Philosophy, Religion
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In Their Rush To Blame Religion, New Atheists Overlook Evil

Two schools of thought exist on the question of how best to criticize religion if you’re a nontheist. The first belongs to rationalists who believe in the value of strongly criticizing religion, even if that means upsetting or offending religious believers. By being open and honest about the severity of the problems that religion faces, rationalists aim to jar believers free from its grip.

This doesn’t tend to make rationalists very popular with believers, of course, but rationalists see virtue in accepting the truth even when it is unpleasant or ugly. To paraphrase Bertrand Russell, it is better to throw open the shutters to the cold light of day, even if the fresh air makes us shiver at first, than to dwell in the warm but false confines of humanizing mythologies.

Pragmatists differ from rationalists by viewing unfiltered criticism of religion as a painfully counterproductive way to proceed. As they may note, people do not merely believe in religions — they are personally invested in their truth and anchor large parts of their identities around them. Given this, a softer, more measured approach is called for. After all, sharply criticizing the beliefs that people treasure, or worse, ridiculing those beliefs and offending believers over them, risks making it very difficult for people to accept what you say.

New atheists belong very much on the rationalist side of things under this taxonomy. When Christopher Hitchens subtitled his book God is Not Great with “how religion poisons everything,” and when Richard Dawkins kicked off his bestselling book The God Delusion with an entire paragraph of pejorative adjectives aimed at the God of Christianity, little if anything was being held back to spare the feelings of the religious.

While opinions diverge over the wisdom of their approach, unflinching criticism of religion has been beneficial to new atheists in at least one respect, and that is that it has been enormously helpful in getting them heard. This is no trifling thing, either, for those who go unnoticed don’t change anything.

Unfortunately, one of the first victims in the struggle to be seen and heard can be the truth, and some leading new atheists have gone well beyond what can be justifiably said about religion.

This is nowhere more evident than in a remark by Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg that “with or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.” Short and to the point, Weinberg’s rebuke has been quoted with approval by several leading new atheist figures since, including Lawrence Krauss, Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. Indeed, as Dawkins himself hailed, Weinberg’s comment is “so devastatingly true that it is worth quoting again and again.”

Judging by search engine returns you get when you google it, many atheists appear to have done exactly that. The reasons why aren’t hard to find. Condemning religion two easily digestible sentences, Weinberg’s claim succinctly reduces a complicated moral puzzle to a black and white world where religion alone is responsible for the corruption of good people. It is the equivalent of porridge for the brain.

There is just one small, nagging problem: what Weinberg said is strikingly false. How do we know? Because history tells us it is.

The end of the Second World War saw millions of women in Europe end up the victims of rape by Russian soldiers. As pointed out by University of London historian Antony Beevor in Berlin: The Downfall 1945, the attacks were particularly bad in Berlin, the heart of Nazism in Europe, where girls as young as 8 and women as old as 80 were raped by drunken soldiers, sometimes by gangs of them, and sometimes to death.

It is far too much to believe that the perpetrators of these crimes were all intrinsically bad or “evil” people acting in accordance with their static moral characters. A far more plausible explanation is that a variety of causal factors culminated to produce this historical tragedy, including the lack of control that officers exerted, the large quantities of alcohol the soldiers consumed, and the desire felt by many on the Russian side to inflict revenge on the Germans for four years of grueling horror on the Eastern front. What you won’t find mentioned in the list of relevant causal factors, however, is religion.

If history isn’t your favorite subject, field-defining research in social psychology reveals exactly the same truth. We know from experiments by Stanley Milgram in the 1960s, for example, that pressure to obey authority led around two-thirds of test subjects who believed they were helping with a memory experiment to apply severe electric shocks to another person who kept failing word association questions. In fact, they applied the shocks so diligently that they continued even after the person in the other room had collapsed unconscious, and did so all the way to the maximum setting on the shock machine. Why would anyone ever do that, you ask? Because a lab technician standing next to them insisted that for the purposes of the experiment not answering was the same as answering incorrectly, and therefore required the shock. A mere technicality, in other words.

The point here is that what Weinberg said isn’t simply exaggerated, it’s wrong. Religion, though entirely capable of bringing otherwise good people to do morally evil things, is not in any sense required for that. Sometimes all it takes is a guy in a grey lab coat.

Unfortunately, saying otherwise does more to damage the cause of new atheism than it does to help it, and you don’t need to be a pragmatist to see that. The fact is that mistaking the moral responsibility of religion in producing evil through your own bias or oversight makes it that much harder for others to trust what you say. After all, if the most vociferous new atheists can get this particular issue badly wrong, what else may they? Questions of this kind are easy to ask in light of such examples.

The issue here is not a minor one and should not be overlooked. In fact, it represents nothing less than a test of the soul of new atheism, for if Dawkins, Maher, Krauss and Weinberg won’t correct themselves, they betray the very same principles of rationalism they ask others to live by.

To new atheists I therefore say: let Weinberg’s claim go, and say that you did. Not only would doing so set a fine example in how to deal with falsehood when it is your own, the intellectual integrity of new atheism depends upon it.

 

Timothy Rowe is a philosopher and author. You can find him on Twitter as @_TimothyRowe.

Image: Pieter Breugel the Elder, The Triumph of Death

47 Comments

  1. Pritesh says

    “Religion, though entirely capable of bringing otherwise good people to do morally evil things, is not in any sense required for that. Sometimes all it takes is a guy in a grey lab coat.”

    Volunteering for an experiment is in no way the same (the victims also volunteered) as being indoctrinated to kill those who leave or blaspheme your religion. Nobody volunteers to be a victim of a car bomb. Terrible argument and so blatantly unrelated to religious dogmatism you should have dropped that brain fart as soon as you had it.

    Soldiers in the Eastern bloc is such a weird analogy to use to say religion is not to blame for continued bombings of schools to this day. They did what they did, under the flag of nothing. What proof is there that lack of religion or ideals made them do those things?

    What historically relevant context is there for kidnapping, raping, or forcing a group of girls to marry their captors, lest they be killed? A religious one, that’s what is being used. And they say it themselves, so don’t try to apologize for them, they want to do these things.

    “New Atheists” (stupid term) are arguing against dogma, ideas and inequality. Religion is PROMOTING those things every day.

    Why does a stupid 2-line quote irk you to the point that you would decry the hard things being said (to their own physical peril) by Atheists? Thanks for your concern, but we don’t need your “tone-it-down guys” attitude.

    • Ray says

      You don’t seem to get the point. The author is not at all saying religion is not the cause of certain evils. He is just saying that its not ALWAYS religion that make good people do bad things. He is just, rightly, disagreeing with the absolutist tone of the quote.

      • Pritesh says

        Oh, I get the point. I have an issue with religions allowed to use absolutist tones about EVERYTHING, yet atheists should “tone-it-down.” It’s such a shallow (albeit useful) way of putting down descent to their power. “Calm down, kids. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” And then they bring up Nazis.

        That’s how religious people sound when talking to atheists.

        • Is it “descent to their power”? [I thought it was dissent…I don’t know, I guess I’m a pedantic prick, but it is amusing when one of the New Atheists “Brights” goes Mr. Malaprop while pointing out how “the stupidity of believers”. [Remember when Dawkins, and Harris were asking that you guys be called “Brights”? Hilarious. OK, there fellas, we shall ascent to your request.]

          Anyways….

          I think the point Mr. Rowe (and Ray) were making is that there is something irrational about your rationalist approach. What, exactly, are you Brights trying to accomplish? Ostensibly, it is some sort of persuasion, is it not? But, as you can A-Test in my pre-seeding* paragraph, being an asshole does not inform or persuade…it merely inflames. And all those dim believers are left with another firmly held conviction: The Bright Agenda has nothing to to with providing a different perspective about religion, and everything to do with providing a vehicle for fellow Brights to smugly amplify their smug-smugness. The Bright Agenda is not only unpersuasive, but downright dishonest as well.

          So…maybe you should tone it down.

          *For the other readers, I really meant attest and preceding.

          [Of course, I know you knew that. In actuality, the endnote is really for Pritesh. I wanted to smugly temper his excitement at seeing my misuse of “pre-seed”, but I wanted to do so in the most smug manner possible.

          Why so smug? Because I want Pritesh and other Brights to see that there really is another perspective on “definitional awareness”. And no, I-Will-Not-Tone-It-Down.]

          • Part of the point (as I read it) is that the phrase in question is hyperbolic. It’s a rhetorical trick “new atheists” use, which is designed to illicit an emotive response. Rowe is calling them out on this. He’s asking them to stick to rational argument. Seems a fair point to me.

          • Pritesh says

            [I’m not going to stoop to calling you a smug asshole, although you seem to be OK with having that proclivity towards me. Also, please excuse my smug asshole spelling errors.]

            Mr. Rowe is making the point that a silly 3-line quote is somehow the atheist go-to. It’s on memes and posters and desktop wallpapers, etc, etc, etc…I’ve only ever heard it quoted in an atheist debate one time. It is not our “Let there be light.”

            And really, is that why we’re smug? Because we like a quote? Because I get a Bible quote scrolling across my Facebook feed almost every day, and I don’t bat an eye at it or yell at the person for liking it or write an article demeaning it. That’s their choice, and I’ll fight and die for them to have that choice.

            The scope of what atheism is trying to accomplish: Don’t use religion as a way of governing and don’t use it to justify harming others. Our goals are secular, as are most western societies, and quite simple. Most atheists go about their days without even a single reason to talk about (or smugly against) religion.

            Atheism does, in fact, offer plenty of different perspectives on religions. What vehicle for smugness can be driven by argument with ideas? What golden carpet is being laid out for atheists?

            “Definitional Awareness”
            Smug? Save that word for the guys in the gold robes and high hats. It doesn’t help the religious cause that THOSE are their leaders. Meanwhile, a couple scientists arguing against their power are somehow smug assholes. Get a life.

    • But before there were theologies godless pantheistic tribes did just that: organized rape / sex slavery of defeated tribes.

      You’re demonstrating once again the new atheist delusional Marxist thinking. Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun are two incredible examples in WRITTEN history alone, and their godless empires were wrought with rape, sexual slavery and mass murder; before really the Vedas and Buddhism it was just normal tribal behavior.

      Judaism served as an advanced extension of pre-gnostic tribal morality and wouldn’t you have it, Bolshevism (Jew led) enacted those horrors in ways that made anything the Christic Germans or Americans did look civilized.

      Atheism has a god, that god is the self and nature, and nature is amoral, it only cares to grow and consume, and this is reflected in atheistic or rather ‘naturalistic’ modern ‘progress’ via technical advancement and “expand or die” economics that “justifies” to the occult atheistic Establishment the measures of deception and violence of colonial America and The Greater Israel Project against sovereign Islamic countries that never invaded or attacked us.
      “Justified” because we’re supposed to believe Muslims are dangerous primitive people with a violent backwards religion, and that they need some death followed by some “democracy”. Same justification used for communist growth, that they’re better for ‘being their own gods’.. That serial killers use when torturing their victims.

      It’s what satan taught, “do as thou wilt”, and the moral relativism taught in Marxist academia is directly align. Inherently good atheists side with dualism, they are the living blood memory of the heathen of pre-gnostic times.

      Universal religion is what the modern atheist instinctively hates because it aims to transcend this dualistic physical realm all together. The pretty rational concept of God a creator, something many a genuis (e.g. Nikola Tesla) believed, is rendered a problem to the anti-theist because they in one way or another view themselves as god, masters over their own world (with nature’s and Freemasonic Science’s help), which is why it’s an ego thing and they lie about how it’s pragmatic when clear examples aforementioned easily dismantle their moral high groundedness argument.

      New atheists are as much a hypocritical scourge as the occult, just more in the open and more deluded by mainstream Marxist propaganda that makes even good atheistic minds too anti-theist for their own good.

      • Also I’m unsure why the Holohoax example is even used here, most anybody who has even done 5 minutes of open minded research can see it’s an irresponsible exaggeration at best and a Big Lie at worst. Victors write history, don’t you thick headed fucking atheists know what all this implies.

        For one it strongly suggests that if there are countless examples of how something couldn’t have happened that has made the Establishment billions and trillions while helping defend a rising Jewish empire by having garnered the sympathies and trust of a supremacist colonial tribe, then it’s highly suspect and in this case proven to be bullshit.

  2. I don’t mean to expand the definition of “religion” too broadly, but it’s not a stretch to argue that communism, fascism and Nazism had many commonalities with religion – only without the belief in God.

    If this is true, then it can also be argued that in addition to a lack of officer control, of unrestrained alcohol consumption, and of revanchism, the belief in the moral superiority of one’s political doctrine would explain the brutality with which Russian soldiers behaved towards the vanquished German population.

    • Yes, this is entirely the conceptual error being made by not just New Atheists but “liberalism” in general: placing religious belief into a special category when there is actually no logic to doing so. As you observe, religion is just a cultural belief system that happens to also include belief in a magical being. Cultural belief systems in general can potentially be used to motivate good people to do evil. Regardless of whether they include belief in a magical being.

      The New Atheists making this error, ironically, are engaging in exactly the process they are singling out religion as the sole motivator for. The New Atheist cultural belief system sees the opposing outgroup, religious people, as responsible for all evil in the world. This is the foundational belief that underlies all genocides: if “they” are the root of all evil then obviously wiping them out is a solution.

      The liberals making this mistake go the other way, pretending that cultural belief systems that include a magical being are then magically purified and blameless, and interchangeable in their effects on human behavior. There is absolutely no logic to this either. If Nazism had included a belief in some magical being, would it be “racist” to say it was a cultural belief system that strongly tended to make its believers more violent and racist? Yet there are religious cultural belief systems that clearly and empirically have these effects, for example Islam, and liberals scream at anyone who observes that obvious truth.

      There is nothing magically distinct about religious belief systems.

      • @ tp, ” The New Atheist cultural belief system sees the opposing outgroup, religious people, as responsible for all evil in the world.”

        Cultural belief system? All? Please.

        New Atheism is all about criticizing religious belief generally and the privilege it receives in the public domain specifically for the pernicious effects this causes to real people in real life. No New Atheist listed says religion is the cause of all evil. This is a misrepresentation. It takes a certain creative mind to suggest as much.

        This fluff piece does what faitheists everywhere try to do, use misrepresentations to paint New Atheism as having fundamental principles of intolerance and bigotry. This is not true. Such misrepresentation does nothing but empower a false sense of embattled victimhood to the real dominant cultural group – the religious – from those nasty and ever-so-angry New Atheists who rely on nothing more than good reasons. How shocking militant is that?

      • An indigenous people fight for their sovereignty against foreign colonialists who have usurped control via media and banking proxies – with clear path toward deracinating the natives completely, and the natives almost win! Bitter unfortunate ending for the natives! unless those indigenous people are white Germans and the colonialists are Jews!

        Then we’re supposed to side with the swindling foreign occupier and believe the Germans were just racist monsters who wanted to take over the world and kill non-whites; even with the name National Socialism and clear cooperative friendships and alliances with peoples of all ethnic backgrounds. It’s incredible the bullshit people in the West today believe by the very system so many pretend to has distrust and disdain for.

        • Look, another actual Nazi. The Nazis murdered Gypsies and homosexuals and Communists and handicapped people in the Holocaust too. They also had plans to murder all of the Slavic people in a vast swath of the Soviet Union to create room for Germans.

    • Evan says

      By that logic maybe Scientism could be added. When belief in Science as an unadulterated good blinds any other factors, eugenics and other nasties become much easier. As someone who finds both science and faith to be helpful in life, that absolutism worries me too

  3. Casgrave says

    Bit of a tepid piece. It’s the equivalent of shouting “not all!” in a debate. If you want to be really literal you can pretend that Weinberg meant that “only” religion could make people do evil things. I highly doubt that is what he inferred.

    “To new atheists I therefore say: let Weinberg’s claim go, and say that you did. Not only would doing so set a fine example in how to deal with falsehood when it is your own, the intellectual integrity of new atheism depends upon it”

    Weinberg’s point strikes home in many regards and perhaps less in others (see firstly religious circumcision) and somehow the entire integrity of (new) atheism rests upon refuting it and denouncing? What?

    Also “New Atheism” is not really a thing. Its just the good old village atheists having to pipe up again in the face of irrational stupidity and cruelty.

    • Zado says

      That’s what I thought. I don’t know of any atheist who claims religion is the only source of evil. The point of the Weinberg quote–which the author seems to have misunderstood–is that religion, more so than mere tribalism or animal instincts, can convince people that wicked acts are actually moral and necessary because it couches morality in the supernatural world rather than this one.

      Timothy Rowe is tearing down a straw man.

      • bob says

        Yes!. This is exactly what I was shouting at my computer screen as I read this dribble.

  4. Two schools of thought exist on the question of how best to criticize religion if you’re a nontheist. The first belongs to rationalists who believe in the value of strongly criticizing religion, even if that means upsetting or offending religious believers. By being open and honest about the severity of the problems that religion faces, rationalists aim to jar believers free from its grip.

    Well, there’s one thing key to consider here: where does religion come from. One can naively answer with “scripture” (or other holy texts) or religious clerics. But how much does the behavior and beliefs the average religious person actually conform to what’s in their texts? How much the average person even know about it? How well do they even follow what their leaders preach even.

    No, religion comes from within. The historical bulk of religion may open a nominal avenue for believers to follow, but their behavior on the ground is their own. Even the New Atheists themselves exemplify this, as their militant atheism and blindness to actual human behavior is itself a form of religion.

    See:

    The Atheist Narrative – The Unz Review

    • Pritesh says

      WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.

      Religion is handed down, generation after generation. Your religion comes from your parents, grandparents, aunts & uncles, neighbors, geographic location, etc. Of course it’s naive to say its scripture. Scripture is there; and given the choice, you accept it or not. If it’s not being drilled into your head at the age of 5, you may have a chance at never believing it.

      Your parents may indulge you while you explore other religions, but you better toe the line and baptize your kids in the end. And before you take it to the “what about scientology” bullshit; let’s call that out for what it is: Tax Dodging.

      The general population you claim dismiss most of their religion, are holding on to it pretty tightly. OK, so they don’t regularly visit church, so what?

      Christianity is the biggest religion there is, with over 70% of the US population ascribed to it. And televangelist protestants and baptists as the biggest market share within it. They are not flaccid practitioners; they are very real about their faith and most are devout. Fine, there are plenty of nominal practitioners, but they aren’t the ones swaying laws in favor or their religious text’s bigotry. It’s only after those laws are passed that they speak up and say these laws are clearly religious and clearly wrong in modernity.

      Only recently has atheism become a STRONG voice against religiosity. Because even the nominal practitioners are seeing through the hatred that their religions espouse, and lobby for, so they speak out against it.

      “The historical bulk of religion may open a nominal avenue for believers to follow, but their behavior on the ground is their own. New Atheists themselves exemplify this, as their militant atheism and blindness to actual human behavior is itself a form of religion.”

      The historical bulk of religion has been pretty clear cut. Believe us or DIE.

      Talk about an oxymoron. “Militant” atheists exemplify the nominally religious. What?

      “Atheism is a religion, too.”
      The same junk narrative every faithist tries to apply to nonbelievers. The whole point of atheism is breaking from the conformity of (bad) human behavior. So that’s another nonsense argument.

      Your link is cute, but all it’s doing is what I pointed out above: trying to hush descent by saying it’s “too difficult so don’t even try.” Sorry, atheists don’t work that way. And our numbers are growing.

      • WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.
        Religion is handed down, generation after generation.

        What else is handed down, generation after generation?

        If it’s not being drilled into your head at the age of 5, you may have a chance at never believing it.

        Yup, yet somehow twins raised apart end up having pretty damn similar religious views.

        The general population you claim dismiss most of their religion, are holding on to it pretty tightly. OK, so they don’t regularly visit church, so what?

        Ask the average Christian about what’s really in the Bible.

        They are not flaccid practitioners; they are very real about their faith and most are devout.

        Absolutely they are. It’s just that what’s in their minds as faith isn’t necessarily what conforms to the tenets of Christianity.

        The historical bulk of religion has been pretty clear cut. Believe us or DIE.

        I think Hitler and Stalin established similar.

        The whole point of atheism is breaking from the conformity of (bad) human behavior.

        And that is why atheism as New Atheists practice it is itself a religion. You don’t realize where bad human behavior actually comes from (humans themselves).

        • Pritesh says

          You linked your own article as proof to your own point? Wow.

          And then you come back and bring up hitler and stalin? Did you read my first comment? I’m done with you.

          • Pritesh says

            *3rd comment. “And then they bring up Nazis.”

          • You linked your own article as proof to your own point?

            I did. And that’s because it references tons of research collected there just for that purpose. Why that surprises you is beyond me.

        • Mokk says

          The historical bulk of religion has been pretty clear cut. Believe us or DIE.

          “I think Hitler and Stalin established similar.”

          That’s pretty ignorant given that Hitler was slaughtering on god’s behalf. Contrary to deceptive picture that religion would paint, Hitler was a devout Roman Catholic; this is why he hated the Jewish culture so vehemently.

          So….sorry….that whole Hitler did it because he was an atheist is just another “holy” lie.

  5. Fayzal Mahamed says

    The author Timothy Rowe assumes the position that “new atheist” are out to convert religious believers to atheism and that in order to do so “new atheist” should present a “gentle message” to convert religious persons so as not to antagonize them. What a load of poppycock. I have never seen any atheist such as Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris trying to convince religious persons to convert to atheism. Dawkins and Harris were simply giving their opinions based on science and logic and a factual history and I do not thing they gave a damned even if not a single religious person converted to atheism.

    • Dave Richards says

      I can’t believe you really believe that “Dawkins and Harris were simply giving their opinions based on science and logic and a factual history and I do not thing they gave a damned even if not a single religious person converted to atheism.”

      They are just writing to express themselves?

      A lot of people in this discussion are being incredibly defensive about their beliefs. It confirms my suspicion that many “new atheists” have the potential to be as dangerous and intolerant as any fundamentalists.

      • I too am surprised by how defensive the atheists on this thread are to a pretty benign criticism of some atheist intellectuals. See my post below. People seem to have lost sight of what the article was saying.

      • Fayzal Mahamed says

        Atheism is not my belief system but I do believe in the principles of secular humanism of which atheism is part of the secular ideology. When I speak of atheism it is not in any context of wanting to convert any person but just to reflect on what makes atheism true as compared to theism. Similarly a person who intends to show the truth of theism is not out to convert atheist as theism is not a religous belief. I have seen and read all of Dawkins’s and Harris’s books. Could you please point where they are trying to convert religious persons to atheism. It would make for an interesting reading.

  6. Many people on this thread seem to have missed the point. Here is the statement in question:

    “with or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.”

    The author is saying that this statement is false. I would describe this statement as incoherent; I don’t think it makes sense to talk about good/evil acts separate from good/evil people. Is there such thing as a good person who commits lots of evil acts?

    But even if you can make sense of it, I think the author gave two good examples to prompt your intuition that religion isn’t required to motivate the average person to do awful things. If you disagree, then you need to make a case that religion was actually the cause in these cases.

    Atheists often claim to value reason and truth. So, if high-profile atheists have endorsed a false indictment against religion, then they should correct themselves to be consistent with their principles. I agree with the author that the statement in question is false, and is quite obviously false, and this makes atheists endorsing it look bad.

    I’ve been an atheist for about as long as I can remember, by the way.

    • Dave Richards says

      Actually I think has been established pretty well that “good people” can do evil things. Maybe even lots of them, if under pressure. I would say it makes extremely good sense to separate acts from the people who commit them. I think the author is perfectly right and coherent as far as the semi-colon.

  7. Jim Jones says

    Religion is spread by four basic methods:

    1. Deceit
    2. Fear
    3. Torture
    4. Murder

    It is always thus.

    Atheism is spread by asking questions.

    As for evil, there’s nothing about atheism that prevents or compels bad behavior. it’s just that observation shows that there is some sort of positive correlation between atheism and good behavior.

    Religion tells you to do what you’re told, not what is right.

    Morality tells you to do what is right, not what you’re told.

    • Dave Richards says

      I think the Soviets did a pretty good job of spreading atheism by those four methods, and there are plenty of examples of people who took up religion because of either example or reasonably gentle persuasion. if you reckon that’s covered by no 1 , it’s a bit of a stretch from there to claim that everyone who converted somebody else to religion knew that what they were saying was bullshit. I know of many people who were converted to religion because they were lost and confused in their lives and religion offered them meaning and structure.

      • Fayzal Mahamed says

        Dave you say “I think the Soviets did a pretty good job of spreading atheism by those four methods”. but I think you meant to say “I think the Soviets did a pretty good job of spreading COMMUNISM by those four methods”. The in-coherency in your argument is due to your conflation of communism and atheism.

        • Dave Richards says

          Thanks for the unsolicited counsel Fayzal, but I meant to say exactly what I did say.

  8. Alex John-Henry says

    The author makes a sound point about the “with or without religion…” meme. One that I had not considered before, so thank you Mr Rowe for prompting me to reflect on old adage I have repeated many times myself.

    I’m a huge fan of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Their writing convinced me, a once fairly fundamental Christian, to reconsider, and ultimately change, my beliefs. However, I am bemused at the level of defensiveness in some of the posters here (and on other forums/social media) whenever there is even a hint of criticism towards Harris, Dawkins, Krauss, Hitch, and the like. And this piece could barely even be described as criticism.

    This tendency towards virulent defensiveness in some supporters of these same people I respect so greatly gives me pause to think. Nothing is sacred; nothing is above question or criticism. Not even our most respected heroes. Stop treating these guys like they are ordained prophets that you must always fervently defend.

  9. Dave Richards says

    A timely comment Alex. The fact is that, for many atheism, is a belief that must be defended and proselytised just as fundamentalists defend and proselytise their beliefs.

    • Fayzal Mahamed says

      Again Dave allow me to correct your misconception. “Atheism” is not a belief, it is in fact a non belief of the existence of a supreme being called GOD. This does not mean that atheism could not form part of a belief system, such as Buddhism for example, but then you would have to change your statements to read “The fact is that, for many Bhuddhism, is a belief that must be defended and proselytised just as fundamentalists defend and proselytise their beliefs.”

      • Dave Richards says

        Thanks Fayzal, but I will not allow you. It is not a misconception. It is my reasoned opinion. Whether you believe there is a God, or believe there is no God, it is still a belief. Using your words around the other way is just a matter of semantics. What is a non-belief in something, if not a belief in the opposite?

        • Fayzal Mahamed says

          “What is a non-belief in something, if not a belief in the opposite?” There is a flaw in your logic because according to you a non-Sun would be a Sun in the opposite or a non-Spoon a Spoon in the opposite. That seems pretty silly even in the wildest abuse of semantics.

          • Dave Richards says

            It’s an interesting point, but spoons and suns are not in the same set as beliefs. If someone says to an atheist: “So you believe that God doesn’t exist?”, wouldn’t they have to say “Yes”?

        • Fayzal Mahamed says

          The statement ” “So you believe that God doesn’t exist?” is not the same as saying “I have no belief in the existence of God”. The former is a belief in the existence or non existence of God or fairies or whatever. It is contingent on the emotions of a person. For example a person could say “I believe in ghost” and I would not dispute this statement from an emotional point…I mean why should I dispute what you feel.

  10. andrew097 says

    This quote is a great example of somebody thinking deeply about something and getting the wrong answer,
    Instead of religion it should read dogma, secular or religious

  11. Pingback: Is Weinberg's remark false? - Avant Garde

  12. We don’t overlook evil. We know it when we see it.

    And you practice it. If you’re a christer, in fact, you adhere to the most evil idea ever conjured in the history of humankind: The idea that people deserve to be tortured–FOREVER–for what they think.

    Only a christer would be so stupid and evil as to see this as a good thing.

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