Atheist Tuesday: Famous Lost Words


Quick test: What do all these famous people, apart from being dead, have in common?

Madalyn Murray O’ Hair (1919-1995)

“I want three words: Woman, Atheist, Anarchist. That’s me. I feel that everyone has a right to be insane.”

O’ Hair was the Founder of American Atheists. (Source here.)

Katherine Hepburn (1907 – 2003)

In an interview in the October 1991 Ladies’ Home Journal that was advertised as her “most candid” ever, Hepburn said:

“I’m an atheist, and that’s it. I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for each other.”

Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)

“By simple common sense I don’t believe in God, in none.”

–From “Manual of a Perfect Atheist” by Rius,
retrieved from

Voltaire (1694-1778)

(DISCLOSURE: It is reported by many sources that these words were from his lips. Others say he never said these things. You decide.)

“In twenty years Christianity will be no more. My single hand shall destroy the edifice it took twelve apostles to rear.”

His Physician said that Voltaire cried out most desperately [at the end of his life]: “I am abandoned by God and man! I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months’ life. Then I shall go to hell; and you will go with me. O Christ! O Jesus Christ!”


  1. All four would either be quote-mined or have made-up quotes attributed to them after they were dead?

    Okay, Chaplin and Hepburn probably don’t have that problem as much as the other two.

    Steve, “multiple sources” is not the same as an actual source of the quote.

    If Garrett, perdita, Nameless Cynic, BathTub, Vagon and I all stated that Ray Comfort said “I do not believe in God, and I’m only in this for the money” (multiple sources), does the “multiple sources” point towards the veracity of the quote at all?

    It’s not an issue of how many people report something; it’s an issue of how reliable (i.e., regarding biases) that the reports are. The sources that claim that Voltaire made those quotes you listed are the same sources where you got that claim about the Bible society moving into Voltaire’s house… which we determined to be an urban legend not based in fact.

  2. Also, “multiple sources” all copying each other is not the same as multiple independently-verified sources.

    Do you know of any history-based site that lists the Voltaire quotes you listed above? I can only find Christian websites that list this “quote”.

  3. And, after further investigation, it appears that they all got it from the same questionable (and I’m being nice there) “source”. In fact, there are upwards of seven different quotes given for what Voltaire supposedly said on his deathbed.

    Research. It’s a wonderful thing.

  4. I almost failed to read correctly and was about to respond ‘they are all dead’.

    They are suitably famous enough for Living Waters to sell tracts with their image on?

    Just an aside saying something has multiple sources doesn’t say anything about it’s veracity. I mean we all know how Christians love to make up stories 😉 It just means it’s been copied multiple times, usually without verification. I mean we can point to fake quotes used by Living Waters if you need examples. Or how about the coward spammer cCarl over at the swamp cut and pasting quotes with spelling mistakes, and if you google the spelling mistakes you see how it’s been copied from website to website with the spelling mistake intact.

    I mean that Voltaire comment would require him to be a huge moron.

  5. Well, they weren’t all atheists.

    But on to Voltaire (or Francis Voltaire as one Christian site called him.)

    (Both quotes from multiple sources)

    First – That Julian Huxley ‘quote’ we laugh about? That was from mulitple sources, too. The problem is that it was never from Julian Huxley.

    Second – Like the Huxley ‘quote’ it appears that this particular deathbed ‘quote’ came from an American preacher (it’s traced not to Voltaire, but to Charles Buck writing in 1822.)

    Third – Although he didn’t like your God, I don’t think Voltaire was an atheist but a deist.

    Fourth – That Bible predection? Doesn’t look like Voltaire’s either. At least I have never seen a source for it and I’ve only seen Christians make the claim that he said or wrote it. As far as I could find, it looks like it came with the rumor (also untrue) that one of his houses became some sort of Bible warehouse.

    Unless your multiple sources are actually attributed they’re worthless.

    I’m sure that wasn’t the point to your post, but that’s all I can take away.

  6. What do I win if I guess correctly Steve? =)

    Oh and there are doubts about what Voltaire’s last words were, some say it was. “Now, now my good man, this is no time for making enemies.” In response to a priest asking him to forswear Satan. Just thought you might like to amend that perhaps?

  7. Back at you Steve, multiple choice for what I’m thinking the answer is. Is it:

    a) They are burning in hell with Anne Frank, Ghandi and Mother Teresa.
    b) None of them have any baring on the impossibility of the supernatural.
    c) With the benefit of hindsight they had pretty bad hair.
    d) You’re going to exploit their status as famous to use them as a segue for the concept of “denying” your version of your particular deity.
    e) All of the above.

  8. Sweet glory of victory!

    What was the adjustment? They are burning AND freezing in hell?

  9. I’m guessing that the minor adjustment has to do with Mother Theresa, but I could be wrong.

  10. “Quote mine”, the most popular dodge from atheists. With this, they pretend that the expressions were never said, or “taken out of context”. Which is hilarious, because they are famous for taking the Bible out of context and quote mining it!

    Then we go to tu quoque, non sequitur, ad hominem, red herring and the rest.

  11. I wanted to see how you would react to my “Multiple sources.”

    So, you realized this information was unreliable but you didn’t care?

    And you think it’s okay to spread questionable and false information?

    And you don’t mind coming off as either credulous or, to put it politely, indifferent to the truth?

    Was that the point of this post?

    Vagon wins (with a minor adjustment to “a”)

    And we should believe you because you are so credible?

    • perdita,

      Since I’m not sure, and don’t want to take the time to track down the original source, I put it in there as food for thought. It certainly expresses the truth of some atheistic thought and certainly leads to that sad ultimate end. Besides, I figured one of the atheists would provide me with the info on whether it is actually the real thing or not. Until then, I will keep the quotes up until otherwise proven as false. In other words, I remain innocent until proven guilty.

      Glenn, as usual, hits the theological nail on the head. Good job, Approved Workman!

  12. Vagon,

    I think the adjustment would be to remove (a). Salvation is of the Lord, and no one has the authority to cast anyone into Hell except God. I could make a strong case from Scripture that Anne Frank isn’t there, but I am not God, and I don’t think any Christian should be announcing who’s in Hell and who’s not.

    Besides, the Gospel is for those still living. Have you repented and put your trust in Jesus alone? Why not?

  13. Steve – if you want to be credible and you’re not sure whether something is true or not, either do the work to find out or don’t use it. It’s very simple.

    “It certainly expresses the truth of some atheistic thought…”

    I’m afraid the only thing it expresses is that some Christians have little regard for the truth of a matter – and will make things up – and other Christians don’t care when things are made up. This actually helps undercut the claim of the Bible’s truthfulness. If current Christians are this fast and lose with truth, why should I believe Paul?

    Until then, I will keep the quotes up until otherwise proven as false.

    Lol. And, just what would be the proof that they are false? The deathbed one doesn’t appear to have existed until 1822. The 20 years one is always with the falsehood about one of Voltaire’s houses being used by a Bible society (either the Geneva Bible Society or the Britsh and Foreign Bible Society, depending on the story).

    But if you’ld rather go with what tickles your ear, that is your choice. As it stands, ‘yes’ you realized the information was unreliable but didn’t care and ‘yes’, you think it’s okay to spread questionable and false info.

    With this, they pretend that the expressions were never said, or “taken out of context”.

    Put up, or shut up. Find where Voltaire said either.

  14. See, you get in late, and the discussion has already started. Darn the luck!

    OK, guys, let’s get one thing straight from the start. Voltaire was not an atheist. He was a deist: he believed in God, but not in the holiness of Jesus. He also believed in freedom of religion (and likewise, freedom from religion). In that way (hold onto your hats, this is going to sting a little) he was exactly like many of our Founding Fathers here in the US.

    I vote (C) – Even Kate Hepburn – man, that woman needed conditioner…

    OK, since we’ve established that you don’t seem to have any idea why people might think you were obnoxious, aggressive and disliked, let me point out this last comment.

    Now, when a quote is used that a person never said, and it can be shown that the person never said it, and people actually explain where it came from, do you think it might seem a little silly to phrase your statement as “they pretend that the expressions were never said.”

    As for “or ‘taken out of context’.” let’s look at Charles Darwin. He is famously quoted by creationists as having said:

    To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree

    But since he followed that with an explanation of why it wasn’t absurd, it becomes the perfect example of why taking something out of context is a bad, bad thing.

    “Then we go to tu quoque, non sequitur, ad hominem, red herring and the rest.”

    Um… well, no examples of tu quoque, no non sequiturs and no red herrings. I see where perdita might be accused of attacking Steve, but that’s tenuous at best.

    And the whole attitude of your post is that of someone standing at the side of the room, openly ignoring everyone around him, and addressing nobody in particular as he shouts about how “all these sinners in here are idiots!” without addressing any argument that had even been made. That doesn’t come off well, and seems a little obnoxious.

    I hope that helped.

  15. Stormy, note the first person to bring up ‘quote mine’ in this thread was you.

  16. “Until then, I will keep the quotes up until otherwise proven as false.”

    Taking pointers from the 24 hour news networks, eh Steve? =)

    Go off of assumptions, verify and fact check nothing…

  17. Okay I fixed it. Read it again.

  18. (DISCLOSURE: It is reported by many sources that these words were from his lips. Others say he never said these things. You decide.)

    Honestly, it’s times like this that I really don’t know if you’re being serious or pulling our legs.

    Steve, to me there’s a difference between “many sources” and “many people all referencing the same source”.

    Do you agree or disagree? Because the Voltaire issue is the latter, not the former. There are not “multiple sources”; there are multiple people who all point to the same source. The problem is that that source is unreliable not because he was religious, but because there’s no reason to believe he would have any better idea as to Voltaire’s last words as you or I would.

  19. Thanks Glenn, you asked:

    “Besides, the Gospel is for those still living. Have you repented and put your trust in Jesus alone?”

    No I have not. repented.

    “Why not?””

    1. I have done anything I need to repent for.
    2. Jesus, if he existed at all, was did not have supernatural powers.

  20. Steve, your new edit is a step in the right direction and I think that is great, but Nohm is correct. Appreciate it nonetheless.

  21. Okay I fixed it. Read it again.

    Not quite fixed. Let me help:

    (DISCLOSURE: It is reported by many sources that these words were from his lips. However, contemporary accounts of Voltaire’s death, including a letter by Dr. Burard, who stayed with Voltaire until the end, plainly state that he died in complete tranquility. You decide.)

    Also, you still have Voltaire listed as an atheist and not a deist. He believed in some sort of god, just not your Christian one.

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