Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Intellectual arrogance?

Recently, in some FB 'discussions' I was subjected to some scathing accusations of intellectual arrogance.  According to my detractors, I was wrongly criticizing and even ridiculing certain people - those who claim supernatural 'explanations' for ordinary events.  The crux of my intent in the thread was to indicate that defaulting immediately to a supernatural 'explanation' comes readily to certain (initially unnamed) folks.  An unstated but still justifiably implied aspect of this is that many folks who accept supernatural 'explanations' are not very intelligent. Of course, FB discussions are characterized by ignorance on all sides of who and what one's 'opponent' really is.  This is unfortunate, as people become alienated by a single post or comment in a 'discussion'.  But moving on ...

The whole domain of "intelligence" is a minefield.  Just what precisely does one mean when discussing the topic of intelligence?  There are many different types of intelligence - in a recent scientific paper, the authors defined intelligence, for their purposes, to be the "ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience".  Other definitions are possible.  The authors used the intelligence quotient (IQ) as the metric.  Yes, there are issues with IQ, including knowing just precisely what it actually measures, but I'm in no position to enter into such discussions.  The paper was published in a refereed journal, which gives it some credibility but is not an absolute guarantee that the work is flawless.  Pursuant to that, the authors went to some length to summarize ther perceived limitations on the work, as any good scientific paper should do.  No single scientific paper can ever provide absolute proof of anything, nor can a single paper provide perfectly accurate, comprehensive understanding of the topic.  This manuscript simply provides evidence in support of the hypothesis that a negative relationship exists between intelligence and "religiosity" - according to the authors

The religiosity measures included belief scales that assessed various themes related to religiosity (e.g., belief in God and/or the importance of church). In addition, we included studies that measured frequency of religious behaviors (e.g., church attendance, prayer), participation in religious
organizations, and membership in denominations.

At least as defined by the metrics used in the study, the more religious the person, the lower the intelligence, on average.  The reason I'm spending this much effort with this recent scientific publication should be clear.  There's scientific evidence to back up my implication that defaulting to a supernatural 'explanation' for something is an indicator of lower intelligence than what would be implied when a rational evidence-based explanation is sought for something.

Note that the relationship between intelligence and religiosity is not a perfect one-for-one relationship.  I know many people who are undeniably intelligent and yet maintain strong religious beliefs.  Although I find such a position to be untenable and inexplicable by logic and evidence, I must accept the reality that religious believers are not inevitably low down on the IQ scale.  But believers are much less common in, say, the scientific community wherein intelligence tends to be much higher (on the average) than in the general population.

I've also been accused by these detractors as "arrogant" and "narcissistic" when I question the beliefs of people who seek comfort in supernatural beliefs.  Why should I deny those people the comfort they derive from their beliefs?  Who gave me the right to say their beliefs are wrong or stupid?  My detractors fail to see the arrogance and narcissim implied in their questions - they're claiming for themselves the right to tell me I'm wrong and they're confident in their superiority to me when they call me narcissistic.  In other words, my detractors are projecting their own flaws onto me, which is one indicator of narcissism (i.e., "Problems distinguishing the self from others") - what they see in me is what exists within themselves.  When confronted with that possibility (that they themselves are guilty of the accusations leveled at me), of course they denied it vehemently.  One even denied that calling me a narcissist was name-calling!  Evidently, by this pitiful logic, calling someone a name is not name-calling when you believe the name has been applied correctly to the recipient.  I rest my case, in this example.

As for the putative right to say someone's reasoning is right or wrong - no one had to give it to me at all.  Like my detractors, I have no moral or legal restriction in the USA on what I can say about someone's reasoning.  Someone's beliefs are not morally or Constitutionally-protected from criticism or even ridicule.  I see no reason to withhold my questions and criticisms about someone's beliefs - there's also no Constitutional protection from being offended by free speech.  I certainly don't ask for any restrictions on someone's right to question my reasoning or even to ridicule my atheism - but I'd prefer it be done with some modicum of logic and/or evidence, so that I might actually learn something from it!

The reason I challenge the beliefs of the religious (and other supernatural elements such as UFO mythology) is that we're living in dangerous times.  It might be comforting to delude yourself about such things as the afterlife, but those beliefs come with a high price.  Carl Sagan has said "It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."  To choose voluntarily to eschew the use of rationality and instead to promote the notion of accepting doctrine on faith alone is to encourage what I see as a sort of modern insanity, whereby ordinary people become fanatics - terrorists, bombers, arsonists, or mass murderers - all in the name of a belief in the supernatural.  This was barbaric even in the times when the Abrahamic religious 'sacred' texts were written, but it's intolerable in the present.  Such irrationality endangers us all.  Consider the belief held by many christians that when the "rapture" comes, all the believers will be "saved" and live forever in paradise.  Do you want someone who seriously accepts that doctrine to be at the controls of a thermonuclear war?  In their irrational view, they have only gain to anticipate in their afterlife ... that should bother people!  Same for the suicide bombers and their supposed 72 virgins - we have direct evidence of what those believers are willing to do in the name of religion.

Yes, I know that not every religious believer is a terrorist - many so-called 'moderates' deny any violent intentions and I'm sure most of them never will commit violent deeds.  But when those moderates fail to stand up in opposition to violence and evils such as bigotry sanctioned by their religions, they implicitly sanction those acts.   By the way, atheism has no doctrine, no 'sacred' texts approving of murder, genocide, misogyny, slavery, abuse and selling of children, etc.  Atheism has no clergy or prophets or sacred authority figures to urge atheists to say or do anything.  There are no examples I know about of atheist violence in the name of atheism (Please don't waste time telling me about communist atrocities)!

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