SocraticGadfly: Being an atheist doesn’t guarantee critical thinking — or factual accuracy

July 07, 2008

Being an atheist doesn’t guarantee critical thinking — or factual accuracy

As in this atheist blog post that claims religion has killed 2.3 billion people in various wars.
In a nutshell, the author badly, sadly, and perhaps deliberately conflates correlation with causation in many cases. At a few other points, as claiming that European invaders of the New World practiced “smallpox genocide,” he simply gets facts wrong. That leads off my response to him, edited and expanded for the purpose of this blog post:

The Spanish, etc., who brought smallpox with them? Yes, per Jared Diamond, that gave them an advantage, but Hernando Cortez didn’t cough in Montezuma’s face or something. Certainly, the Spanish didn’t bring smallpox-bearing slaves from Africa (per your linked webpage) for the purposes of genocide to American Indians, either. For the first century or so after “Contact,” Europeans didn’t even know they had this advantage, let alone why. 
Genocide implies deliberation, and with the exception of Sir Jeffrey Amherst just after the end of the French and Indian War, I’ve yet to see a documented case of it on smallpox. 
Beyond that, your linked webpage, in more than one spot, uses phrases like “some believe,” with no empirical documentation. You can always find someone who believes something at sometime; they may often be a stereotypical P.T. Barnum sucker, tho8ugh.Next, the British, especially, didn’t claim to be conquering in the name of God. Amherst certainly didn’t make that claim. Therefore, any deliberate casualties of his bioweaponry can’t be considered “religiously caused.” (That said, I grew up in New Mexico. I am more than familiar with conquistadors and priests, and Indians with long cultural memories.) 
In short, that whole graf of yours is emotionally biased, emotionally laden, and of almost no factual support. 
And, even earlier, you confuse correlation with causation. Did Jinggis Khan kill his 40 million because of his animist religious beliefs? I hugely doubt it. Did medieval Japan invade Korea for religious reasons? Again, I hugely doubt it. 
Despite the Japanese emperor being “divine,” can Japan’s WWII invasion of China be called religiously driven? You would have a boatload of historians rejecting that. Ditto for Hitler, born Catholic but probably best described as an agnostic as an adult, and having religious reasons for his half of World War II. 
The Iran-Iraq War? Not religious. A secular Muslim, Hussein, launched the invasion. Later, after losing the Gulf War, Hussein wrote the Quranic statement of belief on the Iraqi flaq as a PR gesture. It didn’t make him any more religious than before, nor did it make his gassing of the Kurds religious. 
In short, I can easily knock about a third of these numbers out of the ring. 
Don’t give atheist intellectualism a bad name.

The blogger in question, in response to me posting this on his blog, claims “genocide” doesn’t imply causation. Au contraire, since genocide is usually defined as “mass MURDER” and not “mass manslaughter.” He also ignores his own introduction, where he talks about “deaths from theism,” overlooking that that implies causation that simply isn’t there. (And he ignored my comment about factual inaccuracies.)
I couldn’t resist one final post back:

Let me go you one better. The oldest tentative evidence for religion goes back 50,000 years. 
But Homo sapiens evolved 500,000 years ago. There’s a LOT of “atheist” murders you forgot to count.
This post is actually a good example of classical “village idiot atheism.”

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