Minister Turned Atheist
Dan became a teenage evangelist at age 15. At 16 he was choir librarian for faith-healer Kathryn Kuhlman’s Los Angeles appearances. He received a degree in Religion from Azusa Pacific University and was ordained to the ministry by the Standard Community Church, California, in 1975. (See ordination.) He served as associate pastor in three California churches: Arcadia Friend’s Church (Quaker), Glengrove Assembly of God (Hacienda Heights), and Standard Christian Center, an independent Charismatic church loosely affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ tradition) in Standard, California. Dan was a Protestant missionary in Mexico for a total of two years.
Dan preached for 19 years. He maintained an ongoing touring musical ministry, including eight years of full-time, cross-country evangelism. An accomplished pianist, record producer, arranger and songwriter, he worked with Christian music companies such as Manna Music and Word Music. For a few years, Dan wrote and produced the annual “Mini Musicale” for Gospel Light Publications’ Vacation Bible School curriculum.
For more than two decades, Dan was accompanist, arranger, and record producer for Manuel Bonilla, the leading Christian singer in the Spanish-speaking world. He accompanied on the piano such Christian personalities as Pat Boone, Jimmy Roberts (of the Lawrence Welk Show), and gospel songwriter Audrey Meier, and was a regular guest on Southern California’s “Praise The Lord” TV show (Spanish). One of Dan’s Christian songs, “There Is One,” was performed by Rev. Robert Schuller’s television choir on the “Hour of Power” broadcast. To this day, he receives royalties from his popular children’s Christian musicals, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (1977), and “His Fleece Was White As Snow” (1978), both published by Manna Music and performed in many countries.
Following five years of reading, Dan gradually outgrew his religious beliefs. “If I had limited myself to Christian authors, I’d still be a Christian today,” Dan says. “I just lost faith in faith.” He announced his atheism publicly in January, 1984. He tells his story in the books Losing Faith in Faith (1992) and Godless (2008).
Dan was PR Director of the Freedom From Religion Foundation from 1987 to 2004. He was elected co-president of the Foundation with Annie Laurie Gaylor in 2004, with whom he is co-host of Freethought Radio, a national weekly talkshow. He is a contributing editor of Freethought Today and is involved with the Foundation’s state/church lawsuits. He regularly travels the country and the world giving lectures, performing concerts, and participating in debates with theists, many at college and university campuses.
(2001. Photo by Brent Nicastro.)
Losing Faith In Faith: From Preacher To Atheist (FFRF, Inc., 1992)
Dan's autobiographical story of deconversion, and a critical analysis of Christianity and the bible.
Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists Foreword by Richard Dawkins (Ulysses Press, 2008)
A lot has happened in the 16 years since Losing Faith in Faith. Updating Dan's earlier book, Godless tells of lessons learned on the debate circuit, taking a lawsuit to the Supreme Court, and more bible criticism and debunking of theistic arguments.
Life Driven Purpose: How an Atheist Finds Meaning, Foreword by Daniel C. Dennett (Pitchstone Press, 2015)
Is life meaningless without God? Dan shows it is the other way around. True meaning and purpose come from within, not from "out there."
GOD: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction, Foreword by Richard Dawkins (Sterling Publishing, February 2016)
Documents Richard Dawkins's famous sentence from The God Delusion: "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."
Free Will Explained: How Science and Philosophy Converge to Create a Beautiful Illusion, Foreword by Michael Shermer. (Sterling Publishing, 2018)
Free will is not a scientific truth; it is a social truth.
Mere Morality (Pitchstone Publishing, 2018)
How to be good without God.
The Good Atheist: Living A Purpose-Filled Life Without God Foreword by Julia Sweeney, (Ulysses Press, 2011)
Answers Rick Warren's claim that without God, life is purposeless. Includes brief profiles of more than 300 atheists and agnostics who have lived lives of immense purpose.
Just Pretend: A Freethought Book For Children (FFRF, Inc., 1988) (2002 new edition)
Overtly freethought. Compares God and Santa, myth with reality, and celebrates atheism and freedom of thought.
Maybe Yes, Maybe No: A Guide For Young Skeptics (Prometheus Books, 1990)
Teaches the scientific method to children.
Maybe Right, Maybe Wrong: A Guide For Young Thinkers (Prometheus Books, 1992)
Teaches humanistic morality to children.
Dan also has written a variety of educational booklets, brochures and "nontracts" for the Foundation.
Dan has appeared on many national television talkshows, including The Daily Show (twice), the Phil Donahue Show (twice), Sally Jessy Raphael Show (three times), and twice with Oprah Winfrey. He has also appeared on The O'Reilly Factor (with Bill O'Reilly), the Morton Downey, Jr. Show, the Maury Povich Show, "NightTalk with Jane Whitney," "A Closer Look, with Faith Daniels," the "Shirley Show" (Toronto), Pat Robertson's CBN "Straight Talk," ABC's "Good Morning America" with host Joan Lunden, "Religion & Ethics News Weekly" hosted by Betty Rollin on PBS, the "Hannity & Colmes" talkshow on the Fox-News TV network, "FOX and Friends," CNN Español, ESPN2, and Court TV's "Pros & Cons" show hosted by Nancy Grace. He has more than once been featured in national TV shows in Australia, including "60 Minutes Australia."
Dan's very first media appearance--in fact, the very first time he spoke publicly about atheism--was on Oprah Winfrey's 1984 "AM Chicago" show about atheism, just 8 months after he stopped preaching. Incidentally, this was the day Dan met Anne Gaylor and Annie Laurie Gaylor (whom he later married).
Dan has been a guest on many regional TV talkshows and hundreds of radio interviews. He talks on dozens of college campuses each year, as the most requested speaker of the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) speaker's bureau, in campus tours co-organized by FFRF and SSA. He regularly speaks and performs freethought concerts around the country at Unitarian-Universalist congregations, Ethical Culture, universities (including Harvard), and humanist conventions.
Since February 1985, Dan Barker has participated in more than 130 formal public debates on such topics as:
- Does God exist?
- Does God not exist?
- Does ethics require God?
- Is there life after death?
- Without God we are nothing.
- Should government and religion be strictly separate?
- Did Jesus rise from the dead?
- Jesus of Nazareth: messiah or myth?
- Is Christianity true?
- Is the bible an acceptable guide for morality?
- Is the Bible full of errors and deceit?
- Is America a Christian nation?
In 2001, the Foundation produced Friendly Neighborhood Atheist, a 2-CD musical album with 34 of Dan's freethought songs covering the years 1985-2000. In 2004, the Freedom From Religion Foundation produced Beware of Dogma, a musical CD with 16 freethought songs. Adrift on a Star was released in January 2013, with 14 new songs (plus 3 bonus tracks), including "Poor Little Me," which was co-written by Dan and Broadway composer Charles Strouse (Annie, Bye Bye Birdie).
Dan's freethought songs include:
"You Can't Win With Original Sin"
"The Battle of Church & State"
"Poor Little Me" (with Broadway composer Charles Strouse)
"It's Only Natural"
"Get Off Your Knees (And Get To Work)"
"The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction"
"Salt Lake City Blues" (with Steve Benson)
"God-Less America" (with Steve Benson, music Irving Berlin)
"Why BSA?" (co-written with Steve Benson)
"Somewhere Over The Paper Moon" (lyrics by Yip Harburg)
"Adrift On A Star" (lyrics by Yip Harburg)
"Reason" (written for the Reason Rally)
"In A Dark Time" (poem by Philip Appleman)
"God's Grandeur" (poem by Philip Appleman)
"Summers of Love" (poem by Philip Appleman)
"We, The People"
"Friendly, Neighborhood Atheist"
"Just Say NO To Religion"
"Nothing Fails Like Prayer"
"Beware of Dogma"
"Sunday Morning Blues"
"The Freethinker Blues"
"None of the Above"
"My Father's House"
"Freedom From Religion"
"I Don't Need Jesus"
"No Hurry To Die"
"Life Is Good!"
"Time Never Stops"
"Promise of Dawn" (co-written with Juanice Charmaine)
"The World Is My Country" (based on Thomas Paine)
"No Gods, No Masters" (tribute to Margaret Sanger)
"Love" (words by Robert G. Ingersoll)
"The Time To Be Happy Is Now" (based on Robert G. Ingersoll)
"The Trinity" (words by Robert G. Ingersoll)
"The World's Need" (poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox)
"Solstice Tribute" (new lyrics to "Little Town of Bethlehem")
"Benediction" (poem by Sherry Matulis)
"Heaven" (poem by Rupert Brook)
Dan composed and produced "The Stay-Away Pope Polka," which was played by radio stations and sung by protest groups across the country when the pope visited America in 1987 and 1993. His 2007 song "It's Only Natural" won a spot on the Madison-Made Project for the Homeless compilation CD.
Dan was born in 1949, raised in southern California, and has lived in Madison, Wisconsin since 1985. He has composed more than 200 songs that have been published and/or recorded, working extensively with children's author Joy Berry on children's educational materials. He also contributed word puzzles for Joy's project with Amnesty International and regularly volunteers with the American Red Cross. Dan composed and performed some of the music in Julia Sweeney's play and movie Letting Go of God. In the 1980s he worked as a computer programmer, designing and installing software for railroad dispatchers, and currently helps maintain the Foundation's computer systems and database. Dan plays professional solo piano at clubs and hotels, and in jazz combos and big bands at weddings, receptions and parties. His newest jazz CD is "Night At Nakoma," released in 2008.
Dan speaks fluent Spanish and is studying other languages. He belongs to a number of High-IQ societies, including The Prometheus Society, with an entrance requirement at the 99.997th percentile. He is a member of the Lenni Lenape (Delaware Indian) Tribe of Native Americans, and in 1991 edited and published Paradise Remembered, a collection of his Grandfather's stories as a Lenape boy in Indian Territory.
Dan married Annie Laurie Gaylor in 1987 at a feminist/freethought ceremony at Freethought Hall in Sauk City, Wisconsin. He has five children and nine grandchildren.