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Friday, January 01, 2010

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 16: Are materialist atheists smarter than other types of believers? - winner announced

Go here for the original post and all comments.

The title question above riffed off a study that claimed to prove such a point. I must also have been thinking of the “Brights” movement of materialist atheists.

The winner here is Barb at 2, who needs to provide me with a postal address at which she may receive a copy of The Spiritual Brain. Here is her entry appended, with a couple of comments interspersed:
"Are materialist atheists smarter than other people? How would we know?"

The short answer is no, not really. Paul Johnson wrote a fascinating book entitled Intellectuals, in which essays describe the life courses and contributions of men and women who are considered by most to be of at least above average intelligence. Johnson noted that while these people often did their own thing (so to speak), there is a kind of ‘herd mentality’ amongst intellectuals. It’s as if collective peer pressure stops them from truly speaking their minds. The materialist ‘new’ atheism espoused today is nothing more than the ‘old’ atheism with extra doses of rage and hatred towards anything remotely godlike or religious in nature.

[Re the book Intellectuals, I strongly recommend it, as I read it on the advice of a friend. Trust me, you would not want most current cultural icons as advisors. ]

Standardized IQ tests could be given, but this would not necessarily prove that materialist atheists are smarter than others, since Daniel Coleman asserts that there are other types of intelligence including emotional and social intelligence that could be used as measuring sticks.

[I think the book meant here is Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. All concepts of this sort run the risk of descending into fad, though that does not mean that their original insight cannot tell us anything. (I just hope that the [fictional] woman who throws a tantrum at my New' Year's party and blubbers all over my living room doesn't go away proclaiming that she is way smarter than the rest of us because she supposedly has "emotional intelligence.")]

What about everyday life? Have the materialist atheists discovered true meaning in their lives? Viktor Frankl wrote that man’s search for meaning is the primary motivational force in one’s life. Or are they cogs in a machine, slaving away because their ARM adjusted again and now they’re underwater with respects to the mortgage on their house?

[Hard to say, no? My own problem isn't with people who have discovered no meaning in their lives but with people who have discovered a meaning that sounds suspect. Usually, people who have found no meaning are just plain depressed. The others can be all too active in trying to force their "meaning" into reality. ]

If they truly are smarter than other people, then they’re not in credit card hell making minimum payments, they’re not victims of the financial collapse of Wall Street, and they’re not gorging on junk food, taking drugs, or engaging in any self-destructive behaviors.

[Well, if that is true of anyone, I am sure glad if they are not demanding that I give them a loan or tax funding. Unfortunately, that actually happens. I'd rather give charity. In some quarters, that is a dirty word, but at least it is a personal relationship. ]

Other comments:

Tribune7 at 1 writes, "People who brag about being smart invariably end up losing the hand." If so, I may have done someone somewhere a mercy. Recently, a correspondent wrote me to say that I had helped talk him out of a career in alligator wrestling.

I supposed that he would eventually get bored with being called "Lefty."

At 4 toscents asks:
So, who’s smarter? The dissembling philosopher, or the mildly demented believer? Does it matter?

Which would you trust with an intimate confession?
Well, it’s nice to be asked a question I can answer with certainty. I don’t need to trust either of them, for the same reason as I do not need to believe either of two implausible stories.

Here are the contest rules. I think Contest 19 is still open.


Happy New Year: Top ten Darwin and design stories I

From Dennis Wagner at Access Research Network:

We just released our annual review of the top Darwin and Design science news stories for 2009:


Its fun to reflect back on all that has happened this year.

We plan to release our top 10 ranking of these stories tomorrow with a press release.

We are also working on a top 10 cultural/public policy list and a top ten ID resource list to be released in the next week or two.

Interesting list. To me, the biggest story is the huge increase in ID-related news, requiring two separate lists, apart from their resources list - for a total of three lists now.

The problem is, so few journalists really want to cover this news. You can see why if you Google Denyse O’Leary + images. If you are not as scandalized as my family was, a number of lawyers must have advised their clients to expunge that stuff.

In an odd way, it mirrors the stories I often cover at the Post-Darwinist on intellectual freedom in Canada. (I hadn't wanted to get drawn into this, but friends were under assault.)

We are making headway but unfortunately, legacy mainstream media (where the money and advancement are) have largely morphed into public relations agencies for government and its approved causes. I belong to a journalists’ list where complaints about the lack of serious investigative journalism are the day’s fishwrap.* That role has passed to the blogosphere, for better or worse. The blogo is our new fourth estate.

It's easy to see why.

The original reason that media were given special privileges by governments in the West hundreds of years ago – and NOT usually willingly – was precisely that readers demanded the right to hear alternative viewpoints.

So, predictably, there is slow leakage of public attention away from legacy media to less fettered on-line media.

Just as predictably, there are now calls to “control” the Internet, in favour of “localism” = you should get your news from your Local Big Hair Pundit – which keeps him in hairstylists and you in debt.

If you want it, you can have it. The lineup for that stuff has shortened significantly in recent years.

* Note: The difficulty is, investigative journalism starts with the assumption that the establishment, the powers that be, the government, the experts, the pundits might actually be mistaken. In fact, some could be corrupt, even criminal. People who cannot deal with stuff like that should content themselves with romances about how Miss Nice Girl meets Mr. Right Guy.

The journalist may not be a Nice girl, and the guy whose nefarious activities she is tracking may be Mr. Wrong in Spades.

Anyway, the decline in the investigative tradition, as witnessed here in Canada, impacts the ID controversy in this way: People don't know what they don't know. If Pundits A, B, and C tell you that Darwinism is proven beyond reasonable doubt, you must go to sites like this Post-Darwinist to find out what no one else will tell you.

It's worth it. Tell your friends. And Happy New Year

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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