There Are No Asantanists In Foxholes

This is an amusing argument:

Not all Nazis were atheists, but they were all asantanists. Not all Crusaders were Christians, but they were all asantanists. Communists under Stalin, Lenin and Mao? Asantanists all. Witch-burners, inquisitionists, defenders of the faith in whatever form: asantanists. Every mass-murderer, everyone who became famous for the cruelty and inhumanity of his or her atrocities, was an asantanist. Of all the people whose names have become synonymous with injustice and evil, not one of them believed in Santa Claus. [...]

When people blame unbelief for bad behavior, what they’re really claiming is that the person’s behavior would be better if they believed. When we look at the actual behavior of believers, however, we do not find this to be the case, because the believers’ record is no better. And even if the unbeliever’s behavior was worse, how would we know which unbelief to blame for their behavior? Lack of belief in God can be linked to only some of the notable crimes of history, but lack of belief in Santa is common to all of them.

I don't think the argument in the last two sentences works, though. If, after empirical investigation, we discover that atheist behavior was worse than theist behavior, we could not use lack of belief in Santa to explain atheists' worse behavior, because there is no discrepancy in terms of asantism; after all, we just finished saying that lack of belief in Santa is common to both groups.

I do agree with the author's general point that it makes no sense to blame lack of belief as a cause of misbehavior, unless you first establish that belief is necessary for good behavior.

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Yeah, that's a dumb

Yeah, that's a dumb argument. The theist's argument is that atheism affects behavior compared to theistic belief. So to claim that unbelief has no effect on behavior is to perforce claim that belief has no effect on behavior. To claim that unbelief has no effect but belief does is illogical.

Without getting into the more obvious issue: theists argue lack of belief in certain something has negative effects--not lack of belief in anything whatsoever (e.g., Santa).

And really isn't this just a twist of Hitchen's argument that "we're all atheists", since we all don't believe in Zeus? Or some such crap.

But what is your objection

But what is your objection (if you have any) to my summary of the part if the argument that succeeds, namely "that it makes no sense to blame lack of belief as a cause of
misbehavior, unless you first establish that belief is necessary for
good behavior."

This is a burden of proof argument; the athiest isn't obligated to give any evidence for the claim that athiesm didn't cause Nazism/Communism until the theist first gives evidence for the claim that athiesm did cause Nazism/Communism, and thus also for the claim that theism is necessary for good behavior above and beyond the status quo of non-belief. And that's assuming, of course, that the athiest and theist both agree that Nazis and Communists should be classified as athiests and not theists.

The disbelief-in-Santa argument comes into play to support this allocation of burden of proof. No one would argue that asantanists are obligated to give evidence for the claim that the absence of belief in Santa didn't cause some asantanists (a group which encompasses pretty much everyone in human history outside small children) to commit certain evil acts, unless believers in Santa first give evidence for the claim that asantanism did cause these evil acts, and thus also for the claim that belief in Santa is necessary for good behavior above and beyond the status quo of non-belief.

On the other hand. athiests seem to be in a much stronger position when claiming that theism did cause the misbehaviors associated with the Crusades, witch-burning, the Inquisition, 9/11, etc. because, by their own admission, the perpetraters acknowledged that they were acting on the basis of belief in God and God's wishes.

Has any athiest evil-doer ever misbehaved with the open acknowledgement that their actions were directly motivated by their disbelief or absence of belief? Did any athiest ever say something along the lines of, "I am performing this act (of Nazism, Stalinism) primarily because I (actively disbelieve/passively lack belief) in the existence of a God, and therefore the directives, obligations, and wishes of the property of nonexistence of a God inform me that I should commit this act."?

Whereas theists often say something along the lines of, "I am performing this act (Crusades, Witch Burning, Inquisition) primarily because I actively believe in the existence of God, and the directives, obligations, and wishes of God inform me that I should commit this act."

Maybe the occasional Satanist (or would that just be another version of theism?) acts this way, but certainly not the usual suspects of Hitler or Stalin.

I Have To Fight Back?

But what is your objection (if you have any) to my summary of the part if the argument that succeeds, namely "that it makes no sense to blame lack of belief as a cause of misbehavior, unless you first establish that belief is necessary for good behavior."

I hadn't considered that part of the argument, but if I must pick, and to keep things interesting, I must, I'd say that there's no rationale for placing the burden thus.  That I can see.  Your basic argument, I think, is that we should presume that belief or the lack thereof has no effect on behavior, and the burden is on those who think otherwise to show it--but seems to me the prior fact, i.e. belief does affect behavior, is far more commonsensical and obvious.

And all this stuff with Santa seems pretty silly, come to think of it.  Religion is a huge force in peoples' lives, with detailed guidelines for how to live one's life, an entire institution of clergy behind it.  Post-age 7, Santa has none of this significance.  Making analogies between the two doesn't seem reliable.

Didn't Stalin crucify priests and Mao persecute Buddhists?  I suppose such things may not have been motivated by their lack of belief, but it's far from obvious. 

Anywho, I don't even think the whole "atheists don't kill in the name of atheism" is that meaningful.  Maybe they don't, but the theist would probably point out that what they say prior to and during heinous acts doesn't matter, it's still arguable that, were atheists Christians, they wouldn't have done the same.  Which brings us back to the burden of proof puzzle.

Is there a reason you spell theist e-first and atheist i-first?  Is that some kind of subtext I don't know--like, when it comes to the utter selfishness of Athiesm, the 'I' comes first? 

Your basic argument, I

Your basic argument, I think, is that we should presume that belief or the lack thereof has no effect on behavior, and the burden is on those who think otherwise to show it--but seems to me the prior fact, i.e. belief does affect behavior, is far more commonsensical and obvious.

No, the argument is that we should presume that the presence or absence of a particular belief has no effect on behavior, until we are shown that it does. This is not the same as saying beliefs in general don't affect behavior - of course they do. All intentional, goal directed behavior is determined by belief - the belief that doing the action will achieve some goal. The question is, which belief caused the behavior, not whether belief in general caused the behavior.

This is why the Santa analogy is important - no one thinks the burden of proof would be on asantanists to show that lack of belief was not the cause of bad behavior, if some believers in Santa postulated that lack of belief was the cause of bad behavior.

Didn't Stalin crucify priests and Mao persecute Buddhists? I suppose such things may not have been motivated by their lack of belief, but it's far from obvious.

Sure, and this would be good evidence that Stalin and Mao were motivated by their athiesm when they persecuted theists. But it would not be good evidence for all of their other crimes.

Anywho, I don't even think the whole "atheists don't kill in the name
of atheism" is that meaningful. Maybe they don't, but the theist would
probably point out that what they say prior to and during heinous acts
doesn't matter, it's still arguable that, were atheists Christians,
they wouldn't have done the same. Which brings us back to the burden
of proof puzzle

No, burden of proof arguments are always prima facie arguments, telling us what is reasonable to assume on first examination, prior to deep investigation and possible rebuttal. Burden of proof arguments are never water-tight, unrebuttable propositions, by definition. If they were water-tight and unrebuttable, they wouldn't be burden of proof arguments, they would be, simply, proofs. Verbal admission of a rationale before an action is performed is prima facie evidence that this rationale is in fact the true rationale and not a lie. This assumption is rebuttable if we find good evidence to believe that the stated rationale was a lie. It may not be a terribly strong advantage athiests enjoy over theists in distancing themselves from the bad behavior of others who share the same theological positions, depending on how difficult or easy it is to overcome the prima facie evidence, but it is still an advantage.

Is there a reason you spell theist e-first and atheist i-first? Is
that some kind of subtext I don't know--like, when it comes to the
utter selfishness of Athiesm, the 'I' comes first?

Wow, that's really freaky. I consistently yet unconsciously misspelled atheist and correctly spelled theist. Your Freudian explanation is cute, perhaps evidence of my inner, id-like Randian. As I was writing this paragraph, I again misspelled atheist and correctly spelled theist! (I just did it again while writing the previous sentence!) I have no idea how I developed this habit, as I usually spell words phonetically, and yet I pronounce the theist portion of both theism and atheism exactly the same.

Not good evidence

"Sure, and this would be good evidence that Stalin and Mao were motivated by their athiesm when they persecuted theists. "

No it wouldn't.   It's merely evidence that they viewed these groups as threats to their ideology, Communism, a positive belief system.    They were alternative authorities that needed to be gotten rid of by what were two authoritiarians.   You can't be an authoritarian with authorities expressing contrary opinions based on their ideologies.  In fact, authoritarians don't like contrary opinions expressed by members of their own ideologies.   Thus the ice pick to Trotski's skull.

"Wow, that's really freaky."

Join the club.

Good Point

NT.

That's not how the argument

That's not how the argument is usually made by theists however.   The argument is made as if the theist can predict the behavior of one non-believer (not only atheists) based merely on the commonality of non-belief.

Thus the simplistic idea of some sects is that not only are atheists "evil" but that theists from other sects and religions are also "going to hell".   

Of course more reasonable theists realize that those from other sects, and possibly other religions are not evil or more prone to moral error.

The mistake here is believing that one can predict how other people will behave merely by knowing what they don't believe as if there was only one single strategy of behavior for nonbelievers.      

Some theists are not wise enough to realize that other theists are not following an identical moral strategy to themselves.   They think that belief in God is sufficient to "moral behavior".  This despite the fact that the particular god one believes in may indeed cause one to behave immorally.   Gods that require human sacrifice come to mind.

There are of course all different possible combinations of mistakes here and I won't list them all.

What is typical and ridiculous here is that many theists fail to recognize that there are many non-theistic moral strategies (philosophies) for getting through life.    They then conflate all atheists into a single category.    But it is actually a non-category with no predictive value.

You can predict the behavior of a Muslim vs. a Catholic based on their beliefs.  It would be a confusion to lump them together as "theists" and then expect a Muslim to show up for church services on Easter at St. Patricks.     Likewise it is a confusion to expect identical behavior from an objectivist and a communist.   

It's individual believers positive beliefs that define their behavior not an artifical category like "atheist".    That is merely a definition that lumps together everyone who doesn't think like the theist, and not on a reasonable predictive category like "thief" or "murderer".   

Communists and Objectivists are as likely to behave  the same because of a lack of belief in god as Communists and Christians are likely to behave alike because of their lack of belief in leprechauns. 

Now you may object that, "Lack of belief in leprechauns will have some predictive value", and you'd be right.   However that capability to predict is tightly tied to the belief in question.    One wouldn't expect an Aleprechaunist to search for pots of gold at the ends of a rainbows.   Something one might expect otherwise.   However it's possible that some other philosophical belief might believe in the pots of gold while disposing of the leprechauns altogether.    Thus you can't predict the behavior of the Aleprechaunist with regard to pots of gold regardless.

The mistake theist make is that they tie their moral theory to God, as if god kept morality as a pot of gold at the end of his rainbow, then expect every non-believer to do the same.    They expect every atheist not to search for the moral pot of gold because of the way they concieve of the world.   Without God there would be no rainbow and no pot to find.   They totally fail to understand that the atheist may believe in the moral pot of gold directly.

The mental exercise of Asantaism and Aleprechaunism is an attempt to knock a little sense into the theist.    It's just a different angle of attack and some theists get it immediately.   Some fail to think outside the box.

Of course, sophisticated people understand that there are Christian thieves and murderers.   That despite the fact that their belief systems teach against such behavior.    In this case the philosophy is not responsble for the behavior.  That's because people can act contrary to their beliefs.   In fact to the degree the religion teaches against stealing it can be held positively responsible for good behavior on the part of it's adherents.

The philosophy or religion is responsible if it advocates particular immoral behavior and it's followers act that way.    It's also responsible if some teaching leads to predictable bad outcomes.    It's predictable that Communism leads to poverty.  It's predictable that teaching Muslims that non-Muslims are inferior and should pay protection money will lead to bad behavior.    

Since atheism is a non-category and doesn't teach any particular philsophy it can neither be held positively or negatively responsible for anything.

Aleprechanists

I agree with this guy:

Holopupenko me boy! Taint it just like ya Aleprechaunists to be coming about here spreadin' trouble. You ask if atheists are the worst killers. This is strong stuff, so it is. Everybody knows that it tisn't the atheists that have killed the most people in war on this planet, bless the little people.

Aye, I know what your thinkin', "Then who might'n it be". If only you'd believe in King Brian of Knocknasheega you'd have the answer. If people spent more time hunt'n for pots of gold instead of killing the world would be a better'n, so it is. The believers in the little people they are few, and mostly confined to this small isle. Tis, true, we've killed a few. All the rest we're slaughtered by unbelievers like yerself. Aleprechanist!

You be after insulting the atheists, you damn Aleprechanist. Jaysus, I'm after hitting you on your noggin with a pot of gold. Does youse all believe this fool. He's not answering that one, sure he isn't.

 Of course you have to understand that's my sock puppet speaking.