Sunday, November 23, 2014

Torching another strawman

Louise Ridley's "Does Religion Really Cause War - And Do Atheists Have Something To Answer For?" is yet another example of how theists find the need to distort a common atheist criticism in order to attack it. Ridley seems to think that claiming religion is the primary or sole cause of war is "the most common comeback from atheists to people of faith." Given that I am an atheist and I frequently read the works of other atheists as well as listen to/and or watch podcasts, interviews, documentaries, etc., that are about or by atheists you might think I'd have come across this "common comeback" quite often. I haven't. That is in fact not the argument/point that gets made. Religion is very often a cause of war or used as a justification for war. It also is frequently used to promote or rally support for a war already underway. Those are the points I'm familiar with and they are well founded.

Ridley never seems to notice that one of the quotes she uses to try to tar and feather Richard Dawkins with this bogus claim actually refutes her premise. She points out that he has stated that in the absence of religion's influence there would be "a much better chance of no more war." Notice it is not the definitive statement the strawman requires. Claiming there is a "better chance" is not that same as stating that religion is absolutely the one and only cause of all wars. It is far from the same thing.

Ridley also tries to make it sound like she has ample evidence to disprove the connection between religion and war. She draws nearly all her information from a single report, "Five Key Questions Answered on the Link between Peace and Religion?", of the Institute for Economics and Peace. The report is loaded with bias and methodological issues. One problem is that the report itself assumes a number of myths and stereotypes about atheists and about the perceived connection between religion and war. Even upon an initial reading it is hard to miss the authors favorable bias toward religion. They want to find a way to claim that religion is not only not violent but that it is essential to promoting peace. Even if all the finding were sound, which they are not, it still does not provide the type of evidence Ridley thinks it does. At best it would refute the claim she thinks atheists commonly make about religion's role in war. But, as I've already pointed out, that is a false argument.

Later in the piece she does at least get a few things correct. She does concede that the Communist leaders who committed various atrocities, though atheists, did not do so in the name of atheism. I will give her credit for not falling pray to that all too common fallacy that many theists seem to enjoy throwing around. Overall the piece was interesting but a bit irritating.

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