Compiled by Jim Walker
- freethinker n. One who has rejected authority and dogma, especially in his religious thinking, in favor of rational inquiry and speculation.
- -The American Heritage Dictionary
I use the term "freethinker" not as a universal noun or label but as a description of a person who freethinks at some time in their life. Thus, even a diehard religionist can 'lapse' into a state of freethinking for a brief but wonderful period in their existence. And can a person "be" a freethinker while asleep? Freethinkers utilize freethought while thinking (when else?) but at other times they may simply enjoy the sensations of life without thinking at all.
I dedicated this web site to the following freethinkers, which represent my favorites (during their periods of freethinking). I did not intend to list all the great freethinkers, so please don't write me why I didn't include Voltaire or Ayn Rand (you might find your favorites in the links to other famous freethinkers, at the bottom of this page).
All of the following freethinkers have come to some notoriety because they rejected a dangerous commonly held belief (or several of them) in favor of rational thinking.
Disclaimer: None of the following living freethinkers has any association with this web site, nor do they even have an acknowledged awareness of it.
- Thomas Paine, political writer (1737-1809):
This remarkable political philosopher and freethinker influenced the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution and the French Revolution. Paine condemned the practice of slavery in his "African Slavery in America" and published his most famous work, "Common Sense" in 1776 just six months before the issuance of the Declaration of Independence. He also wrote "Rights of Man," "Age of Reason," and "The American Crisis." Read Common Sense, Age of Reason, and The American Crisis on the internet at: http://libertyonline.hypermall.com/Paine/Default.htm
- Thomas Jefferson, scientist, statesman, and 3rd President of the U.S. (1743-1826):
American revolutionary leader, scientist, skeptic, political philosopher, and third president of the United States. The freethinker Jefferson expressed exponents of the Enlightenment that emphasized human reason, science, and education. He established the University of Virginia and authored the Declaration of Independence, and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom.
Thomas Jefferson Writings, Merrill D. Peterson, Ed.
Letters from Thomas Jefferson
A collection of quotes from Jefferson which establishes beyond dispute his enormous contributions to rationalism, freethought and science.
- Robert Green Ingersoll, agnostic writer and thinker (1833-1899):
American lawyer, freethinker and orator, known as the Great Agnostic because of his antireligious views. He wrote many antiorthodox lectures and his talks scandalized the clergy.
Ingersoll's eloquent attacks against religious superstitions and why they present a danger provide fuel and oxygen to reason.
This book contains three spirited debates--"Rome of Reason," "Controversy on Christianity," and "The Limits of Toleration"--between the great American freethinker Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899) and leading Christian churchmen and statesmen of his own day, including Cardinal Edward Manning and William Gladstone.
For more information about R. G. Ingersoll on the internet:
Download the writings of Robert Ingersoll:
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton, woman's rights (1815-1902):
American social reformer who, along with Susan B. Anthony, led the struggle for the rights of women. She fought against slavery and helped form the National Woman's Loyal League in 1863. She opposed the Christian Church and the Bible because she realized that it served as a stumbling block in the way of woman's emancipation.
Stanton looks at the Bible's view of women and provides frightening verses that have put women down for centuries.
For more information on E.C. Stanton on the internet:
John E. Remsburg, historian and writer (1848-1919):
President of the American Secular Union, an outstanding freethinker in the last quarter of the 19th century. He spoke on freethought, giving over 3000 lectures in audiences over 1200 cities and towns in North America.
Remsburg exposes the alleged "evidence" of Jesus. One of the first to publish a critique on the lack of physical or eyewitness evidence to support a historical Jesus. A well examined and researched book for its time from one of our most honored freethinkers.
Six Historic Americans
This book examines the lives of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and Ulysses Grant. He provides evidence for their infidelity to Christianity.
- Bertrand Russell, scientist and philosopher (1872-1970):
British philosopher, mathematician and Nobel laureate, who emphasised logical thinking instead of superstition. He realized that the Christian religion, as organized in the churches, "has been and still is the principle enemy of moral progress in the world."
Provides good arguments against Christianity and for a humanistic approach to morality.
- Richard Feynman, physicist (1918-1988):
American physicist, Nobel laureate, and great teacher. Feynman ceaselessly questioned scientific "truths." He held many varied interests. His curiosity moved well beyond science as he rejected superstition and dogma.
The Character of Physical Law, by Richard Feynman
A delightful little book about the relationship of mathematics to physics and the philosophy of science in general.
This biography of Feynman provides a wonderful look at his life and shows his pragmatic and liberal attitude towards life.
A 40 min documentary and interview with Dr. Feynman.
- Isaac Asimov, scientist, writer, historian, and much more (1920-1992)
The twentieth century's most recognized one-man encyclopedist, with 477 published titles by his own count. Asimov explored what interested him: science, science fiction, the Bible, literature, history, and human nature. One of the most influential science fiction writers, he also wrote many science books which explained complex physics with easy to understand terms. Asimov as a freethinker also wrote a guide to the Bible, Old and New testaments. He illuminated the events in historical terms, exposed the many problems with the Bible and laid bare the supernatural claims.
- Asimov explains the historical background, religious motives, and the evolution of the Bible, and examines selected chapters and verses from the Bible.
- For more information on Isaac Asimov on the internet:
- Isaac Asimov home page: http://www.asimovonline.com
- Carl Sagan, scientist and writer (1934-1996):
Sagan served as a professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University. A Pulitzer Prize winner, Dr. Sagan received the highest award of the National Academy of Sciences. He had the ability to convey the wonder, and excitement of scientific discovery. His clear vision and honor to science has led him to see the problems with irrationality and superstition.
Explains the method of scientific thought and cuts through the prejudice and hysteria that pervades our culture.
Co-authored with his wife, Ann Druyan, this is a well written book on evolution and the similarities between humans and apes. We are not different in kind, but only in degree.
Sagan's last book explains what we know about science, mathematics, and space as well as exploring common questions of everyday life.
A look at space exploration and how scientific discovery has altered our perception.
For more information on C. Sagan on the internet: http://www.fas.org/sagan.htm
- Stephen J. Gould, scientist and writer (1941-2002):
An evolutionary biologist, writer, humanist, and freethinker, Gould provides an exceptional example of a scientist and freethinker who had the ability to explain complex subjects and to correct the misconceptions of history. Many of his books explain the complexities of Darwinian evolution and why Creationism fails as a science.
The last book of the series from Natural History magazine, and the last book of Gould's life.
A collection of brilliant and thoughtful essays out of Natural History magazine from one of the most prolific essayists in America . Gould examines evolutionary dead ends in human intellectual history and questions the human struggle to understand nature and existence. (for a review, click here.)
A look at the history and errors of classifying humans. It includes craniometry, theories of IQ, and measurments of "race."
Various essays on evolution, dinosaurs, art & science, probability (also on baseball statistics. Gould is a New York Yankee fan), and lots more. Brilliantly written and a good read.
For more information on S. J. Gould on the internet, click here.
- Robert Anton Wilson, philosopher and writer (1931-2007):
Pop-philospher, freethinker, science fiction writer, humorist, humanist, and perhaps the most sane person on earth. Wilson's entertaining writing makes the reader think. He doesn't always get the facts correct, perhaps by design, but this compels the reader to check his sources and to think. He represents one of the few human beings on earth who claims to own no beliefs. A former Playboy editor, he has written over twenty books including: Quantum Psychology, Cosmic Trigger, Right Where you are Sitting Now.
For more information on R. A. Wilson on the internet:
- Paul Kurtz, professor, writer , publisher, secular humanist (1925-2012):
President of Prometheus Books, Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Editor-in-Chief of Free Inquiry magazine, editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine and Chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) Paul Kurtz has, perhaps, done more through the publishing industry to promote reason and science than anyone in the 20th century.
A look at the Enlightenment movement from the 17th century to today.
Instructions for a good and practical life without the need for superstitious gods. A powerful defense of humanism.
Kurtz supplies the mental tools needed to establish humanism as a better approach for the ever changing future.
- Daniel C. Dennett, scientist and philosopher:
Computer scientist, philosopher, freethinker, and writer, Dennett's first book, Content and Consciousness, appeared in 1969, followed by Brainstorms (1978), Elbow Room (1984), The Intentional Stance (1987), Consciousness Explained (1991), Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995), Kinds of Minds (1996), Brainchildren (1996) and Freedom Evolves (2003). He co-edited The Mind's I with Douglas Hofstadter in 1981. He has authored of over a hundred scholarly articles on various aspects on the mind, published in journals ranging from Artificial Intelligence and Behavioral and Brain Sciences to Poetics Today and the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.
Dennett explains the latest theories and explanations about the brain and consciousness. A controversial book, but one that breaks through the myths about consciousness.
A brilliant discussion and explanation of Darwin's famous idea of biological evolution. He devastates the myths against evolution.
For more information on D.C. Dennett on the internet: http://www.tufts.edu/~ddennett/
Robert Wright interviews Dennett [video, 1 hour, 10 minutes]
- Richard Dawkins, scientist and writer:
Biological scientist, evolutionist, freethinker and writer, Dawkins explains evolution in terms of replicating information, that indeed, all living things give example of vehicles of information. He explains the nature of scientific reasoning and exposes the dangers of religious dogma. A brilliant writer.
A fascinating book on self-replicating hereditary particles. This book also introduced the idea of "memes," the new replicators that live in minds, some of which act like mental viruses (like faith religions).
A sequel to The Selfish Gene, aimed primarily for professional biologists, but written so clearly that virtually anyone can understand it.
In brilliant and lucid language, Dawkins devastates William Paley's argument for design (1802) and shows how biology evolves without design. He includes how complexity such as eyes can evolve from simpler systems.
Dawkins presents the nature of scientific reasoning concerning biology to the layman. He exposes why assumptions, origin myths and traditions lead to falsehoods. With such a religious title, this should attract the religious believer.
Dawkins explains how probability controls biological evolution through gradual steps. He reveals the glorious variety and underlying unity of DNA based life on earth and how natural selection is like artificial selection but without a chooser.
An examination of science, mysticism, and human nature. Dawkins shows why science provides a superior way of looking at the world and gives us a feeling of wonder and the ability of understanding nature that mysticism simply cannot provide.
A unique sample of writings from 25 years of Dawkins publications. It involves evolutionary biology, memes, humanity, and religion. Dawkins attacks belief based on tradition, authority, and religion and provides the mental tools to help combat this dangerous viral meme of the mind.
This 2006 bestselling non-fiction book discusses the problems with the God argument and that a belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion. Dawkins covers the main philosophical arguments in favor of God's existence and explains why they all fail.
For more information on R. Dawkins on the internet:
The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science: http://richarddawkins.net/
The Root of All Evil?, The God Delusion, Part 1 [video, 47 min]
The Root of All Evil?, The Virus of Faith, Part 2 [video, 48 min]
- Michael Shermer, skeptic, writer, publisher
Publisher of Skeptic magazine, director of the Skeptics Society, Adjunct Professor of History of Science at Occidental College. Michael Shermer gives lectures and appears on television and radio shows, describing the problems of belief systems.
The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule: A history and an explanation of morals and ethics and how to apply them. [Review]
How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science An examination of evolution of religion and the how and why people believe in God. [Review]
Why People Believe Weird Things : Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time Shermer takes apart bogus beliefs such as: creationism, UFOs, psychic powers, and Holocaust denials.
Denying History : Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened & Why Do They Say It? For more information and writings by Michael Shermer, visit Skeptic.com.
Christopher Hitchens, journalist, author, literary critic (1949-2011)
Hitchens career spanned more than four decades and has written for The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Slate, World Affairs, The Nation, Free Inquiry and many more publications. He identified himself as an anti-theist and followed the philosophical values of the Enlightenment.
The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever: Selected writings chosen by Hitchens for the skeptic and non-believer. [Review]
The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice: A frank exposure about Mother Teresa and the problems she caused.
Thomas Paine's Rights of Man: Hitchens explores one of the most influential political books of the 18th century.
- James Randi, paranormal investigator, conjuror, and a breath of rational fresh air:
An internationally known conjuror and investigator of the paranormal and occult, Randi has exposed some of the greatest swindlers and paranormal fakes in modern history. Randi not only has steel bravery, but intelligence, compassion, wit, and a healthy sense of humor. He has written numerous books including Flim-Flam!, The Truth About Uri Geller, An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, (also click here for an online version) and has appeared on many television & radio shows and gives lectures around the world.
For more information about James Randi on the internet:
James Randi Educational Foundation (FREJ): http://www.randi.org/ (Read his weekly newsletter for interesting tidbits and information on the latest frauds.)
James Randi debunks Uri Geller and Peter Popoff [video] (13 min, 50 sec)
James Randi debunks Uri Geller on the Tonight Show [video] (8 min, 2 sec)
James Randi debunks astrology [video] (1 min, 5 sec)
James Randi on Psychic Surgery [video] (2 man, 0 sec)
James Randi In Australia (Randi tests water diviners and dowsers) [video] (43 min, 3 sec)
List of other freethinkers:
A Biographical Dictionary of Freethinkers: http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/joseph_mccabe/dictionary.html
Black Freethinkers in history: http://reginaldfinley.com/index.php/thoughts/11-thoughts/55-black-freethinkers
A large list of awesome female atheists: http://www.blaghag.com/2010/01/large-list-of-awesome-female-atheists.html