Intelligence vs. Religion

Several studies have shown that there’s a strong positive correlation between intelligence and atheism.  In fact, the U.S. is somewhat of an anomaly in the fact that we have a fairly decent educational system (at least when compared to the entire world).  We have elected (or appointed, as the case may be) a President who says that God comes to him in dreams and has commanded him to attack Iraq.  Yet people, for the most part, seem to be OK with it.  After all, how can you question an irrational belief?

The Telegraph has posted another article that draws what shouldn’t be a surprising conclusion.  From Intelligent people ‘less likely to believe in God’:

He told Times Higher Education magazine: “Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population? I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ. Academics have higher IQs than the general population. Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God.”

He said religious belief had declined across 137 developed nations in the 20th century at the same time as people became more intelligent.

Dr David Hardman, principal lecturer in learning development at London Metropolitan University, said: “It is very difficult to conduct true experiments that would explicate a causal relationship between IQ and religious belief. Nonetheless, there is evidence from other domains that higher levels of intelligence are associated with a greater ability – or perhaps willingness – to question and overturn strongly felt institutions.”

I have written previously about the strong correlation between religiosity and rates such social issues as teen pregnancy and violence.  You can see that within the U.S. (e.g., in the Bible Belt and in Republican States) as well as throughout the globe.  Yet, people seem to cling to the idea that religion is good.

A common response to this kind of evidence (when there’s even one at all), is that the belief in God is fundamentally good, but people just seem to always get it wrong.  That is, it’s the people that are the problem – not faith itself.  I clearly disagree.  If faith is generally defined as the belief in something without evidence, then how can it be considered a good thing? 

And then there are those who maintain that religious beliefs should be personal.  I disagree there, as well.  If the goal is the search for truth, then we should treat religious claims like any other.  We should demand evidence and research the claims that are being made.  The truth is, of course, that there is no reliable evidence whatsoever for the existence of a supreme being of any sort.  Those that choose to believe in one should admit at least that much. 

Finally, it’s always interesting to me how most religious people can quickly dismiss any religion other than their own.  They readily see the internal and external contradictions and hypocrisy associated with any God other than their own (or, in some cases, even within different interpretations of their own holy books).  Richard Dawkins sums it up nicely in stating that most humans have chosen to disbelieve in thousands of religions (past, present, and most likely, future).  Some of us just go one further.

Also, as Dawkins has expressed in his book, The God Delusion, we should stop being “polite” to people who have indefensible views.  Just as we would correct people that make any wild assertion about math or science without any background, we should ask for more from those that claim to be faithful.  I’d like to think that the tide is turning (in the direction of rationalism), but the last decade or so in the United States is not a good sign.

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  1. Zacharias said,

    June 13, 2008 at 9:20 am

    “And then there are those who maintain that religious beliefs should be personal. I disagree there, as well. If the goal is the search for truth, then we should treat religious claims like any other. We should demand evidence and research the claims that are being made. The truth is, of course, that there is no reliable evidence whatsoever for the existence of a supreme being of any sort. Those that choose to believe in one should admit at least that much.”

    As a religious person I’d like to go against common perception and agree with you that there is no easily identifiable, emperical evidance for the existance of a supreme deity. The only problem though is that if we are seeking to prove the existance of a deity that created everything around us, we must admit that that deity is inherintly different from the things he created. (Most) religious people make the claim that God created the material universe. This would mean that there is a difference in essential essence between God, and the material universe: there is a division. This division would make it difficult for us, who are of the material world, to use material means of prove the existance of such a being. To use a crude example, it would be like a computer, made by a human, attempting to use programming methods to find the existance of the human. We are not a program, and are essentially different, therefore we cannot be ‘found’ using such methods.

    Hm.. I think that makes sense, let me know if it doesn’t and I’ll take another try at it.

    I do also agree though that those believe in something such as religion should be questioned about it. If we are going to believe in it, we should be able to explain it. ;)

  2. AtypicalGuy said,

    June 14, 2008 at 10:37 am

    Zacharias – thanks for your response! What you’re saying certainly makes sense. I can certainly understand how it might be difficult (or even impossible) for us to scientifically prove the existence of a God. Of course, the God would have to want it that way (a Supreme Being could easily give us evidence). The issue to me, though, is the nature of investigation. We should focus our efforts on what we can see, test, and verify. If we don’t do that, then I’d raise the question, “What would you *not* believe?” Indeed, there have been thousands of different religions, each with hundreds of superstitious beliefs. I think it’s reasonable to say that they’re all wrong.

    Again, to accept something without evidence is a dangerous and slippery slope. Humanity has a poor history here, even if we limit the discussion only to slavery, torture, the treatment of women as property, and war (all of which, for example, the God of the Bible seems to be OK with). Many of us have evolved out of an era of human and animal sacrifces and astrology. We no longer believe in the vast majority of supersitions that have existed in human minds. And, with the exception of religion, we tend to reject baseless claims (creative spam and phishing notwithstanding).

    I’m all for investigation into what we might now consider the non-material world. But, unless or until there’s evidence to believe in a mystical creator, I think we must reject those arguments (or, at the very least, view them with intense skepticism and scrutiny). Indeed, most religious beliefs are internally inconsistent and raise far more questions than they attempt to answer. I can think of few examples in which someone might say, “Religion really did triumph over science” (and I don’t believe the two are exclusive nor are they compatible).

    Thanks again for your comments – I’d be intersted in a follow-up!

  3. Zacharias said,

    June 16, 2008 at 10:42 am

    Sorry I can’t give this response more time (Work wanting me to work and all… :P) But in response to your method of investigation issue:

    I certainly agree with you that sense-evidence is a more positive proof, though I think when it comes to Gods, I personally tend to take the route that black hole researches take. They cannot physically ‘see’ a black yet. They cannot prove that a certain ‘object’ is there directly. However, they can prove that something is there based on what is happening around it.

    Besides a personal, definatelly sense-oriented experiance that I’ve had, I believe in the existance of God because of things surrounding Him, namely creation. For instance, I look at all the scientific progress that has been made in describing our world. We’ve come to understand that everything around us is made up of atoms, and these of quarks and other particles. We’ve come to realize that most object tend to act according to certain laws of physics and we can make predictions based on these laws. I was watching a show the other day that made the claim that all galaxies have at their center a black hole, and that the formation of these galaxies seem to be depedant on the formation of the black holes. I look at all these and see a definate order to the universe. Stuff isn’t out there just happening randomly; there is a complexity and order to everything around us that seems to just scream that -something- created this order, created the laws of physics, and set everything in motion.

    While I cannot gaze on a physical God for proof, I use the things He has created to prove his existance for me.

    • Martin said,

      July 15, 2012 at 2:54 am

      Scientific theory and faith have different bases for ‘proof’. Many scientists would accept you cannot prove a theory, but you can build up a body of evidence that supports it; or you can disprove a theory by finding evidence which is not supported by the theory. A key feature of a scientific theory is that it allows one to make predictions. This is why the idea of black holes is generally accepted. The theory suggests that in the vicinity of such a body, certain things will be observed. And they are. Such empirical evidence does not exist in the case of a god. No predictions that are universally provable can be made that support its existence. Believers have a tendency to explain away events ‘god is testing us’, ‘people do these horrible things, not god’, ‘it’s only if we experience true evil that we can appreciate good’ etc. Faith is an irrational belief that relies on ad-hoc support and spurious non-testable statements. I accept that this does not necessarily invalidate it, but it isn’t a path I’d choose.

      • Nick said,

        July 15, 2012 at 7:31 pm

        Martin put this so much better than I could have. I am no expert at all on black holes, but it just feels wrong to compare black-hole research to belief in god. The scientific method is still obliged. It is still peer-reviewed research. Using theory (even unproven theory), and god to explain phenomena will never be even nearly the same.

        To me, (and I dearly apologize if I sound heavy-handed), attributing any phenomenon to ‘god’, without further explanation is shallow, primitive, and, dare I say, unintelligent? Perhaps this is why less intelligent people tend towards religion. More intelligent people prefer sound physical theory.

        It seems childish to name things “God” just because we cannot explain them.

  4. Eric said,

    October 18, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    I absolutely agree with your article, and must say – as a result of my own experiences – that those who possess congenital intelligence, or extensive education, are far less likely to believe in God; whereas the people with little education are poorly versed in the ideas of reason & rationality.

    The people who cling to religion in the 21st century act as though the philosophies of the Enlightenment period do not exist, and that blind worship of the holy trinity supersedes reason.

    Many people here in the United States are shameful, ignorant beings who do not like to think about the fact that the combined 2.4 billion people in China & India are not Christians. In addition to that, Christianity, the religion of the West, is a numeric minority when compared to the faiths of all people on Earth. Surely all of these non-Westerners cannot be Godless sinners who are unequivocally bound for hell!

    Irrational Christians are wrong to think they have the answers to the creation of the universe & what happens when one dies. People who aren’t religious do not claim to know these unexplainable things, which is what gives them the upper hand, and places them on the right side of logic. A book of unknown origins cannot be trusted to explain everything in the world, nor can it explain why so many people round the world do not believe in the same deity.

    Lastly, when I speak to people who refuse to even consider that God may not exist, they invariably ask me to ‘prove it.’ Well, I cannot prove it, but they cannot prove that God does exist. And to the rational mind, this inability to prove the existence of God is what causes blind faith in God to seem questionable rather than incontrovertible.

    • Martin said,

      July 15, 2012 at 2:56 am

      The book is not completely of unknown origins. What is known of these origins strongly supports the view that it is entirely man-made. the history of the new testament and how it came to be in the form it is is well-documented.

  5. Stephanie said,

    February 27, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    One could also say that if we live in a multiverse, for which other physical theories lead up to it, then one can say that out of an infinite number of universes, there were some where the physics was just right for life to evolve, galaxies to form etc. No God needed. It could be the fourth narcisstic injury after Copernicus, Darwin and Freud…God, who would be an example of the highest form of complexity, seems to require no God to create Him. If that is the case, then neither does a multiverse…no God needed…infinite, eternal. We just don’t have access to the universes where things aren’t so enjoyable. Now, even if there were a God more complex and highly evolved…would he write those silly books?

  6. Stephanie said,

    February 27, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    I can’t prove that the fantasies of a delusional psychotic aren’t real either. Does that validate the existence of psychotic delusions? If I come screaming out of a room saying I just saw a ghost, isn’t it up to me to provide the evidence that there was a ghost? And let’s not forget, to the delusional psychotic, his delsuions seem real to him….but does that mean they are real for everyone else?

  7. Nick said,

    April 1, 2010 at 2:48 am

    To Zacharias, I happen to find fault in your argument, though. You speak of the order that which “something” created. How does that justify religion, though? How does our existence itself justify the prayers to an unseen force, the belief an unseen force is listening, watching, judging… How do the scriptures, and their stories of angels, and people hundreds of years old become justified by the belief that “something” set all of this up? How does something so ambiguous justify all that followed?

    That seems logic defying to me. Even if some sentient “something” created the universe as it is now, religion goes and makes all sorts of assumptions about this creator; assumptions that rationally seem to have no tangible merit.

    So even if all existence has some sort of creator (which is an assumption itself), where do all these others assumptions come from? These assumptions come from those making them.

    I happen to feel I’m still too polite to those with indefensible views… Think about how irrational the black hole argument is as well? Black hole research is parsimonious. Black hole researchers don’t start making up random fables about black holes, and moral guidelines based on the black holes, just because of the fact that they’re ambiguous. Researchers can and only ever will disclose one of two pieces of information: They will disclose a hypothesis, and they will disclose whether or not the null hypothesis is rejected, therefore supporting their hypothesis. (Within they will discuss confidence values, and correlational strength).

    God, however in terms of most religious people is not even a hypothesis. Because religious people don’t have a null hypothesis (the possibility that there is no god). They look at rocks, trees, clouds, and stars and call all of them proof of god. I’m not sure I’ve ever once heard a religious person say they believe there might be a god, it is my understanding that being religious basically means one is convinced in the existence of a higher power.

    Don’t ever pair a religious argument with researchers. Researchers do function in that matter (I’m a researcher myself). We reject null hypotheses, and make claims that can only ever suggest support of our own, (NOT PROOF). After many peers replicate the research, and find similar correlations, and central tendencies, we begin to agree and believe it to be truth.

    Religion does not follow empirical protocol. It was devised by the lack of scientific standards, and demands a level of support that is scientifically impossible.

  8. AtypicalGuy said,

    April 1, 2010 at 7:46 am

    Nick: I think you stated this very well. I have heard the argument that atheists are “fundamentalists” about the idea that there is no god. And somehow this seems to lead to the thinking that the ideas are equally probably. That most certainly isn’t the case. As you said, one should have proof or at least some standard for evidence before subscribing to a belief.

    Another minor point: While human beings are clearly fallible and are subject to biases, the scientific method is not. It sets a high standard for aspects like evidence, hypotheses, repeatability and both provability/dis-provability (the null hypothesis). It’s certain that what we know about the universe is, at best, incomplete. And much of what we know is flat-out wrong. But that’s actually a good thing.

    In short, science is open to challenge. Religion is not. Most religions tend to commend people based on their “undying faith”. The teachings often conclude that it’s not only bad to question their tenets but that a Supreme Being (who gave us these faculties and curiosity) would punish us severely for trying to learn about our world.

    Thanks for your comments.

  9. Nick said,

    April 5, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Well said,

    I like your last paragraph, because I’ve always asked myself a lot of interesting questions about the unyielding faith bit. Putting myself in a faithful person’s shoes I’d ask this:

    “I believe in a higher power, one powerful enough to create, and oversee this planet, solar system, and universe. I am intelligent enough to philosophize, and think about abstract thoughts.

    Why, if this being is so utterly superior and powerful, why does it demand my unyielding faith? Why does it even need that? Is it that vain? And why does it not demonstrate to us nay-sayers fool-proof evidence in this demand? Why is it’s only channel other men who do believe? Why were we created with the ability to create a scientific method, the ability to question our universe, and to question him, even whilst he wants our undying faith?”

    This is where I’m going to support the original hypothesis of this article. Could it be this reason why people with lower intelligence are more likely to be so faithful? Intelligent people question things. We like answers about our world. What I’m saying may seem heavy handed, yet I feel it is reasonable, because I’ve known many religious people who’ve never asked such questions about their faith…

  10. Bradley Mead said,

    July 4, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    I should like to offer 2 comments, less for purposes of expressing an opinion than for providing some hopefully useful perspectives.

    Firstly, I postulate that mentality entails what could be termed a “political dimension”, a dimension which moderates a person’s tendency to question cultural norms and beliefs. For example, my 25 y.o. nephew, who is reputed to have a 150+ IQ, appears to have “inherited” an extremely conservative “political perspective” (from his father’s side of the family). Said nephew recently dumped his girlfriend after finding out that she had experimented with pot. Despite his high IQ, I suspect that he will continue to avoid asking the kinds of philosophical questions that would entail his having to directly confront the legitimacy of his religious beliefs (Catholic).

    I have similar IQ, but a nearly opposite (and apparently innate) “political” orientation. I always hated everything about church. I was raised to believe that God was gooder, kinder, and smarter than me. So we BOTH knew–or so I supposed–(1) that He wasn’t fooled by dress-up clothes and (2) that a god worth worshipping wouldn’t want to be worshipped. I ended up walking out on sunday school at the age of 7. The class had been studying “The Story Of Ruth” from the old testament–a story which I saw as having no plot and no moral. I reckoned that God’s bible stories should have been as good as Hugh Lofting’s stories of Dr. Dolittle; and they weren’t. Church values contradicted my vision of God, and I rejected them. Afterward, I attempted (for several years) to reach God by direct (telepathic) contact–to no effect.

    My point is that some some high-IQ people question EVERYTHING and other high-IQ people restrict the scope of their questions in order to protect their cultural values. As such, different high-IQ mindsets generate completely different animals. [I suspect that this is what intelligent people actually mean when they say: "I don't believe in IQ." ] On the other hand, low-IQ people–even those who might want to question everything–just can’t. As such, high-IQ people have an increased tendency to ask heretical questions, and to suffer the resulting religious consequences.

    Secondly, I believe that high-IQ persons who do ask the “wrong” (viz. culturally inappropriate) questions tend to slip all of the way to agnotism/atheism instead of merely reverting to deism. Deism (viz. natural religion) is distinguished from mainstream Christianity by its rejection of supernatural revelation (eg., scriptures, prophesies, miracles, etc.). Deists believe that God created the universe as a self-winding clockwork, but doesn’t actively intervene in its governance. Because they view God as acting only through secondary causes (natural forces), deism is nearly immune to objective (ie. scientific) criticisms. Deism is essentially a morality sandwich pressed between two buns of transcendental belief. That is, deists believe that God created the material world as a stage on which The Good can be enacted, that He endows rational beings (persons) with a moral duty to actualize The Good, and that He imposes justice in the afterlife according to their works. Deism rose to popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries (in the wake of Galileo, Luther, and Newton), but fizzled out due to a lack of organized funding.

    Jethro Tull’s “Wind Up” espouses a characteristically deist perspective: “He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays”.

  11. Nick said,

    July 23, 2010 at 4:06 am

    In response to Bradley Mead, I do like what you said, and I think it is every logically explained by the basic laws of statistics: Central Tendency. Just because smart people (as postulated in this article) tend to be non-religious does not mean they all are. Likewise, there are most certainly less intelligent people who are probably little or not at all religious. In any statistical data-set, there are almost always outliers, thus “the exceptions to the rule”.

    But I also think IQ as a whole could be looked at in greater depth. Depth. I think that’s where some of us more inquiring intellects forget to compare. IQ tests do not measure a person’s philosophical “depth”. They measure mental agility, mathematics, vocabulary, ability to recognize patterns, spacial skills, logic, etc… It is then logically quite possible that someone can be quite adept at these skills, whilst not being a philosopher. I’ve met very many people like this. Gifted with exceptionally able brains, but bound to narrow scopes of interest. Autistic people are often like this.

    And I believe your statement that Deism is “immune to objective criticisms” to be completely wrong. Deism still assumes there is a creator, or a god, and assumes there is an afterlife. Remember scientists criticize ALL assumptions that are NOT scientifically supported.

    Back to my main point, this discussion makes me want to tease the differences between inquisitive intellectuals, and non-inquisitive intellectuals. I would make this assumption: It is widely known that genetics (heredity) and upbringing (values, family, education) both have bearings on an individual’s IQ. Since this is the case, it is my hypothesis that those genetically, or naturally smart, may be less inquisitive than those who were nurtured to be smart. Please do not assume that I am stating that naturally smart people are not likely to be inquisitive. Because I am NOT stating that. I am stating that people who are conditionally smart are likely to be the more inquisitive than those who are naturally smart. Of course, I think the most inquisitive people are those who are both genetically and environmentally smart, and the least inquisitive are those who are neither.

  12. David said,

    September 28, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    I must agree with your assessment of religion. The problem, as I see it, lies in the nature of your argument. Faith and religion are certainly not the same entity. Faith, by definition, is the belief in something without evidence. To attack faith because of its inherent nature is ridiculous. An individual who lives life through employment of the scientific method would, regardless of intelligence, likely find something as intangible as faith to be foolish. That seems rational enough. But rationality does not define intelligence. The logic of this argument appears faulty. If people who do not believe in God, or a diety by any other name, are more intelligent because they choose to follow a scientific lifestyle where choices are based on empirical evidence, then it is assumed that science is the proper context in which an individual should view the universe. That is a difficult point to support. Your argument also assumes that individuals who choose to follow a life of faith fail to recognize the possibility that they may be absolutely wrong. I think that is unreasonable. Any thinking person must acknowledge that his or her world view is not only biased but possibly inaccurate. This possibility is a source of faith. To understand that it is nearly impossible to comprehend the immense scope of the things that go on around us is the first step to discovery. The inquisitive nature of an intelligent person desires answers regardless of faith.
    The second problem is the nature of religion. Religion seems to be a simplified version of philosophy. Those who are involved in a specific religion and refute the claims of others are simply lost. Religion is a means to educate the masses. The masses are not intelligent. Otherwise this discussion would have no meaning. As such, it is difficult to expect the masses to think. Simple answers are so much easier and make people much more manageable. It is certainly not necessary to integrate faith into religion. Faith in a religion? Certainly. Faith in God, whatever name is given Him by an individual? No. Religion is ethics for dummies. Faith is an understanding that one cannot know and chooses to follow an ideal anyway.
    Beyond all of this, intelligence is hard enough to define on its own. A fiction writer and a chemistry teacher are probably both intelligent….but oxidation-reduction half reactions suck ;)

  13. Nick said,

    October 19, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    David, Faith is the fundamental platform of religion, so faith is ALWAYS a component of religion. While logically, faith is not always associated with religion, Atypical guy’s point stands: Intelligent people pursue method, reasoning, inquiry… Dumb people rely on faith. I think this argument is valid even in the absence of religion. Simply beware that many people, myself included use the two words faith and religion synonymously for the sake of parsimony. I concede, it is technically a bad habit.

    I need to reiterate like a broken record that this is all a TENDENCY. This does not mean all scientific people are geniuses, and all religious people are “special”. The research only depicts that smart people TEND to be less faithful. And to attack faith by its inherent nature is ridiculous? Why? The belief of something without evidence IS ridiculous.

    We attack many things for their inherent nature. We attack rape, we attack murder, we attack theft, we attack tyranny (presumably), the point is, that some things in their inherent nature are justifiably open to attack, and I myself will gladly attack faith, if by definition it is belief without evidence.

    And understanding the possibility that one’s view is wrong is not faith. That is reason. But still, Faith is a broader matter than religion. And I believe the scope of this argument (and this correlation) is about religion.

    I cannot cite research in my claim here, but I would wager any amount of money that would find this: Survey 10,000 atheists and 10,000 faithful followers of ANY religion… Ask them one question. “Do you recognize the possibility there is/is not a god?” I’d bet all in on the bet that the Atheists would recognize the possibility of their belief being wrong at a STAGGERINGLY higher rate.

    Lastly, I want to spell the fundamental difference between Faith and Science. Faith is believing. Science is the elimination of beliefs. Faith is an unfounded statement, idea, view, that is supported. Science is the elimination of invalid possibilities, to rejection of null hypotheses. Less scientifically trained people observe science, but don’t understand it. This does not turn science into faith. An object being red is a scientific phenomenon regardless of whether the observer understands WHY it’s red or not. I understand that red simply means that visible light (a relatively small segment of the electromagnetic spectrum) is reflecting at a slower speed, than, say violet, which is simply light reflected at a faster speed. Some will say god made those things that color. But I know enough to know the speed at which they reflect light made them that way.

  14. AtypicalGuy said,

    October 20, 2010 at 8:16 am

    Nick: I think your points are very well stated; thanks for the comment. Often when people tend to defend the validity of belief and faith, I like the ask the question, “What would you NOT believe?” History is rife with examples of racism, sexism, and violence based on ideas that have no basis in reality. A simple example is that of “blood libel” – the belief that minority groups (typically Jews) obtained and used the blood of babies for their rituals. This would be easy to disprove, yet it has been widely believed. The very source of much of this type of “thinking” (and I use the term loosely) is religious texts. Gods, apparently, are just as petty, jealous, vindictive, and racist as are humans.

    The largest problem with faith, in my opinion, is that if beliefs aren’t based on reason, logic, or evidence, you can’t use those things to disprove them (or even to discuss them). It’s easy to see why people who have indefensible beliefs would feel threatened, and I don’t see any way to coddle them without resorting to the same types of fantasy.

    In any case, I do think that much of the world is improving in these areas. Ignorance is a large cornerstone of superstition and religion, and it’s getting harder to find excuses to be ignorant with information that’s available online and through other sources. It might be a slow process, but I think the supporters of rational thought are gaining ground, overall.

  15. Moira said,

    January 13, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    In regards to your statement that faith is inherently bad…

    Is it right or wrong, practical or silly, to have a positive outlook in life?

    If one were to, say, have a major tragedy befall them (such as the death of a child), the evidence would suggest that life is bad. Bad things happen to good people. But the biological imperative, if one is to live happily, would be to believe (despite their own personal evidence) that life is basically good and things will improve. Otherwise they may entrench themself in a depression so deep that they may a) decide against having any more children or b) kill themselves. Either route would go against a biological imperative to procreate and evolve. But what about the evidence? Why should they believe life is good??

    I think circumstances like this fly in the face of the belief that “faith” is inherently bad. Although I am an atheist myself, I don’t believe that having faith in humankind, or the future of the world (or my own personal future for that matter) is silly. In my opinion, it is my biological imperative.

    • AtypicalGuy said,

      January 14, 2011 at 8:31 am

      Moira: Thanks for your comments. This is a common argument that I encounter in defense of religion. You have made several huge leaps in logic that I don’t think are supported by evidence. Foremost, I don’t see how the belief in fictional dieties would lead to a positive outlook in life. Most gods are complete monsters, though revisionists try very hard to make it seem otherwise. If one thinks about the current levels of suffering in the world, how is it comforting to think that anm all-powerful god who knows, loves, and created us will torture us for all eternity if we don’t blindly accept one specific flavor of irrational thought? Clearly, this being could easily end all suffering, or at least give it some kind of meaning. How can we thank a god for salvation or saving a life when this supreme being clearly has the ability to prevent the risks in the first place? Imagine that I behaved the same way – risking people’s lives and allowing untold suffering to occur. I then promised them that things might be better, but only after their current life is ended. Is that comforting? Having to make excuses for gods’ behaviors seem to only add to the challenges real people face. Of course, all of this only applies to people who choose to think about such matters (I believe that’s a very small minority of religious people).

      There may be some correlation between the belief in supersition and the willingness to procreate. Certainly some religious groups (Catholics, for example), tend to favor large families. However, there’s certainly no shortage of human beings on this planet, and people are hardly doing any favors to the rest of us by adding more.

      Another argument: While it can be demonstrated that the belief in lies or fabrications can make people feel better (at least temporarily), is this really what you want people to resort to? If so, I can make up myths and fairy tales that are far more heartwarming and comforting than the portrayals of popular gods. Deception can be comforting, but I think there are much better ways to deal with sadness, loss, uncertainty, and pain.

      On the topic of a positive outlook, I think my personal (atheistic) view is positive, overall. And, at the same time, I think it’s constructive and free of supersitition. I believe that there’s an enormous potential to improve the human condition, if we accept that we’re all in the same situation here and now. There’s no afterlife, so we need to work hard to bring justice and equity to the only world we have. We can’t rely on prayer or sky gods to help the sick, the poor, and those that are suffering from inevitable losses. Instead, we need to help each other in the realm of reality. To me, the rejection of irrationality is a critical step in building a positive outlook (and, more importantly, positive outcomes) in a challenging world. Faith gets in the way of that, regardless of the specific nature of the beliefs.

  16. Nick said,

    January 14, 2011 at 10:22 pm


    I like your stance. In fact, it has been proven that intelligence and depression tend to correlate quite highly. And so, given Atypical Guy’s argument, some atheists will face depression. Positive outlook, and positive attitude is certainly healthier, and evolutionarily, certainly more resilient.

    But you didn’t take enough time to dissect depression. Why are atheists/geniuses depressed? Well, let’s compare a zealous Christian, vs. full-fledged atheist. And let’s even pretend they have the exact same IQ score.

    Now, let’s suppose both people STRONGLY oppose war. Given global tensions at this point in time, you tell me who’s more likely to be depressed: The christian who clasps his hands in prayer, confident that a supreme benevolent being is listening, and plotting a plan to protect the globe…? OR The atheist who believes the only salvation to the planet is mankind’s full responsibility… the same man-kind which majorly believes (in the atheist’s) view is waiting on superstition and hope to fix the planet.?

    It seems to easy to pass the buck on to god, for those who really believe in him/her. But Just because it’s easier to be happy whilst believing in a deity doesn’t make believing in a deity a healthy solution to depression, especially when many of us scholars still cannot find evidence to support any deity.

    You take 4 shots of whiskey to numb a bruise, or take Ecstasy and feel happy, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right, or healthy choice. Suppressing pain often does not mean fixing the damage.

    Again, I like your stance. But consider mine, that says facing a godless world might be the most bitter and painful thing, but a pain that’s necessary to be aware of the damage that needs to be by our own hands fixed.

  17. Nick said,

    January 14, 2011 at 10:36 pm


    I would just like to add to my previous comment, that I believe the kind of faith you speak of is not the kind of faith that is belief without evidence, but rather hope via logic. I don’t think Atypical Guy or myself are preaching that people should give up hope. That’s a cynic.

    I don’t consider myself a cynic. I am happy, and want people to be happy. I am comfortable in believing we live in a godless world, and I am comfortable feeling that humans have full responsibility over their own future. My hope is for people to cling together a bear responsibility for the world, and to consider each other kinsmen, regardless of race, skin color, or origin. Godless or not, I hope to find people not pitting against each others’ differences.

    This hope is not faith in terms of belief without evidence. Teamwork is a tangible possibility, even with the many barriers (including religion) between the present day, and a planet that works as a team.

  18. Justin said,

    March 23, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    To all concerned….

    Faith can take more than one form. I am an atheist, and I think Moira said she was too. What she referred to was “faith”(as a positive outlook) in her fellow man to do better. This is not the same thing as religious faith. Religious faith is as stated the belief in something for which there is no evidence. My opinion is that religious faith is inherently ridiculous. However, the “faith”, or hope that something may come of man does not seem ridiculous to me at all. As stated, this could be a very good countermeasure against depression typically suffered by atheists, and IS at the very least rooted in the possibility of a real life occurrence. All in all I think it would be difficult to take a global accounting of “The right thing done” vs. “The Wrong thing done”, to be able to generate a null hypothesis to reject, so all in all, the belief that our fellow man may come out of this and do something for the better, is kind of a faith based belief… but perhaps a positive one. It is not the same thing as having faith in a supernatural diety, it is just the hope for a positive outcome for our fellow man.
    I think some of you got so hung up in the logical construction of things that you may have missed Moira’s point.

  19. Nick said,

    April 3, 2011 at 11:47 am

    I do not believe I missed Moira’s point. In fact, I mentioned first that I really like Moira’s stance; because I agree it is very important to maintain positive mental health, which can be more difficult for people who are atheist/intelligent. All I did was put the atheist’s hardships under an acute microscope. Moira made an excellent point that I wanted to delve deeper in. It is not enough to tell atheists to “be happy” without first understanding why they are unhappy.

    Like I mentioned before believe in a positive outcome for the human race is faith that is more tangible than belief in god (which is something I believe all of us atheists can agree on). We all want a positive world, with less more mortal conflict, and more teamwork. Maybe the difference between an atheist like myself, and an atheist like Justin or Moira, is that while I recognize the important of having positive beliefs, I still believe all faith (religious or not) needs a foundation. I do not believe hope alone can fix any problem. Sooner or later, there needs to be groundwork.

  20. May 17, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    [...] the exact reason why schools have argued against evolution and Galileo: intelligence vs. Jesus. Intelligence vs. Religion Atypical Guy [...]

  21. murrayv said,

    August 21, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Wonderful! I just stumbled across this url and thread, and am so delighted to find such an intelligent and amicable discussion.

    I call myself a heathen. It seems to me that many atheists believe in the need to proselytize, as if saving others from religion will somehow save them, and I am just not that kind of unbeliever.

    For whatever reason, I am positive, optimistic, happy, and lacking in any faith that I can discern, including the faith in the ultimate perfection of mankind, and I feel no need for a faith or sense of loss that I don’t have one. I was brought up as a Christian and am happily married to my second Catholic wife (the first died too soon), and have therefore raised my children as Catholics, the which posed no problem for me.

    That said I do have some “beliefs” that seem reasonably rational to me, that provide clarity, but that I can’t or haven’t tried to prove. For example, I believe that people fall along a genetically determined spectrum of need for faith, and that religious faith, at some period of evolution, provided a survival benefit. People with a high need for faith or religion can never be dissuaded from their belief, because to give up that belief would threaten their sense of self and their ability to cope in a world of nature “red in tooth and claw”. At one end of that spectrum we find saints, ascetics and the selflessly holy. At the other end we find skeptics, agnostics, atheists and heathens. There might be no difference in intelligence, although I accept that more intelligent people do tend to be less religiously superstitious.

    That leads to some other issues. First consider the question of paradigm paralysis or paradigm blindness (google Joel Barker). Many people have their ego integrity tied up with their beliefs and simply can’t give up on ideas they cherish. In fact they literally can’t see or recall evidence that invalidates their cherished belief. Such a “failing” is probably a product of both nature and nurture, and exists even for highly intelligent atheists.

    Then there is the issue of “Right Wing Authoritarianism” (RWA) (you can google that too) which is particularly evident among fundamentalists, and which is also probably a product of both nurture and nature.

    For the great bulk of the population some form of faith or unshakeable belief is no more a matter of choice than is being gay or straight. for a few, unbelief seems quite congenial.

  22. murrayv said,

    August 21, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Oh. I should add that I think of myself as a highly ethical, moral and honest person, and readily follow the more consistently moral tenets of most religious faiths. The same can’t be said for many of the “religious” people I know. In fact it was the (rare) preaching of anti-catholacism and anti-semitism that drove me out of my early faith and led me to open my mind to questions. I “believe” that my open mind was simply a matter of genetic and possibly rearing godd fortune.

  23. murrayv said,

    August 21, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    For “godd” read good. Freudian slip?

  24. Michael said,

    December 11, 2011 at 7:00 am

    Your ideas are logically sound and I understand the rebuttal that may follow: like all theories it is subject to dissension. The primary difference is that you are not creating new subject matter in order to debate an idea, but rather using our current compendium of knowledge to support your view of intelligence vs. religiosity. You are questioning the religious faith by simply applying the scientific method to general learning; the same method that has led us to the technology and standard of living today. We do not question thermodynamics and electromagnetic principles, areas of study that science has discovered and utilized, and yet we are asking that this religious intelligence is deserving of scientific immunity and is absolved from dissecting facts that disprove its core beliefs and values.

    On a purely statistical factor religion offers people no difference in quality of life and only minute positive differences in terms of overall happiness and health. It has already been determined that religion offers a better sense of community – providing the answer to the insignificant difference in overall happiness in the population.
    As as astronomy fanatic, I feel a general uneasiness in claiming that a god created a fantastically infinite universe in which we are the sole benefactors. This universe has a plan, but probably more complex than anything we could ever understand or quantify, but the fear of death should not lead us to wholeheartedly accept unsubstantiated claims.

  25. Nick said,

    December 12, 2011 at 10:21 pm


    Your post was very well written, and I believe you bring up some very great points. A lot of questions once answered by religion, that were once mysteries, even a couple hundred years ago – or less, have been answered by science. This now is beginning to include space, and the macrocosm. Naturally, while we do not have all the answers, we know that our solar system is one of many, that our GALAXY is one of many, and while I do not know verbatim, I recall reading that there is an estimated couple hundred million earth like planets. Even though it is a hypothesis, we know that the earth is to our universe, what a quark or an atom is to Earth. Earth is tiny, and very insignificant in the ever expanding universe. It almost makes religious preachings seem… arrogant? These are facts the prophets of the bible did not share, because they did not know any better…

    As I get older, I learn that I can reconcile the fact that religion is always going to be a part of Planet Earth. Quite simply, some people feel a perpetual need to believe an invisible wizard – capable of anything; someone who is watching over them, listening to their prayers, and guiding them to a life after death. And of course there are others among us (like myself) who can be comfortable with knowing that we don’t know it all, and content with not having an answer to things that cannot be explained (like life after death).

    What really bothers me, though, on a very deeply intellectual, and humanistic level, is not so much the fact that some people choose god as an answer to things that we do not know. Instead, I am bothered that people choose god, a religious scriptures, as answers things that we DO know, things that have been dis-proven (such as the earth being the center to the universe?). The bible is riddled with contradictions, immoralities, and scientific impossibilities.

    In my mind, I just want to see religious people evolve, and embrace their human brethren when we make discoveries, rather than oppose us, and label us heathens, simply because our discoveries are sometimes contrary to what what written in ancient scripture.

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