Dear Children: Christianity Is Not Less Intelligent Than Atheism

This is my fourth post in a series called “Letters For Christian Armour”.

Dear Children,

Something I want you to be prepared for in life is the frequent implication or assertion by atheists that Christianity is less intelligent than atheism.

To understand why this notion is so common, consider the respective starting positions for a Christian and an atheist. (Note that this is not to debate who is right, but rather to explain why one position is not more intelligent than another.)

Here are some of the difficulties a Christian must grapple with:

  • A God who is invisible and “silent”.
  • A Bible that is filled with ancient references we often don’t understand, supernatural claims that we don’t continue to experience today, apparent contradictions, incomplete answers to some of life’s biggest questions, concepts that seem outrageous to “modern” minds (e.g., hell), and descriptions of God that seem inconsistent on the surface (e.g., loving versus wrathful).
  • No obvious, immediate correlation between prayers and outcomes of prayers.
  • A world filled with evil and pain that feels impossible to reconcile with the existence of a supremely good Being.

Here is what an atheist must grapple with:

  • How was the universe and everything in it created?

The end.

It’s a lot easier to be an atheist, isn’t it? When you believe that there is nothing beyond this existence, you can simply look at all we don’t understand and credit it to fortunate or unfortunate randomness.  Sure, you wouldn’t have answers to the big questions of how or why the world started in the first place, whether there is any purpose to our existence, or whether we’re ultimately accountable for our actions, but there’s no need to consider any of these issues if we’re simply the random product of time and chance, as atheists believe.

Given these respective positions, the atheist’s logic often goes something like this:

1. Anyone who thinks through the gaps, inconsistencies and difficulties of Christianity would conclude that it’s logically improbable or impossible as truth and would stop believing.

2. Given number 1, if you are a Christian, you just haven’t thought through and fully considered your beliefs as much as those who have rejected them.

3. Given number 2, that means you are taking a less intelligent position than an atheist.

Let’s address each of these points.

1. Anyone who thinks through the gaps, inconsistencies and difficulties with Christianity would conclude that it’s logically improbable or impossible as truth and would stop believing.

The premise of this conclusion is that knowledge gaps, (apparent) inconsistencies, and general difficulties in comprehension automatically render something false.

Does the nature of truth mean it should or must be the easiest concept amongst its alternatives to understand?  Or is truth independent of how easy it is to understand?

Does the nature of truth require that we have all the desired pieces of information to evaluate it? Or is truth independent of the pieces of information we want?

Does the nature of truth mean that the pieces of information we do have must make sense to our human minds? Or is truth independent of what makes the most “sense” to us?

Outside the discussion of theological matters, one would be hard pressed to argue that truth is dependent on these requirements. Yet, these assumptions underlie the atheist’s position when it comes to the claim that Christianity is unintelligent. This is a logical inconsistency.

2.       Given number 1, if you are a Christian, you just haven’t thought through and fully considered your beliefs as much as those who have rejected them.

To be sure, there are many Christians who simply believe because it’s what they were taught when they grew up. They haven’t studied the Bible significantly or considered some of the most difficult theological questions.

That said, there are likewise many atheists who haven’t fully thought through their lack of beliefs. Just as many Christians grew up in Christian homes and never questioned, many atheists grew up in atheist homes and never questioned.  Many atheists know nothing about the Bible, or have totally incorrect ideas of what the Bible is and says. They just dismiss the notion of God and don’t care to investigate the Bible and its claims. This is just as uninformed as the Christian who hasn’t thought through his or her beliefs.

I read the Bible and study faith matters extensively. I am well versed in the history, cultural context and archaeology of the Bible, the many “contradictions” that atheists point to (which often times are not actual contradictions, just a lack of understanding context on their part), different theological stances based on interpretations of key matters, what major disagreements there are amongst Biblical scholars and why they exist, and rationales for difficulties in the Christian faith, such as the problem of evil, issues with the book of Genesis and the existence of hell.

I am still a Christian.

It’s highly presumptuous for anyone to suggest that a disagreement on matters of faith means that someone hasn’t thought through their belief system.

3.       Given number 2, that means you are taking a less intelligent position than an atheist.

For Christians who have extensively “thought through” their belief system and still believe, the argument ended with number 2. But take for one moment the example of a person who grew up in the Christian faith, believes strongly in their heart, and does not pursue all the more “intellectual” questions extensively.

Does that really mean this person is taking a less intelligent position than an atheist – any atheist, including those who may have considered their beliefs just as little?

Of course not. It is fair to say that there are people of all belief systems who have thought through the implications of their beliefs less than others; however, the extent to which a person feels compelled to pursue an intellectual understanding of religious matters is not an indication of their intelligence or the intellectual credibility of the belief system itself. It is only an indication of that person’s desire for a more comprehensive understanding of their beliefs.

Both Christians and atheists are taking a position on matters that no one knows for certain. There is absolutely no rationale for stating that one position is simply less “intelligent” than the other.

So, my dear children, I leave you with this. Please don’t ever believe the faulty premise that believing in Jesus is less intelligent than believing that we are the product strictly of time and chance.  Stand strong in your faith, but never just because that’s how I raised you. Truth can always stand up to questions. When you have questions, look for answers. Pursue truth relentlessly. Truth may not always be obvious, but it’s certainly not hidden. God has provided us with everything He knew we needed to know.

Love,

Mommy

13 Comments

  1. MoreThanMotions on May 2, 2012 at 7:04 AM

    Just has this same topic on my heart! The view is skewed so unjustly in the wrong direction about the educational level of Christians. I hope I can successfully instill this information into my children 🙂

    http://morethanmotions.com/



    • Natasha @ Christian Mom Thoughts on May 2, 2012 at 3:32 PM

      Thanks for your comment!



  2. Bev on May 2, 2012 at 10:35 AM

    Love this article; it echoes many of my own thoughts. 🙂



    • Natasha @ Christian Mom Thoughts on May 2, 2012 at 3:32 PM

      Thanks Bev!



  3. Crystal on May 2, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    For someone seeking to be understood, I would expect you to be understanding toward others. Instead, you present a highly reductive, condescending view of athiests, in fact, a very judgmental view. Atheists do not, as a group, think anything in particular. (Would you write a passionate essay about what non-tennis players think on a particular topic?) And how can you possibly say that atheists don’t think of the big questions in life? If you want to know what one particular atheist thinks about a philosophical question, ask that atheist. But do not ever seek to say anything about “what atheists think”. They are not a group!! They do not have any uniting thoughts or philosophies!
    If you want to go the way of generalizations, stick to the polls, to the facts. And the generalizations there say that atheists are more highly-educated than the common public, and that, compared to each religious sect, atheists in fact know MORE about the world’s religions than self-identified religious people. I have some deeply intelligent and thoughtful friends that are christians, and some deeply intelligent and thoughtful friends that are atheists. There is absolutely no need for the pot to call the kettle black.



    • Natasha @ Christian Mom Thoughts on May 2, 2012 at 1:11 PM

      Hi Crystal,

      I think you have misconstrued what I said. Can you point to anything in my post that suggests I am saying atheists are less intelligent than Christians? At every point, my post is about the fact that one position is NOT less intelligent than the other. It is not a question of intelligence at all. Perhaps you only skimmed it before writing your comment, but my post didn’t suggest your conclusion at all. Had I suggested what you say, I indeed would be guilty of the same thing.

      That said, I should have put a disclaimer at the top that of course not ALL atheists think this. However, in my experience, atheists overwhelmingly do tend to believe that Christianity is a less intelligent belief system than atheism.



    • Emily on April 21, 2013 at 9:18 AM

      “Condescending view” of atheists? You have apparently NEVER encountered an atheist’s treatment/opinion of any believer, especially Christians. Atheists almost invariably use smug condescension, derogatory labels and stereotypes.



  4. Robert on May 2, 2012 at 11:09 AM

    Hi Natasha,

    It seems your letter is not intended soley for your children, but for a wider audience as well. Else why post it on the world wide web for all to read? So I hope you don’t mind a contrasting perspective. Of course, I don’t expect you to share it with your children (rare is the believer who exposes her children to anything but the approved theolgy; such is the nature of religion), but because you say you “think through” your beliefs, I take it you consider various opinions.

    To begin, I admit to some confusion over the title: “Christianity is not less intelligent than atheism”. The word intelligent usually describes living beings or actual things, not concepts, ideologies, or theologies. As an atheist myself, I’ve never heard it told that Christianity is less intelligent than atheism. Perhaps you really mean “reasonable”?

    Also, I think it’s inaccurate to speak of “Christianity” as if it was a single theology. The fact is, there are multiple “Christianities”. You don’t identify the particular Christianity you adhere to, but I’m positive that if you did, I can cite other Christianities that hold doctrines you would regard as non-Christian. Some of these Christianities would probably be less reasonable to you than even atheism!

    Continuing on, you state that the atheist must grapple with how the universe and everything in it was created.

    I’m not so sure about that. One may chose to grapple with such questions, but it’s not necessary. And one could easily retort that if the atheist must indeed grapple with them, then why doesn’t the Christian have to grapple with the origin of its god and how it created everything? What’s more, insofar as a Christian creation explanation is merely a hypothesis (i.e., a claim or assertion), it must also grapple with demonstrating its truth, particularly in the face of competing hypotheses. Bald assertion, or that it must be taken “on faith”, are insufficient because this opens the door for proponents of competing hypotheses to do the same, which leaves the truth obscured.

    You stated,

    Sure, you wouldn’t have answers to the big questions of how or why the world started in the first place, whether there is any purpose to our existence, or whether we’re ultimately accountable for our actions, but there’s no need to consider any of these issues if we’re simply the random product of time and chance, as atheists believe.

    I can’t speak for all atheists, but most I know hold to the theory of evolution, which certainly does not state we’re simply the “random” product of time and chance. Are you familiar with the theory of evolution? Do you believe it demonstrates how humans emerged?

    I personally have never been able to make heads or tails of the Christian’s explanation for why its god created human life, much less non-human life, much much less anything at all. What’s more, the truth of the explanation has never ever been demonstrated to my knowledge.

    1.Anyone who thinks through the gaps, inconsistencies and difficulties with Christianity would conclude that it’s logically improbable or impossible as truth and would stop believing…The premise of this conclusion is that knowledge gaps, (apparent) inconsistencies, and general difficulties in comprehension automatically render something false.

    I’m sorry to say, but your argument here is a bit of a straw man. Your questions don’t substantiate whether Christianity is reasonable. Could Christianity be true, even if its claims make no sense, or the evidence provided on its behalf is incomplete? Yes. But would it be reasonable to accept its claims as truth in the face of such difficulties? Absolutely not. Virtually every other religion passes the same standard you propose for Christianity, but you reject them along with the atheist. Why is that?

    Gaps, inconsistences and difficulties are not the only reasons why people believe Christianity in general is false. One major reason I mentioned above is that Christians fail to substantiate their claims. Anyone can assert a truth; much harder is to demonstrate it as true. Another compelling reason is that Christians themselves disagree what is truth. If Christians, who style themselves as possessors of the unalloyed truth, can’t agree among themselves, then why should anyone even give their message the time of day?

    Many atheists know nothing about the Bible, or have totally incorrect ideas of what the Bible is and says. They just dismiss the notion of God and don’t care to investigate the Bible and its claims.

    I’m sure there are “many” such atheists, but on a whole, atheists are more knowledgeable of the Bible than Christians. In fact, atheists encourage people to read the Bible. As the president of American Atheists says, “That’s how you make atheists.”

    Both Christians and atheists are taking a position on matters that no one knows for certain. There is absolutely no rationale for stating that one position is simply less “intelligent” than the other.

    Wow, this is an incredible concession. Do you really believe there is no rationale for stating that atheism is less “intelligent” than Christianity? I presume from that you would have no problem if your children became atheists, after having “pursued truth relentlessly”.



    • Natasha @ Christian Mom Thoughts on May 2, 2012 at 3:04 PM

      Hi Robert,
      Thank you for your comment. I welcome opposing viewpoints, as long as they are respectful. If you want to know more about this post series specifically and why I am posting my letters as part of my blog, you can click the link to the series introduction I placed in the first line of the post.

      You are addressing two different topics in your comment. One is related to this post (whether one position is more intelligent than the other) and the other is not (who is “right,” the Christian or the atheist). As I stated in the post, I in no way was addressing the topic of who is right, but rather was addressing the frequent assertion by atheists that Christianity is less intelligent than atheism. To stick to the topic at hand, I’m going to address only the points you made related to the intelligence question.

      First, I like your discussion of reasonableness. I think it’s an interesting one to have, though that is not what I meant by “intelligent”. I agree that intelligence in a strictly literal sense can only be ascribed to beings, but the word is frequently applied in other ways. In my experience, and I dare say the experience of many Christians, atheists view Christianity condescendingly and typically make it an issue of “intelligence.” For example, I saw an atheist’s blog last night that had a title like “Atheism: Because I Refuse to Set Aside My Intellect.” This is a common premise for atheists in my experience.

      Regarding Christianity as a single theology, of course there are multiple Christianities. I could have added 5000 words to cover this topic alone, but it’s really not pertinent to the discussion. When was the last time I heard an atheist suggest specifically that Presbyterianism is silly but not the other denominations? Never. Generally speaking, the atheists to whom I refer categorically see a belief in God as less intellectual than a belief in no God. That said, I see that you bring this up in the context of “reasonableness.” Again, that was not what my blog post was about, but you are correct that in a conversation of reasonableness, I would argue that some beliefs are more “reasonable” than others by my criteria (what criteria someone should use is a whole other conversation). And by the way – I actually think atheism is quite reasonable; don’t assume that because I am a Christian I can’t see the reasonableness of other viewpoints. I see very few atheists who can see the reasonableness of religions, however.

      Regarding the atheist’s question of the universe, I was only suggesting that the atheist has far fewer questions to answer in order to “make sense” of their position. Sometimes, admittedly, being a Christian feels like an uphill battle. There are many things that don’t “make sense” at first. As I listed, Christians have to grapple with the Bible itself, and then all the questions that come from what the Bible teaches. If you are an atheist, and don’t believe in a supreme Being and absolute truth, you really don’t have many unknowns. The big unknown, how the universe got here, is really the only thing an atheist doesn’t yet have an answer to. That was the reason for the question I suggested; I was not implying that an atheist needs to grapple with any question in particular, only that that is the key question an atheist can NOT answer. (How much a Christian needs to be able to “demonstrate” truth, and what the nature of “faith” is, is not relevant to the discussion of relative intelligence of ideas, so I’m going to leave that for now.)

      Regarding evolution, I will say outright that I don’t know how humans emerged. I am a creationist, in that I believe that God created the universe (if a God-like being exists, of course I do not need to explain how he was created; by definition, that Being could/would be unlike everything else that exists and could/would be outside of space and time). I do not believe, however, in a literal Genesis creation account. I do not believe that the original intent of the author(s) of the Genesis creation account was to explain scientifically how the world was created. Did God move through the proposed process of evolution to bring humans into their current state? Maybe. But my honest answer is that I don’t believe the Bible tells us about the scientific origins of the universe, so it remains an open question for science. Of course, many Christians would disagree with me on this, but you are asking about my personal position. Being a Christian does not require believing in a literal creation account. I recently read an excellent book on this very topic – The Evolution of Adam by Peter Enns.

      I will now address this part of your comment: “Your questions don’t substantiate whether Christianity is reasonable. Could Christianity be true, even if its claims make no sense, or the evidence provided on its behalf is incomplete? Yes. But would it be reasonable to accept its claims as truth in the face of such difficulties? Absolutely not. Virtually every other religion passes the same standard you propose for Christianity, but you reject them along with the atheist. Why is that?”

      First of all, I was never addressing the relative reasonableness of Christianity or any other position. As I already stated, that is different than the question of the relative intellectual merit of the beliefs. I have to point out, however, that whether Christianity makes sense is relative to the person. Despite all of its difficulties, I can make sense out of it. In fact, it makes the most sense to me of all the alternatives, including atheism. As I said, what “makes sense” to us is not necessarily a guidepost for truth, so I have many reasons for believing beyond that. But what do you make of the fact that Christianity makes more sense to millions of people than atheism? Do you believe it’s because all Christians take a less intelligent, or even less reasonable (using your word) position than atheists? If so, you are proving my point in this post. What would lead millions of people to choose the same less reasonable belief system? Is it because we are all less intelligent or less educated than every atheist? Clearly, reasonableness depends on an individual’s criteria. It is not that we all believe in something objectively less reasonable, but rather we have different criteria for determining reasonableness.

      This is off topic, but regarding disagreements amongst Christians, that would be a pretty weak reason to throw out Christianity as a possibility. Just because multiple parties interpret something differently doesn’t mean that the “something” is false. I don’t believe truth correlates with how many people differ in its interpretation.

      Also off topic, but if reading the Bible makes someone an atheist, I would suggest they get a study Bible to help them understand the many completely “reasonable” explanations. I recently decided I wanted to read what Biblical issues are most concerning to atheists (yes, I really do read about many views!). I read a book by an atheist (an ex-Christian) called “Biblical Nonsense: A Review of the Bible For Doubting Christians.” I had read other atheists say that this man gave a great overview of atheists’ problems with the Bible. I have to say that it was one of the most uninformed books I have ever read. Short of reviewing the book here, I would say that if those are the takeaways that lead most atheists to toss the Bible out, atheists are overwhelmingly reading the Bible at a cursory level without context. There were many things in that book that scholars would offer extensive historical, theological and cultural context for.

      And lastly, no I do not believe atheism is less intelligent. That was the whole point of my post. To suggest that one belief system is less intelligent than another is, in my opinion, absurd. If my children pursue truth relentless and become atheists, I would be greatly troubled about their spiritual well-being. But I would not think they are less intelligent for the choice.

      Thank you again for your comment. I hope you find my reply “reasonable.” 🙂



      • Robert on May 9, 2012 at 1:29 PM

        Hi Natasha,
        Thank you for some very good food for thought. I understand the intent of your post was to discuss whether Christianity or atheism was more “intelligent” than the other, though I’m not sure such a discussion can be wholly divorced from the question of each other’s truth. After all, it’s possible both could be false, in which case, what does it matter whether one is more “intelligent” than the other? Also, your initial discussion touched on truth at many points, both directly and indirectly. That said, if the question of truth is set aside entirely, I’m not sure on what basis either position would be considered more intellectual than the other.

        You stated,

        In my experience, and I dare say the experience of many Christians, atheists view Christianity condescendingly and typically make it an issue of “intelligence.” For example, I saw an atheist’s blog last night that had a title like “Atheism: Because I Refuse to Set Aside My Intellect.” This is a common premise for atheists in my experience.

        I’m fairly confident the blogger wasn’t attacking Christianity specifically, but faith, which is a concept common to most religions. Faith, in our understanding, is belief in propositions in spite of evidence, or even in the face of contradictory evidence. Because of this, it often commits you to beliefs and actions which would be rejected if every-day intellectual methods were employed. Atheists are those who apply such methods to form beliefs consistently, rejecting faith as an invalid and error-prone means to apprehending truth. (Yes, I know some believers, including Christians, assert that an immaterial being confirms their faith, but faith’s problems remain unabated.)

        Regarding the atheist’s question of the universe, I was only suggesting that the atheist has far fewer questions to answer in order to “make sense” of their position.

        I agree with you, but I see it as a consequence of what really are entirely different positions. Atheism is just the rejection of a specific claim: that at least one god exists; there’s nothing more to it than that. Christianity, on the other hand, is an entire worldview which makes thousands of claims, all of which must be be supported and rationally defended. As modernity advances, that becomes increasingly difficult to do, though not impossible. It seems the favored method is to “re-think” the docrines. How Christians and other believers can do this, while also steadfastly holding to other doctrines as absolutely true, remains a mystery to me. Seems some skepticism is in order.

        But what do you make of the fact that Christianity makes more sense to millions of people than atheism? Do you believe it’s because all Christians take a less intelligent, or even less reasonable (using your word) position than atheists? If so, you are proving my point in this post. What would lead millions of people to choose the same less reasonable belief system? Is it because we are all less intelligent or less educated than every atheist? Clearly, reasonableness depends on an individual’s criteria. It is not that we all believe in something objectively less reasonable, but rather we have different criteria for determining reasonableness.

        I don’t make much of the fact that Christianity “makes more sense” to far more people than atheism. Religions like Christianity are a whole package that fulfills many human needs and desires, particularly emotional and communitarian. Reasonableness is far down on the list of items of importance. If a religion’s reasonableness was essential to its existence and growth, then how do you as a Christian explain Hinduism, Islam, or Buddhism?

        I’m glad you mentioned the “criteria for determining reasonableness”. This is one of those unstated assumptions that underlie many discussions. Here are my criteria:

        1) Coherency – aspects of the belief do not conflict with others
        2) Uniformity – the belief accords with what we experience about the world
        3) Compatibility – the belief does not conflict with what we have determined to be true via other means
        4) Logically permissible – the belief does not rely on fallacies (e.g., begging the question, arguments from ignorance, arguments from tradition, arguments from emotional outrage, etc.)
        5) Proportionality – the belief does not make claims that go beyond what reason and evidence allow
        6) Verifiability – the belief may be indepedently validated

        What do yours look like?

        This is off topic, but regarding disagreements amongst Christians, that would be a pretty weak reason to throw out Christianity as a possibility. Just because multiple parties interpret something differently doesn’t mean that the “something” is false. I don’t believe truth correlates with how many people differ in its interpretation.

        Well, the disagreements don’t make Christianity impossible, just highly improbable. Even you would likely agree that certain sincerely held beliefs among Christians make their Christianity improbable.

        Also off topic, but if reading the Bible makes someone an atheist, I would suggest they get a study Bible to help them understand the many completely “reasonable” explanations.

        Of course, that depends on their criteria for reasonableness 🙂 Believe me, atheists are readily familiar with most of these explanations. They appear more as rationalizations or just plain “woo“. Worse, however, is that they’re always ad hoc. “Admittedly, Genesis was believed to be literal for 1900 years, but now we realize it’s really just metaphor!” Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that other Christian beliefs are based on anything real (*cough*the resurrection*cough*).



  5. Rosann on May 3, 2012 at 5:28 PM

    Natasha, I’m grinning ear to ear reading all of this! Love the fire in your belly, girl. 🙂 Keep on keeping on.

    Blessings,
    ~Rosann



  6. Blake on August 26, 2013 at 12:58 PM

    I believe that the author may have issues misconstrued. I have not heard any atheists proudly proclaiming that, as individuals, they are more intelligent than Christians… I would hope that the author is not hearing something so silly (and unverifiable).

    I merely hear it said, with studies to confirm it, that it is less likely for individuals with higher education thresholds to be Christian. There, of course, is not much to argue there. The trend is both obvious and pervasive in today’s world.



    • Natasha Crain on August 26, 2013 at 1:35 PM

      Hi Blake, If you could see all the comments I’ve received (and proceeded to trash) today from people following the Reddit link, you would see that many people believe something so “silly.” I published your comment because it was reasonable. Most comments atheists like to leave on the blog boil down to personal attacks on intelligence or simple statements that all this is “pure stupidity proving the point that Christians are not smart.” They aren’t mentioning anything I wrote, they’re just making simple black and white statements on their feelings about Christianity. It’s not worth my time to publish these thoughtless comments. I received an email from an atheist last week wishing a “painful death” on my family for believing in Jesus because this is just “so stupid.” So, yes, this is a common belief amongst atheists, often masquerading under the label of faith vs. reason (as in, only atheists hold a “reasonable” position).

      You are correct about the studies you cite. But, as I think you would acknowledge given the reasonableness of your comment, that says nothing about the relative truth of anything.