In doing a bit of reading, I came across an article in the American Chronicle by someone named Charles Sabillion. Now, Mr. Sabillion seems to have a solid educational background. His bio says he has "undergraduate degrees in Philosophy, Economics and Law as well as a masters and a doctorate in International Relations. After earning his PhD, he undertook post-doctoral research in the fields of History, Economics, and Ecology." Cool, so he appears to have a high level of education. So, why then does he make such a phenomenal error in thinking as he does in his on-line article Defending the Belief in God is Impossible?
In his article, he makes two separate arguments about defending the existence of God. First, he argues that it's erroneous for apologists for a religion to point to the "worse things" done in the name of secularism in order to discount the "terrible things" done in the name of their own religions. Second, he argues that when the increased world population is taken into account, the terrible things done by the seculars in today's world with its six billion person population pale in comparison to the terrible things done by religious people at a time that the world's population was much smaller. Needless to say, I find both of these arguments deeply flawed.
First, his first argument that seems to be a case of arbitrary line-drawing. He says:
These apologists argue that the twentieth century was a period of secular regimes and those regimes were terribly murderous. That period was indeed characterized by the ascent of not just secular but even atheist systems, such as Communism and Nazism, and those regimes ended up being extremely brutal. Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot were effectively responsible for an inordinate number of deaths. The lawyers of religion thus sustain that those secularists killed more people than the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the inter-confessional conflicts of Europe.
That argument is at first glance a strong one because it points at the vast amount of people that were slaughtered by secular regimes, putting the figure at more than 200 million while the religious wars of the past were not so costly in human lives.
The problem with that argument is that it has a biased Western scope and thus focuses just on the crimes committed by the Christian religion. The amount of people that were murdered by Mohammed and his armies as he forcefully imposed his new religion on the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century and the many more that his followers slaughtered in the coming centuries, is huge. The same goes with the other large religions. War was regularly undertaken to convert people into Hinduism, Buddhism, and other creeds. One must not leave aside the thousands of religions that existed prior to the apparition of the large ones of today, for those were just as murderous in their efforts to convert those who did not believe in their ideas.
Let me say that I agree with him that many terrible things have been done in the name of religion. Even Christianity has had terrible things done in its name -- even though such things are really contrary to what Christianity teaches. But when I discuss Christianity, I don't find any reason to take ownership of the terrible things done in the name of other religions. After all, there appears to be no reason for me, as a person discussing Christianity, to have to defend the actions taken by the followers of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or any other non-Christian religions. I'm in agreement that they are not the word of God, and so I don't see any reason that I should be forced into defending other religions simply because the skeptic wants to group all religions together under the same banner. After all, they are separate belief systems that have nothing to do with Christianity.
The problem with the argument is that the line drawing by Mr. Sabillion is arbitrary. He wants to group all religions together because then he can claim their "terrible things" as part of an overarching generic thing called religion. But it's wrong to group all religions together in that way because they are not variations of each other. They are as different from each other as atheism is from any one of them. So, why draw the line between religion and non-religion?
In other words, simply because terrible things have been done either in the name of Islam and Buddhism or from a twisting of those beliefs (as is what happens in virtually every one of the "terrible things" of Christianity) were done by people who claimed that they were acting consistent with their religious beliefs doesn't mean that some generic "religious" belief is responsible for them. There's no solid foundational reason to gather them all together in a single class simply because they were all committed by "religious" people or in the name of "religion".
Suppose that I were to make the same comparison, but were to make the claim that the appropriate dividing line is between terrible things committed in the name of Christianity or as allegedly consistent with Christian teaching and the terrible things committed by any other religions or a-religious belief. Obviously, using Mr. Sabillion's own admission, it is only because our "Western scope" doesn't include all the truly evil acts committed in the name of religion that Christians can claim that their religious belief is somehow less bloody than the secular killings of the twentieth century. So, if we draw the line for classification purposes between Christian terrible things and non-Christian terrible things, it seems clear that Mr. Sabillion would have to acknowledge that their have been many fewer terrible things committed in the name of Christianity than otherwise. In fact, I'd have to say that that is a much better dividing line for determining which is more likely to lead to terrible acts because Christianity teaches us to love our neighbors while many of the others don't have a philosophical or religious basis for such a teaching.
Thinking about it for a moment, is there a strong reason to divide the world into two camps of religious and non-religious when discussing which is more likely to lead to terrible things? After all, since there is so much diversity of belief within the two camps, it seems rather silly to make this gross generalization of assuming that all religions should be grouped under the same banner. The better place to draw the line is between those religions and philosophies that advocate violence and those that advocate peace. Christianity, while it has been used to justify violence in the past by people who have twisted its meaning, is a religion that advocates peace. If the religion (like Christianity) advocates peace, then it seems rather inappropriate to group it together with religions or secular philosophies that either advocate violence or have no ethical base to oppose violence.
But then Mr. Sabillion goes father and tries to say that if the terrible things committed in the name of religion are worse than the crimes committed in the twentieth century by seculars because the world's population was smaller in the past than it is today. Now, I have to sit in amazement over this argument because of what it is really saying. In other words, Mr. Sabillion is arguing that the killing 10,000 people when the world population was 100 million is much worse than killing 10,000 people when the world population is six billion. Does he really believe that? If he does, I have two words: get counseling. Isn't he saying that if I murder a person today, that I shouldn't get the same sentence as a person murding a person at in 1000 A.D. because I'm only killing one-six billionth of the world's people instead of one-three hundred millionth of the population? Does that make sense?
Oh, and as far as Christianity goes, it has its roots in Judaism, and depending on how you date the Old Testament, it has a history going back only about 8,000 years. Thus, since Mr. Sabillion points out that mankind has been around for 100,000 years (according to his figures) that means that whatever killing went on before that point was all done in the name of non-Christian philosophies, and from 8,000 B.C. to around the Third Century A.D. (when Christianity finally came into some semblance of global authority) whatever "terrible things" were committed in the names of either Judaism or Christianity were limited in scope to a very small strip of land known as Israel. Throughout the rest of the world, all of the terrible things were committed in the name of other non-Christian philosophies. And even after Christianity took over in Western Europe, all other terrible things through most of the rest of the world have been done in the name of non-Christian philosophies and religions. Thus, I think it's probable that in a fair comparison -- even looking back over time and acknowleding that some pretty terrible and bloody things have been done by those who twisted the Christian message -- Christianity has had a much better track record than most of the rest of the philosophies and religions of the world.
Sorry Mr. Sabillion, I think that you have drawn an arbitrary line to try to make your a-religious beliefs appear less sullied. Moreover, your argument that it is somehow worse to kill 10,000 people in the past because of the increased population shows how a person can get so tied-up in trying to make a case for their religious views that they miss the obvious.