Do Atheists’ Actions Have No Connection To Their Beliefs?

by guest blogger Tom Gilson

Richard Dawkins stated in a recent interview on the O’Reilly Factor:

What I do think is that there is some logical connection between believing in God and doing some, sometimes, evil things, but there’s no logical connection between them [Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot] being atheists and doing evil things. It’s just incidentally true that, say, Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin happened to be atheists, but that wasn’t what drove them. What drove them was a political ideology. It had nothing to do with atheism.

I think he’s suggesting that evil behavior has nothing to do with atheism; that is, evil behavior in general has nothing to do with atheism. It seems that it must follow that even good behavior could have nothing to do with atheism, for it would take an enormously skewed vision of human psychology to suppose that atheism might affect only good behavior and not evil.

Or does he mean that atheism can actually cause only good behavior? That does seem to mirror his suggestion that belief in God can cause evildoing; he gives no time, after all, to the thought that believing in God can lead a person to do good.

It is of course absolute empirical rubbish to suppose that Christians have done no good for the world on account of their belief in God, or even to doubt that Christianity has on the whole made the world a better place. There are exceptions, obviously, some of them quite notorious and tragic, where Christians have done what should never be done; but Dawkins embarrasses his own empiricism by insisting only on religion’s potential for evil, never recognizing the good Christians have done.

Still, for the moment I’m more interested in his claim that atheism had no influence on these tyrants’ actions. He seems to think that belief in God is behaviorally potent (it can affect behavior) while atheism is behaviorally impotent. That’s oddly asymmetrical.

It’s odd in other ways besides: for he is saying that what Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao did as dictators had nothing at all to do with their beliefs about the ultimate nature of reality. That’s right, folks, or at least so says Dawkins: “What you consider true in your deepest heart of hearts need not have any connection with your behavior.”

He is wrong, and obviously so. It is a tragic thing that has happened to his man, for his eyes are darkened in daylight. I grieve for him.

Tom Gilson blogs regularly at, Thinking Christian, among others.

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