An anti-theist double standard

The great thing about being a freethinker is that I just follow the facts, regardless of to which direction they point.

Seems to me that some prominent antitheists are guilty of a logical fallacy (e.g. here), and it goes like this:

Religion causes people to do bad things they otherwise would not have done – e.g. suicide bombings, oppressing homosexuals, promoting anti-scientific teaching in the classroom, teaching kids they aren’t allowed to choose how to live their own lives because they’ll go to hell if they do, etc.

Religion, however, does not cause people to do good things they would not have otherwise done – e.g. Catholic Charities, church-run homeless shelters, people who rid themselves of addictions or illegal behavior when they “find God,” welcoming guests for Shabbos or Yom Tov, giving a tenth to charity, etc.  Good people will do good things with or without religion.

But then why didn’t you say the same thing before – “Bad people will do bad things with or without religion?”

Seems like a double standard to me.  If we’re being intellectually honest, either claim that:

a)            religion causes people to do good AND bad things they wouldn’t have otherwise done, or

b)            religion causes people to do NEITHER good NOR bad things they wouldn’t have otherwise done.

My sense is the facts clearly support a) more than b), but either way, it seems to be a logical fallacy to have it both ways and give religion credit for the bad it causes and not the good.

Of course if a) is true, that means we have to find ways to gain the benefits of religion, or find sound replacements, without teaching our kids things that aren’t true about invisible beings appearing on tops of mountains or men walking on water or flying to heaven on a donkey, etc.

But I’ll get to that in another post. 🙂

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9 thoughts on “An anti-theist double standard

  1. John

    Why can’t we say C) Religion causes people to do bad or hold bad things that they wouldn’t have done without it. If the religion causes them to do good things they wouldn’t otherwise do is open for discussion, but it is a separate point. I think you’re assuming or holding that religion does cause people to do good, while the people you’re questioning don’t hold that. It seems like a disagreement, rather than a logical fallacy.
    What I usually hear is that good people will do good, bad will do bad, but it takes religion to make a good person do bad. Of course there’s bad without religion. But religion forces good people to do immoral things. Again, a separate argument could be made that religion helps bad people do good things. I think there’s a lot of merit to that. But as you say, religion isn’t necessarily required to make a bad person do good things.
    Take homosexuality for instance. Without religion there will be homophobic people and nonhomophobic people. Religion causes many of the latter group to become homophobic. It doesn’t make homophobic people not homophobic. I think people who make the statements are usually thinking and applying it to this type of thing.

    Reply
    1. TK

      Your comment is awaiting moderation.

      Hmm, (By the way I am a secular humanist non-believer)

      “Take homosexuality for instance. Without religion there will be homophobic people and nonhomophobic people. Religion causes many of the latter group to become homophobic. It doesn’t make homophobic people not homophobic. I think people who make the statements are usually thinking and applying it to this type of thing.”

      In this instance, the idea is that religion causes the nonhomophobic people to adopt homophobic position as a part of the norms of the their social group? I assume? In a stance of ideological stance, if the religion demands people to treat people equally, would that not force some people adopt a more egalitarian stance.

      I think the logical fallacy is that the social engineering is way one, as in good people will do bad due to religion, but bad people will not do good. That is an assumption that people are only influenced one way and not the other. Prof. Zimbardo’s study blurs the moral lines which we have over our assumptions of “good” and “evil.” In his psychological and social studies, it shows that ONLY 7% of people are more or less immune from the influence of society.

      I am the first to admit, that secular societies generally don’t have suicide bombing, honour killing, jihad, anti-scientific teachings… BUT as it shows in Europe, they have political issues that are no different than religious thinking – i.e. a circular thought pattern which is entirely self-justified: such as racism, xenophobia, neo-Nazi movements… Yes, often there is a religious component to it, but often not also in Europe’s secularity and sometimes anti-theistic stance. Those stance are just as anti-evidence and anti-humanist.

      I think we are arguing whether religion is bad or not, is a problematic stance. It is the thought patterns MOST OFTEN associated with religions that causes problems. Self-justifying stance, circular thinking, aggressive cognitive dissonance… Those ARE indeed issues that religion suffers… But at the same time, humans at large suffers those as long as the societal influence allows such.

      There have been research that support religious people tend to give more money to charitable causes and volunteer more. Yes, are they coerced (in the sense of “good Christians” give their time… Or if I do this I’ll go to heaven)? HIGHLY LIKELY! But as a humanist, I’d rather have happy, nice, altruistic service driven religious folks than selfish unhappy miserably nonbelievers. (To which the intellectual stance is THE MOST justified)

      The skeptical question becomes then, IF there is a religious society which the social structures demands freedom, equality, justice, respect of evidence, scientific worldview, fair treatment of humans regardless of faith or lack thereof… IF such an experiment can be conducted and we still have the same results, then I can say religion causes bad.

      I find that the question of good or bad is primarily a philosophical question most posed by theologians and philosophers, exploited by politicians and religion alike. The scientific research seem to more suggest, we humans – Homosapien are social by nature, and our actions, are influenced at large by the social group for which we belong to. ONLY 7% of humanity at large do EXACTLY what they believe in their own head regardless of what others tell them, religious, political or societal. That is why I am neither anti-theist, nor pro-religion. To me the question is something else altogether.

      Reply
  2. TK

    Hmm, (By the way I am a secular humanist non-believer)

    “Take homosexuality for instance. Without religion there will be homophobic people and nonhomophobic people. Religion causes many of the latter group to become homophobic. It doesn’t make homophobic people not homophobic. I think people who make the statements are usually thinking and applying it to this type of thing.”

    In this instance, the idea is that religion causes the nonhomophobic people to adopt homophobic position as a part of the norms of the their social group? I assume? In a stance of ideological stance, if the religion demands people to treat people equally, would that not force some people adopt a more egalitarian stance.

    I think the logical fallacy is that the social engineering is way one, as in good people will do bad due to religion, but bad people will not do good. That is an assumption that people are only influenced one way and not the other. Prof. Zimbardo’s study blurs the moral lines which we have over our assumptions of “good” and “evil.” In his psychological and social studies, it shows that ONLY 7% of people are more or less immune from the influence of society.

    I am the first to admit, that secular societies generally don’t have suicide bombing, honour killing, jihad, anti-scientific teachings… BUT as it shows in Europe, they have political issues that are no different than religious thinking – i.e. a circular thought pattern which is entirely self-justified: such as racism, xenophobia, neo-Nazi movements… Yes, often there is a religious component to it, but often not also in Europe’s secularity and sometimes anti-theistic stance. Those stance are just as anti-evidence and anti-humanist.

    I think we are arguing whether religion is bad or not, is a problematic stance. It is the thought patterns MOST OFTEN associated with religions that causes problems. Self-justifying stance, circular thinking, aggressive cognitive dissonance… Those ARE indeed issues that religion suffers… But at the same time, humans at large suffers those as long as the societal influence allows such.

    There have been research that support religious people tend to give more money to charitable causes and volunteer more. Yes, are they coerced (in the sense of “good Christians” give their time… Or if I do this I’ll go to heaven)? HIGHLY LIKELY! But as a humanist, I’d rather have happy, nice, altruistic service driven religious folks than selfish unhappy miserably nonbelievers. (To which the intellectual stance is THE MOST justified)

    The skeptical question becomes then, IF there is a religious society which the social structures demands freedom, equality, justice, respect of evidence, scientific worldview, fair treatment of humans regardless of faith or lack thereof… IF such an experiment can be conducted and we still have the same results, then I can say religion causes bad.

    I find that the question of good or bad is primarily a philosophical question most posed by theologians and philosophers, exploited by politicians and religion alike. The scientific research seem to more suggest, we humans – Homosapien are social by nature, and our actions, are influenced at large by the social group for which we belong to. ONLY 7% of humanity at large do EXACTLY what they believe in their own head regardless of what others tell them, religious, political or societal. That is why I am neither anti-theist, nor pro-religion. To me the question is something else altogether.

    Reply
    1. John

      I think I agree with much of what you say. i think group dynamics and its harmful effects is very applicable here. Any group that forms for the most trivial thing can lead to hatred and violence against the other. Also groups tend to become more extreme. So I think we have to work against all type of group forming. Religion happens to be and have been a very popular group forming thing in history and thereby has had a lot of the negative aspects that are associated with that. But any group forming and any time non-rationalism is part of that group there is great danger. So I think religion, as has been commonly done, is a group that consists of an other (hereticsm for instance) and has an irrational basis, is a recipe for harm. The goal is to discourage group formation and irrationality.

      Reply
  3. Cynthia

    I agree with your post.

    The line that “good people will do good, bad people will do bad, but it takes religion to make good people do bad” is one of those things that sounds right the first time you hear it, but which doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. First, how do you define good people vs. bad people, if not by their actions? What’s the difference between a bad person doing bad and a good person doing bad? Second, is it even possible to simply define people as good and bad? Most aren’t so black and white, and what we do often depends on our circumstances. Third, religion can cause people to do things that are out of character for them – but so can many other thing. An episode of mental illness, extreme stress, peer pressure, extreme political ideology, war, even sports events – all of these can cause people to do things that are bad, even if they have no prior history of doing so.

    It’s more accurate to say that most people will do what most people around them are doing, most of the time.

    If you live in a peaceful and orderly society, chances are that you will act in a peaceful and orderly way, unless you are particularly antisocial or mentally ill.

    If you live in a society that is in chaos, however, you’ll adapt to that to survive. Not many people will be standing politely in line if people around them are pushing and grabbing.

    If the basic rules in society are immoral – if corruption is rampant, if slavery and/or racism is part of the social order, if free speech doesn’t exist – then ordinary life will often involve supporting an evil status quo, and it will take an extraordinary act of courage to go against it. Those who do are often folks who may not have been seen as angels. Natan Sharansky, the refusenik and human rights advocate who defied the Soviets during his long imprisonment, had always been defiant and even as a child refused to obey authority. Nelson Mandela was once considered a terrorist. Oskar Schindler was an unfaithful husband and initially used Jewish slave labor for profit.

    Another point to ponder is this: if you argue that there is no God AND you argue that religion is inherently evil, then where does that evil come from? If it’s man-made, then that means that the bad stuff comes from humans. In that case, getting rid of religion wouldn’t help, because humans with the capacity to do evil are still around. The 20th century saw the rise of societies that weren’t primarily based on religion – but the religious wars of the past were replaced with wars involving nationalism or political ideologies.

    Reply
    1. John

      I agree with much of what you said. I think we must keep in mind in these types of discussions that noone who is thinking rationally will think that if there was no religion everything would be honky-dory. Of course humans have a propensity to violence for other reasons. As I pointed out above, I think group formation is a big cause of violence. One can hold religion is man-made and still argue that religion specifically leads to violence. Juts like we can see that alcohol produced by humans increases violence and should be limited. I don’t think the answer is to get rid of humanity, but rather to find the way humanity can exist while limiting ideas, objects and situations that lead to violence.

      (“If the basic rules in society are immoral – if corruption is rampant, if slavery and/or racism is part of the social order, if free speech doesn’t exist – then ordinary life will often involve supporting an evil status quo” – Some aspects of some religions have these traits.)

      Reply
      1. Cynthia

        Well, I don’t think John Lennon was irrational when he wrote “Imagine”, even if I don’t agree with his conclusion.

        I’d agree that group dynamics have a lot to do with it.
        Humans have a tendency to form groups and alliances, favoring those in their group and fighting with those outside of it.
        I’m just not sure, if this is a fairly universal human trait, if it’s even possible to eliminate it. Perhaps the best that we can do is to acknowledge and control it. Tolerance and human rights, for example, aren’t about eliminating differences, but about setting out a framework where differences don’t lead to discrimination or bloodshed.

        Many religious conflicts are about clashes between different groups, as opposed to genuine ideological conflicts. In those cases, religion is like a team jersey – just a way of telling the two sides apart.

        In terms of the idea that religion leads to violence – well, certainly SOME religions/denominations/beliefs lead to violence. Some also lead to peace and/or preach specific doctrines of pacifism, even when doing so exposes them to persecution.

        Reply

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