Originally I had written my review of The Irrational Atheist, by Vox Day, in 2011 but since having joined Skeptic Ink I’ve reposted the entire review on this blog.
Despite a handful of misinformed commentators, I’ve yet to get a serious challenge against any of my counter-arguments. I found yet another example of this on Vox’s blog recently about one of the arguments I made.
“Mudz” wrote the following on February 23, 2013:
On a more on-topic note:
That actually kind of annoys me. If they’re getting their info from you/your book, they should cite you. It’s great that you’re putting the situation at large, first, but still, it’s a pretty dick move on their part, and you should hash them out for it. Though, if it’s the case, then the reasons why are obvious.
Why are atheists so generally gutless? We happily read their books, yet most of the atheist reviewers of your book, as I think you’ve pointed out, seem to flee within three chapters.
I couldn’t believe that they complained about being ‘offended’ by your book, despite all their strenuous efforts to be ‘open-minded’. Atheists even complain that I ‘invade’ their forums discussing Christianity, like it’s sacrilege to make them listen to arguments. Or they just hit the dislike button without actually responding.
The most comprehensive and relevant one I have found so far is the Arizona Atheist, which I’ve only read some of so far, but have so far found fairly weak. The first thing I looked at was her(?) argument against the religious crime statistic, making her case that religion-related crime statistics of roughly 17% as opposed to race-related statistic of 54% making it the second highest out of three choices, was damning stuff.
(Well, maybe five, if you really count both anti-disability and multiple-bias.)
I don’t feel it’s even necessary to explicate all the ways in which I found her argument meaningless, and as far as I can tell, happily ignorant of the argument Harris was putting forth, just in the segment you quoted in the following chapter.
For one thing, the graph only shows targets, not source, so her particular train of logic was not very stable.
Even if we assume that all the incidents of violence, that she demanded be the only point of interest, were instigated by religious folk, that’s about 110 cases of religious violence as compared to about 1500 cases of race violence. That’s like what, 6.5% out of just those two statistics?
And there was literally no cases of violence against atheists or agnostic. The worst seemed to be 1 single case of intimdation, out of 5 total crimes.
So worst case scenario, this means that religious folk get into a few fistfights, and atheists are the safest group in the world, and that it sucks to be a some sort of ethnicity. Mostly black.
Worst case scenario for atheists, they committed all but 5 crimes. I mean who knows, with all that relative morality? 😛
I’ll have to go through the whole thing at some point, but it’s not impressive so far.
Of all the objections I’ve ever heard on your book, the only one I’ve found compelling so far, is that ‘non-religious’ doesn’t mean atheist or agnostic. I would agree with that, so I’ll have to read your book again, just in case I missed something.
The more people given reason to read TIA, and are forced to pay attention to the opposition, the better. Good job, bud. I give you my honourable permission to challenge the very next journal using your work, and try to pin them down to an admission. It would be a benefit to Christian representation in general, anyway.
[“Mudz” follows up his previous comment with a clarification]
Actually I was wrong on one half of the argument. You could hypothetically add the roughly 450 cases of anti-homosexual violence, to religion.
That does change the statistic to more like 30%. Still not very dominant, but of significance. Assuming the worst case scenario from these statistics.
The section “Mudz” is referring to in The Irrational Atheist is Chapter 5, titled “Sam Tzu and the Art of War.” Here is the section under discussion in full so the reader can see the full context of what Vox’s argument was and my response, which “Mudz” apparently was unable to comprehend.
As he did in the second chapter Vox is attacking a strawman argument in so far as it relates to the new atheists. I would certainly agree that there are many atheists, particularly on the internet and even in some books (one being Holy Horrors: An Illustrated History of Religious Murder and Madness, by James Haught, Prometheus Books, 1990), who argue that religion is the number one cause of violence, but Vox did not provide a single quote by the new atheists making such a statement.
Vox begins the chapter by admitting to several cases of religious war,
For who can today hear the term “religious fanatic” and not immediately think of the suicide bombers of the Islamic jihad, who have struck terror into hearts around the globe? Nor are the modern jihadists the first religious fanatics to be inspired to deeds of astounding horror, as witnessed by Raymond of Aguilers’s account of slaughter-maddened Christian knights riding through blood up to their knees after the fall of Jerusalem in the First Crusade, or the more recent example of the Basij Mostazafan, an Iranian teen militia famous for voluntarily clearing minefields with their own bodies during the Iran-Iraq War.
And yet, even in these examples, one can see the first visible cracks in the argument. The First Crusade was a long time ago, it has been more than a thousand years since the massacre at Solomon’s Temple took place. In that millennia, many wars have been fought, very few of which have involved unarmed youth militias inspired by insane devotion to a god. Moreover, from a military perspective, suicide attacks are a negligible tactic. They are not intended to win battles, much less wars, and even if one goes as far back as the Japanese kamikazes of World War II, one will not find a single battle that is recorded as having been won by suicide tactics, with or without the presumed benefit of religious fanaticism.
Even so, Sam Harris insists that religion is a uniquely dangerous source of the intersocietal tensions that produce wars:
Religion raises the stakes of human conflict much higher than tribalism, racism, or politics ever can, as it is the only form of in-group/out-group thinking that casts the differences between people in terms of eternal rewards and punishments. One of the enduring pathologies of human culture is the tendency to raise children to fear and demonize other human beings on the basis of religious faith. Consequently, faith inspires violence in at least two ways. First, people often kill other human beings because they believe that the [C]reator of the universe wants them to do it. (80-81)
I find Vox’s statement that Harris is discussing war to be an odd interpretation. Harris explicitly said he is discussing religious conflict, in which war could be included, but it’s clear he is simply discussing acts of violence, not all out war. The Microsoft Encarta Dictionary (2006) defines the word conflict as a “continued battle” or “disagreement or clash,” which would surely describe those religious disputes, and the definition says nothing about war explicitly.
Prior to the above quoted paragraph Harris writes,
Competing religious doctrines have shattered our world into separate moral communities, and these divisions have become a continual source of human conflict (emphasis mine) 
Vox next makes use of this argument about war and argues that there were only six murders in the U.S. attributable to a hate crime. Because Vox has distorted what exactly Harris is discussing, which was violence in general, and not war (which implies death) Vox cites the following FBI statistics,
Harris frequently points out the extreme religiosity of American society compared to the rest of the world, which therefore makes the United States an ideal subject of investigation on this particular point. Fortunately, the FBI not only keeps track of how many murders take place in the United States in its Uniform Crime Reports every year, but also records who committed them, how they were committed, against whom they were committed, and why.
In 2005, there were 16,692 American murders. Of these, precisely six were attributed to hate crimes, a definition that encompasses all racial, religious, sexual orientation, ethnic, and disability motivations for criminal actions. Of the other 10,283 murders for which the motivations have been determined, none were attributed to anything that could conceivably be related to a belief in a deity’s desire to see a particular individual dead. Instead, the two most frequent motivations were arguments (36.7 percent) and felony offenses such as robbery and narcotic drug laws (21 percent). Unless the vast majority of arguments that end with one interlocutor murdering the other are inspired by erudite debates between individuals belonging to divergent schools of soteriological thought, it is obvious that Harris is wildly incorrect about the frequency with which religious faith inspires murderous actions. (82-83)
Because Vox has distorted what Harris was talking about he attempts to argue that acts of murder are the only categories we should look at. However, as I pointed out Harris was discussing acts of violence in general and not necessarily the killing of another. When looking up the FBI’s statistics on hate crimes in 2005 I found something interesting. Out of the 1,314 crimes related to religious bias in 2005, 114 account for acts of assault. If you include acts of intimidation that is another 340 incidences for a total of 454 acts of violence or threats of violence.  It’s also noteworthy that, while Vox would like to downplay the role of religious violence in the U.S., the fact is that out of the 7,160 incidences of hate crimes 17.1% were related to religious bias, the second highest motivator. Race was the first with 54.7%.  This trend is steady with religion being the second highest motivator for hate crimes from 2006 as well, except there were a total of 173 acts of assault. If you include intimidation (379 incidences) it rises to 552 acts of violence or threats of violence due to religious bias. 
Vox is surely a slippery one but if you actually read what Sam Harris says the distortion of his argument is not hard to see. Harris was discussing religious conflict in general but Vox claims he is discussing war, which he then switches to the subject of murder. Vox says next, summing up his argument,
Unless the vast majority of arguments that end with one interlocutor murdering the other are inspired by erudite debates between individuals belonging to divergent schools of soteriological thought, it is obvious that Harris is wildly incorrect about the frequency with which religious faith inspires murderous actions. (83) [emphasis mine]
Harris was not only discussing “murderous actions,” but also religious conflict in general, which could include a number of things and raises the number of incidences dramatically.
In a nut shell, “Mudz’s” argument is that the rate of religious-inspired hate crimes are extremely low, compared to other sources of hate crime related violence. This is true, but this hardly rebuts the actual argument I made. I made two claims:
1) Vox Day distorted Sam Harris’ comment about religious-inspired conflict by implying that Harris is referring to acts of all out war. I disputed this interpretation, citing the dictionary definition of the word conflict, and demonstrating that this term can refer to acts of war, but since it’s obvious that not all religious violence can be called acts of war, I believe Harris’ argument is that religious often causes many acts of violence in general, not necessarily just all out war. In addition, Day was unable to cite a single New Atheist author who claimed that religion causes most wars.
“Mudz” completely failed to even address this aspect of my argument, which is the basis for the next segment of my counter-argument:
2) I looked up the FBI hate crime data that Vox cites and I found that it is true that there were no religious-inspired acts of murder. However, given Harris’ statement about acts of violence (and not war explicitly), I found that there were several hundred acts of religious-inspired violence that year, and that this fact seriously undermines Day’s argument that religious-inspired acts of violence are very rare.
“Mudz” completely fails it seems to even grasp my argument, instead resorting to insults saying that my “logic was not very stable.” He/She further argues that “The first thing I looked at was her(?) argument against the religious crime statistic, making her case that religion-related crime statistics of roughly 17% as opposed to race-related statistic of 54% making it the second highest out of three choices, was damning stuff.”
Did he/she even look at my sources? I did not come to that conclusion. The FBI is the one who came to that conclusion. If you look at the screenshot I took of the FBI hate crime statistics, religion-inspired hate crime is the second highest form of hate crime, right below racism. I’m dumbfounded how “Mudz” was unable to see this obvious fact (I apologize for the fact that for some reason pictures I upload do not seem to show up in my blog posts, so I linked to the chart). The odd thing about “Mudz” lack of comprehension regarding the FBI crime data is more blatant when he/she linked to the very chart I referenced so there is no excuse for his silly accusation! Further more, the FBI press release I cited on the figures had this to say:
An analysis of the 7,160 single-bias incidents by bias motivation revealed that 54.7 percent were motivated by a racial bias, 17.1 percent were triggered by a religious bias, 14.2 percent were motivated by a sexual-orientation bias, and 13.2 percent of the incidents were motivated by an ethnicity/national origin bias. Nearly 1 percent (0.7) involved bias against a disability.
Right there, they note how religion was the second highest motivating factor for hate crimes. I don’t think it could get any clearer than that. Yes, someone could argue, as “Mudz” does, that 17% isn’t much at all, but then that would miss the entire point I was making. Vox argued that religious-inspired violence was practically non-existent, however, his own source flatly refutes that claim. And these stats don’t even take into account the other acts of religious violence aside from hate crime in the U.S., so to argue that 17% is nothing is still a horrible counter-argument. If we looked at religion-inspired hate crimes, along with other acts of religious violence, throughout the entire world I’m sure the figure would be much, much higher.
He/She goes on to write that “the graph only shows targets, not source.” I’m not entirely sure what he/she is referring to. Is “Mudz” referring to the victim of the attacks and the perpetrator? Perhaps the graph doesn’t explain who the perpetrator of the violence was, only the victim, and because they don’t specify this, we cannot be sure there were actually religious motivations? In that case, even Vox’s argument that relies on this chart would be suspect, but I would hope the FBI would be able to differentiate between religious and non-religious violence. Due to the ambiguity of his/her argument I’m not sure what else to say about it.
Maybe one of these days I will actually get a coherent response to my arguments in this review. Up to this point I’ve only been called names, and the counter arguments have been exceptionally weak.