Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why do smart people believe in god?

Part of being a free-thinker is being able to admit when you don't have the answer. In fact, this is absolutely critical to being a free-thinker. I have met a lot of people who claim to be free-thinkers, but have a strong opinion on every topic, even when they don't really know much about the topic.

I have slowly been developing the ability to admit when I don't have the answer. Ask anyone who has known me in the past, and they will tell you that this is quite a change.

I am still very argumentative on topics that I have developed a strong opinion on, such as gay rights, abortion, most social programs, etc. In fact, I have become even more bullheaded in some of these areas now that my opinions are the result of a lot of research, discussion and reflection, instead of blindly mimicking the opinion of someone else.

But for crying out loud, I'm only 23 and certainly do not have all the answers. I have, like maybe, .001% of the answers. Some people assume that my strong atheism is a sign that I think I know everything (the tired argument that atheists are all arrogant pricks). The truth is that it really doesn't take all that much research, discussion and reflection to realize that there is almost certainly no god. All it takes is a willingness to question everything you've ever held to be true.

So here's the question that I am trying to figure out: Why do smart people believe in god?

A large number of atheists understand the absurdity of such a belief, and make the blanket assumption that all theists are irrational, gullible and generally kind of dumb. But the truth is that I know some very smart people (people much smarter than me) that believe in a god. Now, sure, most of them just never think about it all that much. But you're still left with some very smart people taking the existence of a god on faith, with no evidence. It doesn't seem like something a smart person would do. These people would be skeptical about reports of aliens or bigfoot until sufficient evidence was produced, but do not question the existence of god.

My initial suspicion is that belief in a spiritual world is hard-wired into our brains. We are naturally dualists, after all. Even when we fully understand that our feelings, personalities and individualities are just a bunch of neurons firing off in our brain, we still maintain a feeling that there is something more to us: a certain "me"-ness (more commonly known as a "soul"). Especially when we are young, we have a tendency to believe in ghosts, angels and souls, because of our natural dualism. Combine this with our natural inclination to blindly believe whatever our parents tell us when we are young, and it becomes hard to shake the theism that dominates our culture.

That's about all I have so far, but the point I'm trying to make is that we cannot dismiss theism as something for idiots to believe, because there are a lot of very intelligent people that are theists. There is something that makes it extremely difficult to shake. Why was I able to question, and eventually dismiss, the existence of god while other people that are equally or more intelligent than me are not able to ask those same questions? To atheists, the notion of god is absurd, but why is it so hard for theists to see the absurdity? Hopefully I will have a more concrete answer soon.


Anonymous said...

Funny, I heard only a fool does not believe in God. Many biochemists have run into a brick wall with Darwins theory of Evolution. They come into problems dealing with irreducible complexity. Even when Bill Gates looked at DNA, he commented that it looks very much like computer code. Many scientists are turning to intellient design. There is even a NASA scientist who discovered that the great flood could explain almost 17 features of Earth, such as: fossil record, lack of planet canopy, mountain ranges, ocean treanches, and more. The vastness, and wonders of the Universe alone envokes wonder and awe. By all means, please, let me know if a bomb set off in a printing shop has ever created a dictionary, because this is almost the same odds, that the "Big Bang" ever created the universe. Please explain, out side of intelligent design how the Earth has life, the perfect placement of the magnedospere, that protects us from deadly radiation. The Ozone layer that protects us fron UV radiation. The Ionishere that allows worldwide HF communications. The Tropospere that progates precipitation, and allows plants to grow. Ocean arisoles that help it to rain. How about our distance from the Sun, keeping us from being too hot or too cold. Odds are strongly against all of this just being an accident. How about the fact that the distance and size of the moon is perpect for keeping the planet Earth clean. Too far or too close, and the Earth would be a dirty cesspool, or tsunami sized waves would rubb this planet flat. Scientists have made careers of asking the hard questions, comming up with a hypothisist, designing tests, predicting the resolts, and confiming the results. And by asking the hard questions, many have become even firmer in their beliefs about intelligent design. Perhaps you are not smart enough to understand the probability of intelligent design. Or even simpler yet, you choose not to believe, because you would be forced to admit, that you are accountable to the creator. Instead you choose not to believe, so you can be self centered, and do as you please. Every where you look, is a billboard that proclaims He is there, but you choose not see Him, because you want to be in charge. With Darwin, we disapear with our last breath. With intelligent design, we find we are fallen from our peace with the creator. He loved us anyway and gave us a way to find find grace, and redemption. Have you ever asked yourself, "If I'm in control, why do I do things, I know I didn't want to do?" Something to ponder. Look at "Human Nature" and you will find us all to be in a fallen state. Study the honey bee, and you will notice anefficient community beyond accident. All you managed to say, is you have a mind closed to the idea that the world is not a big accident. ( T. L. Peters' )

Anonymous said...

Many Scientist are turning to Intelligent design? Dear anonymous you have lost all creditability with that statement. Your ignorance of science is astounding. I am sorry but making up a magic story with an invisible magic man to explain things you do not understand is intellectually lazy. Smart people do not do that. Evidence + reason that is the only formula to truth.
I do not know why otherwise intelligent people are so willing to accept religious non-sense. I can only assume that they have a genetic ability to turn off reason to accommodate "spirituality". Religion is based on tribal instincts and I think it is the evolutionary basis for it.

Anonymous said...

The hypocrisy of religion is most clearly exposed in their own quest for unity.

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Laura said...


Anonymous said...

Easy to laugh Laura, its difficult to think or talk, I understand.

The gentlemen is right on the money with this one. Its more than a coincedence that the Earth and solar system are the way they are.

Why is it that people don't believe? What is the real reason? "Because GOD does not show himself?" What does he need to show himself to YOU for? So you can get on your knees and start crying and kissing his ass?

Or perhaps, "with all the bad things going on, if there is a GOD, why doesn't he stop this?" It is because we have free will.

It is Laura's free will to laugh like an idiot for no apparent reason, and it is free will for people to wake up and decide to go out and shoot someone. GOD didn't tell that idiot to shoot someone today, they chose to go out and do it.

He gave us a wonderful life, so stop looking UP for answers of why he won't come down and help us, and start looking AROUND. Only we can make the changes we want to see in this life.

Anonymous said...

Makes me laugh how the typical atheist claims clarity, logic and intelligence over the theist. Maybe you should find out what the chances of the fine tuning of the universe for having life on earth are.
It is impossible not to bring design into the equation.
So impossible that secular science starts crapping on with fairy tales such as the multiverse theory.
Nice story tell it to readers digest! And the atheists call the theist delusional...ha..ha..ha

Anonymous said...

You state a very simplistic argument, without thinking it through. "Maybe you should find out what the chances of the fine tuning of the universe for having life on earth are. It is impossible not to bring design into the equation."

If the universe did not posses the "tuning" for life to exist as you put it, then life would not exist, and thus could not debate the question about god. If a universe could exist with the proper tuning, no matter how unlikely that tuning, then life would exist in that universe. The fact that we are debating this topic proves that we exist in a universe that supports life. That is all it proves.

My chances of getting hit by a meteorite are slim to none, yet some people actually do get hit. What does this say about god's existence? Absolutely nothing. Yet, according to your argument, this would prove the existence of god.

Anonymous said...

The original reply just doesn't understand. Evolution and survival of the fittest perfectly explain why life exists on earth and not on other planets; the conditions are just right here. The sun is the perfect distance away from us to sustain life not because a "creator" made perfect calculations but because this planet can sustain life and the others cannot. You miss the point entirely.

I'm not an atheist. I hope there is a god, but there is even more evidence that religion is fake coming from the social sciences than the natural sciences. Look at the development of religion over time. It is a social construction, it is the word of man not "god". Christianity borrowed from Greek mythology and Plato. Religion is socially constructed. As you touched on in your post it is much more comforting to believe that we have something after death than to believe that we end with our last breath. Maybe there is a god... Hopefully there is a god, but he/she/it sure isn't what's in your bible... or the Koran... or any myth.

Anonymous said...

Dear oh dear - some people just have no comprehension of the scale of time.
650 million years ago, our planet was a 'snowball'.
RIGHT NOW, we just happen to have the conditions that support 'life': the ionosphere, the ozone layer, etc. Similarly, other planets are on their way to becoming earth-like just as our planet will freeze-over again in the future.
"Creditability" is quite funny alright. Right over the head of some people.

evan said...

1)Were the theory of evolution entirely wrong, that is no more proof for the existence of anything beyond the present limits of observation. like saying that if so much blood is spilt in two millennia then...(zzz)
2)Faith based events quickly unravel with the introduction of immaculate rape and grossly edited texts like The Holy Bible. Perhaps time was more nigh then!
3)"Free Will" does not stand to simple governance like, say, The Ten Commandments. That is, FW can only exist at the preclusion of preset rules. Unless, of course, I am truly not meant to covet a homosexual's manservant.
4)Christianity is nothing more than a pruned smattering of foreign mythologies, with singularity (one god, one book...) used to signify supreme importance. Don't have a copy of The Holy Bible on hand, query the Mayan god Atum and toggle to a site containing parables from the Upanishads, &c.
5)The concept of Hell was invented a good 400 years after the inception of Christianity. Oh, and the number of the beast is not '666.'
6)While men with silly hats may besaint corpses, they do not have direct lines to The Big Boss.
7)Churches prosper while the surrounding communities are taxed into oblivion. If you want to fork over your cash to a huckster in a brown suit, he'll be more than happy to invest it in oil derricks and blood diamonds.
8)Why do you need someone else to interpret material for you on the Sabbath? (Not to mention, the true Sabbath is Saturday.) What, you cannot be bothered to do it yourself? One hour out of every week is slim compared to the anticipated eternity of slave worship.
9)If I am made in the image of god then he is inferior: slightly dumb, somewhat ugly, and bound to the third dimension.
10)Religion is a business that operates as a social utensil. When you are dead, you are dead. Quit distancing yourself from your actions and hiding behind some spiritual auditing hooey to declare that you alone have a true appreciation for life.

Anonymous said...

Proving atheists wrong doesn't prove Christianity right. Sure, we COULD be wrong, but who's to say that god isn't a huge chicken that pees rain? Unless you have evidence, you can't just "prove" us wrong and instantly be right. Sorry, I really don't have anything against theists, but it seems too old fashioned to believe in god. I mean, why? Sure, I would love to believe that I go to a magical place in the sky where I see everyone I love and live in paradise, but its simply impossible. Did you know Christians used to think the world was flat? Why don't you believe it know? Because there is PROOF. You have never actually been in space, but you believe the scientists that have told you it is round. So why don't you believe them when they mention the Big Bang? And don't retort with that crap about, "Can an explosion make a dictionary?". Of course not. But over 13.5 billion years, the universe has expanded and matter has condensed to naturally form stars, around which debris orbited and condensed to form planets. Eventually, the universe will increase in entropy, and contract, collapsing into a tiny space, then exploding again in a "big bang". Its a cycle, like almost everything in life. I don't not believe in a god, I simply believe there is no god. There is nothing wrong with being atheist, and you shouldn't be focused on pleasing god. Atheists have morals, like theists. We're not going to go out and kill someone just because there is no hell, or be good to go to heaven. Atheism is not a disbelief in god, simply the belief that the universe is huge, and we are an unimportant speck in the huge, beautiful universe that is full of other planets and worlds besides our own.

EJ said...

I have a difficult time understanding how intelligent people can have a belief in God, in the traditional sense. I mean this literally; I really try to understand that side of the argument, but simply cannot.

The intense defensiveness which frequently appears whenever somebody who does believe in this, and considers themselves intelligent, does not help me in this pursuit.

In my current state of rational (or so I believe) thinking, I see the World around me, and I have answers for some things and I do not have answers for others. I do not feel the urge to answer these unknowns with an illogical (even absurd - to me) conviction that a "being" or "entity" created everything. I know the answers will or will come in the future.

It is quite self-evident to me that I am, as all else is, purely coincidental, and everything that is to happen has yet to be determined. To some, this is utterly ridiculous, and I am currently unable to ascertain why.

Could it possibly be an "ignorance is bliss" situation, and that although somebody might know something can't be true they block it out in order to be able to believe something that they want to? Or could it be having such a strong conviction of something, that it blocks out all "sound" judgment?

Anonymous said...

"God" is a hypthesis just like dark matter and the Higgs Boson. The difference here is that you can be sure that based on the history of science that dark matter and the Higgs Boson will be history in the not to distant future. Science will be tackling different problems. It's progressive. "God" will never be proven or disproven. It is up to the individual to belienve or not to believe. I am an athiest however I believe that in a free democratic society everyone has the right to believe or not belive in "God". A personal god. Regilion however is a different matter. Reglion is man made and is therefore flawed with all the flaws of man. The history of religion is a history of revenge, intolerance, genocide and violence. I don't know the statistics but I would imagine many "religious" people have a strong presonal faith and belief in "god" and at the same time question the authority of their religous leaders.

Anonymous said...

Somebody said “It is because we have free will”.

We do have free will to a point, but if we are born down syndrome or mentally deranged or inflicted with some horrific disease of some kind or born in a country where hunger and starvation and little education is just a way of life then those people which are many do not really have much in the way of free will.

markwalkersmith said...

The oldest smart person trick in the book. "If you don't know the answer to a question make one up" The person with a false answer to an unanswerable question is in many ways advantaged over the honest one who admits that they just don't know.

Anonymous said...

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a person having blind faith in a thing/being for which there is not one shred of evidence of existance.

What baffles me is we all agree that there are hundreds of religions in the world and there have been thousands in the past, most of which are now 'dead'. They can't ALL be right. If you are a christian theist, do you believe there is a Hindu god for example. I hope not, as you are betraying your own commandments.

Virtually every religion claims to be 'the one'. Each god commands that you worship no other god. Do you not see how ludicrous this is?

As the late Christopher Hitchens said "We are all athieists. I just take it one god further".

christ is coming said...

hey who ever was the one named anonymous and said god is not real shut up you have no prouf that god isn't real no prouf at all you are person who only belives that a so called big bang created earth. tell me how did it happen? oh! wait you don't know how it happened because you have no prouf at all. the bible however is real and has been around for more than over centeries. how can you think that a made up explosion had created the earth! you and all your other fellow oh god is not real and the big bang created everything friends JUST SHUT UP! WE BELIEVERS DO NOT NEED YOUR COMMENTS WE WILL BELIEVE WHAT WE WANT TO BELIEVE SO LEAVE US ALONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Nicky Henricks said...

^^ I'm guessing you meant "Proof."

If there were only a few hundred Christians living today. Even if we had read their bible we would still think their god didn't exist because there weren't enough believers and also we wouldn't have brought up to believe in their god.

What i'm trying to say is that Christianity's strongest argument is that there are alot of believers. That’s just silly.

To put it into perspective:
If there is one crazy person who believes that the earth is flat (Like the bible says). If there is no other opinion the naive are likely to agree with the only opinion available.
Now there are more people who believe that the earth is flat which of course will make it even easier for people to also believe.

Just on a side note. Just because someone doesn’t believe in god, doesn’t mean that they believe in the big bang. I’m happy to admit I don’t know why everything is like it is. But I don’t think believing in Christianity simply because my parents were Christian is at all reasonable.

Anonymous said...

the bible is the word of god, that is how i know that incest is best, rape should be legal & slavery is man's GOD GIVEN RIGHT.

Anonymous said...

I think the reason why smart people believe in god is because of the emotional relationship they have with him/her/that.

if you look at the psychology of it, we are all driven by emotions. I have a theory that goes like this. Smart people who are religious are almost always raised in a religious family. And because of this they feel like they have a personal relationship with god (an emotional relationship). Now, what psychology tells us is that we are all driven by our emotions (as i have already said), and because of this we can easily discard what we think on an intellectual level (this being "this does not/makes sense" or "that does not/seems plausible")

If i should sum this up it would go like this (we are run by emotions, therefore we often overlook what seems reasonable to our intellect)

I will give you an example. If i told you "There is an invisble monkey in my belly, and he is controlling me", would you believe me? Probably not. The reason why is clear, it sounds crazy!
Now think about this, does it really make more sense when christians say "there is an invisible creature up in the sky, and he controlls the whole universe" Does that really make more sense???

My point is that smart people are smart enough to see religion as not very likely, the only thing that gets in the way is their emotional relationship with god.

Sorry if my english is not perfect, im from Norway ;)

jeffrey oram said...

With an infinite amount of time, anything it's possible

Tim said...

I love when religious people try to prove their point by pointing to a passage in their scripture. LOL!!! CASE AND POINT! IDIOTS!

Anonymous said...

If only more people could wrap their minds around that concept.

Anonymous said...

Remember what it was like athe year before you were born?..........Thats what its like when you're dead!

Patti said...

There's a great book you should read that supports some of the concepts you introduced in your post. It's called "Why We Believe in God(s): A concise guide to the science of faith" by J. Anderson Thomson and Clare Aukokfer.

It beautifully, and succinctly (it's a very small book), explains the neurological and evolutionary reasons that humans are disposed to believe in imaginary sky-daddies.

I highly recommend it and urge you to read it.

Ashley Morgan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ashley Morgan said...

Great article! I couldn’t have said it better myself. I was raised in a Catholic family, and rejected all the nonsense since I was old enough to understand what a Bible was. However, I do now believe that something else exists out there – whether it be god, gods, a spirit realm, or jus the continuance of human energy, I do not know. My “evidence” is that I’ve had 3 ghostly experiences. Once you see something that bizarre, standing right in front of you, it’s hard to dispute the existence of higher powers or at least other realms. One of the ghosts I saw was my Great Aunt, at the exact time she died, over 1200 miles away from me. I was 17 years old, and as I was climbing into bed, saw her hovering up in the corner of my room. I’m not someone who is generally ok with death, but it gave me an overwhelming sense of peace. So, while this gave me a bit of faith that something else out there exists, it certainly has not turned me into a religious nut.

Kris said...

I want to ask all of you Christians a question. A day is defined as the Earth making one full rotation. That being said, a day on Earth is not the same length as say, a day on Mars.
The widely shared belief is that God created the Earth in 6 days. Well here is my question: How can one define how long a day is when there is no Earth to judge it by? Is it 24 hours? 100 hours? 1,000,000 hours?
This thought came to my head when I was seven years old, about the same age I decided that Church and The Bible were nonsense. I hadn't yet given up my faith at that point though. No, I lost faith when I realized that if God truly was all-knowing and all-powerful and loved all of us the same and yadda yadda yadda then there is no way he would allow something as simple as homosexuality or lying prevent us from eternal happiness and damn us to eternal suffering. My point is, if there was a God, then he would have to be the one who CREATED homosexuality, and rapists, and murderers, and thieves, etc. How could an all-knowing and all-loving being be so BIASED!? Also, if he truly loved all of us, how could he allow a few years of mistakes cause us ETERNAL SUFFERING!? It just does not add up to me. Also,
a being that is so self-less and virtuous would definitely not feel the need to be WORSHIPPED!
Sorry if I offended anyone, not my intention, this is the U.S. you are free to believe whatever you wish to believe without persecution.

Anonymous said...

Kris, you are hilarious! The "one-day definition" example is one of the best arguments against God I've ever heard! Unbelievable a seven-year-old boy can come up with this.

Back to the topic, it is true that some people do emotionally need to believe their god as some other people have already mentioned here. But I also know some intelligent people that argue that
there's evidence for god's existence such as resurrection.

I really hope one day the nation can hold an open debate in which both sides demonstrate their evidence of existence or non-existence of god. Let's all examine the evidence from the smart believers and see if they are still smart on this.

I imagine that day would be the real turning point for this nation's spiritual belief ecology. We need more atheists!

Anonymous said...

This comment is for the a anonymous replier. The earth is not kept safe and clean by a god who keeps us just the right distance from the sun, and created a moon to keep us clean. These facts are a contributing factor to why our planet is inhabitable. These facts are how we came to be in the first place. It was this perfect storm of events that allowed earth to form as a habitable planet. It's cause and effect, not effect and cause. Get a clue

Anonymous said...

Biggest question is: Why do men have nipples? What did god do that for? Huh?

Anonymous said...

Leave us alone you say, lol. PSssst! Look at the title of the blog... I think you are in the wrong place. And when you tell people to shut up where can I find that verse in your fairy tale book or should I just have faith that it exists? Religion is there for people that need it. One thing I can except is that we don't have all the answers. Getting to an answer means identifying contributing facts, causal factors and root cause, facts being the main ingredient and that is what religion is lacking. Sorry but faith is not fact. If you can't tell me with facts how a God came into existence everything that follows is just an imagination. Ready..... Set... Que your Defensiveness in 3...2...1...

Anonymous said...

It's so refreshing not to have to think about other intelligent people wasting their lives with NONSENSE written by people using religion as a mechanism to control. I am realising day by day I hate religion SO much - for all its divisiveness. Just a mechanism to control - to poison lives. Think of the monks wasting whole lives doing FUCK ALL to help ANYONE - what a total waste.

How can we get people to work out it's all a load of crap? God does not exist - if I curse him NOTHING happens. Because he doesn't exist. If I pray to him to end war, nothing happens because he does not exist. It's just a total fucking waste of energy even thinking about god.

The problem is I live with people who believe in god. And I can't say any of this to them as I don't want to get divorced or risk my family. But it hurts and I need to let it out once in a while.

meeeee said...

Who created god? To first anonymous. The first comment does not mention darwin evolution. Why are you allowing only two choices? God or evolution? The earth was once thought to have been flat but science and exploration began to take place. Who created "God". If we couldn't have come to be without intelligent design you must believe god had a god too. Have you read the bible? God was a liar(said adam/eve would die), evil(killed all living things on earth because girls of man married boy of the gods). Forgot about noah, thought nothing about lot offering his two young virgin daughters to be raped then did nothing about the girls later getting their dad drunk had sex with him and get knocked up. I think I appriciate all life everywhere so much more because of the way everything has come together in the billions and trillions and foreverness of our universe. Now could aliens have had a hand in our rapid existance since dinos, that sounds more reasonable than god.

Anonymous said...

The universe is not fine tuned for life to exist on Earth. Life on Earth has evolved on Earth to live on Earth, not the other way around. Its odd that people make this mistake all the time.

Anonymous said...

Einstein made that same mistake then. We all know what a dummy he was. He actually believed in intelligent design, but thought the creator died. He was smart enough to realize that the chance that Earth exists as an inhabitable planet was so minute, that someone had to put it there, and in turn, put us there as well. Most people making statements like the one you replied to already KNOW that we are on this planet, as opposed to others, because it is inhabitable. How dumb do you think we are? What they are saying, and what Einstein also said, was that the very fact that a planet such as Earth exists HAD to be a result of intelligent design. We were added later. I'm not sure why you don't get what we're saying. (If you doubt me about Einstein, check out the Show Me God book series from the 90's.)

Anonymous said...

6 Feb 2014 - "why do men have nipples" I also wonder! But I look at the news on television when there are reports of people killed in floods, fires, storms, earthquakes, etc and often say out loud (in a sarcastic voice) "why did you kill those people, God ? Don't you love them ?". As to those who continue to bang-on about the impossibility of matter coming from nothing (our universe produced from what we call the Big Bang),they need to get themselves up to date with what we now know about the Higgs Boson and how black holes explode from what the observer would think was "nothing". Too hard to imagine ? Oh well, there is always God to fall back on. Easy. Oh, and he loves us.