Atheism causes evil

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It has been suggested that this article be merged with Atheists are immoral

The atheism causes evil argument manifests itself as:

  • Pol Pot was an evil murderer.
  • Pol Pot was an atheist.
  • Thus, Pol Pot's atheism has something to do with him being an evil murderer.
  • Therefore, atheism causes evil.

It's not always Pol Pot that's the example. Sometimes it's Stalin, Hitler (They erroneously claim Hitler was an atheist,even though he was a catholic.), or whoever they can cherry-pick as a bad example of an atheist, often who also happen to be totalitarian dictators.

When asked to explain how atheism, the lack of a belief in a god, leads to anything, apologists will return with explanations such as the following:

"Atheism only conducts itself from an empty ethic, which can neither support nor reject the action of murder. This means that actions can be brought about by disbelief. For example, to disbelieve in the existence of a good reason not to kill, would justify the opposing view. Disbelief gives rise to belief or is a form of belief itself, and thus the origins of causation, for a certain action, can be derived from disbelief. This fact falls into the historical narrative of Pol Pot, giving a legitimate case for why atheism, a disbelief in all religious dogmas and concepts of god, must assume a piece of responsibility in Pol Pot’s choices."

Most Muslims think that belief in God is necessary for a person to be moral. [1]


Counter Apologetics

The original claim is an association fallacy in action, and the explanation is a massive Non sequitur.

In an extremely loose sense, it can make sense on the surface to say that his atheism influence his decisions, but it's an optical illusion.

Yes, the fact he didn't have a positive belief that people shouldn't be killed does play a role. That lack of belief, however, is not the cause, which is the point they're trying to make. Only beliefs can be the cause of action, and in two particular ways - provocation and prevention.

  • Provocation - I believe Bob was the one who killed my wife, so I'm going to kill him back.
  • Prevention - I believe Bob is going to kill my wife, so I'm going to kill him before he can act.

The third position, lacking a belief, would not lead me to doing anything to Bob. Any decision I make about Bob always comes from beliefs I do have. The explanation is subtle, and to understand, one needs to may attention to the exact usage of the words.

  • FredGod is a god that insists that his followers don't kill people.
  • Believing in FredGod will cause Bob not to kill people.
  • Not believing in FredGod only Not causes Bob to not kill people.
  • Not believing in FredGod does not cause Bob to kill people.
  • Without that prevention, something else may cause Bob to kill people, but the lack of prevention isn't itself the cause.

This is, essentially, a description of the logical conditional. If a thing is a square, then it has four sides. But a thing may still have four sides without being a square. Likewise, if one believes in divine retribution, one may be prevented from killing people, but lack of this belief does not give us any information on whether or not a person will kill people.

Perhaps the best explanation for the occurrence of atheism in totalitarian regimes is that totalitarian leaders, in order to pursue their autocratic ends, seek to remove formal religion as an impediment to their goals. However, they then typically replace this with a state-religion in order to sate the religious needs of the populace, and in order to gain the fear, respect and adoration of the masses. Thus atheism is not a cause of totalitarianism, but an effect, and the atheism then induced is not based in rational skepticism, but rather in the undermining of the power of traditional religions, in order to obtain their misguided goals. In essence, the claim that several or many totalitarians based their regimes on atheism (a dubious claim itself), is quite arguably a case of a cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy (correlation does not imply causation).

An analogy to show this claim's illogical nature: state that Adolf Hitler liked sweets and "conclude" that it was his love for sweet foods that turned him into a ruthless dictator. One can even replace "love of sweets" by a generally seen as positive quality - "loved his pet dog" - then say by the same logic that loving your pets makes you a genocidal murderer, showing how absurd that flawed reasoning using the association fallacy is. A similar fallacy claims having said traits (Liking sweets, loving pets, or being an atheist) is a consequence of being already evil.

Another dubious point this claim overall makes is presuming that religions (in some cases, only 1 "true" religion) are the sole source of morals altogether, and that human sentience, empathy and reason are mostly inefficient or non-existent.



Another way of looking at this, is an analogy of flavor.

  • While adding sugar to coffee makes it less bitter, not adding sugar doesn't make it more bitter. It's bitterness is created because of chemicals, such as chlorogenic acid, in the coffee. The presence of the sugar can merely counteract the bitterness. If not adding sugar something makes it bitter, then water should taste bitter without sugar. It doesn't. If the water does taste bitter, it's not because it didn't have sugar added, but because something else was added that made it bitter.

Preventing a Death

Let's say that a woman in town is struck by a car, and dies. I could have went into town and pushed her out of the way, thus preventing her from dying. I didn't.

What caused her death? She died because she was struck by a car, not because I didn't push her out of the way. The negligent car driver would be charged with vehicular manslaughter, not me. This is how it works in reality.

Not being a Jain

The followers of Jainism follow the principle of non-violence. This following argument is never spoken, however:

  1. Stalin was an evil murderer.
  2. Stalin was not a Jain, which would have prevented him from murdering people.
  3. Therefore, not being a Jain is dangerous, and influences one to kill poeple.

This argument isn't made, because besides the fact it's an obvious fallacy, very few people are attempting to smear Jainism. It's generic atheism that's constantly a victim of slander campaigns.

Deciding whether to Kill a Mosquito

  • I don't believe that a mosquito's life has value. I don't believe they should be protected.
  • I kill mosquitos.
  • The reason I kill them is not that I don't value their lives.
  • The reason I kill them is because they keep attacking me, sucking my blood, making me itch, and potentially carrying diseases like Malaria. Thus, I believe I need to defend myself against them, whether it's to swat one that's currently attacking me, or to premptively kill those I think are potentially going to attack me.

To say that the reason I kill them is because I don't value their lives, instead of being due to defense, is asinine.

If they didn't attack me, I wouldn't do anything to them, whether I thought their lives should be protected, or not.

Infinite Non-Beliefs

If you want a more mathematical reason of why this reasoning doesn't work, it starts with an oversight.

  • While we all have a finite set of beliefs, there's an infinite number of things we don't believe.
  • Thus, according to this apologetic, every one of those non-beliefs is influencing me.
  • I have finite decision making, and finite cognition, designated by amount A
  • The amount of influence each non-belief has on me is: A divided by ∞, which equals 0

We could try to list all the infinite number of beliefs Pol Pot didn't have, and point out that because we can't "rule out each's influence", that we should take note of them. That wouldn't be practical. To summarize, ignoring every possible belief system the subject didn't hold on to other than the one the apologist preaches and subjectively presumes to be the only meaningful one wouldn't be logical nor reasonable.

Moral anti-realism and subjectivism

Another class of counter-arguments is to point out that "evil" is not a coherent concept or that evil is subjective. Therefore, it is not meaningful to claim that atheism can cause evil.

See also


  1. Pew, The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society, 2013
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