Smart People who Believe Not so Smart Things

I’ve known some smart Christians (the smartest ones I met became atheists or agnostics over the last few years, but that is beside the point). There are Christians out there who can grasp complex material that I myself have not ever studied. Others can grasp material that I could never grasp, myself.

So how can I discount the Christian God on intellectual grounds, when great minds are able to accept him? How can I discount the “problems with evolution,” when great minds see problems with it?

The first point is that there are always a few people who believe in anything. 99.9% of scientists in relevant fields accept the fact of evolution, and I am not any more concerned that a few outliers have creationist biases, than I am concerned about Obama being an alien lizard king, or humans having not landed on the moon.

The second point is that intelligence does not trump facts. If I go into a room and I see a wooden chair there, I will not be impressed by some guy with a beard, who, with divine confidence, tells me that he is “99% sure” that there is no chair in the room.

The third point is that smart Christians are often smart in some field that has little to do with the intellectual matters that are shoring up his/her faith. Having a PhD in cone-shaped molecules does not make you any more knowledgeable about the Bible, philosophy, or other sciences that demonstrate the facts about our earth’s natural history (though people who get such PhD’s tend to learn about those things and come to non-fundamentalist conclusions–the statistics show this).

The fourth point is that being smart tends to make people leave religion (read up on the trends on religion and IQ), so pointing out that smart Christians exist is probably the worst point you could make. What more do you want? Do you want every single person with half a brain to leave religion? Obviously things don’t work like that.

The fifth point is that Smart Christians (or creationists) do not make Christianity more credible; they just prove that we’re all far more vulnerable to bias than we think we are. And this is the rub of it all. I live in Canada, where we are digging ourselves into a massive housing bubble. We are more indebted than the Americans at the peak before their own crash, and the price of a nasty little single-family home in Vancouver runs into 7 figures. What do the people in Canada say? “It’s different here. There is no bubble. House prices will go up forever. Asians will pour money into our housing market forever.” People who have no money are mortgaging their entire futures to drive prices up to record highs above actual family incomes, with interest rates at record lows… and everyone believes it’s different. It could never happen here.

When I see my fellow Canadians denying that our house prices are out of control, denying that they will revert to reasonable values, it is not hard for me to explain. This is something that they need to be true. International observers and non-homeowners who aren’t in a rush (like me) don’t need it to be true. But as soon as you’re personally invested, bam. The exact same thing happened in the U.S., preceded by the exact same kind of “new reality” hoopla, and we still can’t see the plain truth–even the smart ones among us.

All it takes is a childhood of Christian indoctrination, a conversion experience, some reflection on the threatening and incomprehensible indifference of the natural world towards us, and we can find a way to rationalize anything. I’m not saying that I’m strong, and that other people are weak. I’m saying that we’re all weak, and it’s no surprise to me that smart people are sometimes just as weak as the rest of us.

It’s the least astonishing thing in the world.


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