September 2007

I have been reading some of the writings on your site and on your blog and I would first like to congratulate you on a job well done.

I would however like to take exception with the oft-stated sentiment that religious people aren’t unintelligent. In the context of their beliefs in a sky-god, they are most certainly, in every sense of the word, unintelligent. They may not be unintelligent in everyday life, but in this case they are. By way of analogy, Let’s take a look at Hugo. Hugo paints, plays several musical instruments, sculpts, writes, and does origami–all with a high degree of skill. But Hugo can’t sing. He has a terrible voice. When he sings in the shower, the locals speak in whispers of the chupacabra. Would anyone refer to Hugo as untalented? Certainly not. But if I want to take singing lessons, would you recommend I go see Hugo? Again, certainly not. Because in the context of singing, he IS untalented. And if, when discussing the art of singing with Hugo we go out of our way to praise his skill, aren’t we being both insincere and condescending?

Every human has some degree of intelligence. Sometimes we make use of that intelligence and sometimes we let others tell us what to think. Religion is letting others tell us what to think. If you show me someone who lets every conceivable facet of his life be dictated to him, and I will say that that person has NO intelligence–none that he makes use of anyway.

When someone says that, for them empirical proof can be found in a 2000-year-old book that has been losing battles over “truth”, both scientific and social, since the day it was written, I think that we can say that in the context of religion, they ARE unintelligent. They are not using the tools necessary for intelligent thought. They are letting the views of others become their own without any critical evaluation as to the truth of those views. And that is most certainly not intelligent.

There are unintelligent theists, just as there are unintelligent atheists. However, I do not think theism is a sufficient condition for labeling someone as unintelligent.

Although I understand your argument, I think it is based on a number of assumptions, some of which are not true. Not all theists slavishly follow the instructions of their church or believe that every word in the Bible is true. Many are quite critical of what their religion teaches and have investigated their beliefs in detail. Some people are religious because, after considering the alternatives, they honestly believe that religion is the most likely alternative.

To step back in history a bit, let’s look at Thomas Jefferson (one of my heroes, by the way). He was a theist, if only barely, because he could not conceive of a universe coming into existence without a deity. He believed that Jesus existed, but didn’t believe in those parts of the Bible that involved magic, hence his putting together The Jefferson Bible. We certainly have more scientific information today than Jefferson did, but I wouldn’t call him unintelligent for reaching the conclusions he reached, and I wouldn’t call someone today who reached the same conclusions unintelligent because they do not think science’s explanations for the origin of the universe are sufficient.

Continuing with this, we must recognize that people have different levels of necessary proof. I’m personally very skeptical about the supernatural and think that all natural explanations must be ruled out before supernatural ones are considered. Others think supernatural explanations are more likely. I think they’re wrong but I can’t prove it (as a general case), so I can’t say that their conclusions drawn from these lower levels of need for evidence are wrong unless I can demonstrate that they have reached an incorrect conclusion (which, in the case of believing God exists, I can’t).

As for the Bible, there are copious arguments for its historicity. For example, there is an argument that the New Testament is likely reliable because it recounts both negative and positive aspects of the early church. I disagree with these arguments (in general), but they are good enough that I wouldn’t say that someone who is convinced by them is unintelligent. At most, they are merely wrong, and one can be both intelligent and wrong.

Finally, as a general rule I assume that everyone is intelligent. That way I am less likely to dismiss the ideas of others because I consider my beliefs to be superior to theirs. I’m not saying that this is what you are doing, but it might be something to keep in mind.

Posted on September 16, 2007 at 1:37 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Anti-religion

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