Wait. Haven’t atheists such as Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett been telling us ad nauseam that religions such as Islam are harmful as well as false? Ian Buruma says that “Islamist terrorists use the Koran to justify murderous actions, but the actual reasons for their holy war are generally political and not theological.” If this is so, then the harm these Jihadists do is not attributable to religion in general or to Islam in particular. It is attributable to politics in general or to their political views in particular. That S is both a murderer and an adherent of religion R doesn’t mean that R caused S to murder.

Addendum: After I composed this post, I discovered this essay by psychologist David P. Barash. Suppose your goal is to explain the pervasiveness of religious belief. You might try to discover some benefit that it confers. But can’t it just as easily be said that the best explanation of the pervasiveness of religious belief is that it’s true? It seems to me that atheists such as Dennett (author of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon) beg the question against theism. They assume (without argument) that it’s false and try to explain it in naturalistic terms. Maybe it’s not false! Whatever scientists are doing, philosophers should restrict themselves to arguments for and against religious belief. Philosophers, as such, are interested in the grounds of belief, not in the causes of belief. There could not be a more fundamental distinction.