From Dr John Appleby
Sir, - I can believe Professor Edward Dutton's overall statement
that atheists are, on average, more intelligent than Christians (Features, 30
May). In fact, I can also believe many of his other statistics
regarding correlations between various personal characteristics and
religiosity. A correlation is not a causation, however, and a
definition is not a fact.
He asserts that intelligence has nothing to do with emotions - a
definition, not a fact. Even so, intelligence is not simply the
ability to solve problems quickly, as it relates strongly to the
ability to handle abstract concepts and to pose questions, while
"problem" can mean anything from a puzzle to a broken-down car.
I accept that atheists are often intelligent, because there are
few people who are sure atheists, and they tend to be those who
reflect on theism and reject it, whereas there are many more people
who are a-religious or agnostic. Perhaps the arrogance of certainty
about an abstract theism is more common in the very
There is also the widespread assumption that atheists are beyond
believing in things without proof, and yet it is certain that we
all believe in unprovable assertions - something elucidated early
last century in the failed attempt to axiomatise mathematics
completely and consistently.
Perhaps the most useful assertion here is that the intelligent
are more likely to believe in something that they don't call
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From the Revd Dr Nigel Porter
Sir, - With regard to Professor Edward Dutton's feature, I wish
to make two points.
First, he takes a rather simplistic view of faith, and then is
drawn to a number of conclusions based on that narrow view. He
seems to accept without question that there is no rational
component to faith; in other words, it is not possible to conclude
there is a God by following rational processes. While his
definition of faith does include the term "belief", it appears to
ignore the fact that beliefs can be emotionally or rationally
based; indeed, many of our beliefs about religion and the world are
based in reason.
Religiosity, for many people, is not a product of blind,
unquestioning faith. A simple faith is no bad thing, but I
personally cannot help but subject the truth-claims of Christianity
to intense scrutiny. While religious experience of the kind
Professor Dutton refers to was a factor in my movement from atheist
to believer, reason formed the greater part. I have subjected the
truth-claims of Christianity to intense scrutiny and found the core
of them credible. Simply put, reason has a greater claim on my
beliefs than emotion. I do not believe I am unusual in this.
The second point that I wish to make relates to the ways
Professor Dutton's findings may be used. I am sure that his
research had ethical approval, and/or he accessed only published
research that had such approval. This is important, because history
tells us that unless controls are in place for predicting and
managing the outcomes of studies that compare groups of people,
then the findings can be used to justify inhumane treatment.
For example, consider the myriad of studies in the United States
in the 1940s and 1950s that "proved" the inferiority of African
Americans on a number of measures, including intelligence. Although
later found to be flawed, these studies were used to justify
To what use does Dutton expect his findings to be put? Expecting
no use at all would render his study idle; expecting only positive
use would be naïve.
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