Who’s Who in Hell

Thanks to reader Norm, I received a copy of the above book and it is incredible. It is a compilation of all the people in the world who are known to be atheists or skeptics of some sort, along with biographical sketches as to their beliefs. The book is by Warren Allen Smith and it is clearly a massive labor of love, clocking in at 1,237 large 8½ x 11 inch pages in two column format, on good quality paper with clear font and not a single typo, at least in the entries that I have read.

In his introduction, Smith outlines the criteria for inclusion.

The present compilation includes many researchers’ listings of humanists and nonbelievers, individuals who over the centuries have listened to the evidence supplied by orthodox “believers” and have rejected such evidence for a variety of reasons, always because of their own critical intelligence. Rather than having “faith” in the sometimes anti-human, anti-science, and anti-freedom tenets of others, these dissidents have developed through skepticism and reason a philosophic outlook that is secular, freethinking, rationalistic, naturalistic, humanistic, or a combination. (Milton placed such individuals in Circle #1 of Hell’s Limbus.)

A number of conservative, older Unitarians and Universalists are included herein. Their views today can be considered quasi-theistic, but in their day they were decidedly unorthodox. Included, for example, are deists like Benjamin Franklin who spoke of “a Supreme Architect” and transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson who wrote about “the Oversoul.” Although borderline non-believer/freethinkers, they nevertheless were integral in helping lead the successful transition from theism to the various assortment of non-theism found today.”

Smith does not require conclusive proof that every person included is or was a nonbeliever and is willing to include people like William Shakespeare based on inferences that he outlines. This is what makes the book particularly interesting, in that one can find all manner of surprising entries. The lengths of the entries vary, ranging from a single sentence to a short paragraph to four columns in the case of Albert Einstein and David Hume.

The book was published in the year 2000 so it is basically only those skeptics who were known to be so before the current millennium began so the current crop of skeptics who have recently emerged in large numbers will not be found within its pages.

It is also not just brief biographies of unbelievers. It also lists secular organizations all over the world and short descriptions of topics that are related, sometimes distantly, to atheism such as Asceticism and Death and Intellectual and Pragmatism.

I tested the comprehensiveness of the book by looking to see if Abraham T. Kovoor (1898-1978) appeared in it. He and his wife were thoroughgoing atheists in Sri Lanka and were the bane of the various god-men and other charlatans that plague the Indian subcontinent, ridiculing their claims, contradicting their assertions of godliness by also producing ‘holy ash’ and other trinkets out of thin air like they did, and challenging them to reveal the serial number of a currency note sealed in an envelope. Of course, none of them took up his challenge although they blustered a lot. I met him once when I was an undergraduate and recall that he looked a little like the photographs of Sigmund Freud. I figured that if the book contained an item about Kovoor, Smith had been pretty thorough and not just Western-centric. And sure enough, Kovoor was there.

There was also an item under Humor. The few jokes in it were not that great but I liked this one: “Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Give him a religion, and he’ll starve to death while praying for a fish.”


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    … Abraham T. Kovoor (1989-1978) …

    Who also merits special attention for traveling backwards in time.

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