Capturing Christianity discussion

A few years ago I wrote a series of blog posts (starting here) discussing the debate between Sean Carroll and St. William Lane Craig.

Well, last week I was invited to St Cameron Beruzzi's internet show Capturing Christianity, along with fellow guests Sts. Luke Barnes and Ronald Cram, to give further comments about the debate.

You can still watch it by following this link.  The whole thing is about 2 1/2 hours long.

About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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13 Responses to Capturing Christianity discussion

  1. Miloš M. says:

    Great! I have watched some videos by Capturing Christianity and I wondered would you be a guest sometime.

  2. Jozef Reisinger says:

    The link to the actual discussion is here - https://youtu.be/Gye1XE0kVJY. I think it's missing in the post above ... :-)

  3. Aron Wall says:

    Jozef,
    Doesn't the last link in my blog post go to the same video?

  4. Matt says:

    Watched the whole thing, it was fascinating input from everybody there. Disagreed w/ you on who you thought the winner was, but it seems like I may be in a minority position on that!

  5. Matt Ntiros says:

    Aron,
    Any plans on doing more videos like this in the future?

  6. Sam says:

    Aron,
    What are your thoughts on various studies that claim to show that atheists are generally more intelligent than religious people?

  7. Aron Wall says:

    Sam,
    If you ask a question of this nature, it would be better if you indicate which specific studies you have in mind.

  8. sammyceng says:

    "The evidence that there is a negative relation between intelligence and religiosity is very strong. But the effect size of the relation is small. This means that there are factors besides intelligence that explain why people are or are not religious. It also means that although more intelligent people tend to be less religious on the average, predicting religiosity from intelligence for individuals is fallible,” Zuckerman told PsyPost."

  9. James Humphreys says:

    It occurs to me that if the definition of atheism preferred by many atheists -“lack of belief in a God or gods”-is employed, then the claim that they make about theist versus atheist intelligence simply collapses. This is because under this definition one has to include under the rubric of “atheist” very many people who are not especially intelligent -a “lack of belief in God or gods” certainly doesn’t require much intelligence or knowledge of any sort about religion.

  10. James H says:

    I had a look at the link provided by sammyceng and it confirms that the definition of “atheist” or “non-religious” provided by Zuckerman does not appear to be the one favoured by many atheists (“lack of belief in a God or gods”). For an atheist to maintain the claim of a negative correlation the atheist would have to drop this definition for the reason explained in my earlier post: that most of those who simply “lack belief” are not particularly scholarly or intelligent and might not be expected to have particularly high intelligence.

  11. James H says:

    It’s worth pointing out that whilst atheists frequently claim that they are examining religion from a scientific perspective, the reality is that their efforts frequently pseudoscientific. For example, various so-called “prayer studies” fall into this category.

    When atheists claim that they have scientifically tested the hypothesis that God responds to prayers and discovered that there is “no evidence” that He does, this is a pseudoscientific claim. Why? God is by definition omnipotent and hence capable of doing anything that it is logically possible to do. As it it is logically possible that He could thwart the best experimental efforts of atheists, theists have, I believe, a knock-down argument against their claims: they can simply point out that the atheists’ experimental setup cannot reliably determine whether or not the deity generally answers prayers - He May simply decide not to cooperate with their experimental efforts. And there is some Biblical warrant for supposing that He would not : “thou shalt not put the Lord thy God to the test” as the psalmist says. But even without this consideration the argument works- the atheist doesn’t have a valid experimental setup.

  12. Aron Wall says:

    Sam,
    Thanks for linking to an article about the review (which can be found here).

    St. Blaise Pascal wrote: "Atheism shows strength of mind, but only to a certain degree." In a society where the majority of people are at least nominally religious, it takes a certain amount of intellectual fortitude to buck the popular trend, and adopt a minority viewpoint on the basis of reasoned argument. And if that minority viewpoint is itself the majority in the circles of elite scientists, so much the better! At the risk of trading in stereotypes, ntelligent people are more likely to take pride in their intellect, and for this purpose a belief system which explicitly claims to be based on "Reason" alone, without having to trust in any higher authority, has an obvious appeal.*

    Unfortunately these sorts of intellectual trends are compatible with the arguments themselves being mostly weak and terrible.

    Asking yourself what the smart people think can be a good heuristic for certain questions (there's a reason why elite scientists mock astrology and anti-vaxxers). But there are all sorts of confounding culutral circumstances. Smart people can trick themselves into believing all sorts of terrible ideas (e.g. Communism.) At the end of the day, demographics can't substitute for evaluating the actual arguments. Especially if you are one of the smart people that others are looking to, in order to form their opinions.

    I've interacted with quite a few high IQ physicists whose opinions about religion aren't worth a fig, because they've obviously never given the matter any careful consideration whatseover. This isn't too surprising, because they aren't experts in that area. Deciding what to believe based on cultural expectations of what a smart person should do is at least as fuzzy and illogical as deciding to believe in God because that's what the majority think.

    One slightly humorous side comment on the review, it was interesting they found religion was negatively correlated with what they called an "analytic cognitive style". I gather you measure this by asking people a bunch of questions, where there is an intuitive but wrong answer, and then a right answer which you can get by a careful analysis. But that seems to be stacking the deck against intuition. To be fair, they should also have come up with another set of questions where a superfical calculation is likely to produce the wrong answer, but where a well-calibrated use of intuition would produce the correct answer. (For D&D fans, this would measure Wisdom rather than Intelligence.) I wonder how a test like that would correlate with religious belief. :-)

    *I imagine some atheists reading this comment might be annoyed at the superficial speculation about typical atheist psychology, but my main point here is that we shouldn't be deciding questions of fact by appeal to group stereotypes, not even the ones that are statistically significant...

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