Chapter 5. Names and symbols.

b. Symbols

Atheists have no single, unifying symbol by which to identify themselves. Christians
use the cross and now almost as frequently, the Jesus fish. Jews have the Star of
David. Muslims have the crescent moon and star. Atheists are still searching. Perhaps
the difficulty selecting a symbol is understandable, what do you use to represent a non-

American Atheists.

Empty Symbolism.

The circle is an interesting symbol. I saw a lot of circles appearing on cars and was
impressed by the number of atheists, until I learned that the State of Oregon is using
“O” for itself, as is the popular sunglass company Oakley. Unfortunately, few of the O’s
I saw were atheist symbols. The empty circle has limited recognition and too much

The rise of the “A.”

Fishy Business.


The flying spaghetti monster.

The flying spaghetti monster is a fun way to counter religion; however, the church of
the flying spaghetti monster is an in-group joke. Religionists and the majority of the
population are unaware of the meaning of the googly eyes and noodly appendages of
the creature. It gets a laugh from those “in the know” but misses the mark when it
comes to educating the uninitiated as to the merits of non-religion.

A rock solid symbol.
the American Atheists atomic whorl
One of the oldest symbols is from American Atheists.
The organization was founded in 1963 by Madalyn
Murray O’Hair and adopted an “atomic whirl” with an A
inside. Surprisingly, the open whirl is supposed to
represent the “A” for atheism, while the printed “A”
inside comes from the first letter of the country in which
the organization is located, in this case, “America.” The
design of the atomic whirl seems stuck in the 1960’s,
and as the copyrighted symbol of a group of just 3,000
members, it has not traveled very far. A symbol with
broader recognition is more desirable.
Perhaps focusing on the non-belief of atheists, several
people have suggested symbols of a lack of belief.
One suggestion is a mathematical “null set” symbol,
something like this: { } or a zero with a line through it.
Variations on this theme include more artistic empty
circles. The accompanying figure contains a variation
on the empty circle theme with the circle constructed of
ATHEIST, HERETIC, and GODLESS” suggested by
Adrian Barnett.
a circle of term describing atheists
Because “atheist” starts with the letter “A” in many
languages, some have suggested the letter “A” as
an atheist symbol. Atheist author Richard Dawkins
has promoted the scarlet letter A. Dawkins claims
no copyright to the symbol which has aided its
spread, particularly on the Internet.

The Atheist Alliance International had a
competition and selected a stylized “A” as their
symbol as well. There are a number of variations
on the “A” design, including ones that look like a
symbol for the Star Trek television and movie
shows. Besides invoking unpleasant memories of
reading The Scarlet Letter in school, recognition
of the “A” symbol is limited to mostly organizational
atheists. A more effective symbol would be one
recognized by both insiders and outsiders.
the Richard Dawkins scarlet A
the Atheist Alliance International A
The Christian fish symbol, which I call
the “Jesus fish,” is one of the most
recognized religious symbols in
America. The “Darwin fish” adopts the
outline of the Jesus fish, but adds legs
and the word “Darwin” in the middle.
Now in the public domain, it was the
subject of a lawsuit between creators
Al Shekel and John Edwards, who
used it on atheist materials in the early
1980’s, and Chris Gilman who began
making silver car ornaments with a
similar design in 1990.

Variations on the Darwin fish include
one with the word “evolve” in the
center (thereby avoiding deifying
Darwin) and a tool in its hand, another
with the word “science” at its center,
as well as a fish made only of bones.
The best of the species, from my point
of view, is a fish with legs and the word
“atheist” in the middle. This clarifies
that the user not only supports
evolution (which many religionists also
support) but also that the user rejects

Religionists responded to the Darwin
fish with a compound symbol of a
Jesus fish labeled “truth” eating a
Darwin fish. Ring of Fire Enterprises
created a symbol of a dinosaur eating
a Jesus fish in response as well as
developing a Darwin fish copulating
with a Jesus fish. Part of the humor of
the dinosaur is that religious
fundamentalists have a hard time
objecting to the symbol since many do
not believe in dinosaurs. The Darwin
fish is currently well recognized, but
does not apply exclusively to atheists.
Replacing the word “Darwin” with
“atheist” makes it a strong atheist
the Born Atheist footed fish
a fish-eating dinosaur
Humanists worldwide have adopted the “happy humanist”
symbol, first designed in 1965. It is a stylized person standing
with arms up-stretched. It has gained fairly good recognition
among humanists and atheists, but is not widely recognized
outside of those groups.
the Happy Humanist with outstretched arms
The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster
was introduced in a 2005 letter by Bobby
Henderson to the Kansas School Board
suggesting that “pastafarianism” be taught
along with creationism. After all, there is as
much evidence supporting the flying spaghetti
monster as there is for god.

The flying spaghetti monster spoof spread
quickly, mostly among younger people, who
display the flying spaghetti monster symbol on
their cars or clothes.
All of the symbols here are two-dimensional
representations for use on cars and clothes. Since
this is my book and I can say what I like, I suggest
a stone cairn as a three-dimensional
representation of atheism. Cairns are stacks of
rocks used to show a trail or simply built in
celebration. Cairns have been used to show the
way for tens of thousands of years (well before
“people of the book” admit the world was created).
The top two stones of the cairn form a figurative
“A,” and cairns can be created anywhere to let
others know an atheist has passed before. Rocks
are everywhere (just like atheists). You can put a
cairn in front of your house, on the trail when
hiking, and even in front of the neighborhood
a stack of three rocks forms an atheist cairn
But enough of my attempt at originality. I believe
the most easily recognized symbol of atheism is
simply the full word “ATHEIST.” It may not be very
artistic, but it gets the message across to the
largest number of people in the easiest manner. A
slightly more interesting choice is the atheist
variation of the Darwin fish shown. It creates a bit
of humor, is visually interesting and clearly
communicates that the person displaying the
symbol is without religion. Between the two, I favor
slightly the atheist fish.
the simple term
the footed Born Atheist fish
a fish labeled evolution copulating with a Chrisitian fish
the evolve fish
The T-Rex, Evolve fish, humping fish, flying spaghetti monster and plain atheist
symbol all appear courtesy of, which sells these symbols online.
the googly eyes and noodly appendages of the flying spaghetti monster
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