The blog of Dr Glenn Andrew Peoples on Theology, Philosophy, and Social Issues

The untruthful thoughts of a reluctant atheist


Recall that not all that long ago, I posted my review of a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Alister McGrath. One of the points I made is as follows: Hitchens says that religion dissolves our duty to uphold the truth. Now as I said at the time, as a Christian the duty to uphold the truth makes perfect sense to me, and of course it’s a duty I take seriously. I raised the question, additionally, of why the truth about religion ought to matter to someone who is not a Christian but is an atheist. I noted the straw man attack on religious people as people who don’t care about truth, and then I said:

The second issue is perhaps the more interesting one, and it is one that, unfortunately, McGrath never picks up in his reply. What obligation, according to Hitchens, do we really have to “live and witness in truth?” What is the basis of this obligation? For example, if there were a peaceful religion that was false yet gave its members great happiness and hope until the day they die, is there anything wrong in believing in it, and is there any actual moral duty to persuade people to give it up? Hitchens certainly offers no clear reason for thinking that truth at all costs is a greater good than peace and happiness for the greatest number of people on earth

That seemed like a pretty clear point, right? Well, apparently not. here’s what a nameless “reluctant atheist” had to say:

[T]he debate is utterly superfluous, because whether or not religion is a “poison” or not, it has no bearing on any kind of claim religion has to truth: the debate is a red herring.

This is because – contrary to the claims (pdf) of Glenn Peoples – the truth does matter. Time and again, Peoples claims that it doesn’t matter what individuals believe in. But Dawkins is right to point out in the God Delusion that it insults us – indeed, degrades us – as human beings to believe in things merely for the purposes of comfort. We can do better than that.

Oh dear. it’s almost as though the author of those comments had set out to make the opposite point, given how obviously untrue his comments here are. Notice how many times he quotes me making this outlandish claim: Exactly zero times.

At the risk of boosting this person’s exposure, I’ve brought this up here, and I’ve also contacted the author of that blog and requested a retraction so that nobody can say I’m making these comments in secret. Let’s set the clock ticking and see how much this fellow cares about truth after all. This is day one, and counting.


Episode 016: The Liberal Theocracy


Episode 017: Intelligent Design


  1. Well that didn’t take long. Our mystery blogger has promptly apologised for part of what he said. he now retracts this: “Time and again, Peoples claims that it doesn’t matter what individuals believe in.”

    However, he still maintains this: “contrary to the claims of Glenn Peoples – the truth does matter.” He hasn’t yet produced an example of me saying that the truth does not matter. Let’s wait and see.

  2. Hi there. Just found this blog via M-and-M; very cool. Have you read this admission of the mental state of an atheist? I can relate as my experience was similar, but less pronounced.

    On-Screen Scientist » On the Breaking of Bad Habits Acquired in One’s Youth: Smoking and Atheism
    “Authors like Weinberg and Dawkins helped me maintain a kind of physical addiction to the atheistic outlook. I certainly took pleasure in reading them far beyond what was justified by the content, which, as we’ve seen, was deeply pessimistic in tone and without value as argument. Thus there was probably something chemical going on in my brain… Just as smokers continue to light up in order to relieve nicotine anxiety… so did I find comfort in reading such statements, though small comfort, from the ever present sense of despair that came with my bleak view of the universe as a place without meaning.”

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