seeing this article made me think of an old blog post i wrote here a while back.  i thought this would be a good time to revisit this:

believe it or not, the inspiration for this blog post comes from an article on, entitled 4 things both atheists and believers need to stop saying.  the author asserts that Atheists in general have a superiority complex, and think of the Religious as simple minded or stupid. 


while it may be true that many or even most Atheists tend to lean towards this stance, i wonder about the validity of the premise - not whether or not Atheists think they are smarter, but whether or not Atheists are smarter.  i know that some research has been done on this, but the results are murky and unremarkeable.  there have been studies linking high IQ to a disbelief in God, but i take these with a grain of salt.  it doesn't prove anything.  i think at best all we can do is add up what we know and discuss the information.  so what do we know?


1.  indoctrination is hard to break out of


or you could use the word brainwashing, no difference.  i don't think that it's a coincidence that many people break away from religion as their brain grows.  the human brain continues to grow into our 30's.  we get smarter, not through accumulation of information, but literally with additional capacity.  as we smarten up, the same traditions, ceremonies, and beliefs start to take on a different meaning.  most religious people have experienced doubts when they start to question things that they've come to accept as fact.  many of these questioners become non-believers as their questions simply grow too large to ignore.  however, the great majority seem to brush off their questions and return to blind faith.  so, the question is why some, and not others?  is this where intelligence comes in?


2.  not everyone is smart


visit an amusement park on a hot summer day and you surely know this to be true.  about 16% of the general public have IQ's over 115.  i don't know where the line between smart and stupid is, but i would think that 115 seems to differentiate the smart with the less intelligent.  it's obviously coincidence, but most figures show that about 15% of people are Atheist.  but if 84% (or even 60%) of humans are not exactly 'bright', is it that difficult to conclude that they may not have the mental faculties to break free of religious indoctrination?


3.  scientists are smart


by their very nature, they kind of have to be.  they use complex mathmatical formulas, dig deep into research, understand diverse and difficult concepts, and read ALOT.  as the religious love to point out, scientists are overwhelmingly Atheist.  the connection is almost too obvious to point out. 


4.  conversion is a one way street


while it occassionally occurs, an Atheist becoming a Christian is nearly impossible.  without knowing every single case where this has happened, it is reasonable to assume that most of this kind of conversion is questionable - did this person REALLY not believe in God?  it's also reasonable to assume that many of those who converted to religion did so out of pressure from family and friends.  on the other hand, religious devotees are turning to Atheism in droves.  thousand of former religious folk leave their religions daily.  the reason is obvious - once you break the spell, you can never fall under it's power again.  if your mind can be freed from religion, there is simply too much evidence against belief.  all it takes are two things:  information and critical thought.  at some point, all believers are exposed to information that should make them question their belief, but only those who possess critical thinking skills can make the leap. 


5.  critical thinking is a sign of intelligence


on the surface, i'm sure that most people would agree with that statement, although it is not an outright fact.  you can be highly intelligent and not possess critical thinking skills.  but i would argue that is the exception, not the rule. it is essential to becoming an Atheist to put aside blide faith and use your faculities to dismiss what you've been taught.  this is critical thinking, or problem solving if you like.  the problem in question is what to do with the inconsistencies that you encounter when dealing with religion.  i maintain that the less intelligent are not as adept at using their problem solving skills, so when they are presented with incongruities in their religion, they shuck it aside to avoid an unpleasant thought process.  those who are more comfortable in using critical thinking (the more intelligent) will embrace this dichotomy of thought, research, question more, think more, and ultimately make a rational and logical conclusion.  hence, Atheists converting from religion. 


6.  freethinkers, rationalists, reason


these are the words that describe the Atheist movement.  isn't it funny that even the religious describe Atheists using these words?  look at those words again - the very definition of intelligence is right there!


i'm sure i'm just scratching the surface here.  i'd welcome some additional viewpoints, research, and opinions on this topic.  please feel free to share your thoughts. 

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I like your thoughts on the subject Matthew.

I was brainwashed/indoctrinated into Mormanism as an infant and all through my childhood.  I was always a lover of science, except for evolution and another couple of parts of science facts, which I argued against and did not try to understand.

Because my brainwashing was very-well done, it took me 55 years to see the illogic of religion and the truth of evolution.  Fear of satan was the last thing to go, and probably the main reason I stayed a believer so long.

However, I'm sure it was my love of scientific thinking that let me to see the falsity of religion.  My family members are still religious even though I presented them with good reasonable, logical, and evidence based scientific reasons to be an atheist.  I suspect it's because none of them love science the way I do.

Even though I'm technically an amateur scientist, I do now consider myself a scientist and therefore smarter than the average (religious) bear.

he's obviously a fan of pure ideology.  it works for him in religion and politics it seems.  it is rather strange, as most of the engineers i have met are incredibly rational people. 


We are all so individualistically different that I sometimes wonder if there aren’t two or three variant species hidden within the human race.

For this reason it’s amazing to me that civilization exists at all.

I too have a relative who’s personal philosophical inconsistencies boggle my mind.   It must be some sort of genetic ability to  be able to so easily compartmentalize one’s thinking, with, apparently, no overlap.

A gift of which the rest of us are deprived.

But it was Emerson who said:   "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."

Be happy, abandon your commitment to consistency.  It makes life a lot simpler.

Re Emerson's "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."

Asa, if Emerson had done politics instead of philosophy and poetry, he might have said a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little ambitions.

But perhaps mind is a polite euphemism for ambition.

As for there being variant species hidden within the human race, some researchers are hypothesizing that bearers of sociopathic or psychopathic traits are variants in homo sapiens. Genetics and environment might both be implicated.

A credible case could probably be made to link political conservatism with religiosity.  One can't say that to be religious or conservative implies stupidity -- a cursory glance around should be enough to disabuse you of that idea.  It may be true that those who are less intelligent gravitate toward religion and conservatism, and those more intelligent toward their opposites, thus skewing poll results.

One of the most intelligent and free-thinking people I've yet known swung hard toward religious fundamentalism and political conservatism at about the time his child was born.  He retains his remarkable sharpness of mind -- he's currently collaborating on a book with a prominent proponent of the theory of c-decay -- the ridiculous (in my opinion) notion that change in the speed of light accords scientific evidence with 'young earth' theology -- seriously!  He also thinks that the US is obligated to foreign policy that aids 'End Times' prophesy.  Obviously, his mental acuity has been derailed in an attempt to justify what he wants to believe, and his opinions & actions would cause many who don't know him to wrongly assess him as quite stupid.

I don't think that he's stupid; I think that he's dishonest with himself.  The interesting question is why?  I suspect that he was indoctrinated in Christian mythology as a young child, and by force of intellect was able to overcome it in early adulthood, only to fall back into it once overwhelmed by life's many pressures (in his case, the awesome responsibility of having a child).  This is why early childhood indoctrination into anything is pernicious.  It can be extremely difficult to overcome something you were taught so early that those teachings reside mainly in your inaccessible subconscious.

And that's why I thank Dog that my parents got me the hell out of this Southern theocracy when I was an infant.  I was on Farcebook for a while, and eventually got connected to many of my old high school classmates.  Almost without exception they had stayed in North Carolina and became (maybe always were) right-wing religious fundamentalists.  I have little doubt that had they grown up in a certain part of the Arabian peninsula they'd be devout Wahhabists.  Would the more intelligent among them have escaped the dogma?  Perhaps -- perhaps not.  I credit my own escape entirely to choices made by my parents, and so I'm no less a product of early indoctrination than my fundamentalist friends.


thanks Matt.  i'm sure that many of my observations are more opinion than fact, and i've learned a lot since i originally posted this.  still, it holds up relatively well.  i enjoyed re-reading it myself!

I have mixed feelings about this study. I am a right-brained person. Artsy, creative, emotional. I have never considered myself to be particularly anlytical. I'm much more intuitive. I've always been poor in math and have struggled at times with the complexity of science. But one thing about me, especially as an adult, is that I love to learn. I love science. I love history. I love expanding my horizons on so many subjects. Am I more intelligent? I would say no, but it sure feels like I am when I'm dealing with other average Joes like me. I get the sense that I'm much more educated or knowledgeable on a wide variety of topics. I'm guilty at times of perhaps acting smug, but I get frustrated when others willingly choose to stay ignorant.

"...but I get frustrated when others willingly choose to stay ignorant."

Agreed!  And this is not necessarily a function of intelligence on either side, hence my comment above that such willful ignorance amounts to intellectual dishonesty.  You could say that faith and ignorance are synonyms, but it might help for dialectic purposes to strip the word 'ignorance' of its pejorative connotation.  It's simply what we don't (yet) know, and the humble, realistic, agnostic stance is that we don't (yet) know everything.  It would be a profound mistake of hubris to ignore or deny our ignorance, but a far greater mistake to worship it.  Unfortunately, worshiping ignorance -- elevating faith above reason -- seems structurally inherent in the Abrahamic religions

And that's why I'm morally anti-theistic.  I think that faith in gods is socially destructive.  Perhaps it wasn't always so.  Maybe there was a time at the dawn of civilization when faith helped cohere our hunter-gatherer forebears in a way that individualism and close tribal association could not.  We're probably not free from those tribal/anti-tribal instincts yet in this very young experiment of civilization -- quite possibly for very good reasons that won't show up until later.  Or maybe even bad ideas take a long time to completely die.


Pat, great reply.  many thanks for your input.  

Matthew, I like your post.

And I enjoy thinking critically, even about critical thinking itself and about people who think critically.

1. On indoctrination.

What purpose does it serve, if not to shut down critical thinking? To be effective the indoctrination has to start early. The effort required to break free has to be good exercise for what a friend once described as the "thinking muscle". I sure would NOT send kids to Catholic schools so they can get the kind of mental exercise I had to do.

3. Scientists are smart?

Some of the sciences require more "smartness" than others. I loved high school and college physics; I avoided college organic chemistry because it required so much memorization. What can I say about those fields of study that during the 1960s started calling themselves the social sciences and are now pejoratively called the soft sciences? Compared to the "hard sciences", they require a more humane kind of smartness.

4. Conversion a one-way street?

When conversions away from religion are inadequately done, they might in times of crises or when near death result in conversions back to religion. How do I recognize an inadequate conversion away from religion?

5. Critical thinking a sign of intelligence?

Check the kind of thinking done by people who'd grown up in violent or abusive homes. It's hyper-critical. Instead of being a sign of intelligence, it might be a sign of post-traumatic stress or a warning of future behavior.

6. Freethinkers, rationalists, reason, etc.

Be wary of self-congratulatory talk; it might serve as cover for something else. A very angry anarcho-communist I once knew claimed he was an atheist. I asked him once if he was glad he'd been born. He replied "Hell no!" He died without becoming calm enough for me to ask if he had grown up in a violent or abusive home.

Thanks, Matthew, for providing me the above opportunities for critical thinking.

your welcome Tom.  i'm glad you enjoyed it.  this was one of the earliest posts i did here at A/N.

maybe better stated atheists and tolerance.. or patience.. that which the fundines lack always it seems.. and 'I'm" the bigot right? pfffft


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