Everything Permitted?” to Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life (2007).

  • Hector Avalos

    Hector Avalos is a professor of religious studies at Iowa State University and former executive director of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, a division of the Council for Secular Humanism. He specializes in biblical studies. His books include Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence; The End of Biblical Studies; and Se Puede Saber si Dios Existe? [Can One Know if God Exists?]. He also contributed chapters (“Yahweh Is a Moral Monster” and “Atheism Was Not the Cause of the Holocaust”) to The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails. He co-edited This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies.

  • Marvin Belzer

    Marvin Belzer is an associate professor of philosophy at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. In the essay “Mere Stranger” (in Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life), he tells of growing up in an evangelical Christian home but gradually dropping his religious beliefs through the process of reflection and study.

  • Kelly James Clark

    Kelly James Clark is Senior Research Fellow at the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Mich. He has written about atheism in modern society, including the entry on atheism for the New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics.

  • Edwin Curley

    Edwin Curley is an emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has argued that the commands and permissions that the Jewish and Christian Scriptures attribute to God make it incredible that the morally perfect being of Christian theology could have inspired those Scriptures. His essay “On Becoming a Heretic” is included in Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life (2007).

  • Paul Djupe

    Paul Djupe is a professor of political science at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, specializing in religion and politics. He co-authored the Encyclopedia of American Religion and Politics and co-edited the 2007 book Religious Interests in Community Conflict: Beyond the Culture Wars. His interests include secularism and politics.

  • Taner Edis

    Taner Edis is a professor of physics at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., who studies issues of science and religion, particularly Islam. He is the author of An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam and co-editor of Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism.

  • Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Annie Laurie Gaylor is co-founder and co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis.-based national association of atheists and agnostics working to keep state and church separate. She previously served as editor of Freethought Today, the nation’s only freethought newspaper. She is the author of Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So and editor of Women Without Superstition: “No Gods-No Masters,” an anthology of women freethinkers.

  • Douglas Hartmann

    Douglas Hartmann is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota and co-author of the 2006 study on the social acceptance of atheists in America.

  • Michael Lackey

    Michael Lackey is an associate professor of English at the University of Minnesota, Morris. His research interests include God and religion in literature, and atheism, and he is the author of African American Atheists and Political Liberation: A Study of the Sociocultural Dynamics of Faith (2007).

  • Bryan F. Le Beau

    Bryan F. Le Beau is a history professor and vice president of academic affairs at the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth, Kan. He is the author of The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

  • Paul Z. Myers

    Paul Z. “PZ” Myers is an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris. He is known for his provocative challenges of religion, including a 2008 incident in which he drove a rusty nail through a consecrated Eucharistic host. He describes himself as a “a godless liberal” on his blog, Pharyngula.

  • Kenneth Pargament

    Kenneth Pargament is a professor emeritus of psychology at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. His research addressed religious beliefs in various traditions and health. He also researched how the elderly who struggle with their religious beliefs and hold negative perceptions about their relationships with God and life meaning have an increased risk of death, even after controlling for physical and mental health and demographic characteristics. Among other research, he has studied religious coping and the mental health of Hindus in the U.S., spirituality and coping with trauma, spirituality in children with cystic fibrosis, and religion as a source of stress, coping and identity among Jewish adolescents. He can also speak about the relationship between atheism and mental health.

  • Stewart Shapiro

    Stewart Shapiro is O’Donnell Professor of Philosophy at Ohio State University. In his essay “Faith and Reason, the Perpetual War: Ruminations of a Fool” (included in Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life), he discusses growing up in a Jewish home and his fondness for the faith’s traditions and the intellectual aspects of Torah study.

  • Darren E. Sherkat

    Professor Darren E. Sherkat, a sociologist at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, has written about religious choices of Americans, particularly baby boomers and African-Americans. His research includes inquiries into the dynamics of religious beliefs and affiliations in contemporary United States, including patterns and trends in religious mobility among white Americans. In 2001, he wrote an article, “Tracking the Restructuring of American Religion: Religious Affiliation and Patterns of Religious Belief,” in the journal Social Forces. In 2004, he wrote a paper titled “Beyond Belief: Atheism, Agnosticism, and Theistic Certainty in the United States.”

  • James Tappenden

    James Tappenden is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. His essay “An Atheist’s Fundamentalism” is included in Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life (2007).

  • Sharon D. Welch

    Sharon D. Welch is provost and professor of religion and society at Chicago’s Meadville Lombard Theological School, which educates students in the Unitarian Universalist tradition. She is also a senior fellow at the Institute for Humanist Studies.

  • Erik J. Wielenberg

    Erik J. Wielenberg is an associate professor of philosophy at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. He is the author of Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe, which argues that life has meaning and a moral structure even if God does not exist.

In the West

  • Debbie Allen

    Debbie Allen is director of the San Diego Coalition of Reason, a partnership of 15 atheist, humanist and skeptic organizations. She is also a humanist chaplain.

  • Lara Buchak

    Lara Buchak is an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research interests include what faith is, under what circumstances faith is rational and how to characterize the central nondoxastic attitudes associated with religious practice. She is also interested in how one ought to be religious if one takes current science seriously, and she has taught a graduate seminar on the topic.

  • Richard Carrier

    Richard Carrier holds a doctorate in ancient history, and his research specialties include the origins of Christianity. He is the author of Sense & Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism, and he contributed chapters (“Why the Resurrection Is Unbelievable” and “Christianity Was Not Responsible for Modern Science”) to the book The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails (2010). He lives in California.

  • Jack David Eller

    Jack David Eller is an assistant professor of anthropology at Community College of Denver and the author of Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence: Religious Violence Across Culture and History (October 2010) and Natural Atheism, Atheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a Freethinker (2007). He also contributed two chapters to the anthology Atheism and Secularity (2009).

  • Mynga Futrell

    Mynga Futrell is co-founder and executive director of The Brights’ Network, an international Internet community aspiring to enhance civic understanding of a naturalistic worldview (“free of supernatural and mystical elements”) and to promote acceptance of those who hold such an outlook. A longtime educator, she also coordinates a religion-neutral Web resource called Teaching About Religion. She lives in Sacramento, Calif.

  • Daniel Howard-Snyder

    Daniel Howard-Snyder is a professor of philosophy at Western Washington University in Bellingham. He wrote the article “Grounds for Belief in God Aside, Does Evil Make Atheism More Reasonable Than Theism?” in the journal Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion (2003).

  • Lawrence M. Krauss

    Lawrence M. Krauss is a cosmologist and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, which explores questions ranging from the origin of the universe to the origins of human culture and cognition. His commentaries on matters of science and religion have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, including a Sept. 8, 2010, column, “Our Spontaneous Universe,” and one that ran June 26, 2009, titled “God and Science Don’t Mix.” His August 2007 essay for New Scientist magazine took issue with some tactics being used to discredit religion and increase public acceptance of atheism; it is better, he said, to eschew emotional arguments and stick to rational ones.

  • William Lobdell

    William Lobdell is a former Los Angeles Times reporter and the author of Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America — and Found Unexpected Peace (2009). He is now editor of iBusiness Reporting and is a visiting faculty member at the University of California, Irvine.

  • Michael Shermer

    Michael Shermer is a noted atheist, the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, executive director of the Skeptics Society and host of the Skeptics Lecture Series at Caltech. He has written several books, including How We Believe: Science, Skepticism and the Search for God and Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design. He is based in Altadena, Calif., and can discuss the tenacity of creationism. 

  • Kenneth Taylor

    Kenneth Taylor is a philosophy professor at Stanford University and co-host of the nationally syndicated public radio program Philosophy Talk, which has tackled a number of issues involving religion and belief/nonbelief. His essay “Without the Net of Providence: Atheism and the Human Adventure” is included in Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life (2007).

  • Pete Wernick

    Pete Wernick has a doctorate in sociology and wrote a chapter on parenting in a secular/religious marriage for the book Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion (2007). He lives in Colorado.

Related source guides

This resource guide was supported by the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.