Famous atheists and their beliefs

Updated 2:33 PM ET, Fri December 11, 2015
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Houston Texans running back Arian Foster opened up about his beliefs and publicly stated that he doesn't believe in God in an interview with ESPN published August 6. "Everybody always says the same thing: You have to have faith," he said. "That's my whole thing: Faith isn't enough for me. For people who are struggling with that, they're nervous about telling their families or afraid of the backlash. ... Man, don't be afraid to be you. I was, for years." Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
British entrepreneur and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson said in a 2011 interview with CNN's Piers Morgan that he believes in evolution and the importance of humanitarian efforts but not in the existence of God. "I would love to believe," he said. "It's very comforting to believe." Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
British actor Daniel Radcliffe, known for his role as Harry Potter, declared he was an atheist in a 2009 interview. "I'm an atheist, but I'm very relaxed about it," he said. "I don't preach my atheism, but I have a huge amount of respect for people like Richard Dawkins who do." Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images
During a 2002 interview on "Inside the Actor's Studio," actress Julianne Moore was asked what she would like to hear God say to her at the gates of heaven. She replied, "Well, I guess you were wrong. I do exist." Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Pirelli
A GQ cover story in 2012 noted that Spanish actor Javier Bardem is an atheist. He is quoted as saying, "I've always said I don't believe in God; I believe in Al Pacino." THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
English actress Keira Knightley has joked that she wishes she were Catholic. "If only I wasn't an atheist; I could get away with anything," she said in 2012. "You'd just ask for forgiveness, and then you'd be forgiven." Frederic Nebinger/Getty Images
Actor Paul Giamatti calls himself an atheist. In a 2011 interview, he said, "My wife is Jewish, and I'm fine with my son being raised as a Jew. ... I will talk to my son about my atheism when the time is right." Dominique Charriau/WireImage via Getty Images
Sir Ian McKellen, best known for his roles as Gandalf in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and Magneto in the "X-Men" films, has listed atheism among the causes he cares most about. But he says since coming out as gay in 1988, he has been reluctant to lobby on issues beyond his most urgent concern: "legal and social equality for gay people worldwide." Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Legendary CBS News commentator Andy Rooney, who died in 2011 at age 92, was outspoken about religion. "I am an atheist," Rooney said at Tufts University in 2004. "I don't understand religion at all. I'm sure I'll offend a lot of people by saying this, but I think it's all nonsense." CBS/Landov
British actress Emma Thompson said in a 2008 interview, "I'm an atheist; I suppose you can call me a sort of libertarian anarchist. I regard religion with fear and suspicion. It's not enough to say that I don't believe in God. I actually regard the system as distressing: I am offended by some of the things said in the Bible and the Quran, and I refute them." Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Singer-songwriter Billy Joel reiterated his stance in a 2010 interview with radio host Howard Stern. Asked whether he believed in God, Joel replied, "No. I'm an atheist." His song "Only the Good Die Young" includes the line "I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints." Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images
Composer and musician Brian Eno refers to himself as an "evangelical atheist." In 2007, he told the BBC, "What religion says to you, essentially, is that you're not in control. Now that's a very liberating idea. It's quite a frightening idea as well, in some ways." Sergio Dionisio/Getty Images
Penn Jillette, half of the Emmy Award-winning magic duo Penn & Teller, wrote the book "God, No! Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales." In it, he said, "If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true, and someone would find a way to figure it all out again." Lloyd Bishop/NBC/Getty Images
Academy Award-winning director James Cameron, known for films such as "Titanic" and "Avatar," calls himself a "converted agnostic." In "The Futurist," a biography by Rebecca Keegan, he says, "I've sworn off agnosticism, which I now call cowardly atheism." Atheists believe there is no God, while agnostics say it's impossible to prove or disprove God's existence. Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
British actor Hugh Laurie, known for his lead role on the medical drama "House," confirmed his atheism in a 2007 interview with The Sunday Telegraph. "I don't believe in God," he said, "but I have this idea that if there were a God, or destiny of some kind looking down on us, that if he saw you taking anything for granted, he'd take it away." JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images
Actress Jodie Foster told Entertainment Weekly in 2007 that she was an atheist. She added, "But I absolutely love religions and the rituals. Even though I don't believe in God, we celebrate pretty much every religion in our family with the kids." Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images
Seth MacFarlane, creator of the animated series "Family Guy," has become vocal about his atheism. Asked about it in a 2009 interview with Esquire, he said, "It's like the civil-rights movement. There have to be people who are vocal about the advancement of knowledge over faith." Michael Buckner/Getty Images for SXSW
Ricky Gervais, creator of the British series "The Office," wrote about his religious journey in an essay published in 2010 by the Wall Street Journal. "Wow. No God. If mum had lied to me about God, had she also lied to me about Santa? Yes, of course, but who cares? The gifts kept coming," he said. "And so did the gifts of my new found atheism. The gifts of truth, science, nature. The real beauty of this world." Paul Drinkwater/NBC via Getty Images
Comedian Kathy Griffin, a self-described "militant atheist," made her position clear with a controversial Emmy Award acceptance speech in 2007. "A lot of people come up here and they thank Jesus for this award," she said. "I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. He didn't help me a bit. ... So all I can say is, suck it, Jesus. This award is my god now." Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
British evolutionary biologist and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins' views about religion were summed up in his bestselling book "The God Delusion." He wrote, "We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further." His coming-out campaign suggests atheists should be proud rather than apologetic. KAI FOERSTERLING/EPA/Landov
Christopher Hitchens, a British author and antitheist who died in 2011 at age 62, viewed religion as "the main source of hatred in the world." In his book "God is Not Great," Hitchens wrote, "There are days when I miss my old convictions as if they were an amputated limb. But in general I feel better, and no less radical, and you will feel better too, I guarantee, once you leave hold of the doctrinaire and allow your chainless mind to do its own thinking." PETER FOLEY/EPA/Landov
Neuroscientist and author Sam Harris is a well-known atheist and a vocal critic of religion. In "The End of Faith," he wrote, "We will see that the greatest problem confronting civilization is not merely religious extremism: rather, it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accommodations we have made to faith itself." Charles Ommanney/Getty Images
Philosopher Daniel Dennett is referred to as one of the "Four Horsemen of New Atheism," along with Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. In his book "Breaking the Spell," Dennett said, "You don't get to advertise all the good that your religion does without first scrupulously subtracting all the harm it does and considering seriously the question of whether some other religion, or no religion at all, does better." BAS CZERWINSKI/EPA/Landov
British physicist Peter Higgs is among those credited with the theory behind the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle long thought to be a fundamental building block of the universe. In an interview with the BBC, he expressed his discomfort with people calling it the "God particle." He said, "First of all, I'm an atheist. The second thing is I know that name (started as) a kind of joke and not a very good one. ... It's so misleading." FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
In his book "The Grand Design," theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking asserts that God did not create the universe. "Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist," he wrote. "It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going." Cancan Chu/Getty Images
Greg Epstein is the humanist chaplain at Harvard University and the author of the New York Times bestseller "Good Without God." In the introduction, he wrote, "This is not a book about whether one can be good without God, because that question does not need to be answered -- it needs to be rejected outright. To suggest that one can't be good without belief in God is not just an opinion, a mere curious musing -- it is a prejudice."
Kurt Vonnegut, author of "Slaughterhouse Five" and "Cat's Cradle," rejected supernatural beliefs. In his autobiographical book, "Palm Sunday," he examines how he was affected by studying anthropology. "It confirmed my atheism, which was the religion of my fathers anyway," he said. Vonnegut died at age 84 in 2007. Brad Barket/Getty Images
Douglas Adams, who wrote "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," was a committed atheist. In his book "The Salmon of Doubt," he satirically imagined a puddle thinking, "This is an interesting world I find myself in -- an interesting hole I find myself in -- fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!" Adams died in 2001. He was 49. Dan Callister/Online USA/Getty Images
Science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote in his autobiography, "If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul." He died in 1992 at age 72. Library of Congress
Madalyn Murray O'Hair, who was murdered in 1995 at age 76, was an atheist activist. She founded the American Atheists and served as the organization's president from 1963 to 1986. She is perhaps best known for her role in the 1963 Supreme Court ruling that ended Bible reading in public schools. Life magazine once called her "the most hated woman in America." Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Landov
Ayn Rand, author of "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged," was an atheist and an opponent of religion. In her book "The Voice of Reason," she criticized President Ronald Reagan and his administration for trying "to take us back to the Middle Ages, via the unconstitutional union of religion and politics." She died in 1982 at age 77. Leonard Mccombe//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Katharine Hepburn was a four-time Academy Award winner whose career spanned six decades. In a 1991 interview with Ladies' Home Journal, she said, "I'm an atheist, and that's it. I believe there's nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for each other." She died in 2003. She was 96. General Photographic Agency/Getty Images