I’m writing this post primarily for my own convenience. During my online journeys to r/atheism, “freethought” blogs, and beyond, I encounter the following arguments so frequently that it seems sensible to fact-check them all at once.
The Claim: “Religion has been the primary cause of war and oppression throughout the history of mankind.”
The Truth: In their comprehensive Encyclopedia of Wars, Phillips and Axelrod document the recorded history of warfare. Of the 1,763 wars presented, a mere 7% involved a religious cause. When Islam is subtracted from the equation, that number drops to 3.2%.
In terms of casualties, religious wars account for only 2% of all people killed by warfare. This pales in comparison to the number of people who have been killed by secular dictators in the 20th century alone.
The Claim: “Thanks to modern science, the days of religion are numbered. Humanity’s superstitious belief in miracles and sky gods will soon be replaced by an era of atheism and rationalism.”
The Truth: Modern atheists typically appeal to science™ as the authoritative source of human knowledge, meaning, and morality. So it’s ironic that this particular claim directly contradicts current scientific projections.
The following are expected net gains/losses in religious adherents, worldwide, from 2010-2050:
Christianity: +1,066,944,000 (net gain)
Islam: +1,001,101,000 (net gain)
Hinduism: +316,288,000 (net gain)
Agnosticism: -1,995,000 (net loss)
Buddhism: +61,405,000 (net gain)
Atheism: -4,039,000 (net loss)
(source: World Religion Database)
The Claim: “The dark ages were a time of ignorance and superstition, thanks to religion’s negative influence on scientific progress.”
The Truth: Atheist writer Tim O’Neill responds to this claim eloquently in his excellent review of “God’s Philosophers”:
“It’s not hard to kick this nonsense to pieces, especially since the people presenting it know next to nothing about history and have simply picked up these strange ideas from websites and popular books. The assertions collapse as soon as you hit them with hard evidence. I love to totally stump these propagators by asking them to present me with the name of one – just one - scientist burned, persecuted, or oppressed for their science in the Middle Ages. They always fail to come up with any. They usually try to crowbar Galileo back into the Middle Ages, which is amusing considering he was a contemporary of Descartes. When asked why they have failed to produce any such scientists given the Church was apparently so busily oppressing them, they often resort to claiming that the Evil Old Church did such a good job of oppression that everyone was too scared to practice science. By the time I produce a laundry list of Medieval scientists – like Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Thomas Bradwardine, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan and Nicholas of Cusa – and ask why these men were happily pursuing science in the Middle Ages without molestation from the Church, my opponents usually scratch their heads in puzzlement at what just went wrong.”
The Claim: “Jesus was a mythical figure. The New Testament stole most of its stories from other ancient sources.”
The Truth: These claims gained a lot of popularity thanks to the 2007 propaganda film “Zeitgeist” and its articulation of the Jesus myth hypothesis.
It turns out that the “facts” presented in the image above are almost entirely fabricated. I was able to refute most of them in about thirty minutes of searching on academic websites:
- His mother (Isis) wasn’t a virgin. Isis married her brother (Osiris) and conceived Horus with him.
- There’s no historical reference to a “star in the east,” or to Horus “walking on water.” Those are simply made up.
- Horus was never crucified or resurrected. Actually, he never even died! The story is that he “merged” with the sun god, Ra.
- By most accounts, Mithra was born in either September or October.
- There’s no historical account of Mithra having twelve disciples. That part is also made up.
- Mithra wasn’t said to have been born of a virgin, but rather out of solid rock.
- There’s no known record of a resurrection (or even of him having died).
- Krishna was from the royal family Mathura, and was the 8th son of Devaki and her husband Vasudeva.
- There is no mention of a “star in the east” or a resurrection in the literature.
- There are some references to him performing miracles, but that’s about it…
- He wasn’t born of a virgin. His mother was Semele (a mortal), and his father was Zeus.
- Dionysus died each winter and was resurrected in the spring. No mention of December 25.
- There are plenty of references to Dionysus turning water into wine…but he was, after all, the Greek god of wine.
(Note: if any of the above is incomplete or inaccurate, please let me know.)
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