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Introduction It's common nowadays for many Christian apologists to claim that religion is a necessary aspect of a society or else all hell will break loose. Another aspect of this argument is that it was atheism, or the lack of a belief in a god, that causes some individuals to commit the atrocities they do. Various Christian apologists often cite Communist Russia and China as examples of this supposed fact in action. Christian apologists who make such claims are Dinesh D'Souza,  David Aikman,  David Marshall,  and Michael Caputo.  This article will seek to expose these inaccurate claims by these individuals, as well as many others. This isn't the first time I've written about this topic. I have argued against it in two book reviews I've done. This article mostly combines my various arguments (along with some new facts and arguments not included) in the before mentioned book reviews. 
There are several threads making up the argument that atheism, or the lack of a belief in a god (and even "Darwinian ethics"), is what caused the horrors of the 20th Century. First I want to tackle the claim that evolution and Darwin had a hand in causing these events to unfold. It's often said that Darwin's science of evolution influenced a host of philosophers and scientists during the 20th Century, and that is true, though, it seems that Darwin's theories weren't the ones that largely influenced many of the socialists during the time of Marx. It was actually Jean Baptiste Lamarck's theories that influenced Marx, Herbert Spencer, and other "Social Darwinists." Spencer developed his views long before Darwin published his views in his books The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. To quote David E. Cooper: "It was not to Darwin's picture of evolution as a pretty haphazard story of species being favoured or weeded out through natural selection that [Spencer, Marx and Haeckel's] view[s] of human progress owed. It was, rather, to Jean Baptiste Lamarck's hypothesis of purposive adaptation... Darwin himself was no exponent of 'global progressionism,' but the 'catalyst' which enabled it to take such a hold in Victorian England. Ironically, the Social Darwinists had less in common with Darwin than with some of his theological critics. These did not reject evolution, but insisted that it must display a purpose and progression suitable to its being the vehicle of a divine plan." It was Lamarck's view that a species should continuously get better, and advance to ever higher levels of complexity and diversity, and while Darwin's views are similar, the difference lies in the fact that
Darwin didn't feel that natural selection works towards some ultimate goal; natural selection has no foresight and no goal in mind. If a species does not face any imminent threats in its environment that species will tend to say the same until such pressures cause it to evolve further to adapt to its new environment. Not so with Lamarckian evolution, which has much more in common with the Nazi and Communist ideologies, which strive for ever greater perfection.  I covered this topic in another post called Hitler, Nietzsche, and Evolution,  but the point is that it seems that Lamarck's theories had more in common with the Communist and Nazi ideologies than Darwin's ever did, and because of the fact that these views were developed long before Darwin ever published his theory he should not be blamed for such atrocities, and neither should his theory. This is nothing but an underhanded attempt by individuals with a theological agenda attempting to attack and smear Darwin and his theory because it threatens their religious beliefs. There is absolutely nothing inherently evil or amoral about the science of evolution. Just because a group of men twisted and distorted many of his views (and also used the theories of another in Lamarck, which has nothing to do with Darwin whatsoever) doesn't justify this undeserved assault by these ideologues. The fact of the matter is that instead of causing society to spin out of control into moral decay, there is evidence  that natural selection crafted our innate sense of altruism - hardly that "selfish" concept bandied about by so many who are ignorant of Darwin's theory. Now I shall tackle the claim that atheism had a hand in the 20th Century atrocities. Two christians who espouse this view that atheism is responsible for the Communist and Nazi horrors are David Marshall and David Aikman. In Aikman's book, The Delusion of Disbelief, he expresses this view on page 100 thus: "The point that needs to be made about the role of atheism in the depravities of twentieth-century secular totalitarian dictatorships is this: Simply put, atheism sets mankind at the center of the universe. That is, atheism makes the assumption that there is no authority for rightness or wrongness of human behavior outside of human beings themselves." Marshall, on page 190 of his The Truth Behind the New Atheism, has this to say about the subject, largely borrowing from Aikman's research: "What have atheism and Darwinian ethics done for the human race in general? Are there signs that, once freed from the 'delusions' our ancestors suffered under, the human race will breath a big sigh of relief and finally make progress? Or does the 'death of god' mean, as Dostoevsky warned, that 'everything [including Gulags] is lawful?'" With many atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and others, speaking out about the inherent danger of religious beliefs, many apologists for religion have been attempting to turn the argument back around on the atheists. They claim that, yes, religion has done much harm, but atheist dictators are responsible for far more worse atrocities, and more deaths, than religion ever has. I do not deny that some of the dictators have been atheists (Lenin, Stalin, Mao, etc.) and their actions are truly horrible, but the apologists are in a bind. They don't seem to understand that the atheists are not claiming that christians are committing the atrocities  they have just because they are christians. No, the atheists are claiming that many of the beliefs christians (and other theists) hold are directly
responsible for such violent and horrible actions. There are countless examples of this, from missionaries going to a country and forcing their beliefs on the inhabitants to the murder of abortion doctors. As an example of missionaries committing atrocities there are several examples, such as sister Maria Kisito, who was convicted of murder for her role in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. From a Washington Post article: “Sister Maria Kisito, who received 12 years, and her Mother Superior, Sister Gertrude, who received 15 years, were convicted of aiding in the slaughter of some 7,000 people who sought refuge at their convent in southern Rwanda. Prosecutors argued that they called in Hutu militiamen to drive people out of the convent knowing they would be killed, and later provided gasoline that militiamen used to set fire to a garage in which about 500 Tutsis had taken refuge.” This is said to have been done to propagate the hatred between the Hutus and the Tutsis because it would be favorable for their objectives of conversion to christianity.  This is precisely the reason so many feel religion is such a potential danger to society; many individuals and even entire groups take the more unethical and primitive teachings literally, and are influenced by them, and often act on them. Atheism has no such potential. There are many who don't seem to understand the true definition of atheism. It is a lack of belief; it is not a belief that there is no god, or a rejection of god, as is often defined by many of the same apologists who say atheism is responsible for the 20th Century atrocities. Because atheism is a negative it is logically and philosophically impossible for it to inspire or influence a person's actions due to the lack of an ideology, which is unlike that of Communism and Nazism, which included a mixture of unscientific race and economic theories, which in hindsight have been proven wrong. Regarding Nazism, because of genetics it's been shown that all human races are not as different as the racists would have you believe, who often used science to justify their racism and antisemitism. Despite very small differences in our DNA, all humans are roughly 99.9% genetically similar  and many of Marx's ideas have been proven false over the course of time.  Due to atheism lacking such an ideology, one must look towards the ideology of those who committed the atrocities. Marxism, with it's ultimate goal of creating a "classless society," and the belief that religion is a byproduct of capitalism, and that private property should be abolished, these are the beliefs which inspired the actions of the communists. Because these things did not fade away as Marx envisioned, Stalin forced these events to take place, in an attempt to create this "classless society." Again, with Nazism, they had a mixture of unscientific race theories, antisemitism (mostly derived from the christian heritage within Germany with Martin Luther), and nationalism, which combined to create the Holocaust. Even if one used the "positive" definition of atheism, which is where one "believes that there are no God or gods,"  (which I think is illogical anyhow since believing something does not exist implies that entity actually does exist, it's just you personally do not believe it does) there is still no logical link between that "belief" and a lack of morality. For the sake of argument, just because someone does not "believe" in god does not mean they reject all concepts of morality. It's also a fact that some scholars who have deeply studied the causes of Genocide and "Democide" have even stated the complete opposite. Take Dr. Rudolph Rummel for example. During a question and answer session he had this to say about the subject:
Q: Is atheism the principal factor in democide, such as that committed by the "Big Three,” Stalin, Mao, and Hitler? A: No. I find that religion or its lack -- atheism -- have hardly anything to do in general with wide-scale democide. The most important factor is totalitarian power. Whether a church, atheists, or agnostics have that power is incidental -- it is having the power that is a condition of democide. Incidentally, some ideologies, such as communism, function psychologically and sociologically as though a religion. The only distinction is whether the subject is a god or a man, such as Marx, Lenin, Hirohito, Hitler, Mohammed, Kim Ill sung, Mao, etc. 
In order to ram home the point that the communists were not influenced by their atheism, and it was Marx's ideas/communist ideology that influenced their actions, I will provide a few quotes: “Economic slavery is the true source of the religious humbugging of man...The proletariat of today takes the side of socialism, which enlists science in the battle against the fog of religion and frees the workers from their belief in life after death by welding them together to fight in the present for a better life on Earth.” - Lenin, Socialism and Religion, 1905 Here, Lenin was expressing the belief of Marx's that religion was the "opiate of the people." It was man's conditions which was the reason for his belief. Once socialism was accomplished, man's conditions would improve, and their religious belief would fade away. And again, “The deepest root of religion in the socially downtrodden condition of the working masses and their apparently complete helplessness in the face of the blind forces of capitalism, which every day and every hour inflicts upon ordinary working people the most horrible suffering and the most savage torment, a thousand times more severe than those inflicted by extraordinary events, such as wars [and] earthquakes.” - V.I. Lenin, The Attitude of the Worker's Party to Religion Here, Lenin was expressing the belief that capitalism was partly responsible for man's conditions, and thus, religion is a result of capitalism. "The combating of religion cannot be confined to abstract ideological preaching...It must be linked up with the concrete practice of the class movement, which aims at eliminating the social roots of religion...It means that Social Democracy's atheist propaganda must be subordinated to its basic task the development of the class struggle of the exploited masses against the exploiters." - V.I. Lenin  One of the groups responsible for anti-religious propaganda, the League of the Militant Atheists, even
had a slogan which also confirms what the above quotes demonstrate: that the reason for the attempted abolishment of religion was because of Marxist/Communist ideology. The slogan was, "The fight for godlessness is a fight for socialism.”  Once more, “The transition from the society that makes an end of capitalism to the society that is completely free from all traces of class division and class struggle will bring about the natural death of all religion and all superstition.” - Nikolai Bukharin  Another, even larger, blow to this claim is the fact that when you examine the least religious societies and individuals, something interesting becomes apparent. Studies have shown that non-religious societies and individuals are just as moral, if not more so (though that is debatable), than religious individuals and societies. Because I've gone over this in more detail in David Aikman's book review I will just briefly cite a few studies demonstrating this fact: The sociologist Phil Zuckerman has this to say about these claims: "If this often-touted religious theory were correct - that turning away from god is at the root of all societal ills - then we would expect to find the least religious nations on earth to be bastions of crime, poverty and disease and most religious countries to be models of societal health." Zuckerman continues, "A comparison of highly irreligious countries with highly religious countries, however, reveals a very different state of affairs. In reality, the most secular countries - those with the highest proportion of atheists and agnostics - are among the most stable, peaceful, free, wealthy, and healthy societies. And the most religious nations - wherein worship of god is in abundance - are among the most unstable, violent, oppressive, poor and destitute." (Zuckerman, 2006)  In 1934, Abraham Franzblau found a negative correlation between acceptance of religious beliefs and three different measures of honesty. As religiosity increased, honesty decreased. In 1950, Murray Ross conducted a survey among 2,000 associates of the YMCA and discovered that agnostics and atheists were more likely to express their willingness to aid the poor than those who rated themselves as deeply religious. In 1969, sociologists Travis Hirschi and Rodney Stark reported no difference in the self-reported likelihood to commit crimes between children who attended church regularly and those who did not. With many studies proving these claims to be completely false, I defy anyone to prove otherwise. Looking at all the evidence, it seems that religion - not atheism - is the largest threat to society. Religion breeds the mentality of a "top-down" approach and blind obedience to some authority and dogma which were so vital to the Communist and Nazi ideologies, and these factors are still affecting the human race today through religion, with the lies  and propaganda  efforts put forth by
References: 1. http://www.dineshdsouza.com/ ; accessed 7-2-09 2. http://www.davidaikman.com/ ; accessed 7-2-09 3. http://christthetao.homestead.com/ ; accessed 7-2-09 4. http://atheismexposed.tripod.com/ ; accessed 7-2-09 5. The two refutations I've written can be found here: http://arizonaatheist.blogspot.com/2008/07/review-of-david-aikmans-delusion-of.html http://arizonaatheist.blogspot.com/2007/10/review-of-book-truth-behind-new-atheism.html; both accessed 7-2-09 6. World Philosophies: An Historical Introduction, by David E. Cooper, Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 1996; 342-343 7. http://arizonaatheist.blogspot.com/2008/08/hitler-nietzsche-and-evolution.html ; accessed 7-2-09 8. http://arizonaatheist.blogspot.com/2009/02/altruism-in-primates-and-humans.html ; accessed 7-2-09 9. http://arizonaatheist.blogspot.com/2007/12/partial-history-of-christian-missionary.html ; accessed 72-09 10. Ibid. 11. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_genome ; accessed 7-2-09 12. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Marx#Criticisms ; accessed 7-2-09 13. The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, edited by Michael Martin, Oxford University Press, 2007; 1 14. http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/QA.V2.HTML ; accessed 7-2-09 15. And God Created Lenin: Marxism vs. Religion in Russia, 1917-1929 , by Paul Gabel, Prometheus Books, 2005; 90 16. Ibid.; 326 17. Ibid.; 89 18. 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a god, by Guy P. Harrison, Prometheus Books, 2008; 296
19. http://arizonaatheist.blogspot.com/2007/12/here-are-links-to-other-reviews-that.html ; accessed 7-209 20. http://arizonaatheist.blogspot.com/2008/10/expelled-no-intelligence-allowed-is.html ; accessed 7-209
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