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10 Famous 21st Century Skeptics Critical Thinkers Need to Know About

Updated on March 26, 2015

James Randi

Randi’s strong presence, charisma and wit no doubt stems from his experience as a stage magician. He stands out in the skeptical community because his background gives him a unique perspective.

I’ve got a number of friends that could be classified as “true believers”. Given the opportunity to introduce a buddy to someone on this list to talk about anything from ghosts to Jesus, it would be James Randi.

Most skeptics come off as arrogant and condescending without realizing it, and it doesn’t bring them any converts. The layman isn’t as concerned about being right or stripping off the veneer and coming to see the truth. No matter how much science backs up one side of the argument, people need to receive the information in a way that they find palatable.  James Randi understands the importance of delivery.

Richard Dawkins

Traditional wisdom will tell you to avoid the topic of politics of religion; that is if you want to make friends and keep the ones you have. Dawkins has shown an incredible amount of courage by pointing out ways that religion has a negative impact on society. Others on this list are doing it too, but not on the same scale and quite as venomously.

Richard’s aggressive tactics haven’t made him many new friends; however he seems willing to whatever it takes to recruit new skeptics and atheists. His approach is like the school teacher that cares more than the others, and is passionate enough to put a good amount of fear in the kids. The ones sitting on the fence are well targeted in his comprehensive book “The God Delusion”; Richard knows his market.

Michael Shermer

Shermer is so deeply entrenched in the skeptical movement that he has practically become an archetype. At times I can’t get that characteristic smirk of his out of my mind’s eye.

As the editor of Skeptic magazine, a prolific author with an ever-growing collection of books, and Scientific American columnist, few have worked so consistently to spread critical thinking to the masses.

Dr. Steven Novella

By day Novella is a clinical neurologist, assistant professor and Director of General Neurology at Yale University School of Medicine. As if that isn’t enough to chew on, he manages to devote much of his free time to the cause of skeptical inquiry.

Steven hosts a podcast called “The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe” along with Robert Novella, Rebecca Watson, Evan Bernstein and Jay Novella. Along with Skeptoid, it has become a favourite podcast of mine. The show has a nice mix of serious discussion about new items and humorous banter. It makes you feel like an eavesdropper sometimes, haven come across a group of friends that unapologetically talk about science.

George Carlin

I was certain that Carlin was a skeptic after watching his rant about global warming. Almost instantly I was sold on both his immense talent as a comic and also as a deep thinker. He just so happened to perfectly articulate that which I couldn’t myself. Ultimately he exposes that our need to “save the planet” is rooted in fact we don’t quite realize how insignificant we really are. Long after you and I are dead and the human race is possibly extinct, the bright blue orb in the sky will be just fine (at least until getting turned into a dessert by the sun’s increasing power).

Carling likes to approach big issues, plough through the B.S. and come to conclusions that are often depressing and uncomfortable. The fact that you are laughing the whole time show just how legendary he is as a comic.

Dr. S. Jay Olshansky

Aubrey de Grey has been promoting the idea of radical life extension in the mass media, by speaking at Universities, TED etc. I greatly admire his passion, optimism and dedication to researching anti-aging interventions that might actually work (one day). Still, I realize the need to withhold my enthusiasm before getting too carried away by it. Science is making amazing strides in the field of regenerative medicine, and aging (due to the recent discovery of telomerase).

Dr. S. Jay Olshansky has published articles warning people not to buy into “the cult of immortality”. His concerns become more valid when you consider that real scientists don’t take de Grey mission very seriously.

Making big claims may get you bigger headlines but it certainly won’t win over the people that matter at the present: the scientists. Olshansky believes a more conservative, skeptical approach is the only way to disassociate gerontology from its shady past lined with charlatans.

Christopher Hitchens

Author and journalist Christopher Hitchens is leading the way in outspoken atheism along with Richard Dawkins. His book “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”, like the title implies, unapologetically bashes the most entrenched religious institutions.

The lessons taught in holy books are given unquestioning respect despite the fact the outlook is diametrically opposed to the ideals of a progressive, modern society. Hitchens feels as long as people cling on to these out modelled “spiritual” ideas the longer they will be unable to shed their ignorance, hatred and bigotry.

Brian Dunning

The podcast series “Skeptoid” is dedicated to taking a skeptical look at pop-culture phenomenon. Dunning’s provides a better introduction to critical thinking than say, “The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe”, because his arguments are more clear to the layperson and lack excessive scientific jargon.

Dunning manages to continually find new entertaining subject matter to talk about. Whether the show is about crop circles, the crystal skull or quack medicine, you can be sure each podcast is very-well articulated and researched. He does have a tendency to over-simplify, quickly bumping the grey into stark black and white. I can’t blame Brian because that is likely what most of his listeners want.

Matt Dillahunty

Haven been raised in a Southern Baptist home, Matt was a fundamentalist Christian for over twenty years, going so far with it that he nearly became a minister. His religious studies weakened his faith rather than strengthened it. Moving on to writings by Robert Ingersoll, Voltaire, Dan Barker, Richard Dawkins, Farrell Till and others, he was able to free himself from Christianity for good.

Matt has consistently hosted “The Atheist Experience” for several years along with Don Baker, Jeff Dee, Tracie Harris, Jen Peeples and Martin Wagner. The show has gone far beyond its humble beginnings as local programming on channel 16 in Austin. Video sharing sites like YouTube has spread classic clips and episodes to the world.

Dillahunty has a knack for making any religious nut look ridiculous. Sure, that is not always too difficult; however Matt can expedites the process, swiftly laying down the hammer when a caller’s argument is unsound. It’s addictive to watch.


YouTuber EdwardCurrent is brilliant at satire. He’s so good that (yes, I’m embarrassed to admit this) I was baffled when I first watched one of his videos. “Is this guy for real?” He bashes atheism with ridiculous straw man arguments, pushing the irony into absolute overdrive. The fundamentalists he is poking fun at are so cartoonish that sometimes it hard to decipher the satire from the genuine article.

“An Atheist Meets God” does an incredible job of summing up how the demands of the Judeo-Christian God are claptraps. The atheist character comes across as a likable average guy while God is an unreasonable bully, constantly pumping up the importance of his “dessert scribblings”.


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