Friday, October 5, 2007

Hey! Someone linked to me!

Maybe not the best sort of link, but Mr. Baker is engaged in discussion with me about religion and atheism. Please let me know what you think of what he is saying, as well as me, so that I can broaden how I see his writings.

Update: Well, I had posted a response to Mr. Baker's rather nebulous attack on Christianity, but I see that he has not allowed it to post. Let me place my response here.

Why here? Because this is the blog of a Catholic father. Catholic apologetics is a very important activity and skill; I should engage in it and I should teach my children how to do it. Further, simply knowing how to argue and to counter bad arguments is a critical skill! From time to time I will place examples here to show how to make a point, how not to make a point, and how to spot faulty thinking.

For a little background on this particular bit, I tend to spend time going to anti-Christian websites and engaging in apologetics. If you are not familiar with the term 'apologetics' it means 'defense and promotion of the faith'. In an earlier writing Mr. Baker had claimed that terrorism is, effectively, an outgrowth of religion (I will skip some of his other errors in the piece). When I pointed out that atheist terror organizations had easily killed many more people than any religious extremists, he became a bit defensive.

If you visit that first piece and read through the comments you will quickly see that Mr. Baker engages in two tactics that can be seen as dishonest. the first is something usually called 'moving the goalposts'; Mr. Baker begins the thread of discussion that leads to the post that links here with the question

As for atheist terror organisations: they exist, but do they harm people on the scale of the religious G3?
While Mr. Baker had made other claims and queries, this is the statement the rest of the thread discussed. This is actually a very good question: can the deaths attributable to religion and religious groups be quantified? Can the same be done for atheists and atheist groups? If both are possible, then a comparison is possible.

Actions such as the Crusades, the Inquisition (as a whole), the Wars of Religion, and the Protestant with trials are some of the most intensively studied aspects of history. At the same time, atheist groups are relatively new and are mainly well-documented aspects of the 20th Century.

In other words, the data is there for comparisons. The results are unambiguous - atheism is a much more prolific killer than religion. Total deaths for the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Wars of Religion, the witch trials, etc. combined reach a maximum of no more than about 8 million people. And 8 million is certainly a high guess - the real total is probably about 6 million people. But I can be cautious and round up to 10 million. Since this begins roughly with the year 1000 AD, that is roughly 10,000 per year. While not a small number, it is less than 1/6th the number of people who died of the flu in America in 2003.

The death toll of Communism and Anarchism (both atheist ideologies) in the 20th Century was about 100 million. But since some sources differ, let us round that number down to make this sporting and cap the death toll of Communism at90 million. This also make the per-year math a touch easier since we are only looking at the 20th Century from about 1910 forward, meaning Communism killed people during that time at the rate of 1 million people per year. To put that in perspective, this means that for 9 decades Communism was, effectively, killing every man, woman, and child in modern-day Dublin every year (you can substitute Fresno or New Orleans if you are more familiar with those cities).

In other words, even a cursory glance at the data reveals that the actions of atheist groups has easily been no less than 10 times as lethal as the actions of religious groups, If you factor in the time element, atheism is 100 times more deadly than religion.

After I pointed this out Mr. Baker was kind enough to state (unwittingly) his second major false argument. Mr. Baker made these statements,
The people who committed those murders were deluded, they [did] not kill because they were atheists.
and, later,
I accept communist organisations, such as the Maoist Shining Path, have committed murder on a large scale. But did they do this because they were atheists? Clearly the answer is no. In the same way that most murders by religious fundamentalists often are not done because people believe in this, that or these gods.

This is good. Mr. Baker seems to be on the verge of realizing a major fault with his basic position, which is 'religion causes more deaths than anything else' The problem with that is that he, ultimately, associates any violence performed in association with religion as both illegitimate and the fault of religion. This ignores the historical facts of many events condemned by modern people (the Spanish Inquisition, for example, was about people breaking the laws of the Spanish King, not the laws of the Church; the Crusades were a counter-attack in an attempt to regain lands taken by armed might; the Wars of Religion were as much about the birth of the concept of nation-states as they were about religion; etc.). In other words, the very basis of Mr. baker's position contra religion is so broad that it is largely meaningless. More critically, if you respond in terms as broad (as Mr. Baker pointed out, not all deaths caused by atheists are because of atheism any more than the corollary is true for the religious) atheism 'loses' anyway.

Do these statements mean that Mr. Baker is going to realize that the topic he has chosen is much more complicated than he initially admitted?

No. See, he also says this,
The problem is that the religious G3 (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) through their acceptance of horrific Bronze Age texts actually condone these actions.
Ah, well. He was close.

What is the problem, you ask? Let's skip any potential errors in Mr. Baker's hermeneutics; let us also look away from any analysis of what various religious leaders and theologians have said. No, let us focus on the core "argument" he is making, to wit 'by accepting scripture religious people condone these acts of violence'. Let's also skip how he is continuing an earlier fault (some of that violence may have been legitimate) and ask a simple question.

How do atheists condone their actions? After all, Mr. Baker claims that these 'horrific Bronze Age texts' we religious adhere to allow us to justify past atrocities. I have shown very clearly that atheists have been engaged in similar or worse violence on a much more massive scale - how do atheists sleep at night?

Simple - through the acceptance of horrific 19th and 20th Century texts. The Communist Manifesto and the other writings of Marx and Engels; Mao's Little Red Book; Foundations of Christianity; these and other Communist works explain in stark, explicit terms that Communists are to oppose religion (the atheist element) and to export violent revolution.

As you can see, Mr. Baker's statements are both unsupported and unsupportable.

Books on Topics in this Post:

A look at the costs of Communism in the 20th Century

A solid look at what the Spanish Inquisition was really like - I own it

There are more books on apologetics, debate, and reason in my Amazon store.


Perpetual Realist said...

Those books are hardly scholarly! Just propaganda. Try again!

Aquinas Dad said...

The authors of the Black Book of Communism are:
* Stéphane Courtois is a director of research at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS).
* Nicolas Werth is a researcher at the Institut d'Histoire du Temps Présent (IHTP) in Paris.
* Jean-Lous Panné is a specialist on the international Communist movement.
* Andrzej Paczkowski is the deputy director of the Institute for Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences and a member of the archival commission for the Polish Ministry of Internal Affairs.
* Karel Bartošek (1930–2004) was a historian from the Czech Republic, and a researcher at IHTP. [2]
* Jean-Lous Margolin is a lecturer at the Université de Provence and a researcher as the Research Institute on Southeast Asia.
* Sylvain Boulougue is a research associate at GEODE, Université Paris X.
* Pascal Fontaine is a journalist with a special knowledge of Latin America.
* Rémi Kauffer is a specialist in the history of intelligence, terrorism, and clandestine operations.
* Pierre Rigoulet is a researcher at the Institut d'Histoire Sociale.
* Yves Santamaria is a historian.(p. 857-8)

So it does, indeed, seem a bit scholarly.

Walsh, author of Characters of the Inquisition, was a career academic who wrote a number of acclaimed books in the first half of the 20th Century, including Characters....

Why don't you, perpetual realist, post some scholarly works that refute the findings of either of the books I listed?

The Barefoot Bum said...

The first problem with your analysis is that it's not at all established that deaths propagated by people who happened to be atheists are actually due to their atheism per se.

Second, atheism itself, especially in the West, is a secondary characteristic, as a result of skepticism and evidentiary reasoning. It's more of a "marker" than a primary characteristic. Even if Communism is accepted as atheistic arguendo (and there's some controversy), it's fairly well understood that Marxism and Soviet/Chinese Communism, although in some sense atheist, entails some pretty severe failings of skepticism.

Third, the proportion to the general population are important considerations. Atheism and skepticism are relatively recent inventions where population is high. Consider the relative proportions, and the answer changes substantively.

Last, atheism is not itself a moral system — it's a position about the truth — whereas Christianity is (purportedly) a moral system. Saying that Christianity has killed a few million people fewer than atheism is hardly a ringing endorsement for a religious and moral system purportedly following the "Prince of Peace".