Intelligence and Religion

After reading yet another study that had Christians performing significantly worse than atheists in cognitive abilities–and which clearly showed an inverse correlation between taking religion “seriously” and having developed reading and writing skills (Protestant Christians who took their religion most seriously scored the worst of all, and atheists did better when they took atheism seriously)–my Christian Friend sent Christian Me a lament.

I tried to tell him that the study didn’t mean anything about him, so why did it matter?

“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,” he said. “I have two eyes, so what am I even doing here.”

In the end–after all the counterexamples and nitpicking–there was simply no way to deny it: intelligence does not correlate positively with believing in religion. You can explain away the national averages chart that graphs “% not believing in God” vs. IQ (the lust for material wealth correlates with well-funded education!), and you can talk about Francis Collins (have you read his book? I have) or some guy who won the Nobel Prize in physics, or the cluster of upper-middle-aged people who attended the American Scientific Affiliation conference that I visited back in ’08, among which fewer than a handful of young faces were to be found (the cutoff was basically at the age where you would’ve had the Internet as a child–there were a few high school kids there, but I discovered that they were the children of the older attendees).

All these observations just drive the point home even further. The eminent intellectuals of recent history–the ones known for their discoveries in the sciences, who were articulate and somewhat cultured/aware of the world they were living in–have not been Christians. They sometimes leave wiggle room for God, agnosticism, unanswered questions, or mysteries, but they were and are not Christians. They are never Christians any more.  Carl Sagan, Einstein, Hawking, Feynman, Dirac, Bohr, Darwin, Crick, Asimov and so on… they had no chance of being Christian. They had no chance of ever standing at a pulpit as full-grown, middle-aged men, and giving their testimony. They were fundamentally different from the types of people who do that.

I spent a lifetime trying to pretend that this didn’t bother me, but it did. I saw plenty of things worth aspiring to in the great non-Christian minds, and nothing worth aspiring to in the clump of eccentric, equivocating theologically-committed scientists.  The best you can dig up is Maxwell (who died 140 years ago) or Gödel (who can hardly be called an ardent defender of Christianity). There is not one such eminent scientist or thinker who is a Christian, and who speaks about his/her faith in the way that the most passionate and devout Christians speak about their faith.

“People ask why so many great minds have rejected Christianity–but then, why have so many great minds accepted it?” write apologists like Peter Kreeft, in the “Handbook of Christian Apologetics” (paraphrased). They go on to list great minds of centuries past, like Pascal, and Newton. There’s no mention that things were different back then, or that there were critical things that we hadn’t yet discovered. To cite these long-dead men as examples of Christianity’s intellectual-friendliness is to prove precisely the opposite point: the tap is shut off. That period of history is over.


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