I was recently watching snippets of a debate between Christopher Hitchens and John Lennox regarding Hitchens's book, "God is Not Great: how religion poisons everything."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHiGsL4bzmM
"Is God Great?" - Christopher Hitchens vs John Lennox debate (preview)
Video edited by a Christian site, so it's notably in favour of Lennox.

I was completely stumped by this comment by Lennox early on into the debate:

"If I failed to dinstinguish between the genius of Einstein and the abuse of his science to create weapons of mass destruction, I might be tempted to say science is not great, and technology poisons everything. What is more, as I look back at the evils of atheist regimes of the 20th Century I might also be tempted, ladies and gentleman, to say atheism is not great, it has poisoned everything."

Furthermore, I have recently been engaged in an online discussion where I am told about the many good things resulting from Christianity, such as scientific advancement, artistic movement, and constructive revolutions. It has also inspired Marin Luther King, Isaac Newton, Galileo, Copernicus etc.

On the other side of the coin I am curtly reminded that Atheism has thus far inspired no good, and has in fact done the opposite. The general mentions of Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot are obviously made.

I have tried to do some of my own research into this pervasive religious issue but online sites are atrocious and I'm working on my thesis at the moment and will not get a chance to read any bulky material not directly related to my research until November, so although I wont be able to get back to anyone regarding reading recommendations immediately, please feel free to suggest any decent texts pertaining to this issue regardless.

How do I respond to this debate about atheist regimes; dangers of science; and comparatively constructive, healthy Christianity?

Tags: Hitchens, Hitler, Lennox, Mao, Stalin, debate, morality, science

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How TF are they "atheist" regimes?

You need to qualify this ridiculous assertion. It is often made by those seeking to demonstrate the evil of atheism, but there is no substance behind it.

Find one quote from Hitler that says (or even implies) that he did what he did in the name of atheism...
Ditto Mat on the Hitler. He was raised Catholic, and in many of his writings he discusses his confidence that his racial purification came as a mission from god. Also, if you're referring to the Cambodian dictator, you mean Pol Pot. Not Paul Potts (whom google tells me is a British opera tenor).

Atheism doesn't have to "inspire" good on it's own. Atheists tend not to be in an organized group to make claim to such things as "We gave THIS to society." However, studies have shown that secular based charities have just as high if not higher donation rates as those based in religion. The one main difference here is that secularly based charities have no contingency on the support they give. You don't have to sit through a sermon & be told that you're going to hell in order to receive the food or supplies that your community needs.

If you want to talk about the benefits of science, one of the easiest things to point to is medicine. Vaccinations, anti-biotics, etc all came about through science, and typically are not from those "tainted" with the belief that everything came from God. Both of my examples (vax & ABs) depend greatly on evolutionary laws in their formulation. You know why you have to get a flu shot every winter? Because the flu virus has EVOLVED and MUTATED, so the immunity you built up last year won't work against it any more.

Religion historically may have been responsible for some advances, but they are also responsible for some of the most horrific times. The Dark Ages, the crusades, bubonic plague.... if we kept going by what the church told us about the plague being our penance for sin, we'd probably still be dealing with it, instead of having stopped the worst of it by improving sanitation.

I don't remember the original source, but a good quote is "Good people will always do good things. Evil people will always do evil things. But for a good person to do evil things, that takes religion."
Wendy - all good points, and that quote is from Saint Richard Dawkins. However, war can make good people do bad things, and one can't blame religion all the way on that topic. I am a big fan of Dawkins, but he lets himself down sometimes with a good soundbite that falls apart under scrutiny.

Atheism is not a "movement" as such - and atheists tend to be a very disparate bunch, which is sort of the nature of the beast. Theists can (and do) use the rhetoric that it is the godlessness of atheists which leads to certain behaviours, but there is very little to back this up. The other side of the coin is that religious belief can (and does) make people do very bad things.

Ask someone who believes in god if they believe it is possible that god can talk directly to them. The answer will invariably be yes (in fact, they often dream of that moment!). Then ask them what they would do if god asked them to kill someone.

Deny a request from the creator of the universe, or kill a person...

Is sort of fun watching them squirm. Unless of course, you are chatting to someone like Peter Sutcliffe - who killed thirteen women at the request of god...

Not very likely, I know! Believers will, of course, declare him mad (which, to be fair, he is), but how are we supposed to separate the insane from those chosen to do god's work? As with many topics about god, it starts to unravel under scrutiny.

Hmmm. I think I may be veering off topic. Apologies.
Actually, the quote is from Steven Weinberg, not Dawkins.
I bow to your better knowledge! I have seen Dawkins use it in his series "The Root of all Evil" - he must have "borrowed" it.
The fact is that this atrocities were not committed in the name of atheism, so it's not atheism that makes people kill others. There really isn't any logical pathway to anything from atheism, just as there isn't one from the disbelief in fairies. Also, if the most atrocious murderers had mustaches, would the moustache be the one which determined the killing?

Furthermore, to suggest that science is evil is, in my opinion, a sign of a serious mental illness. Science is simply knowledge and what people choose to do with this knowledge is their business, so you can't blame knowledge for anything. Even more, statistically speaking, technology, which is a direct result of science, has saved and improved the lives of many, many times more people than it hurt. That is undeniable for any sane person.

In the end, I want to say that I'm sick of this discussion about whether atheism or certain religions are responsible for heinous acts committed by people. The truth value of a belief or disbelief isn't affected in any way by the increase or decrease in the number of vicious acts caused by it. If Allah was real, the fact that he commanded us to kill those who don't believe in him wouldn't have caused the belief to be false. He would have been a tyrannic, narcissistic nut-job who enjoyed the suffering of others, but he would have still existed.

To sum up, it doesn't matter what is the effect the truth has on people; it is still the truth. And no, I don't think atheism has gotten even close to causing the suffering certain religions have caused. As a matter of fact, atheists are statistically more intelligent and well... kinder people.
@Wendy, thanks for pointing out the name-spelling error while my brain was in neutral. I've since fixed it. Thank you for the vaccine comment as well. It was extremely interesting and I'm sure it will prove extremely useful. I love that Weinberg quote you used. I have a very empathetic, compassionate, shy and gentle Christian friend who is the daughter of two pastors. Last weekend I saw this quote breathed to life through her, and it was disheartening and disconcerting. I was watching the animated film, Prince of Egypt, with her, and I listened as she tried to justify God's willful slaughter of the innocent Egyptian first born and the massacre of the Pharoah's army as they tried to cross the Red Sea. It was frightening to hear someone generally so reasonable and caring defend such atrocities.
@Mat, the assertion was made by Lennox, so I'm afraid I can't understand his reasoning behind it, although I reckon it has something to do with the belief that the tyrants mentioned, particularly Stalin (whom I know little about), slaughtered thousands in an attempt to eradicate religion. i.e. "In the name of Atheism." Regarding the question about killing or obeying in the name of God, I think Matt Dillahunty on The Atheist Experience asked a similar question to a caller once. As you predicted, much squirming and avoiding the question ensued.
@Radu, I like the analogy of an existing god still being a tyrant. You are right, the truth of the statement is a separate issue from the number of violent or wholesome acts committed by them. What I am primarily concerned about, however, is the ratio of "good" to "bad" that religion has spawned. Christians speak of the "good" their religion has inspired or invoked, as it were, as though it entirely outweighs the bad, in a desperate attempt to assert that their's is a religion of love. I find it laughable that theists continuously say that the evils committed by the religious are no worse than those committed by the four classic tyrants used in this debate. It's as though they have sunk to an all-time low in order to defend the vestiges of morality their religions have left. Christopher Hitchens discusses this point briefly in God is Not Great.
I literally just discovered this discussion with Lionel Tiger, Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University.
If you do not wish to watch the video, a transcript is provided directly underneath it on the same page.
He discusses the possibility of animals being religious, then considers Communism and Soviet Russia, and how secular societies inevitably lead towards dysfunction.
This guy is seeing the world through God-colored glasses. It's apparent from his descriptions. There are certain times of day on a normal day that they're less active and groom each other. Okay, so that could be after meals, on hot parts of the day maybe? You know there are non-religious relaxation rituals as well. Siesta for example.
Then he goes on to mis-characterize the Nazi regime to justify his position like so many of the religious do to try to make their point about atheism. Hitler was a religious man. He considered his ethnic cleansing a religious one too. If he were an atheist, he would also be killing the Christians and the Muslims. It's the obvious flaw in the argument that Hitler was atheist. If that were his motive, Jews alone wouldn't have been the target.
As for the Soviet Union (it's usually only Beck that calls it Soviet Russia), the US went out of their way to financially crush them, and eventually succeeded. The Soviets saw the US financial system as evil because it was based on greed. The idea is to accumulate as much money as possible, necessarily at the expense of others. It's easy to see that as evil if you didn't grow up understanding how regulation is supposed to keep it in check. (Assuming deregulation doesn't leave it free to run rampant and crash the system or hurt consumers)
Now lets look at his arguement. He decries a polititcal system and then, after saying it has nothing to do with God (which is correct) tries to tie it to Atheism. Okay then, a democracy also has nothing to do with God, therefor it is an atheist regime. How evil our godless country must be! Our first constitutional amendment outright bans God from our government!
Here's some stats, post this up and watch'em go crazy trying to explain it away...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T27kB4BjbEg
Precisely what scientific advances is this person referring to? Religion has historically called scientific advances heresy. Just look at Galileo!
Science is a tool. It can be used for good or evil.

Hitler was a catholic, btw.

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