Atheism, Religion, Statistics
Froborr [who asked about statistics and a marble-picking game]:
The flaw is in trusting the person who told them there's a white marble in there.
Here's another example. Introductory statistics courses always have a Chapter One quiz where they ask, "if you toss a fair coin 99 times and get heads each time, what are the chances that the next toss will be heads?" And you're supposed to answer, "one-half."
But in life outside the classroom, the chances are that *the person who told you it was a fair coin is lying*, and you should keep one hand on your wallet as you back away.
In both the coin case and the marble case, the premise-behind-the-premise is, who do you trust to tell you the parameters of the situation?
As far as I'm concerned, Christopher Hitchens is a successful one-man demonstration that atheists can be perfect jerks, too. So far, the score-card looks to me like:
Atheists: can be kind decent people or total douchebags.
Theists: can be kind decent people or total douchebags.
Society-level atheism: can be associated with war, genocide, oppression, etc.
Society-level theism: can be associated with war, genocide, oppression, etc.
hmm. Not very helpful, is it?
The only difference there *might* be in the "but do you get a better society?" sweepstakes is that the evil of rationalistic atheist regimes may have a shorter half-life than theistic evil. So for instance, the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge were just as high on the atroc-o-meter as a particularly horrible religious war, but they didn't keep going for generations. Atheist atrocities are easier to *stop* -- it's easier to get over a bad idea than a bad faith.
I should have said, "atheist atrocities run out of steam more easily." The Stalinist, Maoist, and Khmer Rouge atrocities were not stopped by external forces -- but they were all dependent on a particular individual, and when he was gone they withered away. As you say, the problem is authoritarianism and fanaticism, and atheism doesn't provide the structure that will keep it going into the next generation.
I consider both Kosovo and Rwanda atrocities of religious societies, not atheist ones. Yes, the Rwandan genocide was not along religious lines -- but religion did no good, either. Indeed, for me Rwanda was what pretty much destroyed any inclination to believe that Christianity might be good for a society, because Rwanda is not only Christian, but pretty freshly-Christian, without centuries of cultural bad habits intertwined with its Christianity.
And yet, when push came most directly to shove, Christianity did Rwanda as a society no *good*. If something that justifies an enormous investment of human energy, time & caring by saying "it's a moral system" is not able to get most people to act morally in the most blatant sort of moral crisis, how can it truly be a moral system?