When I discuss the harm done in religion's name with my sister, who is Moslem, she inevitably brings up the harm done in atheism's name, including Stalin in the process.  I am not sufficiently well informed about history to know whether or not she is right that harm has been done in atheism's name.  (I know that Marx thought that religious belief would simply vanish once people ceased to live under oppressive economic conditions, so that he didn't see the need to actively combat religious belief, but I also know that the USSR was an officially atheist state.)  What sort of reply would you give to someone who contended that while harm has been done in the name religion, it has also been done in the name of atheism, so that the look-at-the-harm-religious-belief-does argument isn't effective?

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Gah, my computer decided to do updates in the middle of my reply to you, and now it seems to be all gone. That's pretty sad.


Anyway, I'm happy to leave it at that, since I don't really see anything that I haven't adressed exhaustively in my prior responses (even though your responses have gotten progressively nastier). If there's anyone reading who wants me to respond to anything in specific then I'll happily do so, but I think prior posts give enough context so they can work my perspective out on their own.


All I wanted to say in closing (with more brevity than I was going to) is that at no point in the entire exchange with you, was I forced to play a devil's advocate or to pretend something that I do not.

What I did consistently throughout the exchange was pinpoint statements of history that you made, which were quite simply false and/or misrepresentations and/or exagerrations. All I had to was appeal to intellectual honesty, rationality and historical facts to demonstrate that multiple of those statements were false.

I don't have to be a Christian to do any of that; I simply have to be an atheist who's not going to misrepresent and simplify history simply it suits my personal biases. That you think this simple exercise in historical analysis and objectivity means that I'm "defending" the virgin birth, speaks volumes.


But thanks for the discussion.


Kind regards,



@ JVL trailman,


"being pro-science is contra-Biblical belief."


That has not always been the case and still is not true for a significant group of Bible believers. Perhaps there is a cultural component to this statement, as I've heard similar statements from US citizens. There are many Christian sects, and fundamentalism is not the only "true" Biblical belief.

Also, science as we know it now has progressed a massive amount, nowadays you can't be an alchemist and a scientist, yet people like Newton managed to do so. People are quite capable of holding on to two or more conflicting ideas, it might create cognitive dissonance, but it is definitely possible. 

When you look at the past from the present you are using your preconceptions about what is "science", "christianity" etc. without taking into account that these terms have meant different things for different people. 


"Your claim that the invention of the Bible and the invention of belief in the Bible was accompanied by critical thinking is nothing more than an after-market marketing ploy contrived by theologians"


Actually, the first Christians were not at all like what we think of nowadays when we think about Christian belief. Before the resolution of the Creed of Nicea there was a large gnostic community within the Christian faith for instance. Only after the beliefs became dogma and institutionalized did this change. 

Also the Christian faith started by converting people from different faiths to this "new" faith as such the people that converted had to be somewhat critical of their previous religion as well. 


"Some of what is in the Bible, though not all of it, is supposed to be literally true."


To some Christians it is. Literal interpretation of the Bible was not common at all until after the medieval ages. 


"I declare this exchange closed."


That's a pity, because you could learn a great deal from Matt VDB, in contrary to some he actually has investigated the subject at length (and so have I). Your ideas about what Christianity is or has been are so off the mark that I can only assume that your experiences with modern day fundamentalist Christians (Baptists?) form the vast part of your knowledge in regards to Christianity. 

Other more well informed people look at the subject from a historical perspective and attempt to educate people like yourself on how there is more then "one" Christian doctrine. 


You're not helping anybody by spreading falsehoods about religions, just by telling the truth you can do plenty of enough damage. No need to resort to falsehoods. Also tellingly, you say that Matt VDB is "defending" Christianity, he is not, he is defending truth of historical fact. Matt has been under fire before because of his supposed attempts to defend Christianity while all he has been doing is to present historical fact. 


As a massive geek in regards to history it pains me to see how easy it is for people to be completely and utterly wrong about history.

It might be good to remember that Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc., while not specifically promoting what might narrowly be defined as religion, they were promoting cults of personality in which followers devote themselves to an ideology as defined by the leader.  Such cults are closer to religion than they are to atheism.

I wouldn't quite phrase it that way. Saying that something is "closer to religion than to atheism" doesn't really make sense. It's like saying that communism is closer to religion than to non-astrology. Something can't be closer or further from a non-belief in God; it either has a non-belief in God or it does not.

Communism ideology was atheist, in the sense that it did not believe in God; but the ideology did appeal to the same tropes and memes that religions often do (like utopia).


I'd say that there exist different kinds of doctrines. Religious doctrines (like any particular religion) and non-religious doctrines (like communism). Humans are capable of killing for either, even if that ideology is (or contains) the ideal of atheism.


The take-away lesson here is that what's worth valuing is rationality, humanist ethics, an understanding that we are all part of a common human project, etcetera...

Atheism is only going to be valuable if it is a product of all those other things. In thc cases (like communism) where it is dogmatically asserted in spite of all those things worth valuing, humans can be just as nasty and cruel to each other as if they were religious... because they haven't become any more rational or compassionate.


Kind regards,



Cults of personality ARE closer to religion than they are to atheism because, like religion, they involve reverence toward and obedience to a central figure whose authority is unquestioned.  Atheism is the rejection of god claims due to lack of evidence; there is no ideology and no central authority.  (Of course, getting agreement among atheists is, as the saying goes, like herding cats, so there are agnostics such as Bill Maher, who thinks atheism is a claim of certainty, weak atheists, strong atheists (Dawkins, Dennett, and probably Sam Harris, and a few "antitheists," such as Christopher Hitchens, but the word means simply "without theistic belief.")  Ideology can "stand in" for religion, and a cult leader can stand in for a god, just as kings and emperors were for centuries considered gods or sons of god by the Aryans of the second millennium BCE and their Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern contemporaries, along with the Jews of the early Axial Age.  After Octavian (Caesar Augustus), many Roman emperors were elevated to the status of gods.  In a way, that practice continues in modern Catholicism with the beatification and canonization of saints (John Paul II presided over far more canonizations than any other Pope, IIRC) the practice of intercessory prayer (asking saints and the virgin Mary for miracles rather than praying directly to God), and crediting "miracles" to the beatified candidates for sainthood, who need three certified miracles to clear the final hurdle, or to canonized saints.  Unless things have changed in the last four or five years, Kim Jong Il's long dead father is still considered the official leader of North Korea, an "atheist" nation.  Watch the films of Hitler's public appearances in the late 1930s, and you will see a religious ecstasy on the faces in the crowd.  His regime was already involved in assembly line killing and there were already concentration camps, but the operation was on a comparatively small scale, while his success in restoring Germany as a European political, military, and economic power made him the darling of his nation.  Germans loved Nazism and saw the Anschluss and the grab for liebensraum in Czechoslovakia as tremendous victories.  Most Germans were Christians, and they went willingly along with Hitler's retaliation against border "attacks" by Poland, which were actually manufactured by the Nazis.  Most people in the Soviet Union and its satellites remained Christian, which is why Stalin could use the church in the defense of "holy mother Russia" when the Germans began Operation Barbarossa.


I think I can safely say that most atheists value rationality and humanistic ethics, which have, in many cases, led us to atheism.  As John Proctor says in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," we should "follow no faith that calls out for blood."  That leaves out most major religions; even Buddhism had "warrior monks" in feudal Japan.  Judaism slaughtered its enemies on orders from Yahweh, even sometimes taking women for burnt offerings.  Islam spread rapidly via the sword, and was turned back by Charles (the Hammer) Martel at Poitiers, FRANCE, in the eighth century.  Christianity . . . well, the Crusades, the six hundred years of Inquisitions, the witch hunts that lasted three centuries.  Imagine if they had the 20th century technology that was available to Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot?  (The dictators with the highest body counts are all from the 20th century.)  What would the knights of the Cross have done with machine guns when they reconquered Jerusalem?  They killed practically everyone in the city with swords as it was.  Why not?  Pope Urban II had already promised them Paradise for killing Muslims. Contemporary accounts say the streets were ankle deep in blood.  What would Saladin have done with mortars, or poison gas?  Imagine the war between Mohammed and the Quraysh if the two sides had been equipped with Stuka dive bombers and Messershcmitt fighters?  Would Torquemada and his ilk have gotten more confessions with cattle prods and power drills?  Maybe a little sodium pentathol?  Would the Pope's army in 1231, with instruction from the Church to "kill them all [because] God [would] recognize His own," have killed more Cathars with nukes?  These religious leaders unleashed all the power and the fury they could; if they had had modern WMD, would they have used them?


History isn't as simple as we would sometimes like to make it, and it's less about facts than it is about the interpretation of all the facts--or as many of them as we can find and confirm.  It's a complicated process.  Religion and some political ideologies put God and/or the leader above humanistic ethics.  Atheism is neither a religion nor an ideology. 

Stalin may have been an Atheist, I'm not sure if that has been established or not, but he had continued to use the Russian Church, as Czars before him, for political manipulation and oppression. I am convinced that he was the worst man in recorded human history, but his belief or disbelief in a deity is hardly relevant. Though it is true that Soviet Union actively promoted what it called Atheism, it is not, however, true in the sincere sense. To be an Atheist, I am convinced, means to have a skeptical worldview, to exercise critical thinking. This was all strictly forbidden under Stalin and basically throughout the Soviet history. The society that was forged by Lenin, continued by Stalin and then other dictators, had nothing to do with exercising skeptical worldview, on the contrary, it simply substituted blind belief in ancient fantasy for blind belief in a political party.


Stalin's "Political Church" continues to live on today in Russia with even greater power. Churches are used to organize political propaganda campaigns, publish/distribute political pamphlets and suppress Putin's opponents.

Matt, your variation on “the dog ate my homework” in lieu of actually responding to my previous post is duly noted and under appreciated.

And you haven’t invented the tactic of taking the low road then claiming that the other person is the culprit, but you seem to employ that tactic unabashedly.

As for your “defense of the virgin birth,” you refuse to acknowledge that if a mentality has supernatural folderol as its basis you can’t disregard said folderol by only focusing on unrepresentative exceptions. In the matter of belief, the real problem is how the lay people represent the folderol. Maybe it would help you if you liken the problem to if the Nazi party had a Ladies Auxiliary. Ladies are nice, so the Nazi party Ladies Auxiliary must be nice. And if the Nazi party Ladies Auxiliary is nice then maybe the Nazis are nice.

Your citations of historical problems are at the expense of sound reasoning. The sound reasoning that doesn’t dismiss the danger of claims of the supernatural and the real life representatives of that dangerous belief.

van Sesten,

I’m well aware that there are myriad accounts or claims of God in one form or another. It is the false claim that belief in a supernatural being garners the moral highground that is the constant. The claim that belief in a supernatural being garners the highground inherently includes an anti-science stance. The very basis of belief in the supernatural is anti-science. Why is that so hard to understand?

Reference to fundamentalists should come with the awareness that non-fundamentalists are like the petri dish that allows the bacteria to thrive.  If there were no non-fundamentalists, then, there’d be no fundamentalists. If there were only fundamentalists nowadays, they’d be relegated to the miserable scrap heap that is the home for people who believe that we’ve been visited by extraterrestrials. Non-fundamentalists now serve as a buffer to the benefit of fundamentalists.  But it’s a little more complex than that: Non-fundamentalists are fundamentalists on their way to being full atheists.  It’s that weird. The action is where the lay people are. The exceptions to the lay people have the effect of legitimizing the crazy soldiers of God.

Science makes progress in inverse proportion to the dissipation of belief.

Your idea of critical thinking is on par with the critical thinking that rejects God? The Christian invitation to Jews to turn their backs on the rigors of the Torah didn’t require critical thinking. It only required the kind of thinking that Madison Avenue appeals to whenever it pitches a new or improved product. In this case a new and improved God (while piggy-backing on the old one), who is the son of God, but is actually God, and is also the Holy Ghost (whatever that is), and he is all those things, but all those things are only one thing. Critical thinking?!!!

“Literal interpretation of the Bible was not common at all until after the medieval ages.”? Are we using the same meaning for the word “literal”? 

My declaration of “exchanged closed” was in response to Matt’s indication that he was done. But apparently he is done only to the extent that he prefers to take the easy way out by claiming (in so many words) that the dog ate his homework.

Your snobbish and condescending dismissal of sound reasoning by way of the logical fallacy of the appeal of authority (you and Matt are supposed to be the authorities) is in place of actually articulating your points. It doesn’t matter what you are or what you claim you are, you have a responsibility to make the effort.

And for being such a massive history geek, you are in arrears when it comes to studying the history of Matt’s and my exchanges. I can tell by what you’ve said that you haven’t read all our exchanges, or if you have, you haven’t read them very well. Make the effort.


@ JVL trailman,


It was my intention to illustrate that the picture about what it means to people to be "christian" or to be "scientific" has great variations from person to person. What we today might see as logical reasoning and sound science might be considered magic by our ancestors. Likewise what is quackery and superstition to us, can be considered logical by our ancestors.


"Your snobbish and condescending dismissal of sound reasoning by way of the logical fallacy of the appeal of authority"


I'm not arguing that Matt or I are actual experts on the subject, I do not know his familiarity with the actual evidence. I do know however from previous correspondence with Matt VDB that he is quite well aware of the historic literature on the subject.


Communism is a philosophy that is said to be focused towards unshackling humans from the bonds of the elitist bourgeois class that oppressed and exploited the common man. As such they tried to free their people from the bonds of dogma and superstition by attempting to remove the church from public life (in Russia for instance).

Their positive beliefs about a better future included atheism, as such it was included in their goals and they actively sought to promote atheism.


Just because we know what atrocities have been committed in the name of communism doesn't mean that we have to be blind for the fact that Stalin killed people in the name of, and with the purpose of advancing atheism.


What atheism means to you as a person has nothing to do with what it meant for Stalin, your atheism is apparently a worldview based upon logical reasoning and scientific understanding of the natural world.

In it's most basic form it is simply the rejection of theism, and as such people that act completely contrary to your nature can still adhere to the same "label" of atheist.

That's why my atheism is incidental, an effect of my supposed rational worldview, I don't like the label "atheist" that much because to me it doesn't hold to any binding philosophy, but perhaps if I were to live in a country that was dominated by theism it would mean more to me as perhaps a banner to rally under with fellow humanists/secularists/rationalists to avert some of the nastier effects of theism.


The Justicar: "Well, you could ask your sister about the harms done in the name of not-birdwatching. The analogy would be the same. One needs to look at what is a motivating factor for a particular action, not what might otherwise be incidentally true of a person who does a given act."


Both Hitler and Stalin had a mustache, didn't they? I've always known that mustaches are evil.



Matt, your variation on “the dog ate my homework” in lieu of actually responding to my previous post is duly noted and under appreciated.


Tough luck. It's still true: I was typing a response and my computer decided to start updating. Don't believe me if you like; I quite frankly, could not care any less.

But if it makes you feel better, I retyped just about everything I wanted to say, just in a more terse fashion.


Also, considering you promptly declared the "exchanged closed" in your last post, it's a bit rich to chastise me for not responding in full.


And you haven’t invented the tactic of taking the low road then claiming that the other person is the culprit, but you seem to employ that tactic unabashedly.




As for your “defense of the virgin birth,” you refuse to acknowledge that if a mentality has supernatural folderol as its basis you can’t disregard said folderol by only focusing on unrepresentative exceptions.


My what? I don't quite recall defending the virgin birth. Perhaps you'd like to quote me where I did.

I actually never dodged the implications that supernatural belief has, but I never tackled them specifically because I didn't need to. You were the ones making specific claims, such as "Science was stopped for centuries by religion", and so I pointed out why that was patently false: the foundations of science were laid in the Middle Ages by pious clerics who wanted to further the glory of God through inquiry in the natural world.

You seem to think that pointing to the virgin birth, somehow invalidates that point and rescues your initial assertion.


It doesn't do anything of the sort.


Maybe it would help you if you liken the problem to if the Nazi party had a Ladies Auxiliary. Ladies are nice, so the Nazi party Ladies Auxiliary must be nice. And if the Nazi party Ladies Auxiliary is nice then maybe the Nazis are nice.


And this silly little strawman is supposed to support your claim that Christianity was the direct motivator of the Nazi regime... how exactly?


Your citations of historical problems are at the expense of sound reasoning.




The sound reasoning that doesn’t dismiss the danger of claims of the supernatural and the real life representatives of that dangerous belief.


If you were actually paying attention to our exchange and not frantically searching for ways to twist what I say and to pretend that I'm 'defending' things which I am not, you'd see I have done no such thing. All I did was take issue with historical claims of yours which were simply false.


So are we going to get more parting shots from you after you declared this exchange "closed" or not? I can't say I'm very interested in that. I've made my points and judging from my inbox at least a few people appreciated what I had to say.

If there's anything someone really wants me to address (again) then fine. But thinly veiled attempts at ridicule like your post above aren't going to get much more time from me.


Kind regards,



I would say that harm can be done by anyone independant of their religion or belief system; the issue is not whether religion does harm but whether a religion is true.  That said, I really don't know anything about the Koran but I'm guessing God must ask people to go out and do some pretty violent things like he does in the Bible. Atheists don't have a holy book, so they have to work out from human experience what is right and wrong i.e. its probably not a good thing to go round murdering people if you want to live in a peaceful society.  The problem with religion, particularly if it has incidents of violence instructed "by God" in a book, is that God has at some point officially stated "its okay to kill", this then leaves it up to the discrepancy of the individual to decide which parts of the holy book they are going to live their life by.  And unfortuantely, the option is there to do things like slaughter, rape and slavery because God has condoned it himself; people can definitely use the Bible to justify these things, like I said I don't know the Koran well enough.
Very well said, Becky. Despite the occasional bon mots in the bible and the positive effects of atheism on the bible religions beyond the bible itself, believers in those religions can pick and choose whatever they want for "God's" sanction -including all manner of horror. It's as though the bible is a mood-book -like a mood-ring. Atheists do not have such a handbook. Atheism relies on the fact that civil competition and cooperation are phenomena of biological and cultural evolution.


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