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Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Weight Watchers and the Historical Atrocities Argument

We've all heard the slogan that atheism is superior to theism because of all the atrocities committed in the name of religion. If you flick through the pages of the new-atheist publications by the likes of Dawkins, Hitchens, Loftus, Harris, et al you'll probably find some version of this assertion in each.

Setting aside the dubious factual claims, I could list a stack of atheist atrocities that could outnumber the theist ones just from the last century alone, last night at Thinking Matters Tauranga, I heard another way of addressing the slogan. Rodney Lake simply said well if a person joined Weight Watchers, got the points book, the pamphlets explaining how the program works and began attending weekly meetings to fellowship with others on the same journey but instead of following the instructions began to bend the rules, invent new ones and ignore others and as a result began to gain weight, could that person justifiably claim that Weight Watchers made them fat? That Weight Watchers should be rejected as a weight-loss program, in fact, attempting to lose weight in and of itself is a bad thing, because this person gained weight whilst ostensibly being a follower of the program?

If you can see how ridiculous it would be to blame Weight Watchers and to abandon the pursuit of weight loss because someone who cheated on the program had a bad outcome then why can't you see it when the same reasoning is applied to atrocities committed in the 'name of' Christianity?


  1. Atheism says there is no god, theism says there is a god.

    The so called atheist atrocites are not committed in the name of atheism but in the name of some atheistic philosophy such as communism or fascism. While the so called theistic atrocities are not committed in the name of theism but in the name of some theistic philosophy, Christianity or Islam for example.

    It is as wrong to claim that atheism is the cause of the atrocities as it is to claim that theism is the cause of the atrocities.

  2. This is a nice way of putting the point. Kudos to Rodney Lake, and thanks to you, Madeleine, for sharing it with the rest of us.

  3. No-one is saying that Atheism is the cause of any atrocities. In fact, either my reading comprehension is out, or the subject of "atheist" or "secular" atrocities wasn't even mentioned in the OP.

    Having said that, I think a reasonable argument could be made that a person's behaviour will get worse if they believe they aren't accountable for what they say, do and think. As a corollary, I suspect that any atheist who regards himself as accountable to his neighbours would behave pretty well (as these things are measured down here).

    The sole claim in the OP was about Christianity: that the Gospel, and the teachings of Scripture, are not responsible for the sins of those who claim to be Christians.

    Now, you could ask whether God is much use, if he can't or won't keep his self-proclaimed followers in hand. But that's another question, and one which I wouldn't lightly attempt an answer to.

  4. Mark you writeIt is as wrong to claim that atheism is the cause of the atrocities as it is to claim that theism is the cause of the atrocities.

    I agree, I think the point of pointing out the atrocities commited in the name of secular ideologies is not to argue that athiesm causes these atrocities, but rather to rebut the claim that theism does.

    One responds to the historical atrocities argument made by some atheists by showing that a precisely analogous line of argument shows atheism leads to atrocities.Seeing the conclusion of this argument is false ( something the atheist would accept) the argument must be mistaken and hence the analogous argument against theism must be mistaken also.

    Recent blog post: Mount Maunganui Adventures

  5. Thanks Tim, Rodney gave a good talk covering some strong philosophical concepts but presented it in layman speak and I particularly liked this analogy (he now has the notes on his talk online and I have linked to them above). Having done Weight Watchers myself I realised there was quite a bit to the analogy you could bring in so I added my own touches - it is definitely something I will tuck away to use in the future.

    Recent blog post: Mount Maunganui Adventures

  6. Rodney's analogy compares a part of the weight loss industry with the entirety of Christianity. It would be better if compared Weight Watchers, a part of the weight loss industry with, say, Southern Baptists, who are a part of Christianity.


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