Scott Atran on Violence

by John Derbyshire

Anthropologist Scott Atran is the guy who wrote In Gods We Trust (2002), the best-known book on one side of the debate about the evolutionary origins of religion. Now Scott has a new book out probing the origins of violence, including suicide bombing. Haven’t seen the book yet, but there’s a thoughtful review by British pessimist philosopher John Gray in the current Literary Review.

If you read evangelical atheists like Richard Dawkins, you will be told that suicide bombers are driven by their irrational religious beliefs. “Suicide bombers do what they do,” writes Dawkins in a passage cited by Scott Atran, “because they really believe what they were taught in their religious schools; that duty to God exceeds all other priorities, and that martyrdom in his service will be rewarded in the gardens of Paradise.” What is striking about claims of this kind is that they are rarely accompanied by evidence. They are asserted as self-evident truths — in other words, articles of faith. In fact, as Atran writes, religion is not particularly prominent in the formation of jihadi groups …

Coincidentally, Boston Magazine just ran a piece about what motivates suicide bombers. Answer: they’re suicidal.

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