I got into an argument recently on Twitter when I disagreed with someone who claimed to know intelligent young theists. I asked where they were because, as far as I’m concerned, anyone who believes in an imaginary friend past the age of puberty really doesn’t qualify as intelligent. Now I don’t want anyone to think this is a post about the negative correlation between intelligence and religiousity. Certainly, I could since studies have consistently shown that the more religious a person is, the less intelligent they tend to be, but that’s not my purpose here. This is something that I’m sure atheists run into all the time, theists who seem to identify a label as applying to everything about an individual. It’s unfortunate that there are a lot of atheists who think the same way, they will identify a person as “intelligent”, even if many of the things that they do are anything but. They may identify someone as “rational”, even when it’s pointed out that they believe in very irrational things. This is a failing of humans who want to hold a person to specific characteristics even when they clearly do not apply in all instances.
So are theists intelligent? I don’t think so. That doesn’t mean there may not be many instances where they can be quite brilliant, but taken as a general descriptor, I don’t think it can be universally applied. Intelligent with regard to what, exactly? Certainly not with regard to their religious beliefs, we know that such beliefs are based on emotions, not intellect. Since no theist on the planet, at least that I’ve encountered, has been able to demonstrate the veracity of their beliefs, how, then can we consider them intelligent with regard to their faith? Faith is a wholly emotional and ego-centric position, not arrived at by rational thinking, critical evaluation or evidence. I don’t care how intelligent a person might be about topics outside of their faith, when considering the whole person, I simply cannot consider them universally intelligent. They’ve proven, by holding these ridiculous beliefs, that they are simply not so.
That means that Dr. Frances Collins, who I consider a genius in his scientific work, is anything but when it comes to his religious practices. There is nothing intelligent about walking into the woods, seeing a waterfall frozen into three parts, and suddenly believing in an imaginary friend in the sky. I don’t limit these things to religion either, but to any woo belief. If you believe in Bigfoot, you’ve lost in the intelligence race. If you believe in alien abductions, you’re proving to the world that you’re not a rational individual. If you’re an anti-vaccer, forget it, you’re just not a smart person. The same goes for purveyors of astrology, dowsing, faith healing, homeopathy and near death experiences, among many, many more. Once you allow this kind of irrational nonsense into your head, you only prove that you haven’t evaluated it intellectually and therefore, you’re just not intelligent as a universal term.
I’d be fine if people were more careful in their usage of the term, such as “so and so is intelligent in regards to their belief in x”, but hardly anyone ever does that. Unfortunately, pointing out this need for strict accuracy tends to make people mad. In the above discussion where I was doubtful of the intelligence of people who believe in god(s), I got several very distinctly angry responses because these were supposedly young theists and they simply had not had their fair chance to grow out of the ridiculous beliefs imposed on them by their parents. Certainly, I can identify with that, I too had religious beliefs pushed on me by my parents and by society in general and for a long time, I bought into them. However, I am honest, and I would not now consider my younger self to be universally intelligent, simply because I held those woo beliefs. I am nothing if not consistent.
For anyone who wants to present an individual by a universal descriptor, consider whether they’ve really earned it or if you’re just doing so out of an emotional desire to build the individual up, even if they don’t deserve it. Be accurate in your characterization. Do these people deserve your praise for everything they do? Are they intelligent in every aspect of their lives? Do they demonstrate their commitment to rationality throughout every part of their being? Or is it wishful thinking on your part that someday, maybe, hopefully, they may attain the intellect and wisdom that you are bestowing upon them today. I, for one, would rather wait and see if they turn out to be intelligent, rather than cross my fingers, in a non-woo manner, and hope that they actually do.