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7 Amazing Atheists Who Aren't Old White Guys

You've heard of Richard Dawkins. Charles Darwin. Mark Twain. ... There are some amazing atheists who just don't get the same credit.

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4. Zora Neale Hurston. Brilliant Harlem Renaissance writer. Anthropologist, ethnographer, folklorist. Best known and beloved for her 1937 masterpiece novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Enormously influential in the worlds of literature, anthropology, oral tradition, African American folklore, and just about every other damn thing except maybe particle physics. She was a  non-believer, and even as a child, she was beginning to question the unquestioning faith and dogma of her congregation. She wrote of those years she could not "understand the passionate declarations of love for a being that nobody could see.... When I was asked if I loved God, I always said yes because I knew that was the thing I was supposed to say. It was a guilty secret with me for a long time." She eventually concluded, "Why fear? The stuff of my being is matter, ever changing, ever moving, but never lost; so what need of denominations and creeds to deny myself the comfort of all my fellow men? The wide belt of the universe has no need for finger-rings. I am one with the infinite and need no other assurance."

5. Salman Rushdie. I hope I don't have to tell you who this guy is. Staggeringly brilliant author, whose awards include the Booker Prize for Fiction, Author of the Year (British Book Awards), Author of the Year (Germany), Writers' Guild of Great Britain Award, and... oh, just look at the list yourself. Most famous, unfortunately, for writing a book that some fundamentalist Islamist leaders found upsetting... and, as a direct result, getting targeted with hit men. In his 1985 essay "In God We Trust," he wrote, "God, Satan, Paradise, and Hell all vanished one day in my fifteenth year, when I quite abruptly lost my faith... and afterwards, to prove my new-found atheism, I bought myself a rather tasteless ham sandwich, and so partook for the first time of the forbidden flesh of the swine. No thunderbolt arrived to strike me down. [...] From that day to this I have thought of myself as a wholly secular person."

6. Natalie Angier. If you haven't read The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science, you have thus far missed one of the great joys of life.  New York Times science journalist Natalie Angier is one of the most purely joyful ambassadors of science I have ever read, seen, heard, or perceived by any other sensory apparatus. Blending giddy exuberance with thorough, painstaking, no-joke research, she conveys the hard facts about science with excitement, passion, clarity, humor, and... well, joy. Her love for the physical world, in all its complexity and profound weirdness, is infectious, and entirely inspiring. And she is an outspoken, even ferocious atheist. From her piece in the New York Times magazine, Confessions of a Lonely Atheist:

So, I'll out myself. I'm an Atheist. I don't believe in God, Gods, Godlets or any sort of higher power beyond the universe itself, which seems quite high and powerful enough to me. I don't believe in life after death, channeled chat rooms with the dead, reincarnation, telekinesis or any miracles but the miracle of life and consciousness, which again strike me as miracles in nearly obscene abundance. I believe that the universe abides by the laws of physics, some of which are known, others of which will surely be discovered, but even if they aren't, that will simply be a result, as my colleague George Johnson put it, of our brains having evolved for life on this one little planet and thus being inevitably limited. I'm convinced that the world as we see it was shaped by the again genuinely miraculous, let's even say transcendent, hand of evolution through natural selection.

7. Ayaan Hirsi Ali. If this woman's story doesn't jolt you into action, check your pulse -- you might possibly be dead. Born in Somalia, a victim of female genital mutilation at age 5, an escapee from an arranged marriage, she transformed herself into an author, politician (she was a member of the Dutch Parliament) and activist, and has devoted her life to defending women's rights in Islamic societies and combating the abuses of Islamist theocracies. As a result, she has been made the target of a fatwa. Her colleague, Theo van Gogh, was murdered for producing a film Ali wrote and narrated criticizing the treatment of women in Islamist society, and she was marked for death in a letter pinned to his body with a knife. She's had to live with tight, round-the-clock security ever since. Very few people would blame her if she'd just thrown in the towel and taken up organic farming instead. She hasn't. She's continued her work.

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