Links and Comments: Religious Intellectuals; Lawrence Krauss; Daniel Dennett

Jerry Coyne asks, Are religious people a bit thick?.

He disagrees with someone who claims that many very smart people are also religious.

Look at it this way: if someone spent much of their lives worshiping Santa, elves, fairies, or even Zeus, and maintained in all seriousness that Santa delivers presents to Western children at nearly the speed of light each Christmas, you’d think they weren’t playing with a full deck. But somehow it’s okay if they do the same with Allah, Jesus, Muhammad, God, Vishnu, and the like. They can profess such stuff and still be considered “smart.” I can’t agree.

Of course it’s rude to say such things out loud, or write them down, and sure, one could waffle about how many people are *functionally* effective in their careers and in raising their families while at the same time apparently being quite sincere in their belief in various supernatural entities. The traditional way to think about this is that, these functional matters are one type of behavior, and the way that human minds partition things, often holding contradictory beliefs simultaneously, their religious or supernatural beliefs can be set aside as irrelevant to their otherwise intelligence. Yet Coyne concludes,

I’ll admit here, then, that if you tell me you’re a theist, or adhere to a religion that makes untenable reality claims, I’ll think less of you. I won’t deem you “stupid,” which is an overall assessment of one’s mental acuity, but I’ll think you somewhat irrational and, as the Brits say, perhaps a tad thick.

This reminds me of a Harper’s article from several months ago, The Watchmen
What became of the Christian intellectuals?

To which Gregory Feeley, on Facebook, posted: “A serious answer: If you are still a Christian in 2016, you are not an intellectual.”


From Vox, and talk between Sean Illing and physicist Lawrence Krauss: Physicist Lawrence Krauss on the greatest scientific story ever told

Well, the greatest story ever told is the intellectual journey we’ve taken to understand the amazing universe we live in, and see that it’s an illusion in a sense. The reality beneath is much grander and more mysterious than we ever imagined. The greatest story is being told by nature, not by us. We’ve been dragged kicking and screaming, clinging to our illusions and grasping for truth, but nature is there to be seen and admired and studied, and the story it tells is far greater than any mythologies invented by human beings.

His “greatest story” (I’m part way through his new book that they’re talking about) is the history of physics, and how profoundly unintuitive the nature of reality is to human minds.


And in The New Yorker, a long profile of Daniel Dennett, also on occasion of a new book: Daniel Dennett’s Science of the Soul.

If philosophy were a sport, its ball would be human intuition. Philosophers compete to shift our intuitions from one end of the field to the other. Some intuitions, however, resist being shifted. Among these is our conviction that there are only two states of being: awake or asleep, conscious or unconscious, alive or dead, soulful or material. Dennett believes that there is a spectrum, and that we can train ourselves to find the idea of that spectrum intuitive.

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