Argumentum ad Hitlerum
December 28, 2007
I must have missed this one in the pre-Christmas mayhem. The Age reporting on the Christmas address of the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, our old buddy George Pell:
Religion has been unfairly blamed for conflicts around the world in recent years, but Christians should remember the benefits of their devotion, Sydney Catholic Archbishop George Pell says.
This is perhaps true, though difficult to determine without specific examples. It does not however, logically preclude religion from being fairly blamed for conflicts around the world as well. I looked up the full text of the Christmas mesage and to be fair, Pell also makes this point. There was however, one statement that stood out:
During the last couple of years God has been attacked angrily here and there in the English-speaking world and believers have been accused of causing most of the wars and crimes in history.
This is an exaggeration as the moral monsters of the twentieth century Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were atheists and Hitler bitterly hated Jews and Christians; but all believers have to acknowledge the down side of their long story, while asking that their positive contributions are also recorded.
This particular argument never seems to grow old – “Atheism has been the cause of more atrocities than religion – just look at Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, PZ Meyers, Voldemort, etc., ad nauseum, ad infinitum…”
Well, we appear to have moved on from the days of claiming that Hitler was an Atheist, but even if he had been, the argument is still fallacious. As well as breaking Godwin’s Law, this argument fails where it implies that the evil done by nasty atheists was done because of their atheism, completely ignoring the political and social ideologies of the people involved. The Inquisition, the crusades, witch burning, sectarian violence in the middle east – it all stems directly from the tenets of religious belief. The excesses of Lenin and Stalin resulted from their political ideologies. Atheism was a result of such ideology, not the cause of it.
There are very few issues in the world that are completely black and white* and we tend to judge an issue by weighing its goods against its evils and evaluating the trade off. Pell is absolutely right in raising this point about religion, although I would probably flip it the other way – we can laud the good, but we must never forget the evils that go with it.