Why Evolution Is True – Are religious people a bit thick?
Why Evolution Is True – Are religious people a bit thick?

Why Evolution Is True – Are religious people a bit thick?


Are religious people a bit thick?

March 29, 2017 • 10:00 am

I had a discussion a few days ago with someone who told me that many very smart people he knew were also religious. I thought about that for a minute, and after reflection I just couldn’t agree. I don’t think one can be really smart and religious at the same time.

Yes, I know that some people who are academically smart and who have done great things, like Newton, were and are deeply religious. But in the old days you had no choice about being religious: you imbibed faith with your mother’s milk. And there was little chance to think for oneself, for it was either a death sentence or permanent ostracism if you questioned religion, and there were few ways to find like-minded souls.

Now, however, it’s different, for—except in some benighted lands—there is far more freedom to learn about nonbelief and hear the arguments against God; parents and society aren’t so insistent about instilling religion in young folks; and you face less ostracism if you’re a nonbeliever. (Of course it’s always easier if you keep that to yourself.)

And many public intellectuals—and virtually all accomplished scientists—are atheists. Why? Because there’s no credible evidence for God. It’s palpably and painfully obvious that religion is a human construct and that the tenets of different faiths are not reconcilable. The things that the faithful say they believe are simply ludicrous. I cringe, for example, when I hear a “smart” person like Rabbi Sacks or the Archbishop of Canterbury profess such stuff.

To me, this means that someone, regardless of how “smart” they seem, is at the very least irrational if they believe in God or the attendant superstitions. It is as if their brain is a jigsaw puzzle with one crucial piece missing: the piece that accepts important propositions in proportion to the evidence supporting them. And to me that kind of irrationality is a form of stupidity, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “dullness or slowness of apprehension; gross want of intelligence.” It’s not that they’re totally stupid; just partially stupid.

Look at it this way: if someone spent much of their lives worshiping Santa, elves, fairies, or even Zeus, and maintained in all seriousness that Santa delivers presents to Western children at nearly the speed of light each Christmas, you’d think they weren’t playing with a full deck. But somehow it’s okay if they do the same with Allah, Jesus, Muhammad, God, Vishnu, and the like. They can profess such stuff and still be considered “smart.” I can’t agree.

So I have to admit this: when a person who seems intelligent tells me that they are religious—at least in the sense that they’re theists who believe in unbelievable stuff—I immediately discount their minds. Yes, I can still respect what they say as scientists or doctors or electricians, or any area of their expertise, but I always regard them with a bit of pity. If that sounds arrogant, so be it; but don’t you pity a 9/11 theorist or a believer in UFO visitations? Why is religion any different? Why should we “respect” religious belief but denigrate belief in Bigfoot and homeopathy?

I understand that some adults are unable to shake habits and beliefs instilled in their youth—after all, evolution has almost certainly molded our minds to accept what our elders tell us in our formative years—but that’s less excusable these days, days when you can easily find arguments against God and religion.

I’ll admit here, then, that if you tell me you’re a theist, or adhere to a religion that makes untenable reality claims, I’ll think less of you. I won’t deem you “stupid,” which is an overall assessment of one’s mental acuity, but I’ll think you somewhat irrational and, as the Brits say, perhaps a tad thick.

Of course I expect readers to weigh in below. And tell the truth!


  1. Sometimes I have the same feelings as you describe – other times I assume that their brainwashing was far more effective than what I encountered growing up.

    1. Brainwashing is the correct perspective. I had exceedingly effective brainwashing growing up and the brainwashing persisted for a good while after my “intelligence” told me it was nonsense. Breaking the brainwashing was a difficult life transformation, like birth, and took at least as much courage as it did intelligence. The social costs can delay public acknowledgment even longer.

      That said, I concur with Jerry. The smartest people I know all left sooner or later, with a couple of striking exceptions. Those exceptions are a great source of puzzlement to me and I strongly suspect that they represent people who are trapped in a controlling social network where the costs are too high. The very smartest person I have known in my entire life was one of my roommates in college, and he has done great things and made a fortune. My sense that he is too smart to really be religious is so strong that I actually think he is just putting on a show to satisfy his network of religious friends and family.

    2. Biting one’s tongue tastes effing ‘oribble. I’ve had three servings today as I filled in the field for “religion” on job applications, and each one tasted worse than the preceding one. By the four balls of Jeebus Mary and Joseph, I do so hope that I get the job with the Noggins, not in the sands of the desert.

    3. Religion cannot be viewed with a rational mind.
      There are many things reason does not have an answer. It maybe we are evolved to yearn for a Godhead instinctively, just like our pleasure in listening to music or the fulfilment we get from having and bringing up children. Evolution has probably hard wired the desire for religion and spirituality in our behavioural characteristics. As religion is more than mere reasoning about the presence or absence of God, but an inheritance, an identity, or a sense of existence, it cannot be eradicated by arguments.

        1. Agreed, religion as we know it – or knew it – to wit, the new religion which commits, as only John McWhorter can explain, Woke Racism. And then, by application of that, woke sexism.

          The god shaped holes can get infected.

      1. Mohan, you would be fascinated by John C. Wathey’s book, “The Illusion of God’s Presence”. He explains at great length the biological reasons we humans have invented gods.

      2. Religion is a complete lack of critical thinking logic and reason. No intelligent person living in modern society can ever truly believe.

        1. There is evidence to show your statement is not true. Plenty of very smart people are religionists. Check out, for example, this debate between Tjump, a counter apologeticist, and Dr. Randal Rauser, a philosopher. Rauser is clearly an intelligent person.

          1. If you believe anything that has no evidence, then you are not an intellectual. If there is any error in this logic, please point it out. All facts on earth are supported by evidence. Anything else is a theory at best and a fairy tale in the worst case.

          2. Randal Rauser had a demon encounter, and flopped the bible open to receive a message from Jesus. Do you understand how utterly irrational one has to be to have a systematic view like this? Worse, Randal doesn’t even have a systematic view, he’s just got various brute beliefs he justifies in the moment however is needed.

            It’s more profitable to realize that religion is primarily a disease that overrides rationality and intelligence. These days there are some secular religions going on doing the same.

        1. As the commenting rules say, first comments are always held in moderation, and I was asleep when it came in. It’s approved now, but do not leave rude comments like the one above any more Also, read the “commenting rules” on the left sidebar: “Da Roolz”

    4. Well, I think OP is a bit “stupid” or in better wording ignorant in his own way.
      I agree fully with the observation, but casting a doubt over someone’s intelligence just on a fact they’re religious, displays ignorance in other form.

      I disagree that scientists are atheists, I actually believe that most ‘intelligent’ people in the world are actually agnostic – you don’t know what comes after, there’s one way to find out, and revelation will certainly come, so you can either choose towards not caring until you die, taking an atheist inclined opinion or lean towards some form of divine or even simply believing in karma. That’s the most rational approach, accept the uncertainty.

      The reason why people are so sensitive about the religion is not just about brainwashing or lack of rational thinking. Religion is a systematic social construct of humanity often aimed at manipulating peoples feelings. It has always been coupled with leading political system, from polytheistic pantheons in time of city states to monotheistic autocracies that justify existence of one person to lead the county and claiming he’s more in God’s favour than the others. The whole concept of Christianity where son becomes the God himself essentially justifies the formation of royal bloodlines and inheritance systems.

      Democracies and western societies secularised their politics from church, but it still has power over people. Reason is that it is a psychological construct that can very easily be turned into manipulation.

      Think back about your life and childhood. Most kids grow up with mother and father, and while growing up enjoy the comfort and safety from the real world. They are thought that world is just, that bad people get bad consequences, that being honest is just and is the way to go. For any issues, your parents, usually the dad, makes wise decisions and choices for you. And then you’re thrown into real world. And you grow up. First major part of growing up is realising your dad and your mom are just ordinary people as any around you. You lose veil of their extraordinary qualities you had as a child and now are in the world where there is no parental support for injustice in the world. That’s where religion kicks in. It literally creates imaginary father figure to cope with life. On top of that most people don’t get dream life, most do crappy jobs, live a crappy life and need some form of comfort which is why imaginary father figure works. You can argue that Christ is more of imaginary big brother figure, but point is the same, being religious is simply a form of emotional defence system people fall into in order to cope with reality of life.
      And yes, I absolutely agree that churches absolutely abuse this fragility of people, mostly to get money, and often imposing nonsense society rules, mainly because all these books were written in times where such rules made sense.
      Issue with churches is that people may get aggressive coming into touch with another religion, as in deeply religious people mind, offending their views or pointing towards questioning nonsense triggers emotional reactions as they view it as an offense to their imaginary father figure. Imagine if your dad is a plumber and someone starts teasing your dad deals with fiscies all the time? The commentary may actually be true, but it’s very offensive and you might get aggressive. It’s not ideal analogy, but point is that religious people have emotional connection by projecting their father figure into imaginary one.

      So don’t be harsh on religious people. It’s almost similar as if you come across someone with mental health issues and telling them, just stop having issues.
      As long their beliefs don’t endanger people around them, let them be.

      Also bear in mind that some people may be extraordinary technically intelligent, but still lack emotional intelligence or simply having same identity and maturity issues and can very easily find coping mechanism in a church or even a cult. Half of really expert software developers I came across are now in all into meditation stuff, studying budishm and such, but I don’t view such behaviour as lack of intelligence, it’s simply what works for then in dealing with reality of the world.

  2. Your example of Father Christmas, Zues, et al, put me in mind of the outsider test of faith: if none of those stand up under scrutiny, then why should any “serious” deity that one embraces?

  3. Yes, I find that whenever I come across a “believer” that part of their brain is the off position, but I think it more illustrates the immense power of childhood indoctrination.

    1. There is also an strong correlation between not being raised religious and being a non-religious adult. Are you going to chalk that up indoctrination and lack of critical thinking?

    1. Although I take your point, I think this is actually insulting to people with real mental illness. Being stupid or ignorant is not a mental illness. I suppose you could say (a la Richard Dawkins) that religiosity is a form of delusional disorder, but I don’t think it is a very useful characterization. It is just too widespread.

      1. Dawkins has argued that religion itself is a disease – I think that view is helpful.

        Calling religious people mentally ill is too easy, and too crude.

        1. I view it as being, “Unsane”, rather than classically “insane”: I define “unsanity” as, “Not acting on the evidence given us by reality”

          1. No real dispute, but personally I struggle to drag evidence from unwilling bowels of the Earth. It doesn’t give up very much without some serious persuasion.

          2. I believe that the most accurate thing to categorise a belief in god as is a mental delusion (as Dawkins famously did, of course). When you’re caught in the iron grip of a delusion, however obviously ridiculous it appears from the outside, you are just completely incapable of recognising this from within. I suffered from a (totally different) delusion myself for many years when I was younger, and it was only when its hold on my mind was finally broken that I was able to look back and see how utterly ludicrous the whole thing had been. Whether or not delusional behaviour is categorised as a true mental illness, I don’t know.

    2. I’d have to say that atheism is actually more a form of mental illness.

      After all, religion seems to be more natural for the majority of people. Why should a rational approach to the question of Gods existence be required for ‘sanity’? Minds work to promote survival, not answer abstract questions, and for 100,000 years religious thinking has served us very well. Having a strong desire to suck the blood out of a fly is a sign of mental illness, unless you’re a spider and then not wanting to suck the blood from a fly is a sign of mental illness.
      I’d make the case that it was irrational religous type thinking that actually allowed us to become human. It was the permissive mutation that allowed us to develop a rich emotional and mental life.

        1. Except that we were fully human before any religion existed.

          I object, some of us are still not fully human (see sad-excuse-for-a-human-being-in-chief)

          1. Hey! ‘murican-in-chief. You lot* elected him. The rest of us didn’t. 😉

            *To a first approximation. i.e. 50.01%. Or 30%. Or whatever…


          1. I have none. But the all of the people who work in the myriad fields of human history & evolution have buckets of evidence; maybe check with them.

            1. “But the all of the people who work in the myriad fields of human history & evolution have buckets of evidence”

              Do you have any evidence for that assertion?

              1. Not at all, Colin. I know people who work in the fields of human history and evolution. I was trained in archaeology myself. Clearly all such people don’t support your assertion. I’m forced to conclude that you have no evidence to support your position and can not point to anyone who provides if on your behalf.

                The invisible looks very much like the non-existent.

              2. Perhaps I was wrong to use the word “all”, but hopefully you understand my point. Your nit-pickyness is tiresome. I’ve heard that there are some people with PHDs who believe that the earth is flat – so what?

              3. It isn’t nit-picking, Colin.

                You’re just relying on an unfounded claim to support another unfounded claim.

                I don’t think there is ANY evidence that “we were fully human before any religion existed”. There are plenty of speculations, of course. But we simply don’t have either a clear definition of being “fully human” or any clear understanding of the origins of religion.

                The problem with your claim is much deeper than the word “all”.

              4. I’m familiar with that Boyer’s book and have read many others as well. He presents well reasoned speculations. He does not satisfy your claim that we know that we were fully human before any religion existed.

              5. Are you really this painful to speak with in real life? The book (and many others like it) was referring to your comment that we have no clear understanding on the origins of religion.

                I really don’t have time for this. You’re starting to sound like some YEC who insists that there’s “no evidence for evolution”.

              6. I’ve been ignoring the ad hominems and will strive to continue ignoring them.

                That said, it seems that you are confusing hypotheses and speculations with evidence.

                The state of our understanding of human evolution, both biological and cultural, simply doesn’t allow us to claim to know whether your assertion is true or not. If you can point to any actual evidence I would be very interested in seeing it as the question of the origin of religion is very challenging.

              7. It’s challenging because there was no one point in time when it originated. It’s like asking for evidence for the origin of any particular language; it isn’t that simple. It evolved with no one particular language at the starting point. Religion (god) was primitive man’s first guess at reality and how we got here once our brains evolved to a point where we started to ponder these sorts of things. Those first guesses were wrong.

                While I have some problems with Karen Armstrong, she would be able to talk to you all day about the vast landscape of the origins of religion. My point is that we do have some very good understanding of the human journey thanks to those scientists who work in those areas.

              8. Karen Armstrong is no more a scientist than Pat Robertson is. She’s a theologian, pure and simple. I’m willing to provisionally grant the label to Pascal Boyer who is an Anthropologist at least (the field I was trained in). His ideas are interesting, but they are still speculative potential explanations. They comprise reasonable but untested hypotheses for the most part.

                The fact that these things, “full humanness” and “religion”, appeared gradually over time is of course true. But it isn’t relevant to assertions about which came first.

                (All assuming some agreement about which of our ancestors were “fully” human. To say nothing of agreement on what constitutes religion. Neither of which exists.)

              9. Maybe”anthropological theology” would work but her uncious faith is too overpowering to credit her with the adjective “scientific”, not that most cultural anthropologists these days could claim the label either.

              10. Adding “uncious” to “unctuous” and “odious” as words I use and then look up every time and get it wrong every time.

            2. I’ll put some firmer fabric on Jeremy’s question.
              There are lots of arguments possible over the definition of “human being” – I’m somewhat on tenterhooks over hints that we’ll get a date for Homo naledi with their apparent mortuary behaviour and the thick end of a million year uncertainty over their dating – but there was some very interesting evidence presented a year or so ago (Nature IIRC – I can dig out a reference if you need it) of modern chimpanzee behaviour in which the authors see analogues of modern human “religious” (or at least, “superstitious”) behaviour. With a phylogenetic bracket like that, and the parsimonious assumption of one origin for the two behaviours, that would put the origin of “religion” (or “superstitious”) back before the separation of the chimpanzee and hominid lineages – somewhere more than 7 or 8 million year ago.
              I remain unconvinced either way, but I have to consider the possibility the “religion” predates not just our species, but also our genus. (And since I don’t recognise your sign-on, I’ll add that I give no ground to anyone here in the solidness of my atheist convictions.)

              1. I think that you err when you call some primitive tendencies seen in our cousins as “religion”. If we can define religion as the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God, then that came very recently.

              2. There is a continuum in these matters. At one end – arguably – the chimps with their “ritual sites” (I use the archaeologist’s sense of “ritual” – that not readily identifiable as a functionally necessary component of a process.) and at the other end the psychological, ritual and financial sophistication of the Scientologists. You may disagree with me on where to put a dividing line in that continuum, but I think that we can both agree that there is a continuum.
                Do you have some grounds for putting your dividing line where you do? I see quite deep evolutionary roots in the behaviour (fundamentally, a lot of it boils down to the existence of parental care, and the need for offspring to accept the training of their care-givers as a faster route to survival skills than self-experiment).
                Of course, that something has deep roots is no grounds for it continuing ; are we, as a species, at a level where we can communicate by reasoned argument rather than the “argument from authority”?

            3. I simply don’t believe anybody could possibly know. For a start the definition “fully human” is somewhat problematic.

              How do you know that some of our more recent ancestors didn’t have religions: Homo erectus, neanderthals, Australopithecines?

              1. Yes, agreed, “fully human” is problematic; unfortunately I’m super busy right now and can’t delve into that.

                How do I know that some of our more recent ancestors (Homo erectus, neanderthals et al) didn’t have religions? In the same way I know that they didn’t have Station Wagons. There’s a whole host of things (a well developed language for one) that would be required before a religion could exist for said pre-homo sapiens.

        2. I strongly suspect that religion precedes the human species. There is even some evidence that Neanderthals apparently had a form of religious belief.

      1. So because more people believe in the supernatural, it must be right?

        There are millions of things that the majority used to believe but they no longer do. Do you think we should have just kept believing those things too? Things like the flat earth, the theory of humours, everything being made of the four elements, men and white people being more intelligent and designed to be in charge, and so much more. If we never changed what we believe, we’d never progress as a civilisation.

        “It must be true because most people believe it” is one of the worst arguments for believing anything.

        1. That’s not what lantog was saying. He was only commenting on psychological categories. He was only saying it’s “normal” for humans to become religious and that atheism is the psychological departure from “normal”. Nothing about whether religious claims are true or not.

          It’s certainly true that people who eschew religion are overwhelmingly outnumbered by those who embrace it, but I’m not sure lantog’ sides that therefore it’s atheism that represents pathology (in a strictly academic sense) is the best way of thinking about it.

          1. I can see I could be reading this wrongand if so, I’m sorry.

            I’ve always wondered if originally organized religion was about power and control. An intelligent and authoritarian person noticed patterns and used them to convince others of the existence of gods and, more importantly, their ability to act as a conduit.

            I agree that most people seem to want others to tell them what to do, how to think etc. So falling in line with a person like that would be natural. Otoh, questionning that person once their authority is accepted would be extremely difficult and almost certainly lead to ostracism in a small group.

            1. I think you mistook lantog. He’s not saying religion is true, he’s saying that it might be sane to be religious. Why is fact and evidence based sane? Why isn’t wrong but helpful belief sane? I would bet you actually do not understand how the controls on most refrigerators work, but you have a mental model that while wrong suits your needs — and at a low cognitive cost too. You have a helpful, erroneous understanding of how the fridge controls work.

        2. Religion is obviously objectively wrong, but may have been evolutionarily useful in developing the concepts of society beyond the level of extended family/tribe. A uniting force driving humanity into stronger and larger groups. And, now we are learning more about what the universe actually is and how it really works, the value of religion going forward is decreasing. It acted as an element of scaffolding for modern society and is no longer as useful as the structure can stand without it.

        3. “It must be true because most people believe it” is one of the worst arguments for believing anything.

          My geography teacher, a deeply sarcastic barsteward, used to describe this as the “four million American housewives can’t be wrong” argument. This was in “honour” of a TV advert of the time, and the fact that we lived in the overlap region for the blast zones around two American nuclear bases.
          He didn’t consider it a good argument either. Because it’s not.
          (He really used to rip the piss out of the Religious Education teacher in assemblies too. Memorable.)

            1. Oh, he was. I’d still punch his lights out if I ever met him again – he caned me once. But then I’d buy him a pint and enjoy a chin wag.

          1. In my young days in NZ, there was a TV ad for ‘Jockey Juniors’, ghastly Y-front underpants, with the punchline ‘Two Million Kiwis can’t be wrong’. I recall it because it inspired the most memorable bit of toilet-wall graffiti I’ve seen – “Eat shit. Two million flies can’t be wrong.” 😉


      2. What I’m saying is that for most of history humans haven’t benefited from having the most rigorous rational understanding of esoteric abstract questions dealing with the origin or nature of the universe. In fact they’ve benefited from not having a rational understanding of it.

        I think that having the ability to believe irrational things has assuaged a lot of suffering and that actually allowed our minds to become more complex. If that hadn’t happened reality would have been too difficult for our incipient human ancestors. Many people nowadays wont have children because they’re concerned about the enviroment. How many people today would have children if they knew that a large fraction of them would die young? How many would have them if they knew it likely they’d see one of their children carried off by predators and dismembered? Our ancestors must have seen this. How did it not emotially cripple them? I think the answer is the type of thinking that manifests in religion today.

        I think this notion could be tested. For example do very religious soldiers have a significantly lower rate of PTSD? etc etc.

        1. I believe that you are correct that for most of human history religion has served as a survival mechanism in a cruel, uncaring universe. Even today, it serves that purpose for most of humanity. This is precisely why that many people, even “smart” ones, emotionally cling to religion even in the face of overwhelming evidence that there are no deities. For them, maintenance of the delusion is necessary to get through the day. Being an atheist is much tougher than being a theist because the former acknowledges the finality of death. Theists have the emotional support of “knowing” that no matter how bad life is on this planet, the next one will be much better. All you need is blind faith to endure earthly suffering.

          1. Your argument that atheists have a tougher life because they don’t have a belief in the afterlife to fall back on, is supported by the fact that some non-religious people do get religious when the get older. But in Phil Zuckerman’s book, “Society Without God”, one of his interviews with people in Denmark is with an atheist hospice nurse who mentioned that she noticed many religious people had a much worse time dealing with death than the atheists.

            1. she noticed many religious people had a much worse time dealing with death than the atheists.

              At a guess, the wail may go “why me? I been good! Why you killing me? Can’t you make just one itty bitty exception for little old me. [sobs] Pretty please with knobs on.”

              1. Or perhaps starting to realise that their less than perfect behaviour throughout their life may mean that they are destined to travel “down” rather than “up”. If they genuinely believe in heaven and hellfire, they might just be scared shitless.

          2. Agreed with lantog and Historian.

            I was going to note that most of us have our preferences, and they’re not necessarily rational. Why is Pink Floyd great and rap, crap? Well, it is, *for me*. No way I can prove it (I don’t think there’s any rational way to prove or disprove such a proposition) but there’s no way I’m ever likely to believe otherwise.

            I *hate* to appear to side with the Xtians who try to argue that evolution ‘is just another belief’ but, for me, I choose to believe that evolution is true and that the evidence is there and that the biologists who have investigated it are neither lying nor deluded. I am certainly not qualified to judge most of such evidence for myself, (some I can), but for the rest I just have to have sufficient faith in science (and the fact that this computer works, with all that implies for scientific knowledge) to take it on trust.

            That said, I do instinctively share PCC’s doubts about the intelligence of strongly religious people, but I can’t claim my doubts are any qualitatively different from the doubts that, say, Christians have about the intelligence of Hindus or vice versa.


          3. “Being an atheist is much tougher than being a theist”

            I think it’s precisely the opposite for the reason you provided in the sentence preceding the above: “maintenance of the delusion is necessary to get through the day” (in reference to belief in gods).

            Maintaining the delusion is arduous work. If you have the ability to think rationally, the delusion must be defended against rational thought that would tell you there’s something’s not right in you’re thinking. Atheism is easier. You simply base your beliefs on evidence as it actually exists. No extra effort is required.

            1. Religious people have to work hard st it. There’s a post way back here about what the religious do.

              But it’s an interesting question- what’s easier? What’s more work? I think sailing away from the tiny island of religion is also work…

          4. With the best will in the world, some few of my acquaintances (and even a friend or two) still try to ‘evangelize’ me out of my atheism. These attempts are always of the ‘sophisticated religion’ variety: never threats of hell, but rather ranging from ‘I don’t want to miss you in heaven’ to ‘don’t worry, there will be universal salvation.’ The matter being pointless to argue–and, folks, it REALLY IS POINTLESS TO ARGUE–I respond politely and vacuously or not at all.

            When I think of all the emergent properties that over aeons built this person I am, now soon to diverge at death, perhaps never to be recycled but simply to form an infinitesimal part of entropy, I am not terrified. But I am awed. The natural sublime can be, and is, beautiful.

            1. “When I think of all the emergent properties that over aeons built this person I am, now soon to diverge at death”

              I am … saddened. I know *so much* about so many things*. And it’s all going to dissipate.

              But that’s life. Or rather, death. Nothing I can do about it.

              (*Okay, there’s a lot more I don’t know)

        2. I think this notion could be tested. For example do very religious soldiers have a significantly lower rate of PTSD? etc etc.

          I googled “veteran ptsd religious affiliation” and turned up this NCBI article. In it, 472 veterans diagnosed with PTSD are sorted by their susceptibility to suicide (non-suicidal/ideation/attempted) and analyzed with their scores on a 40-item survey of daily spirituality (e.g., feeling presence of higher power, having sense of peace or harmony, touched by beauty of universe), as well as their rate of organized religious participation.

          The study found no correlation based on affiliation, i.e. Protestants were just as suicidal as Catholics and “Nones”. It showed that participation in organized religion helped reduce the risk of suicide, as did a high score on the spirituality index. Of course, from what I could tell, the authors define “spirituality” to include utterly secular feelings of general well-being and contentedness.

          All fairly mundane. But the most interesting tidbit was this:

          To the best knowledge of the authors, this is the first study to expressly associate problems with forgiveness and negative religious coping (e.g., feeling abandoned by God or a Higher Power, punished for acts of wrongdoing or perceived spiritual weakness, and/or attempting to disengage from God or a Higher Power) with higher levels of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.[] In cases of forgiveness problems and negative religious coping, Veterans’ core meaning systems have likely been challenged and they are struggling with the products of a negative transformation in their religious faith or spirituality.

          When we talk about the psychological benefit of religion, I guess the upshot is—depends what you mean by “religion.” The guilt-ridden authoritarian kind seems to make things worse.

        3. While you might be able to think up instances where religious belief helped survival, there are also instances when rational understanding and enquiry would have been more beneficial.

          Consider how much of human development and advancement we have seen in recent centuries in the west. Virtually none of that came as a result of theology. The great bulk of it came after abandoning religious explanations for natural ones.

          How many millions of people would not have died prematurely if people had spent their time investigating the true cause of disease instead of the nature of god or how many angels fit on the head of a pin? How many women would not have died in childbirth if midwives knew how important it was to just wash their hands?

          Furthermore, I think for the most part religious belief might have helped humans survive in the human world, but not the broader natural world. And the reason I suggest that religious belief might have helped humans survive in the human world is that at ties in the past it has been unsafe to disbelieve with religious zealots. As they say, the church lost its best explanation for god when it stopped killing people.

      3. That’s an interesting proposition, but it’s missing something vital. Higher brain functions of abstract reasoning are not hardwired. That is, they are not referred to as instinct. Their power is in their ability to against instinctual motivations. Your argument still supports the idea that religious believers who fail to use their higher reasoning powers are a little thick. Believers may just be following instinct the way your spider does, but no one is admires a spider for the integrity of its intellect. It’s just doing what it’s programmed to do and lacks the ability to do anything else (until a mutation comes along).

      4. Religion has “served us well”? It gave us a
        rich and emotional life”? Well, where is the evidence for this? Anything forthcoming from a believer or clergy is utterly unreliable. Only those who weren’t snared by religion can be trusted to give an accurate assessment of religion’s “gifts” to us. Any objective look reveals religion as violent, intolerant, repressive, authoritarian, manipulative, deceitful. It tells us to behave and be nice, but there is evidence that the vast majority of humankind does NOT behave and are NOT nice…and this includes believers of all faiths. Irrationality is indeed the innate default condition of our brain but fortunately science and the Enlightenment and skeptics managed to come up with better explanations of life and the cosmos, and, more important, told us that education and reason as well as human-developed ethics and morality are the real sources of our ability to enjoy life, love, art, family, and Nature. Today religious fanaticism, also known as irrationality, has re-emerged in the Muslim and Hindu parts of the world. But those nations that underwent the Enlightenment are less religious than ever and just happen to be the most advanced, progressive and civilized nations in the world. The causal relationship is obvious. Conflict and violence wrack havoc in religious countries, and all the preaching in the world won’t change it…..never did, never will. Humans and their power of reason are the only hope for survival.

      5. Incorrect. Religion clings to beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence, and repeatedly defends itself with violent actions. It ascribes to an ultimate authority (God), and woe to anyone who disagrees with their ideas. Communism, Nazism, Maoism, all fall under the same category. Atheism is simply lacking belief. No one ever did any harm because they didn’t believe in something.

        1. “A belief is not merely an idea the mind possesses; it is an idea that possesses the mind.” (Robert Oxton Bolt)

  4. Great question

    I don’t have time now but:

    Saying they’re thick is true, but unfair, since I think they are just tricked by simple religious trickery that “we” figured out by now….

  5. I’m not sure it’s stupidity at work so much as being very clever at finding bad reasons which are vague enough to look like good reasons, from certain angles. If you’re going to be both intelligent and religious, ambiguity is your friend. Rush over the foundations and channel curiosity on the topic into some other direction — or figure out why analytical exploration is completely pointless in this particular context.

    Most of the smart people I know personally who are also believers are generally reluctant to share their reasons. Their intellectual reasons, that is. They love sharing how well spirituality fits into their lives.

    When they do venture into apologetics, it’s a trip to Bad Analogy Land. Believing in God is like choosing to love someone despite their flaws, or having hope during dark times. It’s a struggle, but worthwhile. They’re being sharp here, changing the question from “does God exist?” to “can we live according to our highest values?” And I don’t so much think they’re trying to fool me as demonstrating how they’ve fooled themselves.

    Of course, there are much better arguments available elsewhere — arguments which ultimately fail, and then they wheel in the virtue of faith. Religion is privileged all out of proportion in most societies. When smart people are surrounded by other smart people getting it wrong, I cut them a little slack on culpability. Sure, the information is out there. But first they get to hear what the information ‘says’ from people who are, like them, religious.

    1. Yes, I think the religious have a worldview that they just refuse to let go of and look for confirmation as a way to enforce their world view and feel good about it.

      1. There’s another dimension to it.

        The religious worldview just isn’t that obviously wonrg, when it comes right down to it.

        It’s internally self-consistent, for starters, within reason and without comparing one religion to another.

        And it’s a surprisingly close match to our own internal mental landscape. Consider that consciousness is, effectively, a self-contained virtual reality that is the entirety of that which consciousness itself has access to…and, well, there you are. You yourself know everything and see everything there is in that virtual reality, and are all-powerful within it. Want to see a pink unicorn standing in front of you? You already do, thanks to your imagination. And you know that you see it, know that you’re imagining it, and so on. Omnipotence and omniscience, even if only within the comparatively small universe of your mind.

        Then, if we consider recorded history…say, the past 10,000 years…it’s only been the past century or so that the full significance of Darwin’s and Newton’s theories to the possible existence of gods and the supernatural has become apparent to the scientific community. And that significance has yet to reach the overwhelming majority of humans alive today. (Indeed, it might be mere thousands who grasp Sean Carroll’s point about the physics of the everyday world being completely understood, with no room for ambiguity.) For 99% of human history and 90% of modern humans, religion is at least as much of a “close enough approximation” of reality as Aristotelian Metaphysics…which itself is the operating theory of human-scale interactions.

        No, I’m not kidding on that last one. Things really do stop moving unless you keep pushing on them, as you can confirm for yourself with that coffee cup on your desk. When was the last time you personally encountered an effectively-frictionless interaction in your daily life?

        …and then add on all the social dynamics, including the personal cost of apostasy as well as the internal struggles of cognitive dissonance…

        …and it comes up to something more than raw cognitive ability at play for the best explanation of why somebody takes seriously a proposition that there is at least one god actively influential in human affairs.




        1. Well said, Ben. Religion is not obviously wrong when you readily accept that there are more things in heaven and earth than dreamed of in human philosophy, and even more so when the most educated and prestigious minds have had centuries to add a few more epicycles to the system.

        2. Ben, I’ve got to disagree. Christianity, for example, is most definitely not internally self-consistent. The obviously wrong falls right out from the many significant inconsistencies. Sure, many parts taken in isolation are not obviously wrong depending on the knowledge of a given time & place under consideration. But when you consider larger pieces or the whole, which lots of people, maybe most, never do, it becomes pretty easy to spot the wrong for those who care to look and have the freedom to do so.

          People have been doing that for a very long time. Though we can’t know if people were doing so further back than written accounts take us I’ve never come across a good reason to think that there were not always some people calling bullshit on priests, even if only in private, for about as long as there have been priests.

          I’d put the ubiquity and tenacity of religion down to simply human nature. That part of your argument I agree with.

          1. I’ll meet you halfway.

            If you define, “Christianity,” based on its scripture, it instantly becomes an hopeless mess. There’s a reason that seminaries are often described as atheist factories, and the Bible the most significant anti-Christian text ever written.

            But that’s not what Christianity is to most Christians. Indeed, few Christians have actually read the Bible — and fewer still have read it without some sort of explanatory companion text side-by-side to help them through the “difficult” passages.

            Instead, for most people, Christianity is what they learned in Sunday School growing up. And that consists first of a bunch of bowdlerized faery tales presented in a woven-together “retconned” consistent alternate history. In their telling, an overarching Enlightenment-inspired morality is laid with emphasis on love and compassion and charity. Yes, the original stories themselves have nothing whatsoever to do with Enlightenment values — but it’s the revised versions, not the originals, taught in Sunday School.

            Within that whole context, the miracles are presented as things that actually happened and that continue to happen all around us, with things like actual real-world rainbows being used as supportive evidence. That Jesus can do even more impressive miracles is presented as an unsurprising extra stretch by the extra special magic man.

            This common folk understanding of Christianity is no more at odds with everyday life than, as I mentioned, Aristotelian metaphysics.




            1. “But that’s not what Christianity is to most Christians. Indeed, few Christians have actually read the Bible…” etc.

              Then by what right do they call themselves christian?

              1. Then by what right do they call themselves christian?

                Depends on the denomination. For many, it’s some variation on accepting Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Baptism is a common critical element. Professing faith in a particular credo will sometimes do the trick. Some will tell you you have to sincerely devote your life to living according to the role model set forth by Jesus; others, that sincerely asking Jesus (and only Jesus) to forgive you when you inevitably fall short is sufficient.

                Biblical inerrantists are probably the minority, and Biblical literalists are a subset of them. For most Christians, the Bible is essentially an history book written by humans about some rather remarkable and significant events. That Matthew described the scene at the empty Tomb with one set of characters and Luke another doesn’t disturb them; that’s just two humans giving secondhand reports of a rather confusing situation. Tell them that the population of Jericho given in the Bible was off by a couple thousand and they’ll shrug.

                …within limits, of course. Tell them that the Tomb was never emptied and they’ll get very defensive. Point out that not only was there no Tomb but no Jesus and they’ll think you as crazy as if you told them there was no Caesar.

                And, yet, we have overwhelming reason to be every bit as confident that the whole Jesus incident is pure fiction as we do the stories of all the other practically-indistinguishable demigods of that era. Nobody gets upset when you point out that, not only was Perseus not the son of the Heavenly Father born of a virgin as foretold by prophecy, but that he’s just a character in a faery tale…but say the same of Jesus and everybody goes apeshit….




              2. I was probably being too cryptic. It was meant as a snide comment on xtians believing what they want to believe.

              3. @phil

                Right. As a snide comment it’s perfectly appropriate and understood.

                It just set off people (like me and presumably on this occasion, Ben) who sometimes take things a bit too literally.


              4. According to the Gordon-Cornwall Theological Seminary there were some 45,000 different Christian sects in 2015 and that number is increasing at a rate of about 2.4 sects per day. All of these sects call themselves Christian despite the obvious differences (e.g. a few are LBGT friendly while many are not, some are young Earth while others are not, etc.) and the infighting (it is a trivial task to find one sect insisting that another sect is not really Christian – Lutherans say that about Catholics, Catholics say that about Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses say that about Lutherans, etc.).

                My point being that Christians themselves don’t even agree on what that name means.

                The most common denominator apparent to me as a 70 year old who has viewed religionists for most of my life is that critical reasoning is quickly abandoned (if they even had it to begin with, which is arguable) and a form of self imposed brain death in favor of a cosmic level of self importance are among the most common requirements. The apron strings to cling to and “inerrancy” (the gods are *never* wrong no matter how absurd, thus doubt is totally banished) are also considered obvious benefits.


              5. Good point Zetopan. This brain death may be analogous to a state of stone drunkenness. They’ve allowed themselves to surrender under the pressure of mental responsibility. Their slurred speech is the ability to contradict themselves and talk nonsense.

            2. Well said, Ben.

              I think each person has a sort of mental picture of their own existence. Christianity means (to them) – whatever is their own concept of it. The inconsistencies they just quietly ignore.

              Psychological experiments with e.g. fake bank robberies have shown that what two people ‘see’ of the exact same occurrence is so different they might as well have been completely different events. Which means that each person’s observation must have massive gaps in it. But they’ll both agree that they ‘saw’ the same bank robbery unless and until you force them to compare notes in detail.

              Same, I think, for Christians (or presumably other religions too).


          1. The same reason I’m not an Aristotelian.

            Yes, to a first approximation, stuff only moves when you push on it — just as Aristotle describes.

            But, if you dig deep enough (and it doesn’t take much digging), you can independently verify that Newton really was right, and inertia really is real, and so on.

            It’s common in schools for students to independently verify Newton, as I did.

            What’s not common in schools is for students to seriously probe theological claims with a critical aim. Instead, people grow up accepting the religion of their parents the same way we all grow up superficially accepting Aristotle — and never get the opportunity to do the theological equivalent of playing air hockey or dropping feathers in vacuum jars to discover that Aristotle / theology doesn’t actually hold up when you lean on it.

            Worse, when children naturally perform those sorts of inquiries of their own initiative — such as by asking who created God — they’re very actively discouraged from pursuing such investigations. They’re brushed off, told not to be silly, assured that it’s a dumb question that smart people have good answers for that the kids aren’t ready to understand, that sort of thing.

            When you consider the full force of the indoctrination that children are subjected to growing up in a religious environment, the real miracle is that any of them manage to escape at all.

            Me? I was lucky that way. My parents brought me up with “Yiddishkite,” but almost no actual god-belief. We did the major holidays and associated rituals, but the focus was on the food and family, with little more force given to the prayers than reciting gibberish sounds in a dead language because that’s what our ancestors have done for millennia.

            It’s actually not all that difficult for me to imagine having been brought up in some sort of a strict religious household and getting trapped in seminary or the like, and having a very difficult time escaping. I’m smart enough that I’d be able to create all sorts of really tough intellectual defenses, including excuses for why it’s silly to wonder who created God.




        3. “It’s internally self-consistent, for starters, within reason and without comparing one religion to another.”

          Is it? We only have to compare parts of the Bible to find plenty of inconsistency. And a lot of the apparent consistency is the outcome of vagueness.

        4. “religion is at least as much of a “close enough approximation” of reality as Aristotelian Metaphysics”

          Yeah, well as I understand it the reason for that is probably because Aristotelian Metaphysics is the basis for a lot of theology.

          1. To be fair, Metaphysics was, once upon a time, the most sophisticated theory of physics there was.

            To be even more fair, it was sophisticated in the same way that the Luminiferous Aether was. As it eventually turned out, the Pre-Socratics were significantly less worng than Aristotle.




        5. Ben: Well said. I probably would have been indoctrinated into some religious worldview by (Baptist) Sunday School when a kid (basically every Sunday until my mid-teens) had my parents not encouraged me to read and daydream. My secular worldview firmed up with an epiphany when I was abt 22.

    2. I agree, though I admit that my initial reaction to someone revealing their religious belief is pretty much exactly as Jerry described above about himself. I’d add that my negative reaction is more intense when it is a highly educated science oriented type.

      Actually, I guess I am a bit on the cynical side because my default is that anyone I encounter is sure to be stupid about some things, it’s all just a matter of degrees. And yes, I realize that I am stupid about some things as well. Though hopefully a bit less than the average person.

      I’ve always thought that the sophisticated-theologian syndrome, moving steadily more toward deism when pressed yet somehow getting back from there to Christianity, is due to smart people trying to reconcile the beliefs they were conditioned with growing up.

    3. But then you have to ask what level of intellect either isn’t able to spot vague or fallacious reasoning/bad analogies or gives them a pass not given to other ideas.

      I think two other big factors are how susceptible the individual is to peer pressure and how resistant the individual is to change.

      1. You may be onto something there. I think peer pressure is huge, and I suspect atheists may tend to be more resistant than average on that scale. Neuroscience Professor Mark Reimers points out that the largest difference in our brains vs. chimps and apes is in the relative size of the area that deals with social relationships. So I guess you could say we atheists are not as advanced :-)!

  6. I have more or less the same inner reaction.

    It’s rare to see it explicitly written down, though, probably because it’s generally less than helpful in conversation.

  7. I completely agree. Whenever someone tells me they are a believer I feel a little sad inside. I thank my parents for my lack of indoctrination.

  8. Yes, I agree. When I find out someone is religious, I can’t help viewing them with some kind of suspicion.

  9. I was religious, now I am not. Also, I’m quite sure my IQ would have been measured higher back when I was religious than it would be now given my advanced age. What is different is my willingness to accept the emotional and sociological risk of exploring what seem like dangerous ideas. Sometimes it is hard to be brave.

    1. Thank you for the word “brave”.

      I think in some cases religious people are less intelligent than non-religious, but in many more cases, I would describe them as fearful.

      It’s hard to look at the whole question of religion, no matter how great your intellectual capacity, when you’re facing ostracism from your family and friends, fear of death, etc. L

      1. And for some the emotional feelz of the community is something they can’t imagine leaving. In other words, they are somewhat authoritarian in their thinking and accept they must think a certain way to be part of the club.

          1. Thanks – I’ve been thinking a lot about how to influence people who are all about the feelz a lot lately.

        1. And for some the emotional feelz of the community is something they can’t imagine leaving.

          That sentence brought to mind something Christopher Hitchens said about his impending demise.

          “It will happen to all of that at some point you’ll be tapped on the shoulder and told, not just that the party is over, but slightly worse: the party’s going on but you have to leave.”

          Hence the solace, I guess, of the ‘feelz’.

    2. Yes, as many thinkers (Epicurus, Spinoza, etc.) have pointed out before, the root of superstitious belief is fear–fear of chaos, fear of the unknown, fear of ostracism and death. Combine that primal emotion with the need for a tight-nit and righteous moral community–which, for most of human history, was the only thing ensuring individuals’ survival–and you get religion. As Martin Amis put it, “…in the case of religion, or the belief in supernatural beings, the past weighs in, not at 2,000 years, but at approximately five million.”

      I think we often forget this, and get bogged down talking about the metaphysical implausibility of religion. To be sure, that is an argument that needs to be had. But I think the mildest thing you can say about Genesis is that it’s unscientific. The deeper argument is an emotional and moral one.

  10. I think this post will bring around people who will claim that this is arrogant, etc. It will be an example of what you are referring to here.

    I think it is a matter of cognitive dissonance, akin to knowing that overeating/bad eating is not good for one’s health but that half-pound cheeseburger with fries and a milkshake looks so appealing when one is so hungry.

  11. I don’t think I can immediately say someone is “smart” or “not smart” just by religious belief. Many atheists have different kinds of irrational beliefs, and can be as stubborn as religious people defending their faith.

    I would not say a Bigfoot believer is exactly the same as a religious believer. After all, Big foot believers are not in significant numbers, do not have churches (or so I think), and they are not instilled the belief in Bigfoot from childhood necessarily. Also, Bigfoot does not have any repercussion in a person´s ethic stances and life purpose. Those things are really big obstacles for people to accept what reason tells them (“If I do not believe in God, life has no purpose”).

    1. I’m willing to be that most if not all Bigfoot believers are also religious as well as believing in other unevidenced theories.

    2. A bigfoot believer I know believes on the basis of an observation. He and his wife both observed what they interpreted as bigfoot.

      Personally, I figure that what they saw was a misinterpreted bear or something, but his belief is, within its limits, rational.

      1. But is it rational?

        It isn’t rational to ignore or dismiss evidence that is contrary to your beliefs, nor is it rational for one’s belief to rely on a single un-repeated observation.

        IOW; if the only evidence for Bigfoot is that one observation, then the *rational* thing to do would be to reserve judgement until independent evidence confirms the observation. But the believer you know is almost certainly ignoring or dismissing contradictory evidence as well, compounding the irrationality.

  12. My opinion is that for most religious people don’t have the inclination to examine critically their beliefs. They say they are religious but only participate in the rituals or belief when do feel they have to. I don’t consider them thick, just not very introspective or intellectually inclined.

    When I encounter what I call a True Believer, the ones that actually pray when they lose their keys, go to church every Sunday and can recite numerous anecdotes as to when they felt the presence of god in their lives do I feel like PCC.

  13. I imagine that some religionists believe the same about atheists. “The evidence for [insert religion here] is so strong that those who do not agree must be a bit thick (or sinful, as those Christian apologists love to argue)” (never mind that they are almost certainly wrong). It seems that such a position is built on a lack of tolerance and sometimes understanding for the ‘other side’. Similar to arguing that an individual holds a position not because he/she actually believes it, but to be relieved of cognitive dissonance.

    I would argue that one needs to understand the context of an individual’s belief (ex. how did the individual acquire his/her belief and why does the individual believe) before judging them as ‘thick’ or ‘partially stupid’. Yes, I would argue that there is a higher probability that a religious individual, but this does not translate into “atheists are always more rational than religionists”. After all, if someone is an atheist simply because he/she has never heard of the concepts of religion and theism (a theoretical example; I know that this situation is pretty much impossible in our normal modern-day society) could you really call such an individual ‘less thick’ for not being religious?

    1. After all, if someone is an atheist simply because he/she has never heard of the concepts of religion and theism
      This is me and my son as well. It’s not as far fetched as you might think. I was in my twenties the first time I can remember someone openly speaking about religion. It was a jaw dropping experience.

      1. But that’s obviously not you anymore. Your comments at this blog demonstrate that you’ve thought about the issue.

        I’ll be the first to cheer when religion is a thing of the past and we no longer need to deal with theistic arguments. I’m not claiming one way of being an atheist is better than another, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a difference between someone who reaches the conclusion that no God exists because they’ve considered the arguments and someone who doesn’t even know religion exists. It’s the difference between someone who doesn’t use homeopathy because they understand that it can’t possibly be effective the way it claims, and someone who just doesn’t know it’s out there. The later individual might come across it in a drug store and say “huh, think I’ll give this a try”. I’m just trying to show that the two ways of being an atheist aren’t equivalent.

    2. + 1. As a person brought up in an atheist family and culture, I do not feel in a position to judge others, though I am always amazed to see intelligent people believing uncritically.

      I sometimes also think that some believers may be religious because of a conviction that “it works”. To make an analogy, Pasteur’s theory of immunity (at least as I have read about it) was quite fantastic, but his vaccines did work and this could make some believe in the theory as well. I think that making our culture work would help much to convert religious people to atheism.

  14. My reaction is similar to Jerry’s…but with an added option. Example: Our former Indiana governor Mike Pence. Is he thick? Or is his arrogant religious display an attempt to gain political favor by appearing pious? More generally… Is it “thickness” or is it “dishonesty”… an “appearance” of piety for any perceived personal gain?

  15. This post pretty much sums up my views on people who excel at their professions and score high on IQ tests yet are theists. I think almost all people, no matter how “smart” they may be, struggle to fend off irrational thoughts, many of which do not relate to theism or religion, sometimes results in irrational deeds. Those people who are intelligent enough to understand the arguments for atheism and sometimes intellectually accept them simply do not have the psychic energy to reject theism. In other words, the cognitive dissonance between accepting theism and the overwhelming arguments for rejecting it creates less pain for them than making a clean break with irrational thoughts. Just as some people will not walk under a ladder even they know such a superstition is ridiculous, so some people will cling to theism.

    1. The problem is, people are finite. They don’t investigate all topics. Now if somebody has invested a lot of time in Bible study classes and goes to church that is one thing, but “yeah I believe, mystery of the universe huh” I would be less ready to draw conclusions. Most of thesmart believers I know are the latter.

  16. I feel the same way. I pity people who have been so blinkered by religion. It’s like they deliberately turn off part of their brains, the rational part, when it comes to their religion. I have few friends and they are all religious in one way or another. I have to compartmentalize my thoughts and feelings about them in order to be friends with them. And don’t let me get started about work. Most of them talk about religion all of the time and I just found out a few weeks ago that all of the bigwigs are Catholic and went to mass every day, from work, during Lent. I have to be very careful what I say and try not to show my near-contempt for their irrationality since I am not out of the closet, yet, so to speak. I dread that day because of the harassment I’ve experienced at jobs before when they have found out I am an Atheist. Ironically, one of the biggest reactions I’ve gotten is that they pity me for being an Atheist.

    1. Now there’s a curious thing. I have lived in Sydney (Australia not Canada) all my life and at no time did I feel that there was any pressure to believe or any penalty if I didn’t.

      Just over a year ago someone asked me if I was a believer and I was genuinely surprised because it had never been an issue before.

      My parents were probably “spiritual” in some sense but they were basically dysfunctional as parents, so they didn’t see to it that I was indoctrinated in any religion. I am grateful for that, and partly because in the meantime I have discovered that there is no good reason to believe in gods, ghosts or fairies.

  17. Yes!
    “perhaps the most common form of affected ignorance is the tendency to avoid acknowledging our human fallibility: as finite and fallible beings, even our most deeply held convictions may be wrong. But it is also common for human beings to avoid or deny this possibility”
    See –
    Culture, Responsibility, and Affected Ignorance
    Michele M. Moody-Adams
    Vol. 104, No. 2 (Jan., 1994), pp. 291-309

    1. Also –
      “In a nutshell, willful ignorance can be seen as ignorance that is due to one’s own will rather than to external barriers. You are ignorant not because it’s excessively difficult to know better, but because you do not want to know better even though it’s relatively easy to do so.”
      Wieland, Willful Ignorance,
      Ethical Theory and Moral Practice
      February 2017, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 105–119

  18. At this moment I am sure that intelligence can be a part of the reason for these differences, but there are other factors. Indoctrination and stubbornness are others.
    By way of a different example, there are people who accept evolution, and do not accept UFO’s or ESP or religion, not b/c they are smart or sufficiently educated, but b/c they readily accept what they are told.

    1. That is true but (and I am not sure this is what you are implying) is that such a bad thing? We are not in a position to properly investigate every claim so we need to rely on various experts (e.g. doctors, motor mechanics, scientists a la PCC) to tell us what is true. Furthermore we more or less have to accept what they say because we have no practical way of testing what they tell us.

      I’ve worked for decades in a university department as an electronics technician, and even there physicists often have to accept what I tell them because they do not have time to work it all out for themselves, although there is no reason why they can’t (and many do).

      I am an atheist because I was never effectively indoctrinated into any faith, and in more recent years I have learnt that there is no good reason to believe.

  19. I’ll lay odds that this article has been, or soon will be, pasted up on religionist blogs as an example of the arrogance of atheists (they’ll also refer especially to ‘new’ atheists, a ridiculous term). They will tut tut, shake their virtual heads, and deplore our inability to see the obvious evidence of god(s), about all of which we are in denial.

    I’m not sure that it’s because they are not smart that they think the way they do, rather it seems to me that they have a veil in front of them that is just too much trouble to lift. Of course, it leaves them unable to enter into proper debate on the subject and this is where I think the problem lies. Someone like William Lane Craig is a tremendous debater, clearly very intelligent, and so commands huge support from his adherents. Yet he is also heavily debunked in every argument he makes, to the extent that it’s embarrassing how low quality debates with apologists are becoming.

  20. “Are religious people a bit thick?”

    I have often wondered about this, and the only conclusion I could come to is: yes! How else could otherwise “smart” people still be ‘believers’ in this day and age? It is astounding.

    What it always boils down to is the fact that they are afraid of that stark reality, and simply cannot let go of the fairy tale of an afterlife. The narcissistic tendency to believe that one’s consciousness lives on. Jebus!

    It would be funny if it wasn’t so fucking dangerous.

  21. Of course, no one is immune to irrationality really. On my desk I have a copy of Walter Pitkin’s A Short Introduction to the History of Human Stupidity.
    “As for the inferior worshipper, the whole account of early magic and religion must be revised to allow for the positive forces of stupidity as these have given shape to superstitions, bred fears out of ignorance, and raised silly hopes in the animal ego. The efforts of anthropologists to present religions as the first stirring of the scientific and moral spirit have overshot the mark. But of this we can say little here; for it is a long story, and dull.” p 19-20

  22. I agree in general. One of the biggest mysteries of the universe to me is embodied in a friend who is an MD at Duke (both research and clinical). He’s got a ton of mental horsepower, is extremely well-read, and possesses a quick and sharp wit. Yet he’s a devout Catholic who just chooses to erect a wall around his religious beliefs and exclude them from the scientific inquiry which he uses on everything else. This level of compartmentalization just astonishes me nearly every time I speak with him. I feel like my brain would explode before I could do something similar.

  23. This post and the discussion are perfect examples of how to damage one’s persuasiveness.

    Approach 1. “religion is not supported by evidence”

    Approach 2. “religion is not supported by evidence and we think religious believers are dumb”

    Which argument will gain the broader audience of those wondering about religion?

    Sadly (and no offense intended) the best argument against this post and similar texts is that they are made.

    1. “Sadly (and no offense intended) the best argument against this post and similar texts is that they are made.”

      The argument is that religious people come off a bit dumb, not that atheists are all smart. So even granting your implicit premises it wouldn’t follow that this article undermines itself. But moreover, I’m sure the author knows this article won’t endear him to some religious folk. Who ever said that was the purpose of writing it?

    2. The post wasn’t meant to persuade the religious. Jerry was asking his fellow atheists a question. There’s no reason that a follow-up question can’t involve whether those who agree with Jerry are right, or what we ought to do about it.

      I’m assuming your response to “Are religious people a bit thick?” is “Maybe, but we shouldn’t ask, or say so if asked.”

    3. I’m not trying to persuade religious people here, Jody, and I think you know that. I’m saying what I FEEL when I encounter a person who seems intelligent but is religious. I do not call religious people “dumb” when I’m dis;cussing religion with them.

      If you think I should shut up about my feelings, then say so. And I guess Dawkins should have shut up, too, when he called religious people “delusional” or even “child abusers.”

      Perhaps religious people can use this against me, but what I’ve just said is nothing compared to what religious folk say about atheists.

      Finally, I aim my arguments at young people, or those on the fence, not those who have drunk the Kool-Aid.

      I’d appreciate it, then, if you’d lay off telling me how I should persuade people to give up their faith. Dawkins has conveted hundreds or thousands of folks away from religion even though he’s called them “delusional” or “child abusers.”

      1. And why should atheists stay quiet when armies of theists are only too willing to ram their toxic nonsense down our throats?

        Is a Muslim cleric who calls for apostates to be executed going to persuade atheists they are wrong?

  24. My only objection to calling religious people a bit thick is that it implies that this is an inherent trait and doesn’t allow for those who manage to escape faith. Do they get less stupid or were they smart enough to figure it out despite social pressures?

    1. I’d say that in a sense I became less stupid, although it is more realistic to say it was like Harrison Bergeron having thrown off his shackles. I was no longer mentally weighted down with trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.

  25. I think the same. I became atheist on finishing The Selfish Gene at age 21 and I felt much smarter! My eyes were opened! But it wasn’t much of a struggle to give up religion for me coming from a Jain background. I didn’t even understand fully this religion. It was all a bit wishy washy. I believed in some sort of a nebulous God whose nature I didn’t even stop to think about. I wasn’t ever really interested in religion.

  26. I’m not on board with this one.

    First, it fails the empirical test. Yes, statistically, scientific achievement is very strongly inversely correlated with religious belief…but, even today, there’re too many outliers to describe that as anything other than a correlation. I’m not, for example prepared to describe Francis Collins or Paul Davies as “thick.”

    But, more importantly…we all have our foibles, our shortcomings. None of us are perfect. And using a single axis like this as a determinant…is not unlike declaring those who disagree with your personal political or economic or artistic judgements as “thick.” Are all Republicans, Keynesians, or Minimalists “thick”?

    Lastly, consider the inverse. How many idiots do you know who’re atheists?



    1. Davies is an accommodationist, but I think he is a declared agnostic. Freeman Dyson is a good example. He is brilliant, but he holds a host of strange ideas including Christianity.

      We are complex creatures. Like you I would decline to label someone stupid or thick simply because they believe something without evidence.

    2. The majority of atheists I know are fairly intelligent, but I regard Ayn Rand as a notable exception, and I have decidedly mixed feelings about Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

    3. In the case of Republicans it is quite possible that there are other motivations, such as extreme self interest, or even dishonesty.

      As for Keynesians, I thought half the world’s economic leaders resorted to Keynesian policies after the GFC. That’s broadly the narrative here in Oz, supposedly the only developed country that rode through the GFC largely unaffected. (Australia hasn’t had a real recession for 25 years)

      I don’t know enough about Minimalists to comment.

      I don’t think the proposition is “Are only theists thick?” It’s more “Don’t you think theists come across as a bit thick?”

    4. Thick is not the best description. Religious people are delusional and not necessarily about everything. Usually they are only delusional about one thing. And in many cases willingly and stubbornly delusional. This is not respectful behavior and it demeans the believer.

  27. So I have to admit this: when a person who seems intelligent tells me that they are religious—at least in the sense that they’re theists who believe in unbelievable stuff—I immediately discount their minds.

    I immediately think them devious. They enjoy status among believers, and they expect me to respect that on threat of being labeled strident.

  28. Thank you for this! I couldn’t agree more! You are a much needed and appreciated breath of fresh air, especially in these political times.

  29. I think this equation of religiosity with stupidity is . . . inadequate. I say this as a person who is intelligent and wasn’t always an atheist, and who has a very intelligent relative who is seriously Christian and is happy to argue rationally (thought I would argue mistakenly) for it.

    It’s true that most of what one might call the mythology of religion obviously can’t be true. I think smart people who are seriously religious generally discount those stories. However, religion in some form remains plausible because it speaks to important human experiences, good and bad.

    On the good side, we humans sometimes experience a deeply compelling connection with the world or a compelling sense that there is more than there seems to be and we can almost touch it. Also, we can experience quite altered states with or without the aid of drugs. Such experiences must be reconciled with the rest of life somehow, and “that’s just a subjective feeling” feels totally inadequate.

    On the bad side, of course, we fear things that might go wrong in the future. We suffer now, from external events, from illness, and mentally. We fear death. We also feel dissonance about what I think of as the waste of death — after decades I have achieved some wisdom in my personal life and a lot of knowledge in my area of study, and it will all be lost when I die (except for the little I can communicate to others). We’d like for there to be a way to cause good to happen, to make suffering worthwhile, and to be rescued from death. Religion really can calm our fears, even if it’s a placebo.

    And then, we’re all irrational. Really. For example, I know chocolate is bad for me and yet, bright and non-theist though I am, I plan to eat some later today. Definitely.

    1. The word “stupid” can have many meanings as defined by Merriam-Webster:


      Definition of stupid
      1. 1a : slow of mind : obtuseb : given to unintelligent decisions or acts : acting in an unintelligent or careless mannerc : lacking intelligence or reason : brutish
      2. 2 : dulled in feeling or sensation : torpid still stupid from the sedative
      3. 3 : marked by or resulting from unreasoned thinking or acting : senseless a stupid decision
      4. 4a : lacking interest or point – a stupid event : vexatious, exasperating the stupid car won’t start


      Thus, it is not incorrect to call a religious person “stupid” because the religious belief is “marked by or resulting from unreasoned thinking or acting.” However, there are few people who can claim never to have been stupid in this sense. Since the word “stupid” is most associated with people with a below normal intelligence as measured by such things as an IQ test, for the sake of clarity I would avoid use of the term. It is simply adequate to characterize a religious person, who has access to information challenging theism, as one who engages in irrational thinking.

      As you note, there are few of us who do not engage in irrational thinking of one sort or another. The problem with theism as an irrationality is that many believers desire to impose their beliefs on others through political action in the public sphere. This is why this form of irrationality is much more danger than the other irrationalities and neuroses that we all experience.

      1. “The problem with theism as an irrationality is that many believers desire to impose their beliefs on others through political action in the public sphere.”

        True, but the same can happen with atheism. When I was young, police and volunteer thugs kept watch around churches on Easter to check who was coming, and often to disperse the Christians by force. A generation before, many had ended up in concentration camps and some had even been killed because of their (real or suspected) religious beliefs. I have also read reports that in other Soviet bloc countries, religious parents had their children taken away.

        This is why I always argue with Westerners who claim that the only officially atheistic country was Albania. When you are systematically harassed and persecuted by the authorities because of your beliefs, it does not matter that the Constitution proclaims freedom of religion – the law becomes an empty word.

        1. In regard to the actions you describe, the question is whether the communist oppressors of the Christians really had any commitment to atheism as an understanding of the universe or simply that the rulers viewed Christianity as a vehicle for the subversion of the state. In other words if the religious institutions had wholeheartedly supported the state, would they have been left alone?

          1. Our churches, unlike the Catholic church of Poland, were never active in resistance against communism (and we had little of such resistance of any sort). The dominant church (Orthodox) was heavily infiltrated with State Security agents; they occupied all the top positions. Nevertheless, churches were still decorated with images of Jesus and Mary rather than Marx and Lenin, so authorities viewed Christianity as a dangerous subversive force – you are right about this.

    2. I think “equation of religiosity with stupidity” is overstating the proposition.

      PCC described theists as a bit “thick” which is probably not well defined. For example one thing that frequently impresses (and depresses) me about theists is what they accept as evidence, and their seeming inability to accept that their arguments have been thoroughly demolished. Curiously I think if they were presented with “evidence” of similar quality for some other belief they would (rightly) scoff at it.

      I am not prepared to accept that it is a simple matter of intelligence. I am supposed to have an IQ comfortably above average, but one thing I have noticed since my childhood (and I am now over 60) is that too often I display poor comprehension. Also, I didn’t reason my way out of religion, I was just never indoctrinated.

  30. My reaction to the religious, except monks and nuns and their analogs in other religions, is that they are dishonest. They dread dying, though they claim they will go to heaven which will be great. They spend most of their time and energy on all the ordinary mundane things of our daily lives, even though they think there is a supernatural being hovering over them, which ought to make everything else irrelevant. They say they are religious, but they don’t really act like it in my view. They treat religion more like membership in a club, not a real belief about the world.

    1. There are certainly far too many people like those you describe.

      However, there are also many people who work to apply their religious ideals in daily life. They’re certainly not dishonest.

      1. At the ‘many people’ level of generalization,’ what one says of the religious can apply equally well to the human population at large. That is, most people act well; a significant minority act badly. In this respect, secular/religious is irrelevant.

        However, when it comes to individuals and their institutions, theists who otherwise lead decent moral lives too often do so under the dark shadow of their churches. I will mention two of the mightiest: Latter Day Saints and Roman Catholicism. Both of these institutions of religion have and exercise vast corporate, temporal power which, plainly to me, at least arguably to most, is in their interest rather than that of human well-being (let alone fulfilling their professed god’s will).

        A devout Catholic doing good–and there are many very smart, accomplished intellectuals who stay in the church (e. g., Garry Wills). Such believers may fight the good progressive fight, but even when multiplied by many in a cohort, they are supporting an overwhelmingly regressive sociopolitical institution. And they will lose ground with every communion they take, every tithe they make.

        This is the ‘hypocrisy gap’ between the ‘hey, I’m religious and I’m a good person’ and the ‘deep government’ of his or her church, which very well may not be a good (corporate) person at all.

  31. All of us, no matter how intelligent or generally well-informed, believe some stupid s**t. (Dpn’t get me started on the Baseball Hall of Fame and the second basemen of the 1970’s-early 1990’s.) Religious belief is simply somewhat more resistant to rational thought because most of us were brought up to believe we were supposed to believe it — unlike what I believe about the Hall of Fame’s treatment of second basemen — and for some, true or not, it is comforting — unlike what I believe about whether Bobby Grich, Willie Randolph, Lou Whittaker, etc., are Hall of Famers.

    1. Name one stupid thing that I “believe”. I know that you don’t know me, but I don’t think that you could name one stupid thing I believe to be true.

      1. The problem I think is that you can’t name one stupid thing you believe to be true. Nor can any of us.

        We can no doubt think of our moral weaknesses, or consider preferences and tastes that aren’t popular and might be considered ‘stupid’ (yes, I do like pineapple on my pizza) — but if we knew something was false, we couldn’t believe it was simultaneously true unless we were adept at playing the kinds of games the readers of this website take a dim view of.

        1. Erm, no. Likes & preferences aren’t the same as what the OP is all about – beliefs about reality / world views. Having been born in a seriously xtian home and abandoning those beliefs, I have no problem jettisoning beliefs once they’re shown to be false.

        2. Exactly!

          We should all be confident that at least some of our confidence in something is misplaced. But the cruel irony is that we can never know where we’ve gone off the rails — for, if we knew, our confidence would no longer exist.

          Thus, the persistent challenge is to continually reevaluate positions and revise our confidences based upon new information and analysis — which is exactly what science is all about.

          As a trivial example…last night, I was reasonably confident (but not at all certain) that the Republicans in the Senate would value the institution of the Senate and the filibuster more than they would value loyalty to as ineffectual and tainted Resident as Drumpf. But, after reading some reports including interviews with Senators, I’m much less confident in that assessment.

          Was it stupid of me to believe last night that Gorsuch would most likely go down in flames?

          Only if it was also stupid of Jerry to bet that Señor Smallinpants would lose to Clinton.

          …which is why I don’t think it particularly “thick” of the religious to come to the incorrect position that they have.

          Especially since so many people really do think that there are legitimate areas of gaps in knowledge and room for doubt.

          I mean, if you really don’t understand that Evolution really is true, and that’s because you’ve never studied modern biology, shouldn’t you be forgiven for therefore concluding that maybe Jesus tweaked the genome here and there? We here know that’s absurd — but, lacking that knowledge, it’s a perfectly reasonable conclusion.




          1. Ben, totally off topic, but since you (and I) spend less time in the comments section here these days, I’d like to take this opportunity to ask you a question. You have often in the past disparaged The Trolley Problem as being a pointless philosophical abstraction since no one would ever (in real life) find themselves at the switch with five people on one track and one person on the other. But as Sam Harris (and others) have pointed out, the Trolley Problem becomes very real in the context of self driving cars. How should these cars be programmed? If they detect people in the road who are about to be run over, should they swerve, potentially killing or at least harming the occupant(s) of the car? How should they “decide?” Does it matter how many people are in the car and how many are in the street? Does it matter if the only available direction for swerving is into oncoming traffic? Programmers of self driving cars will be dealing with very real Trolley Problems, and they will be of moral importance. Does this change you mind at all about the philosophical value of Trolley Problems?

            1. But as Sam Harris (and others) have pointed out, the Trolley Problem becomes very real in the context of self driving cars.

              But that’s just it: it’s even more imaginary in that context.

              For starters, it presumes an absurd type of omniscience on the part of the cars whilst simultaneously denying them their already-superhuman observational powers that would permit them to prevent getting in such a bind in the first place.

              How is it that the car has the wherewithall to distinguish a pregnant mother from a hobo sleeping under a garbage bag in the split second after the car’s brakes fail as the kid chases the ball into the street in the pouring thunderstorm…

              …but that it wasn’t able to recognize it as a confined space with ambulatory blobs and reduced traction that warrants a greatly reduced speed — and why is it the computer’s fault that some evil philosopher cut the brake lines?

              Good human drivers don’t maneuver themselves into situations where they have to perform instantaneous Trolley-like “moral” calculus. They slow down to a speed such that they can safely react in time to any reasonably-anticipated emergency.

              Robot cars will (already) do exactly the same, only better.

              And that should be the real lesson to take away from the Trolley Bullshit. Not, “What do you do when the shit hits the fan in a no-win situation?” but, rather, “How do we avoid no-win situations in the first place; how stupid do you have to be to suspend a bucket of shit over a fan; and what sort of idiot stands in front of a fan with a bucket of shit suspended over it?”

              Which, of course, actually is how we as a society deal with it — the train jumps the tracks and mows down the schoolbus…and then the accident investigators come and figure out what went worng, and, before long, there’s a new safety regulation that prevents that particular type of tragedy from happening in the future.

              Sam’s a really sharp cookie with lots of insight who’s much more often very right than worng. But, when he goes off the rails, he sure does so in style….




              1. You’ve done a very admirable job of Straw-manning my question into something ridiculous which you can discount out of hand. Yes, of course, *good* human drivers take great care to make sure that deer never run out the woods into their path, or whatever. And therefore, of course, self-driving cars will never be involved in accidents, or something. Your answer seems to be, “Let’s just pretend this will never happen, but if it does, we’ll figure it out then.”

              2. Of course deer will jump in front of self-driving cars, and of course accidents will happen with self-driving cars.

                But, first, self-driving cars are already better at seeing (via radar, for example) deer hidden behind bushes, as well as kids on bikes hidden by parked cars. So they’ll already be slowing down or otherwise preparing for a possible encounter.

                Never mind that — you’re proposing a scenario in which a previously-invisible deer practically materializes in front of a self-driving car. The car doesn’t have enough time to stop before hitting the deer…but it does have enough time to analyze the situation and pick whether it’s more morally defensible to hit the deer, mow down the pregnant woman laying in a ditch at the side of the road, collide head-on with the schoolbus going the opposite direction, or run off the cliff.

                And the AI operating the car has super-human moral intuitions and isn’t at all bothered about the fact that, despite having a brain the size of a planet, it’s doing nothing more interesting than driving philosophers to a cocktail party.

                Programmers for robot cars aren’t going to waste their efforts or the computer’s resources on choosing what to crash into when a crash becomes inevitable. They’re going to focus their attention on preventing crashes in the first place — which is going to mean controlling speed to begin with, and then stopping as quickly as possible, and finally steering to avoid the closest objects. That way, whatever you wind up hitting, you’ll have dissipated as much of your kinetic energy as possible. Much, much better to hit the [whatever] 50 feet away at 10 MPH than the [something] 10 feet away at 50 MPH.

                So, there’s your answer. Which is closer: the deer; the pregnant woman; or the global thermonuclear war launch trigger? The one farthest away is what the car’s going to crash into, if it can’t avoid a crash.




              3. The point I’m trying to make is that you’re trying to overlap two things divided by an insurmountable gap.

                On the one hand, we already have robot cars that are superhuman in their abilities to avoid getting into potential crash situations in the first place. We should always strive for better, of course, but it seems silly to blame and ascribe moral failure to a robot for being imperfect when it’s already far superior to humans. How many humans do you know who, in the middle of a car crash, would ponder the relative moral worth of whatever they’re about to hit and swerve accordingly? And what sort of blame would you place on them after the fact for making a suboptimal choice in an instant of panic?

                On the other hand, you’re proposing a robot car unable to avoid getting into a crash, but somehow still able perform near-instantaneous complex moral calculus that will minimize harm in a situation so chaotic and unavoidably catastrophic that such calculus is necessary in the first place.

                Or: if you’re smart enough to be able to navigate the Trolley Bullshit, you’re far more than smart enough to see it in advance and navigate your way around it. But if you weren’t able to avoid it, that right there is proof positive that you’re unable to navigate it effectively.

                The only real-world scenario I’ve ever been able to think of where the Trolley Bullshit actually is a reasonable analogy…is the classic horror story of the Nazi colonel who shoots your oldest daughter and then demands that you pick if he should next shoot your younger daughter or your wife. But, even then, how is any philosophizing about trolleys supposed to help you in that situation? Are you to blame for what the colonel does next? Is it your fault you weren’t able to escape the country before the borders were closed?




              4. @Ben

                “Much, much better to hit the [whatever] 50 feet away at 10 MPH than the [something] 10 feet away at 50 MPH.”

                Not if the thing 10 feet away is a dog (or a sheep) and the thing 50 feet away is a car coming the other way.

                And this does happen quite often, check out the Russian dashcam videos on Youtube for examples.


              5. Not if the thing 10 feet away is a dog (or a sheep) and the thing 50 feet away is a car coming the other way.

                <sigh />

                I would have hoped it obvious that I was offering up a simple example, and not making a proposal for a complete all-encompassing software algorithm. Today’s robot cars already have a good grasp of that kind of physics, so why wouldn’t you expect future ones to do at least as well?

                We don’t demand infallibility of human drivers or try to train them to be able to distinguish between dogs and babies and dolls and bags on the freeway — let alone to make no-win snap moral judgements of which are and aren’t okay to run over. If there are two babies, one hidden in a plastic bag, a puppy, a plastic doll, and a land mine, which would you aim for after the evil philosopher cut your brakes in the 1.34 seconds you have before impact?

                We instead require drivers to follow traffic laws, including driving at a safe speed for the current conditions and maintaining adequate separation from other vehicles on the road, and to do their best to avoid unexpected hazards.

                Why are robot cars suddenly expected to be existential philosophers, and who seriously thinks that type of Star Drek ultra-sophisticated AI is going to be wasted on robot cars?




              6. @Ben

                Just pointing out that in fact human drivers *do* make the distinction between things-to-avoid-at-all-costs and things-that-can-be-hit-if-unavoidable (and things-that-it’s-okay-to-hit) very frequently. They also don’t always get it right, of course. Particularly inexperienced drivers who just ‘freeze’.

                But recognition of objects is something that brains do quite well (it’s one of their best features) and it’s an extremely difficult problem for AI.


    2. Of all the directions I could imagine this comment thread going, a mention of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s treatment of 2nd basemen from the “1970’s-early 1990’s” is one I could have never imagined in a million years.

      1. I must admit that I misread the original post as “second basement”, and assumed that the Hall of Fame (is it actually a place, or just an idea?) had a sub-basement in which statues of lesser players were placed because they weren’t good enough to be in the main Hall!

        Silly me.

    3. I don’t think many people believe in false premises, not consistently, at least. We can all be mistaken about a great deal of things, but religion is wanting existence to be different than what.

      It’s the biggest hope to think one will live forever. Delusional but not stupid.

  32. I used to think that religious people were less intelligent than non-believers almost by definition. If ones mind works in such a way that one cant apprehend reality that suggests a problem. But lately I’m a bit more nuanced, and thats come in large part from religious people who are obviously very smart. I think this poses some interesting questions about the nature of intelligence: Are there many forms of intelligence? Is intelligence modular or compartmentalized? Even more interesting are the cranks like Velikovsky who believe the most outrageously absurd things but verge on being geniuses.

  33. Yes, yes, yes I agree entirely. I have puzzled about this for ages but have come to the same conclusion. Religious people are a bit thick.

    Living in South Africa is presumably what living in the USA bible belt is like – only far worse! Under apartheid we were a Christian country (?). Evolution was not allowed to be taught in schools. But I learnt about evolution at University and somehow thought everyone ‘believed’ in it. They don’t and they miss SO much. The world is an infinitely fascinating place when viewed with evolutionary understanding. But, deep time is a difficult concept and religious people just don’t ‘get it’.

    As a democracy, South Africa is now a secular country and schools are allowed to teach evolution. But, the older generations are stuck in their ignorance. I heartily dislike having to watch my words lest I offend some idiot – but the converse is not true. Religious people tend to be very rude when their beliefs are questioned.

    The worst nightmare is the Christian view that we are in the ‘end times’ and the ‘end of the world is nigh’. We must sit back and trust in god. That portends a real dead end.

  34. I believe that there’s a certain percentage of people who, because of some genetically-determined brain structure, NEED to believe in “magic”- it gives them a “feel-good” that they crave, and can’t get, from rational explanations of material phenomena. This “longing for a mystery” expresses itself in many different forms: while religion is one of the most visible ones, I have a friend who, while being very intelligent and not at all religious, is prone to being attracted to all kinds of conspiracy theories. If an “untruth” can satisfy this longing, it, too, will be clung to and defended, like the people who believe that Obama and Hillary’s crimes will eventually be brought to light and they will be sentenced to prison- Ha!

    Here’s a great, 9-minute “talking song” by Tim Minchin on “alternate beliefs”:

  35. “To me, this means that someone, regardless of how ‘smart’ they seem, is at the very least irrational if they believe in God or the attendant superstitions. “

    Agreed. But there is an element here of either over-valuing the rational or under-valuing the irrational—I’m not sure which. Surely there are many irrational areas in our lives that we would be the poorer for without. I would go so far as to say that the irrational is an essential component of sanity. Fortunately, we all engage in irrational activity, albeit involuntarily, when we dream, without which we would likely go mad. G. K. Chesterton says this best:

    “If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”

    An interesting phrase here is “the dumb certainties of experience,” which, when it comes to religion, I would distinguish from those “certainties” that arise from authority or indoctrination. Faced with personal religious experiences, one can either deny them based on an a priori rejection of the irrational or one can expand one’s world view in an attempt to incorporate them as part of “reality.” Jerry prefers the former, which is his prerogative; I prefer the latter.

    1. Pls, use an internet traslator Spanish English.
      1º La irracionalidad es parte de la realidad subjetiva y social, en el sentido que lo son los sentimientos emociones y creencias.
      2º Si algo irracional está en conflicto con la Naturaleza, lo irracional aunque exista, es falso y no enriquece ni aporta nada al conocimiento humano. Puede que ayude a algunos a sentirse bien (“feeling good”, pero es sólo para personas capaces de vivir con la verdad y la mentira a la vez, como supuestos estado superpuestos (A pseudo Entagled states, like the Schrödinger Cat)

    2. Faced with personal religious experiences, one can either deny them based on an a priori rejection of the irrational or one can expand one’s world view in an attempt to incorporate them as part of “reality.” Jerry prefers the former, which is his prerogative; I prefer the latter.

      I think there are more than two options. When faced with personal religious experiences, one can

      1.) flatly deny them based on an a priori rejection of the supernatural.

      2.) tentatively deny them based on a reasoned approach to the question.

      3.)be skeptical and openly explore possible natural origins.

      4.)tentatively accept them as what they seem to be on the surface out of a desire to trust people’s self-evaluations and expand one’s understanding of new realities.

      5.)flatly accept them based on an a priori acceptance of the supernatural and/or a complete confidence in personal interpretation of personal experience.

      I’d say Jerry was a #2 or #3; you seem like a #4, maybe. There are probably more than 5 positions. It’s certainly not a dichotomy.

  36. Cognitive dissonance, now call post-truth and bielive in alternative facts. A lost battle for enlightened and rational arguements

  37. I think believers are intellectually dishonest, but not necessarily stupid in the sense that they’re incapable of understanding there’s no god.

    I agree that this may result in an “effective” stupidity, where otherwise smart people are dumbed down by their mistaken regard for faith as a virtue. Maybe they’re not “really” stupid, but if they act, think, and speak in a manner that can’t be distinguished from a plainly stupid person’s, there’s no way to tell the difference.

    So, if I think of a religious person as stupid, or if someone else does, I usually keep this “effective” stupidity concept in mind. If–as sometimes happens–I find this view is somehow rude to them, I remind myself that it’s already much more charitable than many believers’ regard for atheists as deficient in many ways. In this way, I’m on a level rhetorical playing field where the best arguments will win.

    Obviously, going out of one’s way to call believers stupid to their face is not the way to convince them, but that’s a separate question about strategy.

  38. I have Why Evolution is True and Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible, and this looks like the perfect subject for a third book to add to my Jerry Coyne collection. I’ll bet you can come up with plenty of fresh material than hasn’t already been covered by other authors.

  39. I suspect this issue is something that many of us Atheist think about and certainly much more than the religious do. Just imagine a fairly religious person wondering – Are those atheists just dumber or less intelligent than we are? I don’t think they do but should probably ask.

    Also, I would bet that long-term religious belief will very likely lead to less intelligence because that is the way it works with many people; especially the hard core fundamentalist and creationists. They only believe in the dogma of the church and refuse to study or learn about science and many other things. When you have people who actually believe the earth is only 6 or 7 thousand years old or that vigins can give birth, you have serious mental disorder of some kind.

    Most of the young earth followers I have talked to have almost no understanding of evolution as far as my layman view can determine. So imagine how they must appear to a Jerry Coyne or Richard Dawkins, nearly brain dead I would think.

  40. My problem with the argument is that isn’t essentially bringing the question of intelligence to a values fight.

    As a consummate scientist I to believe that people should respect positivist evidence, but there is shakey ground for the argument that people should judge all aspects of their lives from a scientific point of view. Now I’m not making the fallacious argument of “Science can’t tell us everything ergo God exists” but rather: Science can’t tell us everything therefore its debatable how people should choose to live their lives.

    1. Your heart is in the right place, but you ultimately miss the mark.

      Your first error lies in conceding that moral values and meaning are the proper domain of religion and that science is or must be mute on those matters. Such could not be further from the truth. Indeed, for values to be valid, they must follow from an accurate assessment of that which you are valuing — and the only reliable way we know to accurately assess anything is through rational analysis of objective observation.

      That is, you may have a religious feeling / intuition / scripture / whatever that “informs” you that, for example, a woman’s legal testimony is only half as good as a man’s — as has historically often been the case and remains to this day in much of modern Islam. But, if you approach the matter scientifically, you get a completely different answer. And, as a consequence, the conclusions you draw from those two starting points are radically different.

      What science can’t do is tell you what you want; only you can decide that for yourself. But, once you’ve figured out what it is you want, science is, far and away, the most effective means of understanding how to accomplish your goals.

      As a side note, it’s worth noting that, overwhelmingly, whatever goals you might have, even the most anti-social and immoral ones…well, you’ll have better odds of achieving them with the support of a well-functioning moral society. Which, in turn, makes anti-social immoral goals tend to be rather counter-productive and self-limiting, even if only in the aggregate over the course of multiple generations.

      To go back to the example of women’s testimony…it’s no coincidence that the West’s courts exhibit much less corruption than Islamic ones, and that Western society in turn is much more effective at providing for the health and wellbeing of its members than Islamic ones.

      And, no. That’s not to suggest that there’s a black-and-white divide, or that the West can’t possibly ultimately succumb to, for example, existential jihadi nuclear terrorism. But it’s religion, not science, that makes such absolutist claims; science will tell you that that sort of absolutism has no basis in reality.




      1. “conceding that moral values and meaning are the proper domain of religion and that science is or must be mute on those matters”

        Absolutely not my point, and I don’t believe science is mute on the matter even remotely – so I think we see eye to eye on that.

        In the case of women’s vs men’s testimony I would 100% reject that approach because as you said there is science evidence on the matter – the issue I’m addressing is I too agree that rational evidence based decisions can lead to a more moral society with better outcomes for all BUT there are gaps in what science can tell us and while I agree that this is no excuse to fill your head with nonsense, it also becomes a debate of what values are held to guide one’s thoughts in these areas.

        1. BUT there are gaps in what science can tell us and while I agree that this is no excuse to fill your head with nonsense, it also becomes a debate of what values are held to guide one’s thoughts in these areas.

          I’m sorry; I must be missing something.

          There are gaps in our empirical-evidence-based understanding of reality, yes, no question.

          But, first, those gaps aren’t huge gaping voids with no hints of detail. Rather, they tend to be fuzzy portraits with recognizable broad outlines but key specifics not yet in focus.

          And, with that in mind…how is anything other than a continuing commitment to understanding the facts supposed to guide one’s thoughts to anything other than nonsense?



          1. But what about gaps like ‘what happened before the big bang?’ ‘is consciousness an evolved trait or a side-effect of evolution?’

            Or a person favourite – what is the best sleep strategy for a young child??!?!

            I guess we’re in that weird space where our philosophies almost completely align I too believe that a continuing commitment to understanding facts is the way to go, however over time I have also come to realize that the word only might be a dogmatic rather than a rational one in the following argument:

            Science leads to the objective improvement of rational beings through improved understanding


            A scientific approach is the only way to approach uncertainty

            Loving the discussion by the way, its nice to have a chat that isn’t driven by heated political rhetoric

            1. ‘what happened before the big bang?’

              It’s for certain that nobody knows the answer to that question — and, therefore, that it’s highly imprudent to pretend or act as if you do.

              But, even there, you can weight various options.

              For starters, macroscopic-scale time is entirely understood as a function of entropy, and the Big Bang as an instance of extraordinarily low entropy; as a result, it’s rather unlikely that “before” has any more meaning than “north” does when you’re standing at the North Pole.

              Some sort of multiverse is a not-bad bet these days, and many cosmologists will be delighted to tell you the pros and cons of their personal favorites.

              And, within rounding, there is exactly zero chance than YHWH was even remotely hypothetically tangentially involved whatsoever.

              A scientific approach is the only way to approach uncertainty

              Yes, it unquestionably is.

              Not because it’s guaranteed to work. There are no such guarantees.

              But, rather, because it’s overwhelmingly demonstrated to be much more likely to be effective than any other approach.

              That’s what I outlined in that cosmogenesis example above. We don’t have the answer, but that doesn’t mean that all answers are equally valid. So, you have some answers that are more or less likely to be the right one, or at least more or less likely to be recognizably closer to the right one.

              What would you propose that’s more likely to get you to the right answer than by apportioning your beliefs in proportions indicated by a rational analysis of objective observation? And if that’s not science…what is?




    2. Religious faith is the conflation of fact and values. Intelligent people often defend religious beliefs (their own or that of others) by flipping the issue from one of reasoning about certain facts to living according to certain values.

      Question: Does Bigfoot exist?

      Answer: It’s fine to consider the evidence, but it’s more important to understand the role a belief in Bigfoot plays in someone’s life. When we do that, and think of what matters to ourselves, the answer is no longer so simple, is it?

      1. Along that line I draw distinctions between beliefs and behaviour. If someone genuinely thinks that bigfoot might exist somewhere out there in the world – ok cool.

        But if someone wants to raise funds and gallivant around the globe searching for bigfoot and generally falling for every hoax under the sun – that’s when I start questioning intelligence!

        1. I’m not sure there’s a particularly rigid line between beliefs and behaviors. Once someone gets into sloppy intellectual habits in one area, it’s likely to spill over into other areas. Especially if the belief is somehow important to their identity.

          I also think that there’s something intellectually dishonest about someone who cares enough about Bigfoot to believe it exists, but doesn’t care enough about Bigfoot to want to believe it exists because it does exist. They’d want to change their mind if it doesn’t, and ought to be interested in the counter-case.

          (In case it wasn’t obvious, my Bigfoot question/response was a parody of religious deflection — what I call going into Therapist Mode as an immunization strategy.)

          1. Oooh its a little ironic that you talk about intellectual sloppiness spreading, when that argument is itself a sloppy, slippery slope argument!

            I’m not so sure I followed the bigfoot argument, but I think you’re saying that people should be open to counter-argument about their beliefs, which is certainly a highly rational way to be, but of course there is this little bias of confirmation which means as whole people tend away from such an approach.

            On a another note: what’s an immunization strategy and what sort of therapy do you do?

            1. Bad habits often spread. I’m not sure that remarking on this is starting down a slippery slope. And yes, confirmation bias (a sloppy habit) is hard to avoid for anyone. That doesn’t turn it into a virtue, of course.

              Sorry I was sloppy. “Immunizing strategy” is a term invented by philosopher/new atheist Stephen Law describing defenses against falsification built up around claims in order to hold off certain criticisms. “Therapist Mode” is a term I invented (I think) which refers to a habit of shifting a discussion from the truth of a belief (“Is the Book of Mormon accurate history?”) to the psychological status of a believer (“How does the Mormon Church help families?”)– like a therapist. The claim is now person-centered, connected to how people feel about the claim, and the skeptic who wants to return to the original topic looks like a curmudgeon who doesn’t care about people. It’s a useful strategy on several levels, and often adopted unconsciously.

              1. No no no, slippery slope is a oft’ used argument that rarely has any evidential grounds. Saying X is bad because it will lead to Y sounds really compelling but often has little to no evidence behind it and/or is spurious. For example people oppose Gay Marriage because ‘next they’ll be wanting to adopt children’ seems like an argument but actually allowing Gay marriage doesn’t cause that want and while it may be correct that changing marriage laws might make changing adoptions laws more likely that’s somewhat moot for the issue at hand. (sorry for the waffle)

                Thanks for explaining the strategy – its a sneaky move really isn’t it, I have a particular dislike of tactics that seem to be more ‘caring’ and make people who actually want to work through the rationale properly like the ‘bad-guys’ >;)

    3. Every organized religion on earth is arbitrary. So when someone is a theist, they have no valid argument for their faith.

      If someone wants to be a Deist they still have the onerous task of defining some personal creator that is equally arbitrary, but at least does not come with the vitriolic dogma of most organized religions.

  41. The election and activities of the current administration are good examples of how fear motivates action. Michael Shermer wrote about why people believe weird things, and it boils down to self-delusion. Many religionists fear eternal damnation not only for them but for their children, and thus are willing to buy into the alternative facts universe.

  42. It’s really a spectrum. There is a sense in which Andrew Schlafly is genuinely thick in a way that Reinhold Neibuhr was not.

    (I choose the example of Neibuhr deliberately because there was a short-lived discussion group of Harvard faculty called “Atheists for Neibuhr” who regarded him as a profound ethical thinker but who rejected his Christian presuppositions.)

    There have been various typologies of styles of religion put forth- creed-centered vs. ethics-centered, humanitarian vs. authoritarian, etc.
    Henri Bergson’s distinction between static vs. dynamic religion is interesting, though I don’t quite know what to make of it.

    However,…smart religious people are likely to openly acknowledge that religious commitment is in some sense a guess or a gamble based on incomplete information, while being more prone to regard religious experience (a la William James) as constituting real, albeit fragmentary, evidence.

    But when you get someone who insists there is a slam-dunk case for some sort of fundamentalism like Lee Strobel that we are now dealing with a kind of intellectual perversity that we are not when dealing with Quaker astrophysicist Arthur Eddington. I am unprepared to call Eddington dim. (Someone above noted that while lots of scientists are not religious, correlation is not causation.)

    (There are many flaws in C.S. Lewis’ apologetics that have been well-analyzed by ex-Christian John Beverslius [and Adam Lee], but ironically one of the strengths of his writing is his open admissions of when his arguments are relatively weak!!!)

    Finally, certain religious people insist on a bad moral code and resort to convoluted defenses of them, as in the case of William Lane Craig. This too is a kind of intellectual perversity. The moral and scientific objections to evangelical Christianity are far stronger than those to deism, or even perhaps to Brahma. And that is exactly the reason I prefer to label myself ‘agnostic’ rather than ‘atheist’, though I am inclined to have definite doubts about any deity. If one exists, she is well-concealed.

    The opening line of dialogue from Woody Allen’s “Husbands and Wives”
    TV Scientist: Einstein was then celebrating, uh, the seventieth birthday anniversary and there was a colloquium given for him. And he said, “God doesn’t play dice with the universe”.
    Gabe: No. He just plays hide-and-seek.

    1. And that is exactly the reason I prefer to label myself ‘agnostic’ rather than ‘atheist’, though I am inclined to have definite doubts about any deity. If one exists, she is well-concealed.

      How is that different from any other conspiracy theory?

      Are you agnostic about the possibility that the CIA is controlling your thoughts through your dental implants?

      Are you agnostic about the possibility that you’re the proverbial philosopher’s brain in a vat?

      Are you agnostic about the possibility that you’re a subroutine of the Matrix?

      …or trapped on the Holodeck, part of Alice’s Red King’s Dream, or Zhuangzi’s Butterfly?


      Then why call out special attention to an indistinguishable agnosticism for magic bearded sky men?

      After all, they’re all equally well-hidden and impossible to disprove. And equally absurd and paranoid….



      P.S. Einstein’s dice-throwing “God” wasn’t even remotely deistic, and was purely poetically anthropomorphic. b&


      1. I think it pragmatically best to assume as the working hypothesis that none of the above are true, that reality is more or less objectively as I see it.

        Furthermore, there are some false beliefs that are evidently the product of either childish or paranoid thinking. This includes the anthropomorphic deities of which Einstein was quite critical, in part because belief in same had placed so much power in the hands of unscrupulous men.

        The world is mysterious, but some explanations of it are clearly false. When my cousin defended an alleged miracle by appealing to Shakespeare’s line “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy”, my father quipped “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy, but that’s not one of them”.

        But a tiny percentage of conspiracy theories ARE true, such as the FBI poisoning alcohol during prohibition, or asbestos companies deliberately concealing what they knew about its bad health effects. And as reluctant as I am to concede anything to conspiracy king, Alex Jones, the CIA’s MKULtra program really existed. So not all conspiracy theories are created equal!!!

        And that is precisely the point I am making about religious belief, though I don’t see any being strongly vindicated as a small fraction of conspiracies have actually been.
        But I am willing to be deferential to those that bear positive moral consequences, although none are above criticism. (As much as I admire Gandhi, there is definitely a weird side to him.) And obviously, I have set of moral criteria independent of and pre-existing any religion by which I will measure the ethics of any religion.

        In “Ideas and Opinions” Einstein writes “Scientific research can reduce superstition by encouraging people to think and view things in terms of cause and effect. Certain it is that a conviction, akin to religious feeling, of the rationality and intelligibility of the world lies behind all scientific work of a higher order. […] This firm belief, a belief bound up with a deep feeling, in a superior mind that reveals itself in the world of experience, represents my conception of God. In common parlance this may be described as “pantheistic” (Spinoza)”.

        Re Einstein, I recommend this article from Shermer’s Skeptic magazine.

        1. But a tiny percentage of conspiracy theories ARE true, such as the FBI poisoning alcohol during prohibition, or asbestos companies deliberately concealing what they knew about its bad health effects.

          But are gods (of whatever flavor, deistic, personal, or otherwise) more akin to rogue cops and corrupt corporate executives…or magic alien space faeries who grant wishes to good boys and girls who eat their spinach?

          Even the most generous interpretation of a deistic god makes it indistinguishable from the TV producers of the Truman Show. Would you seriously entertain a proposal that that’s a reasonable conspiracy theory to remain agnostic about? Would you, just for the sake of the argument, concede that said producers are gods?

          And if somebody sincerely held a belief that TV producers were conspiring to keep us from escaping from the sound stage, would you still be deferential to any positive moral consequences that followed from that belief?

          Certain it is that a conviction, akin to religious feeling, of the rationality and intelligibility of the world lies behind all scientific work of a higher order.

          No; the rational intelligibility of the world is a conclusion based on the observation that we have great success using reason to make sense of it. So long as we continue to have such success, it will remain a reasonable foundation to continue its pursuit.

          Remember, we tried the alternative — the divine revelations of mystics, the unquestionable tradition of holy scripture. Didn’t work, and it was only when we started to perform rational analyses of objective observations that we really started to make good progress.

          But it’s entirely possible that science will break tomorrow and that prayers and other forms of magic will start working. If so, we will know that there isn’t any rational intelligibility to the universe after all.

          The chances of that happening, of course, are precisely on a par with the chances that some god or other Spoke the Universe into Being….




          1. The Truman Show hypothesis involves belief in a deceptive and/or malignant higher power, in a way that deism (such as that of Thomas Paine or Thomas Jefferson) does not.

            And magic space fairies handing out rewards and punishments implies an anthropomorphism that the quasi-theism of Spinoza does not.

            So these do not strike me as a good analogies.

            Paine’s deism is based on the rejection of scripture as an authority (he had choice words for much of the Old Testament whose God he regarded as more akin to a demon).

            But the notion that the universe’s intelligibility could point to a theistic conclusion starts in ancient Greece. It goes all the way back to pre-Socratic philosophers like Xenophanes and his notion of an “All-One” or Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover”. It is a thinking that survives in the follow called “the Father of the Experimental Philosophy”, Francis Bacon, whose Novum Organum Scientiarum (‘new instrument of science’) is an early outline of experimental method.

            (Note on the claim that Christianity led to the rise of science- not true, but like humans and modern apes, Christian theology and science have a common ancestor in Greek philosophy.)

            The decline of deism is largely due to an increased awareness of the weaknesses of classical arguments like the teleological argument or the cosmological argument which were persuasive to many deists in the past. Our increasingly better understanding of causality is also responsible.

            David Hume was one of the great giants in this. His “Dialogues on Natural Religion” did a lot to undermine deism, more perhaps than any other single book.

            1. The Truman Show hypothesis involves belief in a deceptive and/or malignant higher power, in a way that deism (such as that of Thomas Paine or Thomas Jefferson) does not.

              And that’s the claim I’m flatly, unapologetically rejecting.

              Deism is the proposition that a mindful intelligent actor caused the Universe as we’re currently aware of to come into its current state of being, and has had no further activity since. In modern terms, it might best be described as the claim that some unknown agent Banged the Big Bang, but then took a baker’s-dozen-billion-plus year vacation, with no signs of impending return.

              And, yet, as we’re currently aware of the Universe…well, such concepts can’t even be expressed coherently enough to dismiss them. They’re “not even worng.” The closest you could get…would be to propose a physics-level computer simulation running on hardware far bigger than the observable universe whose own physics is radically different from physics as we understand it.

              Whatever type of “malignancy” you might wish to ascribe to such a proposition, the deeply profound nature of the deception is inescapable. It is truly the ultimate possible example of a conspiracy — until, of course, you wish to “go meta” and propose that this incomprehensible computer simulation is actually just some idle daydreaming on the part of Alice’s Red King….


              b& >

              1. Well, there’s a distinction made between “soft” and “hard” deism or “warm” and “cold” deism, and these have different views on the degree of the deity’s involvement with the universe since creation.

                The scientist must insist there is no publicly verifiable way to adjudicate the difference between these claims, and they are in a sense undecidable.

                My (more or less) final expression of my view would be of these quotes from Charles Darwin

                I. “I can hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother, and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine.”

                II. ““Formerly I was led… to the firm conviction of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. In my Journal I wrote that whilst standing in the midst of the grandeur of a Brazilian forest, ‘it is not possible to give an adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion, which fill and elevate the mind.’ I well remember my conviction that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body. But now the grandest scenes would not cause any such convictions and feelings to rise in my mind.”” (1876)

                This conflicts with an earlier statement of his to which I confess I am also sympathetic.

                III. (1860) “I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae [wasps] with the express intention of their [larva] feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other, I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can. Certainly I agree with you that my views are not at all necessarily atheistical. The lightning kills a man, whether a good one or bad one, owing to the excessively complex action of natural laws. A child (who may turn out an idiot) is born by the action of even more complex laws, and I can see no reason why a man, or other animals, may not have been aboriginally produced by other laws, and that all these laws may have been expressly designed by an omniscient Creator, who foresaw every future event and consequence. But the more I think the more bewildered I become; “

              2. Well, there’s a distinction made between “soft” and “hard” deism or “warm” and “cold” deism, and these have different views on the degree of the deity’s involvement with the universe since creation.

                The scientist must insist there is no publicly verifiable way to adjudicate the difference between these claims, and they are in a sense undecidable.

                The scientist must ignore such insistence.

                We have overwhelming evidence that the Standard Model of Particle Physics is the complete description of human-scale phenomena, without even any hypothetical room left over for anything else.

                Yes, there’re many exciting unanswered questions in physics, with dark matter and dark energy two prime examples that likely are incompatible with the Standard Model as it currently stands. Yet we also know that neither dark matter nor dark energy interact with anything on Earth, save for the extremely indirect means of being detectable by physicists using highly esoteric and subtle methods of observing phenomena that otherwise have nothing to do with anything else here on Earth.

                With that in place, we can be equally confident that no supernatural anything does or ever has interfere in the Universe. Yes, there’s always the asterisk for insane conspiracy theories, but that’s literally the only option.

                And, with that, comes similar confidence that the Big Bang was, itself, an as-yet-incompletely-understood natural event occurring simultaneously in the extreme ranges of applicability of Quantum and Relativistic Mechanics.

                In short, there’s no more room for gods in cosmogenesis than there are in Evolution…or, for that matter, the simple gravitational acceleration you observe when you drop your keys.




              3. I tend to question whether ANY explanation is “complete”.
                However, I regard the notion of “supernatural” as classically understood in the West as philosophically incoherent for a variety of reasons.

                While I would not describe myself as a “materialist”, I would describe myself as a “naturalist”.
                I am by temperament attracted to various ideas in Vedanta and Buddhist philosophy (though notably not a soul separable from a body like a caboose from a train as taught in the Bhagavad-Gita but denied in early Buddhism). I just am not convinced they are true. It does not surprise me that the founders of quantum physics, Bohr and Heisenberg were also drawn to Vedanta.

                But I am strongly convinced the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas is false, for all of its impressive internal consistency. It rests on an Aristotelian notion of causality known to be false, and an incoherent (and question-begging) concept of “supernatural”.

        2. When my cousin defended an alleged miracle by appealing to Shakespeare’s line “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy”, my father quipped “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy, but that’s not one of them”.

          Iirc it was philosopher Quine who responded to “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy” with “My fear is that there are more things in your philosophy than are in heaven and earth.”

          1. I will report this to Paternus. He is familiar with Cline, and may have even been influenced unconsciously by the quote. 🙂

    1. Exactly so. Ask yourself why the religious right is republican top to bottom. Why is the party so religious and in those religious buildings they preach the politics of the republican. It is front and center whether you are in Alabama or Kansas or Ohio.

      And then look at the party and what it has become. The party of backward thinking, no education, no progress and no nothing. Just try to name one good idea in this party. They try to make burning coal and breathing bad air a virtue.

      1. The problem with such an analysis is that a similar one could be made of Democrats. That, for example, the proper way to provide universal health care is to require everybody to buy private “insurance” from the most corrupt industry in history that guarantees 20% profit for shareholders. Or that the way to build liberal democracy in the Islamic world is with summary executions, without trial, of locally-popular political leaders opposed to us (such as bin Laden). Or that the war in Afghanistan can be won.

        Or, much closer to current politics…that all those “angry uneducated white men” who voted overwhelmingly for Drumpf…that they shouldn’t be upset that their factory and mining jobs have been automated out of existence because anybody can go back to school to become a Web programmer in the 3.0 economy, so there’s clearly no fundamental, structural economic problems in the modern world.

        That’s why I’m so reluctant to label people as “thick” on the basis of a single axis. It’s pretty much guaranteed that everybody has at least one axis on which they can be legitimately labeled, “thick.”

        How well would you handle the juggling act of database re- and de-normalization in a business reporting environment? It’s not all that difficult — and should I take your blank stare in response a sign of thickness? Is somebody who rushes right to 5NF without good reason as “thick” as somebody who has both “home phone” and “work phone” columns in a “personnel” table?




        1. Sometimes I understand that by the time we get down to entry number 88 the subject of the post might be totally forgotten. So just to remind – this one was Religion and brain ability. Therefore, I and the comment before me were relating religion correctly to the Republican party, which is overwhelmingly religious. You can try to fit that to the Democratic party but it does not fit, at least not to the same degree.

          In fact, I’m not sure how you place the current health care system as the burning desire of the democrats? It was a very bungled attempt to get something before time ran out and Obama had caved to big insurance and big business on single payer. It was simply a desperate attempt to get something rather than nothing.

          Admit it – republican and religion go together like peanut butter and jelly. And when you line up all the axis – stupid just raises it’s hand.

          1. To the best of my knowledge, Democrats are as publicly proudly pious as Republicans. Their Christianity is more liberal, to be sure, but they are every bit as fervently Christian.

            …or was Obama as much a secret atheist as he was a secret Muslim…?

            And if lots of Democrats are secret atheists because they couldn’t get elected unless they pretended to be Christian…well, by that criteria, it’s a slam dunk that Drumpf, who can’t even get basic Bible quotes right, fits that category. How does he fit into this narrative?




            1. I will not waste time fitting Trump into any class or party. Life is far to short. For all I know he could be a closet communist. However, if you do not see the religious connection between the republicans and religion as compared to democrats, we must be living on different planets. Possibly you need to get out of Arizona more.

              If I were to take a survey and and simply ask people on the street, which party do you think most describes religion I am sure the answer will not be democrat.

              1. If you think that Democrats are even slightly more atheistic than Republicans, you’ve been giving far too much credence to Republican propaganda.

                Yes, Republicans have many more religious conservatives than Democrats. And those religious conservatives tend to display a certain amount of existential fervor with respect to their religion.

                But Republicans also have many more fiscal conservatives than Democrats — and, guess what? They, too, tend to have a great deal of existential fervor with respect to their fiscal policy. The Chinese are about to take ownership of America if we can’t eliminate the debt, for example.

                But to claim that Democrats aren’t just as religious as Republicans is as silly as claiming that Democrats have no sense of fiscal responsibility.

                …especially considering that Democratic administrations have, historically, been much better on deficits than Republicans…and that Democrats have also done much more than Republicans to support popular Christian religious priorities such as feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.

                What? You’ve never heard Democrats cite Jesus as their #1 reason for supporting WIC and Medicaid? You think that’s less significant than Republicans citing Jesus as their #1 reason for de-funding Planned Parenthood?

                Me? I take ’em at their word — just as I take al-Bagdhadi at his word that he’s doing what he does in the name of Muhammad. Or is he No True Muslim…?




              2. Please go out and take a survey, ask the question. Before 1960 I would not have this conversation but surely you understand how the south flipped after the civil rights act? The “bible belt” went republican big time. Then we had born again Reagan and Nancy and Born again Bush. Carter was the most religious democrat and by the way, not so smart.

                Who pushes anti Abortion, prayer in school, anti science, anti stem cell, anti equal rights for women and minorities and on and on. It is not democrats regardless of a few religious ones. Refusal to believe in climate change and human responsibility is republican and religion all mixed together.

              3. Who pushes anti Abortion, prayer in school, anti science, anti stem cell, anti equal rights for women and minorities and on and on.

                Woah — hang on there.

                Yes, those are positions largely inspired by certain Christian beliefs.

                But what on Earth gave you the notion that those are the only positions largely inspired by Christian belief.

                You mention Carter. Are you suggesting that his long-standing efforts to support Habitat for Humanity aren’t primarily motivated by his sincere and deep Christian conviction? Or his post-Presidential work as an ambassador for peace, especially in the Middle East? Or is Carter no true Christian?

                Remember, Christians come in many flavors — and many of them are diametrically opposed to conservative Republicanism.

                That doesn’t mean that one flavor is Christian and the other isn’t; nor does it mean that those who oppose that which is supported by one flavor are automatically themselves not Christian.

                As far as empirical data, including survey results: just check the population numbers for Christians in America and compare with the population numbers for Republicans and Democrats. You’ve typically got about 45% each Republicans and Democrats in America, but around 80% Christian. Simple math should tell you that, even if every single non-Christian is a Democrat, Democrats are still majority Christian.




            1. All of the regressive left falls into that same song. They are not doing it because of religion, would you not agree. The republicans have no problem seeing Islamic Terrorism for what it is because they are all Christians. Their problem is they see all Muslims as the enemy because that is what Christians do.

              1. Driving into Chicago today, I noticed a billboard that said something like: “President Trump reminds us to remember Christians and Jews are persecuted for their religious beliefs” The billboard was paid for by some Evangelical Christian group. I can guarantee they’re probably not Democrats.

        2. I wouldn’t say that Republicans are thick because they’re religious but that the Republican thickness is it’s own thing and it predisposes them to being religious. They are a different kind of Christian than those who are Democrats.

          The Republican thickness produces one kind of Christian and something different (another intellectual defect) causes the affinity for religion in liberals. The Republican defect is dominant.

        1. I didn’t say they are smart, nor that they are governing well. But they are eating the Democratic party’s lunch. So if they are thick, the Democrats better get thick too.

          1. My mistake I suppose but you have a strange way of not saying they are smart. So thick they control this or they are eating the democrats lunch. Instead name some of their smart legislation. You know, all the ones that help people.

            It’s kind of like saying intelligence is measured by who is the smartest. First would be Bill Gates. I might have more assets or money than Jerry Coyne but would that make me smarter? Hardly

          2. Part of it, I think, is that they appeal to similarly equipped voters whose buttons they cynically push — fear, fear, fear.

  43. I remember writing a paper for a Religious Studies class in Catholicism in college and wrote a section on how some of the people we were studying were “too smart” to be Catholic. I tried explaining the best I could. The catholic professor didn’t understand my argument. I went to his office hours and tried to clarify. I remember saying to him, “You are too smart to be religious.” He was completely confused and didn’t understand what I was saying. In my life questioning religion, I haven’t found that it’s that much different than Newton’s time. I don’t find “like-minded souls” around every corner. My friends and family think I’m a crazy atheist even though I really don’t use the word. If I do find the rare people who aren’t religious, they simply don’t care about religion at all. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. As some wrote above, not every true and openly expressed thought is good in convincing others. To have some chance to convince an opponent, you must either have great authority in his eyes (this was not the case with the professor) or show respect to him and his current convictions. Saying in essence that, because he is really smart, he must abandon his opinions and accept yours, will most likely have the opposite effect. I have observed this every time when I’ve used this approach, and every time when someone has used it on me.

  44. The other thing I would say is that earlier scientists, and everyone else, could be forgiven for being religious because the world was mostly mysterious.

  45. I agree with your assessment Jerry. I had just an experience last evening with someone whose intellect I admire revealed their deep religious devotion and desire to evangelize. Well, he probably thinks I am thick. Could be true, but at least I got one part right!

  46. Yes, religious people can be intelligent, they’re just not smart enough to use their intelligence intelligently.

  47. I’ve known some generally smart people who are religious. The thing is, they seem to be outnumbered by smart atheists by about 10 to 1. The smart believers though, are being a bit thick when it comes to religion. I think it’s an inability to bring their critical thinking faculties to bear on some topics, for whatever emotional, often subconscious reasons there may be. Of course, in that sense there are other topics where “smart” people sometimes can’t use their smarts.

    One thing that occasionally strikes me is that being smart and being a good critical thinker aren’t exactly the same thing. By the latter I mean a good ability to detect bad arguments and bullshit, and the related ability to drop those things from one’s own views. It’s possible to be, say, a chess prodigy, or extremely knowledgeable, or even brilliant at certain kinds of problem solving without having a great awareness of bad ideas.

    1. Not unlike: to unmask supernatural claims you need a smart magician (c.f. Randi) rather than a smart scientist.

  48. It’s interesting to think that if a god of sort’s did exist then his conclusion would agree with the statement made.

  49. I have never been able to understand why any rational, well-informed person would believe in god. I have read books, including Jerry’s, on atheism, and books and essays on philosophy of religion, psychology of religion, and so on, to try to understand, but I still don’t get it. To me, it’s screamingly obvious there’e no god, but apparently it isn’t so obvious to believers. Some people seem to be immune to rational persuasion about this.

  50. I’m not sure all “religious” people actually believe so maybe they are smart and dishonest. Then there is this:

    And your wisemen don’t know how it feels,
    To Be Thick As A Brick.

    -Ian Anderson

  51. Up until relatively recently it was common for professionals to attend church and profess belief in God. This was excepted. Certainly in Britain however, except in small towns, there is no longer any such expectation. It was a bit like joining the “Rotary” or the local chamber of commerce. I never really looked upon these guys as really “born again Xtians”. However the position is different with people such as Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury and Alister McGrath (polymath) who has debated with Dawkins. Clearly, these people have brains the size of planets. I, for one, just cannot reconcile that with the beliefs which they profess.

  52. Many great minds were also afflicted with mental illness.

    Religion tends to be indoctrinated in the very young – so it becomes a core part of their emotional and mental DNA. It must be very hard for them to break away from that.

    I grew up with scientists for parents – and I had various religious friends (from Buddhists to Catholics) all whom were devout and I found their beliefs fascinating – in the same way I found the myths and legends of all kinds of cultures fascinating. The key element for these people was that they had all been conditioned to believe their religion was the right one from birth.

    1. Yes, but there are those (McGrath is a case in point) who were atheists before becoming Christian believers. He claims that reading CS Lewis was instrumental in his conversion.

      1. “He claims that reading CS Lewis was instrumental in his conversion.”

        This, to me, is good evidence of being a bit thick.

          1. Recently, I had an experience that if I leaned toward religiosity, would have converted me. I can’t even remember the details but it involved looking at a scene and getting the feeling of how lovely it was and some other weird other worldly feeling. I figured it was some weird brain thing, hopefully not migraine aura or a mini stroke. So, I can see how people who tend toward religious explanations of things would have treated the experience differently than I.

            1. “looking at a scene and getting the feeling of how lovely it was and some other weird other worldly feeling.”

              Ah, LSD! 😉


  53. Ex-Catholic here, now faith-free since around 2011. Naturalist.

    It seems to me, if I understand this article, I would be classified as being less stupid after 2011. Fine. However, I think this is a contention so narrow in scope (compartmentalized religious faith) that I’m not sure of its value.

    I’m less stupid about setting up reef aquariums and travel to Iceland too.

    So what?


  54. Brave piece! Thanks for writing it. I don’t think that your claim is arrogant or condescending—you are drawing a conclusion that is quite rational.

    Blowback I have often received from people (generally on the Left) when I criticize religion is “what’s the harm in believing if it makes them feel better?”
    For me, the harm is in planting a toxic seed in their epistemology that consequently justifies belief in other things that are not supported by evidence. Not believing in climate change for example. Not believing that vaccines work. Believing that Donald Trump is going to MAGA. And while not all people of faith believe in crazy things I’m confident that the vast majority of people who do believe in crazy things are people of faith.

    So yes, when someone believes in a god I am quite suspect of what other nonsense they might believe in and do consider them a tad “thick”.

      1. Haha! I was trying to be diplomatic. But yes: not all Republicans are climate deniers but it is likely that all climate deniers are Republicans.

  55. I grew up in a conservative Christian household, and remained religious until my early forties (though I grew gradually more liberal in my religious beliefs). I credit the expansion of the internet for my “conversion” to atheism. Information showcasing the irrationality of religion became unavoidable.

    Perhaps the age of the internet is what Jerry means by “these days, days when you can easily find arguments against God and religion.”

    1. Yes but why would most Christians etc. even consider doing a search when they have all the people who they know who “know” they have the truth! I have every reason to believe that they do believe they are convinced they have the truth and nonbeliever must have had so bad experience or mad at God, etc.

  56. I think intelligence (IQ, or g) is correlated with degree of religiosity, simply based on the fact that people who are smarter do better in a learning environment and therefor, all things being equal, have a better chance to overcome the cultural conditioning that supports religious ignorance. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some demographic data supporting this idea.

    Within a higher level of intelligence, say those above average, the factor most important may be personality type. Those who tend to be conservative in personality, meaning those exhibiting intolerance of ambiguity , low openness to experience, high need for order, structure, and closure, fear of loss or death. Such people cling to their early training as a kind of security blanket. You could call this the republican syndrome.

    Another aspect is that intelligent people who claim to be religious may be involved in belief in belief, described by Dan Dennett. I suspect well over half of the members of congress fit in this category.

    I’m late to the thread so I’m likely to have duplicated another comment.

  57. I’m 100% with Jerry – I immediately discount a faithist’s intelligence. Valuing rational thought, how can I do otherwise?

    It must have at least a subliminal effect on my relationships as I have almost no close personal relationships with believers. It helps that I live in a secular nation (NZ) where non-belief or very weak belief is, by and large, the norm.

    I read with horror the accounts of employment discrimination against atheists in the USA.

  58. I must admit I have a problem of anthropomorphizing some examples of 1.3 kg of mushy sugars, proteins and electrolytes as “thick”.

    Perhaps these thicker brains are just less lucky? But then I don’t think either I or Jerry could have expressed ourselves otherwise.

  59. Wow tons of comments on this one. Becoming religious maybe a choice.Brought this up before about my sons friend. He was a drunk and used drugs,stole more bad stuff. Then he became a Christian and got off drink and drugs, got married, got a job. So the choices he has made by becoming a Jesus freak and he is ,worked for him.He is pretty smart too.

    1. I don’t see how one can “choose” to believe something. One can choose to pretend to believe something, or choose to act as though a particular thing is true, but to actually believe it cannot be a choice. Maybe that’s what you are saying here. I’m not sure what you mean by “Becoming religious maybe a choice.”

      1. I think you can ‘choose’ to believe something. Maybe logically you can’t (in that the mechanism of ‘belief’ seems to preclude deliberate choice – I get your point), but in practical terms I think you can. (In another comment I said I ‘choose’ to believe evolution, and that was intentional).

        By that I mean that, if you want to believe something and act as if you believe it for sufficiently long time, then that becomes habitual and instinctive and at that point it is genuinely a belief. How many of us instinctively believe that the earth is round, to the point that it’s an automatic assumption? Yet each of us didn’t always believe that, it was counter-intuitive at some point when we were very young.

        We have considerable power to steer our thinking in a certain direction, so I think we can, over time, manipulate ourselves into genuinely believing something. “Fake it until you make it” if you will.


    2. OT but I can’t help but notice that your name “rose” also has a rose coloured avatar and you probably didn’t even select it. How cool is that?!

  60. Christ! getting through this lot of comments is hard work…
    …when looking at someone like the popular Francis of Rome,he looks like an adult with all finery, sophistication and wealth about him but i see a man/child, it is disturbing to say the least. It is a creature i can’t quite connect with but i could quite happily have a cuppa tea with all the same.
    Maybe another word would be thick but still, a mind of a child (and needy at that) All that history, pomp and ceremony for a child like view of a complex world and a view refuted categorically by the onslaught of science.
    I don’t doubt the smarter you are the easier to argue against the non existence of god but for many it is, quote the good book argument and nothing else matters… now that is thick.
    Viscosity may differ,the result is the same,
    a road block to a more rational and reasoned planet.

  61. I actually wrote about this on my own site recently, so if anyone’s interested, here’s the link:

    In short, although I may be a bit disappointed to hear that someone is religious, it doesn’t change my opinion of them very much. I mean, I only know a handful of atheists, period. The vast, vast majority of people I know and interact with are Christians. My boss. My dentist. My doctor. My insurance agent. Most of my friends. Most of my daughter’s teachers. Most of my relatives and in-laws. It’s just very uncommon to meet atheists in this part of Texas.

    Plus, I remember the last time I was in a church for my nephews’ confirmation. All the hymns. All the rituals. The Nicene Creed. For regular church goers, it’s weekly reinforcement, not to mention being surrounded by a whole community of like-minded believers. And that’s before you even begin to think about Catholic guilt.

    I know for me, leaving Christianity was not an easy thing to do. And I don’t mean that to pat myself on the back, but to recognize why so many people wouldn’t go through with it. Hell, I never even read The God Delusion until after I was already an atheist, because I was too embarrassed to buy the book.

    I know things are changing, and maybe in a few more years I’ll see things differently. But when the vast majority of people I know are religious, it’s hard to blame them.

    1. It’s so interesting to me how much geography affects experience. I live in New York City and know almost no religious people. When I meet new people (other parents at my kid’s school for example), it’s just taken for granted that if they are not religious. Here, a vague deism is considered borderline fanatical.

      1. Same here (in New Zealand). I was genuinely surprised when one engineer at work turned out to be a Christian. How odd.

        (Not in the sense of ‘going to church on Sundays’, that’s kind of normal and traditional for a segment of the population, but actually believing outside of church – that’s kinda gratuitous.)


    2. I do think of religious adults (>50 years) as weak. They should know better, especially today and especially women. The voluntary acceptance of misogyny on any level is not something to be admired.

      1. I certainly agree it’s not to be admired, but when it’s the default position of practically everyone they know, it’s easy to understand why people remain religious.

        I mean, how many of us have read and seriously considered the arguments from the flat earthers? Given the commentariat here, maybe a handful. But I’d imagine that many of us dismiss the flat earthers as fringe kooks, and never bother to read any of their websites or books. Same with free energy proponents, or someone who thinks they’ve invented a perpetual motion machine. We know they’re wrong, so why waste time listening to them?

        For religious people, that’s what atheism is like. Everyone they know is religious. It’s only those crazy fringe kooks who would doubt God. So why should they bother wasting their time reading any of those atheist books. I mean, I hear that Dawkins fellow actually even believes in evolution!

      2. I thought of another way of thinking of it. You know how when you meet someone’s racist grandparent, and you cut them some slack just because everyone used to be racist and that was the era they grew up in? You’re not condoning their racism, and certainly not admiring it. You’re just recognizing that they grew up in an era when everyone thought that way and it was normal.

        Well, we’re still in that era with religion. Hopefully my grandchildren will look at religion the same way my generation looks at racism. But for now, at least where I live, being religious is just the normal way people are.

  62. What an an interesting array of perceptions about religious belief and intelligence, or lack of it.

    Religious belief has been present in much of humanity for thousands of years, with and without belief in the hereafter. Certain stages of Judaism did not believe in an afterlife. It was believed we turn to dust only. During the time of Jesus, if he lived, there were Jews who believed in no afterlife and Jews who believed in an afterlife. Greeks and Romans over time apparently developed a belief in Hades, but nothing comparable to Heaven. Previously, they poured wine libations on graves for the dead. Other prior religious belief systems were more concerned about preventing mistreatment of the living by dead ancestors or “Gods”.

    I do think we need to be aware of the evolution and diversity of religious beliefs. If you were a tribal member who experienced a lot of dangerous or traumatic events, you might have wanted to imagine there is some methodology for protecting yourself, however wrong. Christians do the same by praying to God, Jesus, Mary or Saints. If a person living now has had a rough life, I can understand why they might hope for something better sometime in the future. We all may imagine or have dreams of future lives without pain or suffering.

    As an aside, I would like to mention that even mathematicians, scientists, historians, etc. come up with notions or conventions that aren’t truths. Imagine my shock when I was finally told by a mathematician that there are no straight lines on earth. Look at how much credibility Freudian and Jungian psychology
    have now. Understand how much there is yet to be learned in the area of science. In the meantime, we have hypotheses that seem most likely to be provable or proved. Until the next one comes along. In history, we are told stories based on what the culture needs to believe and promote at a given time. History is stories; not truths.

    We may want to imagine that our houses are built on solid rock, but they are mostly built on sand. And, all of us are gullible to one extent or another.

    1. There’s also a very strong instinct for ‘fairness’ or ‘justice’ which I think is shared by everyone except psychopaths.

      Hence it would be extremely valuable if there were a just God to punish the wicked and reward the virtuous in the afterlife.

      So I can see the temptation to believe. In some cases it may have made a depressing set of circumstances bearable, which is (on the whole) definitely a good thing. But like all good things, it can become a bad thing in other circumstances.

      (“Is-ought” fallacy, I know).


  63. I’d just point out that Newton wasn’t just incidentally religious, because “meh, everyone else is” He was seriously into religion and was just as much a maverick in this aspect of his thought as he was with his science and mathematics. He thought and wrote long and deeply about it often in contradiction to the prevailing religious views of the time.

  64. I’ve spent most of my career working in the chemical industry, and the smartest, most productive chemist I’ve ever worked with was Catholic and a semi-regular church-goer. He did tell me that he questioned some of what he heard the priests say, and that he didn’t believe all of it. I suppose you could say he was a questioning Catholic.
    But he still must have gotten something out of attending Mass. When he was in his 50’s, he took up the guitar, and one of his goals was to play at a folk Mass at this church, which he did achieve.
    There is just no way that he could be considered ‘thick’. He was way too creative and way too accomplished for such a label.

    1. This illustrates the following :

      even very intelligent individuals can be tricked by religion.

      The “there must be something to it” fallacy that lets religion survive.

      Even intelligent individuals can be thick-headed. I’ll gladly admit this.

    2. I work with dozens if not hundreds of scientists with crosses around their necks. Maybe they are not thick, but they are deluded. They abuse their children by making them believe in angels and ghosts.

      It is dishonest and worse, usually it comes with severe prejudice against homosexuals and certainly other humans who do not share the same faith.

    1. I hardly ever get a chance to scroll through all the comments after the fact but it is always surprising when I do. I agree with your comment on Ben and he is a very smart fellow. I don’t like to get into long conversations such as this, it always feels like I am using up space others could use to better effect. I think Ben also likes to get you going and he does enjoy it.

  65. There are two reasons why “smart” people cling to religion.

    One is the fear of death. It’s reassuring, even if it’s not verifiable by any evidence, to believe that you (or your loved ones) will not simply die at the end of life. Once you have been alive death seems almost inconceivable….so most people will put a nice fairy tale at the end of life to reassure themselves that all is not lost. It seems illogical, but from some practical standpoint it helps most people function while staving off the pall of ultimate oblivion.

    The second is that they are lying. Religion is a great way to control large numbers of people. This has been known for thousands of years. So some of those smart people really are smart…or devious if you prefer. They know there’s no god. They use the fear of mortality to control the masses.

  66. I too tend to look down on one’s intellect if they profess a strong belief in non-evidentiary beings.

    However, there are many intelligent people who simply do not ponder the question of gods, supernatural forces, etc., and so do not reject these ideas outright – they have not scrutinized these ideas to their own satisfaction, and so leave open the possibility.

    But there is another type of scientist in this regard. For those active scientists, of whom I know some, who engage in real science on a daily basis producing highly technical articles, AND actually profess a belief in religious beliefs – that is somewhat more hard to fathom. What I have noticed about this group of scientist is that they are entirely out-of-the loop of the discussions, debates, and books of the last, say, 10-20 years. They truly have no awareness of this opposition, as they quietly go about their scientific lives.

  67. Must admit I share this tendency to feel that very smart people that are theists are a bit thick up there, in that particular compartment at least.
    Why are they a bit thick up there? A part from fear of death, I think Lantog alluded to it. It has been noted (e.g. Murdock or Diamond) that there is quite a good correlation between the size of a tribe and the moralisticity of their gods. The gods of small hunter-gatherer tribes are not moralistic, of city states very much so.
    Keeping peace among not closely related males within the tribe, particularly with regard to access to fertile females, is a probable -or at least obviously possible- cause. So at least in the last few thousand years there probably was some selective pressure to buy into religion and it’s morality. Critical thinking? Not really so.

  68. I believe that most believers are content within their religious beliefs precisely because it has never been challenged by enough people that they come in contact with and therefore they just continue in their beliefs because they do not have sufficient reasons to doubt it enough to change their way of thinking. The things they hear, read and even the local news has gotten into mentioning prayer instead of just reporting the news. They do not look things up on the computer or read the atheist books out and probably do not even know there is a very small atheist or philosophy section in bookstore that has a massive religious area! And because they have found no reason to question their religious beliefs! They are the large majority and so why would they question and challenge what most people believe? Most nonbelievers are quiet about their beliefs and we do not have enough that speak up. It seems most of our atheist groups do not want to spend much time critiquing religion so that people would have the ability to argue their case. I have no found very many atheists who know that much unless they are ex-ministers!

  69. I am an intelligent person and I am religious. I am a devout Unitarian Universalist. I do not believe in a controlling and childish God but I am nonetheless religious. The media has convinced people that most religious people are right wing authoritarian followers who believe in a deity who is just a step above Santa and the Easter Bunny. But there are a lot of religious people whose belief is quite different from that. There are levels of spiritual maturity beyond the childish and simplistic.
    However, I have come to believe that there is a good reason for simple religions: for people who are not capable of behaving well without the threat of punishment, it keeps them in line. This may not be true of you — you can behave honestly and kindly without help — but this is not the case for everyone. Some people need more help behaving — they need to be told what to do. And for them, religion can be a good thing — depending on what it is telling them to do. Right wing religion often goes off the rails teaching positions as moral when they are not. But that’s another subject.

    1. You do realize that the people you are describing as “needing help behaving” are sociopathic, don’t you? Only a sociopath would need rules of a religion to not kill and if you ask me, religious Christian rules aren’t exactly up-to-date with that thinking but telefaxt the rules of their time which were heavy on the killing and the maiming. Indeed, the only way to be a good Christian, is to ignore those parts of their doctrine.

      1. Very well put. The idea that the whole of any bible would produce good behavior as we know it today is beyond understanding. I would ask the person above, why is it that the good Christians are so hell bent on gun rights and think it’s a good thing to have people walking down the street or sitting in class armed and loaded. One of those g*d given things I’m guessing.

    2. “for people who are not capable of behaving well without the threat of punishment, it keeps them in line”

      And this is why our prisons are chock full of atheists. Oh, wait….

      I think you may be unintentionally supporting Professor Ceiling Cat’s assertion.

    3. Epistemologically, if you choose to believe in the supernatural, you are not doing yourself any favor.

      Religion, as far as what is important, has nothing to do with politics.

      Think of all the particles and fields in the universe. There is no definition of your god that is compatible with the natural laws.

      Being religious is like existing in perpetual childhood.

      1. “To carry on the feelings and wonder of childhood into the intellectual powers of manhood is the character and privilege of genius, and one of the marks which distinguish genius from talent.” —Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    4. Kim, you wrote: “The media has convinced people that most religious people are right wing authoritarian followers who believe in a deity who is just a step above Santa and the Easter Bunny. But there are a lot of religious people whose belief is quite different from that. There are levels of spiritual maturity beyond the childish and simplistic.”

      So what is it that makes your type of religious belief so sophisticated? What is it that makes it higher than a belief in the Easter Bunny? I’m serious. I would like to know (truly). Please enlighten us. What is it that makes your version spiritually mature (as you put it)? If a belief does not require evidence, and does not have to fulfill criteria of reason and credibility, then how is it “mature”? And how is it different than just wishing?

      I am being completely respectful to you with my inquiry.

  70. I agree with you, Jerry. Whenever I meet someone who is religious I immediately think there is something just not right about them. They are either dim, not very confident or are unhappy (and hoping for a better life next time). I often end up pitying them as well as I think religion can often prevent one from living a full life (ie: fear of sinning, bringing shame to themselves or their families). That is my experience with some family members/friends.

  71. There are days I feel like the religious mind is simply too committed to the feel good structure in their lives. They are connected to a group that thinks and feels the same way they do. A tribal thing.

    Now enter reality. Where there are no fairies, unicorns, or gods upon their pedestals. Where a great many well known facts obviously contradict all religious beliefs. Where time and again scientific observations are made that blow house sized holes in their battleships…

    Then there are days where I do admit I think they are all morons.

    Being able to rationally reach an obvious conclusion based upon the easily available evidence at hand is a sign of intelligence IMO.

    Rationalizing away all of the unfortunate realities that conflict with your belief is heading in the other direction.

  72. Possibly, violent religions have been particularly adaptive at the level of societies. Historically the most dominant societies have, for the most part, been associated with universal religions that damn unbelievers to hell and view believers as chosen by god (Islam and Christianity). Does this bond groups more tightly and make it easier to rob and kill outsiders to expand your empire? Killing of other humans is not easy. Even the Nazis gave up their murder squads that killed Jews due to the effects on the killers. They eventually designed death camps where the victims were forced to kill each other. As god says in the bible “I grant thee the heathen as thine inheritance”. This was one of the passages used by the pilgrims when they began the genocide of native Americans.
    Hinduism is much more tolerant of other gods and has generally just stuffed them into its vast pantheon. You will find web sites where Jesus and Mohammad have been so incorporated. Is it related that India today can hardly be called a united country in the western sense?

  73. The fact that religion continues to exist and have social weight indicates that it is an effective meme and must confer some advantage. If this is so, the ‘smart’ choice may be to go with it, even if you have to ‘evolve’ a logical blind spot. A survival mechanism doesn’t have to involve solid logic, it just needs to work. If you fit in to your tribe by conforming to the shaman’s mumbojumbo, that might be more to his advantage than trying to reason with him: he will only have you cast out into the wilderness. What goods your logic and intellectual integrity there?

  74. Late to this one but…

    I get what Jerry means and I can sometimes feel this attitude happen in myself. But I personally try to repress it 🙂

    When I first started to engage with Christians – whether it was Christian friends, or Christians on line etc – one thing really stuck out to me was what happened when the conversation changed to religion. Otherwise normal, reasonable people suddenly seemed to completely lose their critical faculties. I mean, they start talking in ways that utterly abandoned or violated basic logic and reason. And yet did so with the same conviction they had to other normal everyday things to which they actually applied reason.

    To me this was actually somewhat disturbing: it was like conversing with a healthy individual one moment and when the conversation turned to their religion, suddenly it was like talking with someone who had just had a stroke, and could no longer think clearly. Turn the conversation back to “how are you going to fix that problem with your car” or whatever and, snap, they could suddenly reason just fine again.

    The utterly predictable way this happened EVERY time I conversed with someone about his/her religious belief was the main reason it struck me that religious belief did not seem benign – it had the characteristic of…well…brain damage…like a virus that damages critical thinking.

    On the other hand…if something is occurring in many people, then I can bet it arises from some underlying characteristic we probably all share, so I should be wary of saying “not me, though!” And it becomes obvious watching debates – or being involved – on almost any subject that a similar type of appraisal seems at hand at almost any time in regards to “the other side.” The other side of a debate is almost by definition not thinking reasonably because if they did, they’d agree with you! Especially when we get down to battles of intuition – free will, consciousness etc – each side can seem to the other obtuse – utterly convicted to an unreasonable position that MUST have nothing to do with reason, but instead must be attributed to some other emotional motivation.

    So, when I have my wits about me, and I start to question the intelligence of a religious person, I try to put it in context. And in fact, usually I feel aware that the person I’m debating with is probably smarter than I am in many other areas.

    (And, btw, my mother is a sort of Christian-lite, and it has never left me questioning her intelligence, perhaps because I know so well how smart she is).

  75. I actually saw a UFO in 1977 at night that, if it wasn’t an ET craft, I’d eat my shoes.

    I’m an atheist, but they always lose credibility with me when they start claiming there are no alien visitations, and liken it to belief in fairies or Santa Claus. I saw the craft (and I was not alone). It was a large electrified sphere, with three long antenna-like protrusions. The craft (a probe?), was hovering without any perceived movement (except the various mixed but somehow separate colors pulsated a little bit, but the craft wasn’t moving).

    The three “antennas” fairly quickly (it took them about 3 or 4 seconds) but smoothly retracted into the edge of the circumference of the sphere, and within about 2 seconds, it took off with instant acceleration and super fast speed (it looked like warp speed depicted in Star Trek), streaking into outer space.

    ET visitation (although I think is rare, and personal contact with beings is doubtful) is not inconsistent with atheism, so I wish atheists would quit using alien visitation as an example of how stupid some of us atheists are. Maybe our (my brother and I and at least two others) “sighting” was the only one ever (it is my only one ever), but it happened without any doubt whatsoever for us.

    The reason it is a problem for me is that when I “argue” with theists they make the claim, “well, you saw a UFO in 1977, so if you can believe something without evidence, then it makes just as much sense for me to believe in god without evidence.” I can only refute that argument if I lie about my sighting, and I can’t do that.

  76. If an adult expects something after death that is correlated to a reduction in their critical thinking skills.

    Functionalized disillusionment. This sort of thinking is both regrettable but fortunately avoidable.

  77. There’s lots more evidence for Bigfoot than for any god, although admittedly in close-up the zip-fasteners do tend to undermine the seriousness of much of that evidence.

  78. At the university where I work, someone wrote “Fuck Transphobes” on a door. For LOLz, I wanted to write “Fuck Aristotle”. It would perplex people and make me smile.

  79. I was raised as a Christian, a Nazarene; fairly fundamentalist. My grandparents were Church of God Holiness, even more so. Their family before them were Southern Baptist. It took me years to learn that many such Christians don’t live according to their beliefs and that many of the beliefs are nonsensical and/or nitpicky. For example, I learned from young members of my grandmother’s church that I was going to Hell for plucking my eyebrows and wearing a small bouquet of fake flowers at the neck of my blouse, not for major sins. (And, Nazarenes weren’t supposed to drink, smoke, dance, swear, go to movies, play cards, wear makeup, etc. but many did one or more of these activities.)Let’s not talk about sex before marriage.

    I think that most Christians believe what they were taught in sunday school, church and by their families. I doubt that there are very many Christians who have read the entire Bible even once, or considered the many discrepancies and modifications in both the Old and New Testaments. Many don’t know of any Bible but their own, and haven’t thought about the erroneous meanings and nuances caused by translation from one or more original languages to one or more others (like Mary as a “young woman”, not a “virgin”.) Most of them do not know the history of the church or how beliefs have changed over the centuries. How many Roman Catholics know that Catholic priests used to have wives and families, or that Orthodox Catholic priests still do? How many know that there may have been a female pope? How many know about all the different “heresies”? How many have studied the numerous other religions in the world?

    If you go to the Midwest or South, you will see Southern Baptist churches and other such fundamentalist churches everywhere. If you grew up with and live among rabid believers, you tend not to ask questions that counter the predominant beliefs of the people you must live with. Breaking away from the church can cause the break up of families and the equivalent of shunning by your community. It also can limit your educational and financial opportunities.

  80. I hate to spoil the smug, delicious sense of superiority around here, but with all due respect, do you all feel that you are smarter than the following:

    Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître (17 July 1894 – 20 June 1966) was a Belgian priest, astronomer and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven.[2] He proposed the theory of the expansion of the universe, widely misattributed to Edwin Hubble. He was the first to derive what is now known as Hubble’s law and made the first estimation of what is now called the Hubble constant, which he published in 1927, two years before Hubble’s article. Lemaître also proposed what became known as the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe, which he called his “hypothesis of the primeval atom” or the “Cosmic Egg”.

    Charles Hard Townes (July 28, 1915 – January 27, 2015) was an American physicist and inventor of the maser and laser. Townes was known for his work concerning the theory and application of the maser, for which he obtained the fundamental patent, and other work in quantum electronics associated with both maser and laser devices. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physics during 1964 with Nikolay Basov and Alexander Prokhorov.

    Townes died at the age of 99 in Oakland, California, on January 27, 2015.[1][30] “He was one of the most important experimental physicists of the last century,” Reinhard Genzel, a professor of physics at Berkeley, said of Townes. “His strength was his curiosity and his unshakable optimism, based on his deep Christian spirituality.”

    Gerhard Ertl (born 10 October 1936) is a German physicist and a Professor emeritus at the Department of Physical Chemistry, Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft in Berlin, Germany.
    He was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his studies of chemical processes on solid surfaces. He has said in an interview that “I believe in God. (…) I am a Christian and I try to live as a Christian (…) I read the Bible very often and I try to understand it.”

    There are many others – all you have to do is google “List of Catholics in Science” and “List of Christians in Science.”

    I realize they are outnumbered by the atheists, but that is not what Coyne is asserting here.

    Sloppy, sloppy thinking Dr. Coyne – worthy of something Bill Maher or Bill Nye would say. I would expect an actual scientist to do at least a little bit of research before airing what amounts to bigotry.

    1. The term “thick” does not carry the same connotation as the term “moron.” Coyne says as much, without actually putting it into simple terms. Having to think about it now, however, I’d say it refers to someone unwilling to look at or accept evidence contradicting a favored belief.

      The difficulty in getting through the mental barriers and defenses such a person puts up is much like trying to bore through a thick wall. This does not necessarily imply stupidity of lack of intelligence in the defender. In fact, the more intelligent the person, the easier it is for them to construct an impenetrably thick wall. Breaches of that wall are quickly filled in with some other ingenious piece of creative nonsense in order to preserve the sanctity of the delusion.

      1. “connotation … wall. This does not necessarily imply stupidity of lack of intelligence in the defender. In fact, the more intelligent the person, the easier it is for them to construct an impenetrably thick wall. ”

        Interesting – well put!

  81. Just a few more:

    Brian Kobilka (born 1955): American Nobel Prize winner of Chemistry in 2012, and professor in the departments of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University School of Medicine. Kobilka attends the Catholic Community at Stanford, California.[227] He also received the Mendel Medal from Villanova University, which it says “honors outstanding pioneering scientists who have demonstrated, by their lives and their standing before the world as scientists, that there is no intrinsic conflict between science and religion.”

    James Tour (born 1959) Chao Professor of Chemistry at Rice University, Texas, where he also holds faculty appointments in computer science and materials; recognized as one of the world’s leading nano-engineers. Gained his Ph.D. in synthetic organic and organometallic chemistry from Purdue University, and postdoctoral training in synthetic organic chemistry at the University of Wisconsin and Stanford University. An Evangelical Christian, Tour has written: “I build molecules for a living, I can’t begin to tell you how difficult that job is. I stand in awe of God because of what he has done through his creation. Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God.”

    J. Richard Gott (born 1947) professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University. He is known for developing and advocating two cosmological theories with the flavor of science fiction: Time travel and the Doomsday argument. When asked of his religious views in relation to his science, Gott responded that “I’m a Presbyterian. I believe in God; I always thought that was the humble position to take. I like what Einstein said: “God is subtle but not malicious.” I think if you want to know how the universe started, that’s a legitimate question for physics. But if you want to know why it’s here, then you may have to know—to borrow Stephen Hawking’s phrase—the mind of God.”

    1. “smug sense of superiority around here”

      For the record, I included myself in the “thick” crowd that has since figured out the trickery of religion.

      1. Do you consider yourself smarter than Kobilka, Gott, Tour, Lemaître, Townes, and Ertl?

        What about:

        Catholic physicist Peter Andreas Grünberg, who won the Nobel Prize in 2007?

        Or Joel Primack (b. 1945), an American astrophysicist who co-developed the cold dark matter theory that seeks to explain the formation and structure of the universe. Primack wrote, “In the last few years astronomy has come together so that we’re now able to tell a coherent story” of how the universe began. This story does not contradict God, but instead enlarges [the idea of] God.”

        Like I said, I can offer many more examples.

        Note that all of the distinguished scientists I mentioned were born in the 20th century and some are still alive and working. They’re not from the “old days” like Dr. Coyne asserted, when everyone, including those dullards Gregor Mendel and Isaac Newton, could not think for themselves and “had” to believe in religion. On the contrary, 20th and 21st century Christian and Catholic scientists have to deal with the opposite – peer pressure to conform to atheism. Not all are conformists.

        My purpose is not to convert anybody but to show that the idea that religious people are all anti-science dim bulbs is simply fashionable, simplistic bigotry.

        1. “Do you consider yourself smarter than …”

          I said I have figured out the trickery of religion – some of it anyways. You asked if I am smarter than Kobilka, or specifically if I personally think I personally am smarter than Kobilka.

          I don’t follow you.

        2. “… the idea that religious people are all anti-science dim bulbs is simply fashionable, simplistic bigotry.”

          Go on? Am I coming into this somewhere?

    2. DianaM,

      You’ve missed Jerry’s point.

      Try reading Jerry’s post again, and notice the repeated caveats that make the list you have posted completely irrelevant.

      1. Good call – re-read the post.

        I’ll now add that “thick” is equivalent to “having one’s head up their you-know-what”. I DEFINITELY fit that category at any given point in my life, and seek very hard to eliminate it.

        One more thing : i think the “god-shaped hole” in everyone’s mind factors into this discussion.

      2. I read it. Coyne wrote:

        “And many public intellectuals—and virtually all accomplished scientists—are atheists.”

        I disproved that claim by showing that there are in fact many accomplished scientists who are believing Christians. Some of them are even more accomplished than Coyne. Does he have a Nobel Prize?

        My post is irrelevant to you because it does not fit the narrative you want to believe. We all have our prejudices, but don’t dress yours up in pseudoscience.

        1. “Virtually all …”

          Alright, does somebody have the exact precise figure since when Neil DeGrasse Tyson was asking why the number is not exactly zero? It’s probably changed since then. And then we need the error, for the record. It’d be nice to have those factoids on hand.

          1. I don’t know how an exact number is possible, since there are probably at least a scientists who might be believers, but don’t wish to broadcast the fact, given the current intellectual climate. I can’t say that I blame.

            But all you have to do is google “list of Christian scientists” and “List of Catholic scientists” to see Coyne’s claim of “virtually none” is pretty wide of the mark.

            1. “But all you have to do is …”

              I was not aware that any of my comments here hinge on knowing this number.

              1. You wrote:
                “I was not aware that any of my comments here hinge on knowing this number.”

                Then why did you ask this:

                “Alright, does somebody have the exact precise figure since when Neil DeGrasse Tyson was asking why the number is not exactly zero?”

                What “precise figure” were you asking for?

              2. I asked for the number. I don’t remember constructing an argument that hinges on it.

            2. Data a bit old, but: “A more accurate description comes from the Pew Research Center, which reported in 2009 that 51 percent of scientists believe that God or some higher power exists, while 41 percent of scientists reject both of those concepts.” However, JAC refers to “accomplished scientists” which I took to mean scientists considered to be at the highest level. The percentage of biological and physical scientist members of the National Academies of Science is 93% – maybe not virtually all, but certainly a much greater preponderance than scientists and the general public.

              1. Coyne wrote: “and virtually all accomplished scientists”

                That most of them are atheists I am willing to believe. The whole point of his post was that no really accomplished ones are and that one cannot be scientifically brilliant and believe in God. That is manifestly untrue and I called him out for sloppy thinking and language.

              2. DM – like some others have previously noted, I think that you are overstating JAC’s point just a tad. I believe he recognizes that there are some folks whose science is brilliant and are self-identified as Christians; he notes Francis Collins. JAC uses the term partially stupid, meaning that their faith, as opposed to their science, is irrational. I think that he is simply equating irrational beliefs with being “thick” not in totality but in part.

  82. DouglasE, I am belaboring the point because he did not say “most” or “a majority” he said “virtually ALL.”

    He also wrote:

    “I don’t think one can be really smart and religious at the same time.”

    Does Coyne really mean to say that those Christian Nobel Prize winning scientists were really not all that smart? Or did he just not realize that the author of the Big Bang theory was a priest? Or that Joel Primack is devout?

    I expect a scientist to be precise in his words. Coyne wasn’t. He’s wrong on this one.

    1. Jerry can certainly speak for himself [even from half way around the world]. I tend not to fully agree with all that he wrote because I know Francis and a variety of other Christians who are quite smart, yeah, brilliant, at least compared to me! And I would again reference back to my Comment 50.

      1. Fair enough, Douglas E.

        I would say the scientists I listed in my earlier posts are brilliant, not only compared to you or me, but by anybody’s standards.

        1. I don’t think any of us truly believe all creationists are such morons they are incapable of findind their mouths with a fork. (Even though I said as much) We all know that isn’t really the case. Yes there are and have been many brilliant minds that happened to be devout believers.

          But, surely we can admit there is something abnormal going on with someone who despite all good evidence still believes in a flat earth, or zombie jeebus, a 6000 year old universe, or some guy staying alive in a whale for 3 days.

          Even if you are an Einstein there is something not quite right there. This is what we are pointing at, their ability to compartmentalize their minds to the point they can esily reconcile cold stone reality with absurd fiction.

          This is what makes us wonder. Well, me anyway. And with that I will bow out of the conversation.

          1. John Nash is an interesting case. It seems you don’t have to be of sound mind to achieve great things academically.

  83. For a good example of “thick” check out Stephanie at The Atheist Experience ep 21.10


    Maybe she’s just obstinate: “Never admit you’re wrong, never admit defeat.”

  84. This is probably relevant:

    The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity
    A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations
    Miron Zuckerman, Jordan Silberman, Judith A. Hall

    A meta-analysis of 63 studies showed a significant negative association between intelligence and religiosity. The association was stronger for college students and the general population than for participants younger than college age; it was also stronger for religious beliefs than religious behavior. For college students and the general population, means of weighted and unweighted correlations between intelligence and the strength of religious beliefs ranged from −.20 to −.25 (mean r = −.24). Three possible interpretations were discussed. First, intelligent people are less likely to conform and, thus, are more likely to resist religious dogma. Second, intelligent people tend to adopt an analytic (as opposed to intuitive) thinking style, which has been shown to undermine religious beliefs. Third, several functions of religiosity, including compensatory control, self-regulation, self-enhancement, and secure attachment, are also conferred by intelligence. Intelligent people may therefore have less need for religious beliefs and practices.

    1. What is the measure of intelligence used here: I would bet it is mainly based on a capacity to solve logical problems like most intelligence tests. Its obvious that people who rely on non-logical thinking will come off worse. Many people seem to survive very well without advanced abstract thinking: its not relevant to their day to day living. To break out of an illogical mindset isn’t easy because you have to leave your comfort zone. Most people will put up quite a lot of resistance because they fear the new situation that they will find themselves in.

  85. I have to say that I have less respect for those people who espouse religious thoughts / beliefs and especially those who do so with vehement conviction … I am of the belief that religion is actually very detrimental to the evolution of the human intellect … I only wish I could have lived in a time when religion was eschewed by more than fewer members of the human race … it would have been such a fascinating time to live … but given I have already attained my three score years and ten that is a vain hope …

  86. It’s the placebo effect. And it only works when you believe. They believe because they feel it, and they feel it because they manifested it. It’s also no different than a crazy person talking to themselves. They think there’s someone with them, speaking to them, guiding them, which they manifested, which feels reel because the physiological response is real. “How do you know?” “I just know. I can feel it”. Well.. I can manifest the feeling of being high on drugs through meditation and even the right conversation with the right person, but that doesn’t mean I’m actually on drugs. We’re looking at it from the wrong angle. All these people are high on drugs So you’re talking to an addict. And the first thing an addict always tells you is they don’t have a problem. And they’ll also fight like hell to keep using.

    1. Yes, as a former believer for 35 years, I had come to think of religious believers as a type of drug addict, addicted to the dopamine hit they get by thinking that they’re being looked after by some cosmic father figure, and then (much to my glee) that was articulated just two or three years ago by the brilliant and illuminating book by John C. Wathey “The Illusion of God’s Presence.”
      He has now gone into more detail on that hypothesis in his new book “The Phantom God”, indeed showing how the part of the brain that is activated by drugs, is the same activated by god belief. It is two hours long, but I highly recommend this interview in which he explains this:



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