What Religious People Know

If I ever seem to imply that religious people are less intelligent than the non-religious among us, I apologize in advance. That would seem to be the case, but it isn’t. Not directly, anyway.

What is real is the inverse correlation between education and religion. Religiosity decreases sharply among better educated people, but education is only indirectly related to intelligence. That is, getting an education requires a certain minimal amount of intelligence; but most people are intelligent enough.

In the United States, though, depending on which survey you read, about 90% of all adults are at least religious enough that they occasionally pray to a personal god who they believe sometimes intervenes on their behalf, “answering” their prayers. Among people with graduate degrees, this drops to around 60%. Only about 40% of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians pray to such a god, with a little variation among the branches. Among members of the National Academy of Sciences, the most elite and best educated of scientists, it drops to 7%.

Some of my best friends and most of my relatives are very religious people, and some of them score very high on IQ tests. They obviously aren’t dumb. One of the most intelligent men I have ever known is also one of the best educated people I know AND possibly the most religious. So the general rule of thumb about education and religiosity doesn’t always hold true for individuals. It only applies statistically.

The only rule I know that always holds true for individuals is that religious people “know” so many things that simply aren’t true.

Depending on their particular religion, for example, they “know” that a teen-age virgin girl named Mary (if you speak English), around 2,000 years ago, gave birth to a son who would grow up to be a god-man (“all God and all man,” whatever that means).

Scholars know there was a Hebrew word in the Old Testament that was mistakenly translated “virgin” in the Septuagint, an ancient Greek version of their holy book. Much later it was re-translated “virgin” from the Greek into an early English version sponsored by King James of England. The original Hebrew word really just means “young woman.” Nevertheless, they “know” she was a virgin and that it was the Devil’s work to remove the virgin birth from later English translations.

That this god-man was tortured to death according to his own father’s plan, after begging to be saved from it. That he rose from the dead three days later (or two, if you happen to be Catholic), flew in a cloud to heaven, and is coming back “sometime soon. Maybe even tonight.” All according to God’s plan, which He planned before He even created the earth and the universe.

That other dead people can also come alive again. That snakes and donkeys can sometimes talk to people. And Muslims even include ants among the talking animals.

That a man and his dog went into a cave together, lay down, and went to sleep for 300 years. That this supposedly true Rip van Winkle woke up in a very changed world, to which he had to adjust. Actually, it sounds to me like a very early Buck Rogers story.

That God separately and individually created several million species of living things on earth (or at least a few hundred or thousand “Genesis kinds”) in approximately their present forms in six days. They deny that evolution of life from a single species (probably even a single cell) is good science, while truly well educated people know the evidence for such evolution is overwhelming in the fossil record, comparative genetics, comparative embryonics, and even in the bodies of living plants and animals.

They know that early humans lived hundreds of years. Some almost a thousand. That a flood covered the whole earth about 4,400 years ago, extending 15 cubits (about 22 feet) above the highest mountain tops, yet left no trace except for a few places like the Grande Canyon, which they say it formed in about five months. (The non-religious among us can count the strata and see that it took the Grande Canyon many millions of years to form, of course. And from a river; not a flood.)

That the only survivors of the imaginary flood were a 599-year-old man named Noah, his 99-year-old triplet sons, and the wives of the four men. According to the myth, all seven billion of us on earth today descended from these eight people. Actually from just Noah and his wife, since the three sons also descended from them.

Truthfully, modern genetics does indicate there was a severe population “bottleneck” in our history, but not that severe and not that recent. The best estimate is that the human population was reduced to about 10,000 people in Africa, not just eight people. And appears to have been about 70,000 years ago — just a few thousand years before many of our ancestors began their massive migration into the rest of the world — probably caused by climate change resulting from the Toba super-volcano eruption in Indonesia.  Chimpanzees, gorillas, cheetahs, rhesus macaques, orangutans, tigers, and probably many other animals not yet studied also suffered bottlenecks about this same time.

They “know” that, just four hundred years or so after the Great Flood, the descendants of those eight survivors, still speaking a single language, had become so numerous and had developed such powerful technologies and finances that they decided to build a great city with a mighty tower to commemorate their achievements.

The tower was so tall and so wonderful that God Himself came down from Heaven to personally see it. When He did so, He was so impressed that He said, “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.  Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

So He sabotaged them by giving them many languages to speak, so they could no longer understand one another to work together. The tower, which became known as Babel, was apparently abandoned.

Some claim to know that a cracker and a little glass of red wine, blessed by a priest, become literally the flesh and blood of the ancient god-man. How can they put these “sacraments” in their mouths and still make such a ridiculous claim? I dunno.

An American family Bible dating to 1859.
American family Bible dating to 1859.

That an ancient book written over about a seventeen hundred year period of time, between about 1,800 and 3,500 years ago by around 40 or so different authors of many different professions and educational levels, from fisherman to shepherd to physician to slave to king to poet to tent maker and more, in a backward part of the world where fishermen and shepherds and sheep and slaves and multiple wives and concubines were common, was later compiled into a single “book of books,” first by Jews and later by a committee of Catholics, was “inspired of God” and later translated and re-translated, edited and re-edited, yet still today tells the story of the god-man perfectly and without error, in languages that didn’t even exist when it was originally written. Further, they “know” this ancient book, as translated into English for the Church of England between in 1604 and 1611 by authority of King James  of England, is completely accurate in everything it says, a “preserved and living” document, even when it is contradicted by modern science and other scholarship.

Not all religious people “know” all these things, of course. Actually, the variety of religious belief is almost infinite.

The best way to spot religious people is by the strange things they claim to know that simply aren’t true.

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