Does atheism have a monopoly on intelligence or rationality?

May 13, 2007 at 10:10 am 12 comments

Thinking ManIt seems as if a line in my post “I am a better Christian now that I’m an atheist,” was a bit misunderstood. I said:I’m an atheist because I am a somewhat intelligent, rational being… which gave some the impression that I believe those who follow religious myths are not intelligent or rational.

I am still the same “somewhat intelligent, rational being” I was in my many years of following, teaching, and defending the Christian faith. In fact, during those years, I believed my faith to be more rational than emotional. From my perspective at that point, the central message of Christianity was a very rational world view.

My deconversion from Christianity began when I realized the Bible did not support the “rational” Christian message I believed. The God described in the Bible was not a loving, forgiving, merciful, kind, caring Father in heaven who had “plans to prosper [me] and not to harm [me], plans to give [me] hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) Also, when I realized that the Gospels showed Jesus as being very inconsistent in his central message of compassion, loving your neighbor and doing unto others as you would want them to do unto you, I became very disillusioned.

Here is Richard T Scott’s response to the above referenced post and comment:

Quotation Marks 1… it is also not necessarily true that those who believe in God are devoid of intelligence or rationality. One can logically come to a conclusion that God does exist, just as intelligently and rationally as one can conclude that he does not. I’m assuming that you’ve based your conclusion on the most concrete evidence available – i.e scientific observation. It is obvious from history and the progress of scientific knowledge that data can be construed in different ways and that every “law” is simply the best possible explanation that we have thus far come up with. Science is excellent in answering “how” things happen. But science does not seem to be so good at answering “why”. An apple falls because of gravity, but why does a body exhibit a force called gravity? Why did the Big Bang occur?

Science is the most accurate means that we have for quantifying and understanding the universe, yet our data is incomplete. Measurement is ultimately imprecise due to the limits of the tools we use for measurement, especially on a quantum level.

Further, it is impossible for a human being to be completely objective. Our perceptions, and therefore what we conclude from the given data, are relative to our experience. It is admirable and necessary to strive for objectivity, yet it is an ideal which is never truly reached. Thus, logic is just as relevant as “objective” observable phenomena.

Science has a limit. There are many things left unanswered, which perhaps are more rationally answered by other means for the time being. It’s simply a matter of choosing to believe one system for viewing and understanding the universe or another, either way both require “faith” of some kind. Though people generally see it this way, I don’t think it’s absolutely one or the other.

So, all I can believe is this:
At this point in time, given the information available to me, given my subjective biases (some of which I’m aware of and try to take into account), I don’t see a direct correlation between the data and the Bible, but I do see a correlation between the data and the probability of a higher being. Call it the Creator, call it the Great Architect… call it what you will, but Christianity does not have a monopoly on ethics and God, nor does atheism have a monopoly on intelligence or rationality.

Respectfully,Quotation Mark 2

– A Deist”

(emphasis mine)

– Agnostic Atheist

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Entry filed under: agnostic, agnostic atheism, agnostic atheist, apologetics, atheism, atheist, Bible, christian, christianity, creationism, deconversion, evolution, freethinking, Religion, skeptic, skepticism, spirituality, theology.

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12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Badger3k  |  May 13, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    He was ok until he got to the point of “there are many things left unanswered, which perhaps are more rationally answered by other means for the time being.” The more rational answer is not to look to supernatural explanations, nor to fill in an answer that makes you feel good (or whatever), but to simply say “We do not know, yet. We may never know. But we have some hypothesis, let’s see if we can test them for plausability, and if not, we must simply say we do not know.”

    If I don’t know why something has happened, I can speculate all I want, but I cannot take them seriously as an explanation, not until they have been tested and confirmed (assuming my speculation is correct). To me, it is not rational to act on such assumptions as if they were correct, and if possible, we should act to minimize the reliance on such assumptions (sorry to be vague, this could probably fill a post or two itself as a topic). Act as if you could be wrong. Minimize the potential harm. To me that seems rational.

    That said, I do agree that no one group of anything has a monopoly on anything. Some groups do possess more of some traits, though, than other groups, and some of them use it more (and to a deeper level, so to speak). I know many christians, and others, who are intelligent and rational, except when they get to certain areas of thought. Then it all flies out the window. Same with some atheists who I know who think UFOs are visiting us, and abducting people. Unless you apply the same standards to all your ideas and beliefs (and actions, and, well, everything), I don’t think you are as rational as someone who does.

    Reply
  • 2. Richard T Scott  |  May 13, 2007 at 11:07 pm

    “The more rational answer is not to look to supernatural explanations, nor to fill in an answer that makes you feel good (or whatever), but to simply say “We do not know, yet. We may never know. But we have some hypothesis, let’s see if we can test them for plausibility, and if not, we must simply say we do not know.”
    -Badger 3k

    Actually I agree with you perfectly. However, if I hold an opinion which I never state because of uncertainty, then there will be no discussion on the point. And it’s entirely possible that as I continue my search I may change my opinion based on the data. As such, my hope was to join in the dialogue. It’s inherent to the nature of dialogue that there is no absolutely conclusive answer, because if It were certain that I (or anyone else) was right, it wouldn’t be necessary to discuss the topic.

    Also, defining an obscure, non-biblical God or creator (my definition) as an essentially “super-natural” explanation depends greatly on your definition of “super-natural”. Depending upon one’s view of the data, one could conclude the idea of a “God” to be either infra-natural (within nature) or super-natural (above/outside nature). By the very nature of the idea of God, I would certainly define it (this idea) as being supernatural, in the sense that IF there was a Creator, he would of necessity be outside of time as he created time. If he is outside of time, then he is essentially supernatural. Yet, this is the limit of my definition for what I have thus far concluded as my own personal belief (not action). The limit being that I see evidence of a creator, but not a biblical mythological Judeo-Christian Godhead. Thus the stereotypes of this typical idea of God don’t apply as my argument is an attempt at re-defining the term and is a personal search.

    It seems that my views are nearly in agreement with yours, we simply have different definitions of terms. Perhaps the most effective debate would occur between such mutually respectful individuals. I could imagine such a debate covering various interpretations of specific evidence or data in the interest of testing one’s assumptions. To start with, If anyone is interested, some of the references which have influenced my opinions might be helpful for a reference point. For example “The Science of God” by Gerard L. Schroeder is certainly an interesting read which offers (almost) a middle ground between the Science/God debate.

    Respectfully

    Reply
  • 3. HeIsSailing  |  May 14, 2007 at 12:44 am

    Richard T Scott sez:
    “Depending upon one’s view of the data, one could conclude the idea of a “God” to be either infra-natural (within nature) or super-natural (above/outside nature). By the very nature of the idea of God, I would certainly define it (this idea) as being supernatural, in the sense that IF there was a Creator, he would of necessity be outside of time as he created time. ”

    IF God is he who created the universe as described in Genesis, I would expect this of him as well. But this is a very recent interpretation of who God is and the nature of his creation. Einstein was the one who discovered in that time is a physical property in 1905 – very recently. And I don’t know theory was extrapolated into Theology to have God stand outside of our time domain – but it was certainly only within the last 100 years.

    I don’t even know when terms such as ‘supernatural’ came up, but I need to do some research when this notion of God came about. Remember that to the ancients, God was in, at least the 3rd heaven, above the dome of the sky. This makes it sound like God is ‘infra-natural’ as you put it, or within nature. As time and science progressed, heaven kept getting pushed further back into the cosmos. As recently as the 1960’s heaven was viewed as a place just somewhere behind Jupiter, or just outside our solar system. Now that those locations are mere real estate for our explorations, heaven is most commonly viewed in some kind of alternate dimension or reality.

    This is where the supernatural nature of heaven becomes fully developed – and is a very recent idea in my view.

    Reply
  • 4. Epiphanist  |  May 14, 2007 at 6:58 am

    I will use any tool which enables better understanding of a unique existence. Science, religion, art, music, philosophy, psychology, technology, culture. I would be surprised if tools or models could do more than catch a glimpse of anyone’s reality. The point is to live a full life. Some things we learn by bitter experience, thankfully we can fast track some of the process by accepting what others will share with us. I find it weird that people argue so strongly that my spiritual reality is non existent. They use a rationale that someone else’s description of spiritual understanding doesn’t satisfy arbitrary rules that someone has set. Science can’t describe all of my reality either. Big deal, it still gives wonderful insights and understanding of amazing things. Ditto for religion and the other tools on my list. Not being universal doesn’t mean that the tools have no value. You don’t use an ax to strain your pasta. The God/Science debate reminds me of an old martial arts movie when the main protagonists finally face each other – “now we see whose Kung Fu is best”. Rational and intelligent? This blog shows a few signs from time to time. Keep up the good work.
    PS. That atheism central thing didn’t make much sense, I have been really happy with RSS feeds into my Blogline account. It allows me to enjoy blogs which are not syndicated because I know whenever there is a new post, and the blogs retain individuality. You can put my blog on if you like, I post for people to look at, but I am definitely not aetheist. Been there, done that!

    Reply
  • 5. Rose Red  |  May 15, 2007 at 3:49 am

    What if you need, for eternal existences sake, to be more specific in your beliefs about a creator? It’s all very well to be totally rational and open minded, but at the end of the day, where does it really get you?

    Badger 3k said that we need to look at our hypothesis, but what if our data is wrong in the first place? What if our whole reasoning is flawed, and fraught with totally human error? What then? Do we just give up? Somehow though, I don’t think that saying ‘I don’t know’ is really going to cut it.

    Respectfuly
    ~RR

    Reply
  • 6. jon s  |  October 14, 2007 at 7:13 am

    I’m begining to feel the evolutionist is having to rely on his ‘evo-faith’ more and more with a quasi- religious “It has to be true so I’ll believe it” mentality. Please can someone tell me the answer to this one question: if all our organs developed slowly over time, bit by bit, then at some stage in history we must have all had bits of developing organs all at different stages of growth – bits of eye-like organs half developed in our heads, ears that weren’t quite working as the mutations slowly evolved, parts of internal organs that hadn’t fully become fully functioning organs and a myriad other weird bits of body all being ‘developed’ by the random mutation lottery game. If this has been such a powerful, worldwide force for driving the evolution of a million different animal species why has it suddenly stopped? For the diversity we see there must have been a billion billion mutations just to create a fraction of the diverse creatures waking, flying and swimming this earth today.For those who will now claim that it hasn’t stopped – please wake up. There should be a million animals with ongoing beneficial mutations – organs under development- still in evidence. I don’t see any. I see complete beings. And I see well developed beings, uncanily like they were created that way.

    Reply
  • 7. jw  |  April 1, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    As a fetus your organs grow in this manner. Cells dividing until they form the organs that you recognize. From the moment of conception a body is formed via asexual reproduction of the new composite cell. All new things bear the mark of their previous forms.

    Reply
  • 8. Reichu  |  September 3, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    A little late to the fray, but I had a couple of thoughts to add. Warning: “tl;dr”.

    Rationality itself certainly has no direct relationship with one’s status as an atheist or theist, and, even if one deliberately strives for it, full-time rationality is essentially impossible. And, as mentioned, all of our experiences will be invariably subjective – due to individual variations in our senses and the processing thereof, the heavy impact of emotionality and “feeling” upon the way each of us views the world, and various other technical or philosophical things. However, this makes it all the more important to achieve a balance by evaluating the world from multiple angles and attempt to form an ever-evolving composite view; clearly a continuous and imperfect process, but, IMO, one well worth continuously striving for. It doesn’t imply any lack of personal convictions, or ideas that one holds dear, but it does keep things constantly open to change (given adequate “persuasion” against what previously seemed to make the most sense) and creates awareness and understanding.

    Full-on science — with The Method and everything – is a very useful tool for approaching and understanding the world. Science isn’t consistently useful, as pointed out, but a “scientific” mindset (phrase used very informally) can actually be applied broadly to life in general. For example, thinking critically, considering issues and problems from multiple angles, and valuing knowledge over ignorance have innumerable applications to practical “real-life” situations.

    That rambling said, I ponder theism quite thoroughly (since religion is so ubiquitous) , but I honestly have yet to find anything that persuasively conflicts with this basic idea: Deities and directly associated concepts are memetic inventions, and belief in them is, in spite of all the near-infinite rationalizations provided by believers, intrinsically illogical and — in the modern age — overwhelmingly unnecessary. I personally think the world might actually be a better place if there were no theistic belief systems and every beneficial effect attributed to religion (i.e., morality, philanthropy, finding purpose in life) were achieved without theism (which is fully possible, simply not “mainstream”, at least in certain parts of the world) . That said, religion only actively annoys me in specific cases, e.g., a Jehovah’s Witness friend not coming to my birthday party, being told by a chiropractor that getting back pain from bad posture is a message from God, and, much more importantly, Christian fundies and Islamic radicals being ignorant, backwards-thinking power-mongers.

    Rose Red: An incredible amount of wretched human behavior directly results from lapses in rationality and open-mindedness. Examples of this are not at all hard to find.

    What is the exact objection to the “I/we don’t know” stance? It operates on more than one level. Firstly, it acknowledges a very basic fact about us, i.e. that we are intrinsically limited, and, accordingly, may never have answers for certain questions. At the same time, assuming that human inquiry will never uncover a particular “answer” (or, at least, a workable theory) is preemptive, presumptive, and haughty. It ignores the vast and oftentimes unpredictable ways in which our knowledge of the universe has expanded; and assumptions of intrinsic unexplainability (often accompanied by support for a fittingly inexplicable “answer”, such as “an unknowable deity created the universe”) “deny” any further inquiry.

    jon s: Your post indicates a very limited understanding of evolutionary theory (“in before” any misconceptions of what “theory” means) and betrays a rather selective set of personal qualms. There are many reliable scientific texts and websites (“reliable” being “straightforward and lacking such things as a religio-political bias”) that elucidate upon the many elements of evolutionary theory’s eclectic approach and, hopefully, would assuage your concerns. You would, however, need to be open to ideas you may not (at least initially) like and have some actual interest in the material.

    The usage of the term “evo-faith” also implies a non-understanding of what science actually is, so I would recommend reading up on that, as well.

    Reply
  • 9. presterjohn  |  December 1, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    “It is admirable and necessary to strive for objectivity…
    …logic is just as relevant as “objective” observable phenomena.”

    I’m sorry, but these two statements contradict each other. You’ll find that most of your argument falls apart after that.

    Reply
  • 10. Richard T Scott  |  December 28, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    “I personally think the world might actually be a better place if there were no theistic belief systems and every beneficial effect attributed to religion (i.e., morality, philanthropy, finding purpose in life) were achieved without theism (which is fully possible, simply not “mainstream”, at least in certain parts of the world) .”
    -Reichu

    Can we quantify “freedom”, “truth”, “justice”? What about morality?

    Many of these beneficial effects that you hope to achieve are abstract ideals. The danger that religion often presents is strict adherence to an inapplicable, obsolete, or myopic ideal, which is just as dangerous and present in political ideology. Political idealists such as Stalin, Lenin, and Mao Tse Tung were responsible for the murder of over 100 million people in the 20th century. By any measure that’s a destructive ideal, and religion had a broad role in deconstructing the political repressions of the soviet block in eastern Europe.

    Religious zealots have been responsible for their share of atrocities, yet religion and non-theist ideals, have inspired the greatest achievements of man, and the greatest acts of humanism, art, scientific advancement, political equality. I don’t believe that we have any more reason to dispense with religion than we do idealism based simply on the pros and cons of their effects on humanity and society.

    So, lets perform a little thought experiment here. What would the world look like if we removed religion? Would the world be a better place if you took away hope and the moral barometer supplied by religions away from the billions of people who have little or no access to formal education? Where would they learn “morality”, “philanthropy”, and “purpose in life”? Where would they learn the principles that allow civilization to function? Whose morality would you replace it with? The ethics of western culture? Does western culture have the only right way of viewing ethics?

    Reply
  • 11. HumanBeing  |  February 10, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    Hello one and all. I’m not sure if this is the correct place for this, but I have been reading multiple blogs on this website and felt like contributing my two cents as the saying goes.

    I personally have pondered religion as a whole for countless moments of time as I’m sure you all have. And it has brought me a great deal of confusion, hell it’s the basis for a bulk of the murder throughout human history.

    And no I don’t have an answer, the contradictions are so striking it’s ridiculous. Why would an omnipotent being even keep on existing if he knew everything, no excitement. A good-natured all-loving god sending people to toast for eternity out of spite. No matter how I look at it I can’t make any “logical sense” out of it, and quite frankly I’m afraid to find out. If I knew all the secrets of the universe odds are I would go batshit insane and kill myself. But I realized something over the years, and that’s the more I think about it the more depressed I become. And most of the contradictions all come back to human flaws and situations.

    I’ve learned to smile when I feel the soft breeze and see the sun rise when i’m in the thick of the forest. A very wise man once said “The meaning of life has been debated for centuries. And that’s because life means something different to every person. I don’t know why I’m here. But I know that I am here and I will take advantage of it. And I can only hope that the next life is even better than this one.”

    One person’s revelation from God, is one person’s drug flashback, is one person’s rationalized inspiration.

    I’m not telling people they should give up on the pursuit of knowledge and live in ignorance. But some things are a little out of our control and they tend to make you bitter if you catch my drift. I have found peace in accepting life as it is and doing my part to make everyone happy. Remember, 2 happy people is always better than 1 hurt person and 1 person that “won”.

    I don’t know if this was the correct place to say this but I felt it needed to be said and I hope this helps someone think. Think about what it is to be human and what the real, happy solution is.

    I could add so much angry jargon on here, and I’m leaving out so many of my thoughts and memories I’ve had over the years. But my goal isn’t to look smart, it isn’t to make someone wrong, I just hope I can make someone happy and that they will pay it forward. RELAX 🙂

    Reply
  • 12. hiddentreasures  |  August 26, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    I’m not an intellectual and I have no use for religion
    (man’s effort to make himself presentable to God) Now 76 years old and a Bible preacher for the past 53 years ( I’m still actively pastoring) I’ve been a Christian since the age of 9 when I first understood the Gospel that God took the punishment for my sins when He died in the person of Jesus on the cross. Not only did He take my sins but He put His righteousness to my account as a free gift of His grace. What a wonderful God I love and serve with all my heart. Though I’ve never been rich, He has met every need of my heart and life. He gave me a loving, faithful wife and three children who grew up and married and have only brought joy to my wife and me. We now have 11 grandchldren who all love Christ and now our first great grandchild. If I had another life, I would give it to God all over again. If you want the peace and joy I have, I encourage you to go to my web site and read some of the over 500 posts I have written on the meaning of life. Mal

    Reply

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Agnostic Atheism Wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God, you will be judged on your merits and not just on whether or not you ignored the lack of evidence of his/her existence and blindly believed.

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