The Smart Believers

I haven’t posted in a while, but that’s mostly because I’m busy. Busy trying to survive, really. A tough job market when your skills include ‘a craft no one cares about’ and ‘job experience everyone else has too’. No surprise though, and I’ll take it in stride (up until starvation).

I come back a month later with this article that I thought was interesting. 

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It is ‘The False Equation of Atheism and Intellectual Sophistication’.

In it, Emma Green reviews the book ‘The Age of Atheists’, by Peter Watson. I haven’t read it, but it definitely sounds interesting from this article. If that was her plan here, she did an excellent job. She managed to raise a discussion worthy point, and make me want to read something.

What was Green’s point? That Watson draws an unfair connection between intellectualism and atheism. That is, you don’t have to be stupid to believe in god. Which I completely agree with. Most of the smart people I know, doing math, science, programming, and writing well beyond what I am capable of, are religious. This isn’t a surprise, because as Green points out, the vast majority of people on the planet right now believe in some sort of higher power.

A little depressing right? I mean, not for the religious, but for the rest of us. We live in a rather modern world, we are a scant few innovations away from full on cyberpunk, and we live in a world where a majority of the people are prepared to meet a white-bearded guy in the sky after they die. 

Back to the article. Green makes a good point. If Watson does what she says, because I haven’t read the book yet, then this isn’t the age of atheists at all. No matter how many philosophers, scientists, musicians, or artists ended up being atheists, they are still in the minority. We can say that creative minds wrestled with the question and came to atheism, but what about creative minds today which wrestle with it and stop at deism? Which do we say was superior? 

Artists are not a good comparison, because most of Western society is still under the illusion that there is ‘no judging art’. How about two great scientists, both have created new theories that have redefined industries, have made lives better for people worldwide, then one is an atheist and one is a christian. We cannot, would not, claim that the atheist one is some how smarter because of his conclusion, would we? Would be silly, and I wouldn’t expect it. To do the opposite is cruel as well, even in the rare cases where it does happen (especially when atheists are judged morally weak just because they don’t believe in god).

It creates an intriguing point. Can atheism claim a philosophical or intellectual high ground? My stance has always been this: If you examine evidence directly, you’ll at least end up agnostic. You may ask yourself ‘Mr. Black blogger man, what about all your smart friends you mentioned earlier?’

Most people don’t bother examining the evidence. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, they have no reason to ponder the question beyond a superficial ‘Is there a God?’ and then moving on when their own life experiences calls back with ‘yes’. Green would say that this is wrong, if her article is any clue, because it implies that the average person has examined the question incorrectly, and only these ‘intelligent’ outliers have thought it through right and come to atheism. That isn’t how I see it.

Life is a awful mixture of cultures, personal, friendly, familial, local, etc. The life you live is going to determine your path to answering the question yes or no in the end. I heard about god my whole childhood, there were bibles all around, but my mother wasn’t the sort to go every Sunday. Who knows, I wouldn’t be writing this today if she did go every Sunday. If she did go every Sunday, I might not be writing at all, since my atheism has informed innumerable choices in my life. I think religious Marshall would be somewhere with his dad right now, probably organizing that business to feed people that just got out of prison. Not bad, not bad.

The reason I’m an atheist, and another person smarter than me is not, is because of that trail of variables that is existence. Those moments we brush up against that rewrite us as a human being, crafts us from day to day. When I dropped my religion, it was before I even looked at all the facts, it was turning my back on something I thought of as childish and badly put together. Really, my initial reason for atheism is because the bible story is pretty crappy, it is mother goose level WTFery. I didn’t believe in many other nursery rhymes, and god was one more that could be discarded. I went from being in constant fear that I would meet my maker, to altering my definitions of my maker so I wouldn’t have to fear them (I remember trying to be a Zen Christian in high school after reading one book, oh me), and then discarding the whole thing all together. 

Not easy, mind you, but I don’t remember crying over it. I’ve had anxiety attacks since then, but now I’m a simple human being who will cease to exist upon death, so give me a break.

On the other hand, I know students on their way to doctorates who still believe in god. Are they stupid? Not really. Have they wrestled with the question incorrectly? Possibly. Would it be wrong to say otherwise? If you are say, a medical doctor, you know enough about the basics of human life to put the god question to task. Infinite source of morality? It doesn’t take the experiences of a medical doctor to throw that out the window, it just takes reading about the wildly different moralities across the globe and through time. Humans created from whole cloth? But then people break their ‘tail bone’, and you remember that we have one of those. Automatically, the level of education required of a doctor requires adjusting your personal definitions for god. 

So why are so many nurses and doctors still religious? You don’t have to think about whether there is a god while you study medicine. It isn’t in the curriculum (and shouldn’t be). You can examine the skeletal structure of a human being, then turn around and praise to your heart’s content.

This all said, great minds have come to the atheist conclusion when wrestling with the question. Many others have gone agnostic. Usually, the more book smart you get, the more liberal your religious interpretations become until they break away. You go from praising for every meal, to realizing that god is probably just some distant clock maker, to realizing that maybe god is just what we call consciousness and true thought, to realizing that there isn’t a need for a god in there at all. It happens, or it doesn’t happen.

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2 thoughts on “The Smart Believers

  1. There is one measure of religion that most people use and annoys me and that’s the Theist—>Agnostic—>Atheist scale of belief because it doesn’t make any sense. Theism/Atheism relates to whether or not a person is religious while Gnosticism/Agnosticism relates to a person claiming some sort of mystical or metaphysical knowledge, or a lack thereof. I prefer Richard Dawkins scale from “The God Delusion” which I think tackles how intelligent people handle belief in God better.

    Gnostic Theism is someone who is religious and claims to know God exists. Agnostic Theism is someone who is religious, but doesn’t know for sure God exists. Agnostic Atheism is someone who isn’t religious, but doesn’t know for sure God doesn’t exist. Gnostic Atheism is someone who isn’t religious and claims to know for sure God doesn’t exist.

    I would say most highly intelligent people who are religious are probably Agnostic Theists. For whatever reason they believe in a higher power, but they are intelligent enough to know they can’t acquire the knowledge or evidence to know for sure that higher power exists.

    This four point scale also alleviates the fundies of the world saying, “Atheists are just as crazy as they claim us to be because they can’t prove God doesn’t exist.” I would say most Atheists fall under the category of Agnostic Atheist. Any intelligent Atheist has to know they can’t prove a negative, just like you can’t prove there isn’t an invisible pink unicorn living in my computer case. Sure you can observe and say you didn’t find any evidence of this unicorn, but then I could use the phrase, “Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.”

    • I find the 4 point system to work as more of a shaming tool than an actual working scale. The point of it is to make anyone at the far ends feel bad, and not to have any real conversations.

      Most atheists operate as if they are gnostic atheists, you don’t go about your daily life going ‘but lol, I don’t know for sure, so you never know’. No, you live your daily life with there being no god, because if there was, it would be absolutely shocking. Of course we don’t have absolute certainty, the list of subjects that people have absolute certainty about is short to nill, so why even put ‘certainty’ on the scale?

      I just use Atheist -> Agnostic -> Liberal Theist -> Theist -> Conservative Theist. You could probably break up the atheists into Activist and just normal Atheist, but you get my point. A lot of non-believers just don’t care about the god debate, they are the agnostics, whether agnostic theist that are far enough down in their believe, or agnostic atheist that still don’t want to take the title.

      For me the main point is the atheist lump. I don’t care how you feel about the question of how certain you are about the non-existence of god, the important factor is how you operate in your everyday life. If you are only saying you aren’t certain because of the fact that no one can know for sure, that doesn’t mean much compared to how you act.

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