Tuesday, July 14, 2009

David Aikman's 1979 Ph.D. Dissertation: The Role of Atheism in the Marxist Tradition

I was recently able to get my hands on a copy of David Aikman's Ph.D. dissertation at my local library. As you can see from the picture to the left, there is the title page to the work. It was due back at the library last month so before I returned it I decided to quickly scan the title page so I could include a good visual with the post.

I found out about this work while reading through the references for David Marshall's book The Truth Behind the New Atheism and writing my refutation. Ever since I saw the reference for the dissertation I'd been trying to find a copy of it so I could read Aikman's arguments for myself. I also wanted to read it since David Marshall raves on and on about how great it is and how good Aikman's research supposedly is.

During some of my unpleasant discussions [see the March, May, and June 2009 Updates] with David Marshall at the amazon.com forums after making Marshall aware of my refutation of Aikman's book he told me (without any arguments or reasons whatsoever) that my refutation of Aikman's book was badly argued. He preceeded to tell me about Aikman's dissertation and said how it was very well researched and made a solid case arguing that atheism played a large role in Marxism. Because Marshall neglected to ever quote the dissertation or tell me where I could find it, it was pretty difficult to find but after doing some digging I finally was able to find a copy.

After reading through some of it, it is well-written and seems to be well researched. However, my suspicions were confirmed. I had mentioned to Marshall in one of our discussions that I likely refuted Aikman's dissertation because I was "sure" he used the same arguments in his book, The Delusion of Disbelief, that he did his dissertation. Marshall, in his usual sneering tone, told me that I "screwed up" and that "[w]hatever [I feel myself] 'sure' of" I didn't refute Aikman's dissertation nor was I right about the similar arguments contained in each. He continues to say how I was unable to "distinguish between" Aikman's book and dissertation [See my review of David Marshall's book for screenshots of these pathetic remarks]. Marshall can be such an ass sometimes...

If Marshall had actually read my review of Aikman's book he would have seen that Aikman did, in fact, use basically the same main argument in both his book and dissertation. This doesn't surprise me though. I reasoned that if someone wrote a 535 page thesis on the same subject that they're currently writing a book about, why wouldn't that person reference at least some of that research they spent so much time on? It just makes sense, but Marshall just decides to insult me anyway, even though I turned out to be right after all.

In The Delusion of Disbelief on page 101, Aikman frames his argument by claiming that atheism was responsible for the atrocities within communist countries by arguing that atheism is defined as a "rebellion against religious faith", or anti-religious. Of course, as most should know, this is not the correct definition of atheism.

In his dissertation, Aikman says on page six that "...to be an atheist even today implies a rejection of Christianity and sometimes even a hostility towards it." Also on page seven he says: "In understanding why Marxism is so anti-religious, such a distinction is vital to make. Marxism, indeed, is not only atheistic in this sense we have just defined, but it is hardly less hostile to agnosticism than to belief in God itself." [emphasis mine]

Another quote (I forgot to write down the page number):

"Yet the equation of revenge against God with human pride lends to Marx's anguish what might definitely be considered a Christian theological dimension. As Krasnow mentions, 'Marx was more actively and strongly driven by a hatred of God and his world [than Prometheus]."

Pages 2-3:

"This, indeed, is the case. The hostility towards religion in the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and many other Marxist writers, is a well-known characteristic of Marxist philosophy. Some scholars even when approaching the issue from a variety of perspectives, have concluded that anti-religion is the [emphasis in original] dominant characteristic of Marxism. H.B. Acton, for example, a distinguished professional philosopher, has put it this way:

'Marxism is an anti-religious philosophy first formulated by Marx and Engels, who did not, however, attempt such a closely reasoned account of their view as a whole as Plato and Epicurus or Spinoza did of theirs.'"

Page 210:

"The anti-religious and anti-Christian expressions of Marx's thought, in their overt and explicit forms, are scattered throughout many of his writings of the post-1848 years, both in his correspondence and in his major works like Capital. They indicate that his atheism, though it ceased to be the specific topic of his writings, is a constant in his world view."

Page 215:

“The attitude was, quite simply, another example of Premethean [sic] raging at the gods, identical with the attitude of rebellion towards the Creator that we find in his youthful literary work as well as a case of the hatred towards 'the gods' that is evident in his dissertation.” (emphasis mine)

Again, on page 124 in The Role of Atheism in the Marxist Tradition, Aikman says of Marx's poems written months before he converted to Hegelianism:

"It is the thoughts they express, especially towards their own spiritual fates [the characters in Marx's play], that make Oulanem such a rich source for the understanding of Marx's own emergent rebelliousness towards God. [emphasis mine]

As you can see, in order to make his case, Aikman redefines atheism to include anti-religiosity, which isn't an inherent aspect of atheism at all. Aikman's entire dissertation is based upon this false definition of atheism (as is his book), and he wrote over 500 pages explaining how Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Friedrich Engels were anti-religious and tries to conflate their anti-religiosity with atheism.

Needless to say, my hunch was correct and Marshall was once again proven wrong by yours truly.

If anyone is interested in getting their hands on this dissertation I was told that it is available at most libraries through an Interlibrary loan, which is how I got my copy. I wasn't able to read a lot of it; I just read bits and pieces of different chapters because it was so long and the library (it was from Illinois I believe) didn't allow it to be checked out for more than two weeks. I had been busier during that time and didn't have too much time to read it as throughly as I'd hoped, but I got the basic idea. It was very interesting; it was just completely wrong because Aikman's entire premise was flawed from the beginning.

Update - 7-16-10

I was able to scan and upload Aikman’s dissertation so it is available to read here.


  1. I'm presently discussing Aikman's dissertation with Marshall, it's here:

  2. Thanks for the link. I'll check it out. I'm glad my links were helpful and (I'm assuming) you looked at his dissertation yourself if you’re the individual on Amazon I think you are. That’s why I wanted to post it. To not allow Marshall to hide behind that work as he has with me because it can be difficult to come by. Not anymore :- )


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