Are All Thinking Men Atheists?

Are All Thinking Men Atheists?

Reading Time: 8 minutes

I think most of us know what a poster child is. A person who represents a cause, belief, or in some way exemplifies what one would expect concerning an organization or campaign. But in this day and age, what we come across on the Internet can be very deceiving. The above is one of the favorites that I have had hanging in my classroom for years.

Like the one with Abe Lincoln, many of these can bring a smile to our faces. But, after just a moment’s consideration, you realize President Lincoln was not alive when the Internet first sprang into being, so the quote, as wise and truthful as it is, obviously is false and misleading. 

Others are not so clearly false and misleading. For example, click on this poster: 

Who wouldn’t want such powerful, influential, and brilliant men in their corner? Are all these men atheists, as the poster suggests? 

Featured above:

Abraham Lincoln
Carl Sagan
Ben Franklin
Thomas Jefferson
Charles Darwin
Albert Einstein
Mark Twain
Ernest Hemingway

There is no denying that the world has produced brilliant men and women who are atheists. Still, the above poster is an absolute misrepresentation of believers in the ranks of atheism. When I saw this poster, I was more than surprised to see who was on it. So I began to look up quotes from a couple of the gentlemen, who, I was sure, were not atheists. 

Then after confirming my suspicions, I took the time to research everyone on the poster. I selected a few quotes from each one if only to make a point of their being manipulated to make a case for atheism. Some of these men may have been atheists, but most were not. At most, some could be called agnostic. [] An agnostic does not know or can’t decide if there is a God or not. 

As you will see below, some of these historical figures painted as atheists took offense. Some of the quotes I put in to place a smile on your face; Mark Twain’s quote about the monkeys is one. Others quotes are significant because of their clear vision of the future and what we can expect from the world. For example, the letter by Abraham Lincoln to Joshua F. Speed is so right on 168 years later; it is chilling.

Most of the quotes below are from America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations. Others from, There Is A God by Anthony Flew, an atheist turned theist in the last years of his life. Most of these men were theists, some agnostic, but only one was truly an atheist.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) Our 16th president was nicknamed “Honest Abe.” He was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theater five days after the Civil War ended.

  • In 1846 Lincoln wrote this in response to a rumor that he was not a Christian, “That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures…”
  • In 1851 he wrote to his brother about their father’s illness, “I sincerely hope father may recover his health; but at all events tell him to remember to call upon and confide in our great and good and merciful Maker…”
  • In 1851 he wrote a letter to Joshua F. Speed, “How can anyone who abhors the oppression of Negroes be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ Now we practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except Negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics.”
  • When General Lee led an army of 76,000 men into Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. was panicking. Later, Lincoln related this to a wounded general in Gettysburg, “When everyone seemed panic-stricken..I went to my room…and got down on my knees before Almighty God and prayed…Soon a sweet comfort crept into my soul that God Almighty had taken the whole business into His own hands…”
  • On March 30th, 1863, President Lincoln issued a historic proclamation appointing a National Fast Day.

Carl Sagan (1934-1996) was an astrophysicist, astronomer, author, and popular figure in science. He authored Contact, which was made into a popular movie in 1997, and narrated the television series Cosmos. In addition, he published hundreds of scientific papers and was a supporter of Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

  • He said, “An agnostic is somebody who doesn’t believe in something until there is evidence for it, so I’m agnostic.”
  • In his book, The Demon-Haunted World, he wrote, “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.”
  • In 1980 he wrote, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
  • In 1981 he said, “An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence.”
  • In reply to a question in 1996 about his religious beliefs, Sagan answered, “I’m agnostic.”

Ben Franklin (1706-1790) was an author, scientist, printer, and one of our nation’s founding statesmen. He had an annual publication titled Poor Richard’s Almanac. In this, you would find the following:

  • God heals, and the doctor takes the fees.
  • God helps those who helps themselves. [commonly misquoted as actual scripture]
  • Work as if you were to live 100 years; pray as if you were to die tomorrow.
  • In 1748 as Pennsylvania’s Governor Franklin proposed that state’s first fast day. “It is the duty of mankind on all suitable occasions to acknowledge their dependence on the Divine Being…”
  • In 1753 he wrote a letter to Joseph Huey, “I can only show my gratitude for these mercies from God, by a readiness to help his other children and my brethren.”
  • Ben Franklin wrote in his autobiography this prayer which he prayed every day. “O powerful goodness! Bountiful Father! Merciful Guide! Increase in me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest.”

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) He was an author, scientist, architect and the 3rd President of the United States.

  • In 1781 Jefferson made this statement, “Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.”
  • In a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, he wrote, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
  • In 1801 he wrote to Moses Robinson, “The Christian Religion, when divested of the rags in which they [the clergy] have enveloped it, and brought to the original purity and simplicity of its benevolent institutor, is a religion of all others most friendly to liberty, science, and the freest expansion of the human mind.”
  • In 1805 Jefferson wrote in a National Prayer for Peace, “Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; we humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will.”

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) Author of On the Origin of Species in 1859 and the theory of natural selection. He was one of the most influential scientists in history. He is buried in Westminster Abbey near Sir Isaac Newton.

  • In 1873 Darwin wrote to a Dutch student, “I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide.”
  • His son, Francis Darwin, shared in the book, The Life of Charles Darwin the following quote by his father, “In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of God.”
  • Reflecting on his work near the end of his life, he wrote, “I was a young man with uniformed ideas. I threw out queries, suggestions, wondering all the time over everything, and to my astonishment the ideas took like wildfire. People made a religion out of them.”
  • A few months before his death, Darwin was bedridden and often found reading. When one visitor asked what he was studying, he replied, “Hebrews, still Hebrews. The Royal Book, I call it.”

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) Was a famous German-born American physicist who developed the Theory of Relativity, which led us into the atomic age. He received the Nobel Prize, and, I found out, he was offered the position of the President of Israel in 1952 but turned it down. Here are a few of his quotes. 

  • There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is.
  • Einstein always protested against being regarded as an atheist. In a conversation with Prince Hubertus of Lowenstein, he declared, “In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views.”
  • In the book Einstein and Religion, by one of Einstein’s friends Max Jammer, Einstein said, “I’m not an atheist, and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.”

Mark Twain (1835-1910) His given name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, but he came to be known as Mark Twain. Author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince, and the Pauper, and Joan of Arc. He was not an atheist, but there is no question he despised organized religion.

  • In 1869 Twain wrote Innocents Abroad, in which you could find the following, “It is hard to make a choice of the most beautiful passage in a book which is so gemmed with beautiful passages as the Bible…”
  • Mark Twain wrote, “I believe that our Heavenly Father invented man because he was disappointed with the monkey.”
  • He also wrote, “One of the most astonishing things that has yet fallen under our observation is the exceedingly small portion of the earth from which sprang the new flourishing plant of Christianity. The longest journey our Savior ever performed was from here to Jerusalem, about one hundred to one hundred and twenty miles… Leaving out two or three short journeys, He spent his Life preaching His Gospel, and performing His miracles, within a compass no larger than an ordinary county of the United States…”

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was an American author of several classic American novels and honestly the only atheist in the above poster. He was seriously wounded as an ambulance driver in WWI and served in the Spanish Civil War. He authored For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. He drank heavily and was married four times. 

In 1952 Hemingway was on a safari to Africa and was in two successive plane crashes that almost took his life. In 1961 after a long illness, he loaded his favorite shotgun, placed the barrel in his mouth, and blew his brains out. Hemingway is credited with the famous statement, “All thinking men are atheists.”

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is not God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. – Thomas Nagel, a professor at the New York University

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Are All Thinking Men and Women Atheists? by James W Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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