Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Don't call believers stupid!

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook the following quote from Francis Bacon:

"A little science estranges a man from God. A lot of science brings him back."

I found that to be just a tad bit interesting. Here's a fun fact about Francis Bacon: he lived from 1561 through 1626, what historians from Northern California refer to as "a hella long time ago". In other words, he was doing the science before The Big Bang, before Darwin, and even before Germ Theory. In other words, while the man was no doubt brilliant for his time, we know a lot more science now than he did then, and maybe that quote might not hold so true here in the 21st Century.

So, I commented, but I honestly didn't want to get into the existence or nonexistence of God. Because here's the thing - if 100% of scientists believed in God, that wouldn't make Him real, and if 100% of them disbelieved, that wouldn't make him not real. After all, did germs not exist before scientists knew about them? Were atoms nonexistent when atomic theory was considered to be a heresy? Of course not. Popular opinion, even among those who are most informed about a subject, isn't what determines what's true and what isn't.

I tried to keep my comment related directly to the quote, and all I pointed out was that what Bacon said back then certainly doesn't seem to hold true today. For one, only 7% of the National Academy of Sciences claim a belief in a personal God. (Note that my link is from not just a religious, but a creationist source!) Also, there is evidence that scientists in general tend to believe in God less than the average American. In other words, here in 2013, Bacon's words just don't ring true.

I then followed that up by pointing out that it didn't matter one way or another as to whether God actually existed or not, and one shouldn't make up his or her mind based on what those scientists believe or disbelieve. What did I get as a response from one of his friends? A laundry list of scientists who believe in God. (Most of them pre-20th Century, I might add.) Also there was a bunch of stuff about how supposedly Richard Dawkins doesn't understand the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and other such nonsense. In other words, the conversation quickly derailed as much as I tried to accommodate the notion that brilliant scientific minds can also believe in God. (In fact, I brought up Francis Collins in my original comment, only to have this guy list him off - showing how much he was even paying attention to what my point is.

It's experiences like that which led me to not even bother sharing a couple of articles that linked intelligence to belief in God. Let's get past the point that the studies that were cited were focused on The West and that measuring intelligence in the first place is a tricky bit of business. Essentially, it appears that the more intelligent a person is, the less likely he or she is to believe in God.

Why did I not share that? Isn't that my final ace in the hole to show theists how spectacularly wrong they are? At the very least, it could let them know just how dumb they are, right? Right?


I didn't bother sharing them to Facebook because no matter how carefully worded the articles are nor how thorough the research is, most theists will interpret the message into being "You're stupid for believing!"  Honestly, I don't blame them. Nobody likes to be called stupid, even if they're not actually being called stupid. People don't even like the implication that somebody might think that they're not as smart as they could be or that their decisions would be different if only they were a little bit smarter.

They're both interesting articles, and I recommend them if you're an atheist who's smart enough to realize that being an atheist doesn't automatically make you smarter than a theist. I also recommend it to any theist who's willing to put down his or her defenses and consider the actual points that are being made.

Ultimately though, I think that for both atheists and theists, citing these kinds of studies (even if the results turn out to be the reverse) is a waste of time. We should be discussing the existence or nonexistence of God on its own merits, not on who's supposedly smarter than who.

I've written before that I don't feel that I became an atheist because I became smarter, and when I speak to atheists, they all seem to feel the same way. We just changed our point of view. Is it possible that the ability to change one's point of view is more likely when one has a certain amount of intelligence? I suppose, but how do we go about measuring that in the first place?

Let's just stick to the subject at hand instead of gloating or worrying about how smart we may or may not be.

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