Tag Archives: intelligence

Anti-Intellectual Religion

If you have any significant discussions with the religious, one thing that will smack you in the face is the anti-intellectual nature of religion.  It doesn’t matter if the theist is the most evangelical or the most liberal, they not only don’t care about the intellect, they actively campaign against it when it comes to their religious beliefs.

These are people who are terrified of the human brain and its capacity to see through their nonsensical beliefs.  As with everything else wrong in this world, they care about feels over reals.  They want to feel good, whether or not what they believe in makes any sense at all.

And it doesn’t matter if they are smart the rest of the time, the fact remains that they are downright stupid with regard to their religious faith.  That’s one argument that I see all the time from the religious.  “But he’s so smart!”  Smart is not a universal position.  You can be smart on some things and downright idiotic on others.  I’ll bet when you look at their conduct on religion, they are not being smart. They are not being rational.  They are not being logical or reasonable.  They are being non-intellectual, and perhaps anti-intellectual because you simply cannot hold those beliefs otherwise.

I know I keep going back to this idea, that being overly-emotional is the cause of most of our problems, but I can’t see any way around it.  Every single awful thing out there is brought about by people who would rather feel than think.  Every single solitary one of them.  By all means, if you can point out anything terrible that has been brought about by too much thinking, let me know.  I don’t think you can do it.

In the end, we’re stuck with idiots with too many emotions and not enough brains causing endless harm to this planet.  As I told VJack, I am not satisfied to let these people harm society and the very existence of their beliefs is harmful by its very nature.  When you’re pushing for emotion over reality, that is harm.  But what can we do about it?  That’s something I don’t know yet.

Applying a Rational Standard

keep-calm-and-raise-your-standards-3I actually had a somewhat interesting discussion with a Muslim recently where I questioned him on the validity of beliefs, not his in particular, but of all religious beliefs in general.  He is one of those theists who says they’re not proselytizing, they’re just telling people what they believe, as though that isn’t exactly the same thing.  Clearly, I told him, the reason he’s telling people what he  believes is because he thinks others ought to believe the same thing, otherwise why bother?  What’s the point in engaging people he will never meet in an online forum to discuss the religion he holds if he doesn’t care if they believe it too or not?

That made him stop to think for a while but he came back with the statement that, even if he wished people would take Islam seriously, no one should believe anything he has to say unless they have personally verified all of the things that he and his religion say.  Well then, I had him!  So I asked if he had personally verified the things that his religion claims.  He said yes.  Well then, how had he verified that Allah actually objectively exists?  He had an experience, of course!

But that doesn’t get him out of hot water.  He has no way of verifying that Allah was actually the cause of his experience, it’s just an assertion, made without a shred of objective evidence.  If someone from another religion came to him and made that exact same claim about their god, he wouldn’t see any reason to take it seriously, in fact, he’d pointedly reject the notion without bothering to try to verify the claims.  It goes against his religious beliefs, therefore it has to be false.  That’s not verification, that’s rejection out of hand for irrational reasons.

raising-your-standardsIf he has a standard by which he’s “verified” his own beliefs, how can he refuse to acknowledge that standard for other people going by the exact same standard?  It makes no sense whatsoever.  That makes it an irrational double standard and thus unworthy of intelligent people but the religious use them all the time.  The beliefs that they have an emotional attachment to can be “verified” by having an “experience” for which they can demonstrate no causal link between the experience and their god.  The beliefs that they do not have an emotional attachment to are ridiculous when they seek to do the exact same thing.

Of course, as soon as I pointed this out, he stopped responding, only time will tell if he decides to think on what I’ve said, or if he’s retreated into his religious comfort zone and is pretending that I said nothing worthwhile.  He was on the right track, he ought to be verifying everything, he ought to be applying logic and reason to his beliefs and using that to determine what he ought to believe and what he ought to reject.  Of course, as a theist, he’s not doing that, all he can do is make excuses for why his particular set of beliefs is the exception to the rule when we all know it really isn’t.  We all need to look at the things we believe and ask “is that actually true” and to question our experiences and wonder “is this actually what happened?”  That’s the first step on the road to rationality and why theists simply will never do so.  It’s the fast track to rejecting religion.

That’s Just The Way It Is

thatsthewayitisOne of the most disturbing arguments I see and one that bugs me a lot is the idea that we shouldn’t try to change humanity for the better because people are irrational and “that’s just the way it is”.  This comes up most often in religious discussions where I try to encourage people to think critically and rationally about their religious beliefs and invariably, someone will pop up and say “humans aren’t rational, you can’t expect them to ever be rational”.


That’s like saying that humans are naturally racist and sexist, which we know they are.  We generally seek out those with similar characteristics to ourselves and tend to fear those with different characteristics.  It’s part of our biology and part of our evolution.  That doesn’t mean we should throw up our arms and accept it, in fact, we’ve spent a lot of time, several generations at this point, fighting exactly that and it’s worked.  There aren’t as many racist or sexist people around anymore.  Just trying actually accomplishes things.

So why is it so awful to ask that people actually use that piece of meat in their heads?  Why shouldn’t we hold people to a higher standard than we do cattle?  Well, it all comes down to those lovely people, the accomodationists, who don’t want anyone to ever feel bad for being stupid.  Unfortunately, the theists tend, and I say tend, to be stupid and irrational, basing their entire religious worldview on emotion, not intellect.  It makes them feel good to think that there’s a powerful invisible man in the sky who is keenly interested in what people do in their bedrooms.  I don’t know why it makes them good, I just know that it does, it certainly did back when I was religiously delusional, even though I can’t, for the life of me, remember why I ever thought it was a good idea.

That said, no, I do not accept that it’s just the way that it is.  Those who aren’t willing or capable of upping their game ought to be criticized for it.  People shouldn’t be allowed to feign stupidity as an excuse for believing ridiculous things. They ought to be challenged and if they fail the challenge, they ought to be ridiculed.  It makes it a bit easier since the United States is becoming increasingly more secular, up to 38% in the most recent polls, for people who claim no religious affiliation.  We’re winning, folks.  Maybe we ought to press our advantage and take the war for intelligent debate over religious topics to the streets.  Don’t let people use blind faith as an excuse.  Blind faith is a failure.  Make sure they know it. Make sure everyone knows it.  The more people are ridiculed for relying on such absurd things, the more embarrassed they get by repeatedly failing to win these debates, the more they’ll be forced, by peer pressure, into actually adopting a more intellectual and rational standpoint.  From there, it’s only a few steps to giving up the ridiculous religious beliefs altogether.

Let’s not allow “that’s the way it is” to be an excuse.  It isn’t the way it ought to be.  We need to demand better of everyone. We need to have high expectations.  We need to keep raising the bar instead of what so many accomodationists routinely do, pull out a shovel when they look for the lowest common denominator.  Stooping to the worst possible choice doesn’t improve humanity, it just allows humanity to remain blissfully ignorant and ignorance doesn’t help any of us improve.

Intelligence and Religion

Molecular ThoughtsI 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.

What Social Media Ought To Be

What if you don’t want any of this?

I’ve talked about this in the past and I know that I am not the target audience for social media, but there simply are no social media sites out there that do what I want them to do.  Social media is, almost by definition, shallow.  It’s meant to appeal to the short-attention-span crowd.  It is designed to transmit short, stupid messages, memes and other incoherent nonsense.  It’s hollow, trivial expressionism, like waving to your neighbor, except to a much wider audience that has as little interest in getting to know you as you do getting to know them.  I weep for this generation.

I don’t want any of that.

What I want is the ability to have a conversation.  I want to be able to debate in great detail.  None of the current social media allows this.

What I’d have to see in a site to make it worthwhile:

  1. Threaded conversations that allow you to easily follow the action
  2. A WYSIWYG editor, complete with the ability to extensively quote, add pictures and graphs, etc.
  3. Intelligent, rational people to debate with.

Yeah, that last one is the hardest to find, I know, but what’s the point of debating over and over with idiots?  That’s why I’ve stopped debating in any real fashion over the last couple of months because finding someone worth debating is even harder than finding somewhere that you can actually debate them.

Honestly, while I’m convinced that forums are the best of the bad options, even most forum software fails in most regards.  A lot of it doesn’t even allow you to quote the message that you’re responding to!  Of all of the forum software that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot, the only one that remotely impresses me is the most recent version of vBulletin, most specifically v4.2.1, with a lot of add-ons.  It’s spiffy.  It tells you if someone has responded to one of your posts and takes you right to it, it allows multi-quoting, it allows numerous pictures, etc. It doesn’t guarantee that there’s anyone worth debating with though.

Now I’m sure scientists and other rational thinkers use the Internet and I’m sure they have intellectual discussions online.  Presumably a lot of it is through e-mail, at least that’s what I’d do, but there has to be somewhere that they can gather collectively to have interesting discussions. Where is that place?  I’m sure it’s got to be a private network to keep the riff-raff out and that’s a bit depressing as well.

I don’t know.  Just thinking about this makes me weep for humanity.

No Wonder The Religious Are Screwed Up

Religious RationalistIn a recent forum exchange, I started discussing rationality and how we ought to teach children, from a young age, how to think, how to reason and how to make rational decisions by examining evidence and using critical thinking skills.  A theist popped up and started laughing, he couldn’t imagine anyone ever being rational and called the whole idea of anyone being a critical thinker irrational on it’s face.  No wonder these people are so screwed up.

Unfortunately, I suspect that isn’t such an unusual view from the highly religious, who really don’t want a world where people can think and reason and be responsible for themselves, it does an unbelievable amount of damage to their religious worldview where they want to be totally reliant on an imaginary friend in the sky.  The existence of a growing rational population is terrifying to the fundamentalist because it signals an end to their time at the head of the pack.

The Bible even says so, just look at the picture to the left.

17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.

However, whether they like it or not, their time is coming to an end.  We live in an increasingly technically-oriented and well-educated society (if you avoid Texas, that is) and as people become more educated, the studies clearly show, they tend to become less religious.  As people are able to look at the world around them and make determinations based on the evidence, they have less of a need to rely on religious dictates and books of mythology for their answers.

It won’t be too many more generations that the religious will have the ability to negatively impact the intellectual lives of those around them.  Maybe it’s irrational to think that the religious can be rational-minded with regard to their religions, but it certainly isn’t irrational to think that we can, and should, educate our children in all public schools to think critically and intellectually about the world around them and that should hasten the demise of religion, especially fundamentalist religion, around the world.

I can’t wait.  Can you?

Bitchspot Quickies #6: Emotion and Rational Thinking

Bitchspot Quickies LogoIt’s time for another episode of the Bitchspot Quickies.  This time, I take a moment to talk about emotion getting in the way of logical, rational evaluation of evidence and how, while emotion may be important, it’s usually a hindrance when it comes to making real, critical decisions.

So go over here and check it out!

Intelligence is Always Better than Emotion

IrrationalThe farther I look in this world, the more irrationality I see everywhere and even when it’s clearly pointed out, far too many people who pretend to be rational continue to embrace emotion and ignore intellectual thought.

Sorry, there simply is no case where emotionalism is better than rationalism.  Not a single one.

That’s not to say that emotion should never have a part in our decision-making process, after all, we are inherently emotional beings, it’s part of the chemical makeup of our brains, but it should not be the core of any intelligent decision, nor should it be the largest part of the decision.  If all you’re doing is running on pure emotion, you are not going to make a good choice, that much is almost guaranteed.

Yet I see so many supposedly rational atheists doing exactly that.  This seems especially obvious when we get out into liberal politics and social justice issues.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not excusing anyone on the right, they’re just as bad, if not worse, but most of them aren’t pretending to be looking at the world logically and making their decisions rationally.  Plenty of atheists do, yet in a critical evaluation, that’s not how they actually function.

The fact is, in most decisions, “but… but… but… it makes me FEEEEEEEEEL BAD!” is not a rational position to take. It’s not a good place to start, it’s not a good place to finish, it really has no place in any intellectual decision making process.  It’s worse when it has a part and the individual isn’t able to perceive it as such.

Case in point, that ever-popular liberal claim about slavery.  I recently went through this with yet another person who claimed that morality was objective and slavery was absolutely wrong.  It was, as it always is, an emotional argument, but when I pointed that out, he refused to hear it.  According to him, slavery has always been wrong, for all people, across time and space, and everyone who claimed to support slavery actually knew it was wrong, they just did it anyhow.  It reminds me of the Christians who claim that atheists know God exists, they just want to sin.  It’s a clearly ridiculous argument on it’s face, there have been millions of people who have had slaves throughout history who didn’t think it was wrong, in fact, there were many who thought they were doing their slaves a favor.  There are millions of slaves in the world today, owned by people who clearly believe slavery is fine and dandy.  The idea that they’re all wrong and know it, just because thinking otherwise causes some emotional distress  to someone on an Internet forum somewhere, is beyond absurd.

Clearly, by the definition of the word “objective”, morality just doesn’t work that way.  You cannot have an objective morality when people can pick and choose their moral compass, any more than we can declare the speed limits to be objective when we can change them at our whim.  The only way for morality to be objective is for it to come about totally beyond our control.  The speed of light is objective.  It moves at a certain pace, entirely apart from our wishes or desires.  Gravity is objective, the acceleration curve is a constant, regardless of our yearning for it to be different.  That’s not how morality works.

Now don’t get me wrong, just because I recognize that morals aren’t objective, that doesn’t mean anything goes.  Within a particular society, people can choose what will be and will not be acceptable.  The United States has enshrined equality and freedom into our Constitution and it is that Constitution that invariably led to us outlawing slavery, women as second-class citizens and will lead to the end of unequal rights for gays.  That doesn’t necessarily mean we get to declare that everyone on the planet has to think the way we do, any more than they get to declare we should think the way they do.  Where we have seen one nation going to war against another for the purpose of changing moral behavior, that’s been one of military, political and financial force, not moral superiority.  Usually, that’s based on emotion, not intellect.  In fact, I’d argue that virtually all wars are emotionally-driven, if you have to pull out guns and shoot at other people, you’re probably doing something wrong.

How the world feels to us, while it might be terribly important to us as individuals, it really isn’t a good way of handling disagreements between individuals.  Emotion doesn’t get to truth, it doesn’t find facts, that’s the job of the intellect.  We may have started as entirely emotional and instinctual beings, but we’ve evolved beyond that. We have the ability to over-ride our primitive instincts and emotions with the power of our large mammalian brains.  We don’t have to give in to our emotions when doing so is dumb, dangerous and destructive, yet far too many people still follow the dictates of primitive brain chemistry and refuse to consider whether what they are doing is right or wrong.

We should have evolved beyond that, I know I have, what’s it going to take for everyone else to follow suit?