Saturday, 28 February 2009

Is a theist 100 times more lethal than an atheist?

Well is it? How on earth can I be asking a question? Well this is what the evidence, according to one popular argument popular with theists, shows! Ironically this argument is disputed by many atheists but it seems neither atheists nor theists have bothered to check the facts, no surprise that theists have not or they would remain very quiet on this topic.

Of course, I am addressing that old canard popular with some theists of the amount of atrocities brought about by 20the century "atheist" regimes. I will drop the scare quotes for this dubious labelling but please assume it throughout this post. This is no excuse to take any of what follows out of context.

This argument makes no sense since belief or lack of belief in god alone does not tell you anything at all about ones' economic, political, social or moral beliefs. One cannot make any such conclusion based just this data.

Secondly just because there is a belief held in common such as a lack of belief in the gods or a belief in the gods does not imply that any other beliefs are shared. An additional argument needs to made to show this is the case, if indeed it is the case.

Of course certain popular theistic worldviews have an additional belief that one "cannot be moral without god", but that is a belief not shared by all theists (and these are emphatically not being addressed in this post) and certainly not by most likely any atheist. This belief is a prejudice and, if not supported by evidence, is an unsound basis to (pre)judge other's moral standings.

Still it is not sufficient even if this evidence is supported that one can apply this categorisation as a means to infer the moral status of anyone. To categorise anyone without checking that the asserted dependency is based on solid evidence with strong support and ignoring arguments that demonstrate it is not, is bigotry.

Well does this specific group of theists have any evidence to support their claims? This is where the atrocities of 20th century regimes is offered.

However those theists who use Hitler as supporting evidence, have failed demonstrate that Hitler, his Positive Christianity and the Nazi Movement and its supporters were an atheist regime and there is nearly overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It is more than reasonable to conclude that anyone who basis an argument on such demonstrably false data is a bigot.

However although not all such theists would use Hitler they could only or drop back to Stalin, Pol Pot and others. And atheists have often been distracted by dealing with Hitler canard alone to see the bigger picture.

What bigger picture? Well one of the basis of my writing here is that everyone should be subjected to the same standard and not a double standard. In this case, as noted at the beginning of this post, the standard being used by such theists is one to be rejected by any honest and ethical person - regardless of their theistic beliefs.

However it is quite legitimate to show the problems in a flawed standard and why it should not be advocated and this is what I want to demonstrate here. This is to use the standard as defined by the specific theists in question and evaluate regimes in terms of atrocities usually measured by direct deaths caused and to use the same standard to classify regimes as theist or atheist.

One also has to note that there has been historical demographic differences between the distribution of theistic and atheistic beliefs in populations and this needs to taken into account. Also since population levels have substantially changed through time, generally increasing this also has to be taken into account. However this analysis will note this issue but not do such calculations in drawing these preliminary conclusions. This could be left for another post or another blogger if they are so interested. (I did one such isolated example of this in a previous post).

What does the evidence show if we look at history impartially and use the standard imposed by such theists as they think the argument supports their case?

First of all I will the grant the point used by theists who make this argument that atheism is on the increase and, if they are correct, that the amount of atheists is the highest it has ever been and conservatively use today's ratio of atheists to theists over the past, that is not assume there were fewer atheists than today.

Now I use the data provided by which classifies 16% of the worlds populations as "non-religious" in their article Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents. This 16% includes atheists, agnostics, none or expressed no religious preference but half of this number are those who are theistic but non-religious. I will conservatively include all 16% a bias against atheists.

So these two conservative assumptions serve to increase the likely proportion of atheists versus theist ration historically, which some atheist would argue is a bias in favour of theists. I am only doing this because I am trying to help theists out with their argument and to avoid any accusations of bias in favour of atheists. That is there should be an expected ratio of 1:6 atheist: theist regimes. .

Well now what is the historical data classifying deaths according to theistic and atheistic regimes?

Luckily - for me - I just discovered a sterling piece of analysis carried out by the Teapot Atheist on nearly exactly the basis I was going to undertake. It is worth looking in detail at Teapot Atheist's data but I leave that as an exercise to the reader. I use here only the summary data.

Over all of recorded history the death toll by "atheistic" regimes (considered broadly 95,000,000 (including Stalin but excluding Hitler), Hitler/Mussolini 72,000,000 Million and all "theistic" regimes including Hitler/Mussolini/World War 2 2,229,074,100. If we move this highly disputed 72,000,000 from the "theist" to the "atheist" tally the numbers becomes Atheists: 162,000,000 and the Theists 2,157,000,000 (to the nearest million). We can now compare expectations.

If we take the atheist figure as the base line we would expect around 6 times 162 Million deaths from theistic regimes if there is not contribution from theistic beliefs one way or another. This is 972 Million yet the actual figure is well over twice that, against those theists!

Alternatively if we take the theist figure as the base line we would expect around 2.157 M divided by 6 deaths from atheistic regimes if there is no contribution from theistic beliefs one way or another. This is 359.2 Million yet the actual figure is well under twice that, against those theists!

So making many assumptions in favour of theists the best we can possibly do is show the theistic regimes when the go wrong are over twice as lethal as atheist regimes when they go wrong. Remember we are accepting the highly dubious presumptions of such arguments but the outcome is quite the opposite of what those theists who make such an argument realize!

We could look at the danger of theistic regimes over the whole of history and then we see that the lethality of such regimes is 13 times more likely to lead to death than an atheistic regime (2,157 divided by 162).

If we take the demographic difference into account then being in an atheistic population is 6 times less likely than being in a theistic one over the whole of history and since the danger of death due to theism is already 13 as great, this scales up the danger on a per person level by 13*6 to96!!! That is the odds of an atheist causing death is nearly 100 times less than a theist!

The above served as my attention grabbing headline. Can you see the flaw in my reasoning?

Of course all the above maths is rudimentary but this is the point. One does a quick scan of available data to see if the evidence is worth inspecting in more detail. Is it worth doing proper statistical significance and correlation analysis and looking for confounding factors and so on. Well as soon as one checks for confounding factors their whole argument disintegrates, they clearly have not done that anyway.

Instead they have simply assumed they are correct and have looked for evidence to support their conclusion. Not the behaviour of someone who is ethical and very ironic in the case of some using this to argue their supposed moral superiority. This in many many ways is a self-defeating argument made such theists. Clearly theists who have made this argument have not bothered to realize the implications of their reasoning. If they did they would drop such an argument immediately. Even if we stop at the lethality of theistic beliefs only being twice as great as atheistic ones and I repeat this best result of the most conservative analysis biased in such theists favour. Their whole argument is absurd and immoral as is the supposed evidence to support it, as it is however one looks at it, it is against them (not theists per se, just those how proffer such arguments).

So such theists only get away with this because they have unethically selected the data that they think supports their case and most honest and ethical people regardless of theistic belief would either reject it - because we know such reasoning is so flawed to start with - or are distracted by legitimately challenging some of the selected data. ion rather than consider all of the data. I considered all the data here only to provide a new means to help discourage such poor arguments, not to bolster this as a basis to argue on this theme for one side or the other.