In a new article entitled “When Atheists Attack,” Skeptical Libertarian blog contributor Drew Rush takes issue with what he calls “some of my colleagues’ belief that atheism, rather than religion, is a more fertile soil for growing libertarian ideas in someone’s mind. Simply put, there are plenty of hardcore, statist atheists, and they’re just as bent toward social control and government dominion as many bible-brokers out there. How can libertarian atheists deny that coinciding with the age of the big government, centralized, welfare/warfare state is the most atheistic age the West has ever seen?”
As with conspiracy theories, we at the Skeptical Libertarian reject the existence of gods, not because we believe that it will further libertarianism, but because there is no evidence for their existence. We honestly do not care if skepticism is popular–it very often is not. As we wrote previously, “our commitment is to reality—popular or not—and to a conversation based on reason and evidence. Intellectual honesty is our core value, and scientific skepticism is the surest way to preserve that integrity.”
Moreover, we do not believe that “atheism” leads to anything, libertarianism or otherwise. Atheism is a lack of belief. Nothing follows from it any more than anything follows from a lack of belief in unicorns or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. What we do believe is that certain beliefs, including atheism, follow from an understanding of scientific skepticism. The null hypothesis, “there is no God,” has not and will never be “proven,” but the lack of evidence for the alternative means that anyone who adopts the principles of scientific skepticism cannot adopt any other view.
Moreover, we do deny that we live in the “age of big government”–a favorite myth of libertarians. Other periods had just as active states, just as devoted to social control. In reality, taking a global perspective, one could easily argue that we live in the age of limited government, where freedom of religion, speech, property, trade, and emigration are the norm and their absence increasingly the exception (Rush’s supposed example included). Even if the U.S. has a bigger government than in the past, its existence correlates with many other variables other than a slightly more secular society (greater education and much higher living standards, for example). Maybe government has grown simply because society can afford more parasites today than previously.
Skepticism’s demand for evidence does–in our view–also lead to libertarianism or some similar perspective. But to claim that everyone that levels the skeptical gaze at politics will do the same with as much vigor toward religious claims, or vice versa is to expect too much. We would suggest, however, that these views are highly correlated in part because skepticism and libertarianism reject arguments from authority (i.e. “some important person or group said it, so it is by definition true or best”).
We do have some empirical support for the view the libertarianism is correlated with skepticism toward religion. Certainly, many of the most famous classical liberals (loosely defined) were also to one degree or another religious skeptics–Adam Smith, David Hume, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, J.S. Mill, H.L. Menken, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, F.A. Hayek, Murray Rothbard, Robert Nozick, Charles Murray, and others. Among the average libertarian today, it is much harder to get good evidence, but the now defunct Liberty Magazine conducted a subscriber poll of over 600 libertarians in 1998 and found that 62 percent rejected the statement “there is a god,” which was actually down from 74 percent in 1988 (it’s interesting to note on this point that subscriber support for removing all obstacles to trade and travel saw similar drops in support, perhaps indicating more non-libertarian subscribers).
The realization that absolutely nothing follows from a lack of belief in god clears away some other bad arguments against atheism, which Rush repeats. “Eastern European and Asian communists,” he notes, “were all profoundly against the ideas of divinity and religion… I’m not saying their atheism caused them to be tyrants, but it certainly didn’t prevent them from becoming so either.” Soviets and Maoists opposed private religion because they saw it as competition for devotion to the totalitarian state.* Asking why their suppression of religion didn’t prevent them from becoming tyrants is totally incoherent: persecution was just an extension of their tyranny.
Skepticism demands free and open debate. It rejects appeals to authority and the pseudo-scientific technocracies that depend on them. It exposes arguments against truly free markets and personal liberty as baseless at best and absurd at worst. Atheism and libertarianism are just two expressions of skepticism, but as the Skeptical Libertarian page has taught us repeatedly, never confuse atheism and libertarianism with skepticism because there are many unskeptical libertarians and atheists. That’s why created a page for those people who demand evidence, reason, and science.
*This may have actually been a mistake. Hitler and other tyrants have used religion effectively as an ally, a technique recommended by the likes of Thomas Hobbes.
Support The Skeptical LibertarianAny amount is appreciate!
- The World’s First (and Last) ‘Genetically Modified’ Babies
- Snopes, “Liberal Bias,” and Trusting the Internet
- Don’t Let Boston Derail the Discussions on Immigration Reform
- 9 Debate Tactics for Defenders of Pseudoscience
- The 4 Dumbest Conspiracy Claims About Boston
- Incredible: Twitter pinpoints the minute of the attack
- The 6 Worst Media Reactions to the Boston Marathon Bombing
- Fake Quote Files: V.I. Lenin on Inflation and Taxation
Shop for Skeptical Libertarian Swag