The Belief In God Doesn’t Cause Violence, Only Particular Beliefs About God Do

In discussing the response to Nidal Malik Hasan, Alonzo Fyfe draws the distinctions just right when he accuses atheists who leap from the act of one kind of theist to associate theism in general with violence as an instance of “The Bigot’s Fallacy”:

Many of the people who embrace the Bigot’s Fallacy in this case are quick to argue that nobody has ever done any harm in the name of atheism. The argument (the version that makes the most sense) begins with the premise that atheism is a belief that the proposition that “at least one God exists” is certainly or almost certainly false. This belief alone doesn’t tell anybody to go establish a dictatorship and slaughter millions of fellow citizens. Therefore, it makes no sense to blame these atrocities on atheism.

The anti-religious bigot simply ignores the fact that the same argument applies to theists. The parallel argument begins with the premise that a theist is one who believes that the proposition that “at least one God exists” is certainly or almost certainly true. This belief alone doesn’t tell anybody go fly airplanes into civilian sky scrapers or to murder people in a processing center at an army base. Therefore, it makes no sense to blame these atrocities on theism.

The problem, in the latter case, is a set of specific beliefs that one attaches to the belief that at least one God certainly or almost certainly exists. It has to do with beliefs about what that God wants. However, there are also belief sets that include the proposition that no God exists that are just as capable of motivating a person to establish dictatorships and promote mass murder. So, still, the two arguments are parallel.

Among the various atheist philosophies there are a few that put a premium on reason and evidence. Among members of that subgroup of atheists, there should be some way to introduce a moral objection to the Bigot’s Fallacy and similar breeches of reason. These options are to be shunned – not because it is politically useful to be nice to theists, but because good people condemn the use of fallacious inferences in themselves and others.

Having said this, the Texas shooting does provide good reason, not to go after ‘theism’, but to go after any specific religious teachings that seemed to support the shooting, and any person who speaks for a specific religion who praises the shooting.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://www.apathysketchpad.com Andrew

    I think the extra beliefs atheists have beyond “there’s no god” are nothing directly to do with atheism, whereas, for example, a Catholic would have a huge slew of beliefs they’re expected to hold of which only one is ‘a god exists’ (and obviously they also believe a lot of extra unrelated stuff). The parallel between atheism and theism in the sense presented here is valid only for a very narrow definition of ‘theism’. Some people hold to theism in exactly that sense, but no such parallel exists between, say, atheism and Islam.

    • Daniel Fincke

      Yes, I agree with you completely and I didn’t take Fyfe to be denying that.


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