January 15, 2013
World's "Top" Atheists: Dawkins, Singer and Woody Allen
There are a number of websites offering lists of "top" atheists, as defined by various criteria. The American Humanist Association offers a list of the top sexiest male and female atheists along with photos for viewers to "enjoy" at their website. Atheist Connect offers a list of The Top Ten Smoking Hot Atheist Women. I'll try to focus more on the top intellectually-fulfilling lists of atheists.
One website, SuperScholar, has made a list of the "The 25 Most Influential Living Atheists" in the world aiming for those who "actively encourage others to disbelieve in God" and are considered to be "scholars in scholarly forums". The top four individuals on the list actually belong to the "New Atheism" movement, though one member has since deceased. The webpage for the New Atheism advocates "disregard for the tolerance of religion" and the militant tone of this movement is echoed by Dawkins in a book interview, "Reinventing the Future: Conversations With the World's Leading Scientists an interview" he said, "I am a fairly militant atheist, with a fair degree of active hostility toward religion. I certainly was hostile toward it at school, from the age of about sixteen onwards. I mellowed a bit in my twenties and thirties. But I'm getting more militant against it now."
As far as public forums go, Dawkins refuses to debate the top theist scholars, such as William Lane Craig. However, I suppose Dawkins may still be considered a top dog in certain atheist-only forums. In sticking to round table discussions with other like-minded atheist believers the deeper philosophical challenges to his beliefs can be safely avoided.
Another website, thebestschools.com published a list of "top atheists" of the world based on Google search volume. The fist part of the survey focused on two aspects, "celebrity" and "seriousness", while the second part of the survey was conducted "in terms of celebrity alone." Dawkins would probably be classified as a serious celebrity by some, and just a celebrity by others.
Peter Singer would probably be considered just serious, and not so much a top celebrity by most people. However, he was found to be at the top of the "celebrity and seriousness" category. Atheists at my blog continue to claim that no one takes Singer seriously, that he is merely offering aberrant and fringe opinions. The noted website, however, offers a Singer quote with quite a bit of reverence, "Singer has written: 'The notion that human life is sacred just because it is human life is medieval.' We believe his blend of philosophical sophistication, extremism, and high public profile makes him the most formidable living atheist in the world."
In his book, Rethinking Life and Death, Singer states, "[The argument that a fetus is not alive] is a resort to a convenient fiction that turns an evidently living being into one that legally is not alive. Instead of accepting such fictions, we should recognise that the fact that a being is human, and alive, does not in itself tell us whether it is wrong to take that being's life."
In a published Princeton University FAQ, Singer states, "So killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living." According to Singer's descriptions of person-hood, a mature dog is more of a "person" than a human infant because a mature dog has a life history and can demonstrate signs of existing as a being who "wants to go on living."
Singer and those who support his views are laying the ground for topping off the horrors of Nazi Germany, where the booklet Die Brennessel began the process of dehumanizing Jews by comparing them to hordes of rats.
Due to his views on infanticide and bestiality, there were notable protests in the US by many when Singer was appointed as a professor at Princeton University. And there have been protests in Germany when Singer speaks there. In 2001, Peter Singer quotes in The Princetonian underscored what Singer believes with regard to bestiality. For example, this quote by Singer with regard to dogs humping the legs of visitors: "The host usually discourages such activities, but in private not everyone objects to being used by her or his dog in this way, and occasionally mutually satisfying activities may develop."Singer also describes the advances of an orangutan on a woman: "The potential violence of the orangutan's come-on may have been disturbing, but the fact that it was an orangutan making the advances was not." Singer's view was summarized by the Princetonian: "If you're not willing to disapprove of all non-procreative sex, then you should reconsider the taboo on bestiality."
Singer was hired as a distinguished Ira W. DeCamp Professor at Princeton. After 10 years, the university has no regrets whatsoever regarding his hiring, as described in The Daily Princetonian news.
Atheists who post comments at my blog seem to have similar types of utilitarian moral views that encourage dehumanization. For example, yesterday someone named Anne Vincent posted a comment at my blog basically claiming that human cannibalism could be morally acceptable in contemporary civilization under hypothetical conditions. The example in question pertained to why the eating of pills manufactured with dead human fetuses should not be considered immoral, with the condition that they offer a vital medical cure that could neither be found in nature nor synthesized in a lab.
The second Google search for the "top atheist" simply examined popularity without seriousness. Woody Allen came up as the most popular atheist in the world by a long shot:
1. Woody Allen (32,600,000)
2. Stephen Hawking (13, 200,000)
3. Richard Dawkins (11,400,000)
4. Christopher Hitchens (6,020,000)
5. Sam Harris (5,680,000)
Most people already know who Woody Allen is. But people may not realize how existential and nihilistic themes have played an important role in helping to make him famous. Sarah Swong included this philosophical side of Allen as one of the "9 secrets to his success" as an artist.
Perhaps a major reason why Woody Allen is so popular as an atheist is because he is willing to address difficult questions with a head-on, direct approach. As a secular humanist, Woody Allen does not run away from the philosophical implications of his beliefs, as many secular humanists are prone to do today. Though he does appear to have respect for science, no one would accuse him of falling for the myth of Scientism. On the contrary, Allen's existential-nihilistic writings offer no pretensions that science is a kind of Magic 8-Ball that will eventually answer all of life's difficult questions. It seems that Allen has accepted his philosophical condition at face value and is simply out to try and make the best of it. One of Woody Allen's books is entitled, Woody Allen and Philosophy: You Mean My Whole Fallacy Is Wrong? In the Amazon book description it says, "...just because the universe is meaningless and life is pointless is no reason to commit suicide."
Allen's basic outlook on life can be gleaned simply by watching a few of his movies. The title of one movie, "Whatever Works" seems to be an apropos summary. Unfortunately, the characters who represent Christianity in the movie are portrayed as very shallow and superficial Christians who did not demonstrate the key signs of true Christianity to begin with. But let's consider Woody Allen's personal approach to life and see how it really "works" for him. In June of 2012, Woody Allen's estranged son, Ronan offered a Father's Day Tweet that could not have made for a very happy day:
"Happy father's day -- or as they call it in my family, happy brother-in-law's day."
This was re-Tweeted by Mia, his ex, the former mother of their adopted daughter. Ouch, that smarts. Allen's present wife, Soon-Yi, is their adopted daughter. According to the Stamford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, secular philosophers today cannot even agree on the definition and nature of happiness, let alone offer how to achieve it. But, one thing is certain, Woody Allen has at least been willing to address questions regarding the meaning of life from a secular atheist's perspective and the underlying issues of hopelessness and meaningless associated with existentialist-nihilism. All people at some point probably wrestle with such questions. However, some secular atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, have already decided philosophy has little or no value and they have dug in their heals refusing to even debate basic questions about existence.
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