To the Gentiles, a folly

So here we are at the New Year, and still celebrating Christmas right up to the Epiphany. Is that an intelligent thing to do?

Apparently not. At least according to retired Danish professor of psychology, Helmuth Nyborg. This is what he has to say:

First, intelligent people have a brain based biological capacity for solving complex problems, and for acting rationally when confronted with fundamental questions about existence, human nature, underlying causes, or the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. Second, unintelligent people lack this protection and are therefore unfairly ordained to live in a pre-rational world based on poorly validated evidence and little accumulated insight. They accordingly often find themselves in cognitively, emotionally, or morally challenging situations and have to use plan B, that is, to call upon easily comprehensible religious authoritative guidance and to submit more or less uncritically to culturally given stereotyped rituals. Frustration with their life may also make them seek redemption or faith in an after life.

So now you know.

On the other hand you might like to take a look at Reflections on the The God Delusion. It’s as good a succinct commentary on Professor Dawkins as any I have read. You may feel that Professor Nyborg has missed a trick somewhere.

Comments invited

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Church and Society, Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to To the Gentiles, a folly

  1. Horace says:

    First and foremost, the dichotomy between ‘intelligent people’ and ‘unintelligent people’ is ridiculously naïve, there is a seamless graduation between ‘intelligent’ and ‘unintelligent’ and people are not all ‘intelligent’ or ‘unintelligent’ in the same way!

    Second, the idea that only unintelligent people “find themselves in cognitively, emotionally, or morally challenging situations” is risible; indeed I would suggest that it is characteristically unintelligent people who fail to be worried by such things.

    Thirdly, for me at least Plan B is Plan A – although I am not, subjectively at least, frustrated!

    I am very impressed by Maria’s Reflections.

  2. Juliana says:

    To add to Horace’s comment that Nyborg’s musings are naive I would that he is also remarkably biased and to me such one-sidedness shows a small brain.

    Could it be he who is the unintelligent one?

    Juliana

  3. tim says:

    This reminds me of a well-known legal story.

    For Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, the judges decided that they would present a Loyal Address. The first version began: “Conscious as we are of our own shortcomings,…”. The Master of the Rolls (Jessel MR) immediately objected. “I am not conscious of shortcomings; if I were, I should not consider myself fit to be one of Her Majesty’s judges!”. After some debate, another Court of Appeal judge (Bowen LJ) suggested that all that was needed was a slight rewording: “Conscious as we are of one another’s shortcomings…”

  4. Trident says:

    I spy a little implication of cynicim in Tim’s comment. And, while, I accept the foolishness of Nyborg’s comments in general, I think we can learn something.
    According to Derek Wright’s “The Psychology of Moral Behaviour” there are two types of religious believer. One type is the person whose membership is based on factors like the need to conform, wish to be told what to do, sense of superiority, need to bolster ego etc. The second is the person who has a full commitment to his belief through thought-out conviction, and puts this into practice in his life.
    The first type is I would guess in the majority across the Christian denominations, and it may well be that they accord with Nyborg’s description.
    Would anyone agree?

  5. Fariam says:

    I am inclined to agree with what you say about the two types of religious behaviour. But having said that, I am also inclined to think that such divisions can be dangerous.

    Firstly, it assumes that people who conform do not think! There is also the inbuilt assumption that the need to conform is a bad thing in that it is coupled in your comment with the need to be told what to do, bolster the ego, sense of superiority, etc. There is nothing which says that the person needing to conform is not humble and honest, and perhaps very close to God, just as there is nothing which says that those who act through thought out convictions are not arrogent and presumptious.

    Indeed, it is sobering to think that the saints are made up of both types of people, and that a humble spirit is what usually qualiifes people for sainthood and holiness, regardless of whether they conform to what others teach them or think out their convictions for themselves.

  6. Horace says:

    I very much agree with Fariam here but I think that we are perhaps being led up the garden path by Quentin!
    I was wondering why a reputable Danish Professor should have made such an apparently silly statement and a little research revealed some disturbing suggestions:-
    It seems, according to information available on the Web, that Nyborg has concentrated his research work on scientific measures of intelligence and has suggested as a result of this work
    a) Men are more intelligent than women
    b) White people are more intelligent than black
    c) Atheists are more intelligent than religious people
    He has been reprimanded by his University for carelessness and inaccuracies in his work.
    When I tried to consult an article “Professor: Atheists are more intelligent than believers” featured by danish.newsvine.com I found “This article was deleted by the author.”
    I wonder why?

  7. O cynical Horace! I will admit that I felt that something provocative was needed to wrest us from our Christmas torpor.

    Nyborg is indeed a controversial figure, although he has some stout defenders in the scientific community. In truth almost any work on differences of intelligence between discrete populations is controversial. For instance Professor Eysenk, a rigorous scientist, was scandalously attacked for his work in this field, and “The Bell Curve” (Herrnstein and Murray) has caused long-standing controversy.

    But, more relevantly, the verdict which he gives on the intelligence of believers can be seen every day, implicitly or explicitly, in the opinions expressed by correspondents in scientific publications. The view that our beliefs arise from our need to compensate for our inadequacies is common today.

  8. Trident says:

    I think, hope, that Fariam has misunderstood me. When I used the phrase ‘need to conform’ I was referring to a psychological tendency in which people are unhappy if they are not fitting in with the wishes of others or otherwise out of line with views generally accepted by their group. This tendency can have some very unfortunate outcomes – for example the readiness with which the Germans fell in with the Nazi ideology. This went far beyond obedience through fear.

    Chosen conformity – which might be a religious vow or subscribing to a group view whose values one has tested and found to be good – is something quite different.

  9. tim says:

    Cynical, moi? (Bowen LJ, possibly…). But we naturally look for arguments to support the positions we find ourselves in. As Eliot says, most people
    “… are engaged in the endless struggle
    To think well of themselves”.
    This is a reason to test carefully such arguments when we find them: we need not dismiss them out of hand, as coming from a tainted source.

    “The view that our beliefs arise from our need to compensate for our inadequacies is common today.” – but those holding this view rarely apply it to themselves.

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