Sunday, May 06, 2018

"Marshall is a Cowardly, Moronic Atheist."

Those of us who are Christians should care deeply about truth.

That is one reason I am not fond of a common Christian argument which cites The Encyclopedia of Wars to make the claim that only 7% of wars are caused by "religion."  This is usually mentioned in rebuttal to some atheist who trashes "religion," usually ineptly and from a depth of historical ignorance.

But two wrongs don't make a right.

And the 7% argument has many flaws:

(1) The authors, Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod, appear to be authorities on war, not religion.  Given that the argument is often presented as an Argument From Authority, their lack of expertise in one central field about which they are making a claim limits the force of that argument.  We do not properly cite Richard Dawkins on philosophy, do we?

(2) The term "religion" is not well-defined, as I recall.  Peter Berger notes that definitions of religion fall into two categories: based on the substance of a faith (what one believes), and based on the function of a religion (its effects).  For instance, Marxism may either be considered a mere ideology, given that it denies the existence of supernatural beings (at least in theory), or it can be seen as a religion, since it serves the same social functions as faiths with which it competes: creating power structures that enforce codes of morality, appealing to supposed ultimate truths inscribed in "holy books" and taught by messianic figures, and so forth.  The same is true of Nazism, Radical Environmentalism, Objectivism, Freudianism, and other "ultimate concerns," as Paul Tillich described them.

If one defines "religion" broadly -- as some religion scholars prefer, and that seems to make sense when talking about motivations for warfare -- a vastly larger number of wars would appear to have "religious" roots: the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Civil War, the Nazi invasions, Mao's attacks on his neighbors, and many others.

(3) I see no reason why any Christian should put himself or herself into the position of being an apologist for "religion."  Much of the Bible warns against the evils of "religions," such as human sacrifice, libertine sexuality, and oppressive social structures.  In my view, caste Hinduism, Islam, and Central American sacrificial cults often had a terrible effect on the societies that accepted them, not even counting Nazism and Communism.  While I would gladly admit, contrary to radical atheists, that religions besides Christianity have also sometimes done the world a lot of good, I would agree with them that wrong worship often leads to bad consequence.  We follow Christ.

(4) Causes of war are often complex.  It would often be simplistic to reduce an outbreak of fighting to one single cause, and identify that cause as either "religious" or as "non-religious."

Take the American Civil War as an example.  We all know that war broke out as a consequence in some way of a quarrel over slavery and states' rights, and as a clash of cultures as well.  But books like Uncle Tom's Cabin fed into the abolitionist sentiment of the north that led to the clash.  And Uncle Tom's Cabin is almost a Bible study with a story attached: Harriet Beecher Stowe argued that Scripture, read properly, is incompatible with ownership of slaves, certainly with how slaves were being treated in the South.

So it would be simplistic to say the Civil War either was or was not "religious" -- and as no less an authority than Abraham Lincoln pointed out, "both sides prayed to the same God."  (Though he was clearly of Stowe's mind about the ultimate incompatibility of a biblically-informed theism with southern slavery.)

Yet I'm pretty sure the American Civil War was listed as non-religious in origin.

(5) This points to another over-simplification (in how the study is interpreted, whether or not the authors thought this): the notion that war is an absolute evil, and always wrong.  Clearly that is not true.  If Christianity finally helped inspire America to throw off slavery, as I am confident it did, even if that led to war, to paraphrase Lincoln again, that would be no stain on the honor of divine providence.

I think aside from the Crusades, many wars have been partly inspired by religious motives, and often righteously.  Read The Song of Roland or G. K. Chesterton's Lepanto, or Pope Urban's speeches before the First Crusade.  American preachers also played a commendable role in rallying troops against Hitler, Stalin, and arguably, King George.

(6) The survey, as I recall, also makes some odd omissions.  For instance, as I recall it didn't make any mention of the devastating Tai Ping Rebellion that eventuated in the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese during the 19th Century.  The Tai Pings had started their own religion, joining elements of Christianity, Confucianism, and folk beliefs into a potent blend.

For all these reasons, I think it would be foolish to try to too quickly dismiss the impact of "religion" on human warfare.

Ironically, when I recently mentioned my skepticism about this argument, one believer at least showed that he was inordinately eager to take to the rhetorical war path and go hunting my scalp.  (In all the wrong places, never on my actual head!)

Marshall's Atheistic Slanders

A day or so ago, someone cited the Encyclopedia of Religions, whose authors (he said) showed that only some 7% of wars were religious in nature, half started by Muslims, and that atheists had killed more people than all religions in the 20th Century alone.

I posted skeptically, emphasizing point (1) above:

"I'm tired of that Encyclopedia of Wars citation. The authors are expert in war, not in religion."

I added that I considered the analysis in that book "shallow," and that the authors "don't know what religion is or what role religions played in wars."

When challenged to prove my point, I was admittedly a bit coy and cheeky, pointing out merely that the original claim involved an Argument from Authority without further evidence, and since I'm more an authority when it comes to religion than the authors are, "in this field (my authority) trumps theirs," and no evidence was needed to check a claim made without any evidence.

Most responses to these comments were level-headed, however.

The owner of the site, who apparently at some point in the past invited me as a Facebook friend, took my comments personally, however, blasting me as a cowardly, lying atheist: 

"And finally, that COWARDLY NONSENSE about why you don't have to provide evidence proves to me that you're not any sort of expert at anything at all, just a moron who has diarrhea of the mouth.  If you want respect, show some professionalism.  You're asserting that a major publication is faulty; you have to prove it. Until you do, the evidence in our hands says that religion is not a major cause of war.

"Put up or shut up. 'Cause let me tell you, pal, out here in reality, some of us who actually care about scholarship are sick and freaking tired of lying atheists eager to slander religious people by making unsupported and unsupportable assertions about "all the wars caused by religion," but never lifting a finger to produce even a half-hearted enumeration."

So it turns out, surprisingly enough, that:

(1) I am an atheist.  (Because I don't like one particular argument for "religion.")
(2) I am also a cowardly
(3) liar
(4) guilty of speaking "nonsense."  (Nonsense is distinct from lying because it can't scrape together enough coherence even to be false, presumably.)
(5) I also have "diarrhea of the mouth."  (Though my comments had been mostly succinct.)
(6) And don't care about scholarship.  (Because I poured cold water on one argument cited from that "major publication," the Encyclopedia of War -- it certainly sells for a major price on Amazon, more than $300!)
(7) I "slandered" religious people.  (Because I said the authors of this encyclopedia, whose religious beliefs I have no more knowledge than this poster had of my beliefs, were wrong about one single issue.  Though I didn't call them "liars" or "cowards," pardon my negligence!)
(8) Furthermore, my assertion is "unsupportable."  (Never mind the support I give it above.)
(9) And I didn't "lift a finger" to defend my position -- well, now I have.

If I had been a real atheist, I don't think I would have found these rebukes very convicting, since the fellow rebuking me fits errors into a paragraph like sardines in a can, packed fin to snout.

My critic adds:

"Me, I'm betting that 'religion expert' David Marshall can't actually name three genuine religious wars apart from the Crusades without firing up Wikipedia."

Or I could fire up the paper I wrote 20 years ago on one of them for my MA.  

When another poster suggested that my critic "chill," he told him to "go jump in a lake.  What I have written, I have written (Pontius Pilate!) . . . I have no tolerance for dishonest fools."

Well, I suppose one can chill by jumping in lakes.

The sad thing is, this brother seems to think his lack of tolerance, patience, or even willingness to listen carefully before reacting angrily is a virtue!   He's so righteous for truth that he makes a fool of himself by casually tossing out incendiary accusations that bear not the fainted relations with reality.

I wonder how often the more sincere sorts of real atheists have to put up with those kind of wild attacks?  I hope I don't work myself into such a fine lather too often.


Jayman said...

Regarding (1), the authors of The Encyclopedia of Wars may not be authorities on religion but they appear to be historians. I think that gives them more credibility on their subject than Richard Dawkins has on philosophy. Do you need to be an authority on religion to know whether it was a cause of a war?

This isn't to say your other points aren't valid. But isn't there a middle ground between dismissing The Encyclopedia of Wars entirely and accepting it as a definitive study?

David B Marshall said...

True, the analogy isn't perfect. What their study probably does show is that there are usually other causes for most wars . . . but not exclusive of religious causes. Also not studied is what wars Christianity may end, or what righteous wars bad religious ideas may prevent . . . The matter is very complex, and needs to be treated as such, IMO.

Theosophocles said...

Hi David, some interesting thoughts there on the 7% figure. I have certainly been guilty of using it a little too tritely in the past, and some of the flaws you list (2,3 & 4) are definitely worth thinking about more.

Beyond expressing my appreciation for your thoughts, I did want to comment that the way I read the second paragraph responding to you, I don't think they're attacking you in the way you've surmised.
Specifically, most of the points you list distilled from the second paragraph (1,3,7,8 & 9) don't read to me like they're aimed at you but at the atheists that your interlocutor is engaged with.

The gist of it seems to be 'If you're going to crticise our defense (against the terrible argument that religion causes war) you better make it a good one ('put up or shut up') because atheists who are keen to slander religious people, keep making unsupported assertions [that religion causes war] and aren't willing to lift a finger to prove it. [So throwing it back at them with a very long and literal list is powerful, plz don't take it away].

It's hard to tell without a broader context, but unless you argued that religion causes lots of wars, I don't think that's you.
There's plenty of vitriole in the rest of it, don't get me wrong, but I think your list should be a little shorter.
I could be wrong, language can be ambiguous, but that's how I read it, and it seems to make a fair bit of difference.

ispburger said...

It's occurred to me as well that perhaps the 7% figure is a tad low, because it probably uses a very narrow definition of religion.

But then on the other hand, our atheist interlocutors also tend to use a similarly narrow definition of religion in order to avoid their own world view from falling within the spectre of religion.

It seems to me that this is a case of what is good for the goose has to be good for the gander too, in other words, it is incredibly likely that religion (defined in the more general "ultimate concerns" way that could well include certain godless views) does indeed cause wars and calamity on a massive scale, that indeed the second world war, the civil wars in America, the Boer war in South Africa, and so on and so forth, were indeed all religious to some extent. But this concession comes with a sting in the tail: It would mean that the atheistic religions (systems of thought) should pick up their tab too.

In other words, I don't see this working for the atheist in either way.

David B Marshall said...

Theo: It was pretty clear that my critic assumed me to be one of the atheists he was attacking, on very scant evidence, and reacted in irrational rage. But that's a lesser matter here.

If my argument merely succeeds in encouraging Christians to argue more carefully about this, that will be enough.

David B Marshall said...

Isburger: If the goose is eating bad corn, then it won't be good for the gander, either. If atheists make bad arguments attacking Christianity, that doesn't give us warrant or right to make bad arguments defending it. And we don't have to go that far, as you recognize: the history of militant communism is so awful, that the only reason New Atheism can get any mileage out of their schtick, is that history is taught so poorly and so dishonestly in our schools, IMO.