Sam Shamoun: Catholic Inquisition Murdered “50-68 Million”

Sam Shamoun: Catholic Inquisition Murdered “50-68 Million” May 23, 2017


Depiction (from hostile sources) of a torture chamber of the Spanish Inquisition with suspected heretics having their feet burned or being suspended with a rope from a pulley while scribes note down confessions. Engraving by B. Picart, 1722. [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license]


(April 2014)


Sam Shamoun does great work in answering and refuting the claims of Islam. I have recommended his work in that regard for years now (even “liking” his Facebook Page): particularly on his Answering Islam site; and in fact we worked together one day some years ago in discussion with Muslims and had a very cordial meal at a restaurant afterwards. He has actually complimented my apologetics as well: at least that in defense of the Holy Trinity. We got along so well, he wrote afterwards (words in blue throughout):

I am reading your stuff since I think it is the most thorough and perhaps the best defense of Catholicism out there . . . Dave has been nothing but respectful and kind to me. He has shown me great respect despite knowing full well that I disagree with him on the essential issues.

When it comes to treatment of Catholicism, however, Sam, like too many Protestants, shows himself quite less capable of reasoned and sensible argumentation.

In the combox of one of his [public] Facebook threads (dated 4-9-14), he stated, initially replying to someone else:

I don’t believe the Roman Catholic Church is the one Jesus built, . . . Moreover, even though you claim that the Catholic Church has brought more people to Christ it has also murdered and persecuted more people in the name of Christ than anyone else, i.e. the Inquisition where an estimated 50-68 million people were killed by Rome. Just ask the Jews how they were treated by the Catholic Church. Thus, there has been no other denomination or institution that has done greater damage in turning people away from Christ than the Roman Catholic Church. [my bolding]

That caught my eye (being a cherished anti-Catholic myth that I have encountered many times), and I replied, citing his numbers:

Really? Please tell me the name of reputable historians who assert such an absolutely ridiculous figure. Thanks! I’ve yet to get a name after asking several Protestants who make this ludicrous claim.

And he counter-responded:

It’s called Google. ;-)

So instead of deflecting away from the subject [which I didn’t do; rather, I asked a simple clarifying question about his claim], ARE YOU DENYING the evil of the Inquisition? [note the clever changing of the subject] Better yet, could you please give me YOUR estimates for how many people your church murdered and YOUR justification for such atrocities? I will be waiting eagerly to read your sources and justification for this evil.

I’ve tried to post a very fair and balanced article titled “Estimates of the Number Killed by the Papacy in the Middle Ages and later” by David A. Plaisted, published in 2006, but due to its length I haven’t been able to do so. I recommend you google it and read through it and tell me what you think since he examines the numbers of those purported to have been murdered by your church. In the meantime, please give me YOUR sources with the estimated numbers of people your church murdered during the Inquisition, and provide your justification for such atrocities, so we can take it from there. If you do not comply by providing what you deem to be credible and reliable sources then consider yourself banned from this page.

Gotta love that threat and “righteous indignation” at the end. Despite this surprisingly acerbic treatment, I replied at length. Here it is:

Plaisted has a Ph.D. in computer science. He’s not an historian at all. So I ask for “reputable historians” and the best you can come up with is a computer science guy? That’s laughable, and you can do far better. I know that for sure, because I’ve seen and recommended your work. But it’s also a case study in severe bias against the Catholic Church and what it does to otherwise sound and able minds.

The actual numbers, of course, are just a few thousand, according to real (and competent) historians.  For starters, here are two non-Catholic, reputable historians:

1) Edward Peters, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, author of Inquisition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).

On page 87 of his book, Peters states: “The best estimate is that around 3000 death sentences were carried out in Spain by Inquisitorial verdict between 1550 and 1800, a far smaller number than that in comparable secular courts.”

2) Henry Kamen, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and professor of history at various universities, including the University of Wisconsin – Madison; author of The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998; fourth revised edition, 2014).

Their work is featured in the Wikipedia article, “Historical Revision of the Inquisition”.

These two books are in the forefront of an emerging, very different perspective on the Inquisitions: an understanding that they were exponentially less inclined to issue death penalties than had previously been commonly assumed, and also quite different in character and even essence than the longstanding anti-Catholic stereotypes would have us believe. Dr. Kamen states in his book:

Taking into account all the tribunals of Spain up to about 1530, it is unlikely that more than two thousand people were executed for heresy by the Inquisition. (p. 60)

. . . it is clear that for most of its existence that Inquisition was far from being a juggernaut of death either in intention or in capability. . . . it would seem that during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries fewer than three people a year were executed in the whole of the Spanish monarchy from Sicily to Peru, certainly a lower rate than in any provincial court of justice in Spain or anywhere else in Europe. (p. 203)

For copiously documented facts and figures, see:  “Beyond the Myth of The Inquisition: Ours Is ‘The Golden Age'”, by Fr. Brian Van Hove, S. J., Faith and Reason (Winter, 1992).

I do not “defend” the Inquisition as a practice, but what I do do (what you clearly have not done) is try to properly and accurately understand it in the context of its time (the Middle Ages and early modern periods). In those days, almost all Christians (not just Catholics; minus only a few small groups like Anabaptists and Quakers) believed in corporal and capital punishment for heresy, because they thought (here is the correct premise) that heresy was far more dangerous to a person and society than physical disease was. That is exactly right: heresy can land one in hell; no disease could ever do that.

So they believed in punishing the heretic for the sake of the good of the society. I deal with these issues at length, on my web page, “Inquisition, Crusades, and ‘Catholic Scandals'”.

What Protestants often do, however, in direct proportion to how much they are anti-Catholic, is to exercise a double standard in condemning the Catholic Church for engaging in this practice, and exaggerating grotesquely by positing ridiculous, ludicrous numbers, given the entire population of Europe in those days, and even enlisting clowns like Plaisted, who is not an historian, to bolster their uninformed prejudices.

It’s thought that the population of Europe was 73.5 million in 1340 and 50 million in 1450, due to the Black Death. It was about 70 million in 1550 and 78 million in 1600; 150 million by 1800. There is no way that the numbers killed could be anything remotely approaching Sam’s ridiculous figures. We know that they weren’t, anyway, by consulting actual historians (not eccentric computer scientists) and experts on the Middle Ages.

This being the case, I inform my readers that Protestants (including Luther, Calvin, the English “reformers”, Zwingli, Melanchthon et al) have a long list of “scandals” and inquisitions as well. In just one example among many, Martin Luther and John Calvin both accepted the execution of Anabaptists (by a mocking drowning) due to their belief in adult baptism. They considered this sedition. They also executed many Catholics in England, often by drawing and quartering and ripping out their hearts) simply for being Catholics (think: end of Braveheart: William Wallace was hanged, emasculated, disemboweled, his heart cut out, and all four limbs and head cut off). This is what Henry VIII and his successors did to many Catholics, simply for worshiping as their ancestors had done for 1500 years. I document this at great length and excruciating detail on my web page: “Protestantism: Historic Persecution and Intolerance”.

I’ve answered your question in great detail, under penalty of being banned if I didn’t. But I did. Now the ball’s in your court. You can choose (and dare!) to keep this post up and reply to it in a reasonable manner (with substantiation from real historians this time, as I requested), or get rid of it as severely damaging to the myth you have tried to promulgate above. Your choice.

But since you have threatened to ban me, I will preserve this thread and my answer on my blog, in case you delete it and my careful work in answering your question is all in vain. I know all these dubious tactics from 18 years’ experience online. I’m not naive enough to not preserve work I do from folks who love the delete button when they are unable to refute . . .

Dave Armstrong, let’s try this one more time. Instead of plastering a book length response here which no one will read, answer my questions succinctly. I will even put this in caps in order to help you answer directly. PLEASE GIVE ME THE ROUGH ESTIMATE THAT YOU THINK WERE MURDERED BY YOUR CHURCH DURING THE INQUISITION WITH A LINK OR NAME OF A REPUTABLE SOURCE FOR ME TO VERIFY IT FOR MYSELF. SECONDLY, PLEASE PROVIDE THE JUSTIFICATION FOR YOUR CHURCH MURDERING THESE PEOPLE. Hopefully that helped you understand how not to answer and how to properly answer a question. Take care.

ALREADY DID ALL THAT. I wrote, “The actual numbers, of course, are just a few thousand, according to real (and competent) historians.” You were obviously among the persons that didn’t read my post (i.e., before you deleted it). I gave you two reputable historians (Edward Peters and Henry Kamen), and their books and credentials, and cited Peters, saying: ” “The best estimate is that around 3000 death sentences were carried out in Spain by Inquisitorial verdict between 1550 and 1800, a far smaller number than that in comparable secular courts.” But I guess you didn’t read that, either, since we’re on this imbecilic, rude playground level you have chosen to descend to. I predicted that you might very well play the “”that’s too LOOOONG for me to read!” evasion on my Facebook page, since you did it with someone else, and deleted his comment, too.

I also dealt with corporal and capital punishment as something done by almost all Christians during the late middle ages and 16th century period: a somewhat complex thing that we should try to understand rather than lie about. But I don’t defend it in terms of actually favoring such a thing; never have. My position is that the early Church and current view of almost all Christians, of religious tolerance, is far preferable.

Extremely disappointing.

May God bless you abundantly in all things, this Holy Week, as we recall with thankfulness, all that our glorious Lord and Savior and Redeemer Jesus did on our behalf in His passion and death on the cross, saving all who will humble themselves and call upon His name, in order to be saved in the end.

Sam then responded to another Catholic in the thread in a way that suggests he thinks the same about my reply:

. . . instead of making excuses to run away from defending your church’s atrocities, why not try to respond in the same manner that I . . .  have done, instead of posting book length responses whose sole aim is to try to overwhelm your opponents with empty rhetoric masquerading as a substantive response? Try it since it will do your soul some good.

This is straight out of the James White Anti-Catholic Ultra-Condescension Handbook. Classic . . .

I wrote the above before his final parting shots. Am I a prophet or what? Here are his latest rantings:

Dave Armstrong, I was going to allow your post to stand because you managed to edit it down from a book length response filled with fluff and evasion to a manageable size where we can actual read through your bluster. However, seeing your rather stupid childish comments and accusations, i.e. “since we’re on this imbecilic, rude playground level you have chosen to descend to. I predicted that you might very well play the ‘that’s too LOOOONG for me to read!’ evasion”, you have less than an hour to remove yourself from this page before I ban you. Moreover, next time I show up in Michigan I will be more than happy to set up a live debate between you and me on the satellite shows which I do out there. Then we will see who will end up sounding imbecilic and childish. Time is a tickin!

Gee, how original of you Dave Armstrong: [cites this paper] I guess I should be flattered that you have done a post on me, much like you have done with nearly every Protestant apologist from James White to Eric Svendsen. Is this how you try to get people to financially support your ministry, by giving the impression that you are capable of debating and refuting the “big guns” of Protestantism? It obviously isn’t working now is it? You have less than 30 minutes to remove yourself as I ban you.

There you have it, folks. This is what you get, trying to have a rational discussion about historical facts with a raving anti-Catholic zealot. I never expected this from Sam. Apparently over time, he’s become an embittered parody of a satire of James White: the Grand Poobah of the anti-Catholics and greatest slanderer of them all. And that is a sad thing to be.

[see also the Facebook discussion about this paper]

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