Atheists often like to re-quote the following statement made by theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg:
“Frederick Douglass told in his Narrative how his condition as a slave became worse when his master underwent a religious conversion that allowed him to justify slavery as the punishment of the children of Ham. Mark Twaindescribed his mother as a genuinely good person, whose soft heart pitied even Satan, but who had no doubt about the legitimacy of slavery, because in years of living in antebellum Missouri she had never heard any sermon opposing slavery, but only countless sermons preaching that slavery was God’s will. With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.“
This has become a standard argument amongst the new atheist movement, they argue, as the above quote says, that it takes religion to make good people do something evil.
Now where to begin with such a narrow-minded quote is hard to think off, but the argument does in fact show how philosophically weak the atheist position is when they have to rely on such arguments to somehow discredit religion.
Now the whole essence of the quote is contradicted by itself. The point of the quote is to emphasize the negativity of religion, in regards to how it supposedly makes good people do bad things, but as Weinberg himself admits, with orwithout religion people would be behaving badly. In other words, it’s not religion alone, or religion specifically, that makes people do bad things, even if there was no religion, people would still be doing bad things. And so the main point of the argument is debunked in the very same quote!
It seems though that Weinberg and atheists have made their own caveat, by saying “but for good people to do evil- that takes religion”, so they acknowledge that people will do good and bad regardless of religion, but the caveat they invent, is that for good people to do bad things, that takes religion.
Even with this caveat, the atheist argument falls flat on it’s face, indeed it’s quite laughable if atheists well and truly want to argue that it only takes religion to make good people do bad things. Now if an atheist says well they’re not arguing that only religion makes good people do bad things, then this quote is meaningless, what’s the point? Okay you want to point out how religion makes good people do bad things, okay and? Atheists admit that religion isn’t the only thing that makes good people do bad things, hence what’s the point of the argument? Exactly, there is no point.
The only way this quote has any meaning, is in fact if the purpose of the quote is to truly argue that it only takes religion to make good people do bad things, which is indeed what Weinberg intended to say, and which is indeed why most atheists quote him.
In fact if one reads the wording of Weinberg, it’s quite clear that Weinberg is in fact arguing that it does indeed take religion only, to make good people do bad things. Notice how he says good people will do good, and bad people will do bad regardless of religion, but, good people will do bad because of religion. Notice the wording, according to Weinberg, bad people will do bad regardless of religion, he doesn’t say people in general will do bad regardless of religion, or good people will do bad regardless of religion, for Weinberg, bad people who will do bad things regardless of religion are already bad people.
Weinberg specifically puts the caveat by saying ‘but’, and then writing for good people to do bad, it takes religion. So Weinberg is indeed making the argument that it only takes religion to make good people do bad things.
Now this statement is completely false, it’s a fact that several other ideologies and philosophies have made good people do bad things. But you see Weinberg has invented his own philosophy, when bad people do bad things regardless of religion, they’re already bad, as he even calls them, he names them bad people. How convenient wouldn’t you say?
Sadly for Weinberg, we don’t live by his made up worldview, and the fact of life is that many good people have indeed done bad things in the name of other ideologies. One good example is nationalism, nationalism and the national fever has often led people to do bad things, such as display racism, xenophobia, and a supremacist attitude. Many of these ardent nationalists who have often displayed such traits, were/are in fact normal good people, they have families, they have friends, and they’re not outright monsters.
Even something as laudable as human rights has made good people do bad things. We see it presently, and have constantly seen it in the past, where people espousing in the name of human rights, have committed war crimes and atrocities, all in the name of spreading democracy and human rights to other nations, to make other nations ‘civilized’ and more modern.
This point is even linked to nationalism, because in many cases, a nation will invade and plunder another nation, to spread their own national values in the nation they’re attacking, basically imperialism. If you were to study imperialism, in most cases of imperialism, the imperialist power that would often plunder the nation they were attacking, would say they were doing it for the good of the attacked nation, that they were going to spread their own civilized national values to the attacked nation, so when nation A attacked nation B, nation A did it for the supposed good of nation B. And why was is it good for nation A to attack nation B? Well because nation A had very good national values, and they had to implement these national values, their national values, their national ideology, their national philosophy, and their national interest in that of nation B.
So in the name of human rights, and nationalism, good people did lot’s of bad things to other, in the form of imperialism, and colonialism. But it seems Weinberg and the atheist community that’s hostile towards religion want to ignore all of these facts, and to laughably argue that it only takes religion to make good people do bad things.
Now we don’t want to pretend to be in denial, yes, it goes without saying that many people of religion have used religion to do bad things. But if we want to be consistent, then what about all the bad people who have done good things as a result of religion? The bad people who have turned their lives around as a result of religion, as a result of religious teachings? If we want to condemn and say religion is bad because it had made good people do bad things, then by the same token, and by the same logic, we must say religion is good because it has made many bad people become good people. You can’t have your cake and eat it.
The fact of the matter is that the overwhelmingly majority of people who do believe in religion do not do bad things as a result of religion. If you’re going to demonize religion because some people have used it to do bad things, then again, by the same token, you must praise it for the fact that a large part of people who do have religion, are not bad or evil people. In other words, if religion is bad because some good people have used it for bad causes, then religion is all the more praiseworthy because a large part of people who do have religion do not use religion or their religious values to do bad things, but to rather do the opposite. But it seems that atheists don’t want to apply this standard, they only want to judge religion by the bad, and ignore the good.
In conclusion, we really suggest that Steven Weinberg remain in his professional field, that of physics, and not dabble into areas of social-human affairs/history, because when it comes to the latter area, he doesn’t have a clue on what he’s talking about. For indeed, to try and argue that it only takes religion to make good people do bad things, is laughable, but more serious than that, is completely dishonest, disingenuous, and just plain ignorant.