Apologetics Answers

Is Religion the Main Cause of Wars?


This has been echoed many times throughout modern civilisation, “if we got rid of religion, we would have less war in the world.”

Richard Dawkins, arguably the world’s most famous atheist remarks that if religion was abolished, there would be a “much better chance of no more war1

Many atheists seem to hold to this rhetoric, and when in conversation with a religious person, tend to bring up this objection.

In some sense, it is easy to see why this argument is used so frequently; taking the most notable example of our day, ISIS present an ongoing threat that is plastered all over the media constantly. Being a part of Islam it is therefore easy to link the two together and then to suggest that religions like this cause the problems of war and violence in the world. Whilst this seems logical on the outset, here is the major problem: The evidence does not support this view. In fact, it goes almost completely against it.

Firstly, when we look The Encyclopaedia of Wars, with an exhaustive study published in 2008 citing 1,763 throughout anthropological history, it marks a mere ‘123’ of the wars as religious. In percentages, this is only about 7%! The other 93% (or 1,640) of wars were caused by other means.2

This on its own more or less defeats the claim that religion is the main cause of war, however we can support the evidence even further.

The institute for Economics and Peace recently published reports supporting this idea and debunking the myth that religion causes war.3 They found that a country with less religion does not make it necessarily more peaceful. Amongst other places they cite North Korea as an example. North Korea is a country with minimal religion however it was deemed 10th in the ‘least peaceful country’ to be in in 2013.4

Lastly, Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion Alister McGrath comments that:


The 20th Century is perhaps the greatest obstacle to that the metanarrative of secular progress has to overcome, not least because of its sacred mythology of the unique capacity of religion to generate violence. The First Word War, the Great Depression and the Second World War all raised awkward questions about the plausibility of this narrative. We were told that if we got rid of religion – or at least neutralized it, pulling out its teeth – then the likelihood of war would be drastically reduced, since religion was a key element in causing global conflict. Yet as far as scholars can see, there were no significant religious motivations for either the First World War (death toll around 16 million) or the Second World War (death toll around 60 million).5


The myth that religion is the main cause of war/violence is unfounded according to the evidence. Yes, it may “reflect it”6,  however, as Alister McGrath also states, “We need to face up to the fact that, as a species, human beings are animals that use violence to achieve their ends.”7a 7b  The problem isn’t with religion, the problem is with us…humans.




[1] Louise Ridley. 2014. Does Religion Cause War… And Do Atheists Have Something To Answer For?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/11/14/religions-war-cause-responsible-evidence_n_6156878.html.


[2] Charles Phillips. 2017. Encyclopedia of Wars – 3 Volume of Set (Fact on File Library of World History). [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Wars-Volume-Library-History/dp/0816028516.


[3] Institute for Economics and Peace. 2017. Religion and War. [ONLINE] Available at: http://economicsandpeace.org/.


[4] Forbes. 2017. The Most And Least Peaceful Countries. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.forbes.com/pictures/54f4e703da47a54de82444a7/no-10-north-korea/#60588f2e55f6.



[5] McGrath, AM, 2017. The Great Mystery – Science, God and the Human Quest for Meaning (p 181 -182). 1st ed. Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton An Hachette UK company.



[6] McGrath, AM, 2017. The Great Mystery – Science, God and the Human Quest for Meaning (p 182). 1st ed. Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton An Hachette UK company.


[7] McGrath, AM, 2017. The Great Mystery – Science, God and the Human Quest for Meaning (p 182). 1st ed. Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton An Hachette UK company.


[7b] I do not agree with the statement that humans are animals, however I used the quotation to get across the main point which is about humans and violence

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