Are Theists Dishonest or Stupid?


I keep seeing claims going by on Twitter, made by self-professed theists, which are blatantly untrue, yet even after being corrected, they keep making them.  Are these people horribly dishonest or are they just too stupid to know any better?  That’s really a much larger question than it seems at first and perhaps it’s one that we need to spend some time examining because I’m pretty sure most atheists have seen it themselves or made similar observations.

Imagine this scenario.  It really doesn’t matter where it happens, online, in person, on Twitter or Facebook, but sooner or later it will happen to just about every atheist.  A theist will make a claim that atheists believe X.  It will be untrue.  You will point out that it is untrue.  You will demonstrate that it is untrue.  You will ask the theist for evidence for their claim and they will ignore you.  The theist will either demand that you’re wrong or that you’re not an atheist and will continue to make the very same claim over and over again.

You might also see the same thing with regard to demonstrably false claims about their religion.  They have no evidence to back it up.  You have evidence that shows it’s not true. They will continue to repeat it verbatim, even after being proven wrong.

So what are we, as supposedly rational, intellectual atheists, supposed to think about this.  I see only two possibilities, either these people know they are wrong and are spouting false claims anyhow, or they are stupid, deluded and too far gone to even know how wrong their claims actually are.  Of course, I’m sure that for most theists, the answer resides somewhere between these two extremes, but for others, not so much.  Most professional apologists, for example, I’d say are virtually all dishonest.  They know better, they have to, they just don’t care.  This is, in my estimation, for the same reason that a lot of ministers and priests who have lost their faith continue to work in the church, their “faith” is also their  ticket to a paycheck, there is no easy route out of the religion without sacrificing financial security, thus they keep spouting the message without believing the words.  On the other side of the spectrum, you have those wonderful Internet theists who are so “on fire for Jesus” that I fear they’ve burned out the parts of their brains that control reasoning.  They are fanatics, they’re not really concerned whether or not the Bible is true, it makes them feel good to think that it does, therefore there is no chance whatsoever that they’ll ever accept otherwise.  Some of the more honest ones, in moments of uncharacteristic candor, will admit that there is nothing anyone can ever say that will convince them that they’re wrong, which is a sure sign that rational people ought to slowly start backing away.

But what about the rest, the ones that fall somewhere between the loony-toon fanatics and the absurdly dishonest?  Is there any chance that we can reach those people with rational, reasoned and evidenced arguments?  Now maybe I’m just getting more cynical in my old age, but I don’t think so.  Religion is one of those beliefs which is not amenable to evidence.  The people who hold it are not interested in being right or wrong, but in feeling good.  You have about as much chance of reasoning a theist out of their religion as you do reasoning a conspiracy theorist out of their conspiracies and for mostly the same reasons.  There’s a certain pathology here that says that it’s more important to be emotionally satisfied with one’s beliefs than it is to be factually correct with them.  These are people who I’d argue fundamentally don’t like reality.  It scares them.  Therefore, in order to make it through their day-to-day lives, they have to invent or adopt a magical security blanket that stops them from thinking about all of the scary things they’d otherwise have to deal with.  But that’s ultimately an immature way of viewing the world.  Part of the maturation process is learning to deal with the world the way it actually is, not the way you wish it was.  It’s a problem that an alarmingly large portion of the population have, theist and not.  It is no more acceptable among non-theists than it is among theists.  People all need to grow up and deal with the facts and leave the comforting fantasy behind.

So how do you stop this problem?  I don’t know that you can.  Sure, you can teach people how to think rationally and critically but you cannot force them to actually employ those tools.  You can point out when they’re being dishonest or stupid, but most of us realize that the dyed-in-the-wool believer won’t care, they’re supremely convinced that they’re right and can never be wrong, therefore any criticism will fall on deaf ears.  Perhaps the only real thing we can do is be patient and wait.  Religion is failing miserably in the modern world, people are fleeing the churches as it becomes clear that religious teachings are factually incorrect and that you can live a fulfilled life without religion.  I think some of us atheists, seeing the signs that we’re “winning”, want to declare a total victory far too early, these things take time.

In the end, it’s just sad that theists have to be liars or lunatics, to play the C.S. Lewis card, since quite clearly, there’s no evidence for a Lord.  We just have to understand that they can’t help it, it’s a fundamental part of what religion is.

8 thoughts on “Are Theists Dishonest or Stupid?”

  1. I think you were right to suggest that this is something nearly every atheist has pondered. I've always considered delusion to be separate from stupid in the sense that I see at least three possibilities: the theist is genuinely stupid, the theist is lying to others and knows it, or the theist is deceiving himself or herself through faith. That last one would come closest to delusion. Unfortunately, much of this does not seem to be limited to theists and can be found among some groups of atheists too. In their case, I don't see stupidity playing a major role and suspect that lying and self-deception are more common explanations.
    My recent post More Evidence of Catholic Child Rape and Conspiracy in the U.S.

    1. I have a fundamental problem with the way insanity is gauged by the psychiatric industry because the industry is inherently biased. They have to keep attracting patients which is why they go out of their way not to find particularly popular beliefs insane. If they piss people off, not as many people will voluntarily go to psychiatrists. I've never bought into the idea that insanity requires one to be a danger to oneself and others. A sociopath who never does anything to harm anyone still has the same screwed up brain wiring. They are still insane regardless of their actions or inactions, yet a lot of psychiatrists would refuse to find him nuts because he doesn't actually pose a danger. I'm more interested in the diagnostic work, that people who show this pathology are insane, regardless of what they actually do with their insanity.

      I think religion, and indeed any form of self-delusion, where a person refuses to accept demonstrable reality for any, including emotional reasons, has a screw loose upstairs. They may pose no danger to anyone but something upstairs is telling them to accept something for which there is no evidence and I think that's inherently insane.

  2. The more I see the irrationality the more I believe its a mental illness. But then again even atheists can be irrational. Maybe it comes down to education, however like you say I don’t believe its stupidity. It is rather just been taught to think stupidly.
    My recent post Theistic arguments

    1. I think there's a difference between an opinion and a mental illness. Someone talking to an imaginary friend is seen as insane and locked up. Someone talking to God is seen as perfectly fine. Religion is a socially-acceptable mental illness. I agree that there are some atheists that have problems, although a lot of those fall into the "opinion" category. Granted, many of them have no rational justification for their opinions but I don't know that most of them are functionally insane, just stupid. 🙂

  3. Well, I think it aint that simple for we've all known even deeply religious people whose critical faculties are absolutley spot on when evaluating evidence in any other sphere of life outside of religion. Such is the power of deep-seated biases formed in early childhood and nurtured over a lifetime, that it can completely cripple a person's ability to reason objectively about them and may even lead the faithful to suspect that anyone who doesn't see things their way is the one who's missing something "upstairs."

    I think our only hope of getting around the barriers to untrammeled sanity would be something along the lines of John Loftus' 'Outsider Test of Faith', which, if it were required reading by every theist in this country, would go a long way towards accelerating what is already an inexorable march towards a religion-free society.

    1. Unfortunately, I don't think it would help, fanatical beliefs, which is what religion really is, aren't open to rational evaluation. Even the most rational people on the planet, like Francis Collins, can do everything right, yet have their rational faculties fall apart entirely when it comes to religion. Most of these people are just not going to slap their foreheads and say "wow, how could I have been so wrong?" Their religious beliefs just don't work that way.

  4. I would tend to agree that most professional apologists are lying and they know it. If they have their argument destroyed, and the next day they start over and repeat the same argument again something is up. Either they didn't really understand the destruction of their argument, or they don't care if it is valid or not, they will repeat it because it might resonate with people.

    As to how to stop this problem, that's a really good question. I feel like all we can do is soldier on, keep pointing out the logical flaws and hope it sinks in eventually. I think these types of things can be cumulative as well. If you get an argument destroyed once you can get past it, if it happens over and over every time you bring it up in every variant, perhaps it will eventually get to you.

    Of course, some people will never be able to be reached, they will also just soldier on, trying to convert us. If they see our arguments as a challenge from the devil or something, they will never allow themselves to truly consider our arguments. But I'm not sure if we really have a way to tell those people from the type of people who just might eventually realize how dishonest their side is being. Once again, a big part of the motivation comes from the potential for people looking from the sidelines. Say for example, some guy sees a video of William Lane Craig giving some argument, and in the comments is someone pointing toward another place where WLC gave that same argument and it was destroyed, he might realize what a sham WLC really is.
    My recent post I Want Video Evidence of Evolution

  5. Presups are the absolute worst, but they might also be shining light on the subject.

    I believe that the best way to get into someone's head is to watch them try and get into yours. This is possible because of projecting.

    Mr. Lisel (i refuse to call him "doctor" ) spends chapter after chapter accusing us of being braindead brainwashed drones with no ability to think whatsoever, but those aren't the words he uses. He doesn't even say it half as judgementally as I just did. Instead, he believes that everyone thinks the way he does and he does not think. Or rather, his mind is like a nuclear battery unsafe a safe. There is power, but it's not going anywhere.

    He actually says this; "a philosophically astute person will not be convinced by evidence" he actually thinks it takes intelligence to be a closed-minded braindead idiot.

    In later chapters he argues against logic itself and badmouth us for using skepticism. Presuppositionalism is literally the most anti-intelectual apologetics method I've ever seen. And i don't mean "you Atheists thing going to college makes you so smart" I mean "you trust your reason? You think thinking is how you figure out things? Ha! What proof do you have that this "reason" as you call it should be trusted"

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