July 29, 2011

Intelligence And Faith

There is a 'truth' that I keep bumping into in the debate that rages on between theism and atheism that I have to say gets my ire up. I am tired of reading that atheists are more intelligent than their religious counterparts. This half-truth is used far too often as a bard to attack those of religious belief, and as a refrain to keep atheists in line. An article titled Why Atheism Will Replace Religion: New Evidence written by Nigel Barber published July 14 2011 in Psychology Today is just dripping with this same slop.

I think it is high time that we challenge this very sloppy line of reasoning.

Before I begin I want to say that I find this article to be incredibly ethnocentric, and rather arrogant. Underlying his arguments there seems to be the notion that those who live in the developed Western world are more intelligent than those who are living in poor developing countries. To that all I can say is I would be interested to see just how well Barber fairs if he were dropped into sub-Saharan Africa. I am sure if that were the case he would be very happy to learn from these poor unintelligent people.

Moving on.

The trust of most arguments I have heard that spouted atheists as more intelligent than their theist counterparts has to do with the quantity of college degrees each group holds. I would like to address that.

First I feel it is worth saying that even if this is true, that atheism is positively correlated with higher education that does not prove that atheism was the cause of someone going into high levels of education. The intelligent design spoof, The Flying Spaghetti Monster has often reminded us with their insightful data about the relationship between the decrease in pirate activity and the increase in CO2 in the air, that correlation does not imply causation.

Let me suggest an alternative conclusion. First if what Barber says is true that atheism tends to be more centered within cities and theism more centered in suburban and rural areas that fact alone will account for the differences in education level. Quite frankly you need a different type of education if you want to live in downtown New York or Toronto than you do if you want to live in rural Texas or Alberta. This is not to say people are less intelligent in rural areas, they are simply differently educated. Truth be told if I discovered that most of the farming heartland had decided to go and take 4-15 years in high level scientific or philosophical training prior to returning home and working on the farm or in other labour jobs I would question their level of intelligence, at least when it came to common sense.

With all his research done I fear that Barber has simply rediscovered the classic tale of country mouse and city mouse.

Well It never hurts to be reminded of the classics

In 1995 Mark A. Noll wrote a book titled The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. In it he discussed two factors that prevented fully capable Christians from pursing higher levels of education specifically in the fields of science and philosophy. First was the pressure such students feel from the institutions they wish to be educated by. Can you imagine being a Christian biology or psychology student in Barber's class? Or Richard Dawkins? Or Daniel Dennett? They wouldn't stop ridiculing you until you converted, dropped out or graduated. And I suspect that very few people would be able to last until they graduated. The worst part of it is if you did drop out you likely would end up a footnote in some book or paper as an example of a Christian who couldn't hack it in such fields.

Secondly Noll rightly describes that many churches, pastors and Christian parents are fearful of sending their young adults into such programs so instead they find save haven in Christian universities and seminaries. Baring that they send them into programs like MBA's, mathematics, medicine, law and engineering. It is worth noting that all of these programs and institutions fall outside of the atheist 'higher education' search radius.

I want to conclude with two things. First in the church I pastor we are blessed to have a number of people that apparently ought not to exist. We have Christian physicists, chemists, meteorologists, and a number of high level surgeons, lawyers, pharmacists, and university students pursuing these fields as well. Second now feels like a good time to share some data I came across not that long ago. Apparently atheism does not lead to increased levels of critical thinking and scepticism as many of its proponents would lead you to believe. Instead it has a rather high correlation with belief in things I would call superstitions. Unless of course you think the 'Ghost Hunters' have a rigorous scientific method hidden behind all the running around in dark rooms with temperature gauges and EEG’s.