Readers’ beefs

The bit below was not a comment or attempted comment on the site, but an email sent directly to me.  The article to which it refers, one I wrote for John Brockman’s annual Edge Question book This Idea Must Die, was about how we should dispense with the idea of free will. As I recall (I don’t have my essay here), I didn’t say much about religion. Nevertheless, this person became quite exercised about my short piece. He/she sent this:

Dear Professor Coyne

I’ve read what you said in This Idea Must Die. Why do you want to destroy religion? If you read pages 447-465 of “American Grace” by two very prominent social scientists, Robert Putnam of Harvard and David Campbell of Notre Dame, you will see that religious people are more generous than atheists, more likely to volunteer their time, and even more likely to donate blood.

Plus, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Milosevic, Pol Pot, Putin, and the guys who rule in China right now all are/were atheists. Do you think that is just a coincidence?

I know Dawkins says Hitler was a Catholic. That is a lie. Steven Pinker said in The Better Angels of Our Nature that Hitler, in adulthood, was no kind of Christian. I forget the page number, but check the index for the pages where Hitler is mentioned, and it is on one of them. If you read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer, and go to the index and see the only page where Shirer mentions Nietzsche, you will see that Hitler publicly declared himself to be a great admirer of Nietzsche. Only an atheist would admire Nietzsche.


These arguments are shopworn, and I’m pressed for time, so if readers want to respond, feel free, and I’ll refer the writer to this post. But regardless of the effect of religious belief on behavior, it’s better to know the truth rather than act in service of something for which there’s no evidence. The notion that we need religion, regardless of its truth, to motivate good behavior, is the patronizing “Little People” argument, one refuted by the nations of Scandinavia, arguably more moral in governance than is the hyperreligious U.S.

I’d add that religious people are also more likely than atheists to kill abortion doctors, withhold medical care from their children, refuse vaccination, commit acts of terrorism, brainwash their children, deny rights to gays and women, and inculcate their coreligionists with guilt, as well as policing their behavior, dress, and sex life. And I’m not sure how good those studies about religiously-based generosity are; I haven’t read the original reports. Readers who have can weigh in below.

The Pol Pot/Mao/Stalin argument founders on the claim that although those leaders (Hitler was an exception, I think) didn’t accept or promulgate religion, and were anti-religious, they also acted in service ideologies that were the equivalent to religion, having god-like leaders, punishment for blasphemy, and so on. They killed in the name of these ideologies (to which religion posed a challenge), not explicitly in the name of atheism. The problem is not one of religion per se producing bad behavior, but extremist and irrational ideologies doing so. And religion is one of those extremist ideologies, but it posits a Great Leader and mandates conduct that can be punished or rewarded in the afterlife.

The wider war, as I’ve often said, is not between science and religion, but between rationality and superstition, with science being the most exquisitely refined form of rationality, and religion the most pervasive and common form of superstition. As Sam Harris said, “‘There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.”

As for “only an atheist would admire Nietzche,” that’s a pretty dumb argument to show that someone’s an atheist, for I’ve known moderately religious people who have admired some of Nietzche’s arguments.


  1. Bender
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Yep, Hitler was definitely an exception:

    • Linda Calhoun
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      Thank you.

      When I read this piece, I wanted to yell, “Hitler was CATHOlIC, you moron!!!” L

    • Yvonne Koubis
      Posted April 28, 2016 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      You are wrong. A history professor named Ian Kershaw wrote a massive, critically-acclaimed two-volume biography of Hitler. Read it if you want to know the truth. Why do you believe some goofball on the Internet instead of believing a reputable history professor? Look at Hitler’s adult life. What church did he attend? None. Did anyone ever report seeing him pray? No. Did anyone ever report seeing him read the Bible or any other religious book? No. If he was a Catholic, why did he outlaw the Catholic Youth organization? Why did Pope Pius XI condemn the Nazi Party in his encyclical “Mit Brennender Sorge”? (You can look it up in Wikipedia.) Why did Hitler order the murder of Erich Klausener, the head of the Catholic Action organization, in 1934? (You can look him up in Wikipedia too.) It is amazing that you atheists say that when it comes to evolution, we should believe what the biology professors say, but when it comes to Hitler, you refuse to believe what the history professors say. You are acting just like the evolution-deniers.

  2. jay
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    I think that many atheists are tempted to try to justify atheism by examples of bad religious people and good non religious people. Oft quoted are the relative numbers of self declared atheist vs religious in prisons.

    I don’t see this as very relevant. The existence of god/s has nothing to do with whether people who believe in them are good or bad. Those are two separate issues and should not be confused.

    [Timothy McVeigh is often cited as a religious terrorist, but that’s probably not true. He had, years earlier, dabbled in religion but at the time of his crimes he seems to have been agnostic, claiming that ‘science was his god’]

    • Posted April 23, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Oft quoted are the relative numbers of self declared atheist vs religious in prisons.

      Such things are usually pointed to as a rebuttal of the claim that theistic religion is necessary for people to be moral or for society to be moral.

      • Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

        Yes; Dawkins has pointed out many times that making lists of good/bad atheists/theists doesn’t bear at all on the question of whether a religion’s claims are true, and I agree with him. But pointing to, say, the Catholic pedophile scandal is a perfectly legitimate way to argue that being religious – being called of god, in fact – does nothing to increase the likelihood that someone will behave morally.

        • Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

          Well, I suppose pointing to misbehaving theists does bear on the truth of the religious claim that religion is necessary for morality.

        • jay
          Posted April 23, 2016 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

          Pointing to a Catholic pedophile does NOT prove that ‘Catholicism does nothing to increase the likelihood that someone will behave morally. It merely proves that NOT ALL Catholics behave morally (just like pointing out a gay pedophile does demonstrate that gays as a whole are immoral).

          On the other hand, pointing out the cover-ups in the RCC DOES say something negative about the organization itself.

          • JAY HOLOVACS
            Posted April 23, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

            TYPO ALERT

            just like pointing out a gay pedophile does NOT demonstrate that gays as a whole are immoral)

          • JAY
            Posted April 23, 2016 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

            TYPO ALERT should read above

            just like pointing out a gay pedophile does NOT demonstrate that gays as a whole are immoral).

          • Posted April 23, 2016 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

            Gah. Yes, my hasty phraseology didn’t accurately represent the way this set theory plays out. Really, I was just trying to repeat what Coel said about religion not being necessary for moral behavior.

          • phil
            Posted April 23, 2016 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

            There’s more to it than that though. Statistics reveal that paedophilia amongst catholic priests is much higher than the broader population average, which implies something peculiar about the priesthood, i.e. a particular failing of catholicism.

            In his book “The Prince” David Marr quote a Victorian policeman who says in his experience paedophilia amongst catholic clergy was at least six time more common than that from other churches. I am pretty sure I read somewhere years ago (but cannot recall where or when) that according to the churches own statistics paedophilia amongst its priesthood was perhaps ten times the population average.

            • steve
              Posted April 24, 2016 at 5:27 am | Permalink

              I am not sure that the church says this: See “John Jay Report” for the numbers.

        Posted April 23, 2016 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

        The problem with that is almost ALL prisoners are likely to claim religion because it gets them more sympathy, so it’s hardly an unbiased survey.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      The existence of god/s has nothing to do with whether people who believe in them are good or bad. Those are two separate issues and should not be confused

      But if you maintain that clarity of thought, how will you accept indoctrination into the Flavour-du-jour cult? Thinking like that seriously impedes the ability of the Thought Police to keep you under control.
      Heavens to Murgatroid, do you have no respect for the Powers That Be.

    • Scott Draper
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      “The existence of god/s has nothing to do with whether people who believe in them are good or bad. ”

      This, of course, is merely an assertion that must be demonstrated. Christians will claim the opposite, which almost must be demonstrated.

      • Posted April 23, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

        I’m not so sure that core beliefs and behavior are that tightly woven. If they were, I would exercise more, eat better and drink less.

        • Scott Draper
          Posted April 23, 2016 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

          Sample of one. 🙂 But all that means is that you don’t perfectly coordinate your beliefs and behavior; it doesn’t mean that beliefs don’t affect your behavior at all. Surely you exercise a little bit and don’t eat ice cream at every meal.

          • David Evans
            Posted April 23, 2016 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

            Agreed,beliefs are correlated with behavior, and behavior can tell us something about what a person believes. The question is whether it can tell us anything about the truth of those beliefs. If that were so, theology would be a whole lot easier!

    • Yvonne Koubis
      Posted April 28, 2016 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      Yes, Timothy McVeigh was an agnostic. He said so in an interview with a British journalist just a few days before he died. You can look it up in the Proquest Newspaper Database. Just look for articles that contain the words “McVeigh” and “agnostic.” And I know that even if Christians have much better morals than atheists, that doesn’t prove that Christianity is true, but if atheism makes the world a worse place, why preach atheism? Just look at Edward O. Wilson’s book “Consilience.” Look at the chapter called “Ethics and Religion.” Wilson openly declares that morality is just whatever most people say it is. That means that Wilson thinks that if most people on Earth want to exterminate the gays, then that is morality. That is the kind of thinking that atheism leads to.

      • Posted April 28, 2016 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

        You managed to pack a lot of fallacious reasoning into a single statement about E.O. Wilson.

        Consider the following statement, based on this story:

        Just look at the fatwa released by ISIS. Pay close attention to the portions regarding the appropriate ways in which one can rape human females that he owns. That means that rape and slavery are okay if Allah’s chosen ones say it is. That’s the kind of thinking that theism leads to.

        Look for overgeneralizations, appeals to anecdotes and bait-and-switch tactics (hint: I replaced radical Islam with theism). Now apply them to your own statement about E.O. Wilson and you will understand why you are speaking nonsense.

  3. BobTerrace
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 11:09 am | Permalink


    • Mark Reaume
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 11:22 am | Permalink


  4. Posted April 23, 2016 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    As for “only an atheist would admire Nietzche,” that’s a pretty dumb argument to show that someone’s an atheist, …

    Indeed, it only shows how little they’ve got. If Hitler had actually declared himself an atheist, or praised atheism, we’d have never heard the end of it.

    “The most marvellous proof of the superiority of Man, which puts man ahead of the animals, is the fact that he understands that there must be a Creator.” — Hitler (Table Talk)

    “An uneducated man, on the other hand, runs the risk of going over to atheism (which is a return to the state of the animal).” — Hitler (Table Talk)

    “For their interests [the Church’s] cannot fail to coincide with ours [the National Socialists] alike in our fight against the symptoms of degeneracy in the world of to-day, in our fight against a Bolshevist culture, against atheistic movement, against criminality, and in our struggle for a consciousness of a community in our national life” — Hitler (speech)

    “We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.” — Hitler (speech, 1933)

    “Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air” — Hitler (speech).

    “The advantages for the individual which may be derived from compromises with atheistic organizations do not compare in any way with the consequences which are visible in the destruction of our common religious and ethical values. The national Government sees in both Christian denominations the most important factor for the maintenance of our society.” — Hitler

    “The national Government, seeing in Christianity the unshakable foundation of the moral and ethical life of our people, attaches utmost importance to the cultivation and maintenance of the friendliest relations with the Holy See.” — Hitler

    “Hence this song [The German anthem] also constitutes a pledge to the Almighty, to His will and to His work: for man has not created this Volk, but God, that God who stands above us all. He formed this Volk, and it has become what it should according to God’s will, and according to our will, it shall remain, nevermore to fade!” — Hitler (speech)

    (cites and lots more here)

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Hi Coel:

      Not sure if I ever thanked you for putting together the information in the article you referred to the at the end of this post, but if not, I’m doing so now. Thank you!

      For anyone wanting/needing it, Coel’s article is the ne plus ultra refuting the tiresome “Darwin led to Hitler” tripe trope of the creationists.

    • Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for your diligent scholarship and for posting the results. This should put a nail through the ignorant idea that Hitler was an atheist. The Roman Catholic Church’s collaboration with the German Nazis is well known.

  5. Zado
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Plus, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Milosevic, Pol Pot, Putin, and the guys who rule in China right now all are/were atheists. Do you think that is just a coincidence?

    I recently re-watched a Sam Harris speech from 2007 in which he said the “greatest crimes of the 20th century” meme was not going away. Unfortunately I think he’s right. We’re going to be subjected to this illogic forever.

    What’s the solution? Gently point out that secular humanism doesn’t lead to Stalinism? That just because Marxism is atheistic, all atheists aren’t necessarily Marxists?

    I’m considering just ignoring this non-argument. Trying to correct it doesn’t seem to help anyway.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      Not “forever”. Probably not for much more the another generation. Eventually a 21st Century mass – murderer will come along and prove the lie.
      I used to have some hope that the Lord’s Resistance Army on N.Uganda/Kenya would plumb new depths of religiously – supported barbarity (Xtian, even!) but the Kenyan and Uganda armies do seem to have bottled them more-or-less up, To the extent of putting their areas of recent control back on the “not-insane” list of work sites.
      Still, ISIS/ ISIL are doing a fine job of keeping the reputation of religion down in the slime where it belongs.

    • Les
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      As our host says, most atheists hate totalitarianism, whether it is a cult of personality or a religious cult. Anything that demands blind obedience can got to Hell, so to speak.

      • Posted April 23, 2016 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think this is correct: you can be an atheist but still support a totalitarian system that had replaced god with ideology like communism. For example, two of the countries where atheists are a majority are China and North Korea.

        • phil
          Posted April 23, 2016 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

          It is debatable whether N Korea is a truly atheist state. They have a cult like reverence for their leaders (the Kims) complete with miraculous events, or at least the state tries to maintain one.

          • Posted April 23, 2016 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

            Atheist is just a person who doesn’t believe that god or gods exist, and we can be reasonably sure that Kim Jong Un does exist. And having lived in a communist country myself, I can tell you that the cult of personality doesn’t have to ascribe any supernatural qualities to the revered leader or founder – the worshipped personality could be presented as exceptionally honest/brave/smart/talented/strategic/charismatic/hard-working/etc. who achieved his goal thanks to his talents and hard work, and that everyone else must try to become more like their hero.
            Now, I am describing my own experience with communist propaganda, not sure if North Korea is different.

            • steve
              Posted April 24, 2016 at 5:40 am | Permalink

              It IS different according to Christopher Hitchens who says North Korea is a necrocracy (coining the word from democracy/cleptocracy or any other of the “….cracies” used to describe countries). Read the link below for a good description of his visit there.


              “In this version of the Arian heresy so much condemned by Athanasius, North Korea is unique in having a dead man as head of state: Kim Jong-Il is the head of the party and the army but the presidency is held in perpetuity by his deceased father (grandfather of the new leader – my addition), which makes the country a necrocracy or mausolocracy as well as a regime that is only one figure short of a Trinity.”

    • deadweasel
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

      Pick up their argument and throw it back at them.

      Point out that, under theism, the rise of Stalin, Mao, and so forth must have been part of their all-knowing, all-loving God’s plan for humanity, and if they have any complaints with the way His Creation is run, they can take it up with the management. We just work here.

      And if they start blathering about free will, call them out for special pleading.

      • Terence Moodie
        Posted April 24, 2016 at 2:18 am | Permalink


  6. Historian
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    A recent article in the Humanist magazine points out a fallacy in the argument that religious people are more happy or generous than atheists or “Nones” to the extent that it is true (which can be argued). It is the sense of community engendered for people that attend religious services regularly that stimulates this behavior, not the theology. The article states:

    So, are religious people happier than nonreligious people? Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, doesn’t buy it:

    “This study shows the same methodological flaw seen time and time again: measuring religiosity in large part by how often people attend religious services. This creates a comparison that doesn’t measure the differences between the religious and the nonreligious, but instead measures the difference between those that have strong community connections and those that do not. “Community” has positive outcomes, not religion.”

    I would add community service to happiness. In other words, if people who do not attend religious services regularly engaged more in secular communities that encouraged volunteering, etc. then the differences between the religious and non-religious in terms of positive contributions to society would largely disappear.

    • Peter
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      With regard to religious people donating more to charity, this could be so (assuming it to be true) because they are more often solicited to donate within the context of the activities of their religious community. We also know that religious charity often comes with attempts to proselytize – so it’s not a purely altruistic thing.

  7. Eddie Janssen
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    The only page in Pinker’s Better Angels that refers to Hitler which could be said to state that Hitler was no kind of Christian (according to the indez) is page 677:
    “Defenders of religion claim that the two genocidal ideologies of the 20th century, fascism and communism, were atheistic. But the first claim is mistaken and the second irrelevant (chapter 4). Fascism happily coexisted with Catholicism in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Croatia, and though Hitler had little use for Christianity, he was by no means an atheist, and professed that he was carrying out a divine plan.”
    The rest of that alinea goes on to say that Christian clerics and Nazi elite were not unsympathetic to each others ideologies.
    (The Better Angels of our Nature, 677)

    • Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Huh. I wonder what Pinker could’ve meant by “[Hitler] had little use for Christianity”. AIUI xianity played a major role in his success.

      • E.A. Blair
        Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

        AIUI? Is that YAIIII?

  8. Stonyground
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    It is a logical fallacy to cite half a dozen people that were atheists and also evil, and then claim that these are representative of atheists as a whole. There are millions of atheists alive today and millions that have lived before, who are not murderous dictators. There is a slightly better case for claiming that people have committed mass murder in the cause of religion and if you asked me to compile a list of religious mass murderers I think that I could come up with a few more than six.

    Also as Jay said, none of this has anything to do with whether any of the religions are true or not. Since they contradict each other and none of them stand on a shred of credible evidence, there is every reason to believe that they are not.

    • Historian
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Yes, of course the argument is logically fallacious. The writer is arguing that an unrepresentative sample of a particular group necessarily represents the views of the whole. In addition, if the writer were consistent is his illogicalness then he would declare the Catholic Church inherently evil because it has a history of protecting a certain number of priests who were pedophiles.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 23, 2016 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

        Never mind paedophiles, what about all the people murdered over the centuries by Catholic-inspired witch hunts, Crusades, inquisitions, wars…

        (And if you widen it from catholicism to religion in general then you can say, almost all the violent deaths were religiously-inspired. The only exemptions being those due to petty crime.)


        • reasonshark
          Posted April 24, 2016 at 6:50 am | Permalink

          Unless your definition of “religion” is unusually elastic, no, not “almost all” of them. Many of the massacres and tortures initiated by historical peoples ranged from survival-enabling tribalistic warfare to the imperial conquest and glory of empires, political revolts and counter-revolts, and centuries of blood feuds and vendettas between nations. Religious differences – such as between Catholics and Protestants in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – certainly contributed to or dominated some of them, but “almost all” is an exaggeration. Political, imperial, ethical, and economic dogmas and ideologies claim a good number of conflicts between them. Pinker’s Better Angels and White’s Atrocitology list a good number of historical atrocities that didn’t rely on religious differences.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      I’m willing to bet that the same people who make those claims about atheists also claim that religious extremists are not representative of the majority of believers.

  9. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 11:54 am | Permalink


  10. angelaevans773
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Absolutely loved this!!! Thanks for sharing!

  11. E.A. Blair
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    There is nothing new about this. Studies comparing the altruistic behavior of religious and non-religious people have been done for a long time, and most of them show that the influence being religious has on altruistic behavior is more likely to be nagative. Here are some of those studies (with sources)

    A study of about 2,000 Episcopalians in the 1950s turned up “no discernible relationship between involvement [in the Church] and charitable acts.” [C. Y. Glock, B. B. Ringer, and E. R. Babbie, To Comfort and to Challenge (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967, 182-83).]

    A 1960 questionnaire-based study of altruism involving several hundred male college students showed only a slight correlation between altruism and belief in God, and none at all between altruism and attendance of religious services. [R. W. Friedrichs, “Altar versus Ego,” American Sociological Review (25:496-508, 1960).]

    In interviews with randomly selected adults in 1965, “the ‘irreligious’ … [were] nearly as frequently rated as being a good Samaritan, having love and compassion for their fellow man, and being humble as the most devout and religious of our group studied.” [The 1965 interviews: V. B. Cline and J. M. Richards, Jr., “A Factor-Analytic Study of Religious Belief and Behaviors,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1:577, 1965).]

    In a 1967 study, two social psychologists found that churchgoers are more intolerant of ethnic minorities than nonattenders [G. W. Allport and J. M. Ross, “Personal Religious Orientation and Prejudice,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (5:432, 1967)].

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      Here are two more:

      A 1974 experiment classified participants as being “Jesus people” (born­again Christians), conventionally religious, nonreligious, or atheists. There was no statistically significant difference among these groups in their willingness to volunteer time with retarded children or to resist temptation to cheat on a test. (There was only one group in which a majority did not cheat: the atheists.) R. E. Smith, G. Wheeler, and E. Diener, “Faith without Works,”Journal of Applied Social Psychology (5:320-30, 1975).

      A 1975 experiment showed that students who believed in the Bible’s accuracy were no more likely than others to come to the aid of someone in the next room who seemed to have fallen off a ladder. [L. V. Annis, “Emergency Helping and Religious Behavior,” Psychological Reports (39:151-58, 1976).]

      • E.A. Blair
        Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

        And a final two (WordPress wouldn’t let me post these all in one comment):

        In 1984, a researcher who surveyed more than 700 people from different neighborhoods in a medium-size city expected to find that religious people were especially sociable, helpful to their neighbors, and likely to

        participate in neighborhood organizations. Instead, she reported, religious involvement was virtually unrelated to these activities. [S. Georgianna, “Is a Religious Neighborhood a Good Neighborhood?” Humboldt Journal of Social Relations (11: 1-16,1984).]

        A study of people who risked their lives to rescue Jews from the Nazis found that “rescuers did not differ significantly from bystanders or all non­rescuers with respect to their religious identification, religious education, and their own religiosity or that of their parents.” [S. P. Oliner and P. M. Oliner, The Altruistic Personality (New York: Free Press, 1988, 156).]

        • E.A. Blair
          Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

          Three, not two.

          • phil
            Posted April 23, 2016 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

            Well, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

        • reasonshark
          Posted April 24, 2016 at 6:57 am | Permalink

          This is suggestive material, though I wonder if there’s been a meta-study combining all the research to see what the overall trends are. Taking it at face value, I wonder how the myth of the extra-altruistic religious person came about. Maybe it’s an availability bias: if people see lots of religious neighbours attending church and donating to charity openly, they overestimate the charity of religious people and underestimate the charity of non-religious people simply because they see evidence of the former most often.

  12. Michael Waterhouse
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    The religious cling to the mass murderer atheist theme because they so desperately need it, given all he slaughter in the name of religion.
    Most of those mentioned weren’t real atheists as we would like to think, Enlightenment values etc. Most had some version of mysticism. Certainly Hitler. Stalin was probably a real psychopath and trained as priest anyway.
    All the the death figures are inflated and came in a small window of history. War ravaged an famine ravaged.
    5 or six people, maybe, compared to the endless run of the religious slaughter.

    It does need to be addressed though as it is the last major crutch for a lot of them. A crutch as substantial as the existence of god.

    • phil
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

      Actually I would describe god as a pretty insubstantial crutch, but that’s just semantics.

  13. Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    I invite anyone to search the Web for some local Catholic Churches that post their weekly bulletin online. You won’t have to go too far back to find an issue at most Churches calling for further donations so they can meet their budget. Many Churches will then give a precise rundown of the costs. For larger parishes, annual costs can run upwards of one million dollars annually, which is of course entirely funded by charitable donations. These charitable donations will count towards the so-called higher generosity levels of the religious, but what are these donations doing to actually help anything? They’re keeping a building running for the religious to continue their self congratulatory shtick about how wonderfully generous they are. Is this helping the poor or contributing anything to society at large? Perhaps the 5 or 10 percent that goes toward paying the clergy and workers who run the place benefit by being able to make a living. This is a horrible rate compared to charities such as Doctors Without Borders who devote almost the entirety of the funds they receive to actually doing something useful.

  14. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Vladimir Putin is Russian Orthodox.

    Hitler for part of his life appears to have subscribed to an eccentric school called “positive Christianity”.

    Hitchen’s alleged misogyny seems largely to be based on his claim he did not find female comedians funny, and his assertion that his wife “can work, but doesn’t have to”.

    Mr. Redacted should get acquainted with SkepChicks and Greta Christina.

  15. Newish Gnu
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    One of the more recent “believers give more to charity” studies (last 10 years?) had what I regarded as a fatal methodological flaw. It counted all the monetary contributions to one’s own church as charity. That would be akin to counting my membership dues to my non-profit country club as charity. (Hey, the club does give a little money to a high school golf team every year.)

  16. Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to return to Jerry’s original contention: that humans do not have “free will.” If the Xtian writer was complaining, he/she shld realize that some brands of Christianity, such as most Puritans and Presbyterians claim, on basis of God’s converting the undeserving Saul, that we all lack free will to choose belief over atheism. Free will is a comforting (?) delusion, as is atheism. We do not choose our beliefs or actions any more then we choose our personalities, our genetic predispositions, our perceptions of the situations we find ourselves in, or on and on.

    • phil
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

      “Free will is a comforting (?) delusion, as is atheism.”

      WTF? Maybe I don’t understand what you mean, but at base atheism is not a delusion, and probably not all that comforting either. Atheism is a lack of belief in gods. I am not an atheist because I choose not to believe, I am an atheist because I have not been convinced that I should believe, there is nothing to be deluded about. OTOH belief in god(s) has all the hallmarks of delusion.

      I find the idea of not choosing our beliefs particularly strange as well. I was not born with the belief that E=Mc^2. Something in me led me to believe it, so in some sense at least I did (and do) choose to believe it, and I could choose to disbelieve it too (if a convincing argument were presented). I do not need free will to accept or reject belief in anything AFAIK.

  17. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Besides that Hitler according to Pinker was “by no means an atheist” and believed he “was carrying out a divine plan” [thanks, Eddie!], his whole genocide plan on the jews was an obvious realization of the old catholic, then lutheran, progrom.

    you will see that religious people are more generous than atheists, more likely to volunteer their time, and even more likely to donate blood.

    I dunno about that. But I have read that both groups are as generous, but when you factor in that sects mostly direct their (tax relieved!) generosity onto their own groups – i.e. pay for church building, maintenance, services, et cetera – secular people come out as the most generous in the selfless sense.

    I didn’t find my reference, but I found this on Putnam’s study:

    “But a review from the University of British Columbia (UBC) posits that this kind of research may be misleading. As LiveScience reports:

    “Studies that do show a link between altruism and religion are often based on self-reports — subjects saying they did something unselfish, rather than direct observation of them doing so. This type of data is notoriously unreliable.”

    The review also mentioned that altruism may be motivated not by the simple desire to do good, but because they believe someone is watching them to ensure they “do the right thing,” or “because they want to maintain their reputations as righteous followers of religious teachings.”

    ““We found little or no evidence that empathy plays any role in religious prosociality,” said lead author Ara Norenzayan, a UBC social psychologist, adding that jury is still out. Religious types might engage in unselfish generosity coming from a place of empathy or compassion, but there is currently no data to support this, he said.””

    [ ]

    “Atheist kids are more generous than Christian or Muslim kids, a new study finds”

    “Researchers also found an inverse relationship between observance level and generosity — children from more religious homes were found to be more selfish than their less religious counterparts.
    And, the authors write, parents have the equation all wrong. “Across all countries, parents in religious households reported that their children expressed more empathy and sensitivity for justice in everyday life than non-religious parents.””

    [ ; ]

    You can criticize the last study as well, but as it includes misguided self-reporting by members of religious groups it serves as a good antidote to Putnam’s nonsense.


    – Both groups are generous, but it is doubtful that religious generosity derives from the empathy secularists display or is directed towards strangers.

    – Putnam – and the self-reporting religious – was wrong.

    – There are indications that secularists are more generous – in an innate human fashion -than religious people after the religious groups have socialized them into another direction.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      I see that E.A. Blair has already posted many studies in the sane direction.

      • phil
        Posted April 23, 2016 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

        I think you probably meant to write “same direction” but I like “sane direction”.

  18. Scott Draper
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Permalink


    Whether Hitler was a Christian or not isn’t the biggest issue. His example is often used to show that we should continue to indoctrinate our children in religion, but regardless of what the adult Hitler believed, he was clearly raised as a Christian. Either the indoctrination failed or the successful indoctrination had no good effect.

    • bric
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      Same applies to Stalin, who spent his formative years at a Jesuit seminary; and Pol Pot attended both a Buddhist monastery and a Catholic school.

    • Posted April 23, 2016 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      + 1

    • Posted April 23, 2016 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      To say nothing of all the good xians who supported him.

    • Newish Gnu
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

      As the Jesuits say, “Give me a child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.”

  19. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I find it ironic then a religious go after atheists as nit being generous, among other moral values, in a non-generous and xenophobic manner.

    They prove the point for atheists, religion is morally doubtful and the religious are acting it out.

  20. Nell Whiteside
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Same old, same old. As you say ‘shopworn’.

    The arrogance of religious perfection!

  21. phoffman56
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    “The wider war…is not between science and religion, but between rationality and superstition, with science being the most exquisitely refined form of rationality, and religion the most pervasive and common form of superstition.”

    Jerry is a very good writer, and, for me, above is one of the best examples of that.

  22. Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    This guy sure seems to read way more about Hitler than most people I know of….

    Which for me is just creepy

    • Posted April 23, 2016 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      I am also interested what made Hitler and Stalin who they were, and (even creepier!) what made so many other people adore them. Once I said that I wonder why masses followed such psychopaths, and my mother in-law replied that she cannot imagine masses following a normal person.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 23, 2016 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

        It’s always good fun when the psychopath is on your side. I’m sure these people thought Hitler was on their side. And the rest who didn’t knew speaking up would turn out badly for them.

  23. Kevin
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    NAME REDACTED – I have a recommendation. Stop worrying about humans full stop. Consider the universe and then find some part of it that contains the supernatural. Reply to this comment when you have some evidence.

  24. Posted April 23, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink


  25. Posted April 23, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Rudolf Hess described Hitler as a “good Catholic” and he never left the church. (If you’re baptized, you are legally considered part of the church and in Germany and have to sign a paper in order to leave.

    I will also add this photo which I took in Berlin — a statue that was made in 1936 and has been standing ever since: St Bernard gives the Hitler salute

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      Kinda looks like he’s doing disco way ahead of knowing about disco. Such are the powers of the Catholic Church.

  26. Johnd
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    I agree with most of what you say but not here. The writer is correct. Hitler despised Christianity but admired Islam. Atheism requires more ‘faith’ than agnosticism. I am agnostic but believe all religions except Islam offer valid spiritual alternatives to materialism. Atrocities by Christians cannot be linked to doctrine but were carried out by church istitution or mercenary opportunists. What of the spititual in great religious art? Is that of no worth? Science is still out on ‘God’ but if anything in my opinion would tend to support the concept of some type of transcendant principle. Atheists are in fashion and I for one dislike fashion.

    • phil
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

      “Hitler despised Christianity but admired Islam.”

      How do you account for Hitler’s own words then:

      “By defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord!”

      “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter.” (1922)

      “I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so.” (1941)

      Johnd: “Atheism requires more ‘faith’ than agnosticism.”

      Atheism requires no faith. Atheism is simply lack of belief in gods, and it requires no faith to not have something. Some atheists deny the existence of god(s) (hard atheism) but that is not a universal position. Agnosticism is the belief that it is impossible to know anything about god (including whether or not theism or hard atheism is valid). If anything agnosticism requires faith, in that you must have faith to believe that it is impossible to know anything about god because you are claiming that knowledge of god does cannot be found or does not exist. In spite of that many atheists are in fact also agnostic, and so are some theists.

      “Atrocities by Christians cannot be linked to doctrine…”


      “Science is still out on ‘God’ but if anything in my opinion would tend to support the concept of some type of transcendant principle.”

      Incorrect. Science supports no “transcendant principle” since none has been demonstrated. Science has no need of a “transcendant principle”. There is no reason to think there is a “transcendant principle”.

      “Atheists are in fashion and I for one dislike fashion.”

      Whereas bashing atheists, to the point of theists killing atheists, has never gone out of fashion. Check what is hapening in Bangladesh and Pakistan these days

    • Posted April 23, 2016 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

      What exactly about great art means there must be a god?

      And atheism is fashionable? You presumably don’t live in the US.

      • Posted April 24, 2016 at 1:08 am | Permalink

        Yes, when a majority of the population wouldn’t vote for a person based on their not believing something, that hardly constitutes fashionable.

    • Posted April 24, 2016 at 3:25 am | Permalink

      I agree with most of what you say but not here.

      Odd, since this is consistent with most of Jerry’s posts and Faith vs. Fact.

      Hitler despised Christianity …

      How do you reconcile that claim with the quotations that Coel posted here?

      …but admired Islam.

      Can you provide similar quotations to support this position?

      Atheism requires more ‘faith’ than agnosticism.

      What sense of “faith” and in what? While for some atheists, atheism might be based on confidence in empiricism and reason, many other atheists simply have no belief and neither know nor care about any arguments for or against the existence of “God”.

      … all religions except Islam offer valid spiritual alternatives to materialism.

      What do you mean by “spiritual”? In what sense are these religions (but not Islam) “valid”?

      Do you mean philosophical materialism? In which case, why should there be an alternative? Where is the evidence that there is anything other than matter and the forces that bind matter?

      Or do you mean the importance of material possessions and physical comfort? In which case, there are certainly many secular things that provide other kinds of value in people’s lives.

      Atrocities by Christians cannot be linked to doctrine but were carried out by church istitution [sic] or mercenary opportunists.

      Where is your evidence that those institutions or “opportunists” or others were not motivated and guided by doctrine?

      What of the spititual [sic] in great religious art? Is that of no worth?

      Again, what do you mean by “spiritual”? Of course there is aesthetic value in great religious art — and this is something that many prominent atheists have pointed out! But is there necessarily greater aesthetic value in religious art than in secular art?

      Science is still out on ‘God’ but if anything in my opinion would tend to support the concept of some type of transcendent principle.

      Quite the opposite, in fact. Apart from anything else, the recent results from fundamental physics (e.g., LHC) and cosmology (e.g., Planck), indicate with a very high confidence that there cannot be a theistic, intercessionary, creator “God”.

      Atheists are in fashion and I for one dislike fashion.

      Whay any of us do or do not like, or what is or is not fashionable, does not have any bearing on what is or is not true.


      • Posted April 24, 2016 at 7:36 am | Permalink

        Sliced and diced with aplomb.

        • Posted April 24, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink


        • Posted April 24, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          Which is better than sounding bananas.

          • Posted April 24, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

            I feel like I’m not getting a reference I should be getting.

            What *do* bananas sound like?

            • Posted April 24, 2016 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

              A failed attempt at a pun. 😦

              Perhaps I should’ve said I normally dice a plum with a knife, but using aplomb is better than being bananas?

              In any case, I won’t quit my day job.

              • Posted April 24, 2016 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

                Ah, well, around here we’re all second banana in the pun department compared to Ant. I know the fruits of my labors never seem quite as cherry as his.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 24, 2016 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

                Your efforts are still the apple of my eye. They’re just peachy in fact.

              • Posted April 24, 2016 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

                Orange ya both the pear of witty pun masters?

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 24, 2016 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

                It isn’t berry easy either!

              • Posted April 24, 2016 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

                Kumquat may, I don’t give a damson fig about your stinking (Bishop) grapes!


  27. merilee
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 3:43 pm | Permalink


  28. Posted April 23, 2016 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    NAME REDACTED – If you use the internet as a source of information, and you read, there is plenty of evidence that Hitler was raised as a Catholic and continued his association with the Roman Catholic Church. The church concluded a treaty with Hitler and his party. The treaty, purportedly, was made to protect the predominantly Catholic parts of Germany. (To Hell with everyone else, I guess.) There are numerous photos of Roman Catholic priests giving the Nazi salute in Germany, with and without Hitler’s presence.
    The Vatican was actively involved in helping Nazi criminals escape retribution for their acts. There is a plethora of written documentation on all of this.

    It behooves us all to read about the segment of history including Hitler, the Nazis, and the Holocaust. Knowledge of the past, hopefully, will help us prevent a recurrence of such insanity.

  29. Hempenstein
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    Plus, one of the first things Hitler did on assuming power in 1933 was to close the Freethinkers Halls. Some atheist!

  30. MitchD
    Posted April 24, 2016 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    In the case of Hitler, I think the grander question would be: who voted him into power? If you look at statistics from that time, the populace was hyper-religious.

    Plus, the trite argument “religious people are more moral people” is one in question, and depends on what way your moral compass points. Evidence is accruing on the correlation between religiosity and prejudicism; both thought to have neural correlates in the medial prefrontal cortex. This makes sense from an “in-group, out-group” perspective, and also provides evidence that religion-or ways of thinking that leads one to be religious-was an evolutionary adaptation that strengthens social cohesion.

  31. RGBowman
    Posted April 25, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    “In Freethinkers Hall, which before the Nazi resurgence was the national headquarters of the German Freethinkers League, the Berlin Protestant church authorities have opened a bureau for advice to the public in church matters. Its chief object is to win back former churchgoers and assist those who have not previously belonged to any religious congregation in obtaining church membership. The German Freethinkers League, which was swept away by the national revolution, was the largest of such organizations in Germany. It had about 500,000 members…”

    – The New York Times, May 14, 1933, page 2, on Hitler’s outlawing atheistic and freethinking groups in the Spring of 1933, after the Enabling Act authorizing Hitler to rule by decree.

  32. RGBowman
    Posted April 25, 2016 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice… And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.”
    Mein Kampf
    —Adolf Hitler

  33. Brian Davis
    Posted April 26, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    I’m guessing that the studying showing religious people give blood more often than atheists didn’t include many Jehovah’s Witnesses.

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