Why Aren’t Christians Smarter?

Religion is a croc.

Don’t flame me for this title. It’s actually the provocative title of an article by Andrew Tallman, a columnist for Townhall. Unlike most fundie articles that I shred, this one makes some good points as well as a few bad ones. Let’s examine it.

Have you ever wondered why Christians aren’t smarter? I mean, we have the only true religion, we have a Book which is responsible for all of Western Civilization, and we serve a God who can safely call Himself the supreme champion at every trivia contest. So why aren’t we smarter?

Amazingly, Tallman answers the question posed by his title at the very beginning of the article! Intelligence is a complex thing that’s hard to define, but one aspect of it that most experts agree upon is the ability to learn.

Tallman says “we have the only true religion“. Right there, he closed his mind tighter than Michelle Duggar’s vagina (Oh wait! That’s a counter-example! I mean tighter than Kevin Wirth clings to the term “Darwinism”.).

If you start out by saying you have the only true religion, then you have blocked out all information that even appears to contradict that. Considering the expanse of Christianity’s claims on knowledge (biology, cosmology, geology, etc.), you have walled off just about anything you could have learned.

Then you couple arrogance with inability to learn. Tallman says “we have a Book which is responsible for all of Western Civilization”. No, you don’t. It was undeniably a large (mostly negative) contributor to Western Civilization, but it isn’t the foundation of all of our laws or any other silly notion.

Tallman’s next paragraph is a good one, though:

God commands us very simply: Love Him with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind. Catch that last part … with all our mind. This means thinking is not optional for the Christian. Thinking, and thinking well, is a form of worship of God which is nothing short of obedience to His primary command. Hence, if we do not ”use the brain God gave you,” (my mom’s favorite rhetorical chastisement), we are sinning.

Here is a Christian leader urging his followers to think. So then why don’t they? My only guess is what I said above. Christianity’s claims on knowledge are so broad that there isn’t much left over to think about.

The only solution to this problem is for the Christians to actually start thinking about the stuff they’re not allowed to think about. Think about origins. Think about history. Think about philosophy. Their book isn’t complete. It doesn’t have all the answers. Why don’t they look beyond it?

The most pervasive myth about Christianity is that it is incompatible with intelligence.

This is what I believed before I became one, and it made me not want to be one. I say it is a myth both because nothing demands more thinking capacity than being a faithful Christian and also because our history is rich with intellectual giants.

It’s not that Christianity and intelligence are incompatible. It’s that only one can be active at a time.

I’ll concede his point about “nothing demands more thinking capacity than being a faithful Christian”. Have you seen some of the amazing mental calisthenics that Christian apologists go through to try to make the ludicrous claims of the Bible fit to known facts? Amazingly convoluted. That it’s a house of cards is irrelevant. You have to admire the ability!

I will also grant Tallman’s claim about Christianity being “rich with intellectual giants”. Most of the great scientists and philosophers of yore were Christians. Some were intellectual giants in spite of it. Imagine what they could have accomplished if they hadn’t been burdened by a mythological worldview.

Nonetheless, Christianity has a reputation as a religion for fools, and this is at least partially our own fault. By offering empty platitudes such as, “Well, you have to have faith,” when challenged with difficult questions, outsiders can be forgiven for forming the impression that what we really mean is, “Well,you have to be stupid.” This puts people in the painful situation of feeling like they have to choose between their mind and God. Also, it makes Christianity offensive to the smartest people in society, who tend to be culture’s greatest influencers. Thus, simply showing non-Christians that one can be both smart and faithful is a powerful form of evangelism.

I find that last sentence too hard to believe, but the rest of that paragraph is pretty accurate.

Tallman’s article is a refreshing change from most of the stuff I read over at Townhall. I only wish that the rest of the crop could be capable of making at least a few good points in their articles.

9 Responses to “Why Aren’t Christians Smarter?”

  1. Nigel Says:

    You know I don’t think you get stupider with religion, well with the rational normal form of “this list of things we don’t know yet I am going to attribute to a divine force, and wait for science to catch up” and you know there are benefits to belief, so I think that comment that some of the most intellectual people who were Christian could have possibly done better with out it. However, I agree with all the rest of the article.

  2. Ron Britton Says:

    If some of the great minds of the past didn’t have religious blinders on, they could have thought outside the religious box and come up with bigger ideas.

  3. vjack Says:

    Of course, there are plenty of smart Christians. However, the data suggest that as the average intelligence of a group increases, the average religious belief of that group decreases. Makes perfect sense to me.

  4. Jason Failes Says:

    God commands us very simply: Love Him with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind.

    Where? He is making up his own scripture here, I think.

    a Book which is responsible for all of Western Civilization…

    The stupid here burns, and the goggles, they do nothing. Literacy, philosophy, democracy, indoor plumbing, free speech, women’s rights, and slave reform all have their origins pre-Christianity….and Christianity opposed most of these things! (except indoor plumbing, I suppose) By “responsible for all of western Civilization” did he mean “the best parts of western civilization survived despite being continuously attacked by Christianity?”

  5. Nigel Says:

    Jason, don’t most fundies do that anyway? I mean it’s either that or jesus had a separate book just for the fundies, I doubt that though.

  6. Brian Says:

    With regard to the study that vjack alluded to, not only did one’s level of religiosity tend to diminish as an individual moved up the educational scale, but for those with higher degrees of education who still retain a belief in god, the reasons they give for that belief are different from your run-of-the-mill bible thumper. For example, your typical fundie usually has no better than a high school-level education. They usually offer the dumbest arguments in defense of their beliefs, such as “My family raised me to be a Christian”, or “Without god how could we be good?”. If an individual has a college-level education and still believes, design arguments are usually cited as reasons for belief. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, those who were fortunate enough to have a strong scientific education were the least likely to develop any religious beliefs. No wonder over 90% of National Academy of Sciences members profess no religious beliefs.

    There is really nothing surprising about a study like this. I think we all suspected these results intuitively, anyway. I also think that paranoid Christians also know this, which is why they constantly pick fights (and lose) over science issues. How else does one account for people like Kevin Wirth, or the Discovery Institute? They know that a well-educated public will choose to discard the ancient fables and superstitions they’ve successfully foisted upon us for milllennia. If the American public were anywhere close to being scientifically literate, they’d be out of business.

  7. Maarten Says:

    I have the feeling that the very first quoted line was firmly tongue-in-cheek. The next lines do not show a whole lot of reverence to God. These are, in my opinion, not the words of a close-minded zealot.

    Without having read the original article, I’d say this was one christian admonishing his brethren to use their brains and to not act so stupidly. A laudable effort

    Personally, I have voiced many of those same concerns myself.

  8. Ron Britton Says:


    I didn’t get the sense that the first part, or any part, of the original article was tongue-in-cheek. I could have misinterpreted it. It’s sometimes difficult to convey low-key humor or irony in print. I think he was serious, even if he wasn’t overly serious in his examples (trivia contest, etc.).

    Anyway, the link to the original article is embedded at the beginning of my article, so you’re welcome to go to the source and read it yourself.

  9. dsivis Says:

    Love Him with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind.

    I’m pretty sure that’s from Leviticus. It’s part of the sh’ma, the passage for proclaiming the existence of god and keeping god in mind.