Religion is for the simple

There’s an article that appeared in the Guardian today entitled “Christianity: a faith for the simple“, and while I agree with the premise of the article, I feel as though the author got everything precisely wrong on the subject.

There was a recent study done in the US polling the religiosity of the country’s scientists, which I’m unhappy to report is higher than in most other countries. Of course, the relative numbers are still well below the religiosity of your average citizens, it hasn’t stopped some from claiming the argument our most brilliant minds are prone to non-belief is now dead in the water. Rather than recognize society plays a huge role in just how religious an individual is, there are those who want to believe there is no correlation between education and atheism, even when there clearly is.

My problem with the article is the author seems to think while scientists are unquestionably brilliant people, it means very little when it comes time to make some conclusions about the “God question”:

Our conviction that scientists, elite or otherwise, are somehow better qualified to discern the nature of reality is dubious. Elite scientists undoubtedly know vastly more about their subject than other people. But to imagine that makes them somehow better qualified to adjudicate on big-picture questions is like saying because I know my home town like the back of my hand, I am well-equipped to lecture on European geography

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Yeah, kind of a failed analogy there. Scientists are experts in their fields, which just happen to tap into the very nature of our Universe. A biologist who understands evolution would definitely have a better idea than a layman as to the possibility of there being a God. Recall until we actually bothered to uncover the truth about the natural world, its wonders were often used as evidence for a supreme being. That’s still the case with people who aren’t “elite”.

It was thus a fundamental tenet of Christianity that not only was the gospel for all, no matter how they were disenfranchised, but that it had a particular simplicity to it.

I think the author of this article has forgotten that for the longest time, the Gospels were hidden from public view (many men had died trying to translate it into a language of “the people”), and only the educated elite (priest class) were considered intelligent enough to read it. It might be due to the fact the Gospels often contradict one another (like Jesus’ genealogy), offer different accounts of certain events (like when Jesus was born), and often omit parts altogether. So arguing dumb people get the Bible because it’s simple is both untrue and certainly not an explanation as to why Christians tend to be stupider on average.

Odd as it may be to admit, there is some reason within the Christian tradition to think that Christian believers should, on average, be less intelligent, or at least less well-educated, than their opponents. Before atheists get too exited by this, it isn’t an admission that Christians are naturally stupid, though no doubt some will choose to read it that way.

Rather it is the recognition that there is a long-standing theme within Christian thought that sees the Christian message as having a particular appeal to the underclass, not only those socially and politically alienated, but also those the intellectually and educationally excluded.

That’s a nice way of saying if you’re uneducated, poor and have few prospects for the future, you’re more likely to believe in fairy-tales. This point, I’ll concede. When life sucks, you are going to cling to religion. I think we can all agree on this point. But this is precisely WHY religious belief is so deceptive and wrong: it prays on the weak, feeding them lies and falsehoods. The fact you are more susceptible to religion when you lack education demonstrates just how gullible one needs to be to believe in nonsense.

Education is corrosive to religion for 2 main reasons: 1) as you study world history and other cultures, you realize your own very localized religion makes the exact same claim as all others with an equally pathetic grasp on reality, and 2) primitive myths about the origins of our Universe, world and species have little resemblance to the truth. Intellectual integrity is antithetical to religion, pure and simple. This is why ignorance is so vital to belief.

Comments (2)

  • avatar

    LeetheGirl

    I disagree that when life sucks people will cling to religion. I understand the meaning that people are more likely to cling to things in certain situations and all.

    But, you know, my life sucks kinda hard right now. I’ve never been a believer and I never will be, though. There have been a small number of people I know who’ve turned to faith in a time of need. One friend in particular, Ben, started going to church when he was feeling so depressed he’d tried, more than once, to kill himself. Keep in mind this is in Canada and I believe that, on average, we’re a lot less religious-crazy than Americans.

    So I’m very happy that Ben was able to find a place where he belongs and feels a sense of community. He’s such a good guy I can’t imagine him ever being so unhappy for any reason.

    Anyways, in this case it worked out well. But has it kept him from experiencing bad things? No. His wife still got very sick and, tragically, lost their first child. One of their old pets had to be put down after ill behavior and almost attacking someone.

    In this very specific example my friend became less depressed not because he started believing in anything but because he found friends and people. Faith is not what helped him and lack of it is not what caused the other tragedies in his life.

    … Sorry for ranting.

  • avatar

    Kris

    I think the original author (Spencer, of the Guardian) started his article off wrong, and went downhill from there. What he needed to do was to review other studies which reviewed the religiosity of a scientific group in the USA (I’ve heard about the study but I can’t find it at the moment). In that study, they found that the scientists who focused in math, physics and chemistry were about the same religiosity as the general public. The major drop off was when you went to Biologists (dropped to like 2%) and almost none when you get to Evolutionary Biologists. So it’s insufficient to merely state that “scientists tend towards nonbelief” because that statement is easily falsified. This would also explain why a mean of all scientists in all disciplines should turn up lower than average.

    Since Dawkins is very well educated on this subject and is not prone to throwing about vague or incorrect facts, I suspect the author was misinterpreting or taking a quote out of context when he wrote “Richard Dawkins makes great play of the fact that so few “elite” scientists apparently believe in God.”

    I find it wonderfully ironic that the author said, “What is interesting about this argument is not so much the questionable inference, as the questionable first premise” when he did precisely the same thing.

    “Our conviction that scientists, elite or otherwise, are somehow better qualified to discern the nature of reality is dubious.”

    I also disagree with that statement. I don’t think Spencer realises that’s what scientists DO for a living. They look at the evidence in reality, study it, and look for explanations. Scientists study (mostly) the real and the tangible (some hypotheses in math and physics could be argued to be exceptions to this general rule; e.g., string theory). They don’t typically study a meta-reality because you can’t experiment with that. Because they have made reality their area of expertise (and a specific portion of reality at that, depending on which scientist), I think they are the best suited to philosophise over the nature of reality.

    It’s kind of like asking if someone who studies theology, divinity or mythology is best suited to make claims regarding myths in general. :P

    As for his remarks on Jesus being anti-elitist? “Christ often remarked with particular relish, and disappointment, on the inability of the educated elite of his time to get what he was about.” Maybe he should go reread the gospels, because Jesus spends a lot of time chastising his own disciples for not understanding his message. His closest 12 individuals, and yet not even they could understand what it was he tried to each. Were they intellectual elites? So far as I am aware, there is no indication that they were.

    I suspect, given his overall article, that he gets most of his religious consultation from those with a Masters of Divinity, not those with a Doctorate in Theology. That is to say, that a minister or priest is not the same as a professional theologian.

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