Friday, January 02, 2009

Dispatches from the Clueless Deist

Ed Brayton is unable to follow a simple analogy regarding Richard Dawkins's illogical defense of historical crimes committed by atheists:

That may be the single most idiotic analogy I've ever seen.... And all while criticizing the claim that religion can lead to similar massacres.

Brayton is a journalist, so it's not hard to understand why he's not only historically ignorant and phillosophically incompetent, but can't even read properly. Like most journalists, he's simply constructing a narrative, the observable facts be damned. And the fact that he can't comprehend the analogy doesn't make the analogy idiotic, it simply demonstrates Ed Brayton's obvious intellectual inadequacies. The claim of Richard Dawkins that was being addressed in the column to which Brayton refers is this statement from p. 273 of The God Delusion:

"What matters is not whether Hitler and Stalin were atheists, but whether atheism systematically influences people to do bad things.

As I pointed out in The Irrational Atheist, Dawkins is incorrect because determining who was or was not an atheist matters tremendously in figuring out whether atheism systematically influences people to do bad things or not. (I should note that Hitler was not an atheist nor was he a Christian either.) For how can one possibly figure out whether atheism is systematically influencing people or not if one doesn't first take the trouble to determine precisely which people it has influenced? On p. 238 of TIA, I wrote:

Dawkins, like Harris, focuses on the wrong question. Like medieval philosophers they focus on the explanatory logic of the perceived problem, and they do so ineptly, instead of examining the matter in a scientific manner by observing the relevant evidence.

Brayton is taking very much the same approach, which is why he can't understand the analogy. Let me spell out both illogical processes inherent in the analogy nice and slowly so that the dim-witted "brights" can follow it. This is what passes for Dawkins's logic; Sam Harris, on the other hand, tends to prefer the No True Atheist argument.

1. People were slaughtered.
2. Those people were ruled by atheists.
3. But those people were not slaughtered in the explicit name of atheism.
4. Therefore, atheism does not cause slaughter.

And now for the Marlboro analogy utilizing the same Dawkinsian logic:

1. People died of cancer.
2. Those people smoked Marlboros.
3. But those people did not smoke cigarettes in the explicit name of Marlboro.
4. Therefore, Marlboros do not cause cancer.

Dawkins is trying to argue that because he cannot figure out HOW atheism causes atheists to kill large quantities of people, it does not systematically influence them to do so. This is not only illogical, it is fundamentally unscientific. No one really cares why atheists kill innocent people en masse, they are primarily concerned with the undeniable problem that atheists do it with such an astonishing degree of regularity on the occasions they find themselves in a position to do so. In fact, the statistical analysis will show that the 58 percent chance an atheist leader will order the deaths of more than 20,000 people is much greater than the 16 percent probability that a lifetime habit of smoking cigarettes will cause lung cancer. Correlation is not causation, but such a strong degree of correlation is, at the very least, evidence of a systematic influence that Dawkins claimed to be unable to find.

Brayton has obviously not read TIA, or he would understand that there is a perfectly rational explanation for how it is not atheism alone, but rather the lethal combination of atheism with an ambitious vision of secular progress that has such a high probability of leading to the guillotine, the gulag, and the gas chamber.

As for his assertion that I criticize the idea that religion can lead to similar massacres, he's merely demonstrating his ignorance. I specifically cited 123 wars caused by religion in TIA and covered all of the usual subjects, from the Crusades to the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, in more detail than any of the New Atheists; the relevant points are that the very worst crime commited by any of Christendom's many medieval monarchs killed less than half as many people as the 50 most bloody-handed atheist leaders, and that while 58 percent of historical atheist rulers have committed mass slaughter, less than one percent of historical Christian rulers have done so. I have never argued that religious massacres don't take place, I have only pointed out that they take place much less frequently and are orders of magnitude smaller than non-religious massacres. And the liquidation of the Midianites cited by Brayton is rather different than the example of the Vendée massacres because the Old Testament example describes a bloody intertribal war, whereas the destruction of the Vendée was the massacre of a people by their own rulers.

Now, it is true, as one commenter noted, that none of this can prove that God does or does not exist. What it does call into question, however, is the common atheist assumption that a godless society is likely to be an improvement of any kind, let alone the shiny, sexy, secular paradise that Hitchens and others have faith that it will be.


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