Take the 2-minute tour ×
Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

It is widely believed that L. Ron Hubbard and Robert A. Heinlein made a bet in a bar one night either than L. Ron could not create a religion, or to see who could create a religion first. (In the second case, Stranger in a Strange Land is often cited as Heinlein's effort.)

Ignoring calling any religion's validity into question; is there any evidence for or against this bet actually happening? (Perhaps L. Ron made the bet because it was a sure thing, betters can also be prophets.)

share|improve this question
This question feat Skeptics better than SciFi. –  HuBeZa Mar 27 '11 at 7:55
@HuBeZa: I see why you might say that, but Skeptics is for evidence of scientific claims. Just because I used the word evidence, doesn't make it fall under Skeptics. This would have a place on a history.se as it is a question of historical accuracy, but none exists and since it is about two scifi authors, it belongs here best. –  DampeS8N Mar 27 '11 at 13:12
I didn't said it because you used the word evidence. I said it because you are trying to question the legitimacy of Scientology, by implying that Hubbard invent the whole story. Do you have any evidence that lord Xenu didn't plant alien souls inside a volcano and bomb them with hydrogen bomb? Scientology 1 - @DampeS8N 0. –  HuBeZa Mar 27 '11 at 13:34
@HuBeZa I am absolutely not trying to question the legitimacy of Scientology. Read the last line of my question. What I am saying there is that just because this bet took place, that doesn't mean that Scientology isn't legitimate. –  DampeS8N Mar 27 '11 at 14:26
So you're saying Scientology is legitimate? Just kidding. I accept your argument and withdraw mine; the bet existence dose not necessary desecrate of the holy Scientology scriptures. –  HuBeZa Mar 27 '11 at 15:15

4 Answers 4

up vote 18 down vote accepted


The following article seems to be the most comprehensive: http://everything2.com/title/The+Heinlein+-+Hubbard+Wager+Myth . The summary:

The simple truth of the matter is that a wager never took place. It never happened, end of story.

Having said that however, the possibility does exist that a series of conversations between the two authors and commentary made by Heinlein, may have been the catalyst for Hubbard’s authorship of Dianetics. Heinlein and Hubbard were close friends and Hubbard greatly respected Heinlein, his opinions and his ideas.

Mr. Patterson revealed to me, "RAH and LRH had one or more discussions during 1944 and or 1945 when they were both in Philadelphia, and RAH pointed out to LRH that religions had an inordinate amount of legal latitude in the U.S. and that churches could engage in a great many activities otherwise thought of as secular, under the tax and other protection churches enjoy. He had already explored these ideas in some of his stories and was to revisit these notions in their original form in Stranger. It is possible that this conversation or series of conversations took place as late as December 1945 or early 1946 and in Los Angeles."

As per Wikipedia article on bar bets (... from the "last places you'd think to find things" category :)

It is widely believed that the creation of Scientology was the result of a bar bet between L. Ron Hubbard and Robert A. Heinlein. The story says L. Ron Hubbard dared that he could create a religion all by himself. According to Scientology critic Lindsay this is "definitely not true", no such bet was ever made, it would have been "uncharacteristic of Heinlein" to make such a bet, and "there's no supporting evidence". However, several of Heinlein's autobiographical pieces, as well as biographical pieces written by his wife, claim repeatedly that the bet did indeed occur.

Please note that the "biographical pieces" does NOT refer to the main RAH "biographical" book, "Grumbles from the Grave" - a full text search found no mentions of 'bar', 'bet', 'religion', 'hubbard' or 'dianetics' in the desired context.

The only other place it can be is a bunch of letters in RAH/VH archives, but those cost a lot of money to access online ($3-$12 per archive item) and as such I'm afraid I won't be able to confirm/deny using those; but I included the URL for those who may want to.

share|improve this answer
Isaac Asimov commented in a 1980's interview that the bet was informal, and not JUST between Hubbard and Heinlein. Supposedly, it was Asimov, Heinlein, Hubbard, and Frank Herbert, more of a dare than a true bet. "Who can make the best religious story." Resulting stories: Nightfall, Dune, Job, and supposedly, Dianetics. –  aramis Mar 27 '11 at 4:57
@Raskolnikov - given your russian-sounding handle, you should be fully familiar with an old Russian proverb: "What's on sober mind, will be on drunk's tongue". –  DVK Mar 27 '11 at 12:11
@DampeS8N - See my edit. Unless the answer is worth actual money to you, a Wiki quote is the best that's available. Unless someone gives me a grant to purchase all relevant articles in RAH archive, I can sadly provide no more detail :( –  DVK Mar 27 '11 at 12:12
@DampeS8N - hard to say. Need to total up all of the seemingly relevant articles there. Total seems like ~$100-$150. Some may be obviously irrelevant, though. If you wish, feel free to buy them from the link above and email me the texts - I would happily comb through them if they are in actual text OCR-ed form, though I won't be able to volunteer to comb through scanned images that you can't do decent text searching on. –  DVK Mar 27 '11 at 14:16
@aramis: "Resulting stories: Nightfall, Dune, Job, and supposedly, Dianetics" -- The timing doesn't seem right. Nightfall was published in 1941, Dune was first serialized in Analog in 1963, and Job was published in 1984. Dianetics was first published in 1950. Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) is a more plausible candidate for Heinlein, but even so the publication dates are scattered across 20 years. –  Keith Thompson Oct 14 '12 at 20:48

Harlan Ellison has stated that he was present when Hubbard made the above statement.

On Wikiquote:

Scientology is bullshit! Man, I was there the night L. Ron Hubbard invented it, for Christ's sakes! ... We were sitting around one night... who else was there? Alfred Bester, and Cyril Kornbluth, and Lester del Rey, and Ron Hubbard, who was making a penny a word, and had been for years. And he said "This bullshit's got to stop!" He says, "I gotta get money." He says, "I want to get rich". And somebody said, "why don't you invent a new religion? They're always big." We were clowning! You know, "Become Elmer Gantry! You'll make a fortune!" He says, "I'm going to do it."

"The Real Harlan Ellison" in Wings (November-December 1978) p. 32

The Harlan Ellison FAQtotum has a larger extract of this interview.

share|improve this answer
Do you have a reference to Ellison's statement? –  Gilles Mar 29 '11 at 18:09
The Real Harlan Ellison" in Wings (November-December 1978) p. 32 –  user4952 Feb 25 '12 at 20:47
I know this comment is along the lines of "I remember someone once told me that they heard of a guy who knew..." but still: I'm sure I read a well-written analysis that showed that Ellison was BS-ing when he claimed to have been there. I think the gist was that the timing didn't work out, it would've been years before Ellison was active or something. –  Ward Mar 10 '12 at 7:46

I'd heard this somewhat differently back in the 1970s when I was first getting into Asimov.

The story I'd heard took place in the 50s (but could have been the 60s) allegedly during a dinner party or gathering of several SF authors, Asimov included. At some point, Hubbard was alleged to have said "Religion is where the REAL money is at", or words to that effect.

share|improve this answer
these are two DIFFERENT rumors. One is about a bet to do it, one is about several alleged instances of Hubbard stating the quote you mentioned. –  DVK Mar 29 '11 at 10:20
I kinda figured that might be the case. As with so many rumors concerning people who are now dead, the circumstances remain murky. –  David Mar 29 '11 at 12:36

I've seen many different varieties of this story, involving any number of personae (but usually including Heinlein and/or Asimov and either drinks or food or both).

To find out the truth (if it is out there) you'd have however to brave Scientology's legal department, as they (if it is true, I've no data to either conclude in the positive or negative) would be quite eager to prevent the truth from being made public if it were indeed the case that Scientology was created out of thin air as the result of a bet or dare between some authors.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.