Is Religion Evil? The New Atheism and Faith

Is Religion Evil? The New Atheism and Faith August 31, 2023

What I have most wanted to do is make religious writing an art 


New Atheism

Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and other writers are part of an intellectual movement known as “New Atheism.” While there have always been atheists, New Atheism is a militant version of the ideology. In the past, atheists have been content with mere disbelief. New Atheism, however, argues it is important to protest against religion, ridicule it, and convert people from religion. It has a zeal, an almost angry air to it. New Atheism asserts that religion is poisonous to humanity and deserves no respect or dignity. Religion is for fools and the ignorant.

Consider the title of one of the works of New Atheism, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, by the late Christopher Hitchens. The title gives it away, religion is not just mistaken, it is a poison that must be removed, the work of a deluded viper. Other New Atheist titles include The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and The End of Faith by Sam Harris. Make no mistake, they think faith is a naive stance and makes the world worse. New Atheists are not merely unbelievers, they hate the concept of God entirely.

 Vox article on the New Atheism


The New Atheists I am most familiar with are Dawkins and Hitchens. While I understand Dawkins is an excellent scientist, he is a terrible philosopher. His understanding of religion is about as deep as a college freshman who proclaims himself to be an atheist after reading three chapters of Nietzsche. He mangles facts and misstates the works of theologians.

What Dawkins likes to do is argue from science that God is implausible as a concept. Using evolution, Dawkins argues that the universe is essentially ambivalent and not what one would expect from a benevolent creator. The universe is rather what one would expect from random chance.

Of course, the universe is magnificent. It operates under reliable processes so scientific discovery is possible. The power of the natural processes and the scope of the universe are worthy of admiration. Dawkins has a strong admiration for the cosmos. He even suggests it is worthy of worship.[2] Whatever brought life into existence, is worthy of worship. The deepest wonder I have is how one can look so carefully at the universe and not see the Mind behind it.


Hitchens is a bit different. He was a professional writer, and his writing is elegant, enchanting to read. The way he argues about religion, however, is about as subtle as a chainsaw and about as effective as a shoe umbrella. Intense and earnest, Hitchens’ disdain for religion is clear. His arguments, however, are not very impressive.

The Shoe Umbrella

How Hitchens Argues

Hitchens takes some of the great horrors committed by religious persons in the name of faith and condemns all religious systems based on it. One chapter in God Is Not Great, is Religion Kills. For the moment, forget all the atrocities atheists of the 20th century inflicted on humanity. Forget the miseries, famines, and human suffering atheists have deliberately constructed. Give no attention to the fact that North Koreans are shorter than their ancestors for lack of food. Forget Stalin’s Ukrainian famine and the mass killings of Mao. Do not even whisper about Lenin’s Red Terror, Pol Pot’s Killing Fields, Castro’s thuggery, or Che’s summary executions. No, religion kills.

Of course when pushed on this point, atheists call it the “Atheist Atrocities Fallacy.” It is a version of the “you too” fallacy, or so they argue.

In response to religious people pointing out the atrocities of atheists, Hitchens and others go through great effort to distract from what is true. The try to make it look like Pol Pot was religious. Pol Pot was brought up Buddhist, but there is no way to practice Buddhism and kill as relentlessly as he did. Others try to make Stalin out to be religious because he was in seminary as a young man. This is an obfuscation. The USSR was officially atheist and killed believers on a massive scale. Communism is an atheist ideology and kills. Mass murder is not an accidental part of communism, it is required. “Liquidate!”

I do not argue is that atheism necessarily leads to violence. I am suggesting that when one makes the horrors committed by in the name of religion central in the case against religion, one ought to take the same case against atheism.

If religion kills, then by the same logic atheism kills.

All Religions Are Not The Same

Even if one were to conclude that Hitchens is right and that religions are lethal, the problem is that not every religion is lethal. Treating all religions as the same is a logical fallacy on its own. Some religions are harmful and evil, but others are not.

Baal worship was evil. Worshipping this fertility god who flung bolts of lightning from heaven required ritual prostitution and possibly human sacrifice. Worshipping Molech required placing infants in his cherry red, bronze hands after the fire at his feet heated them to incendiary temperatures. Worship of these pagan deities was evil. The religion was manifestly evil.

To say, however, that all religion is evil because Baal and Molech were evil is nonsense. That would be like saying that all chicken is poison because of a case of salmonella poisoning at Burger King. It is the equivalent of saying all cars are ugly because the Pontiac Aztec was ugly.

Perhaps more to the point, if we were to look at all the atrocities committed by governments in the 20th century, and use Hitchens’ logic, we would have to say, “government kills.” On the one hand that would be true, on the other it misses the point entirely. Evil governments kill. Communism, totalitarianism, fascism, and militant imperialism all kill. Sometimes even the best of governments kill. Only the foolish, however, would disband all government because it has a history of killing.

Are They Believers?

There is another thing to note, just because someone claims to hold a religion, does not mean he or she holds the religion. If a person claims to have a religion but violates the dictates of that faith with regularity, it is natural to suspect they do not believe what he or she says. If we were to see a Christian selling cocaine to children in Sunday School, we would be right to be very dubious about his Christianity. The clearest description of what one believes is how one behaves.

If we see leaders using religion as a way to commission war or genocide contrary to the religion’s tenets, we see not the religion at work but a manipulation of the religion at work. Sometimes is not religion that poisons people. It is people who poison religion.

Tyrants and thieves, scoundrels and misanthropes have used religion for nefarious purposes. They have used religion for profit, to exploit the weak, to prevent revolts, and to foment hostility against minorities. Some have used religion to harm others and poison the environment. When the tenets of the religion got in their way, they either flouted them or changed them. Yes, there are many terrible religions. Frequently, however, some people use religion as a shield to protect them from getting caught or to gain access to victims.

Religions are not defined by the worst of their adherents. Religions are defined by the ideas and practices they teach.

The Conflict Between Science and Religion

One of the rallying points of New Atheism is the lack of evidence for belief in God. The universe, they argue, shows no evidence of God within it. While I would differ passionately, for the sake of this argument, assume that is true. Assume for a moment that one can find no evidence of God within the universe. So what? Most monotheistic religions argue for the radical transcendence of God. Wherever God is, lies beyond space, time, and matter.

We should not be concerned in the slightest if scientists can find no evidence of God in the universe. God is not in the universe. Why look for God where God is not? Why look for evidence of God in a place where God cannot be found?

The Place of Science and Faith

Science is a great and noble venture. It has improved our lives. We live longer, healthier, more comfortably, and with more leisure than any previous generation on planet Earth. For that, we are forever indebted to science.

Faith’s role, however, is not ended because of the contributions of science. There are questions beyond the scope of science. The scientific method cannot explain why the universe came into existence. It can demonstrate the Big Bang and define the orbits of stellar objects, but it cannot tell us why such things are. This observation is not an insult to science at all. Science is not supposed to be able to give such answers. These answers are beyond the scope of science.

They are within the scope of faith. Faith does provide answers to such questions. Now some of those answers are better than others. Ancient paganism and shamanism are inferior religions and are destructive to human flourishing much the same way eugenics and alchemy were inferior sciences and destructive to human flourishing.

Not Competitors

Science and faith, however, are not competitors. The scientific method cannot disprove or prove religion and being religious does not require the abandonment of science. Science is the study of observable phenomena in the universe. It has methods developed for that purpose. The study of God, theology, is the study of God as God has been revealed in religious traditions and human reason. It has methods developed for that purpose.






Also by Layne Wallace:

Why I Am a Christian

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