Sunday, July 03, 2016

Is Religion the Root Cause of Evil?

Is religion the cause of evil? Was John Lennon correct (in spite of his own wife-beating, child-abusing behaviors) that "imagine there's no religion" and... no wars?... and we all will live as one big metaphysical love-mass?

I don't think so. Atheist David Berlinski doesn't think so either.

See Berlinski's The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions. What is unique about Berlinski is his non-religious nature, railing against the new (but aging) atheists. He writes: "I am a secular Jew. My religious education did not take... I cannot pray. I have spent more years than I care to remember in studying mathematics and writing about the sciences. Yet the book that follows is in some sense a defense of religious thought and sentiment. Biblical verses are the least of it." (xiii)

Berlinski is witty, caustic, funny, and brilliant. One of the things he addresses is the atheistic idea that religion is, especially, the root of all evil. He quotes physicist Steven Weinberg, famously, as saying: "Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." (21)

I now confess: "religion" has made me a far better person than I was without it. And, I have met countless people over the years about whom I could say the same. But onwards...

Berlinski turns to atheist Steven Pinker, who believes that "something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler." Pinker gives us good news: "In the scale of decades, comprehensive daya again paint a shockingly happy picture. Some of the evidence has been under our nose all along. Conventional history has long shown that, in many ways, we have been getting kinder and gentler." (21-22) Pinker goes on to list things like "cruelty as entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, genocide..., torture and mutilation..., assassination..., rape..., homicide... - "all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history. But, today, they are close to nonexistent in the West." (22)

To which Berlinski responds, surely Pinker jests! Here is Berlinski's list of 20th century "happy-face moments," presented to you by irreligion.

A Shockingly Happy Picture by Excess Deaths (22-24)



  • First World War(1914-18): ……..................................................15 million
  • Russian Civil War(1917-22) ……..................................................9 million
  • Soviet Union,Stalin's Regime(1924-53) ……...............................20 million
  • Second World War(1937-45) ……..............................................55 million
  • Chinese Civil War(1945-49) ……..................................................2.5 million
  • People's Republic of China,Mao Zedong's regime(1949-75) …….40 million
  • Tibet(1950 et seq.) ……...................................................................600,000
  • Congo Free State(1886-1908) …….................................................8 million
  • Mexico(1910-20) ……....................................................................1 million
  • Turkish Massacres of Armenians(1915-23) ……............................1.5 million
  • China(1917-28) ……........................................................................800,000
  • China,Nationalist Era(1928-37) ……..............................................3.1 million
  • Korean War(1950-53) ……............................................................2.8 million
  • North Korea(1948 et seq.) ……......................................................2 million
  • Rwanda and Burundi(1959-95) ……..............................................1.35 million
  • Second Indochina War(1960-75) ……............................................3.5 million
  • Ethopia(1962-92) ……......................................................................400,000
  • Nigeria(1966-70) ……....................................................................1 million
  • Bangladesh(1971) ……..................................................................1.25 million
  • Cambodia,Khmer Rouge(1975-78) ……........................................1.65
  • Mozambique(1975-92) …….......................................................... 1 million
  • Afghanistan(1979-2001) ……........................................................1.8 million
  • Iran Iraq War(1980-88) …….........................................................1 million
  • Sudan(1983 et seq.) ……..............................................................1.9 million
  • Kinshasa,Congo(1998 et seq.) ……...............................................3.8 million
  • Phillipines Insurgency(1899-1902) ……...........................................220,000
  • Brazil(1900 et seq.) ……..................................................................500,000
  • Amazonia(1900-1912) ……..............................................................250,000
  • Portuguese Colonies(1900-1925) ……..............................................325,000
  • French Colonies(1900-1940) ……....................................................200,000
  • Japanese War(1904-5) ……..............................................................130,000
  • German East Africa(1905-7) …….....................................................175,000
  • Libya(1911-31) …….........................................................................125,000
  • Balkan Wars(1912-13) ……..............................................................140,000
  • Greco-Turkish War(1919-22) ……...................................................250,000
  • Spanish Civil War(1936-39) …….....................................................365,000
  • Franco Regime(1939-75) ……..........................................................100,000
  • Abyssinian Conquest(1935-41) …….................................................400,000
  • Finnish War(1939-40) ……..............................................................150,000
  • Greek Civil War(1943-49) ……........................................................158,000
  • Yugoslavia,Tito's Regime(1944-80) ……..........................................200,000
  • First Indochina War(1945-54) …......................................................400,000
  • Colombia(1946-58) ……..................................................................200,000
  • India(1947) ……..............................................................................500,000
  • Romania(1948-89) ……...................................................................150,000
  • Burma/Myanmar(1948 et seq.) …….................................................130,000
  • Algeria(1954-62) ……......................................................................537,000
  • Sudan(1955-72) …….......................................................................500,000
  • Guatemala(1960-96) …….................................................................200,000
  • Indonesia(1965-66) ……..................................................................400,000
  • Ugandi, Idi Amin's Regime(1972-79) ...…........................................300,000
  • Vietnam, postwar Communist Regime(1975 et seq.) ……................430,000
  • Angola(1975-2002) ……..................................................................550,000
  • East Timor, conquest by Indonesia(1975-99) ……...........................200,000
  • Lebanon(1975-90) ……...................................................................150,000
  • Cambodian Civil War(1978-91) ……...............................................225,000
  • Iraq, Saddam Hussein(1979-2003) ……...........................................300,000
  • Uganda(1979-86) …….....................................................................300,000
  • Kurdistan(1980's,1990's) ……..........................................................300,000
  • Liberia(1989-97) ……......................................................................150,000
  • Iraq(1990- ) ……..............................................................................350,000
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina(1992-95) ……............................................175,000
  • Somalia(1991 et seq.) ……...............................................................400,000
Berlinski concludes: "In considering Pinker's assessment of the times in which we live, the only conclusion one can profitably draw is that such an excess of stuipidity is not often to be found in nature." (25)

And, we have the following "awkward fact": "The twentieth century was not an age of faith, and it was awful. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot will never be counted among the religious leaders of mankind." (19)

***
In The Devil's Delusion Berlinski raises and responds to these questions:

  • Has anyone provided a proof of God’s inexistence? Not even close.
  • Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here? Not even close.
  • Have the sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life? Not even close.
  • Are physicists and biologists willing to believe in anything so long as it is not religious thought? Close enough.
  • Has rationalism in moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral? Not close enough.
  • Has secularism in the terrible twentieth century been a force for good? Not even close to being close.
  • Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy of thought and opinion within the sciences? Close enough.
  • Does anything in the sciences or in their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational? Not even ballpark.
  • Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt? Dead on.