Are Atheists Smarter than Christians?

By Robin Schumacher

| All Pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | footnotes

A few years ago at the Crystal Clear Atheism convention, atheist Richard Dawkins was asked what the difference was between Christians and atheists. "Well, we're bright," said Dawkins. [1]

Agreeing with Dawkins is comedian Bill Maher who said: "We are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion. I do believe that. I think that religion stops people from thinking . . . . I think religion is a neurological disorder . . . . I am just embarrassed that it has been taken over by people like evangelicals, by people who do not believe in science and rationality." [2]

Maher's last point seemed to be somewhat echoed in a study published in the April 2012 edition of Science. According to the article "Analytic Thinking Promotes Religious Disbelief", exercising analytic thought supposedly erodes belief in God. [3]

In a Huffington Post article that cites the study, writer Rob Brooks spells out the cultural ramifications of what he feels this means: "As it becomes clearer that religion is, in some senses, the opposite of rational thinking, we may have to shed the comfort of 'I'm OK, you're OK' ideas." [4]

In other words, if you believe in God, you're really not OK; at least, not where your brainpower is concerned. That, says Brooks, may mean believers are on a collision course with the more enlightened unbelievers in a society where there will be cultural winners and losers because "we probably can't keep pottering away in our different sheds forever." [5]

Are unbelievers really smarter than Christians or other people of faith? Or is there something else at work? No one denies that throughout all of history there have been brilliant men and women who have believed in God and there have also been equally intellectually equipped individuals who have denied the existence of any gods. Why is that?

The Atheist Position

In general, the atheist positions on the matter have traditionally been articulated best by Freud and Marx and have filtered up into today's thinking.

Sigmund Freud sums up his thoughts on religious beliefs when he says, "They are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind. . . . We call 'belief' an illusion when a wish-fulfillment is a prominent factor in its motivation, and, in doing so, we disregard its relation to reality, just as the illusion itself sets no store by verification." [6]

Freud saw religious belief as a coping mechanism that assisted people in dealing with the harsh realities of life. The desires of the individual, says Freud, cause them to look past their intellect to something that isn't real and can't be verified. However, the belief satisfies a strong desire that the person has for some emotional need to be met, and so they yield to it.

For example, a woman I know lost a loved one some time back and commented to me that she was only a Christian for the end game—that she just couldn't go on living and thinking that she wouldn't see her relative again. Such an attitude fits perfectly into Freud's theory.

Freud also believed that such illusions can and should be resisted by people, and that those who choose to participate in religion are "guilty of every possible sort of dishonesty and intellectual misdemeanor." [7]

Karl Marx thought two things about religion. First, that it was a mechanism of control used by society's elite to manipulate the masses.

But second, he said, "Religion is the self-consciousness and the self-feeling of the man who has either not yet found himself, or else (having found himself) has lost himself once more. . . . This state, this society, produces religion, a perverted world consciousness, because they are a perverted world. . . . Religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people" (Marx's original emphasis). [8]

So Marx believed that religion arises from a perverted consciousness that is a sort of collective cognitive dysfunction brought on by a distorted social order. Marx's ideas have spawned a number of similar contentions in the same vein throughout history.

For example, Richard Dawkins asserts that children are genetically programmed to believe without questioning the word of authority figures, especially parents, and this leaves children open to "infection" by religion, which is a virus and "warped reality". [9] There is also the widely discredited work of Dean Hamer, author of The God Gene, who claimed that a VMAT2 gene in humans was responsible for a belief in God and therefore aimed one's faculties in the wrong direction.

The idea propagated by Marx and others that believers have a true mental disability is more widespread than one might think. For example, a short while back I was asked to talk to a rather aggressive atheist about some questions he had regarding Christianity. He would only discuss things via email with me. One of our emails contained the following exchange:

Atheist: "I believe that people that think they understand the true meaning of things through god are interesting."

Me: "You mean crazy?"

Atheist: "Clinically, yes."

Continue Reading: 1 | 2 | 3 | footnotes

Image Credit: Chris Wieland; "Reason Rally"; Creative Commons

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Published 9-17-12