Could an Atheist Pass a Lie Detector Test while Proclaiming Atheism?

(Redating this post.)

While I am discussing the theme of defining one’s opponents out of existence, here’s an interesting twist on the idea. I received an email from a Christian with a link to an article that suggests most atheists could not pass a lie detector test if asked during the test if they believe in God and answered “No.” The following is an excerpt.

“Indeed, to suppress the truth that God has placed within each man only leads to varying degrees of neurosis. As the noted psychologist Rollo May wrote in The Art of Counseling, “I have been startled by the fact that practically every genuine atheist with whom I have dealt has exhibited unmistakable neurotic tendencies. How [do we] account for this curious fact?”16 And, perhaps even more suggestive, according to Senior Pastor Jess Moody of the First Baptist Church of Van Nuys, California, “Lie detector tests were administered to more than 25,000 people. One of the questions was, ‘Do you believe in God?’ In every case, when a person answered no, the lie detector said he was lying.” 17


16. Rollo May, The Art of Counseling, (NY Abingdon 1967), p. 215.

17. Cited in Los Angeles Times, June 28, 1986. We could not confirm this research. Convinced philosophical atheists clearly could pass lie detector tests since these measure conviction of belief. But such results, if valid, clearly show that the more garden-variety practical, as opposed to philosophical, atheists really aren’t so sure of their views.

Ultimately, the question, “Can atheists proclaim their atheism during a lie detector test and pass the test?”, is an empirical question, and even the author of the above article admits he was unable to confirm the “research” supporting the idea that atheists could not pass the test. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if this turned out to be an urban legend.

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • Paul Manata

    I’m sure it is an urban legend. In fact, my thesis would not imply that you could pass said test.

    Be that as it may, (and I’m not trying to link you, *at all* with this group) I think an axe murderer could pass a lie detector test while proclaiming he didn’t do it. So, even if atheists past the test, it does nothing to affect my thesis because (1) my thesis says that you do, on one level, believe that there is not God, and (2) I wouldn’t out much stock in a lie detector test.

    Oh, and I could say (3) that no amount of empirical data ever needs to refute a deeply held belief (ala Quine). Or, as they say, the arrow of modus tollens points both ways ;-)

  • Jim Lippard

    I think you meant to say “my thesis would not imply that you could *not* pass said test.”

    Considering that the empirical evidence for the reliability of the polygraph is dubious at best (which is why it is not admissible as evidence in court), I agree that the truth of your thesis would not entail that an atheist could not pass a polygraph.

    On the other hand, I think that if your thesis is true, there must be some empirical consequences to it, and I think your thesis is quite dubious without finding any to support it.

  • Paul Manata

    Hi Jim,

    yes, I wrote that wrong.

    I offer empirical support in the paper no one reads :-)

  • Jim Lippard

    The only “empirical support” you offer is that most people in history have been religious (though this is quite distinct from believing in Abraham’s God or the Christian God). You also say that “It can be proven that logic, science and ethics presuppose the existence of the Christian God” and that this constitutes empirical evidence. I disagree not only that those things have been proven, but that such proofs would constitute empirical evidence.

    What I had in mind was evidence empirically demonstrating the existence and inter-personal reliability of a sensus divinitatis, that such a function is present in atheists but overcome by self-deception, damage, or congenital defect. While on a plane flight today I read something that perfectly captures what I had in mind, I’ll put together a post on the subject–there’s even an empirical test that can be done.

  • Paul Manata

    My evidence was that people act as if they really believe my worldview and not yours (or another). I see the way they behave, and this is empirical evidence that they do not live consistently with their espoused presuppositions.

    Certainly behavior can conflict with professed belief, and this behavior is seen empirically.

  • Jim Lippard

    You’re referring back to your arguments about the God of Christianity being a presupposition of logic, ethics, and science, right? (Even though the first two disciplines and foundations of the third were established prior to Christianity.)

    I think there’s overwhelming evidence that people live their daily lives as though there is no God of Christianity than the converse, and that most Christians would concur.

    Shouldn’t we be able to formulate a thesis about this in a way that is empirically testable without relying upon the unpublishably bad logic/science/ethics argments?

  • odrareg

    So much empty talk but no action.

    Why not just get a thousand hardcore atheists to take the polygraph test where they are asked questions like

    do you believe in God,
    do you believe that you come from an accident of random mutation,
    do you believe that God is an invisible pink unicorn,
    do you believe that fundamentally there is not difference between God and Santa Claus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster,
    do you believe that you are the author of your own morality,
    do you believe that adultery is not immoral,
    do you believe that abortion is perfectly moral,
    do you believe that atheists have the best ideas for establishing a society where men can be happy and not go to war,
    do you believe that there is no order in your eye it is all appearance of order,

    That is easy to do, a polygraph test to see what the test reveals in the answers to the questions like the above ones, that atheists cannot pass or can pass a polygraph test to show that they are not telling the truth as the truth is known to themselves inside their mind.


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