TIA Tuesday: The Santa Clause IIOctober 7, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
According to Vox Day, you can believe that the whole world lies in the power of the Evil One, and that eternal life awaits you after the death of your mortal body, and that God will reward you for “smiting the infidel,” and that God is personally speaking to you in your heart and leading you to open warfare against the forces of evil, apostasy, and heresy, and none of your beliefs are in any way responsible for your subsequent warlike behavior. If you lack those beliefs, however, then as far as Vox is concerned, your absence of faith bears full responsibility for anything done by anyone who also lacks faith.
Each member of the Unholy Trinity demonstrates some level of concern with finding a way to assert that atheism is in no way to blame for the murderous atrocities of Communism, deservedly infamous for committing the worst mass murders in Man’s history. Dawkins and Hitchens are both fully aware of how badly the lethal record of atheists holding absolute power undermines their case against religion and they are eager to find some way of explaining this record in a manner which allows them to separate the actions of the responsible individuals from their denial of the existence of God.
We’re in Chapter 13 of TIA, and it’s a chapter Vox would have done well to skip, not because of any triskadecaphobia, but because it’s such a blatant example of appallingly poor thinking skills. Let’s look at the above paragraph again, with just a slight modification:
Each member of the Unholy Trinity demonstrates some level of concern with finding a way to assert that failure to believe in Santa Claus is in no way to blame for the murderous atrocities of Communism, deservedly infamous for committing the worst mass murders in Man’s history. Dawkins and Hitchens are both fully aware of how badly the lethal record of non-Santa-believers holding absolute power undermines their case against religion and they are eager to find some way of explaining this record in a manner which allows them to separate the actions of the responsible individuals from their denial of the existence of Saint Nick.
In Chapter 5, Vox tried to argue that religion could not be blamed for any atrocities in human history, on the grounds that political, historical, cultural and geological factors contributed to each recorded case, and therefore religion played no role at all in the murderous and inhuman results that transpired. That’s obviously a bogus argument. Religion must be deeply involved in such things, otherwise Vox could not now argue that absence of religion must in some way alter the outcome. If it has no influence when present, then its removal is not going to change things either.
The problem is, if you’re going to assume that absence of religion causes violent atrocities, you need to be able to show that the presence of religion prevents them. Obviously, that’s not the case. Our own born-again Christian president gleefully led us into an unprovoked, unjustified, and ultimately unwise war of conquest against a much smaller country already strangling under a ten-year economic blockade imposed by the president’s father. His Christian faith did nothing to give him any greater insights into the truth about Iraq’s ability to threaten the US, nor did it stir his compassion for the millions of men and women in both countries (and indeed many countries worldwide) who have suffered needlessly and horrifyingly as a result.
But more than that, Vox’s argument is based on an assumption that is merely silly, as we’ve seen before. Lack of belief in God, like a lack of belief in Santa Claus, is an absence of motivation. It’s not a source of evil desires, nor does it promise any kind of reward for doing harm. It suggests no particular course of action, nor does it offer any kind of incentives for pursuing one course over another. It’s simply a lack of belief in God. Or in Santa.
Vox nevertheless proceeds with the assumption that any crime or atrocity committed by any atheist must be blamed on his or her atheism unless and until the atheist can prove otherwise. Atheism is guilty until proven innocent, and the criteria for proving atheism innocent is that it must be shown that, um, well, there isn’t a criterion you could meet, actually, so atheism is guilty no matter what atheists say or what facts they point out.
Here’s Vox being unintentionally ironic when discussing a chapter from Hitchens’ book, entitled “THE ‘CASE’ AGAINST SECULARISM”:
The scare quotes in the chapter’s name would have been much more appropriate had Hitchens entitled it “A ‘DEFENSE’ OF SECULARISM,” as it is not so much an ineffective defense against the argument that secular atheism is a direct cause of the heights of human evil as it is a nonexistent one.
And what, you may wonder, is this “argument that secular atheism is a direct cause of the heights of human evil”? Judging from what Vox writes, the “argument” consists of assuming that atheism is principally if not solely responsible for the acts of Stalin, Lenin, and Mao. Never mind looking at political, geographical, economic, and other causes, as Vox does for religiously-motivated atrocities. They were atheists, they did bad things, therefore atheism causes people to do bad things. The argument for why we should blame atheism is, in Vox’s words, “a nonexistent one.”
The best Vox can do is to cite a number of places in which Hitchens makes reference to various historical events, and to point out that his own (i.e. Vox’s) interpretation is very different, which of course means that Hitchens is wrong, and therefore it must be true that atheism causes atrocities, or some such reasoning. Like I said, appallingly poor thinking skills.
Vox fares no better in attempting to deal with Dawkins. Here he is responding to a quote by Dawkins.
What matters is not whether Hitler and Stalin were atheists, but whether atheism systematically influences people to do bad things. There is not the smallest evidence that it does.
Again Dawkins reveals his historical ignorance, and again, he demonstrates that he is not so much a bad scientist as an atheist propagandist who has abandoned science altogether. For there is not only the smallest evidence that atheism correlates with people doing very bad things, the evidence is so strong that it is almost surely causal.
This, of course, is not at all the same standard Vox used in assessing the correlation between religious beliefs (like “I shall be rewarded forever by God if I blow up these innocent bystanders”) and violent behavior. When it came to pogroms and witch hunts and Christians warring against Christians, the mere existence of other factors was enough to “prove” that religion was completely innocent of playing any role whatsoever in the motivation and enabling of crimes against humanity. But with atheism, a perceived “correlation” between atheism and atrocity is “so strong that it is almost surely causal.”
Vox’s “evidence” is another numbers game, based on statistics that ignore major, significant factors in order to draw a simple comparison that makes it look like atheists are 58% more likely to murder their own subjects than religious leaders are. No attempt is made to compensate for differences in population size, or for the growth of the human population as a whole over the past 2,000 years, or for technological and civil developments that have increased the efficiency with which government can control and influence ever larger areas. Vox has his conclusion already drawn, and is merely pulling in whatever numbers sound like they support that conclusion.
And even if those statistics were valid, do they show actual causation? What is Vox’s proposed mechanism for how this would work, exactly? What is it about atheism that allegedly would cause such callous disregard for human life—more so than a religious leader’s conviction that God was on his side and endorsed and/or forgave his actions whatever they might be? We’ll look at what Vox thinks is the answer next week.
What Vox inadvertently shows, though, is that atheism is unlikely to be the real cause, any more than lack of belief in Santa Claus is. The religious leaders all committed crimes too; presence of belief in God does not produce qualitatively better behavior, and therefore the absence of belief cannot be blamed for qualitatively worse behavior. If more recent despots have been quantitatively better at accomplishing their nefarious goals, then perhaps we ought to look into how and why that happened (e.g. it might be worthwhile looking into the cultural habits engrained into Russian society by centuries of church-state union). But causation? I don’t think so.
If Vox thinks he has conclusive evidence of evil deeds being caused by atheism, he ought to take another look at Santa. Categorize those same statistics according to whether or not the leaders involved were believers in Santa Claus, and you’ll find that there’s a 100% chance of atrocities being committed by someone who was not a friend of Father Christmas. If that 100% correlation is not proof of causation, then Vox’s mere 58% correlation isn’t either.
But it gets better: next week, we look at Vox’s attempt to explain why atheism supposedly turns people into monsters. Stay tuned.