Home » Neuroscience » Uncommon Descent Contest Question 16: Are materialist atheists smarter than other types of believers? – winner announced

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 16: Are materialist atheists smarter than other types of believers? – winner announced

The title question here riffed off a study that claimed to prove such a point. I must also have been thinking of the “Brights” movement of materialist atheists.

The winner here is Barb at 2, who needs to provide me with a postal address at which she may receive a copy of The Spiritual Brain. Here is her entry appended, with a couple of comments interspersed:

“Are materialist atheists smarter than other people? How would we know?”

The short answer is no, not really. Paul Johnson wrote a fascinating book entitled Intellectuals, in which essays describe the life courses and contributions of men and women who are considered by most to be of at least above average intelligence. Johnson noted that while these people often did their own thing (so to speak), there is a kind of ‘herd mentality’ amongst intellectuals. It’s as if collective peer pressure stops them from truly speaking their minds. The materialist ‘new’ atheism espoused today is nothing more than the ‘old’ atheism with extra doses of rage and hatred towards anything remotely godlike or religious in nature.

[Re the book Intellectuals, I strongly recommend it, because I read it on the advice of a friend. Trust me, you would not want most current cultural icons as advisors. ]

Standardized IQ tests could be given, but this would not necessarily prove that materialist atheists are smarter than others, since Daniel Coleman asserts that there are other types of intelligence including emotional and social intelligence that could be used as measuring sticks.

[I think the book meant here is Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. All concepts of this sort run the risk of descending into fad, though that does not mean that their original insight cannot tell us anything. (For example, I just hope that the [fictional] woman who throws a tantrum at my New’ Year’s party and blubbers all over my living room doesn’t go away proclaiming that she is way smarter than the rest of us because she supposedly has “emotional intelligence.”)]

What about everyday life? Have the materialist atheists discovered true meaning in their lives? Viktor Frankl wrote that man’s search for meaning is the primary motivational force in one’s life. Or are they cogs in a machine, slaving away because their ARM adjusted again and now they’re underwater with respects to the mortgage on their house?

[Hard to say, no? My own problem isn't with people who have discovered no meaning in their lives but with people who have discovered a meaning that sounds suspect. Usually, people who have found no meaning are just plain depressed. The others can be all too active in trying to force their "meaning" into reality. ]

If they truly are smarter than other people, then they’re not in credit card hell making minimum payments, they’re not victims of the financial collapse of Wall Street, and they’re not gorging on junk food, taking drugs, or engaging in any self-destructive behaviors.

[Well, if that is true of anyone, I am glad if they are not demanding that I give them a loan or tax funds. Unfortunately, that actually happens in some jurisdictions. I'd rather give charity. In some quarters, that is a dirty word, but at least it is a personal relationship. ]

Other comments:

Tribune7 at 1 writes, “People who brag about being smart invariably end up losing the hand.” If so, I may have done someone somewhere a mercy. Recently, a correspondent wrote me to say that I had helped talk him out of a career in alligator wrestling.

I supposed that he would eventually get bored with being called “Lefty” …

At 4 ,toscents asks:

So, who’s smarter? The dissembling philosopher, or the mildly demented believer? Does it matter?

Which would you trust with an intimate confession?

Well, it’s nice to be asked a question one can answer with complete certainty. I don’t need to trust either of them, for the same reason as I do not need to believe either of two implausible stories.

Here are the contest rules. I think Contest 19 is still open.

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One Response to Uncommon Descent Contest Question 16: Are materialist atheists smarter than other types of believers? – winner announced

  1. I won?

    Awesome!

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