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Religious Affiliation of History's 100 Most Influential People

The following list of influential figures from world history comes from Michael H. Hart's book The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History. In the book, Hart provides brief biographies of each of the individuals, as well as reasons for their ranking. takes no position regarding the validity of Hart's rankings. Certainly ranking the relative historical influence of individuals is a subjective process. We welcome and will by happy to post comments from readers suggesting alternative rankings or names of influential individuals who should be included in the "Top 100." (Please send suggestions to

Note that many influential philosophies (such as Marxist Communism or Confucianism) are not always classified as organized "religions" in the traditional sense, but are classified as such by sociologists because they are a primary motivational worldview for individuals, cultures or subcultures. Also, many founders never considered themselves adherents of philosophies or religions which later bore their name.

In the table below, where there are two religions listed, the first one is the religion the person was born into. The second was the religion or philosophy the person later joined or founded. Comments in the "Influence" column are in bold when the influence is mainly in the realm of religion and philosophy.
RankNameReligious AffiliationInfluence
1 Muhammad Islam Prophet of Islam; conqueror of Arabia; Hart recognized that ranking Muhammad first might be controversial, but felt that, from a secular historian's perspective, this was the correct choice because Muhammad is the only man to have been both a founder of a major world religion and a major military/political leader. More
2 Isaac Newton Anglican (rejected Trinitarianism;
believed in the Arianism of
the Primitive Church)
physicist; theory of universal gravitation; laws of motion
3 Jesus Christ * Judaism; Christianity founder of Christianity
4 Buddha Hinduism; Buddhism founder of Buddhism
5 Confucius Confucianism founder of Confucianism
6 St. Paul Judaism; Christianity proselytizer of Christianity
7 Ts'ai Lun Chinese traditional religion inventor of paper
8 Johann Gutenberg Catholic developed movable type; printed Bibles
9 Christopher Columbus Catholic explorer; led Europe to Americas
10 Albert Einstein Jewish * physicist; relativity; Einsteinian physics
11 Louis Pasteur Catholic scientist; pasteurization
12 Galileo Galilei Catholic * astronomer; accurately described heliocentric solar system
13 Aristotle Platonism / Greek philosophy influential Greek philosopher
14 Euclid Platonism / Greek philosophy mathematician; Euclidian geometry
15 Moses Judaism major prophet of Judaism
16 Charles Darwin Anglican (nominal) biologist; described Darwinian evolution, which had theological impact on many religions
17 Shih Huang Ti Chinese traditional religion Chinese emperor
18 Augustus Caesar Roman state paganism ruler
19 Nicolaus Copernicus Catholic (priest) astronomer; taught heliocentricity
20 Antoine Laurent Lavoisier Catholic * father of modern chemistry; philosopher; economist
21 Constantine the Great Roman state paganism; Christianity Roman emperor who made Christianity the state religion
22 James Watt nonreligious * developed steam engine
23 Michael Faraday Sandemanian physicist; chemist; discovery of magneto-electricity
24 James Clerk Maxwell Presbyterian; Anglican; Baptist * physicist; electromagnetic spectrum
25 Martin Luther Catholic; Lutheran founder of Protestantism and Lutheranism
26 George Washington Episcopalian; Deist first president of United States
27 Karl Marx Jewish; Christian;
Atheist; Marxism/Communism *
founder of Communism
28 Orville and Wilbur Wright Protestant (nominal?) * inventors of airplane
29 Genghis Khan Mongolian shamanism Mongol conqueror
30 Adam Smith Liberal Protestant economist; expositor of capitalism; religious philosopher
31 Edward de Vere Christianity * literature; also wrote 6 volumes about philosophy and religion; William Shakespeare?
32 John Dalton Quaker chemist; physicist; atomic theory; law of partial pressures (Dalton's law)
33 Alexander the Great Greek state paganism conqueror
34 Napoleon Bonaparte Catholic (nominal) * French conqueror
35 Thomas Edison Congregationalist; agnostic * inventor of light bulb, phonograph, etc.
36 Antony van Leeuwenhoek Calvinist * microscopes; studied microscopic life
37 William T.G. Morton ?? pioneer in anesthesiology
38 Guglielmo Marconi Catholic and Anglican * inventor of radio
39 Adolf Hitler born Catholic; proponent of Germanic Neo-Paganism and Nazism conqueror; led Axis Powers in WWII
40 Plato Platonism / Greek philosophy founder of Platonism
41 Oliver Cromwell Puritan (Protestant) British political and military leader
42 Alexander Graham Bell Unitarian-Universalist inventor of telephone
43 Alexander Fleming Catholic penicillin; advances in bacteriology, immunology and chemotherapy
44 John Locke raised Puritan (Anglican);
Liberal Christian
philosopher and liberal theologian
45 Ludwig van Beethoven Catholic composer
46 Werner Heisenberg * discovered the principle of uncertainty
47 Louis Daguerre ?? an inventor/pioneer of photography
48 Simon Bolivar Catholic (nominal); Atheist * National hero of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia
49 Rene Descartes * Catholic Rationalist philosopher and mathematician
50 Michelangelo Catholic painter; sculptor
51 Pope Urban II Catholic called for First Crusade
52 'Umar ibn al-Khattab Islam Second Caliph; expanded Muslim empire
53 Asoka Buddhism king of India who converted to and spread Buddhism
54 St. Augustine Christianity Early Christian theologian
55 William Harvey Anglican (nominal) * discovered the circulation of the blood
56 Ernest Rutherford ?? physicist; pioneer of subatomic physics
57 John Calvin Protestant; Calvinism Protestant reformer; founder of Calvinism
58 Gregor Mendel Catholic (monk) Mendelian genetics
59 Max Planck Protestant * physicist; thermodynamics
60 Joseph Lister Quaker principal discoverer of antiseptics which greatly reduced surgical mortality
61 Nikolaus August Otto ?? built first four-stroke internal combustion engine
62 Francisco Pizarro Catholic Spanish conqueror in South America; defeated Incas
63 Hernando Cortes Catholic conquered Mexico for Spain
64 Thomas Jefferson Episcopalian; Deist; Unitarian * 3rd president of United States
65 Queen Isabella I Catholic Spanish ruler
66 Joseph Stalin Russian Orthodox; Atheist; Marxism revolutionary and ruler of USSR
67 Julius Caesar Roman state paganism Roman emperor
68 William the Conqueror Catholic laid foundation of modern England
69 Sigmund Freud Jewish (non-practicing); Atheist *
Freudian psychology/psychoanalysis
founder of Freudian school of psychology; psychoanalysis
70 Edward Jenner Christianity * discoverer of the vaccination for smallpox
71 Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen ?? discovered X-rays
72 Johann Sebastian Bach Lutheran; Catholic composer
73 Lao Tzu Taoism founder of Taoism
74 Voltaire raised in Jansenism;
later Deist *
writer and philosopher; wrote Candide
75 Johannes Kepler Lutheran * astronomer; planetary motions
76 Enrico Fermi Catholic * initiated the atomic age; father of atom bomb
77 Leonhard Euler Calvinist physicist; mathematician; differential and integral calculus and algebra
78 Jean-Jacques Rousseau born Protestant;
converted as a teen to Catholic;
later Deist
French deistic philosopher and author
79 Nicoli Machiavelli Catholic wrote The Prince (influential political treatise)
80 Thomas Malthus Anglican (cleric) economist; wrote Essay on the Principle of Population
81 John F. Kennedy Catholic president of United States
82 Gregory Pincus Jewish * endocrinologist; developed birth-control pill
83 Mani Manicheanism founder of Manicheanism, once a world religion which rivaled Christianity in strength
84 Lenin Jewish (1/4); Russian Orthodox;
Atheist; Marxism/Communism
Russian ruler
85 Sui Wen Ti Chinese traditional religion unified China
86 Vasco da Gama Catholic navigator; discovered route from Europe to India around Cape Hood
87 Cyrus the Great Zoroastrianism founder of Persian empire
88 Peter the Great Russian Orthodox forged Russia into a great European nation
89 Mao Zedong Atheist; Communism; Maoism founder of Maoism, Chinese form of Communism
90 Francis Bacon Anglican * philosopher; delineated inductive scientific method
91 Henry Ford Protestant developed automobile
92 Mencius Confucianism philosopher; founder of a school of Confucianism
93 Zoroaster Zoroastrianism founder of Zoroastrianism
94 Queen Elizabeth I Anglican British monarch; restored Church of England to power after Queen Mary
95 Mikhail Gorbachev Russian Orthodox * Russian premier who helped end Communism in USSR
96 Menes Egyptian paganism unified Upper and Lower Egypt
97 Charlemagne Catholic Holy Roman Empire created with his baptism in 800 AD
98 Homer Greek paganism epic poet
99 Justinian I Catholic Roman emperor; reconquered Mediterranean empire; accelerated Catholic-Monophysite schism
100 Mahavira Hinduism; Jainism founder of Jainism
RU St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic influential early Christian philosopher
RU Archimedes Greek philosophy father of experimental science
RU Charles Babbage ?? mathematician and inventor of forerunner of computer
RU Cheops Egyptian paganism Egyptian ruler; builder of Great Pyramid
RU Marie Curie Catholic; nonreligious * physicist; radioactivity
RU Benjamin Franklin Presbyterian; Deist; Unitarian/Universalist * American politician and inventor
RU Mohandas Gandhi Hinduism; influenced by Jainism (mother was a Jain) Indian leader and Hindu religious reformer
RU Abraham Lincoln Regular Baptist (childhood);
later ambiguous -
Deist, general theist or
a very personalized Christianity
16th president of U.S.; led during Civil War
RU Ferdinand Magellan Catholic navigator; named Pacific Ocean; first circumnavigation of globe
RU Leonardo da Vinci Catholic artist; inventor

RU = Runner Up (order is alphabetical)

Source: Hart, Michael H. 1992. The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, Revised and Updated for the Nineties. New York: Citadel Press Book.


This list is compiled only for fun and reference. Certainly no theological or sociological inferences should be drawn from a subjectively chosen list of only 100 people from throughout human history. These individuals clearly transcend statistical sociological analysis. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to consider the varied ways in which the lives and contributions of nearly all of them were profoundly influenced by their religious background and personal beliefs. ("Contribution" may not be the best word to describe the influence of some of these individuals, such as Hitler, Stalin, etc.)

Also, the "Influence" column in the table is very brief. It is only provided only to refresh one's memory about the identity of the historical person - not to encapsulate or even summarize their career.

The most-represented religious group on this list is obviously Catholicism. This should be expected, given the many centuries that the most technologically and economically advanced Western world was synonymous with the Catholic world.

The most obscure faith group represented on this list is the Sandemanians, who were never very numerous. The physicist Michael Faraday (23rd on this list and history's 9th most influential scientist, according to Hart) was a devout member of this now-extinct group. Other small minority religious groups represented here are Jansenists (Voltaire) and some Quakers.

It is worth noting that many of the individuals on this list were the founders, major propagators, or reformers of major world religions: Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha, St. Paul, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Mencius, Mani, Mahavira, Marx, Plato, Calvin, Martin Luther, Zoroaster, Mao. Many would include Freud among these. Other philosophers on this list made contributions which had an impact on religion but are not founders of a religion or branch of religion.

Of the twelve "classical world religions", the founders of eight are represented on this list (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism). Shinto and Hinduism have no founder. Sikhism and the Bahai Faith (the youngest of the "classical world religions") have founders, but Hart did not include them on his list.


Jesus Christ: It is not uncommon for people to wonder why Jesus is not ranked first on this list. As far as the way the list appears on this web page, the answer is simple: We have reproduced Hart's list in exactly the order he wrote it. But it is true that many people, both Christians and secular historians, would have ranked Jesus first on a list of the world's most influential people. Hart said that he himself would have ranked Jesus first, if all the people who today identify themselves as Christians actually followed Jesus's teachings more substantially. He considers contemporary Muslims more influenced by Muhammad than contemporary Christians are by Jesus.

Also, Hart's outlook was essentially secular in outlook. He did consider the the doctrinal role of Jesus in human salvation as taught by Christianity. Muhammad, on the other hand, carved out an actual, geographic empire during his lifetime. Christians as well as historians agree that Jesus himself conquered no lands and led no armies during his lifetime.

John H. Kerr, an elder in the Presbyterian Church of Canada wrote us on this topic. His ideas, echoed by many and presented here with his permission are below:

In my opinion no one has come near to Jesus Christ with respect to His influence on so many aspects of our world and society. Most schools of higher learning in the English speaking world and many in the non-English speaking world exist because of Christ. Women and children throughout this world, with the exception of a few countries have a much better way of life because of what Christ taught and people accepted. The peace, good will and renewal that result each year from the celebration of His birth is astounding. Many of the internalional charities that exist today are Christian based. The Christian work ethic has spurred inventions of all sorts that have benefited mankind enormously. Just think of the influence Christians have had down through the centuries, every bit of their influence is either directly or indirectly associated with the influence Christ had on them. Many of these Christians are on Hart's list.

Even Karl Marx owed his fanatical promotion of communism to the revenge he sought for being bounced out of a Christian Seminary, by a misdirected priest.

To a point the creation of such a list is as you point out subjective, and subject to the bias of the individual or group that prepare it. But, for the life of me, I cannot conceive how any well read individual with eyes to see and ears to hear, would not place Jesus Christ at the top of such a list, so far ahead of the next most influential person that one would leave at least the subsequent 9 spaces on the list vacant, to emphasize this point.

All of the creation wouldn't exist if it were not for Jesus Christ. When one begins to dwell on what would or would not have been, had Christ not existed in the beginning, let alone had He not come to earth 2000 years ago it boggles the mind. When I think of the thousands of prayers answered, lives changed, wars ended or avoided, I can't help but thank such a benevolent Lord. Was it not the influence of a Christian mother on her son, the leader of the Soviet Union, and a Christian American President, working with Mikhail Gorbachev that brought an end to the cold war. When we look at the cause and effect of so many major positive events in our history, we see the hand of Christ working on one or more of His servants.

Michael McConnell (25 Sept. 2001) also suggests that some revisions to Hart's list are in order:

I just glanced at your list of the 100 most influential people and their religion and all I can say is this list is terrible at best. Jesus would have to be number one, Marx/Muhammad tie for number 2... Issac Newton was put above Marx who influences social-economic policy to this day.
Steve Petersen [] made the following suggestion (27 April 2002:
Yes, indeed, I think you need to add another person to your list! What about Ellen G. White of the Seventh Day Adventist Church? She wrote more books than any other woman in history!

Exerpt from Hart's book:
My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world's most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels...

Muhammad founded and promulgated one of the world's great religions, and became an immensely effective political leader. Today, thirteen centuries after his death, his influence is still powerful and pervasive... Like all religions, Islam exerts an enormous influence upon the lives of its followers. It is for this reason that the founders of the world's great religions all figure prominently in this book. Since there are roughly twice as many Christians as Moslems in the world, it may initially seem strange that Muhammad has been ranked higher than Jesus. There are two principal reasons for that decision. First, Muhammad played a far more important role in the development of Islam than Jesus did in the development of Christianity. Although Jesus was responsible for the main ethical and moral precepts of Christianity (insofar as these differed from Judaism), St. Paul was the main developer of Christian theology, its principal proselytizer, and the author of a large portion of the New Testament.

Muhammad, however, was responsible for both the theology of Islam and its main ethical and moral principles. In addition, he played the key role in proselytizing the new faith, and in establishing the religious practices of Islam. Moreover, he is the author of the Moslem holy scriptures, the Koran, a collection of certain of Muhammad's insights that he believed had been directly revealed to him by Allah. Most of these utterances were copied more or less faithfully during Muhammad's lifetime and were collected together in authoritative form not long after his death. The Koran therefore, closely represents Muhammad's ideas and teachings and to a considerable extent his exact words. No such detailed compilation of the teachings of Christ has survived. Since the Koran is at least as important to Moslems as the Bible is to Christians, the influence of Muhammed through the medium of the Koran has been enormous It is probable that the relative influence of Muhammad on Islam has been larger than the combined influence of Jesus Christ and St. Paul on Christianity. On the purely religious level, then, it seems likely that Muhammad has been as influential in human history as Jesus.

Furthermore, Muhammad (unlike Jesus) was a secular as well as a religious leader. In fact, as the driving force behind the Arab conquests, he may well rank as the most influential political leader of all time... the Arab conquests of the seventh century have continued to play an important role in human history, down to the present day. It is this unparalleled combination of secular and religious influence which I feel entitles Muhammad to be considered the most influential single figure in human history.
NOTE: presents this list, and Hart's arguments, for informational purposes. We do not take any stand on the validity of Hart's statements. We welcome (and will post online) alternative viewpoints.

Isaac Newton: Religion "Affiliation: Anglican, Heterodox; Newton was born into the Anglican church and publicly conformed to it." At about age 30 he came to believe "that Trinitarianism was a fraud and that Arianism was the true form of primitive Christianity. Newton held these views, very privately, until the end of his life. On his death bed he refused to receive the sacrament of the Anglican church." Online source.

Albert Einstein: Not known to have been a practicing Jew. Had a positive attitude toward religion. Wrote of his belief in a noble "cosmic religious feeling" that enables scientists to advance human knowledge. A famous quote: "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."; The Encyclopedia Britannica says of him: "Firmly denying atheism, Einstein expressed a belief in "Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the harmony of what exists." This actually motivated his interest in science, as he once remarked to a young physicist: "I want to know how God created this world, I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details." Einstein's famous epithet on the "uncertainty principle" was "God does not play dice" Some writings by Einstein regarding religion are available here. It is reported that Einstein reported Christian Science services regularly in New York and said that Mary Baker Eddy was right in her theories about an essentially non-physical universe. has no expertise on the Einstein-Christian Science connection, but reports this for the sake of completeness. One example of references to this subject online can be found here.

Galileo: Galileo remained a devout Catholic throughout his life. "Affiliation: Catholic; It is known to everyone that Galileo was denounced to the Inquisition in 1615 and that he was tried and condemned by the Inquisition in 1633, living the rest of his life under house arrest. All of this was for Copernicanism, not for any heretical theological views." Online source.

Michael Faraday: Faraday's parents were members of the obscure religious denomination of the Sandemanians, and Faraday himself, shortly after his marriage, at the age of thirty, joined the same sect, to which he adhered till his death. Religion and science he kept strictly apart, believing that the data of science were of an entirely different nature from the direct communications between God and the soul on which his religious faith was based. Online source

Edward de Vere/Shakespeare: Online source: Annotations in Edward de Vere's Bible; Shakespeare and Religion, by Aldous Huxley.

Karl Marx: "Karl Marx was born in Rhinish Prussia 1818 to parents of a long rabbinical line of Jews. His father however, just before Karl's birth, found it politically expedient to become a baptized Christian. Nonetheless, Karl was raised with the taunts of being of Jewish descent despite his father's new Christian credentials." Marx was baptized into a Christian church, but adopted atheism. Online source

Orville and Wilbur Wright: "Wilbur Wright was born in Millville, Indiana, and grew up in Dayton, Ohio. From his father, a clergyman and editor, he learned to love reading, writing, and other scholarly pursuits... He also contributed stories to his father's magazine, Religious Telescope..." Online resource.

Thomas Edison: Edison attended a Congregational church in Ft. Myers, Florida, where he had a winter home. The church was renamed for him and is now the Thomas Edison Congregational Church. This church was one of those which did not join in the merger whch formed the United Church of Christ. The Second Congregational Church of Greenwich in Connecticut has in its archives a letter from Edison containing suggestions for for protecting their 212-foot steeple from lightning strikes. Edison's wife was a devout Methodist and, early in their marriage, tried to convert him to her religious views, but failed. As for his personal beliefs, Edison made many statements which indicated disbelief on key topics. John P. M. Murphy described Edison's position as "truculent agnosticism." [Source]

Antoine Laurent Lavoisier: His biographer, the first to read his papers wrote of him: "Raised in a pious family which had given many priests to the Church, he had held to his beliefs. To Edward King, an English author who had sent him a controversial work, he wrote, 'You have done a noble thing in upholding revelation and the authenticity of the Holy Scriptures, and it is remarkable that you are using for the defence precisely the same weapons which were once used for the attack.'" Online source

James Watt: "On August 19th, 1819, Watt passed peacefully away at Heathfield, and was buried in Handsworth Church." Online source "Now those who knew Mr. Watt, had to contemplate a man whose genius could create such an engine, and indulge in the most abstruse speculations of philosophy, and could at once pass from the most sublime researches of geology and physical astronomy, the formation of our globe, and the structure of the universe, to the manufacture of a needle or a nail; who could discuss in the same conversation and with equal accuracy, if not with the same consummate skill, the most forbidding details of art, and the elegances of classical literature; the most abstruse branches of science, and the niceties of verbal criticism." Online source.

James Clerk Maxwell: Devout Protestant Christian. "Maxwell's breadth of appreciation of Christianity grew still further during his time in London. To his background of Presbyterianism (in the Scottish kirk of his father's tradition) and the Anglicanism of his mother and Cambridge, he added an experience of the Baptists." Online source.

Guglielmo Marconi: Marconi's marriage to Beatrice O'Brien was performed "in March 1905, before an Anglican minister; for though Signor Marconi had been born of a Catholic father and baptized in the Catholic faith, he had been brought up by his mother as a Protestant, and was in fact an Anglican at the time of the marriage." Their marriage was later granted a Catholic annulment. Source.

Antony van Leeuwenhoek: "Religion: Calvinist. He was baptized and buried in Calvinist churches, and his second wife was the daughter of the Calvinist minister."Online source.

Napoleon Bonaparte: Believed in God, but criticized religion. "As for myself, I do not believe that such a person as Jesus Christ ever existed; but as the people are inclined to superstition, it is proper not to oppose them." A number of quotes attributed to him indicate a utilitarian view of religion. "Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet."; He also said: "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich" (quoted from Robert Byrne, 1,911 Best Things Anybody Ever Said, 1988).

Werner Heisenberg: He wrote: "Wenn wir an die naechste Zeit denken, so droht uns die staerkste Gefahr wohl von der Verwechslung der boesen und der guten Maechte. Gerade in einer Epoche, in der sich die Bindung zur alten Religion loest, ist die Gefahr, dass Daemonen die Herrschaft der Goetter uebernehmen, groesser als je; und die Daemonen verbuenden sich stets mit jenem glaenzenden Phantom, das die Menschen zu allen Zeiten irregefuehrt hat, mit der politischen Macht" (Ordnung der Wirklichkeit 1942) Online source.

Descartes: "Descartes was a French mathematician, scientist and philosopher who has been called the father of modern philosophy. His school studies made him dissatisfied with previous philosophy: He had a deep religious faith as a Catholic, which he retained to his dying day, along with a resolute, passionate desire to discover the truth. At the age of 24 he had a dream, and felt the vocational call to seek to bring knowledge together in one system of thought. His system began by asking what could be known if all else were doubted - suggesting the famous 'I think therefore I am'. Actually, it is often forgotten that the next step for Descartes was to establish the near certainty of the existence of God - for only if God both exists and would not want us to be deceived by our experiences can we trust our senses and logical thought processes. God is, therefore, central to his whole philosophy. What he really wanted was to see his philosophy adopted as standard Catholic teaching. Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon (1561-1626) are generally regarded as the key figures in the development of scientific methodology. Both had systems in which God was important, and both seem more devout than the average for their era.Online source.

Simon Bolivar: Became an atheist. Was excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

William Harvey: "Religion: Anglican; Harvey conformed to the established church, but there is no evidence of serious religious commitment and more than one suggestion (though only on the level of gossip) of considerable free thought."Online source

Max Planck: "Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck was born on April 23, 1858, in Kiel, Germany, the sixth child of a distinguished jurist and professor of law at the University of Kiel. The long family tradition of devotion to church and state, excellence in scholarship, incorruptibility, conservatism, idealism, reliability, and generosity became deeply ingrained in Planck's own life and work... In his later years, Planck devoted more and more of his writings to philosophical, aesthetic, and religious questions. Together with Einstein and Schrdinger, he remained adamantly opposed to the indeterministic, statistical worldview introduced by Bohr, Max Born, Werner Heisenberg, and others into physics after the advent of quantum mechanics in 1925-26. Such a view was not in harmony with Planck's deepest intuitions and beliefs. The physical universe, Planck argued, is an objective entity existing independently of man; the observer and the observed are not intimately coupled, as Bohr and his school would have it." Online source.

Planck made many contributions to physics, but is best known for quantum theory, which has revolutionized our understanding of the atomic and sub-atomic worlds. In his 1937 lecture "Religion and Naturwissenschaft," Planck expressed the view that God is everywhere present, and held that "the holiness of the unintelligible Godhead is conveyed by the holiness of symbols." Atheists, he thought, attach too much importance to what are merely symbols. Planck was a churchwarden from 1920 until his death, and believed in an almighty, all-knowing, beneficent God (though not necessarily a personal one). Both science and religion wage a "tireless battle against skepticism and dogmatism, against unbelief and superstition" with the goal "toward God!" Online source.

Thomas Jefferson: Raised as an Episcopalian/Anglican. Influenced by English Deists and often identified by historians as a Deist. Held many beliefs in common with Unitarians of the time period, and sometimes wrote that he thought the whole country would become Unitarian. Wrote that the teachings of Jesus contain the "outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man." Wrote: "I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know." Online source: "Jefferson's Religious Beliefs", by Rebecca Bowman, Monticello Research Department, August 1997.

The Positive Atheism website has a page of quotes by Jefferson.

Marie Curie: Daughter of a Polish 'freethinker' but raised by a Catholic mother. Abandoned the Church before she was 20; Marriage with Pierre Curie was a civil ceremony because, as she wrote: "Pierre belonged to no religion and I did not practice any."

Sigmund Freud: Freud was always proud of Jewishness, despite the fact that neither he nor his family were religious in the practicing sense. His nursemaid was a devout Catholic which helped as well. Later Freud maintained a deep interest in biblical history and religion, again guite possibly motivated by these childhood experiences. Online source.

Edward Jenner: As yet we do not know if Jenner was more than just a nominal church member, or which denomination he belonged to. "Edward Jenner was born on May 17, 1749, in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, England, the son of a parish vicar" Online source.

Johannes Kepler: Studied at Adelberg monastery school (lower seminary). Religious Affiliation: Lutheran. We've found nothing notable, either in terms of heterodoxy or devotion. Online source.

"Kepler was an extremely sincere and pious Lutheran, whose works on astronomy contain writings about how space and the heavenly bodies represent the Trinity. Kepler suffered no persecution for his open avowal of the sun-centered system, and, indeed, was allowed as a Protestant to stay in Catholic Graz as a Professor (1595-1600) when other Protestants had been expelled!" Online source.

Voltaire: "His entire life was a parodox. He despised mankind and yet he was passionately fond of men. He ridiculed the clergy and dedicated one of his books to the pope. He made fun of royalty and he accepted a pension from King Frederick the Great. He hated bigotry and he was bigoted in his attitude toward the Jews. He sneered at the vanity of riches and he acquired a vast fortune (by means that were not always honest). He disbelieved in God and he tried all his life to find Him. He had no respect for religion and he created a new religion of laughter... His father was a Jansenist, which in itself was a paradox. For the Jansenists were a sect of 'Protestant Catholics.'... His father imposed his doctrine of abstract mysticism so vigorously upon him that Voltaire grew up with a rebellious thirst for concrete reality. He cordially hated Jansenism. But he grew up with another hatred--a hatred against the persecution of Jansenists. Against any kind of persecution."; Pg. 185: "He was not, as is commonly believed, an atheist. He was a deist. He believed in the existence of God. Indeed, 'if God did not exist,' he said, 'it would be necessary to invent him.' But Voltaire's God is not an exclusive king of a single ecclesiastical order. He is the world's 'supreme Intelligence, a Workman infinitely able'--and infinitely impartial. He has no favorite people, no favorite country, no favorite church. For the true worshiper there is but a single faith, equal tolerance to all mankind."; Pg. 186: "...he helped them in the preparation of the great Encyclopedia of Free Thought. The Encyclopedists accused him of being a Christian and the Christians accused him of being an infidel, and between the two parties he had his hands full." (Source: Henry and Dana Lee Thomas. Living Biographies of Great Philosophers, Garden City, NY: Garden City Books (1959); Other source: "Late in life Voltaire wrote considerably against religious injustice and was quite opposed to the Catholic Church and Christianity in general."

Voltaire made an official deathbed affirmation of Catholic beliefs, but his intentions in doing so are disputed. Like his writing, many of his activities consisted of multi-layered satire. There is no way to know conclusively what his motivation was. Certainly, from a cultural and literary perspective, Voltaire was deeply involved in Catholicism more than any other religion, often to the consternation of the Catholic Church.

Enrico Fermi: "Enrico Fermi, born in Rome, Italy on September 29, 1901 was baptized as a Catholic though he wasn't raised in any sort of religious fashion." [Online source.] Fermi's wife was Jewish.

Gregory Pincus: "Pincus was the son of Joseph William and Elizabeth Florence (nee Lipman) Pincus. He was born on April 9, 1903, in Woodbine, New Jersey. His father was a teacher, the editor of the Jewish Farmer and an agricultural consultant. Pincus' father was also a leader in a community of Russian Jews who hoped to turn refugees from the czar's pogroms into American farmers in the late 19th century." [Online source: Florida Atlantic University Libraries: Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America: Dr. Gregory Goodwin Pincus: Father of 'The Pill'.]

Francis Bacon: "Affiliation: Anglican. Bacon's mother was a thorough Calvinist. He adhered to the middle road of the Church of England, however, neither authoritarian nor sectarian. His religion was more formal than fervent." Online source; Also: "Thus, Bacon delineated the principles of the inductive thinking method, which, while as a method goes back to Aristotle, constituted a breakthrough in the approach to science. He was just these kind of materialist theories that brought about the great discoveries Copernicus and Galileo. Bacon could see that the only knowledge of importance to man was empirically rooted in the natural world; and that a clear system of scientific inquiry would assure man's mastery over the world. That is not to say that Bacon did not believe that there was a God, for, as he said in 'Of Atheism': 'I had rather believe all the fables in the legends and the Talmud and the Alcoran, than that this universal frame is without a mind.'" Online source.

Gorbachev: At the end of a November 1996 interview on CSPAN's Booknotes, Gorbachev described his plans for future books. He made the following reference to God: "I don't know how many years God will be giving me, [or] what his plans are." Online source.

Benjamin Franklin: "Franklin, who normally preferred to contemplate the eternal in the privacy of his own home, had been invited by Jedediah Andrews to become a member of the Presbyterian church. He attended for five Sundays in a row. He became a pew holder and a contributor, but he nevertheless ceased to attend weekly services... In general, most Franklin scholars have found him to be quite moderate in his attitude toward religion. Typically, Alfred Owen Aldridge has described Franklin as a confirmed Deist, who, in contrast to more militant Deists like Tom Paine, did not attempt to 'wither Christianity by ridicule or bludgeon it to death by argument.'"Online source.

Abraham Lincoln: "Considerable uncertainty arises... when Lincoln's own religion is examined... it is obvious that Christianity exerted a profound influence on his life. His father was a member of Regular Baptist churches in Kentucky and Indiana. Lincoln himself read the Bible throughout his life, quoted from it extensively... during his years as president he did regularly attend the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington. On the other hand, Lincoln never joined a church nor ever made a clear profession of standard Christian beliefs... Lincoln's friend Jesse Fell [suggested that Lincoln's views on Christian theology] were not orthodox... It is probable that Lincoln was turned against organized Christianity by his experiences as a young man in New Salem, Illinois, where excessive emotion and bitter sectarian quarrels marked yearly camp meetings and the ministry of traveling preachers. Yet although Lincoln was not a church member, he did ponder the eternal significance of his own circumstances..." Online source: The Ambiguous Religion of Abraham Lincoln by Mark A Noll.

The Positive Atheism website presents some other writings about the religious beliefs and practices of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

Time Magazine's Person of the Century Poll

"While Time deliberated on its Person of the Century, the magazine's Web site invited readers to vote. [Source: The King of the Century" in the San Jose Mercury News, 27 Dec. 1999.]

Elvis Presley Pentecostal624,574
Yitzhak Rabin Jew599,557
Adolf Hitler Nazism; Neo-paganism516,408
Billy Graham Protestant470,477
Albert Einstein nonreligious Jew 443,630
Martin Luther King Jr. Baptist381,462
Pope John Paul II Catholic372,015
Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley Latter-day Saint255,026
Mohandas Gandhi Hindu, Jain163,940
Ronald Reagan Episcopalian81,262
Source:  Time Web site

In choosing their Person of the Century, Time did not use the poll results, but made their own decision. They chose Albert Einstein (a non-religious Jew).

The runners-up for Time's Person of the Century were Franklin Roosevelt (an Episcopalian) and Mohandas Gandhi (a devout Hindu whose mother was a Jain and whose beliefs and practices were partially Jain).

Most Influential Asians of the 20th Century

[Source: Nisid Hajari. "Asians of the Century" in Time Asia, August 23-30, 1999 Vol. 154 No. 7/8]

Useful Biography Links

Related Links on this Web Site

Lists of Influential People Without Reference to or Information About Religious Affiliation

Web page created 16 September 1999. Last modified 27 April 2002.
Copyright © 2002 by

Our thanks to Jason Quartarone for assistance with some Voltaire, Marconi and Copernicus facts. Thanks to Joe Rowe for assistance with Johann Gutenberg info. Thanks to Ann Rodgers-Melnick of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for additional Edison information.