• Are Religious Believers Stupid?

    Religious believers ask me all the time if I think all religious believers are stupid. My answer to this question is almost always the same. “Of course not; smart people can believe really stupid things too.” There is no doubt that the belief in the all-powerful god as described in the Torah/Bible/Koran based off of no valid evidence is stupid. Depending on how serious this belief is taken, it can even be ridiculously stupid. It would be like me telling people that Voldemort is real based off of my reading of the Harry Potter books.

    It is important to note that all of humankind’s technical advances were made off the shoulders of those who came before us. Alan Turing couldn’t have invented the computer if Thomas Edison had not created the light bulb. But progress isn’t the only thing that advances of the shoulders of giants. Religious persuasion does too. Just as no person is smarter than the collective wisdom of humankind, no person no matter how smart is immune to the collective system of religious manipulation.

    Christianity is over 2000 years old and Judaism is even older. Over that time, religious systems have developed. They have evolved in such a way that they have become engines of indoctrination and manipulation. These systems start working on people almost immediately after they are born and they pervade our entire society and culture. It is very hard to reach the age of five without being exposed to religious belief and religious institutions. Some people will surely slip throw the cracks and other will just not focus on that belief. But by the time a child is five years old, whether they believe in an imaginary god or not, they are at the very least aware that many adults do believe these things. Adults are authority figures for children and as such, a child is more likely to take ridiculous stories seriously if an adult let alone many adults believe these stories to be real.

    Walk through any town in the country and you will find more churches than schools and libraries combined. These churches often ring very loud bells throughout the day. The average curious child walking through town would surely ask about these things… that is if their parents have already taken them to some house of religious worship already. There is no escaping the influence that religious has on our society. It is always there in the background even if it isn’t there in the foreground… and it usually is.

    The religion engine isn’t content with just indoctrination however. No, the religious system of belief has evolved to deal with the possibility that people can slip through the cracks of indoctrination and so other systems of manipulation developed. The religious system has learned to attack people when they are most vulnerable. When emotions run high and people aren’t thinking rationally for a moment or two, religion takes advantage of the situation. Funerals, weddings, when people are down on their luck, hitting bottom due to an addiction, after a devastating event, or when someone narrowly escapes death, religion is right there ready to manipulate.

    The religious people who do the manipulations aren’t doing it out of malice either. They too have usually been manipulated into thinking that manipulating others when they are most vulnerable is a good thing. They usually don’t even realize what they are doing is wrong. They see it as part of a greater good.

    We are all human and we all are subject to these same systems of manipulation. Even smart people are not smarter than the collective system of manipulation of religious belief. It is only when people are faced with significant questions which religion can’t answer and when they start to focus on the holes in the religious system that they start to question and doubt. Sometimes, believers start to see those holes on our own. Sometimes, they debate or discuss religion with us non-believers as a way of hiding their doubts. But one thing is certain, how smart someone is has little to do with religious belief. However, smart believers may be more willing to investigate the claims of their religion and they may end up being less satisfied with poor answers. The more people know about their religious beliefs the less they are likely to believe them.

    When discussing religion with smart believers, I tend to encourage them to find the answers themselves. I prefer challenging them to see beyond what their religious leaders tell them. Use their curiosity and intellect as an advantage and force them to be skeptical and think critically.

    There are smart believers out there who may even be very knowledgeable. But they just haven’t thought about their beliefs critically. The system got to them and they might need some help getting out. Not too much help however… just a little nudge here and a nagging question there.

    Category: Uncategorized

    Article by: Staks Rosch

    Staks Rosch is a writer for the Skeptic Ink Network & Huffington Post, and is also a freelance writer for Publishers Weekly. Currently he serves as the head of the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason and is a stay-at-home dad.


    1. Is not part of the problem that as a knowledge base, religion has no self-correcting mechanism. Science (and thus technology) have a hierarchy built in to them such that the knowledge builds up like a pyramid, or better, a wall, or better, an upside down pyramid.

      Religion stays as a horizontal line.

      1. I at first misunderstood your comment, but I see that you are comparing science with religion in terms of discovering truth. Your statement makes perfect sense– religions have no way of accessing reality or fact. Faith is a very poor way of determining what is true.

        Religions as a whole seem very Darwinian. Ones that can adapt, grow. Ones that cannot continually gather followers and money die out. I would guess that 99% of all religions/gods in history have left us only fossil traces of themselves. Science may be to religion as the KT boundary meteor was to the dinosaurs.

    2. I’ve found in my time that many of the smart believers just haven’t yet taken the time to fully investigate the reliability of the Bible and their religion

    3. Great post. Believers need to be challenged to get thinking, because nobody inside their religion is challenging them to think critically, and the smart ones are often just better at coming up with convoluted rationalisations for things that don’t sit all that well with them (for good reason!) When debate with an atheist set me on some serious research that led me happily to abandon my beliefs, I had that sense that Phil Hellenes speaks of, ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me?” I wish an atheist had got to me earlier in my life!

    4. Fantastic. A very important post. You’ve described the situation very well, and very delicately. Religious people are just as smart as irreligious people on average and, as you said, smartness can sometimes just help you justify irrational beliefs rather than help you critically examine them. And you’re right that evangelism (even in carefully selected times – distress, pain, sorrow) is never really seen as a bad thing – if you thought I was going to hell, it would be the right thing to try and warn me. I think these are important things for the irreligious to remember. They are sometimes hard to grasp by those that were never religious themselves. Thanks!

    5. I wish I could accept that argument, but I suspect that religious belief has very little to do with intelligence, and cannot be fixed by getting people to examine the claims and validity of their beliefs.

      Indeed, the number of devout believers who actually have no idea WHAT their faith teaches, or what’s in their holy Bible, belies this notion. You can walk them through an entire logical argument: “Yes, I believe X is bad;” “Yes, anyone who did X would be a bad person;” “Yes, it says in the Bible that God/Jesus/Mohammed/Moses did X.” And what’s the end result? You know it as well as I do: “Well, that’s different. It’s not what really happened. It’s okay when God does it. You’re leaving out the context. Why do you hate America? (etc., etc.)”

      I suspect faith is far more emotional than rational, indeed far more than any believer is willing to acknowledge.

        1. Well, what I’m getting at is that even ‘smart believers’ won’t necessarily change their minds if you get them to examine their beliefs critically. At least, I highly doubt it–because religious belief isn’t a function of rational thought in the first place.

          It’s a cliche that “you can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into,” but it’s a valid one. I guess I’m just more pessimistic than you about whether people will ever assess their own views in the light of reason over emotion.

          1. If you are saying it is the exception rather than the rule that a believer will be able to use reason to change their minds, we agree entirely. It has been the most devastatingly frustrating experience talking with Christian friends about why I have concluded that their religion is not and cannot be true. You have evidently encountered the incredible excuse-making and dodging of the point and so on that I have.

            If you are saying it never happens, then I would respectfully disagree and cite myself, a number of other people known to me and other examples such as Harris’ thousands of emails as evidence for my view. It has, to date, only been Christians who insisted that my rejection of Christianity must have been an emotional one and not a rational one, suggesting I must be hurting or angry at God and the like.

            I’m so glad that an atheist thought it worth bothering to debate with me, and I guess that’s why I labour the point, because I would still have been an indoctrinated fundamentalist if they hadn’t, and I know others, too, for whom a book, a video, a conversation, started their path to rational thinking. (This is reminiscent of the “sewing the seed” image that Christians use haha but really atheists are actually making a difference)

      1. Yep, it is dismaying that this is almost always the case. But it’s not always! It was the thought-provoking questioning of an atheist that actually started me thinking rationally about my beliefs, forcing the cognitive dissonance, and ultimately feeling a complete fool for not having woken up earlier. And subsequently, it’s been my experience that there are those few who are more reflective than others and do go away and think about things and some of them do end up changing their minds. Watched this video of Harris the other day, “Can You Reason Someone Out of Their Beliefs?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjfvKG4TPF4

    6. Alan Turing couldn’t have invented the computer if Thomas Edison had not created the light bulb.

      This is quite incorrect. (Although not ‘stupid’!)
      For Turing *did* invent the computer as an abstract mechanical device, which did not rely on the invention of the light bulb.
      He built several relay-operated adders that in no way relied on the invention of the light bulb.
      If you had said “Faraday” instead of “Edison”, then I’d agree.

    7. Is intelligence simply processing power? Intelligence may provide data, but if habits of mind do not lead one to constant reevaluation of truth claims, data becomes irrelevant. George Carlin noted that about half of us have two-digit IQs (verbal and spatial intelligence). Is an IQ of 99 (Stanford-Binet) intelligent? Is average intelligence intelligent? Higher orders of thinking are often blocked by dogma. Only a small percentage (~7%) of the smartest theoretical physicists are religious. Studies before and after this article show that atheists are smarter than believers.

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