August 11, 2015

Expanding on the Subject of Intelligent Christians


Right about the when I'm not feeling particularly inspired to write, I received an email from a reader about a recent post. The timing could not have been better. And since the author of this email requested a response, I thought I'd provide it here. After all, it has been my experience that if one person has a question about a post, someone else probably does too.

Here was the email (unedited):
Intelligent,kind ,thoughtful christians out there ..Where???? If they were they would not be christians they would be non-believers Please expand on that bunch of garbage..especially the intelligent part. I.m sorry but I consider myself leaps and bounds smarter than any religoius nutcase. Why don;t you consider yourself the same or maybe deepdown you think you are going to fry...
Yes, as I said in the post, I have had the good fortune to know many intelligent, thoughtful, kind, and compassionate Christians. These descriptors certainly don't apply to all Christians, just as they don't apply to all atheists. But they do apply to some Christians. I cannot tell you where you might find such Christians, but I've known several over the years. And I have reason to believe I'm not alone in knowing such Christians.

Since the author of the comment emphasized "the intelligent part" and asked me to "expand on that bunch of garbage," I'll attempt to do so. I currently work with more than a few Christians who are undoubtedly more intelligent than I am. I interact with them every day, providing me with ample opportunities to compare myself with them. And when I do, I clearly come up lacking in the intelligence department.

How can this be? It is quite simple actually. The fact that someone is wrong on the question of gods has little to do with his or her overall intelligence. Sure, there appears to be an inverse relationship between intelligence and religiosity; however, this is based on group statistics. Like anything else based on group statistics, especially characteristics that are thought to be normally distributed in the population, there will be plenty of individual exceptions. Some Christians are far less intelligent than the average atheist, and some Christians are far more intelligent than the average atheist. Some atheists are far more intelligent than the average Christian; some are far less intelligent.

Atheism guarantees neither intelligence nor rationality. Plenty of atheists are not particularly intelligent, and we have all observed countless examples of irrationality from atheists. Just because an atheist may be more rational on the question of gods does not mean that he or she will be more rational in other respects. Similarly, just because a Christian is not being rational on the question of gods does not mean that he or she will not be rational elsewhere.

I believe that some of my co-workers, friends, and family members happen to be wrong on the question of gods and that their take on this question is largely irrational. But this has little to do with my assessment of their overall intelligence, dignity, or worth. Being wrong on one question and being irrational in one area tells me little about their ability to adapt to novel situations in their environment, solve problems effectively, reason in other aspects of their lives, or how they perform on any other metric relevant to intelligence.

Perhaps the author of the email is correct. Maybe he or she is truly more intelligent than every Christian alive. The probability that this assertion is correct strikes me as much smaller than the probability that at least one Christian is actually somewhat more intelligent. I'm quite confident that there are many Christians out there who are far more intelligent than I am, and it does not bother me in the slightest to say so. Atheism does not mean being smarter or even more rational than everyone else.

For more on the intriguing subject of why smart people often believe dumb things, check out Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. It is a good read.

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