I’m sure that, like me, you’ve had coffee with your agnostic or atheist friends when the conversation has come around to what we believe and why . . . and, just when you think you haven’t let the side down too much, the slam damn argument is bowled at you . . . “look at all the wars that have been fought over religion.”
In fact, Richard Dawkins claims that religion is evil because it causes wars by creating a mindset of certainty and irrational “indoctrination.”
Jewish teacher Tzvi Freeman has suggested a scientific approach to testing Dawkins’ position that religion causes war. Just as we might test hypotheses such as “alcohol causes inebriation” and “sunlight makes things grow.”
If we wanted to test the alcohol/inebriation or sun/growth hypotheses scientifically, what would we do? Quite simple: Remove the alcohol from whatever drinks we are serving and see if our clients are still inebriated. Same with the sun/growth theory: Remove the sunlight and see if things still grow.
With the religion/war hypothesis, we don’t have to actually make a clinical study - it’s already been done for us. In the 20th century, we saw the most disastrous wars of history, both in Europe and in the Far East. Which of these were centred around religious disputes?
As scientists, says Freeman, we are forced to develop an alternative hypothesis: There is another common factor to all wars, much more common than religion - and that is that they are fought by human beings.
Indeed, a compilation of the history of human warfare, Encyclopedia of Wars by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod documents 1763 wars, of which 123 have been classified to include religious elements. So, what our atheist friends often tell us is “most” really amounts to less than 7% of all wars. It is interesting to note that 66 of these wars (more than 50%) involved Islam, which did not even exist as a religion for the first 3,000 years of recorded human warfare.
Taking a similar line, John P Conway in his article War and Religion: Is Religion to Blame? concludes:
“ . . . it becomes apparent that those who make the claim 'religion has been the cause of more wars than any other factor in history' may speak from ignorance or have ulterior motives for the assertion.”
Conway’s article is well worth reading.
Particularly thought-provoking is a paper presented at the University of Melbourne in 2006 by William T Cavanaugh in which he also challenges the generalities clung to by atheists and their sympathisers.
(All of which is NOT to say that the Church has never been wrong and that Christians individually or collectively have not inflicted suffering . . . it is just a plea to debate actual FACTS, and also to keep things in honest proportion.)