Devin Kelley’s Atheism

As of today, the evidence clearly indicates that Devin Kelley, the Texas church mass murderer, was an atheist.

First, a screen shot of his Facebook page had a quote displayed that is popular among atheists (for obvious reasons):

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

Kelley attributed this quote to Mark Twain.  Yet most people do not think the quote is legitimate, as Twain did not live in a time when people knew the universe to be billions of years old.  Back in 2012, skeptics on the Snopes Forum tried to track the quote down to find its source.  It appeared in Richard Dawkins anti-religious book, The God Delusion. 

But as Brian from the Snopes Forum noted:

As the WikiQuotes article mentions it’s quoted in Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Unfortunately, Dawkins (apparently) doesn’t say where he found it. While searching for this quote I noticed that there are only a handful of references prior to 2007 and none before 2006. In fact, the earliest reference to this quote I’ve found is this Usenet post dated 6 January 2006. And not one reference to this quote says where it’s from.

So it would appear the quote only became popular after Dawkins’ book made it popular among atheists.  In fact, since Dawkins never sourced this quote to this day, it’s possible he himself made it up as a paraphrase of similar sayings from Twain.  If so, we are left with the huge irony of Devin Kelley’s Facebook page prominently displaying a Richard Dawkins quote.

Second, the Facebook page shows that Devin Kelley liked four atheist pages:  The Friendly Atheist, Atheism, Atheist, and Atheist Republic.

The Friendly Atheists’s Sarabeth Caplin tries to squirm out of this fact in a blog posting entitled, No Evidence Links the TX Church Shooter’s Alleged Atheism to His Awful Crime:

Fueling this dumpster-fire is the fact that the shooter “liked” this very website’s Facebook page.

Rational people understand that simply “liking” a page on Facebook doesn’t necessarily equal an endorsement, but for extremists, it’s the perfect excuse to justify their irrational thinking.

The “like” does not necessarily mean he endorsed Mehta’s page, but that’s a straw man.  That is, while it is possible that Kelley “liked” Mehta’s page without truly liking it, it is unlikely.  It is typical for people on Facebook to “like” pages they like.  We all know this.

In another blog posting, Hemant Mehta argues:

Because the shooter had “liked” my page on Facebook, Barber assumed (with no evidence) that this meant he took his inspiration from me. Even though the shooter also liked a page for psychics (hardly the natural overlap for an atheist) and there’s nothing I’ve ever said on this site that would suggest an endorsement of what he did.

Notice how Mehta just contradicted Caplin’s point and accepts Kelley’s “like” of a psychic page on face value.  What happened to “simply “liking” a page on Facebook doesn’t necessarily equal an endorsement?”  That Kelley also liked a psychic page is not all that relevant given that many atheists embrace various forms of paranormal beliefs.  For example, atheist activist PZ Myers once noted:

Like, umm, the word “atheist”? There is a straightforward dictionary definition of that word, of course, but one thing you quickly discover if you actually interact with a lot of atheists is that the meaning in practice varies a lot. I have met atheists who believe in reincarnation; atheists who think Chopra is on to something with his ‘universal consciousness’ claims

Atheist activist  David Mcafee, who sometimes writes for Friendly Atheist, had this to say about his experience with atheists at atheist conferences:

The second person to come up to me, believe it or not, was also a Truther who wanted to know why I believed the “official government story” about what happened. But they weren’t the only ones. People who believed in ghosts, psychics, and other assorted woos all came to tell me why they’re right despite a complete lack of supporting evidence.

In fact, Mehta himself often promotes The Satanic Temple on his blog.

The problem for Mehta is that he ignores the other evidence.  Kelley did not only like his page, but also liked three other atheist Facebook pages.  In addition, Kelley headlined his Facebook page with a quote that is popular among atheists.  And then there is the third line of evidence for Kelley’s atheism – several people who knew of him testify that he was an atheist.

Patrick Boyce, who attended New Braunfels High School with the killer, told ‘He had a kid or two, fairly normal, but kinda quiet and lately seemed depressed.

‘He was the first atheist I met. He went Air Force after high school, got discharged but I don’t know why.

Nina Rose Nava, who went to school with the gunman, wrote on Facebook: ‘In (sic) in complete shock! I legit just deleted him off my fb cause I couldn’t stand his post.

‘He was always talking about how people who believe in God we’re stupid and trying to preach his atheism’

Christopher Leo Longoria replied: ‘I removed him off FB for those same reasons! He was being super nagtive (sic) all the timd (sic).’

Michael Goff added: ‘He was weird but never that damn weird, always posting his atheist sh** like Nina wrote, but damn he always posted pics of him and his baby – crazy.’

And the LA Times quotes a fifth person:

“All atheism and gun posts,” Reid Mosis wrote. “Nothing that led me to think he was about [to] do anything close to this, though.”

Considered all together, we have a Facebook page that prominently displays a quote popular among atheists,  four popular atheist Facebook pages were “liked”, and five people who knew him claim that he was either an atheist or someone who constantly posted about atheism.  In light of all this evidence, the only rational option is to infer that Devin Kelley was indeed an atheist.  Of course, this is only an inference based on available evidence, so I am open to a better one.

What’s more, we can also note that there is no evidence to suggest this inference is wrong.  One could argue that the evidence is not sufficient for a certain conclusion, but that is true of just about every inference, thus not all that meaningful.  Early on, there was the belief that Kelley taught Bible classes, but that turned out to be misinformation. 

Of course, just because Kelley was an atheist does not necessarily mean his atheism played a role in the massacre.  Nevertheless, did it?

How could a mere lack of belief in God facilitate such an atrocity?  After all, the vast majority of atheists do not commit acts of violence against theists.  Most of them live peaceful, normal lives.

We could point to the alleged Mark Twain quote that Kelley had on his Facebook page about not fearing death.  That is, if Kelley understood that his murderous actions would likely result in his death, or had he intended this killing as an elaborate, attention-drawing suicide scheme, his atheism would have removed his fear of death.  He could commit his murders and then get away with it by escaping into nonexistence.   But a willingness to return to the emptiness of nonexistence does not explain why he would commit such a horrendous act in the first place.  Atheism, by itself, simply does not provide such motivations.

Yet what if it is not accurate to think of Kelley as a mere atheist?

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3 Responses to Devin Kelley’s Atheism

  1. Dhay says:

    > Hemant Mehta tries to squirm out of this fact in a blog posting entitled, No Evidence Links the TX Church Shooter’s Alleged Atheism to His Awful Crime: …

    Not Hemant Mehta this time, that post was by ‘guest author’ Sarabeth Caplin, though it can be hard to tell. (FYI the very first Friendly Atheist post on the church massacre was by David McAfee.)

    There’s stylistic differences, but basically they are clones; they each make the tragedy all about the same Friendly Atheist pet issues, and they all sing from the same hymn sheet (as the saying goes); and in any event she’s posted on Mehta’s blog with what has to be assumed is Mehta’s full knowledge and approval of content; the messages are his as much as hers.

  2. Michael says:

    Not Hemant Mehta this time, that post was by ‘guest author’ Sarabeth Caplin

    Thanks. I made that correction.

  3. FZM says:

    How could a mere lack of belief in God facilitate such an atrocity?  After all, the vast majority of atheists do not commit acts of violence against theists.  Most of them live peaceful, normal lives.

    Atheism understood as a lack of belief in God couldn’t facilitate any kind of atrocity. However, atheism plus anti-religious or anti-theistic beliefs could probably facilitate an atrocity in the right circumstances (not sure if that is what happened in this shooting case, and the guy wasn’t just mentally ill). A lot of what often gets labelled as ‘atheism’ is actually a kind of a bundle of lack of belief in God & gods combined with various anti-religious and anti-theistic beliefs.

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