Class Warfare Blog

April 15, 2018

Are Theists Stupid?

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:41 am

This question gets asked over and over on questions sites like Quora, along with “Are atheists stupid?” as well as many other permutations of these questions.

The roots of the word “stupid” are related to the word “stupor” in that we all are stupid from time to time as we are “slow on the uptake” or “slow to understand” as if we were in a stupor. But I think this is the wrong word in that it was meant to be a pejorative rather than an accurate descriptive term.

Consider the contestations of a minister in Kentucky: “The placement of the sun and the moon relative to the earth allows life to exist. Is this a mere chance occurrence or by divine design? The existence of gravity which prevents us from floating off into space – is it merely a chance occurrence or is it by divine design? These questions were not meant to be answered, they were meant as “do you believe the Bible or your lying eyes” challenges. But what sort of evidence might one provide to actually answer these questions?

Let’s start with the latter one. Gravity, which prevents us from floating off into space(!), is this a divine gift or a natural feature? Gravity exists everywhere we can see and there is nowhere we can examine in which it does not. All of the stars whose shapes we can see are spherical which is caused by a force existing that pulls things toward their centers … or … a force that pulls the surface toward a minimal value (aka surface tension). So, water forms drops here on Earth, due to surface tension, not gravity, so can we be sure that it is gravity causing these stars (and their associated planets) to be spherical (or roughly so)? Yes, we can because of the magnitude of the forces involved. We can know from studies of gravity here and in our own solar system (the planets orbits are determined by gravity, not surface tension) that gravity exists and the force is determined by the quantities of masses involved and their distance of separation. Surface tension is not such a large force so it cannot explain the spherical shapes of all of the stars and planets within our ken and, of course, explains nothing about orbits.

Astronaut Joseph Kerwin, aboard Skylab 2 in 1973, forms a perfect sphere of water by blowing droplets from a straw. Gravity is countered in orbit, but not surface tension. Photo courtesy of NASA.

So, is gravity a natural feature or was it supplied as a magical gift to humanity? The only way to settle such disputes is to use a principle called Occam’s Razor which states that when you have two competing hypotheses or theories, the one which has the fewer causes is most likely to be correct. So, on one hand we have “gravity is a feature of mass: it attracts itself.” On the other hand we have “an unknowable supernatural being who has unlimited powers to do anything it wants. We do not know where this entity came from or what its motivations are, but it created gravity in an unknown process to that we could live on this planet and not spin off into space.” Which do you think is simpler and therefore more likely?

The first question “The placement of the sun and the moon relative to the earth allows life to exist. Is this a mere chance occurrence or by divine design?” We have exactly one example of this phenomenon: namely the Earth. There are other planets in our solar system that are too close to the sun and are presumably to hot or too far from the sun and are presumably too cold for life such as we know to exist … but we have not checked these other planets to see if life exists there. We have explored Mars to some extent and have not definitively found signs of life yet, but that planet is large and our rovers are small so that “experiment” is incomplete. So, we have a suggestion of an hypothesis (for the existence of the so-called Goldilocks Zone), a conjecture, but no substantive criticism of that conjecture per se. So, is our planet’s place next to its star an accident or a sign of divine placement? To answer this question, we need to examine a great many other solar systems, ones with planets in the Goldilocks Zone, and see if there is life on them. If there is, we still haven’t answered the question as a deity that “designed” our systems could have made the designs generic, which means we would find them everywhere.

Once again, the question comes down to an Occam’s Razor decision. This one is somewhat distorted by our uniqueness (in our own knowledge). We are the only highly intelligent species of which we are aware. The conditions that exist here and now support the existence of intelligent life because if they did not, we would not be here to ask this question. So, were they divinely provided or naturally occurring. Occam’s Razor says natural, not divinely engineered.

The problem we have here is one of perspective. On one hand we have a cadre of people trying to find answers to fundamental questions of our existence; they are called scientists. On the other hand, we have a group of people who say they know the answers to those questions and have for a very long time, well before studies of gravity, planetary orbits, evolution existed. Their claim is this: Whoa, Nature is so complicated I can’t understand it, so I assume that it must have been made but something which has much greater powers than I have. The feeling behind this is real. I feel it, as a scientist. I am a chemist and I understand some of the chemical behaviors involved in this quest for knowledge. But I also know that even as a “chemistry expert” my knowledge is limited. When I taught advanced chemistry classes, I used to draw a number line on the blackboard, the longest straight line I could draw. I said that the length of the line represented the amount of chemical knowledge known to us collectively. Right near the “zero” end of the line I would make a hash mark and say “this is your level of knowledge.” I would then shift my body to a place nearer the other end, but then reach back and draw another hash mark just a tiny bit farther away from zero and say “This represents my knowledge of chemistry.” And that was the honest truth. No one chemist knows even a single percent of all of the chemical knowledge possessed by humans collectively. This reality, that the scope of human knowledge is well beyond the capacity of any single person, allows me to have respect for the collective knowledge we have of other fields. For example, the amount of evidence we have supporting the Theory of Evolution in biology is possibly exceeded only by the amount of evidence we have in chemistry and physics for the Atomic Theory. The amount of evidence is vast and when biologists say “it is conclusive,” they are not saying that the Theory of Evolution is “proved” or any other such nonsense, they are basically saying that the chance of making a mistake assuming that this is the way the universe works is very, very … very … small.

And as these understandings of how the universe works grow the “mysteries” needing a god to explain them grow smaller and smaller, and smaller. The problem is just that non-scientists rarely get a glimpse at how vast our scientific knowledge is. Couple that with an unwillingness to entertain the possibility their theology might be wrong, prevents even them from making simple searches for evidence that might disprove their Theory of Divine Intervention.

Since the Theory of Divine Intervention has no evidence whatsoever, merely rhetorical arguments, e.g. “How could something as complicated as an eye have evolved?” it is destined to lose every contest with secular knowledge, especially when they persist in asking questions like “How could something as complicated as an eye have evolved?” and ‘Where are the transitional fossils?” because these questions have been answered quite some time ago. There are evidence trails indicating the evolution of eyes in multiple locations and times, meaning it didn’t just evolve once, so it could not be as difficult to do, only difficult to conceive of if you do not serious entertain the answers to the questions asked. And Wikipedia maintains a “tentative, partial” list of transitional fossils (here) because the list, although quite long already, keeps growing.

So, to answer the question in the title, I think “not,” merely willfully ignorant.

Addendum I deftly ignored the “placement of the moon” issue here. Basically the moon stabilizes the rotation of the Earth, preventing frequent flips of the axis the Earth rotates on which would be very disruptive for living organisms. (Imagine that as we are entering spring right now, if the poles were to be reversed we would be entering autumn, just as Australia is now; with no spring or summer crops to sustain out food supplies.) The rejoinder is why would an unlimited deity create such Rube Goldbergian system when a much simpler system could be created by magic. (Some theists retort that their deity cannot do things that are impossible, which I contend is a slippery slope because creating a universe via magic would be on that list of impossible things I would think.)

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27 Comments »

  1. I see stupidity as a condition; willful ignorance is a choice. Religious belief is a choice… but one that coddles the condition.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by tildeb — April 15, 2018 @ 9:47 am | Reply

    • Me too! Another #Me Too movement! Us atheists need one!

      On Sun, Apr 15, 2018 at 9:47 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — April 15, 2018 @ 10:12 am | Reply

  2. Not stupid. Conditioned. Faith closes you off from reality and suffers you to doubt everything but the doubtworthy.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by jim- — April 15, 2018 @ 10:10 am | Reply

  3. Addendum to your Addendum: The moon is drifting away.

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    Comment by john zande — April 15, 2018 @ 11:12 am | Reply

    • Not just “is” but has been for a very long time. A number of science fiction stories explore what happens if the Moon were to: disappear, break up, or be moved and none of the scenarios bodes well for humans.

      On Sun, Apr 15, 2018 at 11:12 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — April 15, 2018 @ 11:52 am | Reply

  4. Well … not to put too fine a point to it …

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    Comment by Arkenaten — April 15, 2018 @ 11:30 am | Reply

  5. No, not stupid. Lazy. It’s much, much easier to just say “goddidit” than to actually investigate, analyze, and learn what’s behind the workings of humans, the earth, planets, the universe … and all that goes along with same.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Nan — April 15, 2018 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

    • To be honest, most of the people who accept the Big Bang and evolution haven’t personally done any research into the matter either.

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      Comment by List of X — April 20, 2018 @ 7:06 am | Reply

      • Well, I haven’t, per se, either but I am aware that the data are available and I can examine it for myself. This is a far cry from an authoritarian position of some church, whose “evidence” is a book. No one is told what to think and is encouraged to look into it as far as their curiosity will take them. There is far too much “science” to not accept it as having been fact-checked by well-meaning scientists at a bare minimum. Basically I trust scientist’s egos that I do theists books and stories. I have never seen scientists so gleeful than when they have proved their intellectual enemies wrong.

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        Comment by Steve Ruis — April 20, 2018 @ 7:15 am | Reply

        • I realize that science has much better evidence than religion, and is a better way to discover the truth, but the point that most people don’t take the time to review it still stands.

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          Comment by List of X — April 20, 2018 @ 7:40 am | Reply

          • I’m sorry, I understood that. I was saying that, as a scientist, I do. too. I was just pointing out that I could if I wanted to (a difference), and that scientists ego’s are more trustworthy when it comes to critiquing scientific positions than most anything else.

            On Fri, Apr 20, 2018 at 7:40 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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            Comment by Steve Ruis — April 20, 2018 @ 7:43 am | Reply

          • A better way to discover the truth? This implies religious belief is also a way. In this matter, the claim is completely devoid of any independent support other than the assumption itself. And you can check this for yourself: name any knowledge at all, any insight into reality itself that religious belief has produced. Any. If, as you imply, religion actually provides a way to discover the truth about anything anywhere for anyone independent of the assumption it does, surely there should be oodles and oodles of just such knowledge.

            *crickets*

            This is clue…

            Like

            Comment by tildeb — April 20, 2018 @ 7:57 am | Reply

            • Couldn’t agree more. We have always praised religion out of fear and when the teeth were pulled (religions can no longer kill peasants at will or try people in religious courts and then burn them at the stake, etc.) we soft-pedal our criticism out of deference to a majority opinion. We need to stop doing that as it is misleading. Currently there is a burgeoning but long standing debate between religion and science abetted by “accommodationists” who claim there is no conflict between the two. No conflict my ass. If there is no conflict, why are there so many religious apologists?

              On Fri, Apr 20, 2018 at 7:57 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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              Comment by Steve Ruis — April 20, 2018 @ 8:02 am | Reply

              • Yes. This is exactly right.

                By going along with the assumption that religion is another way of knowing anything about reality rather than challenging the assumption on a complete lack of merit, by what amounts to a tacit agreement, we are going along with the lie. And it is a lie.

                The way around this problem made by theists is to keep their beliefs to themselves. But when people use religious beliefs to make counter-factual claims about reality, what it contains, what agencies are causal, how the universe operates and by what mechanisms, and then have the audacity to attach morality and ethical concerns to their vacuum-packed assertions, they are crossing the boundary into beliefs incompatible with science, incompatible with knowledge, incompatible with respect for reality… a boundary behind which they then try to hide when challenged by science, knowledge, and respect for reality vs their beliefs. This blatant duplicity and hypocrisy by the religious, by the religious accommodationists and faitheists and I’m-an-atheist-but..ters, needs to be revealed for what it is: collaboration… supporting a longstanding lie that continues to fool people not on truth value but on pious grounds. I see this as an intentional collaboration between those who know better and those who wish to continue the charade to put aside ethical concerns and principled respect and try to feel more tolerant and respectful to the deluded than those who respect reality’s right to arbitrate claims made about it, a stupid tolerance upheld for all the wrong reasons to the detriment of the species so that these unprincipled, unethical individuals can feel better about themselves. Well, bully for them but this little exercise of faux-respect-for-those-who-do-not-respect-reality is far too costly to go along with.

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                Comment by tildeb — April 20, 2018 @ 9:16 am | Reply

                • I am lead to believe that in the UK and other places it is considered very bad form to bring up the subject of religion. Were it only that way here in the U.S.

                  On Fri, Apr 20, 2018 at 9:16 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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                  Liked by 1 person

                  Comment by Steve Ruis — April 20, 2018 @ 9:27 am | Reply

              • tildeb … I really like your phrase “respect for reality.” Something most Christians know nothing about.

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                Comment by Nan — April 20, 2018 @ 11:23 am | Reply

            • Ok, let me rephrase: since religion is not a way to discover anything, science is a much better way to do that than religion.

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              Comment by List of X — April 20, 2018 @ 8:30 am | Reply

              • :o)

                On Fri, Apr 20, 2018 at 8:30 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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                Comment by Steve Ruis — April 20, 2018 @ 9:03 am | Reply

      • To be honest, there is a significant difference between studying a subject that has no object and studying a subject that does. If you’ve attended science class, you will have studied evolution because it’s a fundamental understanding of biology and the object is all around you for easy access. And anyone can follow the reasoning and evidence that leads to the Big Bang proposal. This is not the case for religious ideas in that none offers us the means to study its fundamental principles for truth value but demands we accept them as true and descriptive of reality as a starting point. That position neuters any possibility of doing ‘research’. Apples and bicycles.

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        Comment by tildeb — April 20, 2018 @ 7:36 am | Reply

  6. […] answer is no: just ignorant of how the universe actually works, as gradually uncovered by millions of […]

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    Pingback by Steve Ruis asks if theists are stupid. | GFBrandenburg's Blog — April 15, 2018 @ 6:16 pm | Reply

  7. I view the theist masses as being victims/slaves of the dogmas of an assortment of patriarchies, dogmas maintained for the sole purpose of perpetuating those patriarchies control of the “faithful”. If one truly believes that there is a single, all powerful God and that this entity created the universe, then that creation must necessarily include ALL of the laws governing the behavior of the universe, discovered, known, understood, or not. Science therefore should be understood, in the theist mind, to be the study of the mind and intent of God. It’s discoveries then must be accepted as evidence of gods overarching power. The implications of such a scientific interpretation of the mind of God to the ossified, stagnant patriarchies are such that science must necessarily be denied in order to maintain the illusion of the “received” knowledge and authority of the patriarchy. A notable if partial exception to this is Pope Francis’s ridiculing of the “young earth” crowds belief in the age of the earth being about 6K years. It is also quite usefull for patriarchies to have an otherized enemy, scientific knowledge in this case, to threaten their flocks with. Fear has always been used as a unifier by those who rule to stifle independant thought and impose compliance. It works quite well and is much simpler to grasp and remember than a detailed understanding of reality that requires a regular updating of ones knowledge. That would require more effort and growth on the part of the patriarchies and worse for them, it locates divine knowledge and authority away from their influence and places it within a far larger, non partisan population of scientifically driven theist thinkers. The assorted patriarchies then would no longer have each other to depict as “the other” for the purpose of maintaining their control over their individual sects. The irony is that those at the top who would proclaim themselves the sole moral and ethical authorities based on what can only be understood to be a stealthy claim of sole ownership of “gods truth”, well any such authority is the very first thing that is abdicated from.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Jon Lubar — April 15, 2018 @ 11:51 pm | Reply

    • Well, we are certainly in agreement. I take a further step back and point out that for a religion to prosper it has to control the behaviors of the masses to serve the interests of the elites. Having a well-ordered society is a must for the oligarchs to harvest our wealth.

      Why there would be a conflict between what the religion says and what “God’s creation” says is puzzling until you realize that the benefit is that once someone believes something so at odds with reality, then they are primed to believe other aspects of the dominant propaganda.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — April 16, 2018 @ 8:36 am | Reply

  8. Like climate change, racial inferiority, gay and women’s rights etc.

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    Comment by maryplumbago — April 16, 2018 @ 6:03 pm | Reply

  9. The Occam’s Razor is that in order to be alive you have to have the conditions for it. In a universe with the fundamental forces this one has and in a solar system on a planet like ours life is certain to exist. If an observer is existing then it does so in peculiar places like the one in which we live. It’s rather simple and natural in this sense. And likewise, a chance occurrence is far more probable than God.

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    Comment by ProfTomBot — June 15, 2018 @ 7:17 am | Reply


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