Mention atheism, and the names most likely to come to mind today are Sam Harris, 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 reach of the freethought movement extends far beyond those few marquee names — and certainly much further back in the nation’s past than recent history might suggest. Indeed, America has long been home to all manner of skeptics and secularists, who have found protection under the Constitution’s guarantees against the establishment of religion and religious tests for office.
Those protections did not mean nonbelievers always felt comfortable proclaiming their views.
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.
Moreover, 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.
- Glossary of terms
- History of the movement
- Famous or prominent atheists/agnostics/freethinkers
- Surveys, studies and data
- Holidays and observances
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. While only a fraction of these – 1.6 percent of Americans in the 2008 ARIS – call themselves agnostic or atheist, the raw numbers there show sharp growth, as well. Avowed atheists jumped from 900,000 in 2001 to 1.6 million in 2008, the survey found, and proclaimed agnostics doubled during that time, to nearly 2 million. (Even more – 12 percent of Americans — could be considered atheists or agnostics based on their stated beliefs rather than self-labeling, ARIS reports.) 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. ReligionLink’s October 2008 source guide on religion and the military can point reporters to numerous other resources, as well.
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 (2007) 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?
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:
- Dictionary of Atheism, Skepticism & Humanism
- The Harvard University Pluralism Project’s definitions page for atheism and nonreligious philosophies
- The Skeptic’s Dictionary (It’s both a book and a website.)
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.
A chapter on the movement’s history is included in An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism.
Jonathan Miller explored the history of disbelief in a BBC series in 2005.
A 1962 speech by Madalyn Murray O’Hair on the history of atheism is posted by American Atheists, the organization she founded. A number of articles on related topics are available as well (see the page’s right-hand rail). O’Hair secured her own place in atheism’s history, of course, when the U.S. Supreme Court in 1963 sided with her and banned government-sponsored prayer and Bible recitations in public schools. The next year, Life magazine called her “the most hated woman in America.”
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 website traces west-central New York state’s pivotal role in the history of freethought.
Speaking of Faith‘s May 3, 2007, show, “A History of Doubt,” featured historian Jennifer Michael Hecht discussing the role that religion’s skeptics have played in society since ancient times.
The University of Cambridge’s website Investigating Atheism includes a mostly Eurocentric history of modern atheism.
See Beliefnet’s gallery of “Doubters Who Changed the World.”
The University of Cambridge posts a “Who’s Who” of atheists in history on its Investigating Atheism website.
An online “celebrity atheist” site lists hundreds of well-known actors, athletes and business leaders who it says are atheists, agnostics or skeptics.
U.S. Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., in 2007 became the first member of Congress in memory to publicly self-identify as an atheist.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The report “American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population” gives more extensive details about the ARIS 2008 findings regarding “nones,” only a fraction of whom are atheists.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. Another 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.”
- About.com cites a number of polls on Americans’ attitudes toward atheists.
- Adherents.com posts lists of the countries with the highest proportion and highest numbers of atheists and agnostics in 2005.
- The Association of Religion Data Archives posts data (from the 2005 World Christian Database) about atheism worldwide, broken down by region and country. ARDA also posts data about Americans’ belief in God (from a 2007 Baylor University study).
- 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.
- Darwin Day celebrates the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth on Feb. 12, 1809, and serves as an occasion to herald science and humanity. The International Darwin Day Foundation is administered by the American Humanist Association.
- 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 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.
- The National Day of Reason is held each May as a counterpoint to the National Day of Prayer.
- 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.
- Many freethinkers observe the winter solstice in late December.
- See a May 7, 2007, ReligionLink, “Atheist awakening: the appeal of unbelief.”
- About.com posts agnosticism/atheism resources provided by Austin Cline, a former regional director of the Council for Secular Humanism.
- BBC’s atheism page gives an overview of the movement and information on its history, rites and rituals.
- Beliefnet’s page on secular philosophies includes a number of forums and features for nonbelievers.
- Freethoughtpedia is an online repository of information and commentary about the freethought movement. As with any open-source site, reporters should confirm anything found there before using it in stories.
- The New York Times has gathered basic information and an archive of its stories regarding atheism on a “Times Topics” page.
- The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life provides poll results, graphics and other resources on the subject of belief in God.
- The Pluralism Project at Harvard University posts resources on atheism and nonreligious philosophies.
- ReligiousTolerance.org offers information on atheism, agnosticism (including a discussion of multiple types of agnosticism), humanism and other nontheistic belief systems.
- 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.
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 and soon-to-be-released titles:
- The Unbelievers: The Evolution of Modern Atheism
- Agnosticism: A Very Short Introduction
- Atheism: A Guide for the Perplexed
- The Atheist’s Creed
- The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails
- The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God
- The Homemade Atheist: A Former Evangelical Woman’s Freethought Journey to Happiness
- The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values
- The Primal Instinct: How Biological Security Motivates Behavior, Promotes Morality, Determines Authority, and Explains Our Search for a God
- The Secular Outlook: In Defense of Moral and Political Secularism
- Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe
- The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture
- The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason
- Atheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a Freethinker
- Atheism Explained: From Folly to Philosophy
- Christian No More: A Former Devout Christian Dismantles Christianity
- 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God
- Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists
- Then Why Do I Have Toenails: How to Be the Best Atheist You Can Be
- Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity
- Everything You Know About God Is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to Religion
- God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
- Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up
- I Sold My Soul on eBay
- Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life
- The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever
- Read an Aug. 30, 2010, NPR story, “Is Believing in God Evolutionarily Advantageous?”
- Listen to the Aug. 22, 2010, podcast of To the Best of Our Knowledge from Wisconsin Public Radio; the episode, titled “Losing Religion,” includes an interview with sociologist Phil Zuckerman about his research on Scandinavia, where religion plays a very limited role in society.
- Read an Aug. 2, 2010, story from The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., about a United Church of Christ minister who took part in a Tufts University study titled “Preachers who are not believers.” The UCC minister says he does not believe in a supernatural God with supernatural powers.
- Read a July 16, 2010, ABC News/Nightline story about a “de-baptism ceremony” at the American Atheists convention.
- Read a July 16, 2010, guest column about “evangelical atheists” on The Washington Post‘s On Faith blog. Reza Aslan is the author.
- Read a July 2, 2010, New York Times article, “You Say God Is Dead? There’s an App for That.”
- Read a June 30, 2010, USA Today story about summer camp for children from freethinking families.
- Read a June 28, 2010, essay at Slate.com by Ron Rosenbaum, titled “An Agnostic Manifesto.” Rosenbaum makes a clear distinction between agnosticism and atheism and cites a need for a “new agnosticism, one that takes on the New Atheists.” The piece drew reactions from Albert Mohler and Reason magazine’s Julian Sanchez.
- Read a June 23, 2010, Religion News Service story about a University of Toronto study comparing anxiety levels of believers and nonbelievers. The story is posted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
- Read a June 10, 2010, essay about apatheism, posted by ReligionDispatches.org.
- See a May 25, 2010, Religion News Service article (posted by Urban Christian News) about atheism among blacks, traditionally one of the most religious groups in America.
- Read an April 2, 2010, New York Times story about the Foundation Beyond Belief, founded by Dale McGowan to collect and disburse atheists’ charitable donations.
- Read an account on The Washington Post‘s On Faith blog about the historic February 2010 meeting of White House officials with representatives from the Secular Coalition for America.
- Read a Dec. 4, 2009, essay by evolutionary psychologist and biologist Marc D. Hauser, “It seems biology (not religion) equals morality.”
- Read a Nov. 14, 2009, New York Times article about research into whether religious behavior is an evolved instinct.
- Read an Oct. 19, 2009, NPR story, “A Bitter Rift Divides Atheists.”
- Read an April 26, 2009, Boston Globe story about the growth in academic research on secularism.
- Read an April 26, 2009, New York Times story, “More Atheists Shout It From the Rooftops.”
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 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.
- 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. Mynga Futrell is the network’s executive director. Contact 916-737-5157, TheBrightsNet@aol.com.
- Minister-turned-atheist John Loftus’ blog is called Debunking Christianity.
- The Free Thinking blog is hosted by the Center for Inquiry.
- 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 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.
- The NoGodBlog is run by David Silverman of American Atheists.
- Biologist and atheist Paul Z. “PZ” Myers often discusses religion and nontheism on his blog, Pharyngula.
- Rant & Reason is the American Humanist Association’s blog.
- The Secular Web is operated by the Internet Infidels, a nonprofit educational organization based in Colorado Springs, Colo., that is dedicated to defending and promoting a naturalistic worldview on the Internet. The Secular Web provides links to local organizations in many states and countries.
- 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.
Atheists, humanists and others have a rich variety of publications addressing their interests and concerns. Here are a few:
- American Atheist magazine
- Free Inquiry magazine
- Freethought Today newspaper
- The Humanist magazine
- Philo journal
- Secular World magazine
- Skeptic magazine
- American Atheists is a nonprofit organization founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair to protect atheists’ civil liberties and work for complete separation of government and religion. Headquarters are in Cranford, N.J. Neal Cary is chairman, and David Silverman is president. Contact Cary at 804-212-7635, firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Silverman at 732-648-9333, email@example.com.
- 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. Jennifer Scates is president. Contact 212-873-6500 or email through the website.
- The American Humanist Association is a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., established in 1941 and with roots reaching even further back, to the 1920s. It strives “to bring about a progressive society where being ‘good without god’ is an accepted way to live life.” The website posts links to local chapters and affiliates. David Niose is national president, and Roy Speckhardt is executive director. Contact Niose at 978-343-0800, firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Speckhardt at 1-800-837-3792 (toll-free) or 202-238-9088 ext. 109, email@example.com.
- The Atheist Alliance International funds and coordinates international service projects around the world among its member societies. The alliance is based in Washington, D.C. See a list of affiliate organizations within the U.S. Stuart Bechman of California is alliance president. Contact 866-437-3842, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The online community Atheist Nexus lists more than 900 nontheist groups, ranging from atheist singles to black freethinkers and heathen homeschoolers.
- Camp Quest was established in 1996 as the first residential summer camp in the U.S. aimed at children from freethinking families. Contact Executive Director Amanda Metskas, 614-441-9534, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact 716-636-4869 ext. 215, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. Contact email@example.com.
- The Council for Secular Humanism describes itself as North America’s leading organization for nonreligious people. An affiliate of the Center for Inquiry, the council encourages critical evaluation of the world’s religions and works to protect the rights of nonbelievers. Tom Flynn is executive director. Contact 716-636-7571 ext. 213, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Enlighten the Vote is a nonpartisan political action committee working to elect atheists. Ellen Johnson is executive director. Contact through the website.
- 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. Contact 770-667-6347, email@example.com.
- The Freedom From Religion Foundation promotes separation of church and state and seeks to educate the public about nontheism. It’s based in Madison, Wis. Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker are co-presidents. Contact 608-256-8900 or email (for nonurgent requests only) through the website.
- FreeThoughtAction aims to spread the message of rational thought through billboards and other means and thereby grow the ranks of the freethought community. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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.
- The Humanist Society certifies humanist celebrants. It’s based in Washington, D.C. Sarah Ameigh is communications and policy assistant. Contact 202-238-9088, email@example.com.
- The Institute for Humanist Studies is a think tank that promotes nonreligious perspectives on social, political and ethical issues. It’s based in Washington, D.C. Diane Griffin is managing director. Contact 202-238-9088, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. Paul Kurtz is founder and chairman. Contact Nathan Bupp at 716-626-1932, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact 860-297-2388, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Institution for the Secularization of Islamic Society includes believers, doubters and unbelievers, all of whom insist that religion should be separate from the state and that universal human rights are inviolable. Contact through the Center for Inquiry, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact 800-837-3792, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers is a community support network for nontheist members of the military. It also offers guidelines and resources to help military chaplains meet the counseling/support needs of nonbelievers in the service. Nontheist military members can declare their service and experiences on the organization’s Atheists in Foxholes list. Jason Torpy is president. Contact 614-329-1776, email@example.com.
- 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.
- 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. Contact 202-251-0754, rec@RichardDawkins.net.
- 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.” Contact museum director Tom Flynn, 716-636-7571 ext. 213, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Secular Coalition for America lobbies on behalf of the country’s nontheists. See a list of its member groups and endorsing organizations. Eliza Kashinsky is chief of staff. Contact 202-299-1091 or email through the website.
- The Secular Student Alliance supports a network of more than 200 student groups on high school and college campuses that promote the ideals of scientific and critical inquiry, democracy, secularism and human-based ethics. It envisions a future in which nontheistic students are respected voices in public discourse and vital partners in the secular movement’s charge against irrationality and dogma. Along with atheist and agnostic students, it reaches out to humanists and skeptics. The alliance is based in Columbus, Ohio, and has affiliates around the world. August E. Brunsman IV is executive director, and Jesse Galef is communications director. Contact 614-441-9588, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. Contact 626-794-3119, email@example.com.
- The Society for Humanistic Judaism promotes “a human-centered philosophy” that melds Jewish culture with humanistic ideals. See a geographical listing of member congregations. M. Bonnie Cousens is executive director. Contact 248-478-7610, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. Contact 919-334-8330, email@example.com.
- The United Coalition of Reason organizes local nontheistic groups into coalitions and then conducts campaigns aimed at raising their visibility. Fred Edwords is national director. Contact 202-550-9964, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Norm R. Allen Jr. is a vice president 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. He lives in Buffalo, N.Y. Contact 716-874-7877, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact 614-441-9588, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- R. Elisabeth Cornwell is executive director of the U.S. branch of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, where her accomplishments include launching the foundation’s OUT Campaign to raise atheists’ visibility. Cornwell is also an evolutionary psychologist who has researched the relationship between religious belief and various psychological traits. She can discuss all matters regarding the freethought movement, especially those dealing with science education and evolution by natural selection. Contact 202-251-0754, rec@RichardDawkins.net.
- 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. Contact email@example.com.
- Fred Edwords is national director of the United Coalition of Reason, which aims to raise the visibility of nontheists. He trains local leaders of nontheist groups on how to spread their message. Edwords has been active in humanist issues for more than 30 years and speaks and writes frequently on the topic. He is also a humanist celebrant. Contact 202-550-9964, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Sean Faircloth is director of strategy and policy for the U.S. branch of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Previously, he was executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, the leading policy advocacy group for secular Americans, and 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. Contact email@example.com.
- 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 (2007). Flynn is based in Amherst, N.Y. Contact 716-636-7571 ext. 213, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Debbie Goddard is director of African Americans for Humanism, a program of the Council for Secular Humanism. Contact 716-636-7571 ext. 421, email@example.com.
- 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’ latest work, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, is due out in October and rejects the argument that religion plays a necessary role in morality. Contact through his website.
- Susan Jacoby is the New York-based author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. Contact through her literary agent, Georges Borchardt Inc., at 212-753-5785, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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). Contact him at 859-384-7000, email@example.com.
- Paul Kurtz is founder and chairman of the Institute for Science and Human Values and professor emeritus of philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He was chair of the Center for Inquiry, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism from their foundings until June 2009. He has been called the father of secular humanism. Kurtz, who lives in Buffalo, N.Y., also founded Prometheus Books, which publishes many freethought titles, and he has written approximately 1,000 articles and 55 books, including The Transcendental Temptation: A Critique of Religion and the Paranormal; Forbidden Fruit: The Ethics of Secularism; and Multi-Secularism: A New Agenda (March 2010). He resigned as CFI’s chair emeritus in May 2010. In an editorial for the December 2009/January 2010 issue of the secular humanist magazine Free Inquiry, he faulted some atheists for being what he called “true unbelievers” — unflinchingly dogmatic, not unlike religious zealots. Contact 716-691-0133, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ronald A. Lindsay is president and chief executive officer of the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, N.Y. He’s also a bioethicist and lawyer and has a doctorate in philosophy. Contact 716-636-4869 ext. 215, email@example.com.
- Dale McGowan is 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. Contact 770-667-6347, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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). Contact email@example.com.
- 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. Contact 614-441-9534, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- David Niose is a Massachusetts attorney and 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. Contact 978-343-0800, email@example.com.
- David Silverman is president of American Atheists. He runs the NoGodBlog and is co-host of the TV show Atheist Viewpoint. Silverman resides in Piscataway, N.J. Contact 732-648-9333, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Herb Silverman is founder and president of the Secular Coalition for America and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Charleston. He is also a panelist for The Washington Post‘s On Faith blog. Contact 202-299-1091, email@example.com.
- 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 News, Fox News and numerous national radio shows. Contact 1-800-837-3792 (toll-free) or 202-238-9088 ext. 109, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. Contact 919-334-8330, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact 614-329-1776, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Robert Altemeyer is a retired psychology professor at the University of Manitoba. He is co-author of Atheists: A Groundbreaking Study of America’s Nonbelievers, based on a survey of nearly 300 atheists in California, Alabama and Idaho. He also co-authored Amazing Conversions: Why Some Turn to Faith & Others Abandon Religion. Contact email@example.com.
- Ronald Aronson is Distinguished Professor of the History of Ideas at Wayne State University in Detroit. He has written on the history of secularism and its current situation. His latest book is Living Without God: New Directions for Atheists, Agnostics, Secularists and the Undecided (2008). Contact 248-548-7370, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Harvey Cox is Hollis Research Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School and a renowned author and commentator on religious issues. He is the author of The Secular City: Secularization and Urbanization in Theological Perspective. He gave his thoughts on atheism during a 2006 interview with Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. Contact 617-495-5752, email@example.com, or through the Harvard office of communications, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. Contact 813-257-3530, email@example.com.
- Daniel Dennett is Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. He is the author of numerous books, including Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. 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. Contact 617-627-3297, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Frans de Waal is C.H. Candler Professor of Primate Behavior at Emory University in Atlanta and the author of The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society (2009). An expert on the development of morality in primates, he has suggested that religion emerged among humans thousands of years after morality did, perhaps as a means of enforcing rules. Read his Facebook post on the subject. Contact 404-727-7898, email@example.com.
- Penny Edgell is a professor and director of graduate studies in the sociology department at the University of Minnesota. She was lead author of a 2006 study on the social acceptance of atheists in America, and she’s beginning new research on the moral communities of those who aren’t traditionally religious. Contact 612-624-9828, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- John Green is a Distinguished Professor of Political Science and director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron in Ohio. He’s also a senior research adviser at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and a leading expert on trends in religion and politics. Green can discuss political trends involving voters and candidates who are atheists or otherwise religiously unaffiliated. Contact in Akron at 330-972-5182, email@example.com; or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Dean Hamer is a geneticist and director of the Gene Structure and Regulation Unit at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md. He is the author of The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired Into Our Genes. His hypothesis, criticized by some other scientists, is that some people inherit a gene that predisposes them toward faith in a higher power. Contact 301-402-2709, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact 734-936-1767, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Barry Kosmin is founding director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture and research professor in public policy and law at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. He was principal investigator of the 1990 National Survey of Religious Identification and the American Religious Identification Surveys of 2001 and 2008. His books include (as co-author) Religion in a Free Market: Religious and Non-Religious Americans and (as co-editor) Secularism & Secularity: Contemporary International Perspectives. Contact 860-297-2388, email@example.com.
- Mark Silk is director of the Trinity College Program on Public Values at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. The program includes both the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life and the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture. 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 latest book (co-authored) is One Nation, Divisible: How Regional Religious Differences Shape American Politics (2008). Contact 860-297-2352, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Phil Zuckerman is a sociology professor at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif. 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. Contact 909-607-4495, email@example.com.
- 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 or (for nonurgent questions only) through the website.
- 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. Contact 614-292-1534, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Bruce Gerencser is a former evangelical pastor turned agnostic. He lives in Ney, Ohio, and has a blog called “Fallen From Grace.” Contact through the website.
- 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. Contact 909-907-4244, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact 260-665-9414, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Stephen Frederick Uhl is a former Roman Catholic priest and the author of Out of God’s Closet: This Priest Psychologist Chooses Friendly Atheism (2009). He lives in Oro Valley, Ariz. Contact 520-434-9710, email@example.com.
- 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?” Contact 413-545-2316, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. Contact 617-353-2956, email@example.com.
- 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.” Contact 617-495-5986, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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). Contact 413-345-1165, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Steven Pinker is a psychology professor at Harvard University. He was named 2006 Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association. Contact 617-495-0831, pinker@wjh.Harvard.edu.
- Alan Wolfe is a political science professor at Boston College and director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life there. He can speak about the role of nonbelief in American religious life. Contact 617-552-1862, email@example.com.
- Jonathan Adler is a philosophy professor at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of City University of New York. His research interests include rationality and the ethics of belief. Adler contributed the essay “Faith and Fanaticism” to Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life (2007) and is author of the book Belief’s Own Ethics. Contact 718-951-5539, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Rob Boston is assistant director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State and assistant editor of its monthly magazine, Church & State. Contact 202-299-1091.
- 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). Contact 276-614-7100, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact 610-793-2737, Margaret@ftsociety.org.
- 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. Contact 202-299-1091, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. Contact 609-258-4307, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact 718-852-0076, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Joan Konner is professor emerita and dean emerita of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in New York City, and is editor of The Atheist’s Bible: An Illustrious Collection of Irreverent Thoughts (2007). Contact through publicist Scott Tillitt at 917-449-6356, email@example.com, or email Konner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Massimo Pigliucci 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. Contact 718-960-8292, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact 215-573-5449, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. Contact 775-372-8683, email@example.com.
- 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 and can be contacted through his author page on the Secular Web.
- 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). Contact 828-713-8840, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. Contact 908-499-9200, email@example.com.
- 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.” Contact 770-471-9800, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Bart D. Ehrman is James A. Gray Distinguished Professor and chair of the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has published extensively on early Christianity and the New Testament and is perhaps best-known for his book Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. Ehrman has said that in recent years, the problem of suffering in the world has left him an agnostic. Contact 919-962-3940, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact 941-721-3853, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. Contact 919-660-3172, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact 434-296-2801, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Scott Aikin is senior lecturer in the philosophy department at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. He is co-author of the book Reasonable Atheism (forthcoming) and wrote an essay titled “The Problem of Worship” for the summer 2010 issue of Think. Contact 615-322-2637, email@example.com.
- Barbara C. Forrest is a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. She serves on the boards of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the National Center for Science Education and the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association. She was an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the 2005 intelligent design case out of Dover, Pa., and is co-author of Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Contact 985-549-5097, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Tim Murphy is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Alabama. He teaches a course on modern atheism. Contact 205-348-8513, email@example.com.
- Franklyn C. Niles is an assistant 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. Contact 479-524-7142, FNiles@jbu.edu.
- Robert B. Talisse is a professor of philosophy and political science at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. He is co-author of Reasonable Atheism (forthcoming) and the author of Democracy and Moral Conflict (2009). Contact 615-343-8671, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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). Contact 734-764-6285, email@example.com.
- 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 (2005), The End of Biblical Studies (2007) 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 (2010). Contact 515-294-0051, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. Contact 419-372-7216, email@example.com.
- Kelly James Clark is a professor of the philosophy of religion at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. He has written about atheism in modern society, including the entry on atheism for the New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics. Contact 616-526-6421, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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). Contact 734-764-6285, email@example.com.
- Paul Djupe is an associate professor of political science at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. His research specialties include the political influence of religion, and he is principal investigator in a 2010 study titled “An Atheist by Any Other Name? Why Americans Will Not Vote for Atheist Candidates.” Contact 740-587-6310, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Taner Edis is an associate professor of physics at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo. He has written several books dealing with science and religion, including Science and Nonbelief (2007) and The Ghost in the Universe: God in Light of Modern Science. Contact 660-785-4583, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact 614-441-9588 ext. 1, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. Contact 608-256-8900, email@example.com.
- Douglas Hartmann is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota and co-author of a 2006 study on the social acceptance of atheists in America. Contact 612-624-0835, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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). Contact 320-589-6263, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact 913-758-6115, LeBeau87@stmary.edu.
- 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. Contact 320-589-6343, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Kenneth Pargament is a psychology professor at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. His research focuses on the psychology of religion and on religious belief and health; he can discuss how belief (or lack of it) affects mental and physical well-being. Contact 419-372-8037, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Darren Sherkat is a sociology professor and chair of the department at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. His article “Beyond Belief: Atheism, Agnosticism and Theistic Certainty in the United States” ran in the September 2008 edition of the journal Sociological Spectrum. He also has several published and forthcoming research papers linking fundamentalism to negative educational outcomes and showing that secular Americans have larger vocabularies (“Religion and Verbal Ability,” Social Science Research, 2010) and higher levels of scientific literacy (“Religion and Scientific Literacy in the United States,” Social Science Quarterly, forthcoming) than religious Americans. Contact (email preferred) 618-453-7619, email@example.com.
- 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). Contact 734-764-6285, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. Contact 773-256-3000 ext. 246, email@example.com.
- Erik J. Wielenberg is an associate professor of philosophy at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. Among the courses he teaches regularly is one called Godless Universe, which focuses on the implications, particularly for ethics, of the non-existence of God. He is the author of God and the Reach of Reason: C.S. Lewis, David Hume and Bertrand Russell, which examines what those three intellectual giants had to say about God, suffering, reason and related topics, and Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe, which argues that life has meaning and a moral structure even if God does not exist. Wielenberg, who considers himself a “friendly atheist,” has criticized New Atheist Richard Dawkins’ central atheistic argument in The God Delusion. Contact 765-658-6275, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Keith Augustine is executive director of the Internet Infidels, a nonprofit educational organization based in Colorado Springs, Colo., that is dedicated to defending and promoting a naturalistic worldview on the Internet. Contact through the website.
- Mike Clawson is a Christian who contributes to the Friendly Atheist blog. Currently a doctoral student in religion and history at Baylor University focusing on recent trends in American evangelicalism, Clawson previously founded an emerging church in Illinois. He says his involvement with the atheist blog has given him a deep appreciation of atheist views and contributed to a better understanding on both sides of the discussion. He lives in Austin, Texas. Contact 512-917-1501, email@example.com.
- 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). Contact 303-556-2475, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. Contact 940-565-4791, email@example.com.
- Kathleen Johnson is vice president and military director of American Atheists and founder of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers. She retired from the Army in 2008 after 23 years of service and lives in Copperas Cove, Texas. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Lawrence M. Krauss is a cosmologist and director of the Origins Initiative 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. Contact 480-965-6378, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact 281-283-3361, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Anthony Pinn is Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University in Houston. Black humanism is one of his research interests, and he serves as research director for the Institute for Humanist Studies in Washington, D.C. His book The End of God-Talk is under contract with Oxford University Press. Contact 713-348-2710, email@example.com.
- Victor Stenger is an adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado and professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii. He has written a number of books, including The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason (2009) and New York Times best seller God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist (2007). He lives in Lafayette, Colo. Contact 720-890-9655, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. Contact 303-652-8346, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact 619-230-8441, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. Contact 510-296-5932, email@example.com.
- 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. Contact 510-932-9536, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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. Contact 916-737-5157, TheBrightsNet@aol.com.
- Daniel Howard-Snyder is a philosophy professor 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). Contact 360-650-7767, Dan.Howard-Snyder@wwu.edu.
- 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. Contact email@example.com.
- Molleen Matsumura is a humanist activist in Berkeley, Calif. She writes a humanist advice column, Sweet Reason, and is a co-author of the book Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief (2009). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Frank L. Pasquale is a cultural anthropologist whose research focuses on individual and institutional forms of secularism in the United States. He has conducted a study of more than 900 secular group affiliates in the Pacific Northwest (atheist, freethought, humanist and skeptic). His work has appeared in the Archive for the Psychology of Religion (2010), Atheism and Secularity (2010), Secularity & Secularism (2007), The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007) and elsewhere. He is a research associate with the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and he resides in Portland, Ore. Contact 503-248-1683, email@example.com.
- Bruce Phillips is professor of Jewish communal service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. He has researched and written about secular Judaism. Contact 800-899-0925 ext. 4251, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Michael Shermer is a science writer, executive director of the Skeptics Society and founding publisher of Skeptic magazine. His books include How We Believe: Science, Skepticism and the Search for God. He’s based in California. Contact 626-794-3119, email@example.com.
- 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). Contact 650-723-1840, firstname.lastname@example.org.
This resource guide was supported by the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.