The stupidest argument of the month: atheism empowers ISIS

March 5, 2015 • 10:10 am

I’m confident that although March has just begun, you’re not going to find a dumber argument than this one, made on a “faith blog” at Patheos, Samuel’s Notebook, produced by one Samuel James (see bio at bottom). The title is “Surrendering earth to thugs: how atheism empowers ISIS.” WTF?”, you might be asking yourself? But yes, that’s Samuel’s thesis. This is Full Cunk.

How does it work? This way:

Why have progressive politicians failed to reckon with ISIS’s theological DNA? Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry says the answer is that Western liberals have sold out to “Vulgar Marxism,” a worldview in which religious and philosophical concepts are reduced to meaningless creations of the warring upper and lower classes.

That’s right, as Samuel says: “Contemporary secular progressives simply do not trade in the marketplace of metaphysical ideas.” If we don’t take metaphysical ideas seriously (because we’re ATHEISTS, you see), we can’t effectively combat them.

Sound dumb? You got it:

In other words, embracing the secular atheistic worldview is in fact laying out a welcome mat for terrorists like ISIS. Of course, not all atheists are aggressively relativistic or Marxist, but it is indisputable that the overwhelming majority of such articulations come from atheistic voices.Crank atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris write glowingly about a future sans religion, which will supposedly signal the impending disappearance of violent oppressors such as ISIS. These writers conveniently ignore the fact that Europe, having spent now more than a generation as a post-Christian secular fantasy, is impotent to drive Islamic extremism from its culture. The idea that atheism disarms the forces of oppression and violence is no more credible than arming our anti-ISIS forces with water guns.

What he’s saying, in so many words, is that you have to be religious to effectively battle religiously-inspired terrorism. (At least Samuel takes ISIS seriously as motivated by extremist Islam.)  And here’s the closing paragraph, which in its sheer Cunkery is hard to match, even in the writings of the Guardian’s Andrew Brown. I’ve put the last sentence in bold because it’s so . . . well, see for yourself:

Islamic terrorism is fueled by worldview. Failure to acknowledge this basic fact stems from a latent acceptance of vulgar relativism, the idea that transcendent ideas like religion and philosophy are excuses for the racial and geopolitical stuff that’s actually REAL. Declaring religious ideas irrelevant or off-limits will continue to put the West into the vulnerable stupor that ISIS has already taken advantage of. To take ISIS seriously, we have to take its religious convictions seriously, which means taking religion per se seriously, which means, in the end, taking secular progressivism out to the trash heap.

Need I point out that to take religion seriously doesn’t mean that you have to be religious? To paraphrase Orwell, only a Christian intellectual could believe things like that: no ordinary person could be such a fool.


Who is Samuel? On his website it says this:

Samuel James is a writer, musician, movie-lover and bookworm. He was homeschooled K-12 and is a lifelong pastor’s kid (PK) who loves Jesus Christ and the local church (especially Third Avenue Baptist in Louisville, where he is a member). He earned a BA in philosophy from Boyce College. He loves his lifelong home state of Kentucky and lives in Louisville.

If you want another stunning example of Samuel’s intellectual acumen, read “Four responses a non-scientist Christian can give to science-based atheism.

h/t: jsp

80 thoughts on “The stupidest argument of the month: atheism empowers ISIS

  1. “If we don’t take metaphysical ideas seriously (because we’re ATHEISTS, you see), we can’t effectively combat them.”

    But… but… but… It’s precisely because (gnu) atheists do take metaphysical ideas seriously that we subject those ideas to scientific* scrutiny — and find them lacking.


    * broadly construed

    1. PS. Ron Muphy posted a thorough takedown of Samual’s piece that you cite at the end.

      4 Responses a Non-Scientist Christian Can Give to Science-Based Atheism

      These will not help any Christian make his or her case, but will only lead to ridicule. Sorry, but there’s enough of this very same stuff around as it is. You’re still vulnerable, because these points are pointless.

    2. Most contemporary critics of atheism formulate arguments in such a way that it appears they could use a good course in logic. Posts like the one from Samuel James make me wonder if they have somehow already taken advanced courses in “anti-logic”.

        1. I think his brain warping is the result of thirteen years of homeschooling followed by a degree from a bible college. Adding Plantinga to a mix like that is like taking coals to Newcastle.

          1. Perhaps I should have been more specific – you’re right that homeschooling will warp too.

            However, Plantinga from what I can tell is a great way to turn that homeschooling warp into a full-blown case of Dunning-Krueger.

          2. Make that 13 years of Xstian Homeschooling! I don’t think homeschooling itself is the problem. (I homeschool my son)

      1. He demonstrates many ill-founded beliefs, perhaps the most egregious being that weight between his ears is there for the sole purpose of exercising his neck muscles.

        Really, does the click-culture mean evolution might favour the genes of those who demonstrate a superior ability to post the most ridiculous drivel?

  2. I just a little while ago finished Graeme Wood’s article in The Atlantic about ISIS.

    If you want a really thoughtful and detailed analysis, I recommend it. L

  3. Well, home schooled from K-12 in the home of a minister and then a BA in philosophy from a theological college. It’s hard to go wrong with credentials like that.

    I can think of no better way to prepare for a life of selecting movies and groceries in Louisville KY than this.

      1. You really can predict 90% of what these people are going to say before they’ve even opened their mouths. It’s depressing.

      2. Did you read the post you linked to, or just assume its content based on its title? Because nowhere does it say, imply or insinuate that Obama is a Marxist, Muslim, or atheist, nor does it suggest that Obama is lying about his beliefs in any way.

        I found it an interesting look into the evangelical viewpoint, actually. The overall point is that under the evangelical definition of Christian, which is far stricter than the normal use of the term and requires a number of rites/beliefs, Obama may indeed not qualify as a Christian despite honestly viewing himself as one, but that without having intimate knowledge of the man’s soul it would also be hubris to definitively delare that he wasn’t a Christian – hence the support for Walker’s “I don’t know”, which in this context actually makes some degree of sense (apologies for the overly long sentence).

        1. Yeah, it was interesting. But the fatal flaw is that you have to presume, as this lunatic does, that self-identification (alone) is not sufficient, other Xians get to judge and decided who is and is not a Xian. Totally nuts. Hell Squads?

          1. Well, it’s not that nuts – all definitions are, after all, essentially a matter of group consensus. If I started saying that I self-identify as Christian, despite not believing in a god, not being convinced Jesus’s character was even based on a real person, and not giving extra credence to philosophies espoused in the Bible, then I’d say you have perfectly good grounds to say that my self-identification is flawed and that I should not count as a Christian.

            I’d say it’s largely a problem of the insular, self-contained nature of evangelicalism, as well as the importance it plays to one’s self-identity. If an evangelical identifies as a Christian, and has been taught all his life that being a Christian means believing exactly XYZ, then it makes perfect sense that this evangelical would not view someone who only believes X as also being a Christian. A more liberal upbringing might have reversed this somewhat, by teaching that Christian in general means one believes X, but that many others also believe Y, Z, A, B, and so on. It’s the identification with the Christian label that I think is the hitch here in preventing someone like Walker or James from saying Obama’s a Christian, because if he is, that means there are other ways of being a Christian than theirs – and theirs being the only one is a foundational part of their world-view.

            1. So in other words, Samuel is to the average ‘Christian’ as ISIS is to the average Muslim…

              1. I honestly considered using that comparison a few times while composing my previous posts, but decided it to be, while accurate in this specific context, otherwise an unfair one. Fundamentalists of all stripes (and authoritarian groups in general) often share this conflation of personal identity with ideology or community.

    1. For the record, I am an evangelical pastor’s kid who was homeschooled (for a couple of years), and now I’m an atheist who will start a PhD program in Evolutionary Biology later this year. Your early environment is not necessarily your destiny.

  4. I read through James’s “Four responses a non-scientist Christian can give to science-based atheism.” Good grief! I couldn’t find any evidence that there is a real argument there. I think this is because of the way he uses emotion-laden words, as well as other tricks of the trade. Maybe if I have some time I’ll look a little harder.

      1. Probably because everyone was telling him what a load of rubbish it was, which you obviously recognize too. 🙂

        It’s literally screaming for a takedown! I pretty much wrote one in my head twice as long as his article as I read it. It’s even stupider and more lacking in logic than the piece Jerry highlighted, which is saying something.

        And those “crank atheists” are, of course, two of those who have been most vocal in telling people they need to take the religious motives of DAESH more seriously. It’s the religious apologists (Reza Aslan. Karen Armstrong, Glenn Greenwald et al I’m talking about you) who are failing to identify the problem properly.

        1. Exactly – if he’d followed the logic of his argument to its conclusion he’d have ended up lauding Dawkins and Harris. What a berk.

  5. Samuel James is a hateful, ignorant, malicious buffoon.

    Everything he says is not even rong.

    If I had a bio like James, I would hide it. Everry phrase is an embarrassment.

    Oh wait…he is a philospher from:

    Boyce College is the undergraduate school of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

    Address: 2825 Lexington Road, Louisville, KY 40206

    Phone: (502) 897-4693

    Color: Red

    Founded: 1998

    What a prestigious place. How can one doubt a school that is Red!!!!!1!!!

    1. FFS! Seriously? They include a colour? SMH. Face palm. And all similar stuff people 30 years younger than me write in such situations.

  6. The only boy who could ever reach me was the son of a preacher man. Yes, he was. Was. Oooooooo …

    I’m just not following how it’s important to take x group seriously from the perspective of their religion, when I’m pretty sure what certain people mean by “taking seriously” is, you know, killing them. If anything, “taking seriously” their beliefs, as in understanding the enemy’s culture and motivations, is one or the key considerations among those who argue against hostile action as the solution to insurgency.

    The West isn’t going to kill every Jihadist. The West isn’t going to convert very many of them – to non-violence, to reason and certainly not to Xtianity. I have no idea what the solution* is for the Middle East, but whatever might work, abandoning reason is absolutely the least likely approach to solving any problem.

    * – I mean, I know the solution is raising children to be reasonable, establishing beneficent government, creating opportunity for self-actualization through a just distribution of resources, etc. I’m saying I don’t know what the solution is within the box of what the West is actually able to effect.

  7. “These writers conveniently ignore the fact that Europe, having spent now more than a generation as a post-Christian secular fantasy, is impotent to drive Islamic extremism from its culture.”

    No, no, no! First of all, the USA has a very tiny amount of muslims, even judaism is bigger in the USA than islam. Secondly, a lot of muslim immigrants were brought in to supply the booming European economy of the 1950’s with workers, to keep the cost of labour down. It’s now forgotten, but the political Left opposed mass immigration at the time, because it meant lower wages for employees. The immigrants were often from the intellectually and economically poorest places of Turkey and Marocco, which meant that they were highly religious and supported a literal reading of the quran.

    Secondly, most European nations are not secular at all. France is an exception. Muslims can receive money to build their own faith schools and close themselves off from society.

    If only my country had a seperation of church and state.

  8. Thanks Jerry, for helping to oppose and expose this guy. Love the Ron Murphy “thorough takedown” of Samuel’s “4 responses piece”, which got my dander up when I read it.

  9. Some days it is as though there is a contest going on for the stupidest anti-atheism argument to be had. Unfortunately, the contest never ends and the contestants keep making stupider arguments, like a form of runaway selection for stupidity.

  10. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris write glowingly about a future sans religion, which will supposedly signal the impending disappearance of violent oppressors such as ISIS.

    Not exactly, the gnus admit that people can do bad things without religion but eliminating religion would certainly cut down on the majority of those bad things. What’s that Weinberg quote?

    Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

  11. By the same “reasoning” I guess that is why Samuel James finds it impossible to refute the claims made Muslims with respect to the divinity of Mo and the claims made by Hindus with respect to a plethora of gods with blue skin, extra arms and elephant trunks.

  12. I think Professor Ceiling Cat is just upset that Sammy Jimmy didn’t include him in the list of “crank atheists”.

  13. I don’t understand his pice at all. I think he saying that because “vulgar relativism” and “vulgar Marxism” is a belief some atheists follow therefore secular atheists and progressive politicians can’t fight religiously inspired terrorism because those ideas don’t take metaphysics seriously. He spend some time trying to define those ideas but he doesn’t name the atheists or progressive politicians, he can’t say what they believe and how those beliefs are acted on.

    He mentions that some unnamed progressive politicians have sold out to vulgar marxism, a philosophical concept that doesn’t take philosophical concepts seriously. His quote of Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry contradicts itself. He quotes Marx saying that religion is “just” the opium of the people and then describes this quote by saying “beliefs have no influence on history.” Saying “just” the opium of the people is using quotations marks incorrectly and ignoring the context of the quote for a nice sound bite that proves nothing. If religion is an opium of the people then you can’t say beliefs have no influence, even if they are just illusions. Opium (whether metaphorical or otherwise) and illusions have had a great influence on history. Gobry is not “absolutely correct” as James seems to think.

    He provides no evidence that progressive politicians or atheists don’t take the ideas of ISIS seriously. Politicians could just be quiet about the religious influence of ISIS because they don’t want to offend religion and the religious people who may vote for them. Atheists could just be quite about because they don’t want to criticise a religion they have very little contact with or because they don’t want to appear racist.

    This still ignores the fact that atheists and progressive politicians take ISIS very seriously as actual people. To say that we don’t acknowledge that Islamic terrorism is inspired by a worldview is just utter bollocks that I can’t take to be something said seriously by a serious human. He has said nothing to support his conclusion.

    1. I also find his use of “vulgar” amusing because it’s just the sort of word a Marxist would use (since vulgar means “belonging to the masses”).

    2. He hasn’t actually read Marx (or if so, with attention). If he had, he’d have noticed that it is precisely because religion is the opium of the people that it has effect. Marx is outraged that those in power have drugged the people into a stupor. I think if he knew about ISIS he’d change the drug used in the metaphor for some, but …

  14. More evidence that your decision not to move to Patheos was the correct one. It seems that for every Friendly Atheist there are ten like Samuel’s Notebook.

  15. No doubt his argument is ridiculous, but there is also a bit of sense in some of what he says. In fact, Sam Harris has said the same thing, i.e. that liberals refuse to acknowledge religion’s role in terrorism because they can’t believe that terrorists actually believe the tenets of their faith.

    1. Good point actually. I do actually find it hard to credit that, deep down, those guys actually really believe all that crap.

      Probably comes from my family background as a typical English wishy-washy ‘Christian’, I think we would all have been shocked and even mildly offended to come across anyone who took the Bible _literally_. So mediaeval.

      1. P.S. I don’t refuse to acknowledge religion’s role in terrorism, that seems painfully obvious by now. I just don’t understand it.

  16. Apparently Patheos is like a grave yard, it takes anything. All lunatics with a computer are welcome.

    Somewhere it said, never trust a guy with two first names. Apparently the only kind of Marxism this fellow knows is the vulgar kind. His other piece tells us the only theism is the supernatural kind. Has a ring to it.

    1. Yeah, I’ve never been impressed with Patheos, and this doesn’t help. The Friendly Atheist seems OK, but I’m not a regular.

  17. I think thats going to be a contender for the year let alone month.
    Not sure why he seems to be saying secular progressives are the ones ignoring ISIS (or whatever they are today) religious nature.
    In my experience its more the religious apologists who do their best to skip round those details.

  18. I think his underlying assessment of the situation, of the kind of thinking that shapes liberal reaction to ISIS, is spot on – that the majority of modern secularists are deeply disconnected from the reality of religion and religious belief, and that this stops them from considering the role religion might play in motivating behaviour. No-one I know even mentions religion when we talk about why ISIS do what they do – they’re all intelligent, educated people and they all have their own, intricately reasoned answers to the question, but they are part of a culture which regards religious claims as preposterous and embarrassing – they don’t think genuine, hardcore literalists really exist, and when these genuine hardcore literalists do pop up, in some posthumously released video, and proceed to enumerate, with absolute, unwavering sincerity, their religious motivations, many secularists glaze over, before eventually asking ‘well, I wonder what’s really motivating them?’ On top of that, religious people in modern secular societies tend not to talk about what they actually believe, and if they do it’s so abstracted and amorphous that the irreligious are further lulled into thinking no-one really takes scriptural truth claims seriously. To a certain extent the kind of completely subsumed religious life that many belivers lead, in which they pray five times a day, are not permitted access to secular media, learn their scripture by the age of four or five, in which every decision is viewed through the prism of a single deeply superstitious and irrational book, is literally unimaginable to many secularists. It’s such a different way of life, it’s so at odds with the secular world of competing ideas, that secularists often can’t see how natural it is to believe nonsense if that nonsense is the background to your daily existence.
    In that limited sense James has got a point. And yet at the crucial moment his thinking reverses entirely and the enemies become ‘new atheists’, the only secularists who do recognise the connection between religious beliefs and the actions of believers. Many people would say one of the defining characteristics of gnus is that they take the consequences of religious belief seriously, which is precisely why muddle-headed hypocrites like James loathe them so. If James had followed his reasoning through to its logical conclusion he would’ve been forced to concede that Dawkins, Harris, and the rest are part of a very small group who are doing exactly what he himself seems to be advocating. It’s the dreary moralising and burning hatred of new atheism that derails his logic in the end. Why is it these kind of guys are so passionate about thinking only so far and no more?

      1. What’s the ‘return’ key? I’m not being sarcastic, I genuinely don’t know…

        If it’s to do with breaking up text, constructive criticism noted:)

    1. “Many people would say one of the defining characteristics of gnus is that they take the consequences of religious belief seriously, which is precisely why muddle-headed hypocrites like James loathe them so. If James had followed his reasoning through to its logical conclusion he would’ve been forced to concede that Dawkins, Harris, and the rest are part of a very small group who are doing exactly what he himself seems to be advocating.”



  19. Arg.

    A lot of seminaries and theological schools (for various denominations) grant undergraduate degrees in philosophy. Sort of like the premed curriculum, but for theology.

    Needless to say these places are not much like most larger, higher reputation departments.

    However, that said, some of the well-known folks from such larger departments do contribute to this sort of brainwarping – Plantinga, for example.

  20. If anything, I’d say atheists take “trade in the marketplace of metaphysical ideas” more seriously than the religious. That’s how some of us, maybe most of us, became atheists after all!

    Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are cranks? And why the pejorative, religion man?

    A bookworm eh? Keep tryin’ Sammy!

  21. He’s a crap writer too.
    I do not think that relativism can be aggressive or vulgar and I don’t think it is necessary to use the word vulgar multiple times in a couple of excerpted paragraphs.
    His writing is utterly lacking in style and substance. A frivolous waste of perfectly good pixels.

  22. I do not mean to sound harsh, and also Ccorrect me if I am wrong. I thought that ‘Cunking it up’ meant to pretend to be thicker than you really are. If that is the case, then Mr. James is not exactly Cunking.

  23. By now it practically has become a Law of the Internet: if the comments section appurtenant to any piece of writing is disabled, the author is highly likely to be incompetent.

  24. Clearly, based on the way he defines himself and the quality of his argumentation, he is not even trying to seriously deal with atheism.
    He is after atheism and no idea is too absurd for this.
    This piece, while a nice comedy, doesn’t provide anything to really get upset about. I can only pity this person and learn about the dangers of being homeschooled by a pastor.

  25. Samuel’s argument is really annoying, because it contains a grain of truth. There are plenty of people who refuse to see that ISIS really is motivated by religion, and I assume that many of them are atheists or half-heartedly religious people who cannot fathom how someone can take religion really seriously. But the two atheists he mentions by name, Dawkins and Harris, have practically spent years pointing at Islamic extremists and screaming from the rooftops, “Look! This is what happens when someone actually believes this crap! This is why religion is bad!” On the other hand, you’ve got moderate Christians like Obama declaring that IS is not Islamic. So who’s the enabler?

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