The Dawkins Effect – Why Clever People Are Less Likely To Believe In Religion And Why That’s Not Necessarily A Smart Choice
A recent study in America has concluded that intelligent people are less likely to believe in God than those who are less intellectually gifted. If you are a clever atheist, then this conclusion seems entirely logical and unsurprising. Clever people question things and demand evidence to reach their conclusions. You don’t have to question any religion too deeply before all the answers become “It just fucking is, right”. The situation quickly moves from philosophical debate to exasperating conversation with your pre-menstrual girlfriend. Clever people don’t like this.
The conclusion of this American study should be a surprise though, if you have ever studied Physics. I started studying Physics as a separate subject at the age of 14, when I was at school. I continued to study it until I was 24. The school I went to was a Faith School, and I was a clever little boy. But I didn’t question the religious aspect of my education any more than I questioned my Physical Education lessons. Both were just part of a myriad of obligations I had to fulfil in order to attend a school which prided itself of academic excellence. Morning prayers and the occasional Holy Communion were just another pain in the hole, as was PE. Except in the Summer, when we got to watch the girls running around in little skirts playing tennis.
Study physics for long enough and you will eventually encounter Quantum Physics. For me, This happened in 6th Form when I was studying Physics A Level. The first concept I was introduced was Wave Particle Duality. This is the idea that something can be both a particle and a wave simultaneously. I scratched my head and thought “Well, that sounds like horse shit to me”. But it was a central principle of the whole thing, so I did my best to crowbar it in there and after I few months I’d accepted and internalised the idea.
Then when I was at University, Wave Particle Duality came up in a tutorial. Our physics Professor, after much questioning from the group, had to cave in and admit that Wave Particle Duality was just another way of saying “We don’t actually know what this thing is, we just know that sometimes it behaves as a wave and sometimes it behaves as a particle. Go figure.” Bastards! I spent months twisting my melon around that idea, only for you to tell me I was right in the first place. It was horse shit after all.
Physics is all counter-intuitive nonsense, but it does happen to offer an explanation of how the world works. The Chinese call Physics “Wu Li”. This means “Patterns of Organic Energy”. Physicists love this definition. However “Wu Li” also means “Nonsense”, “My Way”, “I Clutch My Ideas” and “Enlightenment”. All of which is quite a good description of the Physics experience. Though the Chinese word “Mao” also means both “Cat” and “Hat”, which makes translating Dr Seuss books into Chinese a little problematic.
Richard Dawkins is a very angry man. It’s very entertaining watching him get more and more irate with religious zealots on various television discussions. He just doesn’t get why they won’t listen to him. It’s very simple really. Dawkins presents grim reality. And in case you haven’t noticed, reality is not a very nice place to live in a great deal of the time.
He’s like a man waving around a big scrap book full of pictures of particularly gruesome pictures of road traffic accidents and saying “Why? Why won’t you look at them?” Quite naturally, the religious people are shaking their heads and saying “Erm…No thanks. We’ll look at these paintings of bunny rabbits and fluffy kittens if it’s all the same to you.”
The problem with looking at the world through the prism of pure logic is that you see things for what they are. The world around us contains a lot of nature, red in tooth and claw. For every fluffy kitten there is a hideous disease that rots the flesh and a worm that survives exclusively by eating unprotected eyeballs. Why not get yourself a lens that has a slightly softer focus about it? Though it has to be admitted that many religions are more like a kaleidoscope where all you see is the inside of the kaleidoscope rather than what lies beyond.
As you live your life, people you love will get sick and die. You may get sick and die. Science can say how you die and has made great strides in stopping it happen in many cases. However, it offers no satisfactory as to why you die. Or to why you live for that matter. Stephen Hawking once famously said “Life appears to be just what matter does given a particular set of circumstances.” As explanations go, this is something of a cop out and not really any more scientific than Creationist theory.
It is a fact that clever people are less likely to be religious. It’s also a fact that religious people tend to have happier, more satisfied lives. It’s all about suspension of disbelief really. I know that Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t really Sherlock Holmes. But he is for an hour or so when I watch the television show. If you’re clever, but can’t suspend your disbelief for long enough to believe in a God, then try some kind of substitute mythos that might guide you a bit and make life a little easier to bear. Star Trek’s pretty good, apparently. Live long and prosper everyone.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2013