Monday, 22 November 2010

Christianity Question #7

How could any intelligent 20th century person believe that Jesus rose physically from the dead?

The short answer is, of course, that intelligent people can deceive themselves too. There are indications that very bright people are also better at self deception that stupid people. Of course, the trouble is that intelligence testing, IQs and all that, is itself a pseudoscience - which is to say: empirically meaningless.

However, the question is deliberately phrased black and white. We can more meaningfully ask about the likely-hood that a bright person will also be a Christian or, more generally, a theist.

Burnham Beckwith's article, "The Effect of Intelligence on Religious Faith," (Free Inquiry Spring 1986) provides a meta-study of intelligence+religiosity  studies appearing in the literature. The studies use a wide range of different measures for intelligence or intellectual ability - usually performance on some standardized test.

Beckwith concludes:
 The consensus here is clear: more intelligent people tend not to believe in religion. And this observation is given added force when you consider that the above studies span a broad range of time, subjects and methodologies, and yet arrive at the same conclusion. 
Theists point out that intelligent people are struck by the anecdotal evidence of the resurrection presented in the Bible. If the Bible is a reliable record of Christs ministry, then the detail of the Biblical account of the resurrection must lead one to suspect the resurrection to have happened in fact.

But this is just detailing how intelligent people go about fooling themselves. For some reason, theists believe accounts of Christ which they would dismiss out of hand about anyone else. Rather than engaging in a dispassionate assessment of the available facts, they view accounts through their cultural conditioning. Thus, if in a Christian society, they lend credence to Christian accounts, if another religion is dominant, then that one will appear more believable.

Interestingly, when examining religious attendance vs education, Glaeser and Sacerdote [1] point out that bright people tend to profess Christian beliefs for the social advantages this provides. In a society of Christians, it is best to be Christian. (This generalizes to any religious culture.) As Machiavelli observes, it is smarter to pretend piety, in a religious culture, without being pious, than it is to actually be pious.

[1] Glaeser, Edward L. and Sacerdote, Bruce, Education and Religion (January 2001). Harvard Institute of Economic Research Paper No. 1913. Available at SSRN: or doi:10.2139/ssrn.263258

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