Atheist Jason Torpy Claims Not Praying is Atheism

Jason Torpy, former US Army Captain, atheist, and one-man band that is the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, recently commented on the study of religiosity and World War II veterans originally discussed here and announced back in May.  (The article at Religion News Service was written by Kimberly Winston, whose reporting on atheism was apparently the product of a generous donation from an atheist benefactor, Todd Stiefel.)

Torpy said [emphasis his]

The research also found that 28% of Pacific Infantry never prayed, even during heavy combat, so the study proves more than disproves the service of atheists in combat.

Torpy then contacted an (atheist) doctoral student, with Torpy saying

Mr Hammer first pointed out that 18% [of troops] were frightened and had high levels of fear symptoms but did not turn to prayer for support. So there are atheists in foxholes…

To summarize, Torpy seems to think that “never pray[ing]” in battle or not praying when frightened in battle “proves” there are atheists in the military.  He also manages to get in a dig at religious troops, saying another researcher

opined that atheists might make better soldiers since they were less likely to succumb to fear or to pray in the face of danger.

The “researcher” provides no evidence that an atheist is less likely to succumb to fear than a theist, nor that praying during “danger” makes one a bad soldier.  It is nothing more than a veiled slap at theistic veterans and servicemembers — though it isn’t a new one.  A few young atheist enlisted troops have said they, too, would prefer atheist battle buddies, as they wouldn’t drop to their knees and close their eyes during a firefight.

Ultimately, Torpy cleverly ignores the fact atheism is determined by the lack of belief in a deity; it cannot be proven by the presence or absence of prayer in specific circumstances.  Torpy ignores this because he thinks claiming “28%” of troops in combat are atheists — even if it isn’t true — helps his cause.

Of course, Jason Torpy would likely be “comfortable” with his explanation, just as he was in similar circumstances a few years ago.  In 2010, Torpy claimed that all US troops who had “no religious preference” in their records were non-theistic.  (He didn’t appreciate the fact accused Fort Hood shooter US Army Maj Nidal Malik Hasan also had “no religious preference” in his records.)

His tactic, while intellectually dishonest, worked: Torpy’s twisted statistics continue to be incorrectly cited as proof of the prevalence of “nontheists” in the US military — including to support the call for atheist “chaplains” just a few weeks ago.  Torpy is likely to be “comfortable” using these equally erroneous conclusions to support his future claims of religious demographics in the US military when it suits his purposes.

When directly questioned on his false presentation of data in 2010, Torpy essentially said he was confident most people who chose “NRP” were nontheists because any ‘good’ religious person would advertise their faith.  Torpy said:

It is more likely that nearly all of this group is of the nontheist variety. Many atheists choose NRP or even Christian so that they can focus on their military duties rather than risking discrimination…

[T]hose in majority faith categories (ie, Christian) with any measurable faith would choose their specific denomination. Certainly outliers may exist, but we are comfortable that the categorizations are grouped appropriately.

As noted at the time, there is a certain irony in an atheist placing “faith” in a belief the data does not support.