toxic thought waste site

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

"There's no such thing as an intelligent Christian"

(OK, don't freak out, please note the scare quotes.)

I was having lunch recently with a co-worker who is an avowed agnostic. As usually happens the topic turned to religion and I described an email conversation I'm having with an evangelical. I described this person as intelligent, well-spoken and a believer in intelligent design and the inerrancy of the bible.

He stopped me there and patiently (just barely) explained to me that there is no such thing as an intelligent believer. He then outlined his theory that there are two types of people who call themselves Christians: those in the upper echelons who "pretend" to believe in order to control the masses and the sheep who really believe the stuff but are too stupid to realize how they are being manipulated. So all people who call themselves Christians lie somewhere on the continuum between idiot and liar. To make his point he suggested that someone like Ted Haggard *clearly* didn't believe what he was saying.

So I found myself in the strange position of defending evangelicals though I don't think I had much luck. Call me naive, but I have little doubt that someone like Ted Haggard *does* believe that the Bible specifically condemns homosexuality as a sin. I also don't doubt that he was tortured by his own inclinations. It would be interesting to research this issue, but I believe that most people avoid as much as possible having contradictory lives (saying one thing in public and privately thinking another). It's just too much work. Our friend Ted clearly was living some contradictions, but for what it's worth I'd wager that his belief system was consistent just his actions were out of sync. That's about as universal a human trait as you can imagine.

I can dimly remember holding a belief in the stupidity of believers myself at one point. It makes the world so much simpler. People who disagree with me are not smart and/or not educated. Obviously, things aren't so simple. While I do think there is some research to indicate that high intelligence is somewhat incompatible with religiosity (wikipedia), most of us aren't Nobel laureates or members of the academy of sciences. The truth is that belief in god and intelligence are largely orthogonal for the vast majority of people. I've come to a certain conclusions on the subject of religion, but it would be too easy to stroke my ego by using that as proof of membership in the smart persons club. (I do have such evidence if you need it however.... GRE scores available on request :)

Honestly I think the difference between me and anyone else on the spiritual continuum is that of spiritual intuition (link) or what ever you want to call it. If I felt god had told me directly that he existed and had a plan for me, I'm sure I *could* consider that I had gone crazy, but if the feeling was strong enough and persistent enough I'm sure I would call myself a believer and be living a different life. If based on that I also had a strong notion that the Bible was inerrant then I would approach it as such and see anything that appeared to be an inconsistency as just apparent.

So suffice it to say I don't think claims of belief has much to do with intelligence or honesty.

A specific example of this situation that has been on my mind lately is the issue of Biblical inerrancy. It may seem odd for an atheist to say this but I truly believe that the theory of inerrancy and the theory of errancy are both valid, coherent theories. Just like heliocentrism and the theory of epicycles (wikipedia) are both valid, coherent theories. They both explain the phenomena of how the planets and sun seem to move around the earth. In the marketplace of ideas, heliocentrism has won, so it's not too controversial to say that is in fact true. With respect to Biblical inerrancy, though it no longer has the monopoly it had a few hundred years ago, the number of books, websites, and energy spent on Christian apologetics makes it clear that this theory is far from dead or untenable.

If any one knows of a killer argument that shows one side of the Biblical inerrancy issue is true and the other false I'd love to hear it, but from where I stand it seems pretty clear that you can be a smart person and believe either way on this issue. Just to make things more frustrating you could argue that smart people are especially good at propping up bad theories past their normal lifespan. Something I'm sure I've done a few times in my life. Sometimes it's more fun to win a debate than get to the actual truth of things.(link).

So let's all vow for the next year to put aside the ad hominems. Nothing makes you look stupider than accusing someone of stupidity. If you have a good point to make, make it. If you just "know" you are right but can't verbalize it, then either get educated and work on expressing yourself or just accept that you don't have anything constructive to say.



Blogger Luke said...

Thanks, Dustin, I heartily agree with your basic point, and I'm afraid that many Christians also resort to ad hominem attacks and superlative rhetoric, as if these things will resolve the issue.

With respect to your friend, I would want to respond like this:

"Let me put it this way. Ever heard of Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Kelvin, Boyle, Joule, Mendel, Pasteur, Pascal, Leibnitz, Bacon, Kepler...? Morons."

Mon Jan 01, 06:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Matt said...

Hey, Dustin: what are you doing walking down this path anyway? Intelligence is a really vague term. If you look at the set of qualities that are used to measure intelligence, is it appropriate to include, say, shoe size? Obviously it isn't. Next, is it appropriate to include religiousity as a quality related to intelligence? The answer is not so obvious. Your orthogonal conclusion simply means you don't consider religiosity to be a significantly weighted quality of intelligence. You're lunch-mate obviously does weight religiousity highly.
By the way, I have pretty big feet.... Matt

Wed Jan 03, 03:34:00 PM  
Blogger evtujo said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Fri Jan 12, 09:34:00 PM  
Blogger evtujo said...


Well, I'm hardly the first to look for correlations between intelligence and religiosity. While you might be immune to this line of reasoning I still on occassion have to remind myself that the difference in belief systems is not due to intelligence. It's probably due to the fact that my own loss of faith was a result of thinking as hard as I could about the issues and doing some research on various questions. My intuition is simply following the basic train of thought that: (1) I was religious once (2) As I learned more about the world and thought more about it (got smarter in some sense) I lost my religion, so (3) I have this belief that getting smarter leads to less religiosity. Clearly not true, but I've seen more people go from believer to non-believer than the other way around.

As far as intelligence being a useful and/or well defined term, I've gone back and forth on that idea. Now I lean towards it being a real thing. Most recently this essay swayed me:

Sat Jan 13, 07:24:00 AM  

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