Saturday, 18 May 2013

No Theists in Foxholes

Amazingly, theists seem to imagine that trotting out the aphorism, "There are no Atheists in Foxholes" somehow vindicates their irrational belief in an imaginary friend in the sky. The argument seems to be that, if other people are irrational under stress, it makes my irrational superstition, which I have even when not under stress, somehow more rational.

But what more can we expect from those who base their beliefs not on the rational but on irrational, evidence-free superstition, usually for no reason other than that their mummy and daddy did.

As Richard Pryor (I think) said, if you ever find yourself falling off a high building there are two things you should do:
  • First, scream! Scream loud and scream all the way down. It won't help you survive but you might as well improve the chance of the paramedics finding your body!
  • Second, flap your arms. No human has ever flown but you just might be the first! What have you got to lose?

When the rational won't work, be irrational. At least you'll have something to think about on the way down.

There are no atheists in foxholes' is not an argument against atheism, it's an argument against foxholes.

James Morrow
Surprisingly, it doesn't seem to have been until the mid 20th century that anyone thought to come up with this defensive slogan for theists even though foxholes were more a feature of World War I. This is possibly because the conditions of warfare, and the evidence of the random nature of mass slaughter made very many people question their faith. They may not have been Atheists when they went into the foxholes, but many of then came out Atheist. Similarly, of those who survived, many Jews came out of the death camps having asked where God is, and found he wasn't there.

The slogan's origins is slightly obscure:

The origin of the quotation is uncertain. U. S. Military Chaplain William T. Cummings may have said it in a field sermon during the Battle of Bataan in 1942. Other sources credit Lieutenant Colonel Warren J. Clear, who was also at Bataan, or Lieutenant Colonel William Casey. But the phrase is most often attributed to war correspondent Ernie Pyle. It was also quoted by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in remarks broadcast from the White House as part of a February 7, 1954 American Legion Program.

The lie to the claim, since it is stated as an absolute, can be given by a single example:

Joe Simpson, author of Touching the Void, addresses the issue in the film adaptation of his nearly fatal climb up the Siula Grande mountain. Referring to the moment when he lay at the bottom of a deep crevasse, dehydrated, alone, and with a broken leg, he states: '"I was totally convinced I was on my own, that no one was coming to get me. I was brought up as a devout Catholic. I'd long since stopped believing in God. I always wondered if things really hit the fan, whether I would, under pressure, turn round and say a few Hail Marys and say 'Get me out of here'. It never once occurred to me. It meant that I really don't believe and I really do think that when you die, you die, that's it, there's no afterlife."

Several atheist organizations object to the phrase. The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers has adopted the catch-phrase "Atheists in Foxholes" to emphasize that the original statement is just an aphorism and not a fact. The over 200 members of this organization publicly display their military service in order to show that there are atheists in foxholes, and on ships, and in planes [here]. The religious convictions of current U.S. military personnel are similar to those of the general American population, though studies suggest [page 25] that members of the military are slightly less religious.

So much for the truth of the claim - which is rarely a consideration for theists. How about the logic of it?

Maybe there are only atheists in foxholes. If the faithful truly and fully believe in a protective deity, why would they dive into a foxhole to protect themseleves from the bullets whizzing by? A part of their brain knows damn well that if they do not protect themselves, the bullets will hardly discriminate between those who claim faith and those who reject it.

J. Anderson Thomson, Jr., MD;
Why We Believe In God(s) – 2011
As I showed in Why Religious people Behave Like Atheists, for the most part, and for most of their lives, even devoutly religious people act like perfectly normal Atheists. Like Atheists, they will get into the lifeboats if the ship is sinking and won't expect a magic invisible friend to reach down from about the sky to lift them clear. They will check before crossing the road and won't assume an invisible force is protecting them.

Just so on a battle-field. Like perfectly sensible Atheists, religious people, even the most fanatical, will take cover in the foxholes and will effectively abandon any belief that the invisible friend is looking after them or that it has a plan for them and decides when it's time for them to die. If they really believed that they would believe that diving into a foxhole would make not the slightest bit of difference to the outcome.

In actuality, there are no Christians in foxholes. What part of "thou shalt not kill" don't you understand?

RationalWikki - Foxhole Atheists
And why is that Muslims will pray to Allah, Christians will pray God (or to Jesus, Mary or one of their other demi-gods) and Hindus will pray to Krishna, Ganesh or Shiva, or one of their multiplicity of deities. In times gone by warriors in battle would have prayed to Wotan, Zeus, Apollo, Isis, or Osiris, or any one of a myriad other gods. Did that validate the existence of those gods, or justify a superstitious belief in them, or does the logic only hold for the god you are trying to justify believing in with no evidence? As I've said before, every argument for your god can be used for every other god too, and every argument against those other gods can be used against yours. That's no less true for this absurdly condescending aphorism. If you think it is, you don't understand confirmation bias.

In fact, even though they're not honest enough to admit it, there are no true theists in foxholes. There may be people who are pretending to be theists just in case it turns out to be true, but their actions tell a different story. Their actions tell us they don't believe what they preach.

By the way, if you're thinking of using the 'God helps those who helps themselves' excuse, are you really telling people that your god prefers people who behave like Atheists? That goes against everything your faith teaches - whichever one you are defending. It certainly goes against what the Christian Bible says (Luke 11:9).

So, the foxholes aren't so much full of theists as full of frightened hypocrites behaving like Atheists but pretending to be theists, just in case. All in all, not a good role model, excusable though their irrational behaviour might be in the circumstances.

submit to reddit

Income from ads will be donated to charities such as moderate centre-left groups, humanist, humanitarian and wildlife protection and welfare organisations.


  1. Awesome work! Thank you Rosa :) Reminds me of the other thing I often see theists posting, something about there not being any atheists on board a plane that's about to crash :)

  2. Nice post Rosa. I'm sick of hearing that tired old line. Particularly being ex-forces. @anidiotiknow

  3. But theists see at as a win win situation, if they die " it's gods will " but if they survive " god has a plan for them" how convenient that either outcome proves that god must be real.

  4. Rather- There are no atheists in terrorist training camps.


Obscene, threatening or obnoxious messages, preaching, abuse and spam will be removed, as will anything by known Internet trolls and stalkers or by known sock-puppet accounts.

A claim made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. Remember: your opinion is not an established fact unless corroborated.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Web Analytics