If it were up to me to choose the atheist “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” I could do a much better job than the New Atheist four:
As a philosopher, Nietzsche towers above the others. Sartre easily takes second place, although his thought is heavily dependent on Heidegger and Alexandre Kojève’s interpretation of Hegel. Much of Freud’s thought is taken (uncredited) from Nietzsche, and almost all of real philosophical substance in Marx is borrowed from Hegel. In terms of influence however, Marx and Freud certainly rank as high as any.
This got me thinking of them as atheist “Heavyweights.” I didn’t know anything about boxing weight classes, but Google is my friend, so here we are.
ATHEIST WEIGHT CLASSES
Heavyweights: Nietzsche, Sartre, Freud, Marx, Hume, Schopenhauer, Feuerbach, Stirner
Middleweights: Bruno Bauer, Auguste Comte, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Baron d’Holbach, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Bertrand Russell, Albert Camus
Welterweights: A. J. Ayer, Antony Flew, Michael Martin, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jean-François Leotard, Quentin Smith
Lightweights: Peter Singer, Kai Nielsen, J. C. C. Smart,
Featherweights: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Ayn Rand, Michel Onfray, Peter Atkins, Massimo Pigliucci, Michael Ruse
Bantamweights: Lawrence Krauss, Jerry Coyne, Michael Shermer, Victor Stenger, Alex Rosenberg, A. C. Grayling, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan
Flyweights: P. Z. Myers, Richard Carrier, Thunderf00t, The Amazing Atheist, David Silverman, Rebecca Watson, Infidels.org
Special: I want to include Dostoyevski among the Heavyweights, but since he’s a theist, it doesn’t seem right. Nonetheless, he thought through atheism as deeply as anyone (and certainly more profoundly that most of the atheists on this list) in, e.g. Demons and The Brothers Karamazov.
Some of these names may be a little obscure to people not in the field of professional philosophy or not conversant with the history of philosophy. I didn’t really go back further than the 18th century, and then only to pick up Hume and the French Philosophes—this is mostly about modern atheism, beginning in the 19th century. Hume’s just too damned important to leave out though.
Personally, I recommend you don’t go below the Lightweights if you are a serious inquirer. It’s around that point where rhetoric begins to replace argument, or when argument is to be found, the same arguments are found much better in the higher weight classes. Well, that’s not entirely true; Thunderf00t and the Amazing Atheist are both pretty entertaining, and frequently have interesting things to say when not straw manning theism.
Let me know what you think. Did I miss anyone? Miscategorize anyone?