Who’s Smarter? Or Dumber? Religious People or Atheists?

Written by inceptions on May 21, 2016

d2ac104bcd46281b4526f11d4b2cefa1Here is a brief follow-up, which I can’t resist, on the previous article I wrote about the University of Miami endowing a chair of “atheist studies.”

The prevailing, popular assumption (especially among the intelligentsia) is that the smarter you are, the less likely you are to believe in God, or to exhibit religiosity.  And of course smart people get a college education (supposedly).

This assumption has been a staple of the academy for many generations now, and a few years ago it was actually borne out in a controlled, “scientific” study for which the results were publicized in Psychology Today.

The study basically compared IQ with various criteria of religious commitment and behavior, and found a negative correlation.

At the same time, back in 2011 a pair of sociologists, who conducted their own “scientific” investigation and employed data from, among other sources, the National Opinion Research Center, found something quite interesting, which intuitively would seem to contradict the aforementioned study.  They discovered that educated people – as opposed to the uneducated, or less educated – are much more likely to go to church, and to do so for a much larger segment of their lives.

The studies themselves, are both provocative, yet they inspire a whole tangle of seemingly incommensurable conclusions.

For example, the “smart” test which the Psychology Today article singles out does not include the new variable of “emotional intelligence,” or creativity, which cognitive theorists are increasingly beginning to include their assessment of who is really dumb and who is brilliant.

Second, we have to ask: if church-goers tend to be more educated, then does that imply advanced learning is negatively associated with “intelligence” (i.e., does college actually make you stupider?)

Some commentators on the second study speculate that perhaps educated people have more money, and people with more money are more liable to go to church regularly, because poor or unemployed people are more afraid of having to put something in the collection plate.  That seems a stretch.  What about the widow’s mite?  Or the fact that in developing countries the opposite is more likely the case.

Or should we deduce that atheists are actually stupider?

We’ll find out perhaps, especially all the majors soon flocking to atheist studies at the University of Miami turn out to reap a higher percentage of Nobel Prizes, or become the Wall Street geniuses who developed the recondite algorithms that sent the price of mortgage loan derivatives soaring in the fall of 2008.

Carl Raschke is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Denver, specializing in Continental philosophy, art theory, the philosophy of religion and the theory of religion. He is an internationally known writer and academic, who has authored numerous books (most recently Force of God: Political Theory and the Crisis of Liberal Democracy, Columbia University Press, 2015) and hundreds of articles on topics ranging from postmodernism to popular religion and culture to technology and society. Website: www.carlraschke.com

 

 

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The University of Miami Now Has Chair in “Atheism Studies”? How About “Anti-Creationism Studies” As Well?

Written by inceptions on May 20, 2016

c-e4dfafbefbe4a612ca4e5c8999807d98-webOffered an outsize  gift of $2.2. from a billionaire who made a fortune off the dreams of aspiring young actors and models, the University of Miami has established the first endowed chair in a religion department for the study of atheism, an article today in The New York Times has revealed.

According to donor Louis Appignani, the main purpose of the gift, according to the Times,  was “to eliminate discrimination against atheists” and “to make atheism legitimate.”

Technically, the endowment is for “the study of atheism, humanism, and secular ethics,” terms that are always mashed up together in the new pop discourse of a fast-growing group of largely young people (labelled “the nones” these days by demographers and sociologists) who reject religion in all forms and say, unlike Americans historically, that they don’t believe in God.

New atheist luminary Richard Dawkins, of course, was delighted to hear the news.  “I think it’s a very bold step of the University of Miami, and I hope there will be others,” he told the Times.

Aside from the fact that neither the department or the university seems really sure what it can really do with Appignani’s money other than to say no, as the article implies, one honestly has to ask what is the point of having such a “chair,” and who with any serious academic credentials (other than Dawkins himself) might fill it.

Second, one also has to ask why establish such a chair in a religion department?  It’s sort of like establishing a chair for the study of Scientology funded perhaps by Tom Cruise in a Department of Psychology (Scientologists are famous for evangelizing about the evils of clinical psychology and psychiatry).

According to the article, the university wanted to name it as a chair in “philosophical naturalism,” which would have made eminent academic sense.  But the donor would have nothing of that.  It had to be a chair in a religion department dedicated to the proposition that religion doesn’t matter.  And who can turn down $2.2 million?

Third, about what will the certainly well-paid professor in such a position actually teach courses, or conduct research?   There is a distinctive Western philosophical tradition that runs from Voltaire through Marx and Freud to Bertrand Russell that lays out a variety of arguments or positions against the existence of God, or at least explains why people are inclined to believe in such an “illusion”.

These arguments, which with the exception perhaps of Voltaire, are only episodic and for the most part not really central to the thought of any of these figures.  In addition, they are already routinely taught as part of standard philosophy, or philosophy of religion courses.  If the latter weren’t the case already, you would not have such a popular, stock character as Professor Jeffrey Radisson in the well-known evangelical Christian B-movie God’s Not Dead.

I suppose the prof with these kinds of competencies (which virtually any credentialed adjunct instructor at a community college has) might also have some specialized academic interests in the history, policy, and practices of the “official atheism” as opposed by the Communist regimes in Russia, China, and Cuba. But I’m not sure focusing on this particular aspect of “traditional atheism” would not contribute much toward Appignani’s goal of making it seem more “legitimate.”

Religion – or as they are more commonly called these days “religious studies” – departments are normally designed to mobilize various means of interdisciplinary expertise to examine what are historically rich and complex phenomena that are either self-identifying as “religions”, or can be regarded by scholarly consensus to be “religious” in some straightforward manner of speak.

By the way, “secular” does not at all imply something that is the opposite of religion.  In fact, the term has a religious origin itself.  So the ultimate consequence ipso facto of establishing a chair of “atheism” in a religion department is to admit that atheism is no more or less a religious practice than Hinduism, Buddhism, or even Satanism.

Interestingly, the Detroit-based Temple of Satan, which has become known of late through its dog-and-pony show of trying to install statutes or images of the demonic figure Baphomet wherever Christian symbols are already present in the public square in order to demand strict separation of church and state, seems to be trying to add the archetypal foe of the Almighty himself to the same “humanist” stew of fashionable, but supposedly anti-religious sentimentalities.

You can ignore here the venerable legacy of Satan as the One who was so jealous of the power and authority of God he wanted to be God himself, hardly the stance of someone who cannot bring himself to believe in the existence of God in the way a professor of “atheist studies” might profess.

Steve Hill, an organizer in the Los Angeles area for the Satanic Temple and a Democratic candidate for California state senate, back in March told a reporter for Time magazine:

“I’m a Satanist as far as trying to get people to understand that I don’t believe in the devil any more than I believe in God…All of it is stupid. But if I have to tell people I’m the devil to get them to listen, then, OK, I’m the devil.”

That statement can probably be parsed in the classroom along with the tweets of Donald Trump, who considers himself Christian.

All of which makes me wonder if “atheist studies” isn’t simply a convenient rallying standard for bummed-out ex-Christians of all stripes who simply want to vent their disgust at their former priests, pastor, church youth leaders, or the nuns that taught them by hitting their knuckles with rulers under the respectable mantle of the “objective” study of a phenomenon, which has a lot of intellectual appeal these days, but is relatively thin in terms of actual material to examine.

It’s an old saw that you can’t prove a negative, and it’s equally true that you can’t really study something that is primarily about the denial of something else.  After all, how many biology courses these days characterize themselves as the investigation of “anti-creationism?”

But our hypothetical biology instructors might be persuaded to change their minds if you offered them $2.2 million?

Carl Raschke is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Denver, specializing in Continental philosophy, art theory, the philosophy of religion and the theory of religion. He is an internationally known writer and academic, who has authored numerous books (most recently Force of God: Political Theory and the Crisis of Liberal Democracy, Columbia University Press, 2015) and hundreds of articles on topics ranging from postmodernism to popular religion and culture to technology and society. Website: www.carlraschke.com

 

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Has Economics Failed America?

Written by inceptions on May 20, 2016

8hoursday_banner_1856This article in Foreign Policy points out the inconvenient truth that globalization has reduced inequality among nations, but increased it within nations, particularly the developed ones. His argument is that the slick economic models that are still revered by the number-crunchers hid this significant moral dilemma. I remember 30 years ago when we were always told how awful it was that 6 percent of the world (us) consumed 60 percent of the resources. Well, that has certainly changed, but the tradeoff has been that the Western working class has taken most of the hits, hence the galloping global spread of reactionary politics, especially in the “developed” West.

One of the ironies of history is that this trend was more or less foreglimpsed over a century ago by John Hobson in his influential book Imperialism: A Study (1902).   Hobson’s theories, which were highly controversial at the time, had its greatest impact on the thought of Nikolai Lenin, father of the Russian Revolution fifteen years after the book came out.  Hobson argued that the dysfunctions of global market capitalism, which Marx had predicted would eventuate in the ultimate collapse of the system and a revolution by the working class, had been fatefully postponed by the colonialist enterprise as it developed in the late nineteenth century.

The opening of new markets and sites to exploit raw labor through the energized, colonialist (or “imperialist”) enterprise of that period had the ironic effect of allowing the European nations to improve the lot of their domestic proleteriat through the kinds of reformist measures known as “social democracy”, thereby keeping control of “the means of production” in the hands of the present ruling classes while fostering a new politically invisible underclass of overseas workers.

Hobson, in effect, predicted an ultimate “crisis” of capitalism once the Western nations were no longer able to – or for moral reasons no longer had the stomach to do so – exploit the rest of the world economically.

Although global capitalism is a lot different today than Hobson could have foreseen, one has to ask if maybe we have to take his perception more seriously.

Carl Raschke is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Denver, specializing in Continental philosophy, art theory, the philosophy of religion and the theory of religion.   He is an internationally known writer and academic, who has authored numerous books (most recently Force of God:  Political Theory and the Crisis of Liberal Democracy, Columbia University Press, 2015) and hundreds of articles on topics ranging from postmodernism to popular religion and culture to technology and society.  Website:  www.carlraschke.com

Economics Has Failed America

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