Sunday, December 30, 2007

Stalin and Mao were atheists

Stalin and Mao were indeed atheists.

Stalin/Mao/Pol-Pot were atheists so atheism must be wrong

What is wrong with this argument?

Atheism is a lack of belief, just like sobriety is a lack of alchohol.

We all know that a lack of alcohol causes people to be sober.

Sometimes, drunk people cause traffic accidents.

But very often, sober people also cause traffic accidents.

Should drunkards apologise for all the accidents caused by people drinking alcohol only if we sober people apologise for all the accidents caused by people who had no alcohol inside them?

The claim that Stalin/Mao etc were atheists, so atheism is wrong, is like claiming that being sober is just as bad as being drunk, because look at the traffic accidents caused by sober people who happened to have taken cannabis or speed, or LSD or whatever.

Yes, technically these people who crashed their cars after taking cannabis were technically sober. They had not drunk any alcohol.

So they were just as sober as I am when I drive a car without taking cannabis or speed or other drugs.

This hardly means that being sober is as bad as being drunk.

The same for atheism.

Atheism is a lack of belief in gods.

So Stalin really was an atheist , just as somebody who drives a car under the influence of cannabis really is not drunk.

But so what?


Blogger David B. Ellis said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:16 AM  
Blogger David B. Ellis said...

It gets worse. I have it on good authority that Stalin and Mao both wore socks....

Draw your own sinister conclusions.

Personally I'm going sock-free. Just to be safe.

5:16 AM  
Blogger Quixie said...



- - - - - - - -

Cool blog.


3:02 PM  
Blogger Caleb Woodbridge said...

I'd agree that the behaviour of the people who profess to hold a particular set of beliefs doesn't tell us whether or not those beliefs are true or not.

But the absence of a belief in God is always the presence of an alternative worldview. Generally, most people who identify as atheists tend to be naturalists or materialists, which is more than the absence of belief in any supernatural, but the positive conviction that the material is all that exists, for example.

No-one is ever just an atheist, just as no-one is ever just a theist. You can't blame the Crusades, for example, on "theism", but you can argue the part that the Catholic beliefs of the time played (along with politics and a whole bunch of other stuff), which happen to be theistic beliefs. Similarly, while "atheism" in abstract can't help understand Stalin's actions, his Communist worldview, with its dialectical materialism, probably does play a part, and that happens to be an atheistic belief system.

The fact is, people of all beliefs, theistic, atheistic or otherwise, have done terrible things both because of and despite their beliefs. That might suggest that the problem with humans is something deeper than just the beliefs they hold.

12:31 AM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

Hi Caleb,
That was the point of the analogy.

Taking speed is a 'non-alcohol' drug dependency.

So you can't blame sober drivers for the actions of people who take amphetamines and drive, even though both groups of people have in common that they lack alcohol.

2:06 AM  
Blogger Red Dragon said...

As I understand it, the statement, "Stalin and Mao were atheists" is a response to the oft-repeated accusation by atheists that religions have caused many millions of deaths throughout history(true), therefore religion is wrong. It is intended to suggest that atheist leaders have also been responsible for mass-murder, particularly in more recent times. I think this whole argument is redundant. Generally speaking, bad people on the atheist side and on the religious side are and have been responsible for bad things. So why don't we move on to other aspects of the atheist-religious debate and leave this one alone?

2:10 AM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

Religious people are often accused of killing each other because they believed that the other people were heretics.

2:14 AM  
Blogger David B. Ellis said...

Its true that christian churches have killed massive numbers of people for not sharing their beliefs or for reasons directly resulting from their reading of the bible (thou shalt not suffer a witch to live, for example).

Its also true that communist regimes are atheistic and have killed massive numbers of people.

Which might be a shameful truth for communists but is no more a shameful reflection on humanist atheists than the mass human sacrifices of Aztec supernaturalists are on christian supernaturalists.

When the American Humanist Society starts committing mass murder then we and christians will be in the same boat atrocity-wise.

But to compare the deeds of christian churches (a narrow category excluding most forms of supernaturalism) to the very broad category of all nontheistic belief systems....thats apples and oranges.

7:01 AM  
Blogger Brody said...

I'm going to go out on a limb here and contest one of the essential premises: that atheism is an inherently negative position. It may be true that some people's atheism is negative in this sense, but it is not so clear that the atheism of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, or whichever atheistic dictator you happen to be speaking about is such. The problem is that atheism can be construed positively - e.g., "There is no God" - and there are a number of commitments that are often made as a result of this (naturalism is a common example of a belief that is not entailed by atheism but often consequently accompanies it). The argument (here keeping in mind that I don't necessarily endorse it) is most generally that the atheistic nature of the framework(s) in which these dictators worked contributed to the severity and brutality of their offenses - that is, the ideological commitments that they adopted with atheism as a base made a difference. There are problems with this argument, but it's at least in better shape than what you would suppose by saying that atheism is negative (the obvious basis for your parallel with sobriety).

3:01 PM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

Brady has made up a lot of assertions without any evidence for his position.

10:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The belief in the existence of a supreme authority (human or godly) who is "all good" and has "all truth" is the main question here.

Atheists can believe anything they want (excep god), even a higher human authority or doctrine. But they don't have to do in order to be atheists.

Now, how could monotheism live without a heavenly beeing with supreme authority who reveals it to
enlightened human beings?

The idea of a higher authority and doctrine is not exclusive of montheism (as comunists showed) but it is inseparable from it.

That's why all monotheism is dangerous, whereas atheist phylosofies can be dangerous or not (in this respect)

2:17 PM  

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