The other half of the story...

The phenomenon of stupid, smart people

Last weekend, Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson spoke at the Faith and Freedom Conference in Washington, D.C. and mentioned a debate he had with an atheist (whom Carson would not name).  Then, Carson— a retired neurosurgeon— displayed an utter lack of understanding of biology:

I remember a few years back I was engaged in a debate in Hollywood with a leading atheist. This guy thinks anybody who believes in God is a total moron. As they got to the end of the conversation, you know, he is denigrating anybody who could believe in Creation, I said, “You know what? You win.”  I said, because, “I believe I came from God, and you believe you came from a monkey, and you’ve convinced me you’re right.”

I’m trying to reconcile the fact that a respected neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University also is in the throes of unfathomable ignorance.   Humans did not “come from monkeys”, we share a common ancestor with monkeys.  If Ben Carson truly does not know this, he apparently didn’t pay attention during the “biology” part of medical school.

However, while a doctor failing to understand evolution seems like a paradox,  it actually is not.  See, Dr. Carson is also a creationist, so he puts more stock in myths and superstitions than he does in things like evidence, or direct (and documented) observation.  His denial of facts might also have something to do with the incompatibility of his religious beliefs with reality, or even with common sense.  It might also be that the study of genetics has shown that the story of Adam and Eve is actually impossible, because humans have FAR too many genes to have descended from a population of only two people (such a high rate of mutations would have rendered humans nonexistent).

This phenomenon of stupid, smart people isn’t isolated either— far from it, in fact. In 2013, United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was interviewed by New York Magazine. Out of the blue, Justice Scalia offered up this gem: “I even believe in the Devil.” When pressed to elaborate on this bizarre statement, Scalia responded, “Yeah, he’s a real person.”  It’s hard to read something like that without thinking about this:


Then, as if his intention was to leave no doubt that he’s a crazy person, this exchange happened:

Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.

It’s because he’s smart.

So what’s he doing now?
What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.

The fact that a U.S. Supreme Court justice has these thoughts is, frankly, shocking.  Antonin Scalia is not a stupid man, and he is highly educated (he attended Georgetown University, and went on to graduate magna cum laude from Harvard Law).  But when it comes to rational thought, people infected with religion often will choose faith over common sense, because they are too afraid of what a vindictive imaginary character might do to them.  Many religious people lead perfectly normal lives— but it’s the ones who are deeply devout who have difficulty with the difference between fact and fiction, between superstition and evidence.  It’s scary that so many of them are in the position to wield immense power.  While Ben Carson is (fortunately) a longshot to become the next President of the United States, Justice Scalia has served on the Supreme Court since 1986.

These two are not the only people who surrender common sense in favor of dogma.  Another Presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, recently told Fox News that racism has been “solved” because of Jesus.  Huckabee is another intelligent person who has lost his grip on reality because of his religion.  It really seems like people like Carson, Scalia, Huckabee, Cruz, Rubio (and many others) are trying to demonstrate that religion is proof that the human brain has an “Off” switch.

I’ll leave you with a quote from The Roving Mind, by Isaac Asimov:

Imagine the people who believe such things and who are not ashamed to ignore, totally, all the patient findings of thinking minds through all the centuries since the Bible was written. And it is these ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would make themselves the guides and leaders of us all; who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us; who would invade our schools and libraries and homes. I personally resent it bitterly.

The Author

  • Mac Bits

    As I’ve said before, I try not to think of faithists as stupid, just ignorant (often massively & willfully due to extensive, long-time, well-practiced & fear-inducing indoctrination).

    I’m a life-long, very knowledgeable & deeply involved ‘gear-head’ – so I know how difficult it has been over the years to ‘convert’ to more ‘earth-friendly’ attitudes regarding the selfish, ego-stroking, resource-squandering ‘vehicular lifestyle’, based on the evidence & realities which undermine those ‘beliefs’.

    My driving reduced by 90% – flying once to see UK family since 2001 – driving to work at events dwindled to ‘few & local’ as my newer, rational, humanist ‘world-views’ overwrote my ‘habituated thinking’ – based on the scientific evidence I’ve learned to study, assess, accept & incorporate into my philosophy of life.

    Per Scalia being a top lawyer, when has that qualification had much connection with ‘Truth’ or ‘Justice’ – it’s mainly about winning using ‘word-wanking’ & ‘fool-us-sophist’ tactics in a powerful, complex & costly legal system built around those methods. (no offence to your family, eh, since many lawyers do good work, often despite the system)

    The same problems underpin ‘politics’, ‘religion’ & other areas of public discourse that just ignore, detour around, greatly distort or deny reality as we understand it so far…!

    I agree with Asimov, and think there should be basic ‘Entry Exams’ for anybody entering any level of political life – which would greatly thin the field & transform the very disfunctional system from the bottom up…!

    Finally, keep up the good work my friend, and remember that ‘unconverting’ deranged & deluded minds is a long process that rarely shows fast results – I have not seen any sudden ‘revelations’ in all my interactions, but I do know that planting seeds has positive future effects, especially upon those ‘curious’ & ‘undecided’ onlookers who observe the discussions & see where the realities came from & now reside…. 😎

    As you well know, I can be very friendly & supportive of those who struggle to cut off their mind-chains, because I get ‘The God Virus’ thing – while I have been very disrespectful of stubborn, preachy faithists who bring nothing but ignorant, baseless, bullshit to science, reason & education meeting rooms.

    I just re-read Sagan’s ‘The Varieties of Scientific Experience’ & recommend that book about the centennial ‘Gifford Lectures on Natural Theology’, from 1985 in Glasgow…. 😎

    • Brian Druker

      Thanks, Mac. It’s so strange that Scalia can have such a brilliant legal mind (even though I often disagree with him), and yet spout off crazy things like the devil being real and getting “wilier” by tricking people into being atheists. But religious delusions have that power to make implausible things seem completely rational.

      • Mac Bits

        I try to recall that religious indoctrination starts in infancy, with constant exposure to family & social practices – from basic language, moral attitudes, ways of thinking, taboos, warnings, punishments, religious meetings of all kinds (communal faith, unquestioned dogmatic belief, meme reinforcement, plus praying & singing training sessions).

        The education into & learned ability to reason rationally & critically comes years later – if at all – so it is layered onto already deeply infused ‘ways of thinking’, which take precedence and/or limit & redirect the possible outcomes.

        In the case of lawyers, scientists, or any other highly educated & trained professional, these underlying mental programs are absorbed when one’s brain has already developed its basic configurations & is resistant to changing its neural networks, which have previously grown stable pathways to various brain areas – blocking or avoiding existing or possible routes to better destinations – in its early rapid growth stages.

        Thus, new data is absorbed into existing networks – which by our adulthood have become quite fixated – so they may not function at all well when it comes to data & ideas that the basic programming doesn’t like, is fearful of, or can’t accept – – – doesn’t all that sound familiar when we recall those self-serving, denialist, fundie faithists we’ve battled with over the years, who were dead men walking & couldn’t even see it happening through their god goggles…!

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