Does Religion Make You Stupid?

Does your brain improve if you get rid of religion? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was recently sent this article by Caroline Beaton about religion and what happens to one’s brain when they stopped believing in God. Of course, Beaton describes it as an improvement. Does her argument hold water?

It’s interesting that Beaton begins this with a personal testimony. She talks about losing her virginity at 16 and then living a life of disobeying the rules. I find it amazing that many skeptics of religion who used to be Christians always seem to start with a personal testimony. It’s like they can’t get away from their upbringing.

It also looks like for parents and throughout this article, that much of Christianity in particular is all about morality. Christianity has things to say about morality, but the purpose of Christianity is not to be a moral philosophy but a historical faith with moral implications. On a related point, the word true, or some variation of it, never shows up in the article. Apparently, that question didn’t really seem to matter.

Beaton says that 35% of youth show no religious affiliation. These are called the nones, but it’s a misnomer to think they’re necessarily non-Christians. Many people in a higher power. Many pray. Many have high views of the Bible. They just don’t care for something along the lines of “organized religion.” I recommend anyone wanting information on that read this book.

She quotes a radiology professor who says that religion acts like a drug. For some people, that is no doubt true. There are many people who will use their religion as a way to get spiritual highs. The goal of the religion then is to feel good about one’s self or to feel that one is close to God. In that case, the idea that religion can act like a drug is certainly true. That’s also part of the me-centered aspect of Christianity today. It’s my contention that true Christianity at times can make you feel good, but it can also make you feel miserable. In fact, it should make you feel miserable at times. You should feel sad about the suffering of humanity or the realization of your own sin or knowing that your friends and family are lost.

Beaton also says she believed in young-earth creationism and evolution for awhile both. At this, it never seems to occur to Beaton that maybe she was the problem and not the religion. Had she ever really thought deeply about her religion? She talks about losing interest in a picture Bible. What did she expect? Of course it wouldn’t bring the same interest. We can’t all be children forever and we need increasing awareness of our religion.

Beaton goes on to say

As I tried to reconcile my belief in God with my growing knowledge of the natural world, I drew arbitrary distinctions. God couldn’t see me poop but he could hear me pray, I decided. Eventually I couldn’t figure out how, physically, he could do either.

Absent is any mention of doing any real research. Instead, the lines are arbitrary. What were the grounds for this? You don’t want God to see you poop but you want Him to hear you pray? It sounds like Beaton had her religion for personal comfort. Beaton goes on to say

This scientific descent from religion is common. Pew’s 2016 survey on why now-unaffiliated Americans lost faith yielded explanations such as, “Rational thought makes religion go out the window,” “Lack of any sort of scientific or specific evidence of a creator,” and “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.”

Part of the problem here is a scientism that has taken over much of our thinking. In fact, I would say the fact that we have debates on if the Bible teaches YEC or OEC is a demonstration that we read even the Bible through a scientific lens. It never seems to occur to some people that maybe science isn’t the best place to go to for this question. I also notice the idea of rationality. Let’s say something about that.

There are stupid Christians and there are stupid atheists. There are genius Christians and there are genius atheists. It’s not the point that you “become rational” and suddenly you change your worldview. One of the big problems I have with many atheists today is that they deem automatically that anyone who believes in anything religious is automatically irrational. This contributes nothing to a good debate.

She continues

When we get to college, however, cultural testimony changes. An analytical, scientific view reigns, and there’s little room for God. We staggered home from parties pontificating on the pointless evil of Western religion. We made friends by cynically confessing our doubt. College is “very likely to challenge the more conservative belief systems we have in our brains,” Grafman says. It deflates our adolescent faith.

Of course, parties where you stagger home, no doubt from drinking too much, are the perfect places to be thinking on Western religion. Apparently, the college library isn’t of much use. Beaton is accurate when she says that an adolescent faith is deflated. Perhaps it needs to be. Perhaps they need to look at these doubts and move onto an adult faith where they actually think about what they believe.

When we finally break up with religion, we rebound. Eventually, non-religious people who once had religious epiphanies get those same feelings from being in nature, or from seeing profound scientific ideas expressed, Anderson says. “The context changes but the experience doesn’t.” Most non-religious people are “passionately committed to some ideology or other,” explains Patrick McNamara, a neurology professor at Boston University School of Medicine. These passions function neurologically as “faux religions.”

And once again, there you have it. It’s all about the feelings. You could have feelings and emotional experiences with a religion based on your own temperament and such. For me, they don’t happen often because I am not a man of emotional passion like that. That’s okay. Still, if the purpose of your religion is to make you feel good or have pleasurable sensations, you’re doing it wrong. Your religion is meant to inform your life about who you are and the way the world is and your place in it.

Ultimately, Beaton doesn’t really give us anything here. There is no question of truth. There is no question of research. All we have is really a long personal testimony with some scientific statements thrown in. It’s good to know that just by entering college Beaton thought she had all that she needed. Hopefully, Beaton will in the future visit a library and learn something about these systems she has been freed from. Until then, I do not know what happens when your brain gets freed from religion, but I know what happens when it gets stuck on your own experiences and doesn’t understand religion.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Studying Logic

How do you go about studying the topic of logic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ve been discussing lately with some fellow Christians the study of logic. We’ve often discussed the main ways that people study logic, such as reading the books on logic and listening to great teachers on logic. This is essential to the study and you should do this, but at the same time, I want to point out some fun ways you can put into practice what you are studying.

One place to go to is advertising. Someone is selling you a product. Why should you buy it? What claims do they make? Do they really convince you that this is a worthwhile exchange for your money, or do they do something else, say have a bikini wearing model advertise a burger for you? (And let’s face it, we all know that model never ever eats anything like that.)

Sometimes, businesses are less forward than that and try to sneak in an attitude. When we lived in Tennessee, a local bank would have commercials with a touching country setting emphasizing the goodness of home. Nothing was said about the bank itself, but the feeling you got thinking about the homey atmosphere was meant to carry over to the bank. Car insurance companies have been doing this as well using humor. How many of us laugh at the “Jake from State Farm” commercials or the GEICO commercials about cats, mothers, and the band Europe? You know what? They work, because we talk about these commercials, but many times you don’t really wind up knowing much about the product.

I have also been a stickler for pointing out to my wife Allie what it means when someone is referred to as a liar. Because someone gets a claim wrong does not mean that they are a liar. If that is so, every student who gets a false answer on a math test is a liar. A liar is someone who knows the truth about what they are saying and says the opposite fully intending what they say to be believed as the truth. We have to be clear because someone could say the exact opposite in sarcasm not intending to be believed at all. This kind of thing happens often in politics. It’s too easy to say someone is a liar for providing information that is false. Maybe they are, but it takes more than false information to show that someone is lying.

Speaking of politics, let’s look at the presidential debates we have going on now. This is a great place to go to to study logic because you can look at a question a candidate is asked and then look at the answer and ask “Did they really answer the question?” You can also ask how they did that with a question or challenge they receive from an opponent.

By the way, when you do this, it’s important to try to be as impartial as you can. Let’s say you’re a Ted Cruz supporter in the Republican primary. You might be looking to see what Donald Trump says that is an example of bad logic or an answer that does not follow or dodges the question. That’s fine. Do the same for Cruz also. If you’re a Trump supporter, you will do the opposite. You should also be willing to admit when your opponent does answer the question satisfactorily. You can debate how good the answer is how effective a strategy would be, but does he answer the question?

Humor is also a good place to go to. Comedians don’t try to be logicians, but they do try to point out the humor in our thinking. If you like puns, puns rely on ambiguity largely. That’s what makes them so funny. Much of our humor relies on taking people literally. My wife and I were just seeing someone and getting set to make another appointment and they said we can make it for whenever we want. I replied midnight would work just fine for us. Of course, that wouldn’t work for them, but that was the humor of it. On The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon Cooper regularly does this sort of thing.

Finally, if you’re doing this from an apologetics perspective, consider watching to and listening to debates. One of my favorite programs for debates is Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley. Try to be impartial. Ask and see what side really makes the better case. I have heard debates where I had to say the non-Christian made a better case and some where sadly, the Christian case was just embarrassing in its defense. It does not mean that I think the non-Christian was right, but it does mean that I think they did a better job presenting their case. One mistake it’s easy to make is to think that if an argument agrees with your conclusion, it must be a good one. Christians and atheists both sadly have a habit of going to Google, finding the first thing that they think agrees with them, and sharing it because they think it agrees with what they already believe and so it must be a good argument.

Studying logic in this can be fun and eye-opening and prepare you for a world where people are going to be consistently trying to snow you. Many will do this unintentionally. Some will do it intentionally. If you can learn to think through what people say better, you will be a step ahead of the game. Even if you don’t know a topic well, you can at least see how well conclusions follow.

In Christ,
Nick Peters