Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

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"Religion for Atheists" for Atheists

This week, Sam, Mike and Becky catch up with Alain de Botton about his book “Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion,” including the “boring” question about the existence of god and the necessity of verbal skill.

Note: This week’s episode is not live, so no live streaming. Addtionally, this represents about 2/3rds of our interview with Alain de Botton. We again thank de Botton for his time and thoughtss.

About the Author: Sam Mulvey

Sam Mulvey is a producer and the technical brain behind Ask an Atheist. He is a collector of vinegar varieties, vintage computers, antique radios, and propaganda.

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Great interview and I can’t wait to see your response! It was nice to hear de Botton respond to some of the criticisms/attacks that get thrown his way. I agree with some of what he says, especially about architecture and having contemplative places that aren’t religious. Sam Harris also champions this idea, which is great. However, I think de Botton is completely off base when he says we shouldn’t be trying to persuade people to drop religion or that it’s futile (PLENTY of counter-examples). I also disagree that there’s no place for ridicule or insult. Sometimes offending people is what… Read more »


I was glad to hear this interview, because I think de Botton has some good ideas (eg: the importance of addressing people’s emotional needs) that I think are not commonly discussed with respect to atheism. But isn’t de Botton just tone trolling with all his concern about inflammatory language? Alain de Botton makes 2 assertions I think he has not supported: 1) That PZ generally uses inflammatory language instead of rational reasoned arguments. It would have been nice to hear examples of irrational arguments which PZ has made instead of just this assertion, because that is not the impression I… Read more »


When I saw that this was the topic I felt a little trepidatious after all that has been said about de Botton follwing he book and recent speaches. That said I listened and was quite suprised at what he had to say and started agreeing with much of what he had to say after he clarified some of his points…and then there was the ad break…! I began to listen to the second segment and was horrified! A blistering attack on PZ, which was, as far as I was concerned the very thing he was accusing PZ of, and to… Read more »

Grandpa Boris

PZ is right about him. de Botton is absolutely dripping with the wistful envy of the idealized fantasy of what he imagines religion to be. He is proposing exactly the kind of secular “religion” that communists had been practicing in the old USSR, down to the grandiose Stalinist monuments celebrating labor, virtue, reason and patriotism. He’s staggeringly blind to the reality of religious dogma and intolerance. Either he’s never seriously talked to the run of the mill American Protestant, or he’s completely missed their intolerance of the very concept of atheism. He is so enamored with coexistence with religion that… Read more »

Dogma-free Daniel

Such a mess. Botton definetely has a few good points and an interesting perspective on the differences between the atheist movement in the US versus the UK.
But his character assasination of PZ and RD is so off-base it is hard to stomach. Given the evils of organized religion, it really bothers me that an atheist like Botton spends his energy attacking fellow atheists instead of dealing with the real issues. I also find his view that no one will convert from religion really depressing and demeaning, not to mention blatantly false.


G’day guys, love the show, like the interview but disappointed that you didn’t tear de Botton a new one for his attacks on PZ, RD & especially the late CH. I think it is necessary to always defend a friend in their absence. A strong but reasonable approach is essential but not the only strategy or even the main one used. RD is vilified as ‘angry’ undeservedly & counter productively. To say ‘people like this are undermining our ability to make our case…’ is demonstrably false and obviously hypocritical when it is itself an undermining statement. I don’t think anyone… Read more »


I felt there was a very pessimistic attitude being displayed by Botton when he said that there was no point in trying to convince theists about the existence of God. While it is clear that the ultimate change of belief is up to the individual, without clear reason and structure arguments the way out of irrational belief is much more difficult. I also did not appreciate his attacks on Richard Dawkins – he fell back on many of the clichés of Dawkins being strident and constantly attacking. All in all, a lot of the interview felt more like a theist… Read more »


You guys made a great point that flew right over the guy ,as far as I could tell. He keeps saying we need to “steal” ideas from religion, but then oddly (yet correctly) claims that it is not religion’s property to begin with. So you asked him a perfect question, can’t this be done without bringing religion into it at all? I listened to his answer twice, but he just didn’t seem to get it. He said something about “it depends” and talked around the issue. Why must we “steal from religion” something they don’t own and we already possess?… Read more »

Tom Marinan

I was particularly dissappointed that Botton was not challenged at all by the interviewer, particularly with his remarks about PZ, RD and CH. These people have been responsible for a considerable increase in the number of individuals entering the enlightened age and throwing off their old shackles of primative religious thought, including myself. His remarks about PZ and RD not being scientific or logical (I can’t remember how he phrased it) are completely absurd. I have to question whether Botton is in fact an atheist at all. I have seen him being interviewed on TV in the UK and he… Read more »

Mike Gillis

We do challenge him a couple of times, but we don’t debate him. We wanted to give him the chance to speak for himself, and see said a helluva lot more on our show than he has anywhere else. I do mention more than once that self identifying atheists have grown in numbers under the “aggressive” activism of Dawkins and Hitchens, and do mention that the billboard protests were not fringe groups and involved a governor. However, we’re striving to strike a balance in our interviews where we both give them a chance to speak, and challenge them while not… Read more »


I think every criticism has been made so far so I won’t add what I needn’t.

The interview was great. You guys are really showing a lot of different atheist views recently. First the Myers-Epstein debate which was really good, and now this interview. You’re really living up to your goal of informing people of who and what we are and what we think.


I was surprised at first. de Botton clarified some statements that I had read about that had given me pause. But even in the first segment he seemed to have created a strawman atheist that was unlike any I have met or read about. He’s clearly very smart and has done his homework. I like the idea that some ideas appropriated by the church thousands of years ago can be taken back (although should they be is a totally different question). But he is just so wrong on so many levels. If you removed PZ, Dawkins and Hitchens from the… Read more »


But de Botton did give an example of a rant by PZ (and yes they are not hard to find.) He pointed out when PZ attacked him personally, it was a rant, I personally don’t see how any objective observer would not agree. So I am going to say yes I agree with de Botton. I met PZ at TAM and found him to be extremely pleasant and interesting to talk to in person, but his blog is often filled with vitriol and hate. I personally know several people who don’t believe in a god or gods but who… Read more »

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