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America, Where Everyone Is Above Average

education-certificate-graduation-cap

Not surprisingly, Americans think mighty highly of themselves:

Forget being smarter than a fifth-grader. Most Americans think they’re smarter than everyone else in the country.

Fifty-five percent of Americans think that they are smarter than the average American, according to a new survey by YouGov, a research organization that uses online polling. In other words, as YouGov cleverly points out, the average American thinks that he or she is smarter than the average American.

A humble 34 percent of citizens say they are about as smart as everyone else, while a dispirited 4 percent say they are less intelligent than most people.

Men (24 percent) are more likely than women (15 percent) to say they are “much more intelligent” than the average American. White people are more likely to say the same than Hispanic and black people.

(…)

The results are not surprising. Western cultures have a habit of inflating their self-worth, past research has shown. The most competent individuals also tend to underestimate their ability, while incompetent people overestimate it. Not out of arrogance, but of ignorance—the worst performers often don’t get negative feedback. In this survey, 28 percent of high school graduates say they are “slightly more intelligent” than average, while just 1 percent of people with doctoral degrees say they are “much less intelligent.”

Now, if only our opinions of ourselves were backed up by actual comparisons to the rest of the world when it comes to education and academic achievement

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    Men (24 percent) are more likely than women (15 percent) to say they are “much more intelligent” than the average American. White people are more likely to say the same than Hispanic and black people.

    Not surprising to me. One of my daughters, who is a mid-level manager for a technology/IT firm, says that her experience in the white collar workplace is that guys generally think they’re the s***, while women generally are not nearly as self-confident or brash.

    Also, this survey is typical of surveys where Americans are asked (albeit, sometimes indirectly) to self-evaluate. The results are usually that people will evaluate themselves highly and indicate that others are the problem or are deficient in some manner.

    Many years ago I read a great poll in the LA Times – 95% of the people polled said that discipline in schools was a very important problem, and 95% of the respondents said that their children were not the problem. Now admittedly, 5% of the children could possibly cause 95% of the discipline problems, but, really?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  2. Be interesting to know how the break down actually matches up with reality. How much of that 55% was actually smarter than average? How much of the 34% was average?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  3. Tillman says:

    In a highly individualistic society that prizes self-sufficiency and hard work, is this a surprise? You unleash the ego, and you’re surprised it gets bigger?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. Dean says:

    I’m pretty sure that if you asked that question in Ancient Rome, Victorian England or the Soviet Union in the fifties the numbers wouldn’t be much different.

    We are not exceptionally smart or stupid as a nation, we are just hideously flawed meat sacks trying to do our best, and yes, our psyche will protect our ego by regularly reassuring us that we aren’t as dumb as ‘that other guy’.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    I’m not sure why anyone would think this is particularly outrageous. Let’s consider some of the claims.

    Fifty-five percent of Americans think that they are smarter than the average American

    Assuming a normal distribution of intelligence, a representative sample, and not completely unreasonable self-evaluations, 49.99% or so of them would be right. Not too far from 55%.

    Men (24 percent) are more likely than women (15 percent) to say they are “much more intelligent” than the average American.

    Again assuming a standard distribution and representative sample just about 15% would indeed be much more intelligent (defining “much more intelligent” as more than one standard deviation above average). Or, said another way (and assuming those who self-evaluate as “much more intelligent” are), smart women have a fairly realistic assessment of their intelligence compared to the general population while men have a slightly inflated (but not completely outrageous) view.

    As Stormy Dragon said above, it would interesting to know how well the self-evaluations matched reality.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  6. Matt Bernius says:

    @Tillman:

    In a highly individualistic society that prizes self-sufficiency and hard work, is this a surprise?

    Don’t forget the religious component of this. If we are “God’s nation” (i.e. divinely inspired) that tends to *juice* expectations as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  7. DrDaveT says:

    In other words, as YouGov cleverly points out, the average American thinks that he or she is smarter than the average American.

    It would be even more clever if they knew the difference between ‘average’ and ‘median’.

    Honestly, 55%? That’s so close to the correct number that the correct headline is “Americans are remarkably good at self-assessing intelligence”. Especially when you think about who the bottom 5% of the intelligence distribution are, and how likely it is that any of them were surveyed in this particular exercise.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  8. Pinky says:

    @Matt Bernius: In my experience, religious people tend not to think of themselves as smarter than others.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  9. Matt Bernius says:

    @Pinky:
    Just out of curiosity, are you a Catholic or a Protestant or an Evangelical (assuming you are a Christian)?

    My experience is that can really shift experiences on this topic. Still your point is well taken.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  10. jewelbomb says:

    @Pinky:

    In my experience, religious people tend not to think of themselves as smarter than others.

    Doesn’t any sect with a mandate to proselytize (read: Christianity, the overwhelmingly dominant religion in the U.S.) presuppose a kind on intellectual superiority to members of other religions and atheists? It seems to me that the impetus to convert others and the attendant push by many to impose Christian morality onto the public at large is indicative of some sense of intellectual superiority.

    Then again, as an atheist myself, I really have no idea how the religious mind works. I’m not really sure if a concept like faith is seen by Christians as having an intellectual component.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  11. C. Clavin says:

    @Pinky:

    religious people tend not to think of themselves as smarter than others.

    What kind of happy horse-$hit is that???
    Religions are always foisting their nonsense…superstitions and myths…onto the “unenlightened”. Evangelism is the preaching of the Christian Gospel with the intent of conversion. Why would you feel the need to convert someone if you weren’t convinced on a very basic level that you were smarter than them? That you didn’t know more than they know? Understand more than they are capable of understanding?
    Hell…Religious people put Galileo under house arrest because they knew damn well that the sun revolved around the earth.
    Religious people <em>always think they know more than everyone else. In fact…it’s one of the things Religion is most wrong about.
    I’ll just wait for you to move that goalpost.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 5

  12. Tillman says:

    @jewelbomb:

    It seems to me that the impetus to convert others and the attendant push by many to impose Christian morality onto the public at large is indicative of some sense of intellectual superiority.

    Not really, far as I can tell. Smart men still die and make horrible mistakes. Besides, isn’t the normal array a mix of religiosity and anti-intellectualism?

    Also, good luck getting out of the shadow of Christian morality, what with living in a Western tradition the moral thought of which has been shaped by Christian morality for thousands of years. (Presuming you’re American.)

    @C. Clavin:

    Evangelism is the preaching of the Christian Gospel with the intent of conversion. Why would you feel the need to convert someone if you weren’t convinced on a very basic level that you were smarter than them? That you didn’t know more than they know? Understand more than they are capable of understanding?

    Wow, throwing every stereotype you can at him, aren’t you?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. Tillman says:

    @Matt Bernius: But I don’t think Europeans or Asians would be too different in this regard either. Asians maybe, the communitarian culture would tamp down on individual exceptionalism, but the numbers wouldn’t be far off.

    I mean, you are asking an individual to gauge himself against the average of the group, and anyone with self-esteem is going to think they’re better than the average.

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  14. jewelbomb says:

    @Tillman:

    Not really, far as I can tell. Smart men still die and make horrible mistakes.

    I’m not really sure what you mean here or how it applies to my comment.

    Besides, isn’t the normal array a mix of religiosity and anti-intellectualism?

    Again…huh? The normal array of what?

    Also, good luck getting out of the shadow of Christian morality, what with living in a Western tradition the moral thought of which has been shaped by Christian morality for thousands of years

    What passes for Christian morality has never been stable within western culture. Further, though I am an atheist myself, I never intimated that I wish for society to get entirely out of the shadow of Christianity. While I have no use for the more fanciful elements of Christian thought (i.e. talking snakes, angry sky gods, pillars of salt), I’m sure that there are Christian precepts that have been useful in shaping the modern world. By the same token, I can recognize the foundational importance of classical philosophy without embracing pagan dogma. Most importantly, I have no idea how any of this relates to my contention that proselytizing seems to suggest implicitly a sense of intellectual superiority.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  15. C. Clavin says:

    @Tillman:
    I’ve got thousands of years of ammo.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  16. Tillman says:

    @jewelbomb:

    The normal array of what?

    Usually the common American dude is anti-intellectual — he suspects the motives of those who claim they are smarter than him, or know better than he does — and religiously-inclined. The two go hand in hand. Religions aren’t built intellectually, they are built experientially. They can be maintained intellectually (such as through theology and ontological arguments) but the best intellectual position is one of agnosticism. Christianity didn’t start on the road to becoming one of the biggest religions in the world by number of adherents through intellectual argument, it became so because the early disciples were convinced he had risen from the dead. So I don’t see proselytizers having a sense of intellectual superiority per se, but certainly a superiority about having insight into the world they perceive as the truth based on events that have happened.

    Or maybe I’m just misreading what you meant. I figure intellectual superiority is more along the lines of being able to out-reason someone, which most proselytizers I’ve met couldn’t do. (That’s right, ask me why there’s suffering in the world, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Give me an excuse to pull out my Dostoevsky books and read “The Grand Inquisitor” at you.)

    Most importantly, I have no idea how any of this relates to my contention that proselytizing seems to suggest implicitly a sense of intellectual superiority.

    Oh no, that “Christian morality’ bit was just me being snarky. Failing, but trying.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. Tillman says:

    @C. Clavin: ….I mean, I disagree with you on religion, but wow, I have to vote that up. That is way too good a line not to vote up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. C. Clavin says:

    @Tillman:
    This is exactly the thing that Republicans attacked Obama for…Romney wrote a book about it…when they accused him of apologizing for America.
    Everyone thinks they are exceptional.
    It’s why Republicans claim we have the best Health Care system in the world…when we don’t.
    The more you get out of your bubble and learn about others the more you realize you ain’t so special.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  19. Pinky says:

    @C. Clavin: Thinking you’re smarter than everyone else isn’t the same thing as thinking you know something that the other guy doesn’t. The Christian is a fool for Christ, not crediting his own belief on any personal merit or superior reasoning, but grateful for the gift and willing to share it. As I think Matt was alluding to, there is even a strain of anti-intellectualism within American evangelical Christianity, which puts it at the opposite end of the spectrum from those who put stock in their intellect.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. Moosebreath says:

    This is hardly limited to intelligence. I recall reading that 85% of Americans consider themselves above average drivers.

    We have all become citizens of Lake Wobegon.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. Franklin says:

    Mmm, I think Schuler and some of you other guys are missing this. Yes, 55% is close to 49.99%. But the number of people who think they are less intelligent is only 4%. That is WAY OFF 49.99% that it is actually true for.

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  22. Pinky says:

    Tillman – I just noticed that you’re making some of the same points I was.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. C. Clavin says:

    @Pinky:

    Thinking you’re smarter than everyone else isn’t the same thing as thinking you know something that the other guy doesn’t.

    Goal post moved…just as predicted.
    So when the Religious Zealots put Galileo under house arrest it wasn’t because they thought they were smarter than him…only that they thought they knew something he didn’t…which of course they didn’t…but they couldn’t know that…because they thought they were smarter than him.
    Got it?
    Of course the Dunning Kruger Effect hadn’t been discovered yet. What’s your excuse?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  24. Matt Bernius says:

    @Pinky:

    As I think Matt was alluding to, there is even a strain of anti-intellectualism within American evangelical Christianity, which puts it at the opposite end of the spectrum from those who put stock in their intellect.

    I’d go a bit further.

    I’d argue that, generally speaking, Protestants and Jesuits have typically laid the proudest claim to being “intellectuals.” Generally speaking, those sects and that order, have placed the highest general value on intellectual rigor in all things. And, if you buy into Weber, Protestantism is specifically tied up in American Exceptionalism.

    I also agree with your point that in many respects American Evangelicalism developed an anti-Intellectualism strain (in part I’d argue as an outgrowth of Calvinism and in part in reaction to Northern “Academic” Christians).

    What I don’t have as strong a sense for is where the Catholic Church fits into this model other than being inbetween the two groups. While the high Church has a history of academic rigor (everything from the Jesuits to the various Encyclicals), Catholicism has also traditionally been the “working class” form of Christianity in the States. As such, I think there’s often a more humble element to it, especially after Vatican II (though that’s my outsiders take)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. Matt Bernius says:

    @C. Clavin:

    So when the Religious Zealots put Galileo under house arrest it wasn’t because they thought they were smarter than him…

    Unfortunately, this sort of behavior during Scientific Revolutions, is hardly limited to any religious group. While the treatment of Galileo was particularly egregious, secular authorities were, all things considered, no less welcoming of having existing scientific models being upended. Kuhn does a masterful job of explaining why any cultural institution in power is loathe to embrace revolution.

    One needs look no further to the amount of time and difficulty it took for the Miasmatic Theory of Disease to be replaced by the Germ Theory and how many lives were lost due to secular authorities refusing to acknowledge the facts that were in front of them.

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  26. Pinky says:

    @Matt Bernius: In broad-brush terms, let’s say you can divide Catholicism in the US into three waves. Early, French, was not intellectual. In the middle, the Irish wasn’t but the German was. These days, the Hispanic Catholicism isn’t. Like I said, broad brush.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  27. Grewgills says:

    @jewelbomb:

    Doesn’t any sect with a mandate to proselytize (read: Christianity, the overwhelmingly dominant religion in the U.S.) presuppose a kind on intellectual superiority to members of other religions and atheists?

    Short answer, no. Slightly longer, they give that credit to God not to themselves, at least that is the dogma. Of course, ymmv.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. Grewgills says:

    All the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. C. Clavin says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Sure…without a doubt…for instance Ronald Reagan refused to say “AIDS” and thousands died because of the resulting delay in research.
    (Oh…wait…Republicans see Saint Ronnie with religious fervor…so maybe that’s a bad example)
    In any case…the fact remains that zealots tend to think they have it all figured out and the rest of are the “unenlightened”. The very term “atheist” implies that non-believers are absent, or without, something. Ironically (and I hope I’m using that word correctly) more intelligent people have less use for religion and are more able to challenge it’s dogma…yet many very intelligent people do believe in God.
    My argument in reference to Pinky’s comment is that Religious people in general, and Religious leaders specifically, think they are smarter than the rest of us in the same way that Republicans today are convinced that they are smarter that 97% of the world’s scientists. (Make no mistake…today’s GOP is nothing if not a Religion, complete with myths and superstitions and catechisms.) Certainly Creationists (show me a Democratic Creationist) are convinced they are smarter than anyone who is dumb enough to think that the Earth is more than 6000 years old. T-Rex and Homo-Sapiens walking together…oh, my!!!
    To your point, you do not have to be religious to proselytize and preach and convert…and do dumb things. But they are defining traits of Religious Zealots and you cannot proselytize and preach and convert if you are not absolutely convinced that you are smarter than the other guy…that you alone know all…that you are the fount of knowledge.

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  30. Matt Bernius says:

    @Pinky:
    Where would you place Italian Catholicism? Or is that part of Irish wave — which I’m assuming is late 19th/early 20th Century.

    To some degree Catholicism is always cast as the Immigrant Religion. In part that’s due to the an association with immigrant communities (versus Protestantism’s “founding” cred). But I also suspect a lot of it has to do with deeply held English biases against Catholicism.

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  31. Pinky says:

    @Matt Bernius: I’m no authority on the history of the Catholic Church in America. (I completely ignored California in my earlier comment, for one thing.) I was mainly trying to indicate why it’s misleading to talk about them as a group. I think you have to look at who was fleeing their homeland, and why, in order to detect the flavors of Catholicism in the US.

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  32. Pinky says:

    @C. Clavin: You don’t actually know what “moving the goalposts” means, do you? Hint: it’s not the same thing as “disagreeing with Clavin’s terms”. I said that religious people tend not to think of themselves as smarter than others. When you said that religious people think they know more than everyone else, I reiterated my earlier point, and pointed out the difference. Then you accused me of moving the goalposts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  33. Tillman says:

    @Pinky: Weird, isn’t it? There weren’t even any disturbances in the Force.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  34. Pinky says:

    @Tillman: I didn’t mean that in any pro or con way.

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  35. jewelbomb says:

    @Grewgills:

    they give that credit to God not to themselves, at least that is the dogma.

    Fair enough, but what does that mean for those who adhere to different belief systems (or none at all)? It still seems that there’s some sense of intellectual superiority that underpins a movement that seeks to convert others. Even if you give credit to God, wouldn’t it necessarily follow that God picked these folks to be especially enlightened for whatever reason? I guess part of the problem with a discussion like this is that faith and intellect are two vastly different attributes. As someone who (admittedly) doesn’t understand faith, I can’t help but see a spiritual ideology that purports to be the one true way of doing things as not being based on an implicit sense of intellectual superiority.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  36. C. Clavin says:

    @Pinky:
    What you are saying in your attempt to move the goal posts of your statement is that knowledge and intelligence are different. Which is true .
    But when you say that people are wrong …mistaken…as the church did Galileo and creationists do and climate deniers do…or when you day that you know there is a god and I’m wrong to think there isn’t…Then you are saying not that they lack knowledge but that they are wrong and you are right. That is not knowledge over intelligence. That is your cognotive ability above there’s. That’s you claiming to be smarter.
    Goal posts replaced.

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  37. Matt Bernius says:

    @Pinky:

    I was mainly trying to indicate why it’s misleading to talk about them as a group.

    This is, of course, true about *any and every* broad categorization. It’s equally unfair to speak of Protestants, Evangelicals, (or Muslims, Jews, Atheists, etc) as a monolithic group.

    However, there are broad characterizations that do separate each of these faith communities (or not necessarily faith in the case of Atheists).

    I realize that my quick and dirty model was exactly that, “quick and dirty.” Generally speaking I still stand by it, warts and all.

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  38. Pinky says:

    @jewelbomb: Christians are serious when they say that they haven’t earned God’s forgiveness. If I heard that McDonald’s was giving away free burgers, I’d tell you, not because I thought I was smarter than you for knowing it, but because I thought you’d want to get in on the deal. There are different strains of belief about what we’re responsible to do once we discover God’s forgiveness, and about degrees of knowledge and acceptance, but the main thing is the belief that it was freely given and unearned.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  39. C. Clavin says:

    @Pinky:
    And if only I knew about those free burgers then certainly I would run as fast as I could to get these free burgers. Because I’d be stupid not to right?
    Forget that McDonalds is poison. Forget that McDonalds treats it’s people like pieces of $hit.
    Yeah….I’m not smart enough to eat McDonalds.

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  40. Franklin says:

    @jewelbomb: Way off topic, but you know what immediately comes to mind when I see your name?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  41. Matt Bernius says:

    @jewelbomb:

    It still seems that there’s some sense of intellectual superiority that underpins a movement that seeks to convert others.

    This is of course correct, but extending this argument, I have difficult time seeing any faith or belief system that doesn’t fit this bill. Even those that don’t put a premium on “traditional” evangelism typically still seek to passively spread the word of their faith.

    BTW, this is definitely a category where atheists find themselves in similar company with people of faith.

    I guess the only ones who might get a pass are the “true neutral” Agnostics.

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  42. Tyrell says:

    Further examples of this is where schools have awards programs where every child gets some kind of award: friendliest, neatest work, most helpful, best writer, and almost every student makes the A/B honor roll. And recreation leagues where every child gets a trophy.
    The school system itself, under the arm of Federal programs, acts, and regulations have exceptionalized and modificated practically every student. So a child who comes, quietly does their assigned work, listens, follows directions, and leaves others alone is virtually ignored by the system. Many of those who goof off, disrupt, and bother others are given special help and in some cases their own special teacher that follows them around to make sure they stay under some kind of control and don’t hurt someone. Something’s wrong with that picture.

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  43. bill says:

    @Stormy Dragon: in theory they were only off by 5%! although it’s hard to say if those responding so were actually smarter than avg.!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  44. Grewgills says:

    @jewelbomb:

    I can’t help but see a spiritual ideology that purports to be the one true way of doing things as not being based on an implicit sense of intellectual superiority.

    The dogma is not that it is intellectual superiority or any inherent superiority. In fact, there are some pretty heavy strains or anti-intellectualism in some corners of Christianity, particularly evangelicals and charismatics. In practice it is pretty easy to find believers that think their belief makes them superior, but with Christians that tends more towards thinking they are morally superior rather than intellectually superior. Not to say that that is any better, but it is different.
    As an atheist leaning agnostic I see the claims of intellectual superiority coming more from our lot than theirs, but again ymmv.

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  45. Maggie says:

    ” The difference between Genius and Stupidity is that Genius has it limits” ( author unknown)

    Never has this been more apparent to me than in this article and the comments section. So many pseudo intellectuals putting out theories they think are complex, but are really a load of crap!
    I will take smart over intellectual any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
    Maybe because I am just to dumb to appreciate capacity to learn over actual application?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  46. C. Clavin says:

    @Maggie:
    Well la-ti-da…ain’t you better than average!!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  47. Tillman says:

    @Maggie:

    So many pseudo intellectuals putting out theories they think are complex, but are really a load of crap!

    You’re saying that like you think that I think I’m being original! Flattery will get you nowhere!

    In my experience, most complex things that people dismiss as loads of crap are because the people don’t take the time to actually grasp them. I say “most,” because some complex things really are just loads of crap. Really complex loads.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  48. DrDaveT says:

    @C. Clavin:

    you cannot proselytize and preach and convert if you are not absolutely convinced that you are smarter than the other guy

    This is simply not true. A very large fraction of proselytizers are convinced that they are in possession of divine revelation, and need to share it. That has nothing — zero — to do with thinking they are smart, or smarter than you, or smarter than anyone. Indeed, there have been major movements from time to time in Christianity (and other religions) that explicitly reject the adequacy of human reason to resolve important theological questions, and re-assert the primacy of revelation, faith, and unmerited grace.

    You don’t have to believe you are smarter than your neighbor to believe you should poke your head in his window and tell him that his car’s on fire.

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  49. DrDaveT says:

    @jewelbomb:

    It still seems that there’s some sense of intellectual superiority that underpins a movement that seeks to convert others.

    No; it could be a sense of having additional information that they think you lack. See comment above in response to C. Clavin.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  50. Matt Bernius says:

    @DrDaveT:
    Well said. Both you and @grewgills raise a couple critical points that I had overlooked. Thanks as always for the good conversations!

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  51. al-Ameda says:

    @Maggie:

    I will take smart over intellectual any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
    Maybe because I am just to dumb to appreciate capacity to learn over actual application?

    I’m sure that back in Galileo and Copernicus’s day, the “smart” people just knew that the Sun revolved around the earth, while those impractical deluded “intellectual” scientists kept telling them that the Earth revolved around the Sun.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  52. C. Clavin says:

    @DrDaveT:
    Not buying it.
    History says you are wrong… Even if there have been ” periods ” of difference.
    Zealots hide behind terms like faith and belief…but what they are saying is that everyone who doesn’t agree with them are heathens … unenlightened.
    The crusades, the inquisitions, marriage equality, climate change…it’s all about we know best…and you just aren’t smart enough to get it. It’s a claim of cognitive superiority….no matter how you look at it…even if it’s shrouded in BS.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  53. Tillman says:

    @C. Clavin: Zealotry isn’t a matter of intelligence and cognition, it’s a matter of sanity.

    Also, while I’ve heard people claim the truth of religion is obvious, I’ve never heard them claim you can reason your way to enlightenment.

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  54. Grewgills says:

    @Maggie:
    Generally speaking people who have the “capacity to learn” and curiosity do learn and become these intellectuals that you don’t think so much of.

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  55. Grewgills says:

    @C. Clavin:

    but what they are saying is that everyone who doesn’t agree with them are heathens … unenlightened.

    Yes.

    The crusades, the inquisitions, marriage equality, climate change…it’s all about we know best…

    Yes.

    and you just aren’t smart enough to get it

    No.
    Faith, wisdom, intelligence, and knowledge are all different things. People place differing levels of priority on these things. Quit projecting your reasons onto others when they don’t fit.

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  56. Grewgills says:

    @Tillman:

    I’ve never heard them claim you can reason your way to enlightenment.

    Quite a few have tried, but their arguments always end up circular no matter how circuitous the route. My favorite pieces of Jesuitical byzantine (redundant?) argumentation is the explanation for transubstantiation and the apparent lack of change in the wafers and wine.

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  57. DrDaveT says:

    @C. Clavin:

    History says you are wrong

    Not if you actually study it.

    Even if there have been ” periods ” of difference.

    Yes, if you ignore the exceptions, then there are no exceptions. Is that really the argument you want to make?

    Besides, I didn’t say ‘periods’, I said movements. Sometimes they are dominant and sometimes they are not, but they are always there. Look up the history of the Fideist movement in Europe in the early modern era.

    Zealots hide behind terms like faith and belief

    No, actual zealots think in terms of faith and belief and revelation. They aren’t hiding anything; they are open books. Con men pretending to be zealots might do what you describe. Do you believe that there are no real zealots, but only con men pretending to believe?

    what they are saying is that everyone who doesn’t agree with them are heathens … unenlightened.

    Yes, exactly — unenlightened is precisely the correct term. And until John Locke, nobody ever argued that enlightenment was something that could be achieved through reason. You are such a child of the modern era that you apparently can’t even conceive that people — all people, not just the average Joe — used to be much more skeptical about human reason.

    The crusades, the inquisitions, marriage equality, climate change…it’s all about we know best

    Right

    …and you just aren’t smart enough to get it

    Wrong. Historically, it has been far more common for the claim to be either “You haven’t heard the good news yet, let me tell it to you” or “You [Jews, Moslems, pagans] have heard the good news but have willfully rejected it out of pride or evil or both, so God won’t mind if I torture you to death then confiscate your property.”

    It’s a claim of cognitive superiority….no matter how you look at it

    Only if you include “Hey Bob, I see that your car is on fire — you might want to do something about that” as a claim of “cognitive superiority”. Personally, I think there really is a difference between claiming to be smarter than Bob and claiming to know something important that Bob doesn’t (yet).

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  58. DrDaveT says:

    @Tillman:

    Also, while I’ve heard people claim the truth of religion is obvious, I’ve never heard them claim you can reason your way to enlightenment.

    That’s what Descartes was all about. He set out to reason the existence of God and the truth of Christian doctrine from first principles, and his arguments defined the debate for the next 100+ years.

    Much earlier, Thomas Aquinas also taught that it was possible to reason your way to Christian faith. His disciples and those of St. Augustine went at it hammer and tongs for centuries.

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  59. C. Clavin says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Personally, I think there really is a difference between claiming to be smarter than Bob and claiming to know something important that Bob doesn’t (yet).

    But the assumption your are making is that because you think this something is so fantastic…like Pinkys free MacDonalds food…everyone will automatically think the same thing. That’s discounting anyone else’s ability to think differently…in other words…you have it a figured out and the rest if the world simply hasn’t caught up yet.
    I know full well what you are selling and I don’t care. But you automatically assume you are smarter than me and that I can’t help but care.
    Because who doesn’t want free MacDonalds? Right?

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  60. Monala says:

    @al-Ameda: Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case. It’s often a very few individuals causing the most problems in whatever the setting (e.g., a handful of male rapists commit the vast majority of rapes).

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  61. Grewgills says:

    @C. Clavin:
    Faith is NOT an intellectual exercise. That you cannot conceive of someone experiencing revelation and wanting to share that doesn’t turn it into an intellectual exercise.

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  62. DrDaveT says:

    @C. Clavin:

    But you automatically assume you are smarter than me

    OK, I get it. For you, it has to be about the smarts, because there is nothing else. Sorry about that.

    Look, I know a guy named Cliff. He was a minor league baseball player once upon a time, and he got hit in the head by a line drive. It did damage; he was never the same afterward. But he’s a functional human being who can walk and talk and take care of himself and he thanks God for this. He will talk your arm off about God’s blessings in his life. In some circles he is considered quite the motivational speaker.

    Cliff is not smart. Cliff knows that he is not smart. Cliff pretty much believes that everyone else on earth is smarter than Cliff. This does not prevent Cliff from wanting to share the important message about God’s love that Cliff carries around with him. Can you understand this? If so, can you make the intellectual stretch to recognize that Cliff is at one end of a spectrum of people who do not believe that God’s message is only for those smart enough to understand it, but that being smart is probably a handicap in that it puts all sorts of esoteric arguments between you and experiencing God’s personal intervention in your life?

    Me, I’m a (pseudo)intellectual, with the degrees in Philosophy and Applied Math and such, and a real need to bring reason to bear on things. But I’m not blind — I can see that this is not how most people work.

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  63. C. Clavin says:

    @DrDaveT:
    My brother was in a motorcycle accident and, like your baseball player, has never been the same so I get that.
    2000 years ago a guy named Lucretius wrote that there is no divine architect and only atoms are immortal.
    Your baseball player thinks differently. Indeed the other end of the spectrum. And he also thinks, I presume, that if only I would open myself up to Gods message then I too would understand about her love.
    Of course it’s an intellectual question. Religion gets talked about in words like faith and love and belief. But when you get past that touchy feely hoo-haw it boils down to “I know this thing and you don’t and if you just listen to me then you will have to agree with me because how could you not?”
    It’s not about smart in terms of IQ…it’s about smart in terms of “getting it”. For your baseball player Lucretius just doesn’t get it.
    If you believe in god and bask in her love then I’m sure you would be convinced that it’s about sharing her message…and not anything more. I certainly understand motivations can be completely altruistic. But broken down to simple functions…a diagram…absent the mysticism and feelings…then it is actually quite different.
    I am awed by Gothic Cathedrals without having to be convinced of gods. I find wonder in the Hubble Deep Field and I marvel that I am made of the very same stuff as all those stars without having to be sold on a creator and a master plan.

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  64. Matt Bernius says:

    @C. Clavin:

    It’s not about smart in terms of IQ…it’s about smart in terms of “getting it”. For your baseball player Lucretius just doesn’t get it.

    If this is the definition of “smart” you are working from, then you are correct. Whether or not this is a particularly accurate description of “smart” is another issue.

    But, if we are working from this definition then it’s clear that this sort of smart extends beyond people of “faith.” For example, the following statement contains a lot of the “smart” qua “getting it” that you seem to be reserving specifically for religious types:

    I am awed by Gothic Cathedrals without having to be convinced of gods. I find wonder in the Hubble Deep Field and I marvel that I am made of the very same stuff as all those stars without having to be sold on a creator and a master plan.
    [emphasis mine]

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  65. Pinky says:

    One problem here might be that if Clavin is a strict materialist, he might not distinguish between (roughly speaking) the will and the intellect. The act of reasoning is different from the act of committing. If Clavin sees us only as bodies with brains, he has only the word “smart” to describe the realm that isn’t muscles and bones. We might as well be blind people describing what blue looks like – or people on acid describing what blue smells like.

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  66. DrDaveT says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Of course it’s an intellectual question

    Can you give an example of something that you would concede is NOT “an intellectual question”? I suspect the answer is “No”, in which case we’ve all been wasting our time.

    when you get past that touchy feely hoo-haw

    Sometimes, for some people, there is only the hoo-haw; there isn’t anything past it. They are not living “the self-examined life”. When you talk of “getting past it”, you are projecting your own world-view and prejudices onto them. Even if you think they SHOULD get past it, you are deluding yourself (and failing to understand the world as it is) if you attribute to them an analysis that they are not doing.

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  67. Matt Bernius says:

    @DrDaveT:

    When you talk of “getting past it”, you are projecting your own world-view and prejudices onto them. Even if you think they SHOULD get past it, you are deluding yourself (and failing to understand the world as it is) if you attribute to them an analysis that they are not doing.

    Which gets us back to the points that “Smart-ness,” using C’s definition, is hardly relegated to just religious types.
    @Pinky:
    Interesting way of looking at it sir. I need to think about that.

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  68. Grewgills says:

    @C. Clavin:

    “I know this thing and you don’t and if you just listen to me then you will have to agree with me because how could you not?”

    More like if you will also let Jesus or whoever into your heart you will get it too.

    It’s not about smart in terms of IQ…it’s about smart in terms of “getting it”.

    There are multiple ways to ‘get it’ depending on what that it is. I love my wife and daughter, just as I assume that you and everyone else commenting here loves their families. I get that love from somewhere other than the intellect. Do you know you love your family because you are smart enough to get it? or does that knowing come from somewhere else?
    When I was religious and then later ‘spiritual’ before becoming an atheist leaning agnostic I ‘got’ various things. I did not get them intellectually, it came from somewhere else. Religious philosophers have tried to justify their belief intellectually and every single one of them has failed. Some of them, like Kierkegaard, acknowledged that faith could not be reached by the intellect. That someone believes they hold a truth that was supernaturally given to them (not earned or discovered, but received as a gift of grace) does not mean that person thinks they are more intelligent than someone that doesn’t ‘get it’. Rather it means that person, regardless of how brilliant they may be, has hardened their heart to god. That you don’t get this distinction shows that it is you “That’s discounting anyone else’s ability to think differently”.

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  69. C. Clavin says:

    @Grewgills:
    Faith and love are/is a false equivilance.

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  70. C. Clavin says:

    Can you give an example of something that you would concede is NOT “an intellectual question”?

    Belief in an infinitely old infinitely powerful totally omniscient being for which there is zero evidence…save your telling me that she exists? It can only be intellectual because it only exists in the intellect. God is an intellectual construct.
    I love my family…they are around me and we care for and depend on each other…both physically and emotionally. It’s tangible. It’s real. It requires near zero faith…beyond the faith that we do indeed exist, perhaps.
    Hence my comment to Grewgills above.
    Also…it doesn’t matter if the person is self-aware or not…the abstraction…the diagram…is the same. One can be Machiavellian without knowing you are being Machiavellian.

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  71. DrDaveT says:

    @C. Clavin:

    One can be Machiavellian without knowing you are being Machiavellian.

    No, actually, one can’t. Part of the definition of ‘Machiavellian’ is that very self-awareness you discount here.

    Do you also believe that there is no distinction between lying and simply being mistaken?

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  72. C. Clavin says:

    @DrDaveT:
    Yeah… I regretted that part as soon as I posted it.

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  73. Tony W says:

    I always felt like religious fervor / evangelism is borne out of a lack of confidence, not an air of superiority/intellectualism. These folks do not feel they are smarter, they fear they are not.

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  74. Tillman says:

    @DrDaveT: Aquinas sort of proves my point though, since the man himself was an example of how you can’t, or of how reason is an inappropriate path towards God/enlightenment. (Despite what he wrote in the Summa Theologica.) He just abruptly stopped work on it one day, saying to his scribe, “Reginald, I cannot [continue working], because all that I have written seems like straw to me.”*

    And Descartes was a mathematician. We all know what mathematicians are like.

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  75. Tillman says:

    @Tony W: I still say smarts have nothing to do with it, but your point is what I think. Fundamentalism is an attempt to erase doubt and replace it with certainty.

    I mean, it’s doable, but you end up being certain of really stupid things.

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  76. Tillman says:

    @C. Clavin:

    I love my family…they are around me and we care for and depend on each other…both physically and emotionally. It’s tangible. It’s real. It requires near zero faith…beyond the faith that we do indeed exist, perhaps.

    …so you haven’t met people who treat love as an intellectual construct to rationalize evolutionarily-advantageous actions, like nurturing and protecting people with your genes so they may be passed on to future generations?

    See, you’re treating love as a postulate almost. “It’s real, it’s there, it doesn’t require further examination.” That’s putting it outside the realm of intellectual inquiry. Which is precisely what some do with God. You don’t see the similarity there?

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  77. DrDaveT says:

    @Tillman:

    Aquinas sort of proves my point though, since the man himself was an example of how you can’t, or of how reason is an inappropriate path towards God/enlightenment.

    I’ve been trying not to take sides here with regard to which arguments I think are successful and which are not. My point is more about the ongoing tension/dialectic between the rationalists and the pietists and the atheists than about who’s right (if anyone).

    And Descartes was a mathematician. We all know what mathematicians are like.

    Smart? :^)

    Of course, Pascal was also a mathematician, and a contemporary — and their theologies could not have been more opposite.

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  78. Matt Bernius says:

    @DrDaveT:

    My point is more about the ongoing tension/dialectic between the rationalists and the pietists and the atheists than about who’s right (if anyone).

    And that’s really the critical point — not some much that X side is *correct* but that this debate which has continued over centuries demonstrates that this is (a) not a simple issue or an issue that can be boiled down into simple static positions, and (b) not a settled issue.

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  79. Pinky says:

    @Tillman: I think you’re shortchanging Aquinas. He was a key figure in the development of the Western understanding of the compatibility of faith and reason. His so-called baptism of Aristotelian thinking was arguably the most important moment of thought in the past millennium. His straw house has held up better than the rest of civilizations’ bricks.

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