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The money man behind atheism’s activism
Todd Stiefel, a wealthy businessman, is responsible for bank rolling many atheism activism projects.
March 23rd, 2013
10:00 PM ET

The money man behind atheism’s activism

By Dan Merica, CNN

(CNN) - Todd Stiefel is far from a household name, and the odds he gets recognized on a street corner, even in his hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, are small.

For Stiefel, a slim, scruffy ex-Catholic, his public persona is his wallet and activism. Through the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, the 38-year-old has made an indelible impact on the nation’s fastest-growing “religious” group: the nonbelievers. Most of the highest-profile atheists campaigns –- flashy billboards in high-traffic areas, news-making efforts to get atheists to come out of the closet, and boisterous rallies - are funded by his fortune.

Stiefel isn’t shy about his far-reaching goals.

“What I am trying to accomplish is multifold, he told CNN. “I consider myself working on the next civil equality movement, just like women’s rights, LGBT rights and African-American Civil Rights. We are still in the early stages of eliminating discrimination against atheists and humanists. That is something I really want to accomplish.”

So far, Stiefel has pumped $3.5 million into those aspirations, and his money benefits a number of atheist organizations, from the Clergy Project, a group that helps atheist and doubting clergy out of the closet, to American Atheists, arguably the most in-your-face atheist group in the country.

Stiefel sees his work as far more than just money. For him, this is just the beginning.

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From Catholic school to atheist millionaire

Stiefel was born in Albany, New York, in 1974 to Catholic parents. He was raised in a Catholic household, confirmed in the church, attended Sunday school, went to a Catholic high school.

“I was a cross-wearing, praying, religious-retreat Catholic,” Stiefel said. “You could say there were points that I felt the spirit.”

But his faith, he said, fluctuated during high school. “I was always a skeptic,” he said, “and I always asked a lot of questions.”

At 18, Stiefel attended Duke University to pursue a degree in psychology. To fill an elective, he took an Old Testament history class at the Duke University Divinity School. It was there, he said, that his final “ebb” away from belief took hold.

In the class, Stiefel said he saw a flawed logic in the Old Testament. In particular, he said, he began to see much of the Old Testament as unoriginal stories that had been told in many pagan traditions.

“'Wait a second, is what I believe in really the truth or is it really the accumulation of myths bundled in a package?’” Stiefel remembers asking himself. “That was the end of my faith right there.”

After graduating from Duke, Stiefel went into the family business: Stiefel Laboratories, a company that develops products to combat skin diseases. For 12 years, Stiefel worked with his family and turned the business into a major player in their specialized market.

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In 2009, with Stiefel in an executive position, the Stiefel family opted to sell the company to GlaxoSmithKline. The price tag: $2.9 billion, according to media reports at the time.

“I only got a very small piece of that, for the record,” Stiefel said with a laugh. “I did, however, find myself in a unique and fortunate position where I was able to do whatever I wanted to do.”

And like many who have the luxury of doing exactly what they want, Stiefel began thinking about what he was truly passionate about. After kicking around the idea of starting another business, the answer became clear to the young millionaire: advocating for atheism.

“I wanted to try to help the world,” he said. “I wanted to give back and this seemed like the most productive way to help humanity.”

‘Just doing my part’

Stiefel put $2 million in to begin his foundation. In his first year, according to tax documents, the nonprofit disbursed $700,000 to groups like the Secular Coalition for America, the American Humanist Association and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In 2010 and 2011, the giving continued with the foundation distributing around $750,000 to different atheist and humanist causes. In 2011, he also pumped another $500,000 into his foundation.

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“I am just doing my part within my means,” he said. “Different people have different means. I am doing what I can do, just like the rest of the people in the movement are.”

But recipients of the money, such as David Silverman, president of the American Atheists, see his impact as much greater than just a one-off activist.

“Todd is an example of what major contributions can accomplish for atheism,” he said. “From a donation stand point, he is really leading the movement to a different level.”

Walking the line

One of Stiefel’s major concerted contributions in the last three years was the Reason Rally, an event held on the National Mall in Washington, which was billed as a watershed moment in the atheism movement. The goal of the event was to show to religious Americans that atheism was a powerful minority in American life.

Stiefel speaks onstage at the Reason Rally.

The rally drew a number of high-profile speakers, including Richard Dawkins, the author of “The God Delusion,” and thousands of attendees, despite rainy weather.

In his speech to the crowd, Stiefel talked about what he sees as the most important problem facing atheism: “Discrimination comes from ignorance, and in this case it is ignorance about our beliefs,” he said. “We are told freethinkers believe in nothing, but that’s a misunderstanding. We believe in a lot of things; we don’t all believe the same things.”

Stiefel put $250,000 toward the rally, a contribution that Silverman, the organizer, said was critical.

“He brought the Reason Rally to a brand new level,” Silverman said. Without that money, “we would have had far fewer people and a far smaller event.”

Silverman and the Reason Rally advocated for a specific brand of atheism. Silverman, who regularly calls his group the “Marines of the Freethought Movement,” is not shy in making it clear that he views his goal in calling out religion and elevating atheism.

Stiefel says he doesn't necessarily endorse those tactics wholly, but he does see their validity.

“I try to walk a line,” he said. “I see religious criticism as valuable, and groups like American Atheists are good at that. I do think we have to have a dialogue about who has the right ideas and part of that is pointing out the flaws in religious ideas.”

Stiefel continued: “I also see inter-belief work, though. I do find a lot of value in inter-belief work and I do see a lot of value in general charity work.”

Evidence of that is his work on cancer fundraising.

In 2012, Stiefel approached the Foundation Beyond Belief with an idea of creating networks of nonbelievers around the country to help raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Stiefel tapped into his atheist network and began organizing different event.

In total, the atheist groups raised $430,000 in 2012, including a $215,000 donation from Stiefel and his wife, Diana.

“Across the country there are 150 local groups of atheists and freethinkers raising money for charity,” Stiefel said proudly.

The key, however, was bridging the gap between atheist and religious communities in the name of charity.

“We welcomed Christians, as well,” he said. “Some of our biggest fundraisers were Christians.”

For 2013, the goal is to raise $500,000.

Expanding the community

With money and resolve comes great influence for Stiefel. He has the ear of many atheist leaders, meaning he can dictate the movement’s focus.

Stiefel said he wants to see the atheism movement expand its footprint.

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“What I would really like to see is expanding out communities to people who may not just be atheists or agnostics and into people who are religiously skeptical and may still have some religious beliefs,” he said. “Nobody is a perfect skeptic and I would like to see more people like that in our community.”

For Stiefel, this is a personal priority. He says his wife, whom he describes as a skeptical Christian, is someone who would fall within an expanded atheist movement.

“My message is not only of anti-theism,” Stiefel said. “I don’t choose to attack religion itself. I see religion as something that provides both good and ill to the world.”

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism

soundoff (7,617 Responses)
  1. Realist

    It's nice to see that Atheist are finally getting a voice. Pretty sad we live in a country where religion gets all the favors. A dollar bill that states, 'in god we trust',, Atheist have been persecuted by christians throughout history.

    As a Realist,, we don't argue a god existence. We just look at religionist as very selfish and evil people.

    March 24, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • Correctlycenter

      "O God, Your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as You? You are the God of wonders! You demonstrate Your awesome power among the nations." Psalm 77:13-14...

      I will praise You Lord, when others scoff, mock and deny You! You are my strong Tower. You are my Rock. You have created all things in the universe with Your mighty hands and brilliant intellect. There is no one like You Lord. I will praise and glorify Your mighty name...

      March 24, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      That's great, CorrectlyCenter. I'm sure your God never gets tired of hearing praise.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
  2. Correctlycenter

    " Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest!" Luke 19:38...

    March 24, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • Realist

      and may you stop persecuting innocent lives with brainwashing.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • Bob Lewis

      Dude, don't hold your breath. You'd be better off believing in Spider Man comics than that drivel.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
  3. Subdued Christian

    I, for one and sick of these MILITANT ATHIESTS attacking my personal beliefs. They do awful things like WRITE BOOKS, and POLITELY DISAGREE with my religious dogma that requires faith rather than evidence to believe.

    March 24, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • Answer

      We do that apparently. It drives believers insane when we just protest on their beliefs.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • Francisco DeCastro

      Really? in my case, I have faith in my religious belief because I have evidence.... Some people choose not to believe the evidence, but thats not their problem. I have 100% evidence in everything in my faith.

      See, me and you are different. In your "religious views" You have faith without evidence, that sounds amazing. I Wish I could say the same. I have tangible evidence and visual evidence, and that is what makes my faith strong.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • Answer

      Sure right.. Fran.

      If you had any evidence we'd all be believers. Why are you keeping it under wraps? Why so afraid to reveal the evidence to the world and end the whole debate?

      March 24, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
  4. ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

    LIVE WITH TRUTH ABSOLUTE OF CREATION, YOUR OWN RESEARCH PROVES YOUR HINDU DONKEY ISM. STUPID ATHEISM, SECULAR ISM, SELF CENTER ISM WRONG.

    CREATION PROVEN BY QUANTUM PHYSICS AND DENIED BY FOLLOWERS OF HINDU MONKEY ISM, ATHEISM, STUPID SECULAR ISM BY FAITH.

    By
    quantum physics, everything is dependent on dark matter or program, otherwise
    known as Spirit, truth of human to be in physical form. Spirit, programs appear
    in male body after reaching age of puberty by will of Allah, certain matter
    from blood of man is attracted to spirit on 125 volts. produced by
    function of human body, after attachment of matter to spirit, matter
    takes form of sperm, a living being, transferred to woman's body to grow into human form according to
    spirit, program, otherwise known as seeded, not physically but spiritually programmed.
    Woman has no other function in human life but to mother a child, a greatest
    service, man cannot do without, reason for a children to carry their fathers
    name. Heritage of person is physically attached to man's linage, not
    woman.
    Every letter of a word has meanings of its own, seeds to grow crop of words for humanity to communicate. From seeds of letters, blocks are created and than blocks are combined to create words to communicate intentions of a person. Word ATHEIST MEANS, A SELF CENTERED, DENIER OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE, OR A PERSON CLAIMING HIMSELF TO BE TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD, A HINDU SHAMAN, A CROOK SPEAKING BY HIS SOUL, DESIRE, NOT OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE OF A MATTER. Atheism is not of human, but in line with mind set of a animals. Following words are best example to identify Atheism.
    DOG
    Letter D, means, THE. vowel O, represents, QUANTIFIED AND Letter G is result of one s intention from his mind and heart. Sounded Ga. meaning a secular, self centered by intention in opposition to truth absolute by intention. or an atheist,
    MONKEY
    Letter M means essence or choice of an intention, Vowel O represents Quantified. Letter N means enshrined or established. Letter K identifies function of a noun. Vowel E represents unity of an adjective and a noun in essence. Letter Y means Ye, from heart and mind, base of word Yes. meaning by self choice, with dis regard to truth absolute, a Secular, self centered or an atheist,
    DONKEY
    Letter D, means THE, Vowel O means QUANTIFIED, Letter N means established or enshrined. Letter K identifies function of a noun. Vowel E represents unity of an adjective and a noun in essence. Letter Y means Ye, from heart and mind, base of word Yes. meaning by self choice, with dis regard to truth absolute, a Secular, self centered or an atheist,
    As a matter of fact, word ANIMAL means nothing else, but a atheist, self centered or denier of truth absolute.
    Atheism, self center ism is way of animals and hindrance negativity to truth absolute GOD, foundation of consti tution of USA and universe and source for existence of every thing in existence, otherwise known as constant.
    Atheism is way of hindus, deniers of truth absolute, not of human, but animals observed by pot head hindu Swamis, ignorant goons, secular, self centered by their hindu soul, filthy desire and foundation of hinduism racism of hindu dark ages.
    Please visit Limitisthetruth.com to learn about truth absolute and hindrance of truth absolute by hindus, deniers of truth absolute, foundation of hinduism racism, product of Atheism, hindu secular ism, criminal self center ism of hindu Sanatans, crook goons to hind, fool humanity in to gentile ism, slavery of few.

    March 24, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • Yakobi

      THINKING OF A LOW CAST BHUNGI

      March 24, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • Yakobi

      and next time you sit on open hole potty in your country, think what is missing in the picture.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
    • ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

      b OY YOUR HIND IS ON FIRE TO DAY, HINDU IGNORANT.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • Yakobi

      bhang's hind is on fire, shooting dark matters from ass

      March 24, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  5. Ray

    If you cease to exist when you die and there is nothing after this life, what does anything you do in this life matter?

    March 24, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • Answer

      The simple truth.

      We place value in what we want to do with this life. You can't accept that we simply just do that?
      That's your problem.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Ray, we didn't exist before we were born either. What is the difference?

      March 24, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • Realist

      as a Realist, and I'd imagine atheist would agree, we believe in helping others without eternal rewards. We believe a living life is precious.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • Bob Lewis

      I never realized Justin Timberlake was an atheist. Talented!

      March 24, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
    • jnel

      Everything we do in this life matters, how could it not?! If anything, this life means MORE if you believe there is not a life after this one. So it's important to live every day to the fullest. Just because I don't worship a god (or I guess, more importantly, YOUR god) doesn't mean I'm any less valuable, kind, hard-working, etc than anyone else.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
  6. mylife55

    I feel sorry for atheists.Everyone I have ever known has been a sad person.

    March 24, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • Answer

      Spoken like a true christian who hates himself so much that they project it out. That's a christian alright.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • Eddie

      I'm so happy to not worship an invisible man up in the sky.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  7. Avdin

    I am so daily amazed at the willingness and wonderfulness of a loving God to put up with and have hope in me a sinner. To think that one so great would have a plan for me or care about me at all much less here my prayers is beyond my understanding. That He would choose to give me freedom of choice, that He would allow me to grow and fail, that he would give guidance and correction, that He whose love creates and sustains an entire universe would offer to extend a shred of that love to me... that is incredible, inspiring and the reason that I choose and have no choice but to fall prostrate and worship His holy, mighty, and inexpressible wonder, beauty and greatness and offer Him unending thankfulness and praise.

    March 24, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Why don't you quit sinning so your god can attend to sick children or famine relief or global warning or something?

      March 24, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • kevin

      Kind of a twisted self centered idea isn't it? You keep saying how awesome God is, but then your comment is wholly, unabashedly, and ironically about you. What is more likely: that all this God stuff is about you, or that YOU are all there is and so you make up stuff to make it interesting? The latter is a proven phenomenon, the former is mystical self-aggrandizement.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
  8. MICHAEL

    Your in good company...Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, Darwin.

    March 24, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • Answer

      A well groomed christian you are.

      Good soldier. Keep up the ignorance. You make your parents proud.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • Eddie

      Hitler and his cohorts were Catholic. Pol Pot and Stalin's followers viewed them as Gods.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Michael, you are not educated in this matter. Forget that Hitler was Christian, it was the story of Judas in the Bible itself that pushed a madman to his atrocities. You are a simplton.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • kevin

      And all the Christians are in good company too-the Popes of the Inquisition and Crusades, the ministers of the Salem Witch Hunts, etc. There are only 2 buckets humans find themselves in: Believers or Nonbelievers, and we all do horrible things. Your comment is silly.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • kevin

      oh and I forgot... how was Charles Darwin bad company?

      March 24, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
    • clarity

      Someone please give this idiot a history lesson.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • kmac

      How can you even group Darwin with the other three...he was a scientist who never hurt anybody and changed out knowledge of how the world came to be. But I guess science doesn't agree with Genesis...so he's practically Hitler.

      Also, and I encourage any Christian to answer this–if your god preaches kindness and tolerance, why can't you accept that some of us don't believe what you believe? And we aren't horrible or lesser people for it. If you want to worship a deity, knock yourself out...I don't believe what you believe, but I respect your choice. I believe in science...who are you to judge me for that?

      March 24, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • End Religion

      None of the totalitarian characters trotted out in the "atheists have killed more people" fallacy, whether they were atheist or not, killed in the name of a lack of belief in a god. Some of them suppressed religion as a tool to further the goal of totalitarian control.

      "State-imposed atheism" is a misnomer; there can be no such thing. Imposed irreligion is not atheism. Atheism is only the lack of belief in a god; one can't force people to not believe in a god.

      The actions of Mao, Pol and Joe (who attended seminary) were totalitarian opportunists. They sought total authority and banned religion which would compete with that authority. The pursuit of control over a people was the cause for the bloodshed.

      Although Stalin initially sought to rid Russia of religion, once firmly in office he re-instîtuted the Russian Orthodox Church and re-opened theological schools. Suppression of religion was a tool not a reason.

      Pol Pot is said to have practiced some Theravada Buddhism (and his Khmer Rouge were radical Buddhists). He studied at a Catholic school in Phnom Pen for 8 years. This mad man targeted not only religion but science, medicine and education. Political dissent was not permitted, with torture a common sentence.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Adolf_Hitler

      Hitler was raised Catholic. In his book Mein Kampf and in public speeches he made statements affirming a belief in Christianity. He called the purge of Jews "positive Christianity." While there is debate over his actual private feelings about the faith, he was a publicly practicing Christian. There exists no known evidence that Hitler was an atheist or agnostic. Again: evidence he was Christian; no evidence he was otherwise.

      Hitler said: "Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord."

      The Reichskonkordat was a treaty signed on 20 July 1933 between the Holy See (Catholic Church) and Nazi Germany, guaranteeing the rights of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, giving moral legitimacy to the Nazi regime soon after Hitler had acquired dictatorial powers, and placing constraints on Catholic critics of the regime, leading to a muted response by the Church to Nazi policies. Yes, the Catholic Church colluded with Nazis.

      http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?ti.tle=20th_century_atrocities (take dot out of 'tîtle')
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_Hitlerum
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

      March 24, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
  9. Liza

    The Anti-Christ is alive and well! I wonder what kind of betrayer is he like? Judas who did not repent, but instead hanged himself or Peter, who bitterly repented and restored of the love intensly coming from the Creator and Redeemer of the world toward his unbelievable bitter denial of friendship to a much superlative gracious God! One thing for sure, his love for dirty lucre and tax deductions came first befpre God and His people. A choice reason for confusion, indeed!

    March 24, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • End Religion

      DO you have a job? Have you ever turned down the automatic deductions on your tax form? Sounds like you're in love with dirty lucre and tax deductions, Liza. Might want to see a doctor about that.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
  10. Let There Be Beliefs to Fill the Air

    I would suggest that Mr. Stiefel expand his operation of badmouthing religion to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other hard to crack places where there's large pockets of believers. Once that's done, taking on Christianity should be a "mop up" job. (note my sarcasm). Stiefel is just running a political foundation with one thing on his agenda: Stop Christians from openly expressing their religious beliefs simply because his own selfish self doesn't believe.

    March 24, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
    • sam stone

      islam is nowhere near the threat to our freedoms that well meaning (but delusional) christians are

      March 24, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • qazoo

      He can't because it would go against his political dogma. And the fact that Christianity is a far easier target. You only ever dispute things in life that deep down you are confuse about. He's still to young to have discovered it's really a waste of time searching for the meaning of life, and at 38 he's getting closer to asking the question about what his life means.

      Live life, there are no answers. Science is as much conjecture as Religion is. And if there is any real truth in this life it is that neither an Intelligent Design or a Big Bang can exist on it's own.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • Jim L

      If you decide to attack Stiefel because he advocates for atheism, you may as well attack every religious organization who advocates for their beliefs. Argument is good and is needed for a progressive society. If you disagree him, use logic and reason to discredit the argument provided by atheists. Many atheists fear religion, because it can be used for irrational decisions (war/bigotry) and many religious people fear atheism because the rational argument shakes the foundations many have built their lives upon.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
    • End Religion

      OP: don't you worry your pretty little head but we're coming for your Christianity first. We want your children! Then we go after Islamist babies. Soon we will have all the babies!!! All babies!!! Atheist babies everywhere!!!

      It all ties in with our abortion plot. We abort Christian babies and impregnate women with Atheist seed. Soon, we will inherit the Earth, god willing.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • Joe800

      All religion is equal in its insistence on suspending humans innate reason and surrender to another person's power. It's all equally debasing and humiliating. If belief in a god is so right, it wouldnt need to be mandatory or pushed on people. We reasoning non-believers dont want to stop you, we just want you to stop forcing your crazy on the rest of us.

      March 24, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
  11. Dave Harris

    Asking questions is the first step on the road to atheism. Better you should just get a frontal lobotomy. We'd all be believers if we were just about 30 IQ points shorter.

    March 24, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • John P. Tarver, MS/PE

      Rcism hs always been a key driver in atheism.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • Frank M

      How so JT?

      March 24, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • clarity

      More BS from Tarver. He has really stunk up this thread with his unsupported nonsense.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • Sam's Uncle

      Ok, two questions I am still pondering: Why was the universe created? And who or what was the architect or its creation?

      March 24, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • Christian7

      I don't think that it is reasonable to make the conclusion that smart people are less inclined to believe in God. Most of the great scientists were not atheists.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • clarity

      @Christian7 – that's ridiculous. That's like saying there are more straight scientists than gay scientists. Now if you have stats based on the ratio or atheist, you might have something, otherwise I think you're into an ad populum fallacy.

      You may want to check out the vast number of Nobel laureates among the names listed here:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_atheists_in_science_and_technology

      March 24, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • Sam's Uncle

      Here's a list of Nobel Laureates and other prolific scientific and philisophical thinkers that believed in God: The point is that there are many intelligent people that believed in God. Only, the close-minded think that all "believers" are weak-of-mind. I googled this list and have not researched all of their statements on God. However, given that you probably googled your list as well, I should get the benefit of the doubt.

      Nobel Scientists (20-21 Century)

      Albert Einstein
      Nobel Laureate in Physics
      Jewish

      Max Planck
      Nobel Laureate in Physics
      Protestant

      Erwin Schrodinger
      Nobel Laureate in Physics
      Catholic

      Werner Heisenberg
      Nobel Laureate in Physics
      Lutheran

      Robert Millikai
      Nobel Laureate in Physics
      probably Congregationalist

      Charles Hard Townes
      Nobel Laureate in Physics
      United Church of Christ (raised Baptist)

      Arthur Schawlow
      Nobel Laureate in Physics
      Methodist

      William D. Phillips
      Nobel Laureate in Physics
      Methodist

      William H. Bragg
      Nobel Laureate in Physics
      Anglican

      Guglielmo Marconi
      Nobel Laureate in Physics
      Catholic and Anglican

      Arthur Compton
      Nobel Laureate in Physics
      Presbyterian

      Arno Penzias
      Nobel Laureate in Physics
      Jewish

      Nevill Mott
      Nobel Laureate in Physics
      Anglican

      Isidor Isaac Rabi
      Nobel Laureate in Physics
      Jewish

      Abdus Salam
      Nobel Laureate in Physics
      Muslim

      Antony Hewish
      Nobel Laureate in Physics
      Christian (denomination?)

      Joseph H. Taylor, Jr.
      Nobel Laureate in Physics
      Quaker

      Alexis Carrel
      Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Physiology
      Catholic

      John Eccles
      Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Physiology
      Catholic

      Joseph Murray
      Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Physiology
      Catholic

      Ernst Chain
      Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Physiology
      Jewish

      George Wald
      Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Physiology
      Jewish

      Ronald Ross
      Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Physiology
      Christian (denomination?)

      Derek Barton
      Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
      Christian (denomination?)

      Christian Anfinsen
      Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
      Jewish

      Walter Kohn
      Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
      Jewish

      Richard Smalley
      Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
      Christian (denomination?)

      Nobel Writers (20-21 Century)

      T.S. Eliot
      Nobel Laureate in Literature
      Anglo-Catholic (Anglican)

      Rudyard Kipling
      Nobel Laureate in Literature
      Anglican

      Alexander Solzhenitsyn
      Nobel Laureate in Literature
      Russian Orthodox

      François Mauriac
      Nobel Laureate in Literature
      Catholic

      Hermann Hesse
      Nobel Laureate in Literature
      Christian; Buddhist?

      Winston Churchill
      Nobel Laureate in Literature
      Anglican

      Jean-Paul Sartre
      Nobel Laureate in Literature
      Lutheran; Freudian; Marxist; atheist; Messianic Jew

      Sigrid Undset
      Nobel Laureate in Literature
      Catholic (previously Lutheran)

      Rabindranath Tagore
      Nobel Laureate in Literature
      Hindu

      Rudolf Eucken
      Nobel Laureate in Literature
      Christian (denomination?)

      Isaac Singer
      Nobel Laureate in Literature
      Jewish
      Nobel Peace Laureates (20-21 Century)

      Albert Schweitzer
      Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
      Lutheran

      Jimmy Carter
      Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
      Baptist (former Southern Baptist)

      Theodore Roosevelt
      Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
      Dutch Reformed; Episcopalian

      Woodrow Wilson
      Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
      Presbyterian

      Frederik de Klerk
      Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
      Dutch Reformed

      Nelson Mandela
      Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
      Christian (denomination?)

      Kim Dae-Jung
      Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
      Catholic

      Dag Hammarskjold
      Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
      Christian (denomination?)

      Martin Luther King, Jr.
      Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
      Baptist

      Adolfo Perez Esquivel
      Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
      Catholic

      Desmond Tutu
      Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
      Anglican

      John R. Mott
      Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
      Methodist

      Founders of Modern Science (16-21 Century)

      Isaac Newton
      Founder of Classical Physics and Infinitesimal Calculus
      Anglican (rejected Trinitarianism, i.e., Athanasianism;
      believed in the Arianism of the Primitive Church)

      Galileo Galilei
      Founder of Experimental Physics
      Catholic

      Nicolaus Copernicus
      Founder of Heliocentric Cosmology
      Catholic (priest)

      Johannes Kepler
      Founder of Physical Astronomy and Modern Optics
      Lutheran

      Francis Bacon
      Founder of the Scientific Inductive Method
      Anglican

      René Descartes
      Founder of Analytical Geometry and Modern Philosophy
      Catholic

      Blaise Pascal
      Founder of Hydrostatics, Hydrodynamics,
      and the Theory of Probabilities
      Jansenist

      Michael Faraday
      Founder of Electronics and Electro-Magnetics
      Sandemanian

      James Clerk Maxwell
      Founder of Statistical Thermodynamics
      Presbyterian; Anglican; Baptist

      Lord Kelvin
      Founder of Thermodynamics and Energetics
      Anglican

      Robert Boyle
      Founder of Modern Chemistry
      Anglican

      William Harvey
      Founder of Modern Medicine
      Anglican (nominal)

      John Ray
      Founder of Modern Biology and Natural History
      Calvinist (denomination?)

      Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
      German Mathematician and Philosopher,
      Founder of Infinitesimal Calculus
      Lutheran

      Charles Darwin
      Founder of the Theory of Evolution
      Anglican (nominal); Unitarian

      Ernst Haeckel
      German Biologist,
      the Most Influential Evolutionist in Continental Europe

      Thomas H. Huxley
      English Biologist and Evolutionist,
      Famous As "Darwin's Bulldog"

      Joseph J. Thomson
      Nobel Laureate in Physics, Discoverer of the Electron,
      Founder of Atomic Physics
      Anglican

      Louis Pasteur
      Founder of Microbiology and Immunology
      Catholic

      Great Philosophers (17-21 Century)

      Immanuel Kant
      One of the Greatest Philosophers
      in the History of Western Philosophy
      Lutheran

      Jean-Jacques Rousseau
      Founder of Modern Deism
      born Protestant;
      converted as a teen to Catholic

      Voltaire
      French Philosopher and Historian,
      One of the Most Influential Thinkers of the Enlightenment
      raised in Jansenism

      David Hume
      Scottish Empiricist Philosopher, Historian, and Economist,
      Founder of Modern Skepticism
      Church of Scotland (Presbyterian)

      Spinoza
      Dutch-Jewish Philosopher,
      the Chief Exponent of Modern Rationalism
      Judaism; later pantheism/deism

      Giordano Bruno
      Italian Philosopher, Astronomer, and Mathematician,
      Founder of the Theory of the Infinite Universe
      Catholic

      George Berkeley
      Irish Philosopher and Mathematician, Founder of Modern Idealism,
      Famous as "The Precursor of Mach and Einstein"
      Anglican

      John Stuart Mill
      English Philosopher and Economist,
      the Major Exponent of Utilitarianism
      agnostic; Utilitarian

      Richard Swinburne, Oxford Professor of Philosophy,
      One of the Most Influential Theistic Philosophers

      March 24, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
  12. don

    What is silly is to put that much time and money into being a non believer. What difference does it make? This man needs to get a life and put that money towards something relevant to life and living, not the afterlife – whether it exist or not. If you do not believe in god, shy waste your LIFE with it. Get a life.

    March 24, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • John P. Tarver, MS/PE

      trying to prove a negative is a fool's ploy.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Can't tell if you're talking about Todd Stiefel or churches? Must be churches, since they've outspent him by billions and billions of dollars!

      March 24, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • clarity

      Tarver, there has never been any credible evidence put forth to support the initial claim by religion for the existence of God. Therefore, to date, no one that I know of has been able to prove its existence. No need for anyone to disprove any negative, since the initial claim has fallen flat. It's easy to say that it can't be disproved either, but on the same level as saying you can't disprove that Tinkerbell exists.

      Regardless of the possible existence of a preacher man who made some headlines, there is plenty of reason to question the validity of the gospel accounts in the Bible. The anonymously-written gospels were thought by many to be copies/variations of earlier pagan stories. The charges against them was sufficient enough that several early Christian apologists came up with this whacky notion of 'diabolical mimicry' – that the devil disseminated the supposedly "fake" stories before the "real" gospel accounts. How about that plagiarism in reverse, courtesy of you neighborhood devil.

      Christians took some rehashed folklore and just made it sound even fishier.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
  13. Marcforcommonsense

    No wonder the atheist movement is growing.....all of the scandals over let's say just the last 30 years....from all the child molesting that is rampant to mega church ministries and their ministers personal wealth and property....(why don't they live modestly and give all their money to those in need as they preach). You are a sucker if you fall for all of that crap. Read the history. It's taught in college courses that the bible was written in times when people were unruly and out of control to "scare" them into a straight and narrow path. I have always wondered what the believers really do believe when you die. Does a ghost or spirit or you as something rise from your body and you float up somewhere in space or universe or is it higher up....and when you get to your destination how do you live? In a house on a street or do you float around for eternity. Is there a Walmart or a McDonald's. do you start all over in life. Do you marry and have children. Google it. NOBODY will address these issues. Think about it. What does common sense tell you. By the way. There are thousands of different religions in our world that all believe very different things happen when you die on this planet. One of them has men living with a bunch of virgins. Cool. Anyway, which religion will be correct, if any??? A bunch of people are going to be disappointed I would guess.

    March 24, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • darknesscrown

      I think atheism is appealing to people because it provides something religion can't...reason. That all the answers you could ever want ARE actually out there waiting to be found if you're willing to just get up and go get them. I'm not judging the religious...some people NEED it. I don't, however, and I have found that life becomes more amazing when you take "God" out of the equation.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • Christian7

      darknesscrown, If atheist have such excellent reasoning skills, how come there so few great atheistic scientists, but there a very large number of great Christian scientists?

      March 24, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • clarity

      @Christian7 – that's ridiculous. That's like saying there are more straight scientists than gay scientists. Now if you have stats based on the ratio or atheist, you might have something, otherwise I think you're into an ad populum fallacy.

      You may want to check out the vast number of Nobel laureates among the names listed here:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_atheists_in_science_and_technology

      March 24, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
  14. Christian7

    Why do Atheists and Agnostics have a higher suicide rate than Theists? It makes it difficult to argue that Christians are hurting their kids when statistically they have less chance of committing suicide huh? Also calling us stupid is difficult when Christian schools score higher on SAT tests than atheistic public schools.

    March 24, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • Answer

      Sure right.

      Let us know when it isn't the remarkable lowering of standards that you can just expect your kids to get an A (or 4.0) just for showing us.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • Saraswati

      I've never heard of a selective private school, secular or religious, that didn't do better than a public school. People who send their kids to private schools value education; kids who stay in them do well enough not to fail out or be kicked out. You have to be pretty seriously biased to interpret this as being a product of religion. I attended public schools and both secular and religious private schools growing up. The secular private school was by far the best.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • sam stone

      where did you get that stat, Christian 7?

      March 24, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • Christian7

      Answer, So are you saying that atheist make bad decisions regards school standards?

      March 24, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • Christian7

      Sam Stone,
      According to a recent study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry religious affiliation is associated with significantly lower levels of suicide compared to religiously unaffiliated people, atheists and agnostics. Source: Kanita Dervic, Maria A. Oquendo, Michael F. Grunebaum, Steve Ellis, Ainsley K. Burke, and J. John Mann. "Religious Affiliation and Suicide Attempt" (161:2303-2308, December 2004).

      March 24, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • End Religion

      I give you an A for effort and an F for results. Did you read this study before you posted it? Others may view full docüment here.
      http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleid=177228

      This in not a sample of the population at large. The starting set of people met,” DSM-III-R criteria for a current major depressive episode…” Your starting group is a small sub set of very depressed people. This type of diagnosis requires human interpretation and is subject to unintentional bias. Additionally, this is not a blind study (forget double blind) – that is the people collecting the data knew which person gave which answers. Another problem is that the some of the data is self reported. People are poor at giving self reported data. I imagine this could be worse if your are very depressed. I also could not find in the study how they decided who did or did not have a “religious affiliation”. These are all huge problems for this study.

      In this sub group there is a material variation in personal networks (which could affect suicide rates – again – no control is provided) “Religiously affiliated subjects reported a more family-oriented social network, reflected in more time spent with first-degree relatives.”

      I loved this little gem – “Therefore, it is possible that depressed patients who stated that they were atheists or had no religion had abandoned religion as a consequence of depression or hopelessness.”
      So… When you are really depressed you may claim to not care about religion – DUH! When really depressed you are likely to not care about a lot of things.
      Nice try but you fail!

      March 24, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
  15. Religiously Offended

    d

    March 24, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
  16. bribarian

    more jews trying to bank

    March 24, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
    • Bostontola

      Envy is an ugly thing, it will eat you up from the inside. Try to abandon it, you'll probably feel much better about your life.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  17. readylens

    We will see in the end. Based on these comments I see that it is going as the Bible says...that many will go down the wide road and few will seek the narrow road.

    March 24, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • End Religion

      We won't see in the end. We will be dead, and that's it. We will know as much after life as we knew before life. Nothing.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
    • Answer

      Let us know when any of you christians make it back from heaven to tell us about it.

      Meanwhile dream on.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • mark

      End enjoy your minionship in the cult of unbelief. As you say you are but a vapor. First time I agreed with you when you indicated you know nothing. Finally some humility.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • Answer

      What science knows is roughly estimated 3%. Yep we know absolutely nothing.

      But we sure can make a functioning computer for you religious freaks to talk over the internet. Maybe even give you a chance to date one another online. Maybe even for you to get cured.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • Sam's Uncle

      Not that it will matter much because we could tell you stories all day about people that have come back after "experiencing" death, but I personally know a man who served in Iraq. He had both of his legs blown off by a IED. He woke up in a hospital bed in Germany after multiple surgeries. When he awoke he told of his experience in meeting God. He was given the choice whether to "die" or come back. Ultimately, he chose to come back. He described the experience as being completely and totally enveloped in love and warmth. He was told by his treating physician's that he had clinically "died" many times from the time he was hit by the IED and the time he finally woke up in Germany. I'm sure you would just dismiss his experience or try to explain it away, but I don't think you would be able to convince him there isn't a God. There are lots of people who have had similar experiences if you look. But you won't because you are close-minded. I know you don't think you are close-minded, but you are. I know that's hard to let sink in, but you'll get it eventually.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • Answer

      Sure you can tell some other person's story. I've have my own scenario.

      Nothing.

      So what's the difference. Makes your story just dumb.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • James Wagler

      The fool hath said in his heart, "There is no god."

      March 24, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • Sam's Uncle

      Wow, what a come back. Like I said; you're close-minded. At least my "scenario" is based in fact (I better correct myself, it was Afghanistan not Iraq). The young man's name is Lt. Brian Brennan. He was on CBS news. Why don't you talk to him and tell him his story is dumb. Idiot.

      March 24, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • End Religion

      Mankind understands NDE well. It has nothing to do with imaginary creatures. It is sometimes the fight or flight release of adrenaline or the body's release of dopamine during trauma that cause hallucinations perceived by @3% of the general population. Half of the people experiencing it aren't actually near death. One can experience the same effects with various drugs.
      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=peace-of-mind-near-death

      Scathing review from Sam Harris on the Eban Alexander NDE book:
      http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/this-must-be-heaven

      March 24, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
  18. End Religion

    Give an atheist a hug today if one helped you break free from the god delusion!

    March 24, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      That should be on a button and given away at rallies ... or churches!

      March 24, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
  19. Bostontola

    There is an awful lot of childish back and forth on this blog. The religious people exhibit little of what they are taught. Just because an atheist says something that is offensive to you, do you need to abandon your religious teachings to lash back at them. Maybe in addition to the bible, you should consult the sticks and stones children line.

    March 24, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  20. darknesscrown

    Why–seriously, WHY–does everyone get heated about this. If you want to believe in a magical old man in the sky who has a plan for everything (nevermind the fact that if anyone deviates from this master plan that the aforementioned old man will never do anything to correct the deviation...of course...because he gives people free will, right?), then you go right ahead and believe that. You have no right getting mad at someone like me who rejects the proposition that God exists and is good...or whatever. You have NO RIGHT getting mad about that. Let's just get that clearly established.

    As for my fellow non-believers, stop chiding them. If they are happy believing in God, great. If they're happy it means they will stay out of our way. Happy people don't cause trouble. So stop caring so much about the things other people believe in, and more about living your own life...like I do.

    Now, this part of my comment is for both theists and atheists alike. If ANYONE condemns or judges you for believing what you want to believe, walk away. That's right. WALK AWAY. Do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT debate. All that does is causes fights and name-calling, or, in the Muslim world, car and suicide bombs. If they don't leave you alone. Do whatever you feel you need to do to end the harangue (I'll let you use your own judgment on what that means). Other than that, just shut up and leave each other (and me) alone and the same courtesy will be reciprocated.

    March 24, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
    • End Religion

      I find your post ironic.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • darknesscrown

      Why does "atheism" need a "money man" or activists anyway? People need to get a life. For serious. What's the point of getting a message 84% of the U.S. population doesn't want to hear? Guys like this only make atheists look petty and intrusive. All atheists do is reject the idea of God. That's it. Dudes who organize money and launch campaigns to get the "atheist message" out there are as much a con artist as pastors and priests.

      March 24, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • End Religion

      It is human nature to form communities. It's also a necessary evil to raise money for awareness of a cause. No atheist needs to give or join anything. I attended the Reason Rally, and if it only happened because this fellow raised money for it, then I thank him for it.

      March 24, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.