On smart people believing stupid things

On one hand, I am blown away constantly by the stupid, stupid things that Fundamentalist Christians say. I constantly want to ask them, “Do you even hear what you’re saying? Do you realize how idiotic that is??”


OTOH, I really hate it when nonbelievers paint all Christians with the wide brush of “stupid.” Sometimes they simply mean in common sense, and I’d agree. But many really do believe all Christians have low intelligence. I have seen this assertion multiple times.

It’s objectively untrue. While atheists tend to have more education than their Christian counterparts in the US (for multiple reasons), there isn’t some drastic difference in IQ between believers and nonbelievers. (I realize IQ is just a construct, but it’s what we have.)

I was a Christian for most of my life (not a Fundamentalist, but devout). And my IQ wasn’t 72 five years ago and 136 now. That isn’t how it works.

I recently compiled a list of Christian philosophers¹ (for @Snowcity) and I don’t think they were stupid people.

My ex was an Orthodox priest with a MENSA level IQ.

I recently lived in a household with someone in the field of biology and someone who was an Advance Practice RN. They are objectively intelligent. Yet they are Fundies.

Here, I wrote about my college roommate, who was a 4.0 student in medical studies, and also incredibly dumb. (Very short)

In short: I think the issue is one of compartmentalization and cognitive dissonance, not intelligence.

But damn. Sometimes they do just seem really stupid.

If this baffles you, too… meet Alex O’Connor (Cosmic Skeptic).

Alex is a fucking Wonder Boy, IMHO.

He’s a 20-year-old philosophy & theology student at Oxford, and a former Christian, now atheist, who is mature and articulate well beyond his years.

His YouTube channel is sublime, if you are into this sort of thing.

Last night, I listened to this: his 45-minute presentation, “Why Smart People Believe Silly Things,” at the LogiCal LA conference in California last year.


It is well worth your time. I’m listening to it again. He goes above the issue of faith/skepticism into all kinds of thought and logic in religion, politics and relationships.

(I can’t believe he was barely 19 years old here. Wow. Wow. Mind blown)

Anyway, enjoy.

¹In Hellenist thought:

Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Augustine of Hippo, Athanasius of Alexandria, Dioscorus of Aphrodito, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great

In the Medieval era (800s to 1500s CE):

Peter Abelard, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham, John Duns Scotus, Albert of Saxony, Roger Bacon, Gabriel Biel, Hildegard of Bingen, Johannes Scotus Eriugena, Marsilius of Inghen, Albertus Magnus

During the Renaissance and Reformation (1400s to 1600s):

René Descartes, Jacobus Arminius, Francis Bacon,Jean Bodin, Desiderius Erasmus, Hugo Grotius, Marsilio Ficino,Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Huldrych Zwingli

In the modern era (1600s to today):

Thomas Browne, Galileo Galileir, John Locke, Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Immanuel Kant, Karl Leonhard Reinhold, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Barth, G. K. Chesterton, Fyodor Dostoevsky, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Karl Barth, Søren Kierkegaard, Reinhold Niebuhr,
Edith Stein, Albert Schweitzer, Leo Tolstoy, Frederick Buechner, David Bentley Hart, Simone Weil



I’ve mentioned many times that the most frustrating thing about my Christian friends is how smart they are.

If they were stupid I could accept their stupid beliefs, but how am I supposed to accept these brilliant people actually believe all the stupid things they say they do?

What I read of the post by the mother, she’s making her son turn away from her by throwing away his Harry Potter, Pokemon, and other books and toys. It’s one thing to tell a child that you don’t like said book, toy, or game and why you don’t like them, but it’s another to take them, throw them away, and say, “It’s sinful”, “Evil”, etc etc. That will turn a child away and cause them to rebel in a very hateful way. I don’t agree with any of her reasons for forbidding these things, but just taking them and throwing them away isn’t going to win her son over to her. Very bad parenting, but religion isn’t known of good parenting.


My stepson’s bio mom did the exact same thing. He was like 6. She was a Fundy. She came to her senses about it a couple years later, but for a while she forbid anything Pokemon in her home because their pastor told her it was evil, and she threw out some of his decks.

Which enraged my then-husband (who was an Orthodox priest, but who didn’t believe that stuff!!) . He had bought the Pokemon decks, and had paid good money for those decks!!! LOL He was pissed at her!!

I will say, though, for a time in my life, I did believe certain objects were evil. And that belief “feels” different from fears about other things. Logic (as in childrearing) hardly applies.


I feel for the religious parents.

If I thought something was evil and going to result in my kid going to hell, you bet it’s going into the garbage and I’m telling them how bad it is.

This is an example of simple ignorance. You can’t fault them for bad thinking if that’s what they’re brainwashed into thinking.

My mother was “saved” 3x’s. The first time she burned the 8-track of Jesus Christ Superstar and the Ouija board insisting they were both evil. Nice bonfire, but scary scene for a seven year old. I thought she lost her mind though.

OMG @Mriana

How old were you? Did it scare you or…?


I was always concerned about my stepson being exposed to his mom’s penacostalist crap. But he lived with us half-time. We were better in some ways, worse in others.

I was 7 years old the first time she was “saved”. She scared me and I haven’t forgotten it. Oh and I really liked that 8-track of J.C. Superstar too.

What is she like now?



I remember my stepson, about 8, being freaked out hearing his mom & friends speaking in tongues.


That would freak me out as well.



Well, there can be no doubt Pokémon is evil, but Lana is clearly a wack bitch. Overwhelmed single mom, probably.

Asking yahoo answers for advice is definitely a sign of stupidity, even dumber than asking a priest what to do about Pokémon of all things. Although people who ask the internet for help are far more secular than religious.



I really liked that 8-track of J.C. Superstar too.
Yeah, that thing was awesome!

It came out when I was in high school and it was the first Christian story that made sense, as in yes, these were real people acting in ways people really acted and felt. As opposed to usual Sunday school cotton candy version of Jesus’s Passion.

Oh lordie, the 1970 original album is only click away https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZD9b-NRfN8

@teebryantoo She’s now 74 and still a deluded religious nutter.

@citizenschallengev3 Yeah, it rocked and was cool. It also wasn’t as violent or bloody. Passion of Christ was horrible, at least in the violence and blood department. My older son didn’t like Passion of Christ either. I know about the 70s JC Superstar on YouTube, so I guess it’s not a great loss, that and I have it on VHS. Need it on DVD though given I don’t have a VHS player any more. The sound track on 8-track is lost forever though, even if she hadn’t burned it, because 8-track players are almost non-existent.

"If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation.
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.

Don’t ya get me wrong. I only want to know."

I would like to see more discussion about religious thinking is and less about what people want it to be. Daniel Dennet tried to get that started with Breaking the Spell and I think more work has been done, but you don’t hear much about it. This is no doubt due to what the marketers of religious books think will sell.

I was listening to a Jonathan Haidt interview this weekend and he just casually threw out that the human mind is geared toward religion in the middle of some other thoughts. He’s an academic, and I wonder if up in those ivory towers, this is commonly accepted, but the rest of us just don’t hear it.

I would like to see more discussion about religious thinking is and less about what people want it to be.
Since most people here were religious to some degree before dropping their belief, we should be able to at least talk anecdotally about religious thinking.

But good luck getting rid of the talk about how people want it to be. It’s such a powerful force in the world, not thinking about how it should and shouldn’t be is impossible.

@ Mriana hmmm, are we talking hollywood movie?

The trailer to the Gibson movie ‘Passion of Christ’ showed me more than enough. I hate gratuitous blood and horror on the screen so never had the slightest inclination to watch the entire thing, especially since it was obvious from what I’d read that the movie so missed what the actual ‘Passion of Jesus’ is all about, that there was no point.

Sort of like watching Sherlock Holmes (2009 film) and deluding yourself into thinking you learned about Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Hollywood, what can ya expect.

JC Superstar at least gives an hint of what the real thing must have been like.

I would like to see more discussion about religious thinking is and less about what people want it to be.
Seriously? Unpack that a little. Religion is all about what people think - it has no grounding in physical reality.

For more on that, yeah some of you know what’s coming :wink:

After the middle ages tribal stories, accepted ancient doctrines and religious “truths” were no longer enough to satisfy our mindscape’s growing desire for ever more understanding and power over the Earth. The human brain took another tremendous leap forward in awareness with the Intellectual Enlightenment and the birth of serious disciplined scientific study.

Science’s success was dazzling in its ability to learn about, control and manipulate Earth’s physical resources and to transform entire environments.

Science was so successful that today most people believe we are the masters of our world and most have fallen into the hubristic trap of believing our ever fertile mindscape is reality. Which brings me back to Gould’s magisterium and his missing key.

The missing key is appreciating the fundamental “Magisteria of Physical Reality,” and recognizing both science and religion are products of the “Magisteria of Our Mindscape.”

Science seeks to objectively learn about our physical world, but we should still recognize all our understanding is embedded within and constrained by our mindscape.

Religion is all about the human mindscape itself, with its wonderful struggles, fears, spiritual undercurrents, needs and stories we create to give our live’s meaning and make it worth living, or at least bearable.

What’s the point?
Science, religions, heaven, hell, political beliefs, even God, they are all products of the human mindscape, generations of imaginings built upon previous generations of imaginings, all the way down. …

How can religion be studied sans what we think about it???

Seriously? Unpack that a little. Religion is all about what people think – it has no grounding in physical reality.
Without getting into a thesis, religion comes from basic animal instincts, like not wanting to die. We can see our more intelligent animals cousins recognizing loss and mourning it. In us, this has grown into wanting to know what causes life to return in the spring (with variations on that in the equatorial regions).

The “want it to be” part comes when someone decides they know the answers and starts bothering everyone with their theories and manipulating the questions and worries that they know everyone has but has trouble expressing or are too busy finding their next meal to worry about it.

For example, we can see cause and effect and we can become a cause, but we can’t cause our loved ones to live on past their time, so some people start obsessing about some kind of ultimate cause. There’s no rational reason to believe there is one, other than the logic problem of there should be one. On top of that, the obsession wants to have control of that cause, or least ask it for a favor now and then. So we end up arguing about giving this ultimate cause the right name and burning the correct meat for it, instead of understanding the obsession itself.

Replacing the illogical obsession with science doesn’t address the psychology. The desire to know more is always there and wanting to skip over the hard math is human nature. Hoping for a wonder drug to be discovered when your spouse has cancer is not that different from hoping for an angel to appear.

OMG!! Haven’t thought of JC Superstar in ages!! A blast from the past… & my first religious cognitive dissonance!!

My folks believed in God, but they weren’t “religious.” I say I was raised Milquetoast Methodist: the THEN American Christianity® Lite, Protestanty & Universalisty.

I was in 4th grade (about 9) when the movie came out, and we saw it, and I had the album, like everybody.

And Jeff Whiteside, my little school friend, informed me it was “blasphemous*,” and kind of explained what that meant. (Also, my best friend was Jewish, and he called her a “Christ-killer” who was “in the devil’s hands.” I remember that like yesterday…)

And my parents (politely) informed me that Jeff was a crazy little religious fanatic who was full of shit, and not to listen to him. But it put a seed of fear into my mind…

I still like some of the music. “Everything’s Alright” still gives me chills!





  • For those who don’t understand why some Christians oppose it: It is told from Judas’ POV, and portrays Jesus as basically human with little emphasis on the Resurrection.