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.