Myths of Atheism: Hitler/Stalin/Pot Were Evil Because of Atheism

In his encyclical released on Friday, Pope Benedict states atheism is responsible for some of the “greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice” in history [1].

Did Pope Ratzinger skip the new-pope class that explains the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades?

This is a common myth that arises during debates with theists or in theistic arguments as in books or articles, particularly with Christian theists. The argument goes something like, “of course atheism is bad for the world, just look at what Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot did in the name of atheism [2].”

On the cuff of it, the argument is one which is post hoc ergo propter hoc, that is to say, it’s a false cause fallacy. More subtly, the argument is also an ad hominem, since the theist that argues this point is attempting to discredit his atheist opponents. The theist is safe in making his claim that atheism leads to evil since he has plausible deniability since, ostensibly, he’s only making an argument against atheism. However, this only holds true if the claim itself is true. As a simple argument form, it would be:

If atheism leads to evil, it cannot be true.
Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot were atheists.
Atheism cannot be true.

However, as you can see, there are some problems with the argument as a modus ponens. The conclusion does not follow from the premises, and this is why:

1) There is no reason why truth cannot lead to evil.

2) Premise #2 is really a complex premise that contains one or more sub premises. It assumes factually that these three personalities were indeed atheists, that they were indeed evil, and that their evil was informed by their atheism. Even if the first two of these sub premises were agreed upon, and it seems reasonable to do so, there is no reason to believe that their atheism informed their evil actions. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that at least two of the three personalities were significantly influenced by religion, specifically Christianity, early in their lives.

3) Since premises 1 and 2 do not hold up, the conclusion cannot follow from the premises.

As an ad hominem argument, the Hitler/Stalin/Pot argument is typically a tu quoque, or “you too,” made in response to the claim that religion is responsible for the deaths of millions through the inquisition, Crusades, genocides, New World invasion, etc.

Never has a causal effect been demonstrated by any historian (much less a theist in a debate) between atheism and the actions of, say, Stalin. Stalin ordered the deaths of thousands because he deemed them a threat to his government –a government that was dogmatic and powerful. Indeed, on could easily argue that Stalin’s position was that he “replaced” God and inserted himself as the national deity with statues and portraits in all public (and many private) lands and buildings. Those that carried out his death warrants did so because they believed in Stalin –because they “worshiped” him.

There are no gulags or concentration camps in recorded history that were designed to fulfill a “lack of belief” in something, which is what atheism is. None were constructed to destroy lives out of reason or rational thought, which is what informs the atheistic conclusion.

For another post that gives a very good treatment of yet another Myth of Atheism, see Vjack’s Atheism Does NOT Require Faith, which posted just yesterday as I was writing this. These are the sorts of things I’m glad to see Atheists write about and, perhaps, I’ll put together a set of links for reference to these and other Myths of Atheism posted here and elsewhere in the near future. I’ve some good ideas for the “Pages” feature that comes with WordPress, so keep checking back.

Notes

[1] Catholic News (11 Jan 2008). Hope encyclical rejects atheism.

[2] D’Souza, Dinesh (2007). What’s So Great About Christianity?: Chicago: Regenery Press, p 221. “the indisputable fact is that all the religions of the world put together have in three hundred years not managed to kill anywhere near the number of people killed in the name of atheism in the past few decades […] Atheism, not religion, is responsible for the worst mass murders of history.”

10 Responses

  1. Sadly the sanity requirement was removed in the forth century. So it is considered holy to be completely disconnected from reality.

  2. Hitler was, of course, no atheist. I got a few quotes where he proclaims his “Christianity” here:
    If Hitler was an atheist…

    http://normdoering.blogspot.com/2007/04/if-hitler-was-atheist.html

  3. I have seen many debates pitting atheism vs theism and I have not yet encountered the argument you present here.

    Usually Stalin, Hitler et al come up in response to the atheist claim that religion has caused so much suffering in the world. Both positions are of course misguided. Human beings are the cause of this kind of evil regardless of their belief systems. A murderer is a murderer regardless of their position on spiritual matters.

    Atheism is usually taken to task for its inherent logical contradiction, which is inescapable when you define an atheist as someone who “knows there is no God”. This attempts to affirm an absolute negative and that is impossible, unless you’re God.

    I think today’s definition of atheist is closer to someone who “rejects God as a personal choice.”

  4. Those that define atheist as “someone who knows there is no god” are ignorant (this includes, of course, those atheists who use this definition).

    The definition of atheist is one who is without god(s) and the form of the word is in the Greek tradition of using a to precede that which something is without Such as a priori or asexual. Period. QED.

    If you think “today’s definition of atheist is closer to someone who ‘rejects God as a personal choice'” you are, again, ignorant and making up a definition that fits your own superstitions.

    Atheists simply do not have a god belief. No god. Not your Yahweh; not Allah; not Elohim; not your Satan; not Zeus; not Quetzacoatl; not Ptah; etc; etc…

    Nor do atheists see that a god or superstitious belief in gods are necessary in order to explain the universe. There simply is no evidence or good reason to believe in any god(s) [insert whichever god you fancy].

    So, while many theists think atheism gets “taken to task,” it very rarely does in reality. Superstitions like Christianity, Hinduism, and other paranormal/supernatural mumbo-jumbo is very often taken to task -and rightly so. Indeed, I’ve taken your remarks to task with little effort.

    And, finally, the first part of your comment above deals with the Stalin/Hitler/Pol Pot argument, so I’ll end with a response to this. You might not have encountered such arguments, but they do, indeed, exist in plenitude. The superstitious folks that present this argument do so with the intent of showing how atheism=despotism. The failed documentary Expelled! is a prime example.

    Thank you for your reply.

  5. Leaving aside the definition of atheism for the moment, the properties of atheism can be examined regardless of how it’s defined. For instance, one attribute of atheism I’m sure we can agree on is the lack of a transcendent source for an objective moral law.

    If there is no transcendant being then any truly objective principles under girding existence are illusory. Your reference to evil in the post above hangs in a vacuum. Any attempt to codify right and wrong takes a leap into another realm i.e Platonic ideals.

    Right and wrong are simply not an inherent property of ‘being without gods’ and morals are relegated to utilitarian, pragmatic, subjective or emotive trappings. A function of culture at best or the opinion of an individual at worst. Neitsche was very honest in driving home this point when writing of the ‘death of God’.

    It is this lack of ultimate moral arbitration that people often point to when they speak of the atrocities advanced by cultures who have, by your definition, disavowed themselves of a belief in God.

    On the other hand, atrocities committed by religious zealots can clearly be seen to be in opposition to the moral law they espouse. The teachings of Christ leave no interpretive room whatever for the inquisition or crusades. Many societies and institutions have been hijacked by lunatics, both theist and atheist. As it is often said, it’s not a good idea to judge a philosophy (or faith) by its adherents.

    Thanks for the cordial discussion and taking time to respond to my previous reply.

  6. one attribute of atheism I’m sure we can agree on is the lack of a transcendent source for an objective moral law

    Agreed. In fact, I’m willing to take that further and say that you can insert “for anything” after “transcendent source.”

    Transcendent refers to that which is “beyond comprehension” or “independent of the material universe.” I, of course, see no good reason to believe such a definition is needed since there is no evidence of anything existing “beyond the material universe.” In addition, I see no reason (and history bears this out) that this material universe can at least be potentially comprehended. I concede that I know very little of the universe and will likely learn only a fraction more when compared with the potential things that can be known, but I refuse to accept that there is anything unknowable about the universe or that anything exists beyond the knowable universe. Gods, magic, ghosts, and hobgoblins included.

    But that’s me. If anyone knows otherwise and can demonstrate that knowledge, however, I’m open to revising my position.

    Moving on to your other points, the very argument that morality is “divinely established” is an argument that isn’t sound nor is it cogent. That’s because the premises fail. If the conclusion is “God establishes morality,” then the premises followed by the conclusion must be 1) humans have not the capacity for morality without God; 2) only God can provide morality; 3) morality exists in humanity; 4) thus God exists and establishes morality.

    The premises fail for several reasons. The actual god in question is not identified. There are thousands upon thousands of extant and extinct religious cults in human history through present day, most with pantheons of gods. Yet, morality has flourished throughout human history. Were humans prior to the very recent cults of Judeo-Christian doctrine immoral? Hardly. We have a very detailed and accurate account of moral behavior in ancient societies. Indeed, our own democratic-republic form of government is based largely on one such pantheistic, but moral, society.

    Further, there are countless similarities cross-culturally that exhibit very similar moral behaviors that are independent of a single religious superstition. For instance: in no extant or extinct culture that I’m aware of is it morally acceptable to murder one’s parents in order to take their property.

    Very clearly, the preceding two paragraphs show that morality is a human endeavor and not a divine one and, therefore, humans provide their own morality, much in the same way we provide our own language. Language (big “L” ) is a human endeavor. We establish individual languages (little “l” ) based on the capacity for Language. Perhaps the human establishment of morality is a function of the capacity for Morality (big “M” ) [incidentally, I'm hypothesizing here more than arguing a position in order to show that divinity need not be the answer when one is ignorant of an explanation].

    The only premise in the divine establishment of morality argument that is valid is that humans have morality. If morality is established by humanity (since it exists cross-culturally, independent of religious doctrine, and prior to modern concepts of God, then it clearly is), then humans have the capacity for morality without gods and gods are not necessary to provide morality.

    The very evidence for the existence of morality and zero evidence for the existence of God invalidates nearly completely the argument that morality is established by God. There is, of course, the slim chance that a hidden god has created morality -but this begs the question and provides not a single bit of cogency to the argument. After all, how would one know he/she was praying to the right god if that god is hidden?

    I won’t pretend to know why humans have a capacity for Morality any more than I know why they have a capacity for Language or Music. There is much about cognitive science that is unknown (though advances in the last decade are tremendous!), but I certainly see no logical or rational reason to settle on a god-explanation simply because I don’t have an answer. Thankfully, there have been enough rationally minded people in the history of scientific discovery who have sought answers beyond the god-explanation for lightning, weather, crop failure, disease, etc

    Thank you again for taking the opportunity to post on an atheist blog and participating in discussion. I realize that many of the blogs and forums in the “atheosphere” are rather harsh and hostile to Christian and theist posters. I also realize that my own casual use of terms like cult, superstition, and the like are likely to be taken as offensive to the believer and religious adherent, but is an honest position and opinion that I hold and not intended to be solely pejorative.

  7. Thanks for the link. I bookmarked this post and plan to use it the next time some Christian troll uses the “but what about Stalin” protest. Good stuff.

  8. Sayin all atheists are evil becuz hitler was 1 is a very cruel and stupid thing to say, hitler was also human, does that make all humans evil? im an atheists an i don’t believe in god an thats all, it doesn’t mean i go round raping little girls and stuff like that becuz i don’t believe in god, i don’t even go on about god not bein real to every1 cuz i believe in freedom of beliefs its not my right to tell u hes a load of bull, maybe there is a god, i just don’t believe there is

  9. This feeble attempt to shift the blame for the actions of evil leaders to a religious upbringing is a meme created by atheists to support the promotion of their religion. Humanism.

    Stalin was an atheist. He denied the existence of God. Having been raised by a Christian mother as being the source of his megalomania is a misnomer.

    If that were true, anyone with a religious upbringing would contain within themselves the seeds, or potential for despotism. Any atheist who was raised that way will never fully be able to claim atheism as their religion. Which it is. And that simply isn’t true. Your arguments are invalid.

    You completely ignore the fact that Stalin was brought up in a household with a father who beat him and his mother regularly during drunken rages. His town was a violent place to live. Stalin was brilliant. He had exemplary grades in school. However, the beatings he received probably caused brain damage with repeated application. And by the time he had entered seminary school, which he eventually dropped out of due to his following of atheism, he had sustained many beatings by his father.

    It is a fact that repeated blows to the head cause accumulated brain trauma.

    It is also an established fact that men who were abused by their fathers and who receive brain trauma are a extremely high risk of becoming anti social or criminals or even serial killers.

    Some of these people were raised in religious households and some weren’t. The signs of mild brain injury are not always apparent. But it can disrupt emotions, social abilities, etc in such a way as to greatly change a person’s personality. That is likely the reason for Stalin’s killer personality.

    When you find several world renown doctors who will directly tie religious upbringing to brain damage you may have something. I don’t mean speculation about parts of the brain being affected by belief. I means shearing of tissue. A physical change that could only be from religious beliefs – not some vague tie to family interactions with no direct trauma, ect… Then maybe your arguments might be valid. But you will not. Because it isn’t true.

  10. Please visit middefensecoach.wordpress.com to understand the reasons of mass murder.

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