January 2007

After perusing your site, I came across an article from a visitor who was ashamed that he immediately thought less of religious people. This caused me to challenge my own previously steadfast beliefs. Am I wrong to think all religious people are stupid? After some soul-searching I discovered my view: that anyone who believes in an interventionist god, and therefore a specific religion, is indeed less than generously endowed in the brains department. However, before you deduce that I am one of the atheists whose blind faith in non-religion ironically mirrors that of religious people, consider this.

Most intelligent religious people accept that their belief is based on either:

1. Evidence which is specific to their religion – for example, the Bible for Christians and the Koran (Karan? Sorry to the Islamic readers for my ignorance) for Muslims – and thus refutable on the basis that contradictory reports exist with the same basic origin: since both the Bible and Koran were written in roughly the same era and are mutually exclusive, we can never prove either is ‘gospel’ in any sene of the word.

2. Evidence which is common to all religion: the ‘God’ answers to the unanswerable questions that are cited by all religious movements (eg. “we have a complex universe, so we must have had an intelligent creator” etc. arguments).

Therefore, if we follow through on the Christianity vs. Islam analogy, a Christian/Muslim follows his beliefs purely on blind faith, because we can see that both Islam and Christianity have the same provability. Blind faith is, however religious people will argue, clearly an anathema to intelligence (you cannot have a rational conversation with someone that believes in your stupidity for no logical reason), and I think I am subsequently justified in assuming that anyone who is not a gerneral theist, atheist or agnostic, is an idiot to some degree.

Do you think I am justified in this opinion? Am I being close-minded?

I don’t think you are being close-minded. However, I do think you are incorrect.

I would argue with your premise that religious people accept that their belief is based on either a holy book or quasi-scientific evidence. It is true that religious people tend to give these reasons when pressed for the reason that they are religious, but for most, they were religious even before they knew that these arguments existed, therefore the cause must be elsewhere. Most people, in my experience, are religious because they were raised religious and it has become a part of their being, or they have undeniable emotional or personal reasons for being religious.

But even if your premise were true, I would disagree with your specific arguments.

1. Whether the Bible and Koran are mutually exclusive is out of my range of knowledge (it is possible that they are not, at least from an Islamic perspective, but I don’t know). However, that is not relevant because believers do not consider the books equal. This might be (in a sense) like saying that a science textbook and a creationist textbook are equal because they were written at about the same time and they are mutually exclusive so neither is true. You’re right that we can’t prove that either of these religious texts is divinely inspired, and that’s where you should probably focus your argument. (Also, I’d argue against saying that the Bible and Koran were written in roughly the same era — there’s quite a bit of time involved here, and the books were written in very different ways and circumstances.)

2. You are definitely correct that any evidence for a prime mover (a deist deity, if you will) is not in-and-of-itself evidence for a specific religion. However, there are a number of arguments religious people use, with a prime mover as a base, to show that their religion is preferable. Granted, IMO most of them are pretty bad.

Your conclusion uses the term “blind faith.” This is problematic, in that religious people very often don’t think they have blind faith. They think they have informed faith, or their faith is based on personal feelings or an “experience of the divine.”

I would also argue with the statement that blind faith is “clearly an anathema to intelligence.” Everyone has a certain amount of faith — or, at least, we all assume that certain things are true with no evidence for their truth. For example, I assume that other people exist and that there really is a world outside my mind. It is impossible to prove that this is true.

If you mean, however, that religious faith is anti-intelligent, then I would disagree with that statement as well. If someone “feels strongly in his heart” that Jesus died for his sins, all the proof in the world isn’t going to change that feeling. You can’t say that someone isn’t intelligent because they can’t change their emotions — this would be like me telling an orphan that he is dumb for feeling love for his mother because he doesn’t know who she is and she might not even be alive. It’s how a person who has these religious feelings acts that shows whether they are intelligent or not.

You should also keep in mind that there are many books out there that make scientific and/or rationalistic arguments for the truth of one religion or another. I have read a good number of these, and although I found them all lacking, they were often lacking not because of the author’s lack of intelligence, but because of the author’s lack of knowledge, experience, or familiarity with certain logical fallacies. I allow that a person can be very intelligent and still make mistakes — even very significant ones — in reasoning.

It all comes down to this. If everyone started life with a clean slate, free from any sort of religious education and bias, and was given the evidence for religion based on today’s scientific knowledge, then I would tend to agree that most intelligent people would choose, at most, deism (although I admit a bias in saying this). However, we don’t start out that way, and people have all sorts of different needs and ways of thinking. In my opinion, some people just don’t have the potential to be atheists, and I can’t condemn them for that.

In closing, let me address the statement, “you cannot have a rational conversation with someone that believes in your stupidity for no logical reason.” That’s true. It’s also why I avoid assuming that anyone I speak with is stupid.

(By the way, I think you should be careful when you talk about “most intelligent religious people” and then only mention Christians and Muslims, since that might unintentionally imply a bias against other religions.)

Posted on January 30, 2007 at 11:41 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Dealing with religious folks, Discussion

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